Our evening was winding down nicely. We drove through downtown Saugatuck and amidst the flurries and increased weekend traffic the little town was awakening ever so slightly. Shannon wanted to visit a few of the clothing shops, most of which had a 50% off sale trying to clear out the winter merchandise. But, even at 50% off some of the items this exclusive town is known for were still priced beyond our modest budget. Definitely not a town to shop for bargains. She was able to get a deal on some bags and some slippers.
From there we headed to what we had hoped would be a relaxing dinner at The Butler. Everything was enjoyable – the fireside, the view of the bay, the ambiance, and even the clam chowder soup was delicious. I ordered pan-fried walleye, and Shan ordered Crab Mushroom Chicken. My entree was excellent with a side of the Butler fries. Shannon’s entree on the other hand arrived pink in the center, which of course is not good for chicken. She returned the entree to the kitchen to cook it further. When it arrived the second time, it was only slightly better. She picked at it and we left feeling a bit cheated by the whole experience. The bill was roughly $40. I wouldn’t recommend this restaurant to anyone unless they order something like the Butler Burger for which they’re known. Our server Patti was very delightful, but very over extended due to the proximity off the tables in our section being so far from the kitchen. We may try the restaurant again, but will certainly avoid the chicken entrees.
After dinner we drove all through Douglas and the outskirts of Saugatuck doing some sightseeing and getting a lay of the land. On our way back into Saugatuck for the night, we snapped the above picture at the Lake Street entrance to Saugatuck.
After our eventful, but relaxing morning we headed to Holland to one of Shannon’s yarn shops Lizzie Ann’s Wool Co. Shannon had previously been to this shop, but when she walked in, she was reminded why she had forgotten the place. It may well appeal to the locals, but she said, if a store like Thread Bear Fiber Studio in Lansing was closer, they would put Lizzie Ann’s out of business. They were nice “enough,” but the overall substance of the store was lacking. The pricing, in Shannon’s estimation was over-priced. Again, using Shannon’s 5 Point Knitting Needle Scale here’s the low-down…
Yarn Selection = 3
Accessories/Notions = 3
Patterns/Books = 3
Service = 4
Organization = 4
Location = 5
Would Shannon Return = NO
JP’s Coffee and Espresso Bar – Holland, Michigan
While Shannon shopped at Lizzie Ann’s, I strolled over to a local coffee house called JP’s Coffee and Espresso Bar. Based on Shan’s review of Lizzie Ann’s, it appears my trip to JP’s was much more…delightsome shall we say. As I stepped in the place was hopping, even at 3:00 p.m. There were wall-to-wall coffee drinkers, wi-fi scrounges, and baristas everywhere. A very hip and happenin’ place. A very energetic vibe, the kind you’d expect at a successful coffee house. Nothing like the lethargic generics at Starbucks! The baristas were all chatty and helpful. My Vanilla Latte was the best I’ve had in a long time.
While I waited for my drink, there was a video playing of a barista competition where they were literally making art out of the foam and froth atop the various lattes. There were leafy floral patterns, hearts, and swirls of all types. I was fascinated as the barista, like an artist would carefully and cleverly pour the froth, swirl, and voila! A masterpiece in your mug so fantastic one would hesitate to drink it. Surely a snap shot taken by your camera phone, uploaded to Facebook, Twitter, and Flikr would be in order before the sip!
We started our day off with a small breakfast as provided by Bayside Inn. It was comprised of a variey homemade coffee cake, banana bread, a variety of fruit, cereals, and a breakfast quiche. I broke in my antique coffee pot with some coffee I bought the other day from Uncommon Grounds Roasters here in Saugatuck. I would certainly not stay at Bayside Inn for the breakfast.
After breakfast I spent sometime catching up on my blog and Shannon spent time knitting, and re-knitting a shrug she’s making for her sister. I know, not much of an adventure, but when you’re used to going all the time, doing leisurely things like this are a luxury. I’ve kept up with some of my emails, Facebook, Twitter, etc. but being away physically has been just what we’ve needed to re-spark, refresh, and rejuvenate.
The Carol Ann Ice Breaker in Action
The wasn’t a total wash however, because during our relaxation time a drama on the river outside our suite began to unfold. To our delight and amazement, a couple of ice-cutters were docked just next door to our inn. The Carol Ann (Holland, MI) began cutting through the ice flows like butter until she reached a fairly large flow that required several full-steam stabs to get it to break. Below is a video account of one of the stabs.
Honestly, I can’t think of a cooler (no pun intended) way to spend the morning than watching these guys trudge head long into huge ice flows. Even Shannon was having a blast watching the drama unfold. This may be a common occurance here in Saugatuck, but for us it was a real treat.
After a relaxing morning of room-service breakfast we headed toward Saugatuck. I swung by Biggby Coffee and tried one of their “skinny” Teddy Bear coffee drinks and it was superb! That fueled me for the drive west and about an hour and half later we drove into Saugatuck and were greeted by one of their more notable landmarks the “Peterson Mill.” I snapped a few shots off of the mill and the surrounding frozen water.
Blue Star Antique Pavilion
We drove through the small water town and since it was only 11 a.m. we decided to seek out some antique shops I had looked up online. Fortunately for us, we started with the best the area had to offer in our opinion – Blue Star Antique Pavilion located at 2945 Blue Star Highway Douglas, MI. Their website is http://www.bluestarantiquepavilion.com/
This place is so filled with treasures, the hardest part about shopping here is knowing where to begin and how to fit it all in. We shopped for 2 ½ hours and spent about $130. We purchased a silver chafing dish, several Zane Grey books, a 1969 Farmer’s Almanac, a small jewelry dish, and a set of (4) 24kt. gold leafed bowls, and (2) plates to match. The best treasure of all was stainless steel Sunbeam Coffee Percolator for $20! This was a treasure for a variety of reasons, not the least of which that it was made in America, coffee strength selector dial, and extremely quiet percolation. This little pot buries the “made in China” models I’ve had in the past for quality, speed, and yes, price. Judging by the cord configuration this model is circa 1970…hmmm not bad for 40 years old!
We will definitely make this a regular place to visit if we are ever in the area. For any antique enthusiast, this store is a MUST! The staff were friendly and accommodating and overall we felt the pricing was within reason. 5 out of 5 ‘Stars’ for us!
Uncommon Grounds Coffee Roasters
Another Saugatuck MUST for coffee lovers (and tea) is Uncommon Grounds Coffee Roasters. You are greeted by the intoxicating aroma of not just fresh ground coffee, but fresh ROASTED coffee! Roasts varying from their House Roast, to Guatemalan, Columbian, Kenyan, Fog Cutter, and their Coffee Lover’s which after being given a complimentary taste I had to buy a pound!
Land Sharks of Saugatuck
We hit the 50% Off Winter Sale at Saugatuck’s Land Sharks. I bought a pair of Keen’s, my favorite shoe maker of all time. And a pair of Patagonia’s which made me feel guilty for cheating on my Keen’s! For less than $150 I upgraded my casual/outdoor shoes. I even got the approval of my cousin Matt Bowen who also is a Keen Enthusiast!
Kilwin’s of Saugatuck
No anniversary celebration is complete with CHOCOLATE! Kilwin’s more than fits the bill here. At first we were disappointed as we drove into town to see their former location boarded up. As we drove further into town we were relieved to find their new location just before the 4-way light. Shan picked out a few of her fav’s as did I. I had a hard time making up my mind, but came up with quite an assortment including several truffles of dark and milk chocolate.
After settling into our suite for the night, the last thing we felt like was heading back out into the cold. We googled pizza places in Saugatuck and were pleasantly surprised by Pizza Mambo’s. We ordered 2 salads; 1 Caprese and 1 Antipasto. For pizza we ordered a 12” medium with mushrooms, onions, bacon, and green peppers.
Awesome is a way overly used word to describe things, but in terms of pizza and salad this raised the bar. The pizza was thin-crusted and used provolone instead of mozzarella. What a change from the blasé typical pizzas. The show stoppers were the European-style Caprese and Antipasto. Fresh Mozzarella, Basil and Sliced Tomato, drizzled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar adorned the Caprese. Prosciutto, Salami, Sausage, Smoked Provolone, Parmegiano Reggiano, House Marinated Olives & Giardiniera on a bed of Romaine. Served with Grilled Italian Bread was enough to share for the Antipasto! Is your mouth-watering yet? Definitely a ‘do-again’ is in order for this place. Delivered for $38, but gourmet all the way. Incidentally, delivery is the only way to go with this place as it is entirely too small to eat-in.
February 10, 2010 Shannon and I celebrated our 20th Anniversary. I know what you’re all thinking, neither Shannon nor I look old enough to be celebrating such a monumental occasion, but in fact, I was 20 years old and Shannon 19 (she turned 20 March 24th). We were young by today’s standard and even then too. I’ll admit if Nathan or Katelyn came home and told me they were getting married at that age, in today’s lingo I would “freak out!”
As a teenager I was a picture framer (yes this is going somewhere) and one of my clients frequented a little west Michigan town called the funny name of Saugatuck. The pictures Bob Gaunt, my client, would bring back of the town and the art he purchased at the galleries in Saugatuck, fascinated me to no end. I vowed to one day go and see this artsy-fartsy town. Almost 25 years later my long-forgotten goal has come to pass.
As with any of my travels, I do massive amounts of research online and elsewhere. Our travel priorities are as follows…
Comfort and cleanliness
On or near the water
Not too far away (2-4 hrs.)
Local yarn, antiques, and coffee shops
Saugatuck fits the bill in every way.
As a bonus, I like to do what I call a boondoggle before we get to our actual destinations – be it weekends or even summer vacations. It’s a way to feel as if you’ve been away for a longer period of time. For us our boondoggle was Lansing, which was right on the way to Saugatuck. In an effort to streamline and simplify the categorizing of subjects, I’m going to break down our travels by days ex. Day 1 of 4. Making these blog entries serves several purposes for me…
A log of cities and towns
A log of shops and businesses
A log of restaurants
And most importantly our experiences at all the above
Our’s is a simple taste, so if extravagance is what you’re looking for this may not be to your liking. However, if realistic, down-to-earth travel is your bag, read on my friend.
We started our morning with an excellent breakfast at Cracker Barrel (1 of 2 right in Pigeon Forge). From there we went to the outlets yet again for a couple of last minute things. Nathan and I found a place called “Lids” that sells hats. They had this huge contraption right in the middle of the store that was an embroidering machine. This machine for about $10 would add details to just about any hat in the place. We had a blast picking out our hats and customizing them.
We then took the kids to the NASCAR go-carts for the remainder of the day. The price wasn’t too bad, it cost about $25.00 for both of them to ride a couple of times. The wait time was a bit excessive with the holiday crowds, but they walked off the ride with a smile on their face.
We had lunch at Huck Finns. This, to me, is the only place to get catfish in all of Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, or Sevierville. The bill was a bit steep, but the meal was well worth it. We each got an entree which includes hush puppies, a sliced onion, pickles, and white beans with ham. I of course ordered catfish. Shannon and Katelyn ordered calabash shrimp. Nathan ordered fried clams. This restaurant serves their drinks in “Mason” jars. This is an old southern tradition that I often even did as a child visiting Mangold’s Grove. While I’ve been down here, I’ve ordered nothing but sweet tea. I even got Nathan hooked!
Thankfully, the weather cooperated. In fact so much so, we enjoyed the fireworks from our hotel lawn. They were about 5 miles away at Patriot Park, but we had an excellent view from where we were.
We surely could have covered more ground in Pigeon Forge had it not been for the miserable traffic AND my bum ankle. I’m good for about 3 hours and then I have to get it elevated. This is the first week I have been able to put weight on the left foot with the help of a cane. So much of this vacation is going to involve taking pain pills, going to the extreme with my foot, taking more pain pills, keeping it iced and elevated.
After prayer to ensure a safe journey, we departed Sterling Heights at 5:00 a.m. sharp. Katelyn, bless her heart, was so excited she woke up at 2 and couldn’t go back to sleep. We stopped at Bob Evans in Ohio and had breakfast. We stopped for gas 2 times our first fuel up at Meijer in Ohio was for $3.99 and then again in Kentucky for $4.05 a gallon. Real deals considering Michigan prices are almost $4.20 as of this post.
We arrived in Pigeon Forge at roughly 4:00. We made relatively good time adhering to the speed limits not only to prevent getting a ticket, but for the added benefit of saving on fuel.
Dinner We had dinner at Calhoun’s. This has been a Tennessee favorite of mine for a long time. They’re famous for anything from their steaks, seafood, and my personal favorite – Ribs! They were as always terrific. Shannon and Katelyn shared chicken tenders. Nathan had the special which was a Pork Chop with broccoli and a side of mashed potatoes. Our bill came to roughly $55.00 for all of us. Considering this was our main meal of the day I didn’t figure that was all that bad.
Traffic Surprise To our dismay, on the way into Pigeon Forge, starting almost from the point we got off of Hwy. 640, onto Hwy. 40, there was bumper-to-bumper traffic. When we arrived at Calhoun’s we enquired about the traffic, and according to them, Gatlinburg, which is just up the road from where we were at, is known for being one of the first places in the United States to celebrate the birth of our country, by having a parade that starts at the stroke of midnight. People were lined up trying to pile into the small town before the streets get blocked off. Even as patriotic as I am, we decided to forego those festivities in favor of a quiet evening here in Pigeon Forge.
Accommodations After almost 11 hours travel, we were ready to huddle into our room. I had some anxiety about checking in. I had previously booked a room here and had to cancel it when we decided to arrive a day early and needed a room for 2 days rather than just the one. The cancellation went through without incident, but I just wasn’t sure by cancelling and booking another reservation was going to work out. I could just imagine, someone thinking I intended to cancel the reservation and cancelling both of them. To my relief, the room was in fact ready.
Econo Lodge Riverside Review Now, I’m not a connoisseur of hotels, but I have stayed in my share of good and bad, and there are certain things we MUST have in order to enjoy our stay at a hotel. Econo Lodge Riverside at 2440 N. Parkway Pigeon Forge TN 37868 is in a great location. It’s billed from a 2 to 3 star hotel but several sites. Incidentally, I located this hotel at Kayak.com for a rate of $79.99 (Thu.) and $99.99 (Fri.). This rate includes a non-smoking room with 2-queens with a AAA discount. Below is a description of my rating system and my review of the room.
My Rating System
Cost – This is a very important factor in all of our decisions. In the past we have paid dearly for a room only to be disappointed. Budgeting for rooms for us typically falls in to the $75 – $100/night, depending on the area.
Cleanliness – We don’t mind paying an extra $10 or $15/night, if we can be assured the room is going to be clean. We have had bugs, hairs, soiled sheets, mold, mildew, rooms in disrepair and swore off ever staying at not only that particular hotel, but sometimes going as far as never wanting to stay at the chain. Best Westerns and Days Inns are 2 names that we have seen go down the tubes in terms of quality.
Closeness – Being in close proximity is important. This saves time and fuel, and enables us to absorb ourselves in the surroundings of the tourist attraction, but not be so close that we are dealing with crowds.
Quietness – Seldom, if ever, can you avoid noise, or predict it happening. The quieter the better though. We’ve stayed in 4 and 5 star hotels only to be totally disappointed with the stay due to loud and rambunctious hockey or softball teams and even grown-up reunions or retreats.
These are my ratings from lowest quality to highest: Awful – Bad – OK – Good – Fair – Moderate – Excellent – Superb
So with these things in mind, let me just say, it’s been roughly 2 hours since we checked in trouble-free with this Econo Lodge in Pigeon Forge and here are my immediate reactions.
Check-in: This went relatively well. The lady at the front desk was polite enough and was helpful. I would suggest here that if you require a room on the first floor due to medical problems (like I currently have) you book this in advance and let them know. We were assigned to the third floor. When I requested a lower level, I was quickly cut-off and told there were none available. Here would have been a good chance for her to at least have offered to check for cancellations, and to offer at least a second floor. She did neither. I immediately asked if there was an elevator. She said yes, but it’s proximity to our room was prohibitive. I may as well take the stairs, although slowly and with a great deal of discomfort. The walk to the elevator would have been roughly double in length.
The Room: Very clean. A bit cramped, but with good reason. There are (2) queen beds, an small kitchenette style area with a small fridge, coffee pot, and microwave, 26″ TV, 2 closets with doors, a table with (2) chairs, a full dresser, a luggage table, and the standard night stand.
The decor was tasteful and up-to-date. It appears this is their original state, as no signs of paint or new wallpaper are evident. The carpet is a bit worn in high traffic areas, as is to be expected, but there are snags, perhaps from children or luggage.
The linens were all clean and in good supply. Enough for all (4) of us.
The soap products seem a bit stingy, but do-able. I did notice while we were checking in, a gentleman that must have been here for a couple of days had to come and get a bar of soap from the hostess, as his room attendant apparently forgot to leave a fresh bar. We had a bar on the sink and on in the tub, so apparently, the room attendant forgot to leave (2) bars of soap.
The pool is smaller than in the pictures, but clean. Being on the smaller side, the pool was quickly crowded, with a lot of screaming kids and non-existent adults.
The Breakfast: This was nothing short of disappointing. Definitely do NOT take this into consideration when factoring the price. With (2) Cracker Barrels, Bob Evans, IHOP, and scads of pancake restaurants to pick from, they actually do you a favor by not serving a decent breakfast.
The Beds: Not the most supportive, and they were probably due for a change-out soon, but they served their purpose.
Overall: My impression of this room is MODERATE
Would I stay here again? Yes
Would I recommend it? Yes
Recommend to who? Family on budget, business, or budget-minded couple on a get-away.