“A Charming Victorian B & B…”

Tom and I have an uncanny way of walking into trouble just at the moment when we’re both needing some peace. It’s not that we never have a nice getaway or a good meal out or an enjoyable concert. It’s just that we have this disconcerting way of ending up in ironic situations. I do believe we have something of a gift for it.

Take the Bed and Breakfast debacle. The autumn after Will was born, Tom suggested we head up to Door County for a weekend. We hadn’t been away in ages, and a beautiful fall trip sounded wonderful. This was back in the Dark Ages before we were online, so we got some tourist brochures and booked a room at what looked like a charming B & B. The description used terms like “quaint”, “Victorian”, and there were rich descriptions of lace curtains, crackling fires, period furniture and a hot breakfast in the morning.

We drove up to Door County anticipating a restful experience in a town known for its elegant B & B’s, shops and restaurants. It was dark when we arrived. A man who eerily resembled the late Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead came out on the porch when we drove up, and that should have been a warning. We were shown to the “Washington Room.” The rooms were named after colonial Americans (in a Victorian?), but I don’t think George Washington would have stayed in that room. Trust me.

The house was cold, for starters. It was late October and in northern Wisconsin, that meant the furnace should have been on. It clearly wasn’t. There were no “cozy fires crackling in the fireplaces.” The fireplace in our room had been boarded up. We closed the door and stared slack jawed at what we had done. The carpets had been ripped up, and the carpet tacks were still there around the perimeter of the room. Ugly, peeling paper decorated the walls. A thin, Wal-Mart quality quilt was on the bed. The bathroom was a huge room that had been converted, if you can use that term, into a bath. The ugliest black and white linoleum I have ever seen was on the floor. Strangely, a hot tub big enough to host an entire football team was in the center of the room. I tapped gingerly at it. It was made of some kind of plastic, and it looked none too clean. There appeared to be blue toilet cleaner on the floor behind the toilet. The entire thing was a mess.

But it was late. Tom thought we should just leave and get our money back. But the creepy Jerry Garcia guy didn’t look very friendly. I was furious. How had we ended up in a dump like this when all we had wanted was a little peace and quiet? I pulled the bedspread back and stared at the sheets suspiciously. Sure enough, a long black hair lay there on my pillow. Now I was completely revolted. But I knew that if we left at that time of night, we would probably have to spend the night in the car. We had been told that we were lucky to find rooms in October in Door County at all. I was so ticked off that I zipped my coat up, pulled up the hood, flipped the pillow over and lay there in the bed, shoes and all.

Tom did the same. We lay there huffily in the dark, not really blaming each other, just seething at our already well-developed gift of ending up in a mess. Of course, we ultimately began to see the humor in the situation. Before long, we were shaking with laughter. I was half crying, half laughing, but it felt good not to be upset anymore. We started making jokes about ending up in the only haunted B & B in Door County. We kept hearing the floors creak in the rickety old house all night. The bed was hard as a rock.

In the morning, Jerry Garcia tapped at our door and asked if we’d be wanting breakfast. We told him no, and then he informed us that he and his wife had just bought the place and were renovating. It was so kind of them to let everyone know that in their ad!

We got out of there and headed for a hot breakfast at a decent place. After our cold and dreary night in a haunted house, we needed it. It was one of our early, memorable experiences.

So last Friday, Tom and I headed out for what we hoped would be a quiet meal. We stepped out of the door in our normally quiet neighborhood to see a black car going way, way too fast up our hill. Right on his tail was another car, racing right behind him, like a pace car at a Nascar race. Thankfully, no child was riding his bike down that hill. It was an omen.

We got to the sub shop by a nearby lake, which is normally very quiet. We found a booth in a spot with nobody else around and ordered our subs. We hadn’t been there five minutes when I felt, rather than heard, a woman’s voice. It was one of those voices that goes through you like a chainsaw. Chainsaw lady had brought two children and her husband with her to sit right behind us. The children had inherited their mother’s voice, so chainsaws 1, 2 and 3 provided possibly the most annoying dining experience I’ve had in a while. Tom and I gloomily munched our subs in silence as the chainsaws did the talking for us. We left as quickly as possible, but as we stepped out the front door of the sub shop, a freight train came barreling down the tracks nearby, and, you guessed it, hit the horn. The timing couldn’t have been better.

We sat in the parking lot in the car to talk, hopeful that with the chainsaws and the train gone, we might be able to hear each other actually speak. Once again, we felt, rather than saw the next act. Until that moment, I didn’t know that the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang had a suburban chapter. Thirteen motorcycles, all of them with shock-and-awe mufflers, went rumbling past us on the street. Tom just looked at me and said, “You know, we could not have planned this if we had tried.”

He’s right. We were talking recently about a trip to Germany in the future. Still remembering a disastrous hotel choice in Bulgaria (he ended up with a room right over the town disco), he said, “I’m not doing the booking of the hotel this time. I’d pick the one hotel where they would be having a once-in-a-decade alphorn convention. Right below our room.”

17 thoughts on ““A Charming Victorian B & B…”

  1. Judi Hayes says:

    Oh, that made me laugh!!! I was reminded of my college room-mate’s story of when she and her husband arrived at a rundown B&B, to be greeted at the door by a man with a disappointed voice saying, “Oh…you’re here…” Turns out they were the only guests there, and at breakfast they saw the man jump in his car and they believe that their breakfast came from MacDonald’s!!!

  2. Lori says:

    We live in CA but go to Door County every summer. My mom has a cabin in Gills Rock….we LOVE it there!!! It was fun to read that someone else has gone there. Next time you can stay with us!

  3. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Wow, Lori. You’re committed if you come all the way from California! We love Door and since Tom and I got married, we’ve been there many times and had much better experiences than our first one! We stay in Ephraim at the Bay Breeze Resort usually. I love it so much that I even got a library card there in town. The library is right by Wilson’s ice cream shop which works out well, 😉 I like the little juke boxes by the tables in there and Wilson’s has really good chili, too. Nice to meet another fan of Door County!

    Judi, the McDonald’s breakfast may have been better than what would have been served. You wonder if these places just stay in business with first time victims or what? “Oh, you’re here,” ha ha. Great business approach.

  4. Lisa K says:

    We also LOVE Door County! (Not too bad of a drive from Chicago). For many years friends would talk me out of going there for some reason – saying there wasn’t much to do. other than antique shops! Well my son loved it when we were there a few years ago and still talks about it as his favorite place!
    We went to a light house museum, took the trolley tour, went to a drive-in movie (can you believe that?), every meal we had was superb, I found some quaint used book stores, and my son still talks about the cherry doughnuts! (I spent hours in a “cherry” store – and brought home the best cherry-raspberry pie filling).
    There were all the “usual” vacation things like golf and go-karts, plus being so close to the water was lovely. My husband and I crack up everytime our now 12 year old son raves about Door County – supposedly a staid, boring place for “old people”!

  5. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Door County is supposedly becoming less of an attraction as the younger generation doesn’t think there are enough things to do. I guess biking, kayaking, walking trails, swimming, golfing, go-karting, sailing, shopping, eating, etc. just isn’t exciting enough. We did notice two years ago in June (the last time we were there) that the tourist population skewed older. But Will really loved it. He and his dad brought their bikes and they went biking at Peninsula State Park, went kayaking and swimming. I just loved sitting on the deck in the shade reading and relaxing, not having to cook and taking walks. We loved the old book shops, too! To me, that’s a vacation. You can keep crowded amusement parks and such. I must be getting old. 😉 Actually, I’ve always enjoyed quiet.

    We always hit Al Johnson’s. I got some Swedish clogs there that I wear when I’m feeling particularly Scandinavian. For Christmas, Tom bought me an embroidered jacket from Sweden that is too beautiful to wear almost. Also, the Sister Bay Cafe is great. I bought my dad an “Uff da” mug there in their Norwegian gift shop. You can go online there too!

  6. Lisa K says:

    Amen to everything you said Ingrid. My husband is 100% Finnish and I was thrilled to find a Finland wall calendar for my mother in law along with a few other Finnish souvenirs – I believe it was at the restaurant with the goats on the roof – is that Al Johnson’s??
    It has become a “senior” tourist spot lately. My mom went with a senior tour a few years ago and raved about the fish boil!
    Though I’m not Scandinavian myself I’ve always been interested in the history and culture (I have several books on Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind, and have admired Norwegian Evie Karlsson for years).
    (Years ago I talked my husband into driving through tiny Bishop Hill, Illinois just to see the Jenny Lind Chapel!!)
    I’m with you on avoiding amusement parks and typical tourist traps – too noisy, crowded and not enjoyable.
    Well I’m ready to head back to Door County right now – a lovely place!

  7. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Lisa K., if there are goats on the roof, it’s Al Johnson’s! Here they are:

    Their gift shop is huge now with some really beautiful items from Scandinavia. I have to get out of places like that in a hurry!

  8. Helen says:

    Hey Ingrid–
    Maybe we can help edge the bet against an alphorn convention.
    A famous Alphorn artist has been sending e-mails to the Guam Symphony, so maybe we can hire him about the time you want to go to Germany.

    However, I’ve not convinced our music director that an alphorn would find an audience on Guam. Nor do I think I can convince the board of directors to spend money on the apparent three seats he’s going to need to transport the horn!

    Sorry… I guess you’re on your home. Best wishes for a quiet escape to Germany.

  9. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Helen, an alphorn player in Guam! I saw one last night online that was so vast, so huge, so long, well, words fail me. And they only seem to play a handful of notes! I’m trying to picture lederhosen on a Guam native and I can’t do it. Three seats on an airline? Try the entire overhead compartment for the plane. Tom did tell me that they come apart which gave me a good laugh as I tried to picture someone trying to screw those huge pieces together. My apologies to any alphorn players. In the right setting, I am sure they are great.

  10. Helen says:

    Oh, the Alphorn player is a guy from Austria I believe.
    We’d have to get him and his alphorn here.

    But we have had some Guam guys in Lederhosen for an Oktoberfest. That’s pretty funny, too.

  11. Donna says:

    Our family went to Holland for the tulip gardens and stopped in Amsterdam to go to the Anne Frank house and see the Rembrandts. Who knew it was the International Tattoo and Body Piercing Convention?

    But my favorite involved my late mother. She was the most modest, demure, reserved (and wonderful) woman you would ever meet. She and my dad were on a tour in Europe and had looked and looked in Paris for a store that was supposed to sell beautiful hand-painted dishes. No luck. They then went on to Germany and, while walking with their group, she saw a sign and burst out “Sweetie–that’s OUR PLACE!” Stopped the group (and guide) dead in their tracks. Turns out that there was a chain of pornography stands which had the same name as the tiny china shop in Paris. I don’t think she ever recovered from the embarassment (or that my dad ever stopped laughing).

  12. Christina says:

    Andy and I are going to be planning a trip…just the two of us, in about 6 months to a year and we have our eyes on Door County. I have always wanted to go there. It seems so peaceful there.

  13. Ingrid Schlueter says:

    Peaceful is definitely the right word. There are benches by the bay where you can sit at sunset and hear the loons. Even when it’s not so nice out, it’s great. One time we went there in fall and there was a terrific gale. It was cold and raining and windy and we were at the Bay Breeze resort right on the water, which had big whitecaps and waves crashing. Tom and I went out in the wind and rain and walked down to the Door County Confectionery store where they had homemade fudge. We got some goodies and walked back, blown all over by the force of the wind. Inside it was peaceful and cozy. They have fireplaces in those rooms and small kitchens. I really recommend that place in Ephraim. It is on the moderate side in price compared with some of the others.

  14. paulabukacek says:

    We had an ‘experience’ at a bed and breakfast right outside of Green Bay (for a Packer Game), I could not even begin to tell you what a weird night that was. I think the word pervert comes to mind, lets just say I’m glad I am married to a 6’8″ former marine. Never again. But, having said that, Door County was the only vacation we ever had. Friends had a cottage there and we went every summer, or we stayed in motels. I love that place but I haven’t been there in 20 years!

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