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 – Chicago!

Chicago is one of my all time favorite US cities.  It’s a city where the second I step out of the cab at my hotel I feel at home, I feel like I could live there.  Between the sweeping landscape of Lincoln Park, to the beaches of Lake Michigan, despite their winters, this city has it all.  Don’t even get me started on the food!  When I found out Lou Malnati’s delivered to anywhere in the US I lost my mind!  I believe we have one deep dish pizza left in our freezer and I’m concerned that might not be enough!  On my most recent trip, my boss opened my eyes to Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder, aka a semi-holy and inappropriate religious experience over pizza pot pie and Mediterranean bread.  #nomnomnom

The thing about Chicago that has always been unfortunate for me is that I am always there on business.  I try to sneak in some pleasure trips here and there and extend through the weekend, but I’ve never had the opportunity to truly explore the city.  And after going there five times now, I finally got to do the architecture boat tour!  If you are ever in Chicago, this tour is an absolute must.  And behold, my pic of the week as a result!

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Photo taken with my HitCase fisheye lens

The Beauty of a Walking Tour

Ah the walking tour.  If you’re anything like me you’re probably thinking that a walking tour equals an umbrella wielding guide in an old colored woolen jacket trying to coral a gaggle of foreign tourists down the street while shouting “this way! this way!”.

Well, walking tours have started to get a bit of a face lift, and are really worth using to your advantage.  I know there are plenty of free apps out there that provide maps and walking tour information, but when visiting a foreign country, my husband and I like being social.  We like meeting new people and talking with inevitably the local who is leading the tour. Tour guides are full of local knowledge and always provide recommendations that are off the beaten the path.

My main disclaimer here is that not all travel destinations will offer or even need a walking tour, but if you’re in a city, there’s a fair chance you can find a ton that fit your taste and requirements.

So why walking tours? They are a great way to get acclimated to a new city, as well as find new areas, restaurants, sample local fare, and get really great tidbits.  When we touched down in Sydney, Australia, the first thing we did (after we showered, changed, and face-timed my parents) was a walking tour…and it was free!  For three hours twelve of us explored Sydney with an incredible guide during the I’m Free Walking Tour.   The tour hit on all the sweet spots, and as someone who loves ice cream, the tour guide gave us a fantastic gelato recommendation (the Robert Brownie Jr was to die for!).  Since a walking tour is just a taste, my husband and I were able to identify areas of the city or landmarks we wanted to explore further, and were thrilled that we were able to spend our first day staring at the Sydney Opera House.  Granted – we had a whole week to explore Sydney, but what should you do if you’ve got only 24 hours to spare and are moving on to some place new?

aussie gelatoWe have also been in that situation* and there are many paid tours out there that focus on culture immersion (predominantly around food and wine).  I also find this to be an incredible way to see hole in the wall little spots and find out what the heck this place you’ve decided to visit is all about.  My husband and I put that to the test in Lisbon, Portugal, where we only had about a day and a half to really explore the city.  As a result – we chose a half day walking tour with Inside Lisbon that involved stops at local pastry shops, butcheries, wine and cheese shops, and Ginjhina bars littered throughout.  We also learned about the city’s history as it related to the Moor’s, and were taken to so many different neighborhoods along the way, including a ferry ride to a great seaside restaurant for lunch.  While I’d like to think we would have ambled in for a shot of ginjhina on our own, knowing the backstory really made us feel like one of the locals.

pastries belemSo while we love a walking tour, they’re not for everyone, and they’re not always available.  However, they offer a great opportunity to help you not only acclimate yourself to a city, but immerse yourself in it, even if you only have 24 hours or so to enjoy it.  Personally, I’m looking forward to our next tour – a walking food tour of Italy.  Stay tuned for that!

*Note: we also went on a walking tour in Seville, Spain, separate post on that later!