History

Storks and More in Strasbourg

As I mentioned in my last post, the stork holds a special place in the hearts of Alsatians. The large white bird with black tipped wings has been commonplace in this region for millennia giving rise to various local folk tales. You’re probably familiar with the legend of the stork delivering babies, but you, like me, may not know much beyond that. Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen first popularized the fairy tale with his story, The Storks, a rather gruesome tale which I wouldn’t share with children. (Click on the title to read the story.) According to our tour guide, babies are retrieved from under the marshes by storks who deliver them to the home. Another Alsatian folk tale says if a child wants a baby brother or sister, they leave a sugar cube on the windowsill to attract a stork to leave a baby.

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Storks long returned to Alsace for the warm months signifying the arrival of spring after wintering as far away as Africa. In the 1970’s, however, the population decreased to only a few remaining pairs. A number of environmental conditions threatened the population but our guide cited electrocution by flying into high voltage electrical wires as one of the main causes. In 1983, France initiated a successful repopulation program resulting in around 600 pairs nesting in the Alsace region today.

Capitalizing on their presence, the symbol of the stork is ubiquitous in Strasbourg. I understand the birds roam freely in the Parc d’Orangerie but, unfortunately, our tour didn’t take us there.

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Stork mural in Strasbourg

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Every tourist shop sells storks

We did, however, see lots of other sights in Strasbourg. As we arrived, our bus took us past the Palace of Europe, headquarters of the Council of Europe, the leading human rights organization on the continent of Europe with 47 member states.

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Palais de L’Europe

French President Emmanuel Macron visited the headquarters that day and delivered a speech at the European Court of Human Rights. Because of his visit, we saw many police officers and military in the vicinity but alas, we didn’t glimpse Macron.

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Police officers in Strasbourg

Strasbourg is also the official seat of the European Parliament where laws for the EU are debated and passed. My photo of it is terrible because it was into the sun and the window glare was horrible but you get the idea.

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Parliament of Europe

Our guide explained some history of Strasbourg and told us her mother and grandmother changed nationalities 3 times although they never moved from Strasbourg. Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace which today is called the Grand Est region of France. The city is situated near the Rhine River which is the border with Germany. In the Franco-German War (1870-71) Germany annexed Alsace. After WWI, the area was returned to France; it was taken by Germany again in WWII and returned to France after the war. Our guide’s grandmother and mother must have been born after WWI.

From the bus, we spied the Barrage Vauban which is a bridge and a dam, designed by military engineer Sebastien Vauban as part of the city’s fortifications and opened in 1690. Today, it is open to the public and has a terrace on top with great views of the Old Town. If you look closely, you can see people on top.

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Barrage Vauban

The nearby covered bridges have retained their name but not their covers. These three bridges cross the River Ill each guarded by a tower and were once part of the 14th-century ramparts.

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Covered bridges with two of the towers

Once the bus parked, we commenced our walking tour of Grande Ill, the Big Island, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the historic section of Strasbourg.

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View of the steeple of the cathedral from the River Ill

While the buildings weren’t as colorful as those in Colmar, they were nonetheless captivating. The half-timbered buildings in the Petite France neighborhood evoke a medieval atmosphere without the foul stench which would have once permeated the air.

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Petit France

We stopped to watch a swinging bridge that once operated by hand but has long been motorized to clear the way for boats passing through. See it operate in the short video below.

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Swinging bridge

Then we were treated to an accordion player playing lively French tunes for passersby.

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An accordion player in Strasbourg

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View from one of many bridges with the Tanners House on the right, today a restaurant

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Narrow Rue des Dentelles in the Petite France neighborhood

Dating from the 15th-century, the ornate Kammerzell House is the most famous building in Strasbourg. Once a wealthy merchant’s home, today it houses a fine restaurant.

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Kammerzell House

Although Kammerzell House is reputed to be the most famous building in Strasbourg, Notre-Dame Cathedral is the most impressive and awe-inspiring, in my opinion. Construction commenced in 1015 and the spire was finally completed in 1439. The 466 foot (142 m) high building was the tallest in Christendom until the 19th century and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.

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Notre-Dame Cathedral

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Statues surrounding the door on the facade of the cathedral

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Interior of Cathedral

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Interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral

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The Rose Window

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Rub the dog’s head for luck

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Windows in Notre-Dame Cathedral

The case of the well-known astronomical clock of Strasbourg dates from the 16th century but the mechanism was replaced in 1838. It drew a huge crowd to see the mechanism in action but we were too early for the main show. Every day at 12:30, 18-inch tall figures of the Apostles process past Jesus, turning to face him as they pass.

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Astronomical clock

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Panoramic view of Notre-Dame Cathedral

After our tour, we had free time with instructions to meet in the square outside the cathedral so our guide could lead us back to the bus for our return to our ship, the Viking Kara. I decided to check out a few of the shops on my own while my husband stayed in the square. A few streets away from the cathedral, I found a darling shop featuring foies gras which I decided to purchase for my adult children to enjoy an authentic French treat. Those of you who know me personally may be aware that I have a very poor sense of direction. Feeling pleased with my purchase, I left the shop and promptly turned in the wrong direction. I compounded the problem by changing direction several times to get my bearings which got me hopelessly confused and lost. When I discovered I’d left my credit card at the shop, I was so disoriented and anxious I couldn’t even find my way back to the shop. I finally stood still, took a couple of deep breaths, and walked slowly along the street until I found the shop. By then the shop was packed with shoppers but fortunately, my credit card was on the counter where I’d left it. My relief was palpable as I made my way back to the square.

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Foies Gras de Strasbourg

On our return ride to the ship, when I heard Strasbourg hosts the best Christmas Market in Europe, I decided a return visit to this delightful city is in my future.

Based on events from October 2017.

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, Germany, History, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Walk through Medieval Colmar

Undoubtedly one of the most picturesque towns in France, Colmar is located in the northeast in the Alsace region just 10 miles from the Rhine River. Rick Steves calls Colmar Alsace’s most enchanting city and, while I haven’t seen every city, I heartily agree. Old Town Colmar felt like we stepped back in time with its cobblestone streets and medieval architecture. And, despite a population of nearly 70,000, the medieval section of this small city is entirely walkable.

We arrived after lunch for our first optional excursion on our Viking River Cruise of the Rhine. Our guide informed us Colmar is the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor who created Liberty Enlightening the World, otherwise known as the Statue of Liberty. In fact, we were greeted into the city by a replica of the famous statue. By the way, did you know another replica stands on the River Seine in Paris? I’ve seen the original and these two replicas but there are dozens more around the world. How many have you seen?

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Replica of the Statue of Liberty in Colmar, France

Side note: The Statue of Liberty representing the Roman god of liberty, Libertus, holding a tablet inscribed with JULY IV MDCCLXXVI” (July 4, 1776) was a gift from the people of France to the United States to commemorate France’s support in the American Revolution. Designed by Auguste Bartholdi and built by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame, the statue was dedicated on October 28, 1886. Designated a National Monument in 1924, it stands on Liberty Island in New York Harbor.

Now back to Colmar. We began our walking tour at Place d’Unterlinden.

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Panorama of Place d’Unterlinden

For those with mobility issues, the Petit Train Touristique departed nearby providing narrated tours.

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Petit Train Tour

We, however, preferred to walk with our guide pointing out points of interest as we ambled along.

The Unterlinden Museum, housed in a 13th-century convent, is one of the most visited fine arts museums outside of Paris and houses the famous Isenheim Altarpiece painted by Matthias Grunwald with carvings by Niclaus of Haguenau. This masterpiece was completed around 1515 for the nearby monastery in Isenheim which ministered to peasants suffering from skin diseases. The altarpiece is a disturbing work of art for its realistic and tortured depiction of the crucifixion of Christ.   Unfortunately, we didn’t see it as we didn’t have time to tour the museum.

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Unterlinden Museum

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Restaurant Pfeffel next to Unterlinden Museum

Our next stop was at the House of Heads. Constructed in 1609 for wealthy merchant Anton Burger, the facade is adorned with 106 heads. A cooper, sculpted by Auguste Bartholdi (him again!), standing atop the gable was added in 1902 when the building was used as the Wine Exchange.

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Maison des Tetes, House of Heads

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Cooper standing atop the House of Heads

You may have noticed the sign on a building across the street from the House of Heads. In case you missed it, here’s a closer view.

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Sign by Oncle Hansi

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Another of Oncle Hansi’s signs

Jean-Jaques Waltz, nicknamed Oncle Hansi, (1873-1951) was a Colmar artist who painted idyllic and whimsical watercolors and was known for his anti-German sentiments during World Wars I and II when Germany controlled Alsace. He also designed signs around Colmar, several of which are pictured above. Today, the Hansi Museum celebrates the work of this Colmar native son.

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Hansi Museum

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Shops in Old Town Colmar

Built beginning in 1235, St. Martin’s Church is the most imposing gothic Catholic church in middle Alsace. During the French Revolution, it served briefly as a cathedral but does not maintain the designation because a bishop isn’t assigned there. Note the red box on the photo below. I placed it there to point out a stork nest on the top of the church. Storks hold a special place in the hearts of Alsatians and I’ll tell you more about them in my post about Strasbourg.

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St. Martin’s Church

The Adolph House is the oldest house in Colmar, dating from around 1350.

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The nearby 17th century half-timbered zum Kragen House is frequently photographed due to the carved marchand (merchant) perched on the corner of the house.

 

The Pfister House was built in 1537 for Ludwig Scherer, a wealthy hatter. The murals on the facade represent biblical scenes and characters, church fathers, evangelists, and Germanic emperors of the 16th century.

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Auguste Bartholdi’s eponymous museum occupies the family home where the sculptor was born and grew up. Outside the entrance is a beautiful bronze sculpture created by Bartholdi, Les Grand Soutiens du Monde, representing justice, labor and the motherland supporting the world.

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Bartholdi Museum

Our tour guide left us in the Tanner’s District with instructions about what time to meet at Place d’Unterlinden for our return to the ship. We explored the area on our own then headed to the area called Little Venice for its location on a canal.

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Tanner’s district

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Little Venice in Colmar

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Little Venice

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Little Venice

Finally, after a romantic stroll around Little Venice, we wandered back to the appointed meeting place at Place d’Unterlinden where we met up with our friends, Lori and Heather, for the bus ride back to our ship.

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Selfie to prove we were here

I was delighted with this extra excursion although Jim would also have enjoyed the other optional excursion, Colmar in WWII: Museum and Memorial. That tour included a visit to the Colmar Pocket where American and French forces battled the Germans during the winter of 1944-45 finally liberating the area from the Nazis. It’s also the place where Audie Murphy made his heroic stand seizing a .50-caliber machine gun on the turret of a burning tank destroyer to fire on approaching Nazi troops. His actions forced the approaching German tanks to fall back and earned Murphy the Medal of Honor.

It was a good day in the Alsace region and we looked forward to the following day in Strasbourg, France.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, France, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Let Them Eat (Black Forest) Cake

You’ve probably heard of Black Forest cake, the eponymous dessert originating in the Black Forest of Germany. You may also be aware the Brothers Grimm used the Black Forest as the setting for fairy tales they wrote including Snow White, Rapunzel, and Hansel and Gretel. But did you know the cuckoo clock originated in this area? And glass production in this region dates back to the 12th century. These lessons and more awaited us on the second excursion of our Viking River Cruise along the Rhine River.

The view from our ship on the Rhine as we awakened that morning promised a beautiful autumn morning for our bus tour.

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Morning on the Rhine River at Breisach, Germany

Heather and I learned the previous day to get to the bus early so we would be first in line to snag the front seats. This lesson served us well for the entire trip. Although photos weren’t always the best quality through the bus windows due to the glare, it was helpful to see where we were going.

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Our bus trip to the Black Forest

It was also helpful to know by our tour guide’s map the area we’d cover.

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Map of our bus tour

And just so you know where the Black Forest is located in southwest Germany, here’s one more map.

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Location of the Black Forest in Germany

The scenery along the way kept my gaze directed out the window, beginning with the vineyards of reisling and pinot noir grapes. I’m not a big fan of reisling or pinot, but when in Rome, as they say.

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Vineyards in the countryside

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Terraced vineyards

In the distance, we could see the Black Forest, named for the extreme denseness of the evergreens which causes the forest to appear black. I was impressed to also note the wind turbines on the distant mountaintops indicating an interest in clean, renewable energy.

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Black Forest

As we continued, we travelled through several charming towns including Ihringen, known for its wine, most notably pinot noir.

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Ihringen, germany

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Glottertal, Germany

I especially loved the comical topiary in a yard in the town Sankt Peter which you can see below. You just know the people residing there must have a good sense of humor.

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Home in Sankt Peter

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View from the bus of the Black Forest

By mid-morning, we arrived at our destination, Hofgut Sternen – the Black Forest Village in the Southern Black Forest Nature Park, where we were offered the choice of several activities. This looked like a tourist trap to us so we chose a hike into the forest, hoping we wouldn’t need bread crumbs to find our way back.

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Ravenna Viaduct

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Hiking trail in Southern Black Forest Nature Park

If Hansel and Gretel had only had a nicely groomed trail like this, they could’ve eaten their bread instead.

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Jim on the trail in Southern Black Forest Nature Park

The Ravenna Viaduct was built in 1926 but was largely destroyed by retreating German forces in 1945. At the end of World War II, French occupation forces rebuilt the bridge. Today, the Hollental Railway crosses the 36 meter (118 ft) high bridge across the Ravenna Gorge.

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Laura under Ravenna Viaduct

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Train crossing Ravenna Viaduct

While we were very satisfied with our hike, upon our return we discovered the village which I’d believed was merely a modern day tourist trap, actually had historical roots over 700 years old.  The first documented use of a traffic route called the “old ascent” through this area was in 1306. Marie Antoinette famously passed through here in 1770 on her way to marry French King Louis XVI in Paris. German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe visited in 1779. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the old ascent was a main trade route for locally produced glass and clocks.

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Marie Antoinette’s visit memorialized on a mural on the Best Western Hotel in Hofgut Sternen

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Close-up of mural of Marie Antoinette

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Goethehaus where Goethe stayed

The clock-making demonstration featured the cuckoo clock which originated in the Black Forest. While details differ, the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors and the Smithsonian agree primitive cuckoo clocks were made in this area as early as 1630. (Viking Daily) Since we missed the demo, we took a peak into the shop to check out the cuckoo clocks for sale. The photo shows just a fraction of the clocks offered which were beautiful in terms of both appearance and workmanship.

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Cuckoo clocks for sale

The Cuckoo Clock House was even more impressive to me, however. I believe the demonstration took place in this charming little building which looks like a cuckoo clock with a clock face, dancing figures above, and a cuckoo at the top. We didn’t know it would “cuckoo” on the hour and missed it because we’d moved on to the glass blowing demonstration.

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Cuckoo Clock House

We’ve seen several glass blowers but it’s always interesting to watch this artistic craft. The products for sale in this shop were lovely, too.

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In 1915, Josef Keller created a confection composed of layers of chocolate sponge cake separated by layers of whipped cream with cherries, topped off by more whipped cream,  chocolate shavings, and more cherries for decoration. We missed the cake-making demo as well, but we only wanted to eat the cake anyway. Jim and I purchased a piece to share and it was quite delectable.

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Black Forest Cake

As we finished our cake, we began making our way back to the bus. When we encountered our guide, I got a photo showing her bollenhut, the Black Forest pompom hat that originated in the 1700’s. The hat has 14 pompoms with 11 of them visible. Red pompoms signify an unmarried maiden while black pompoms are for married women. They still wear the hats today for holidays and celebrations.

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Our tour guide with her bollenhut

As we arrived at the bus, I said to Jim, “Where’s the backpack?” He’d forgotten it at the restaurant after we ate our cake. I sprinted back to the restaurant and fortunately, I was able to retrieve it. All’s well that ends well!

As we returned to the ship, we enjoyed views of the countryside and the towns we passed through.

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Dreisem River in Freiburg, Germany

 

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Breisach

We arrived at the Viking Kara in time for lunch before our next excursion to Colmar, one of my all-time favorite medieval towns.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: cruise, Europe, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chur: Gateway to the Bernina Express

Chur (KOOR), with a population just under 33,000, is the oldest town in Switzerland and the gateway to the Bernina Express. Those features alone made it an easy choice as our base for 2 nights while its well-preserved pedestrian-only Old Town added abundant charm and history.

We arrived late in the afternoon after a 2-hour train ride from Zurich with our first impressive albeit rainy views of the Swiss countryside.

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Swiss countryside from the train

 

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View of the Swiss countryside

 

We wandered around the winding streets of Old Town a bit before we found the Ambiente Hotel Freieck. It looks easier on the map below than it actually was. (We didn’t have the map when we arrived either.)

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Map of Chur, Switzerland

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Ambiente Hotel Freieck

We were pleased with our accommodations at this three-star hotel as well as the location,  and the breakfast buffet was amazing. If you follow my blog, you’ve probably read previously that we like to eat a big breakfast followed by a protein bar or something similar for lunch, then go out in the evening for a nice dinner. We always try to find a hotel that provides breakfast so we have to buy just one meal a day.  Including breakfast, taxes, and fees, we paid $178 per night at the Ambiente Hotel Freieck which I thought was a fair price in an expensive area.

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Lobby at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

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The view from our hotel room

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Beds at Ambiente Hotel Freieck

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Shower in our hotel room

After Jim rested his back for a bit, we searched out a local restaurant for dinner. It was still raining so we didn’t dawdle in spite of our umbrellas. We found Cafe Arcas on a lovely square by the same name in the heart of Old Town where I looked longingly at the outdoor seating.

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Arcas

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Cafe Arcas, Chur

We were early and only one other table in the small cafe was occupied. After asking about local dishes, we selected homemade spinatpizokel and spatzli, both specialties from the canton of Grisons where Chur is located. (Grisons is French; the German name of the canton is Graubunden.) The spinatpizokel was a spinach pasta with air-dried ham, local beef, and sausage. The spatzli was a pasta with cheese (Swiss mac and cheese, if you will). Some of you know I normally shun gluten but I wanted to try local dishes so I made an exception in this case. We shared the two dishes and left pleasantly full in spite of resisting the homemade desserts which, I admit, looked delicious.

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Spinatpizokel

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Spatzli

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Homemade desserts

Following dinner, we ambled along the winding streets of Old Town enjoying the sights.

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St. Martin’s Church

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In spite of pain medication, Jim had a terrible night. Like a beetle on his back, it was almost impossible for him to get up once he was prone. He wore his back brace to bed to try to sleep on his side but that was largely unsuccessful. He was most comfortable on his back but he snores on his back which meant I was awake whenever he slept. It was almost a relief when morning broke. At least the scrumptious breakfast made getting up worthwhile.

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Breakfast buffet

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Breakfast buffet

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Breakfast buffet

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A hearty breakfast built to last

The Bernina Express departed at 8:32 a.m. so, following our breakfast, we hurried to the train station. As we passed the Rhaetian Railway (RhB) Administration Building, I couldn’t resist a quick photo of this impressive edifice.

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Rhaetian Railway Administration Building

Incidentally, if you, like me as a child, loved the book, Heidi, you’ll be interested to know the setting for this classic was just 19.6 km (12 miles) away from Chur near the town of Maienfeld.  Although the village of Dorfli in the book is fictional, another village has been renamed Heididorf and contains a Heidi museum and other attractions based on the novel. We didn’t have enough time to check it out but the information brought back a favorite childhood memory.

Join me next time on the famous Bernina Express for a scenic journey through the Swiss Alps.

 

Based on events from October 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Europe, Food, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Welcome to Mackinac Island

I fell in love with Mackinac Island on my first visit as a child in the 1960’s with my parents, brothers, and a great aunt and uncle. Everything about it charmed me including the ferry ride on Lake Huron to the island, the use of horse-drawn rather than motorized vehicles, and the gingerbread Victorian architecture. When my husband and I visited in 1976 and again with our children in 1991, it seemed as if nothing had changed. In September 2017, on the surface at least, the island still appeared to be stuck in time. In today’s fast-paced world, this quality is comforting.

Fun facts about Mackinac Island:

  1. Whether spelled Mackinac or Mackinaw, the pronunciation is Mackinaw.
  2. From 1875-1895, Mackinac Island was the nation’s second national park. (The first was Yellowstone National Park.)
  3. Mackinac Island State Park was established in 1895 as the first state park in Michigan.
  4. Over 80% of the island is within the state park.
  5. Automobiles were banned in 1898 because they were loud and scared the horses.

Planning to take an early ferry to the island, we stayed at the Best Western Plus Dockside Waterfront in Mackinaw City, just down the road from Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry. While the hotel was somewhat tired and dated, its proximity to the ferry sold us. After an outstanding complimentary breakfast, we hustled down the road to the ferry only to discover we could purchase the tickets cheaper at the hotel. Always ready to save a couple bucks, we returned the several blocks to the hotel, bought our roundtrip tickets for $21.59 each rather than $26 at the dock, and we were still among the first in line for the 8:30 ferry.

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Our ride

Our goals for our visit were modest. As history nerds, we wanted to revisit Fort Mackinac; I was keen to visit the Grand Hotel which met with eye-rolling from my husband; and last, but not least, we planned to purchase some famous Murdick’s fudge to take home.

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View of Mackinac Bridge from Shepler’s Miss Margy

We enjoyed the 16-minute scenic ferry ride on a pleasant sunny morning in late September on day 11 of our Great Lakes Road Trip of 2017. Upon our arrival, not much was open on Main Street but, fortunately for us, the Visitor’s Center was ready for business and staffed by friendly, helpful workers. Armed with the map they highlighted to show our route, we set off for Fort Mackinac. The fort opened at 9:30 and we were early so we checked out Marquette Park, the Missionary Bark Chapel, and Trinity Church while we waited.

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Marquette Park with Missionary Bark Chapel to the left and Ft Mackinac above

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View of Haldimand Bay from Marquette Park

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Trinity Church

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Interior of Trinity Church

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Entrance to the Fort

During the American Revolutionary War, the British believed Ft. Michilimackinac on the mainland was vulnerable to attack by the American rebels. In 1780, they dismantled it and moved it, lock, stock, and barrel, to Mackinac Island, renaming it Ft. Mackinac. In 1796, the British departed and the Americans took over but in the War of 1812, the British surprised the American forces who surrendered without a fight. At the end of the war, the fort was returned once again to the Americans. The film shown every 20 minutes in the fort commissary provided this history and other interesting facts as a great introduction to our self-guided tour.

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The Commissary at Ft. Mackinac

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Interior of the Commissary

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Ft. Mackinac

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Officer’s Quarters

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View of the harbor from the fort

After a thorough exploration of the fort, we proceeded up Garrison Road to the highest point on the island, Ft. Holmes. Built during the War of 1812 by the British as a redoubt and originally named Ft. George, the Americans renamed it Ft. Holmes to honor Major Holmes who died in battle there. The current structure is a reconstruction.

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Ft. Holmes

From nearby Point Lookout, we enjoyed a view of Sugar Loaf, a natural limestone breccia formation that rises 75 feet.

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Sugar Loaf

As we continued our hike, we made a few wrong turns but finally found our way to the Grand Hotel Stables.

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I believe this is Carriage Road

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Grand Hotel Stables

I have never seen such a clean, well-maintained stable. The horses that reside here are lucky animals.

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Grand Hotel Stables

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A couple of the well-cared-for horses

The highpoint of my day was definitely our visit to the Grand Hotel. Possessing a vivid imagination, I’ve dreamed of staying at the Grand Hotel ever since I first glimpsed it as a child. While I have no desire to pay the minimum $199 per PERSON per day for the best deal the hotel offers, I was delighted to learn we could tour the public areas for a mere $10 each. My husband grumbled a bit (he’s an “eat the rich” kind of guy) but I told him to think of it as a museum tour. The historical value of this famous landmark built in 1887 is undeniable.

Reviews of the hotel are mixed. Looking at the virtual tour on their website, the standard rooms appear small and cramped and I’m certain the 19th-century style doesn’t suit all 21st-century tourists. Most complaints I read, however, centered around the staff stopping visitors to inquire whether they were guests of the hotel. No one asked us but I visibly gripped my brochure indicating I paid to wander around and pretend I was a guest.

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The Grand Hotel

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Relaxing on the porch

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Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor at the Grand Hotel

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View from inside Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor

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The Grand Hotel

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Lobby at the Grand Hotel

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The Grand Hotel Lobby

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Cupola Bar at the Grand Hotel

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What a great view

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A sign outside the hotel with 19th -century expectations of guests

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The Grand Hotel

Our last stop on the island was at The Original Murdick’s Fudge, a Mackinac Island tradition since 1887. Although we’re not big candy consumers, I wanted to take some of this iconic confection home to our adult children.

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Murdick’s Fudge on the marble slab where it’s prepared

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Murdick’s Fudge

After a last look around Main Street, we boarded the ferry for the return trip to Mackinaw City.

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Main Street

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Sail away from Mackinac Island

If you’ve never visited Mackinac Island, you’ve missed one of the top destinations in the  Midwest. With more time, a bike rental would have topped my list of fun things to do. It’s just an 8-mile ride around the island with lots of amazing views and a good escape from the crush of tourists. Many visitors take a carriage tour and I recommend that as well. While we barely scratched the surface this visit, we were satisfied with our day.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Family, History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

Michigan: Beacon for Lighthouse Enthusiasts

Leaving Niagara Falls in Ontario, Canada, we drove along the scenic Niagara Parkway to Fort Erie where we enjoyed our first view of Lake Erie, the fourth Great Lake on our Great Lakes Road Trip.

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Site of Fort Erie

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Lake Erie flows into the Niagara River

As we continued onto highway 3, at Dunnville we stumbled upon a bed and breakfast bearing the same name as my husband. We knew relatives of Jim’s grandmother likely lived in this region of Canada but we were unprepared to encounter the Lalor surname. While an overnight there may have proved enlightening, we wanted to travel more miles on day 9 so we drove on.

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Jim at Lalor Estate Inn

We stopped for the evening in the village of Birch Run, Michigan (pop. 1555). Its only claim to fame as far as I could tell was a fast food joint called Halo Burger that bills itself as the home of “Michigan’s best burger since 1923.”

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Our route on day 9

Back on the road the following morning for day 10 of our Great Lakes Road Trip, we decided to get off the interstate and follow the shore of Lake Huron instead.

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If you, like me, are a lighthouse enthusiast, put Michigan on your bucket list. With more freshwater coastline than any other state (only Alaska has more coastline overall), Michigan claims more lighthouses than any other state. Consequently, opportunities to visit these beacons abound along the Michigan shores of Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Lake Superior, and Lake Michigan. We picked up a Michigan Lighthouse Guide and took our time stopping frequently along the way.

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Our first stop at Tawas Point Lighthouse was especially instructive. We met a couple moving into the lighthouse who were participants in the Lighthouse Keeper Program. After a successful application for the program, these volunteers would provide tours of the lighthouse during their 2-week stay. What a fun experience if you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity in a beautiful location!

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Tawas Point Lighthouse (volunteer lighthouse keeper on far left)

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View of Lake Huron from Alpena, Michigan

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Alpena Light

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New Presque Isle Lighthouse

New Presque Isle Lighthouse replaced the old lighthouse in 1870. We had to hike a distance to reach the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse which was not open but this charming squatty beacon and the grounds were well worth the walk.

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Old Presque Isle Lighthouse

I was initially shocked to see the jockey statue below and assumed it was racist but I was relieved and impressed when I read the explanation.

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Forty Mile Point Lighthouse, named for its location 40 miles southeast of Old Mackinaw Point, opened in 1896. Today, it offers a keeper’s program for volunteers who stay in their own RVs on-site. Our keeper enthusiastically shared his extensive knowledge about the lighthouse and its history.

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40 Mile Point Lighthouse

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Volunteer guide at 40 Mile Light

When we climbed the tower, the views of Lake Huron were incredible with the color of the water and the sandy beaches which looked like we were somewhere in the Caribbean. Take note: You must wear closed shoes to climb this tower. A recent accident involving a girl wearing flip-flops brought about this rule.

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View of Lake Huron from 40 Mile Light

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Selfie with view of Lake Huron

We walked down to the water’s edge to see the location of the shipwreck of the J.S. Fay which occurred on October 19, 1905. The wooden steamer broke up on a sandbar and sank in about 12 feet of water just offshore but a large chunk of her side washed ashore where it can be viewed to this day.

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Shipwreck of the J.S. Fay

In Cheboygan, we visited this rather unassuming lighthouse, Cheboygan Front Range Light, built in 1880. Today, it is owned by the Great Lakes Lighthouse Keepers Association and open to the public.

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Cheboygan Front Range Light

Cheboygan Crib Light opened offshore in 1884 but was moved to its present location in Gordon Turner Park in Cheboygan in 1985. Keepers never lived in this facility and had to travel daily by boat to operate the beacon during its period of service. To me, it’s one the most photo-worthy of all the lighthouses we visited.

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Cheboygan Crib Light

The last lighthouse we visited on day 10 was Old Mackinac Point, opened in 1892 and operations ceased in 1957 when Mackinac Bridge opened. The lighthouse closed for the day before our arrival so we didn’t get inside but the outside was impressive.

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Old Mackinac Point

To finish day 10, we dined at the #1 rated restaurant in Mackinaw City, Darrow’s Family Restaurant. I’m always looking for locally sourced items and the parmesan encrusted whitefish met that requirement. Jim selected the roast beef with dressing and gravy.

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Darrow’s doesn’t claim to provide a fine dining experience and there’s nothing pretentious about the place. It’s a brightly-lit family-style restaurant similar to a Perkin’s or Country Kitchen. The line moves rapidly as they serve customers quickly and efficiently and the place was packed with older people who love the comfort food they offer. While we waited in line, we visited with two couples from towns that neighbor ours in North Iowa. (It seems there’s always an Iowa connection on our trips.) Our food was tasty like a home-cooked meal if you’re cooking for an army.

Come back next time and accompany us to Mackinac Island on Day 11 of our Great Lakes Road Trip.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

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Categories: History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kingston, Ontario to Niagara Falls

Disappointed to learn Fort Henry, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Kingston, Ontario, closed for the season on September 3, we, nevertheless, walked around a bit and took a few photos on day 7 of our Great Lakes Road Trip. Built in the 1830’s atop Point Henry and overlooking the St. Lawrence River on a military route from Montreal to Ottawa,  the strategic value was readily apparent and the views were outstanding.

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View from Ft. Henry toward Kingston

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The gate at Ft. Henry at the upper fort

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View of the lower fort

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The lower fort

Kingston is the door to the 1000 Islands, a region located in the St. Lawrence River along the U.S./ Canada border. We drove 20 miles east to Ganonoque for a boat tour of the Thousand Islands with Gananoque Boat Line, billed as the largest and oldest of the cruise companies in the islands.  We decided on the 1-hour Beauty of the Islands cruise departing from Gananoque for $24.95 rather than the 5-hour Boldt Castle Stopover for $48.80.

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Beauty of the Islands cruise route

The 1000 Islands are rich with history, beginning with First Nations people who inhabited the area before French explorer Jacques Cartier discovered the area in the 1500s followed by Samuel de Champlain in the 1600s. By the late 1800s, the area became the summer vacation destination for millionaires during the Gilded Age. George Boldt, the wealthy owner of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, built Boldt Castle for his wife, Louise, who died before its completion without ever seeing it.

Incidentally, Thousand Island salad dressing was created here. One version of the story says George Boldt’s chef created the recipe but another version says it was created by Sophia Lalonde, the wife of a fishing guide. Whichever story you believe, when George Boldt got ahold of the recipe, he put it on the menu at the Waldorf Astoria, and the rest is history.

Today, the archipelago of 1864 islands in the St. Lawrence River remains a vacation paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. Only a few islands are reachable by ferry; otherwise private watercraft are required with plenty of boat rentals available throughout the area. Twenty-one islands comprise the 1000 Island National Park of Canada with docks, trails, and camping facilities.

As we embarked our cruise boat, the day was warm and sunny. We enjoyed the ride with commentary to accompany the close-up views of many small islands and cottages.

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I have no idea which ferry we saw in the photo below but if you look carefully, you can see it’s cable-driven. This method is safer on a river with a strong current. We were lucky to have gotten a look at this one in action.

IMG_7257Many of the islands are small enough to accommodate just one cottage. In fact, on our cruise they told us to be considered an island, it must be at least 6 square feet of land with at least 2 trees. I read on various websites, however, that the requirement is one tree and the land must be fully above water 365 days a year. Either way, some of these islands are very small and could easily be submerged by a high wake.

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Note the sign “PLEASE NO WAKE”

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Following our cruise, we crossed the Thousand Islands International Bridge to re-enter the United States.

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Thousand Island International Bridge

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View of the St. Lawrence River from the Thousand Island International Bridge

We had planned to follow the shore of Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls but when I saw Seneca Falls, NY on the map, I was keen to visit the site of the first women’s rights convention in the U.S. and Jim was willing.

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In July 1848, over 300 women and men gathered in the Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls, NY to discuss the rights of women. Led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, on the first day only women were allowed to attend and discuss principles. On the second day, 100 women and men discussed and signed the Declaration of Sentiments which expanded on the sentiments expressed in the Declaration of Independence and began with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal.”

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Restored Wesleyan Chapel where the convention was held

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Interior of Wesleyan Chapel

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Sign outside Wesleyan Chapel

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Outside the Visitor Center at Women’s Rights National Historical Park

For me, the most moving exhibits inside the Visitor Center were the First Wave Statue and an exact replica of the suffrage banner. The First Wave Statues represent the first wave of women’s rights activists including the 5 organizers of the convention, the men who supported their efforts, and others who did not sign the Declaration of Sentiments.

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The suffrage banner celebrated the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 granting women the right to vote. The colors in the banner are purple for justice, white for purity of intent, and gold for courage. The stars represent the 36 states that ratified the amendment.

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In 1980, the Women’s Rights Historical Park was established as part of the National Park Service. It’s easy to forget the struggles of those who led the way to establish the rights of women. It took another 72 years after the convention to secure the right to vote for women. Today, we have enjoyed that right for fewer than 100 years. This national park serves as an important reminder.

We finished day 7 in Niagara Falls to celebrate our wedding anniversary which I’ll share in my next post.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

 

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Categories: Canada, History, National Parks, Travel, Uncategorized, UNESCO, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Algonquin Provincial Park and More

Day 6 of our Great Lakes Road Trip dawned warm and sunny, a pleasant surprise since we packed for chilly weather in Ontario, Canada in mid-September. Excited to hike in Algonquin, we departed from our hotel bright and early and soon spotted what all the tourists come for in autumn.

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As we entered the park, we pulled over to the West Gate to pay our fee. King’s Highway 60 through the park doesn’t require a permit unless you plan to stop along the 56 km (35 mi) roadway inside the park. We planned to take our time, explore, and hike a few trails so we gladly paid the $20 daily fee.

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Established in 1893, Algonquin Park is the oldest and most well-known of Canada’s provincial parks. Comprising 7630 square km (2946 sq mi), the park attracts nearly one million visitors each year who come to experience its forests, lakes, and wildlife.  We stopped several times for photo opportunities like this.

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Canoe Lake

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Canoe Lake

When we reached the Algonquin Visitor Center, we had no idea we would spend so much time there. The views were amazing, the exhibits superb, and the wi-fi connection surprisingly good.

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Panorama View from Algonquin Visitor Center

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Algonquin Visitor Center

I would love to have seen bears, moose, and wolves in the wild but, since we didn’t, these exhibits were a special treat.

 

A highlight of our visit, the hike to Beaver Pond over rugged terrain was strenuous enough to seem longer than just 2 km but so well-marked we never lost our way.

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Beaver Meadow

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With 4500 beaver colonies within the park, I was surprised we didn’t see even one of the furry creatures. While we didn’t spot them at work, signs of their presence surrounded us and the result of their labor was impressive.

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Beaver dam

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Our last stop in the park, the Algonquin Logging Museum consisted of a reception building where we viewed an audiovisual program to introduce us to logging in the park and a trail of less than a mile with 20 outdoor exhibits. At one time, over half of the men in Canada worked in logging camps in the winter. Particularly for farmers, it was an opportunity to earn additional income after harvest, albeit a dangerous occupation.

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Camboose shanty where men were housed

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Inside the camboose, 52 men slept two to a bunk

Throughout the 1800’s, felled red and white pine were squared using only axes. The notches on the tree below show how deep to cut to square that side of the log. This process was repeated on each side. The result was a log that was easier to stack on a raft for transport and the log was ready to cut into boards at its destination.

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To transport the logs to the raft, they had to be loaded onto a sleigh using a jammer, a wooden crane powered by horses.

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Jammer

On a steep descent, the sleigh could quickly speed out of control killing the horses in front so sandpipers lined the trail to throw hot sand in the path to slow the sleigh. The invention of the Barrienger brake in the photo below solved this problem

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Barrienger brake

Once the logs arrived at the river, the danger was not past. The invention of the log chute assisted loggers in transporting the logs through the water.

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Log Chute

This is just a small sample of the information we learned about the history of logging in the area. Logging continues today in over 50% of the park according to scientific guidelines in the Park Management Plan.

As we left the park, I took the photo below. We were delighted to get over 56 mpg (23.8 kpl) regularly on this trip. Traveling at slower speeds on two-lane roads through Canada and using unleaded fuel rather than gasohol each contributed to our excellent gas mileage. Also, note the temperature on September 17 was 82 degrees (28 C).

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Successfully escaping Toronto traffic, we headed south for our first look at Lake Ontario, our third of the five Great Lakes and to spend the night in Kingston, Ontario. Rather than taking the freeway at Belleville, we opted to drive along the coast as much as possible.

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My paper map showed a bridge at Glenora but Google maps on my phone didn’t show a bridge. I was concerned that we’d end up backtracking but we were delighted to find a ferry when we arrived and it was free. After a short wait, we enjoyed a pleasant crossing to Adolphustown where we continued our drive along the lake to Kingston.

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Glenora Ferry Dock

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Glenora Ferry

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Our Prius on the ferry

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Lake Ontario

We asked at our hotel in Kingston for a restaurant recommendation and headed downtown to Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse. Located near the waterfront, we explored the area a bit before dinner. The AAA Tour Book confirmed Kingston was founded in 1673 as a fur trading post and strategic military base. With a population today just under 130,000, it’s also home to over 24,000 students at Queen’s University.    IMG_7194

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Sitting outside at Dianne’s Fish Shack and Smokehouse, we could hardly believe our good fortune to have such a pleasant evening. Jim ordered the pork carnitas and I decided on the seafood poutine. Poutine is a French Canadian classic consisting of french fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Dianne’s seafood poutine, however, was made with fries, coconut green curry, shrimp, haddock, calamari, mussels, and queso fresco. Yum!

 

After a quick stroll to the water following dinner for another lighthouse photo, we returned to our hotel for the evening.

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Kingston, located where Lake Ontario meets the St. Lawrence River, was a good place to begin our drive the next morning to explore the Thousand Islands. Come back to read all about it.

 

Based on events from September 2017.

Categories: Canada, Food, History, Travel, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Silver Bay to Schreiber, Day 2 of GLRT 2017

We drove just 302 miles from Silver Bay, Minnesota to Schreiber, Ontario, on day 2 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017 but we saw some amazing sights along the way and we missed a few, too. We like to get an early start and after a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road but soon thereafter made a brief stop at mile 78 on Hwy 61 at Father Baraga’s Cross.  Here the Slovenian priest erected a cross to offer thanks to God for his survival in 1846 when his small boat was blown ashore during a terrible storm on Lake Superior. He had dedicated his life to minister to the Ojibwe Native Americans and came to this area to offer assistance when he heard of a possible epidemic.

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Father Baraga’s Cross

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Early morning view of Lake Superior near Father Baraga’s Cross

Nearby Grand Marais, Minnesota, is a popular tourist town on the North Shore and one of my personal favorites. In fact, I would love to spend a week here as a base to explore the Gunflint Trail and Isle Royale National Park, two places we have skipped previously and missed again on this trip. We spent an enjoyable hour or so in Grand Marais, however, walking out to the lighthouse along the breakwater.

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Lake Superior from Grand Marais with lighthouse on the breakwater

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Grand Marais Light

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Grand Marais Light on the breakwater

It was here we learned that each lighthouse is unique both in design and signal to ensure that sailors don’t get confused and lost by lighthouses looking alike.

Check out the Bear Tree on the photo below. This sculpture was dedicated to the town of Grand Marais and depicts two bear cubs whose mother has ordered them up a tree to stay until the danger below has passed.

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Grand Marais with Bear Tree on the right

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Closeup of the Bear Tree

We haven’t visited Grand Portage National Monument previously but for a couple of history nerds, this was one of many highlights of our trip.

 

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Grand Portage National Monument overlooking Lake Superior

The Heritage Center is a modern building full of creative and informative exhibits.

 

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Heritage Center at Grand Portage National Monument

 

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View of Lake Superior from Heritage Center

 

But the outdoor exhibits and the Park Ranger interpretive walk really brought this monument to life. Grand Portage was the home of the Ojibwe Indians and the tour begins with a reconstructed village. The Ojibwe women built the lodges using a wood frame covered by bark. A fire burned in the center of the lodge in winter.

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Our guide explaining the Ojibwe lodge

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Interior of lodge

After the British defeated the French in 1763 in the French and Indian War, British traders flocked to the area and trading companies sprang up. Based in Montreal, the Northwest Company was established in 1784 and operated the largest fur trading post at the Grand Portage Depot. Here fur traders would bring their pelts and trade for goods transported along the Great Lakes. The depot fell into ruin after the American Revolution when the British company moved buildings and all to Fort William near present-day Thunder Bay, Ontario but the reconstructed depot is archeologically accurate.

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The Warehouse

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Supplies that were packed on a single canoe from Montreal

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Entrance to the Buildings Complex

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The Great Hall

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Pelts in the Great Hall

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Birchbark Canoe

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The Great Hall

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Outside the Buildings Complex

Grand Portage is near the border to Canada and for many years my family traveled to nearby Come By Chance Resort on Whitefish Lake for an annual fishing trip. Jim wanted to stop by and see the place and relive some great memories.

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Turn to Come By Chance

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Cabins at Come By Chance

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Dock at Come By Chance on Whitefish Lake, Ontario

One year I went along with Jim and our kids on the fishing trip and we also visited Kakabeka Falls so we thought a stop there would be fun for old time’s sake. I was surprised to see the sign.

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Entrance to Kakabeka Falls

We thought the falls were created during the last glacial period. (Just kidding. The park was established 60 years ago.) Incidentally, these falls are nicknamed the Niagra of the North and for good reason. They are truly impressive and the extensive accessible walkways allow visitors to enjoy the falls from both sides.

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Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

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Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

We thought we’d spend the night in Thunder Bay but somehow we missed it and we have a semi-rule about continuing on rather than going back. When we found no hotels along our route we thought surely something would appear further along. I was getting nervous, however, seeing these signs as evening approached.

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We stopped at a restaurant blaring hard rock music with rooms to rent above and inquired about hotels further up the road. The young lady assured us we’d find plenty in Nipigon so we drove on. When we reached Nipigon, we found no vacancy anywhere due to all the road construction workers who had rented every room. One kindly inn-keeper offered to call and reserve a room for us in Schreiber, an hour away. We, naturally, agreed. When he told us we had a room at Villa Bianca which we would recognize by the gas pumps out front, I was skeptical but what choice did we have with night danger lurking on the road?

We finally arrived in darkness and regardless of my impressions, we were staying the night. We inquired about restaurants to discover we were limited to the three counters side by side at Bianca Villa selling Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Robin’s Donuts. No wine either. This gluten-free girl settled for pizza and beer. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

 

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Fine dining in Schreiber, Ontario

 

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The next morning at Villa Bianca

These are the chances you take when you don’t plan ahead but all in all, it could have been much worse. We didn’t hit a moose and we didn’t have to sleep in the car.

Come back for Day 3 and more adventures on the Great Lakes Road Trip 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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American Gothic Visited

Tiny Eldon, Iowa (population 916) is home to the backdrop of one of America’s most famous paintings. The artist, Grant Wood, visited the town in 1930 and sketched the Dibble farmhouse which would later appear in the painting, American Gothic. Today the original painting resides at the Art Institute of Chicago but Eldon is worth a visit to see the inspiration that led Grant Wood to create this iconic piece.

We’ve passed nearby many times on our way to and from St. Louis via Des Moines. Eldon is just 6 miles off highway 34 between Ottumwa and Fairfield. Once you reach Eldon, signs direct you quite easily to the American Gothic House.

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The center contains an informative collection of exhibits about the house, Grant Wood, and Art Regionalism. Charles and Catherine Dibble built the house in 1881-1882. The style, called Carpenter Gothic, used somewhat incongruous fancy details on a plain farmhouse. The gothic windows in the gables of the house would normally be used in a church but were chosen from the Sears catalog to grace the Dibble home. Incidentally, my husband’s mother’s maiden name was Dibble and the Dibbles came from New York state as did my mother-in-law’s relatives. That, however, is a subject for future research and possibly another blog post.

 

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American Gothic House

 

According to information at the center, the couple never posed together for the painting and didn’t actually meet until 12 years later when the photograph below was taken. The woman was Grant Wood’s sister, Nan Wood Graham, and the man was his dentist, Dr. B.H. McKeeby. The artist assured them they wouldn’t be recognized in his painting but that turned out to be incorrect and caused some hard feelings especially with his dentist.

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Photograph of Nan Wood Graham and Dr. B.H. McKeeby at the American Gothic House Center

 

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This is our dour look

 

Grant Wood was an Iowa native, born in 1891 on a farm outside Anamosa where he lived until his father died when he was 10. His mother then moved the family to Cedar Rapids where he won third place in his first art contest at the age of 14. Following graduation, he spent a short time studying art in Minneapolis but returned to the Cedar Rapids area to teach school and lived in that area most of his short life. During a trip to Munich, he came to the realization that he needed to paint from his own experience. In 1929, he painted a portrait of his mother called Woman with Plants, launching his new style and taking his place in the Regionalist movement. The following year he painted American Gothic and, as they say, the rest is history.

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Except for one more interesting side note: Grant Wood spent the summer of 1941 painting in Clear Lake, Iowa (which is 8 miles west of our home). I found this article in our local paper written in 2008 about the artist’s stay in Clear Lake.

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Information at American Gothic House Center

Grant Wood died the following February of cancer at the age of 50.

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References: All information was found in displays at the American Gothic House Center.

Based on events from July 2017.

Categories: History, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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