Mes Amies City

I've decided that my "friends" page should be updated. I still have friends, and not just friends from my wedding (as this page was created around). This page is devoted to my get-togethers with my friends. Since no one lives in the same town anymore, a get-together is quite an adventure (and thus worthy of a posting). Below are the tales from my last three trips with Jen, Fran, and Kim. And I would like to point out that yes, I saw Dub and Vanessa in Peru but since that trip is long-windedly detailed in St. Travelsburg, I didn't have the heart to pull it over to this "town."

June 11-15, 2006 - Mackinac Island Migration
Every year, my high school friends and I get together... someplace. Last year it was Savannah, GA. This year was Mackinac Island, MI. This year, we changed the mode of transportation (for three out of the four of us, that is). While discussing where we wanted to go this year, I, in the thrills of anticipation of owning my first convertible (the Mini had been ordered but had yet to arrive), suggested the thrilling "road trip." What fun it would be to drive across the country with the top down, sun blazing on our faces, wind wiping through our hair. And when the Mini arrived, it became quite clear that the thrill would be overshadowed by cramped legs, sore muscles, and overcrowded laps filled with all of our suitcases. The Mini would be comfortable for two people, but certainly not all four of us. And there would be no way we could fit all of our luggage into the Mini. Still, the thought of a road trip in the convertible for at least two of us was an exhilarating thought, albeit fleeting...

Fran flew into Minneapolis on the morning of Saturday, June 10th. Jen and Kim were driving from Jen's family's lake cabin and were due to arrive sometime in the mid-afternoon. Poor Jen had awakened that morning to what she thought was food poisoning. Kim drove them to my house.  Once all together in my little house and upon surveying the amount of luggage we had, it became clear that two cars were going to be needed for this road trip. Little Pip would get his first big drive of his little Mini life. We jammed our luggage into our cars, squeezing a couple of things into Pip and piling most of it into Jen's car. And then we took off like a flash. Well, a small flash. Well, a turtle flash. We quickly met up with construction that took a 4 lane highway down to 1 lane through St. Paul. It took us about 45 minutes to get east of the city. But then we were off like a flash!

Fran had printed off maps and was my navigator. Since she knew the way, we got to be lead car. Our maps were taking us clear straight across the middle of Wisconsin and then up a very windy road along the bay to St. Ignace, MI. The part across the middle of Wisconsin would be boring. The part of the windy road along the bay would be excruciatingly long.

And even though it was June, it was unseasonably cold so Pip's top stayed up. Our trip began with one party down with a bout of food poisoning, ridiculous traffic, and a convertible stymied by cold temperatures.

We drove for about 4 and a half hours. When darkness hit, we stopped at Shawano, which is about 2/3 of the way through the middle part of Wisconsin. In the morning, we discovered that our room overlooked the race track below. If we had only checked into our hotel an hour sooner, we would have had a prime viewing of the races that night.

The six hour drive to St. Ignace (our ferry point) was pretty uneventful. Fran and I wondered how Wisconsin came to name their county roads. They were letters - County Road A, County Road Q - but they were not in alphabetical order nor did they represent all of the letters. And for no imaginable reason, the letters were doubled or tripled - County Road MMM or Country Road RR. Where was County Road AA? Surely, before you could have County Road RR, you must have County Road AA, right? And Fran and I also wondered how expensive speed signs must be because once we entered Michigan, there were none to be seen. We assumed the speed on this single lane, windy bay road was 55 but we were never told. There was a sign telling us that we had entered the Eastern time zone, but our cell phones told us that 20 minutes prior to that sign.

Once in St. Ignace, Pip was left alone in a dusty parking lot for the week. No cars were allowed on Mackinac Island, no matter how small and cute. The island is known for two things - a car ban and fudge. Not that those two have anything in common (although I suppose if you eat as much fudge as the island produces, you probably should walk or bike everywhere). There are no cars, no motorcycles, no scooters - no motorized vehicles of any sort. Nothing that goes vroom vroom. And there are fudge shops every two feet on the main strip of the island.

We took the ferry over to the island, where we'd be staying for the next four nights. We opted not to sit on top. It was already a bit cold for me and we weren't even on a boat in the middle of a lake going 40 miles an hour. Once off the ferry, we walked onto the main street of the town. In wafts, fresh horse manure filled our nostrils. Since it was the height of the lilac festival, I was hoping the perfume of the purple and pink and white flowers would overwhelm the stench of the horses, but sadly, that was not the case. We walked to our hotel. Despite the absence of motorized vehicles, walking across the streets on the island was a bit more challenging than one would expect. While there are no cars, there are plenty of bikes that go zipping by, forgetting the pedestrians have the right of way. And if speeding bikes don't scare ya, the girth and cantor of horse drawn carts will. Those horses would sooner plow through you, if you got in their way, than go around. Dinner that evening would be the event for the night.

The next morning (Monday), we spent several hours touring Fort Mackinac. We had a lovely hike up to the fort (no stairs, just a gradual incline that seemed to never end). From the top, we looked down on the main square of the island, filled with blooming lilacs. We ate lunch at the Tea Room, which overlooked the square and harbor. Our ticket to the fort also got us admission to a number of other historical buildings around the island. We wandered to the Biddle House, the McGulpin house, and the American Fur Company Store. The Dr. Beaumont Museum was quite interesting. Dr. Beaumont did a lot of digestive experiments, mostly on a man who was shot in the stomach and the wound never healed. He was able to then drop food on a string directly into the man's stomach and pull the string out to analyze the contents on the string. He recorded how long various food items took to digest. Kinda creepy and cool at the same time.

On Tuesday we took a horse drawn taxi (the only kind of taxis on the island) up to the Grand Hotel. Once on the grounds, you must pay an admission fee (if you're not staying at the hotel) - an admission fee just to look around! We ate lunch at the Grand Hotel buffet ($35 each). I filled myself up with all sorts of cheeses and veggies... and desserts, of course. Probably not $35 worth, but it was an experience! Later, we toured the various gardens around the hotel. The map makes the grounds look far more expansive than they really are. We kept getting lost because it appeared to be a long walk between gardens (so we passed them and had to turn around) when they were really right on top of each other. We walked by several thinking, "That looks like XYZ, but it can't be so close!" The Labyrinth Garden was a cool concept. We expected it to be somewhat of a hedge maze. There wasn't much of a puzzle to it, however. A circular path rock garden is really what it amounted to be.

After our garden wanderings, we split into separate groups. Fran wanted to rent a "drive your own horse and buggy" but Jen wasn't too fond of big animals. She and Kim went on a bike ride around the island while Fran and I drove around the island... with a horse and cart. I got to "drive" the horse. I was a bit hesitant but the horse knew exactly what to do. She basically did what she wanted, because that's what she had been trained to do. At one point, I believe the horse scoffed at me. At one intersection, she stopped and looked directly back at me. I wanted to go straight. Apparently she had been trained to turn right at this intersection. She looked at me as if to say, "Seriously? Are you sure?"

Jen and I decided to be a bit daring on Wednesday. We got up bright and early, taking the ferry from the island to Mackinaw City. That's not the daring part. The daring part was when we paid a man to take us out on a perfectly good boat and then hoist us high in the sky, hovering over the boat and water. Six hundred feet above the boat and water. Jen and I went parasailing.

We hadn't planned on parasailing (well, that day we did, but when I packed in Minnesota, I packed nothing, no outfit, that would prove useful when parasailing). I wore regular pants, regular shirt (and a sweatshirt over that), and flip flops. Just before we left the hotel that morning, I plopped an extra pair of pants into my backpack, in case my pants got wet. I didn't know what to expect with takeoff and landings and I wasn't sure if I would get wet.

Our boat went out with another family - two brothers and their father. They, from their stories, had done a ton of daredevilish acts (sky diving, scuba diving, hang gliding). They were old hat at this sort of thing. They offered to let us, the ladies, go first, but thankfully the first mate had rigged the tandem pole to the parachute first. This meant that the boys, who were going up together, had to go first. Jen and I were going separately from each other, which was a different setup. I say thankfully because Jen and I were a bit confused by the captain's instructions. He made it seem like there were several things we needed to do in order to get ourselves up in the air. When the guys went up, we saw that there was nothing to it. And once we, too, were strapped in, it became very apparent that the parachute did all the work.

We decided (or perhaps I decided and Jen just went along with my wishes) to go up together. The equipment was all set up for two riders anyway, so why make more work for the crew? We sat down on the back of the boat (I'm sure there's some nautical term for it, but you get the idea), got strapped to a bar that was strapped to a parachute, and when the boat picked up some speed, the parachute dragged us off the boat and up, up, up into the air.

So how was it? Absolutely freezing. I shivered and shivered and shivered. This was northern Michigan in early June in the morning in the middle of Lake Michigan (actually, we were on the dividing line between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, I believe). It was cold. But it was also quite cool. Quite tranquil. And I'm glad I went up with someone else. We laughed, talked, pointed out things to each other, and took pictures of our chattering faces. Fran, 6 and a half months pregnant, was forced to remain in the boat. She took pictures. And then paid the captain to try to dunk us. Well, her story later was that she paid him to make it look like we were going to get dunked. It worked. It definitely looked like we were going to hit the water. I remember saying to Jen, "Hey, aren't we getting a little too close to the water?" They did it twice, once when we were a long ways from the boat (with the sinking feeling filling my stomach that we would have a long way to swim to the boat), and another when we were a few feet from the boat, presumably so they could see our expressions better and hear our concerned tones in our voices. :-)

We spent the rest of the day wandering around Mackinaw Island - touring the shops, playing on the beach.

Thursday wrapped up our stay on the island. Fran and I hit many of the different fudge shops. Jeff asked me to bring back fudge and bring back fudge I did. I got him many funky different kinds.

We took the ferry back from the island to St. Ignace. We stopped at the Mystery Spot, a few miles away. Unless you have small children and have good balance, I'd say skip it. The folklore of the site is much better than the actual site itself, and the folklore is much cheaper. It cost us $7 each to be swindled. Basically, it's a shack built on a 45 degree angle. Funky things happen to inertia, gravity, and all those other scientific terms when a body is forced to stand tilted. The folklore is that in the 1950s, some surveyors had trouble leveling their equipment on a plot of land due to some magnetic force field around the area. Okay, well, that doesn't sound too appealing either, but you two would be drawn in by the giant MYSTERY SPOT sign on the side of the road. Who doesn't love a good mystery? Particularly one that's a tourist trap...

We took Thursday afternoon and most of Friday to drive back to Minnesota. Jen and Kim would go on to Jen's lake cabin some three hours north of the Twin Cities while Fran would crash at my place until her flight Saturday afternoon. As Fran and I drove through Wisconsin (finally with the top down), we decided to keep a list of all the county road signs we saw. I don't think we saw every letter of the alphabet. We did, however, invent a game. When we saw a county road sign, we had to alternate naming words that began with that letter until we saw the next county road sign. For example, if we saw a sign for County Road F, I would say something that began with the letter F - like Frankenfurter. Fran's turn would be next. She would have to say another word that began with the letter F. Fruit Loops. Fool's Gold (me). Fossils (Fran). Flippers (me). Foccacia (Fran). Fabric softener (me). Facade (Fran). Fortitude (me). And that didn't change until we drove past the next county road. County Road M. Monkeys (Fran). Maniacal (me). Mayhem (Fran). What fun. :-)

So, that was our road trip to an island that didn't allow cars. We rode in horse drawn carriage. We ate fudge. Some of us froze.

Our next trip was decided Thursday night. We each wrote down names of places we'd like to visit on tiny pieces of paper. We placed these pieces of paper in my veggie burger's basket (sans veggie burger). We shuffled the basket until a piece of paper came flying out. We kept a tally of which ones flew out of the basket. The first one to two (best two out of three) won. We picked an alternate place, too. We learned that this was a must, after our last trip. We had originally picked New Orleans but when the hurricane hit, we had to choose another location (that was Savannah). The winner for next year - New Orleans. The alternate - Montreal. Both of these were Fran's ideas. Neither of mine (Cape Cod & Key West) EVER jumped out the basket. Hmph.

November 10-14, 2005 - Savannah Sight-Seeing
Every year (starting last year) my high school friends and I get together. We go somewhere other than where we all live. Last year we went to Solvang. This year, we picked New Orleans... and then re-thought that decision when the flood hit. Our alternate became Savannah, GA.

We picked this destination several months in advance. I fully intended to read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil but then November came upon me faster than I expected. I then decided to rent the movie instead of reading the book. If it worked for me in high school, I could certainly pull it off for a high school reunion. Unfortunately, I never made the time to do that, either, and entered in Savannah cold.

Well, entered into Savannah doesn't actually describe my trip. The flights had looked good a week before I left but the night before, Jeff spent several hours in front of the computer, trying to come up with a way to get me to Savannah. I ended up leaving on a lovely 7am flight, and still I managed nothing more than Coach. I arrived in Atlanta around 10:30 in the morning, and there I sat until six o'clock that night. There was a flight every hour and a half to Savannah and they all left, without me on them. I got to greet Fran when she arrived. And then I watched her board the plane without me. I greeted Kim when she arrived. And then I watched her board the plane without me. If Jen had come through Atlanta, I would have watched her board her plane, too, without me.

Finally, I admitted defeat and booked a hotel room close to the airport. I had my laptop with me and had purchased wireless connection when I had arrived at the Atlanta airport. I was able to put in a full day's worth of work, albeit 1500 miles away. Later on, I would discover that I could have taken a bus to Savannah for only a 1/3 of what the hotel room cost me (and the bus left straight from the airport). A note for future travels.

Fran, Jen, and Kim all made it to Savannah Thursday afternoon. I arrived bright and early Friday morning. I had my trusty travel book with me and decided that it would be fun to say that we had visited all of Savannah's squares. There was some debate as to how many there actually were. I had read 21; Fran had read 23; and still another report counted 24. We would, eventually, discover that several of the squares didn't exist anymore (but we did go to 2 of them that had been torn down).

Each square is completely different. No two are alike! Some had monuments in the center; some had fountains; some were very floral; some were just green space and nothing more. We did discover that a few of them had a square and a monument/statue... but that their monument was in someone else's square. I found that odd. I guess that's a way to prevent too much Oglethorpe and prevent Pulaski overload.

In addition to seeing all 21/23/24 squares, I also wanted to see the Mercer House (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil) and have a mint julep. Also, Savannah is reportedly one of the most haunted cities. There were a ton of ghost tours to take.

The first inn we stayed at was the Forsyth Park Inn. I had seen something on the Travel channel about it so I was very happy to say "I'm in" when Fran suggested we stay there. It had ghosts... and, once I got there, also discovered they had cats (real ones, not ghosts). One enjoyed sitting on my lap during breakfast and I felt quite at home.

We did get to see all of the squares. We did get to see the Mercer House. We did go on a ghost walking tour at night, in the dark. We didn't see any ghosts, whether at our Inn or on the tour. Jen seemed to make an enemy of the local squirrels and each time we walked through a wooded square, she was pelted with an acorn. No one else got beaned in the head. Just Jen. Although you may be thinking to yourself that her misfortune was due to coincidence or poor timing, let me relate this story that will change your mind: As we took a taxi from one hotel to the other, Jen sat in the passenger's seat while the rest of us sat in the back. An acorn came flying through the driver's side window (as the taxi was in motion), ricocheted off the inside of the windshield, smacked Jen square in the noggin, and then flew back out the passenger's side window. She had made a squirrel enemy somehow.

We stayed at the Forsyth for two nights (well, everyone else did; I merely was there for one night). We then switched to the other side of town and stayed at the River Street Inn, which was, you guessed it, on the river. Our balcony had a lovely view of the river and all the boats chugging up and down it. With the balcony door closed, we could hear nothing down below - no horns, no music, no commotion (River Street is incredibly busy).

Fran wanted to eat at the Lady and Sons, which is owned by Paula Dean. If you watch the Food channel (and I think PBS), you may have watched her show. She's a southern lady (obviously) whose cooking involves bacon fat and meat. Okay, so if you're not a vegetarian, you probably haven't honed in on that fact.

We did get to eat at the Lady and Sons, after standing in line for a half hour to put our name on the list. We got 9:30 PM "reservations." It's an incredibly popular place. When you walk up to the entrance, you notice an incredibly long line snaking down the sidewalk. You then see that it is moving quite fast and become relieved. This line isn't the line to get in; it's the line for the possibility of getting in. If you get in line early enough during the day, you can make a reservation for dinner that night, and hope to make the cutoff. We barely did.

The restaurant is buffet style (or you can order off the menu). I looked at the trays and decided I could find enough to eat. There was some creamed corn, some macaroni and cheese (I love homemade macaroni and cheese) and some collard greens. There were some other things, too, but that was what caught my eye. All the other veggies had chunks of meat swimming around with them. I picked up the serving spoon and fished through the collard greens.  I was excited to try collard greens, something a bit southern.  It looked veggie. I was wrong. A few minutes after eating some collard greens, my stomach did all sorts of flippity flops. Fran asked the waitress if there was meat in it and sure enough, it simmers with a ham hock. For the rest of the evening, I kept laughing "Paula Dean poisoned me!" Darn southern people making veggies non-vegetarian! It was still a good adventure. The restaurant is three floors, with seating for about 350. It was packed from opening to closing (and we would know about closing because we closed the place down). One nice thing is that you get dessert with the buffet!

On our last night in Savannah, Fran and I tried Mint Juleps. I figured they would be sweet and simple, kind of like the image I had of the old southern belles who drank them. They were anything but! I did finish mine because I was bound and determined not to be out drunk by a belle! It's like a Mojito, except with whiskey instead of rum. Fran and I switched to Mojitos after that.

Fran and I went home Monday afternoon. I was fortunate enough to get on a Delta plane to Cincinnati, even though there were three people ahead of me on the stand-by list and there was only one seat left. Two were a couple who didn't want to be split up. The gate attendant called the next person on the list. After a minute when he didn't show up, he looked at me and gave me the last seat on a teeny CRJ. I was happy to have it.

December 30-January 2, 2004-2005 - Solvang Stint
For what will hopefully be an annual get-together, old friends from high school Kim, Jen, and Fran all met me in Solvang, CA. I had originally sent out a list of "fun" places to meet. Napa Valley was one of them. Fran had heard about Solvang, which is less touristy than Napa and a lot more Danish. We all decided on this as our location.

We spent a lot of the time wandering through the many shops in Solvang. We spent a lot of time at the wine tasting shops, too. If you went to five different wine tastings, you were entered in a chance to wine some bottles of wine. I believe Fran and I made it to 5, Jen to 4, and Kim to 3.

Solvang has a little tribute to Hans Christen Andersen - a statue, a museum, and a replica of his house. We saw it all!

Just before we arrived in Solvang, California ventured into its rainy season, which includes floods, landslides, and road closings. Solvang was a bit cold (but warmer than Minnesota) and slightly rainy. When a rain storm broke out, it made for a nice excuse to duck into a wine tasting or a quaint little shop.

For anyone who has seen the movie Sideways, it would behoove you to note that a lot of it takes place in Solvang. I didn't know this about the movie and saw if after we returned from our trip. I had fun pointing out continuity errors ("You can't go from point A to B like that!").