Monday, July 8, 2013

Traverse City: "Cherry Capital of the World"

+JMJ+

I've mentioned a couple of different times that my husband's current line of work lends itself to possibly quick changes in location...meaning we can do our best to predict how long we'll live somewhere and still be completely wrong. We have no idea how long God plans for us to remain in Ann Arbor so we've been doing our best to soak in all things "Michigan" while we can. So far we've conquered most of what Ann Arbor has to offer along with the Henry Ford Museum, Mackinac Island, and anything else we catch wind of that locals say we should experience during our time here.

Like Mackinac Island, the Traverse Bay region of the state is considered a "must see/do/experience." While I had been to Sleeping Bear Dunes and some other northwest Michigan locations back in college, neither Michael nor I had ever been to the Traverse City area...so when we discovered that the National Cherry Festival (something I could handle during pregnancy! Unlike all the kayaking, camping, para-sailing, and outdoor activities the area mainly offers) happened to coincide with the 4th of July week we excitedly made plans to check it out. Plus, a short trip to Traverse City gave us one more opportunity to take a mini-vacation before this baby arrives. :)

We spent the morning of the 4th enjoying a scenic drive as we headed north into the Michigan wilderness. As soon as we checked into our quaint motel we took advantage of their location on the East Bay and spent some time relaxing on the beach. Michael even utilized our motel's free kayak usage while my 34-weeks-pregnant self happily cheered him on and took photos from the beach.

Shortly after, we arranged for a cab to drop us off at the festival a few miles down the road, which ended up being one of the most brilliant decisions we could have possibly made. Considering it was the 4th and every hotel within 100 miles had no remaining vacancy, we knew parking would have been impossible. Plus, later that night we learned that Traverse City and the surrounding area is home to about 50,000 people and the festival week brings half a million visitors! Americans seriously love their independence and cherries.

Once we were downtown we quickly learned the layout of the festival and realized we were, without a doubt, in a cherry-lover's paradise. The festival housed tents selling all things cherry-related - from soda pop, coffees, jellies, peanut butter, salsa, honey, candy, to fresh, hand-picked cherries - this place had it all.

1. Black Cherry Cream Soda  2. Boats!  3. Fresh cherries  4. TC hearts Cherries landscaping  5. Assorted cherry products
We spent the remainder of the late afternoon and evening taste-testing free samples, admiring the array of cherry products, watching the adorable Independence Day children's parade, eating an amazing dinner (we highly recommend Mackinaw Brewing Company!), and simply enjoying the sights and sounds of a gorgeous summer day with one another.

Thankfully we hadn't purchased any event tickets for the day and could experience everything at a leisurely pace. As we walked along the West Bay and scoped out possible firework-watching locations we enjoyed listening to the Simon and Garfunkel tribute band and rejoiced that we hadn't wasted money on tickets for a concert we just as easily enjoyed from outside the main stage walls. We ended the night with fireworks before catching a taxi back to our motel.

Wearing our best patriotic blue as we celebrated Independence Day on Lake Michigan
The next day brought with it two events we wanted to check out - and conveniently enough, we were able to drive to both of them since they were apart from the main festival area.

First we headed along the West Bay area and drove about 7 miles up the Leelanau Peninsula to take advantage of a free cherry orchard tour! Neither of us had been to a cherry orchard before so we had fun listening to the guide while getting pulled through the grounds by a big tractor. Then we headed inside where we, of course, got to try more cherry product samples (the coffee, donut holes, and ice cream toppings were beyond amazing!).

Cherry trees!
We had about 20 extra minutes from the time we left the orchard until we had to be at our next event...so we found a nice spot to park on our drive back down the peninsula and walked down the beach to soak in some more sun and Michigan tranquility.

Soon we arrived at the Grand Cherry Buffet lunch - which was the only event we actually purchased tickets for and we both agree was money very well-spent (plus it went to charity!). There were hardly any other young couples at the luncheon and as we stood in line Michael joked that it was "time to make some senior citizen friends!" 

Michael's plate at the Grand Cherry Buffet
If you have eyes and can see the picture of the plate above then you don't need me to tell you how delicious that buffet was. And you can't even see the cherry pie or cherry lemonade in that photo.

While we ate, entertainment was provided by an artist who painted while singing along to the guitarist standing next to the stage. He continually pulled people from their tables to let them help complete his painting...and Michael got chosen!

Perhaps it was because Michael and I had just joked about how funny it would be if he got pulled on stage...or perhaps it was because the food was so incredibly delicious and I was in a very contented state of being...but I was practically giddy when the artist pulled Michael up on stage. And of course I took several photos to document the occasion.

My husband helping the artist on stage
After lunch we walked along the bay one last time before climbing in the car for the drive home. We only stayed one night and experienced about 24 hours of the National Cherry Festival, but the laid-back atmosphere of Lake Michigan made it feel as if we'd vacationed somewhere for days.

Saying goodbye to Traverse City and Lake Michigan
We arrived home by dinnertime on Friday night and still had an entire weekend to enjoy before Michael had to head back to work. Neither of us could believe how rejuvenated we felt! I'm so grateful that God blessed us with a wonderful mini-vacation, perfect weather, an opportunity to explore a new place, and the ability to enjoy some alone time as husband and wife before our baby boy soon arrives. :)

"As people of faith, and as Americans, we must be free to act according to our conscience and serve the common good. This is the freedom we celebrate on Independence Day and every day, and why we must continue to pray and act in defense of our religious freedom, as Catholics and Americans, proud to be both." 
-Cardinal Donald Wuerl

2 comments:

  1. We were just talking about wanting to go to the cherry festival next year! Looks like you two had a blast! :)

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    1. It was awesome and I highly recommend going! They have lots of "official" events you can purchase tickets for, but there are so many free samples and things to enjoy without tickets that you can experience it all for a really reasonable price. :)

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