Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Those of you who know Brenda know that she lives for the Christmas holidays, and so a trip to Frankenmuth and the Christmas Store was a must-do. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a more touristy town than Frankenmuth. Everything, and I mean everything, is done in a Bavarian theme. Manicured, flowered, arranged…..if Disneyland had a “Bavarialand”, this would be it. Our first stop was to (big surprise) a bakery in the huge Zehnder’s “Marketplace”. Spotless, large, with shelves laden with breads, rolls, cookies, and kuchen. Looking at the prices, we quickly realized that we were not only buying bakery, but buying an experience – an expensive one. But we managed to pick up a few things and head for…….The Christmas Store! Technically it’s “Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland”, and billed as the largest Christmas store in the world, and after visiting, we’re convinced! Acres and acres of lights, ornaments, trees, and every Chirstmacy thing you can imagine. Thankfully, there was an ice-cream stand halfway through the place, or we’d never had made it. But rather than try and describe the place, here’s a few images:
Leaving Bay City, we traveled north, crossing the Mackinac Bridge and stopping at the small resort town of St. Ignace. Crossing the “Mighty Mac” bridge was a bit sporty – over 8000’ long and as much as 200’ above the water, with a nice gusty crosswind. Brenda, who doesn’t like high places, didn’t see much, as she had wrapped the cat around her head much like a furry scarf. Strangely, the cat didn’t seem to mind. St. Ignace proved much more comforting. Nice restaurants, great views, and lots of ferry activity back and forth to Mackinac Island. We kept hearing about this other island – Mackinaw, and thought there were two islands until we figured out that the correct pronunciation of Mackinac is “Mack-in-aw”.
From St. Ignace, it was a short trip up to Sault Ste Marie (soo-saint-marie), where we stayed in a campground with a view of the water and the huge ships that travel the Great Lakes. The big attraction here is of course the locks. Lake Superior is connected to Lake Huron by the St. Mary’s river, but Superior is 21 feet higher and flows down an area of significant rapids near town. Before the locks, the only way to get from one to the other was to portage around, which of course wouldn’t work for large ships. And so in 1855 the first, crude but effective locks were built. In 1896 the Poe Lock was constructed followed by three more over the years. Today the Poe, rebuilt in 1968 to accommodate larger ships, and the smaller McArthur lock are the most used of the four locks built. Of the two others, one is used sparingly and the other is in caretaker status. Like the Panama Canal, the locks are operated by gravity-fed water, but unlike the Panama, there is no fee to travel through the Soo Locks. Over ten thousand ships pass through the locks each nine-month year (they’re closed during the winter) making the Soo Locks the busiest in the world.
As you can imagine, the whole town revolves around the locks. Downtown there is a beautiful park with a viewing area that puts visitors eye-level with ship’s crews, and there’s a phone line to hear the ship schedule. We decided to take the boat tour, and are glad we did. Leaving the dock, we headed for the locks while listening to the narrator talk about the history of the area. As we approached the locks, we were told we had to wait a bit since another tour boat was using the only operating lock and would be coming our way. Approaching the locks, we could see the gates and the administration building, built in 1896. As we waited, the gates slowly opened, the other boats left, and it was our turn to enter.
We entered the locks, were tied up, and watched the gates behind us close and the water rise.
It takes 22 MILLION gallons of water to raise a boat the 21 feet to the level of Lake Superior. It’s a good thing they don’t charge – all that water for one 65-foot boat! Entering the Lake Superior side, we cruised around for a while, and took a tour of the huge Essar Steel Algoma plant. Employing over 2800 people, it’s the 2nd largest steel plant in Canada. And is owned by India. It was actually interesting, we cruised up fairly close while the narrator told us about the steel making process and how the various ores are shipped here. And for good measure, we traded air horn greetings with some of their huge trucks.
We returned to the locks, this time going through the smaller McArthur lock, and just as we were ready to leave, what looked like a steel island slowly came into view. Leaving the locks, we were stunned by the size of the ship – one of the ten 1000’ Great Lakes carriers. This one, the Walter J McCarthy Jr, is exactly 1000’ long with cargo capacity of over 78,000 tons.
As we continued down the river and back to our dock, another freighter, this one a svelte 700’ was waiting it’s turn.
Finally we were back at the dock, next to the Edison Sault Hydroelectric Plant, in continuous operation since 1902. It’s much more than an electric plant, it’s a monument to the Italian masons who built it from local sandstone. The 1300’ long powerhouse contains 74 turbines, generating enough power to provide electricity to 25,000 homes. Impressive from a distance, a close-up shows the beautiful stone and if you look closely, you can see lighthouses spaced throughout the front of the building.
From Sault Ste Marie, we headed west to the interior of the Upper Peninsula for a stay near Curtis, a small town next to Manistique Lake. We were looking for a quiet place to relax for a few days and our stay here was worthwhile. But Lake Superior called, so we journeyed to Munising to take a “shipwreck” tour boat. Our tour took us along the “picture rock” shoreline and two shipwrecks, one from 1870, the other from 1926. Our boat had glass panels built into the bottom for viewing, and when over the wreck, our narrator would describe what happened to the ship and what we were seeing. Our first ship’s outline was visible from the surface, thanks to the clear and cold water of Lake Superior that preserves the wrecks; after, all, this was a ship that sank almost 150 years ago! Looking through the glass panel, we could clearly see the timbers of the bow.
The second wreck was of a larger ship and had a large amount of debris scattered along the bottom. Here’s a great view of the anchor:
Leaving the wrecks, we cruised along the shore enjoying the weather and the great views. The colorful shoreline is caused by the sandstone, which erodes and leaves trees that have been undercut to grow upside-down:
Brenda, keeping a sharp eye out, spotted this Great Lakes Tree Shark, a rare species known for it’s tree-looking dorsal fin. Stealthy, they’re seldom seen by all but the most skilled marine observers. Like us. The rest of our fellow passengers missed this opportunity, since they were looking at this old, partially restored lighthouse.
Our last trip was a shopping visit to Marquette, and then on to the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base, a large base that closed in 1995. While I was never stationed there, many of my friends were, and I was interested in seeing how it looked after all these years. My friends always talked about the beauty of the area, the hunting and fishing opportunities, and the harsh winters. Sadly, there not much beauty left here. Some of the base is being used by various civilian entities and most of the base housing is apparently rented out, but most of the base is empty and deteriorating. A quick tour:
Traveling around a closed base is like touring a ghost town – you wonder what life was like here when it was active. So many people spent years here, had children that grew up, and left here with fond memories. RIP, K.I. Sawyer.
That’s it for Michigan! We’re traveling again – who knows what we’ll have to share next time?
Saturday, August 06, 2016
This year Brenda and I decided to take advantage of the low diesel prices and do some traveling. It’s been three years since we’ve been back to the Cleveland area, where we both went to high school and where we have friends and family. And thanks to Facebook, we’ve connected with people we haven’t seen since high school, so we were looking forward to seeing them again. We found a great location in the small village of Chesterland, on the East side of the greater metro area and convenient to most of the people we’d hoped to see. The park, the Maywood Community, is an over-55 park of modular homes that has a few RV pads. It was shaded, had full hookups, and was a perfect place for us to make our visits.
Our beloved Leg Lamp (it’s a major award!) is starting to show signs of wear, so we headed for the Tremont Neighborhood of Cleveland and the Christmas Story House. This is our third visit, and each time we’ve been surprised at how the neighborhood, which used to be very shabby, has been improved. Fresh paint, remolded exteriors, nice lawns – it just goes to show what happens when you have a world-famous one-of-a-kind attraction in your neighborhood! We didn’t tour the house, but on our way to the store I looked up and (gasp) there, at the upstairs window, was the ghost of Ralphie in the bunny suit! And he waved! Or maybe it was just some poor kid who’s parents made him dress up in the costume – but I prefer to think it was Ralphie’s ghost.
We wandered around the store looking at all of the incredible bargains – where else can you find a fluffy, full-length pink bunny costume for only $199? But alas, our leg lamp, which we bought for $29 five years ago, is now priced at $79.99, and so we decided to keep ours and clean it up a bit.
With the Cleveland skyline in the distance, we stopped for lunch at Sokolowski’s University Inn, a fabled Polish restaurant that opened in 1923 and is billed as “Cleveland’s Oldest Family-owned Restaurant”. This is a working man’s restaurant – buffet style, with a bunch of shouting woman dishing up the paprikash, pierogi, and stuffed cabbage, steam coating everything and everyone, and a crowded seat-yourself dining room. But oh my – the food! My stuffed cabbage was the size of a bowling ball – and about the same weight. Brenda’s chicken paprikash must have contained a family of chickens and the sour cream/paprika gravy was amazing. But afterward, we wished we had ordered a few pierogi – just to be polite, of course.
We took a day trip to Walnut Creek, an area with a large Amish population, and stocked up on cheese and smoked meats, and while there Brenda found this little block of Chocolate for cooking. On another day, we came across an Italian deli in Mentor with the name “Maxim’s”. We checked, and it is owned by the same family that started the business in Cleveland in 1949 and catered our wedding 45 years ago. Stopping in, we found the current owner is the son of the original owner, Manny Berardinelli, who we knew. Manny, who is now 96, still stops in one or two days a week to check on things. Maxim’s was famous for it’s great Italian meats, potato salad, and pizza – the only pizza we ever had that was better cold than hot. We talked about the old days while I feasted on an amazing Italian sausage sub, but Maxim’s is mainly a take-out pizza place now, without the home-baked bread and potato salad.
But our visit here was all about family and friends. We spent time with Brenda’s brother Ron and sister Joan and her family, and we managed to visit with my cousins Jayne, Judy, and Craig, and even cousin Knettie and her husband Flip, who were visiting from their home in Connecticut. Visiting my old high school friend Lorrie and his family, we not only scored some great home-made pizza, but a trunkful of Zucchini, onion, potatoes, and garlic. A special treat, thanks to Facebook, was the ability of Brenda to connect with some of her high school classmates. She had a great time reconnecting after 53 years with Ruby, Mary, Sandy and Tony, and Kathy and John. And just before we left, we had the chance to have lunch with my old co-worker and favorite female pirate, Charlene.
Our thanks to you all, for taking the time to visit with us and relive the “good old days” – we can’t wait to see you again!
We’re back on the road, traveling to new places and seeing new things, so c’mon back and check!