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Seeing Detroit with Appreciation

October 30, 2017 • By

I’ve heard the words, “Detroit is coming back,” since I was young. My parents are native Michiganders with my mom hailing from Allen Park outside of Detroit and my dad from Flint. I grew up listening to stories of Detroit’s grandeur. My maternal grandparents played as children under the Ambassador Bridge and my mother referenced happy times shopping at the famed Hudson’s department store, attending shows and eating at Detroit’s best restaurants.

Fantasy Aisle, Renaissance Center in Detroit home to GM and the Marriott. The tallest building in Detroi

Renaissance Center in Detroit home to GM and the Marriott. The tallest building in Detroit

Anyone with a Detroit connection talked of great plans for the city’s revitalization one day and the rest laughed and conceded it would never happen and so became the running joke among natives and transplants for decades. People would brag about the enormous potential of the city situated on the Detroit River and rave about the busy international crossing between the United States and Canada, yet Detroit steadily declined with developers and loyalists awaiting its upswing.

Fantasy Aisle, Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad at Hart Plaza

Gateway to Freedom International Memorial to the Underground Railroad at Hart Plaza

Many believe Detroit’s economy started to decline in the 1950s with the automobile industry struggling but the turning point occurred in July 1967 when Detroit experienced one of the worst race riots in the country. My dad, a member of the Michigan Air National Guard – Battle Creek, was activated during the riots. Still short a summer class to graduate, the Guard called him to service in Detroit. He admits he didn’t even know how to carry a gun (and didn’t) but went to work with the Michigan State Police. He said, “There were a lot of prejudices going on,” and recounted a story of how the team he worked with chased a man who broke into a store and stole televisions.

When I was a student at Michigan State University in East Lansing, my roommates and I made the hour-and-a-half trip to Windsor, Canada where the drinking age was 19. One time I recall driving and making a wrong turn to reach the Ambassador Bridge. My roommate, familiar with Detroit, became alarmed and instructed me to start speeding and to run through red lights. We were in a “bad area.”

Until recently, my history with Detroit conjured negative connotations and I avoided visiting. I heard whispers of Detroit’s return and remained doubtful. That changed last week when I stayed in Detroit for the first time in 20 years. I won’t say, “It’s back,” but it is on a positive road to recovery evidenced by the countless construction cranes spread across the city. Detroiters and Michiganders alike are excited and proud with good reason.

Fantasy Aisle, RiverWalk along the Detroit River

RiverWalk along the Detroit River

It’s worth a day or two to explore this comeback kid with a plethora of nicknames –Motor City, Motown, Hockeytown, Renaissance City. I woke up at sunrise to a blustery clear day and grabbed my sneakers for some exercise along the RiverWalk, (Detroit International Riverfront), a 51/2 mile path stretching from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle. I walked east for an hour before turning back finding lots of locals and tourists shared the same idea. It’s easy to rent a bike, roller blade or relax on many of the park benches. There are sculptures and art pieces, seasonal restaurants and state parks lining the path and restored landscaping enhances the experience. Detroit is a walkable city even with all those cars.

In need of coffee, I turned my sights on Woodward Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Detroit. The area is flush with businesses relocated from the suburbs. The likes of Starbucks, Shake Shack and Potbelly further affirm my belief that the “new Detroit” would not be recognizable to people who left years ago.

Fantasy Aisle, Central United Methodist Church

Central United Methodist Church

Armed with caffeine, I sat for a bit people watching at the Campus Martius Park. Workers were busy converting the public area from a summer hot spot with volleyball and music to a winter wonderland with ice skating and hot chocolate. I continued along Woodward shocked by the modern buildings and impressed with the detail that has gone into preserving the heart of the city.

I snapped pictures with my family in mind hoping to show them the changing story of Detroit, a resurgent city with growing opportunities. “If you build it, they will come,” ran through my head and I was overwhelmed with happiness for my friends who stayed local and weathered the storm. It’s thrilling to witness the transformation firsthand.

Fantasy Aisle, Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team

Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball team

All of Detroit’s sports teams play in a few block-radius along Woodward. The Red Wings(hockey) and Pistons(basketball) play at Little Caesars Arena (I appropriately named it the Pizza Palace), with the Tigers(baseball) and Lions(football) across the street at Comerica Park and Ford Field respectively. My dad used to drag my brother and I to Pontiac for the big Thanksgiving Lions game at the Silverdome. It is a brilliant idea to relocate all the sports teams in one place. Now families and friends can spend an entire day eating and drinking while rooting their favorite team onto victory.

On a recent trip to Detroit this summer, Suzette Loving, who left home after college for job opportunities, walked Woodward Avenue from the river to the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum –in awe. She explained going alone by foot was not a good choice a few years ago. I sensed pure joy in her voice when she talked about all the revitalization.

“If I didn’t have a family, house and great job, I could move back,” she said. That is quite a sentiment from someone who lived in San Francisco, Chicago and Denver.

Joining me in Detroit, Suzette passionately pointed out new buildings and speed walked me along Woodward Avenue, then to Greektown and back around the Michigan Opera House and straight into a hip coffee shop, the Roasting Plant –a trendy place not found in downtown until now. I witnessed the hope and possibility through her eyes as she summarized her childhood and early adult years in the places that remain — A bar here and restaurant there. Her endorsement of Detroit is an understatement.

“Seeing people coming together and in some cases taking a risk to invest their business in the city is even more inspiring.  Probably my favorite part, though, is the sense of pride the community has resurrected.  The pride was always there but now it is outwardly visible – people have their chin up and heads held high.  You can feel that,” said Loving.

Fantasy Aisle, Car that drove John F. Kennedy's when he was shot. On view at the Henry Ford Museum

Car that drove John F. Kennedy’s when he was shot. On view at the Henry Ford Museum

While it’s not located in downtown Detroit, a visit to the Ford Rouge Factory and Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn about a 15-minute drive from the city is highly recommended. My maternal grandfather was one of 8,500 students who graduated from the Henry Ford Trade School in the 1930s and I’ve always maintained an affinity for the car industry, which provided a source of income for relatives on both sides of my family. The Museum highlights stories of American innovation, trailblazers and explorers with plenty of educational exhibits for everyone. I particularly enjoyed the Presidential Motorcade and the Civil Rights and suffragist displays.

Fantasy Aisle, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Founder of Detroit in 1701 for the French

Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, Founder of Detroit in 1701 for the French

My trip to Detroit sparked many inexplicable emotions in me. As I gazed at the Ambassador Bridge in the distance, or posed with a statue of Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac with the GM building in the background, I relived the stories my grandparents used to tell me. I didn’t walk in their exact steps but they were present. I celebrated their history and their sacrifices and triumphs. They would be beaming with anticipation of what is to come for Detroit.

When I told my 95-year-old Great Aunt (my only family member living from her generation) about my experience, I asked her if she missed Detroit, she responded, “I would be very pleased to go back and see.”

Fantasy Aisle, Ambassador Bridge of Detroit River connecting Detroit, USA to Windsor, Canada

Ambassador Bridge of Detroit River connecting Detroit, USA to Windsor, Canada

Activities of Interest

Browse Monet or visit with an Egyptian Mummy at the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum

Watch a game or concert at Little Caesars Arena, Comerica Park, Ford Field

Hang out with friends at one of the many sports bars

Gamble with some fun money or sample a taste of Tzaziki in Greektown

Take in some exercise or fun in the sun on the RiverWalk

Fantasy Aisle, An art deco building in the heart of Detroit, Center for the performing arts

An art deco building in the heart of Detroit, Center for the performing arts

See a production at the Fox Theatre

Eat eat eat and then shop shop shop at Eastern Market

Sing the hits of yesterday at the Motown Museum

Spend a day exploring Belle Isle located in the middle of the Detroit River (off limits for many years)

Set sail on the Detroit Princess Riverboat

Eat and explore the Mexican history in Detroit at Mexicantown (SW Detroit)

Get out of Town
Visit the Ford Rouge Factor for a Tour

Take in history at Henry Ford Museum & Greenfield Village

Local Restaurant Recommendations
(Note: I ate at Apparatus and Townhouse.  Local and foodie Rhiannah Luedeke provided her favorites)

Apparatus in the Detroit Fountain Hotel – Upscale, trendy dining experience.  Great halibut and strong wine list

Wright & Company -Try the craft cocktails and the Burrata Toast and Seared Bay Scallops

Fantasy Aisle, Best Burger Ever at Townhouse in Detroit, Michigan

Best Burger Ever at Townhouse in Detroit, Michigan

Townhouse – Quite possibly the best Hamburger on the planet.  For small plates, don’t miss the Cauliflower and Truffle Fries

Craft Work – Try the Ratatouille and Fried Chicken.  Fun hipster vibe in a casual atmosphere

Tokai (Formerly Katoi) -Menu changes frequently but notable dishes include the Ox Tail, Spare Ribs and Cauliflower

Vincentes – Located off a hidden alley with artistic graffiti and little bars  Try the Mejillones Al Citrico and Cuban Style Paella.  Stay for the salsa dancing which starts around 10 PM or 11 PM

la Dolche Vita – Hidden gem.  In summer, enjoy a beautiful garden with a string quartet. Who needs Italy?

Huron Room

El Barzone – A mix of Italian and Mexican food. Owner is Mexican and studied fine Italian in NYC before coming to Detroit

Parc

Green Dot Stables – Creative sliders

Selden Standard – Beef Tartar won’t disappoint

For more ideas, check out Detroit Eater

Where to Stay?

Detroit Fountain Hotel – a boutique hotel converted from a former firehouse.  Great location

Fantasy Aisle, Detroit Foundation Hotel, a former firehouse now boutique hotel

Detroit Foundation Hotel, a former firehouse now boutique hotel

Westin Book Cadillac Downtown

Greektown Hotel and Casino (dated)

Atheneum Suites Hotel (dated)

For more information…

To read more about Detroit’s Comeback:

Americas Comeback City – The Rebirth of Detroit – Forbes

Taking Back Detroit – National Geographic

On the Detroit Riots:

Detroit (based on the July 1967 riots)

History of Detroit Riots

“Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies” — Edited by Joel Stone
(Wayne State University Press)

“The Detroit Riot of 1967” — Hubert G. Locke
(Wayne State University Press)


General travel, North America, Travel Tips

A Sample Alaskan Itinerary

August 28, 2017 • By

Alaska Travel Recommendations

These are my Alaska travel recommendations if you plan on visiting the state. This sample itinerary will give you an idea of where to stay, where to eat, who to consult for tour info, what to see, and where to go in this rugged paradise.

Alaskan Guide Extraordinaire:  Brooke Edwards, Wild World Wanderings

Girwood/Mt.Alyeska

Distance from Anchorage: 45 minutes by car

StayMt. Alyeska Resort

Eat: Seven Glaciers Restaurant, Jack Sprat

Do: Summer – Hike Mt. Alyeska (In Winter – Downhill ski, cross country, snowmobile), Kayak or Surf Turnagain Arm

Fantasy Aisle, alaska travel recommendations, Sea Lion Sightseeing with Kenai Fjord Tours

Sea Lion Sightseeing with Kenai Fjord Tours

Seward

Distance from Anchorage: 2 hours 40 minutes by car

Stay: Airbnb

Eat: Cookery, Chinooks, Safeway (yes, the grocery store)

Fantasy Aisle, alaska travel recommendations, The Halibut did not disappoint the Cookery in Seward

The Halibut did not disappoint the Cookery in Seward

Do: Kenai Fjord Tour, Hike nearby Exit Glacier/(Harding Icefield), Fish, Kayak, Sealife CenterAlaska Railroad

Fantasy Aisle, alaska travel recommendations, Rafting on the Kenai River at Cooper Landing

Rafting on the Kenai River at Cooper Landing

Cooper Landing

Distance from Anchorage: 2 hours

Eat & Stay: Kingfisher Roadhouse

Do: Hike Russian River Falls, Rafting & Fishing

Soldotna

Distance from Anchorage: 3 hours by car – Good half way between Anchorage and Seward. A good spot to buy groceries and supplies.

Stay: Sterling Needle Bed & Breakfast

Eat: Mykels,  Buckets Sports Grill

Do: Kenai River Salmon Fishing

Fantasy Aisle, alaska travel recommendations, Sockeye Salmon, a specialty at Little Mermaid in Homer

Sockeye Salmon, a specialty at Little Mermaid in Homer

Homer

Distance from Anchorage: 4 hour 30 minutes by car

Stay: Airbnb

Eat (give up the diet): Fat Olives, Little MermaidTwo Sisters Bakery, La Baleine Café, Wasabi’s Restaurant, Captain Pattie’s,  Saltry at Halibut Cove

Bar: Salty Dawg Saloon – Buy a beer and T-shirt to prove you were there

Do: Hike surrounding trails – Grewingk GlacierSaldovia, Halibut Cove, Kayak, Fish – Book a year in advance

Fantasy Aisle, alaska travel recommendations, My favorite restaurant in Alaska, The Wildflower Cafe

My favorite restaurant in Alaska, The Wildflower Cafe

Talkeetna

Distance from Anchorage: 2 hours 15 minutes by car

Stay: Airbnb, Roadhouse

EatWildflower Cafe – my favorite spot in Alaska, Roadhouse – breakfast & cinnamon buns

Do: Flightsee/Fly over Mt. Denali/Glacier Hike, River rafting

Fantasy Aisle, Fantasy Aisle, alaska travel recommendations, Denali Visitor's Bus only way to see Denali National Park

Denali Visitor’s Bus only way to see Denali National Park

Denali

Distance from Anchorage: 4 hours by car

Stay:  RV, Camping, Tonglen Lake Lodge – Luxury spot, Grand Denali Lodge – great location, shuttle bus, rooms need renovations but are clean

Eat: 229 Parks, Prospectors Pizza

Fantasy Aisle, alaska travel recommendations, Prospector's Pizza at Denali National Park

Prospector’s Pizza at Denali National Park

Do: Hike park trails, take tourist bus to view wildlife and glimpse park offerings, Dog Kennels, Eilson Visitor Center, Rafting Nenana

Fantasy Aisle, alaska travel recommendations, Wild Scoops in Anchorage, Alaska fun flavors like cardamon

Wild Scoops in Anchorage, Alaska fun flavors like cardamon

Anchorage

(Kelly’s note: Please do not waste any of your valuable time in Alaska in Anchorage)

Stay: Clarion Suites, Sheraton, Hilton, Captain Cook

Eat: Simon & Seaforts, Bridge Seafood – only open for dinner, Wild Scoops Ice Cream

Do:  Walk or bike Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Anchorage Museum, Alaska Native Heritage Center

Fantasy Aisle, alaska travel recommendations, Anchorage, Cook Inlet from the Coastal Walk

Anchorage, Cook Inlet from the Coastal Walk

Did you enjoy my Alaska travel recommendations? Would you consider visiting the state? Or, if you have, do you have any recommendations of your own? I would love to know. Comment and leave some of your favorite places to visit or things to do in the 49th State.