Thursday, July 09, 2015

Up to the Leelanau Peninsula, or Richard and Pauline come to Michigan

Our British friends Richard and Pauline travel to the United States about every three years or so to visit family in New York and California.  While they have visited many other sections of this part of North America, they had never been to Michigan — until now.

Originally the four of us planned to meet up in France sometime this year, as we often do, to spend a few days together seeing that particularly wonderful part of the world. But our plans changed earlier this year when we decided to move back to Western Michigan to be near Susie’s mom.

Since Richard and Pauline were already planning on coming to the United States this summer and since we were going to be in Michigan more or less permanently, well one thing leading to another they thought it was a grand opportunity to see a part of the United States that had previously escaped their attention: Michigan.

After a few days visiting various family in New York followed by a couple of nights in Niagara Falls and a brief stay in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Richard and Pauline drove to Grand Rapids. We all spent a grand evening catching up on all the latest news while having a wonderful meal at Marco's just a 10-minute drive from where we live. We were especially pleased to tell them that we had signed a contract on a condo in Grand Rapids and actually had an offer on our condo in Providence, an offer that was sadly pulled a few days later.

That bit of bad news was still in the future, though. In the meantime, the four of us enjoyed warm conversation and lots of laughs during their all-too-brief stay in western Michigan.
dinner at Marco's
The travel plan this time was quite simple: drive north to the Leelanau Peninsula and show them the wonders of that part of Northern (lower) Michigan. In 36 hours.

And we did.

After a leisurely breakfast Sunday morning we drove straight north on US 131. Two-and-a-half hours later we pulled into the Apache Trout Grill just in time for a late lunch. Located outside of Traverse City, along M-22 overlooking the west arm of the Grand Traverse Bay, the food was tasty, and the service was friendly if not a bit frenetic (Sunday brunch was then in full swing).

Turkey club at Apache Trout Grill

Susie, Richard and Pauline outside of Apache Trout Grill, or a thorn between two roses



After enjoying the food and the view — we were seated at a large open window overlooking the bay — we climbed back into the car and made our way to Cedar Creek Bed & Breakfast, just a few miles inland, in the wilds of Leelanau County.

We had last spent a night at this particular B & B, a building with a history as unique as this particular part of Michigan, nearly 25 years ago. It is still owned and operated by the same indomitable spirit, who just happens to go by the name of Carla Burns. She has only two rooms so the four of us had the space pretty much to ourselves during our short stay. A fount of knowledge about the area Carla also demonstrated a most pleasing ability for preparing scrumptious breakfasts the two mornings we were in her care.

Cedar Creek B & B


Around mid-afternoon, after we unpacked and had gotten a tour of the house and gardens, the four of us climbed back into the car and returned to Traverse City to explore the town. There were plenty of trendy shops, tourist oases and such, including an art fair in the old town, just off of Front street. We also made our way to Clinch Park beach, just across the roadway from downtown. It was warm and sunny and lots of kids were playing under the waterfall while some — like Susie, opted to put their toes into the chilly water.

Sine we still had a couple of hours before our dinner reservations at Georgina’s on Front Street, we returned to the car and drove east a mile or so and then up Mission Peninsula. We drove north for an hour or so, exploring cherry orchards via coastal highways and local byways. There were even a few wineries to be seen along the way.

Returning to Traverse City we parked the car and soon found ourselves seated for dinner. The evening was wonderful — Georgina’s touted itself as a fusion of Asian and Latin cuisine and so it was. The four of us spent a pleasant couple of hours enjoying tasty food and house-made Sangria.

Upon our return to Cedar Creek, after a brief stroll in the gardens, we all said good night and spent the rest of the evening reading before lights out.
Front Street, Traverse City
in "old town"

the art fair winds down for the day
kids' waterfall in Clinch Park, on the waterfront Traverse City


Monday morning dawned clear and pleasant. Following a delicious breakfast by our hostess. But we had a big day ahead of so  Richard, Pauline, Susie and I got back into the car (now one of our favorite places) and headed west to Sleeping Bear Dunes national Seashore in Empire, Michigan. We stopped in at the visitor center — a wise choice to get a sense of national seashore and the Pierce Stocking driving tour and get my senior pass holder. That’s right kids, seniors get a free pass to all national parks and that includes all members in the car as well. And you didn’t think it paid to get old.

The morning was gorgeous as we drove around the dunes, stopping occasionally to take in the sweeping vistas from the occasional overlook. While there are quite a number of hiking trails in the dunes themselves, we opted to take the path of least resistance and explore by car. One of the more unique places to stop, although I’ve forgotten which number it is on the tour, was a steep drop-off down to Lake Michigan and yet still “climbable.”

overlook along Pierce Stocking Drive, at sleeping Bear Dunes
looking west, more or less
looking east to Glen Lake
ore freighter, or carrier in the distance

the sign notes it may take you two-and-a-half hours to climb back up this incredibly steep section of dune


we opted for the boardwalk to watch those foolish enough to attempt the climb
you can see them crawling on hands and knees -- to what end I thought?



it may look fancy but hey it's still an outhouse -- with smells to match
After leaving the driving tour but still in the park we next stopped at the Dune Climb — Pauline and I wisely chose to remain on level ground, content to watch as Richard and Susan braved the hot sand to scramble their way to the top of the dune.  Once at the top — which it wasn’t really — they disappeared and it was some time before they reappeared again, running down the dune like a pair of kids. After returning to the car they commented that there were even higher dunes beyond but they chose not to pursue the matter.

the Dune Climb
Richard leads off -- pink shirt and ball cap center near the bottom
halfway to the top -- or so he thought -- taking a break from the hot sand
Susie's follows soon afterwards

over the top

From Sleeping Bear Dunes we continued north along the shore making our way to the village of Leland. Susie and I had last been here nearly a quarter of a century ago and not much had changed, aside from a new building here and there. We found a parking place right in front of the Cove restaurant where we sat outside snd enjoyed scrumptious whitefish and chips all around. Richard and Pauline commented on how good the fish was: with light breading and almost a sweet flavor. All washed down with a carafe of Good Harbors Fishtown White; we were eating overlooking Leland’s historic Fishtown, after all.

After lunch we drove a few blocks to Van’s Beach where Richard actually went for a swim, which made him about the second person in the water. It was a sunny day to be sure but the “Big Lake”, as it’s called hereabouts, was still very cold. Still, it was a fine day to poke around the beach, looking for stones.

view from the Cove restaurant in Leland

Pauline and Susie at lunch
Leland marina with Fishtown on the left
entry to Van's Beach


Richard goes in!

note the absence of other swimmers
From Leland we continued driving north up the Leelanau Peninsula; our next stop was the Grand Traverse Lighthouse located at the very tip of the peninsula. From there you could see both Lake Michigan to west and the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay to the east — as well as the Mission Peninsula, which we had just been on the previous afternoon. 

While the lighthouse lacks the dramatic location of say, the Grand Haven or South Haven lighthouses,  jutting out into the lake at the end of a concrete pier as if to defy the lake’s wintertime wrath, the foghorn house did have a most curious exhibition and it was free. Apparently during the Second World War the US Navy acquired a couple of cruise liners and refashioned them into crude aircraft carriers — that is, no elevators, hangars, just a control island and a flight deck — in order to train pilots for aircraft landings and takeoffs. Yet another fascinating side to our journey.


the very tip itself
From the lighthouse we turned back south — for we had gone as far north as we possibly could without a boat. We zipped through Omena, and Northport, stopping for a drink in Sutton’s Bay. There we found a most curious and wondrous garden shop filled with color and colorful things to brighten up your garden and your life.

From Suttons Bay it was a short drive back south to our B & B where we relaxed until time for dinner. 

A little before 7pm the four of us drove back into Traverse City and made our way to Trattoria Stella for dinner. Located in the basement of what was once the main building for the Northern Michigan Hospital for the Insane, renamed the more neutral-sounding "State Hospital" of Northern Michigan, the building also houses a wide selection of shops, with other dining options as well as condominiums. Pretty amazing repurposing of a space that might easily have fallen to the wrecking ball.

arrival in Sutton's Bay



when it was a hospital. . . 

. . . and now
basement hallway on the way to find the restaurant - the stories that linger in these walls, eh?

After a tasty dinner -- we skipped the pig brains on the menu thank you very much --  we made our way back to the car without running into anyone in a white coat and drove back to Cedar Creek and turned in for the night. A beautiful day, a grand time seeing so much but without feeling we had. 

The next morning, after another lovely and leisurely breakfast we said adieu to Carla and headed back south to Grand Rapids. It looked like rain and sure enough it finally did. Even so, we took Richard and Pauline on a quick tour of nearby Meijer Gardens where we appreciated the absence of crowds. That evening our friends kindly hosted Susie and I to a dinner at the Reserve in downtown Grand Rapids.



Fred and Lena Meijer - not a bad way to spend eternity overlooking a truly fantastic garden
Zen garden

Richard and Pauline at the Reserve, Grand Rapids
July 1 began with good weather and so it was to be all day long. Richard and Pauline packed up, loaded their car and after we said our goodbyes, promising to meet again in either France or who knows where next year, they sped off for Chicago and a few more days of exploration before returning to England.

As for us, we quickly returned to the quiet chaos of our lives: trying to sell one condo, buy another and plan for a remodeling, with me working and Susie juggling it all.

Stay tuned!

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