Category Archives: Travel

New checkpoint open to all GFIA passengers

Passengers are screened at the new consolidated security checkpoint as a part of the Gateway Transformation Project. (Photo supplied.)

 

By Tara Hernandez, Gerald R. Ford International Airport


All passengers traveling through the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GFIA) are now being processed in one consolidated security checkpoint, the focal point of GFIA’s Gateway Transformation Project. Construction on the checkpoint was completed Saturday evening, and opened for passengers on Sunday, June 25. Concourse B passengers were processed through the area starting on Sunday, June 4th, but now both Concourse A & B passengers are being screened at the new checkpoint.


The checkpoint is one part of the Airport’s $45 million Gateway Transformation Project that also includes new terrazzo flooring, lighting fixtures, new restrooms & nursing rooms, family restrooms, pre- and post-security business centers, new retail and food & beverage space, and much more. Different portions of the construction will open throughout the summer with phase one set to be complete in late August. Construction on the Gateway Transformation Project began in December 2015.


Passengers are screened at the new consolidated security checkpoint at GFIA. (Photo supplied.)

“We could not have asked for a smoother transition bringing all of our passengers together in our new consolidated checkpoint,” said GFIA President & CEO Jim Gill. “We have to thank our engineering staff for their tireless efforts, and our partners at the TSA for assisting in this transition. It really is a collaborative effort to pull off projects like this, and we’re already hearing from our passengers about how much they appreciate the new space.”


The new consolidated security checkpoint allocates TSA screening in one central location to fully utilize staffing, and make screening lines faster and more efficient.


A post-security Starbucks is set to open Friday, June 30, along with a redesigned Kids Play Area in the pre-security area.


Because some of the construction will have an impact on passenger operations throughout the terminal building, there will be updates, maps, photos, and other helpful tips listed on GFIA’s website: www.grr.org/construction. Signs and airport ambassadors are also available in the terminal building to assist with any passenger needs or directions.


Passengers are still encouraged to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before their scheduled flight due to high volumes of traffic with the busy summer and holiday weekend ahead.

 

A trip aboard the S.S. Badger offers passengers fun and treasured memories

By Terri Brown


The S.S. Badger is the last coal-fired passenger steamship in operation in the United States. She has provided a fun, reliable and affordable shortcut across beautiful Lake Michigan for more than 60 years and has transported millions of passengers since her re-birth in 1992. In 2016, she received the nation’s highest historic honor when the Department of Interior officially designated the Badger as a National Historic Landmark (NHL). Additionally, the Badger is extremely unique in that she is an NHL that moves.


The 410-ft. S.S. BADGER can accommodate 600 passengers and 180 vehicles, including RVs, motorcycles, motor coaches, and commercial trucks during her sailing season. Originally designed primarily to transport railroad cars, this grand ship and the people who serve her have successfully adapted to the changing world since she first entered service in 1953.


Her unique and bold character takes you back to a period of time when things were simpler — offering valuable time to slow down, relax…and reconnect with those you love. She is the continuation of a unique and vital maritime tradition, and we celebrate that heritage on board in fun ways that educate and entertain. Although her mission has changed from the days of carrying railroad cars 365 days a year, the Badger’s role in the hearts of the areas she serves has not.


The Badger’s commitment to a fun experience offers traditional favorites including free Badger Bingo, free movies and satellite television, lounge areas, a toddler play area; free limited Wi-Fi, an onboard gift shop, an arcade, private staterooms, two separate food service areas, two bars, and sprawling outside decks for lounging or walking. Perhaps a romantic night crossing is more fitting for your style with spectacular sunsets and sparkling constellations for stargazers — making the Badger experience extra special.


A trip aboard the S.S. Badger offers passengers fun and treasured memories. Professional travelers have shared their experiences aboard the Badger with the world, and this grand ship has received great praise. The Badger was awarded in 2015 and 2016 a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor and has a five-star rating with Travelocity.


The Badger experience allows a rare opportunity to explore a little history – and a lot of fun by taking a step back into the past on a journey that’s as important as the destination! Slow down, relax and reconnect on the Big Ship, More Fun.


From mid-May to mid-October the Badger sails daily between Manitowoc, Wisc. and Ludington, Mich., Located about an hour from Milwaukee, Wisc. and Muskegon, Mich. For additional information, call 800.841.4243 or visit www.ssbadger.com.

 

GFIA unveils first transition of Gateway Transformation Project

Construction crews work on the front entrance of the Gateway Transformation Project at the consolidated security checkpoint.

By Tara Hernandez, Gerald R. Ford International Airport

 

Passengers traveling through the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GFIA) this weekend noticed a change in security screening as one part of its Gateway Transformation Project transitions.

 

Beginning on Sunday, June 11 at 4:30 am, passengers traveling through Concourse B were screened in the new consolidated security checkpoint. Concourse B passengers include those flying American Airlines, Southwest Airlines, and United Airlines.

 

Concourse A passengers that include Delta Air Lines and Allegiant Air, will start to be screened at the new checkpoint on the morning of June 25.

 

The checkpoint is one part of the Airport’s $45 million Gateway Transformation Project that also includes new terrazzo flooring, lighting fixtures, new restrooms & nursing rooms, family restrooms, pre and post security business centers, new retail and food & beverage space, and much more. Different portions of the construction will open throughout the summer with phase one set to be complete in late August. Construction on the Gateway Transformation Project began in December 2015.

 

“Safety and security are our first priority and as we unveil one portion of our Gateway Transformation Project, we are working closely with our all of our tenants, contractors, and staff to ensure a smooth transition,” said GFIA President & CEO Jim Gill. “Once completed, this project will be a beautiful gateway to West Michigan offering more amenities, technology, and other options for both our business and leisure travelers.”

 

A rendering of the Gateway Transformation Project where Concourse B passengers will be screened beginning on June 11.

Touch of Grand Rapids post-security marketplace is also set to open on Sunday, and renovations are also wrapping up on a pre-security marketplace Destination Michigan which is expected to open on Friday, June 9. Both gift shops will include snacks and beverages as well as Michigan made gifts, souvenirs, and clothing.

 

Because some of the construction will have an impact on passenger operations throughout the terminal building, there will be updates, maps, photos, and other helpful tips listed on the airport’s website. Signage, maps, and airport ambassadors are also available in the terminal building to assist with any passenger needs or directions. Passengers are encouraged to arrive at the airport at least 90 minutes before their scheduled flight.

 

Fun things to do with dad on Father’s Day in West Michigan

By Jeremy Witt, West Michigan Tourist Association


Don’t forget that Father’s Day is Sunday, June 18th. This is a day all about celebrating dad. Many West Michigan businesses are hosting special events, discounts, or offers for the dad in all of our lives. No matter their interest, you’ll find something for him here. Give dad the gift of West Michigan this Father’s Day.

Father’s Day in Southern West Michigan

Arcadia Ales in Kalamazoo is hosting a free corn hole tournament on Father’s Day. Come show off your skills, with the winning team receiving bragging rights and beer specials on their next visit.


Father’s Day orders are rolling in at Allen & Sons Woodworking in Linden. Place your order for one of their handcrafted Michigan-shaped chairs, garden planters, or tables. They have plenty of products to choose from, and they even do custom orders if you have something special in mind. Check them out on Facebook, and place your order today to receive it in time for Father’s Day!


Book a stay at the Inn at Harbor Shores in St. Joseph for Father’s Day and add up to four golf rounds with cart per room for only $85. The Harbor Shores Golf Course is a Jack Nicklaus Signature Course and hosts, on even years between 2012 and 2024, the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship.


Celebrate dad with a dinner at Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in Hastings. The evening’s program will feature information about the full solar eclipse that will move across the United States this August. Richard Bell of the Kalamazoo Astronomical Society will highlight what an eclipse is, where to see the eclipse, and how best to experience it.


Take dad on a fun-filled trip through Coldwater Country. Hop on a historic steam locomotive and make your way from Coldwater to Quincy with an opportunity to get off the train and see the locomotive switch around for your return trip.


The dad in your life will enjoy a Father’s Day weekend in River Country. Kick off the weekend with dinner at one of the area’s many restaurants before you enjoy some time outside canoeing, kayaking, bicycling, hiking, and golfing throughout both Three Rivers and Sturgis.


Visit Henderson Castle in Kalamazoo this Father’s Day for a one-of-a-kind event. The front lawn of the Henderson Castle will be transformed into a Live Chef Action Grill. Chef Moyet will be grilling up all of Dad’s favorites: Ribeye Steak, Foie Gras Burgers, Baby Back Ribs, and Juicy Grilled Chicken. Traditional sides will include Baked Potato, Cole Slaw, Pasta Salad and more! Each table will receive a family style Garden Salad and choice of individual dessert: Apple Pie or Blueberry Pie. Kick off Summer and treat Dad to a very special day!


Take dad out for a golf weekend at Gull Lake View Golf Club & Resort in Augusta. They have six courses, making it a prime location for a golf outing. Their newest addition, Stoatin Brae, sports amazing views all around the course and vistas that rival courses across the country.


Father’s Day in Central West Michigan
Art by Avery Seaver, Grade 10, Montague, Mich.

The 39th Annual Arts & Crafts Festival in White Lake is scheduled for Father’s Day weekend, June 17th and 18th. Nearly 75 creative and talented artists come together for the juried art show. Attendees have the opportunity to peruse and purchase an assortment of handmade items including jewelry, paintings, prints, wood furniture, and more. Throughout the weekend, enjoy a lineup of local music artists and food vendors.


The Grand Rapids Treetop Adventure Park is hosting a Father’s Day special on Sunday, June 18th. Dads climb free with purchase of one regularly priced ticket! This event will book up fast so get your tickets now before it’s too late. Use the code WELOVEDADS for daytime tickets or WELOVEDADSNNIGHT for evening tickets when you book online.


Downtown Market in Grand Rapids wants to help you and your dad have the best neighborhood barbecues this summer. Their Father’s Day Grill Off Class is Sunday, June 18th from 10am to 12:30pm. You’ll be grilling crostini with burrata cheese and grilled flank steak with classic chimichurri and asparagus.


Give dad the gift of live theatre at the Circle Theatre in Grand Rapids! From June 1st to 17th, Neil Simon’s hit Broadway play, Brighton Beach Memoirs, comes to the Circle Theatre! This is a story of a young man with big dreams who always has one eye on the ball and the other on a girl. For music lovers, the Music of Fleetwood Mac comes to the Circle Theatre on Monday, June 5th, followed the next week by Uptown Funk: The Best of the Funkiest on Monday, June 12th.


Pigeon Creek Golf Course in West Olive welcomes all fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, and more to a Father’s Day weekend celebration. To give thanks to these men, they’re giving dads a free cart rental all weekend long. To receive this offer, mention this West Michigan Tourist Association promotion when booking your tee time.


Bring dad to Ionia for the Wizard of Oz Festival on June 17th. Main Street is transformed into the Yellow Brick Road before your very eyes! As a tribute to the Wizard of Oz, they have planned a full day of fun for everyone. The movie that started it all will be shown at the historic Ionia Theatre. Tickets are priced as they were seventy-eight years ago at just 25 cents per person.


For the Electric Bike Place in Grand Haven, Father’s Day is a time to celebrate all the dads. To help you celebrate, they’re giving dads a buy one, get one half off special for half day rentals on Father’s Day! This means that you can get a rental for dad and receive half off your rental. Spend the day riding through Grand Haven together on these unique electric bikes, a perfect activity for the entire family.


Get the gift of adventure for dad this Father’s Day from MACkite in Grand Haven! Their kiteboarding lesson are a fun and unique gift for any dad that loves being out on the water. During these lessons, dad will be pulled by a kite as long as 19 meters on a board, right on the beautiful shores of Lake Michigan. Their two day kite school lesson camps are in Muskegon, and are available for Thursday/Friday or Saturday/Sunday lessons.


Bring dad out to Lewis Farm Market in New Era for Father’s Day! Dads will enjoy free admission, an apple cinnamon donut and coffee, all on the house! They will be open at 10am until 5pm, giving you plenty of time to stop by.


Kids camp for free over Father’s Day weekend at both Muskegon KOA Campground and Covert/South Haven KOA Campground. This national promotion has been growing in popularity the past few years thanks to this special offer and the great experiences had by dads and their families.


Hackley & Hume Historic Site

In addition to 16 beautiful golf courses, 23 charter fishing operations, historic ships and Lake Michigan sugar-sand beaches, Muskegon has some wonderful events for you to enjoy with your dad on his special day! The 26th Annual Antique Tractor and Engine Show is June 8th to 10th with tons of events packed into this three-day event. The Civil War Encampment is June 10th to 11th from 8am to 4pm, with skirmishes each day. Each June, the Promo Tours give classic car owners the chance to show off their rides. This year’s event is June 11th from 4pm to 10pm with over 200 classic and antique cars lining Western Avenue. The Muskegon Powerboat Weekend is June 16th to 18th with more than 80 boats on the 65-mile run. Rounding out the events are free tours for dads at the Hackley & Hume Historic Site on June 18th. Pack the month with celebrations for dad in Muskegon!


Mecosta County is the place to be for any dad that loves to fish or golf. The area is not only home to over 100 lakes and smaller streams, they also have the majestic Muskegon River. With 14 locations to purchase a fishing license and places to rent kayaks, tubes, or canoes, the area truly has everything that you need to enjoy a day on the water! The area also has five golf courses for you to choose from. Each course provides its own beautiful scenery and range in difficulty.


Father’s Day in Northern West Michigan
Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse

Spend time with dad learning about the history of the Mackinac State Historic Parks on Mackinac Island and in Mackinaw City. You can visit five living historical sites, including Fort Mackinac, the Mackinac Art Museum, Colonial Michilimackinac, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, and Historic Mill Creek Discovery Park. Dads will love these incredible historic spots, and you can even purchase discounted admission passes on their website.


Grab your clubs and take dad for a round of golf at one of the four championship courses at Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire. Tight fairways, formidable doglegs, and elevation changes are the perfect challenge for any golfer. You can even have dad try out something new with FootGolf at Shanty Creek’s Summit Golf Course. This hybrid of soccer and golf has you kicking a soccer ball into a 21-inch diameter cup.


Located on Walloon Lake, Hotel Walloon is the perfect place to treat dad. Reserve a spot aboard the relaxing “Tommy’s to Barrel-Back” Sunset Cruise for the whole family. These hour and a half long tours run seven days a week, with snacks and beverages included onboard.


The Bay Harbor Village Hotel in Bay Harbor is the perfect place to stay for Bay Harbor’s 15th Annual In-Water Boat Show. Taking place over Father’s Day weekend, check out all the boats as they come to town from June 16th to 18th.


Wings Over Northern Michigan Airshow

Get your jump on Father’s Day with the Wings Over Northern Michigan Airshow in Gaylord on June 14th. The Canadian jet team will perform only Wednesday evening and will not be present at the weekend show. This is a fantastic mid-week surprise for dad, and is truly an entertaining event for the whole family!


Treat dad to a superior Father’s Day weekend in Marquette. Grab the golf clubs and hit the links at one of the area’s many golf courses. Spend the evening with a cold beverage at brewery or take a walk through a national park and enjoy Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in all of its glory.


Father’s Day is about creating special moments, and the Charlevoix area is a great place to bring dad for a special weekend together. Take dad on a special trip by hiking through their amazing trail system, golfing at any of the five area courses, or kayaking or boating in one of their lakes or rivers. For the adventure seeker, go skydiving, biking the Lake to Lake trail, and explore the Little Traverse Wheelway. There is always an adventure awaiting you in Charlevoix!

 

 

Summer brings artful garden beds and painting competition to Windmill Island Gardens

 

By Matt Helmus, Windmill Island Gardens


Visitors from around the world are familiar with the tulip display at Windmill Island Gardens each May. However, many are not aware that the gardens are reborn each summer. After Tulip Time, staff removes tulips and replaces them with thousands of annuals in themed beds for visitors to enjoy. This summer Windmill Island Gardens is proud to offer ‘The Artful Garden’.


Using garden beds as their canvas, horticulture staff designed the annual beds to mimic famous paintings. From Piet Mondrian’s modern colorful abstract work to Vincent van Gogh’s sunflowers, each bed features a floral nod to a featured painter. Beds contain informational signage about the artist and their work. Artists include Picasso, Degas, Pollock, O’Keefe, Warhol, Monet and more.


Guests will notice the beds change as the season progresses. Many will only appear for a short time as flowers mature, bloom, and recede. In addition, there are a handful of sculptural works by local artists that build on the art theme.


In conjunction with the garden displays, Windmill Island Gardens will be hosting ‘Art on the Island’ — a summer-long plein air painting competition. Artists are invited to bring easel and canvas to the Island to capture the beauty of the windmill, flowers, and natural setting. Prizes will be granted to the winners and announced at an Art Gala and Sale on Thursday, September 7th.


Information on these events and more is available at windmillisland.org. Visitors and artists alike are invited to experience the artistic beauty of Windmill Island Gardens this summer seven days a week through October 1st.

 

Play smart: Summer is here, and so is tick-carried Lyme disease

Michigan’s deer ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, and if attached care must be taken to remove. (State of Michigan)

By K.D. Norris

ken@wktv.org

 

For West Michiganders, at least those sticking around the Grand Rapids area and not heading up north, a Memorial Day weekend visit to the Lake Michigan shoreline is a great option if not a must.

 

(State of Michigan)

But with the un-official start of the summer outdoor season also a Memorial Day weekend, outdoor adventures also bring the un-official start of Michigan’s deer tick season — and with black legged (deer) ticks comes the risk of Lyme disease.

 

Most humans are infected with Lyme disease through the bites of immature ticks, called nymphs, that feed during the spring and summer months. But these nymphs are approximately the size of a poppy seed, so they are hard to see.

 

“Prompt removal of ticks is the best method to decrease the chance of Lyme disease,” Dr. Paul Heidel, Ottawa County Department of Public Health medical director, said in supplied material. “Seek medical attention if you develop a fever, a rash, severe fatigue, facial paralysis, or joint pain within 30 days of being bitten by a tick.”

 

Routinely, ticks must be attached for 36 to 48 hours for the Lyme disease bacterium to be transmitted.

 

The State of Michigan and local health officials have suggestions to avoid Lyme-carrying ticks:

 

When outdoors, walk in the center of trails, and avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass.

 

Around home, create tick-safe zones in your yard by keeping patios and play areas away from vegetation, regularly remove leaves, clear tall grasses and brush around home, place wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas, and use a chemical control agent.

 

Use an insect repellent containing DEET (20-30 percent) or Picaridin on exposed skin, and treat clothing and gear (such as boots, pants, socks and tents) with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin — do not use permethrin directly on skin. (Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.)

 

Bathe or shower after being outside in tick-infested areas (preferably within two hours). And conduct a full-body tick check (under arms, in and around ears, inside belly button, behind knees, between legs, around waist and especially in hair), especially inspect children.

 

Finally, if you find a tick attached, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. Clean the area with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.

 

West Michigan Tourist Association marks 100 years of promoting West Michigan

Hugh J. Gray was appointed secretary/manager of WMTA upon its formation, and is honored with a stone cairn constructed of one stone from every county in Michigan to commemorate Gray as the “Dean of Michigan’s Tourist Activity.”

By Jeremy Witt

West Michigan Tourist Association

 

On May 7, 1917, delegates from across Michigan gathered in the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids (today part of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel), to work together to form the Michigan Tourist and Resort Association (today known as the West Michigan Tourist Association). Hugh J. Gray was appointed secretary/manager of WMTA upon its formation, and is honored with a stone cairn constructed of one stone from every county in Michigan to commemorate Gray as the “Dean of Michigan’s Tourist Activity.” This was the first grass roots tourist organization in the country, and was formed with the goal of promoting the attractions of West Michigan, and to encourage travelers to visit the region.

 

A hundred years later, the West Michigan Tourist Association (WMTA) continues to work towards that same goal with a special tribute from Michigan’s Governor on the occasion of WMTA’s anniversary. With more than 850 member properties throughout the area, WMTA has come to be recognized as the leading source of travel information for the West Michigan area. WMTA makes a wide variety of travel information available free of charge, including an annual West Michigan Travel Guide, a Lake Michigan Lighthouse Map, a monthly e-newsletter, and more.

 

WMTA is celebrating their centennial throughout 2017 with additional travel promotions and ways for the public to become involved:

 

  • Request a free copy of the West Michigan Travel Guide by mail (or view it online) to travel through the past 100 years in West Michigan, as well as the best of present day.
  • Follow along on the West Michigan social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram) for Throwback Thursday (#TBT) posts each week to explore visuals from the last 100 years in West Michigan.
  • Participate in the West Michigan 100th Anniversary Scavenger Hunt for a chance to win a copy of WMTA’s commemorative photo book and the grand prize from Boyne Mountain Resort.

 

Since 1917, the West Michigan Tourist Association (WMTA) has worked to market the very best of West Michigan to travelers from around the world. As WMTA celebrates 100 years in 2017, that commitment continues.

 

WMTA’s membership base consists of more than 800 attractions, lodging, events, and activities all across the west side of Michigan, from the Indiana border all the way into the Upper Peninsula. Over the past century, Michigan’s tourism industry has become second to only manufacturing in Michigan, making WMTA a vital resource for the area’s tourist destinations.

 

Today, WMTA continues its mission as a self-sustaining, membership-funded non-profit. For more information, please visit WMTA.org.

 

Gerald R. Ford Int’l Airport sets passenger record for fourth straight year

By Tara Hernandez

 

The Gerald R. Ford International (GFIA) Airport has set a new all-time passenger record for 2016, marking the fourth straight year that the Airport has seen record-setting growth.

 

In 2016, 2,653,630 passengers flew in and out of GFIA, an increase of 4.06% from 2015. December growth helped cap the record-setting year with an increase of 6.53% year-over-year. December 2015 saw 202,769 total passengers, but 2016 surpassed that with 216,017 enplaned and deplaned passengers. Passenger growth was recorded in 9 of the 12 months of 2016 at GFIA.

 

The growth over the last few years started in 2013 with a passenger record of 2,237,979. In 2014, that number jumped to 2,335,105. In 2015, GFIA broke its own record once again with a passenger total record of 2,550,193 — a 9.21% year-over-year increase. Over the past four years, the Airport has recorded its strongest growth in its 53-year history, serving over 9.7 million passengers over the four-year time period.

 

“This is a testament to the growing West Michigan community, and the investment our airline partners have made at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport,” said GFIA President & CEO Jim Gill.

 

“This growth further justifies the need for our Gateway Transformation Project to accommodate the increasing passenger demand, and the need our airlines have in-gate space, amenities, and customer service offerings.”

Number of passengers 2011-2016

 

July 2016 was the single busiest month in Airport history with 238,237 total passengers traveling through GFIA resulting in the busiest July ever, and breaking an all-time monthly record from July 2015.

 

The Gateway Transformation Project began in December 2015 and is slated to continue through summer 2017. The project’s main feature is the consolidated passenger security checkpoint which will centralize and combine security screening to one main checkpoint in the Airport, eliminating separate screening for passengers traveling through either Concourse A or B. Construction also includes new terrazzo flooring, lighting fixtures, restroom & nursing rooms, family restrooms, pre- and post-security business centers, new retail and food & beverage space and much more.

 

“As we continue to grow in traffic it is imperative that our facilities keep up with our passenger demand,” said Gill. “There is a reason our passengers keep coming back, and as they do we will continue to do our part to improve our amenities, technology, customer service and infrastructure. We are excited to see what the future holds, and we only expect more growth in the years to come.”

 

The Airport will be celebrating this historic passenger record with daily surprises and giveaways by ‘paying it forward’ to passengers through next week.

 

GFIA monthly passenger statistics are available on the website.

Quaint Corsham – Dropped into Dickens

 

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

What could be a more authentic English experience than living in a home on High Street in the quaint village of Corsham?

 

Luck was with me when I landed this housesit for sweet William, a 15-year-old pup. His masters, Mark and Andy were headed off on holiday and entrusted their furry friend to my care, along with their beautiful home. Will even made happy noises when I scratched behind his floppy ears and rubbed his tummy.

 

Corsham is a picturesque little town, like something straight out of Dickens, with old slate-roofed buildings, ancient spired churches and golden sandstone walls that glow in the afternoon light.

 

“If you wouldn’t mind feeding the birds and the fish, that’d be great,” Andy told me. “And we do have one other pet,” Mark added.

 

Uh oh, what’s this, I wondered.

 

“A peacock called Kevin sometimes visits the garden, if you could just give him a few mealworms…”

 

Who would have guessed I’d have my own pet peacock?

 

Their home is light and airy, and I had a lovely room with my own bath, where a fluffy white robe hung waiting. Books and DVDs lined the walls in the solarium.

 

“Help yourself and enjoy,” they told me, and showed me how to set the surround-sound.

 

Will got three walks a day, though due to his age, they were fairly short ones. A huge park sprawls out behind the house, a five-minute walk away, with a lake full of quacking ducks tucked into the corner. Will showed me his favorite spots.

 

We’d go out rain or shine and this being England, there’s more drizzle than not. But the many misty mornings were magical. With sheep now out of the pasture, Will was allowed to go off lead and often met up with his friends.

 

He may be mostly deaf, but there’s nothing wrong with Will’s nose, or his navigation. He’d approach friendly people in the park, who happened to have treats stashed in their pockets, and he invariably led me to the pet shop to meet his best saleslady pal.

 

Living in Corsham is the best of both worlds — a beautiful garden and park, like being out in the country with most everything you need just out the front door. High Street is only a few blocks long but crammed with small shops — hair salons, a health food store, two opticians, cafes and restaurants, a bakery, a co-op for groceries, a butcher, a pharmacy, pubs and banks and a bookstore and best of all, on Tuesdays, the market stalls set up.

 

Will and I each had our favorite booths.

 

At night, Will got his third walk. He’d lead the way, under glowing streetlights and a full October moon. The street was quiet, shop window-shades pulled. Turning down a dark alley towards the park, I’d switch on the torch (what the Brits call a flashlight). I’d glance around at tall, gnarly trees, branches creaking like arthritic arms; a chill wind whispered through the leaves. We didn’t enter the park but turned just before, down a path that led to a church with a headstone-filled graveyard, tall rounded markers like the ones in scary movies. We were both always happy to get home to our soft, warm beds.

 

We varied our walks sometimes. The churches and graveyards were much less spooky in the daytime.

 

One day I decided to take a tour of Corsham Court, the local manor and gardens. “No pictures allowed inside,” I was told as I paid for my ticket, a frustration for any photographer, but I focused on the positive side — I could enjoy just looking for a change, without having to capture every detail with a lens.

 

With a kitchen to cook in, I ate meals at home, another great reason to housesit. It saved a bundle not dining out, and Will and Kevin made nice dinner companions, when they weren’t both staring at me with “Can I have a bite?” eyes.

 

This Dickensian tale in Corsham has a very happy ending, with Mark, Andy and William reunited, and I felt like I made three new friends.

 

About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Eclectic Edinburgh

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

How do you know when you’ve landed in Scotland? The men are in skirts, of course! Kilts, to be more accurate.

 

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, was my first stop, with its beautiful medieval Old Town and elegant Royal Mile. The cobblestone streets are lined with shops selling everything in plaid — kilts, scarves, purses, postcards, mugs and key rings, as well as other Scottish paraphernalia.

 

The Royal Mile is crowned at the top with Edinburgh Castle, protecting Scotland’s crown jewels and Stone of Destiny, surrounded by a sweeping view of the city, and anchored at the bottom by Holyrood Palace.

 

In between are the Closes, or Wynds — narrow lanes and alleyways where residents used to live. They were named after the most prominent citizens or businesses, and it was highly unusual for one to be named after a woman. Mary King’s Close is underground, the city was built up over it, and it’s open to the public for tours, if you dare — urban legends tell of hauntings from plague victims and things that go bump in the night. It’s an eerie but fun way to learn of some of Edinburgh’s history.

 

image-175-1024x768Musicians play their bagpipes on the streets, haunting music swirling amongst the beautiful old buildings, and neighborhoods like Grassmarket house hostels and kilt makers, bookstores and gift shops plus plenty of pubs, many with colorful histories. Have no fear if you’re a foodie, there are plenty of places to eat as well as drink.

 

It was such a lovely day, I decided to climb Arthur’s Seat, a nearby extinct volcano with incredible views from the top. “It’s not as hard as it looks,” people told me. It appeared daunting, but I gave it a go. I counted around 900 uneven stone steps, and when the steps ended, there was a dirt path, then it was pretty much rock climbing. I saw moms with little kids, and people in their 70s, so I figured I should be able to do it too. Happily, I had my hiking boots on.

 

I thought I was at the top, only to find another steeper bit to climb. But I made it — 360 degree views, with all of Edinburgh as well as the sea spread below me. The crystal clear day was perfectly still.

 

“It’s usually windy up here,” a woman told me, “you’re lucky.” Yes, I am.

 

image-227-1024x768There’s so much to do in Edinburgh, but of course Scotland is known for its whisky, so why not check out the Whisky Experience? You’re sent off on a Disney-like ride in a barrel where a “ghost” hologram tells you about the three ingredients of whisky — water, malted barley and yeast, and how it’s fermented and distilled and aged in barrels, much like wine. We got to scratch and sniff a card that showed the scents of the four different Scottish whiskey regions — Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside and Islay, which correspond to the flavors of citrus, vanilla, banana and smoke. Then the best part, taste-testing! Plus there’s a sweep through the world’s largest whisky collection, with more than 3,600 bottles.

 

The National Gallery, with free admission, is full of religious, allegorical and impressionist paintings or if you’re more into writing than art, Edinburgh is known for it’s fair share of authors, including  Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott, and you can learn about them in the Writer’s Museum.

 

Or you can even go on a literary pub crawl and combine the spirit of history with spirits of a more liquid nature. Your hosts, actors in character, will lead you on an informative romp through several lively night spots.

 

image-197-1024x768More appropriate for the younger set — you can stop for a coffee or cocoa at the place where J.K. Rowling penned much of her first Harry Potter book.

 

As an alternative to expensive hotels and preferring a more local experience, I’d booked an Air B&B with a lovely couple a short bus ride out of the city in an area called Portobello, where I had the best of both worlds — close to the city center, but a block from the beach, and Scotland was experiencing some unseasonably warm early fall weather.

 

What do you do when your hosts invite you to a real Scottish meal of Haggis and you’ve discovered on a tea towel in town what’s in it? You suck it up and try it, of course, and I have to say, it was really quite tasty, along with the neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), although I tried not to think of the ingredients.

 

One day my host wasn’t busy and accompanied me for an afternoon. She’d packed a picnic, which we shared on a bench in a park overlooking the city, then walked through town to the botanic gardens to view an art exhibit and strolled towards home along Leith canal, the clouds and blue sky reflected in the water, with ducks and swans gliding by, a lovely last day in historic, eclectic Edinburgh.

 

Lest you be disappointed, having perhaps heard of incessant Edinburgh drizzle, I did manage to experience one day of gray, gloomy skies and damp weather, so I’ll leave you with this, a perhaps more common view of this fabulous historic city.

 

image-218-1024x768About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

House-sitting in the Highlands with Hamish

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

Castles in the sky, or at least close — my house sit in Fort William, in the Highlands of Scotland, came in the form of a Victorian manse, complete with a lively companion.

 

The Highlands have long been high on my list, and I had two weeks to enjoy the fall with free accommodations in exchange for keeping an eye on this lovely home and entertaining my new furry friend, Hamish. Little did I know that he had 100 times my energy and would keep me on my toes about 14 hours a day. A Border Collie blend, Hamish loves to chase balls, from the crack of dawn (over 50 throws before breakfast) until late at night, with enough zest to knock the stuffing out of both the balls and me.

 

11Luckily, there was a jacuzzi with a view for some recuperation! The hot water and jets felt heavenly on my sore muscles — both throwing arms as well as legs from hiking.

 

When he was not chasing balls, Hamish loved to show me all of the surrounding hikes. The Scottish Highlands are rugged and gorgeous on both sunny and rainy days, and if you’re lucky like I was, you may get both at once, and end up with a rainbow.

 

But first, before going exploring I had to learn how to drive. True, I’d been driving since I was 16, so with decades of experience you wouldn’t think of it as a problem. But upon my arrival, I learned that all of our dog walks — twice a day — started well beyond walking distance. Hamish isn’t comfortable walking in town; he was recently re-homed and has a few “issues,” such as fear of thunder and cars, and a fondness for chasing sheep.

 

“You have use of our car to take him on his walks,” the homeowners told me, and showed me their big SUV, with, oh God help me, a stick shift. I have to say, this was the most terrifying time on my entire around the world trip — a stick shift, which I haven’t driven in years in a big SUV, the owner’s pride and joy, on many a steep hill on the left side of the road with double lane roundabouts. My heart pounded and I broke out in a sweat. I fessed up to my lack of skills, but they were kind and took me out in the countryside for some lessons.

 

27Once I had the hang of it, I appreciated the luxury of such a nice car with navigation that gave me verbal directions, since Hamish wasn’t much help in that department. We climbed through woods by rushing waterfalls in Glen Nevis over lush moss, past fields of heather and wildflowers. We crossed rushing rivers, and hiked partway up Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the British Isles. Hamish even knows how to climb over stiles, smart dog.

 

And speaking of smart, Hamish also knows how to ride the ski resort lift; he showed me how to board the gondola for drop-dead gorgeous views. His owners were kind enough to buy me a pass so we could go hiking on top, one of our favorite spots.

 

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’d appreciate the hike near Glenfinnan, up to see the bridge where Harry’s train took him to Hogwarts. We even timed it right to see the old steam train, its whistle blowing as it chugged by below us. And there was lunch in an old parked dining car, where the service was up to Hamish’s standards — they brought him a bowl of water and treated him like an honored guest. Many movies have been filmed in or around Fort William, including scenes from Braveheart.

 

If you’re more of a beach person than mountain, you’ll still enjoy heading to the Highlands. A short but scenic drive will take you to the shore and one of Hamish’s favorite places. He’s not afraid of cold water and lunged into the sea to chase ball after ball, splashing spray up into his sand-covered muzzle.

17

Warm, sunny days alternated with cold rain, but still we hiked twice a day and discovered that we didn’t melt. With a rain jacket for me, and fur coat for Hamish, we shook off the drops and enjoyed the peace and solitude of being the only ones out. Fort William is the start/finish of both the West Highland Way and the Great Glen Way, if you’re into long-distance walking or cycling.

 

The quaint town of Fort William has plenty of pubs and if you’re a hiker, plenty of shopping with no shortage of outfitters. Warm, cosy coffeehouses offer shelter, where I could take a short break from my charge — the house was just up the hill, so I could also take a rest from driving.

 

They say in the Highlands the midges are worse than mosquitoes, but I didn’t have a chance to find out — apparently in September, I had just missed midge season, barely by a smidge.

 

The house on the hill had magnificent views, overlooking Loch Linnhe and Fort William. With a turret and rooftop garden, sunken tub inside and jacuzzi out back, a fireplace with lots of wood ready to keep me warm, a library of DVDs, a wine cellar and whiskey cupboard (with permission to sample) and a grand kitchen in which to cook my stew, I was a pretty happy camper. Yes, I was kept on my toes as Hamish isn’t one to rest, but house-sitting in the Highlands was a heavenly haven, and I wouldn’t hesitate to go back.

 

32About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Beer City’s airport to host new Founders flavored brewhouse

An architectural rendering of Prospect Hill Brewhouse, opening at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport in summer 2017. (Supplied)

WKTV staff

 

Travelers out of Gerald R. Ford International Airport will be able to get a final taste of Beer City, U.S.A., in 2017 as Prospect Hill Brewhouse, a new eatery featuring Founders brews, will be opening as part of an expansion and upgrade of airport amenities.

 

The brewhouse will be located in the post-security area of the airport. The addition is part of a series of additions including two new Starbucks — one pre-security and one post-security, a restaurant called The Local @ GRR on Concourse and an as-yet unnamed casual dining restaurant on Concourse B, according to supplied material. A Burger Federation restaurant along with a Firehouse Subs is also planned.

 

“We are excited to have a local flair in our restaurant scene, and what better way to own up to our title of Beer City, U.S.A. than adding the Prospect Hill Brewhouse right here in the airport?” Phil Johnson, airport acting president & CEO, said in supplied material.

 

Prospect Hill Brewhouse is set to open in summer 2017, with the other additions occurring soon after.  There will also be retail offering changes including a Touch of Grand Rapids store featuring West Michigan themed products and in partnership with the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

 

Dawdling around Dingle

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

This time I got lucky on a farm (at least in terms of accommodations). I was a little leery after my other nightmare stay on a dairy farm, but Murphy’s Farmhouse, my B&B for the night near Castlemaine, was delightful. It’s a lovely place, perfectly situated at the start of the ring around Dingle, and they had a single room available which is something you find quite often in Europe that I rarely find in the US. As a solo traveler, single rooms are much appreciated.

 

It was a day of beauty overload. From the start — after a very tasty scrambled egg and salmon breakfast — my day was filled with stunning scenery for nine hours.

 

4First stop out on the Dingle Peninsula was at Inch Beach, which should be more aptly named Mile Beach. The sand is so hard-packed you can drive on it, although I walked across a wet shimmering sea bed so smooth it reflected the clouds and sky and you couldn’t tell whether you were standing on earth or in the air.

 

An old woman walked her little dog and a surfer carrying his board made a dark silhouette against the sea.

 

Surfing schools operated out of a couple of trailers and although a very small part of me thought how cool it would be to try surfing in Ireland, the bigger part of me said OMG that must be friggin’ cold! I didn’t want to leave but there was a whole big peninsula to explore.

 

The road was lined with huge banks of bright-orange flowers as well as many scenic viewpoints, so going was slow for a shutterbug like me. The winding pavement periodically narrowed down to one lane with cliffs of rock on one side and low stone walls barely providing protection from sheer drop-offs on the other, some of it pretty hair-raising.

 

9I followed a series of even smaller roads to a “castle” but it turned out to be more ruin than fortress. Patchwork quilts of green fields stitched the landscape together, and then the town of Dingle appeared, all rainbow-colored shops of Celtic souvenirs, jewelry, sweaters, t-shirts and lots of pubs and restaurants.

 

It’s a great town to wander and I stumbled on a little artisan cheese shop that had a sign saying they make sandwiches, so I decided to purchase a picnic lunch. I ordered an Irish Brie, tomato, olive tapenade and artichoke heart sandwich, and added a piece of artisan chocolate with a creamy toffee center for dessert.

 

But then on my way to the car, I got sucked into the Murphy’s all-natural ice cream shop and ate a sea salt dark chocolate and honeycomb caramel cone BEFORE my lunch, as an appetizer.

 

As I drove off along the winding coast, sun and gray skies took turns following me until I came to a fantastic lookout across from the Beehive Huts (some ancient stone houses). A large seagull sat on a fence post right in front of my car hoping, I’m sure, for a handout. So I had the birds and the bees, and a deep blue sea view while I ate my very tasty picnic.

 

Then I hiked up to the Beehive Huts to check them out and to use the most scenic outhouse on my trip, which also had an interesting sign.

 

12The sun shone brightly here, the sky cerulean blue, but by the time I got to the next scenic turnout, it was gray skies and moody waters, with people swimming and body surfing the rough waves.

 

And, of course, by the next scenic turnout, the sun was shining again and it was one of the most beautiful vistas I’ve seen in Ireland, all craggy shores with a foaming inlet, waves crashing against rocks, and green grassy slopes sliding down to the cliffs.

 

The road heads around the loop at the end of Dingle, then I crept up over the Conner pass, where luckily for me it wasn’t raining. Others told me when they’d crossed it was so misty and gray you couldn’t see a thing but when I reached the top, I could see out to the coast as well as a beautiful waterfall in full force.

 

Heading back, I ran into a sheep jam — a farmer had blocked the road with a truck full of sheep that were running out of the back end. He apologized, but I just grinned — it was fun to watch, especially when the last one wouldn’t come out and they banged on the truck; it was like trying to shake loose the last jelly bean in a jar.

 

Later that night after hours of driving around the whole peninsula, I stopped in a pub to hear a little music, where a gifted young Irish girl sang and played the flute, accompanied by an equally talented young guy on guitar.

 

Dingle is definitely a good place to dawdle for fine views, great food and musical entertainment, another worthwhile stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way.

 

17About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

 

 

The beautiful, barren Burren

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

What in the world is the Burren? I’d read an article about it on my flight, but it looked pretty rugged and stark so I wasn’t sure I’d like it. Turns out it’s a magical place (a description I use a lot in Ireland). The Burren is a region in County Clare and means “great rock.” It covers about 250 square kilometers, and the crisscrossing cracks in the limestone are called “grikes.”

 

I headed first to the nearby seaside town of Doolin. The sun was shining — an unusual state of the sky — which made a trip to the shore even more enticing. Doolin is an adorable little town with the usual brightly colored shops and pubs. I popped into O’Conner’s for lunch and ordered their seafood chowder, rich and creamy, served with brown bread and butter, and poked around in a few of the shops (there are only a half a dozen). My favorite, of course, was the tiny used bookstore.

 

16Then I headed down to the pier, for what I thought was a 10-minute visit for a photo of the ferries, until I discovered a whole other world — strips of limestone rock, pocked with holes holding puddles and daisies. These long striations go on for miles and miles. You can climb on them and though rugged, with hiking boots they weren’t hard to navigate.

 

Past the stone fence, I climbed on rocks studded with white and yellow daisies, along a deep ultramarine sea, under a cerulean sky filled with billowing white clouds. I was entranced. I hiked a bit, plunked down, and then didn’t move for an hour, watching the sea splash against the rocks in a cut-out in the cliffs, and contemplated life.

 

A man walked by, whistling, which reminded me of my grandfather who used to whistle. It was a happy sound and I looked up as he passed. He peeled off his clothes down to a speedo and donned a bathing cap. Was he really going to swim in those frigid roiling waters? He did. “Likely a bit cold,” another man commented passing by. I agreed, as I sat bundled up in my fleece and rain jacket.

 

8After climbing over big boulders, I ended up on a ledge, high above the water, which would normally make my knees wobble, but for some reason I felt okay, maybe because there was sun and no wind or because the rocks were rough and flat, so I felt fairly stable in my boots. The swimmer appeared far below, out in the water, taking huge strokes as he navigated without apparent effort through the sea.

 

Big gray clouds moved in, motivating me to get up and  climb my way back to the parking lot, past signs warning of things not to do and I reached my car just as the first raindrops hit.

 

Taking the scenic route along the shore, I saw lots more of the starkly beautiful Burren. Rain and sun took turns, and I stopped for another walk, not quite sure why walking on rocks was so much fun, almost kind of spiritual. The road wound along the coast and I stopped to pet some ponies in a perfect pasture with a million-dollar view, and fed one my apple.

 

The area is known for its music, so after hours of fresh air and exercise, I spent a bit of the evening back in Doolin, listening to the weaving of accordion, flute and fiddle, sipping an Irish beer, a fitting end to a day on the barren Burren.

 

13About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

 

Matchmaking and the art of perfume and chocolate

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

Lisdoonvarna is the matchmaking capitol of Ireland, and I just happened to be passing through during their annual festival. Even though I wasn’t looking to get matched, I admit I was curious, and have to say it’s hilarious.

 

The town is studded with signs about matchmaking, along with hearts and cupids. A friendly old chap stopped to ask me if I’m here to get matched. When I told him no, he asked, “Have any of the old codgers come on to you yet? You should take 4 or 5 home with you; if one doesn’t work out you have plenty more to choose from!”

 

1It turned out to be country-Western weekend. Really? I came all the way to Ireland for some Irish music and I got American-style Country? When I sat down and ordered fish and chips at a recommended restaurant, the place was almost empty but as I ate, it gradually filled up… with 80-something-year-olds! I swear, nobody there was under 75, and most were 10 years older.

 

But when the music started up, those octogenarians flooded the floor and danced like you wouldn’t believe and like I wouldn’t even begin to try. One gentleman at the bar kept trying to get me to dance but while all the older ladies were dressed to kill in their Sunday best and high heels, I was still in my hiking duds, including my clunky boots, so I passed. At that point, the place was jam-packed, from youngsters at the bar to a few who looked 90, and everyone in between.

 

This whole area around the Burren is full of interesting stops, including small artisan producers creating perfume and chocolate. Maybe to use in the matchmaking process?

 

I drove along a narrow, winding road through beautiful countryside full of cows, stone fences and wildflowers, out into the middle of nowhere to find the Burren Perfumery. It’s a lovely little place of stone buildings and organic gardens, started as a cottage industry in the ’70s by a botanist and passed through a couple of hands to its present owner. They make wonderful smelling all-natural lotions, balms, perfumes and candles, and let you wander through their gardens.

 

15The tea room has baked goods to die for. I opted for a slice of the homemade carrot cake and a cup of tea made with herbs from their garden; whole leaves floated unstrained in my cup — mint, lemon balm, fennel, marjoram and ladies mantle. It’s the sensory details that make the place special, the sights of colorful petals, sounds of bees buzzing and birds chirping, smells of sweet perfume and tastes of luscious treats.

 

The next day, I veered off of the main road when I saw a sign for Hazel Mountain Chocolate. Another successful small producer, they have a shop where you can peek through a glass window to watch them create their confections. They make all kinds of different treats, something for every taste, and the place is rich with history as well.

 

Also on the property is a sweet little cafe with organic salads and amazing home-baked desserts. How do you ever decide?

 

When I pulled off down an interesting-looking side road, I ended up at a deserted abbey, which dates back to the 1100s. I wandered through the tombstones and ruins of the church all alone, under a half blue, half gray and moody sky, and marveled at the age of the inscriptions.

 

So if you get to Ireland, make sure you don’t miss County Clare and the Burren, and if you time it just right, you may even get matched.

 

32About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

 

 

The Witch of Kilkenny, Ireland

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

I went for the arts in Kilkenny, and instead I found a witch!

 

It’s an hour and a half drive from Dublin south to Kilkenny, a medieval town, with a castle built in 1195. Picking up my rental car in Dublin, I was a bit nervous, since driving is on the left side of the road here but it was fine. After all, I’d had three weeks of practice in New Zealand, although that was almost seven months ago now. I headed straight to the tourist office and spent about two hours there, as they tried to help me find rooms for the next three nights — it appeared there were none left anywhere near the places I wanted to go.

 

People had told me not to worry about booking ahead at this time of the year — late August — as the kids are headed back to school, but they were off by a week. They finally found me some rooms although they were definitely over my budget. Just a reminder to double-check the area you’re traveling to for special circumstances. Sometimes it’s beneficial to just arrive at a place, as a lot of the nice, smaller places don’t use booking sites, and are also willing to bargain on price. On the other hand, if it’s a busy time, without booking ahead, you might find yourself sleeping on the proverbial park bench.

 

The tour office lady asked if I wanted to join the walking tour that was about to start. Sure! It’s a great way to get an overview of a town. We saw Butter Alley, where they used to sell butter in medieval times; the Black Abby, which dates back to the 13th century; and Smithwick’s brewery building, where they no longer brew beer (that’s moved to Dublin) but you can pay a chunk of change to stop in their visitor’s center to shop for merchandise if you choose (I chose not to).

 

Kilkenny is known as an arts and crafts town, and includes the Medieval Mile, with many shops lining its winding lanes along the River Nore. I just missed the annual arts fair, which was probably just as well, since accommodations were hard enough to come by post-festival.

 

12You can tour the castle for a fee, or just have a wander around the grounds for free. With notoriously gray skies and many buildings made of gray stone, the Irish find other ways to brighten their cities including flowers, graffiti, paint and lights. Kilkenny is not a town that’s too worried about safety — check out the security system on their kegs…

 

And about that witch…

 

In the middle of town, there is a restaurant called Kyteler’s, which was once a stone house owned by a woman whose four husbands all died under mysterious circumstances. She was tried and convicted as a witch, but she was rich (from her four husbands), and her wealthy friends helped her escape to England. Her maid was not so fortunate, and the punishment was carried out on her — she was whipped through the streets and burned at the stake, supposedly the first in Europe. Quite a sad tale.

 

The establishment is supposedly haunted and there are photos someone took hanging on the wall that show a mysterious shadow climbing up the stairs. There is also a curious story of an artist and an author related to the Kyteler’s witch tale (see The Spooky Story below).

 

Haunted or not, it is a spooky place but in a fun way, and both my tour guide and my B&B host said to go back there for dinner, for good food and free music after 6. I followed their advice and dined on traditional Irish stew — a hearty bowl full of meat, potatoes and carrots and after, enjoyed a lively room full of music and laughter.

 

My B&B Mena House, was a nice, big old house with lots of rooms, walking distance to town. I ended up talking to Catherine, the proprietress, for quite a while. She was friendly and funny and said she’d love to do what I’m doing — travel the world alone — but wouldn’t dare.

 

19

“You’re very brave,” she told me. I keep hearing that and at first didn’t think it was true as I find traveling fun and exhilarating, not scary. But the more people I meet around the world, the more I see how everyone has dreams, and most don’t follow them out of various fears.

 

I’m not sure doing this makes me brave, but I do feel fortunate, for my many misfortunes, like divorce, losing my job and my home, that led me to make this journey. To me, the brave ones are those who quit their good-paying jobs in order to follow their dreams.

 

Leaving Kilkenny, I made a brief stop at The Rock of Cashel, which local mythology says originated in a mountain called the Devil’s Bit, when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock landing here. I spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins of the cathedral, which was built between 1235 and 1270, and its graveyard with spectacular views of the surrounding countryside.

 

It was especially nice when I bypassed a giant tour group that was listening outside to their guide while I got to slip into the tiny chapel, all dark and damp, completely alone. And also when I headed out, to the strains of Celtic music as three young guys played their hearts out.

 

Ireland is full of historic sites scattered throughout the country, so a road trip is an ideal way to see it, as you can stop at will wherever you fancy. I was about to spend the next two and a half weeks doing just that, much of it along the famous Wild Atlantic Way.

 

lynn

About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

26

 

By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

The Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland is the longest defined coastal touring route in the world. Ireland isn’t that big you might think, but drive around the perimeter with all of those coves and inlets and you’ll be surprised how many kilometers you clock. I knew I wouldn’t have time to cover the whole route, so I started in the south and then headed up the west coast to see some of the most majestic parts for as long as my time held out before my upcoming house sit in Scotland.

 

From the Rock of Cashel, I drove south to Cobh (pronounced Cove), where I visited the Titanic Experience. Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap but interesting all the same. You are given a ticket with the name of a passenger on it and don’t know if you survive until the end of the tour. I was Ellen Corr, 17 years old and I did survive.

 

We saw the remains of an old dock where passengers left on tenders to take them out to the ill-fated ship — Cobh was the last stop to pick up passengers before the Titanic struck an iceberg. Artifacts on display include a suitcase, dishes, a chair and personal items, and there’s a video showing the underwater exploration when the Titanic was first found at the bottom of the sea. You can walk through recreations of ship cabins, both steerage and first class. Even the steerage had running water and electricity, something most people didn’t have in their homes.

 

Cobh is also a landmark for the Lusitania tragedy, a passenger liner torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the head of  nearby Kinsale. Something about this place and sinking ships…

 

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From there it’s onward to the fishing town of Kinsale, a very pretty village, and I caught view of what would become a familiar sight in Ireland — brightly colored buildings in rainbow hues. Kinsale isn’t very big — just a few streets of shops — and I wandered around taking photos, peeking in windows at the usual souvenirs. The cool thing is that there are three bookstores in this one little town. Looks like there may be some readers around. The weather alternated between sunny with blue sky and fluffy clouds, and gray sky with dark rain clouds, changing momentarily — another attribute of Ireland I would see repeatedly, especially along the Wild Atlantic Way.

 

I popped into the “castle,” an old toll building-turned-French-prison, which is also the wine museum — the real reason I wanted to go in. Today was a once-a-month free day, and I learned a few things, like they didn’t and don’t really make much wine in Ireland, they just imported (and smuggled) it.

 

After a couple of leisurely hours, I drove out onto the point under moody skies on my way to Clonakilty, another little port town. This one is also full of multi-colored houses, but because the sun was no longer evident, it wasn’t quite as bright. It’s also lined with gift and antique shops and is apparently a bit of a foodie town — there are numerous restaurants, pubs and wine bars, and I enjoyed a lovely farm-to-table dinner.

 

11Unfortunately, I didn’t have such good luck with my B&B, which was not the most pleasant experience. You win some and you lose some. It was a last resort of efforts by the tourist board ladies in Kilkenny, the only place they found open for four towns in the area as it’s a Saturday night in what apparently is still high season. I wondered when I heard the price, as all the others have been much lower.

 

But this one purported to be a luxury B&B, with views of a lake, gourmet breakfast,and food on arrival. I don’t need nor can I afford that kind of luxury on this trip but since it was the only place available, I thought I’d bite the bullet and enjoy it.

 

Enjoy isn’t the word I would use to describe it, more like endure. The place is out in the middle of nowhere on a dairy farm, which smells like cows — lots of very smelly cows — and inside the house there’s a peculiar odor as well. The house is old and faded, with worn carpets and dated furniture and no internet or phone signal.

 

My teeny, tiny bathroom had a half-empty, sample-size shampoo bottle as its only amenity, not quite fitting the description of “luxury B&B with all the extras.” My host, an older lady said, “I hope you won’t be cold.” It turns out here’s no heat. She reluctantly told me there’s an electric blanket but warned me at least three times to turn it off before I went to sleep, which meant waking up freezing and turning it back on, staying awake until it heated up again and then turning it off before going back to sleep — and repeating this procedure multiple times.

 

The room was moldy, and my nose and throat plugged up. She offered me tea on arrival but rather reluctantly, and when I said that would be lovely, she seemed disappointed that I’d accepted. But she made it and served it with a dried-out scone and sat and chatted with me; it appeared more out of obligation than desire.

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I’d gotten terribly lost following her directions (but not lost enough). As it grew dark, I finally called her but the line was busy and a recording said it was letting her know she had another call, though she didn’t take it. Later she mentioned she didn’t pick up because she was on the phone gabbing with her cousin.

 

I never would have booked this place but was in a bind. Goes to show I need to follow my own advice and plan ahead. I write all of this not to complain but to forewarn you that sometimes what you see online or in brochures is not what you get. It is also perfectly acceptable to ask to see a room when you arrive and if it’s sub-par, to not take it. Fortunately, this would prove to be my only really bad accommodation experience in Ireland.

 

The next day made up for it. I drove all the way to Kenmare, from 10 am until 6 pm, continuing on a very scenic Wild Atlantic Way, stopping first at the Drombeg stone circle. I walked all around it and inside of it, and after having read the book Outlander recently, I waited to see if I’d get transported back in time — but instead just got wet feet as the ground was soggy and spongy, like a bog. Luckily, I had my wool hiking socks and boots in the car to change into.

 

Driving through Unionhall, a teeny tiny burg on a river, I stopped on the bridge to take some of the most beautiful, breathtaking panoramas of my trip — a sky full of clouds reflected in the water, along with a string of colorful buildings. And I stopped for a few minutes in the tiny town of Castletownsend, which Brian, my B&B host in Dublin had said is his favorite. It’s another colorful town, on a bay with a castle-turned-hotel on the shore and boats moored out on the water. Ireland is every bit as picturesque as I’d imagined.

 

At a church restaurant in Skibbereen, I stopped for lunch. It’s a beautiful building and I had a little table upstairs facing a large, stained-glass window. I couldn’t get their wifi or my data to work and I was trying to book a place to stay that evening, so the very sweet waitress gave me her phone to use — just looked up a booking last-minute site and handed over her phone, leaving it with me for the whole time I was dining. How nice is that? It cut out after a little while before I could book something, so after my disaster last night I asked the Universe to please guide me to a nice scenic place to stay that’s affordable in Kenmare, which is exactly what happened.

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But first, after driving for quite a while on winding roads along the ocean past a beach full of surfers (in Ireland?), along the Wild Atlantic Way, I reached the Beara Peninsula and drove the whole loop, about three hours.

 

Once I got to Beara, the sun came out, the sky bloomed blue, a paler version of the sea, and it was so rugged and beautiful, I took my time, stopping at scenic spots along the way to take pictures and just admire the beauty of the world.

 

A rainbow of flowers blossomed everywhere — red, yellow, orange (lots of orange), blue, pink, purple, white — with mountains on one side and the sea on the other. I passed wayward cows and wandering sheep, polka-dotted with blue spots, others with pink.

 

And then, I reached Kenmare. I’d heard from one old man that it was his favorite town, but I’d heard from others that it’s expensive, so let’s see what the Universe has in store, I thought, figuring that if I couldn’t find anything affordable there, I’d head on up the road to Kilarny, which is more commercial but has more accommodations.

 

But my prayers were answered. I pulled into the first B&B I saw with a vacancy sign out front, but they didn’t have availability for a single room for three nights. The man got his wife, who told me she knew a woman who had a single available and it would be the best price in Kenmare. She even called the woman and told her she had a nice single lady looking for a room.

 

36“The tour office told you right to just show up instead of booking ahead,” she told me. “You get a much better price that way as you can bargain.” That’s if you can find an open room and if it’s the last room, that can backfire, like it did for me with the cow-lady.

 

I followed her directions to a big two-story house, Finnahy, with beautiful flowers out front. Wow, that looks expensive, I thought. So I was blown away when the nice proprietress told me I could have the single room for for all three nights, including a full Irish breakfast, for about the price of one night with the cow-lady.

 

“I’ll take it,” I said. It’s a tiny room, just the length of a twin bed and barely wider, with a bathroom down the hall but the price is right and the place is lovely. I felt very lucky.

 

She poured me tea and served me cake and cookies in her pretty little sitting room and then, after settling my things in my room, I set off to town.

 

17About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Kenmare and the magical ring of Kerry

9By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

Kenmare, one of the loveliest little towns in Ireland, is full of music and magic. My B&B host suggested a few different places for “craic,” which is what the Irish call fun, entertainment, gossip, news and enjoyable conversation. In Ireland, it’s all about the music. I’d been told several times to do as the locals do — walk down the street, put your ear up to the door and if you like the music, go in. If not, keep walking until you do. So that’s what I did, until finally I stopped and listened to a woman fiddler and a guy on the banjo, playing Irish ballads while I enjoyed some hearty Irish fare — a fish pie, rich and creamy, with a puff pastry crust on top, served with julienned carrots and turnips and mashed potatoes — definitely a comfort food dinner.

 

Indeed, you will not go hungry in Ireland. Not being a big breakfast eater, I did my best with the massive morning B&B meals. When I’d say please hold the sausage, I can’t eat that much, they’d bring me extra eggs to make up for it. Toast? How about a whole basket for one? And don’t forget the cereal and pastries.

 

After checking emails and receiving some bad financial news (it was time to pay the penalties and take out my retirement money, but I found out the market had just tanked), I tried to stay calm, to let go, to trust but it was hard. I decided to take a break, walked out the door and a big beautiful rainbow stretched across the whole sky — a sign, in living color. I still felt anxious, but seeing that bright glowing arch reminded me that there’s something bigger going on and to have faith.

 

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After several hours of booking accommodations and financial correspondence, I drove to a spot nearby where I heard there was a beautiful waterfall. By the time I arrived, the sun that had replaced the morning’s pouring rain had disappeared back into gray clouds and I couldn’t find the waterfall. I was about to give up when I saw a young guy mowing the lawn of a fancy hotel, and I stopped to ask him. He was super nice and friendly, a trait I found common in Ireland, and he stopped his mower to come over to my car.

 

“It’s under the stone bridge,” he told me. “You can’t see it from the road. Park in the hotel parking lot, walk around the front of the hotel, and follow the walkway down the side for the best view of the waterfall and the bridge.” I asked if it was okay if I’m not a hotel guest.

 

“Sure!” he assured me.

 

Then he showed up again and told me to cross the bridge, go through the “private property” gates and follow the path along the river on the other side for some more great views.

 

I passed through the greenest of green forests, the tree trunks covered in moss, and I shot panoramas of clouds reflected in the lake where the river spills out, all moody and shades of gray. Just the smell of the earth and the moss and the rain lifted my spirits.

 

6With a friend’s birthday coming up, I even shot a bouquet of flowers to send her in photo form. Lots of rain makes for a rainbow of blossoms.

 

Kenmare sits at the southern start of the famous Ring of Kerry, a place I’ve long dreamed of seeing. In fact, I would like to have walked it but didn’t have enough time although when I saw some hikers, they didn’t look too comfortable in the cold and rain lugging their heavy backpacks. You can take tour buses around, but I was glad I had a car as there are so many scenic spots to stop, which I could do at will and at my own pace. The weather varied from sun to wind to rain and back again.

 

It’s about a five-hour drive all the way around. I’d been told by several people that Beara and Dingle are more beautiful than Kerry, which I think partly has to do with how touristy Kerry has become. With fame come crowds, and the roads are a bit clogged with tour buses. In fact, my host recommended I drive clockwise, the opposite direction of the buses, so I wouldn’t get stuck behind one and not be able to see anything.

 

It was still an enjoyable drive, vast scenes of water and sky, punctuated by stops in small, colorful villages and ending at the ever-present Irish pub.

 

17About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Killarney, town & country

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

The scenic route from Kenmare to Killarney includes winding roads through the Killarney National Park as well as rain and sun and rain again, mist and clouds, green green hills and even greener moss, soft as a blanket.

 

The lakes you pass are worth a stop. I could have stayed and gazed at the views for days.

 

7For a break from the car, I took a long hike to Torc waterfall, and spent a couple of hours on a rocky, muddy trail, up and down, mostly all to myself. You can park a 10-minute walk from the falls, but I preferred the scenic hike. At first the sun shone, the sky was blue, but by the time I got to the falls, the sky was gray and starting to sprinkle. The rest of my hike was through the rain, and I was glad I’d dressed for it.

 

It was one of my best Ireland experiences — like a fairy forest, all covered in moss — and I even saw a fairy ring, a short hollowed-out tree stump, where you could easily see fairies taking up residence. The ground was carpeted in lots of green shamrocks kissed by raindrops, too.

 

Ross Castle is a popular stop in Killarney. On my way into the castle, the sky was blue; an hour later it was gunmetal gray, but beautiful both ways. The only way to see the castle is to take the tour, which is quite interesting — one tall tower with a floor for dining, one for sleeping, one for parties. There’s a stone bench for a toilet with a slit to the outside a few floors below, where they hung their clothes over the waste as it produced ammonia which kept the lice out. No heat save a fire, it must’ve been so cold.

 

These castles were mostly protection against cattle raiding from other clans. A hole gaped in the floor, where boiling oil and rocks could be dumped on intruders’ heads and in the walls are slits for arrows and guns.

 

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My friend Soraya from Australia asked to meet up with me in Killarney as she was off on a journey of her own, so we toured Muckross house together. It’s a huge old house with beautiful furnishings, but when they described living conditions — especially how cold it was — it doesn’t sound like a very pleasant place to dwell. As we walked the manicured grounds near the lake, the rain suddenly came in torrents. Even with rain jackets and umbrellas we got soaked, especially when our umbrellas blew inside out. When you hear about Ireland getting a lot of rain, you can believe it.

 

Nearby Muckross Abbey is worth a stop as well and you can catch one of the popular horse drawn carts called jaunting cars, run by local jarvies.

 

14When the sky dried up a bit, we drove drove around the lake to the “Meeting of 3 Waters,” where you could take a short walk to a little cottage cafe for tea. The path was moss and heather heaven, the forest a blanket of green and lavender. The little stone bridge where the waters meet was very picturesque too.

 

On drier days, you can take a boat across.

 

Killarney itself is a bustling tourist town with more hotel rooms than any other Irish town or city, save for Dublin. It’s also full of shops, restaurants and pubs, and we enjoyed a couple of hearty meals, as well as some lively Irish music. A little girl of about 4 got out and danced an Irish jig for the crowd. Personally, I prefer smaller, less commercial Kenmare, but Killarney has a lot to offer, and is a great jumping off point for the Ring of Kerry.

 

1About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Positively Positano, Amalfi Coast

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

Positano and the Amalfi coast are gorgeous, no question about that. But they have price tags to match. So what is a budget traveler to do? After a little research, I discovered that you can stay in tiny Piano de Sorrento and take buses and trains that link the pricier towns together at a fraction of the cost. And even better, I got to stay in a super affordable hostel in an old Monastery, with bells chiming, lovely staff and some of the nuns still hanging around.

 

Sisters Hostel is only a few minutes’ walk from nice swimmable beaches, and little trattorias, where you can dine to your heart’s content, on pasta, fresh seafood, fig torte… You can still get a $5 pizza fresh out of the oven at family run places, where Mama and her daughter will serve you while Papa, who resembles a benign Godfather, looks on…

 

24A short walk to the train station, and an even shorter train ride, will take you to Sorrento, where you can catch a scenic bus along the coast down to Positano and Amalfi. My bus was full, but that didn’t stop dozens more people from climbing aboard and squeezing in, so I followed suit. It was standing room only, so I stood, jam-packed in the aisle on the most winding road I’ve ever seen with sheer drops down to the sea dotted with what looked like toy boats. I could see the driver — he was talking on the phone, holding the phone to his ear with his right hand, while driving that huge bus on those snake-like roads at the edge of precipitous cliffs.

 

And then he started talking with his left hand, as Italians are prone to do. Um, wait, if his right hand is holding a phone to his ear and his left hand is fluttering about in the air speaking sign language…who’s steering the bus? On top of all that, the older Italian woman next to me kept trying to show him a magazine. But we made it to Positano.

 

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Positano is positively beautiful, with colorful buildings spilling down the steep hillside to the sea. Stop on your walk down from the bus stop for a frozen lemon slush, the ice cold sweet and sour taste is divine. Lots of fun clothing, jewelry, ceramic and shoe shops, along with art galleries and stands, line the way.

 

And the beach, dotted with neon umbrellas, beckons you into the azure sea for a swim. The water is the perfect temperature, cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough to feel like silk. I floated and swam, got out, heated up and did it again. The views from the water are astonishing — rainbow houses stacked like blocks form a giant triangle up the steep hillside.

 

If you’re hungry, plenty of restaurants wait nearby, most of them with a view… As I was taking a photo of my wine glass with the umbrellas and the sea in the background, one of the young employees called out, “Wait!” and he brought me a little bowl of peanuts with a small silver spoon and arranged it near my wine glass for my picture.21

Suddenly, while I was swimming, a storm blew in. And I do mean suddenly! One minute it’s sunny and lots of people are frolicking in the water, the next minute thunder is rumbling and a huge gray line of clouds is rapidly advancing on us, waves kicked up and umbrellas tipping over.

 

I stumbled out of the sea (it’s very rocky and sharp on the soles of your feet), and as I struggled to slip my shirt on, my lounge chair blew over. Dozens of us raced up the beach towards the row of restaurants. Huge jags of lightning streaked from heaven to sea, but the sky only dropped a few specks of rain. As hordes of tourists swarmed up the narrow zigzagging streets that climb the hill, I figured the bus would be packed, with everyone leaving at once.

 

I was right, the street was lined with dozens of people waiting. Luckily, despite the thunder and lightning, the rain held off. I happened to be standing next to a lovely lady from South Africa, and we kept each other company, comparing travel notes, while we waited a half hour for the next bus. We could tell not everyone would fit on — the bus was coming from Amalfi, and the seats were already full. When the bus stopped and the doors opened, the crowd surged forward, a mini-stampede.

 

Complaints were heard in English, with American accents, “Hey, wait! We’ve been waiting here 45 minutes, you just got here, that’s not fair!” as newcomers pushed ahead to the front of the line. Cultural differences — in America you get skewered for line-cutting, here it’s a way of life. My South African friend and I pushed ahead with the rest of the Italians, and although we stood for the whole hour ride to Sorrento, at least we got on the bus.

 

And just in time, it appeared, as the heavens opened up and the rain poured down. It grew even darker and the winding road looked like a slick black snake. Heat wrapped around us, and motion sickness threatened, but I managed to keep it in check. The drive took longer than it should have, as a middle-aged German couple couldn’t figure out which stop was theirs, so they kept ringing the stop button over and over, then not getting off. But eventually we made it, just in time for me to catch the last train back to Piano. (Sorry,  no windstorm disaster photos.)

 

It’s another hour ride further down the coast to Amalfi from Positano, though I have to say to me, Amalfi is not as nice; it’s much more commercial and more expensive. The beach is kind of a carnival, basted with tons of bodies, but people looked like they were having fun. It depends on what you’re looking for.

 

17About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Places to stay on your West Michigan fall color tour

by-kris-balasz
Photo by Kris Balasz

 

Just like clockwork, with Autumn comes the fall colors. When the leaves change, we’re gifted with some of the most beautiful sights in West Michigan. You’ll want to make time in your busy schedule to drive, bike or walk through some of these amazing works of nature.

 

We have a little extra time as the colors have been delayed due to the unseasonably warm weather we’ve had lately.

South

Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in Hastings has 661 diverse acres where you can see all of the fall colors. Go for a walk or a hike with the whole family and see animals, plants and more, in addition to the colorful leaves. Outdoors education is their passion, so if you have any questions, make sure you take the time to ask.

 

The crisp air and beautiful fall colors are just what you want while wine tasting, and the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail has you covered. Check out the beautiful colors that line the trail as you stop at one (or more) of the 20 wineries and nine tasting rooms. The wineries (and the colors) are close enough to visit for just a day, a short weekend or an extended visit.

 

de-grand-champ-farms
Blueberries at DeGrandchamp Farms

12 Corners Vineyards in Benton Harbor has a beautiful tree line along their vineyard. It provides a look at some of the fall foliage of the area. Next time you’re at 12 Corners Vineyard for some wine, make sure that you explore the vineyard and the fall colors while they’re both looking wonderful.

 

DeGrandchamp Farms in South Haven is having their Cranberry Harvest Day on October 15th from 10am to 4pm. You and your family can go out on their tractor pulled cranberry bog wagons to see the harvest process. Keep an eye out for those fall colors! When you get back, have some cranberry treats and caramel apples at their market.

 

Lemon Creek Winery in Berrien Springs is a great place to stop by on your fall color tour! Guests are welcome to adventure into the orchards and vineyard to pick apples and grapes or sip on some of their award-winning wine while enjoying the beautiful colors of fall. They will also be offering an opportunity for home winemakers to purchase juice and grapes from their harvest.

 

The Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance loves to see the fall colors explode through their town. Awarded Tree City USA since 1996, Marshall’s wide variety of trees will certainly get you in the fall mood. A walk through the historic town and the various nature areas will prove why they have been Tree City USA for 20 years.

 

The City of Hastings invites cyclists of all ages and skill levels to come out and enjoy the beautiful autumn colors in the countryside surrounding Hastings. Foodies, art enthusiasts and leaf-peepers alike will find plenty of opportunities to indulge at the Annual Arts & Eats Tour on October 15th and 16th. This includes a self-guided driving and bike tour of the scenic back roads and out-of-the-way places in Allegan and Barry counties.

 

The Southwest Michigan Tourist Council knows all about color tours in the area. They recommend that you check out the West Michigan Pike, which is the first continuous paved road in West Michigan from the Indiana state line to Mackinaw City. It’s a great way to combine fall colors with unforgettable beaches.

Central

Country Dairy in New Era is in a great area for a color tour. Located right on the Hart Montague Bike Trail and the rolling hills of Oceana County, Country Dairy is the perfect place to stop by on your color tour for some food or take one of their own tours to see the sights.

 

Also in New Era, Rainbow Ranch has several hundred acres of wooded land for horseback riding. When the leaves are changing, the trails are absolutely gorgeous. What better way to see the fall colors than on horseback?

 

Double JJ Resort in Rothbury is hosting their Fall Color Weekend and Open House on October 15th and 16th. The event will feature the resort’s 1200 acres of forested property, comprising a wide assortment of maple, poplar and oak trees. The weekend promises a dramatic sight of autumn gold, scarlet and rust colored leaves.

12-corners-vineyards-fb
At 12 Corners Vineyards

 

The Mecosta County Area has gone above and beyond the call of duty and put together a detailed color tour itinerary for you to enjoy. The thorough guide will take you all around the area to see the changing colors. They even have one designed to see the colors along the Muskegon River via canoe or kayak. They really have put together something wonderful, and you can view it here.

 

Gather your family and friends to experience the vibrant fall colors at the Depot-to-Depot Fall Color Tour from Muskegon to Whitehall! This self-guided tour happens on October 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th from 10am to 4pm. Pick up a map at either the Muskegon County Convention & Visitors Bureau or the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce to get started.

 

North

Jutting north between the azure arms of Lake Michigan’s Grand Traverse Bay lies one of Northern Michigan favorite fall color tours. The Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula stretches 19 miles and is home to nine distinct wineries. Along with wine tasting, enjoy the fall scenery, beautiful beaches, exquisite restaurants, and historic lighthouse. You can’t beat award-winning wines with an awe-inspiring view.

 

Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire has 4,500 acres of property that is the perfect base camp for a fall fun getaway. Set in the middle of all things Northern Michigan, they are centered around some of the best fall driving tours in the state. If you want to get even closer to the colors, try one of their color tour chairlift rides, which operate every Saturday during the fall color season. These chairlift rides will take you to the top of Schuss Mountain to see Mother Nature’s annual color show.

 

Heart Lake Cottages in Gaylord is perfectly nestled on the shoreline of Heart Lake. Each of their six cozy cottages are newly renovated and accommodate two, four or six people. Make this your headquarters as you travel through Northern Michigan, looking at the amazing changing colors throughout the area. And when you get back to the cottage, the quaint grounds and gardens are the perfect backdrop for your evening.

 

Art Gallery of Algoma is offering a Fall Color Painting Tour this fall. These tours include a guided tour of the gallery’s exhibitions and a mini-painting lesson inspired by the beautiful fall colors. The tour includes painting materials and is a unique way to get out and see how beautiful this season is. In the end, you’ll be able to take home your painting to display even when the colors aren’t orange, brown and gold.

 

Ride the boat over to Beaver Island to see the vibrant fall colors surrounding the island. The boat ride itself, run by the Beaver Island Boat Company out of Charlevoix, is a breathtaking trip as you dock in Paradise Bay in the welcoming autumn colors. Once you’ve arrived, stroll the streets with a cup of cider and learn why island life is so unique.

 

draft-horses-inn
Draft horses at Black Star Farms

This October, Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay is hosting daily tours of their 160 acre estate. Visit the vineyard, inn, horses, orchard, and, of course, the forests with their fall colors. Afterwards, make your way to their tasting room and cafe for some wine and farmstead cuisine.

 

Hotel Walloon on Walloon Lake knows that now that summer is gone and fall is here, that means color tours begin. Their favorite color tours include M119’s Tunnel of Trees, fall chairlift rides, M-22’s Color Tour and more. They’re centrally located between all of these experiences and many more, making them the perfect home base for your Northern Michigan color tour experience.

 

Enjoy a panoramic view of three counties and all the fall colors at Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville. As you ride the chairlift to the top of the mountain, you’ll be greeted to live music and the beauty of Northern Michigan’s fall color season. Stop by every Saturday in October from 11am to 1pm to take in the sights and sounds of the mountain.

 

Northern Michigan hotels want to ensure that your fall color trip is a huge success. To help with this, they have the Holiday Inn Express Mackinaw CityDays Inn Mackinaw CityHoliday Inn Express in Petoskey and the Apple Tree Inn Hotel, which are all conveniently located near many of the best places to see the fall colors. Travel down highway 131 and I-75 to see all of the changed leaves or visit nearby cities for fall themed events.

 

Arnold Mackinac Island Ferry on Mackinac Island has colorful fall savings for your next color tour. Enjoy discounts on round-trip fares through October 31st. Adults are $15, children 5 to 12 are $8 and bikes are $8. Children 4 and under ride free! The island is a great place to stay and see the fall colors. Ride the ferry over and bring your bike up for a long weekend with these fall discounts.

 

The Portage Point Inn in Onekama has a Fall Color discount to entice you to get out and see West Michigan. Now through November, receive 10% off published rates. Guests can stay on the picturesque Portage Lake before hopping onto M-22 to see one of the most beautiful routes in America.

 

isle-royale-queen-iii
On the Isle Royale Queen III

Traverse City offers some of the best places for fall colors. Visit the nearby dunes, bluffs and islands where autumn is in full swing. The Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula stretch across 20 miles, surrounded by orchards, vineyards, forests and villages. This is the perfect morning or afternoon drive to see the fall colors and beautiful views of the bay.

 

Look no further than Charlevoix to experience Northern Michigan’s fall colors. During the month of October, fall colors are at their peak. The surrounding countryside is full of gently rolling hills and an abundance of foliage that is sure to satisfy that fall color trip you’ve been waiting for. After a day of exploring Northern Michigan, stop into downtown Charlevoix for dinner, a craft beer, or a tasty treat.

 

A day on the Isle of Capri

1

 

By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

The Isle of Capri — even the name sounds romantic!

 

To stay on the island would be lovely (and cost a king’s ransom), but for a much smaller sum, you can take an all-day tour. The driver met me in the lobby of my hostel and brought me to the harbor in Sorrento, where the boat captain and the rest of the guests were waiting. We climbed aboard Blu Toy, a medium-sized dark blue powerboat, and whizzed off across the azure sea. I sat out on the large cushioned bow next to a young Irish couple on their honeymoon, a happy synchronicity, as that’s my next country destination when I leave Italy.

 

We motored for about 15 minutes, then Captain Sebastian and his first mate Piero dropped anchor, handed us foam noodles and sent us off into the sea for a swim, which was great, as at 10 am it was already hot. The cool sea water felt superb. When we climbed back aboard, we headed for Capri, past Mt. Vesuvius and the isle of Ischia, swinging into a couple of caves near the shore, and then up to and through the two famous giant rocks, an icon for Capri.

 

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We wound around several giant yachts and anchored in Marina Piccola, the little harbor, which apparently is much more quaint and scenic than the larger main harbor. A small beach stretched out along the shore, densely populated with bikini-clad bodies, bright umbrella and rainbow blow-up rafts. We motored in to shore in a rubber dinghy, and climbed the stairs to a restaurant for lunch. It’s Italy, so of course we eat pizza.

 

The town of Capri is up a hill, so we took a little bus. It was standing room only, on a very zig-zagging road about one lane wide, so it was interesting to see how two buses going in opposite directions pass each other (barely). Disgorged onto a busy street full of souvenir shops and tourists (in August, the busiest month of the year), across from a drop-dead gorgeous view of the bay dotted with yachts. I spied a stand selling lemon ice in fresh squeezed orange juice and ordered one up. It was the most refreshing drink I’ve ever tasted, all sweet and sour and cold.

 

12I wandered down the street, which soon narrowed into passageways lined with the more upscale designer shops, fun to look in the windows though I didn’t go in – white linen dresses and suit coats, $150 Dolce & Gabbana baby shoes, sparkling jewelry which probably sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, shops for celebrity budgets.

 

Flowers blossomed everywhere, bright pink against the blue, blue ocean and blue, blue sky. I wandered past 5-star hotels, knowing I could live and travel for a month on what people pay to stay there for two nights. Would I mind staying there? Um, no. But do I need to, in order to be a happy traveler. Not at all.

 

We had four hours to explore the island, or we could go back to the beach or boat to swim; I had planned to go back after about three hours but took a wrong turn — a good one it turns out — as I ended up by some stairs where for 1 euro you could enter a garden with the best views on the island (or so the sign said) but it turned out to be true. The gardens were edged with an iron fence overlooking the cliffs leading down to the bay, where you could see the iconic rocks and tons of boats speckled around them. Breathtaking!

 

18It’s fun to take your time and wander away from the crowded spots, up stairs, down paths. Sometimes you see the inner workings of a place that way, like how packages are delivered.

 

When I got back to the harbor, the dingy took me out to the boat, where most of the other people were already swimming or drinking beer, and I immediately doffed my tank top and skirt and jumped into the sea to cool off. Aaaahhh!! Soooo nice!!! The only thing that got me out was an ice cold drink.

 

On our way back, we stopped to see another couple of grottos — there’s a green grotto, a white grotto and a blue grotto, and we also stopped to swim again, and snorkel. Then we headed to Sorrento, the sun still hot on our backs, and said our farewells. As I’ve mentioned, I don’t go on a lot of tours, but this one was totally worthwhile.

 

My driver back to my hostel had a bus instead of a car, and I was the only passenger. He spoke English and we chatted — he gave me a restaurant recommendation, and he also told me I should get a job as a tour guide and meet an Italian man, that they’re very romantic.

 

I love Italy!

 

11About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Fall foliage and spooktacular Halloween fun highlight October at Crystal Mountain

apple_bobbingCrystal Mountain has a number of events and unique activities for you to enjoy the fall color season, plus the beautiful views of the Betsie Valley and nearby Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore make it one of Fodor’s Travel’s 15 Best US Resorts for Fall Getaways (2015). Michigan’s Gold Coast along M-22 (just 20 minutes from the resort) was the first mention in Travel + Leisure’s list of ‘America’s Best Fall Color Drives.’

 

And there are plenty of ways to take in the scenery on-mountain, like chairlift rides each Saturday from 11am to 1pm and…

Peak2Peak Mountain Bike Festival, Oct. 15

Now in its 11th year, the Founders Peak2Peak Mountain Bike Classic features a 10.5-mile course through and around the single tracks and slopes of Crystal Mountain with three waves — beginner (1 lap), intermediate (2 laps) and professional/expert (3 laps). Chairlift rides, live entertainment, family fun activities and games, food and Founders beer will be available in the festival area at the base of the slopes throughout the day — admission is free to spectators. Register for the race at endomanpromotions.com.

Crystal Spa Days, Oct. 1– Nov. 6

October is not only a wonderful time to enjoy the crisp autumn air and vibrant colors but special pricing on a menu of 50-minute services at the award-winning Crystal Spa. Nearly a dozen services are available from $69 (Sunday through Friday) and $79 on Saturday.

Spooktacular Saturdays offer a haunted trail and family fun Oct. 15, 22, 29

The last three Saturdays in October you can ride the Loki quad chairlift up the mountain and follow the lanterns back down a Spooky (but family friendly) Trail from 7 pm to 9 pm ($7 per person, kids 6-and-under free). Spooktacular Saturday (2 pm to 6 pm) will lead up to the evening’s haunted hike featuring wagon rides, a petting zoo, caramel apples, pumpkin carving and more.

 

 

Roaming Rome, Italy

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

Welcome to another chapter in the ongoing series by our world traveler, Lynn Strough. This week, Lynn roams Rome.

Rome, the Eternal City — it was known that way even among the ancient Romans, because the Roman people thought no matter what happened to the world, the brightness of Rome would burn forever.

 

One of my Travel Angels, Beth, made it burn even brighter, when she booked us into the Waldorf Astoria with her travel points, high up on a hill, a true room with a view. It’s a great city to share with a friend.

 

31There’s so much to see and do in Rome, it’s hard to know where to start. The Trevi Fountain is undergoing restoration, hence it’s dry, but it’s still worth a look. They say if you throw a coin into the fountain, you’ll return to Rome. I threw one in 20 years ago, and here I am, but what does it mean that the fountain isn’t flowing?

 

Beth was smart and got tickets on line to the Colosseum, so we got in quickly, despite long August lines, and spent an hour or two with an audio tour learning that they don’t really know that Christians were thrown to the lions there, although gladiators did duke it out to the death, and lions and bears and other beasts participated, including 50 bears that came out of a fake whale once. Apparently the Colosseum was a site of many a spectacle, and the elite as well as the lower classes were allowed in, albeit in very different seating positions. Seeing the Colosseum in the rain was a treat, quite atmospheric, like a trip back in time. And then the sun appeared and I got some blue sky shots as well.

 

From there, we visited the Forum, a busy place in peak season and afterwards, treated ourselves to gelato — you really can’t eat enough gelato in Italy, in my opinion.

 

On the recommendation of a friend, we toured the Basilica of San Clemente, which is a layer cake of churches (our friend Sue calls it the lasagne church). It’s a church on top of a church on top of a church. Intriguing, although kind of spooky on the bottom layer. Sorry, no photos allowed inside.

 

20We wandered past lines of people waiting to get into the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel — I’d already been there years ago, and Beth decided it wasn’t a priority for her. But if you do go to Rome and want to see them, I highly recommend that you buy tickets ahead on line, especially if you’re there in the summer.

 

After a peek at the exterior of the buildings we headed for a stroll through Trastevere, a lovely neighborhood full of old buildings glowing in the afternoon sun and we stopped at one of the small trattorias for lunch.

 

One of my favorite things to do in Rome is to simply walk. Put away your map and wander, up this narrow street, down that alleyway. You’ll see lots of beautiful architectural details and some of the local non-human inhabitants. You’ll spy interesting graffiti and who knows what all else.

 

25Heading back towards our shuttle stop, we passed the Pantheon, so we stopped inside. It’s a place not to miss. The signs all say “silence please,” and a recording announces it in six languages, while hundreds of tourists keep talking. But despite the commotion and crowds, you still get a sense of the grandeur and spirituality of the place.

 

I’ve only scratched the surface of things to do in Rome — there are countless museums to peruse, gardens to wander, piazzas to linger in, bridges to cross and of course, bargain shopping for the kitsch, as well as high-end haute couture for the rich).

 

We only had a few days, but spend more time if you can, and enjoy the people, the food, the beauty and the history that is Rome.

 

37About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

 

‘Bird’ is the word for fall events fun at the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary

birds-of-prey-at-wk-kellogg
Photo courtesy of W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary website

October is a special month at the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, with three events designed to be enjoyed by visitors of all ages who want to learn more about birds.

 

Get to know the Sanctuary’s ambassador birds of prey at Birds of Prey Live on October 1st from 1-2:30 pm. The Sanctuary is home to a number of birds of prey, including owls, hawks, and bald eagles, who are injured and cannot survive in the wild. Visitors of all ages can participate in a variety of games and activities. Admission for members is $5/adult, $4/senior or student and $3/child, and for non-members it is $7/adult, $6/senior or student and $5/child.

 

On October 12th, from 9-10:30 am, join experts on an autumn morning bird walk to see the birds of the Sanctuary at the monthly Birds and Coffee Walk. Following the walk, participants can enjoy a cup of bird-friendly coffee during a discussion of the morning’s finds. These Birds & Coffee Walks are held every second Wednesday of the month (Upcoming: October 12th, November 9th and December 14th). Admission is free for members, and is $5/adult, $4/senior or student and $3/child for non-members.

 

As part of the regional Arts & Eats tour, visit the Bird Sanctuary to see beautiful local art on October 15th and 16th. This is a great opportunity to get to know artists in the area, as well as explore the grounds of the Bird Sanctuary. The Sanctuary will be open on October 15th from 9 am to 5 pm, and on October 16th from 11 am to 4 pm. Admission is free.

 

All of these events will be held at the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, located at 12685 East C Ave, in Augusta, Mich. To learn more, visit birdsanctuary.kbs.msu.edu, call 269.671.2510 or email birdsanctuary@kbs.msu.edu.

 

‘Big Lebowski’ Beer Tour rolls back into Kalamazoo Oct. 1

timthumbIn honor of one of the finest and most oft­-quoted films of all time, West Michigan Beer Tours is proud to present the return of the Big Lebowski Beer Tour.

 

In collaboration with Greenbush Brewing Co., Latitude 42 Brewing Co., Airway Fun Center and the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, the Big Lebowski Beer Tour is yours to enjoy on Saturday, October 1st.

 

The tour includes a trio of specialty beers that reference the film from Greenbush brewer Jake Demski — a unique, tie­-dye-­laden tour of Latitude 42 Brewing Co.; bowling at Airway Fun Center; and a quote­-along of the cult film starring Jeff Bridges. The tour will begin with registration at 3 pm at Central City Tap House and officially conclude with a movie party/screening of The Big Lebowski at 7:30pm at the Alamo Drafthouse.

 

Garb referencing the film is highly encouraged (and may be rewarded). Hotel discounts are also available on request. Greenbush Brewing Co. will provide these small ­batch beers as part of the event:

  • “Obviously You’re Not A Golfer” –­­ 5% ABV Arnold Palmer Ale (available at Central City Tap House; ale with lemonade and ice tea in secondary fermentation)
  • “The Brew Abides” ­­– 9% ABV White Russian Imperial Stout (available at the Airway Fun Center)
  • “Who’s Woo?” ­­– 7% ABV Rice IPA (available at Alamo Drafthouse)

Ticket prices are: “The Donny” ($55,­­ ride only, pay rest as you go); “The Walter” ($79, samples, tour and logo pint glass at Latitude 42; one game of bowling and movie ticket); “The Dude” ($99­­, samples, tour and logo pint glass at Latitude 42; unlimited bowling; West Michigan Beer Tours T­-shirt and movie ticket).

Itinerary

Origination: Central City Tap House, registration at 3 pm with 4 pm departure.

 

Stop 1: Latitude 42 Brewing Co., samples, tour, logo pint glass, 4:15- 5:15 pm.

 

Stop 2: Airway Fun Center, bowling, full pour, 5:30-6:45 pm.

 

Termination: Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Kalamazoo, The Big Lebowski Quote­Along, 7 pm with 7:30 pm screening (Central City Tap House is about a block away from Alamo). For more information, go here.

 

For more details on upcoming tours, click on the “Tours” tab on their website, westmichiganbeertours.com. You can also find them on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and TripAdvisor.

 

 

 

Cinque Terre, Italy’s string of gems

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By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

Cinque Terre (translated The Five Lands), a Unesco World Heritage Site, is a necklace of five seaside villages strung along the Italian Riviera. It’s some of the most beautiful and dramatic coastal scenery anywhere in the world (my opinion, but also that of countless others).


The colorful villages are linked by hiking trails that wind along the coast, up high through olive groves and vineyards, and down low along the water. The whole trail is known as Sentiero Azzurro, or the Azure Trail, and the part of the trail from Riomaggiore to Manarola is called the Via dell’Amore or the Road of Love. A fence overlooking the sea is embedded with hundreds of padlocks, souvenirs from visitors sealing their love for each other. A train also links the towns, mostly through tunnels, for those who grow footsore or weary, and boats cruise the coastline as well. No cars are allowed.


When I was there the first time, in 2008, you could walk from the first village to the last in a day, albeit a long day. But in October 2011, a flash flood washed out some of the trails, buried streets and homes in mud, and killed nine people. They have recovered relatively quickly, although not all of the trails are open yet. Still, the ones that are give you astonishing views of the villages and sea, and there are plenty of other things to do in this popular tourist destination. (This time I was there in August, but my recommendation is to go in either June or September to avoid the massive crowds.

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Stay in one of the villages, if you can, in order to be able to fully enjoy your time in Cinque Terre, especially the peaceful evenings when people head out and stroll through the towns and watch the sun set. Both visits I stayed at Cinqueterre Residence, high up on a hill in Riomaggiore, a small, family-run establishment where they treat you like you’re one of the family. We had great views from our balcony, and they serve a tasty breakfast, including cappuccino with a smile.


Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso are all worth a visit, full of gorgeous architecture, a profusion of flowers, shops galore, and many, many dining establishments, from tiny trattorias to fancier ristorantes, or just pick up snacks along the streets. They’re known for their local limoncello, basil, garlic and pinenut-filled pesto, and anchovies (if you ever thought you didn’t like anchovies, you haven’t tried these!), as well as focaccia in many different variations — rosemary, olive, tomato, cheese. And of course, there’s plenty of gelato.

12


The main thing to do in Cinque Terre is hike, between the villages, but also in the hills above, where you can get away from some of the tourist crowds. Check your guidebooks, as some of the hikes are relatively easy, but others are quite strenuous, especially in the summer sun. Bring plenty of water, but if you’re lucky, you just might find someone selling fresh-squeezed juice along the way.


You can also hang out at the beach. The longest and busiest beach is in Monterosso, with chairs and umbrellas for rent, and sand that’s soft on your feet. You’ll find other beaches as well, in other villages which are less crowded but tend to be rocky.


Shopping is a pastime for some, and you can certainly pick up lots of souvenirs, but my souvenirs, with my shoestring budget and small backpack, mostly consist of photos, and there are plenty of photo opportunities here.


 If you’re in the area for a while, and you want a day trip away from the Cinque Terre, check out Portofino, a short train ride up the coast. It’s full of high-end shops and the yachting crowd. Colorful buildings line the harbor, and you can rub elbows with the rich and famous, although be prepared for prices to match.

Cinque Terre, like many beautiful places, has become perhaps a little too popular, but it’s so beautiful, it’s definitely worth braving the crowds to see.


23About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.


“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Celebrate the Harvest in West Michigan — there’s plenty to see and do

garden_bounty-251211432_stdFall is here and there are plenty of things to see and do. Indeed, September is the beginning of the harvest season in West Michigan, and we’re fortunate to have a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables at our fingertips. Visit one of the many farmers’ markets that pop up all over the state featuring fresh and local produce. Or visit a farm or orchard and gather fruits and vegetables yourself. Businesses are hosting harvest-themed events to kick off the season, so it’s the perfect time to stop by for some food and fun. Many fresh fruits and vegetables await you throughout this fall in West Michigan.

South

St. Joseph will host its Fall Festival in Downtown St. Joseph on September 23rd and 24th. There is fun for all ages with events like The Great Pumpkin Festival, Day on the Farm, Farmers Market and more. There is also a Wine Festival Stage where you can sample Michigan wines, try local cuisine and listen to live music while bidding on your favorite piece of public art.

 

The Greater Lansing Area has plenty of farmers markets. If you’ve ever wondered where to find fresh, local and organic produce this season, look no further — there are 20 different markets across 14 towns. Each farmers market has its own unique vendors, so make sure to visit more than one so you can try all the fresh fruits, vegetables and baked goods that we have right here in West Michigan.

 

meijer-gardensThe Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance is celebrating the harvest with a variety of events. Enjoy locally grown produce, flowers and homemade treats at one of Marshall’s farmers markets and visit a farm to create the perfect day trip for the whole family. Here’s another idea: Go for a hayride or get a pumpkin as your prepare for Halloween.

 

Historic Charlton Park in Hastings will host the city’s Fall Harvest Festival from September 23rd to 25th. Demonstrations and events include steamed apples, a tractor pull, corn shelling and more. For a fee, you can even camp at the park to have the ultimate fall harvest experience.

 

Since September is the beginning of harvest season, Mecosta County has plenty for you to enjoy. You can get fresh fruit and vegetables, and there are events throughout the harvest season where you can stop by and enjoy a little harvest of your own. The farmers’ markets in this area offer wonderful produce displays, which change as the seasons do.

 

When it’s officially fall, it’s officially time for the Virtue Cider‘s inaugural Apple Fest! This four-day celebratory cider-filled affair is from September 29th to October 2nd at their farm in Fennville. Each day has a variety of activities centered around apples, the harvest season, and the release of Percheron, their cider named for the traditional draft horses of Normandy that pulled carts of apples for cidermakers. Activities include their Thursday Night Market, Barbecue Night, long-distance bicycle ride and more.

Central

You can’t have a great meal without great ingredients. Reserve Wine & Food in Grand Rapids considers themselves fortunate to have an abundance of area farms who grow and raise responsibly, and they do their best to honor and respect that hard work in their kitchen. They have a long list of local suppliers. Check out some of them below.

  • Blis Gourmet Products, Grand Rapids
  • Field and Fire, Grand Rapids
  • Hasselman’s Honey, Fremont
  • Michigan Mushroom Market, Petoskey
  • Vertical Paradise, Caledonia

rockfordRockford’s 40th Annual Harvest Festival is September 24th to 26th. There will be a car show, beer tents, crafters and more. There’s plenty for children as well, with an outdoor movie, kid’s tractor pull and other family-centric offerings. All of the festival’s activities are spread out across downtown Rockford as they celebrate the harvest in style.

 

The Fremont Harvest Festival hosted by the Fremont Area Chamber of Commerce is September 22nd to 24th. More information will be available soon for this harvest-filled event so keep an eye out.

 

Celebrate the harvest in Grand Rapids with Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park’s annual celebration of autumn, Chrysanthemums and More! from now until October 30th. The event is the largest of its kind, and features an expansive chrysanthemum display, fall foliage and family activities. Vertical columns of colorful chrysanthemums, a vibrant wall of chrysanthemums, chrysanthemum spheres and beds of colorful plants await to delight visitors from all over.

 

The River Country Chamber of Commerce invites you to their Inaugural Harvest Moon Celebration in Newaygo from October 7th to 9th. This event celebrates the rich farming history of the area. There will be plenty of local food, scarecrow and pumpkin decorating and kids activities. The area has been celebrating the harvest for decades and this year they’re inviting you to celebrate with them.

 

The Muskegon County Convention & Visitors Bureau has classes and events featuring freshly harvested local produce.

  • Learn how to preserve foods by canning and freezing at the Preserving the Harvest class on September 20th. Share recipes, techniques and stories while making new memories of your own.
  • Halloween is right around the corner and the Halloween Harvest Weekend will get you in the mood. Hosted at Pioneer County Park from September 30th to October 2nd, enjoy a weekend filled with games, pumpkin decorating, a costume parade and more. Why not prepare for Halloween early with this spooky event?

great-pumpkinRobinette’s Apple Haus & Winery in Grand Rapids is planning a very special Corn Maze this year. Opening September 8th with a special viewing of “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” the maze is designed to look like Snoopy as the Red Baron on his dog house. Over 80 farms across the country will be celebrating Peanuts this year. Make sure to stop by on September 24th from noon to 4pm for a special guest appearance by Snoopy himself.

 

The harvest season is very important to SE4SONS Gastropub. Located within Muskegon Country Club, SE4SONS focuses on its name: the four season. Changing the menu seasonally is part of the excitement surrounding this restaurant. Their new menu features beets (red, gold and candy stripe) and Roasted Spaghetti Squash. Come hungry.

 

And be sure to save room for dessert. In an effort to celebrate this noteworthy harvest, Chocolates by Grimaldi, a Grand Haven-based chocolate factory, is offering a special chocolate caramel apple for a limited time. They’ll also have chocolate-covered blueberries, cherries and an assortment of nuts. Chocolates by Grimaldi is committed to using local products whenever possible so what you’re enjoying will come from the Grand Haven, Traverse City and other nearby farms and orchards.

North

Traverse City has several big events to help you celebrate the harvest.

  • On September 24th, the Acme Fall Festival takes over Flintfields Horse Park in Williamsburg. There will be a farmers market, bake sale, craft show and more fall fun for the entire family.
  • Scarecrows, art, local brews and tunes help celebrate the harvest time at Bellaire’s 18th Annual Harvest Festival on September 24th. This event will have local businesses competing to win the “Best Scarecrow” award. These scarecrows will take over the streets of Bellaire so you’re guaranteed to see some of these zany creations. Additionally, there will be the “craft & flea” market with over 40 vendors, the Boy Scouts’ Pancake Breakfast, kids’ bounce houses, educational hands-on booth and local food vendors.
  • The Harvest at the Commons is October 8th in the Village at Grand Traverse Commons. This culinary event is perfect for any foodie looking to get together with friends, neighbors, farmers and community leaders to celebrate everything Northern Michigan has to offer.

tc-farmers-marketLet Chateau Chantal share their excitement of the harvest with their 17th Annual Harvest Day on October 1st. There are plenty of ways to experience this fantastic event, including overnight packages at their Bed & Breakfast, special pricing on full case orders, wine and cooking seminars and more. Chateau Chantal will even be opening its doors so that you can smell their wines, stomp grapes and tour their cellar.

 

Harvest season has arrived in Charlevoix. Explore one of the many farms or farmers markets, each with their different harvest activities throughout September and October. There are plenty of “U-Pick” farms where you and your family can pick your own bushel of apples or find the perfect pumpkin in preparation of Halloween.

 

Also in Charlevoix, the 38th Annual Charlevoix Apple Festival is from October 14th to 16th. Celebrate nature’s harvest at this fun festival which highlights seasonal fruits and vegetables, freshly made products and, of course, apples. There’s plenty of kids activities so this is the perfect time to get the whole family together for some autumn fun.

 

The Petoskey Area celebrates fall with two harvest festivals.

  • The Fall Harvest Festival in Downtown Boyne City is September 24th. Fall means one more reason to have fun in Boyne City with music, crafts and fall produce available at this celebration. The farm market booths sell a variety of apples and other harvest items including pumpkins, squash, apple butter, jam, honey and cider.
  • Located in Downtown Petoskey, the Hemingway Harvest Festival is from October 14th to 16th. The festival pays tribute to the many years that Ernest Hemingway spent growing up in Petoskey with fall activities modeled around the late writer’s hobbies. From the artisan and farmers market to Hemingway Movies in the park, this promises to be a weekend that Hemingway would love.

A Unique Harvest

When you think about the harvest season, fruits and vegetables are usually the first things to come to mind, but one harvest that you should think about is honey. Honey is harvested in the late summer months and into the middle of September. Different types of honey are made in different parts of the world, so what is made in Michigan might not be available elsewhere. With this honey, some Michigan businesses have been making mead. Mead, sometimes called Honey Wine, is fermented honey and is the original alcoholic beverage, predating both beer and wine. All that mead contains is honey, but sometimes fruit, herbs or spices are added to make different flavors.

 

White Lake Area has their own meadery. Meads go by different names based on how they are created. Meads with only honey are called Traditional Mead, Fruit meads are called Melomels and Metheglins are meads with spices or herbs added. The world of mead is available at your fingertips when you visit the White Lake Area.

 

Almost 32 years ago, St. Ambrose Cellars in Beulah started keeping bees and quickly became full time beekeepers. As beekeepers having access to an almost unlimited supply of honey, mead was a natural course to follow. Over the years, with the help of local winemakers in our region, a knowledge of good wine-making technique was acquired and applied to mead making. In 2010, an accident in mixing of of their creamed honey spreads pushed them into action to create St. Ambrose Cellars. In 2010, they built their tasting room and increased their production. Over the years St. Ambrose Cellars has increased their scope, but their quality mead has stayed consistent the entire time.

Where to stay on your travels: Bed & Breakfasts in West Michigan

harbourviewinn
Harbour View Inn

What’s the best home away from home? Bed & Breakfasts, of course. Such accommodations are designed for comfort, charm and uniqueness for the guests that walk through the front doors. Pamper yourself… and wake up to the smell of a freshly prepared breakfast. You’ll feel right at home with these West Michigan Bed & Breakfasts.

South

The Marshall Area Economic Development Alliance wants you to know about the National House Inn B&B, which is the oldest operating inn in Michigan. Overlooking the beautiful Brooks Memorial Fountain in Marshall, the B&B infuses 19th-century flavor with the luxuries of modern conveniences in all 15 of its rooms. Time travel hasn’t been invented yet, so this is the next best way to experience a bygone era.

 

national-house-in-bandb
National House Inn

The Greater Lansing Area prides itself in offering B&Bs that blend a fine attention to detail with an element of surprise. The area’s B&Bs have waterfalls, Koi ponds, Tudor-style settings and more.

 

How does staying at a B&B overlooking Lake Michigan sound? Check out a list on The Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council’s website. The area’s B&Bs have received several awards, including Reader’s Choice Favorite Bed & Breakfast in Southwestern Michigan for eight years in a row.

 

Yelton Manor Bed & Breakfast in South Haven/Van Buren County offers a lovely place to lay your head after a long day of travel and fun. Yelton Manor was just named #2 in the Best Bed and Breakfast Destination in West Michigan by WWMT’s The Best of Michigan Viewers Poll. Enjoy the beautiful grounds, delicious food and desirable location.

More Southern West Michigan Bed & Breakfasts
sherwood-forest-bandb
Sherwood Forest B&B

Central

The White Lake Area and Muskegon County are home to Amanda’s Bequest Bed & Breakfast — take a trip back in time at this 1873 Manse. This place is a must-visit for foodies with hits farm-to-table dining and on-site heritage culinary school where you can learn how to cook from scratch.

More Central West Michigan B&Bs

North

There’s never a bad time to visit Applesauce Inn Bed & Breakfast in Bellaire — it’s a four-season B&B. Enjoy hiking at Grass River Natural Area, biking in Downtown Bellaire, kayaking the Chain of Lakes region and golfing at nearby Shanty Creek.

 

sparkling-wine-at-the-chateau-chantal-winery-and
Sparkling wine at the Chateau Chantal

Known for its wine, Chateau Chantal also has a Bed & Breakfast open all year round. Rated the most romantic B&B in the state, Chateau Chantal offers guests a private winery tour, complimentary glass of wine per night and a free wine tasting experience. Founder Bob Begin can usually be found pouring orange juice for guests each morning, tell stories and making sure everyone feels right at home.

 

Located in the middle of serene Northern Michigan, Horton Creek B&B is the perfect place to stay. Their seven-room, lodge-themed home is complete with a full breakfast in the morning and dessert each evening. Enjoy a peaceful walk on the trails that wind through 60 acres of secluded woods.

More Northern West Michigan B&Bs

The best of beautiful Barcelona

10

 

By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

When mentioning Barcelona, many are familiar with Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, with its soaring sandcastle-like facade, and interior reminiscent of an enchanted forest. It’s been a work in progress since 1882 and is scheduled to be completed in 2026, 100 years after Gaudi’s death.

 

And Parc Guell, Gaudi’s failed residential project, equally enchanting, with its colorful mosaic work, fanciful architecture and panoramic views of the city, is also a must-visit.

 

Of course, there’s the Barcelona beach scene, full of kilometers of bare bellies and breasts (yes, it is legal to go topless here). And, La Rambla, with its famous La Boqueria Market is a foodie paradise.

 

But the best of Barcelona, in my book, are the little neighborhoods that used to be villages in and of themselves before being sucked up into the city, like Born and Gracia, which have a flavor and character all their own. Where mainstream Barcelona has become a raging torrent of humanity, especially in July and August, these little burgs not only have personality, but also more affordable prices and many fewer tourist crowds. Apparently in the summer, each neighborhood has a kind of block party, a different one every week.

 

  • Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia has been a work in progress since 1882
  • It's scheduled to be completed in 2026
  • La Rambla, with its famous La Boqueria Market is a foodie paradise
  • Make sure you take time to just wander
  • The fancy landmark hotel W's half-moon shaped architecture is visible from anywhere along the shore
  • Picasso and Miro have their own museums in Barcelona
  • Montjuic, a 17th-century hilltop fortress and former prison
  • A tiny flamenco bar, hidden in the red light district
  • Take time to taste the chocolate

 

These kind of experiences are a good reason to check sites like Air B&B for accommodations, if you prefer to get a feel for the real city, versus the tourist experience you get when staying at a hotel. For a much cheaper price tag you can get a centrally located room with a view. For 10 euro you can purchase a T10 card, with 10 metro rides, and go explore some of these neighborhood regions. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

 

Make sure you take time to just wander. The streets are full of fanciful graffiti, street performers and those selling colorful souvenirs.

 

What else does Barcelona have to offer? The fancy landmark hotel W, whose half-moon shaped architecture is visible from anywhere along the shore, is worth a visit — I just checked in to see what the lobby was like while on a beach walk and ended up getting pulled into a birthday party for a guy in a group from Australia and the UK.

 

28There are also plenty of museums to choose from: the elegant mansion cum art museum, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, up on a hill with waterfall fountains pouring down, and room after room of amazing art, including the religious, the surreal, the old and the new.

 

Picasso and Miro have their own museums in Barcelona, and if you’re looking for something a little more earthy, there’s even a museum of hemp.

 

You can stroll past the harbor full of impressive yachts, and tilt your head back to see Columbus keeping watch. Or take the gondola for a bird’s eye view. And of course, there’s the requisite castle, Montjuic, a 17th-century hilltop fortress and former prison, if you’re up for a climb and more great views

 

Go out at night, yes, late at night — things don’t really get started until 10 pm or later. Unlike in the US, restaurants don’t even open until 7 or 8, and most people aren’t thinking of dinner until around 9. Or 10. Or midnight. You’ll see families with toddlers in the middle of the night out strolling to the parks.

 

38Music doesn’t get started until 10 pm or later, and many places stay active until 5 am. Too late for me, but I did catch the first set at a flamenco bar, a tiny basement-like place, which happened to be hidden in the red light district.

 

Someone I met in New Zealand, who lives in Bulgaria but is from the UK wrote to tell me of a tapas place not to miss, although he couldn’t tell me the location. Luckily, I stumbled upon it right before it opened, as apparently El Xampanyet is so popular, people sit outside the garage-like door just waiting for it to open in order to get a table. I not only enjoyed great tapas and house-made Cava, but also the company of my next-table neighbors from Sweden and a group on the other side from Austin, Texas and Alabama. Not to mention my adorable, attentive waiter. Meeting people and maintaining connections all over the world are things I love about travel.

 

A good friend of mine from California was brave enough to follow her dreams and take a translation course in Spain, then decided to stay and teach English. Jenni was a delight to spend time with — we hadn’t seen each other in three years, and she showed me around to some lesser known places in the region.

 

8Sitges is a cool little beach town, a short train ride away from busy Barcelona. Not that Sitges isn’t busy, but it’s not the millions-of-bodies-packed-into-a-city busy that is Barcelona. We went on a rainy, heavy gray cloud-studded day, only to have the sun come out and brighten our world after lunch — the best of both worlds. Time to savor the local seafood cuisine while the skies unloaded their wet burden, and then time to soak up the sun and splash in the waves as well. You can even shop on the beach.

 

We also took a train and went wine tasting. Having both worked at wineries in Napa and being wine lovers, this was a special treat. From small boutique Recaredo, where we enjoyed a seated tasting to huge producer Freixenet, where we boarded a Disneyesque ride on our tour, we tasted some of Spain’s great sparkling cavas and rich reds.

 

And don’t forget to go chocolate tasting!

 

So wander and get lost, by train, bus, bicycle, subway or on foot, eat, drink and discover the best of beautiful Barcelona for yourself.

 

6About Lynn Strough

Lynn is a 50+ free spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Fall is almost here: Explore Traverse City’s backwoods on the North Country Trail

7State emblem

With its miles of hiking, cycling and skiing trails, Traverse City is already well-known among outdoor recreation enthusiasts.

 

But even some of Traverse City’s most enthusiastic fans don’t know that the area includes an iconic stretch of the nation’s newest (and longest) hiking pathway — the 4,600-mile North Country Trail (NCT), which runs through seven states and 12 national forests from New York to North Dakota.

 

“It’s some remarkably fine hiking” said outdoor writer Jim DuFresne, who has spent the last four years mapping more than 200 hiking and biking trails across Michigan. “I think people are just beginning to realize that it’s there.”

 

That’s not an overstatement. To date, fewer than a dozen people have hiked the North Country Trail from end to end, compared to the 1,800 a year who walk the more famous Appalachian Trail — even though the NCT has the advantage of being located within a day’s drive of 40 percent of the U.S. population and is closer to major cities and towns (Cincinnati, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Detroit, Albany and Fargo, to name a few) for easier access to food and lodging.

 

north country trail in michigan

With 1,150 miles of North Country Trail, Michigan has the longest stretch of trail in the entire system. It’s also the state that has been most welcoming to mountain bikers on its section of the NCT; although some segments are closed to cyclists for ecological and user-conflict reasons, many trail sections are bike-friendly.

 

Created by Congress in 1980, the NCT has grown slowly over the decades — built almost entirely by volunteers. One reason for the lack of end-to-end trail hikes may be that many people don’t realize it’s been completed; 3,100 miles are along off-road trails and another 1,500 miles are “road walk” paths along the sides of rural roads.

 

But the 100-mile stretch of the trail that passes through the Traverse City area contains some of the region’s best forest scenery: the Sand Lakes and Brown Bridge Quiet Areas, the Muncie Lakes Pathway and miles of steep bluffs above the Manistee River, including the High Rollways. There’s even a spur trail connecting the main pathway to Traverse City’s famed Vasa Trail. And visitors are gradually getting used to seeing the NCT’s characteristic “North Star” trailhead signs and sky-blue blazes on trees.

 

Most people who use the Traverse City portion of the trail are like their counterparts along the rest of its length; rather than travel the entire 4,600 miles in a single season, they pick out smaller segments for adventures of a few weeks, days or even hours. One result is the appearance of semi-official “trail towns” located near the pathway, where trail users can replenish their supplies and enjoy a few civilized comforts before returning to the woods.

 

5527c5ce7446bb4dfdb70e08db72e202

Ten of the 16 trail towns on the NCT are in Michigan. One is the village of Fife Lake, a resort community at the southeast corner of Grand Traverse County, about 30 minutes from Traverse City. A former lumbering settlement, Fife Lake is a perfect example of what trail promoters like to call “Red Plaid Nation” — the network of North Woods residents who built the NCT and now spend their time maintaining trails and performing random acts of kindness for weary hikers.

 

The village even has its own section of the trail — the 21-mile Fife Lake Loop, which includes two state forest campgrounds and a newly-made pathway above the Manistee River. Like most of the NCT, it was built by Red Plaid Nation volunteers — in this case, the 150-member Grand Traverse Hiking Club, which has official responsibility for developing, maintaining, protecting and promoting their 100-mile section. (Administration is carried out by the National Park Service.)

Seven Wyoming and Kentwood artists featured in ArtPrize Eight

artprize
Photo courtesy of ArtPrize

By Victoria Mullen

WKTV

 

ArtPrize Eight will take place in downtown Grand Rapids from September 21-October 9, 2016 — when everyone is invited to voice their opinions on contemporary art and select the winners of $500,000 in cash prizes.

 

Seven artists with ties to Wyoming and Kentwood, Michigan have artwork in this year’s ArtPrize Eight. Here is some information about the artists, their work and where to see their entries.

 

‘Watcher’, by Nicole Burkholder Bluekamp

Nicole Burkholder Bluekamp

Wyoming, Michigan

 

Nicole is a self taught artist born and raised in Wyoming, Michigan. Painting and drawing always having been a love and main interest since childhood.

 

Further education was not an option for Nicole, leading to much experimentation and use of available materials for painting.

 

Being introverted and an empath, Nicole loves to hide out at home with her family.

 

Her entry, ‘Watcher’, may be seen at Georgio’s Gourmet Pizza, 15 Ionia Ave SW Suite 150 in downtown Grand Rapids.

 

soultribe
‘SoulTribe’, by Malia Rae

Malie Rae

Austin, Texas

 

Malia Rae was born and raised in Wyoming, Michigan and spent her childhood creating memories by exploring nature. she first picked up a camera 20 years ago. She received her BFA in Advertising Photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. She spent 10 years post-graduation living in Chicago and about a year ago, moved to Austin, Texas for a new perspective.

 

Her ArtPrize entry, ‘SoulTribe‘ is the next step of her photographic journey and in many ways the journey of her life. She is inspired to bring the spirit of her everyday self exploration into her images.

 

“The love of human transformation, the will of spirit, and the growth that takes place when you embark on the journey of finding your truth in life… is the passion that drives me to create,” she said.

 

jewelry by nona bushman
‘Diversity by Nona’, by Nona Bushman

Nona Bushman

Wyoming, Michigan

 

Nona (Voss) Bushman is a graduate of Wyoming Park H.S. and Western Michigan University. Her degree is in Art Education with an emphasis in jewelry. She has been making jewelry from silver, gold, copper, brass, precious & semi- precious stones for the past 47 years.

 

Nona was in Art Education for 34 years with 33 years at East Kentwood H.S. specializing in the 3-dimensional areas of Jewelry, Sculpture and Ceramics. Bushman makes one-of-a-kind custom designed jewelry pieces.

 

Her entry, ‘Diversity by Nona‘, is a series of pendant neck pieces, bracelets, pins and earrings and may be seen at Homewood Suites by Hilton Grand Rapids Downtown & Jam’n Bean Coffee Company at the Waters Center, 161 Ottawa NW in downtown Grand Rapids.

 

river and vine
‘River and Vine’, by Mark Minier

Mark Minier

Plymouth, Michigan

 

Growing up just south of Grand Rapids in Wyoming, Mark Minier went to school at Godwin Heights High School. He is an alumni of Eastern Michigan Universities School of Technology and has been painting oil on canvas since 1998.

 

“I love the self expression aspect of painting,” Minier said. “The best explanation I can give here is to quote Paul Klee, ‘art does not reproduce the visible, it makes visible.’ When I look at groups of my paintings, I see them autobiographical pages. For many of my paintings I can still recall the song I was listening to during the rendering.”

 

Minier’s ArtPrize entry, ‘River and Vine‘, may be seen at the city water building by the richard app gallery, 1101 Monroe Ave. NE, Grand Rapids.
 
the soul's shadows
‘The Soul’s Shadows’, by Mitchell Eilers

Mitchell Eilers

Wyoming, Michigan

Current resident of the Wyoming area, Mitchell Eilers was born and raised in the small town of Shelby, Mich. and has been involved in the arts from a very young age, from sketching to photography. He graduated from Central Michigan University where he completed his Bachelor of Science graduating in May of 2014.

 

Eilers described his entry, ‘The Soul’s Shadows’ thus: “An entrancing stare and a beautiful face; but who really knows what demons hide behind her beautiful mask.”

 

His entry may be seen at the bitter end coffeehouse, 752 West Fulton St. in Grand Rapids.

 

panel from the seasons
Panel from Matthew Piechocki’s ‘The Seasons’

Matthew Piechocki

Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

“I’ve always found beauty by taking the time to just look around and I love the symbolism of an image that describes or conveys a feeling better than words ever could,” said Matthew Piechocki.

 

Piechocki was born in Muskegon in 1970 and grew up in Wyoming where he attended school in Grand Rapids. Art has been part of his life from the earliest days of drawing unicorns for classmates to working in the art room in high school, then on to doing private portraits or other paintings as commissioned sales as an adult.

 

“My influences range from the Great Masters of the Renaissance, Classical and the Baroque and simply can’t get enough of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau Styles,” Piechocki said.

 

See his entry, ‘The Seasons‘ at Grand Rapids Brewing Company, 1 Ionia Ave. SW, Apt. 1 in Grand Rapids.

 

 

Eric J. Hartfield

Grand Rapids, Michigan

 

Eric J. Hartfield was born in Benton Harbor Michigan in 1962, where the influence of his older brother took hold. With only one art class under his belt in the ninth grade, he drew pencil sketches of racing cars. After leaving Benton Harbor in the tenth grade, he attended East Kentwood High School, where he took a few more art classes.gift at guff creek

 

His medium of choice is oil paint, but he has shown promise in oil pastel, color pencil, watercolors, acrylic, chalk (pastels) and a variety of mixed media. Eric is presently known as a Neo-mannerist/Surrealist which he calls ‘Mann realism’. He has developed a mixed-media technique that involves yarn, hair, string and calking placed on canvas and with the use of oils or acrylics, his works tell a story with imagery.

 

See his entry, ‘Gift at Guff Creek‘ at Grand Rapids City Hall, 300 Monroe Ave NW, Apt 4 in Grand Rapids.


IMPORTANT DATES
ArtPrize Eight Preview Week: September 14-20
ArtPrize Eight: September 21-October 9
Jurors’ Short List Announcement: September 26
Public Vote Final 20 Announcement: October 2
2016 ArtPrize Awards: October 7

 

The ArtPrize website and mobile app provide an interactive map feature to help visitors navigate to various Neighborhood HUB locations, including:

  • Center City HUB @ GRAM — located on Monroe Center, in the heart of one of West Michigan’s largest communities, outside of the Grand Rapids Art Museum gift shop as well as inside the museum lobby;
  • Heartside HUB @ UICA — close to many galleries, studios and architecturally significant buildings;
  • Hillside HUB @ Women’s City Club — one of the nation’s oldest and grandest neighborhoods with a collection of preserved 19th and 20th century homes;
  • Rumsey Street HUB @ SiTE:LAB — located at the three-acre public project in partnership with Habitat for Humanity;
  • Monroe North HUB @ DeVos Place — just steps away from many new Venues along the Grand River;
  • Westside HUB @ Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum — placed near Featured Public Projects, Artist Seed Grant and Venue Grant Winners;
  • Meijer Gardens HUB — featuring ArtPrize Artists as well as their permanent sculpture collection that blends art and nature; and
  • ArtPrize HUB/HQ @ 41 Sheldon

 

The ArtPrize HUB/HQ will open to the public on September 14, at the start of ArtPrize Preview Week — and will remain open throughout the event from 11 am-8 pm Monday through Saturday, and 11 am-6 pm on Sundays.

 

The ArtPrize Clubhouse will be open from 11 am-7 pm throughout the event, including ArtPrize Preview Week.

Labor Day in West Michigan offers myriad activities

south haven sunset
Photo courtesy of South Haven on Lake Michigan

 

Labor Day this year is Monday, September 5th, and West Michigan is ready to celebrate. The extended weekend is considered the unofficial end of summer as we make our way into the fall. It is also a day dedicated to workers across the country. In honor of this national holiday, many businesses are planning big events all weekend or special offers for guests.

 

South

round barn
Photo courtesy of Round Barn Winery

Round Barn Winery in Baroda is hosting their Fruits of Labor event on Labor Day Weekend. Stop by with your whole family from September 3rd to 5th to take a well-deserved break from work. There will be a bounce house, inflatable slide, live music and yard games. And of course there will be specialty cocktails, wine and craft brews for the adults.

 

Crane Orchards in Fennville is having their Centennial Celebration on September 3rd. With two bands, food and fun things for kids, this is shaping up to be a great time for the whole family. There will also be hayrides, tasting bar, hard cider, and the hard-to-beat U-Pick apples. Enjoy what Crane Orchards is dubbing the “Party of the Century.”

 

crane orchards
Crane Orchards

Head to Coldwater Country for something different this Labor Day weekend. Check out the railroad where you can climb aboard for a 45-minute, push-pull ride. Sit back and relax on this peaceful steam engine ride. Bring your own picnic snacks or purchase refreshments at the snack bar. Tickets are only $10 for this unique and fun experience.

 

Central

Grab your walking shoes and join the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce for their 10th Annual Labor Day Community Walk on September 5th. This is the perfect alternative if you’re unable to make it out to Mackinac for the annual Labor Day Bridge Walk. Join your friends and neighbors in this active event. The Community Walk recently received the Pure Michigan FITness Endorsement.

 

The River Country Chamber of Commerce’s Logging Festival is Labor Day Weekend from September 2nd to 4th. Check out the arts and crafts show and chainsaw carving demonstrations all weekend. The farmers market will be Friday only and is perfect for celebrating the harvest.

 

The Muskegon County Convention & Visitors Bureau has two Labor Day Weekend events for you to check out during your time off.

  • The Polish Festival is from September 2nd to 4th. This three-day festival will offer Polish food, polka music, dancing, cultural activities, a children’s tent, a Catholic mass and much more. Everyone is invited for an authentic Polish experience in the heart of Muskegon.
  • The West Michigan United Labor Day Parade is September 5th from 11 am to 12:30 pm with a post-parade celebration until 4 pm. This is an all-inclusive community parade through the streets of downtown Muskegon. The free post parade celebration following the parade will have food, refreshments, cotton candy, games, prizes, face painting, bounce houses, arts and crafts and more.

September is the month of cooler weather and colors changing in the foliage. One thing that doesn’t change is the level of fun at the Double JJ Resort in Rothbury. Whether you’re commemorating the end of summer with a Labor Day weekend stay or planning to see the colors turn later in the month, this 1200-acre, four-season getaway offers excitement and relaxation.

 

michigan maritime museum
Photo courtesy of the Michigan Maritime Museum

South Haven/Van Buren County is getting crafty this Labor Day weekend with the South Haven All Crafts Fair on September 3rd and 4th. The 2016 South Haven All Crafts Fair will feature over 150 local, regional and national artists. There will be jewelry, sculptures, pottery, paintings, needlework and more! The fair sets up the perfect opportunity to expand art collections, shop for unique jewelry or just view the beautiful arts provided. Grab a seat and enjoy the shaded beauty of Stanley Johnson Park or take the time to walk a block further in either direction to enjoy the sandy shores of Lake Michigan or visit the historical Michigan Maritime Museum. The annual art fair creates a relaxed, inviting environment with artwork the whole family will appreciate.

 

Labor Day is coming quickly and in Mecosta County, that means the 48th Annual Arts and Crafts Festival is coming up. Hosted on September 5th, the Arts and Crafts Festival starts at 10 am and runs until 4 pm. There will be a lot of talented local artists presenting their wares for you to check out.

 

HotelWalloon_Ext_177_72ppi-400x400
Photo courtesy of Hotel Walloon

North

Crystal Mountain in Thompsonville has several additional activities and specials going on during Labor Day Weekend.

  • On September 3rd, kick back and relax under the stars while watching Angry Birds on the outdoor deck pool. Tubes will be available so you can float in the pool while watching the film.
  • The Last Splash Pool Party will be on September 4th. Enjoy the last splash of summer at the Labor Day pool party! Party includes live DJ, contests and games including a limbo contest, giant volleyball game, hula hoop contest and giveaways!
  • Celebrate the unofficial last day of summer on September 5th with a variety of 2-for-1 discounts on the following: Alpine Slide Rides (single or all day), Park at Water’s Edge (day pass), climbing wall (single pass), adventure course (single pass), bike rentals, paintball, laser tag and disc golf.

Hotel Walloon situated on Walloon Lake is the perfect Labor Day weekend getaway. Guests of the Village of Walloon can enjoy the beach, rent kayaks, pontoon boats and paddleboards, dine at many of the area restaurants and more. Plus, during Labor Day weekend, there will be a Boat in Movie showing of Field of Dreams in the Village Green Park, playing approximately 20 minutes after sunset. Movies in the open air are a great way to celebrate the end of summer.

 

charlevoix
Courtesy of visitcharlevoix.com

Labor Day in Charlevoix is the perfect time to enjoy a long weekend up north. It’s a great time to explore Charlevoix’s waterways and spend the weekend cruising on Lake Michigan, Round Lake and Lake Charlevoix. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, why not check out Wildwood Rush and their fast paced zip lining canopy tours? After a day on the water or zip ling, grab dinner and dessert downtown Charlevoix to top off an incredible Labor Day weekend.

 

If you’re in Charlevoix, why not head out to Beaver Island over Labor Day? Hitch a ride with the Beaver Island Boat Company over to the island on Friday, September 2nd and catch the morning half marathon on September 3rd. The Beaver Island half marathon will cover 13.1 miles over a various surfaces and beautifully changing scenery. They promise that it will be one of the most beautiful runs most people will ever do with wonderful variety, good shape, excellent surfaces and only a few gentle hills.

 

beaver island stargazing
Beaver Island

The long holiday weekend is the perfect time to squeeze in one last getaway to Northern Michigan’s Shanty Creek Resorts in Bellaire. With boating, biking, golf and more, Shanty Creek Resorts offers the perfect balance of relaxation and recreation. Take this opportunity to make one last summer splash and tons of family memories.

 

Labor Day weekend is your last chance to see some of the amazing exhibits at Dennos Museum Center in Traverse City. The following exhibits will no longer be at the museum after Labor Day so visit soon to see them!

  • Looking Back to the Beginning: Paintings of Clif McChesney and Glassworks of Dale Chihuly
  • Exhibited and Acquired: 25 Years of Exhibitions
  • Andy Warhol: Silver Clouds
  • Soo Sunny Park: Unwoven Light
  • lhwa Kim: ‘Seed Universe 天下圖’
kim-seed-universe-dennos museum photo
lhwa Kim: ‘Seed Universe 天下圖’ at Dennos Museum

Coyote Crossing Resort in Cadillac is hosting the 9th Annual Hoxeyville Classic Car Show on September 4th. The event kicks off with a pancake breakfast followed by a day of checking out all of the classic cars across the lawn of Coyote Crossing. The event benefits diabetes research. Hang out with fellow car enthusiasts during this extended weekend.

 

The Petoskey Area is kicking off their Fall Color Tour collaboration with Stafford’s Bay View Inn over Labor Day Weekend. From September 4th to October 27th, you can enjoy Mother Nature’s picturesque show of colors with a two nights lodging, breakfast each morning, $50 in Stafford’s Dining Dollars and a narrated CD that takes you on a self guided color tour through the “Tunnel of Trees.”

 

If you’re looking for lodging when you are up north for the Labor Day Bridge Walk, pay a visit to the Holiday Inn Express at the Bridge in Mackinaw City. The event is always a great time and it’s a unique experience walking on the historic bridge. This is the one time a year that the Mackinac Bridge is open to foot traffic.

 

mackinaw bridge
Mackinac Bridge

You can also visit St. Ignace to participate in the 59th Annual Mackinac Bridge Walk. Take advantage of free parking and shuttle services to return you back to St. Ignace after the walk. You’ll even have a numbered certificate in hand to show your holiday accomplishment! The Walk is the culmination of a weekend packed with family-friendly activities in St. Ignace, starting with Arts Dockside on September 3rd and 4th. This extensive show features more than 100 exhibitors in the St. Ignace Marina parking lot, and the quality and variety of items found are second to none. Evenings are a blast too, with fireworks in the skies over Moran Bay on Saturday night and outdoor Movies by the Bay on Sunday evening at the American Legion Park.

 

Cinderella Story: a cautionary tale

31By Lynn Strough

Travelynn Tales

 

All that glitters is not gold. This week’s installment of Lynn Strough’s Travelynn Tales adds credence to the adage, ‘no good deed goes unpunished.’ Many other adages also apply. Anyway you say it/slice it: wanderers, beware.

 

[Names and exact locations have been changed. Also, this story does not include a prince or a glass slipper — but it does feature a fairy godmother, thank goodness.]

 

As I sat before the cold, dark fireplace in a dank, dark cave shoveling ashes, all around me there were castles. I thought to myself, why does this seem familiar?

 

During many months of travel, nearly all of the people I’d met had been amazing, nice, kind and generous. As with all aspects of life, however, there are exceptions — and forewarned is forearmed. If you’re going to hit the road, you should know the good, the bad and the ugly of long-term travel.

 

Oh, it began innocuously enough. I met a friendly woman — we’ll call her Astrid — at the start of my travels, somewhere in the Pacific. She had stopped by my seaside table to chat, then invited me to meet her for dinner. We had a delightful time — she was charming, fun, funny, intelligent and seemed very, very nice. We went hiking together the next day — again, a lovely time.

 

So when she invited me to visit her at her other home several months later as I passed through Europe, I happily agreed.

 

Red flag #1. True, it was a bit odd that she wanted me to come for a whole month — we barely knew each other. But you know how sometimes you think you hit it off with a person? I was oblivious to the warning signs. Astrid had said she’d have some work to do — she’s self-employed — and that I’d have time to myself. Besides, she had many things planned for us to do together — we’d go see chateaux in the area, some prehistoric sites and more. It was something I really looked forward to.

 

29The day arrived. Astrid met my train in a town south of Paris and immediately informed me that there’d been a change of plans — instead of staying with her in the “beautiful little hobbit house” she’d described (a historic troglodyte), I would live in a tiny, garret studio apartment at the top of several flights of narrow stairs. Fifty steps, to be precise. It was a former maid’s quarters, with a minuscule shower in the corner of the kitchen area and a toilet in a locked closet across the landing. It was small, old, a bit shabby and very, very hot (top floor, no AC during one of the hottest summers on record), but I was actually thrilled to have a space to myself. (I didn’t mind the 50 steps, even when Astrid asked me to clean them after admitting that it was her turn.)

 

Red flag #2. My hostess presented her expectations, provided me lots of cleaning supplies and let it be known that when my time there was over — indeed, the day before I left — I was to thoroughly clean the place as she was going to give a realtor the key to show the place for sale.

 

No problem. It was the least I could do.

 

Ah, but there was more. After cleaning, I was to shop and cook her dinner when she came home around 11 pm. Again, I was happy to help, although I’m not the greatest cook.

 

Red flag #3. So, the first day, we stopped for coffee and croissant — and Astrid asked me to pay for both orders. A minor breach of etiquette, but not a deal-breaker. She invited me to join her at a neighborhood party that night over by her other flat, where she lived. It was about a 12-minute walk to her flat from my garret.

 

27Immediately, she put me to work chopping and peeling for the pot luck. It was a beautiful night, with picnic tables set up all along the street. She left me on my own the whole evening so she could schmooze with the neighbors, but that was fine. I’m independent and meet people easily, and a few people spoke English.

 

Red flag #4. Long after dark — the party ended at midnight — Astrid sent me back to my garret, alone. It was my first night walking in a new, unfamiliar city, where I don’t speak the language. This proved to be a pattern. Many times after errands, she’d take me to her flat rather than where I was staying, and she’d insist that I walk to my garret. She couldn’t be bothered to drop me off on her way home, even though it took only an extra few minutes.

 

On the second day of my visit, I met Astrid for a coffee and croissant — and paid again. I’m happy to treat once in a while but can’t really afford to do it every time. At least my dinner last night was free at the block party. Well… Astrid had told me to buy two bottles of wine for my contribution.

 

28

Astrid next suggested that I check out touring a chateau on my own because she had other things to do. The tours were pricey, but I guessed with my accommodations covered I could afford to splurge on one. She’d said there were five other castles she would take me to on different days. Again and again, she seduced me with tales of the outings she had planned for us. Castle tours. Yoga. Day trips. These never happened.

 

Red flag #5. She informed me that she was famous but when I googled her, I found little to substantiate her sense of self-importance. But she had plans for my future — I was to come back to her other country to live with her when I was done with my travels and write my book there. Then she told me exactly how to write my book — in English and French — and how she would publish it and I’d give her a percentage. Only a few days in and this little sojourn had already begun to sour — and yet it was just the beginning.

 

My dear hostess next informed me that she had an open house scheduled in about a week for her historic house, the hobbit house/troglodyte. The open house would run from 8 am until 10 pm — for a week — and she had a few things to do to get it ready. She would like my help. Sure, I’m happy to help.

 

23We ran some errands, including to the flower market — two beautiful blocks crammed with booths of petals and plants — and she picked out about a dozen big pots for her historic house’s garden. These were big pots. Huge. And she drove a teeny-tiny vintage car.

 

“You’ll have to have the tree between your legs,” she told me. “I usually have things in the front seat, but you’re there now.”

 

Red flag #6. And so began yet another pattern — reminding me how much I was inconveniencing her. After each reminder, she’d laugh as though she was joking.

 

When we finally visited the house where we were originally to have stayed, I saw why we weren’t there — the place was a total disaster. She hadn’t told me what a mess it was — thank God we weren’t staying there. The house is 400 years old, although newer parts have been added. But it’s been vacant for years except for squatters. Three weeks to get it ready was ambitious. What had she done in the three weeks she’d been there before I arrived?

 

20Astrid showed me around the two courtyards, the storage cave loaded with tons of junk, the tiny kitchen with a table and small counter covered with dishes, a two-burner gas stove, no fridge, a shower filled with more stored stuff, an old-fashioned dining room crammed with old fashioned furniture — an armoire, a table and chairs, a buffet — all surfaces covered with knickknacks.

 

Everywhere, inside and out, there were Buddha statues, carved suns and moons, a basket shaped like a rabbit here, a plastic squirrel there, fake flowers, rusted irons and tons more toppled from various places. The house was full of dirt, mouse droppings, spiders and spider webs and had no indoor toilet, just a composting outhouse out back.

 

The main part was a rectangular cave room with arched ceiling, gray stone, dark and cold, 18holding two sofas covered with white sheets, a few tables, a crate for wine and a large fireplace. Jars turned into candle holders squatted everywhere, as there is no electricity.

 

Thirty moss-covered cement stairs led up to the garden, which was overgrown and also full of junk. Plastic crates full of old rusty iron hinges, tools and unidentifiable objects, broken clay pots, bags of dirt, rotting boards, dirty white plastic lawn furniture, you name it, you might find it there.

 

We ate cheese, bread and fruit for lunch, washed down with a bottle of red wine, (a nice thing about a French lunch), then worked until after dark at 9 pm. She put me to work snipping a pile of branches into foot long twigs for kindling. It was a huge pile, but I sat on an old plastic lawn chair out in the yard and it was kind of meditative.

 

14I’d barely made a dent, when she gave me some other tasks to accomplish, like hauling the heavy, old, rusted iron junk and rotting rusty-nail-studded wood planks down the stairs from the overgrown backyard.

 

Red flag #7. In fact, she gave me a whole list…

 

I set to work next, scraping the moss off the steps — it actually looked rather pretty, but she 11said it gets slippery when wet and is dangerous, which I understand. I scraped and scraped and scraped, both the top and the sides of all 30 steps, the soft moss falling off in clumps as the metal edge cut underneath, and I swept the steps clear as well.

 

Then another list appeared. And then another, before I could complete even the first list.

 

What was she doing while I was lugging heavy junk down stairs, snipping kindling, washing dozens upon dozens of soot-coated candle holders, and cleaning mouse droppings and spider webs out of the attic for the next several days?

12

 

“I’m deciding what to keep and what to get rid of,” she told me. “That’s work only I can do, so I’m giving you the other tasks.”

 

It’s my nature — I give people the benefit of the doubt. Too, she kept saying the next day or so we’d go see the castles, the ancient towns, the historic sites. However, one day ran into another, working from dawn until dusk, until without electricity we couldn’t see to work anymore, with no visits even to the two towns where we worked and slept.

 

We did end the day with a glass of wine, in front of a roaring fire in the cave,  built with kindling I’d cut, in the fireplace I’d swept clean, which was at least something. Then the next day, it was back to work.

 

She provided lunch — hearty meals like vegetarian sausage with lentils; however when she served it, she gave her young female cousin, whom she paid  to come6 help plant flowers for a day, a whole sausage, and gave me half, saying, “That’s enough for you, don’t you think?” And when she poured me wine, she said I was costing her too much.

 

When Astrid had a friend over, she actually told this woman, in front of me, that she’d tricked me into coming. “I didn’t tell Lynn about all of the hard labor she’d be doing or I knew she wouldn’t come,” and she laughed, like it was a good joke.

 

Finally, the light bulb went on. Not that I hadn’t seen a few glimmers about five days into my two-week stay. We’re only taken advantage of when we allow it, so I claim full responsibility for staying this long. But in my defense, I’d already purchased my non-refundable train ticket to my non-negotiable next location, my first house-sitting job. So I was kind of stuck. And she had promised we’d see castles…

 

I asked Astrid when exactly were we going to see these castles, and she said that I should work a couple more days to finish getting things ready for her open house, and she’d give me a day off. She also said she wanted me to work at her open house, giving tours, keeping the candles lit, and selling her art while she left, as she had other things to do. I pointed out that anyone likely to visit would speak French and I do not, not to mention that they would be coming to see her. This didn’t seem to matter, and I saw the writing on the wall. There would be no sightseeing for me, only two weeks of hard labor for no pay.

 

“I’m happy to help you some,” I said, “but I need a little time for my own pursuits as well.”

8

 

And then her true colors burst forth.“What?! You didn’t think I was going to let you stay for free, did you?!” she screeched.

 

Here was a side to her I hadn’t seen, like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I tried to reason with her — I thought she’d invited me as a friend, not as slave labor (I think I actually said an unpaid employee, to be a little less blunt), and she said that I was her Woofer.*  I didn’t point out that woofing was four hours a day, five days a week, not 12 hours a day, seven days a week with no skill being taught, just hard labor, as by this point she was lecturing me in a very angry voice. It brought me to tears, and I have to admit, I took the coward’s way out, or maybe the smart way, as her behavior at this point was a little erratic and scary.

 

She said the contrails in the sky aren’t jet fuel, but poisons being spread on our food supply to make us all sick to control population growth and cause a need for more cancer drugs to fund the pharmaceutical industry. That ground-up microchips are being put in our food and soda to track us. Aliens live among us disguised as humans, and our government has traded things for technology secrets.

 

Maybe she’s right about all of her conspiracy theories — who am I to say — but in the absence of concrete evidence, her assertions had me a little concerned.

 

I’d had a message that day from a true fairy godmother, a dear friend, who, when she heard about my plight, told me to get out of there immediately and she’d cover a room for me in a nearby city until it was time for me to head to my house-sitting job in nine days.

 

There are Travel Angels out there who are life’s blessings, and there are tricksters who would put on a smiling face, and then take as much advantage of you as you allow them to.

 

I was finished allowing.

 

9This situation brought to mind an amalgam of fairy tales: where someone baits you with something sweet — the witch in disguise in Snow White with a poison apple, the witch in Hansel and Gretel with the candy house waiting to shove you in the oven, and the wicked stepmother in Cinderella who makes you sweep the ashes, all wrapped up into one.

 

To delicately extricate me from this potentially explosive situation, I told Astrid I had some personal things to attend to and needed a day to do so, which was true. I just didn’t elaborate. “All right, I’ll give you one day off to go see some castles, and I’ll tell the tour bus driver where to drop you off afterward so you can walk back here and get back to work.”

 

The next morning, I wrote her a message telling her that I wouldn’t be going on a castle tour, I wasn’t feeling well, (very true, since I had been breathing ashes and mouse dung, and had conked my head so hard on the low overhead beams while sitting up from cleaning the mouse droppings under the eaves, that it ended up hurting for two months!) and that I had some other things I needed to do. I didn’t tell her that the other things were to find a cheap hotel, pack my bags, and get out of there as fast as possible.

 

It was peak tourist season, and at first it looked like there were very few affordable accommodations, and I didn’t want to spend much as I was being gifted by a saintly benefactress, my very own fairy godmother. I walked to the tourist office, where they did some calling around and found me a room in a quaint, old, one-star hotel, which even had a little kitchen area so I could cook my meals instead of eating out.

10

 

Once I was settled in, I wrote Astrid that although I appreciated her hospitality and was happy to have helped her out, I had other things I needed to do — and with that, I moved out of her flat. She wrote back that it was too bad I was unable to talk about my “wishes, desires, and needs” and that I “probably need to grow up a little bit more to allow you to talk about things that upset you…”

 

*Woofing is common in several countries — you work on an organic farm in exchange for room and board, and learn a skill.

 

About Lynn Strough

1Lynn is a 50+ wandering spirit whose incarnations in this life have included graphic designer, children’s book author and illustrator, public speaker, teacher, fine art painter, wine educator in the Napa Valley, and world traveler. Through current circumstances, she has found herself single, without a job or a home, and poised for a great adventure.

 

“You could consider me homeless and unemployed, but I prefer nomad and self-employed, as I pack up my skills and head off with my small backpack and even smaller savings to circumnavigate the globe (or at least go until the money runs out). Get ready to tag along for the ride…starting now!”

 

travelynnlogoAll images copyright Lynn Strough and Travelynn Tales

Reprinted with permission

Robinette’s to host ‘Peanuts’-themed maze during fall season

robinettes

 

In honor of the 50th Anniversary of one of the most beloved, quotable, and unforgettable Peanuts television specials of all time, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, Peanuts Worldwide and Robinette’s are preparing a once-in-a-lifetime celebration: the creation of a unique corn maze, custom-designed to feature Peanuts themes.

 

The maze, which will feature The Red Baron Scene, will cover 6.5 acres on the farm’s lot. It will be open from September 8 to November 5th, 10 am to 5:30 pm. In addition to the maze, Robinette’s will host a special screening of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on September 8th at 5 pm. Snoopy will also be paying a visit on Saturday, September 24th from 12 pm to 4 pm.

 

2016 robinettes mazeThe venue will also incorporate Great Pumpkin artwork into other areas of its venue, providing the perfect setting for visitor photo ops with the Peanuts characters.

 

Robinette’s is one of more than 80 farms in North America selected by Peanuts Worldwide to create a Great Pumpkin maze this year. Collectively, the farms—which are part of The MAiZE network and span North America in two countries and 32 states, from California to New York, Canada to Florida—will reach more than 2 million visitors during the fall season.

 

The Great Pumpkin and cornfield mazes are two of the world’s greatest fall traditions, eagerly anticipated by fans every single year, and we’re so excited to bring them together for this landmark anniversary,” said Jill Schulz, daughter of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz. “As we prepare to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, it’s only fitting that we should find a tribute that’s both joyful and visually compelling, just as my father’s characters have been for more than 65 years.”

 

pumpkin patch“We’re thrilled to work with Peanuts Worldwide and The MAiZE, Inc. as we customize our corn maze to celebrate It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” said Ed/Allan Robinette, Owner of Robinette’s. “Corn mazes are all about providing a fun and interactive experience for our visitors—even the adults feel like kids again! And that’s exactly what Peanuts does: Aren’t we all kids again when we see Snoopy and Charlie Brown? This is the perfect match of holiday traditions.”

 

“It’s been a huge pleasure for us to collaborate with Peanuts Worldwide and corn farms across North America to design these unique, custom corn mazes,” said founder Brett Herbst, The MAiZE, Inc. “We’re all fans of Peanuts and the Great Pumpkin, and we’re delighted to honor the 50th Anniversary by having the Great Pumpkin, this one time only, rise out of a corn maze!”

 

Admission to the maze is $7 per person (groups of 15 more with one person paying is $6 per person). For more information, visit www.Robinettes.com.