24 Hours in Detroit

Detroit, not exactly what you think of when you hear the term “tourist destination”, but as someone who spent almost 2 years in Michigan, I want to put a positive spin on a place that needs some serious positivity.

As mentioned previously, I used to be a consultant, and as a result, getting an excuse to see some parts of the USofA I didn’t think I’d ever visit came with the deal.  One of those places, was Detroit.  Fortunately, I had a great tour guide who lived there (still does), and gave us the ins, outs, does and don’ts of Detroit.  I mean Detroit has a Whole Foods now, how bad could it be??

We went in the summer and scored tickets to a Detroit Tigers / Red Sox game (go Sox!) so we were determined to fill our days with all we could see.  We met for breakfast at a cute farm to table spot outside of the midtown loop.  What we learned is that when it comes to city planning, the same people that planned Detroit might as well have planned Philadelphia.  I-95 runs right through the city, cutting off certain areas from downtown, with not the best public transportation.

Outside of the mid-town loop we saw their own Central station, a beautifully abandoned train station that will eventually be re-purposed.  They drove us through an adorable residential area with cute row homes near what they dubbed the “hipster” part of town with coffee shops, bars/pubs, etc. and of course, near the Whole Foods.

We then ventured back into the central business district to see Eastern Market and the Detroit Waterfront.  The Detroit waterfront is a beautiful walk along a boardwalk overlooking Canada.  I had no idea!  Your phone starts measuring everything in kilometers so be warned!  The waterfront was really worth the walk, and they have beautiful fireworks each year for the fourth of July.  We were really impressed by what they had done with the waterfront, and Eastern Market as well.  Eastern Market is the world’s largest farmer’s market and was so much fun to walk through.  Just a note – it is only open on weekends, and Sundays only from June through October.

Additionally, we ended our tour in the business district, which really showed the power of private industry.  Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, moved his headquarters to downtown Detroit and encouraged other businesses to follow suit.  As a result, there are beautiful office buildings in Detroit’s central business district, one containing the world’s tallest indoor waterfall.

After leaving our tour guides, we decided to check out Greek Town, a really fun neighborhood in Detroit with delicious, you guessed it, greek foods, bakeries, and casinos.  This part of Detroit is full of energy and life, and could be plucked and placed into any major city.  With bright lights, enticing restaurants, Greek Town is not to be missed, and is easy to get to on their People Mover, which loops around the city.  We were staying at the Westin Book Cadillac Detroit hotel and was in walking distance of public transport.

After a delicious meal, we were off to see the Red Sox get destroyed (womp womp) by the Tigers and check off a new stadium on our list.

I know I gave a very rosy view of Detroit just now, and I want it to remain rosy, but my husband and I had mixed views on the city itself.  My husband saw the city as one going through a slow, yet steady resurgence, and I saw one that represented crumbling Americana hoping to some day claw its way back.  With that being said, my 24 hours in Detroit were fun, and as with exploring any new city, exciting as well.  So if you’re in the area, go support a city that needs a little extra love.

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Being sheepish outside Comerica Park
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Spirit of Detroit Statue

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Pic of the Week – Venezia

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Campanile di San Marco

In honor of my upcoming trip to Southern Italy, I wanted to post an almost 10 year old throwback from my time in Venice.  I was shocked that Venice ended up being my least favorite of the Italian cities I visited on that trip, despite being the most unique geographically.  I think with more time and better preparation that very well could change, as I was such a travel novice back then.  With that being said, I certainly loved being on the canals and enjoying the view.

The Great Barrier Reef – By Sea

As previously mentioned, we took the Great Barrier Reef by storm from the air, but had yet to really “dive in”, pun intended.  The time had finally come for us to truly explore its depths from below.  Steve found a tour that accommodated both snorkelers and divers (I’m just a lowly snorkeler), so after booking a trip with Poseidon, we were off to see the Agincourt Ribbon Reefs.

The snorkel/dive adventure was an all day affair.  The reefs were approximately 2 hours away, so after boarding early in the morning, chowing down on some breakfast aboard the ship, we sat on the deck and watched the shore fade away.  Steve was brimming with excitement.  Thanks to one of our great friends, she provided him with a dive guide for his adventure.  There were about 150 snorkelers on board (I’m a terrible estimator, this number very well could have been only 50, lol) with only about 10-12 divers.  The divers were taken below to go through instructions, listing out the dive sites, review of equipment, and getting paired up with buddies.  Steve was paired with a lovely man from Norway, Lars, who was his buddy for the three dives planned for that day.

While the divers were getting prepared below, the snorkelers up top were getting their own lessons, masks, and equipment.  Snorkelers were supposed to have buddies but I was the odd man out (I referred to this day as the saddest day of our honeymoon, when asked who didn’t have a buddy I was the only one who raised my hand, womp womp).  However, this was a fabulous development.  I’m very comfortable in the water, but it didn’t seem like anyone else aboard this ship was. Picture 140 people jumping into the ocean with noodles and other accouterments to keep them afloat, I did not have time for that.

The first dive site was a beautiful reef, I saw a nurse shark casually sitting along the bottom, and many other beautiful coral fish.  I love spotting the Sargeant Majors as well as the colorful Parrot Fish, especially the blue ones with the pink lips.  We did not unfortunately see the famous Great Barrier Reef Wrasse that you can swim up to and pose with, but that was fine with us.  Steve was on his first dive since his certification and getting to know his partner.  The first dive site was fairly shallow, only about 30 feet.  Remarkably, I did not happen to see any of the divers during my first snorkel, but that changed during the second dive.

Upon returning the boat, we ate lunch and a few of the marine biologists on staff told us about significant initiatives to save the coral reefs, and that usually on these tours they do a check of each dive site to determine if there has been significant damage.  Additionally, during the third dive, they promised to lead a guided tour of the reef and point out specific animals.  During the meal, they also quizzed the boat on the types of coral they saw, and played fun games for the younger snorkelers.  The staff on the boat really hustled to ensure this full day experience was one of both fun and learning, especially about protecting such an incredibly beautiful natural reef system.

Dive site #2 was coming up.  Free of nurse sharks, I got to see many of the divers during our snorkel.  So after following them for a bit to determine if they were seeing anything cool, I went off on my own.  My husband saw a moray eel, but since snorkelers were too far up, this cool yet scary (at least I think so), fish eluded me.  After listening to the marine biologists talk at lunch, you could definitely tell parts of the reef that were suffering from coral bleaching, but overall the reef seemed fairly healthy.  One of the joys I have when snorkeling is spotting turtles, and I was hoping to see one on this dive, as I had not seen any on the first one.  I was on the hunt, but had come up short again.  The second dive site was hard for me to enjoy, as it felt smaller than the first, which meant everywhere I went I would be dodging poor swimmers with their floaty toys and less time looking for a fish.  As a result, I went in a wee bit early, but was looking forward to our final snorkel location.

The final dive site was what was called a drift dive.  We dropped the divers off at one area where the current would rip them around to our final destination.  After waving over the side of the boat at Steve, we headed to our final, guided snorkel, and it was a great one!  It was so much fun snorkeling with someone who truly knew what they were looking at.  She pointed out some beautiful fish and then finally, turtle sighting!!  There it was, a beautiful turtle in all its glory swimming along peacefully.  The entire group (probably 15 snorkelers) was filled with glee, and started to follow it.  No other fish in the sea mattered once a turtle had been spotted.  My day at the Great Barrier Reef had been made!  Especially after starting on such a low, lonely little note, I was thrilled!  Turtles are so beautiful and majestic in the water.  Despite our trip taking place in 2013, I don’t think GoPros had been invented yet (or at least were not nearly as big a deal), and we had no way to capture the beauty of our underwater trip, though we have the wonderful memories.

After returning to the boat and catching up with Steve, he loved the drift dive and I loved the turtle.  Bucket list item complete!   But don’t worry, our Great Barrier adventures were only beginning, as after Port Douglas we headed to Green Island for two nights, an island in the Great Barrier reef where turtles, rays, and reef sharks abound!

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Steve with his underwater dive guide!

The Wild West Part One

So I have something really embarrassing to admit.  If you read the About Me section you’ll note that I’d only been on an airplane once before the age of 18.  It gets worse. In the United States I hadn’t been outside the eastern timezone until after I graduated college.  I KNOW.  WHAT was I doing with the first 22 years of life??*

Needless to say, with that in mind, my boyfriend/fiance/now husband and I instituted a policy to help me see the good ole fashioned USofA.  The thought was (now is) each year we take one domestic and one international trip, that way I can see all the beauty this country has to offer without sacrificing a stamp on my passport in the process (I love my passport stamps).

After much thought, we planned out a 10 day wild west road trip, starting in swinging Las Vegas.

vegasI didn’t really know what to expect from Las Vegas, and honestly, I didn’t expect to like it.  The only thing I knew going in, apart from the obvious, was that I must choose wisely when picking a place to buffet.  I had no idea that buffet culture was such a thing!  After extensive research, I decided that the Wicked Spoon inside the Cosmopolitan would be the one.  I had read that it was the best buffet in town, and as a result, Caesars spent millions of dollars to create its own rival buffet.  (Note: next time I must check out Caesars.)  After eating fried chicken, waffles, fruit, ice cream, french toast, and pancakes for breakfast (yikes!), my husband and I slowly rolled each other out of the Cosmopolitan and onto the rest of the strip.  And we walked the heck out of that strip.  I’m fairly confident my Jawbone Activity Tracker tapped out at well over 30,000 steps.  Does that undo the breakfast ice cream?  Probably not, but it certainly made us feel better!

vegas 2My husband and I aren’t gamblers, so we saw a Cirque du Soleil show (he was not to be dragged to Britney, sad face) and checked out the brand spanking new Linq.  It had just opened a few days prior to our visit and we were thrilled to be some of the first on the holy roller!  It was so new that we had the entire compartment to ourselves.  We watched the beautiful Bellagio fountains from above and just took it all in.

After a night at the MGM Grand in Vegas (which I highly recommend), we hopped into our rental car (a fab little Prius), and it was time to check out the Hoover Dam, and then march onward into Utah and Arizona.  Granted, there was a pit stop in Lake Las Vegas – but we’ll gloss over that for now, review to come later.

Stay tuned for part two, as our foray into red rocks, cacti and bucket list items are just beginning!

*Answer: Exploring the eastern seaboard.