Our hotel set us off on the wrong foot. We've been reserving the least expensive hotel room on Hotwire for each stop on the trip or camping at the KOA site. This had served us well until Wednesday night. The Knight's Inn in Kalamazoo is a 1-star motel. As we arrived, there was a group of guys drinking on the second floor balcony. They stared at us unwaveringly from the moment we left the check-in lobby, until we parked, exited the car and walked into the room. As I was expecting, I heard a schwiii-schwooo whistle as we entered the room. (I hope it was for Sarah.) Entering the room, we noticed a sheet crumpled on the floor beneath the window. There were chunks of a white substance all over it that we assumed to be plaster. After checking the locks on the doors and windows (the bathroom window had no lock, but a stick jammed in place had the window effectively shut), we settled in to post to the blog and sleep. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, the hotel's "Free Wi-fi" wasn't working.
In the morning we escaped from the hotel ASAP and looked around Kalamazoo. We found Western Michigan University to be somewhat appealing and a nearby neighborhood was nice, but the general appeal and economics of the town were fair at best. We moved on to Holland.
Holland is nice. The classic downtown is healthy with a mix of local stores and national chains. The Tulip Festival happens here each year. Hope College near the center of town is beautiful. We found a gorgeous neighborhood on Lake Macatawa which feeds into Lake Michigan. Homes on the water are beautiful and a little on the pricey end. It looks like Holland is a year round town but with a significant summer population from Chicago, Detroit, and parts beyond.
Lansing/East Lansing, Michigan
Spartans UNITE! No, we didn't see any CG animated guys in skirts with spears . However, the Michigan State University students looked like they could play the part. Lansing is the capitol of Michigan and East Lansing the home to MSU. Lansing has a large, clean and functioning downtown with lots of government buildings and the great new stadium that the Lansing Lugnuts (the local minor league baseball team) call home. East Lansing also has a lake that is about as small as you would want for a skiing lake with many good homes on it. In the end, we liked the similar city of Springfield, Illinois more than Lansing partially because the UIS is a smaller institution but with plenty of programs that interest us, and also because we like Springfield's lake area better than Lansing's.
Saginaw/Bay City, Michigan
Staying the night here we saw a clean and promising commercial strip. In the morning, we set out to find downtown and the waterfront. Downtown was hurting and housing was magnificent 100 years ago but now in need of major work. Major automotive plants were present throughout the area on the river leading to Lake Huron. Most were still in operation but we guess it's likely the auto industry's woes are impacting many of these towns and we've heard the state of Michigan's tax base is also severely impacted. We kept driving around trying to find something that felt right, but nothing in Saginaw or Bay City could shake the sense that times are not good there.
Erie is set on beautiful Lake Erie in the midst of lush, green, rolling wooded hills. Conversely, the town of Erie is one of the worst towns we have seen. We couldn't find the proverbial light at the end of multiple series of ill-planned and run down commercial developments, homes, and buildings. Downtown remains largely unredeveloped, its many historic buildings in need of renovation, and lacks any kind of aesthetic appeal. We discovered an affordable neighborhood with pretty homes near the water, but even if they were free we definitely do not want to live in Erie. While posting this at a local coffee shop, Randy noticed a photography display showing Erie as healthy when it peaked in the 1950s. We still can't figure out why it recently made Money Magazine's 'Best Places to Live' listing.
Happy birthday, Ben! Kisses :)
- Randy and Sarah