From the handful of times I have visited the Midwest I was left with an impression of friendly down-to-earth people, plenty of delectable dairy dishes for the choosing, and the flowing of beer and wine infused into the culture. My recent trip to Michigan was no disappointment from my past experiences. Rob and I took our first 6 day trip up to Northern Michigan and I have to say it was definitely too short.
I say it was our first trip because Rob's family has a little summer cottage on Lake Michigan in the township of Empire. It is quaint, quiet, relaxing and awesome. We have explicit plans to go back next year. . .maybe every year. Their house has shoreline right on Lake Michigan with beach access and spectacular view of the lake. It was built in the late 60's and still has a 70's feel to it as much of the same furniture and appliances are still there. The best part about it is you are totally disconnected, no internet, no TV just the sound of the lake gently lapping against the shore. I can almost hear it now.
If you have never been to Michigan you may have had the same reaction as I did when Rob said he wanted to vacation in Michigan...Michigan? Isn't it cold there? What is there to do in Michigan? Should we invest in bullet proof vests? I admit the extent of my knowledge came from news stories about Detroit violence, NPR specials about the collapsing auto industry and HGTV's Rehap Addict who fixes up dilapidated houses in the ghetto. I was more than pleasantly surprised to find out how wrong I was.
We flew into Detroit which was a mistake. Only because it was a 4.5 hour drive to Poor Richards (the name of the cottage), this made for a very long day of travel given that we drove to Denver then had a connection through Dallas. My first pleasant surprise came from the fact that we did not have to dodge gang members and flying bullets to pickup our rental car. I know my thoughts are ridiculous but sometimes stereotypes can be difficult to overcome.
We arrived at Poor Richards just in time for the sunset which was at precisely 9:18 pm that night. This became our nightly routine to just sit and watch the sun go down with a glass of wine in hand. I am a bit of a sunset junky, as I REALLY appreciate a good one. Lake Michigan sunsets are right there at the top of my list of all time favorites. Other notable sunsets include, flying in a plane over Southern Arizona, Heron Island in Australia, and Cala Luna Point in Costa Rica.
The next day we went exploring around the Leelanau Peninsula. As I came to find out the area is known for sweet cherries, chocolate and wineries. . .What?!? I believe if a girl had to chose a dream place to vacation this could be it. We started in Glen Arbor and spent the morning tasting cherries and chocolate at Cherry Republic. Glen Arbor is an adorable little European style township. We ended up eating there a few times since it is only 15 minutes from the cottage with a good selection of restaurants. We next drove up to Leeland, which is a little fishing village. There was an adorable dock with turn of the century fishing shanties which have been converted to little shops. Rob got a sandwich on a pretzel bun from the Cheese Shanty which came recommended by the locals. He raved about the flavor and softness of the bun, but I wanted to save my appetite for wine tasting. We made a loop up and around to Suttons Bay checking out the small towns in between. We passed by a grass airport strip along the way, which got Rob pretty excited, so we stopped to be tourists. Grass strips are always fun to see. As pilots we like imagine ourselves with our own plane making the landing there. Hopefully, someday we get the opportunity to land on that strip.
We finished out a perfect day at Black Star farms where we did a 5 for $5 wine tasting. Our wine specialists was so friendly chatting with us that he just kept pouring. I am pretty sure our 5 pours turned into more like 10. That was the start of my trip addiction to their Sur Lie Chardonnay. I think I put away 4 bottles in 4 days with little help from Rob. By the time we were done with our "5" pours I was pretty hungry so we ordered their farm to table gluten-free veggie pizza. It was amazing! Everything was from their farm to include the cheese and crust which was made from grape flour. Yum.
We spent the next few days exploring the nature and town around us. We went hiking along Empire Bluffs which revealed a spectacular view of the shoreline. We took the canoe out in South Bar lake which was a fun and relaxing upper body workout. We walked the coastline up to North Bar lake which was a tranquil lake set a few feet from the edge of Lake Michigan. It was peaceful to wade into this sandy warm lake. I always like to stay active on vacations and we did plenty of hiking and walking while we were there. If you are a fit bit fanatic like I am I like to shoot for 15,000 steps while on vacation to make up for our lack of gym time, but I digress.
We ate out a couple of times at the local restaurant in Empire called Joes Friendly Tavern . I have to give a shout out to this place because the food was good and the people were friendly, go figure. When we had dinner there the place was packed, but we managed to sneak into a couple of seats at the bar. We immediately took noticed of the jovial owner who was energetically chatting with every single patron in the place. He was bussing tables and helping the waitress bring out the food to keep things moving. You hardly ever see that kind of service. One of the many reasons I like the Midwest.
On the weekend we went hiking at the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes which is National Park. As a side note if you are military make sure to get your free National Parks pass from the forest service, it is such a great deal! We hiked four miles roundtrip in deep sand. It was a killer workout and also fun. We began our hike with a steep climb up what was the first of many steep hills. As we trudged forward we passed many pouting children and discontented couples discussing whether or not to continue on. I admit that after the fourth steep and sandy hill I was tempted to whine a little myself, but I knew the view and sense of accomplishment would be worth it. It was worth it. When we rounded the last corner and we were rewarded with a crisp breeze and the cool water of the lake Michigan. We got a little wet, took some pictures then we turned around for the long trip back.
It was so hot and sandy, it was difficult to imagine this area was shaped by glaciers more than 12,000 years ago. Apparently, the dunes are migratory, moving over 3 feet per year, pushed by the wind. It is really an amazing geological wonder. After the hike we did a scenic loop drive that offered more spectacularly steep dunes and view of the Manitou islands. On our way home we rewarded ourselves with a stop at a farm stand for cherries and blueberries. It was another perfect day.
The last night we went for a nice dinner at the highly recommended Blu in Glen Arbor. It was farm to table restaurant although a bit pricey. We thought the food was great although in typical fancy style the portions were small. So we capped off the evening with a walk back into town for ice cream.
The best word I can come up with to summarize the trip is: lovely. The misconceptions I had about Michigan were replaced with fond memories and a thirst for more cherries, wine and lake-style relaxation. See you next time Empire!