A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Michigan's Western Lakeshore

I’ve had some disappointing days due to the weather. I had envisioned the North Shore drive up Minnesota’s lakeshore to be something of a highlight of my trip. I’m sure it is very beautiful, but I wouldn’t really know because I drove through it in a thick foggy rain. I hoped maybe the weather would improve the next day, and I could turn around and get a chance to actually see it, but then I saw that the forecast for the next week was nothing but grey clouds and raindrops. So I decided to speed my way back to Michigan by continuing along Lake Superior into Canada. So for another day I drove in rain and fog, being tailgated by crazy Canadian truckers. But it was worth it. Despite the fog in Canada I could still see the shoreline. I can imagine things would be better in the bright glorious sunshine of summer, but the moody cold has its perks too. For one thing: there is absolutely no one here.


When I finally make it back into Michigan I feel relieved. Even though it is windy, cold and raining, at least the sky is clear. After driving over Mackinaw Bridge where my car feels like it’s going to be skidded over into oncoming traffic by the terrifyingly strong wind, I stick to the west side of Michigan on my way down the shore. When I first get out of my car to check out the views in Wilderness State Park, I have to tighten the hood on my jacket to combat the wind long enough to take pictures. When I turn around the wind pushes me so hard and it is so cold, I can’t help but run back to the car like a little kid. And it’s only when I get inside the car that I realize my cheeks and hands are stinging from the intensity of this wind. It’s crazy.

The road hugs the shoreline and I follow as it climbs higher onto the cliffside. The views are spectacular, exactly what I pictured I was missing on the North Shore drive. I come to a sign announcing that I’m entering the Tunnel of Trees scenic drive. I know that things would have been so much more beautiful weeks before when all the bright leaves were still on the trees. Now most of the leaves are dry on the forest floor, but there are still some shimmering holdouts remaining on the lower branches. Occasionally there are breaks in the trees allowing glimpses of the rocky coast below.


Out of the forest I roll through picturesque apple orchards and come across cute little harbor towns. I grab a delicious “maple river” macchiato which helps me warm up from the chilly winds. At the end of the day I’m in Traverse City: a great youth infused town on the water’s edge. It’s been an awesome day. The drive today has to be one of the most scenic in the country. You can't ask for much more.

Posted by Velora 16:13 Comments (0)

Door Peninsula and Keweenaw Peninsula

In northeastern Wisconsin I follow the coastline until it leads me into the peninsula at the upper edge of Lake Michigan. The weather is blustery and cold, but not yet raining, so I decide to camp at Peninsula State Park. It turns out to be probably the last time I’ll camp until I head further South. The huge campground is deserted and creepy. And it’s just one indicator of the true season of the area: Summer.

But the Fall is beautiful and something relatively new for me. Of course we have deciduous trees in California, but not like this. Not forests of them. Not such shocking colors. Here in Door County the leaves are all bright translucent yellow. Not ochre or slight green, but absolute pure yellow. The leaves flood the ground and rustle in the trees, the canopy and carpet of yellow almost surrounding me on every side were it not for the band of grey tree trunks in the middle.


In the morning it is raining, but not too heavily. The roads on the peninsula are made to be followed almost haphazardly, stumbling upon the next town, then breezing through open farmland, then forest, then through another small town and skirting the coastline. My Aunt in Muskego has told me somewhere around here there’s a Swedish restaurant where there are goats on a grass roof. As I’m driving through the town I think I must have missed it when I suddenly catch a glimpse of a shaggy grass roof. How can you possibly miss that? Today there are no goats. I wonder if the goat’s absence is due to the off-season or because it’s raining or both. I have Swedish pancakes with lingonberries. The atmosphere is nice on this cold day. Cheery delicate Swedish décor, warm lights and waitresses dressed in folk Scandinavian dresses.

The next night I stop at my Aunt Brenda’s in Eagle River to catch up. We get to talking and I learn that my Great Grandmother took a trip around the world at the age of 72 on a shipping vessel. So that must be where I get it from.

From my Aunt’s I head north to Keweenaw peninsula in what people around here call the U.P. (Upper Peninsula of Michigan). The yellow leaves continue here. At points along the road the trees tower over me and I drive through tunnels of filtered light. The coast here is more rugged and there are less touristy towns then there were in Door County. Lake Superior is so much calmer than the Pacific Ocean I‘m used to. It seems wider too. Somehow ominous in its slumbering state.

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Posted by Velora 06:07 Comments (1)


In Milwaukee I visit with my Uncle George’s family in Muskego and head into the city the next day with my cousins. We take a tour at the local Lakefront Brewery, where your fee covers four glasses of your choice of the brewery’s beers on tap, a souvenir glass, and a “tour.” I put it that way because the tour guides are drunk and everyone on the tour has had at least three beers by the time the tour starts, so there is a minimum of facts or any information presented on the tour, but you won’t mind at all. The beer is good, the location is beautiful with the river’s canal in back, and the weathered brick walls provide a nice welcoming environment.

Milwaukee’s downtown has a historic feeling, but there is evidence of the growth in the newer condos geared toward the college kid population. I love the older homes. They’re sturdy edifice houses made of stone and wood, worn and colored by years of weather and age. Thick chunky layers of paint producing textures that only time can create. I feel so jealous of the history, with its patina and elegant decay. It makes the stucco and plastic of California seem so transient and frail.

This feeling continues the next day when I stop in Milwaukee again to see Marquette University on my way up Wisconsin’s coast. My Aunt tells me there’s a Joan of Arc chapel in the middle of the campus, shipped over brick by brick from the French countryside. As I’m walking down one of the main streets trying to find the chapel, I pass a few dorm buildings slowly being choked and consumed by rusty ivy.


I try not to be too resentful of the students who get to be emersed in a gothic ivy covered college. I know that’s not the best way to pick a school, but gosh darn it, it would’ve been cool to live on a campus with such personality. But, I round the corner and see the ugly modern college buildings I’m used to seeing. And there, across the open courtyard lies the beautiful and humble St. Joan of Arc Chapel from the 15th century. Although strikingly different than the surrounding lecture halls, the platforms and garden surrounding the chapel effectively bridge the gap. I walk inside and when the heavy doors close behind me, there is an instant quiet calm.


Posted by Velora 20:54 Comments (1)

Galena, Illinois

I’m back on the road finally, after spending a couple of weeks at my sister’s house outside of Chicago. The day I leave the sun is shining and the clouds in the sky are white billows with hazy sunshine breaking through. I’m excited about the road ahead. Seeing new things again. I’m heading northwest on Hwy 20 and as I watch the suburbs fade into the distance in my rearview mirror, the rolling hills slowly climb higher in front of me.


Soon I come across Galena, a 1800‘s town with many preserved or restored buildings along the riverfront. At one time Galena was a prosperous port on the river, shipping their locally mined lead all over the U.S. A large number of Civil War generals, including Ulysses S. Grant hailed from the small town. But as Chicago grew and the mining became less successful, the town’s population dropped from around 13,000 to 3,500, where it still stands today.


There are a number of historic houses with tours available, and I decide to tour the oldest mansion in Galena, Belvedere Mansion. It’s an impressively detailed building on the river’s edge, with ornate woodwork, but I did not enjoy the tour. For one thing the house is currently occupied by its owner and the third floor and a large portion of the rooms are not viewable. Also, none of the furnishings are original but rather antiques from the current owner’s collection packed into the rooms with little discretion or care. The house feels more like an antique store than someone’s home, which is ironic considering it’s the only home I’ve toured so far that is in fact occupied. Also, the tour was short, lacked history, and cost the most of any tour I’ve been on. So, if you’re ever in Galena, forego the Belvedere Mansion and tour another one of the homes, or take the trolley tour, which seemed fun although maybe a bit tacky.

The next day I woke to a dark cloudy sky and rain that continued nonstop for the next two days. In the morning I walked through Galena’s downtown street, which was surprisingly long for such a small town. The unique stores provided some diversion, at least for a little while. Despite the rain, the view from my warm car continues to be lovely pastoral fields as I continue on through Southern Wisconsin.

Posted by Velora 20:50 Comments (0)

Minneapolis and St. Paul

After a long drive through the farmlands and open spaces of South Dakota where my progress is delayed by surprises like closed highways and tiny quiet towns with 15 mph posted speeds and nothing much except well-kept little homes, I finally make it to civilization in the form of Minneapolis. And it couldn’t be more of a welcome and appreciated change. It’s late when I get to town so I check into the hostel - definitely the best one I’ve been to so far, with intricate old-fashioned architectural details and a homey lived-in feel. And it just happens to be right across the street from what turns out to be my favorite attraction: The Minneapolis Institute of Art.

That night while planning my days ahead, I feel excited about being in the city and I realize it has a lot to do with the number of nice attractions in the Twin Cities that are free! I take a tour of St. Paul’s cathedral: a huge church encrusted in many different varieties of marble from all over the world and bronze filigree gates and an alter modeled after the one in St. Peter’s in Rome. The tour is very informative and in-depth. The guide explains the meanings behind the symbols present in the detailed stained glass and sculptures around the church. I also tour the Capitol building and the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue - a whole street filled with huge Victorian era mansions. I wish I would have been here during the summer when the Historical Society gives walking tours of the whole street.


But the real treasure of the city is the [free!] Art Institute. In my opinion it's on the same level as some of the best art museums I’ve been to, even the Met (alright, but not the Uffizi). The first floor has unique artifacts from China, India, Egypt, Greece: clay figures of servants and armies for the afterlife from the tombs of Chinese emperors, scholar’s rocks from Japan, wooden sculptures of enlightened Buddhist figures.


The second floor houses paintings and sculptures from Europe and the U.S. spanning the decades up to the present. Everything is arranged in rooms by era and similar subjects are even positioned next to each other. It really makes it more meaningful to compare and contrast and be able to follow the progression of the art movements. I know I like this kind of thing, but I would really recommend everyone visit if they’re ever in the area (and get the audio guide).


Minneapolis has lots of character and seems like a great place to live, if only the weather was better (there was a torrential downpour while I was there). But I‘ve recently found out Neil Gaiman lives in Minneapolis, so maybe I could stand the weather in order to “accidentally” run into him.

Posted by Velora 07:31 Comments (0)

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