But now, the weekends are free from family reunions and obligatory beach visits. It’s time to explore, take off, visit some new places or revisit some old ones, and make up for not getting around to getting away all summer. Here are some suggested getaways, suitable for a day or a weekend, chosen mainly because they all start with the letter "T," and because they all take you into different worlds just right for a brief vacation.
The farther north you go, the earlier the leaves turn color. But if you’d rather spend less time driving and more time exploring, take a quick road trip north on I-75 to Saginaw and Bay City, or a slower road trip north on M-25, until you get into the cottage and camping country of Michigan’s Thumb. If you take M-25, the eastern route, you’ll have the added bonus of a pleasant, relatively traffic-free ride that allows for some good rest stops in Port Huron (check out that bridge!), Port Sanilac (nice beach) and Harbor Beach (nice harbor).
At the tip of the Thumb, visit Grindstone City, where you can spot the town’s emblem (yup, real grindstones, the things they used to use to crush grain back before Grandma was born) incorporated into just about every lawn, driveway, patio and stone fence. They’re big, round and have a hole in the center, like giant stone CDs. Tell gullible friends they’re what people listened to music on in the Stone Age. Stop at the harbor, where you can watch fishing boats come in and fish get disemboweled at the dock. It’s much slimy fun.
Port Austin is a small town with plenty of that elusive and mythic small-town charm. Stop for dinner at any of the quaint eateries, or drive through and witness leaves changing color on either side of the road for miles. Stop at Sand Point, on Saginaw Bay, for a view of waterbirds and the sunset over the bay.
This is one of those roadside attractions that you usually drive past on your way to somewhere else, or miss altogether because it’s not on the main freeway. But the Junction Valley Railroad, in Bridgeport, is one of the coolest day trips within an hour’s drive of metro Detroit.
A real working quarter-sized railroad (the diesel engines are about four feet tall), it takes passengers — perched on benches in the little rail cars — on a two-mile looping trip over miniature trestles, through a 100-foot-long tunnel and around a forested valley, where you can get off the train and picnic in between rides. Open weekends only through Oct. 8, and then there’s a special Spook Train ride, Oct. 13-15, 20-22, and 27-31.
To get there, exit I-75 at Birch Run, dodge east to Dixie Highway, and drive north for 6 miles. You’ll know it by the train cars perched on the roof of the excellent railroad hobby shop. Call 517-777-3480 for more info.
An hour in the car, a day in another state. The drive there is no great big deal, but when you get to Toledo there are several fun and exciting things to do.
Check out COSI, Toledo’s science center. It’s a highly interactive museum that lets you ride a bicycle on a high-wire 20 feet in the air, find out how fast you can sprint, and pretend to be a weathercaster, among dozens of other activities. Not to be missed are the fast-paced, strangely cute games of rat basketball (just go see for yourself) and the Contraptions A-Z exhibit, a collection of "interactive mechanical devices" which opens Sept. 16 and runs through Jan. 2, 2001. To find out more, visit www.cositoledo.org, or call 419-244-COSI.
Just a few blocks away, at the Toledo Museum of Art, you can wonder why such a small city gets to have such a great art gallery. In addition to a fine permanent collection of contemporary and classical art — including one of the best collections of glassware in the country — the museum is focusing on the rugged cowboy life this fall, with an exhibit titled "The American West: Out of Myth, Into Reality." Opening Oct. 6 and running through New Year’s, it includes works by Charles Deas and the legendary Frederic Remington. Best of all, admission is free. It’s located in downtown Toledo, just off I-75. Visit www.toledomuseum.org for hours and complete directions.
On the return trip, stop just over the Michigan border at Luna Pier, and gaze at the waves on Lake Erie as a fall gale whips up. Feel envious of the people who have cottages there, looking out over the water, snug beside their woodstoves, and promise yourself you’ll get around to taking that lakeside vacation next year.
Plan on at least a weekend in Toronto, which should be enough to whet your appetite for, well, another weekend in Toronto. And another. Experience the thrill of a real big city, with real mass transit, dozens of ethnic neighborhoods, more walkable areas than you could ever stroll through, and retail and restaurants that not only aren’t boarded up, they’re ready to feed you for (at current exchange rates) what amounts to half-price!
It’s easy to get there — a quick four-hour trip by car, same by train, or an hour by plane. Once you’re there, plan on hitting both the well-touristed places, such as the Art Gallery of Ontario, Royal Ontario Museum, Metro Toronto Zoo and Ontario Science Center (skip the CN Tower unless you have a thing for long elevator rides or enormous phallic symbols), as well as the less-touristed, locals-really-go-there spots such as Queen Street West, Queen Street East, Kensington Market, Yonge and Bloor and Danforth Avenue, Toronto’s version of Greektown. If only for the photo op, make sure you visit the Detroit Eatery, across Danforth and just east of the Chester subway station. Find directions on the Web at www.toronto.com, or just go and wander around. You’ll probably have fun wherever you end up.
While you’re there, pick up a free copy of NOW magazine (Toronto’s version of the MT), which will point you to all the coolest things happening on any given day. Alisa Gordaneer is MT features editor. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org