That’s Not What We’re Used To

Jen and I tend to watch a lot of reality television. Whether it’s Survivor or Tiny House Nation, we are all in. One of our favorite programs is HGTV’s House Hunters International. We especially like the episodes that take place in western Europe – we fantasize about moving there some day.

I’m especially fond of episodes that take place in southern Spain. The weather is always fabulous (at least it looks that way on television). Jen is more interested in being an ex-pat in the UK. There’s less risk when moving to a location without a language barrier.

Despite the fun we have watching and discussing possibilities, there is one thing that frustrates us — people who move to Europe expecting the same style accommodations they had in suburban Omaha, Houston, or Atlanta when they want to live in the city center of London, Paris, or Madrid. Apparently people think nothing of moving 5000 miles without doing research beforehand. If they did they’d know living spaces are smaller, and clothes washing machines could be in the kitchen.

Most irritating for us is when someone exclaims, “That’s not what we’re used to!”, or, “I didn’t think it would be this expensive here!” like they expected to be moving to a third-world country. Third-world countries aren’t all that cheap — you’d be surprised what housing costs in Namibia.

There’s one other possibility: These programs are heavily produced and edited. Despite what’s shown on television, there probably isn’t a lot of spontaneity. That could be why whenever a house only has one, small closet/armoire, one member of a couple will always claim ownership, smile wickedly, and say, “Where are you going to put your clothes?”

If we ever decide to take the plunge, we’ll pick a place that’s exciting for both of us. We’re doing our research, which includes sitting in front of the TV. We’ll know what we’re getting into, and won’t act like clueless Americans. Uh-huh, that’s what we say now…

Crossing the Mackinac Strait

A Great Lake was calling; we chose Huron and the town of St. Ignace, a place that a local restaurant bills as a “Drinking village with a fishing problem,” St. Ignace is the touristy gateway to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula; it sits on the Mackinac Strait, which divides Lake Huron from Lake Michigan. The most important thing we needed to learn is that Mackinac is pronounced Mackinaw by the locals—they look at you funny if you mess that one up.

Among its many charms, St. Ignace has direct ferry boat access to Mackinac Island and the Grand Hotel, the filming location of the greatest chick flick ever, Somewhere in Time. Visiting the island was high on our agenda.

The 500 mile drive from Cincinnati took just over eight hours with a rest stop to eat the lunch we’d packed, then a very quick pit stop for gas a hundred or so miles further. As we pulled into St. Ignace we began looking for our hotel, where we’d be staying the next three days. The Holiday Inn Express was quiet, well situated, reasonably priced, and, delightfully, our room overlooked Lake Huron. The ubiquitous seagulls were noisy, but otherwise not a problem unless some idiot decided to feed them. Pro Tip: Do not ever feed seagulls. They’re perfectly capable of finding their own food.

After cleaning off the road dirt we headed to a restaurant where we thought we’d eaten our last time here, 10-12 years ago. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as the last time; or, was it even the same restaurant? Jen and I are in disagreement about which. My prime rib was good, Jen’s lake perch, one of the reasons for coming, wasn’t good at all, and the service pretty well sucked.

After dinner we strolled the boardwalk that runs along the shoreline. The highlight for me was the Municipal Landing, where many grand boats, both large and small, were docked. Our favorite was the small sailing vessel with the wood trim. municipal landing

Upon returning to the hotel we found an orange full moon rising over Lake Huron. Photography ensued. orange moon rising

We’d had a long, exhausting day. Jen and I had a final glass of wine on the hotel room deck then slept like the dead.

Day One — Mackinac Island

We were up and functioning by about 8:30. We threw on some clothes then went to the lobby for the provided breakfast. I found the turkey sausage to be excellent, although the scrambled eggs were a bit watery. Afterward we hung out in the room for a bit, drinking coffee and reading the day’s news, then prepared for the day ahead.

We wandered around town on foot for a bit, poking into shops and looking at real estate notices. We got ourselves to the Star Line terminal before Noon for the uneventful boat ride to the island.

Approaching the island we were able to see the previously mentioned Grand Hotel. Grand Hotel

As we disembarked the morning overcast was beginning to burn off. We decided to wander the tourist-trap main street of the island. We went into a few t-shirt shops, most were trashy; our primary goal was to ride bicycles around the 8.2 mile island. Note: The red line on the image running along the perimeter of the island is the walk/bike path.

There are three or four bike rental vendors within a quarter-mile of each other; we chose the closest and rented a couple 21-speed bicycles for a few hours. This sounds routine, however the last time I was on a bicycle was April 2014 when I broke my left elbow and right hand in an accident. I’m not prone to fear, but I will admit to apprehension while donning elbow pads. When properly equipped, we hopped on the trail and headed out of town.

The “trail” was two-lane and paved, and importantly for two out-of-shape older ladies, mostly level. Mackinac Island bike trail

Early in our ride we came upon small mounds of stones and pebbles, called rock cairns, whose tradition dates to prehistory as a means of marking trails. Today they’re mostly a means of self-expression. There are hundreds of cairns along the perimeter trail. Cairns

For us the most striking feature of the island was the absolutely crystal clear water along the shoreline that photographs don’t do justice. clear water

We finished the three hour ride in about as good shape as we started, but we were getting hungry. We decided to go to the best t-shirt shop we had seen, buy a couple shirts to commemorate our ride then look for reasonable food. The shirts were easy, reasonable food—not so much. We split a hotdog then made our way back to the dock for our ride to the mainland. rooster tail

After arrival at our hotel, we made a modest effort to clean up then went to dinner at a place we’d seen the night before. Once again Jen had lake perch that was not exactly what she wanted. We realized Lake Huron perch was going to be served differently than Lake Michigan perch in Wisconsin. After eating we headed back to our hotel room and waited for the moon to rise again. Of course it did, but not as photogenically as the night before.

Day Two — We Don’t Got No Stinking Beaches

Jen awoke with a stuffed head and chest congestion, coughing and sneezing—not a good sign. We went to breakfast anyway; it wasn’t as good as the day before. Afterward we putzed around the room for a bit then put on our bathing suits and went in search of a “public beach,” as in a sandy place we that would allow us to sit in the sand and get wet in a Great Lake. Apparently folks in the Mackinac Strait are more interested in pulling fish out of the water than getting wet in it. Despite repeated attempts, none of the locals could direct us to a sandy beach. Frustrated, we went back to the hotel where Jen took flu medication and tried to nap. I found a place in the lobby conducive to reading.

Eventually, needing sustenance, we tried our third different restaurant. We avoided fish and ordered hamburgers that turned out to be so awesome that we splurged on dessert. Due to Jen’s illness, day two was pretty much a bust. When you go on vacation you take your chances; after almost twenty years together this was our first that ended badly.

Day Three — Get in the Car; Drive Forever

After breakfast we loaded the car for the dreaded eight hour drive home; we were on the road a little before 9:00 am. The first 2 hours were awesome. I set the cruise control at 79 MPH and all I had to do was steer; there was hardly any traffic. But the further south we got the more cars were on the road. We stopped for fuel and food near Flint. The most difficult part of the trip was after crossing into Ohio, dealing with traffic due to accidents and construction-narrowed lanes. It was a very stressful nine hours plus to get home. The relief upon our arrival was palpable.

Aftermath

The flu made Jen miserable on the drive home. She was a trooper, hanging in for the long journey. For some reason I avoided getting sick until Saturday, when I was in the middle of a round of golf. I survived, shot 90, then dragged my body home. Jen in the surf We thought we might find property we could purchase, use as a vacation rental until Jen retired, then live there several months of the year. Due to the lack of any beach that’s unlikely now. The Upper Peninsula is still interesting. We’ll find another excuse to go there one of these days, if for no reason other than Mackinac Island still has places we haven’t explored.

I Deserve This

I left Jen holding down the fort while I went off to practice photography and golf. Time will tell whether either is successful. One thing is certain, I need time away from Cincinnati. I deserve this.

March 16

I’ve never had so much difficulty getting out of my neighborhood. The Ohio River is at its highest level in 18 years, so did I bother to check the news about commute difficulties?

As a result my 650 mile drive to Wilmington, North Carolina took an hour longer than anticipated. Because I listened to an audiobook the miles, and the hours, melted away.

Upon arrival in Wilmington I looked at my first pre-selected hotel; contrary to Google Maps it was further from the beach than I wanted. I opted for my second choice, Shell Island Resort, which was not.

view from my room

March 17

I crawled out of bed early enough to photograph the sun leaping out of the Atlantic Ocean this morning. It was a learning experience. I don’t have a polarizing filter so I had to pay attention to camera settings. The lifeguard stand in the photo below provided foreground.

Sunrise!

After sunrise I hurried to Wilmington’s Echo Farms Country Club, where I played my first golf since the beginning of November 2014. Although the outcome wasn’t great I’m not displeased with the way I played — I applied some of the golf lessons I’ve taken this Winter.

Following golf I drove to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. I’m staying at the Springmaid Beach Resort for only one reason, the pier.

Springmaid Pier

What’s on top interests me far less than what’s underneath.

Pilings and Waves

I think waves crashing into symmetrical piers is compelling.

Under the Pier

I was pretty happy shooting underneath until I noticed some surfers. This is all so new and interesting to me. I’ve never photographed an ocean, a pier, or a surfer.

Sunset Surfer Shooting the Pier

I had a pretty good idea Springmaid was not going to be accommodations that suited me, I came here to photograph the pier.

More golf tomorrow.

March 18

Myrtle Beach sunrise was a disappointment when compared to Wrightsville Beach the previous morning.

Myrtle Beach Sunrise

Myrtle Beach’s redeeming features included photographs of the pier and most importantly, playing golf with my friend Kay, and her friends Carol and Carolyn at Arrowhead Country Club. I played poorly, 49-55, but we had a great time. In addition to the horrible shots I hit there were also some that met my expectations. I’ll definitely go back to play golf with my friends.

Following golf I took a leisurely 2 hour drive down the coast to Charleston, South Carolina, where even the Old Town tourist areas are classy. Antebellum buildings, cobblestone streets, and great food are just some of the attractions. I stayed at the Andrew Pinckney Inn, which was in a wonderfully charming, restored older building. I arrived early enough to do a photo walk around Charleston’s Old Town. Regrettably I picked the wrong restaurant. I had deep-fried soft-shelled crab. The rock-hard crust was all I could taste. I wish I’d chosen better.

CHS French Quarter

Rain is a big part of tomorrow’s forecast in the Southeast. The same holds the following day. I’ll find somewhere to hit golf balls then base my activities on what feels right. I expect I will sleep in either Hilton Head or Savannah tomorrow night.

Stay tuned. More to come.

March 19

Indeed, rain was falling when I awoke this morning. It was also windy and cold. I went to the hotel rooftop terrace, the fourth floor, where I could see all the way out to the port (Charleston is a short city).

CHS sunrise

With no prospect of golf I loaded up the car for the two hour drive to Savannah, Georgia. As expected, it was raining here too. I had a reservation at a hotel that was built in 1790, but on my arrival I had to wait three hours to check-in. I spent the time eating lunch and wandering around town.

Savannah’s image is tied to moss-covered trees. As soon as I arrived I started seeing them.

SAV - mosstree

Of course, my best “mossy-tree” was photo bombed by a sign.

The hotel has plumbing and electricity, as well as wi-fi. What it doesn’t have is an elevator so I walk up four flights of rickety, narrow stairs to get to my room. My bed is a four-poster and the hotel is, reportedly, haunted. I’m enchanted.

I have a 10:00 am tee time tomorrow. After that I may begin my trek home. I’ll probably make it a two day journey. Once again, stay tuned.

March 20

By a stroke of good fortune I avoided whatever hauntings took place overnight. The rain ended, but in its place was a dense fog. Undaunted, I made my way to the Bacon Park Golf Course. For those in the know, it’s a Donald Ross course built in the 1920s and is similar to one of his courses I play regularly in Cincinnati. The resemblance is unmistakeable.

As I was alone I played a very quick nine holes, then jumped back into the car, this time headed north. I’ve thrown in the towel; I’m on my way home. It was with no small amount of longing that I gazed at the last Hilton Head Island exit off I-95. Maybe next time. I’m breaking up my drive home with an overnight stay in a characterless hotel in Asheville, North Carolina.

March 21

I was on my way out of Asheville with a full tank of gas just after 8:00 am. What should have been about a five-hour drive took close to seven because of two inexplicable bumper-to-bumper backups.

I extricated myself from the vehicle in my driveway at 3:00 pm, completing my 1,690 mile journey. Not long ago Apple Maps received criticism. I’m here to say I got where I needed to go, flawlessly.

Final Thoughts

I can’t close this post without summarizing. I headed South to photograph sunrises and play golf.

what I came for

I did both, although clouds and rain prevented them occurring in the quantities I’d hoped.

Any anxiety I may have had as a single, older woman going on the road without a master plan was unfounded — I just needed to pay attention to my surroundings. I arrived in each city without a hotel reservation, yet always ended up where I wanted.

The downside was that even though I was unscripted, the first couple of days were non-stop — get up, photograph sunrise, hurry to play golf, drive to the next city, look for a place to stay, try to find acceptable food, sleep, get up and do it all again. My vacation had turned exhausting.

Even with that, the good outweighs the not-so-good. I expect to do a similar trip again. Next time I’ll chase sunsets.

Requiem for Ravioli

In August 2006 I purchased a previously-owned, red 2002 Toyota RAV4. We nicknamed it “RAVioli.” RAVioli took us on many adventures, exploring local treasures and driving hundreds of miles to see what other places had to offer.

RAVioli took me to golf tournaments and outings in far-flung locations such as Oshkosh, Wisconsin; Blairsville, Pennsylvania; Indianapolis, Indiana; Nashville, Tennessee; and Masillon, Ohio. For over eight years RAVioli carried me safely on my daily commute, fifty miles per day for most of it, in almost any imaginable condition — rain, snow, sleet, and ice; as well as blistering heat and humidity — in wonderful comfort. It carried all my golf equipment, I have a lot, as well as groceries, travel paraphernalia, and most of whatever we could stuff inside, and it did so without complaint.

Among RAVioli’s many traits was its amazing good looks. It turned heads; iceravI know it did. It was always easy to find in a grocery store parking lot; it stood out in a crowd.

But now it’s gone. The alternator quit. When I got the call from my local mechanic I was told that there were some other items that needed attention — a significant oil leak and brakes led the list. The projected total for repairs exceeded the resale value of a 13-year-old car in fair condition. It was time to let RAVioli go and move on to the next vehicle. It was with a heavy heart that I traded in my beloved RAVioli for a pure white 2012 Camry — I have entered the character-free zone.

Yes, the new girl has technology better than I’ve had in a car, but it has no soul. What could I possibly name it — Snowball? iCar? Who knows? I’m confident the Camry will take me anonymously, and in comfort, wherever I choose to go. But that’s no fun.

Memories of Dave

David Letterman will host Late Night for the last time at the end of May 2015. I don’t watch much television and certainly not the late-night variety with it’s celebrity-obsessed theme. But on those occasions when I have tuned in I’ve always had a fondness for Letterman over Leno (or his retirement replacement du jour). My memory is such that I remember little of any specific episode of Late Night, they all blur together for me. There is, however, one episode that stands out, not for who was on, but the circumstances under which I watched.

It was May 2002 and I was in a hotel in Luxor, Egypt (yes, the real one) attempting to get some sleep after spending much of the previous morning exploring tombs and temples in the Valley of the Kings. I’d napped in the afternoon, so now sleep eluded me. As I tossed and turned into the wee hours I thought, “It’s not like I can watch Letterman, or anything.” I turned on the TV anyway. I was stunned! There was Dave! With Arabic subtitles!

That two week excursion flying a small, single engine aircraft through the Middle East and Europe was an amazing time for me. Finding Dave on the television that night is one of my favorite memories. Even though I rarely watch, I’ll miss him when he’s gone.