Travels With Mimi



Sept 7, 2023
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When we first retired we took a trip across the USA to relive the one we took when first married in our VW camper van in the 70's. But the second time was in a much more comfortable fully self contained slide in on a Ford F150 pickup. We decided to head up north and strike across Canada and see the sights up there. One of our many memorable sights was the shores of Lake Superior and Huron with it's hundreds of wooded green islands and shorelines.
Fast forward 2023 when Covid was still of concern among travelers and going overseas enduring a 12 hour flight wearing a mask didn't really sound that exciting. Given our restrictive options we decided to take up an offer to visit our cousin in Chicago. Then head up and around Lake Michigan in hopes of reliving some of our earlier experiences. One big plus was our first plane trip in years would be only four hours and cost less than $500 round trip for both of us!
  After a month of study using all the tools online including ChatGPT, which proved a real aid, we narrowed it down to circumnavigating just lake Michigan as that alone was over 1200 miles and we had just two weeks. I had some reservations about the sights having experienced the best the USA had to offer plus extensive overseas travel. But I have to say we weren't disappointed and saw things you don't see in California.





Chicago was the first real surprise. I have to admit to having had a lot of negative assumptions of that city from my readings. But news tends to focus on the negative so we tried to keep an open mind. At the risk of offending people, we found Chicago to be a bigger, cleaner and more vibrant city than San Francisco. The river and walks beside it made for a Venice like ambiance, and the old stone houses on mature tree lined streets gave it a distinct European feel. Plus the city and even surround suburbs were bathed in a profusion of colorful flowers on every street. It did share some similarities with San Francisco though... traffic. But to give our city it's due, the weather is better.

Our cousin took us on a fabulous tour of the downtown. Being stuck indoors, we thought we wouldn't get much exercise due to rain, but after looking over much of the Art Institute of Chicago, one of the biggest in the world, our legs felt a little rubbery.


One of the many florally decorated businesses in Chicago.



No, this is not the inside of a mansion but one of the two foot high scale models housed in the Art Institute.

The Chicago River walk could be at home in any European city until you looked up.



On Sunday the 10th we headed towards Milwaukee, which is usually associated with beer. At this point I should mention while craft beers were available, and I think it's a growing industry, there are still a lot of Bud Lite drinkers in the lakes area. On the way we drove through the town of Racine which had a charming older section before heading for Milwaukee's 3ed Ward and it's walkable older section. We forgot it was Sunday and had to struggle to find a parking space, even though it was past the tourist season. Our first stop was the Public Market, which made a jar of pickles look uncrowded. All were young and without masks waiting in line for some food. We quickly left and headed down it's iconic Broadway street. Besides the usual kitsch it did have some quality stores like the Herman Miller Furniture store of well made (& expensive) chairs and other fine office equipment. A plus for me was a Royal Enfield dealership of old British motorcycles now made in India. On to our Irish Pub & Inn for some refreshments and a bite to eat before walking to the amazing Veterans Park and War Memorial area for a view of the unique buildings on one side and colossal kites over a hundred feet long being flown on the other.





Broadway Street in the Historic 3ed Ward district.



Milwaukee's Art Museum area near the Veteran's Park
Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary


On the 11th we continued up  the right side of Lake Michigan heading towards Twin Rivers. Our first stop was the almost Gothic Holy Hill National Shrine of Mary which wouldn't be out of place in France. It was set high on a hill in the middle of a wooded forest which made it even more alluring. From here we went to Cedarburg, a charming little town with a half mile or so of quaint shops set among tree lined streets. Our final destination, Twin Rivers, was a low key town set on the coast with roots in fishing. But it's relaxed atmosphere made for a pleasant visit as did it's rustic little Fishing Village Museum.  
Here is the locally made Kolenberg engine powering many of the fishing boats. While a little expensive, it was considered one of the most reliable.


The rare Big Eared Owl.
  On the 12th we had our usual complimentary hotel breakfast and then headed for Green Bay. They had a nice Heritage Hill Historical Park. But as we were early, we decided to drive around when Mimi spotted the Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary, which had a sizable collection of injured wild animals after letting go of the treatable ones.


After that it was on to the Heritage Hill Historical Park which had a dozen or so buildings depicting the history of the area from the first trappers to about mid 1800's. It was educational and fun as they had docents dressed up in period costumes with tales of life during their times.

To the right a 'hunter' from the 1700's explains how the economy worked in his day. Most all was centered around the fur industry supplying American and Europe cities with mostly hats.



A characterful 'hunter' educated us on life in the mid 1700's.



Marquette's charming Front Street
  From here we set off towards Marquette, the most northern part of our trip and next to Lake Superior.
It was a clean college town filled with the usual brick architecture dating to over a century ago and now mostly converted to small shops for the tourist industry.


The next day we packed up and headed off to the Presque Isle park here in Marquette that we missed yesterday. We had no idea of what to expect but it was a beautiful thickly wooded park at the end of a spit  stretched way out into the windy gray lake under dark clouds. An almost forlorn scene.

Then we headed east between Lakes Superior and Michigan to Munsing falls. We didn't think it was worth the $20 asking price for a short hike to the falls but then found this was a national site and our trusty senior card got us in free once again. It was a great little paved hike to the falls surrounded by lush greenery. Next stop was the spit just a mile down the road for a quick look before the long stretch to Sault Ste Marie to view the locks. Parking was a bit confusing (or we're getting more confused) but luckily found a spot right in front and took a climb up the viewing tower in time to see one 1000 foot long ship just finishing it's lock passage from one lake to another. After that we headed for a huge beached ship turned into a museum of nautical life. As it was nearing 5 we settled into our modest hotel right by the locks and  walked to a brew pub. There some revelers were enjoying their beer so much we had to move to hear each other. Their specialty was the locally caught white fish, then deep fried as in fish and chips. It was great but not exactly diet food.





Part of the 550' Museum Ship.
The Sault Ste Marie Locks from the viewing platform.
Click for a bigger picture.







On the 14th we headed south towards St Ignace. That town wasn't remarkable but it was a staging area for ferries to Mackinac Island, a huge tourist destination. The ferry ride was cheap, scenic and only about a half hour to this car-less island of grand old hotels and even older forts. All traffic was either by foot, bicycle or the ever present horse drawn buggies. Copious floral displays were everywhere and you had the feeling you were back in the 17th century except for modern fashions like oversize ladies trying to stuff themselves into undersized stretch pants. We walked around this wondrous island until our knees begged for mercy before taking the ferry back to our hotel.


Looking onto Mackinac Island from the ferry dock.


One of the many hotels on the island.


One of the several architecturally unique 'Mushroom' houses. This one is also called the Thatch House due to it's roof.

On Friday the 15th we had breakfast in our room, though most came with a breakfast included. Then we took off early towards Petoskey which had a beautiful clean and well maintained downtown area. We were there too early for most shops but enjoyed leisurely window shopping anyway. Then we walked up the block to admire the old St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church passing the farmers market just opening. It's sometimes delightful to just stroll around looking at uncrowded sights in the brisk morning air. After that it was off to Charlevoix where we stopped at the pier for a walk out to the square red metal lighthouse. Then a short walk to the triangular block holding all the architectural 'mushroom' houses. Just south of Charlevoix we passed the half way point between the equator and the north pole. At Elk Rapids we walked the main street ending up at the harbor where we found an old electric power plant on the side of their main river. It was private and found the lady owner was from San Francisco. We chatted about California among other topics and she mentioned in passing their small power plant isn't paid enough by the big electrical company to keep going profitably. That was a surprise considering the cost of electricity lately. After that it was off to Traverse City for a hotel and brew pub. Our modest hotel here costs about $250. It would have been only $150 for the same room if it were mid week. Supply and demand...



Those little specs at the bottom are people.

One of the many shops along the main street of Manistee.



On Saturday the 16th our first stop was Suttons Bay which was a nice one or two block town worth a quick 15 minute walk. Then onto another windy spit protruding into the bay. There sat the lonely Blacksmith Historical Village which was only a few buildings partly restored, but it had the nice relaxed ambiance of an uncluttered fishing life. On to the Sleeping Bear Dunes down a dense forested drive ending at an amazing overlook. It had a platform reached with a short hike over sand, but from there you had an fascinating view of a giant dune slope reaching 1500 foot down into the lake with tiny specs of people trying to climb back up on a slope so steep they were on all fours.
Manistee, our next stop had not only a nice walkable downtown, but being located by a river had a wonderful little river walk as well. Grand Haven was another nice town but mostly only the older section. Our hotel was suppose to be modern but it smelled musty. Unfortunately the other rooms were little better so we endured it as it was too late to change hotels. Another problem was our brew pub only had beer. By that time it was so late we did the unthinkable... ate at a fast food place. Not everything goes well on a trip.



Grand Haven harbor spit and light house. I believe the structure to be a walkway for use during inclement weather.   




Grand Rapids, another city we wouldn't have thought twice about but contained hidden gems.
The Japanese Garden section of the Meijer Gardens.



The Meijer Gardens green houses hold a venerable rain forest.
  Sunday. We got up early again and headed to the harbor park of Grand Haven. In spite of the early hour some people were up and strolling or jogging. After a pier stroll ourselves we headed to the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids. It was out of the way but worth the drive to this immense botanical and sculptural wonder. One of the nicest gardens we have ever seen and set in an old neighborhood of elegant houses of the last century. A truly beautiful town - at least the parts we visited.
On to Holland at the coast where we got a nice hotel for only $75, and that included breakfast!



Part of the Farm Garden area.
I believe the claim was the largest bronze horse. If so I can certainly see why.



Just another beautiful downtown. Holland Mi.
South Haven and the wonderfully replica of an 1810 top sail sloop.





Monday the 18th. On bringing our suitcases out to the car Mimi noticed an unusual red Swiss suitcase just like ours by a pickup truck two parking spaces away. On turning around to load in ours it was gone! We realized while our back was turned it had tried to escape down the hill but was stopped by the pickup. On to South Haven where Mimi spotted 'Captain Hooks' sailboat. We squeezed between two building to sneak a look. What an amazing ship! No detail indicated it was from our century except for a small inflatable dingy with it's outboard motor at the back. Later on we realized we were trespassing on the Nautical Museum's property. Back at the museum we talked to a friendly lady (not letting her know what we did) who said every body of water can freeze and all boats we see in this harbor get pulled out. What a lot of work and expense! No wonder we saw few boats over about 30 feet. After that it was to St. Joseph where we toured a few parks and took a short hike in a nice boggy park with rich riparian bird and plant life. As it was getting late we headed right to our hotel in Valpariso.  
One of the many unique things we saw on our trip.



Tuesday.  While the hotel was clean and modern and boasting a 'continental' breakfast, it was all sugary stuff like glazed doughnuts, sugar roll, sweet muffins, and cereal such as Sugar Pops or Fruit Loops. So if you loved breakfast from a candy store this was your place. The host seem confused when I asked for something not sweet like a simple bagel. Driving to the airport was similar to San Francisco during rush, only longer. Plus we encountered several toll roads we couldn't get out of. The bad news was we crossed 6 of them. But the good news was  each one was only about 97 cents. So from home we got online and sent them a check for about $6.


Some notes:

The whole lake area is very lush and green. Acres of lawn are seen on a lot of houses and there is little need for watering. The same for colorful annual plants. Driving outside of Chicago was easy and there was little traffic. Roads were great for the most part and the speed limits were 55 for local highways and 70 to 75 on freeways. Our mid size KIA Forte averaged an outstanding 45 mpg. 10 - 15 mpg better than our similar size Buick Verano back home. Gas averaged $3.65\gallon... again except in Chicago where it averaged $5\gallon. Illinois apparently has an obscene tax rate. Our rental car was about $750 for two weeks. $300 of that was Illinois tax!!! People were very courteous on the road... again except for Chicago. When I signaled to turn into the left lane, almost everyone backed up to let me in. That would never happen in California - at least not around the cities.
We could easily live in Chicago if we had to. But I'd be griping about the taxes like I do here.
Then again we've never spent a winter there and that might change things. Luckily the weather was perfect for us on our trip peaking around the mid 70's most days. It was hot before we arrived and started to rain after we left. Lucky us. This might seem like a wordy writeup, but we saw about twice what's listed here. I've only glossed over the most important sights.

As an experiment, most photos were taken with my 3 year old Sumsung S10. The rest with an 11 ounce Sony RX100M6 which certainly made for light traveling.








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