You guys, I went to Detroit last weekend, and I LOOOOVVVEEED it.
I’m sure you weren’t expecting me to say that.
Heck, I wasn’t expecting me to say that.
The truth is that Detroit and I haven’t always been besties.
The only other time I’d been to Detroit was about six years ago. I was on a whirlwind weekend trip to meet up with a guy who I kinda, really thought I liked.
I should probably mention that this whirlwind weekend trip happened while I was still living in Japan
Let’s just say that things did not work out so well. Probably because flying eleventy-jillion miles to spend a weekend in Detroit with someone who you kinda, really think you like but you kinda, really don’t know all that well while you are kinda, really jet-lagged and kinda, really emotional is a kinda, really bad idea.
Of course, I could have blamed myself for the way things turned out.
But instead I chose to blame Detroit.
In fact, it’s possible that when I returned to Japan, I wrote a personal essay entitled, “Detroit: Where All Good Things Go To Die” based on my experience there.
But, after last weekend’s trip to Detroit, I’m happy to say that all has been forgiven.
At least between me and the Big D.
(As for me and the boy who I kinda, really thought I liked? We don’t really talk anymore. Mostly because I’m not good at keeping in touch with people who remind me of the horribly awkward and mildly disastrous life choices that I’ve made. Which is, not surprisingly, every single person I’ve ever dated.)
4 Reasons to Love Detroit
1. The Food
For me, traveling is all about having an excuse to go out to eat and stuff food into my face.
And I’m happy to say that almost every bit of food that I stuffed into my face while I was in Detroit was AMAAAZZZZING. Which is saying a lot. As I stuffed a whole lot of food into my face.
First, there was a portobello mushroom and goat cheese sandwich that I had at this German biergarten in the middle of Greektown that seriously gave me LIFE. (I would have taken a picture of it, but I was too busy cramming it into my throat. But I did take a picture of the beer I had with it, so there’s that.)
There was a breakfast bagel sandwich at the fabulously named Detroit Institute of Bagels that had some of the most incredible bacon I’ve ever eaten. And, you guys, I’ve eaten a LOT of bacon in my day.
There was this apple-pastry-turnover-thingie that was like apples wrapped in heaven wrapped in phyllo dough.
There was a Coney dog smothered in chili-sauce and mustard and diced onions and AWESOMENESS.
And there was this graham-cracker-encrusted French toast that I woke up at 7 AM on Sunday to go eat because I had heard the restaurant had impossible lines for breakfast and I wasn’t about to leave the city without eating graham-cracker-encrusted French toast. I mean, I really wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself.
2. The Free Stuff
If there’s one thing I like almost as much as food, it’s free stuff.
And, well, Detroit has so much fun free stuff to do, I got to save my money for other un-free stuff, like, well, FOOD.
I started my weekend off by heading to Belle Isle, a Michigan state park located in the middle of the Detroit River. (Read: FREE. As long as you have your Recreation Passport. But nobody really seemed to be checking from what I could tell.)
I attended the park’s Holiday Stroll, which meant the park’s buildings, including the Conservatory, the Aquarium and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, were all done up in lights and bows and trees for the holidays.
This also meant there was free food — like donuts and cookies and hot chocolate with mini-marshmallows.
Free stuff AND free food? I was pretty much ready to move in.
Then on Saturday I went on two free tours.
You guys, stepping into this building was like stepping directly into The Great Gatsby. Everything was golden and glamorous and totally, ridiculously fancy-pants. I wanted to be wearing a flapper dress and smoking a cigarette in one of those long cigarette holdery thingies.
And, then, I spent the afternoon on a walking tour with D:Hive, a non-profit organization and information center in downtown Detroit.
I learned all kinds of fun tidbits about Detroit’s history and recent resurgence, as well as all about the places where I should eat. (Sadly, I forgot most of the factual odds and ends, but I did stockpile all the restaurant suggestions into my brain. Because FOOD, you guys!)
And then on Sunday, I checked out the Heidelberg Project, a neighborhood on the Eastside of Detroit which has been turned into an open-air art exhibit.
It was wacky and wonderful and fun and thought-provoking and kind of made me want to buy a big old house and paint it with birthday cakes. Or just eat a lot of birthday cake. Either one, really.
3. The Spirit
Detroit’s economy may be down and out, but its spirit definitely is not.
Everywhere you look there are signs of hope and optimism and devotion for the city.
From the street art.
To the souvenirs for sale.
To the city’s seal which contains two Latin mottoes. One means “We hope for better things” and the other: “It will rise from the ashes.”
You guys, I can’t tell you how much I loved this. First of all, who doesn’t love an underdog? Secondly, I’m a Buffalo girl. I know what it’s like to live in a city that everyone else has written of. Or, worse, a city that is always the butt of everyone’s jokes.
All that Detroit pride made me want to stand on the street corner with my very own pair of pom-poms and cheer for the city. (But I didn’t. Because that would be weird. And would probably get me arrested.)
4. The Unexpected
I was expecting Detroit to pretty much be a ghost town.
And, yes, I did see plenty of abandoned buildings and empty streets.
But, the places that weren’t abandoned were so crowded they were, like, the opposite of abandoned. In fact, I had to remind myself more than a few times that I was in Detroit.
On Friday night when I stopped by Campus Martius Park in downtown Detroit, it was swarming with families taking pictures with Santa, rowdy teenagers taking selfies in front of the giant Christmas tree and couples holding hands while ice-skating.
On Saturday night, I went to a divey, hipster burger bar on the outskirts of Corktown, and ended up walking away after being told I’d have to wait at least an hour just to get a seat at the bar.
And then on Sunday, I went to the Eastern Market for their holiday market, which was full of holiday-shoppers and early tail-gaiters.
I was also kind of expecting that something bad would happen to me. Mostly because when you announce that you’re going to Detroit, people will immediately tell you that you are going to die. (Thank you, Facebook friends! But, hey, the next time I go somewhere, could you please not mention how many times you think I’m going to be shot?)
I spent the weekend being super cautious and super suspicious — looking behind me obsessively every time I walked somewhere or checking a billion times to make sure my car doors were locked every time I drove somewhere.
And then on Sunday afternoon as I was leaving town, I was stopped at a red light when a beat-up car with tinted windows pulled up beside me. I looked over to see two burly guys yelling at me from the front seat. I tentatively rolled down my window, as my heart pounded in my ears and I desperately hoped this wasn’t the moment everyone warned me about — the moment I would die.
“Hey, lady, that’s a sweet ride. You looking to sell?”
Yeah, those two big dudes who I thought wanted to cause me bodily harm?
They just wanted to tell me they really liked my car.
I certainly didn’t expect that.
I also certainly didn’t expect to fall in love with Detroit as much as I did. (Yes, I said the L-word. Again. It’s FOR SERIOUS, you guys.)
After all, the last time I left Detroit, I vowed to never come back. This time, I was already planning my next trip before I’d even left. And, of course, planning all the meals I’ll be eating on that next trip. (Graham-cracker-encrusted French toast FOREVER AND EVER!)
Have you ever been to Detroit? What was your experience like?