Door County: From Trolls to Ice Cream, and Perhaps the Weirdest In-Between

by India Martin / Mar 20, 2013 / 0 comments

The long and serpentine road winds down the coast of the lake. Bikes of all kinds descend into the small Scandinavian town called Ephraim, in Door County, Wisconsin. Leaving our tiny and miniscule rental cottage with its small wooden bed and kitchen, a sense of complete relief fell over me. I could finally get out of that horrible dusty and damp cottage in the middle of the forest! As I walked out of the cottage, I glanced goodbye, staring at dainty but tattered blinds and an animatronic troll head on the ground. It certainly was a strange place to stay, but I can say despite its very strange demeanor, it wasn’t all bad for the cabin was still quaint and dainty.


The very intimidating animatronic troll head

The very intimidating animatronic troll head


I hopped on my bike and was immediately scared to fly down the hill overlooking the lake feet below the road. Hundreds of speeding cars were on my right side and on the left were choppy lake waves. It seemed dangerous to me, but the journey was worth it as I rode into town. Local people, all Scandinavian, joined together in joyous song and dance in the yearly Heritage Festival. Smoke from the sweet-corn grills filled the air and as usual, the ice cream shop was overflowing. As with many small-town ice cream shops, everyone knows each other - and often, the staff will be able to predict your order of a double cone with mint chocolate chip and hot fudge.  After a while, I felt as if I was a town native because I got to know everyone there pretty well.


At the town center by the wood carving booths and jewelry sellers, I heard a band playing faintly in the distance. We soadked it all in, lying on the lawn in front of an old Scandinavian meetinghouse. The music seemed sort of Northern European - Irish or Norwegian - and it was very entertaining. As we got closer, I heard a loud guitar and wheezing accordion making grand music of celebration. Notes of all kinds drifted to my ears. What a celebration! Immediately upon entering the catering section, the smells of food from around the world filled my nostrils. There were so many international food booths - Mexican, Irish, American - every cuisine you can name, it was there! Biting into a juicy bratwurst surrounded by friendly locals drinking beer was just one of the many delicious experiences. Burritos from the Mexican stand stung mouths with exhilarating spices, and afterward, pastry stands selling famous cherry pies, cakes, and more sweet treats sat waiting for customers. One of the most popular food booths was the corn stand, offering sweet yellow cooked corn that melted like butter in your mouth. 


Before night fell, I sat watching a young woman sing a beautiful song. Right out of a talent show, she made everyone clap and tear up with her angelic voice. Names were called out for winners in a raffle. I remember the look on everyone’s faces when the same people were called over, and over, and over again, until everyone was laughing gaily.  When the moon shone high and darkness reappeared, a woman in old Scandinavian clothing and a long staff appeared. She led a line of cheerful young girls dressed as Swedes and local men yelling with jubilee. At the end of the water just at the edge of the sand, a bonfire stood blazing. It was like the fire in Salem’s gruesome times of the witch trials. The heat of a million flames lapped at the shores and stung your eyebrows. Peering across the lake’s bay, one by one, more and more fires were lit, revealing the sand and illuminating the night sky. The surprisingly good smell of burning wood mixed with the fishy tang of the water. It smelled of pies burning in the oven, or a fire from an old house in the woods. The smell of the fire was inviting and even though its light and heat was so much to bear, it sent people relaxing to sleep.


beach bonfire

The beautiful, flickering bonfire that lit up the beach on the dark night sky


Just then, as eyes fluttered closed and people dozed off, tons of colorful fireworks exploded, with flamboyant booms and pops. Everyone “ooed and aahed”, as they have for millennia of fireworks watching. At the end of the night, back to our old and musty cottage we went. As much as we despised it, the cottage gave us a sense of peacefulness. We immediately cooled our feet under the soft covers of the welcoming beds. Just outside, trees that towered as high as the eye could see darkened the landscape. Deep shades of green hid anything in its path. Whatever lurked in these woods would have to be very secret indeed - and also independent; a predator and a hunter, one who was not afraid of surprises that lurked around every corner.


From troll themed cottages and friendly locals licking Ice Cream to fire and tradition, Ephraim, Wisconsin in historic Door County is not a place to find the ordinary. It is, rather, a place to find the interestingly strange but most welcoming people in the Midwest.  





India Martin is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program


Photos courtesy and copyright India Martin