Parting thoughts on a Michigan vacation

The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse, Presque Isle, Mich.

I had intended to write one last travel blog about the trip my mom and I took to Michigan in mid-October, but since returning to work and other obligations, I either haven’t had the time or the energy to get this last piece written.

In my previous entry, I mentioned a couple of the lighthouses we visited that will leave me with lasting memories of adventure. I failed to mention, however, that I actually climbed the stairs to a lighthouse on this journey along the eastern shoreline of Michigan’s lower peninsula.

The view from one of the windows in the Old Presque Isle Light tower.

A fear of heights has kept me from climbing nearly all of the beacons I’ve visited. The winding staircase wouldn’t pose such a fear to me if the staircases weren’t constructed of steel with see-through holes down to the bottom.

I tried to climb a light tower out in Oregon, but I made it maybe only six feet off the ground before my hands began to shake and my knees locked up. (That’s how I remember it anyway!)

I’ve tried other towers in more recent years with the same results. Now, I can say I’ve climbed two towers — Split Rock Lighthouse here in Minnesota, and the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse near Presque Isle, Mich.

What’s so different about those lighthouses? Well, the towers are shorter, for one, but the steps are also constructed of concrete — there’s no holes through the steps to see the bottom floor below.

While visiting the lighthouses was the main reason for our trek to Michigan, it wasn’t the only thing we did in the Great Lakes State.

We spent about a day of our seven-day trip in Frankenmuth, nicknamed Michigan’s Little Bavaria, enjoying the European-themed architecture and the quaint shopping district. The visit was inspired by Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store. Perhaps it was because our visit was just a couple of months before Christmas, but Mom and I loved our visit here.

A semi tractor-trailer is backed into the SS Badger at Ludington, Mich., on the second-to-last day of the Badger’s 2013 season.

We spent three hours walking through the store, looking at every ornament you can imagine. Our visit included a step into the Bronner’s theater, where we watched a short film about founder Wally Bronner’s life and how the store came to be. Inside the theater, behind large display cases, is  Bronner’s incredible collection of Hummel figurines.

Outside Bronner’s, we looked at the large collection of lighted Christmas displays, and made our way to the Silent Night Memorial Chapel, which was designed after the chapel of the same name in Oberndorf, Austria. With the height of the tourist season past, Mom and I were able to sit in the chapel and listen to Silent Night in both the English and German languages. Outside, surrounding the chapel, are signs presenting the Silent Night song in a multitude of languages.

Before leaving town, we went to Zehnder’s — we were told it was a must in Frankenmuth — and tried their famous chicken dinner.

The last notable experience of our trip was taking the SS Badger across Lake Michigan, boarding at Ludington, Mich., and destined for Manitowoc, Wis. A reader dropped a brochure off at my desk a year or more ago and encouraged me to give this a try.

Somewhere in the middle of Lake Michigan on a cloudy day.

Considering our other options — crossing the Mackinac Bridge and traveling through the Upper Peninsula home; or driving back through Chicago’s six-lane traffic — we were eager to board a boat and let someone else drive for a while.

Among the first to board the Badger on a Saturday morning, we made a quick visit to the gift shop before taking window seats in the lounge. During the four-hour trip, the lounge is bustling with activity, from Badger Bingo to trivia contests.

I’m not sure how many games of Bingo we played before Mom and I both decided we needed a change of scenery. We’d been watching the waves out the windows from across the lounge, and the rocking motion — sometimes we’d see all water, and sometimes we’d see all sky — was about to do us in.

We both discovered we didn’t have very good sea legs, and were quite relieved to find some reclining lounge chairs a short walk away. While we enjoyed the experience overall, we were both thankful to see land once we neared Wisconsin. We also decided that perhaps we wouldn’t be booking a cruise anytime soon.

During the spring, summer and fall, the SS Badger takes pedestrians and all sorts of vehicles across Lake Michigan. This season, many of their loads included transporting wind turbine tower parts.

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