Day 7: Thursday, 4 April 2013: Flint, Lansing, and Frankenmuth, Michigan
Miles: About 150
We got up about 7am, planning to leave the house between 8am and 8:15am to go back to visit Robb and his family some more. Breakfast somehow took longer than we anticipated – must have been Hofstadter’s law in action – so we ended up leaving at closer to 8:30. Not ruinously late, but enough that we were concerned about getting to Robb’s on time, especially if we ran into any traffic.
We retraced our route, and amazingly we actually arrived at 10am; spot on the time we’d told them to expected us. Getting there on time was aided somewhat by the fact that we had a better idea of where we were going, but it was still pretty remarkable.
We were warmly greeted again, and Robb was somehow able to be vertical and conscious despite the fact that he’d apparently been up most of the night and had only gone to bed at 4:15am. I remember the days when staying up until 4am wouldn’t have bothered me, but these days I need all the beauty sleep I can get! After we’d gone into the living room and chatted for a while, they brought out cards and a gift for SJ: the 5th of April is SJ’s birthday, so they had taken the opportunity to surprise her with early birthday things. After the family (with the exception of the new baby niece, of course) sang Happy Birthday for her, the nephews came over to explain the cards they had drawn for her. Some bits were a little hard to interpret, so this was very helpful of them. Robb and Alyssa gave SJ a gift that turned out to be a box of Goldfish that would be added to the car snacks.
After the cards and gift were opened, the boys returned to the basement where they had been watching a film. We sat and chatted with Rob and Alyssa for a while, eventually moving to the kitchen as lunch approached and food was prepared. While there, Robb showed us the kitchen scissors they had recently picked up, demonstrating how sharp they were by cutting part-way through a penny, and then cutting through some paper without a single blemish. He encouraged us to try it, and I got a little overenthusiastic and cut straight through the coin. Thankfully no one got beaned by the flying bit! He was about to go on to larger denomination coins, until he was dissuaded from this by his wife.
With lunch ready, the boys were summoned from the basement, along with the daughter of a friend that Robb and Alyssa were looking after for the day. Lunch itself was good: a chicken pot pie as the main dish, with a crumb crust rather than the pie shell SJ and I usually make, and Red Lobster biscuits. Both were very tasty, especially the biscuits, although I had to eat around the corn Alyssa had put into it (whole corn kernels and I tend not to agree well with each other). Dessert was ‘Blondie’, although I was unfortunately unable to partake of it as it contained Almond oil, and SJ and I ended up having to explain in some detail about intolerance to some substances. Of course, we’d forgotten to do anything helpful like mention anything about this to Alyssa ahead of time. We’re generally the ones having others over for meals – not the other way around! Allergy tends to be well known and recognised, but intolerance seems to be generally unknown or very misunderstood except by those who genuinely have one – not aided by the fact that many things people call ‘allergy’ are actually intolerance, and many people confuse intolerance with lifestyle choice.
Food intolerance is a detrimental reaction, often delayed, to a food, beverage, food additive, or compound found in foods that produces symptoms in one or more body organs and systems, but it is not a true food allergy. A true food allergy requires the presence of immune mechanisms against the food, and a food intolerance does not.
I’ll go ahead and take this opportunity in case any of our readers should try to feed us – if you’re not likely to, or if you’re currently eating, just skip this paragraph. This is what our off-limits food does to us; other people’s food intolerances, etc, will manifest in other ways. I can’t have mango – it brings me out in a rash. Corn, nuts of any sort in any form (including oil, extract, essence, ground nuts, chopped nuts, whole nuts, tree nuts, groundnuts, etc), and coconut (all forms, including dessicated, coconut oil, and coconut milk) are all out for Chris, though he’d love dearly to have them. They smell lovely, and he misses them. He’s intolerant, not allergic, so you can have them in the kitchen and put them in other people’s food – but if he eats any of this, he’ll be in the bathroom for a few solid days while his digestive system protests most vehemently. Yes, we’re awkward guests.
After lunch was cleared away, we decided that we should get some family photographs. Robb is an avid amateur photographer, so he pulled out his camera, tripod, and diffusers and we all went out into the yard. Out on the back deck it was gloriously sunny, and despite a chilly breeze that made wrangling the diffuser quite a challenge, it was a fairly comfortable temperature – not warm, but not cold enough to need coats. We posed for a number of shots, trying not to squint in the sun. After photos we returned to the house to chat for a while, but SJ and I needed to leave around 2pm as Aunt Doris was expecting us to get back around 3:30pm.
After saying our goodbyes, we got back on the road, practically familiar with the route at this point. We still had trouble remembering just where to stop for Aunt Doris’ house, however: she may live out in the countryside, but there are houses dotted along the road, and trying to remember just where hers is was surprisingly tricky. Despite this, we arrived on time, and shortly after we all piled into Uncle Bill’s car to head to Frankenmuth.
While writing up this entry, I began to wonder where the Most Northerly Point in the US I have been is. Thankfully that title goes to Seattle, where in 2007 I spent several days visiting friends I know online. It would have been somewhat disheartening to find that Frankenmuth holds any title other than “Most Persistently Tacky Tourist Trap” in the annals of my US escapades. The trip to Frankenmuth was enjoyable, along small roads through farmlands and small communities that lay quiet and well-tended, dare I say it even picturesque, in the afternoon sun. We drove into Frankenmuth, and into the back of the parking lot for the Bavarian Inn Restaurant, the fabled location of the world-famous Chicken Dinners.
We debated briefly between looking around the town, or heading into the restaurant despite the fact that it was only 4:30pm at this point. Aunt Doris was concerned that there might be a queue, so we headed for the restaurant, eventually finding our way there after following several corridors and ramps. There was indeed a queue of people waiting to be seated, and an insanely packed dining area beyond them with servers dressed in stereotypical Bavarian costume (dirndl for the females, lederhosen for the males) circulating through the packed and noisy booths and tables.
The line slowly cleared, and we were finally seated in booth-style seating. The “Frankenmuth chicken” was chosen as the dish we’d have – I don’t think either SJ or I got to look at the menu, or at least for any length at this point – and it was explained that this was an ‘all you can eat’ style meal, except that they bring out refills for platters at your table rather than having a buffet. The food was less than impressive, and overpriced. There was quite a lot of food – many different dishes came and went, including that fried chicken – and service was decent, but overall we wouldn’t recommend it. Hey ho, you win some, you lose some.
After eating, we split up: Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill said that they would go back to the car and just let us wander around, so we headed down into the basement of the restaurant where they have a fine selection of tourist emporia selling a variety of standard tourist fare. We picked up some rock candy, and some saltwater taffy – there’s no point being in a tourist trap if you don’t get taffy while you’re there.
Returning to street level, we walked up the main street of Frankenmuth, looking around and taking photos as tourists are required to do, and occasionally going into shops that looked like they would be interesting. I will give Frankenmuth some credit: it makes no attempt to hide its tourist-trappiness, and it wears its colours proudly on its metaphorical sleeve, chest, back, and jauntily-angled baseball cap. The attempts at making “German Style” buildings came across to me more like the efforts of someone who had read descriptions of German and Austrian buildings, and had maybe seen photographs of small pieces of them, but they had only managed fleeting glimpses of full buildings, or streets of buildings. Wikipedia generously describes it as having a “strong influence of Franconian-style architecture”, to me it looked like someone had tried to bolt vaguely-Germanic-looking styles onto US conventional architecture.
|Totally a German castle. Yep, I’m convinced.
One shop we went into was the “Frankenmuth Cheese Haus”, an establishment that lived up to its name by actually having some cheeses (plus the required selection of typical tourist tat). We picked up a couple of cheeses, but many of them we left well alone: some had nuts, so I couldn’t have them, while some had odd combinations of spices that sounded distinctly unappetising. They also had some mature cheeses of various grades, from reasonable age ones up to vintages that probably require everyone nearby to be in hazmat suits before opening the package. There were other shops we went into, only to find that they all sell pretty much the same tourist stuff presented in different ways. Amusing to look through to begin with certainly, but tiresome after the second shop or so.
Frankenmuth does have some interesting, and sometimes odd, street art though: near the Bavarian Inn Restaurant there is a fountain with maypole-dancing figures around its rim, lots of topiary sculpture along the street, a rather random but impressively-make sculpture outside the Marv Herzog Hotel (apparently no longer there), a cute cheese statue outside the cheese haus, and a bench with a tube that runs down from one end, loops over the bench, and then back up to the other end of the bench. Whisper into one end of the tube, and a person sat on the other end hears you through it.
We did a loop up one side of the main street and back down the other side, and were about to cross the road again in front of the Bavarian Inn when we saw Uncle Bill looking for us. Apparently it had just gone 7pm, and Aunt Doris wanted to head back home, so we curtailed our wandering – really, we didn’t think there was much else to see anyway, and there’s only so much tourist tat a sane person can stand – and climbed back into the car. On the way out of Frankenmuth we passed through the one piece of architecture in the town that actually impressed me: a traditional Black Forest style covered wooden bridge that carries two lanes of vehicle traffic, and has pedestrian walkways on both sides.
If we had it to do over again, we’d have skipped Frankenmuth and spent the rest of the day with Robb and family. Live and learn; now we know for next time. It was an experience, anyway, and now we’ll get to compare it to the real Bavaria when we go soon! At least we got to spend time with Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill, which was also important.
The trip back gave us some good views of the spectacular sunset, the sun slowly sinking behind a distant bank of clouds, rays of light shining through the breaks. By the time we got back to Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill’s house it was pretty much dark, and the temperature had started to drop rapidly. This was due to be our last night in Davison, so we sat chatting into the evening. Aunt Doris had gone to bed somewhere around 9pm, as she needed to be up and about especially early on Friday morning to help clean the office over at the farm, and around 10pm SJ and I decided it was time to sleep, as we wanted to get on the road as soon as we could the next day to get down to Waynesboro, Virginia at the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway. So we showered, did some packing ready for the morning, and got to bed.