Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Great Lakes

Shirl took me on a tour of the Great Lakes, Wed – Sat.
We drove to Mackinac City, right up the top of the Michigan “mitten”. The main attraction there is the Mackinac Bridge, the 6th largest suspension bridge in the world. Impressive piece of engineering! It crosses the Mackinac Strait from the mainland to Mackinaw Island and is the dividing line between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
NB: Mackinac is the French name for the area (based I think, on the original tribe's name for the island). Mackinaw is the English version.
We had dinner in a bar and grill place on the main street – pretty nice piece of fish. I struck up a conversation with a guy who's father now lives in NSW somewhere. He also knew of an Australian who isn't Steve Irwin! (Chad somebody, a motocross rider.)
Shirl and I wandered down to the lake shore to photograph the bridge at sunset. Sunset wasn't much but I think I got one or two shots of the bridge with its lights on that aren't too bad.
Can't remember now which motel we stayed in, nor did I remember to get my bottle of Absolut out of the fridge in the morning. If that's all that goes wrong on this trip then I'm laughing.
We caught the ferry to Mackinaw Island. The ferry sailed right under the bridge and I was lucky enough to get a shot dead centre underneath. Shooting was tough as the ferry bounced around a fair bit!! The trip takes about 15 minutes.
Mackinaw island is quite amazing. There are only 3 motorised vehicles there – a fire engine, an ambulance and a cop car. All transport around the island is by foot, bicycle or horse-drawn vehicle.
The main street is one of the prettiest streets I've ever seen. It's full of tourist shops (of course), eateries and fudge shops – not much else. But it looks gorgeous.
We had lunch and then took a guided tour of the island – horse-drawn of course! Shirl was quite taken with Kevin the horse. Our guide, James, was a very personable young fella. The local population numbers about 500 and he told us how the island's school was hoping there'd be both a boy and a girl graduating this year so they could have a prom.
The island management has tried to keep the buildings, etc., as historically accurate as possible – except for a few minor details like electricity and the like. Lots and lots of interesting things to look at. The whole place is clean and bright and just a treat to wander round.
There's a fort on the hill, built by the British to defend the Straits. The “soldiers” put on a mock court-martial. Cheesy but not horrendously so. I had a look inside the old schoolroom in the fort. Primitive!
The Grand Hotel is a later addition to the island but built in a style that blends in with the rest of the island. You can't miss it though, it's huge!! Rooms start at about $350-$400 a night. Not a place for the plebs! The bridal suite will set you back $3900 a night with a minimum of one week's stay required if you want to book it. It doesn't even have a view of the lake!
Anyway, we wandered about till about 5.30 then caught the ferry back to the mainland. The wind had picked up a bit by then and it was a very bouncy ride back! Fortunately we weren't on the side that got drenched by spray. Suggestion: when it's windy, grab a seat downstairs.
From there we drove to Potoskey and stayed overnight there.
We drove down to Silver Lake, Shirl's favourite of the lakes. Along the way we stopped in at Bay Harbour, where the rich and famous play. I saw a guy driving a replica of the Batmobile around. No kidding, it looked just like the real thing. Next stop was Horton Bay, the haunt of Earnest Hemingway. The general store there is worth the visit alone. Walking inside was like stepping back into the past. Very cool. Then on to Charlevoix, another town along the coast (west side of Michigan, east side of the lake). Big beach and a red lighthouse. Shirl took me down a road in the town where there are the cutest little stone houses. Almost like Hobbit houses, or gnome homes.
From there we hit Silver Lake. A very family friendly place. The only place with a liquor licence is 3 miles out of town. No glass of wine with dinner that night! A go-kart place across the road from the motel was noisy and didn't close till 11pm. Fun for kids. We stayed at the Silver Sands motel but I wasn't impressed – too many things didn't work, especially wifi in the room.
Somewhere along the way we also managed to fit in a visit to Shirl's brother's place in East Jordan. He and his wife have just returned from a year's teaching in Ethiopia.
Shirl gave me a quick tour of the lake area – big sand dunes on one side of it. Checked out another lighthouse, the tallest in Michigan I think. Then it was time to hit the road for home as we were expected at Shirl's brother's (a different brother this time) for his daughter's open house graduation party. Met the family but will have a better chance to chat with them when they come out here tomorrow afternoon.

All in all, an excellent tour of the lakes. It's a bit like being at the ocean because the lakes are so vast. No surf though, so better for general swimming. Thanks Shirl :)

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