Lake Erie Circle Tour Journal: Day #1 Ohio Coast to Windsor

It was our longtime friends, Rory and Kay, who first proposed the idea of making a drive to circumnavigate the entire 629-mile coastline of Lake Erie. For a few months the idea floated in the back of our heads.  We juggled the maybes and kicked around the how-tos. The pondering and possibilities grew until one day someone said, “Let’s do it!”

Although it is the smallest of America’s five Great Lakes, Erie is still a “great” lake at approximately 241 miles long and 57 miles wide. Living all my life near the Ohio shore, I have often stood on the beach looking out across the waves toward Canada and wondered what was on the other side. Following the Lake Erie Circle Tour would show me.

After weeks of planning and days of preparation and packing, my husband, John, and I climbed out of bed at 5 a.m. on a Monday morning to ready ourselves for a 6 o’clock departure.

Owning the larger SUV that would hold the four of us plus enough luggage for eight days, Rory and Kay would do the driving. Rory assured us he would enjoy driving and Kay was willing to take over if needed. I was concerned that John might not like becoming a backseat traveler, but before the first day was over, he mentioned how much he enjoyed the opportunity to sit back and watch the view out the window without having to concern himself with traffic. So far so good!

From Ohio, the Circle Tour passes through Michigan, Ontario, New York and Pennsylvania. We began our drive along Erie’s coast on the west side of Cleveland. Driving the lake shore is fairly easy on the U.S. side of the lake. Posted signs read “Lake Erie Circle Tour” or sometimes “Great Lakes Coastal Tour.” Following any of these green coastal route signs kept us close to the shore. In Canada we would need to rely on maps and written descriptions found on the internet, since there are no posted tour signs in Ontario to show the way.

Wildflowers in Ohio

Reaching Vermilion, Ohio we took a quick break and found a strip of clean and sandy beach. A small lighthouse at the edge of the water stood next to a museum. All were within walking distance of the town’s main street with several gift shops and variety stores. It would have been easy to spend a few hours here, but we took a quick look at the view and went on our way. I made a mental note to keep Vermilion in mind for a future day trip.

Kay is an excellent knitter which made a stop at the “Just for Ewe” yarn shop a necessity. We almost missed it. I spotted the sign out of the corner of my eye as we zoomed past.

“There’s the yarn shop!” I shouted.

“Do we need to stop?” Rory asked.

“YES!” Kay and I yelled in unison.

Rory turned the car around.

We wandered through the “Just for Ewe” general gift shop, There were some tasty jelly samples set out to try. Rory and I both preferred and purchased a jar of the raspberry champaigne jam. The shop was filled with a variety of things to browse and there was even a small Christmas section in the back of the shop (my favorite kind of gift shop).

Kay wandered into the yarn shop next door where she spent time browsing knitting patterns and balls of yarn, In the meantime, Rory, John, and I enjoyed checking out the flock of sheep housed in the barn between the two shops. For two quarters and a twist of the knob, an old-fashioned dispenser dropped a small bit of feed into my hand. Sheep from large to small pushed and shoved to get a nibble and lick my fingers. (Thank goodness for the disposable wipes we carried in the car!). The bleating sheep made us all laugh. Each animal had his own unique voice. They were amazing! One was a deep and demanding bass. Another had more of a high-pitched pleading tone. My favorite though, was the raspy voiced guy—the one  whose bleat ended with a drawn out and exhausted sounding gasp.

Down the road, Further down the road, the Marblehead Lighthouse and Lighthouse Keeper’s Home was a couple hours away from the start of their seasonal summer hours. Tours were unavailable until noon. We walked the grounds and took a few photos. Many others were doing the same. Pleasure boats sailed along the coast. Across the water we could see both Kelly’s Island and, farther in the distance, South Bass Island. To the east, the world class amusement park, Cedar Point, could be seen, her many roller coasters reaching toward the sky.

A view of Cedar Point, Sandusky, Ohio
Marblehead lighthouse and the lighthouse keeper’s home in Marblehead, Ohio

The Great Egret Marsh Preserve in Lakeside, Ohio was created in 2013. Under the watchful eyes of the Nature Conservancy, the preserve covers more than 150 acres of marshland. An easy 1.2 mile loop trail can be hiked. In addition to hiking, other activities enjoyed in the Preserve include bird watching, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. The Preserve is a haven for waterfowl. As soon as we entered we spotted an egret and a heron standing in a bog beside the road. Though we stopped right beside it, the egret didn’t move. I rolled down my window to take a photo. It was the closest I have ever been to such a majestic bird. The preserve was quiet and uncrowded. It was a wonderful place. This visitor center also was closed, but that didn’t keep us from walking a couple of the paths and enjoying the views and wildlife which included a large snapping turtle, an eagle and purple martins raising their brood in a white, gourd-like apartment complex designed especially for these winged creatures.

Following a pleasant lunch on the outdoor deck of the Ciao Bella in Port Clinton, we bypassed Toledo and turned north toward Detroit. Both of these cities have sights worth a visit but with our limited time we had opted to spend the bulk of our days further from home in Canada. Toledo and Detroit would make great weekend trips, but they would have to wait.

It was rush hour when we crossed the Ambassador Bridge to Windsor. We had read that rush hour on the bridge should be avoided but rush hour was when we arrived, so it was when we crossed. The traffic wasn’t as bad as I had expected. We waited in one of many long lines for perhaps 10 to 15 minutes with fingers crossed that they wouldn’t see our load of stacked luggage and insist on going through it all. As we waited, we pondered whether or not they would confiscate my bag of oranges and apples that were tucked inside of our snack bag. I had forgotten that some countries don’t allow fruits to cross the border. It was the most controversial item that any of us were carrying.

Our turn came and we anxiously pulled up to the gate. Answering a few questions about where we were going (driving the Lake Erie Circle Tour), how long we’d be staying (six days), how much money we each were carrying ($100 – $200) and what else we were bringing with us (only personal luggage and some “snacks”), our passports were given a look, and we were then told “Welcome to Canada.”

Dinner for the evening provided us with one of the best meals of our trip. Eddy’s Mediterranean Bistro was close to our motel and was the highest rated restaurant in Windsor. We parked in the rear and entered through the back door. When traveling, John and I often share one meal. With the huge amounts of food most restaurants pile onto a plate, it only makes sense. Anything we don’t eat would be destined for the dumpster. Rather than waste food that we’d been told all our lives “the starving children in Africa” would be happy to have, we choose to share one meal and reap the rewards of a smaller bill too. Usually this process means a lengthy discussion about what we each want or don’t want to eat. At Eddy’s it wasn’t so hard. John and I were both happy to share the Mixed Grill Plate with skewers of beef, chicken, and lamb served with lentil rice. The waitress brought middle eastern bread with ground garlic spread. To top off the meal we were brought a plate with four small, but scrumptious nut filled baklava. It was all delicious.

Not so spectacular were the rooms we had reserved for the night. Nothing irks me more than doing travel research, developing high expectations, and then being disappointed. We were expecting to spend our first night in a sweet little 50s/60s retro motel on five landscaped acres with a putting green and a pool. Unfortunately, the photos used in their advertising were apparently several years old. Bad reviews written after we made reservations were the more recent and more accurate. Perhaps not the worst motel in the world, the Ivy Rose was, nevertheless, a dive.

First impressions are everything. When I pushed open my motel room door, the sunlight illuminated dirty and badly stained carpet. The lighting in the room was horrible. I turned on every light source I could find. Few lamps fitted with low watt bulbs made it difficult to see how bad the carpet and the room were. (Was that their plan?). The curtains sagged. A lampshade was torn and damaged. The deadbolt on our door didn’t work and we had to rely on the locking doorknob and the chain. The feet of my (dented) refrigerator were not balanced so it rocked from side to side. The armchair in the room was stained and dirty. I had to reach behind the bed and unplug the clock in order to plug in my computer. There wasn’t a single picture on any wall. Our friend’s room was just as bad, if not worse. Their bedspread was not only faded and threadbare, but it also had a large hole burned into it. Both rooms felt dark and dingy. To top off my discomfort, as I sat on the bed later that evening, a spider ran across my white sheet.

Any tourist willing to check into a retro motel is not a fussy customer. We don’t care if the furniture is second hand. We are not bothered by a few knicks or scratches in the woodwork or a bit of chipped paint. I would have been willing to overlook most of this hotel’s faults if only the room had been welcoming. But no tourist is going to be happy in a dreary room with dirty, stained carpets and furnishings.

It had been a long day. We were tired. All we needed was a place to sleep. Thank goodness, we were only there for one night.

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