As most Americans are aware, Michigan isn’t a big tourist state. It is presently plagued by an array of problems, from crime to dwindling economy, and its geographical location offers little compensation in terms of weather or recreational resources.
So, naturally our expectations for Michigan had been quite low. But in the end that probably disposed us to retroactively assess the overall experience as positive. As always, everything’s relative.
We started our morning in Detroit with a breakfast in Mexicantown. There is little to do there in general, but decent inexpensive food was all we were after, and Mexicantown certainly delivered.
Next, we swung by the now-abandoned Central Station. I would imagine that it is not the safest place to tour, day or night.
Very early we noticed the prominence of graffiti and other wall art in the city decor.
Shortly after, we took a stroll along the River Walk, arguably the nicest spot in the city, and of the few (or, possibly, only) places in the country—Alaska excluded—where Canada lies to the south. Just across the river in this case.
Hart Plaza has a few pleasant urban views.
As far as art goes, both the “Fist” (a giant boxing arm of Joe Louis)
and the Spirit of Detroit monuments are of rather dubious aesthetic value and appropriateness in the current locations.
The city center is largely devoid of traffic and people. One can freely walk around without wasting too much time at the lights.
In terms of prominent landmarks, there aren’t any, but a few buildings here and there are worth some attention. For instance, the Book Tower is crowned by some lovely caryatids, which I realize are hardly noticeable from the ground level.
The Grand Army of the Republic Building has a unique design.
Central United Methodist Church is… well… a church.
Overall, the city ‘scapes are fairly diverse yet unpretentious.
For a change of pace, we visited the Elmwood Cemetery. Not outstanding but fairly respectable burying ground.
Now, let’s for a minute turn to the sketchier aspects of Detroit, as my narrative has thus far contravened the city’s infamous reputation. Abandoned houses are certainly one of them. There are not as many as in New Orleans, but then I suppose we haven’t seen the neighborhoods with higher concentrations thereof. Somehow staying alive and well seemed more prudent than taking more photos.
Another example is the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor art scene in the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood. This is by no means a ghetto, but honky-tonk all the same.
Largely, it can be described as heaps of nonsense, with occasional artsy installations.
This one is my favorite.
One single biggest contributor to our cultural take-out from Detroit was the Detroit Institute of Arts.
It boasts an immense collection, spanning from articles of clothing
and conventional portraits
to religious triptychs
and stained-glass windows.
In terms of paintings, here I present a few samples on a progressive scale of weirdness:
OK, the last one is simply incomplete.
Besides exhibition halls the building features a few pleasant open spaces and snug nooks.
There is even a grand room whose walls are adorned with monumental murals by Diego Rivera.
From the Institute of Arts we proceeded to the Fisher Building, whose interiors turned out far less imposing than we had hoped.
For the final destination in Detroit we chose the Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, a somewhat ragged bar/eatery joint where Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, and many other jazz giants of the 20th century performed on one occasion or another.
For the afternoon we headed to the Bavarian village of Frankenmuth. Well, its first settlers were of Bavarian descent, but the village has obviously americanized time and again over the last century-and-a-half. Today, German influence is mainly evident in the tourism sector.
All things considered, Frankenmuth may still be the loveliest place in Michigan, especially given the bad reputation of many of its southern neighbors.
We started our excursion of the village with Lager Mill, a sizable beer store and museum. We weren’t too impressed by anything we saw inside, but for locals this is probably a major beer supplier, so we aren’t going to question its importance. Plus it looks nice on the out.
We roved about the village, taking brief stops here and there, decrying ornate façades, embellished with bay windows and headed by gabled roofs and an occasional high-pitch turret. River Place Shops and Bavarian Inn Castle Shop are among the most distinguished buildings.
At some point we crossed the Cass River via a scenic covered bridge that, frankly, deserves a name of its own.
Perhaps, Frankenmuth’s most famous landmark is Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. It is a enormous Christmas-themed mall. (Location-wise, it would certainly be a better fit in Santa Claus, Indiana.)
Even stands with most ordinary Christmas merchandise occupy thousands of square feet.
Outside one will find a few more holiday decorations
and a cute chapel near the edge of the parking lot.
The following morning we were passing through Lansing on our way to Chicago. On the account of being in the state capital, we decided to locate and photograph the Capitol building, the sole exception to the city’s otherwise unremarkable tourist offering. Unfortunately, the building was surrounded by fences, road blocks, and construction equipment.
This concluded our acquaintance with Michigan, the verdict being “not spectacular but interesting enough to warrant a visit.”