Detroit Rocks and Rolls… Again

By on November 2, 2011

Our intrepid traveler and guild blogger,  Florence Sicoli brings us an on-the-ground report about the Motor City as a vacation destination.  As for me,  I’m doing my homework on HBO by watching “Hung”,  the hilarious sit com about the Detroit high school coach who moonlights as a “happiness consultant”, aka hooker.  It’s funny and its set in glorious Detroit with lotsa great pics of modern day Motor C

 

Detroit's GreeK tOWN

 

DETROIT ROCKS AGAIN

 

Revitalized Motor City refuels for exciting urban getaway experiences

 

BY FLORENCE SICOLI

 

DETROIT, MI. * Vroom, vroom, vroom.MotorCityis revving again.

 

Revitalized after decades of disrepair,Detroitis refuelling to become an exciting summer getaway for travellers with a fondness forAmericana.

 

The city looks renewed. The downtown theatre district has renovated its over-the-top 1920s movie palaces, including the opulent Fox. The Tigers opened their new ballpark, Comerica, under the stunning skyline of Art Deco and Modern skyscrapers. And the downtown awakening has spread to Greektown, now a hot spot for food, nightlife and casinos.

 

For a long-weekend couple’s escape or a longer family trip, Detroitoffers plenty of fun activities, sporting events, music, theatre, sightseeing and irresistible eye candy in museums.

 

Of course, you still drive by empty, dilapidated buildings, standing like the lifeless sad ruins of this once mighty industrial colossus. But thanks to decades of public and private urban renewal,Detroit’s awesome beauty and energy are shining through again.

 

What does The D have in store for visitors this winter?

 

Thanksgiving weekend offers the spectacular 85th Annual America’s Thanksgiving Parade onWoodward Avenue, the Detroit Lions take on the reigning Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers, and you’ll find great deals in shops on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

 

Christmas WonderFest launches next month with an indoor/outdoor festival featuring a carousel, Ferris wheel, an International Marketplace with gifts from across the globe and a Motor City Marketplace with merchandise fromDetroit’s most beloved landmarks and cultural institutions.

 

In the coming months, follow Dorothy and Toto down the yellow brick road to theHenryFordMuseumfor the official Wizard of Oz Children’s Educational Exhibition. Then in March, the museum will host the largest touring exhibition of Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition. For more information on these and other events in The D, go to www.visitdetroit.com.

 

From cars to culture to Motown, many visitor destinations in Detroit pay tribute to the soul and inventiveness of the city’s leaders and icons. Here are some of my picks and tips for treasures not to be missed.

 

CAR CULTURE

 

A must-do is the national historic landmark, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in nearbyDearborn, a sprawling indoor-outdoor complex devoted to the spirit of invention and American history.

 

 

 

It will take you one or two full days to enjoy the nine acres of indoor museum exhibits and the 80-acre outdoor village with replica historical buildings like Thomas Edison’s laboratory, a working steam engine and farm, as well as year-round special events.

 

The museum resembles a factory floor where you can actually help assemble a Model-T car, board the Rosa Parks bus and sit in the seat she refused to give up for white folks, and see JFK’s limousine and Lincoln’s red rocking chair from Ford’s Theatre.

 

There’s more auto history at the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant that introduced the 1908 Model-T to the world, as well as theWalterP.ChryslerMuseumand the GM World headquarters. Or visit during one of the many car events listed on website visitdetroit.com, including the popular Woodward Dream Cruise.

 

NEIGHBOURHOOD CULTURE

 

Local artist Tyree Guyton wondered in 1986 what it would take for local residents to forget the fear of living in his poor, decaying black neighbourhood onDetroit’sEast Side.

 

Guyton’s response – part political protest and part what he calls “art as medicine” – was to start an outdoor neighbourhood art project that is now the third most visited destination in the city.

 

The project covers a series of houses on Heidelberg Street painted with bright polka dots or ultra-vivid colours. You see dozens of salvaged stuffed animals attached to a tree trunk or piled high atop a boat on a lawn. Lawns and sidewalks are abloom with other strange and clever art groupings comprised of found objects, one of which asks, “What is a neighbourhood?”

 

If there can be decay and potholes, why can’t there be polka dots, Guyton said recently in his studio. “Kids in this community have become educated about art.”

 

Children worked daily with him to evolve the Heidelberg Project as it transformed a hard-core inner-city area where people were afraid to walk, even in daytime, into one in which neighbours take pride and where 275,000 visitors are welcomed each year.

 

 

AMERICANA  

 

Detroit has produced not only cars, but also the 1990s Motown sound that had a role in the racial integration of pop music in North America. You can relive some of this history at theMotownHistoricalMuseum, founded by songwriter Berry Gordy, Jr.

 

While you’re there, just be ready to sing some Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson tunes.

 

The exhibits are low-key, but the recording studio came alive when tour guide Eric Harp asked us to shake our hips with attitude like the Supremes and walk that certain Temptations. He also frequently broke out in a Motown song and “required” us to join in after the first few words, as in “You Gotta … Shop Around,” “ Do You … Love Me?” and “I Got Sunshine … On A Rainy Day.” We all sang, and shook our hips and walked that walk.

Other major historical and ethnic museums worth visiting:

* Impressive exhibits at the Charles H.Wright African American Museum reflectDetroit’s prominence on the Underground Railroad to Canada.

* At the Holocaust Memorial Centre, we listened to Polish survivor Zyga H. Allweiss recalling his frightening childhood capture and escape from Nazis.

* The Arab American Museum showcases the culture of 350,000 Arab Americans in Metro Detroit, a legacy of Henry Ford recruiting workers from Arab countries.

* The Polish Art Center is Metro Detroit’s No. 1 ethnic art centre, in nearby Hamtramck, the state’s most ethnically diverse city.

 

 

GAMES & ENTERTAINMENT

 

The city is a sports fan’s dream. Watching the Toronto Blue Jays halt the Detroit Tigers’ winning streak with a 4-2 victory on May 16 atComericaParkwas a thrill. And so was watching the sun set over the ballpark like a fuschia waterfall against the downtown skyline.

 

With a ferris wheel, merry-go-round, shops, easy access to the elevated Detroit People Mover and nearby lively casinos, bars and restaurants, Comerica is a key player in downtown nightlife.

 

Next door, new Ford Field, the Lions’ home, is an incomparable 65,000-seat facility where the NFL team and stars like Kid Rock and Madonna play under a giant glass wall framing the skyline.

 

Surprisingly, Detroit has a large theatre district, second only to New York. Performances ranging from first-run Broadway musicals to classic Shakespeare are offered at lavishly restored venues including the Art Deco Detroit Opera House and the 5,000-seat over-the-top 1920s Fox Theatre.

 

 

 

FAMILY ACTION

 

The Detroit Zoo is a wild place for families and one of the finest U.S.facilities for animals. You can get up close with African lions, hand feed giraffes and watch Australian kangaroos and wallabies in near-natural surroundings, as well as get a unique view of polar bears via an underground tunnel.

 

Ten minutes from downtown, families can escape to beautiful, laid-back Belle Isle city park for swimming, boating and reunions. In fact, many other Detroit-area venues, including the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant, cater to families and groups. For help planning a family reunion, start with website www.visitdetroit.com.

 

 

ART & ARCHITECTURE

 

The generous patronage of local auto-industrial families has helped make the Detroit Institute of Arts’ collection among the top six in the U.S. It has stunning European paintings and decorative arts, but its signature piece is the larger-than-life Detroit Industry frescos by Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Take a full day to enjoy this wondrous museum.

 

Another born-in-Detroit art institution to visit is the Pewabic Pottery facility, listed with other area museums, galleries and studio venues at visitdetroit.com.

 

The downtown skyscraper architecture is awesome, not to be missed, and best appreciated on foot or Segway. Find tours at  visitdetroit.com. The most memorable buildings I toured included theRenaissanceCenterand GM World headquarters with its romantic five-storey atrium overlooking the riverfront, and the remarkable Guardian building with its bold Art Deco and Moderne details.

 

 

FOOD AND ACCOMMODATION 

I didn’t get a chance to taste-test Detroit’s rep as having the best burger joints in the U.S  But I can recommend the hearty Greek menu at the lively Pegagus in Greektown, the sinful soul food at Southern Fires on Bellevue Street and the classic Italian dining experience at Mario’s on Second Avenue.

 

The Visit Detroit online magazine (visitdetroit.com) gives a full listing of eateries, hotels and bed-and-breakfast options in the metro area. I spent two quiet, comfortable nights in a well-appointed room of the shimmering blue-glass, 30-storey Greektown Casino Hotel downtown. InDearborn, I stayed at The Henry, an elegant Marriott hotel that also boasts greeter Marty Premtaj, who’s been named “the best doorman in theU.S.” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine.

 

And if you really love Detroit and can splash $200,000 on a pied-a-terre there, buy one of the remaining condos at the spectacular Westin Book Cadillac Hotel that’s just had a sweeping $800,000 renovation.

 

That’s what some visitors, mainly from Toronto andNew York, are doing, said Bradley McCallum, the hotel’s resident historian and front-office director.

 

 

Florence Sicoli is an Ontario-based freelance travel writer with over 30 years’ experience as a writer and editor for The Hamilton Spectator and The Associated Press as well as teaching journalism at Ryerson University School of Journalism in Toronto.

 

Story originally appeared in The Hamilton Spectator thespec.com. 

About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”

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