On our way to visit my brother and his family in Michigan’s upper peninsula, my husband, John, and I stopped to stay a night in Ann Arbor. John was a college professor for 35 years and is an avid football fan. He is always interested in getting a look at any college campus we happen to pass as we’re traveling. The University of Michigan was no different. John was anxious to check it out and was particularly interested in seeing the stadium.
The drive to Ann Arbor from our home takes about 3 hours. We arrived right at lunch time and chose to eat at a Vietnamese restaurant called the “V Kitchen.”
Prior to every trip that we take, I do my research and read restaurant reviews for all of the cities and towns where we will be staying. From that I make a list of “possibles” — high rated restaurants that I think we might enjoy. I list a variety of different cuisines so that we can choose one that will suit our appetites at the time. My list usually includes the top rated diner that does home cooking in case we’re in the mood for comfort food. The list is also likely to show the best places to get pizza, Mexican and/or Asian foods. If there’s something more exotic in the area it’s sure to be a choice as well.
The “V Kitchen” was located in a strip mall where we were able to park right outside the door. I’m not usually a fan of strip mall locations which I often find to be aesthetically dull, and I avoid them if something with better atmosphere is available. In this case, the strip mall itself was more attractive than the norm and the restaurant’s rating was high enough to make me overlook it’s locale.
Inside, the restaurant was clean and modern. John and I shared an order of shrimp fried rice and egg rolls. We also ordered a strange dish recommended by the waitress. It was some sort of cold noodles wrapped in a palm leaf and topped with sliced shrimp. The whole thing was wrapped in something reminiscent of plastic wrap except plastic wrap would have been easier to deal with. It was very rubbery and difficult to cut. I wasn’t even sure it was edible. We ended up tearing it open and eating the insides with the peanut sauce that accompanied it. It was cold and I didn’t like the texture. But then, I am not much of a sushi fan either and that is the menu section where this particular menu item belonged.
State Street is the primary street on the east end of Ann Arbor’s business district and the University of Michigan campus. It is lined with shops and restaurants. Lots of one-way streets and road construction around the campus made it difficult to get around. It was impossible to get a look at the football stadium either by car or on foot. We found out that the university offers tours, for a fee, but you must apply two weeks in advance. If seeing the stadium is your only reason for stopping off in Ann Arbor, don’t bother. Tired of fighting traffic and construction, we drove out to visit the local Matthaei Botanical Gardens.
Admission to the gardens was free. Parking was $1.60 per hour. The Conservatory was not huge but it was filled with lots of unique and nicely labeled displays. John was amused by “Kigelia African” or the sausage tree. I found the Arizona garden to be spectacular. We talked about how nice it would be to visit the conservatory in the winter.
The perennial garden outside the conservatory’s back door was in full bloom. A mass of colorful blooms made it seem as if it had been planted exclusively for this time of year. It was the result of a good garden design. There were more gardens to tour had we followed the paths. We didn’t stay long enough to visit them. I expect it would take a good 3 or 4 hours to see them all.
Before leaving, John bought a $25 T-shirt from the small gift shop. I don’t mind paying inflated prices for gift shop items at this kind of place — non-profit gardens, museums, parks, etc. usually need every dollar they can get in order to keep their doors open. I feel almost obligated to buy something, especially when admission is free . I consider these kinds of gift shop purchases to be a form of donation. And I have a nice souvenir to take home too.
I had reserved a room for the night at the Ann Arbor Bed & Breakfast located across from the campus and very near State Street. When we arrived we did not see a sign but I guessed that we were at the right place because of the beautiful flowers on the front lawn. Parking is inside of a garage and it was very tight. If there were not a lot of cars we could get turned around. Otherwise we’d have to back out onto the busy street. We pulled into a parking spot and left the worry about how we’d get out of the garage for the next day.
I’d reserved the “Ocean View” room on the ground floor. No, there is no ocean to view in Ann Arbor nor is there even a view of any of the Great Lakes. The room was modestly decorated with an underwater theme, It had a king sized bed, and a kitchenette. The reason I had chosen it was because outside of it’s sliding glass doors was a private enclosed deck with a hot tub.
John and I had intended to stay in and enjoy our room but we would need dinner. I asked our hostess about pizza delivery. She instead encouraged us to walk downtown to one of Ann Arbor’s many great restaurants. I wish we had stuck with our original plan. Instead, we walked several blocks looking for a place to eat. Because I was in the mood for pizza we hunted for a local mom and pop pizza shop. Being a college town and having read all of those restaurant reviews, we knew there were a lot of great pizza places. We were either in the wrong part of town though or else we’d walked all the wrong streets. We didn’t find any pizza shops and my restaurant list with addresses had been forgotten in the back seat of the car. Finally, after wandering several blocks, we stumbled upon a place where we could buy “heat and eat” pizza by the slice. Anxious to take a relaxing soak in the hot tub, we cut our losses and ordered a few take-out slices to carry back and eat on our private deck.
I was wearing a dress with a pair of flat sandals. I should have changed my shoes before leaving the room but, honestly, it never occurred to me. I’d worn the same sandals a dozen times with no problems. But I also had never walked that far on city streets while wearing them. By the time we got back to our room I had a blister on my foot. Day #1 of our vacation and I was already in trouble knowing that getting my walking shoe on the next day was going to be painful.
We spent the evening soaking in the hot tub. The water was the perfect temperature, not too hot as some often are. It felt good on my foot. After dark we looked up and watched a few stars although Ann Arbor has too much ambient light to do any serious star gazing.
Breakfast the next morning started at eight o’clock. Everyone it seemed wanted to eat early. The breakfast room was crowded. There is a pretty little deck off the breakfast area where it would be nice to sit. Unfortunately, it was raining. We sat down in the common room with a family from Germany and enjoyed toast with jam and some fresh fruits. Our hostess made us scrambled eggs. We made small talk with our table mates and then hurried back to our room. Anxious to get on the road, we packed the car and managed to get turned around in the tight space of the garage. By 9 a.m. we were headed north.
Next up… Colonial Michilimackinac