31 December 2012

2012-13 SOUTH & EAST COAST Bonita Springs FL 6 - New Years Eve Shuffle

Miles driven today is 213, with a moving time of 4'46". That averages maybe 45 MPH!! Slow going. Filled up first thing in the morning in Tarpon Springs. Gas was $3.27 per gallon. Average MPGs on this tank was 50 even. And, got our batteries for the mouse, so back in blog business.


Woke up to sunshine with a bit of a chill in the air. Temp was 54 when we headed out. First, off to downtown Tarpon Springs. TS has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any US city and this is so obvious when you walk the streets and docks of the business district. Greek restaurants and bars, Greek food product / gift / chachky shops, bakeries with baklava and special breads marked "2013," and shell shops galore.

Fishing and shrimping currently make the livelihood of most here, but this town was founded around the sponge diving industry. Boat docks, shops, and a museum are all dedicated to the historical beginnings of the town and what keeps tourists coming. Boats were decked out in sponges and Christmas gear. Lots of Greek music funneled outside to get you in a Greek-ish mood. There is a small aquarium, a monument that honors sponge divers, and traditional Greek food on every restaurant menu board. As it was 9am, we weren't ready for octopus appetizers, but we did get a pick-me-UP espresso and sweet at a quaint patio cafe.

Within arm's reach of our table was a "store" (card table with clear plastic mini-cabinet) selling Cuban-style, hand-rolled cigars. The owner's son rolled them from scratch and there were a half-dozen in variety. Mike bought two--one each for Tom and Teshia. They love smoking cigars together on occasion, and so...

Snapped a few photos and moved on down the road toward Bonita Springs. Most of the journey today was a bit stressful on busy city streets with additional construction in many locations. One highlight was the Sunshine Skyway Bridge spanning over Tampa Bay. This bridge replaced a doomed bridge in 1982. The original bridge was partially destroyed when the 570' freighter MV Summit Venture collided with a bridge support. As a result, six cars, a truck and a Greyhound bus plummeted 150' into the bay, killing 35 people.

This new bridge is cable-stayed in style (constructed of steel and concrete) and about  four miles long. It is a piece of art in itself and offers fabulous views of the area. The Travel Channel rates it #3 in its Top Ten Beautiful Bridges of the World list.

At the north end of the bridge, we stopped at a very cool (rating 4--clean and nice atmosphere, but not all the recycle amenities we look for) art deco-style rest stop. Great view of the bridge, but we also saw "Beware of coral snake" signs. Aren't they poisonous? ... Watch your butt!

Along the road, saw signs for a brand new industry -- sink-hole services. Apparently this phenomenon is becoming common in these parts. Lots of full-size billboards with services offering to prevent and repair sink-hole situations. Hmm. Does not give much confidence in owning a house around here.

We hit Bradenton at 12:14pm. Temp was 79. Ooooo, yay!

Next stop Sanibel Island, just south of Ft. Myers. We have been to this special place (Lucille Ball had a home here) before and decided it was worth another side trip for lunch. We choose Doc Ford's, a restaurant owned by Randy Wayne White, one of Mike's fave authors. He writes funny Florida crime novels and Doc Ford is one of the main characters. So the author decided to capitalize on the name and named his restaurant for the character. Great idea!

We ate on an outdoor patio, with birds flitting around begging for crumbs. Very little from us though as the food and drinks were excellent. Mike had a grouper sandwich and I had fish tacos. John, our waiter made a special rum drink for Deb. We got to talking with him and mentioned Savannah was on our itin. Turns out he waitered there at his last job and recommended his old restaurant called Peaks. We took his waving-hand photo and said we would show it to his previous coworkers at the restaurant. Fun guy, great meal. Bought our first t-shirts of the trip on our way out.

Sanibel was as lovely as we remembered but very traffic-jammy on this New Years Eve day. Pedestrians have the right of way here (like in CA), so we were playing dodgem cars and people. Saw their live arts theatre (Herb Strauss) in a old schoolhouse. 

We reached Bonita Springs (home of Mary V, friend of my sister) and tried to connect with her. We knew she had a busy schedule with out of town (actually out of country visitors) and with it being New Years Eve, but we thought we could catch up with a meal or cocktail. Plans changed a couple of times, but in the long run we were not able to coordinate a visit.

So after seeing a lovely sunset from our hotel window, we were off to get supplies for a quiet but romantic NYE with just the two of us. We went to a liquor store and got Myers rum cuba libre fixings and some glass cocktail glasses, and ordered a pizza to go from Carrabba's. We grabbed cookies from the front desk and woohaa! Ready to party. Mike made it to about 11:15 and I made it til 12:07. Pretty good for two old farts.

The BIG question of the evening was, now that Dick Clark has gone to the eternal NYE party in the sky, who would be a good replacement for him on the New Year's Eve TV show? Some folks we thought of were Larry Hagman (bummer, he's dead, too), Jon Stewart and/or Stephen Colbert (maybe), Oprah (naah)... This is hard. No one's perfect. They have to be alive, finger-quote legendary end-finger-quote, and respected in their craft. Then Mike suggested Jeff Dunham, the American ventriloquist. At least he would have a built-in line-up of interesting and entertaining guests. That was the best we could do at the moment. Tell us your ideas in a comment.

In the meantime, everyone (friend, family, foe) have a happy and safe 2013.

30 December 2012

2012-13 SOUTH & EAST COAST Tarpon Springs FL 5 - NW FL, Ho, Hum

Woke up in the Sunshine State to sunshine. Yahoo! But once outside, found the temp was 33 with a wind chill of 25. Oooooh, joke's on us! Drove 401 miles (57 of them headed the wrong way and back) with almost 8 hours of driving time. We wanted a leisurely drive along the coast, but the Garmin kept heading us to a freeway. With several hiccups, it took a while to figure this out. You really have to keep tabs on these new-fangled devices.

Don't know why we have such a fascination with the elevation feature on the Garmin, but from here until near Providence RI it continuously showed less than 100' above sea level. It's been fun to watch, but I'll try not to mention this stat for a while.

Battery went dead on the mouse, so too hard to update the blog. I never did get used to the track pad. Anyway, got behind in our info for yesterday and today. Hope I can remember it all, especially as I did not take notes in the museum.


The day started off being a boring, viewing day. We had no expectations other than to get from from point A (Panama City) to point B (Tarpon Springs).

For the most part views out the right side window were the gorgeous and colorful ocean. Yay! Views out the left side were lots of Bible Belt ad boards, our first Piggly Wiggly grocery store sighting (with hog jowls on sale!), and P-nuts and P-cans for sale at roadside stands along the way.

Back into the Eastern time zone about 12:44p, so lost an hour today. Temp was 50 degrees at that point. Vegetation looking more tropical--palmettos, a LOT of Spanish moss, and tall tall pines. Crossed over the Suwanee River. This is the original bridge and it has a sign that reads "Way down upon the Suwanee River" above the entry.

Along the way we say a herd of goats grazing along the road, another herd of wild turkeys doing the same, and a fenced herd of bison. Hmm. Did not fit the area, but happy to see them anywhere. Then, around Carrabelle FL, we saw warning signs reading "Bear X-ing" and "Watch for bears." Found out later they have a Black Bear Festival here in October.

It turns out this town borders on the Mud Swamp / New River Wilderness area and shares its land with Florida Black Bear. Wikipedia says they are a subspecies of the American Black bear and just as big. Strange they would hang around a thriving town (population 2,785) with many thriving businesses on one side of the road and stilted homes (for bear as well as for bad weather, I guess) on the ocean side. Just who is the invasive species here? Pretty tight quarters seems to me and glad we do not have them that close in our current home of Kalamazoo MI.

The one highlight was lunch at Mama's Italian Restaurant in Perry FL. We snuck in just under the deadline of them closing for their private employee Christmas party. It was a family owned place and they treated us just like family. Daughter, Dad, Nona (Gramma) all came out to make sure we were OK, ask where we were from, did we like the food, etc. Mike had pasta and I had a meatball sandwich. Both big helpings and very good. The Dad came over and really chatted. He said he had retired once and was now helping his daughter get going in this business, a second career for him. Still getting up very early, seven days a week to prep. Made us feel very happy to have worked and retired just once.


Last night at the Panama City FL Best Western was the worst bed, worst free breakfast, but best price so far. As Mike says, "Ya gets what ya pay for!" One thing we really liked was in their lobby. They had three bins for recycle--metal, glass, and paper. Haven't ever seen that before and gave us faith they really do recycle, not just say they do, but don't.

29 December 2012

2012-13 SOUTH & EAST COAST to Alabama & Florida 4 - Mike's Alma Mater

Columbia TN to Fort Rucker AL to Panama City FL


Drove 426 miles to make up time for yesterday. Moving time 7'10", a long day. Gassed up in Elkmont AL at $3.27 per gallon with an average MPG of 44.4 on this tank. On the road at 9:46am CT today.

We thought our whole trip was in the Eastern time zone. This morning we discovered part of TN, all of AL, and most of the FL panhandle are in the Central time zone. This was Saturday and we also discovered due to the New Year holiday, the Fort Rucker Museum would not open again until Wednesday. If we didn't see it today, we would have to bypass this target stop. But unexpectedly ducking into the Central time zone and gaining an hour was what saved the day.


Misty weather for the rest of TN. A lot of railroad museums in this part of the country. The minute we rolled tire into AL it began sleeting, even though it was 37 degrees. The wind was fierce, so I guess wind chill caused the situation. First thing, we hit the Welcome Center for info about Fort Rucker. This is where we discovered our time zone discrepancy. The center itself was about a 3 in our rating system, but it did have something I hadn't seen before--a full size rocket pointing high into the sky. And you could get a pretty close look. There were also two memorials, one for Korean and one for Viet Nam vets.

Our destination goal today was the US Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker near Dothan AL. Here Mike graduated from Aircraft Maintenance School in 1966. From the AL border on, we took the     Purple Heart Trail and Military Memorial highways (how appropriate). Along the way we saw many things that pointed toward the support and honor of our military in this state, including other military-related museums and US flags of every size flying high and proud.

Along the nicely paved 3-lane I-65, we passed what looked like many "picker" houses, the US Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, the wide Tennessee River, lots of evergreen trees, hills and dales, an area that had obviously been hit by a recent tornado, cigarette stores advertising prices $1.50 less than in Michigan (we're in tobacky-growing country now - probably not as much state tax), corn and peanuts for sale at $9.50 a big gunnysack full, and peaches for sale at farm stands. More wetlands, more Spanish moss. Elevation easing down to 547' today. Getting closer to the sea.

Skipped lunch so we got to Fort R close to 4p. It closed at 5p, so had an hour to browse. Yay! It worked out OK. At the post gate we simply had to show ID and cruised on in. Mike did not recognize anything. We found out later from a museum worker that at one point the government declared a "war on wood" and all the wood structures were replaced with mortar and brick. Only two small buildings near the parade ground were left standing.

What Mike remembered about his life during this time (besides classes and work) was living without air conditioning. His basic aircraft maintenance classes were in mid-summer in southeast Alabama, so very hot and very humid. Buying watermelons five for a dollar just outside the post gates. Being popular with the city gals, because Fort Rucker is in a dry county, but soldiers could bring girls to the enlisted men's club for cocktails. Haircuts and shoe shines. The rattle snake round-ups.

The museum was great--a lot nicer and bigger than Mike remembered. He enjoyed all the aircraft, but he was in helicopter heaven when it came to that section. We saw full-size "crane" copters, Hueys and Chinooks that he had worked with during his stint in Viet Nam. And history displays, old communications equipment, uniforms, unit patches, First Cav info (Mike's unit), and other memorabilia from his era. Also, browsed the Army Aviation Hall of Fame and saw many names of those we are familiar with in aviation history.

Closing time was approaching, but as we were about to depart we saw a little sign saying "Santa's aviation travel suit." It peaked our curiosity so we went down this little hallway and there it was displayed in all its spender. Very fancy and a big hit with military kids I'm sure. 

Then we noticed an office that looked like a receiving area for military-related items. Mike wondered if they would be interested in some items we had been holding on to as keepsakes--an Air Viet Nam travel bag and a sketch Mike had requested from famous cartoonist Ed Roth (of Rat Fink fame). At the time, Mike was going to have this transferred to t-shirts as a company logo, but never got to it. The curator said he would gladly accept these items.

We asked about the old buildings and he told us about the "war on wood," said the rattle snake round-ups were still happening, and lots of other tidbits we would not have known about the base if we had not run into him. He said we could hang around after hours if we wanted, but we had pretty much seen what we had come for. We did drive around a bit trying to find the parade grounds and two old buildings, but no success. All in all, we were satisfied with our visit here.

It was still light, so we decided to continue on our way rather than overnight in Dothan. We were anxious to see the ocean. Made it to Panama City FL. IHOP was next door and handy. We considered it as we were really tired, but trudged on to discover a wonderful Mexican restaurant named El Jalisco. Boy, were we glad we persevered. This was the best Mexican meal since our "Out West" trip in October. A refreshing find and hard to imagine in Panama City FL, as the only other open places we saw were fast food and chains. Margaritas were delish and took us from road runner mode back to vacation mode in a sip or two.

28 December 2012

2012-13 SOUTH & EAST COAST to Tennessee 3 - Bourbon Trail

THE STATS: We departed at 9:45am. Our planned destination was Birmingham AL, but our actual destination was Columbia TN. Departure temp was 36 and highest all day was 41. Cloudy driving to start and rain began about 3:30p. Highest elevation was just north of Nashville at 852 feet. We thought it would be higher, but after so much flat land, these hills looked huge.

Lovely typical southern buildings along the way--one or two story with prominent white columns. I thought we would see more horses in the fields of KY, but no. Saw some cattle though. Not much else between Louisville and the TN border, although easy driving with three lanes on I-65 and no trucks in the left-most lane. Once we crossed the state line into TN, it immediately narrowed to two lanes. Felt tight now and we had to "battle" the big-rigs again.

TN's rest stop welcome center rated a five. Very clean, unique fort-like d├ęcor outside, warm country home inside, automated facilities, toilet protection covers, "concierge," monitors that display how much energy was saved with their solar, and faux fireplace with rocking chairs surrounding it. The "fire" was a monitor behind the fireplace screen playing a fire video. Sounds hokey, but the effect was heart-"warming!"

Big thing in TN seems to be HUGE flea markets. You see them at every exit, although none were open on this chilly day. TN also has much beautiful ledge rock cuts into the hillsides. This keeps the roads more flat rather than rolling up and down the hills. Nice color in these earth samples from white limestone to 50 shades of grays and browns to Sedona red rock-ish. Talk of ledge rock made us think of Mr. Belvedere, an irritating house siding salesman in Detroit (way back when) that had a hokey commercial on air about every five minutes and sold lots of cheap fake ledge rock siding to Detroit area residents.

Our goal so far has been to get to warm weather pronto, but we kept seeing signs for the Bourbon Trail and began remembering stories about Mike's step-dad Jack Parker, who had one or two shots of Jack Daniels EVERY night before dinner. Let me make it clear that neither of us likes bourbon in the least, but we really loved Jack and we really enjoyed tipping one with him during his happy hour. So we decided on a 50-mile detour to honor him.

We hopped on the Bluegrass Parkway (lovely with rolling natural beauty and no billboards) to the quaint village of Bardstown. There were many bourbon tour options close by. We had pin-pointed Maker's Mark, but that was another 18 miles beyond. So we ended up at Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center. We were not familiar with any of their bourbon brands, but the tour was good and well worth the $5.

We saw one of the 52 rick houses, each holding 20,000 barrels of bourbon of various ages. The little black squares in the photo are windows that are opened in summer to give the aging process a totally natural experience. This day the temp in the rick house was 40 degrees. 

Requirements for bourbon are that it must be 100% natural ingredients and a minimum of 51% corn based. Also barrels used are charred and sealed tight with cat tails (which are generally purchased from northern states like Michigan because they are bigger and superior to local cat tails).  Barrels can only be used once and most are then sold to Scotland to be reused in their alcohol industry.

At the end of the tour we got two tastes of straight bourbon (optional water added) and a taste of chocolate-peppermint eggnog bourbon. And a bourbon ball as we left the bourbon barrel shaped tasting room.

We were not able to see any still-type equipment or big vats because their building for that had burned down a couple of years ago and that part of the process was now done in Louisville. Also we could not take flash photos in the rick houses because the flash could start a fire from the gases released from the barrels. And, everything smelled like bourbon here and in town, in the air, including us when we left.

Back to Bardstown city center, we found many OLD buildings, cool architecture, and a tavern built in 1779 according to the engraved date on the front stoop. We decided on lunch at this Old Talbott Tavern and Inn. I had soup and salad and Mike had chicken fried steak. Mike had a Guinness and I had water ("no wine and not much else but bourbon here," the waitress said). After lunch we walked a bit and discovered many old and interesting structures.

Broken plans. Originally we were to be in Birmingham at 3:30pm (according to GPS) to browse around that historic city. After lunch and the B-Trail, the GPS said 6:30pm. That sounded good, but with the rain, Friday night, holiday weekend, and a number of fender benders on the road, GPS gave the update. We weren't reaching Birmingham til 8p. It was dark and stressful driving, so we gave up at 6:30p on the outskirts of Columbia TN.

Nearby choices for dinner were Arby's, Cracker Barrel, Burger King, and Stan's (a local joint  around since 1947). It was down home, high Southern accents, friendly, basic needs. A specialty was Aigs (that's how they spelled it) and pork brains. Not being particularly exploratory, Mike had chicken fried steak (second time this day) and I had a typical breakfast-for-dinner with grits and butter. Love those grits and I don't get them often. Food was decent, price was right, and locals were friendly and entertaining.

Above is the t-shirt the waitresses wore. The front said "Hey, y'all!" The state of TN is only 120 miles tall, but we are still trying to say bye y'all to Tennessee!

27 December 2012

2012-13 SOUTH & EAST COAST to Kentucky 2 - Headed South, Finally

STATS: Left 9:30am with a slushy mess and temp of 22. FYI - elevation in Kazoo is 759 and our overall car mileage is 62,377. Arrived at our hotel in East Louisville KY at 5:35p with a temp of 36. Miles driven 379 for the day. Weather was cold, but roads dry once we got on I-94. VERY busy (not as bad as Chicago though) between Indianapolis and Columbus IN and then the last 50 miles or so into Louisville. Hope for the sake of the locals it is not this bad all the time. Maybe just because of the holidays. One fill-up just north of Louisville with gas price $3.21 per gallon. Average MPG was 46.2 for this tank. Gotta love that Prius!!

Had a hard time packing due to visiting cold and warm and hot and
cold again weather zones. Started out trying to be logical with the packing process, went through a blurry haze of indecision, and then just started throwing stuff in the suitcases. Figured if we didn't have it, we'd buy it.

We'd been the Kazoo to Fort Wayne route many times. Just 71 miles east on I-94 to the Indiana border and then south on I-69. After that, mostly flat flats, windy and cigarette, alcohol, and fireworks stores everywhere. Prices pretty cheap for these three items. Liquor stores in Indiana also have a tasting room if you want to try before you buy. We usually go there for Mike's Grand Marnier. Worth the 35 mile trip from Kalamazoo straight south to Indiana.

We passed on all the auto museums in Auburn (had been there before), the Mid-American Windmill Museum in Kendallville (another time), the town of Santa Claus (named because it was incorporated on Christmas Eve), and the Quilters Hall of Fame in Marion (maybe another time as these can be pretty cool).

BUT decided the James Dean Birth Place was worth a side trip. The Triple AAA (is that redundant?) said it was at the corner of 4th and McClure in Marion, so we set the GPS. This photo is what we found, but no sinage and no other houses to be seen for blocks. It looked like an old boarding house with several entrances on the sides. We didn't want to knock on the door, so we had to "ass-u-me."

It still was bugging us that we did not know for sure if this was THE place, so when we stopped at Taco Bell for a quick lunch we decided to ask some locals. The 25-ish order taker said she had heard something about it but didn't know details. Then I saw two 80-ish blue hairs, all dressed up, seated a few tables away. They were both hard of hearing, so it took awhile for them to understand the question. They said "No, not here. Go to Fairmount. He was born there and you are well directed by signs."

Well we had gone this far, so we continued on to Fairmount, about 10 miles south and sort of on our way. We did see the signs, but they were to a museum not his home. Dratz! We gave up. Later, after settling into our hotel, we sorted out the situation on-line. Yes, Jimmy was born in Marion, but the photo in Google did not look like our photo (above). Next, yes, he spent childhood years at and was buried in Fairmount, but the  museum house was not the house he lived in. So we struck out all around. We did have some fun laughing about the situation and did come across this cool bust of James Dean in a small park off Main Street in Fairmount.

Along the way we listened to two interesting interviews on PBS--one author had written a book titled "American Canopy," about the
history of forests and trees in America. He talked about lure (Johnny Appleseed and G. Washington cutting down the cherry tree (which he did not)), biology of trees, tree disease plagues (on chestnut and ash trees), history of logging, trees affecting politics, and presidents that loved trees, etc. Pretty fascinating. The other was a book called "How to be a Black Man." This sounds old and tried, but this is a current book written from an hilarious perspective. The author also writes for the Onion, an award-winning on-line mag.

Remember a while back when we told you about our "Rest Stop Rating System." Well, we only stopped at one today, just south of Columbus IN. It got a lowly 2 (basically little better than a port-a-pottie). It was dirty, out of toilet paper, walls covered with cheap yucky scratched up paneling, walked unshoveled, just not good. At least it was warm inside, but the best thing going for it was the cute little snowman outside the door. I guess some kids had made it from the fresh snowfall of the night before.

Indiana seems to be the land of big buildings. I don't mean tall, but very spread out. LOTS of huge manufacturing buildings (Vera Bradley, Nestles Quik),warehouses (Dollar General), and giant stores (Fry's Electronics, didn't know they were still around), all at least as big as a football field (no kidding). Maybe because the land is so flat, it is easy to build here. Also, large indoor recreation complexes, like tennis, soccer, and trampoline (!!?). And we learned that Ball University in Muncie was named for a big contribution by the five Ball brothers of Ball canning jar fame. And FYI, Hoosier is not a thing, just a "person from Indiana." No word origin was found as far as I could Google.

Also, in southern Indiana there are a lot of cave attractions. First, "plain" caves were advertised, but the further south the more elaborate. We saw advertisements for a cave with Christmas lighting, a cave with boat rides, and cave with zip lines. Humm... what's next?

Our first overnight  is in East Louisville, just a few miles into Kentucky. The Ohio River is the dividing line between Indiana and Kentucky. We could see at least two more huge steel bridges as we crossed the one we were on. The waterfront looks rejuvenated and lively. If warm weather was not our destination, this would be a good place to browse further

The Hyatt Place Hotel was good. Trying for an A-Loft hotel effect, but not quite pulling it off. Bed comfy, good electronics connections (meaning enough handy plugs), and nice desk and seating. Tiny toidy-shower area, but nice sink and toilet amenities. Bonus 42-inch flat screen TV and great free breaky, but coffee was ick.

Tried Bonefish first for dinner, but a big line. Ended up at Carrabba. We've been wanting to try is to compare with Olive Garden where we go to once in a while with my sister. Anyway, Mike likes OG better and I like Carrabba better. Not as big a variety on the menu, but really good bread and homemade-ish pasta. We hit happy hour, but the Long Island Teas were still $9.50 each and too lemony.

BEST OF:  Free breakfast at a roadside hotel at the Hyatt Place Louisville East. Their version of egg mcmuffin (i refuse to capitalize), but individually made with smoked gouda and regular bacon on a southern style biscuit. Also, vanilla yogurt with all the fresh raspberries you wanted. Only other better free breakfast ever was at the Hyatt Arcade in Cleveland where you could order ANYTHING off their fancy menu.

26 December 2012

2012-13 SOUTH & EAST COAST 1 - Ready to Roll Again

It is December 26, 2019 and we have enjoyed the Christmas festivities with friends and family, gotten most of the pre-trip chores done, so we are ready to roll once again.

Our last driving trip consisted of 6,500+ miles out west, so this approximately 4,600+ miles down to Key West and back should be a snap. We don't have as many friends and family to visit this time around, but you can keep track of our progress (and closeness to your place) by checking this blog. We will try to keep it as up-to-date as possible, pending Internet connectivity at our hotels and Deb's free time.

Here is the tentative itin, but check daily for the real scoop:

OMG, I just looked out the window and look what I see. An hour ago no snow. Key West here we come!!!

2012 MICHIGAN Rochester - Our Anniversary

Yes, this is Pearl Harbor Day (12/7, a solemn event in our history), but it is also our anniversary--37 years this year. We usually do something special to celebrate our event, even if it is just a quick overnight out of town. We recently watched Under the Radar, a PBS show about fun things to do in Michigan, and they had a spot on Rochester, MI.

Each year Rochester has "The Big, Bright, Light Show." Buildings in downtown are covered with 1.5 million Christmas bulbs and they are simultaneously lit each evening at 6pm during the holiday season.

Backing up a little, the day started for us with the drive from Kalamazoo to the Somerset Collection in Troy, MI. "Collection" is a ritzy way of saying a collection of stores or in other words "a mall." But it is very chic-chic and has a lot of the stores we miss browsing in California at Stanford Shopping Center (our fave in the world), such as William-Sonoma, Crate and Barrel, Restoration Hardware, etc. 

We had a heck of a time finding a parking spot. We cruised the aisles a good 15 minutes. Mike is not very patient about waiting or lines. He was ready to give up, but I took over driving and after a bit longer we found a spot. This place is huge. It covers the size of two typical shopping centers with a bridge going over a city street to connect them. The bridge is so long it has four sections of moving walkways like you see in an airport. Lots of good restaurants, too, but all with a 25-45 minute wait. No way, San Jose, for Mike.

A great thing about our anniversary trips at this time of year is that everything is decorated to the hilt for the holidays. And the displays here were no exception. Santa's place was a HUGE 3-story castle, like nothing we had ever seen before. We had to laugh in comparing this with our little cubby hole Santa cabin in Kalamazoo.

After buying a few goodies in William-Sonoma (mushroom flavored salt crystals and very fine vinegar salt for homemade chips) and a quick pizza bite at the food court, we continued on to nearby Rochester. We arrived just as our friends the Bruces did, who were meeting us there to celebrate.

First we toasted our celebration with some sparkling cherry wine they had purchased from a winery "Up North." We did some catching up and then headed out for a walk down Main Street to check out the light situation. On the fronts of the buildings from top to bottom were strands of vari-colored lights about four inches apart. At this point they were not lit, but the anticipation was growing.

Then off to dinner at Rojo, a fancy-ish Mexican restaurant. We started off with a round of premium sipping tequila and guacamole made at your table from scratch. Next course was raspberry margaritas for the gals and Mexican beer for the guys with our main entree. I don't remember what everyone else ate, but I ordered lobster tacos. A bit decadent, but, hey, we are celebrating.

During our meal, came a cry of oohs and aahs from those nearer the windows. The holidays lights came on simultaneous and they were spectacular. The display covers about 4 blocks down Main Street and some side streets as well. It was so beautiful, it took our breath away. You cannot imagine this without personally seeing it.

After dinner we took another stroll and continued to be amazed by this fairyland atmosphere. To fortify us on the chilly walk, we stopped at the Rochester Mills Brewery. It is housed in the historic Western Knitting Mill and it is huge, maybe half a football field in size. They decorated here with giant snowflake lights. And it was full. So full, we could not find a seat. Soooo back to our hotel.

Our hotel, by the way, was a wonderful surprise. The Royal Palm was like an old country inn you would see in New England and located next to a creek. Quite classy. We continued with decadent desserts and aperitifs in the lounge. We were so stuffed, we almost had to be rolled back to our room. We settled in for the evening in the luxuriously linened bed.

Next morning a great breakfast in the hotel "conservatory" atmosphere restaurant and then a uneventful trip home. Thanks, Bruces, for making our anniversary a really fun trip!

25 December 2012

2012 MICHIGAN Upper Peninsula 4 - Back Ta Home

We rose early, all visiting and partying done, and headed for home sweet home. It was a rainy day, but thankfully not too cold, so there were no icy roads to contend with.
The lights and the Mighty Mac were pretty impressive on this weathery day. When it is windy the bridge tends to sway and today was one of those days. Not too much, but you could feel it a little.
It had been a wonderful trip, as we looked back, and a sentimental and wonderful travel year. Mike and I had both discovered homes of our youth--Mike here and me in Sunrise Beach, Missouri. We had visited many long lost or missed friends and family. Yes, we terribly miss not having our cats, but it has allowed us some other awesome experiences without the worry of them being left at home alone or in the care of others.

The trip home was uneventful except the breakfast stop. Of course, we cannot go long without mentioning food. In Indian River, we stopped by Wilson's River Edge Family Restaurant. A quiet, unassuming spot along the river. Here Mike had the biggest plate of pancakes he had ever encountered in his life--not an exaggeration. It was good, but way too much food. It could have feed a family of at least four. We were glad it was cheap, so we did not feel too guilty about leaving almost a full plate.