10 Things To Like About Detroit Now

Detroit is like an empty lot down the street that’s sat vacant for years. Some people in the neighborhood doubt it will ever be put to good use. Then one day, you notice that the rubble is being carted away, and there are actually some green shoots popping up from the newly cleared ground. Somebody, it seems, thinks they can make something of it.

That’s what’s happening with the Motor City these days. Despite wrenching financial problems (it’s this close to Chapter 9 bankruptcy), deteriorating city services and endless political wrangling over its future, the empty lot is seeing life.

Entrepreneurs, some civic minded, others out to make a buck, are snapping up long abandoned properties and sprucing them up. The ground swell of activity is attracting younger residents and empty nesters to the downtown neighborhood. National brand names are starting to appear next to local businesses, with more on the way.If you aren’t familiar with the city, you not might think it’s very full, and that’s because it isn’t. Detroit is sized for 2 million, and only about 670,000 live there now. You don’t find the critical mass of neighborhoods and pedestrians in New York or Chicago or parts of New Orleans.

Detroit has also big, wide avenues built for the kind of traffic that’s only seen after Tiger games let out, or there’s a festival downtown. Don’t let that daunt you: there’s plenty going on, it’s just that you’ll have lots of space around you as you’re exploring.

Here are 10 things to love about Detroit now.

1) and 2) Eat a crepe, munch a cookie. One of the most charming aspects of Detroit’s revival is that it has been led by crepes. You’ll find crepe places in main parts of the city, but the best known is Good Girls Go To Paris, a few steps from the Detroit Institute of Arts on East Kirby in Midtown. Get there early for a good seat and be prepared to share a table. The 50 varieties of crepes start at just $7, and can easily be shared. The “O” (feta, spinach, kalamata olives and Greek dressing) is ideal for salad lovers.

Skip a dessert crepe (although they’re delicious) and head nearby to Avalon International Breads. Avalon has grown from its original storefront in Detroit’s tough Cass Corridor to a thriving company whose breads and cookies are found in shops and restaurants all over the Detroit area. Its cafe is the centerpiece of an “agri-urban” movement it’s trying to foster, by focusing on local ingredients in a city environment. Try a Dequindre Cut trail mix cookie, chock full of cranberries, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, which has been known to double as a breakfast on early plane flights.

3) Cocktails in Corktown. The Corktown neighborhood, west of downtown, is the oldest in the city. It boasts cobblestone streets and some of the hippest renovated housing. There’s also been a flurry of new restaurants and bars, some of which have had various degrees of luck in staying open. One that’s enduring is The Sugar House, a 1920s-style craft cocktail bar on Michigan Avenue.

Detroit played a major role in prohibition. Stories tell of a legion of bootleggers running cases of whiskey across the Detroit River from Windsor, Ontario, late at night, and landing on the city shores to be loaded into unmarked trucks. The Sugar House, like other bars here, brings that era back to mind. There’s punch service, for groups of three or four, and plenty of vividly named drinks. It’s not a big place, and when seats aren’t available, you’ll have to wait to get in, so time your visit.

4) Eye-catching colors. Southwest Detroit, home to the city’s growing Latino population, has undergone a metamorphosis in just a few years. Once, it was only a few streets, with tourist-focused Mexican restaurants. Now, Southwest Detroit, which some people call Mexicantown, sprawls along West Vernor Highway. There are shops, bakeries, taquerias and restaurants, and most notably, a series of murals.

The eyes of Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera gaze out at passersby on the Bagley Street pedestrian bridge. Kahlo and Rivera lived in Detroit while he was painting his own murals inside the art institute, long a favorite tourist attraction. Nearby sits The Cornfield, on a wall at Ste. Anne and Bagley Streets, with its vivid imagery of Mexican farmers. There are enough murals to take an afternoon of art gazing. The murals are often being touched up, so feel free to chat with the painters while they are doing repairs.

5) Melting pot. Eastern Market, on Detroit’s near east side, is the oldest continuously operating public market in the United States. Every week, up to 40,000 people trek here for produce that is trucked in from Michigan, Ohio and Ontario. One of its biggest days of the year comes up May 19, when the annual flower market takes place. That’s when local gardeners lug home the flats they’ll plant for summer color.

Eastern Market underwent a renovation over the past few years, and its customers are a lively mix of Detroit residents – black, white, Latino, Asian, Middle Eastern. There’s a wholesale market that supplies many area restaurants and produce shops, and permanent stores and restaurants around the market’s perimeter. One favorite shop is the Rocky Peanut Company, which has been at the market for 110 years. You’ll find dried fruits, nuts, chocolate covered goodies and seasonal specialties.

6) Jump on a bike.
You might not think of the Motor City as a good cycling city. But those big wide (and often empty) streets are ideal for bicycling, and Wheelhouse Detroit has capitalized on that to offer two-wheeled tours of the city. From now until October, Wheelhouse offers trips every weekend and sometimes during the week. Its guides will take you to spots like Eastern Market, Belle Isle, the island park designed by the creator of Central Park in New York and to Hamtramck, the Polish enclave surrounded by the city.

There are architecture focused rides, a tour that looks at the city’s automotive heritage, visits to historic neighborhoods and more. Wheelhouse offers rentals of city style bikes, touring bikes, trek bikes, tandem bikes, and it rents child carriers as well. The company can create tours for groups and also can custom design a tour if your interests fall outside its regular categories.

7) Put a lid on it. There’s finally been some hustle and bustle in Detroit’s downtown retail district after a long spell in which stores stood empty. One place has stuck it out since 1893, however. Henry the Hatter is Detroit’s pre-eminent shop for men’s hats. Every man of distinction in the city has bought a hat at Henry’s. It has fedoras, caps, Borsalinos, straw hats, fishing hats. And given how many stylishly dressed men there are in the city, that’s a lot of hats.

Henry’s is a great place to hear conversations about everything that happens in the city, from the Detroit Tigers to Mayor Dave Bing (a hat wearer) to the latest place to eat. Given the vast selection, you’ll probably walk out with more than one chapeau. Because let’s face it, a man needs a hat.

8) Music and prayer. Detroit’s black churches have held the city together in its toughest times and one of the most important is the Greater Grace Temple on the city’s northwest side. Far from just a church, Greater Grace is the centerpiece of the $36 million City of David, a 19-acre complex that includes a conference center, media production facilities and a school. The church itself seats 4,000, serving a congregation of nearly 6,000.

There are two services each Sunday (one in the summer), providing an opportunity to meet Detroiters, listen to gospel music and hear a sermon by its eloquent senior pastor, Bishop Charles H. Ellis. Dress is business casual, but a number of women churchgoers use services as an opportunity to wear their newest hats. Many are purchased from local milliner Luke Song, the maker of Aretha Franklin’s inaugural chapeau.

9) The past and future. Detroiters are super sensitive about ruin porn. That’s the practice of photographing crumbling buildings, which some artists have turned into a livelihood. To be honest, Detroit offers plenty of opportunities to see the remains of its past, and it won’t overcome that hurdle until more renovation has taken place. But there’s one building in town where everyone wants to pose. It’s Michigan Central, the empty shell of the railroad station and office tower that was the line’s headquarters. Michigan Central, once the tallest railroad station building in the world, closed in 1988.

For years, the building (just off Michigan Avenue west of downtown) sat as a hulking reminder of Detroit’s past, its windows broken, its interior trashed. Threatened with demolition, the building was finally cleaned up in 2011. Now, there is active discussion about how it could be reused and a preservation society is seeking ideas. In the meantime, the building has become the city’s most famous backdrop and Roosevelt Park out front is a popular meeting spot. Realtors have even begun advertising apartments with a view of Michigan Central.

10) Batter up. Unless you hate baseball, there’s no excuse to visit Detroit and fail to see a baseball game. Given that Detroit made it to the World Series last year, you might think tickets would command steep prices. But deals abound, especially until the weather reliably warms up this summer. The Tigers are offering upper level box seats in May for $13, half the normal price.

Those cheap seats provide an opportunity to get the most out of a visit to Comerica Park. Arrive before game time, and stroll the concourse, which has a carousel and a Ferris wheel. Visit the statue of Ernie Harwell, the legendary broadcaster. There’s also a booth behind Section 134 on the third base side where the Tigers sell authentic souvenirs, such as uniform jerseys, autographed balls and even bases.

[Photo credits: Austin Stowe and Micheline Maynard]

International Adventure Guide 2013: Paris, France

An adventure guide to Paris? Yes.

At first glance, Paris probably isn’t the go-to city for outdoor enthusiasts. Metros, brasseries and the Champs Elysées don’t really make the top of the list of an adventurer’s itinerary. But being the diverse and ever-changing big city that it is, there are plenty of opportunities for those travelers that like to blend their urban tours with a little bit of adventure. There are parks to explore, bike paths to navigate and even a beach to walk on barefoot in the summertime. If you thought Paris was only for the urbanite, think again.

The other benefit to exploring the City of Light through the adventure lens is that in a city that’s known for being fairly expensive, Paris’ outdoor options are actually all very budget friendly, meaning that you end up with a city visit that’s both fun and also easy on the wallet.

Ready to explore a Paris that goes beyond croissants and red wine? Allons-y!


There’s no better way to explore Paris than by bicycle. It’s not for the faint of heart though; navigating between pedestrians, Parisian traffic and adrenaline-seeking inline skaters, the urban biker has to pay sharp attention. You can plan your own route and rent a bike through the now-famous Parisian bikeshare system Vélib (read our guide on How to Ride Bike in Paris for more details, including payment options as the Vélib automated machines can be tricky with American debit and credit cards), or your can get on a guided tour. Check out the following operators, which offer a variety of tour options, as well as bike rentals if you want a more long-term bike rental than Velib allows for as the bikeshare system is intended for short distance trips.

Fat Bike Tours– American owned and operated, Fat Bike Tours was created with the English speaker in mind. If you are looking to get outside of Paris you can take them up on their Monet Garden tour. Tours start at 30€. http://fattirebiketours.com/paris

Blue Bike Tours – Blue Bike Tours is run by a French-American family, and their Hidden Paris tour will take you to all the places locals go in the neighborhoods of Saint Germain and the Marais. A true insider’s guide to the city. Tours start at 29€. http://www.bluebiketours-paris.com/

Paris Bike Tour – Paris Bike Tour offers a Seine-specific guided tour, learning about monuments and bridges along the way. Tours start at 32€.

Running has become the sport of active minded urbanites, and if you’re the kind of traveler that always packs a pair of running shoes, Paris will have plenty of options for you. A couple of tips for running in the city:

  1. Get up early. You’ll find that morning runs around 6 or 7 can be relatively quiet compared with the hustle and bustle of the rest of the day. Parisians aren’t crazy enough to get up at the crack of dawn, so if you enjoy morning runs, the city is yours.
  2. Find a park. There are plenty of parks in the city that are great for running. Don’t be afraid to get out of the city center: parks like Parc Monceau, Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes are excellent for running adventures.
  3. Hit the Seine. There’s nothing quite like a long run along the iconic Seine. Plus it makes that dinner of wine and cheese later in the day so well deserved. On Sundays some of the quays are completely closed off to cars, which attracts a lot of locals out for walks, runs and roller blading. The city has put a lot of effort into making more and more of the riverside pathways car-free, so expect to see more of this in the future.

Don’t want to plan your own route? There are running tour operators for that. Check out the following groups who can help you coordinate a complete running tour of Paris, no matter what your running level. Because these running tours are guided by experienced athletes, you’ll find the prices a little higher than regular bike or walking tours.

Paris Running Tour: Going with a group is better as it will lower your price, so grab some friends. 55-85€ per person. http://www.parisrunningtour.com/

Paris Running Tours: Tours starting at 50€. http://parisrunningtours.com/

Wellicient: Along with running tours, Wellicient also do walking, fitness and stretching tours. http://www.wellicient.com/

Roller Blading
Make all the fun you want, but rollerblading is one of this city’s favorite pastimes, and if you want a truly Parisian experience, you’ll don a set of inline skates. There’s a popular weekly nighttime roller blade excursion hosted by Pari-Roller that takes place every Friday from 10pm to 1am. It starts at Place Raoul Dutry in Montparnasse and takes a different route every week. This gives you the chance to see the city in not only a different medium of transportation, but at night as well.

On Sundays you can take part in a group ride organized by Rollers & Coquillages. Gather close to the Bastille on Boulevard Bourbon and then take off with the hundreds of other skaters to enjoy the city. This group ride is a little better suited to beginners.


Bois de Boulogne
On weekends, this park of over 2,000 acres is a hotspot for locals, as there are trails to run and walk on, boats to row and horses to ride. Bois de Boulogneis on the western edge of the 16th arrondissement, so you are almost outside of Paris proper, but still have easy access via the Metro: Porte Dauphine or Porte d’Auteuil.

Promenade Plantée
This is your dose of green space right in the middle of the city. The extensive greenbelt is built on an old railway line, and is a gorgeous space of trees, plants and plenty of benches to sit down and have a picnic. At almost three miles long it makes for a good jogging route, as long as you hit it at a time of day when there aren’t too many people. Access the Promenade Plantée from the Bastille Metro station.

Bois de Vincennes
Bois de Vincennesis the largest public park in the city, with a velodrome for bike races, a horse racing track and four lakes. Bike lanes, trails for running and even a Buddhist Temple, this is the place to come when you need a break from the city. The park is to the west of the 12th arrondissement and is easily accessed by Metro: Porte-Dorée or Château de Vincennes.

Where to Stay

Paris Hostel
With shared and private rooms, Paris Hostel is a good option for those that want a budget accommodation that’s well located. The rooms are small, but breakfast is included and you are perfectly situated for a morning run up to Montmartre. From 26€/night with shared facilities, 28€/night with private facilities. 39 Rue Rodier.www.paris-hostel.biz

Hotel Campanile Bastille
A popular French budget hotel chain, Hotel Campanile puts you close to the Bastille and the Marais all with an inner courtyard in the hotel, meaning you can start every morning off with your coffee outside. You’re also within walking distance of the Promenade Plantee. From 100€/night. 9 Rue de Chemin Vert, www.campanile.com

Hi-Matic Hostel
Branded as an eco-hotel, the Hi-Matic is a clean and budget-friendly space that also serves up a 100% organic breakfast that is included in the room price. For the environmentally conscious, they also employ an eco-friendly taxi service and use natural materials whenever possible. They’re also big on health: a card with yoga poses is left in every room. From 109€/night. 71 Rue de Charonne. www.hi-matic.net


Get Around
Paris is easy to navigate with public transportation. This easiest option is the Metro – but there are plenty of bus routes as well. You can buy a batch (carnet) of 10 one-way tickets for 13.30€ in machines in every metro station, which will get you a ride on both the Metro and buses. If you want to get yourself around, consider taking advantage of the Vélib bikeshare system. A one-day Vélib ticket runs 1.70€ or you can get a week pass for 8€ – the easiest wy to get a ticket is to buy one online and print out your subscription number that you then type in when you want to use a bike. You get the first 30 minutes of Vélib use for free, which makes the system ideal for doing short trips around the city; pick up a bike in one spot and drop it off in another.

For those looking to spend most of their time outdoors in Paris, late spring, summer and early fall are your best bets. Paris can get very cold in the winter, which puts a damper on your outdoor experiences. A popular city, there are always visitors in Paris, but if you’re looking to avoid crowds, try for spring or fall so you can avoid the summer tourists.

Much like any big metropolis, it’s important to always be vigilant in Paris, especially in crowded tourist areas and the Metro. That being said, Paris is a safe city, so just bring along a little street sense and you’ll be in good shape.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user TerryPresley]

Biking In Guatemala City? One Group Is Proving It’s Possible

On a recent Saturday, the streets were filled with bicycles. Bells rang and horns sounded as the cyclists wound their way throughout the city like a moving train of youth and energy.

This wasn’t in Portland, or Paris, or any of dozens of bicycle-friendly cities around the world. This was in Guatemala City, a city known more for its violent crime rates than its progressive bike culture.

But one group is trying to change that. Biketun is a new organization started by Javier Mata and Lucia Pivaral with the purpose of promoting a more sustainable way of life and transport in Guatemala.

The group’s signature event is a nighttime bicycle tour of Guatemala City. The first was held in December and drew around 250 people. The second, held in February, drew more than 500. The goal is to one day attract 10,000 cyclists to Guatemala’s streets.

According to Pivaral, Biketun’s mission is to show the country that a better lifestyle is possible – “a lifestyle in which Guatemalans own not only public spaces, but most of all, our freedom. A lifestyle in which we can go out on our bicycles, go to the park, walk on the streets, and interact with different people without any worries.”


Pivaral says that public spaces in Guatemala City have been abandoned because of fear, which then leads to degeneration, negative perceptions and danger. Parents keep children at home because they are scared that they will be exposed to drugs and violence on the city streets.

“This is similar to a field with bad grass,” she says. “When we don’t use the field, bad grass grows and the only way of removing it is re-taking control of the field and making use of it. This is what this movement is about.”

Biketun events wind through different parts of Guatemala City. The December event was centered on the main avenues – Bulevar Liberación, Avenue Américas, Obelisco, Reforma, Plaza 30 de Marzo, Septima Avenida – with an itinerary designed to take in the Christmas sights and lights. The second event was organized in cooperation with the Municipality of Guatemala, which provided an educational tour of different sites in the Historic Center of the City, like the National Palace, Iglesia La Merced and Railroad Museum.

“Doing this regenerates my energy and soul, along with my hope for humanity,” says Pivaral. “I deeply believe that for a city to progress, we need to take into consideration sustainable ways of living. The best way to approach this, for me, was not talking about it, but starting to live it.”

The next Biketun event is scheduled to coincide with Earth Day in April. There is no cost to participate, and a limited number of bicycles are available for rent on the organization’s Eventbrite page. For more information, visit Biketun on Facebook.

[Photo Credit: Jorge Toscana, Biketun]

Photo Of The Day: Southern Cross Station

Train stations around the world all have their own personality. Often, they are great works of architecture. This photo from pkorsmok gives a different view of the lines and design of Southern Cross Station in Melbourne, Australia, capturing a quiet moment in a station that serves over 40,000 passengers a day.

Makes you want to get on a train, doesn’t it?

Have your own great travel photos? Submit them to the Gadling Flickr pool for a chance to be featured on Photo of the Day.

[Photo Credit: pkorsmok]

A Music Video Exploring The Culture And Community Of Mumbai: ‘This City’

Made popular by the cinematic hit “Slumdog Millionaire,” there’s a certain romanticism with the Indian city Mumbai. We’re drawn in by the color, culture and music.

With over 12 million inhabitants, Mumbai is the most populous city in India. The slums of the city are a backdrop to the hectic daily life that’s indicative of a large Indian city. With its infrastructure and inhabitants, it’s the perfect place to think about urban planning, which is why for 2013 the BMW Guggenheim Lab has set up shop in the city’s vibrant streets. The mobile think tank for improving urban life around the world, commissioned a song by the Indian folk-rock band Swarathma.

With snippets of daily life – complete with a group doing dance lessons – “Is Sharar” is an excellent look into the many aspects of the city. The title translates to “This City,” and the music video is not only a look into what living in Mumbai is like, but it’s also an ode to togetherness and unity.

A selection of the lyrics:

Is shahar ki saansein hum (we are the breath of the city)
Is shahar ki aankhein hum (we are the sight of the city)
Is shahar ke honto pe (on the lips of the city)
Khilkhilaati baatein hum (we are the happy conversations)

You can find the full lyrics and translation here.