We headed to Amish country in central Ohio, and our route there took us through some interesting areas of West Virginia and along Route 7 North, following the Ohio River in eastern Ohio. One interesting observation, we stopped in Wheeling, WV at a BP gas station, at about 10AM, and at least four different people coming out of the mini-mart there had Slurpees. At 10 AM. Instead of Slurpees, from now on we will them West Virginia Smoothies. Anyway, the Ohio River is lined with steel mills, massive, impressive, rusting and sooty engineering marvels and a reminder of the might that the US once held in steel production. The loss of that competitive advantage has definitely impacted the region, for as we left Route 7 and followed 39 West towards Amish country we drove through some really depressing towns, like Salineville. The towns had an abandoned feel, and most everything was shuttered. We could tell that at one time, these towns were more populated and much more prosperous
. As we drove west, the landscape opened up into rolling farmland and we saw our first black horse-drawn buggies. The town of Berlin is the heart of Amish country, with something like 80,000 Amish in the area. The Amish only own as much farmland as the family can work by itself without mechanization, so many small farm plots and white homes dot the landscape. We found the Amish people pleasant, but they definitely viewed us as outsiders and we felt a bit odd at times. They were definitely warmer to the girls. The women wear head covers and plain dresses, the men dark clothes and straw hats with beards, but no mustaches. It was interesting to feel the cultural gap as strongly as we did here. Our accommodations here were a wonderful little pine cabin along a small fishing pond, a short walk into town. During the evening, as I type this on the porch, the pond is still, thunder rumbles from fading thunderheads in the distance and the field to my right is filled with the flashes of scores of fireflies.
July 22 (Day 83) Berlin, OH-Cleveland, OH
We awoke early in the morning to visit a famous cheese-maker in Berlin and pick up a few samples. We also drove multiple times past horses and buggies as Kirsten hunted for that perfect shot on a country road. The morning was foggy and drizzle gave an interesting atmosphere to the farms as we drove across many gravel country roads. We arrived in Cleveland around lunchtime after driving through an amazing electrical storm which impressed/scared everyone in the car (except for Izzy, who laughed uproariously). We stopped to pay our respects at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was heavier on the paraphernalia and light on the actual music, in our opinion. Anyway, they had an amazing U2 exhibit on the top two floors and we spent most of our time there
. Afterwards, we drove through a few of Cleveland's less inspiring neighborhoods with the windows rolled up and finally arrived at our overnight, The Baricelli Inn, in the city's Murray Hill neighborhood, basically a "little Italy". The streets were paved with red brick, the area was a little gritty, but it was near the Cleveland Museum of Art and some homey Italian restaurants and cafes. We hit the Museum of Art the next morning, with Kirsten taking Jocelyn to see some famed Indian Bronzes and Chris taking Isabelle to see basically the rest of the museum (largely western art, baroque through contemporary). Considering it was Cleveland, the entire collection was quite good.
July 23-24 (Days 84-85) Dearborn, MI
We arrived in Southeastern Michigan to visit Chris's extended family and to see the famed Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, which we had not seen since elementary school. We spent time on both days with the girls' great grandmother, Isabelle. It was wonderful to see great grandma as it had been over a year since we had been to Michigan. We spent time with both sides of Chris's extended family and had dinner for twenty at our long-standing favorite local Mexican restaurant, El Nibble Nook (name notwithstanding). Great grandma and aunts, uncles, cousins and friends attended. The next morning we headed to the newly-reopened Henry Ford Museum, which features amazing displays of American industry and manufacturing history, really a showcase of Detroit's glory days. The largest steam locomotive in the world is on display, as is every conceivable example of the evolution of the automobile and the culture which built up around it. A few of the famous autos on display included the Bugatti Royale, one of the rarest and most expensive cars in the world, the limousine in which JFK was assassinated, and the earliest horseless carriages
. Very interesting and well laid out.
July 25 (Day 86) Grand Rapids, MI
From there we headed west to visit with Kirsten's aunt in Battle Creek (Home of Kellogg's Cereal) and her folks (Jochen and Nancy) in Grand Rapids, MI. Jochen and Nancy would join us for the next three days, travelling up the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. The girls were thrilled to spend time with "Oma" and "Opa" (German for Grandma and Grandpa), especially having Oma read to them and play with Kirsten's old toys and watching Opa work at his loom. We were thankful to have Jochen and Nancy's expertise as we headed into Northern Michigan, as they have ridden most of the byways on their bicycles and know of many hideaways and scenic detours. Kirsten went back to her old home and it was a melancholy visit, as the area has become quite developed since her parents had sold it. The large forest which was in her backyard is now subdivided with large homes going up. Many backroads around her house were barely recognizable.
July 26 (Day 87) Sutton's Bay, MI
We headed north from Grand Rapids with Jochen and Nancy in convoy through towns like Cadillac to the far northwest corner of the lower peninsula
. Our primary goal for journeying here was to see the Sleeping Bear Dunes, on the coast of Lake Michigan near the towns of Grand Haven and Empire. But first, we had to stay at the Fig Tree in Sutton's Bay. Let's say the accommodations were memorable, but for the wrong reasons. Maybe it was the fuchsia paint, maybe the hot pink fuzzy picture frames on the wall. Perhaps it was because we were all six basically in the same room. Could have been the ceiling fan which we were afraid would come spinning down at any moment. The clincher: what seemed to be top fuel drag racers screaming up and down the street till the wee hours. The town of Suttons Bay was really not memorable, except for the street signs which said "Warning: Cars do not stop for pedestrians at crosswalks" and they were not kidding. I do not think we will be heading back.
July 27-28 (Days 88-89) Petoskey, MI
Our trip to Petoskey started out much better than our night at the Fig Tree. We headed west for a short drive to Sleeping Bear Dunes, some over 600 feet high. We had a wonderful time with the girls scaling these mountainous sandboxes and exploring the coastline, which was beautiful, windswept and largely deserted. We then retraced our steps to the east and headed north to Petoskey, a playground for the executive set from lower Michigan and the Chicago area. These areas are decidedly upscale, and show little of the recession which continues to grip most of Michigan. Petoskey is famous for its beaches strewn with Petoskey stones, which are fossilized coral deposits broken up during winter storms and thrown on to the beaches. Stylish mansions line the Harbor Springs shoreline. And we explored the towns of Charlevoix, Petoskey and Harbor Springs.
July 30 (Day 90) Upper Peninsula, MI
We had one of the most scenic drives of our entire trip up MI-119 (Called "The tunnel of trees") to the town of Cross Village on our way out of Petoskey and on to the Mackinac Bridge
. 119 travels along the bluffs of Lake Michigan on a single lane road, in and out of beautiful stands of hardwood with glimpses of the azure waters of the lake, with hints of what would come in the Upper Peninsula (UP). We paused at the foot of the Mackinac Bridge, the longest suspension bridge in the world, for a few shots and to let the girls stretch their legs along the rocky beach. We then headed over the bridge and felt immediately as if we had entered a different country. The geography of the UP, the culture, the weather-all are quite different after that five mile ride over the bridge. We kept close to the shore of Lake Michigan as we traversed the UP, and saw literally turquoise colored coves and bright sandy beaches that looked out of place in the pine forests, but the entire coastline was beautiful. We drove down 183 to the town of Fayette (thanks Jochen), on the "Garden Peninsula" and found a fairly hidden beach in a state park there, where the girls suited up and waded in the water (too cold for me). It was a perfect little cove and a perfect way to break up the five hour drive. Late in the drive, as we approached our overnight in Menominee, MI, we crossed the 10,000 mile mark on our drive and also moved back into the central time zone.
July 31-Aug 2 (Days 91-93) Door County , WI
We spent three lazy days in one of the most scenic and visited sections of Wisconsin
. Door County is at the tip of a peninsula which juts out into Lake Michigan just north of Green Bay. The County's primary business is tourism, with cherry orchards a close second. We arrived just as the cherries came into season, and the trees were literally sagging under the weight of the fruit. We took the girls to a pick-your-own orchard ($5 for a 10 lb pail) and could have filled it in less than five minutes, the cherries were almost falling off of the branches into our pail. The girls enjoyed eating two and placing one in the pail, so our progress was slowed. I don't care if I don't see another cherry until next year. We took a trip to Whitefish Dunes State Park, hiking out to a fairly deserted stretch of pristine Lake Michigan coastline for a picnic with the girls. We watched several beautiful thunderstorms form in the distance over the lake each afternoon, but the weather in Door remained benign throughout our stay. We had some babysitting here, so we were able to take a run one morning on the quiet country roads outside of town and enjoy a quiet paper and coffee at Leroy's, the local java house. We stayed all three days at the Eagle Harbor Inn in Ephraim, the most picturesque town on the peninsula. The Inn had great rooms and we would recommend it highly if you ever visit Door.
Aug 3-4 (Days 94-95) Spring Green, WI
We had a bit of a strange visit to Spring Green.
Our primary objective was to visit Taliesin, the home, summer studio and final resting place of Frank Lloyd Wright. Spring Green is pretty much at the opposite end of Wisconsin from Door County, and no roads really connect the two regions, so it was a long, circuitous drive. When we did arrive at the House on the Rock Resort, we found our babysitter had cancelled, and so we could not take the Taliesin tour (no children allowed in the house). We did have tickets to the House on the Rock included in our hotel stay. Now, those of you who have not heard of this major tourist attraction are indeed missing something. The House on the Rock is an architectural monstrosity/museum of everything kitsch which we entered with trepidation. We came away somewhat surprised at the unique collection and scale of this place. It has to be seen to be believed. They have everything from a million piece miniature circus to the largest collection of automated music machines to the largest carousel in the world. All perched on this bluff overlooking the beautiful Spring Green valley. It would take a full day or more to see it all. It is dark and spooky throughout most of the exhibits, and the whole experience was bizarre. Kirsten ended up taking Isabelle to Taliesin for a walking tour of the exterior of the buildings, but found the general upkeep of the property a disappointment but felt it was worth the visit to where FLW "broke the design box". We checked out the downtown of Spring Green in all of five minutes to see a few FLW inspired buildings on our way out of town, found the streets deserted and depressing and decided to move on
Aug 5 (Day 96) Red Wing, MN
Our drive up to Red Wing took us northwest along the mighty Mississippi River through towns like La Crosse. We marveled at massive barges moving through huge lock and dam systems and weaving through narrow channels up the "big muddy". We arrived in Red Wing and checked into the St. James Hotel, an historic building overlooking the bend in the Mississippi. A couple things struck us about Red Wing. First, the entire downtown is almost entirely of red brick construction, which was very pleasing to the eye. Second, the downtown area is dominated by massive Archer-Daniels-Midland grain silos. You may know Red Wing for a couple of other enterprises, Red Wing Shoes and Red Wing Pottery. We checked out factory stores for both, but nothing really caught our fancy.
Aug 6-7 (Days 97-98) Minneapolis, MN
Our last stop in the Midwest was a town I called "Minni-no-place" on my many business trips in the dead of winter, but we actually found some interesting sights and one last touch of civilization before our push to the west coast. We stayed at the Grand Hotel, which is primarily a business hotel. The best thing about this hotel was Club Blu, a sushi bar and dance club where we took the kids
. Club Blu has, of course, all blue lighting, waiters all dressed in black, the latest electronica and house music and large plasma TVs on the walls playing videos of ocean life (you find the same creatures arranged nicely on your plate with a dab of wasabi). The waiter verified that Jocey and Izzy were the youngest ever at Club Blu and we had one of our best meals on the trip with them. They ate California rolls, miso soup, rice and spring rolls. This shocked the waiter. Isabelle then got up and had several tables of business diners clapping for her while she performed interpretive dance to some pounding sound track. The next day, we traveled to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden on the outskirts of town, famous for the sculpture of an enormous cherry balanced on a massive spoon. We also stopped into the Frederick Weisman Art Museum, but the building itself was vastly better than the collection inside. Finally, we broke down and went to see the Mall of America, which is truly gargantuan, but we did not buy a single thing, other than tickets for kids' rides at the amusement park housed inside of the mall.