Heather's Hangout

Sharing the people, places & little moments that make a difference.

Film retraces bike racing history November 12, 2017

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 9:27 am
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cycling_sunsetI recently saw promotions for a new documentary about a team participating in the 1928 Tour de France. Le Ride is a film by Phil Keoghan (the host of the Amazing Race television show), that tries to recreate the route ridden by the four-man team from Australia and New Zealand. I wanted to see the film so was happy when my cycling club sent notice of a viewing in the area.

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I’ll share some highlights of the film without giving away too much (most of it follows well-documented history of the 1928 event and teams anyway). The film follows New Zealander Harry Watson and his Australian teammates, Ernie Bainbridge, Percy Osborne and Sir Hubert Opperman, on their journey to this great race. Yes, this team only had four riders compared to other teams of 10 (I already felt tired for them upon learning this). They were the first English-speaking team to participate in the Tour.

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Phil did much research on the race and the team, providing interesting insight into the bikes of that period, bike racing, the Tour de France and France in general. I loved watching the many people he met during his research and learning fascinating facts.

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It seemed crazy that he, and his friend, Ben, were going to ride circa 1928 bikes through France, high into the mountains! Especially after being used to the brakes, design, handling and comfort of today’s bikes. These vintage bikes were steel frames with no gears. No shifting during hill climbs or descents. No carbon frame or shocks. They did use some modern day equipment, such as cycling clothing and helmets, which was smart.

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As you may imagine, today’s France is much different than 1928 France. The road system is paved, more expansive and much busier. Some of the route no longer exists. Keep in mind that today’s Tour de France is approximately 2,000 miles; in 1928, the race was over 3,300 miles in 29 days. Yikes! The race back then was meant to eliminate riders, and it did – 164 riders started, 41 finished. It was quite stunning to learn that the cyclists rode more than 100, sometimes 200 miles in a day with climbs of 10,000-20,000 feet. They sometimes biked up to 20 hours in a day, starting at midnight or before dawn. And I thought biking RAGBRAI through Iowa was a physical challenge!

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I can’t tell you how many times my mouth dropped open in surprise, awe or disbelief. I’m already in awe of the grueling physical, mental and emotional challenges that cyclists today master to participate in the Tour de France and other rides. But learning about the riders in 1928? Total respect and awe. My leg with the titanium rod seriously started aching as I thought of the physical challenges facing these riders (I know, I have a hard time turning off the empathy in me)!

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At the end of the film, they showed a picture of the four Australian cyclists before the Tour began and then at the end of the Tour. Have you ever seen images of our U.S. presidents before they start their presidency? And again after? You usually note physical changes, aging and stress/worry lines after these challenging years. Well these notable changes appeared in the riders in less than a month!

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A few of my favorite highlights:

  • Amazingly beautiful scenery captured with great filming skills.
  • The camaraderie between the crew was evident. I often laughed.
  • I loved seeing all the towns they visited. I would have loved to be there, meeting residents and taking in the different areas, cultures and experiences.
  • Learning so much about the evolution of cycling over the decades.
  • I am motivated to someday attend the Tour de France.

The downside to the movie? I’m so anxious to ride my own road bike outside again in warm, sunny weather! I look forward to watching this film again.

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Food, shopping, history at Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace October 13, 2017

Filed under: Random Travels & Exploring — Heather @ 4:15 pm
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Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston

Arriving early for a conference gave me a beautiful day to explore Boston. Motivated to get the most out of my time in one of my favorite cities, I woke early on my second day and after a sweaty workout in the hotel’s gym, I set off for new sites. (And, yes, I did shower before setting off, in case you wondered!)

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On a recommendation from a friend, I headed to Faneuil Hall Marketplace. I had researched the location prior to leaving Detroit, but it wasn’t quite what I expected. It was busy! People milling around everywhere, spilling out stores and relaxing at restaurants and bars. I loved it all!

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Cobblestone streets take visitors along several buildings – North Market, South Market, and Quincy Market Colonnade – that house more than 70 retailers. Some of the stores are popular around the country, like The Gap, Victoria’s Secret and Sephora, while others are more local to the area, like Make Way for Ducklings (okay, I really just love this name!), Local Charm and Revolutionary Boston.

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When you enter the Quincy Market Colonnade building, you’re greeted by

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Great Hall inside Faneuil Hall

an…..interesting smell. It’s a multitude of food vendors battling for aromatic space in the air. Lobsters, oysters, sandwiches, gelato, frozen yogurt, pizza, salads, sausages, smoothies and much more provide delicious options to please any hungry patron. But you must be patient. Especially if there on a weekend. At lunch time. Note to self, don’t visit marketplace around lunch time on a Saturday.

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Faneuil Hall is a cool historic building to visit while at the marketplace. Built in 1742, the hall has been used for public debate, meetings, special events and more. Faneuil Hall served as the seat of government during the Revolutionary period. It’s full of beautiful architecture inside on the first and second floors. You can almost picture our ancestors sitting in the chairs listening to debates and informational meetings, participating in decision-making and encouraging change.

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After I wandered for a while, I realized I was starving. I walked through Quincy Market a few times before deciding I was a bit overwhelmed at my choices. I tried to get a spot at Cheers – yes, an authentic replica of the famous TV bar – but the line was crazy long. And, did I mention that I was starving at this point? After passing the Mija Cantina & Tequila Bar a few times, I decided I could eat some Mexican food. I found a spot at the bar so I could look outside at people walking along the cobblestone street. Mija has an open air patio and bar, which was great in the beautiful weather. I met some nice people also sitting at the bar, all from outside of Massachusetts. That’s one of the parts I love about traveling away from home – meeting people and hearing their stories about traveling.

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So worth the splurge at Berry Twist

After filling up on Mexican food and a drink (although I skipped sampling from their extensive tequila menu), I wandered through the marketplace a bit more. Several street performers were at various spots, including a juggler, musicians and a magician. After the performances, I headed to the waterfront. It was bustling with activity but I found a shaded spot on the grass under a big tree to enjoy a pretty water view and relax.

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There are many walking options near the marketplace. The waterfront is across from the marketplace so you can walk along that. The Freedom Trail also runs from this area.

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A fun fact I learned while washing my hands in the restroom is that Paul Revere, as the first president of Boston’s Board of Health, supervised the outhouse inspectors, who were responsible for ensuring residents properly emptied out their outhouses and didn’t let them overflow to prevent disease. And, now, you too, learned a fun fact.

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It was a fun day at Faneuil Hall and the waterfront. I’m happy for the opportunity to explore a great part of the city and meet so many friendly people.

 

Visiting the John F. Kennedy presidential museum October 12, 2017

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Campaign banner from Detroit!

It’s been several years since I visited Boston, one of my favorite cities. So I was excited to travel to this harbor town last weekend for a conference. I decided to head there a little early to enjoy exploring.

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Amazing weather greeted me when I arrived mid-morning at the hotel. A seamless check-in to the hotel provided awesome views of the city. It was time to enjoy the day!

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I love history and exploring new places so was excited to learn that Boston is home to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. I decided this would be first stop in my exploration. John F. Kennedy became the 35th president on Jan. 20, 1961, the youngest president (43 years) and the first Catholic. He is a president I grew up hearing much about. Of course his assassination, and conspiracy theories, fill American history. Movies, books, stories. But he is also a president who served and led during important moments of our country’s story – racial desegregation, the Cuban missile crisis, advancement of mental health care, creation of the Peace Corps and many other important historical moments.

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“A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on.” ~ President John F. Kennedy

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I love learning about history and cultures. And our presidents, love them, hate them or you really want to forget them, play a significant role in shaping our country. It was very interesting and inspiring to walk through the museum, reading transcripts of

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Transcript clips from inauguration speech

interviews and speeches; seeing gifts and items collected by JFK and Jackie Kennedy through their time in the White House; watching clips of speeches, debates and foreign trips. It was powerful to watch the video of his inaugural speech with the typed transcript near it highlighting where he changed words as he spoke. We learn about the presidents through history classes in school, and JFK’s death is a major piece, but I liked learning more about other moments in this time.

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A replica exhibit of Robert Kennedy’s office of the Attorney General showed the blunt challenge of the Civil Rights movement, that truly continues in today’s divisive political climate. Robert was the youngest attorney general at 41 since 1814. But he was aggressive in fighting for equality, young people and a strong justice department to stop crime and corruption.

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“We are confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.” ~ President John F. Kennedy

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The museum also features Jackie Kennedy, who became first lady at 31 years old. She was a big supporter of arts and culture, working to restore and preserve the White House by establishing a White House Fine Arts Committee, and the position of White House curator.

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Campaigning for JFK

President Kennedy was assassinated on Nov. 22, 1963 in Texas. The shooter, Lee Harvey Oswald, was arrested, but killed by Jack Ruby the following day. There have been lots of conspiracy theories about his death.

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“It is not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.” ~ President John F. Kennedy

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May 29, 2017 marked the 100th birthday of John F. Kennedy. A special exhibit, JFK 100: Milestones & Mementosfocuses on historic milestones in President Kennedy’s life by featuring 100 artifacts, photographs and documents. Some of the items include handwritten notes, a suitcase used by JFK during a 1960 road campaign, and a few of his neckties.

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I always enjoy visiting our country’s historical sites as it’s a good way to remember what we’ve been through, survived and should learn from so we don’t repeat our disappointing or scary moments (and yet, history does repeat itself).

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The library and museum overlook the water, fitting since JFK was an avid boater. After my museum visit, I walked along the paved trail, thoroughly enjoying the breeze while watching boats in the water. A beautiful day.

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For hours and admission information, visit the library and museum’s website.

 

Perfect book for history and horse lovers April 20, 2017

PerfectHorsebookI’ve been addicted to fiction books lately, as it’s sometimes nice to escape to new worlds and other ‘people’s’ stories. But when I was walking through the library the other day, a nonfiction book cover caught my eye and made me pause in the aisle. Many of you know that I’m a major horse lover so when I saw the cover for “The Perfect Horse,” with the beautiful head of a white horse along with military troops, I was intrigued. I’m happy I was!

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If you’re a history buff, you’ll enjoy the book as it takes place during World War II. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy this book as it tells the story of a daring rescue mission to protect some of the world’s priceless, purebred horses from the Nazis.

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“The Perfect Horse” by Elizabeth Betts is a true story of how Hitler sought to breed the perfect military horse by gathering some of the world’s finest purebreds. The book tells the tale of U.S. Army troops who took huge risks to rescue these horses at the end of the war, before the Russians, refugees or others could slaughter these horses for food or other.

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I found the book fascinating from the start. You learn about the different horse farms in Germany, Poland and Austria that bred Arabians and Lippizzaners. I loved learning about the prestigious and historic Spanish Riding School in Vienna, which has practiced classical equitation for nearly 450 years. The book also shares the history of the U.S. cavalry and their role in military actions.

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As much as I’m a horse lover, it was also horrifying to read how the Nazis looked the other way as millions of people were murdered while horses were treated with kindness and warmth at farms not far from concentration camps. It’s sickening to read how the Germans wanted purebred horses as much as purebred humans and would stop at nothing to accomplish this. I also was fascinated by the loyalty and duty many of the veterinarians, grooms, riders and farm managers felt for these horses, as they considered the horses national treasures. The book chronicles the decisions and challenges the farm directors faced while the war raged around the farms and the Germans began to lose.

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The book shares the stories of the many American troops who played a significant role in rescuing these horses from the Germans and before others could harm or kill the animals. These horses were among the finest purebreds in the world so it ultimately was important to try to rescue them as the war ended. To do this, Americans, Germans, Polish and other countrymen worked together to protect the stallions, mares and foals. Overall, this was a well-told story and interesting book.

 

Adventure Saturday: Visiting Detroit’s Belle Isle park January 25, 2016

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Awesome buildings in the sun.

It was a sunny, brisk day when my sister and I decided to head to Detroit for lunch and to tour Belle Isle Park, a 987-acre island located between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. I visited Belle Isle on school field trips and family outings when I was a child but I couldn’t remember the last time I visited as an adult. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a while so I thought it would be a nice outing for Adventure Saturday!

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My sister and I decided to stop for lunch on the way so HopCat in Detroit was our decision. It was fairly busy but our wait was only about 15 minutes. I had yummy quesadillas and Kim had mac n’ cheese with bacon. HopCat has an extensive craft beer menu so we sampled some good beer too!

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Belle Isle has a rich history connected with the city of Detroit. It became a city park in the late 1800’s. Visitors first had to take a ferry to visit. The current 2,193-foot vehicle bridge was built in 1923 (after the original bridge burned in 1915) to connect the island to mainland Detroit. In 2013, Belle Isle became Michigan’s 102nd state park (Detroit still owns the property). Since the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) took over the management of the island, many updates have occurred. The Belle Isle Conservancy also does a lot to raise funds and renovate many of the attractions, including the aquarium and conservatory.

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Lots of pretty plants!

Belle Isle has five miles of shoreline, offering a spectacular view of the skylines of Detroit and Windsor, the Ambassador bridge and freighter traffic along the Detroit River. There are so many attractions and beautiful structures on the island. We drove the entire island looking at various structures, including the police station and old horse stables.

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The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory’s 85-foot dome can be seen from a distance. The conservatory was designed by Albert Kahn and modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The temperature inside the conservatory was balmy in the low 80s. There are five areas to explore – the Palm House, the Fernery, Cactus House, Tropical House, and Showroom. I loved wandering through paths outlined by diverse plants. We chuckled at some of the names of the plants and marveled at the size and shapes of many others. It’s fascinating to see so many different plants that hail from all over the world.

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Big belly seahorse

The Belle Isle Aquarium is also an Albert Kahn-designed building. It opened in 1904 as the third largest aquarium in the world and operated until 2005. The Belle Isle Conservancy re-opened the aquarium in 2012 and has been doing renovations. The tanks inside contain fresh and saltwater fish – some really large and exotic! Most eye-catching is the arched ceiling with gorgeous green tiles. A lot of work has been occurring to repair and replace broken tiles damaged from water and time passing.

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The Dossin Great Lakes Museum, a driving range, Nature Zoo (formerly the nature center), and much more is on the island. I was impressed with the numerous updates and work done on the island over the past few years. I can’t wait to return to Belle Isle in the warmer spring to walk the island and explore more of the attractions. My sister and I decided Belle Isle would be a fun location for one of our weekly Sunday family dinners (there are so many great picnic spots!).

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A Michigan Recreation Pass is required for vehicle entry onto the island (pedestrians and bikers can access the island for free). There is no charge to visit the aquarium, zoo and conservancy. Check hours for the attractions before going as they vary for each location.

 

Fall colors paint the trails at Wolcott Mill park October 26, 2015

WolcottMill_trees_blogIt was another beautiful fall day in Michigan when I ventured to my next hiking destination. Wolcott Mill is part of the Huron-Clinton Metropark system. Located in Ray Township in north Macomb County, the 2,625-acre park has much to offer visitors. In addition to the amazing beauty of the colorful fall leaves, Wolcott Mill has a late 20th century working farm, historic mill, golf course, event facilities, equestrian trails, fishing opportunities, and nature trails.

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I met up with a small group from my outdoor club for the hike. I’ve been trying to get more involved in the Meetup groups I joined years ago. It’s nice to participate in activities, such as hiking, with people who enjoy the outdoors too, plus I like meeting new friends. We met at Wolcott Mill’s Camp Rotary. This area offers a camping space for scout and youth groups, but also a large activity building and pavilion that are available for day/evening rental use.

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From Camp Rotary’s parking lot, we crossed a wooden suspension bridge over the Clinton River to the woods and trails. A short hike led us to the historic Wolcott Mill, one of the few remaining grist mills in Michigan. Built in 1847, the mill was once known for producing high-quality flour. Many of the buildings are original, including the barn which now serves as a museum.

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WolcottMill_blogAfter exploring the mill area, our group set off for the trails. The individual nature trails aren’t very long (the Settler’s Trail is 2 miles) so we combined a few trails for a nice hike. We all kept ‘ooohing’ and ‘aaahing’ over the beautiful tree colors we encountered. The trails are well-groomed and easy to follow. There are wooden markers along the trails too. There is very little elevation gain. Some parts of the Settler’s Trail go along the river, which is very pretty. However, some areas have a drop off so use caution when hiking there, especially with young children.

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The equestrian trails combine to form 10 miles. Use caution and respect if hiking with horses, please. While pedestrians have the right of way, you can still be courteous by not making loud or sudden movements around a horse (especially the rear end). As someone who has experience riding a horse on trails with an occasional walker, I thank you on behalf of riders for your thoughtfulness.

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The 250-acre farm center provides another nice visitor spot. The dairy barn offers opportunities to watch the cows getting milked, a sheep barn houses sheep, goats and pigs, the chicken coop is home to many different small animals (chickens, ducks, rabbits, quail and more). The farm also includes a greenhouse, a barn that houses the draft horses, and a farmhouse that serves as the park office and a location of classrooms and exhibits.

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WolcottMill_trailmarker_blogLots of activities occur throughout the year at the farm center – an annual sheep shearing event occurs in the spring, hay rides in the fall, holiday events, and more. Check the park’s website for event information and schedules.

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I enjoyed visiting another great Michigan park and look forward to returning to hike and attend some events in the future. You can still catch the beautiful fall colors on the trees but hurry!

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Wolcott Mill is located in Ray Township, Mich. There is a vehicle entrance fee (daily or annual pass). Check the hours before heading out.

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What’s your favorite local park?

 

Go back in time at the Michigan Renaissance Festival September 25, 2015

festivalKids may be back in school and Fall officially started, but there is still plenty to do outside in Michigan’s beautiful weather! And we’re still in the midst of Michigan’s busy festival season. In my quest to be outdoors as much as Mother Nature shares this nice weather, my husband and I decided to check out the Michigan Renaissance Festival this past weekend.

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The Michigan Renaissance Festival started in 1979 in Clarkston, Mich., but has been hosted in Holly for the past 37 years. Each year the festival welcomes attendees to travel back in time to the 16th century to experience life during this time. A 17-acre village showcases reproductions of Renaissance shops, taverns and a castle. More than 300 artisans display their work. Ongoing entertainment, including full-contact armored jousting, comedy, music, games and more, occur throughout the event days.

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I haven’t been to the festival years so when I received some free admission tickets, I thought it would be a fun outing. So my husband and I headed north to Holly. The weekend’s theme was Harvest Huzzah, which was perfect for the kickoff of the fall season. Parking is free, which is nice since it’s a bit costly to get into the festival. We were stunned at the size of the crowd! It was much more crowded than either of us remember from the past so it’s obviously gained in popularity. Some people get really into the Renaissance theme – dressing in full costumes from the time period. There are some beautiful, detailed costumes worn by some. We also saw some zombies and a few random people who used the opportunity to dress in outrageous costumes not at all related to the time period. It was entertaining!

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festivaljoustThere is so much happening throughout the day! With 17 stages, there is ongoing music and entertainment. There are also entertainers wandering through the ‘village,’ including jugglers and people playing period games. A full-armor jousting contest drew a large crowd. There are games, such as archery, toss tomatoes at the insulting jesters, and knife throwing. There is a children’s area filled with age-appropriate games and activities. The marketplace was bustling with activity too. There are many clothing and costume vendors, as well as pretty jewelry, musical instruments, and fun toys for sale. You won’t go hungry, as there are tons of food and drink vendors (including the famous big turkey drumsticks!). You may go broke though, as there are many items to purchase. Plus, we noticed that many (maybe all?) performers pass baskets around to collect ‘donations’ from the crowd.

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Overall, it was an interesting afternoon. Frankly, it was a bit too crowded for us to really enjoy as we couldn’t wander through the village without being bumped. I’m not sure I’d recommend for small children. I’m glad we experienced it after many years away and it was nice to see so many people having a festive time. It was a beautiful day to spend outdoors with my husband. We ended the adventure with a delicious meal at the Union Woodshop in Clarkston, which serves great barbecue food! We waited about an hour for a table, but the restaurant opened an upstairs bar for waiting patrons. I love their wood smoked pizza.

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The Michigan Renaissance Festival ends Oct. 4, 2015. That weekend’s theme is Sweet Endings, featuring free samples at the Chocolate Festival, cupcake baking contest, craft beer tasting, many activities for kids and adults, and more.

 

 
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