Monday, August 28, 2017

Ashtabula, Ohio: Bridge Street

If there's a place on the waterfront called Bridge Street, you can bet there's a bridge on it. And here it is - crossing the Harbor that connects the Ashtabula River to Lake Erie.

The bridge was constructed in the 1920s, I believe, and still works. Apparently it is raised every half-hour or so in order for boats to pass through.

Ashtabula is a classic Rust Belt city, which means it has seen better days. It used to be heavily involved in heavy industry because of its port facilities, although that has declined in recent years. The industrial heritage meant that a lot of pollution was left behind, and they are still working with that legacy.

The civic leaders are trying to establish an historic district down by the bridge. There are a few shops there including some restaurants. It's a nice start, but it has a ways to go yet.

By the way, Ashtabula right now is proud of being the home town of Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer. Signs have been posted around town that salute him.

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Ashtabula, Ohio: Smolen-Gulf Bridge

Every town in America has a claim to fame, and this might just be Ashtabula's.

Here's a photograph of the longest covered bridge in the United States. In fact, there are only a few larger in the entire world.

This is a relatively new structure, according to the signs in the adjoining park that overlooks the structure. The bridge was build in 2008. It goes over the Ashtabula River, which wasn't too mighty when we saw it as a bit of water headed north into Lake Erie.

Be sure to get out of the car and take a walk at least part way over the bridge. There is a "lane" for walkers on the side of the bridge, and the architecture is quite interesting as these things go.

If you are going to visit, I'd bet October would be the month to see it.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Frankenmuth, Michigan: Bronner's Christmas Wonderland

Do you like Christmas decorations? I mean, do you REALLY like Christmas decorations?

Bronner's Christmas Wonderland is the place for you.

It's gigantic. Awe-inspiring. Mind-boggling. There are 2.2 acres of merchandise on display, which is bigger than two football fields.

Anything connected with the December holiday is on display. There is a personalizing section to make a gift more special. More than 50 countries are represented.

Outside there are displays everywhere. A replica of the chapel where Silent Night was first performed in Austria can be visited. Santa is there, much bigger than life. If you go after dark, you can see thousands of lights turned on in colorful displays.

About two million people a year come through the place. I can't imagine what it is like in December, or on Black Friday.

If you are in the area, you really should go - even if you aren't religious (that angle to the holiday is promoted a bit, for what it's worth). But this video will give you an idea of what to expect.

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Frankenmuth, Michigan: Zehnder's Restaurant

It's not illegal to skip dinner at Zehnder's when visiting Frankenmuth, but it's close. The chicken dinners are quite famous as these things go, so it's a must stop.

The usual order is the family style dinner of chicken. The food seems to keep coming and coming under the circumstances - potatoes, stuffing, cole slaw, bread, and on and on. The waiter said no one leaves without a bag of leftovers unless they are traveling. I believe it.

You can order off the menu too. Tip - if you are traveling the next day, just order a plate of the fried chicken. You won't feel so guilty wasting so much food. The price, by the way, is the same either way you go.

Speaking of tips, think about making a reservation if you know ahead of time if you are going. The greeter is rather smug if you haven't done so, making you stand in the corner to wait for a table. The restaurant is huge, so you won't have to wait long, but a reservation will help make the experience better.

This operation really needs to be seen in full:

The family also controls the Bavarian Inn, but they are two separate companies in a friendly competition. Zehnder's is No. 8 in the nation in terms of restaurant customers.

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Frankenmuth, Michigan: Cheese Haus Mouse

Ah, ain't that cute.

Main St. in Frankenmuth is filled with cute little shops trying to attraction the attention of tourists. This is one such technique.

And it works pretty well. People line up to get their picture taken with the mouse. If they want to wait for the line to go down, they can always go into the store.

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Lansing, Michigan: State Capitol

Most state capitols more or less look alike. There are big rooms for the legislatures, small rooms for the Governor and government workers, and a big dome in the middle. It's usually very well done, too.

That's the state capitol in Lansing in a paragraph. You'll find a few of such buildings on this blog, and this fits the pattern rather nicely. A security guard asked us which capitol we liked the most, and we said they were all rather similar.

Speaking of security, there are no metal detectors at the entrances. That's rather unusual as these things go. However, the security detail inside the building is a large one. The state wants to give the appearance of openness.

The building here went up in the 1870s, and was restored around 1990. As you'd expect there are portraits of former Governors in the halls. Few have gone on to bigger and better things - not that being Governor isn't a highlight. George Romney had a son who achieved a bit of fame in 2012 when he ran for President, of course.

Shown here is the Senate chamber. Check out those comfy chairs! Each Senator has a good-sized desk, and a chair for a staff member to help during work sessions. It's much more spacious than the House chamber; no wonder representatives like to move up to the Senate.

Here's how the whole place looks:

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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

According to the tour guide, the Meijer company - which has a chain of markets in the Midwest - had a piece of land that it wanted to use for a store. However, the neighborhood didn't particularly like the idea.

In response, the company was willing to turn the land into a site for gardens. Company president Frederik Meijer insisted on using the sculpture that was sitting in the equivalent of garages to fill up the space.

The idea went over well, and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park was created. And it's wonderful. You'd have to call it a world-class facility, and no doubt is the pride of Grand Rapids. The gardens don't take up a large percentage of the space, in a sense. Most of the land is devoted to showing off the sculpture, and it's an impressive collection.

The signature piece of the place is shown here. "American Horse" is given its own little plaza; you can see its size when compared to the people nearby. Kudos to Nina Akamu for the work here.

It's not fair to show only one piece of work from the place, but that's my format. A video will give you a better tour.


As of this writing, the facility has acquired more land and is figuring out what to do with it. My guess is that it will be used for more enclosed gardens, so that it can become even more of an all-season attraction. But it's really, really good as it is. You should go out of your way to see it.

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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Loch Ness Monster

At last, the Loch Ness Monster has been spotted.

It's in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Sort of.

This has an interesting story. "Nessie" was created for a 2009 public art competition in Grand Rapids, and was in the Grand River for a while. It won sixth place, and sat around for about a year while people figured out what to do with it.

The John Ball Zoological Garden stepped up to the plate at that point. Nessie was placed in the pool by the Zoo's entrance, offering a unique greeting to visitors.

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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fluoridation Sculpture

"What is that?"

I would assume that someone walking down the river path in downtown Grand Rapids would come up to this piece of sculpture and ask that question.

The answer, it turns out, is a tribute to fluoridation. No, really. It's called "Steel Water," and was unveiled in 2007.

Grand Rapids was the first city in the world to add fluoride to its drinking water, thus cutting dentists' bills for its residents considerably. (No word on what the dentists thought about this.) As the plaque nearby says, people used to lose many of their teeth at a young age before this step was taken. Many couldn't serve in the military in World War II for that reason.

Cavities in Grand Rapids went down 65 percent after this step was taken. The sculpture celebrating all this might be a little, um, abstract for some tastes, but it's one way to celebrate a wise civic move.

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Grand Rapids, Michigan: Rosa Parks Statue

Downtown Grand Rapids is quite a nice place to visit these days. There are several new buildings up in the area, and the riverwalk works nicely.

One of the meeting points in downtown is a small park about a block from the river. It's considered the heart of the city, according to an official web site. The area used to be called Grab Corners and Campau Square. But now, it's Rosa Parks Circle.

Parks, you remember, is one of the heroes of the civil rights movement. She refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955. That led to her arrest and a long bus boycott that eventually changed public policy in that area.

Someone made an interesting decision to have Parks standing in this piece of sculpture. After all, she made a statement by sitting. It's been suggested that Parks is shown to be standing up for her civil rights, which is as good an explanation as any.

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