Ah, Washington Island. Just a thirty minute ferry ride from Gills Rock at the northern tip of Door County in Wisconsin.
We needed to get away and unplug. And that we did.
Sporadic cell service, no agenda. After the summer swimmers and boaters departed but before the fall color crowds. We pretty much had the place all to ourselves.
To be honest, I had never heard of the island before. Our dear friends, Teresa and John, have been going there for years. John has had a family home up there for over fifty-five years. So, after listening to their tales of quiet respite, sunsets and Nelsen's Hall Bitter's Pub, we planned a road trip to experience this magic for ourselves.
When you disembark from the ferry your blood pressure drops in an instant while you breathe in the fragrant smell of cedar. Not a traffic light to be found. Unspoiled. Untouched. Population 710.
Every morning around eleven, we'd stop at the Red Cup Coffee House for a latte and pastry. Can you blame us? I'm seriously thinking about applying for a job there.
We'd chat up a storm with the locals and learned about Vi Llewellyn, the famous cab driver who'd pick up day-trippers at the ferry dock and give them narrated tours of the island. Stricken with polio at the age of 25, she performed this service for 39 years in a custom-built automobile since she lost the use of both legs. The taxi sign from the top of her cab rests on her headstone in the local cemetery.
I have an affinity for people like Vi, and if you don't make an effort to listen to the local stories, you miss out on the people worth hearing about. Isn't that precisely why we travel?
We stayed at the Sunset Resort that's been in the same family for five generations since Torger and Anna Engelson built the place in 1902. If it's been in business that long, it's good enough for us.
I slept without sleeping pills and awakened to homemade Norwegian Christmas bread, cherry rhubarb jam and strong coffee in the rustic dining room overlooking Green Bay. Did we miss our internet connection and cell phone use? No. Not at all. Not once.
With seagulls and Adirondack chairs by the water right in front of you, you have everything you need. Their motto is, "Good food, good beds and a homey, friendly atmosphere." Steve, Phyllis, Lee and Janet exceeded on all three. We'll be back in Room #3 next year, guaranteed.
There are two lavender farms on the island. The next best thing to being in Provence. White wooden benches were placed in the fields to relax and smell the calming fragrance. We went here three times. It could have been thirty. I purchased lavender chocolates, soaps and whipped body cream to keep my alligator skin moist this winter. I doubt it will last until Halloween.
Since it's always about the food, my best meal on the island was a bowl of Whitefish Chowder at the Island Café and Bread Company. It had a subtle kick and among the chunks of whitefish were potatoes, carrots, celery and onion. The best chowder south of Nova Scotia. (And if this wasn't enough, I also ordered the grilled brie and gruyere sandwich on homemade bread. No wonder my jeans are snug.)
Now about those Angostura aromatic bitters.
I took the plunge and am now a proud member of the Bitter's Club at Nelsen's Hall Bitter's Pub, circa 1899. To gain entry into this exclusive club, you are served a shot of said bitters and must be certified by your server that you consumed this shot. Now, I've had a few dashes of bitters in an Old-fashioned but never an entire shot. What was I getting myself into? But it was tasty and according to legend, the original Pub owner, Tom Nelsen, was said to drink a pint of bitters every day. And he lived to be ninety. What did I have to lose?
My certificate states, "You are now considered a full-fledged Islander and entitled to mingle, dance, etc. with all the other Islanders." Now that's an achievement I'm proud of, boys. Let the dancing and mingling begin. Island lore at its finest. I believe I've added at least another year or two onto my lifespan. But a pint a day? Sorry, Tom. You must have had a cast iron gut.
No, my husband took a pass on this indulgence in case you're wondering. Exclusive clubs don't interest him even if it involves booze.
Our car was packed with books, winter coats and umbrellas. I never opened a book the entire time. There was too much beauty in nature to absorb than to be lost inside a book. Books can wait. Sunsets and Icelandic history can't. The weather was too warm for heavy coats and the rain kept its distance. Although I would have welcomed both.
We had restful solitude. Met honest, hardworking people. Never looked at a television or cared about the news, whether fake or real.
We watched the sunsets instead.
We saw the Big Dipper in a sea of stars.
We unplugged. We did nothing.
We threw rocks in the water.
We gathered cedar pine cones.
We felt connected.
Thank you Washington Island.
We will be back.
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