I never have time or patience to write anything longer before and shortly after Eurofurence. Or to sort and edit the photos that I need for a travel report. And it's been so long that I'm not able to write an actual report anymore, for example I don't remember most of the hotels and motels at all, hence some musing based on the experience have to do. But at least I've edited and uploaded the photos, for the first time in three years.
After picking up the car we went shopping for a bit and drove to the hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Farmington Hills across the street from the convention hotel. Very nice and well maintained. FCN itself was a very relaxing and fun convention, we got to see Tilt's short movie about his experience with a certain microwave oven and the mayhem that evolves from it. Talked a lot to people I haven't met for years — or only knew online so far (hello Lunden!) The sponsor's lounge had local beer from the keg, some of it really excellent, and Uncle Kage on and off stage was entertaining as always. It was especially great to meet Tersethra and Xan again. And folks like Coopertom, FirestormSix, Xzadfor, to name just a few.
BigBlueFox was one of the guests of honor, which is a strange coincidence that has become a tradition. We decided on attending FCN before we (or BBF) even knew about it. Next year he'll be GoH at Texas Furry Fiesta, and guess what... Anyway, I haven't had that much fun in years, it is always a pleasure to be around friends. FCN was a perfect start for the vacation, a pity there won't be any further events under that name as the chairman and some core staff members quit. While this sadly is the end of FCN, new organizers together with some previous FCN staffers have started Motor City Furry Con, which will take over the same slot and location (and the beer keg thing.) Let's hope the new event will be as awesome as the old one.
Detroit may be run down and broke. A former two million population down to 700000, broken infrastructure, whole neighborhoods vacant and burned down. De-facto racial segregation: black south of 8 Mile Road, white north of it, both populations avoiding each other. But if you take some time and talk to the people, you'll hear their the motivation to roll up the sleeves and get the cart out of the dirt. It's their town, it may not be the most beautiful one, live's hard, but let's pull the cart out of the dirt, together. You can feel it everywhere, and if you look closely, you'll see small initiatives everywhere trying to improve the situation. And slowly, but steadily, succeeding.
That's the spirit I admire America for.
We spent quite some time at Centennial Park at the riverside, photographing the Detroit skyline and the bridge. Integrated into the park is the Odette Sculpture Park with some quite interesting sculptures, however the light wasn't good enough to take decent pictures of them.
Also, we learned that what's called a restroom in America, or bathroom in England, is called washroom in Canada. Alas, they were closed and so we quickly took off to Ojibway Park, which has a nature centre that was open and has toilets. Also, nice trails through the woods and lots of wildlife to discover. Mostly birds, but also deer, snakes, squirrels, ...
The next stop of the day was Point Pelee National Park. We were at the southmost part of Canada that does not require a ship to get to (the Point Pelee Island is even further south.) To be honest, I expected the trees to already have leaves at that time of year, but it only got warmer just a couple of days before we arrived, so the whole scenery was still very winter-like. And we mostly missed the bird migration season, but there are enough stationary birds around, so it was worth the detour after all. I'd say: highly recommended, but visit in late May or early June for hiking.
With more great views on Lake Erie, but still bald trees, Rondeau Provincial Park was a nice break from all the plowed corn fields. Lot's of snakes, a pebble beach, various birds. Since we weren't sure if we'd make it to Lake Huron later, we took a detour to The Pinary Provincial Park. Not much to do there, as it is basically just a long stretch of beach, but storms were brewing on the horizon, creating a very special atmosphere. One day later and we'd ended up in storms and torrential rain...
Have I mentioned that useless built-in satnav yet? Despite the current map it directed us to a hotel (in St Catharines, I believe) that doesn't exist anymore.
Someone told us to go shopping for The Mountain tees in Canada. The souvenier shops at the falls didn't have any I don't own yet, and they were way too expensive. The mall we went to was nearly deserted... So we took off to return to America.
I have a bone to pick with immigration at the Rainbow Bridge. Yes, I know the CBP officers in New York, for whatever reason, have the reputation of not being very cordial. But a border is not a barrack yard, and speaking in full sentences and towards the open window of the car would help us tourists to understand what the officer wants. Every CBP officer I've met elsewhere at least tried to make me feel welcome.
Since we had some time left, we took the Robert Moses State Parkway north along the Niagara River. A large portion of the parkway is about to be demolished, one side of the former freeway is currently a bicycle trail. So this was probably one of the last chances to drive this highway. We proceeded to the Thirty Mile Lighthouse at the Golden Hill State Park, a former Girl Scout camp and now a state campground. We were lucky, the wife of the campground keeper gave us a tour through the lighthouse and the adjunct former residence of the lighthouse staff. The residence consists of two nicely renovated flats with partly authentic 19th century furniture that can be rented by week by small groups. Very cosy in fall or winter, we've been told.
It was just a short stop anyway, because our destination for the day was Erie, Pennsylvania. They have a very nice maritime museum, and during off-season (hah!) you can visit the US Brig Niagara. Most time of the year it is a training ship, but during Winter it is towed at the pier next to the museum and can be visited by guided tour.
The ship is a replica of the original Niagara that was crucial for winning the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, which was a key factor for the US winning the Anglo-American war of 1812. It was a historic event for America and Canada while Europe was busy with Napoleon during that time and the British didn't pay much attention to a rather small nuisance to their strategic interests. However, it did set the foundation of today's reversed roles in the relationship between both countries...
Unfortunately, the original ship was too decayed after several unsuccessful restoration attempts, so they could use only few salvaged parts of it during reconstruction. Also, they had to install some modern technology to get the permission to actually sail the ship. Nevertheless, only few ships with the construction design of the era exist today, and it was a very interesting insight into a part of American history that is tremendously important for Americans but that is virtually unknown to the rest of the world.
The Terminal Tower south of the square hides, among a train station, a shopping mall, and the insight that there are actually people in Cleveland. We already started to wonder if the city was deserted... While trying to find a place to get a coffee we stumbled into The Arcade, which used to be a shopping mall in the 1890s, but is a Hyatt Regency hotel nowadays. Its atrium beats the those of any other hotel I've seen.
We got our coffee, by the way. There is a Starbucks next door.
There's a lot to do there, much more we had time for, and I wish the trees were green yet. But on the other hand, we wouldn't have spotted the eagle then. So we hiked a bit in the Brandywine Falls area and decided against riding the museum train, which was pulled by a boring modern Diesel locomotive that day, anyway.
And we still had to drive to Dayton that day. I really have to say something in favor of Ohio, by the way. The landscape is way less boring than southern Ontario.
On the first look, the city seems to be relatively flat, but in fact that's just because it's build on several levels, and you never realize until you are using the pedway system. Many of the buildings downtown are connected with each other and the main parking garages so that you can cross the inner city during snow days. We spent hours exploring the tunnels and the shops. You enter in one building, ride an escalator down two floors, walk some meandering tunnels, pass coffee shops and restaurants, go five steps up and... find yourself one floor above street level. Amazing.
Also, lots of fun at the Cloud Gate sculpture. It's a huge bean-shaped polished stainless steel sculpture at the Millenium Park. An example for very popular modern art. It plays with the perception of the architecture from different periods of time around it.
Much less fun, especially due to the pouring rain, was the Navy Pier. But at least a position to get a photo of the skyline. Or so I thought.
Trying to get a good coffee was a challenge, though. But after leaving the zoo we found a nice coffee bar in a nearby hotel. Unfortunately, there seems to be a Asian take-out restaurant at it's place now.
We spent the rest of the day driving to Milwaukee via Sheridan Road along countless mansions at the shore and through small towns and villages. Quite a scenic drive, and fortunately marked very well as this time the satnav constantly tried to direct us to the Interstate. Unfortunately, lake access is rare, mostly by marinas.
One great coffee and a cookie later, we walked back to the lake shore. The Milwaukee County War Memorial Center has a very nice 1950s architecture with a large terrace that provides a great overview over Lake Michigan.
The art museum is connected to the memorial center. Viewed from the memorial center it looks like the art museum is a ship docked to the memorial. Two entirely different styles of architecture that usually work best standing alone, connected, without destroying the effect of either.
And since we had to get back to Michigan, we took off early, got lost in East Chicago due to the demolished bridge of Indiana SR 912 of which my GPS naturally didn't know anything about due to the age of the map, but the built-in GPS of the car didn't know that either (come on, it's been closed since 2010!) and the detour signage was confusing. We somehow ended up back on US12 and arrived at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and State Park just in time for the most wonderful sunset.
Grand Rapids is located nicely at the Grand River, the rapids being replaced by barrages long ago, downtown is sort of uninteresting, but we heard the river walk was quite nice. So we came to the city to find this:
Due to the large amount of rain the previous week (which we somehow managed to avoid), a lot of flooding occurred and we still saw utility workers pumping water out of basements. The river walk was flooded, so we took a look at the Gerald R. Ford museum and grave site. Ford was the only American President that was neither elected as president nor as vice-president, taking over vice-presidency after resignation of Spiro Agnew (thank you, Wikipedia!) and subsequently presidency after resignation of Richard Nixon. Apparently was a remarkably modest man, who only reluctantly ran for a second term and lost. His tomb is probably one of the most humble grave sites for a former American President I can imagine.
After a short coffee break we went to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, but it was crowded and too expensive. Have I complained about too many kids in museums before? Well, now I can complain about too many old people... Meh, let's go elsewhere, Bay City maybe?
We avoided the Interstate and took rural roads, and yes, it does look like the northwest of Germany again. But at least with some pastures in between, and the corn fields getting some green hue here and there.
Bay City itself looks like it has seen better days, but apparently it was always that way. For some reason it has a large brand new DoubleTree hotel, a nice new river walk along the Saginaw River, and some interesting historic architecture. But admittedly, we expected more.
But a bit north of the city, there's the Bay City State Recreation Area with a nice trail around Tobico Lagoon to watch birds, and a very nice beach at the shore of Lake Huron. So it was worth the detour after all.
After enjoying the nice overview of Belleville Lake at Van Buren Park, we finally proceeded to the car rental station, returned the car, checked in, and flew back to Germany on an uneventful transatlantic flight.
What I've brought back from this trip is the great hospitality of the people of the Midwest, seeing and experiencing an aspect of America that's virtually unknown in Europe (maybe because superficially it appears to be quite similar to various regions of Europe), a region that just doesn't exist in popular media except for its few big cities. And even what I read and hear about the big cities is often a projection of what journalists expect and doesn't reflect the real character of it. This trip definitely improved and deepened my appreciation for America.
A selection of photos is available from my gallery as usual.