Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Sister's Weekend

Over the long weekend of September 16 through 19 I met up with my sisters in Mackinaw City, Michigan.  My oldest sister, Janet, lives in Mansfield, Texas; my next oldest sister, Jennefer, lives in Peoria, Illinois.  We have started over the last few years to plan get-togethers as we don't see much of each other.  Janet suggested we visit Mackinac Island, and the Grand Hotel. It was famously backdrop for the 1980 movie Somewhere in Time , which is a favorite of hers.  I have been to Mackinac Island (pronounced Mack-in-naw) in 1989 with my mother when we both visited my Aunt Velma, who lived in Detroit.  My other two sisters have not been there. 

I started my journey on Thursday, with the goal to get about 6 hours of the 11 hour drive behind me, and to camp in northern Wisconsin.  My route was to take me over Lake Michigan.  They would set out early on Friday and drive under Lake Michigan, through Chicago.  I believe I had the better, more scenic route!  I did not get off onto the road quite as quickly as I would have liked, and also met up with some afternoon traffic, so arrived to my destination with it getting dark.  I ended up just renting a quick night at a very cheap roadside motel.  The bed appeared clean, despite the old sheets which themselves appeared to be from the 1980s or older.  I did check for bed bugs, found none. It took a long time for the hot water to come through the tap, but eventually it did. It allowed me to get to sleep right away behind a lock, and to get out onto the road quickly in the morning.

As I set out the next morning, I hoped to meet up with the Lake at sunrise.  I was very close to that goal.  I began a texting correspondence with my sisters, giving progress reports to each other, and pictures.  Driving around the Lake, I stopped at several points, but especially at this one below, which is very close to the northern most point of the Lake.  The winds were high enough this morning that they had stirred up a good surf to the beach.  The Lake is big enough to be an inland sea.  There is a slogan all around the Great Lakes region that goes:  "No Salt, No Sharks, No Worries."

Upper and Lower Michigan are connected by the Mackinac Bridge, which Wikipedia tells me is the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere.  You have to pay a toll to cross the bridge, currently $4, which is appropriate coming from the direction I was driving.  People living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan refer to themselves as Yoopers (U.P.-ers), and those "below the bridge" are Trolls.  I had to pay the Trolls to cross the bridge.  Of course, you have to pay the Trolls regardless of which direction you are going. 

Janet had arranged two nights in a cottage-like hotel, so we three girls shared a room with two beds, of course a bathroom, and a small kitchenette.  I got settled in early, and because there would be several hours before they arrived, I found a couple quick Geocaches so I could add Michigan to my map of places I've played this game.

They arrived late, just before the sun started to go down.  This is a picture of my sister Jennefer and me on the sandy beach where our cottages were located.  The water was COLD, so there would be no swimming.  There was a pool, but none of us ever got around to wanting to visit it.  The place also had a hot tub, but it was closed due to needing repairs.  Sounds familiar . . . my own hot tub at home is down due to needing repairs.  Must be a common problem for hot tubs!

From our view in Mackinaw City you could see the Grand Hotel, way across the expanse of water to Mackinac Island.  My binoculars came in handy for this.

We took a silly selfie to start off the weekend.

That evening, we watched Somewhere in Time on my laptop, to get us into the frame of mind and excitement for the Island.

The next morning we were up early and off to find a restaurant.  Janet got to try a pasty, which she had never seen before.  I was familiar with them, and in fact can buy them from one of our local large grocery stores.  On this trip I didn't buy one of my own, as there was just too much food being eaten, but I did get a taste of hers.

After breakfast, but before we caught our ferry to the Island, we drove around a little, looking for some fall color.  Janet also doesn't get to see too much of this as she lives down in Texas. Their trees are mostly planted ones in neighborhoods, not wild stands.  We did find a nice little plot and took a nicer selfie.

While looking around, I noticed a wild apple tree.  I call it that because I did not notice any other trees around which would have indicated an old orchard.  I beat brush and got close enough to pull down a branch and pluck off a couple of the apples to taste with my sisters.  Yep . . . very tart!  The sweet tasting apples found in the store and at orchard stands have been cultivated to taste good.  The wild-type apple is very tart, and used to only be used to make cider.  They were pretty apples!

We got ourselves back into town to catch our ferry.  A light mist was rising off the lake. It was going to be a very beautiful day!

Mackinac Island has had a long history.  I'm not going to even attempt to tell much about it.  If interested, click on the link.  What you need to know about the Island today is that there are no motor vehicles allowed, other than emergency vehicles.  All transportation on the island is either by bike, horse or foot.  It is a seasonal destination, mostly due to weather conditions, and just about everything in town is run by the schedule of the Grand Hotel. It employs the most people on the island. About 74% of the island is designated state park. There is a historical Fort above the town, which hugs the harbor, and you can buy fudge to your heart's content if that is your thing.  There are many stately old Victorian homes on the island.  Janet took pictures of many of them, as she likes looking at homes and architecture. I'm not going to include any here.  It is a nice destination to take the family, or for a romantic weekend.  We briefly thought about trying to stay a night at the Grand Hotel, but our lodging for all three nights was paid for instead than the cost for just one night at the Hotel. 

Shortly after arriving, we checked in for our horse-drawn carriage ride.  Horses are the primary workforce for getting things moved around.  We were told the primary working breed is the percheron.  There are a few other breeds that are used for showy events held by the Grand Hotel, but mostly, it's these large, steady guys and gals.  Most of the herd are geldings, but there are some mares.  Our 2-horse team below who brought us up from the harbor to the central staging area where Manny and Mutt.  The carriage driver (and I was negligent in only remembering the horses names - My Bad) is responsible for hitching up their team in the morning, and unhitching and caring for the beasts at the end of the day.  I believe he said they all work 3 days, then get a day off.

At the staging area you could then go ahead and catch the second carriage, which is a 3-horse team, which will pull you around the park to see the more remote parts of the island.  We would do this, but first we purchased tickets to see a butterfly garden.  We all took lots of pictures of butterflies, but I won't include them here, as I've already done a butterfly thing here on my blog.

Sisters in the Sunshine, outside the butterfly garden.

When we did catch our carriage to ride around the island, our main destination was Arch Rock.

Our team for this leg of our journey were Miller, Marty and Henry.  Again, I didn't make note of our team driver.

We toured the Grand Hotel's carriage house, where you could see many of the carriages used in years gone by, and you could see some of the horses in their stalls.  This horse is on a slight rise inside his stall, but you can see exactly how big they are. He had a fancy Grand Hotel hitch on, which you can't really see well in this picture. Sorry!  There was a barrier we were not allowed to pass beyond, to most likely protect the silly tourists from getting hurt by the horses. 

At the end of our horse carriage tour we were dropped off at the Grand Hotel.  For a small fee you can get a self-guided tour booklet and can walk around the area.  Here we are on the Grand Porch.

Just inside the building is the Parlor.  We sat here for a bit before deciding on one of the multiple bars to enjoy a little mid-day snack.

At the top of the Hotel is the Cupola Bar.  We each are enjoying a Long Island Iced Tea, which I must say, is the STRONGEST version of a LIIT I have ever had.  I know, I know, they have a lot of alcohol in them, but either they put double shots in this one, or it was very high end alcohol.  I was pretty buzzing and happy half way through my drink.

After our boozy adventure in the Cupola Bar, which was this room just below the flag, we walked out and onto the grounds to see some of the gardens.  This is a good time of the year to see them.  All is in late-summer bloom, with just a hint of the fall colors to come.

We did catch a random passer-by to take our picture with the Hotel in the background.

We walked down to the lake shore, and slowly made our way back into town.

Still quite a bit happy from my special tea, hamming it up at the lake shore.

Janet, just a little more reserved by the lake shore.

We found a park just outside the town where we took a bench and waited out the rest of the effects of our drinks, enjoying the sunshine and breeze.  Afterwards, we walked into town, looked at some of the shops and found coffee.

Near the end of our afternoon, we walked to the park at the end of the town, which sits just below the Fort.  You can tour the Fort if that is your thing.  We did not.  We caught the next to the last ferry back to the mainland, and due to a parade taking up all of the town, went to the next town over for a rather crappy steak dinner.  This all accomplished, we got ourselves to bed after a long day.

The next morning we got ourselves packed up and hit the road.  We crossed the bridge and drove North.  My sisters decided they would like to see the Soo Lock, which connects Lake Superior with the other Lakes.  We arrived in time to see a large freighter going through the lock.

Surprisingly, the best video I could find of this whole process is one made by a geography student who was a deck hand on a ship for a summer. He carefully explains how locks work, and includes pictures.  Many years ago, when I visited with my mother, we took a tour of the locks, and got to "lock through".  On this trip we were pressed for time, so just watched from the observation deck.  We then went and found some tasty coffee.

The Locks seen, and coffee drank, we were on the road again.  We had about a 2.5 hour drive South.  Our destination:  Leelanau Peninsula.  Now, to begin with, I found out pretty quick that I was pronouncing this place all wrong.  To say it correct is (Lee-Lan-Owe).  It is an area of land in Western Michigan that butts out into the lake, having favorable conditions for the growing of apples and grapes, which is what they do.  So, there are a lot of wineries.  We were arriving on a Sunday so would not be able to take a winery tour, as I would have liked, however we did come across a nice one on our journey and stopped in.

The Cellars of Royal Farm have a nice roadside orchard store, and a tasting room in the back.  The emphasis of the tasting room is hard cider.  We tried a flight of them, and I bought a growler to take home to Rich.  The young lady below was a little shy about her picture being taken, but let us do so.

We finished our journey and arrived at the Sylvan Inn in Glenn Harbor.  This being after Labor Day, and a Sunday, the town was pretty quiet.  Our room was very cozy.  Upon the suggestion of the innkeeper, we walked up the street to a very nice restaurant and had a very tasty dinner.

After dinner, we visited the only winery in town, the Cherry Republic.  We tasted several wines, nibbled at their candies and sauces, and purchased things for take home.  Glenn Arbor is very near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, the bear is a local mascot.  This location of the Cherry Republic has a logo of dancing bears.  I bought one of their glasses as a souvenir, oh, and a bottle of wine.

That night we did enjoy the Inn's hot tub.  At 103° we didn't stay in very long.  Warm, full tummies, and a long day seeing many things, we slept well.  The next morning we had a really nice, full breakfast at the Inn.  This followed by walking around the town a little bit, but it being a Monday morning, there were not many places open yet.  Glenn Arbor, like many of these high-end vacation destinations, has many little swanky shops and galleries.  Most opened at 10.  We pretty much wanted to get onto the road by that time.  My two sisters had to drive back around the lake.  I decided for a different route home.

There are two ferries that cross Lake Michigan.  One is slow, and only goes back and forth once a day.  The other, Lake Express, makes the trip twice.  Timing was not good for me to attempt the slow ferry, but the last trip out from Muskegon, Michigan was at 4:45.  Perfect!  We drove from Glenn Arbor down to close to Muskegon, chatting with each other with the walkie talkies I had brought as we were in two vehicles.  At a rest stop, we said our good-byes and hugs all around, and they continued on their journey to loop the lake.  I would go over it, and arrive in Milwaukee at about 6:15.  The ferry ride is about 2.5 hours long, with a time change.  Milwaukee is about 4 hours to my home.  I would get there by 10 pm.

I've been on several ferries, but usually only crossing short expanses of water.  In the middle of one of the Great Lakes, it can feel like you are on the ocean.  Once we cleared the wave breakers the captain kicked into high gear, and we were moving!

Inside the passenger cabin, there were ample seats, and it felt very much like an airplane ride, except there was a lot more space.  The difference was that there was a steady listing back and forth.  We were informed that waves were high on the lake today, and you could feel it.  To walk anywhere, say to the bathroom and then up to the top deck to feel the very strong wind in your hair, you really needed to hold onto the hand bars as otherwise you would be liable to fall over.  Going to the bathroom was an adventure!

At the top deck I met up with a nice couple, and we chatted falconry (my hobby) and boating (theirs).  It was a pretty exhilarating end to a very nice weekend.

My sisters and I discussed our next get-together.  They are thinking California and it's famous wine country.  We've two years to plan it.

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