TRAVEL GUIDE: DETROIT, MICHIGAN

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My recent adventure to Detroit was an exercise in gratitude... Gratitude for the beauty that exists among desolation. Gratitude for how easy my life has been and continues to be in comparison to many and most. Gratitude for the ability to enjoy the exquisite architecture of a historical city. Gratitude for the individuals who "beautify" the city with public displays of art. Gratitude for the citizens of Detroit; each individual I encountered spoke only kind words and filled my heart with joyful compassion. 
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The residue of Detroit's history speaks loud--well, pretty quiet, actually. The population of the city has dropped drastically from its peak in 1950 from 1,849,568 to its current (as of 2015) quantity of 677,116. The low number of residents is evident as you walk the streets. Yet somehow, among the bareness, there is a strong sense of community.
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The general public sticks to a rather negative perspective of Detroit. We hear of the poverty, the scarcity, and we immediately place a blanket of judgement over the entire city and all of its inhabitants.
 I embarked on this journey with the intention of experiencing Detroit with fresh eyes, leaving behind my preconceived notions and forming an opinion based on first-hand observation. With effortless ease, I found many reasons to visit and appreciate the wonderful city of Detroit. 
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During my stay, I gathered a collection of places to see, shop, eat, and sip coffee when you decide to see Detroit for yourself. Take a peek!
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My admiration for big cities is always overpowered for my love of nature. So it was no surprise to my friend Simone, resident of Detroit, that the first thing I wanted to see was a park. 
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Cross a bridge over the Detroit River and you'll find yourself at Belle Isle Park, a 982-acre island between Detroit and Windsor, Canada. Unfortunately, the days I spent in Detroit were under a bank of clouds, a gloomy preview of the soon-to-come Winter. Even so, the scenery was enchanting. 
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I must admit, having lived in Los Angeles most of my life, any sign of real seasonal transition is exciting. The changing colors of the leaves evoke a certain romanticism in me that most likely stems from rarely seeing such a sight in my Southern California upbringing. 
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Drive through Belle Isle, admire the scenery, and pull over here and there to take a look (and a photo or two!) Within the bounds of the park, there is a garden and a fantastic free Conservatory: a grand greenhouse filled with a variety of plants arranged beautifully. Definitely worth taking a stroll through. 
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After a long visit at Belle Isle, your blood sugar will surely have dropped. Cross back over that bridge and dine at Rose's Fine Food, the self-proclamed "Ultimate Diner." Passing by, you assume it is just another Mid-Western junk food diner. On the contrary, Rose's has a mission statement similar to many healthy spots in Los Angeles.
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Written in the bottom corner of their menu: "We believe that the cost of food should not be hidden away in higher health care bills, environmental degradation, and lower wages that hurt hard-working people in the industry. Our menu reflects what we hope is a new direction in eating out in America: real, full-flavored food grown and prepared by well-paid professionals that care about what goes into our bodies and the environment. Please use the hashtag #nohiddencosts and join us in this revolution!"
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This was the perfect spot for me to have my first meal in Detroit; I felt right at home.
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Rose's Fine Foods pays their employees equal, fair wages and donates a portion of their tip money to local charities every month. The chef and owners seek out locally grown ingredients from nearby farms. All dishes are made from scratch and boy can you taste it! This is not your average diner. The low-key environment and affordable prices disguise the exquisitely high quality of the ingredients. I definitely did not expect to end up eating at a farm-to-table restaurant in Michigan! A very pleasant surprise.
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I ordered "The Dude Abides," a bowl filled with heirloom rice, avocado, house kimchi, and a colorful array of seasonal vegetables. Having caught a glance at the chef roasting potatoes behind the counter upon entering the establishment, I decided to add on a side of "Griddle Potatoes." To drink, I shared a Lavender Lemon Soda with my lunch date, Simone. Everything was absolutely positively dee-licious! A must-go for any traveller seeking something healthy in Detroit.
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Following the theme of businesses that reminded me of home, when I stepped into Eldorado General Store, I almost forgot I wasn't in Venice anymore! This shop reminds me of the little boutiques along Abbot Kinney, curated with a specific aesthetic that feels very familiar to me.
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The space is stocked with little trinkets, vintage clothing, Detroit-made beauty products, old-fashioned botanical elixirs, crystals, jewelry...the list goes on! The owner's taste is playful, exciting and colorful. Whether you plan to buy something or not, I suggest stopping by to have a look around. 
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If your meal at Rose's Fine Food leaves you seeking additional health-conscious options, visit The Farmer's Hand. This sweet little spot is a woman-owned market/cafe that carries a variety of 100% local Michigan-made food items, beauty products, and more.
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This business contributes to the revitalization of Detroit's weakened economy by selling locally grown produce and products from small local businesses. Similarly to Rose's Fine Food, The Farmer's Hand seeks out suppliers whose products are grown and processed in a wholesome way. If you are passionate about health food, sustainability, and the environment, you must get your groceries here!
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No matter what you're into, experiencing Detroit's Farmer's Market is a must. The Eastern Market has been a spot for locals to get their groceries since the 1850s. There are multiple farmer's markets that take place in this space. The one I attended occurs year-round on Saturdays, between 6 AM and 4 PM. 
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If you are not jiving with the quiet streets of Detroit, wander through the Eastern Farmer's Market and you'll surely find a reason to smile. The energy is high as a flood of people move through the grand space, browsing and buying produce and other goods.
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Every grower I spoke to was so kind and true. I felt authentically connected with the great community within Detroit. 
As my friends Felix, Simone and I looked for vegetables at one stand, the woman selling them was so excited to see youngsters in vintage attire. She laughed joyfully and went on admiring my outfit item-by-item... "Look at you! Even your camera is vintage! Oh golly, I love it!"
Of course, who doesn't want to be showered with compliments? I took her admiration as an excuse to spark up a conversation.
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I spent a moment getting to know her better, and learned that she and her family had been supporting themselves by selling their produce for many generations...since before the riots, before the city experienced economic downfall. I asked her if she felt satisfied with the profits she collects from this business. After all, the modern U.S. economy doesn't leave much room for farmers to make a living wage. She answered that she was. She told me that she is a genuinely happy person. She loves her job, her family, her life, and her home, Detroit. I was glad to hear it. 
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All this exploring and walking will require some fuel. Within the store Will Leather Goods, there is a coffee shop they call the "Coffee Station." If you're a customer at Will, they will offer you a complimentary coffee or tea. The graciousness of the employees of this establishment makes you feel right at home. Their tea selection is divine, and the espresso I had there was the best I've ever had!
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The Coffee Station is a gathering spot for locals of all kinds. I had my coffee here every day that I was there, and found it to be a cozy environment with a welcoming staff and crowd. Grab a coffee to go, or stick around for and enjoy the atmosphere.
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The most memorable experience of my entire trip occurred in this coffee shop...
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Every few weeks, a local French woman and her Mother come to Will's Coffee Station to serve homemade crepes. Locals and visitors gather for the delicious treat, playing chess, conversing, reading the paper... When I was there, an accordion player and guitarist were jamming in the corner. According to the barista, this is a regular occurrence when the crepes are being made. As if the accordion-led tunes weren't French enough, a new flavor was added to the mix...
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After everyone in the room had been served their crepes, the chef exclaimed "She can cook and she can sing too!" The lively French woman joined the accordion player and guitarist. With the accompaniment of the talented duo, she sang a couple of Edith Piaf songs with a wonderfully strong voice. Her Mother stood by videoing it on her phone, a sweet sight.
The whole room was lit up, everyone enjoying this little taste of France in the heart of Detroit. I had chills all over the entire time. It was one of those experiences where you can't help but smile--an uncontrollable force takes over and you laugh like a fool. It was quite a treat, to say the least. I'll remember it forever.
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Anyone with a passion for travel, culture, art, food, history, or architecture, should visit the city of Detroit. We must acknowledge the poverty that exists in Detroit without limiting ourselves by focusing on nothing else. If you choose to be aware, you will find there is always a glorious flower sprouting among the wreckage.
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There were moments during my trip, as I drove through neighborhoods of homes that were mostly abandoned, that I felt a certain sorrow...for those who remained, for those who were forced to leave, and for the city itself. Almost simultaneously, I felt a subtle joy and deep inspiration. There is something within me that feels a strong sense of nostalgia for times far before my own. I get butterflies when I find clothing from the early 1900s in vintage boutiques. I get overwhelmed with excitement seeing the buildings of Detroit that date back to the late 1800s. I feel a flood of emotions for pieces of history that remain.
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There was one particular neighborhood I visited that had not been re-built or re-inhabitted since the 1960s riots. For a person who is passionate about history, about artifacts of the past, exploring it was an exhilarating experience. There were faded but very much in-tact painted advertisements in classic 1940s/50s lettering. I saw a bowling alley and imagined the high school students in their saddle shoes and uniforms meeting there for weekend fun. The homes were beautiful; I saw beyond the partial burns, the parts that were falling apart, and could imagine vividly what this part of town looked like when it was fresh and lively. 
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I do not intend to glorify the difficulty and struggle that the people of Detroit experienced and continue to experience. Rather, I admire the beauty of what once was, and of what remains. Detroit was the epicenter of many inventions, technological advancements...so much was created there, and we must not forget that we wouldn't be where we are now without the city and its inspiring people!
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I plan to return to Detroit in the near future with 20 rolls of film and my 35mm camera. The exquisite historical architecture of Detroit deserves to be documented, to be celebrated!
I admire this city on many levels.
Much love to Detroit and all who inhabit it.
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XO,
Jasmine

 

Posted by Jasmine Soufer On November 04, 2016
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