Ann Arbor

You may never have hear of this delightful little town but you may well have heard of University of Michigan, the learning center for many future lawyers and doctors.

Where is Ann Arbor? Just 45 minuted from Detroit but chalk and cheese to its bigger neighbour. Detroit is the city of cars. Ann Arbor is for strolling, studying and socialising.

I tried to google the origin of the name and it is uncertain. Speculation is that it was named after two of the founders’ wives both called Ann who used to sit under a tree (arbor is latin for tree)

At first sight Ann Arbor is a pretty, small American town with lots of trees and quaint old wooden buildings but a short walk brings you to the main street, lots of lively bars and restaurants and it is easy to imagine hundreds of students enjoying a beer or two. There is also a Michigan University shop where sweatshirts and memorabilia go like hotcakes but at a little more than student prices!

Most of these students start their journey with their parents by staying overnight before visiting campus at the wonderfully quirky The Graduate hotel. It is a very tall hotel, but somehow it still has a small and boutiquey feel. It is student themed but very well done, not tacky and with neat little touches like student card room keys, photos of kids on the walls, portrait paintings done by local artists or possibly students, blackboards around the reception area with geometry and equations written on them in chalk. More blackboards used as notice boards and a comfortable outdoor area. The rooms are also student themed and have a lovely view of the city.

The main street has lots of independent shops, restaurants and Nickels Arcade. Michigan are very proud of their old 1928 cinema which still has a booth outside like in the old movies, a popcorn machine in the foyer and a beautiful original interior reminiscent a small London theatre. The developers wanted to demolish it but the locals fought and won.

One independent and really interesting mini chain is Zingerman’s Deli which consists of the deli, the roadhouse, the creamery and the bakehouse. The Deli is no ordinary deli.It is quirky and fun. Not only it has food and cook books from all over the world, a salad counter with dishes like Killer Quinoa, It has a children’s play area, an outdoor cafe, gifts for graduates and notices of local events. It is truly a community meeting place.

The university itself has a beautiful library, the oldest building dates back to 1838 and I could just imagine Hermione plotting up with Ron and Harry, not what you would expect to see in America at all. It was just so quaint.

We spent a good couple of hours walking around the campus and the town itself so while it is small it is far from sleepy and a piece of my heart was left there. I could happily live somewhere like this.

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My Kind of Town

Chicago is….

The Windy City wasn’t originally so called because it is windy, although it actually is. It was because the politicians at the time talked a lot of hot air and the politicians elsewhere nicknamed it the Windy City and it stuck.

Chicago is a large city but actually the centre isn’t that big and most of it is quite walkable and it feels relatively safe. Public transport is excellent too so it is perfectly feasible to visit Chicago without being dependent on a car and anyway its really expensive to park. The metro . affectionately known as “The EL” because its elevated, is one of the oldest metro systems in the world and it runs out to the airport. Buses also run  quite frequently round the city.

So why should people visit Chicago rather than New York, Boston, Washington, LA or Miami?

Chicago is plenty to do and see in its own right and it absolutely deserves to be on the itineraries of far more visitors.

I could have easily spent an entire day just walking around Millennium Park. For music lovers, throughout the summer there are free concerts. For art and science lovers, “The Bean” is fascinating. It is a huge installation by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor, originally called Cloud Gate but it looks like a bean so the name stuck. It reflects the city skyline and the people in the park in an interesting way. It isn’t the only weird art installation in the park, there are frames made of shredded tyres and children splashing around in the uniquely designed fountains.

For shoppers the first stop is the Magnificent Mile – officially North Michigan Avenue and less than a mile but this is where you will find all the famous designer names and there are plenty of outlet malls within easy reach of the city.

We took the Big Bus Tour round Chicago. I have been on quite a few of these before in various parts of the world, but I have to say this is the best one I’ve been on. Each one has a guide who is both knowledgeable and entertaining, none of this earphone and naff music while stuck in traffic nonsense. As well as Millennium Park and Navy Pier, the bus stops at some of the city’s best museums, The Art Institute, The Shedd Aquarium, Adler Planetarium and Field Museum

I would recommend a riverboat while you are in the city. Ours was run by Chicago Architecture Boat Tour which is more interesting than it sounds. Our guide was very informative and told us all about all the buildings along the river from art deco to ultra modern and it was interesting to hear how the river developed. Chicago river is a bit of an oddity as it was forced to flow in reverse so that Chicago’s raw sewage doesn’t flow into Lake Michigan but instead into the fast flowing Mississippi riv er and out to sea. It also means that most of Chicago’s drinking water comes from Lake Michigan The riverwalk is a really pleasant and important feature of the city. There are different sections, street theatre, a children’s playground and the newer buildings are designed to reflect the city skyline from the river

Another place to while away a few pleasant hours is Navy Pier, walk around, ride on the wheel, visit the shopping mall, the greenhouse, the temporary Rolling Stones exhibitionism, take a boat trip into Lake Michigan (this can be rough) or just sit and watch the world go by in one of the bars or eateries.

Chicago has its fair share of very high buildings so it also possible to get a birds eye view from Willis tower or 360 Chicago. If you are feeling really brave you can experience The Tilt which is a unique way of seeing the city from 1000ft up. It is the only one of its kind in the world.

For foodies, Chicago is for you too. Chicago has some of the top restaurants in the world

If you have time to go further afield you don’t have to go far to find some absolutely stunning beaches or sand dunes around Lake Michigan, many less than an hour away by train. It is difficult to believe that in the middle of America thousands of miles from the sea that some of the loveliest beaches I’ve ever felt or seen, exist, even in Chicago itself, so for a city and beach combo  in the summer months you don’t have to go to Miami or San Diego, you could take advantage of one of the many daily direct flights straight to Chicago and combine it with a short hop to Indiana or Michigan.

We were extremely lucky with the May weather and Chicago can be windy and bitterly cold in the winter so the ideal time to visit is summer, but Spring and fall/autumn is a lot less crowded and there can be some great bargains too.

If you are interested in booking a break to Chic ago or combining this with other destinations please feel free to contact me for the best deals 020 3432 4740 or email cathie.odea@travelcounsellors.com

 

 

Pure Shores Poem

This is a poem I wrote with a little help from my friends for our final presentation by the “Pure Shores” group. I have tweaked it a little so it makes sense in this context. We visited Detroit, Lake Michigan, Indiana and finally Chicago. Here are our experiences in verse

 

Detroit has gone through huge regeneration

That’s certainly changed our prior perception

Henry ford museum was a big surprise

Some fantastic exhibits we couldn’t believe our eyes 

Rosa parks wouldn’t give up her seat

The actual bus exhibit was such a treat

John f Kennedy was shot in 64 

The actual car exhibits there with presidents cars and more

All the raw talent from Detroit streets 

Studio A was where they would meet

Hitsville USA with its Motown roots

Temptations, four tops in 2-tone suits

Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinsons’ stories were told 

From humble beginnings millions were sold 

In Ann Arbor we stayed in The Graduate 

A student themed hotel which was really great

Our tour guides had fantastic stories to tell 

They presented Michigan university ever said well 

There are some great bars in this little place

Great places for students to meet face to face

The golden sand beaches of Michigan Lake

Are really stunning and the sand isn’t fake 

The dunes are real and they’re just like the beach 

And from Chicago they are so easy to reach 

Oval Beach is in the worlds top 25 

And not the caribbean what a surprise 

Indianas national park is the most diverse 

And Pinhook bog is where we went first 

From a floating platform we saw how plants grow

Facts about carnivorous plants fascinating to know 

In Valpo we actually made front page news 

They were really interested in our views 

I’d love to recommend this place

They’re so welcoming, Valpo is ace 

At the broken wagon bison farm there were Bison big and small 

So huge, yet so cute, about 100 all in all 

Daisy the Bison was ever so sweet 

She followed the van for her little treat 

 

By contrast Chicago with its buildings so high

Our eyes keep looking up to the sky

And who can resist the Magnificent Mile?

The bars and restaurants will make you smile

Chicago has shopping bargains galore

Where’s my credit card, I really want more!

At Millennium Park we stopped at The Bean

One of the coolest things I’v e ever seen

No wonder Millennium Park is number one

There’s entertainment here for everyone

They say the best things in life are free

So Chicago is definitely the place to be

Would you believe such a stunning beach

Would be within such easy reach

Of Chicago’s busy enormous city

And nearby small towns are so quiet and pretty

In Chicago even without a car

With good public transport, you can go far

You can get there from the UK and Ireland many times a day

With United, American Airlines and BA

 

 

 

Valencia

Where in Europe can you get a city with a beautiful sandy beach, plenty of green space, lots of museums, magnificent architecture, gastronomy, shopping and history? Yes Valencia really does have something for everyone. Thanks to EasyJet and a good range of accommodation from self catering to de luxe, it is a very affordable break.
The city has a very efficient transportation system consisting of metro, trams and buses. Buses are very frequent so it’s really easy to get around and there are plenty of pedestrianised side streets if you prefer just to stroll. If you would rather cycle it is easy to hire a bike and take advantage of the cycle lanes throughout the city. We used a 72 hour Valencia card to get around. The card also includes two vouchers for tapas and a drink.
There is some beautiful architecture throughout the city, old and new, impressive doorways, wrought iron balconies, shining rooftops, examples of Art Deco , mosaic tiles, stonework and bridges. At the other end of the scale is the City of Arts and Sciences, a fantastic example of modern architecture.
Valencia was the original home of Paella and there are plenty of places to sample these washed down with local red wine which is cheap and rather good and there are many Tapas bars all over the city. You must also visit the Central market, the biggest indoor food market in Europe where you can see Serrano ham being freshly sliced, spring onions the size of tennis balls and colourful misshapen tomatoes all in a beautiful old building with stained glass windows.
Even if you are not interested in museums, the City of Arts and Sciences is still well worth a visit. It is a very impressive cluster of futuristic museums originally built for the expo. These include Oceanagrafic, Hemisferic and the Science Museum
In the old part of the city there is the bullring and next to it is Estació del Norte the station which is a lovely building inside the booking hall and outside. The cathedral and Silk building are also worth visiting but go early as the old centre gets very crowded later in the day.
Jardin del Turia is a long strip of parkland right through the heart of the entire city on a dry riverbed that runs from the City of Arts and Sciences to the west all the way to the Marina to the East. All along this stretch of parkland are ornamental bridges that are all slightly different and some have interesting sculptures and lights.
Away from the buzz of the city, the long, sandy beach awaits and you can have lunch in one of the many seafood restaurants along the front, hire a bike and cycle or just stroll along the the promenade and watch the world go by.
Apart from a couple of Irish pubs, Valencia generally has more of a cafe and tapas culture but despite that we came across half a dozen stag and hen parties on Saturday night so for a more cultural or gastronomic experience it would better to go midweek.

Indiana

We only spent less than 36 hours in Indiana but they were so friendly and welcoming, we felt we had been here a lot longer. Here in the UK, if you asked anyone to name all the states beginning with The letter I, I think some would struggle to even mention Indiana but now I have been there and seen it for myself, Indiana is definitely one that will stay with me forever.

Did you know Indiana National Park is not the biggest but it is the most bio diverse in the USA

We arrived at Indiana Dunes Visitor Centre in the morning. Our first step was to be Pinhook Bog. Pinhook Bog is a preservation area of carnivorous plants floating on top of 16m of water. To experience this involves walking across a floating platform with our experienced ranger. She was so knowledgeable about all the flora and fauna in the area.

After lunch, we headed to one of the loveliest beaches you will ever see. An inland beach on Lake Michigan and miles of natural sand with tidal waves and the skyline of Chicago across the lake. It is hard to believe that this isn’t a well known oceanside beach

Later on we experienced the 3 Dune challenge or a series of easier walks for the less fit.  There are so many colourful birds and butterflies as well as three distinct landscapes oak trees, tall grasses and marshland as well as the sands of the dunes.

In downtown Valparaiso, affectionately known as Valpo locally, we got the warmest smiles and and welcome from the loveliest little American town full of small independent shops and restaurants. Elements wine bar has just opened, what a great idea, swipe a card for wines on tap and pay at the end. We had dinner in Pikks Tavern and the next day, lunch with a visit round Valpo Velvet ice cream factory and a sample of one of around 50 flavours to choose from. We were blessed with beautiful weather so we found a bar with outdoor seating to chill and relax. Once again we were welcomed with open arms

We visited Broken Wagon Bison Farm. This farm has over 100 bison of all shapes and sizes from baby ones to fully grown. These huge beasts are so cute and all have their own personalities. The crafty one, Daisy follows the truck back as she knows they will give her a little treat. It works every time!

We had the chance to briefly visit the biggest collegiate chapel in the US and the second  biggest in the world. There are some lovely mosaics outside, seating for over 2000 and the organ with 106 pipes,  but the most impressive thing of all about this chapel are the beautiful stained glass window which is 3 storeys high.

I really will fondly remember this friendly little town just a short distance from Chicago

Our overnight was Inspiration Wood Cottages. You do need a car here as they are a good distance from town but again the warmest, friendliest welcome in lovely spacious cottages. Our cottage slept up to 8 people.

Indiana isn’t just a small forgotten state beginning with I, it is a place I will always remember with great fondness for its beautiful beaches, lovely scenery and its friendly welcomes.

 

 

Detroit

Did you know Detroit is the only US city which has Canada to the south? Literally across the river is Windsor, Ontario   Detroit was the original Motortown the home of Henry Ford and his friend Thomas Edison who had the original light bulb moment.

Ford and Motown are what made this city and I would recommend you spend a couple of nights here to do both.

Most of our group went on a 10 mile cycle ride along the riverbank but knowing that I’m a little less fit than I used to be I chose DIA instead. There are both classic and modern paintings by famous artists and they well classified through 3 floors and some local high school art which I found really interesting and particularly some of the posters depicting some powerful messages that we could all learn frm, but the one thing that makes this museum unique and worth a short visit are the incredible murals by Diego Riviera which depict the industrial revolution. There is so much detail in these floor to ceiling murals so you could study them for hours and keep finding little details that you didn’t notice before.

Hitsville USA, the home of Motown, was a house with humble beginnings, Berry Gordy Jr. started the Tamla and Motown labels with the raw talent from the streets of Detroit, many of whom worked for Henry Ford. Diana Ross, Jackson Five, Smokey  Robinson, The Tempations and many others started out from this house which has preserved as much of its 60’s interior as possible. The museum idea was started by Esther Gordy   Henry Ford Museum, Rouge Factory and Greenfield Village deserve at least a full day as the area is so vast and there is so much to see.    At Rouge Factory, The display of Ford cars from the 20s to the future. There is a 30’s model with a letter from Clyde Barrow of Bonnie and Clyde thanking them producing the V8 which was the car he loved to steal.

There is a 4D movie telling us about the car of the future which is pretty amazing. We walked round the Ford production which was fascinating to watch. I don’t think it’s something I’d want to do though, I’ll stick to travel!

The Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation is so much more than just about cars. There are so many interesting exhibits, including JFK’s motorcade as well as those of other presidents, the actual bus where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man, an action which sparked off the civil rights movement, a Klu Klux Klan costume, the theatre chair where Abraham Lincoln sat when he was assassinated, an Oscar Meyer Wienermobile which is a hot dog shaped car, Henry Ford’s private plane and so much more!

Detroit has some good restaurants and the ones we went to were great , Granite City inside The offices of General Motors and Hop Cat where many visitors have their names scratched into the tables and which had a choice of 130 beers so to sum up Detroit, it’s all about cars, music, beer food, good museums and best of all, fun.