Friday, September 28, 2007

Amish Country, Ohio

Have had a great couple of days and we haven't been outside of the RV!!! Checked into a nice little campsite in amongst the peace and serenity that is Berlin, OH; which is right in the heart of Amish Country. We have had the most atrocous weather for the past two days but the good bit of it is we have Wifi. This shouldn't normally be cause for too much excitement (we're not normally THAT sad!) but it's been a while - the last few weeks we've been just grabbing odd minutes here and there parked outside hotels!! So surfs up!! And we've just discovered the joy and ultimate time-wasting wesbite that is Facebook! So the weather has been lousy...

Until today; today we had to get out. Took the motorbike out to a neighbouring town of Sugarcreek where they were having their annual Swiss Fesitval. A kid's parade and lots of people wearing swiss national dress (I assume it was anyway..) Sampled some local Ohio wines. Bought some local Ohio wines (you know how it is!) and sampled (and bought) some real (Ohio?!) Swiss cheese. Ate Deep Fried Swiss cheese-on-a-stick (markedly better than it sounds) and Bratwurst and drank more Ohio wines...

Then strolled around the local town of Berlin. This is just such an Amish part of the country. Lots and lots of buggys out on the road and many Amish people who are quite distinctive in their dress. Check out this photo - love it...the equivalent of the Amish Supermarkt on a Saturday afternoon - total gridlock in the supermarket carpark (and you say you have problems parking in Tesco in Bishops Cleeve Pat?! - you ain't seen nothing!!).

And finally - this is Donkey tied up at the 'horse rail' next to an Amish buggy - he's fitting right in don't you think?!?!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cedar Point Part II

More about Cedar Point - it deserves a good write up! It was Halloweekends at the park while we were there which was fun! It was all decked out with spooky decorations and come nightfall there were some themed attrations. 3 Haunted houses and 4 spooky 'walk-throughs'. Let me just say that Cedar Point rates all it's rides on a 1-5 basis with 5 being a extreme thrill experience. One of the houses we went in was rated a five (normally reserved for the radical coasters). As you walked through there were creepy decorations (spider web stuff hanging down in your face etc!), mostly it was pitch black so you really had to feel your way step by step along the floor. Lots of hanging curtains and nooks and crannies that 'things' could be hiding in/behind. And there was a cast of real live people all dressed up as ghouls, witches and dead people etc, and jumping out on you shouting, screaming and rattling cans and generally making you jump sky high. The adrenalin was going like crazy but it was funny too - when people had succeeded in making me scream I couldn't help but laugh out loud at myself!! There was also one of those tunnel things. It's a straight through tunnel with fixed walkway, but there flashing lights in a tube all around and they moved in a circular motion so your brain tricks you into thinking you're moving. This we were in stitches over - it REALLY felt like we were up on our sides on the walkway, clinging on for dear life - hysterical!! Actually even funnier when we walked right through to other side then watched the people behind us falling about - of course from our vantage point it was a straight, still walkway!!!

The haunted walk-through was also great. Amazingly it was on one of the main thoroughfares in the park to get to a whole host of roller coasters so there was no choice but to walk through it, given it was rated a 4 it was hardly surprising that one of the common sounds accompanying the 500 yard walk was the sound of kids crying!! This didn't open till 8pm so it was nice and dark. They filled the air with stage smoke/fog and had lots of eerie lights penetrating through casting a strange glow over the whole place. Whereas the street would normally be lined with nice flowerbeds these had been replaced with halloween themed graveyards, skeleton people scenes and the like. And along this haunted walk there were people, again, dressed up and running at you, shouting, wailing, rattling cans (this was the worse in fact!), stalking you, scaring you! So funny! (but again totally spooky high adrenalin stuff)

I think I may have met my match in a roller coaster theme park - this one had me beat. There was a ride that I WAS NOT going on - no way jose! The dragster ride - it propelled you at speeds reaching 120 mph along a dragstrip and then vertically, (quite literally!) up a 420ft rise which crested briefly and then came back down vertically - I don't know the exact height of the tower but it had aircraft hazard lights on the top (and that was a pretty good gauage for me - the fearer of heights - if it had lights on it I wasn't going on!) Chris was well up for this and I was ready to queue the 2 hours with him but honestly, we ran out of time. He did get me on the Power Tower which lifted us 240ft in the air then freefalled us back down same said tower - it had me whimpering and shaking and Chris then excused me from any other ridiculous ride that went too high (it's the height, vertical drop thing that freaks me - give me a game old roller coaster, vertical loops and I'm happy - just not a vertical drop!)
So Cedar Point was incredible - America's Roller Coast it was. If you ever had time to glance at the view from the top of one of these rides it was quite picturesque - a slice of land jutting out into Lake Erie and surrounded on 3 sides by water. We saw a beautiful sunsest through the old wooden slats of the Mean Streak roller coaster and a glimpse of a big ship sailing past, silhouetted against a red sun. Just great!

Cedar Point ROCKS!!

Cedar Point - America's Roller Coast. Busy, busy day yesterday. My neck, shoulders and back are completely shot to pieces after being vibrated loose on 'The Mean Strek' - a 1.5 mile wooden roller coaster - just don't do it. They stopped making wooden coasters and went to snazzy modern things for a very good reason - a smooth ride. Such an awesome day. It was open from noon till midnight - we never imagined we'd be there that long but we squeezed out the whole time, and people were still in line for rides at midnight so we could've stayed longer - we were just too pooped by then. This is a roller coaster park to beat all others. We didn't do some of the coasters - simply ran out of time. We queued for 1.5 hours for one ride - The Maverick - it was voted the best new ride of 2007 and it was worth the wait - instead of the first gradual incline to build speed like you normally get it fired you out of the station at 30mph! and then it just got better - a 95 degree drop - yes thats beyond vertical!!! SO COOL! Loved it. Now just need to rest and work this crick out of my neck...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Henry Ford Pt 2

You'll have to excuse my handwriting here; the breeze coming off Lake Eerie is moving the hammock, and the sun filtering through the trees makes the screen hard to read! Another amazing day at the Henry Ford. This time we went to the Greenfield Vilage as it opened at 9.30am. It'd been suggested that we allow 5.5 hours for this, and once again it was an underestimation - we left 30 mins before it closed at 5 o'clock!

So, Greenfield Village is a large collection of buildings that Henry Ford started accumulating from around the country and in a few instances from around the world. They've been moved to this site, reassembled and renovated to their original condition. There are all sorts of buildings - his childhood home, the garage shed in which he built his first automobile - the quadricycle, there are farmhouses, stables, barns, wealthy family homes, working class family homes, slaves quarters, plantation houses, a windmill, even a Cotswold cottage and a Swiss chalet! The complex is split into areas - working farms, porches & parlours, the steam railway (together with a working roundhouse), and the craftsmen - this included glassblowers, potters, weavers, printers, sawmills, carpenters but curiously no blacksmith. Now we've been to a few of these 'old' villages before during our time here and we've seen our fair share of blacksmiths - nearly always a working shop with a real bona fide blacksmith working the bellows and bending metal, insisting that you stay and watch them make something from nothing. (I even got given some neat little twisted metal curtain hooks that we watched being made at one place!). Trust me, you can only watch so uch blacksmithery in one lifetime so it seemed somewhat pleasantly surprising that there was no blacksmith here in the craftsmen area - oh, how disappointed we were! (it's become a bit of a standing joke!). But these guys at The Henry Ford are cleverer than we are - oh yes, here they cunningly snuck in a Cotswold Forge just for good measure...and what pray, does one find in a Cotswold Forge? A bloody blacksmith!! So we came away fulfilled and satisfied that the blacksmith lives another day here in Dearborn, Michigan! (and frankly in much nicer digs than usual, but then I'm biased to a bit of Cotswold stone anyday!)

It really was a great day. Aside from all the buildings that you could go in and explore, often with costumed guides welcoming you into the house and telling you a bit about the era in which they were decorated, the whole village was beautifully landscaped. There was the old village pond with covered bridge, long leafy roads with all the grand family homes on, and lovely farm yards and fields with crops. All the while Model T's were chugging along the roads (You could tell the route the Model T's took around the village by the trail of oil - I guess some things never change with Fords..!) and an old steam train was doing a circuit of the place whistling away!
Bizarre to think that many of the workers live in Detroit, (not the most picturesque of cities!) commute through the worst kind of traffic to then work in the peace and tranquility of a real working 1920s farming village. Shouldn't that be the other way round???

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Henry Ford

So today was a busy day; we got up from everyone's favourite campground (Walmart) and drove the 20 or so miles through the rush hour, (such a nice time of day to take it easy as long as you’re not in any kind of rush!) to the Detroit suburb of Dearborn and The Henry Ford.
The Henry Ford is actually a complex consisting of the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, an IMAX and the Rouge Factory tour. We wanted to do everything (bar the Imax). The ticket clerk suggested that we’d need about two and a half hours to see the Henry Ford museum and about the same for the Rouge Factory tour, and then another whole day for the village. How wrong she was; We could have spent all day in the museum alone!

It was that good and had that much to see and do! Loads of interactive stuff, (obviously a misspent childhood!) over 100 cars through history, trains; including the 125 ft long Allegheny loco weighing over 600 tons and standing 16 ft high, a whole bunch of planes, bikes and agricultural machinery. There was the bus on which Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat for a white person. There was a circular, mobile one piece house from the 40s (it was called the Dymaxion house and was made from aluminium. It seemed like a good idea at the time but never actually sold due to prohibitive production costs). There were recontructed rooms through the decades showing the American way of life and all the fashions, fads and 'latest' technology. There was the limo which JFK was assasinated in, the chair in which Lincoln was sat when he was assassinated. There was a temporary display of 'rock stars and their cars and guitars' including John Lennon’s garish Rolls that we saw in The Royal BC Museum in Victoria; some tasty cars such as the ones ZZ Top used in their videos, and others like Marilyn Manson’s creation showing another side to fame and fortune.

The plan was to have lunch back at Harvey but there really was no time before the last factory tour so we stopped at the “Wiener Mobile” cafĂ© for a hotdog before jumping on our Variety Sunshine Club coach that took us the 15 minutes ride to the Ford Rouge Factory. For a start the place is HUGE! It's 2,000 acres and has a 110 miles of railroad tracks within the complex (making it the largest privately owned railway in the world!) (and that is the second piece of train trivia in one blog entry - just proving that I am a train spotters, sorry, steam train enthusiasts daughter at heart!). In the factory We watched the Ford F150, (which is one of those big gas guzzling American SUVs that everyone here absolutely needs!) being made from start to finish – each person on the production line gets 56 trucks pass them every hour. We then sat in a 360 degree cinema watching the whole process on a film to compare with any I-Max production; all very impressive! The factory employs some of the latest technology going and is working hard to be eco-friendly - it has the worlds largest 'living roof' on some of the factory buildings (a small succulent looking plant that carpets the roof keeping temps 10 degrees cooler in summer and 10 degrees warmer in winter - thus being fuel efficient.) It also has huge skylights which apparently cuts lighting bills by up to 50%! It has porous parking lots which soak up rainwater, filters it and drains into wetlands which have been replanted in the surrounding area and they use paint fumes and convert them into energy and all sorts of other interesting, funky eco-friendly things! As well as all the nifty modern tenchology the Rouge Plant is listed on the National Register of Historic Places - it is the original plant that Henry Ford built. Slightly ironic then that they make some of the most, (and probably more than most) uneconomical vehicles on the planet!!!

We’re now sat back in another Walmart in the heat of a beautiful evening – so much for the summer having left us! Tomorrow we’re going back to 'do' the Greenfield village part of the museum complex...

Friday, September 14, 2007

Sleeping Bear Dunes & WINE!

After some indecision over whether we headed down the east or west shorelines of Michigan we plumped for the west - the Lake Michigan shore. The lake is pretty well known for it's great sandy shores and dunes...lots of dunes! Have spent the last 3 nights staying at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It's very sandy and very nice. Busy hiking some nice trails and with our one good day of weather we were out on the motorbike travelling round the Leelanau Peninsula - one of Michigans wine regions (and yes we do sniff them out!). Stopped for some obligatory tasting and purchasing. Including a 'special edition' wine from the Ciccone Winery (owned and operated by Madonna's dad - the special edition commemorating her latest studio album with a fancy picture of her on the label and a numbered bottle!) Also discoved the MOST yummy breakfast place which rivals any Denny's diner (sorry Dennys! still love you really) - the Omelette Shop in Traverse City. After dubiously ordering a hash brown 'casserole' I wasn't sure what I was expecting (something in a sauce?! - but it was listed as a breakfast dish) It was hash browns, egg, onion, bacon and ham all mushed together and baked into a loaf shape and topped with cheese and grilled. It was loaf like in as much as you cut off the next mouthful and was just THE BEST! (We actually had to go back 2 days later and order the same thing!)

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The Michigan UP

We've left Wisconsin behind and have travelled north into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan - the 'UP'. It's a quaint, quiet place and we've travelled along the shore of Lake Michiagan staying at State Parks along the way. In Mastinique we visited the nearby Palms Book SP, home to the Kitch-iti-kipi (made up name of course!!). It's a rather large natural spring, bubbling up through the ground at a whopping 10,000 gallons a minute. It's 45ft deep and 100ft across and the water is astonishingly clear. They've built a wooden self propelled raft which you winch out on a cable across the spring. In the middle of the raft there's a roof to cut down on sun glare on the water and you can look down into the water. You can quite clearly see the swirl of the sand at the bottom where the water comes through and there's a whole bunch of healthy large fish. It's just a shame its not a natural HOT spring. In fact the constant temperature of the water is a somewhat fresh 45 degrees! It doesn't freeze and it doesn't warm in the summer - just a constant 45 degrees - brrrrr!

The UP is also 'famous' for it's pasties. Yes, real, live CORNISH PASTIES!! We had to sample them and I have to say they were pretty darn good. Obviously this was beacuse they ARE the real thing - brought over by the Cornish miners that settled in the Northern parts of Michigan (although when we get back to UK I might have to have an Ivor Dwedney pasty in Plymouth just to compare!!)

We got all the way to the Mackinac Straits - the channel of water separating the 2 peninsulas of Michigan. It is linked by the Mackinac Bridge - the worlds 3rd longest suspension bridge at 5 miles long. It celebrated it's 50th anniversary this year - prior to that people travelling between the lower and upper peninsulas had waits of up to 18 hours for the ferry service on holiday weekends!!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bobby Le Marche and USA's Patriotism

Well today I was mightily impressed with the American patriotism and the whole “Support Our Troops” loyalty thing; we passed through a town called Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan having seen a sign on a fence saying “Welcome Home Bobby”. I assumed it was someone called Bobby from that household who was maybe coming back from Iraq or something. A few miles later we were driving through a smaller town called Wells and there were even more of the same signs including electronic ones outside hotels and businesses; the type normally used for advertising. Anyway, we stopped for gas and I asked the guy there what it was all about; it turns out it’s some guy called Bobby Le Marche returning from Iraq who's paralysed after getting shot, and he’s returning home this afternoon so they’re asking people to put our yellow ribbons and come out to welcome him home. So we hang around and about two hours later than planned there’s this cacophony of sirens and vehicle horns coming from some way away. When it gets closer we see fire and EMT trucks and police cruisers all with their lights and sirens going, military Hummers and trucks from the local National Guard barracks, and literally hundreds of bikes all in this huge convoy for this guy. And just a young local ‘nobody’ (till now anyway) guy, not some big wig or anything! Talk about bringing a lump to my throat; why couldn’t they do something like that in the UK? Everyone would be too busy or embarrassed to come out and cheer some guy on who’d done that bit more than his duty for his country! A very touching moment.

Happy Laptop Day!

Today has been a good day. And all because of an insurance company....yes hard to believe. I would like to sing the praises of Progressive Insurance. They are amazing!! After breaking the laptop a few weeks back we claimed on the RV insurance to get a new one. Talk about efficient. A few phone calls and we were told to go buy a new one and take the receipt to the local office where they'd reimburse us. One short visit to the office in Green Bay (As we were passing through) today and we left with a cheque for the full amount (less $50 deductible) in hand!. I just can't beleive it was that easy! UK insurance companies could learn a thing or two from these guys. So the rest of today has been spent playing and transfering data and files. It's all taking its time added to which I'm on a steep learning curve since the new laptop is running Windows Vista...the jury is out on this at the moment. If I don't blog for a while it could be because I've thrown the thing out the window in frustration (OK maybe not - not my new gorgeous glossy white baby!) Happy Day :-)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Goodbye Summer

Yes this weekend has been Labor Day here. The 'official end of summer'. And after a brilliant day out today we rode home. The roads were quiet, the shops shut up, motels and B&B's deserted, and there was a twinge of sadness that this was the end. Not for us - we aren't going back to school after the summer vacation tomorrow, neither are we back to work tomorrow after the long weekend but the atmosphere was there and I was affected. It just seemed so SAD. After having driven out round the peninsula the last few days it's been buzzing with people, everywhere was busy and the sun has been shining. But purely down to a date on the calender it's the 'end of summer' The people have gone but the sun's still shining. I feel like we're the last ones to leave the party. In England we don't seem to have this same 'defined' summer season - no, we just grab every last ray of sunshine we can get ahold of and milk it (Even if it is November!). It's more noticeable here in the Northern States. A lot of business are advertising their reduced hours starting this week - many only open for the weekend now. Several hotels were already closed for tonight (taking a break after their hectic weekend?) and restaurants were quiet as we cruised on by. And the campground - as we turned the corner on our 'road' we were the ONLY ones left (it was full when we left this morning!). Ah, and so to summer - we shall raise our glasses and salute a fine season!! Goodbye summer 2007.

But today we did have a GREAT day out! We rode to the tip of the peninsula on the motorbike and caught a ferry over to Washington Island. A 7 mile ride got us from one side to the opposite and there we parked the bike and took ANOTHER ferry over to Rock Island State Park (it's a Wisconsin state park right - you KNOW it's gonna be good!!) It's a 900 acre island that is inaccessible to motorised vehicles. Just pure, natural nothing! Very peaceful, just us, a handful of other day trippers and some deer crashing through the woods (they were making the most noise!). We hiked round the 6 mile loop around the shoreline. Stopping at the old turn of the century (the one before last!) lighthouse and visited the restored keepers cottage (we've been to a few lighthouses lately on the Great lakes and I have to say - they had SERIOUSLY nice houses - huge, and inevitably GREAT views!) There was also a beautiful stretch of sand dunes and sandy beach. Took a quick dip in Lake Michigan before heading back to the ferry dock to catch the last boat home.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Door County

Right now we're in the most popular park in the state - Peninsula State Park in Door County. Door County apparently gets likened to New England - all the cutsey, quaint fishing villages and shoreline. We can't really comment not having been to New England but it certainly is pretty. The park and campgournd are cycling distance from one of the nicest of the said quaint fishing villages - Fish Creek. One of the last remaining drive-in movie theatres in the state is here and tonight we drove right on in (in the RV!!), parked up at the back and watched 'Hairspray'. This is a new remake of an old film, set in the 60's and what with all the 60's music (its a musical) it seemd the perfect film to be wathcing at the drive-in!! So American - why did these never catch on in England? I had a deprived childhood!!

Wisconsin is also known as 'America's Dairyland' and well known for it's 'cheeseheads' - well they can't make cheese for toffee (ahhh - do miss a good English cheddar!) but not bad for 'frozen custard' (Which seems to be all the rage round here) - like a super-smooth softie ice-cream with a faint hint of custard/vanilla taste - mmmmm!