I love Michigan and have lived here all my life. Within one to four hours in any direction, you can take an endless number of road trips and discover fun things to do. (Under the “Michigan” category, you can bring up earlier posts – and I hope you will.)
We’ve got countless lakes at every turn, gorgeous weather and amazing vineyards as well as sports, casinos, festivals, concerts, theaters, galleries, universities, zoos, great restaurants, parks and markets….you get it, right?
I’m sharing a couple of slideshows of road trips I’ve made over the last four weeks, from St Clair and Marysville to Traverse City, Lake Leelanau, Cedar and Suttons Bay. If you have a chance to visit Michigan, these are a few of my favorite places.
- St Clair & Marysville
2. Traverse City, Cedar, Lake Leelanau & Suttons Bay
After our October 2015 trip to Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort in Aruba, I wrote the series “Travels in Aruba” including the post Top 10 Things I Love about Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort if you’d like to check it out!
As Spence and I were enjoying our recent trip in May, we compiled a list of ten additional things we love about this exceptional resort. The list was easy for us and exceeded ten things but for consistency, I’ve whittled it to ten, in no particular order:
- Purun Spa Tucked away in the Tara building is the peaceful, zen-like atmosphere of Purun Spa. Soft music, subdued lighting, fruit-infused water or ginger tea is available as you await your spa service. With an extensive menu of services and expert staff (I had Margarita for a massage and facial), I emerged relaxed and refreshed.
- Movie under the Stars – Twice a week at 8 p.m.,they feature a movie as you recline on comfortable lounges on the beach. The tradewinds and starlit sky as we watched “An Officer and A Gentleman” made for a unique and romantic experience.
- Making my birthday special – We celebrated my 60th birthday on this trip and on the big day, the staff at Elements brought me a Mimosa and this beautiful presentation of fresh fruit. What a way to start my first day of being 60!
4. Sunday Happy Hour – During the Sunday Happy Hour, there are a select group of artists who display their work as well as a chef featuring an Amuse Bouche. Spence bought me a lovely pair of earrings (last year I bought a bracelet here that remains a favorite). The art is lovely and the prices are reasonable. Plus it’s combined with Happy Hour – you can’t beat that!
5. Driftwood Workshop – This year the resort was featuring a painting class on driftwood. I met the instructor during our first Sunday Happy Hour. I was intrigued with her talent and signed up for the next class. It was fun to create art and hang out with Maria Onni, our instructor and Nicole, from Guest Services/Concierge who took the class as well. It happened to fall on a rare overcast day that even sported a couple of quick rain showers but even if it had been a sunny beach day, it was completely enjoyable and I’d take it again!
6. Carte Blanche – Located within the Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort, Carte Blanche is open to the public but only if you’ve planned ahead to secure a coveted reservation to this limited seating, chef’s selected, multi-course gourmet meal. I was lucky to get us a spot and the meal as well as the experience of watching a skilled chef create and plate the most exceptional food was a foodie’s dream come true.
7. Fresh Orchids – It’s the little touches and attention to detail, like fresh orchids in our room and even in the hallways. The orchid in our room was down to two blooms toward the end of our stay and was replaced with a new one, simply because housekeeping was paying attention. And that’s typical of the attention to every detail that we’ve come to expect from everyone here.
8. Aruba Aloe Bath & Body Products – In keeping with their eco-friendly policies, rooms feature dispensers of liquid hand soap, body lotion, conditioning shampoo and body wash from the Aruba Aloe company. I’ve since ordered the products online as I loved the high quality – light scented, gentle and most importantly, I love the way my skin and hair feel after using the products for two weeks.
9. Complimentary iPad – This is particularly nice for any guest but in particular, as a blogger it was great to stay connected. Though we somehow missed noticing this last trip, the alarm clock has both an iPod docking station and a sound machine with crickets, ocean waves and other sounds to help us relax fall into a deep sleep.
10. The Sand Bar – During the day, Bucuti’s Sand Bar is “the place” for cold adult beverages (a Prosecco or Pina Colada for me – Balashi for Spence), as you relax in the open-air, shaded round bar while gazing at the beach and brilliant turquoise ocean beyond. But there’s more…. as we discovered this trip – the lunch menu. Over the course of our two week stay we tried the Element’s Ceviche, Tuscany Panini and Garlic Roasted Quesadillas. With lots of delicious menu items to choose from, two daily happy hours, a pair of love birds and Paco, the talking parrot, what’s not to love about the Sand Bar?
This ends “Travels in Aruba 2016”. I hope you’ve enjoyed it – it’s been fun to share it with you and read your comments. Many thanks!
Fifty third thing: This entry in the “59 Candles, 59 Things series features my love of photography.
I’ve never taken lessons. In recent years, my Nikon remains at home in favor of my iphone camera for still and video photography. Capturing special moments while Spence and I travel, my beautiful blooming garden, our adorable Tipper and Biscotti as well as photographing food I’ve prepared or ordered out is fun for me. The easy editing tools allow me to enhance my best shots, create lasting memories and gather content for my blog. For me, photography is fun and it makes me happy.
Here are a few of my personal favorite photos:
This series, “59 Candles, 59 Things” was started almost one year ago to celebrate my 59th birthday and highlight some of the many things that make me happy. For more, look under categories for “59 Things”. I hope you’ll enjoy the series and think about what makes you happy too!
From my travels to Switzerland, when my cousin Kristin took Spence and I to an “underground” fondue restaurant. “Underground” in the sense that this is a place that locals know of but not “tourists” (as we learned from our tablemates later that evening). Kristin and her husband had lived in neighboring Versoix for a number of years and so she quickly established her credibility. In reality the restaurant sat on a pier, a long stroll out onto Lake Geneva. Kristin placed our order at a walk-up station outside the restaurant. We carried our drinks inside and found seats at one of the long communal dining tables, very rustic. When your number was called you needed to react immediately as the servers were moving rapidly with vats of molten fondue. The fondue was served with bread and a side dish of fruit cocktail. The two men seated next to us (locals) began engaging us in a spirited discussion after dinner including an explanation about Traditional Swiss Fondue and what does (and doesn’t) go into it. There is so much more to the story of that evening and memories of that trip. But since this blog is meant to feature a recipe, I’ll save those stories for another blog or my novel…….
Traditional Cheese Fondue
- 1 lb of Gruyère
- 1 lb Emmentaler
- 1-2 cloves garlic
- 2 t grated nutmeg
- Dry white wine
- Kirschwasser liqueur
Shred the Gruyère and Emmentaler cheeses, I do so in my food processor. This will yield 8 cups of shredded cheese. Using a microplane, grate two teaspoons of nutmeg, set aside. Using a garlic press, pulverize the garlic cloves, set aside.
I use an electric fondue pot but have also made this on the stovetop, transferring into an old-school fondue pot with a little can of sterno blazing beneath it. That said, when you are ready to assemble, heat the pot – better low and slow than to risk burning this fabulous cheese mix. Start by pouring in 1/2 cup of wine and the garlic into the fondue pot. As soon as it starts bubbling put in the first two big handfuls of cheese and stir with a fondue fork. Now stir in the nutmeg. By handfuls add the cheese, stirring the unmelted into the melted. Add more wine if needed. At this point add the Kirschwasser. How much is up to you – I use a healthy shotglass full. Stir it in. Serve with wine or beer of your choosing, ready your fondue fork and start dipping, relax and talk with your tablemates.
- Chopped granny smith apple
- Chopped red apple (I like gala or empire)
- Carrot chunks
- Broccoli & Cauliflower Florets
- Cut up chunks of a good rustic bread or baguette
Here are my Top Ten Things I love about Aruba:
- US Currency is accepted in addition to the Aruba Florin. Prices are posted in both currencies, even slot machines and bill breakers in casinos use US Currency. It’s easy!
- They drive on the proper side of the road – this is great if you’re renting a car as we did. And for once, I did all the driving (usually Spence drives) and it was very easy to get around. Even with the round-abouts.
- The people are friendly! Known as One Happy Island, Aruba has the most delightful people. We didn’t encounter one person who wasn’t smiling. I suppose if you live in paradise there’s a reason to be happy every day.
- The sunsets are stunning. (as are the sunrises) Don’t take my word for it, here’s proof:
5. The water is safe to drink – and tastes good. Considering that Aruba is a small island, surrounded by salt water, that’s an accomplishment. It’s great not to worry about safety and the resulting dysentery that can come from visiting places where the water is questionable.
6. The beaches are pristine – white sugar sand and at least where we stayed, that sand extended into the water which was easy on the feet!
7. The color of the water is beyond description. Dependent upon the time of day, depth and cloud cover, it spans every shade of teal, turquoise, cobalt and everything in between.
8. Upon leaving Aruba, Customs and Immigration for both Aruba and the US are handled at their airport. Though it’s slightly confusing, we got through it with time to spare.
9. There’s so much to do. Whether you are into water sports, beach time, casinos, tours, hiking or dining, Aruba has it. And speaking of dining, fresh seafood is plentiful.
10. The weather. With an average rainfall of less than 20 inches a year, an average daytime temperature of 82° Fahrenheit (27° Celsius), a location completely outside the hurricane belt, and the constant cooling influence of the trade winds, Aruba is one of the most temperate islands in the Caribbean. The difference between median day and night temperatures, and between summer and winter temperatures, is just 3.6°. The rainfall occurs mainly in short showers during November and December.
In no particular order, here are my Top 10 Things I Love about Aruba’s Bucuti & Tara Beach Resort:
- The Staff – Spence and I, as well as other guests we spoke to, all concurred that we’ve never received the level of service and sincere caring about our stay that we experienced here. Each staffer’s name tag included the languages that they speak, making this great for travellers from all over the world.
- Beach and Poolside Service – as simple as raising a flag on your sunbed and one of several charming servers arrive with drinks. While Spence’s choice was buckets of Balashi (Aruba’s own beer) I favored Banana Dacquiris, Pina Coladas and on our final day, an ice cream based drink called Sand in the Pants. As we relaxed, they would stop by with cups of fresh melon and cool cloths to refresh with – lovely!
3. Adults-Only – We loved the Adults-Only aspect of this resort, it assured a tranquil and quiet environment that met our needs. There were always ample shaded sunbeds available on the beach and around the pool. Both the pool and beach were serene and never crowded. Breakfast and dinners were peaceful and romantic. Just couples enjoying time together…..
4. Designated Smoking Areas – Though I’m not a smoker, Spence is and he found that the three designated smoking areas were comfortable and didn’t make him feel any less welcome. In fact, he met a number of other guests there, striking up friendships as he always does and one was right on the beach, just far enough away so that the non-smokers weren’t disturbed.
5. Elements Restaurant – Executive Chef, Kurt sets a standard of excellence with the quality and preparation of the food at the resort. We were wowed every morning by the selection of choices at the breakfast and the menu variety for evening dining (they also serve great lunches – we were just too full from breakfast). The food here is so delicious and beautifully presented that we really never needed to go elsewhere. Dining outside, a footstep away from the beach, trade-winds blowing and soft lighting, you feel as though you are truly in paradise. Service, as mentioned before is exceptional both at dinner but also at breakfast. Spence, who is very non-techy even learned how to operate the iPad menu which was very cool.
6. The Property – Set in the Low-Rise Hotel area, the grounds are landscaped with care and precision, with small signs posted that tell what type of tree, cactus or shrub you’re looking at. For a gardening buff like myself, this was so interesting. The white sugar sand of the beach was always clean – no littering, seaweed or anything other than an occasional shell or piece of coral. And speaking of the beach – on 14 acres, there is so much to explore along the shore. When you reach the ocean, you step into water which is clear turquoise with sand under your feet. The hotel itself is a beautiful boutique style property.
7. Two Daily Happy Hours – We loved Happy Hour at Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts. After day one, the bartenders and servers knew our drink preferences and again, service was prompt and always friendly. We enjoyed talking with them as well as other couples we met while seated at the Sand Bar or on any number of attractive seating enclaves that were comfortable and afforded views of the sunsets. Each night, there was a complimentary snack for the guests as well as music – steel drums, one night a violinist who was terrific and several exotic birds in cages which added to the tropical ambiance.
8. Breakfast included – This is not your typical “breakfast included” experience. The value cannot be fully realized until you see it for yourself. The choices each day were extensive and we loved that you could choose one of two places at the resort to enjoy it (same selection), our favorite was the one that served until 11 a.m. There were a number of items not limited to omelets and belgian waffles that are made to order as well as 5 chafing dishes containing hot items and two full buffets of cheeses, meats, breads and countless baked goods, cereals, fresh fruits, juices and yogurts. If I listed everything I remember, you’d probably think I was exaggerating. Suffice it to say, it was impressive and a fabulous start to each day! What made this a terrific value for us is that by finishing our huge brunch by 11:00, we never needed lunch.
9. Location – We loved the convenience of this location. It was close to the Alhambra Casino, a short, easy walk away, with nice shops and a market, several neighboring hotels – one of which, Manchebo Beach, has two great restaurants – The French Steakhouse and Ike’s Bistro. The low-rise hotel area is quieter and more laid back than the high-rise hotel area.
10. The rooms, amenities and eco-friendly policies – We opted for a “green stay” which meant twice weekly full maid-service and a daily discount for each day here. The engraved aluminum water bottles (to save on plastic and take when we go) were easily refillable at numerous water coolers on the property. The bath products, liquid hand soap, lotion, shampoo/conditioner and body wash were provided in dispensers and were Aruba Aloe products – excellent and high quality. As a blogger, one thing I loved was the use of an iPad, courtesy of the hotel, during our stay. The rooms were designed with comfort in mind – robes, fridge and microwave, air purifier, humidifier, mini-bar snacks, wines etc, lots of closet space. The beds and bedding were comfortable and the decor was beautiful. We loved the quality furnishings, especially dressers which afforded lots of drawer space. The hotel had provided a chilled bottle of chardonnay, gouda, crackers and Dutch chocolate for our arrival gift as well as a chilled bottle of pink champagne and champagne flutes as their gifts to us. And it was quiet – again, adults-only equaled no noise. We slept well here.
As I mentioned in an earlier post in this series, Travels in Aruba, we were given the most thoughtful gifts by our hotel, the amazing Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts. Here are some photos of little pre-Happy Hour parties with the lovely wine, pink champagne, gouda, crackers and dutch chocolate (not pictured). We used the wine glasses they provided, saving our gift of engraved champagne flutes for after our return home.
Even though I’d been to Aruba 30 years prior, I had not seen the Casibari Rock Formation which was recommended by our hotel, the fabulous Bucuti & Tara Beach Resorts. We were inquiring about how to best reach the Natural Bridge, which I wanted Spence to see. The Casibari Rock Formation was on our way so why not, right? (benefits of our rental car….)
Off we went to see more of this small but diverse island of Aruba. Spence ever more the adventurous one of us immediately said he would scale the somewhat scary climb to the top (no handrails that I could see) in spite of the warning signs about “climbing at your own risk”. Spence is a highly decorated Captain from his Army days and survived Viet Nam – you can’t present him with a challenge in spite of being 72 and a bit unsteady. Here’s the photographic proof – pictures from the top are credited to Spence as I was sure I would plunge to my death of these rocks. Instead, I walked about the gardens and rocks that were impressive from my vantage point.
But before the pictures, here’s a bit about the Casibari Rock Formation, via a Google Search:
This rock formation is clusters of huge tonalite rocks which sit together in an area just north of Hooiberg. This rock formation, unique to the more typical features of the area, inexplicably rises up from the desert soil to create an unusual setting. Some of the rocks weigh several tons and feature peculiar forms. The Government of Aruba has created walking trails and steps through the rocks, allowing hikers to reach the top to obtain breathtaking views of the island.