Visiting Michigan: UP and Munising

Mackinac Island was only a short stop on our way to the UP, and after half a day of cycling around and not seeing the Grand Hotel, we took the ferry back to the mainland and went further north. For those a bit unfamiliar with the UP, it’s that weird appendix thing on the map that looks like it really should be part of Canada. It’s bigger than the Netherlands, but only has about 300k people living there. As a result, it feels somewhat empty. Our instructions from Mackinac Island to our camping grounds were literally: cross the bridge and take a left turn. After 1h 16m, take a right turn, then a left again after 18 minutes, and keep driving until you hit your destination (don’t get off the paved road). Crossing over half the peninsula using just three very straight roads, people.

straight roads

On those roads, I learned a valuable marketing lesson. As many other more desolated areas I’ve seen (looking at you, Arizona and Morocco), a main point of commerce is to build a stand alongside the road and wait for someone to stop to buy the local goods. In the Upper Peninsula, this is pasties. We didn’t know what pasties were, but after seeing twenty stands selling pasties, we stopped at the twenty-first sign to see what this was all about. After taking a bite, we immediately understood why everyone wanted to get rid of them.

otterlake

Our camping grounds outside of Munising looked very picturesque (as seen in the picture). A crossbreed between a pond and a lake lay deep blue and still under wide skies, surrounded by trees and the best showers I’ve ever seen on any camping grounds in my life. In the town, we ate the best burger in a 100 mile radius (according to their menu), which turned out to be the only burger as well, and the worst I’ve eaten this year. The terrible dining experience was countered by the very cool hikes we took the next day, using the many waterfalls around Munising as attractions to visit. In short, if you plan to visit the UP anytime soon, go for the accent and the nature, and give up on fine dining as long as you’re up there.

waterfall

Saint Louis Landmarks: Washington University School of Medicine

Another university. Or rather, something university-related. The School of Medicine of Washington University (WashU, for a few close friends and many lovers) is the only of the university’s seven schools to get its own spot in this list. After tough choices like these, I am glad I didn’t create the list myself. The other six schools must be so jealous.

The School of Medicine was founded in 1891 and has grown to a really prestigious research facility. Since the first rankings became available, the university has been a constant member of its top ten, with a second rank as its high spot. Just reading about the research facilities and its place in several rankings, I started to see why the School of Medicine is somewhat special. Even before I knew about the status of its School of Medicine, I had seen Washington University in Saint Louis pop up in the World University Rankings of THE and Shanghai University.

washuschoolofmedicine

And suddenly I realized where its status as a landmark comes from. Not only is WashU an educational giant in Saint Louis, but its research facilities’ fame stretches to all corners of the world (notably Shanghai). Maybe their medical care is fantastic, maybe their doctors don’t make any children cry, but I think there is value in cherishing your treasures. And to Saint Louis, WashU is a treasure.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. Each week, I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Never-ending Lightning, Ominous Skies and Ferguson

Speaking of never-ending things, we’ll continue the rest of our Michigan travels series next week. But before fall really hits, I want to talk about a Saint Louis phenomenon: lightning. Sure, sure, you guys have lightning wherever you are, but you don’t have Saint Louis lightning. Let me explain.

In the Netherlands, a thunderstorm is what happens after one of those summer days that badly need some sort of relief. Like a good fight, tension builds up, thunder and lightning happen, and an hour or so later, you fall asleep to the sound of rain drops against your bedroom window.

Dutch thunderstorms are more like a tired toddler throwing a tantrum than anything else, really.

Dutch thunderstorms are more like a tired toddler throwing a tantrum than anything else, really.

Not Saint Louis. Because of the natural sauna that we call summer, all days need relief. Once the clouds build up around the city, flashes of lightning start illuminating the sky all day long. I’ve seen days where lightning was around all day long. There is no thunder, no relief, but only the proof of tension in the air. Like a storm building all day, without ever breaking loose.

dog-behaviour-problems

Or like an aggresively barking dog safely kept behind a fence

There’s something strange about being in an almost storm all day. It’s unsettling to feel so much tension all day long. I’m pretty sure that when the Ferguson uproar is turned into a movie, it will feature a continual electrically-charged sky, even though basically all protests took place under a clear sky. It’s just that the dark grey Missouri summer skies with their unexpected lightning bolts are a perfect background to show what happened during those weeks.

stlouisstorm

Like Ferguson, those thunderstorm skies have painted my summer in uncomfortable colors, leaving me with the thought that you can’t change the weather, but we can change a lot of other things. The beauty of nature is that thunderstorms will literally disappear into thin air, making way for a new season with its own peculiar weather. But as we all know, not all things will simply transition into a new season without our help. Next summer, when something’s brewing, let’s sit on the porch, watch the spectacle in the sky and think about all the little things we can do to relieve tension under the sky.

Saint Louis Landmarks: Webster University

This is one of my favorites, for several reasons. First of all, I met my wife because she was studying at Webster University and took their Global MBA program, which landed her in my hometown. Second, this means that Webster University reminds me a little bit of home, because to me, Webster University is still the white frame red brick building on the Boommarkt in Leiden. Third, we now live a five minute drive from Webster University, so it’s a local thing in my new country as well.

In the picture, it's that white frame red brick building. To the right.

In the picture, it’s that white frame red brick building. To the right.

Webster University started out in 1915 in Webster Groves, and was only open to female students (still before the nineteenth amendment of 1920 that would let them vote for real, mind you). It has grown since, and even grown to the extent that half our local irrelevant newspaper was filled to the brim with discussions on how much more they should be allowed to grow, and what vacant buildings they should not save from looming destruction. Its mascot is the Gorlok, a mythical creature with the paws of a cheetah, the horns of a buffalo, and the face of a Saint Bernard dog. If you find yourself thinking that you’ve never heard of this creature in any of the true mythologies, you’re not mistaken. This creature was made up in 1984 in the context of a contest. The outcome, as you might agree, shows the Liberal Arts philosophy of the school more than anything. Perhaps, when we’re making mythology out of thin air, a 1984 punk rock Gorlok would make for some good local Saint Louis mythology. Speaking of punk rock athletic mascots, the Webster University chess team has won back-to-back championships in the last two years. When nerd is as cool as it is nowadays, that’s not a bad image to have for a university.

Webster HQ in Webster Groves. Probably as close as Leiden Webster was to my Leiden home.

Webster HQ in Webster Groves. Probably as close as Leiden Webster was to my Leiden home.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Visiting Michigan III: Mackinac Island

This is a bit of an awkward post. We did go to Mackinac Island, but there is a problem on Mackinac Island. We’ll get to that. Originally, Mackinac Island wasn’t even in our plans, but since so many people asked us if we were going there, that we decided it should be worth it. Also, it was right on our way from Petoskey to the Upper Peninsula, so things worked out well.

For those who’ve never heard of Mackinac Island: it’s a pretty island mainly known for its lack of cars. That’s right. No cars on an American island. Instead, all transportation goes by horse wagons and bicycles. I felt right at home. Besides the cycling, the island is known for two things: fudge and its Grand Hotel. And this is where it gets awkward.

I will bet you there is no car and no Grand Hotel on this island.

Look at that car; I will bet you there is no fudge and no Grand Hotel on this island.

We wanted to see the Grand Hotel (actually, we didn’t have a choice; it takes up about half the island). But people don’t simply get to see the Grand Hotel. Ordinary people aren’t exactly allowed near the Grand Hotel. In fact, I am pretty sure the Grand Hotel is getting a little upset I have already mentioned it a few times in this blog post, because it simply can’t be associated with the likes of us. Entering the larger grounds of the hotel will cost you $10. A person. That’s $20 for Mrs Missouri and I, just for the privilege of standing in front of the hotel (and to get the opportunity of eating it’s lunch buffet; for an extra $50 per person, of course).

If I remember correctly, that makes the Grand Hotel $20 more expensive than the holy of holies. Not as exclusive, sure, but more expensive nonetheless. Instead of paying to look at the building, we decided to cycle on and made our way around the entire island (60% landing strip, 20% hotel, 15% forest, and 5% fudge shops), sat down at the most picturesque location of the island and ate a surprisingly wonderful pizza. I will show you a picture of that, mainly because I don’t want to charge my visitors a fee to look at a picture of the Grand Hotel.

sitting

Saint Louis Landmarks: World Bird Sanctuary

When I started looking into the World Bird Sanctuary, I was surprised. This is one of those unique niche organizations that must be somewhere, and this one is in Saint Louis. My hometown of Leiden, for instance, has been the home of the Pilgrim Fathers for a few years, and the scarce monuments scattered around the city draw a few tourists each year, but many people living in Leiden might never know where those monuments are and what they stand for. I pictured the World Bird Sanctuary in that category: somewhat obscure, but highly interesting for a very specific target audience.

The expression on the face of that owl made my day. Click picture for attribution and their website.

The expression on the face of that owl in the left bottom corner just made my day. Click picture for attribution and their website.

I’m still not convinced this is not the case, but it’s much less obscure than I thought. Since its inception in 1977, the World Bird Sanctuary now employs 25 people. The sanctuary functions as a hospital for birds of prey, a breeding ground for many types of birds, and an exciting destination for field trips. As I looked at the website, I was more and more impressed by the number of enviro-education program and less and less surprised the sanctuary made the list of landmarks. Who wouldn’t be touched by a sing-a-long program mixing components of bird show, songs about birds, and a concert? I know now I’m excited to try it out, and that’s quite an accomplishment for an obscure organization.

This blog post is part of a series on landmarks in Saint Louis. I take one of the 250 landmarks selected for the 250th anniversary of the city and look up some information. This way, I hope to get to know my new city a little better every week together with you, my readers.

Visiting Michigan II: Petoskey, Petowsky

You write Petoskey, but when you pronounce it like that in a communal bathroom, Michiganders will be quick to correct you. “That’s not how you say it.” It doesn’t really matter. It’s an adorable little town at a big lake, and it’s worth staying the night there, so that’s what we did. on our way up to the Upper Peninsula.

Driving up to Petoskey is a treat in itself. If Holland can look like the old country a lot, Michigan looks like a country of its own. The greenery on all sides, the state troopers with their high hats, and the accent that gets thicker the more you move up north are all signs of a new part of the country. All of the above, and the time zone that really surprised us when we drove into the state for the first time (should have mentioned that last week).

Reasons to visit Michigan: comically large lights on top of State Trooper cars.

Reasons to visit Michigan: comically large lights on top of State Trooper cars.

When you reach the bay, Petoskey looks like you’d want it to look. As you drive down towards the clear blue water and pass the outskirt strip malls, a small downtown area pops up that will make every tourist’s mouth water. Walking around in town was picture perfect: small artsy shops, a comprehensible number of streets to stroll up and down, and one fancy hotel where retired old ladies sit on the porch to read a newspaper. We walked around the marina and the small pier, watched the sun set in the lake, and drank some locally brewed beer. I don’t know how to describe a better vacation day. We may have only stayed for a short while, but if you ever risk driving by, make sure you stop as well. It’s worth a detour.

petoskey-michigan-l