TRAVEL

Back to Chicago

Headed Towards Home, the Long Way

Luckily the road back to Chicago was not as grueling as it had been in the other direction, perhaps because the bad construction was earlier in the day and Bill was driving.

We arrived in Chicago late afternoon and headed towards our hotel. I used the Hotel Tonight app for the very first time and found a deal for a Hilton Garden Inn in Evanston at a pretty decent rate. I had downloaded the app a long time ago full of hopes of quick weekend getaways. That had not materialized, but it came in handy for this use.

There was one little hitch in our get along. Chicago was under construction. Our GPS would send us in one direction and the detour sign would send us in another. Can you say annoying? I know we went by one particular area at least three times. Mr. Bill was not a happy camper.

Our arrival in Evanston was a little happier. It was calm and charming. We found our hotel very easily, but we chose not to take advantage of the hotel’s valet parking (for which there was a charge). Instead, Bill dumped me and the luggage at the curb and parked next door at a municipal parking lot.

Once we were in our room, it was definitely time for Mr. Bill’s nap. Perhaps I was reading or catching up with social media, but what I should have done was catch up with my travel journal. My last entry had been leaving the hotel on our way back to Clarkston. That should tell you just how disruptive that little business related snafu was. My vacation had been derailed and a day later I still had not picked up all the pieces. I was merely doing what came next.

A Little Surprise

Thanks to social media, we had learned that one of our very best friends was going to be in Chicago the next day. Ludger (He was the one getting married in my At the Whim of the Gods Tale.) was going to be at the Chicago Merchandise Mart for a show the next day. The reason it could be a surprise was because while Ludger has no social media footprint, his wife does keep up with us on Facebook. So, as Bill napped I was cooking up the details with Tammy.

Next up was dinner. Come back next week and I’ll introduce you to Terra & Vine, a great place for a meal.

TRAVEL

Vacation Interrupted

The Trials & Tribulations of Small Business Ownership

And now let us interrupt your vacation and drive you to madness! People who work for others often think how lucky those business owners are. The employees have visions of them taking off whenever they want, never having to ask for a raise, always having someone else to do the dirty work and getting downright rich. Granted there are probably some of those business owners out there, but the rest of us poor stiffs are lucky when our income beats our expenses, we have to worry about all kinds of compliance issues and we work virtually all the time. Even when we are away on vacation, the phone rings and we have to put on our professional voice.

We’ve owned Spot On Images since 2017. Slowly and carefully we’ve built a reputation for providing great real estate marketing images to some of the best Realtors® in our area. I already shared the nightmare I went through trying to get out of town, but I thought we’d gotten the kinks out. I really didn’t anticipate much of a problem.

However, when I got back to my family’s house and tried to download the images our photographer had sent, it just wasn’t happening. Thank goodness, I have forgotten every little detail of the headache, but I don’t know that I’ll ever forget what a headache it was.

After getting the images sent off, I relaxed, watched a movie with my family and enjoyed the pizza we ordered for dinner. Since this time we did work out all the kinks, I anticipated getting all the photos delivered without a hitch the next morning. Then we were planning to go to Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village. It was going to be great – right.

Well, thanks to Murphy’s Law, for the first time in I can’t remember when, the editors did not get the images back to me early in the morning, as they always did. When Bill woke, I was on pins and needles. He tried to scrape me off the ceiling, but it wasn’t doing much good.

I am deeply invested in the well-being of our clients. It’s why I stayed up the whole night before we left on vacation. I’m not the sort to say, “Gee sorry, the photos came in late, you’ll just have to wait, because I’m getting on a plane.” To make matters more personal, our clients are my friends. Our marketing plan is me. I went out and found these people myself and made promises to them. They aren’t faceless names who chose us off the internet.

In this case, the photos came so late that my friend was already wondering where they were. We have a 24 hour turnaround and the 24 hours had passed. I had let her know we had run into some problems, but she’d made promises to her clients that their listing would be up. We were late.

I sent the photos off as soon as they came in, but our rather new photographer had not satisfied our client with his shooting skills. Had we been at home, there were so many things we could do to resolve all this, but as it was, there were only so many things I could actually do. I did all of them and the listing went up, but not to the standards my friend and client expected.

By now, the whole morning was gone and I was literally sick from dealing with all the stress. Greenfield Village was not in my future. The guys and the kids found things to do, like tennis and other activities at the neighborhood’s country club. Maggie took me to a really cute shopping center which focused on local craftsmen. However, the day had been ruined. Too much stress and frustrations for a shopping trip to fix.

That evening, all of us had dinner together at the club. Things were winding down. It was time for us to head back to Chicago.

TRAVEL

Our Day on Mackinac Island Winds Down

Strutting and Putting

After our “witty” carriage driver dropped us off at the tourist trap terminal, another carriage took us into town where we reconnected with the rest of the family. The girls were shopping and the boys had found some putting greens. After buying up some obligatory Mackinac Island fudge, Bill and I strutted off in the direction of the putting greens.

Were I the type to wear sensible shoes, this little stroll would have been a lot more fun, because the scenery was charming – one lovely Victorian home after another. As I’ve mentioned, the Grand Hotel has a dress code and in honor of my mom, I held myself to an even higher fashion code. I’d worn a pair of strappy, high heeled espadrilles to go along with my large-brimmed sunhat and floral dress.

Now on a normal day, these shoes serve me well. In my experience with them, they had qualified as comfortable shoes. Stomping up and down the hilly streets of Mackinac Island they were torture chambers.

I wasn’t totally insane. I had put a pair of flip flops in my back pack, but I’d waited a little bit too long to change into them. By the time we met up with Shad and Daniel, I had blisters on the bottom of my feet. Every step was miserable and quite frankly there were a lot of steps.

Please, I Just Want to Sit Down

Bill scurried down to the putting greens as soon as he saw the guys and I trudged on to a promising looking patio. You can see the yellow umbrellas in the first photo above, it was near by, but to my poor sore feet, it felt like another mile.

As I approached, I observed a couple of tables with patrons, but the balance of the tables were empty. So, I imagined being able to sink into a seat and take the load off my poor tired dogs almost instantaneously. However, the restaurant was not exactly happy to see me.

In fact, they really didn’t want to seat me. At first, they just shuffled me back and forth between an outdoor hostess station and another one inside. I’m not usually the pushy type. Tell me no and I will go away, but a quick survey of the area told me these were the only seats within sight line of the golfers.

The only options I could imagine to relaxing under one of those yellow umbrellas was either plopping down in the grass, which I am allergic to, or figuring out someplace else to go and then walk there. Desperation was setting in.

The people in charge had left me standing somewhere in between the two hostess stations without any indication of what their problem with me might be. A waiter approached and asked if I was there for dinner. I said no, I just wanted to have a glass of wine while my family played on the putting greens. “You leave by seven?” I looked at my watch. Seven was still hours away. “YES! I leave by seven!!”

The waiter led me to a table and I wanted to kiss him. Instead, when it was time to go I left him an obscenely large tip. Come back next week and find out what happened next!

TRAVEL

Carriage Ride on Mackinac Island

Not What Mom Had in Mind

One of Mom’s fondest memories of Mackinac Island was a carriage ride around the island, so of course, I wanted to take one, too. I am quite certain things had changed since Mom visited, because I do not remember my carriage ride with same fondness she remembered hers.

To begin with, I think her ride was on a Grand Hotel carriage, driven by a member of the excellent Grand Hotel staff. Mine was not. We caught a carriage downtown that took us to the tourist trap of all tourist traps. Little did I know that short trip would be the best part of the experience. Our carriage driver for that short hop was a Mackinac Island long-time resident. She knew and loved her horses. Her carriage was pristine. She knew and loved the island.

Then we arrived at the terminal. In non-Covid times it is probably a bustling building. For us it was an empty barn-like place with a tacky souvenir shop. Like most Covid-related disappointments, I just tried to ignore it. The carriages bringing customers from downtown dropped people off on one side and the tour carriages were loaded on the other. We went through the building, to the tour side and waited for our carriage to arrive.

I have nothing to say about the carriage ride except that the driver was a disaster. Some kid from someplace else and limited carriage driving experience was our driver. He didn’t know or love the horses. He certainly didn’t know or love the island. What he loved was himself and his wit. Yep, it was miserable.

However, Mackinac Island was beautiful and much of it I would not have been able to see without the “witty” carriage driver, so I am glad I went – this time. I would never do it again. I would ride bikes like my family did while we took the carriage.

I’m not going to let a bad driver keep you from seeing the beauty of the island though, so here are some pics.

The day isn’t over, yet. We got back together with our family for some final moments on Mackinac, so come back next week for some more fun (and no “witty” carriage drivers.

TRAVEL

Lunch at the Grand Hotel

Time for Lunch

Well, the gang’s all here and true to what I’d heard, the lunch buffet was really an event. The number of choices available was astounding. The service was gracious. It was a dream come true – sort of – and I am grateful to my family for the chance to have the experience.

Still, it wasn’t THE dream come true. Aside from that rocking chair moment, this wasn’t the Grand Hotel experience my mom had wished for me. Mom had come to the Grand Hotel on a bus tour called Great Hotels of the East with my sister and my aunt. They’d already stayed at Mohunk Mountain House and other amazing places. Stepping off the ferry, they’d boarded a horse drawn carriage and been welcomed at the front desk as guests, without paying a $10 fee and being handed a self-guided tour pamphlet. They stayed in the uniquely decorated guest rooms and were invited to the tea dances and the formal evening dinner. Most of all, there was nothing called COVID going on and the hotel was full to bursting with others who were enjoying all the Grand Hotel had to offer.

For Mom, this was the ultimate experience. Oh, she’d been to Europe on one of those 32-countries-in-16-days tours. She’d visited the British Isles. She’d been to Hawaii. She’d planned and enjoyed innumerable road trips, but she never had the opportunity to do the kinds of things I have done.

Her tours of England and Europe happened on a bus, shuffling through major tourist attractions with 60 or so people she would never see again. She never wandered Britain on her own, staying at bed and breakfast inns and taking her time on Cotswold backroads or seeing the Potteries with some locals she chatted up at a pub. She hadn’t stayed at the Mena House in the shadow of the Pyramids, sailed on the Nile or ridden a hantoor through Alexandria. She never attended a friend’s wedding in a German cathedral nor her nephew’s wedding in Cairo. She’d never taken a river cruise down the Nile or hurried through the streets of Budapest to make it back to the boat on time. She didn’t celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary with a vow renewal ceremony on a luxury cruise ship in the Mediterranean.

The leap my mother made from working at the five & dime on the Square in McKinney TX to sitting on the porch at the Grand Hotel was pretty amazing. It was beyond her wildest dreams. She wanted so much for me to have the same moment she did at the Grand Hotel, but by the time I got there I’d ridden to the Pyramids on a camel, feasted in the Sinai, watched a ballet performance in the Schönbrunn Palace, had drinks at the Monaco Yacht Club as the guest of the CEO of Celebrity Cruise Lines and so much more.

Still, I didn’t do what she did at the Grand Hotel. I was just a visitor, not a guest. So while I can say I have been to the Grand Hotel, staying there will remain on my bucket list. I have no idea what will take me back, but there are many places and many experiences I never even had enough imagination to dream, until they actually happened to me, so I will keep the faith that there are more exciting things in my future than there have been in my past.

Come back next week. There are still adventures on Mackinaw Island. We’ll take a carriage ride around the island next.

TRAVEL

On Our Way to the Grand Hotel

An Exciting Day Begins

For years, it didn’t matter which exotic and exciting place I told my mother we were about to visit, her response was the same, “I sure wish you’d go to the Grand Hotel.” Well, when I woke up in the Marriot Courtyard Inn in Petoskey, Mom’s wish was about to come true.

I was up early like I always am and hit the shower, because we had tickets for the first Shepler Ferry Boat of the day. Then I went down to the cafe where I’d already scoped out the fact that they had Diet Dr Pepper. Returning to the room, I helped Bill get ready for the day, because we all had to report to the lobby at 7:30 AM sharp. Our ride on the ferry was without incident and we were soon on Mackinac Island.

Welcome to Mackinac Island

We made our way down the gangplank and onto the island. The one thing everyone knows about Mackinac Island is that there are no motorized vehicles allowed. Near the pier you can catch many types of horse drawn vehicles, but we opted to walk up the hill to the Grand Hotel.

What a charming place it was! My excitement was building with every step. I was nearing the place my mother had recommended to me for years on end.

Then suddenly the wait was over. I was at The Grand Hotel.

If you’ve never been, then be warned, you can’t just waltz in for a visit. There’s a $10 per person fee for everyone. And you can’t show up barefoot in your bikini. Proper dress is required. After 6PM men require a jacket and The Grand Hotel does not believe women should wear slacks. I guess we passed muster, because they gladly took our money and allowed us to take our self-guided tour of the grounds.

My mother had told me all about rules and for her sake I’d dressed up for our day on Mackinac, from my full brimmed sun-hat, to my floral dress, to my snazzy shoes, I was intent on making Mom proud.

The place has a huge visual impact, but I just couldn’t wait to get out on that long front porch and sit in one of their rocking chairs. Mom loved everything about The Grand Hotel but she loved those rocking chairs best of all. I finally planted myself in one and whispered to my mom, “Well, Ruth, I made it.”

Emotion swept over me in a way I never expected. Tears began to run down my face and my shoulders shook, from my sobs. I guess everyone else thought I was crazy, but Mom and I were having a moment.

The tears passed and the moment was over. I was ready for my self-guided tour. Bill and I headed one way and the rest of them headed in another. Here’s a sample of what we saw.

After walking around inside the hotel, we set out to see something of the grounds. Everything is immaculately maintained. I saw no leaf out of place, no paint beginning to peel and every single piece of grass seemed to be part of a large shag carpet. Here’s a few of those exterior shots, including our fellow travelers and us.

Our sweet nephew had arranged for us all to have the amazing buffet lunch. Soon it was time to make our way back to the dining room to be seated. I was really excited, because my mom had certainly been fond of the meals at The Grand Hotel. Come back next week and find out how it was.

TRAVEL

Chateau Chantal

Elegant Winery with Breath-taking Views

To top off a marvelous day, our nephew had one more place to show us. After our historical break, it was time to hit our last winery. This one was Chateau Chantal and it had visions of grandeur.

Chateau Chantal is more than just a winery. It is also an inn with 11 guestrooms, so driving up to it, one had the sense of driving up to something magnificent. I can imagine that a stay there would be quite nice. If northern Michigan is on your list, I can recommend staying here as your headquarters, while you spend several days exploring the area.

The beautiful aerial shot is an result of Bill bringing along his drone on this vacation. We’d already had it out once, showing the kids how it worked, flying it around their neighborhood. The grandiose vistas around Chateau Chantal inspired him to pull it out again.

Perched on the highest ground in the area, the chateau dominates the landscape and from it’s patio you can see just how beautiful the area is. The architecture is reminiscent of a chateau, but one on a rustic farm, not something like Château de Chambord.

Entering the front door left one a little confused about what to do. There was a host/hostess station, but no one was stationed there. An area appeared to be roped off for a line, but there was no line. So, we wandered in and the guys tried to figure out how to get tastings and perhaps a bite to eat. The tastings were great. The bite to eat was packaged snacks that tasted as if they’d been waiting for a while to be chosen.

Still the view was out of this world, so we enjoyed it. Most of the others agreed it was the best winery of the day. Personally, I gave wine honors to Black Star Farms, though it’s not a place I’d want to spend an afternoon. I thought be best experience was at Mari Vineyards and I still regret we didn’t have a picnic.

Winding Down from the Wineries

Remember the trials and tribulations of getting out of town. You know the ones where I had to stay up all night to get work from our editors delivered to all our customers, before we left town. Then there was the early morning flight and the five hour road trip. Well, it all caught up with me and after we climbed back in the car from visiting Chateau Chantal, I dozed off.

We checked into the Marriot Courtyard Inn in Petoskey and the rest of the crew went to dinner, but this girl went to bed. Before moving on to our next adventures, I will share a few pictures, but come back next week, because we’ll be going to Mackinac Island!

Architecture, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Mari Vineyards – The Oak Island Winery

Thanks to the Curse We Had a Great Experience

Yep, I’m a fan of The Curse of Oak Island, but Shad, who did all the planning, is not a Lagina Brothers groupie. When he sent me an outline of what he intended for us to do, I did some poking around on the internet. It’s there I saw Mari Vineyards on an attractions map outside Traverse City. I knew this was one of Marty Lagina’s many enterprises and it would not have any direct connection to the TV show I loved, but I still wanted to go. Our host accommodated my desire.

WOW! Is This It?

Fresh off our visit to Black Star Farms, we were hoping for something a bit more, shall we say, engaging. While a covered porch and adjacent farmyard has a certain allure for some people, it’s not exactly my scene. Mari Vineyards suited my taste to a tee. To begin with, the winery sits on a gorgeous piece of real estate, with a commanding view of the area. Even if wine is not your thing, you can’t help but love the view.

As you can see from the first photo, the architecture and accoutrements are also much more upscale. The patio was particularly inviting. I loved the exterior so much I never made it inside, but according to the others, the restroom facilities were nice and the staff was pleasant.

Honestly, however, the wine was not outstanding. I’d give the wine honors to Black Star, but if I was looking for a great way to spend an afternoon, Mari Vineyards would win hands down and I’d probably bring a picnic.

Traveling with Kids

So, I don’t do kids. I like to see them at church and I enjoy my great niece and great nephews in very short spurts, if they can be returned to their parents after a bit, but I don’t dote on them the way some people do. That being said, these kids were pretty great. Major kudos to the parents in both cases. Hannah and Daniel are both obedient, intelligent and respectful.

Hannah is a sweetheart all the way around, perhaps a bit of a Daddy’s girl, but who could blame her Dad when she works so hard to please him.

Daniel is a whole ‘nother ball of wax, a real cut up and slightly naughty. Catching him for a photo was a hit or miss thing. He seemed to know just when to make that face or strike a pose to highlight the imp inside.

Hannah, who is older, can sit quietly and needs little supervision, with or without her ipad. Daniel can sit quietly forever, if he’s playing a game, but once the electronic devise is ripped from his hands, one needs to keep an eye on him and should you fail to do so, he’ll find a way to get your attention.

Wineries are not exactly kid-friendly, so after our second one, we took another tack, visiting the Old Mission Lighthouse. Come back next week and check that out!

TRAVEL

On the Road Again

Our Family’s Home

Visiting Michigan

Imagine our joy when we arrived at this beautiful home, which is even more beautiful inside than it is outside. Waiting for us was Bill’s niece, Maggie, her husband, Shad, our great niece, Hannah and our great nephew, Daniel. They were the most gracious hosts and hostesses you can possibly imagine. A big meal was planned and it seemed everyone had something exciting to say. I would tell you more, except for the fact I can barely remember anything. I was a zombie.

I do know the first order of business was to reorganize all our luggage, because we were leaving the next morning for a road trip. Eventually, I excused myself from all the fun and slept like the dead. I’m sure I missed a lot. These are Egyptians. Life begins at about 9 PM.

On to Traverse City

I can’t help it. I was up at five. I took a bath and got myself ready for a day of sightseeing. Bless my family’s heart! My love of Diet Dr Pepper is well known. The frig was stocked well with them and my nephew, the doctor, said my red eyes and slight sore-throat would succumb to a Claritin. By 7 AM I was human.

My great niece and I took the seats at the very back. She was an absolute joy and a great travel partner. My great nephew was a little fussy. Within an hour, we made the first potty stop. By about 10, we had to make another one. Too many women in one car. Hannah and I were the most frequent potty flyers.

The Apache Trout Grill

The first official stop on this road trip was the Apache Trout Grill. Though I had never heard of it, it’s popularity cannot be denied. We shared Brussel Sprouts and Shrimp Bruchetta for appetizers. For lunch I had something call Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad, which doesn’t begin to hint at the Bleu Cheese, Cherries and Mandrian Oranges which were in it. YUM!!

But the best was yet to come. Behind the restaurant is a dock with chairs all lined up for your relaxation comfort. Here’s a few of our moments on the dock.

After allowing our delicious meal an opportunity to digest it was time to take on the afternoon’s agenda of wine tasting. Come back next week and taste along with us.

TRAVEL

Clarkson MI via Chicago IL

So, Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?

We like to save money. We can’t help it. When I researched flights to Michigan, I discovered (thanks to our friend, Mr. Pandemic) our flight to Detroit or Flint would be comparable to our flight to Rome just a couple of years before. I’d pulled every trick out of the book to make the Rome flights affordable, changing planes and enduring overnight layovers to save a few bucks. To pay virtually the same to get to Michigan seemed ridiculous.

I started looking for alternatives. Chicago was only five hours and many hundreds of dollars less, according to my research. I imagined an early flight and an easy five hour drive was worth hundreds of dollars. I mean this money was coming out of my travel budget and that’s the most precious funds I have access to. Bill said it was a no-brainer and, as I bonus we love Chicago, so we might end the trip with a day or two there.

The Good Idea Meets Reality

In my wildest dreams, I would have never guessed I would have been up for 24 hours by the time we got to the airport, but thanks to some random problem with our network, that was exactly the case. While other folks are able to catch a nap on the plane, in spite of my total exhaustion, that wasn’t possible for me. I’m lucky to grab even a couple of hours of sleep on international flights. About all I could manage on the short hop to Chicago was to rest my gravelly eyes. No sleep would come.

In Chicago, we grabbed a rental car and hit the road. Whoever (Google) said it was going to be a five hour drive obviously was out of touch with reality. Traffic was a nightmare and there was a lot of construction. There was a goodly amount of navigating to do through Illinois, so I stayed awake to help, but once we crossed over into Michigan, I was finally able to doze off.

It seemed as if I had only dozed off for a moment or two, but in reality I had a good nap. Bill, who certainly isn’t used to getting up at 4 AM, was fading fast. When I moved a little bit and fluttered my eyes, he asked if I would drive. I wanted to ask, “Are you kidding?”, but instead I told him to pull over at the next opportunity and I would fight it for a while.

The Torture Chamber

Bill dozed off the second I took over the wheel. A few moments later a sign announced I was approaching some construction and I thought to myself, “HA! As if we haven’t had it all along.”

It was true that Bill had driven through some construction, but nothing like I was about to face. As the lanes narrowed down, one truck pulled in front of me and another fell in line behind me. Then suddenly there were concrete barricades on either side of me and the road was rough. That’s when it began to rain.

Tears came to eyes just as they had at 3 AM, as I fought to deliver the images to our customers, so they’d have them within our designated time frame. I knew I had a job to do. I just didn’t know how I was going to do it. Bill may not have been up for as many hours as I had, but he’d valiantly driven for hours on end, while I dozed. It was his turn.

Imagine driving, in the rain, on a strange road, with a truck ahead of you and one behind you, when you can’t see over the concrete barriers on either side of you. Oh, and don’t forget the rough road. I had no idea how Bill could be asleep.

I remembered a trip we’d taken many years ago. Bill was driving a moving truck, pulling a car. We were in Albuquerque NM and rain was pouring so hard that you could barely see the car ahead of you, much less the signs over the road. I was behind Bill, in my car, and we were using our phones like walkie talkies. In spite of the fact I could barely see, I was directing Bill, as he drove ahead of me. I looked over to my dog who was in the seat next to me. I thought animals could sense danger, but my Shih Tzu was dead asleep. I must create a false sense of security when I drive.

Back in Michigan, I put in about an hour and a half in that moving torture chamber and I was done. That’s about the time the road opened up and the trucks zoomed away. I pulled off at the next McDonald’s for a potty stop and for Bill to take back the wheel. He took us on to Clarkson and to the home of our family. Come back next week, because things do get better.