Travel

From sunrise in a Cajun swamp to a total solar eclipse, 2017 was a sunny year in travel

Sunrise swamp tour in Louisiana’s Cajun Country near Lafayette. (credit: Susan R. Pollack)

 

We took a chance in August and drove more than 500 miles south from Detroit to a city park near Nashville to view “The Great American Eclipse.” Last-minute clouds threatened but cleared and we were lucky to witness the total eclipse of the sun. It was an awe-inspiring sight.

The sky turned dark, birds grew silent, streetlights glowed and, at the amazing moment of totality, we gasped in appreciation with thousands of other eclipse-chasers who had traveled to Tennessee from as far away as Europe, Japan and Australia. Then everyone broke into excited laughter and applause.

Our eclipse-gazing adventure in Gallatin, north of Nashville, was a stellar moment in a year filled with memorable travel experiences. Many happened right here in Michigan but others took us even deeper south to Louisiana, north to Canada and west to Portland and Seattle.

Here’s a look back at 2017 in travel:

In New Orleans, we took a break from French Quarter people-watching to sip classic Sazerac cocktails in the delightful revolving Carousel Bar at Hotel Monteleone. Afterward, we needed extra napkins for the juiciest-ever roast beef po’boys at Johnny’s on St. Louis Street.

We savored Muffaletta sandwiches and cucumber-garnished Pimm’s Cup cocktails for lunch one day at historic Napoleon House, then watched floats being made at Mardi Gras World. The National WWII Museum was similarly engrossing, especially learning more about Guadalcanal where my father-in-law, Roy Pollack, saw action.

In Lafayette, the heart of Louisiana Cajun Country, our October visit coincided with the annual Festivals Acadiens et Creoles, where we enjoyed toe-tapping zydeco music and tasted Cajun specialties including boudin, a spicy rice and pork sausage. We also watched a sunrise on a relaxing McGee’s Louisiana Swamp Tour and saw Tabasco sauce being made at the Avery Island Tabasco Museum and Factory in nearby New Iberia, Louisiana.

And who could forget the cinnamon-studded bread pudding at Randol’s in Lafayette or the piquant red beans and rice at La Cuisine de Maman, the restaurant at Vermilionville Living History and Folk Life Park?  The recreated Acadian village was like a Cajun-flavored Greenfield Village, draped with Spanish moss.

During a multi-day conference in June at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, we experienced another exhilarating solar moment: watching a sunset over the Mackinac Bridge on a Shepler’s Ferry cruise at dusk.  We also sipped cocktails while perched in rocking chairs on the hotel’s famous long porch,  enjoyed a fancy dinner in the main dining room and played golf on the Jewel Golf Course, where a horse-drawn carriage took us from the front nine to the back nine.

Elsewhere on the island, we sniffed lovely lilacs blooming just in time for the annual June Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, nibbled fudge along Main Street and savored a yummy chicken salad sandwich on flaky, made-from-scratch croissants at Mission Point Resort.

Back in the northern Lower Peninsula, golfing on The Loop at Forest Dunes Golf Club in Roscommon was unique. On North America’s first 18-hole “reversible” golf course, golfers walk the layout in one direction, then play in the opposite direction the next day for a completely different golfing experience.  Still, the challenging courses at Bay Harbor Golf Club, where we played a few days later, remain among my favorites thanks to stunning views of Lake Michigan.

On a long summer weekend getaway in Toronto, we joined a “Made in Canada” cultural food tour and ate our way through a mound of smoked-meat deli sandwiches, poutine, artisan cheeses, popcorn, bagels, craft beer and Canadian sour cherry pie. The food was enhanced with neighborhood commentary by knowledgeable guides from the Culinary Adventure Company.

We also spent a pleasant afternoon on a Jitney Junction Brew Tour. We were chauffeured to four craft breweries in warehouses and other spaces in an emerging neighborhood we might not find on our own. Midway through, we took a break for delicious mini-scones, fruit preserves and a maple Americano at Drake Commissary in Junction Triangle.

Driving back to Detroit, we stopped to see a play at the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake and explored several Ontario wineries, including the gleaming new Wayne Gretzky Estates Winery & Distillery.

As someone who ‘travels on my stomach,’ I enjoyed many other gustatory delights in 2017, including the hand-crafted Kentucky Red Head cocktail and a special watercress and chevre salad at The Reserve in Grand Rapids.

Gaylord surprised me with good eats including Greek nachos, loaded tater tots and handcrafted SunnySide Hop at the new SnowBelt Brewing Company; the wedge salad with best-ever blue cheese dressing at Bennethum’s Northern Inn; and chili Thai tuna, steak bites and tortellini carbonara at Bearded Dogg Lounge. Its clever motto is “Come. Sit. Stay.”

I’m still dreaming about the divine buttermilk-battered fried chicken and candied yam casserole at SavannahBlue at Times Square in Detroit, as well as the duck Bolognese at Selden Standard and the egg-topped cheeseburger, of all things, at Grey Ghost.

But my most enduring 2017 memories are of our September trip to the Pacific Northwest with our son and daughter. We shared salmon skewers during a glorious happy hour sunset at the Athenian in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and joined our nieces and nephews for breakfast burritos at Portland’s Hollywood Farmers Market and, later, for fresh falafel at ChickpeaDX at The Zipper, a food court for grownups.

Passing under the Mackinac Bridge on a Shepler’s Ferry sunset cruise through the Straits of Mackinac. (credit: Susan R. Pollack)

Blessed with sunny skies, we enjoyed some of the outdoor experiences for which the Northwest is known, including watching salmon and seals at Seattle’s Ballard Locks, traipsing through glorious gardens in both Portland and Seattle and traveling to Cannon Beach, Oregon, where our daughter practiced her surfing skills. Mt. Rainier showed its magnificence from the Seattle Space Needle but Mt. Hood was not visible due to the fires that plagued the region. Just another reason to return.

Here’s to many more food and travel experiences in 2018.

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Waiting for totality at “The Great American Eclipse” near Nashville, TN., on Aug. 21, 2017. (credit: S.R. Pollack)

 

Susan R. Pollack
Globetrotting journalist and former Detroit News staff writer Susan R. Pollack has covered travel since 1985, visiting scores of countries on five continents, 49 states, six Canadian provinces and hundreds of cities, islands and outposts along the way. From Alaska, the Galapagos and New Zealand to South Africa, Thailand and Wales, she has suffered the occasional lost luggage, jetlag and Montezuma’s revenge but still delights in sharing travel adventures with readers. In addition to The Detroit News, her award-winning stories and photos have appeared in major newspapers including the Dallas News, Toronto Star, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Chicago Sun Times; and magazines including Delta Sky, Midwest Living, Long Weekends, Experience Michigan, Jetsetter, Home & Away, Hour Detroit, Prevue Meetings and Group Tour. She has contributed to several books including "Rand McNally 2008 Ultimate NASCAR Road Trip Guide," and is the copy editor for secondchancetravels.com. She also has written for websites including gardendestinations.com and travelingmom.com.