Tag Archives: Andrea Downing


IMG_2305 We are in Toronto, city on a lake, city of gleaming buildings, city of multi-national immigrants. We have driven out of peace and quiet and a white population, into a rainbow of humanity and a cacophony of sound, numerous dialects and varied cuisines. While I always prefer country life, it’s good to feel the exuberance of a city on occasion, get charged and, on a trip, get pampered.

Arriving at a city hotel is not like arriving at a motel or b and b. A doorman IMG_2306awaits, along with a valet to park your car. All thoughts of schlepping your bags—as we did yesterday, up a flight of steps to a second story motel room—vanish as a cart is wheeled out and our bags collected. The slight kafuffle at check-in because our room was not ready was soon forgotten with an apologetic offer of free breakfasts for our stay.IMG_2302 And then there’s the magical opening of the door to the room, discovering an expanse of space in which all our luggage gets dispersed and we collapse after the day’s drive. While some of the accouterments are generic—the coffee machine, the robes, the safe—I spot some new ones like spray starch for ironing. The bathroom has all the old toiletries of yore, now often reduced as hotels follow airlines in the nickel and dime business. But this, in our sixth week of travel, is heaven.

I wonder if there’ll be chocolates when we get back from dinner.IMG_2310





Manitoulin Lighthouse

Manitoulin Lighthouse

Some years ago, there was an episode of West Wing in which the Alison Janney character is asked how a multi-billionaire might use his money to help emerging nations. “Roads,” she answered, “it’s not very glamorous but…” As someone who has now traveled some 7,000 or so miles through the United States and Canada on one trip alone, let me tell you something: it’s not only emerging nations that need new roads. It’s developed nations who are now declining. Like the United States and Canada. Sorry, but if you’ve driven on the roads that I’ve driven on over the past five weeks, seen the questionable bridges and highways of our beautiful country, you’d be as worried as I that our infrastructure is in sad decline. And I’m not talking about backcountry gravel or dirt roads here; I’m talking major highways. These roads will keep you awake while driving because the sound of your tires on them is not only unbearable, but stops all conversation so that you put on blaring music. And these roads will keep you awake at night because you’ll be wondering when you’ll next get a flat tire or, worse, be on a bridge…well, you get the picture. As Alison said, it’s not very glamorous, but

After one hour on one of these roads, we found relief by making the two hour ferry ride to Tobermory,

Tobermory Lighhouse

Tobermory Lighhouse

a delightful town on Lake Huron known, apparently, as The Big Tub. It’s apparently a freshwater diving centre and resembles so many places on Cape Cod or even the California coast, seagulls and all. And we are very, ferry happy to be here.




IMG_2280We’ve been on treasure hunts today. Gore Bay, where we’ve been staying, has a Friday morning market; it proved too inviting to miss and Cristal soon found some woodwork bowls she wanted to buy. But the walk to the bank for cash only led to a garage sale and, as fate would have it, it was huge and impressive. Combing through junk to get to the good stuff was fun, and we each finally made decisions to buy some glassware that was going cheaply—all thoughts of woodwork bowls gone.

Early afternoon found us once again combing a trading post on the far side of the island. I’ve been after a porcupine quill basket I could afford and finally found one, while Cristal grabbed a deerskin purse. At long last, we drove over to the Spirit Circle Centre for a medicine walk, to learn about the various properties of the plants the First Nation peoples use.

FullSizeRenderI should explain that Manitoulin is considered a sacred island by the various sects of the Ojibwe who live here. Our guide, Red Sky, IMG_2287showed us how to ‘smudge’ to protect ourselves before going on the walk. He had us taste cedar leaves and balsam and feel the bark of birch and other trees, and he ended the session giving us IMG_2288bannock and jam and a mint tea. But what stays in my mind the most is how he said the native people must live in two worlds, the everyday world of paying bills and driving cars and dealing with modern problems, and the spirit world of his ancestors and how they would exist in the old ways. And it struck me that, that is true of authors as well: we live in the everyday world of our families and jobs and the domain about us, but in our heads we live in our books with our characters and the world we’re creating.

So if I’m taking any treasure home from Manitoulin, it’ll be the memory of this afternoon spent learning not only about the plants, but a little bit more about myself as well.


IMG_2270Three nights ago—on Sunday—I suddenly awoke in a panic. I had diligently made sure that my car insurance, which comes due July 28th, would be paid on time and would cover all fifty states. I never thought to ask about Canada. Sweat seeping out of every pore, I checked my policy, which I had brought with me, and sure enough it covered Canada. Sigh of relief. Then a hasty look on the internet revealed I needed an extra card proving this insurance. An early Monday phone call to my insurance agent was promptly answered and the response was, you no longer need one. Bigger sigh of relief. As I put the phone down, I suddenly thought, but what about Medicare? Cristal’s UN insurance was still operative and valid throughout the world, but me? To the internet again, and to my horror discovered Medicare doesn’t cross the border. Off I went on an internet search to get travel insurance. That was swiftly accomplished. Then Cristal asked, what about our phones? Is Canada a foreign country as far as Verizon is concerned? It is! Of course it is; if Verizon can get an extra buck out of you, it will. So, global data plan added on. And, at that point I had to ask myself, how could someone as well-traveled as I be such a total idiot?

The answer seems to be that somehow Canada doesn’t seem foreign. As I said yesterday, for the most part they speak English. They have the same shops and malls along the roads and everything, when you’re sitting in NY and planning, just doesn’t seem foreign the way, maybe, going into Mexico seems. But look again! IMG_2271The roads are marked in kilometers, temperature is measured in Centigrade, and the money…what is this plastic see-through stuff and the funny coins with the Queen on them? Forgive me, Canada: you’re not an extension of the USA even if your television seems to have more of our news than yours.IMG_2269

We are on Manitoulin Island, no thanks to Betty who wanted to get us here by a scenic route of gravel back roads. I think she knew full-well we dare not use Hilary because of the costly data plan.


The two Sault Ste. Marie

The two Sault Ste. Marie

The last time I was in Sault Saint Marie, I was fifteen years old and on a trip with fellow high school students. We were on a cruise through the Great Lakes, and I had just fallen in love for the first time with a boy who, according to my daughter, now looks like a walrus in his professional photo, which we tracked down. He and I danced the polka all night to the ship’s orchestra. As the saying goes, I felt like a million bucks.

After eating meals in Munising, Michigan, for three days, I now feel like a million pounds. Part of travel is trying to keep your meals balanced and healthy; eating in restaurants is not the best way to a healthy lifestyle. The break in Jackson did us well, as did the days in Buffalo, and some of our restaurant meals have been

The International Bridge connecting Michigan & Canada

The International Bridge connecting Michigan & Canada

excellent. But not in Munising. And when, on our final night, we decided to get frozen Lean Cuisine dinners, and a bag of microwaveable green beans to still our craving for veggies, we were appalled to find in the supermarket there four aisles of frozen foods and half an aisle of vegetables. Perhaps transportation to the Upper Peninsula is the problem, but it doesn’t explain why, when I ordered a salad, I was confronted with a mountain of processed meat on top of a small layer of lettuce. By the way, the local specialty seemed to be pasties.

Now we are in Canada and the first item on the agenda was lunch at an organic café. The Canadians here sound pretty much like us, look pretty much like us, and the food was just what the doctor ordered—or would have if he knew what we’d been eating in Michigan.

The two Soo-s

The two Soo-s


Munising Falls

Munising Falls

Two days ago, as Cristal and I made the long, tedious journey to Munising, situated in the Hiawatha National Forest, we sought ideas to amuse ourselves. Cristal decided on reading the epic poem, Hiawatha—a notion that soon lost favor when she saw the length of it, and realized it might prove as tedious as the journey. Instead, she looked up Wikipedia information on the background of the poem to settle our dispute: I said the poem was based on the Iroquois in New York, she said the poem was based on native Americans from the Lake Superior area. In a way, we both were correct.

Inspired by the native Americans he met on Boston Common, as well as stories told by an Indian agent and other narratives, Longfellow set out to tell the tale of Manabozho, an Ojibwe hero, whose history is usually set near The Pictured Rocks here on the lake. For whatever reason, Longfellow decided to change the name of his hero to Hiawatha, a name he believed a commonly accepted alternative to Manabozho. It wasn’t. It’s an Iroquois name of the Five Nations settled in NY and PA. Thus began a long history of misinformation resulting in numerous Hiawatha place-names and company names in the Lake Superior region, an area devoid of any Iroquois. You might say this gave Cristal and me a bit of a mini-haha (sorry, I couldn’t resist!).

We were due to go visit these famed Pictured Rocks

Cristal at Sandy Point, The Pictured Rocks in right hand background

Cristal at Sandy Point, The Pictured Rocks in right hand background

by boat, the first designated National Lakeshore in the U.S. Sadly, it wasn’t to be. On arrival at the ticket office, we were told that some boats were coming back as there was a three to five foot swell, yet we should go anyway as our boat might make it. Stalwart veterans of yesterday’s four minute cruise to Grand Island, we took our new tickets and walked away, pictures of the two road-trippers dying by drowning in our head. We returned to the desk and the woman reassured us it was safe and we would get a refund if the boat didn’t make it. Not only that, but Dramamine was sold at the souvenirs desk. Dairy Queen having been recently guzzled, we thought again of the five foot swell and returned once and for all for a refund.

So…no pictures of the Pictured Rocks. We took two walks to waterfalls and are watching the boats from our window.

Miner's Falls

Miner’s Falls






I’ve been seeing the world in layers today. Not onion layers that you peel back to find something at the center, but rather layers that you build upon to get to where you are.

IMG_2201We took a boat ride over to Grand Island, now the property of the Forestry Commission and designated a National Recreation area. A three hour bus tour proved very informative on both the history of the island and its geology. Grand Island is built on sandstone and, depending on the age of the sandstone, each layer has a different color as it gleans more minerals from the earth around it. One variety is brownstone from which many buildings, particularly on the east coast, are built. Eventually, sandstone turns to limestone, a far more dense sedimentary stone. IMG_2204But here on Grand Island, as we viewed one of the original cottages and saw the sandstone used for its chimney, the layers became evident, a color wheel of various shades.

graffiti left by early residents of the cabin, discovered as renovators peeled back layers of wall

graffiti left by early residents of the cabin, discovered as renovators peeled back layers of wall

Later on that tour, we visited a spot where two islands became the one. An area called a tombolo connects the two original islands having built up layers of sediment over thousands of years. The bottom layer would be coarse sand built upon by the waves rolling in and depositing more and more sand until the land bridgeFullSizeRender between the two islands became permanent. Eventually, a thin layer of plant life developed, no doubt helping to bind the final layer.

Finally, of course, there have been layers of people, if you’ll excuse my stretching this metaphor. Evidence on the island shows inhabitants going back to 2000 BC. IMG_2215Coming slightly forward, the Ojibwe/Chippewa nation used the island, ultimately welcoming fur traders in the early 1800s. Fur traders gave way to loggers before the next layer in the late 1800s—wealthy tourists who stayed at a full service hotel or built summer cottages on the shore. WWII put an end to this golden era and the loggers came back, selling out to the forestry commission, who have it now.

We’ve had a lovely clear blue sky all day: Troposphere, Stratosphere, Mesosphere, Thermosphere, Exosphere, Ionosphere, Magnetosphere. Layers…FullSizeRender-14




We have left the West behind, crossing the Mississippi at Minneapolis/St. Paul, losing the broad vistas of prairie and sky. I feel like a building block has been taken out of my being, but I know I shall be able to return in the autumn.

When Betty—our GPS—finally unraveled the maze of concrete around Mall of America, we entered Wisconsin, a state I thought I’d never see. What a surprise! A cloudless sky complemented shades of green with farm upon farm in a manicured landscape, candy box houses made castles by the turrets of silos.

Our road to Munising, Michigan, from where I write, followed Lake MichiganFullSizeRender-13 before crossing at the very top to Lake Superior. Munising is another place I’d never heard of prior to this trip. When Cristal was 11, we had sent her to Interlochen Music Camp near the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. My husband and I spent some time in Traverse City, but with a looming divorce, it was not a pleasant visit, and I remember little, other than the height of the signs to allow for heavy snows and the plethora of craft and book shops, also, presumably, allowing for snow. Today’s road trip, our longest mileage of the entire journey (thankfully with lovely short spurts ahead in the coming days) didn’t give us much time for taking in the view, but what we did see and discover has got us unraveling some mysteries. There was also confusion over the time zone: while Wisconsin is still in Central time, Michigan—the part directly above Wisconsin—is in Eastern.

It’s been a long day and we are about to enjoy pizza and our lovely view of the lake. I promise more to come tomorrow.IMG_0822


I hate good-byes. Oh, you know, not the kind of good-bye with a ‘see ya tomorrow’ or the polite good-bye with a ‘thanks’ to someone you don’t really know, as in a shop. But that real goodbye when you know you’re not going to see someone for a while, and you’re genuinely going to miss their company.

We had a very early start today to make sure to get Karen to Minneapolis/St. Paul airport in time for her flight. We pulled up amongst the taxis, limos and family cars dropping people, a hodgepodge of parking and unloading luggage, not an arena that permits a long, drawn-out farewell. In this case, it was probably a good thing. What can you say after a week’s adventures that we all (hopefully all!) enjoyed so much?

Cristal and I proceeded on a few feet to a motel in Bloomington at Mall of America. The last time I was here, many, many years ago, we were breaking up flights back to the UK after visiting a favorite ranch in Tucson. It was Easter-time, and in Tucson the temperatures were up around 90. As our plane descended into MSP, the captain announced to his passengers, many of whom were still in shorts, that the local temperature was 14 degrees. Headed back to temperate England, we had no hats, gloves, scarves, or suitable coats. It was all so unexpected.

Here in the generic motel room with its veneered furnishings and anticipated fittings, we unpacked Karen’s Mogen David wine that helps her get to sleep at night. That was unexpected, too, but gave us a happy reminder of her presence on the trip.IMG_2195





FullSizeRender-8On the road today, the ribbons of green and blue seemed endless, the flat farmlands spreading out from our band of road, never-ending. Above, clouds seemed like perfect replications of themselves, as if those mirrors which make infinite images were duplicating the clouds eternally. It spooked me somewhat, all that sky; I was thankful to listen to Tim McGraw or for having to concentrate on roadwork.

At lunch in Jamestown, we ate in a place that we figured must be the local hotspotFullSizeRender-10 on weekends, although it was empty. Of course, we had passed into Central Time and were eating late. The waiter looked us over: we’re a strange threesome, with various accents. Karen, for instance, has her soft Texas drawl. After years in Britain, but born in the USA, I have my mid-Atlantic accent while Cristal, born and bred in the UK, has a perfect English accent. Waiters and shopkeepers constantly listen to us and ask where we’re from, where we’re going, even how we know each other.

FullSizeRender-11The varying accents have even led to misunderstandings amongst the three of us. Karen once phoned me while I was walking on a busy New York street and I thought she was someone from Carolina, but here I can now translate what she says. Cristal, on the other hand, has had several misunderstandings. Karen was talking about ‘high hills’ and Cristal was under the impression she was mentioning ‘high heels.’ Karen came into our room and asked for the ‘fly swatter’ and somehow Cristal believed she wanted coconut water. Of course, this has had us in hysterical laughter.

We’re in Detroit Lakes tonight for Karen’s last night. It’s a place I’d never heard of prior to planning this trip. I just hope the laughs make for a good farewell.

the beach at Detroit Lakes

the beach at Detroit Lakes