What I Did On My Summer Vacation

October 1, 2009

I know, I know, I’ve been a very delinquent blogger, but no more.  I resolve to do much better.

We ended our vacation in the same city we began it, Las Vegas.  The entire holiday had been planned around being in Las Vegas on our tenth anniversary.  We had long planned to renew our vows in Vegas, just so we could say we’d done it.

I’m not sure how a vow renewal announcement should go, but lets give it a try.

Courtesy of The Little Church of the West

Courtesy of The Little Church of the West

Duncan and Jennifer Routledge are pleased to announce that they are still married after all these years.

We had our choice of venues in Las Vegas, as I’m sure you can guess.  We chose to go with the original.  Back in 1942, The Little Church of the West was the first wedding chapel on, what would become, the Las Vegas strip.  It has been the location of many celebrity weddings and is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.  Anywhere else, a venue with these credentials would cost you a fortune but in Vegas, where there’s a chapel in every self-respecting hotel, it’s very reasonable.

The bride looked lovely in a bespoke taffeta number taken from the 1957 Vogue archives and embellished with feathers, ribbons and sparkle.  I’m very fortunate to be one of the few people left, in North America, who keeps a seamstress on retainer.  Her name is Caroline.  She runs Tailorfit and does alterations and dress making from her home.  She dreams of someday having a website I can link to.

Our wedding cake - a tower of Krispy Kreme doughnuts

Our wedding cake - a tower of Krispy Kreme doughnuts

We took full advantage of our destination wedding (renewal) local by zipping off to Paris to have our dinner in the Eiffel Tower while watching the Bellagio fountain show from the windows.  The Eiffel Tower restaurant was very fancy, but they didn’t mind Liam being there as he was in a little tux and happened to be very well behaved while we were there.  Duncan figured our attire was winning us respectability.  Maybe.

Las Vegas is everything you’d hope it would be.  Bright lights, huge hotels, over-the-top shows, casinos, food and glitz.  For some reason the whole city smells like hotdogs.  Every hotel takes you into a different world.  Naturally, if you’re looking for seedy underbelly Vegas has that too.  You could easily short-circuit on the sensory overload.

It’s a great city, with so much more than gambling on offer.  We were there for days and between the two of us, we were down $7.00.  We were too busy having fun to linger in the casino.

From Las Vegas it’s easy to arrange trips to The Hoover Dam and Death Valley.  Duncan enjoyed seeing The Hoover Dam, Liam and I did not.  It was screaming hot that day and I already knew about as much about hydroelectric dams as I ever wanted to.  Duncan was disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it.  Maybe next time I’ll take him on a guided tour of a shopping mall to return the favour.

Death Valley, on the other hand, was a real experience but I’ll save that for next time.

Just a Quick Update

September 5, 2009

Our Tom Tom died died, piece of crap crap that it was.  It prompted an emergency trip to WalMart for a new GPS receiver.

We spent the better part of the day driving up Pacific Coast Highway 1.  It was gob smackingly beautiful.  Many times so-called scenic drives end up being a disappointment, but this was honestly some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen.  We saw mountains, the ocean, vineyards and wild elephant seals.  It was so, so worth the drive.

We are staying in the Hilton in San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley.  I love staying with Hilton.  It’s always a cut above the average.  Liam was a very good boy to sit patiently in the car all day so he was rewarded with a swim in the hotel pool.  I used the fitness room so we all had some exercise to work off the Carl’s Jr we had for supper.

We’re off to San Francisco today.  I’ll update again in a few days.

A Postcard From The Road

September 4, 2009
Venice Beach

Venice Beach

Hello from Santa Monica!

We’re having a great time.  The flight went well.  Liam did his very best to be patient but came to hate the seatbelt light above his head.  When we finally got off the plane he just kept giggling and exclaiming “We did it!  We did it!”

We’re zipping around the west coast in a brand new Ford Focus.  It’s a good little car.  It’s big enough for us and our luggage but still small enough to be really good on gas; which is good because they apparently don’t like to sell gas to foreigners.  Never mind, I’m just griping.

We spent our first night it Las Vegas.  What an amazing city!  It’s just a complete sensory overload.  I just about short-circuited.  We stayed at the New York New York Hotel and Casino.  It was an absolutely massive hotel, but every hotel on the Vegas strip is an absolutely massive hotel.

The next morning we got up and headed straight to LA.  Actually, we headed straight into an hour long traffic jam.  That was awful.  Once we were free of the traffic jam we just kept following the wild fire smoke into California and fought traffic the whole way to Santa Monica.  Duncan was very annoyed that California drivers don’t reserve the left lane for passing.  He kept muttering away about the lack of lane discipline.

Needless to say, I was more than ready for a beach day yesterday.  I had a headache I just couldn’t shake and I needed to relax.  We spent the day at Venice beach.  The beach is so peaceful and relaxing, it gives you no indication of the wackiness you encounter once you hit the street.  I’ll tell you all about it when we get back.

Today we went into Hollywood and did the Hollywood tourist stuff.  Liam was terrified by a guy in a Darth Vader costume on Hollywood Blvd.  He’s still talking about it.

Anyway, I’ll post pictures and more details later.  Tomorrow we’re going for a very long, scenic drive along the coast from LA to Santa Clara.  It should be good, as long as Liam takes a nap.

Announcing a Temporary Format Change

August 30, 2009

That’s right; we’re leaving the trailer behind to go explore the Left Coast.  I’m not about to start another blog for our escapades without our ‘cottage on wheels’.  I’m just going to post it all right here and save everyone, namely me, a lot of hassle. This is, fundamentally, a travel blog after all.  For the next little while I’ll be blogging about a different kind of travel; the kind of travel where you fly and stay in hotels instead of a pop-up trailer.

We leave tomorrow and fly from Buffalo, New York to the bright lights of Las Vegas, Nevada.  You can expect to hear from me in a day or two.  I’ll do my best to keep you up to date.

Anyway, I’m very busy and important so I’ll talk to you all later.

New and Improved Cookin’ Link

August 27, 2009

I’m pleased to finally cut the ribbon on the new link:  Campsite Cookin’!

Applause!  Applause!

Campsite Cookin’ differs from the original link, Campfire Cookin’ in its format, appearance and expanded mandate.  Campsite Cookin’ won’t focus exclusively on campfire cookery.  It will deal with all sorts of different cooking methods, food novelties and the challenges inherent to wilderness food preparation.  It’s my hope that this link will be an easily searchable compendium of recipes, tips and advice for the al fresco chef.

The link to Campfire Cookin’ has been eliminated and replaced with the new link.  If you’re looking for an old post, you’ll be happy to know that I moved everything over to Campsite Cookin’ before I hit the ‘Delete Page’ button.

As always, feel free to post comments and suggestions.  I look forward to your feedback!

Wally Bronner, You’re My Hero

August 21, 2009

Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland is to me, what Tiffany’s was to Holly Golightly.  “Nothing bad could ever happen to you there.”

Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland

Bronner's CHRISTmas Wonderland

You can walk through the doors of the world’s biggest Christmas store, on a hot day in August, and drift away into a holiday haze.  A soundtrack of your favourite Christmas tunes follows you as you meander your way through two-football fields worth of sparkling, glittering ornaments, trees, and trimmings.

This was our second visit to Mr. Bronner’s masterpiece and this time I had a plan.  The first time we shopped at Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland we were overwhelmed by the magnitude of the place.  The number and variety of ornaments is dazzling.  Every interest or occupation or motif you can think of, Bronner’s will have an ornament to suit.  Prior to this trip, I visited the website and honed in on my areas of interest.  Like last year, we went into our shopping trip with the intent to each purchase one special ornament.  This year, Duncan got a log cabin with a red roof, because it looked a bit like our house.  Liam debated between a sparkly elephant and a John Deere Tractor.  In the end he chose the tractor.  I got a pop-up trailer and had it customized to say Cottage On Wheels on the top.

Cottage On Wheels

Cottage On Wheels

Not Sure if it's Daddy or Not

Not Sure if it's Daddy or Not

They have, pretty well, everything you might want for Christmas; including Santa suits.  Duncan went behind a shelving unit and came out wearing a Santa hat and beard.  Liam wasn’t sure what to think.  It was as if he was almost sure it was Daddy, but didn’t want to trust his intuition.  As soon as Duncan took the costume off, Liam thought it was tremendously funny.

When we got back to the trailer Liam grabbed his favourite blanky (also John Deere) and stuck it in his mouth so it spilled down like a beard.  He announced, “look Mommy, I’m blanky Santa”.  Very imaginative, I thought.

Blanky Santa

Blanky Santa

Year Round Christmas Displays @ Bronner's

Year Round Christmas Displays @ Bronner's

We were staying at Jellystone Park, right across the road from Bronner’s, so once it was dark; we went back over to see the Christmas light display that’s set up year round.  The lights and displays were lovely and fun to see in shorts and a tee shirt.  We had the dog with us that time and she was thrilled.  She was absolutely positive that the sheep in the nativity were real.  She had to investigate and give them a good sniff.  Eventually she joined the nativity herself.  I’m fairly sure there was a small black and white dog by the manger when Jesus was born…can’t rule it out anyway.  When she realized that she couldn’t herd the sheep she got bored and we left.  No harm done.

An Addition to the Display

An Addition to the Display

I’m already planning our next shopping trip.  I’m going to need a shot of Christmas next summer too.

Don’t Forget Your Pic-A-Nic Basket Boo Boo

August 20, 2009
Posing with Yogi

Posing with Yogi

Have you ever wanted to take a vacation in one of your favourite cartoons?  Try this on for size.

We spent two nights at Frankenmuth Jellystone Park, which is part of the Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resorts chain.  This was the first experience I’ve had with this chain of parks.  Actually, it was the first I’ve heard of this chain of parks.  There are more than 70 Jellystone Park locations but only 5 of them are in Canada, the rest are in the U.S.  I guess that’s why I was so clueless.

At $55 a night, it was a little pricey for a campground but, in exchange for the extra ten bucks, you’re getting a great location.  Jellystone is right across the road from the world’s largest Christmas store and is, literally, walking distance to downtown Frankenmuth.  You don’t get that kind of convenience at most campgrounds.

I’m not going to lie to you; taken at face value, the campsites are very small.  Had the park been full, I think the sites would have been untenably small.  As it was, however, even on a weekend at the height of camping season, the staff was able to space the campers out with two or three sites between them and never backed one pop-up directly behind another.  This gave everyone plenty of space.  I’m actually getting used to the fact that most vacation parks have smaller campsites than government parks.  As long as everyone respects each other, it works out fine.

The park has a variety of amenities including a fantastic mini-golf course, a playground, free wi-fi, and a fantastic store with all sorts of cool souvenirs.  There’s a snack bar serving hot food and ice cream.  The park shows Yogi Bear cartoons in the morning and family friendly movies in the evening.  There’s a recreation hall where there are crafts and activities planned everyday.  Yogi himself can be spotted in the park at different times through the day and there are Yogi statues scattered around, just begging to be posed with.

Liam loved the indoor pool and declared that he “can swim now”.  His father and I disagree.  I’d call it floating around in a PFD holding onto Daddy for dear life.  He’s obviously becoming more comfortable with the water, though.  He’s doing just fine for a two year old.

Look!  You're Floating!

Look! You're Floating!

Here’s a heads up about an unusual rule.  There’s a Frankenmuth city ordinance that requires a campsite fire be contained in a fireplace that is one foot off the ground.  The flames cannot exceed two feet high.  If you don’t have a fireplace and you’d still like a fire, there are community fire pits, in the park, that can be shared among the campers.  Fires must be extinguished by 11:00 p.m.

There really isn’t much I can criticize about Frankenmuth Jellystone Park.  The staff made sure we had a good time.  I can’t say enough about how friendly and welcoming they were at Jellystone.  There’s no shortage of things to do without ever leaving the park and when it’s time to go site seeing you’re a hop, skip and a jump away from everything Frankenmuth has to offer.

Now that I know about the Jellystone chain I’ll be on the lookout for them.

Frankenmuth: Michigan’s Little Bavaria

August 18, 2009

Frankenmuth is home to the all-you-can eat fried chicken dinner.  It’s impossible to leave that town with a healthy digestive system.  I love it there, but it’s probably a good thing we only go once a year.

The Cottage Crew @ Zehnder's Restaurant

The Cottage Crew @ Zehnder's Restaurant

That's Some Good Lookin' Chicken

That's Some Good Lookin' Chicken

There are a couple of popular spots, in Frankenmuth, for family style all-you-can-eat dinners.  The gang from the cottage reconvened at Zehnder’s Restaurant.  It’s a good idea to wear you’re Thanksgiving pants if you’re going there.  Zehnder’s is the largest, family owned, restaurant in America with seating for 1,500 people.  They had no problem accommodating our group of eleven.  The service was friendly and fast and the food was delicious, as always.  We sat there and ate for two solid hours.  I got the chicken sweats a couple of times, but it was so good.

The next day, Duncan, Liam and I tried the competition across the street.  The Bavarian Inn Restaurant was comparable to Zehnder’s in price, menu, quality and service.  I got the impression Zehnder’s is more likely to accommodate a large group.  I believe both restaurants are actually owned by the Zehnder family…but don’t quote me on that.  The meal was good but as it was our second all-you-can-eat dinner in as many days; I ruptured something important and had to stop eating, or die.  I did get to hear Eleanor Rigby on an accordion, though.

Covered Bridge in Frankenmuth

Covered Bridge in Frankenmuth

Now, there’s more to Frankenmuth than the food.  It’s not called Michigan’s Little Bavaria for nothin’.  The architecture and style of the whole city is reminiscent of a German fairy tail.  It’s very tempting to lose yourself in the whimsy of it all.  Some of the town’s highlights include (but are not limited to) a covered bridge, a glockenspiel and innumerable shops, hotels and businesses all built with the Bavarian aesthetic in mind.

The Frankenmuth Clock Company is a great place to stop and examine the craftsmanship that goes into making a good cuckoo clock.  It’s also a funny and noisy place on the hour.

Cuckoo Clocks

Cuckoo Clocks

The Kids Watching the Riverboat on the Cass River

The Kids Watching the Riverboat on the Cass River

If quaint modes of transportation are your thing, you may be interested in taking a cruise on the Bavarian Belle Riverboat or in taking a horse-drawn carriage ride down Main Street.  I haven’t done the carriage ride, but we did do the Bavarian Bell last year.  It was cool because I was able to cross ‘ride a riverboat’ off the list of things I wanted to do in life.

Whether you’re shopping for fancy cheese, fresh fudge or a pair of lederhosen, Frankenmuth has it all.  But, if you’re not tired of shopping, it’s only a short trip to the Prime Outlets at Birch Run.  The outlet centre is home to over 140 stores all prepared to set you up with some bargains.  You can spend a whole day there…if your husband will let you.

I know you’ve noticed that I haven’t said a word about Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland.  That’s because it’s too awesome to talk about now.  I’ll tell you all about it later.  I’ll also let you in on the pros and cons of Frankenmuth Jellystone Park.  All in good time my friends.

Cottage in Cheboygan

August 17, 2009

Putting three small children together in a cottage was harder than anyone expected.  They weren’t good at sharing but they were good at screaming.  We heard a lot of screaming.  There was so much screaming.  All hope of a relaxing cottage getaway was dashed with the first shriek of “No!  It’s mine!”  We adults spent the trip chasing kids and dogs but I guess that’s what parents are for.

Huntin' for Critters

Huntin' for Critters

The best strategy was to keep the kids busy.  Uncle Fred went hunting for critters and came up a winner.  He caught a frog, which the kids were thrilled with, and came very close to catching a snake.  Snakes are mighty quick!

Three Kids Staring @ a Frog in a Bucket

Three Kids Staring @ a Frog in a Bucket

They played with trains and Play-Doh and bubbles; all of which kept them busy and fighting with each other.  They did behave pretty well on our shopping trips to Wal-Mart.  The best place in all of Cheboygan is the Wal-Mart Supercenter; groceries and bargains under one roof.

We cooked together and shared the cost of food, feasting on such childhood delicacies as hotdogs, Kraft Dinner and Hamburger Helper.  We don’t regularly eat that way, but it was a yummy retrospective on the food I loved as a kid.

The grown-ups got some down-time in the evening, when the kids fell asleep.  We played a bunch of games of both the board and video persuasion.  We managed enough time to work in, among other things, a six hour game of Risk and a complete round-robin Bomberman tournament.

Just Look @ the Concentration as They Battle Through the Bomerman Final

Just Look @ the Concentration as They Battle Through the Bomberman Final

Frolicking in the Water

Frolicking in the Water

I think the best day for adults and kids alike, was the day we went to the beach at Cheboygan State Park.  The kids had fun running around, playing in the sand and splashing in the water.  The big boys had fun digging a big hole.  They called it an engineering project, to make it seem like they were doing something more important than they really were.  The beach, on Duncan Bay in Lake Huron, was lovely and sandy with nice, clear warm water that stayed shallow quite a distance out.  It costs $8.00 for an out of state car to enter the day use area but we found a public road that ended 200 metres away from the beach, so we parked for free and walked in.

That's Some Big Hole!  Well Done.

That's Some Big Hole! Well Done.

After the beach, we were all out of ideas and the kids were still at each other’s throats.  We decided to call it quits at the cottage and head down to Frankenmuth for some shopping and chicken.

The Cottage Crew

The Cottage Crew

The cottage is beautiful and in a lovely and private location.  Maybe next year the kids will get along better and everyone will be able to relax.  It was a good idea to spend an extra day in Frankenmuth, anyway.  I’ll tell you about our stay there next time.

Funny Things I Saw in Michigan

August 16, 2009

This afternoon, I was going through the material I’ve set aside from our time in Michigan.  I was mulling it over, and pondering the blog posts to come, when I noticed that there are a number of pictures that won’t be included in the blog, without going off on a tangent.  They are, never the less, funny and worth sharing.  If I didn’t include them, in one way or another, I would be sad; so here they are.

DSC01236cropI’ve done my best to upload this picture as clearly as possible, but you still won’t be able to read most of the bumper stickers.  I will, therefore, list them off for you.

  1. Out of a job yet?  Keep buying foreign
  2. Never Surrender  Vote McCain
  3. I’ll keep my Money, my Freedom and my Guns.  You can keep the “Change”
  4. A skull in an army helmet (picture)

There were a few others that I either didn’t understand or couldn’t make out, but you get the idea.  The vehicle’s owner seems to have some very strong feelings about a number of issues.  I have taken the liberty of erasing the licence plate so he doesn’t feel a need to hunt me down.

DSC01237 cropI developed a fascination with the effigy of Big Boy, that kept appearing, as we made our way through the state.  By the end of the trip I had purchased a money bank in his likeness.  Now I can see him everyday.

DSC01238 cropThis is Geo and Rowe, rummaging through the garbage for a Wal-Mart receipt.  This was funny to me because I was not the one diving into the trash.  It’s my blog and I’m allowed to amuse myself.

DSC01240 cropThis is Nicki watching Geo rummage through the garbage for a Wal-Mart receipt; and enjoying it a bit too much.  This was also funny to me.

DSC01245 crop

Why must everything in America be riddled with bullet holes?

DSC01312 cropMaybe it’s because they have places like the Gun Barn and Family Barber Shop.  It’s just a thought.  I could be completely off base.

DSC01324 cropThe employees at Jellystone Park didn’t seem to get it, but I’m pretty sure there’s a double meaning here.

This concludes Funny Things I Saw in Michigan.  Thank you for your time.