Great Lakes Road Trip Day 23: Chicago

Today, the weather turned. Big time. Chicago may be known as the windy city, but it was also wet, blustery and thunderous. Still, where most cities scrub up well in the sun, Chicago holds up pretty well whatever the conditions.


Walking down Michigan Avenue, the Magnificent Mile is lined with top fashion stores, yet unlike London’s equivalent, Oxford Street, it’s surprisingly quiet. Instead, there’s an array of dogs, statues honouring the police dogs unit in a “K9s for cops” tribute.


Just beyond the river is the American Writers Museum, well worth a trip for its interactive displays and engaging installations. In fact, they’ve made this museum such an enjoyable gem that surely anyone of any age could get excited about books and reading.

Slightly smaller, and with a tiny selection of photos and images, is the City Landmark museum, housed in the old water tower building. It’s free, and although it only takes about thirty seconds to go around, it’s worth a look.


Tonight’s musical adventure takes us north of the city, to the Wrigley Field stadium, home of the Chicago Cubs. It’s not them playing, though – instead, it’s Seattle rockers Pearl Jam. You can tell they’re in town, because dozens of people in the streets of the city are wearing PJ teeshirts. They’re a big draw in Chicago, and with a capacity of 40,000, the Cubs stadium is perhaps the only place in town that could accommodate them.

But no-one reckoned on a storm front heading in from the West. No sooner had we all taken our seats than the heavens opened, the organisers were on to the Met Office, and for fear of lightning strikes thousands of people were ushered out of the not so cheap seats (we’d “paid out of the ass” for these tix!). Fortunately, by 9.30 the skies had cleared and the show began.

Great Lakes Road Trip Day 22: Chicago

And so we reach our final destination. It’s a great big town on a great big lake.

We were slightly concerned they’d closed for business:


But no! All was as it should be. And Karen jumped for joy.

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We headed straight for the Navy Pier, stretching out into Lake Michigan and giving a stellar view of the city. Dom decided he owned everything South of the pier, and then got all proprietorial about the North side too.

Before long, we were hitting the jazz clubs. And the fizz. The end of the night got slightly messy, but before it did, we had some larks, by George. And most of them were at Andy’s.


This place has exactly the sort of vibe you want from a Chicago jazz club, and although it was rather empty when we first arrived, it filled up within minutes and the atmosphere was soon rocking.

Mind you, as we mentioned, things went downhill, and Karen’s attempts to dilute her fizz by adding Campari to it were not entirely successful. Eventually, she convinced herself she was on first name terms with the band. Here’s trumpeter Pharez Whitted, host of the late night jam session, with his pianist.


By the time the early hours were creeping in we decided we should slip out the side door. Besides, the barman had carelessly spilt all of his Campari. Into Karen’s glass. So we struck out to find our way blindly through downtown Chicago to wherever our hotel was…. (Which way? Pick a street. Bound to find it sooner or later. *Hic*).

Night night.

Great Lakes Road Trip Day 21: Munising to Green Bay

We’re heading out of the UP now and saying goodbye to all the Yoopers. We have to do this with a stop-off for the local delicacy: Pasties. And just to check what they’re like, we visit Muldoon’s Pasty Shop in Munising.


As it happens, they’re almost exactly like a Cornish Pasty – although a slightly different shape.


While we’re in Munising we grab a coffee at what seems to be the only local coffee shop. It’s well stocked with a range of coffees including a local Cherry-infused blend. It’s also a bookstore, and clearly a popular hangout – there are people playing board games, and each of the locals has their own cup hanging on a hook.



Heading out of town, we pass more waterfalls which are clearly a tourist pull – the Wagner Falls.


Today, we also say goodbye to Michigan as we cross the state line into Wisconsin and aim for Green Bay, halfway down Lake Michigan. This is another industrial port, and it’s really only a stop-off for us before hitting Chicago tomorrow. But it does give us an opportunity to try out another local delicacy – Booyah! Well, you can’t really resist, can you: so we didn’t. It’s just like Nanny’s stew. Karen thought it was delicious, even though her face doesn’t show it.


Great Lakes Road Trip Day 20: Au Train

It’s our final day in the Upper Peninsula, and after the exertions of yesterday and the day before (canoeing and hiking) we’re a little weary. In fact, Karen’s wounded from head to toe. Literally. She has a huge blister on her little pinkie, and a giant mosquito bite on her forehead. (That’s a modest bite from a giant mosquito, not a giant bite from a little critter. Must have been the only place on her body she hadn’t slathered copious lashings of bug cream.

Still, we finally make it to the shores of Lake Superior – our fifth and final lake, into which we dip our toes.

Seeing all of the different lakes (with a couple of small ones for good measure) has been fascinating. First, to get our heads around just how big they are – we’ve said it before, but they really are like inland seas. And second, to understand how different they are, from the beaches of Lake Michigan to the industrial ports of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, to the holiday cottage beauty of Lake Huron, and finally, the sheer natural splendour of lake Superior. Of course, we’ve only seen snapshots of each of the lakes, but you do get a feel for a different identity on each.

So we have a fairly easy day relaxing by our cabin on the (little) Au Train Lake, checking out a few bigger holiday villas around the lake in case we decide to come back with the kids, and taking a few shots of the local shoreline around the (slightly) bigger town near us, Munising, with its Grand Island in the bay.

Back at the cabin we relax in the sun for a while on the pontoon, only to be disturbed by one of those ducks. If you look closely you can see what’s riled him, ferreting along the shoreline just in front of our canoe:


Just as we’re summing up our reflections about Lake Superior, Karen notices the neighbour’s boat trailer. It’s Karen’s YouTube and Instagram name. Serendipity. Seems to appeal to the gypsy in her….

Great Lakes Road Trip Day 19: hiking the Chapel-Mosquito trail

We’d always planned to do some hiking while we were up here in the Upper Peninsula, and we chose the Chapel-Mosquito Trail.

Hike route

Getting there was an ordeal: first, a drive of about 30 miles, then 5 miles down a dirt-track road which really requires an off-road vehicle (not our Nissan Versa, taxed to its extreme by the potholes and stones as everyone else’s 4x4s whizzed on by). Finally, we reached our starting point. But was it worth while? You be the judge…

It took us five hours in all to cover about 10 miles of the trail. Of course, we had to stop for some photo-opportunities, and occasionally to pick our jaws up off the floor. The dunnies are made for outdoorsy types. Like flies and sloths. But that aside, it’s a walk in the park. Hiawatha National Park, to be precise.


First, there’s a pleasant stroll through densely wooded forest, skirting the Chapel Lake and ending at the Chapel Falls viewpoints. This is relatively easy-going, and for anyone pressed for time, about a 3m round trip, rewarded with these views:

But we ploughed on as the terrain got more rugged, weaving up and down with many tree roots and fallen trunks crossing the path. Nothing treacherous or arduous, but a good workout, making us feel that we’d earned our lunch when we stopped at Chapel Beach.

What can we say? Look at the turquoise water. No crowds, not an ice-cream vendor in sight. And at one corner of the cove, the extraordinary Chapel Rock – given its name in 1840 by the earliest Westerners to survey the southern landscape of Lake Superior.


From here, the hike hugs the coastline, giving ample views of what are known as the Pictured Rocks, sheer sandstone formations that have been layered with different colours as the height of water has changed over time. It reminded us of some of the rock formations in Death Valley, particularly the Artists Palette.



After about four miles, the hike crosses over the Mosquito River and heads inland once again, this time to the Mosquito Falls, by now around 9 miles into our trek, and – we were relieved to know – only another mile or so back to the parking lot.

Wowzers! This was the best day. Loved it – and when the blisters have gone down, we’ll definitely be back for more.

Great Lakes Road Trip Day 18: canoeing the Au Train River

The Au Train river winds its way lazily from Lake Au Train to Lake Superior. Although the distance as the crow flies is only a couple of miles, the river meanders such a lot that a trip by canoe takes well over four hours, negotiating the shallowest of waters, hairpin turns, and – literally – thousands of logs and fallen tree trunks blocking the route.


But it’s a great way to spend an afternoon.

And to our delight, along with the stunning views of the riverbank, we see all manner of birds and animals – including freshwater terrapins, water voles, and the ubiquitous ducks.




Great Lakes Road Trip Day 17: Three miles west of Christmas

Today we move into Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (UP) – sandwiched between three of the lakes. First, we cross the Mackinaw suspension bridge with Lake Michigan on our left and Lake Huron on our right. We’re saying goodbye to Huron, which we have enjoyed immensely – and we’ll be returning to Lake Michigan in a few days time. But our destination today is actually the smaller Lake Au Train, just a stone’s throw away from Lake Superior.

We drive for about three hours through Hiawatha National Forest, before coming to the vicinity of Au Train, and to our surprise…. look what we find:



It’s a reminder of what the winter months can be like out here – along with the signs for snowmobile speed limits and ski runs. However, it’s also a bit spooky for Dominic who has just finished writing this year’s LPAC Christmas show, Rapunzel. It’s like Christmas is chasing us…. but we’re keen to get to our base for the next few days, from which we hope to enjoy the outdoor life of the UP in the summer.

Well, we arrive: and Karen gets straight out onto the lake.

This is idyllic. Look at the view from our cabin’s sofa. We’re going to be happy here!


Great Lakes Road Trip Day 16: Bay City to Mackinaw City

Quick trivia quiz. Which popular music act had their upbringing in the lakeside town of Bay City, MI?

No – not the obvious Bay City Rollers, who were a Scottish act arbitrarily choosing Bay City for their name; nor was it Eminem, though he lives just a stone’s throw away in Rochester Hills, MI. In fact, it’s Madonna. So as the sun rises today (Monday) we head into Bay City in search of a) Madonna evidence, and more importantly b) breakfast.

The latter we find in “Morning at Maggie’s Omelette Shop“, which more or less does what it says on the tin. There’s Maggie (in a picture at least), there are omelettes, and there are lots of happy customers tucking into their frittata.

As for Madonna, there’s not a peep of evidence. Even the dress shop is called “Uptown Girl” rather than the more obvious “Material Girl”. Missed a trick there, peeps. (And before you start thinking that maybe Mr. Joel had his roots in Bay City too, think again: he hails from Hicksville, NY. Really.)

Still, Bay City is a pleasant enough town with an old world charm and pretty deserted streets for a Monday morning. There’s your usual scattering of mid-American buildings, diners and hotels, and other run-of-the-mill offerings like a huge planetarium and a helicopter on a pole.


But we’re only passing through, so we pay up at Maggie’s and head on our way, skirting the rest of lower Michigan’s peninsula en route for Mackinaw City.

The journey is much the same as yesterday – perhaps unsurprisingly. There are plenty more lighthouses, plenty more holiday cottages with stunning views over the lake, and from time to time a statue celebrating the fictional lumberjack Paul Bunyan.

Eventually, we find ourselves on a long stretch of forested road, and (not very) soon we reach our motel. It’s the Clearwater Lakeshore Motel, and although we don’t have a lakeshore room ourselves, it’s fair to say that this complex is right on the lakeside. At night, we find, they light log pits for the residents to sit out on the beach watching the sun set.

Heading into the town of Mackinaw City for dinner, we discover a local band playing live in the town’s bandstand, so we have a couple of beers and listen to the Springsteen Brothers playing covers of Eagles and Van Morrison songs – they’re really good. It was also great to see some of the Amish community out enjoying the music too. The town of Mackinaw is just on the right side of a stylish resort town – it’s clearly set up for the tourist trade with chintzy shops and a marina hugging the coast; but it’s relaxed and quite pretty.

Overcome with festival fever we skip into a tarot reader’s to have our fortunes told. We’re both going to live long and fruitful lives with great success just around the corner. Hoorah. Well worth $35 each for that, then. Must learn not to get trigger happy when we’ve had a beer or two. Later on, we eat at the Keyhole Bar and Grill, which begins to get a bit rowdy. Not really our cup of tea. More like Karen’s bowl of fiery chicken wings (she’s just gotta; Dom just doesn’t).

Most tourists seem to use Mackinaw as a stopping off point to visit Mackinac Island, which we don’t have time for. It sounds appealing – there are no cars, and just a handful of hotels; on the other hand, day trippers seem to throng over in ferries, and everyone we talk to assumes that the Island is where we’re headed. Maybe next time.

Of course, we do head to the beach and the fire pits before turning in, and chat with a chap from downstate who’s weekending here. It was nice to meet someone, though strangely, it was so dark that we couldn’t really see him, and we didn’t even exchange names. Just a conversation between passing strangers…


Great Lakes Road Trip Day 15: Michigan’s thumb

It’s time for a change of pace. Up to now we have been driving towards destinations: Wooster, Cleveland, Niagara, Toronto, Detroit. The drives themselves have been a means to an end and the cities we’ve been visiting have been the highpoints. But now, as we head up into rural Michigan, it will be the journeys that we start to relish.

Today’s takes in the “thumb” (so called because if you hold up your left hand it looks like lower Michigan, and hey: we’re driving around the thumb).


This takes us up the shoreline of Lake Huron, which we first glimpsed crossing over from Canada. And on this route, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the lakeside views. This has to be the most picturesque lake yet, not just for the scenery but also for the forested avenues we drive down, the hundreds of lakeside cottages that line the route, the small towns that are straight out of the 1950s, and the dozens of garage sales, yard sales, and driveway sales that make the M25 (yes, really) a thriving marketplace. It’s like Michigan’s car boot bonanza.

We stop off several times, enjoying Pointe aux Barques in particular. Here stands one of Michigan’s many lighthouses (they’re really important: some estimates reckon there are up to 10,000 wrecked ships in the Great Lakes!).

And as luck would have it, a little bit further down the road, we find the Caseville Cheeseburger Festival in full swing. We’d heard about this last night when a delightful lady in Nemo’s bar in Detroit told us about it. Well, you have to partake, don’t you? So we grabbed a $3 burger along with the hundreds of locals who had found their way to the tiny village.


It’s been a great day – and we’ve been kept company by bikers all along the route (perhaps they fancied a cheeseburger).


Towards evening we finally make it to Bay City, our stop for the night, to find a great riverview from our hotel window, and a lovely sunset approaching.


Great Lakes Road Trip days 13-14: Detroit

We’d been told that the drive from Toronto to Detroit was fairly bland. That was a bit unfair – the countryside is very pretty, if not spectacular (Karen reckons that Dominic’s bar is quite low: he grew up in Lincolnshire). En route, we stopped off for lunch in London (crossing the Thames River on the way), and came back into the US through Sarnia to avoid the queues (that paid off: we drove straight up to the barrier). Here we encountered our fourth lake: Lake Huron, with beautiful blue waters. We’ve left Lake Ontario and Lake Erie behind us now. Onwards, to Lake Huron and in a few days, Lake Superior.



First, it’s time to enjoy the delights of Detroit. No mistaking what this city is famous for.


So we visit the Ford Motor Museum. Wow. Make sure you have about three and a half weeks at your disposal. This is a colossal attraction, with far more to do than you can fit into one day.

We decide to throw all our eggs into one basket, and head to one of the attractions – Greenfield Village, a sort of historical theme park from the 19th century. There aren’t any rides, exactly; though you can ride in a Model T Ford, on a steam train and in a horse-drawn buggy. we didn’t because it cost an extra $16 each.

Who knew that Henry Ford lived next door to H. J. Heinz, down the street from Orville and Wilbur Wright, and round the corner from Thomas Edison? But he did: their houses are all here to prove it.

It’s a strange place; quite endearing but odd at the same time – perhaps in the same way that any theme park is. But the village was full of village people, reenacting ordinary life eating dinner, playing ball, strolling down the streets, and driving more Model T cars than you’ve ever seen in one place. Among the highlights were a historical baseball game, chatting to the actors/residents, and we also found a theatre with a Cole Porter event followed by a Broadway show. Karen couldn’t believe her luck (sarcasm is the lowest form of wit). Dominic was, as always, super chuffed to hear some Rodgers and Hart numbers – who woulda thunked it.

You could choose to dine 1850s style, but we opted for a more modest afternoon tea situated in a beautiful garden that we thought our friend Maricar would like very much.


On another note, Karen was very amused by the Doctor’s house. Suffering with the odd bout of constipation, especially after flying, the name of the elixir for regulating stool movements seemed very apt (it’s the first barrel below). Karen will now be shouting this at appropriate points 🙂

On our way back into town we take in some of the striking 1930s architecture – especially that of the now-abandoned Michigan Central Station.

Back at the ranch we took advantage of happy hour and plotted our evening’s entertainment – we can go to a punk rock night (possibly), an Italian followed by some jazz (maybe), or hang out at the hotel and be amused by a 1988 high-school reunion event (oh yes!). We are thinking that we could possibly blag our way in to this – we are after all about the right age, and…who knows how people change over 30 years. There are always going to be those couple of people who you never remember – and what fun we could have…