Cromford and Matlock

As part of my birthday weekend, we went for a lovely walk down in Cromford. I had a WI meeting to go to in Darley Dale for a couple of hours that afternoon; we decided we’d make a day of it, with a walk first, and then our packed lunches, and then we’d go get my birthday cake and then come home.

I’m partial to ice cream cakes, which we’ve tried to make but failed at a few times, so given up. We were absolutely delighted to find that we could, after all, get them here in the UK, in a few select Baskin Robbins locations – and thankfully one of them is near enough to us to make this a viable option. So that last stop was in Sheffield.

It’d been raining all weekend, so we reckoned the ground was all muddy, and more rain threatened still, so we opted for walking along the Cromford Canal, which would be graveled or paved or the like, and less muddy (mostly) than hill walking. It did mean walking in a straight line for awhile and then turning around and walking back, but it was pretty.

We naturally forgot the umbrella in the car, so when it did decide to pour down, I held part of Chris’ coat over my head (he was still wearing the other part) so I could still be vaguely presentable at my afternoon meeting – I’m sure we made quite a sight! It worked, at least. 😉

We had our lunch, the meeting was less useless than I expected, and then the time had gotten away so I decided we’d have dinner there in Matlock before going on to Sheffield. I regretted this decision later on, but hey ho. We wandered around Matlock til the restaurant opened – I’ve never had a chance to explore Matlock before; now I’m quite familiar with it. We got the cake, which was lovely, and headed home. It was a nice day, overall. Have some photos from the walk.


I saw this a few weeks ago, and have been meaning to share it. Unusual!

a cyclist on the road on a tricycle - three full-size wheels, two at the back, one at the front.

The roads here are too dangerous for cyclists of any description – you can tell by the daily death toll of bicyclists and motorcyclists (whereas car, truck, and van wrecks/injuries/deaths are quite rare) – which is why I never bicycled before I got a car, even though it’d have been a huge help in my daily life around town, since it’s so much faster and lower-impact than walking. (You’re not supposed to bicycle on the sidewalk, which is sometimes stupid and sometimes sensible, but they have to make blanket laws for all situations instead of assuming anyone has any brain anymore.) But for the suicyclists who’re going to do it anyway, I did notice that cars were tending to give this tricycle more space than they give bicycles when passing, despite it not really being that much wider than the person.

Snow Day!

It is well and truly snowing today.

8:30am, from Dinting Arches

8:30am, from Dinting Arches

It was snowing when I first looked out at 8am, and it hasn’t stopped once yet – it’s now 12:30.

Looking up Chunal Lane at 12 noon.

Looking up Chunal Lane at 12 noon.

There’s a chance of snow forecast to carry straight on through to 6am tomorrow morning.

The little tree on the left in the foreground is a cherry tree - it's in blossom, though you can't see that.  There are also a bunch of daffodils in flower buried in the snow at its base.

The little tree on the left in the foreground is a cherry tree – it’s in blossom, though you can’t see that. There are also a bunch of daffodils in flower buried in the snow at its base.

There are traffic accidents all over the place, naturally. One year ago today we went to collect our UK car from the dealer – thank heavens it wasn’t like this then!

Amazingly, we’ve actually gotten our milk and mail deliveries today. We’ll see if the eggs come later – I’m betting they’ll be snowed in on the farm.

Mist-shrouded valley

I went to see a friend of mine for WI business today. She lives in a fantastic place, overlooking the Charlesworth valley across to Manchester. Stepping out at about 4pm, I saw a mist-shrouded valley, the sun peeking through – it was all very surreal, like a painting, or a movie. My snapshots don’t do it justice, but I thought I’d share anyway.



Happy 2015!

This morning’s sunrise was beautiful, so I wanted to share!

Have a look!

US Road Trip 2013: Day 8: Ask not for whom the road tolls

Day 8: Friday, 5 April 2013: Flint, Michigan to Morgantown, West Virginia

The road by Morgantown, West Virginia.

The road by Morgantown, West Virginia.

Happy birthday to me … (mostly by Chris)

Day miles: About 430.

April 5th is SJ’s birthday! Despite this, we got up at 6:30am anyway, because we had a long, long day of driving planned for the day: 630 miles, about 10 hours of driving, probably 12 hours on the road including rest stops. We wanted to get to the beginning of the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway by the time our heads hit the pillows that night. SJ thought we could manage it, but it wouldn’t be pleasant, and she planned to ignore the fact that it was her birthday and pretend that was the next day instead.

Though it’d be a long day of driving, it was driving in the US, so honestly, I wasn’t dreading it or anything, the way Chris makes it sound: I quite like driving, and it’d make a nice change to be behind the wheel for a birthday, instead of having to rely on others driving me and public transport, after so many years. I’ve certainly had worse birthdays than this one spent driving across the country!

Uncle Bill, Aunt Doris, SJ, and Chris, in the *early* light of morning.

Uncle Bill, Aunt Doris, SJ, and Chris –
in the *early* light of morning.

So, we got breakfast, got packed, and loaded the car as quickly as we could. We managed to grab a few photos of ourselves with Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill before we set off and said our goodbyes, only for us to head back inside to double-check that we’d got everything before we left and said our goodbyes once again. Finally sorted, we set off for the next destination on our epic journey: Kroger.

We headed into town, to the Kroger we had been to on the 3rd, so that we could pick up bread, milk, yoghurt, and supplies to last us a few days. We managed to find all we needed… and Aunt Doris’ spare house key in SJ’s purse. So, back to Aunt Doris’ we went to bring it back to them, as we decided it’d be faster, cheaper, and safer than mailing it. When we got back, she told us we could have just kept it – but that would have left us with another random key that we’d probably have forgotten the providence of before too long, so we handed it over and said our goodbyes again!

Finally on the road proper at around 9:45am, we headed back onto I-69 West through Flint, and then turned south onto US-23. US-23 confused me because both the Rand McNally map and Google maps mark it as an interstate, but it has no interstate number. SJ thinks it is likely to be marked that way as part of a planned interstate upgrade (it even has interstate-style Gas/Food/Lodging signs), and denies the suggestion that an inanimate road network may wish harm upon my sanity. Regardless of its status, US-23 (The Imposter Interstate) carried us south around the side of Ann Arbor and down through Milan and Dundee to Toledo, Ohio.

They like their straight roads. Another random road shot. (SJ: I liked that bridge - it reminded me of the famous one in West Virginia, the one on the state quarter. A bit smaller, obviously.)
They like their straight roads. Another random road shot. I liked that bridge – it reminded me of the famous one in West Virginia, the one on the state quarter. A bit smaller, obviously.
The slopes near the road were sometimes quite impressive.
The slopes near the road were sometimes quite impressive.

At Toledo we had a choice to make: in theory, the fastest road to take was the Ohio Turnpike, a toll road that would take us clear through from Toledo, Ohio to the border with Pennsylvania where we would magically transfer to the Pennsylvania Turnpike to head towards Pittsburg. Alternatively, we could make our way along a series of US and state highways which, while not toll roads, would involve more work and be slower. Part of our dilemma was simply not having a clue how much the toll would be – they’d do well to publish that information clearly, really. Part of it was the visceral hatred Brits, Chris included, have for toll roads – I can’t entirely blame them, since on top of the taxes that are rolled in with the price at the pump, road tax is an annual bill in the UK, so they feel like they’ve already paid for using the roads once they’ve paid that. North Ohio is not the most scenic place in the world – although we didn’t take those highways, so there may well be a wide and varied selection of scenic objects such as churches, flea markets, and antique shops for all we know! – so we decided that, in the interests of getting as much road behind us as possible, we would get on the turnpike.

And here we encountered the itinerant I-80 and I-90 again, last seen over by Gary, Indiana as we headed up into Michigan. For a toll road, the poor I-80 hasn’t aged well: the first 20 or 30 miles of the road had a bad case of coneitis, persistent roadworks, and an embarrassing rash of 50mph zones – 20 less than the speed limit for the turnpike – and all without a single worker in sight. It distinctly reminded me of British motorways in that regard, and I wondered if the US counterparts of the Great British Road Crew had also discovered that great saving on warehouse costs: storing cones on the road… By the time we’d cleared the roadworks it was past midday, and we were thinking about stopping for lunch. Rather than the rest areas you find on a normal interstate, the Ohio Turnpike has “Service Plazas” – similar to service areas in the UK in that they provide on-site fuel, restrooms, food facilities, and parking – so that you don’t need to leave the toll road for any of these facilities. We pulled off into the “Commodore Perry Service Plaza” at milepost 100 eastbound, and found parking before we headed into the plaza building to find bathrooms.

It is a very strange world in which I end up spending longer in a public bathroom than SJ: there’s almost inevitably a queue in the ladies’, so despite the fact that there was also one in the men’s (and they were trying to close the bathrooms for cleaning, at 1pm… I suppose I should be grateful that they do clean them), after finishing I waited around for SJ outside the bathrooms. And waited. And waited. I couldn’t call her: we had SJ’s phone on flight mode to prevent Roaming Charge Related Buttfuckery, so I just waited. (We had Chris’ phone loaded with a Red Pocket SIM and credit, which mostly worked well. The data over the cell phone network in the US is vastly slower than we’re used to, so that was frustrating, but otherwise, it worked as it was supposed to. Sharing a phone for a month was a tad annoying – I don’t like his case or his settings – but we managed.) Eventually, SJ found me, as she’d already finished and gone back out to the car expecting me to be there, and then she got distracted by the Cinnabon in the Echoing Soulless Food Court, eventually managing to find me back by the bathrooms.

Together again, we returned to the car and pulled out picnic stuff to eat at one of the tables outside the plaza. It was cold, and the road noise was considerable and constant with no vegetation or high walls to keep the din of high-speed traffic away, but we were hungry, it was sunny, and it was better than feeling the very life being sucked out of you by the Echoing Soulless Food Court.

After lunch we packed up again and got back on the turnpike, mile upon flat mile of north Ohio going past in a kind of copy-paste haze of fields until, just west of Youngstown, I-80 mysteriously vanished only to be replaced by the near identical, cracked and badly patched blacktop of I-76. Along the way we’d seen some strange conical buildings by the roadside (like this one) and I can only assume that they are actually secret installations hiding the flying saucers that are responsible for the abduction I-80. Or something.

I-76 rolled merrily along towards the border with Pennsylvania, and just before we got to the state line we had to pass through a toll booth to pay for our use of the turnpike. We were slightly concerned, as the ticket we’d received when we’d gotten on gives the maximum toll for different classes of vehicle, but doesn’t actually define those classes, so we weren’t quite sure which we were in. As it turned out, we were in Class 1 – the lowest cost class – so we forked over the $12, and continued on our way. I’d told SJ that there was a little way to go before we’d come across another toll booth (this time for Pennsylvania), but we didn’t expect it to be literally just 3 miles! At this next toll booth we had to pay in advance – $5.25 this time – and we thought that might be the last one we had to pay.

One thing that was weird was that, as soon as we crossed the state line from Ohio into Pennsylvania, we suddenly had hills again! It was as if the terrain actually read the map – the state line there is simply a straight north-south line. Freaky.

Hills! 0106_DSC01463
Hills! Gently rolling countryside – no more flat flat farmland.

Now, I-76 heads more or less straight for the north side of Pittsburgh, and we really didn’t want to have to deal with Pittsburgh traffic. Instead we decided to cut down to the west side of Pittsburgh some way out, down the I-376 (the “Beaver Valley Expressway”, apparently…) and then try to avoid the traffic somewhat more – and get better scenery – by going down state highway 18 just on the far side of Beaver.

I was entirely too amused by a town being called Beaver, I should note. We both were. Why yes, we are 12. 😉

Anyway, we switched onto I-376 and headed south, only to reach exit 31 where we had to pay another toll! This time to leave the toll road, leaving me to exclaim that “IF I wanted to pay to get off, I’d have gone to a strip joint!” This time the toll was $1, and I joked about having to put it in the toll booth attendant’s g-string…. when we actually got to the toll booth, we were both very glad this wasn’t actually necessary, as they don’t seem to choose the good looking ones for toll booth duty….

Image by Frozen Coffee. CC BY-SA 2.0 Image by Adriel Hampton and Graded Ape. CC BY 2.0
Image by Frozen Coffee.
CC BY-SA 2.0
Image by Adriel Hampton and Graded Ape.
CC BY 2.0

SJ was really needing to find a bathroom, so rather than pull off I-376 at junction 39 as I’d told her we needed, we actually pulled off at 38 – on the Beaver side of the Ohio River – as she had seen a signs for Wendy’s and gas there. There was a “84” in a circle visible off the highway, and we headed for that first, but when we got there it was actually 84 Lumber. It turned out that SJ had mixed it up with 76 Gas, a chain of gas stations that has “76” in a circle on their signs – having looked at both signs since then, I can completely understand why she was confusing them. I was, after all, only remembering them from the vestiges of my memory. I probably remember these from when we lived in that part of the country … when I was aged 12 to 14, and here it was my 32nd birthday. We eventually managed to turn around to head towards Beaver proper, after waiting forever because of the near-constant traffic on the road. We pulled in at a 7-Eleven, just as we got into Beaver, but they had no bathroom! They did, however, direct SJ to the McDonald’s half a mile down the road, so we headed there as quickly as we could.

Around this point I was beginning to get increasingly stressed and irritated, between the time, the traffic, and problems with the phone signal. SJ tried to calm me after she’d been into McDonald’s, and we decided that we weren’t going to make it to Waynesboro; it was just going to prove to be too much for us to have to race there. Instead we decided that we would be better to aim for somewhere more reachable in a sane time, so we decided to head for Morgantown, WV, and we set off again.

Crossing the Ohio river at Beaver Looking south-west along the river.
Crossing the Ohio river at Beaver Looking south-west along the river
"World Famous" Midway Bar & Grill. I'm convinced. Somewhere between Beaver and Washington.
“World Famous” Midway Bar & Grill. I’m convinced. Somewhere between Beaver and Washington

Looking at those shots of the road, I’m struck by how much I never really appreciated those little strips of pavement – they’re not even very wide – and how much more at ease I feel with them there – until I suddenly came to The Land Of No Shoulders. Seriously, in both England and Germany, there is only about 1 inch of shoulder on roads like that – and it increases my stress so much. Not too far from my home, there’s roads like that with no shoulder and with walls on both sides, to boot! Just a foot or two of extra pavement, and everyone’s so much more relaxed, and road blocks (when cars break down) are avoided, and and and…

We got back onto I-376 so that we could cross the river and then left to get onto state highway 18 at junction 39. It’s rather hard to tell from the Rand McNally map, and Google Maps on a phone, but 18 is a really twisty road, and while it was scenic I wasn’t able to enjoy it: as we went along I was trying to look up hotel reviews and book a room for the night, the phones were low on battery power, signal kept coming and going, places I called wanted entirely too much for the night, the car was getting low on petrol and the only places we were passing were BP gas stations (I’m very choosy about gas stations: Exxon and BP are both off the list.) – they appear to have completely stitched up the retail gasoline outlets along that highway – and I was just getting more and more frustrated and angry about the situation. Eventually SJ pulled into an insanely wide driveway (it turns out it was the entrance to the First Niagara Pavilion amphitheatre), stopped, and we talked over the problem.

SJ started by calling 1-800-Holiday, the freephone number for Holiday Inn, to get them to look for hotels in the area of Morgantown, and they were all charging far more than we’d expect for the night. So we set about checking other hotels and reviews, and while we could find some that were less expensive, their reviews were all consistently poor or terrible! I can often rule out some reviews easily, for example ones complaining about ‘older properties’ tend to be people with hilarious expectations. I’ll never forget the one time I had a party of 4 checking into my 7 year old property, which had earned – not bought – the highest rating every single year from the chain it belonged to. For its tier, it was actually a really ace property. It seemed to be two couples: one man had made the reservation. His partner asked me how old the property was, and when I told her 7 years, she got a bit upset, turned to him, and said, “Five years.” Five years was her maximum on how old she wanted a property to be. Wow. She’s obviously NEVER going to travel to Europe! When they start complaining about bedbugs, dirty linens, and broken fixtures, though, I tend to pay more attention. So SJ called back the Holiday Inn freephone number, and talked to the operator about a room at one of the hotels mentioned in her previous call to the line; a jacuzzi suite at the Holiday Inn Express Morgantown. While it was more than we’d like, we decided that it wasn’t much more expensive than any of the other rooms there (it was about $10 more, so that was a no-brainer), it was SJ’s birthday, and we could do with a relaxing soak, so we went ahead and booked it there and then. As it turned out, our timing was incredibly lucky, but we didn’t realise it at the time.

This made me feel much better, as we now had somewhere to stay the night I could stop stressing about that; all we needed to be concerned about was the gas situation, and we knew we’d make it to Washington, Pennsylvania where we’d be shocked if we couldn’t find a non-BP gas station. So, I finally started to relax and enjoy the drive at this point, and SJ’s arms got a bit of a workout twisting the steeering-wheel around; good practice for the coming few days…

At Washington we drove through the middle of the town and came upon a Valero on Jefferson Avenue where we stopped and fed the car its much-needed go-juice. While SJ went into the shop to get a receipt (the pumps were out of paper), I cleaned the windows and tallied up mileage. We decided that the best thing we could do now was to get on I-79 south just to the east of Washington, and that would take us down to Morgantown. US-19 runs close to I-79, and we could have taken that instead, but between the twistiness of the road we’d just been on, and the time, the interstate won simply on the basis of getting us to our hotel jacuzzi faster.

Lowry's Western Shop on the way into Washington. Somewhere in Washington, Pennsylvania.
Lowry’s Western Shop on the way into Washington, Pennsylvania. It amused us to see this way out there in the East. Somewhere in Washington, Pennsylvania

So, we left Washington and got onto I-79 south without any fuss, and headed for the border with West Virginia. Just after the state line we pulled into the welcome centre, hoping to pick up hotel coupons and the state map (most of the state maps we collected along the trip were not actually very useful or detailed, but we were collecting them!) but most of the welcome centre was closed, no staff seemed to be around, and the state maps were buried in amongst the random information pamphlets and leaflets shoved in a single, small display – certainly nothing on the huge amount of neatly organised and displayed information we found in the welcome centre in Michigan. We weren’t impressed at all, but we picked up a few pamphlets and carried on down the interstate.

About half way between Washington and Morgantown... ... is Ruff Creek.
About half way between Washington and Morgantown… … is Ruff Creek.
The sun slowly setting. The road by Morgantown, West Virginia.
The sun slowly setting The road by Morgantown

I-79 passes down the west side of Morgantown, and several hills separate the interstate from the city, so we actually saw very little of the city itself. Instead, we passed a number of substantial interstate-side strip malls and collections of hotels and eateries, including a Red Lobster and an Olive Garden, both of which sounded good to SJ for her birthday dinner, but as it turned out they were a good 15 miles from the hotel we’d booked. The hotel is on the south-east edge of Morgantown, so we had to switch to I-68 east to head up to it, eventually pulling off the interstate into another one of the oversized collections of hotels and restaurants. This one had an Outback, which sounded promising, and several other eateries – SJ vetoed the idea of having her birthday dinner at Wendy’s or Arby’s for some reason – but first we wanted to get checked into the hotel.

We pulled up at the hotel and went to the desk to deal with the check-in paperwork, and while we were going through that with the clerk someone came up beside us to talk to the other clerk, asking whether they had any rooms available. “Sorry, we’re all booked up,” came the response. “Aw man, nothing at all?” “Nope, nothing, sorry!” We were really glad we’d booked in advance at this point!

The room was on the ground floor, near a convenient exterior door we could bring the car around to in order to make unloading much faster. We checked over the room, making sure everything worked and was clean, and then SJ moved the car and we started to bring everything in and unpack toiletries and other essentials. A spectacular sunset distracted us as we unloaded the car, the sun sinking behind thin streaks of cloud and the distant mountains, yellows, oranges, and reds mixed together and slowly faded; we obviously had to stop to take some pictures and watched as the sun disappeared.

Sunset from outside the hotel. Us with the sunset!
Sunset from outside the hotel Us with the sunset!
The sun, nearly set.
The sun, nearly set.

Despite the tempting call of the jacuzzi, we wanted to get something to eat first, so SJ decided that we’d go to Outback for dinner: we brought her cards (unopened ones as well as the ones she’d opened back at the family dinner in Bossier), and walked over to the restaurant! Yes, walked! It was a strange and bizarre thing to do, using those peculiar, meaty appendages rather then a civilised gasoline-powered motorised conveyance, but we needed to stretch our legs after so long in the car anyway.

Happy Birthday, SJ!

Happy Birthday, SJ!

On entering Outback, we were told that there would be a 25 minute wait for a table as they were so busy. From the level of noise, it was easy to believe that, too! While we waited, we went over the menus to work out what we’d order, rather than have that delay our much-needed food when we finally got seated, and eventually settled on a salad and a half-rack of ribs for SJ, and a bacon cheeseburger for me. When we were seated our waitress was efficient and helpful, if rushed off her feet, and took our order right away. As we sat waiting, SJ opened her cards and arranged them on the table: she had quite a stack of them at this point, and I took some photos for Posterity.

When our food arrived SJ showed me how ribs should be when they’re cooked properly: the meat practically fell off the bones and was tender and moist. We’ve never been able to get it to do that – it probably doesn’t help that we don’t have a proper grill to cook them on – and I was amazed by it. Those ribs were so good. Melt in your mouth … mmm, fabulous. My burger was decent, but cooked less than I’d have liked. I was really hungry, so I ate it anyway, and the flavour was good – must’ve been okay, because I’m still here. While we were eating, a group of college-age females piled into a nearby booth, and from fragments of conversation I overheard ((what can I say, I have an enquiring mind!)) it sounded like there was some kind of cheerleading competition or something going on the next day. Later SJ consulted the great Internet Oracle and found that it was actually a big gymnastics competition. That certainly explained why everywhere was booked up and charging crazy rates for rooms…

Theodore helping SJ with her dessert.

Theodore helping SJ with her dessert.

Dessert presented a few problems for me, given that nuts seem to feature prominently in Outback’s dessert menu, so I had a choice between cheesecake or waffle with strawberries and cream. The cheesecake won out in no small part because I’d had a waffle a couple of days ago, and SJ decided that she wanted a sundae, and both were delicious; we were very pleased with the meal, despite the noise and the crowding.

After we were done eating, we wandered back to the hotel – it was actually pretty chilly outside at this point, although perhaps it felt colder than it was after being in the warm restaurant – and while the jacuzzi tub filled we checked email and SJ did a quick search to see what sort of competition was going on, and when it started. Apparently the gymnastics competition didn’t start until 6pm the next day, so we’d completely miss it; we hadn’t made it to the Blue Ridge Parkway yet, and we didn’t have any slack in the schedule to hang around Morgantown for that. If it’d started in the morning, we quite likely would have stayed and caught a few hours of it, if we were allowed. Gymnasts can do fascinating things, as can real cheerleaders, so either one would have been brilliant. Spending a whole day on it was less than ideal, though, so we decided to skip it this time.

When the tub was full, we had a good, long soak. Some comedian decided to put the jets on a timer with a 15 minute maximum, so we only ran it a couple of times, and then just left it off and relaxed in the tub. Somehow we ended up spending nearly two hours in the tub, but it was wonderfully relaxing and around midnight we finally showered and collapsed into bed, with alarms set for 8:30 so we could get a decent night’s sleep.

All in all, a good birthday. It was, indeed, lovely to spend it behind the wheel, at least after we got Chris calmed down about stuff. Lunch was rather meh – we’ll remember this about service stations along toll roads in the future – dinner was fabulous. The jacuzzi was awesome, and an ace way to end the day. One day, we’ll have our own.

US Road Trip 2013: Day 7: Eine kleine Touristenfalle

Day 7: Thursday, 4 April 2013: Flint, Lansing, and Frankenmuth, Michigan



Family, Birthday, Frankenmuth …


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.

From wikipedia:

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 Bavarian Inn Restaurant

The Bavarian Inn Restaurant

A pair of Easter trees, apparently

A pair of Easter trees, apparently

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.

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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.

Maypole statue near the visitor centre.

Maypole statue near the visitor centre.

Well, that's a rather cheesy sign.

Well, that’s a rather cheesy sign.

The strange horse sculpture, with SJ for scale.

The strange horse sculpture, with SJ for scale.

Bench sculpture, with some goofy-looking bloke for scale.

Bench sculpture, with some goofy-looking bloke for scale.

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.

Sunset, with nothing for scale. Pretty, though.

Sunset, with nothing for scale. Pretty, though.

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.

US Road Trip 2013: Day 6: A Corny Experience

Day 6: Wednesday, 3 April 2014: Near Flint, MI

Art, Music, Kin, Food, and Farming… (by Chris)

After we had eaten breakfast, part of which involved entertaining Aunt Doris with my tea-making, we sat down to try to sort out what we were going to do. The farm next door is run by Glenda, one of the daughters of Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill, and Glenda’s husband Bill (she runs the admin side, while he runs the hands-on stuff. And yes, Bill is a popular name in parts of SJ’s family, apparently: Aunt Doris is married to a Bill, Aunt Faye is married to a Bill, and Glenda is too!). When we were talking the previous evening, Aunt Doris had talked about taking us around the farm, and possibly taking us up to Frankenmuth at some point, and she had arranged a dinner for us and their other daughter and her husband that coming evening. On top of those, SJ also wanted to go back to visit Robb and his family. But most of all, we needed to work out how many days we would be spending in Michigan now, after the delays caused by headlight problems and generally not getting as far each day as we originally planned – leaving late the first day, not getting as far as planned the second day because of headlights, not getting anywhere the next day, and so on.

After looking over maps and the spreadsheet SJ had worked out for the route, we decided that we’d be able to get back on schedule if we stayed in Michigan for three nights – two full days (the 3rd and 4th of April) – and then tried to cover the 620 or so miles from Flint, Michigan to the top of the Blue Ridge Parkway near Waynesboro, Virginia in one day instead of two, on the 5th.

So, now that we knew how long we were going to be in Michigan, we needed to decide how to spend the time. We decided that we’d go to Robb’s the next day, and Frankenmuth that evening, and that we’d stay closer to Aunt Doris’ for the rest of the current day, look around the farm, and of course enjoy the dinner that evening. We were going to go over to the farm, but first Uncle Bill wanted to show us his workshop…

Workshop is practically a misnomer: I’ve seen houses smaller than the space Uncle Bill has as a workshop. Uncle Bill does vinyl design and printing, and often gets called upon to make decals for vehicles (he’ll paint designs directly onto them too; he’s an accomplished artist). The ground floor of his workshop is a large open area where vehicles can be parked as he works on them (doubling as a garage), and the walls are adorned with a vast array of interesting things: painted sawblades (something I’d never run into before, although SJ tells me it’s quite common in rural parts of the US); models; cowboy figures Uncle Bill has carved from wood (he’s a big fan of cowboys); posters; paintings; drawings; decals; and even some musical instruments! Upstairs (I told you it was large…) is his office, where his computer, vinyl printer and cutter, and all the supplies for it are housed.

Uncle Bill's woodcarving

Uncle Bill’s woodcarving

Part of the Man Cave

Part of the Man Cave

Uncle bill showed us how he worked, going from basic images and photos, setting up everything in the PC, to how the vinyl printer and cutter works. After that, he started asking various Windows and general software-related questions, and I tried to help him out with a few things. SJ wandered back down to look at the artwork downstairs; she was still tired from having woken up so early so many days in a row, and it was quite hot in Uncle Bill’s office, so she needed to walk around somewhere cooler.

After answering Uncle Bill’s questions, we both went back down to join SJ, who had noticed the piano over in the corner. It turns out that Uncle Bill can actually play a range of instruments – including piano, guitar, violin, and several more – and he played the piano for us a bit. SJ was surprised to learn that Uncle Bill can’t read music, though: he has sheet music there, but that’s just for the lyrics to songs rather than for the music.

Aunt Doris came in towards the end of the musical interlude, probably to see whether we were lost in the man cave, and we all piled into their car to go to a place called Apollo Family Restaurant for lunch; not quite a local greasy spoon of a place, but it’s not far off. It was decent, with a variety of choices, and a comfortable enough place.

While we were at Apollo we ran into some of Uncle Bill’s relatives, including a recently widowed relative. I was Exhibit A once again, and was commanded to Talk To Them as they’d never met that most curious and peculiar of creatures known as the Englishman before. This is always a problem for me, as my reserves of smalltalk are essentially non-existent, and saying things like “Good morrow, completely unknown to me female of an older persuasion! I hear tell that your once-and-former hubby is now imitating the Norwegian Blue?” (video) is probably not the most tactful option in the world. I believe that the conversation involved some discussion of my occupation, not that this generally helps matters. “I perform dark and arcane acts involving computers; invoking unknown horrors, and meddling with terrible secrets beyond mortal ken” may not be what I say, but I’m pretty sure that’s what people hear.

After lunch, we stopped by a Kroger supermarket on the way back to Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill’s house. Mostly SJ and I wanted to see what was available there (particularly in the way of bread, given Chris’ pickiness), as we knew we’d need to replenish supplies when leaving Davison to head south to the Blue Ridge Parkway, but we also needed to pick up a couple of things for breakfast the next day.

On the way back to the house, Uncle Bill said that he’d show us some of the farm. The farm apparently covers some 10,000 acres, so we thought we’d be covering a fair amount of ground looking at some of the fields and the extent of the farm, especially as we’d be “doing a drive-by” (and there was poor old me without any semi-automatic. Not even a remotely gangstah drive-by!). But no: the main farm buildings, the silos, and the storage areas are all together in one compact area, and that’s where they drove us through. They pointed out several buildings, and explained some things, but we couldn’t really see a great deal from within the car and we didn’t stop, basically going through a loop and heading back to the house.

Once we got back to the house Uncle Bill went out to his workshop to work on some commissions, and Aunt Doris started putting away groceries. A few days before we had left England I had damaged my thicker coat, and it had started leaking feathers (it has goose down stuffing). This hadn’t mattered in Louisiana, but ever since Lafayette, Indiana, I’d been wearing the coat and getting irritated at the feathers escaping. As we had some downtime, I decided that I would break out our little travel sewing kit and repair the seam that had been damaged, so I brought the sewing kit and my coat out to the dining table, as there is a large window and good lighting there, and got to work with a needle and thread. Aunt Doris was shocked and impressed that I could – and quite willingly would – do this, and we spent quite some time talking about the fact that I know how to sew, and will do it, and have no problems with hand-fixing things if needed. Once I’d fixed my coat we left Aunt Doris, who was working on dinner, and SJ suggested that we go for a walk out around the farm.

Uncle Bill had told us that we could just walk around the farm and nobody would bother us. This rather surprised me, as wandering around unaccompanied on an English farm is not something I’d recommend as a hobby. English farmers would certainly enquire about your presence and intentions (probably involving rather cruder language, potentially questioning the interloper’s parentage and species), and may even call the police. As it turned out it didn’t matter anyway: just as we were leaving, Uncle Bill came back to the house and offered to take us over and show us around a bit.

The first place we went to was one of the main maintenance buildings – Uncle Bill wanted to talk to some people there – and while we waited for him we looked around a bit, feeling rather out of place. In the middle of the building was a huge tractor, easily twice as big as any English tractor I had ever seen, that several workers were polishing – yes, polishing – to the point that it gleamed. If it wasn’t for the tyres, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that it was brand new off the production line, not a working tractor! We later found out that the farm owner is strict about making sure that the workers keep the equipment in pristine condition: washed, polished, any damage has to be fixed up, dents and scratches buffed out and repainted. Unusual, but quite sensible – there’s a lot of money in those machines, and treating them right helps make them last.

 Not brand new... although you'd be hard-pressed to tell

Not brand new… although you’d be hard-pressed to tell

Next we went over to the main admin building where the farmer’s wife – Aunt Doris and Uncle Bill’s daughter Glenda – was working. When we got there, she was on the phone, so while we were waiting I looked around a bit. The office had a dividing counter with desks, computers, and other accoutrements of bureaucracy on one side; and a mostly clear area on the other side for truckers and farm workers. “Mostly” because they’d built a ramp up to a windowsill, and placed a load of cushions and blankets at the top; a place for one of the dogs to sit and watch the world go by.

After a while Glenda came over and chatted with us, and offered to give us a guided tour of the farm buildings. We gratefully accepted, and she took us through most of them, explaining what they were for, and pointing out a variety of interesting and occasionally amazing things.

Or is it a cross between a centipede and a tractor?

Or is it a cross between a centipede and a tractor?

One of the first stops was their relatively newly-built pesticide and fertiliser loading building, set a good way away from any of the others because of the danger of explosion inherent in keeping any large amount of nitrates and phosphates around. The building is lined with pipework and valves that let the workers drive tractors in through one door, load them up with the substance du jour, and then drive out of another door. The next building was a workshop where several pieces of farm machinery were being worked on, including a huge hulking mass that looked like the offspring of a giant green crab and a wire factory (it was a seed planter actually. So a giant green crab/wire factory hybrid that thrusts its seeds into the very Earth.)

SJ gets ready to make off with a tractor.

SJ gets ready to make off with a tractor.

After eyeing the seed monster, Glenda took us to the largest building on the site: an huge, cavernous place that housed three combine harvesters, three huge tractors, grain hopper trailers, a truck, and more! We were amused to find that the combines where each named after cartoon or film characters – Shrek and Popeye characters – and Uncle Bill had done labels and pictures on each of them. SJ climbed up into the cab of one of the big tractors, each of which had wheels as tall as me, with four tires per axle to help spread their weight, and posed for a photograph. I refrained from attempting the same because I was, frankly, concerned about being clumsy and damaging something. I was happy to just look! But big as the machinery was, there was a lot of space left in the building, which made us even more amazed when Glenda told us that during harvest time they move everything out of the building and use it to supplement the grain silos, filling it almost to the ceiling from end to end with corn kernels!

The big building is big.

The big building is big.

The next stop was another storage building, albeit much smaller, that contained more farm machinery, this time including the “Terra-Gator”, a three-wheeled vehicle with tires as big as SJ, with a big hopper on the back that they fill with organic pellet fertiliser: chicken poop! Uncle Bill had made a “What the kluck?” sticker for the back of it that made us chuckle a lot.

What the kluck indeed...

What the kluck indeed…

These machines are pretty damned big.

These machines are pretty damned big.

Weird looking contraption, though.

Weird looking contraption, though.

That's a lot of storage space...

That’s a lot of storage space…

The farm operates a range of services for other farmers, including storage and corn drying in a new drier tower, and Glenda showed us the huge silos (one 70ft, one 60ft, a 40ft, and a 30ft, each a good 40ft across) they have for storing various forms of grains and she was going to show us the trucker’s lounge and laboratory, but they’d just had them repainted and the fumes from the paint were…. well, I could hardly stick my head around the door before my eyes started watering!

Why does a farm need a laboratory? Apparently the price the farm can get for the corn varies drastically based on the moisture content, level of foreign matter, impurities or mould present: getting it even slightly wrong can be the difference between a healthy, profitable harvest and a disaster. The farm has to send samples off for an evaluation that determines the price, but they test it on-site to try to make sure that they get it as good as possible before doing so.

We were just about to head off when Bill (the farmer, Glenda’s husband, not Uncle Bill…) came by and said hello. He was pretty busy, and couldn’t stay long, so after a few brief words he headed off, and we decided we’d head back to Aunt Doris’ to get out of the cold. Glenda told us that she’d probably drop in for a little while later, and headed back to the office as we wandered through the massed silos.


Back at Aunt Doris’ we hung out while she made dinner, eventually joined by Uncle Bill and Aunt Doris’ other daughter Rhonda, and her husband David. It was a good dinner; Aunt Doris is an excellent cook and had made a very tasty spread. David is an avid swimmer, and he talked about wanting to swim the English Channel one day. Unfortunately we had to enlighten him about the fact that it is wider than he thought it was (21 miles at the closest, rather than the 13 he thought it was), and that the Strait of Dover (said 21 mile span) is the busiest shipping channel in the world. He was rather less enthused at the idea after that… Part-way through the meal Glenda dropped by briefly, and for a while I was again under strict orders to talk as now three of SJ’s female relatives wanted to listen to my accent, even though they noticed that it was fairly Americanised now, but “when you keep talking I hear [your accent],” as Rhonda said. Immigration came up, as it inevitably does, but thankfully much sillier things like crazy British traditions (Welly Wanging, Black Pudding Throwing competitions, Cheese Rolling, and so on…) came up as well. We filled the evening with all sorts of talk, and had a great time as the sun set and darkness fell outside.

After dinner had finished, Rhonda and David had left, and dishes were cleared, we sat talking for a while and SJ got some laundry done, but around 10pm SJ decided that she wanted to head to bed, as did Aunt Doris, so we said our goodnights, showered, and got into bed at a vaguely reasonable time.

While lying in bed awaiting sleep, one of the things that struck me the most was the silence. While arranging the visit, Aunt Doris had mentioned that there was a ‘lot of traffic’ on the road, and when then farm is busy there may be, but as I lay there I reflected on the fact that back at home we get more cars going past the house at night in five minutes than I’d noticed or heard go past in hours. The silence was nearly unbroken; I miss it.

US Road Trip 2013: Day 3: Going Straight There

Day 3 (Sunday, 31 March 2013): Vienna, IL to Lafayette, IN

Day mileage: 332

Going Straight There …


We woke early on Sunday, got ourselves breakfast – SJ actually managed to get something from the continental breakfast, while I contented myself with well-travelled cereal – and then went to work trying to identify the issue with the headlights. Now, a sane and sensible person, when looking for the headlight relay would look in the nice and easily accessible fuses and relays box in the engine compartment, right next to the battery. Despite not being a sane and sensible person, that’s where I went to look first anyway.

Guess what? There’s no relay for the headlights in there!

By a forbidden and arcane invocation of the mad demon god that bubbles and blasphemes beyond the walls of time and space, I managed to coax enough signal to consult the internet oracle again. From some rather cryptical and mostly unhelpful comments on Infiniti-owners’ forums, I found that there is actually a Super Secret Special Relay Box for the headlights, buried in the engine compartment on the driver’s side, up against the firewall, next to the throttle control for the cruise control system.

While we tried to track down this mystical box of wonder in the tight confines of the engine compartment, we phoned up SJ’s dad to see if he could help. As it turned out, he has a maintenance manual for the car, so with his help over the phone we managed to locate the black box in question. Between him and more internet searching, we managed to work out what we would need to do to get to the relay box, and it involved taking out several bits and pieces to get to it, including part of the throttle control… at which point my “Yeeeah, nope” alarm goes off. Mine, as well, despite my confidence in working on cars.

We decided that we were quite emphatically not equipped for such shenanigans: we had only an emergency toolkit, a rough outline of what was needed, and several thousand miles of road left to travel that we’d actually like to not have potentially screwed up headlights and cruise control for, so we decided that we needed to take the car to a Firestone (SJ’s car shop chain of choice). Thankfully this was just headlights, the rest of the car worked fine, so we decided to carry on north and, while on the interstate (which generally had better signal…), I would track down Firestone locations that might work along our route.

We started loading the car to head off, after repacking everything in preparation for Car Tetris. In the light of day, we noticed that the window for the hotel room would actually open all the way, and it had no screen, so we were able to load the car by simply passing things through the window rather than dragging everything down and out through the lobby and back up to the car (whenever possible we try to park the car within view of the window when staying in hotels, for peace of mind and to be able to keep an eye on it). We managed to get the car loaded and ready almost as quickly and easily as we could have with external corridors thanks to those windows!

A tank breeding farm near Vienna, IL. Quite a big litter this year.

A tank breeding farm near Vienna, IL. Quite a big litter this year.

The plan for the road trip up to this point had been to go north through Illinois and Wisconsin, across the upper peninsula of Michigan, and then down to visit SJ’s relatives in Davison and Lansing. With this in mind the best match I could find for our route was a Firestone in Decatur, south-west of Champaign. So, on we went, through the flat fields of Illinois, through gloriously sunny weather – a drastic change from the previous day! – and made pretty decent time. Just after Effingham we stopped at the Green Creek Rest Area for lunch, dining at a picnic table in the sun. Despite the sun, it was rather windy, and cold with it, especially after the comfortable warmth down in Louisiana only two days earlier. The trees had only just started putting out leaves, while when we’d left the south the flowers were starting to bloom; the difference was pretty amazing really.

At Tuscola we left I-57, turning onto US-36 west. We could have gone north to Champaign, and then southwest to Decatur, but SJ was tired of looking at interstate, and I told her that US-36 “would take us straight there.” When I said that, I had no idea that it would take us straight there: that road was the flattest, straightest road I have ever been on on my life. You could have use the white line as a straightedge. We could have lashed the steering wheel and built a house of cards between us on the console. Straight. Flat.

We were a few miles down the road, making decent time – it was about 2pm around this point – and SJ was hoping to get the car to Firestone that afternoon so they could look at it, when we passed billboard after billboard for tourist attraction. Alas, this one, that one, and that one too, all closed on Sundays. Wait … it actually hit us…

It was Sunday. Firestone was probably closed on Sunday (having checked since then, yes it was).

Worse, it’s Easter Sunday. Firestone was definitely closed on Easter Sunday. It’d totally slipped our minds that it was Easter. Once I’d managed to book the plane tickets avoiding the price gouging of the Easter break as best I could, with our other constraints, Easter just vanished from my awareness – and Chris’ too, it seems. We don’t generally do much for it, but we usually are vaguely aware of it. Oops.

Well, poot. Perhaps even dang (we might, perhaps, have used slightly stronger words that those, dear reader, but I shall refrain from assaulting your delicate sensibilities.) (Anymore than he already has.)

So, we pulled over and tried to decide what to do. We now knew we’d have some layover time waiting for the headlights to be fixed, and arrangements to meet up with SJ’s brother in Michigan had reached the point where changing the day would have been difficult, so we decided to abandon the idea of going over the upper peninsula and instead we would head east through Indiana and then up into Michigan. With this change of plan, SJ turned us around and we headed back through Tuscola, stopping briefly at an IGA supermarket which was remarkably open, and then back onto I-57 north to Champaign.

Up and around Champaign we went, switching to I-74 East, stopped briefly for gas, and then headed east towards Indiana. As we drove, I searched for places with Firestones near hotels with guest laundry, as we were desperately in need of doing laundry at this point. I found what looked like 200 Firestones around Indianapolis (okay, so there’s actually only 23 in Indiana, but literally 65% of those are in Indianapolis), but we generally try to avoid big cities for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that big city traffic – and big city drivers in particular – tend to be insane. The best alternative option I found was a Holiday Inn in the city centre of Lafayette, Indiana: it had a free guest laundry, an indoor pool, a Firestone nearby (3 miles away, in the Tippecanoe Mall), and we worked out that we could get there before nightfall.

We left I-74 at Crawfordsville, racing the setting sun as we switched to US-231 north, straight to Lafayette. We got into Lafayette just after sunset, got checked in, and carted all our stuff into the hotel room – on a luggage cart, this time, and the hotel had an actual elevator! The blissful luxury! The guest laundry was one washer and dryer, but the hotel was almost deserted so both were available to use, and we got one load of laundry going while SJ went to shower. While she was showering she discovered that the drain was mostly blocked and backed up rapidly, and she was in ankle-deep water half way through her shower – even Limited Inn of Arseend Nowhere had showers that worked properly!

We’d checked the menu for the restaurant attached to the hotel, and decided it looked decent so we’d eat there, so on the way down after SJ finished her shower we stopped at the front desk to tell them the shower wasn’t draining. The clerk said he’d get the maintenance man to have a look at it, and then we asked him where the entrance to the restaurant was. “It’s closed for Easter,” he tells us. Great, just what we wanted! We asked him which places might be open nearby, after all we were right in the centre of Lafayette, so there should be something… right? He pulled out a map with restaurants marked on it, and he circled a few on it that he thought would be open on Easter, and we headed out into the distinctly chilly evening to look for somewhere to eat. We’d passed a load of eateries on the way into Lafayette, but it was dark now so we couldn’t drive back to them (it’s only much later that I realised we might have been able to order delivery…), so searching on foot was the only option.

Finding dinner was further complicated by the fact that we’d crossed from central time to eastern time, so it was actually an hour later than we initially thought. Perhaps more places might have been open earlier, but as we wandered around looking for the places marked on the map – thankfully central Lafayette is a simple grid system, so it’s not like it was hard to get around – we found closed eatery after closed eatery. Eventually we found one place open, a restaurant and bar that was incredibly noisy and packed, but by this point I had a splitting headache so we went on to try and find other places. The next two were closed, but across the street there was another open place, another restaurant-bar which we tried out of desperation, but the menu looked like grease rolled in grease and then deep fried in grease, and the noise was incredible. In the end we decided to just go back to the hotel room and eat some of our breakfast and lunch supplies – it might not be hot, but it would be food, and quiet.

When we got back to the room, I started pulling out food and SJ went to check whether the shower worked properly now. It didn’t, as near as we could tell nobody had even come in while we were out, and all the clerk would offer was a room change as the maintenance man had gone. We didn’t want to have to move everything – even though we were trying to travel as light as we could, we still had a lot of stuff and had already unpacked – so we decided to just cope with it for that night, and the clerk told us that he’d send someone up to look at it the next day. As we ate, we decided that when checking into a hotel – any hotel – from now on, we would go over a room before bringing stuff in, checking it over for both cleanliness and to make sure that all the fixtures, fittings, and other contents were clean, worked properly, and generally acceptable to avoid this problem as much as possible in future.

We wanted to get up as early as we could the next day, to get to Firestone when they opened and be first in line to be seen, but I looked up the local sunrise times – as we didn’t want to be driving to Firestone in the dark with dodgy headlights – and found that, while Firestone opened at 7am, sunrise wasn’t until 7:30. So we decided to set the alarm for 6:30am so that we could get breakfast, get ourselves together, and head over for between 7:30 and 8am, and hope to be seen as soon as possible.

After showering in the paddling pool – I mean, the shower – we got into bed about 11:30pm.

Crich Tramway Village (Part 1)

Just on the other side of the Peak District is the Crich Tramway Village, home of the National Tramway Museum. From the website: “Nestling on the edge of the Peak District this award-winning museum takes you on a mile-long scenic journey through a period street to open countryside with panoramic views over the Derwent Valley.” Tram enthusiasts started putting it together after a group of them went on a tour to see trams in different parts of the country, and discovered the serious state of decline many tram lines were experiencing. They found the home at Crich in 1959, and right away started buying up trams and storing them under cover.

Countryside, Woodland, and a Labyrinth, Oh My!


One day last week, I went with some of the members of Charlesworth WI for a visit. It’s only 40 miles away, but it took an hour and a half each way by private car (we went one way and came back another); the winding, narrow roads of the Peak District really impact speed. (As an aside, Google Maps is generally wrong on travel time by car in England. Sometimes not by much, as here; sometimes vastly so.) Thankfully, the view along the way is of pretty countryside. We set off around 10am and got there about 11:30.

Once we arrived, I split off to wander on my own, because that’s how I like to roll. The village has several attractions, but perusing the map, I saw it basically divided into the Woodland area and the townscape area. The entrance is about in the middle of the village, with the townscape to the left and the woodland to the right.

I took nearly 400 photos on this trip, and while you’re not going to see most of them (I nearly always take duplicates in case of blurring, for starters), there’s still quite a lot. So this entry will be in multiple parts – once it’s done, click here to see all the parts.

I decided to explore the Woodland first, while my feet (which have all sorts of issues that mean that they frequently hurt) were still fresh, and I could get the most out of it. I didn’t realize it would really be quite woodsy – I found myself dearly wishing I’d brought my bug spray!

Then I found a labyrinth!

That was the end of the woodland. It was about 1pm by now, so I was hungry for lunch. There were a couple of picnic tables here at the tram stop, so I decided to stop here and eat. Not the most scenic choice, but it was handy, and quiet, and bug-free as far as I noticed, and I even got a bit of shade.

Right, that’s as good a place as any to stop for now. Stay tuned for the next installments!