Monday, 24 March 2014

An Erie Trip - Day 9 - Rolling Back To Chicago

An interesting tour through Indiana today. Barns are popular here.

The Chicago skyline is certainly interesting.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

An Erie Trip - Day 8 - The Art House

When we read the AirBNB description of The ArtHouse near Toledo in Ohio we were not expecting as much art as we got.

The conservatory had a piano for me to play, and there were eagles nests across the river for us to watch.

Practically every wall had art on it, blown glass bowls on the tables, and they sure stocked the fridge for us including 3 bottles of wine, a dozen water bottles and all sorts of breakfast nom noms. We left all the utensils we bought for our beach BBQ here for them as a Thank-You.

They even invited us out in the evening to a local bar, but we declined with thanks as we had built a nest next to the fire to snuggle in and watch TV.

I would stay in this place for an entire holiday, one of the nicests places I've ever visited in my life.

We had driven in through Erie and had a wander on the shore. Here I am walking on a frozen lake yet again.

I guess at least I've got my top on this time.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

An Erie Trip - Day 7 - Onto Cleveland

We left Niagara and headed down i90 for over 200 miles into Cleveland, stopping off at the actual town of Erie on the way.

At 7p a text I'll wait for wifi, thanks.

It was nice to tick off a few more states as we went.

The very over staffed visitor Centre was amusing.

Staff outnumbered visitors three to one.

Forgot I'm on holiday, not working.

Lake Erie is still frozen on the USA side. I had to run over someone's garden for this shot as we searched 20 minutes for a public shoreline before I said "screw it, I'll apologise with my nice UK accent if anyone comes out."

Another AirBNB apartment, chock full of vintage curiosities.

The house is two bedrooms, with a big lounge, study, dining area, kitchen and bathroom.

Nice comfy bed, and all very clean and fresh.

New York likes to charge you for driving down the roads.

So time to relax with a stack of 33s :-)

An Erie Trip - Day 6 - Ice Ice Baby

A bit of a wet day, both from the spray of the falls and some rain.

Kind of odd seeing Niagara like this but it's beauty still astounds.

As it is so quiet here we could easily pull up on the side of the road for pictures.

Mel went up the giant tower, I stayed on the nice solid ground.

Definitely hoody weather.

Friday, 21 March 2014

An Erie Trip - Day 5 - Falling Out

I'm sure you guessed from the title, but our next stop if you didn't is Niagara Falls.

We we're graciously allowed to leave our bungalow whenever we wanted, so we had a lay in and cooked eggs and toasted bread that they had left for us.

I made more rubber band bracelets on the 4 hour journey, and after a couple of stops for food and watering we got to the hotel.

As we had saved so much money using AirBNB we treated ourselves to a suite at the Doubletree Hilton on Falls Drive, which has a view of them.

Have to say the falls were not what I expected but exciting and interesting all the same.

The suite is massive, with several rooms, TVs and two huge beds.

I recommend it.

Not much else to say today as it was mostly driving.

Found various cool sweets at a service station though. These and some Tabasco flavour Jelly Belly beans, and some hickory smoked pretzel pieces.


Thursday, 20 March 2014

An Erie Trip - Day 4 - BBQ On The Beach

We visited the most southerly part of Canada today on the shores of Lake Erie.

(Why did I find myself singing Wide Open Space in my head)

 It's mostly frozen over, with snow everywhere.

Sometimes stacked quite high.

But we are British dammit so a little snow and temperatures of -8 won't hold us back.

So with the label still on the freshly bought tongs we fire up the BBQ.

... and set about cooking some steak.

Served up in yummy cinnamon bagels.

In the evening we were invited for wine and cheese with our AirBNB hosts in their extremely nice house.

Planning on just popping in for a short while, we ended up talking about all sorts for four hours. Again, I am really sold on the concept of meeting all these people.

A late night burger run, some more crafting of rubber band bracelets and bed.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

An Erie Trip - Day 3 - Detroit And Into Canada

We woke up in our Kalamazoo bed and breakfast to our delightful host Bill cooking us the breakfast we had ordered.

For that unbelievable £34 they had gone out and got one of the breakfast scrambles I like, fresh bread, milk, butter, jams, eggs, brewed filtered coffee and tea. Each item was checked to see if it was to our liking and then served with freshly squeezed juice.

Bill, our host, then sat with us as we ate and we talked for over an hour about our various business lives, computers and how he loved meeting people. Absolutely brilliant, and I felt bad saying we needed to hit the road.

Packing up our stuff, we got into our Ford Freezerbox and quickly put heated seats and turned up the climate control. It was much better by the time we got to the end of the drive. Love the Ford Escape.

The drinks took longer to defrost though.

Our first port of call might seem a little strange to those not a fan of the show Hardcore Pawn, which is a reality show about a pawn shop in Detroit run by the Gold family.

The sign outside said they would be filming. People inside seemed to pay no attention to the cameras. Obviously a common occurrence.

After wandering around the store for a while and not seeing the crew we started looking at getting me an engagement ring as the one I had we returned due to me being allergic to the coating they put on white gold.

I decided I wanted a black titanium ring, and waited by the desk when Seth and Ashley walked out.

Not expecting him to say yes, as the film crews were setting up for a shoot, he was delighted to help and pose for a photo!

Then, as an added bonus he got Ashley to write us up the sale, and she was happy to do that too and pose for a picture with Mel! Happy days.

At this point things got a little weird.

Camera crew had set up shop 10 minutes at least ago, and Les has come out too.

The director had come up to us and said "we're filming, please don't look into the camera," as we were stood directly by Ashley who was in shot.

On asking for a photo Les told me "Sure, but I'm working for a moment."

Two guys then came in and walked up to the counter where Seth was stood now, and the camera crew were set up now for 15 minutes or so.

Les stood just off from us and busied himself with a sale of a fur coat at the jewelry counter, directly in shot, but a sale never actually seemed to be made.

The usual shouting and screaming kicked off. The guy was delivering his piece about the crap price he was being offered a few feet from us. If this is aired you will see us here.

The guy was ejected from the store by the big guy.

Les was now happy to pose for a photo with me. Great stuff. He shook my hand and we headed to the door.

The film crew, in that time, had got round the counter, in front of the bouncer and were between him and the guy shouting in the car park.

Just as we exited, the camera swung round to film the bouncer who was basically telling him to bring it on, and if the footage is aired you will see us there too.

At no time did the guy and his mate complain about the camera.

I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions.

I voiced my opinion to Ashley at one point and I thought she was going to tear my head off, and told me sternly that these people were not actors.

Next stop was Kingsville in Ontario, after heading through the Detroit to Canada tunnel.

At one point Mel got all panicky and told me to wind my window up because I was taking pictures of burnt out buildings and sadly poor people. Detroit is very, very dilapidated. My iPad SD card reader is broken so they will be on my travel blog at a later date.

Not 30 meters into Canada we almost crashed into another car, but luckily the locals have good brakes and a apologetic wave sent us on our way to our next stop.

Another AirBNB booking, this was a private bungalow set on top of a double garage. The owners live in a separate house to the side, and had left keys for us in an agreed place as they were out.

We let ourselves in, and were gobsmacked at what we had for our £124 for two nights.

The accommodation was as described. A full kitchen and dining area, bathroom, lounge and bedroom.

The kitchen was fully equipped with pans, plates, glasses and cutlery. Oils and seasonings in the cupboards, along with tea coffee and sugar jars.

Even better eggs, milk, OJ, cereals, breakfast bars, two loaves of artisan bread, fruit, sweets... All sorts just thrown in with the price !

A lovely kitchen and dining area with a full cooker, microwave and toaster.

A large lounge with sofa bed, chairs, TV with Netflix and other services, free wifi, a range of DVDs and books.

A big bed with comfy duvet and pillows, plenty of space if unlike us you like to unpack.

The owners returned and Bill (are all AirBNB owners called Bill? Lol.) came up to welcome us and ensure we knew how everything works. He also recommended a local supermarket and we headed there for tea fodder and relaxed for the evening.

One thing I have learnt is that it's difficult to get a glass of wine around here after 7:30pm. Supermarkets don't sell alcohol it appears.

Also, we learnt that Fairfax add a service charge onto any transaction in Canadian Dollars if you have a US Dollar card.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

An Erie Trip - Day 2

Today started off with another of the Man Vs Food restaurants, this one called The Lucky Sandwich which has three locations around the Chicago area.

First thing I clocked in this quaint Irish bar/restaurant was this old Atari cocktail arcade game. Fantastic.

The walls were covered in old and new Irish memorabilia and photos. The waitress was attentive and fantastically pleasant.

Mind you, at 11am on a Sunday it was unsurprising we were the only customers.

The sandwiches are huge.

As well as your choice of meats, or of course all of them together as this is the USA after all, they put fries and coleslaw into the sandwich as well.

None of that rubbish on-the-side we get in the UK.

They also had a very nice 7% cider that was so tasty even Mel liked it.

Needless to say food won and we both headed out into the very cold Chicago air and headed to our next stop.

Via Walmart of course, for supplies.

Some odd liqueurs for sale in Walgreens, too.

Rosemary and olive vodka anyone? No? Nor me.

With snow like this about, we were glad for a 4x4 Ford Escape. Complete with a fantastic array or ports to charge devices on, heated seats and plenty of room for Mels shopping it was well worth the upgrade.

The journey from Chicago only too about 3 hours including some stops, and was very straightforward.

We arrive in Kalamazoo just after 6 to a very warm welcome.

As a change, and a very cheap way of exploring multiple locations, we have tried the service for some of our accommodation this trip.

For £34 for the night we have a comfy room, our own bathroom and a cooked breakfast of "whatever we wanted" which they went out and bought. Unbelievable.

We went out for dinner and they just leave the door open, it's that nice a neighbourhood.

Whilst in Florida we would always book a Dibbers villa with a couple of nights at Disney/universal hotels, this service is amazing. You just get welcomed into their houses or stay in the entire house, depending on what you fancy or want to pay.

A very unique whole-house stay coming later in this trip report.

Monday, 17 March 2014

An Erie Trip - Day 1 - Into Chicago

An Erie Trip - Day 1 - Into Chicago

As a change, we thought we would do something new to both of us and we decided to head to the edge of the US and Canada.

The plan is a tour from Chicago, round the top of Lake Erie via a great sounding place called Kalamazoo, through Detroit and onto Niagara Falls, back under the lake to Cleveland then on to Toledo and finally back to Chicago. 10 days in all.

Having had a completely rubbish couple of days health wise, including being rushed in for a cancer scan as blood results pointed to that, I wasn't looking forward to a 9 hour flight as I was exhausted. But it turned out ok in the end.

We arrived late at night to a blizzard, it seemed, but as it was 4am "our" time we grabbed the car as quickly as we could.

Which turned out not to be quickly, as yet again we arrived just as the rental cars computers crashed and they had to process on paper and phone. Grr. Second time in a year for us.

As my pictures at night were rubbish in the conditions, here is one from the morning. They tidy things up quickly in these parts, but there are MOUNTAINS of snow everywhere.

Seriously, you could ski down some of them. Enterprising people have set up lifts.

As we were getting into Chicago so late, and after a long day, we booked a hotel right next to the airport.

When in California we stayed in an Aloft hotel in Rancho Cucamonga and it was delightful, so we chose the one in Chicago for this purpose. Not the wisest of choices it turned out.

Taking the signposted valet lane we pulled up and waited a short while for the service you normally get before I headed inside to prod them, to be told they don't actually do valet. So we parked up outside the hotel and headed in with our luggage.

Ah, but we couldn't park there, as people had reserved all those places (!) and we needed to go park in the multi-storey over yonder and walk back. But don't worry it's a covered walkway, if frickin' freezing.

They graciously let us take our luggage to our room, with room service on our mind. We thought we'd order so it was eat time sooner whilst we parked. Searching high and low we couldn't find any guidebook or menus in the room.

Heading back to reception, my fear was curtly confirmed that they didn't actually serve food - I had noticed a stack of menus on the counter and thought that was counterintuitive for a hotel. But they will deliver to your room. Top banana.

So after following the directions to the car park, which included an illegal u-turn, a fight with idiots cutting corners and a snowy walk we selected our food and picked up the hotel phone.

Mel and I are no strangers to phones, given we have run call centres large and small, but could we make this one simple local call following the instructions written on the phone? Nope. Even getting creative didn't work. 15 minutes later we realised we needed to use a mobile before we started eating the duvet.

The in room coffee machine sprayed water everywhere whilst it made "coffee" which went largely undrunk whilst I placed our order after 7 minutes on hold, as they are obviously trained to answer calls and then swap back to the call they were on to keep people happy and feel attended to.

Not on international calling rates I don't, but we need food. It's now 5am our time, if midnight local time..

However all that aside a tasty sausage sandwich, a bunch of chicken and sauces turned up in the time described, at a very reasonable price. Yummy.

Aside from the view the only final upset was the fact that the blinds leaked light from either side, and if the hotel across the way is lit up like the Blackpool illuminations it's wise you carefully orientate your head on the pillow.

Don't stay here.