Discovering Detroit

It was 4th of July weekend, and Detroit was calling my name.

A small town girl from Roanoke Rapids, N.C., I was more than little excited when my boyfriend Zack invited me up to Michigan. We stayed the nights right outside Monroe, just 40 miles from Detroit. Fields of beans and corn surrounded us. I felt oddly at home, though the temperatures were milder and the roads a great deal more cracked.

Funny to think that bustling Detroit was barely 40 minutes away.

On the day we were supposed to leave, we finally toured Detroit. Our little group consisted of me, Zack, his sister Madison, his father and his aunt Carol. Thankfully, Carol had worked in Detroit for many years, so she served as our personal guide.

Around downtown Detroit we rode a “people mover.” The Detroit People Mover is a 3-mile automated shuttle service that encircles the downtown area. For 75 cents it was surprisingly clean and convenient. We saw the financial district, the Renaissance Center and Greektown, among others.

Carol fired off tourist facts as we walked around.

“And that’s Tiger Stadium,” she said in that distinct Michigan accent, as she pointed at a barren field.

I looked at the baseball diamond in the grass, wondering how a regular field counted as a stadium. Carol explained that Tiger Stadium was the old Detroit stadium before it was torn down in the 2000s and replaced by Comerica Park.

Although nothing fancy, Tiger Stadium is still used by the locals. While we were there, some Detroiters were dressed in old-fashioned garb, playing baseball. They shot balls straight into the Detroit skyline, no less theirs, even if it was changing all the time.

We left Tiger Stadium and crossed a brick road. Now the only brick roads I’ve ever seen were in movies, particularly the kind with witches and sparkling shoes. But this was something else. In the middle, both sides bordered by brick, lay a cracked asphalt lane.

“Michigan Avenue,” she explained. “They covered up the streetcar rails with asphalt, but they kept the original brick. People like its charm.”

That was one thing I gathered from Detroit. The city is steeped in tradition, vibrant in history and culture. The city is home to all kinds of people, including citizens of Italian, English, German, Polish, Irish, Mexican, Middle Eastern, African and Greek descent.

I was keenly interested in the last. I’d heard of Greektown and, more specifically, of a special bakery called Astoria’s.

At the Greektown people mover stop, we launched into streets that were tight with people and buildings. A street artist performed as a living statue, dressed in holiday attire and laden with stars and stripes. A man sat on the corner playing his saxophone, his fingers deft and his music soulful.

A few buildings down, I spotted our targeted bakery. The counter boasted every bakery treat I could think of. Truffles and muffins. Danishes and scones.  Zack’s father and I chose the baklava, which is a traditional Greek dessert of chopped nuts and honey, also known as heaven. It was sweeter than I expected, but the earthy tones of the nuts balanced the dessert beautifully.

Meanwhile, Zack gaped at a cinnamon roll as big as his head, and his sister ordered the chocolate cheesecake. Carol bought a few cookies to bring back to her husband.

After Astoria’s, we ended the day by touring all of the other famous spots. We saw the massive Comerica Park, or as some people call it, Comerica National Park. We took pictures by the 15-foot tiger statue at the main entrance. Few of us were much bigger than its paw.

All over Detroit we inspected notable statues and photographed our best parody poses.

But before we left, we stopped at Belle Isle Park, which happens to be the largest island park inside a U.S. city. Belle Isle floats on the Detroit River, hovering between the Detroit mainland and Windsor, Ontario. It houses its own museum, zoo, conservatory, golf course, yacht club, aquarium, and half-mile swimming beach.

At the end of the day, we stood on the edge of Belle Isle. We could hear families playing on the beachfront and the James Scott Memorial Fountain softly raining in the background.

I had a belly full of Greek cuisine, I was on a quiet island, and I could see the Ambassador Bridge stretch from the U.S. to Canada. I stood and wondered at a city that had it all.


For a picture gallery of my visit to Detroit, visit this Flickr album.

The story was produced as part of the Travel Writing class, Summer 2014.