Have you ever wanted to sell everything you own and just "take off?" Travel the country's back roads, paddle down a meandering stream, experience breath-taking mountain views, walk among 100-year old trees, and just marvel at America's beauty? That is the dream that my partner, Betsy, and I decided to make a reality. This blog describes our adventure. The food we eat, people we meet, sights we see, and the enjoyment we find in traveling.

Monday, May 22, 2017

RV Park Review–Holland State Park (Holland, Michigan)

Website:     Holland State Park 
Location:    Holland, Michigan
Date:          May 2017
Price:         $39/night (Each day requires a separate $11 pass or we chose to buy an annual Michigan state park pass for $32
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Holland State Park is popular for its expansive sandy beach along Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa where swimming, sun bathing, fishing, and boating are popular activities.  Holland SP has two campgrounds – the Lake Macatawa Unit and the Beach Campground (which is where we stayed and the focus of this review).  The Beach Campground is essentially a parking lot as the sites, patios and roads are paved with little grass among them.  It is nestled between dunes which adds to the scenic value and blocks the strong winds coming off of Lake Michigan.  The Lake Unit campground is much larger (211 campsites) than the Beach Campground and has more of a state park feel with trees, grass, and fire pits. 

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Site description:

The Beach Campground has 98 RV sites of which 31 are 50 amp full hook-up and two camper cabins.  Some sites towards the northern section of the park have great views of Lake Michigan but be warned that strong winds can come off the lake and really shake your RV.  When we were there in early May the winds were very strong with blowing sand which made us really glad we were not near the water.

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Campsites are plenty wide to fit your RV with slide outs and car next to it without feeling cramped.  Utilities are at the very back of the site so you may need an extension for your sewer hose.  All sites were level.  Every site has a picnic table.  There are no fire pits at individual sites but community ones are located near the beach and you are permitted to use your own fire pit if you have one. 

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We were able to get nearly two dozen television stations with our antenna and had no problem locking into a satellite with our roof-mounted dish.  Verizon phone and hotspot worked well. 

So is this park big rig-friendly?  In general, yes.  Our site was certainly long (and wide) enough to fit our RV and the tow car next to it.  However, we did have the back five feet overhanging the sand at the back of the site.  This was no problem for us because our stabilizing jacks are in between our back tires.  We were also there at a time when the park was fairly empty so backing in and pulling out was no problem.  The sites are all set at an angle to the main road which makes backing easier. 

20170509_103856Amenities:

By far the beach is the biggest draw to the campground.  The wide beach lures sunbathers out in warm weather and is popular for a walk at sunset.  There is a playground, picnic area, community fire pits, dump station, boat launch and concession stand.  There is one restroom/shower house that was very clean but no laundry facilities.

What we liked:

We loved that fact that this campground was so close to water and the nice paved path for walking and hiking trails in the main part of the campground.  Within 50 yards from our site we could be walking along Lake Macatawa or along the sandy shores of Lake Michigan.  The beach is wide and expansive and is the place to be for awesome sunsets.  When we were there the beach was not crowded because it was cold and windy but it would be a great place to enjoy a good book under an umbrella. Definitely liked the fact that this was a full hook-up state park with level sites.

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What we didn’t like:

The park is essentially a parking lot with little grass and trees.  What really surprised us was how many cars drove through the campground that were not staying there.  There apparently are no restrictions on who drives through the park so many day-use visitors came by just for a look resulting in unnecessary traffic.

Be advised there is a “no alcohol” policy in the park and campground and you have to sign a piece of paper saying you will abide by that rule.  The rule states that “Possessing or consuming alcohol is prohibited in all areas of the park throughout the entire year” even inside your RV. 

In order to enter the state park you must have a Michigan Recreation Passport which costs $32 for an annual non-resident OR you have to pay $11/day to enter the park even if you are camped there. 

Spirit’s two cents:

There are plenty of places to walk dogs here and access points to water if your dog likes to swim.  Unfortunately, they are not allowed on the beach but there is a long walking path and within the main part of the park are miles of hiking trails and a nice overlook.  This park does not have an unleashed dog park; however, there is one within five miles at the fairgrounds. 





Monday, May 15, 2017

Tulip Time in Holland, Michigan

The coastal Michigan town of Holland thoroughly embraces its Dutch ancestry in the most fitting way possible – by planting millions of tulip bulbs that blanket the city.  Every year in early to mid-May the city comes alive with festivities celebrating the arrival of spring and bursts of color created by tulips in an event called “Tulip Time.”

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Many people associate the origins of the tulip plant with the Netherlands in Europe but surprisingly they were first cultivated by the Turks as early as 1,000 AD.  Dutch history with tulips began later in 1593 when the Dutch botanist Carolus Clusius began cultivating tulips.  For many years, the tulip was regarded as a rarity and only afforded by the wealthy.  Today, the Netherlands produce nearly three billion bulbs a year and export two billion of those (with the U.S. as the top importer). 

Tulip bulbs first came to Holland, Michigan along with European settlers in the 1840’s.  The tulips thrived in the sandy loam soils characteristic of this coastal town.  In 1927 a Holland high school teacher, Lida Rodgers, put forth the idea that the city plant tulips along streets and in public parks as a beautification effort.  The idea was popular and the following year the city purchased 100,000 bulbs and a year later in 1929 the first Tulip Time Festival was held.

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What makes Holland so stunning is the sheer volume of tulips.  Over 5,000,000 tulip bulbs burst open in the spring scattering an amazing spectrum of colors all over the city.  Over 120 varieties are planted.  Bulbs are planted in a variety of manners – some 200,000 are hand planted and the remainder planted by machine.  Over six miles of city streets are planted with tulip bulbs with a special machine that digs a trench along the curb, then bulbs are dropped in by hand, and a machine covers the bulbs with soil.  Pair the colorful tulips with flowering cherry, crab, and plum trees and you have gorgeous city streets sure to cause traffic jams from onlookers. 

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The annual guide for the Tulip Time festival is over twenty pages long so you know there is a lot going on.  Festivities are located at multiple locations throughout the city and include multiple parades, exhibitions of Dutch dancing, concerts, arts and crafts markets, food vendors and cooking demonstrations, trolley rides, dinner shows, floral arranging classes, carnival, fireworks, quilt shows, and more.  And of course, millions of tulips to enjoy.  We were thoroughly amazed by the variety of colors and petal shapes of the tulips.

Downtown Holland is really nice and a lot bigger than we expected.  There are great shops, nice restaurants, a couple of breweries, and yes…tulips.  We seemed to gravitate to the downtown where we found ourselves eating and shopping our way around the historic streets and admiring the tulips.

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Windmill Island is another location in Holland where tulips are in full bloom and the city’s Dutch heritage is embraced.  The Netherlands are synonymous with windmills where they grace the landscape and perform useful functions.  It is only fitting that Holland has its own authentic Dutch windmill located on where else but … Windmill Island.  The story of Windmill Island goes back 50 years to when a windmill from the Netherlands was brought to Holland, Michigan.  The De Zwaan windmill towers over the 36-acre property and is the centerpiece of the park and surrounded by flower gardens, a canal, and a Dutch village.  De Zwaan is a working windmill that grinds winter wheat berries grown in Michigan into flour using two massive millstones powered by wind.

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We even visited a wooden shoe factory (DeKlomp Wooden Shoe and Delft Pottery) thanks to Spirit who insisted on trying on her first pair of wooden shoes!  Traditionally, wooden shoes were made famous by the Dutch and are still worn today.

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The campground we chose was Holland State Park in the Beach Campground loop where we had nice views of Lake Michigan and plenty of space to walk Spirit.  Plus, Holland has won plenty of accolades for being a top beach town.  There is a nice paved path that went from our campground along the shoreline of Lake Macatawa and to the main entrance of the state park where there are hiking trails that lead to the top of Mt. Pisgah and you are treated to panoramic views of Lake Michigan and Lake Macatawa. 

To escape the crowds, we decided to drive to a couple other western Michigan coastal towns.  A short 30-minute 132drive took us to Grand Haven which was recently voted as the “Happiest Seaside Town in America” by Coastal Living.  You know we love superlatives so we couldn’t miss this place.  Grand Haven has a paved walking path that runs from downtown to Lake Michigan along the harbor.  At the terminus are two lighthouses that grace the harbor entrance and add scenic beauty. 

The next day we headed south to the town of Saugatuck which was really quite charming.  Similar to Holland and Grand Haven, the historic downtown is set inland from the lake where boats find protection from the lakes' fury and winter storms.  We started off our visit by having lunch at a local brewery Saugatuck Brewing Company.  We walked around the downtown and explored the many shops and watched boats move about the harbor.  By the way, this coastal town won the 2015 USA Today award “Best Coastal Small Town” and in 2016 as the “#1 Best Weekend Escape in the USA.” 

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We are starting to really like coastal Michigan.  The towns all have that small town feel that we love and are charming and picturesque.  Throw in a couple of lighthouses, some craft brews, and a big lake with stunning sunsets and we may just stick around more than we planned. 

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Exploring Amish Country, Indiana

Anyone who has an RV knows that things break.  Lucky for us someone had the great idea to build a dwelling on a chassis with wheels so it could be driven down the road.  But, this movable house is bound to have problems just like a stationary house…and even more so when you hit dilapidated roads in desperate need of repair.

May 2017 marked the end of our 2-year warranty on our Entegra Coach motorhome so it was time to go back to th100e factory in Middlebury, Indiana for a few service items we had and our Post-Delivery Inspection (PDI).  (Entegra Coach conducts a pre-delivery and post-delivery inspection to ensure that all of the coach is operating correctly).  So in addition to our items, Entegra found a few items on the PDI that we didn’t know about.  Always thankful when someone fixes things for us for free!

Back to the real reason for writing this blog.  What do you do when your coach is in service for a week in Elkhart County and you are left homeless starting at 6:30 am until 3 pm?   Don’t worry we found plenty to do in the towns of Shipshewana, Bristol, Elkhart, Goshen, and Middlebury.

Day 1, Shipshewana.

Start your day in Amish Country at the famous Rise ‘n Roll Bakery where they make amazing apple fritters and cinnamon covered donuts affectionately known as “Amish Crack.”  Why the name?  Because everyone who tries it becomes addicted.  (By the way the fritters freeze very well!)  In downtown Shipshewana is the Menno-Hof information center which tells the story of Amish and Mennonite people through multimedia and presentations, interactive exhibits, and colorful displays.  A visit to this facility will really enlighten and educate you on the culture, religious beliefs, and daily living of Amish and Mennonite people.  Well worth it.

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Lunch at the Blue Gate Restaurant and Bakery is a great place to settle into a plate of home-style Amish food.  Famous for their fried chicken but the beef or chicken with homemade noodles is also a meal to fill you up – all of which we highly recommend.  Before you leave, wander into their bakery where you will be tempted with fresh baked goods and sweets that send a salivating aroma through the air. 

After lunch meander down N. Harrison and Morton Streets where you will all kinds of boutiques, antique stores, and stores selling homemade jams and jellies.  The Davis Mercantile in downtown Shipshewana has over 20 stores and a very impressive 1906 Gustaf Dentzel carousel which is beautifully restored and one of Betsy's favorite since she loves carousel art.  If quilting is your thing, you will definitely want to stop in the Mercantile and visit Lolly’s Fabrics and Quilts where thousands of fabrics are available for purchase and beautiful quilts are for sale.

A walk on the Pumpkinvine Trail was a daily occurrence for us.  The old railroad has been paved and stretches from Shipshewana to Goshen spanning some 17 miles.  It is a great way for us, and Spirit, to get some exercise and burn off some of the numerous calories we seem to consume while here.  The trail is accessible by many public parking lots and meanders through woodlots and farmlands.  It is a nice way to enjoy the Amish countryside and see the picturesque farms. 

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Day 2, Shipshewana.

Head back to Shipshewana for a day of shopping and more eating.  The Shipshewana Trading Place Auction and Flea Market is the Mid-west’s largest of its kind boasting over 900 vendors with every type of merchandise imaginable.  For serious shoppers and bargain hunters this could be an all-day event.  The other interesting things that go on here are the weekly horse and livestock auctions. 

Now that we’ve shopped and walked for a bit, let’s move onto food.  Adjacent to the flea market is Yoder’s Meat and Cheese Company who’s slogan is “Wholesome Goodness from the Farm.”  The shop has over 150 cuts of meat from a variety of animals, jams and jellies, noodles, canned goods, and over 80 varieties of cheese.  Many of the cheeses and cured meats are available to sample.  Since I am a cheese and beef jerky fan, it is my practice to always keep a cooler in the car so I can load up their products. 

Another fun store to visit is E & S Sales.  This is a bulk foods store that has great bargains and is just fun to walk around.  You can find lots of baking ingredients like flours, nuts, chocolates, and fillings.  This is going to sound really weird coming from someone who spent time in the culinary field, but we really liked their canned beef. It tastes like a roast that you spent hours braising.  I use the tender meat in all kinds of soups, shepherds pie, and for steak sandwiches.  They also have wonderful homemade breads and hand pies.  But if you are looking for baked soft goodness in the form of twisted salted bread….walk across the street to Ben's Pretzels.  Definitely a favorite of ours where we are repeat customers…usually in consecutive days.

Wait, you are not done eating yet!  Head south out of downtown Shipshewana to Yoder Popcorn.  If you like popcorn, this is the place for you.  You arrive to a warm greeting and a warmer bag of popcorn to sample.  Once you start eating you will be hooked and as you walk around the store reading labels you will be amazed at all of the different varieties.  Have you ever heard of “tiny tender,” “large red,” “baby blue,” “sunburst,” or “ladyfinger?”  You can either buy the kernels and cook them the old fashion way in a pot with oil or opt for the microwave packs like we do.  Yoder’s prides themselves that all the corn comes from within a 100-mile radius. 

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Day 3, Middlebury and Bristol
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After sitting around the comfortable Entegra lounge for a few hours, we decided it was time to explore a new place so we drove 10 minutes to Bonneyville Mill County Park in the nearby town of Bristol.  The mill was not in operation at the time of our visit in late April but the mill is part of a county park with hiking trails and picnic areas.  The Bonneyville Mill is the oldest continuously operating grist mill in Indiana and has been producing high quality flour for over 150 years.  The park has over five miles of trails that take you through wooded areas, meadows, wetlands, and along side the Little Elkhart River (much to Spirits joy). 

After the mill, it’s back to downtown Middlebury for a delicious lunch at 41 Degrees North.  Here a burger and glass of porter have become my favorite.  We usually hit this place a couple of times while we are in town and really like the food and atmosphere.  Another plus, they have a full-service bar.  (FYI…The town of Shipshewana is dry so don’t expect to get a glass of wine with your dinner…or lunch.)  I mentioned earlier that I like cheese, right?  Well, just down the road from Middlebury is Guggisberg Cheese where samples are plentiful and the many cheese varieties delicious.  They have windows into the factory where you can catch a glimpse of cheese being made. 

While downtown a fun place to visit is The Old Creamery Antiques for a super cool eclectic mix of antiques.  We spent a good 45 minutes walking around this place that has everything from automotive to dairy paraphernalia (after all, it really was a creamery up until the 1970’s).  What we really like is that the place is filled with antiques and not lots of junk or crafts and it’s open on Sunday when most other places are closed.

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On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Entegra Coach offers tours of the factory in the afternoon.  If you have never taken a factory tour to see how RV’s are built, you should.  It is fascinating!  Elkhart County is known as the “RV Capital of the World” so there are some two dozen factories to visit.  In addition to Entegra Coach, we have taken tours offered by Newmar, Jayco, and Dynamax.  The tours are very informative and helpful to prospective buyers and a great way to learn about quality and build differences between manufacturers.  

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Day 4, Elkhart.

You have to go to the RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame…even if you are not an RV’er.  This 100,000 square-foot facility boasts hundreds of really cool vintage RVs.  For an earlier more detailed blog post regarding this museum click here.

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There are two good burger joints in Elkhart – Miles Lab Burger Bar and Hennies.  Any place that touts itself as “burger bar” is definitely a draw for us.  Hennies is a bit more of a dive with lounge feel but the burgers are delicious and it is no wonder they were written up in our favorite book (Hamburger America) that highlights the best burgers across the country.   Miles Lab has an interesting story.  The owner is the great-great grandson of Dr. Franklin Miles who founded Miles Medical Company in 1884 whose headquarters were located in Elkhart.  The lab was very successful and is credited with famous products such as Alka-Seltzer.  The restaurant walls are smartly decorated with interesting historic photographs and advertisements pertaining to Miles Lab and their pharmaceutical success.

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If you are like us and have a dog in the car most of the time, head downtown Elkhart where a myriad of paved walkways lead you around downtown parks and walkways along the St. Joseph River.  It is also a good way to burn off your burger calories and let your Labrador retriever get wet. 

Day 5, Goshen.

Downtown Goshen centers around the Historic Courthouse Square.  On the grounds is an interesting police booth dating back to the late 1930’s famous for the Great Depression but also coined the Gangster Era.  The tiny octagonal booth was strategically placed on a street corner within view of three banks so an officer was in clear site, and shooting range, of them.  No bank robberies here.

Hungry and thirsty?  Lets talk food and drink in Goshen.  Goshen Brewing Company is a great place to grab a bite to eat and sample some of their handcrafted twelve great beers.  One restaurant we never miss on a visit to the area is Venturi.  This place has the most amazing Neapolitan-style pizzas and tasty salads.  It’s easy to see why it was voted by Esquire’s readers top 15 most life changing pizza in the nation and one of Yelp’s Top 50 restaurants in the state of Indiana.  Fair warning – the restaurant is very small and popular so plan your visit at odd times or you may have to wait…but it is worth it in our opinion. 

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One of Goshen's oldest and most famous establishments is Olympia Candy Kitchen.  Since 1912 this place has been affectionately known as the “Sweetest Place in Town.”  It was originally a soda fountain but today this locally-owned shop serves up breakfast, lunch, and an assortment of hand-dipped candies made from scratch.  Other claims-to-fame for this place: they served at the Inaugural Balls of Ronald Reagan and George Bush.  Speaking of soda fountains…there is also the South Side Soda Shop and Diner where you can get malts, shakes and over 50 varieties of pies.  (Remember the Pumpkinvine Trail goes through Goshen too in case you opt for dessert!)

We have always enjoyed our time in this area of northern Indiana.  The surrounding Amish farms are peaceful and we love pulling into the grocery store where horse and buggies are parked along side us.  Yes, having service to our coach can be an inconvenience when you live in it full-time but it is a part of traveling and we make the best of it.   Even if you don’t need to come to the area for RV service, consider coming anyway for a visit. 

(This blog is dedicated to Peg who reminded us we were very behind on writing blog posts.)