Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Antartica part 2: the Locals

We saw so much and were so close to so many animals from land or sea, that I have decided not to talk here, but instead, to show and hopefully make you feel what it is to be so close. We left our ship at least twice a day and this is what we experienced:

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Our hundred day trek through the US of A, part 2

look: 42 miles of steel wire
our boat to Mackinaw
went twice under it
There she was, the mighty Mackinac Bridge, touted as the longest (5 miles) suspension bridge when built. She lost that title years ago under the simplest of definitions: who is the longest?. The little write up in local publications reveals all kind of statistics, but driving over it and for that matter boating under it as we did 2 days ago, shows its mighty best. She may never beat San Francisco's Golden Gate, but crossing it was an experience nevertheless.
the wonders of the road less travelled
UP where you can drive 45 minutes and see no one
And thus we entered the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) country, wild and almost devoid of people and cars. Leaving one morning on our way to the next location we traveled 45 minutes without meeting a car or seeing a person, chipmunks and deer yes, but no signs of civilization.
As you the reader by now must have noticed, we don't travel vast distances each day, and we see what for many after awhile may become monotonous: country roads, logger roads and park roads. The trip from Mackinaw to Soo could be done in less than 75 minutes, but we took a three and a half hour detour.
the small Canadian locks
Sault Ste Marie (Soo) Michigan was the States first officially registered settlement, situated on a portage site between Lake Superior and Lake Huron, now she is sporting the largest lake locks in the world, five of them to be precise (one Canadian and four American, of which two are in disuse, awaiting refurbishment). We took a boat tour and went through two of them. (How am I doing for you 50 percent of the vote to continue writing the travel blog on a day by day reporting basis?)
1/4 mile long power generating
 building in Soo
For you, the other half: don't eat the pasties and what is up with the fudge thing? The UPpers, they speak a kind of American/Canadian slang here, are advertising leaches and fudge and pasties (a sort of calzone meat pie popular here) and bait all in one breath on their store signs.
Sandee enjoying one of Erik"s
clean Roach Motels
We moved into one of those classic U shaped road motels, right on Portage Avenue (you know as of those early days when donkeys pulled the ships over the rocks) across from the locks, so that we could walk over any time a ship  arrived. The water level difference between Lake Superior and Lake Huron is 21 foot, and porting ships before the construction of the locks, took weeks.
1000 ft behemoth screeching
 into the Soo locks
But the discovery of ore and copper made the building of the locks imperative. And there you now see 1000 ft long and over a 100 ft wide "lakers", as they are called, since they can never leave the lake system. (The Welland locks at Erie bypassing the Niagara Falls are too narrow and too short.)

water rushing in or out
that's the question
It was fascinating to see these behemoths enter and leave the 1200 ft long Poe locks.
look at the guy mooring the ship
and be in awe of size
Beyond this phenomena, there is nothing else in Soo as they call Sault Ste Marie here, and the culinary aspects of the city are not worth mentioning.
Quite different from the prime rib we ingested in the little town of Suttons Bay LP (lower peninsula - actually I just made that LP part up).
beautiful flea invested quarters
The next day we moved into the USCG quarters at White Fish point on the grounds of the Shipwreck museum and Lighthouse right at the point, and there we learned all about the raging waters of Lake Superior that swallowed many a ship in the 300 years of recorded history, of which the best known one is the Edmund Fitzgerald. Remember the song written about it? By the way, per year, less than one sailor was lost in the storms. It was here that Sandee's heroic battle with the Mosquitos commenced. Our room was infested with them, so with a spray bottle of wilderness DEET and a wet washcloth she went to war, but for every 50 she killed, greater numbers seemed to appear. After 45 minutes to an hour or so she was ready to move into any fleabag motel in the neighborhood. So money conscious Erik came to the rescue. Where was the source of the invasion did he ponder. Well it took him a few minutes and voila a wet cloth covering the shower drain solved the problem. A sagging mattress brought us the next morning at six down for breakfast, where we met two elderly ladies, who had tried to sleep through the mosquito laden night unsuccessfully, ready to move out.
morning sun at 6am
 leaving flea country
rescued bell of Edmund Fitzgerald
interesting ? thing in
shipwreck museum
To me the most astonishing fact was that many a ship broke in half as it bounced on the 30 to 40 foot waves that Lake Superior can churn up. We have been so far 9 days in Michigan and thus we decided to relocate in one day on a 9 plus hour driving day, only to find out in Duluth Minnesota during happy hour that we crossed a time line and had to fall back on our watches (do not take this literally).
Windowless room with large
support column
For all of you who cherish all the dirty details: we did laundry that night and slept for the first time in our life in a windowless hotel room situated in the middle of a converted warehouse in downtown Duluth.
We do not recall ever having been exposed to so much shore line as we left the lake system. What we found however was that all this shore line was replaced by the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota, hence their State motto.
Minnesota lakes on car gps
Our next destination was the Otter Trail in Otter Tail County in Western Minnesota, where we found many of those 10,000 lakes. The 150 mile loop is full of surprises, from lakes to State forests, and specifically a surprising collection of large statues in a township called Vining where a sculptor Ken Nyberg lives with his Astronaut wife Karen Nyberg.

Does Minnesota have water melons?
Did Karen ever go up there?
must be strong coffee
We return after a sunny day full of sights we hope to remember to our B&B in New York Mills that afternoon.
our room for the night
view from the bed room
We have found ourselves a 1906 converted railroad car at the whistle stop B&B. Our car has a jetted tub, sauna and lots of ambiance. It has to have all that, it is just about the only thing in New York Mills despite the glamorous name. This morning, awaiting breakfast, we are ready to start heading out for  Pierre SD, the last way station before we reach the first of hopefully many National Parks to come: the Badlands, and of course since we are then in the sacred Black Hills, where according to the Indians the spirits resided, but where the white man reigned since General Custer relocated the Indians away from there, because gold was found, we will also visit Deadwood (Bill Hickock and Calamity Jane) and Keystone (Mt Rushmore), Crazy Horse, Wind Caves and maybe even for kicks pass across the geographical center of the US. All about that on our next blog.
Oddities I picked up along the way that stay with you for some reason:
The 5 mile long Mackinac bridge has an astonishing 42,000 miles of braided steel wires built into it to suspend it.
Michigan produces 80% of all tart cherries in the US
The Soo locks are the largest waterway lock system in the world
The five lakes have 5241 miles of US shoreline, but Michigan has 3288 of it.
All I saw in South Dakota was Lutheran churches (I am sure there are other ones, but that is all I saw)
where is the other one
Three kids on a bridge we crossed were not fishing they were spear shooting fish
pest control
try that at home
not enough land to grow on
Snow mobile stop sign
 somewhere in afield
Throughout this drive from Wisconsin to South Dakota we found that all gas stations listed their Plus brand 10 cents cheaper than their Regular gas. What is up with that?
the railway stops in Pierre SD
18000 population
and the beer at the American Legion is
cheap on the deck at the Missouri river
Lewis and Clark peddled here

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Our hundred day trek through the US of A

Part 1 June 8, 2013
Here are our rules of the road: 1. We travel to enjoy the road and thus no interstates, no chain hotels and no chain restaurants (with exception of occasionally Marriott because we need the points). 2. We do not drive more than 4-5 hours a day. 3. We look for "Americana" and have jotted the location of all National Parks on our map. We carry every state map and every AAA lodging directory and various reference books, as well as computer power. One of us drives, the other is the navigator and record keeper. We have till this moment, driven over 1500 miles and are today having a rest day in Mackinaw City, MI.
Have we already seen a National Park? No, correction actually yes, because, while with our friends Ron and Janet, who chauffeured us around in Northern Ohio, Ron pointed out a trail he likes to bicycle on in the Cuyahoga National Park. We were on our way to a cemetery, where we visited President Garfield's Mausoleum, after seeing the one room log house he was born in. He was the last of the log house presidents.

We have just fast forwarded to the grand weekend, we had at Ron and Janet's palazzo
only twice as large as what you seem to see now

and more about that later in this blog, but we started our adventure on Wednesday May 29th headed towards our favorite restaurant - Brix - in Lexington, VA, where we did our 10 week externship, so that our culinary degrees could be awarded.
We had a wonderful night with chef Nate Fountain who fed us well and we sampled more wines then we should.
WV river with butterflies you don't see
After waking up from the waft of wine, that next morning, we had a wonderful drive for 4 to 5 hours through the West Virginian mountains, on roads dotted with butterflies, towards Beckley WV without seeing the interstate on which we could have reached Beckley in less than 2 hours. Local roads allow you to observe for 20 minutes or so how yellow middle of the road striping is now automated with the use of electronics on a truck with a vat of yellow paint that sprays exactly the surface of the old stripe with new paint, whether it is a long "no pass" double stripe or a "pass with caution" intermittent stripe. We could not pass this truck driving 10 miles an hour without getting fast drying yellow paint on our red Range Rover. 
no whitewater

I was interested in Beckley for 2 reasons: 1. whitewater rafting and 2. the mine museum. None of those happened for me. There was no water coming down the river fast enough for us to see white water, which seems to be an essential ingredient to whitewater rafting.
And the mine was visited by a school bus full of 6 year olds with a string of parents and us as the only regular visitors. The prospect of being herded in a mass of loud children, with parents unsuccessfully trying to schuss them, was enough for me to accept Sandee's "suggestion" to start moving to Hudson, Ohio.
Against rule 1 we took the interstate to fast forward to a new area of "Americana", Amish country and after that ending up in Hudson with our friends Ron and Janet.
there is the golden dome
By the way, as we are taking right now one of our rest days in a hotel room in Mackinaw, we reflect on the fact, that the only natural horror show we endured, were the Mayflies tormenting us Friday and Saturday. 
look closely and you see mayflies everywhere

No balcony access and going out to dinner requires wading through a cloud of them. This seems to be an act of nature delayed until June like most acts of nature this year. Some research clarified to us, that after a year of living below the water surface in Lake Michigan as naiads or nymphs, moulting multiple times as they mature, these Mayflies enjoy their last part of adult life one to two days above water, where the males have so much sex that they die (we presume with a smile on their face.) I am not sure how long the well visited dames lived after those two days.
But let's return to Ohio where our GPS found the farm of the Yoder family, who are former Amish, turned English. There we got an education in how the Amish lived in the past and how they live today. There were two homes, one as they lived a century ago with outhouse and water being brought in as needed, as well as the one and only heating and eating source, the wood stove. The other one as they live to date, larger, with toilet and bathtub and running water, with battery operated lights and a gas stove on a propane bottle.
a hat cabinet

new Amish home
There seem to be 8 orders of Amish all interpreting, the life of humility and living separate from the corrupting world, differently in today's world, some of them even allowing cell phones for business purposes only.

the old Amish home living room
still the only vehicle they ride
It was an enlightening visit with so much info, that I could dedicate a blog to it. But for those among you that like more info, Wikipedia is a quite enlightening beginning.
Ariel' harem
We spent a lovely relaxing weekend in Hudson and I will spare you the boring details on what we ate, what we talked about, even details about our tour around the area including Cleveland, where we visited 2022 Seymour Avenue, now boarded up, where for more than a decade 3 women were kept by Ariel Castro. The police car in front of the house guarantees nobody trespasses. Just know that it was a wonderful weekend and we deeply appreciated their hostility. 
Garfield in his finest coat
Daughter Mollie and Husband in the Urns

the Mausoleum Dome

One day maybe we could own one
One day maybe we could own one
Another interesting visit was President Garfield's Mausoleum. Garfield was from a very poor family but brilliant, i.e., he was at 29 president of his college in Hiram Ohio. His 6 term political career culminated in the presidency in 1880. He was shot 4 months into this service to his country and was killed by his 12 or so doctors, who with unwashed hands all took turns on the spot of the shooting, poking in the bullet hole for the bullet, that had not damaged any organs. The unwashed hands killed the president a few days later.

One day maybe we could own one

Sandee found her mother's Rambler

The Wright brothers first plane

Humble beginnings
After the weekend we sped on to Dearborn and stayed in style in the Marriott Dearborn Inn in one of the original wooden homes behind the hotel.
Our Dearborn Inn Suite
The Ford Museum and Greenfield Village is a must see for any of you who may ever come to Dearborn.

         Farmer's Market Children Petting Corner
John's Ancestral Home
Big Red near Holland on Lake Michigan

Bo and Paul during dinner at their home
On the other side of Michigan lies a piece of my home country: Holland. The tulip festival we missed. The imported windmill we missed, but our friend, John Verheul from Richmond, arranged for friends, who went out of their way to squire us around while we were staying in his ancestral home. They had us for dinner and drinks at their home. Paul and Bo drove us to surrounding townships and we visited another friend of John's, Pierre, who led us into his barn,
One of 15 Military Vehicles
Iraq era rocket
where a private collection of war memorabilia, such as ammo, deactivated rocket launchers, and military vehicles galore were stored. Just look in awe at some items of the collection, amazing. Pierre is often asked to participate in various local Memorial Day parades.
The next morning we started out in some rain along an AAA dotted road, which indicates beauty for the eye as we travelled north toward Mackinaw City, on a beautiful road.
Tunnel of Trees

Lake along the road for mile after mile
The tunnel of trees and the cute little townships and lighthouses, the "Sleeping Bear Dunes", it was everything that we aimed to see and more. We especially loved the trip from Traverse City up a 18 mile peninsula in the middle of the Grand Traverse Bay driving among numerous wineries and fruit orchards and finding an old country store in Old Mission with wares we had not seen in ages.
Old Mission Country Store

A new Walmart Slogan
pickles galore
Yesterday, we did the Michigan variant of Williamsburg, the Island of Mackinac, with hydro-jet and carriage tour ending at the fort, where re-enactors brought us back to the war of 1812, where America twice lost the Fort to the British.

they sell fudge too, much cheaper
the Arch

View from the fort
Downtown frenzy

Re-enactors at work
View from Downtown at Fort

1 Foot tall Woodpeckers did this
We bought fudge as everybody else does here, we admired The Grand Hotel, we gawked at the Arch, like everyone who was on our carriage, preceded by people on other carriages and followed by many after ours. 
Whereto from here? Well that is a blog for another day.
Greetings from the road.