Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Heidelberg

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A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of bringing my little sister back to Michigan with me for a few days, marking the first time she's visited me in my new habitat. Carolyn, who recently graduated from Radford University with a degree in Theatre Design, has always had an interest in (and knack for) art and the unusual. So, as I wracked my brain for places I could take her during her short stay, I remembered a place I'd seen countless photos of during this past year and had yet to visit--Detroit's Heidelberg Project.

Created in 1986 by Detroit artist Tyree Guyton, the Heidelberg Project is an homage to the past, present, and future of the Motor City and its culture. The "exhibit" is comprised of countless sculptures and re-compositions, all nestled within a patch of abandoned lots on Detroit's East Side. Although located in a somewhat quiet, ghost town-like area, Heidelberg is visited by thousands of people each year who come to document and take in the magnitude of how some paint and trash can transform wreckage into hope for a new era.

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Carolyn in her painty pants and shoes, looking right at home.
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A house covered in numbers and a syringe that's taller than me--that is Heidelberg.
The Heidelberg Project is definitely something that looks as though it was pulled from a Roald Dahl book. In this little patch of urban Detroit, it's easy to feel completely separated from the outside world--which may, to some extent, be the point of the whimsical, unearthly tone conveyed by the whole place. Case in point: we drove around in two or three circles trying to find the street, passing burnt-down buildings and other neighborhood remnants along the way. When we finally found Heidelberg, however, all that was left behind. Painted sidewalks, polka dots on the street, stuffed animals stapled to trees with shopping cart garnishes--it was totally surreal, and a symbol of how Detroit's innovative spirit has not disappeared in the midst of hardship.

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Left: Colorful numbers make this old house more playful.
Right: Brad and me, walking down the "face-painted" sidewalks.

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There's just so much junk on TV these days.
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Left: A teepee(?) made of doors. Right: Carolyn at the "Dotty Wotty" house.

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Tree art.

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We may have trouble getting a cab here.
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The "Obstruction of Justice (OJ)" House
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Looks like the house is obstructed, too. My own, personal term for this one was "The Hoarders House."
Despite being fussed at by a lady on her front porch (Brad accidentally walked on part of her front yard on the way to our car), the outing was completely worth the drive. I'd actually love to go back for a tour when I get the time one day, if for no other reason than to learn more about the message behind the artwork. Fortunately, the Heidelberg Project hosts a variety of events and volunteer opportunities throughout the year to raise funds and awareness--which means lots of chances to make the most of this modern marvel.

Whaddaya think--trashy or inspiring? And what lengths would you go to in order to keep your own hometown's spirit from fading?

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Traverse City Celebration: Part Two

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We got bugs on the windshield and our sunglasses on.

So, if you missed part one of last weekend's Traverse City adventures, stop right here. Just turn around . . . there's no way you can read part two without a part one.

Just kidding. But if you do want to start at the beginning of the trip, you can catch up right here. :)

So, last Sunday was what I like to call a "pre-Memorial Day." That probably came with the fact that Brad and I were vacationing in a popular summer tourist destination, but . . . whatever. What I do know is that the sun had taken over Traverse City, boats were on the water, and we were going to a cookout. Oh, sorry--a barbecue. But more on that in a sec.

Brad and I found out about Northwestern Michigan College's barbecue from a plethora of signs that were posted all over downtown Traverse City. The annual fundraiser features music, family activities, a raffle for two free years of tuition (cool, right?!), and of course--food. We're from Virginia, we like barbecue . . . it wasn't a hard sell. Sounded like the perfect place to eat lunch.

We totally forgot that up north, "barbecue" doesn't just refer to pulled pork and barbecue sauce. Rather, this was what we southerners refer to as a "cookout": hamburgers and hot dogs, just like any other summer picnic. Don't get me wrong--we weren't disappointed. Just a little surprised when we got to the front of the line and didn't see pulled pig covered in KC Masterpiece.

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57th Annual Northwestern Michigan College Barbecue

We ate under a shade of beautiful trees then wandered around for a bit to look at some of the activities. It was a great setup--but definitely oriented more towards families with kids. So, we moseyed off campus and went in search for a place to shop.

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What we found was The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, a beautiful and HUMONGOUS building filled with shops, food, and art. It was a little quiet on that Sunday afternoon, and given its history as an asylum and later, a hospital--I'll admit it was just a little creepy to walk through. There was no denying how lovely the structure and original hallways were, though . . . and we admired them as we took our time walking through.

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Hand-crafted stained glass windows and art line the downstairs walls of the commons.
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The afternoon quickly rolled on, so we jumped into the Camaro and headed to the place Brad had been talking about all weekend--the Sleeping Bear Dunes. The dunes, which are basically miles of sand mountains, go for miles and butt up against the edge of Lake Michigan. Some people choose to hike across the dunes to get to the beach, but we weren't that adventurous. Truth be told, it was difficult hiking up the first hill. And that's exactly where we settled.

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I'm like Rocky running up that hill.
Except for the fact that this photo doesn't accurately portray the frown that I had during most of the climb.

Climbing a mound of sand is definitely a lot more difficult than many people would expect, but the view at the top was completely worth it.

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Kind of reminds me of the view from Los Angeles' Hollywood Hills.
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Collapsed at the top of the hill. Like the freaking desert out there.
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Brad, dumping sand out of his shoes before getting back into the Camaro.

Fun time, but apparently not what Brad had in mind. In my state of confusion and crankiness from the sun's heat, I had completely forgotten that Brad was searching for some particular view . . . and thus, we began an afternoon quest for what I'd like to call "The Unknown."

We drove to every scenic inlet around: rocky beaches, wooded drives, beautiful views of water and hills. Each was beautiful in a different way, but I was starting to get annoyed because the phrase, "one more stop," obviously meant, "we're going to explore the entire countryside until we pass out."
  
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A beautiful, rocky beach surrounded by water in three or four shades of blue-green.
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Brad, skipping rocks. Meanwhile, I was hoarding all the rocks he didn't throw as souvenirs.
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Kind of reminds me of a shallow, well-watered Grand Canyon. Very shallow and very well-watered.

Finally, we only had one more place left on our park map. We got out of the car, climbed up one more hill, then "one more stop" turned into this:

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The photo doesn't do it justice, but take a look at that. The tiny strip by the water is the beach.

Water as far as the eye could see. We'd finally made it to the other side of Sleeping Bear, where the dunes meet the water. It was absolutely gorgeous.

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Crazies trying to climb the dune. The first girl made it to the top, but the second person gave up and went back down.

One thing I should mention? The wind on top of the dunes was horrid. And what do you get when you mix the Tasmanian Devil of winds with sand? The answer, my friends, is a big, stinging slap of pain as the earth throws its contents at your face and entire body. You can't really tell from the pictures, but everyone's clothes were flying up over their stomachs and there was a dusty, granular layer swirling around the observation decks. Once the photos were taken, I high-tailed it outta that joint, tugging at the ends of my shirt the whole way.

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I still can't decide if putting these two photos up was a good idea.

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Brad lagged back for a couple of minutes to take a few more pictures, then it was time to say goodbye to northern Michigan. One last dinner downtown and a semi-successful search for cherry pie later (that's another story), and we were on our way back to metro Detroit. I can't, however, keep from mentally planning our next trip already. It may not be this summer, but I definitely see a cherry festival in my future.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Traverse City Celebration: Part One

I knew Brad was cooking something up for our first wedding anniversary. What tipped me off? His  random, "you don't know what I'm planning," or "what day of the week is the 21st?" comments, followed by abrupt silence and little elaboration after I answered the questions. No, my husband is not a good liar, but I think what really tipped me off was when we were sitting in our living room watching TV last week, and I saw that he was looking up hotel rates on his laptop--with the screen turned right towards my face. I asked him what he was doing, which prompted him to turn the computer about two inches in the other direction, but his lack of Bond skills were pretty much a giveaway. Took him about another half hour before he asked me if I'd like to go to Traverse City to celebrate our anniversary weekend.

Um, yes. Not the most stunning reveal, but I was still very excited about the trip. Plus, he did manage to surprise me with one more little detail:

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Check that out.

Our ride for the weekend (yes, it's borrowed): a Chevy Camaro convertible. I guess being married to an engineer really does have its perks.

We set out Saturday morning for northern Michigan (about a four-hour drive if you're wondering). So far, this was the furthest we'd traveled to visit a new Michigan town, but after making several nine to eleven-hour drives over the past couple weeks, this mini road trip was a breeze. Not to mention, we did attract quite a lot of positive and envious attention while in our borrowed stud-mobile.

That's Brad on the right, checking for traffic, and me on the left--being happy about riding in a convertible.

We arrived in Traverse City just as everyone else was finishing breakfast, and didn't waste any time looking for something to do. A handy, little app I downloaded for the occasion told us that downtown was the place to be, so we listened--and off we went.

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In addition to hosting loads of cute, cherry-themed shops and tons of delicious restaurant options, Traverse City's downtown area is conveniently located just off a main lake shore road. After picking up some cherry-chocolate coffee (free when you check in on Foursquare!) and cherry root beer from Cherry Republic, we shopped for souvenirs, then grabbed lunch at the Green House Cafe. Then, it was on to the beach, where everyone and their mothers seemed to be spending the afternoon. Boats, bikes, and beach bums galore--truly a beach town in a format I've never seen before (much different than the ocean-side, east coast beaches I'm used to).

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Baby ducks at a boating dock! We watched these fuzzy, little cuties for a few minutes while they followed their mama.

When Saturday afternoon rolled around, we took a drive through the beautiful countryside on the Old Mission Peninsula. The area was filled with vineyards and scenic views galore, so we just had to get out of the car for a few photo opps.

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Vineyard and view of one of Lake Michigan's bays at the Chateau Grand Traverse Winery

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He just stands like this all the time.

Apparently, Brad and I stumbled upon Old Mission during its well-known Blossom Days festival, a weekend where people from all over come out for wine tasting at each of the peninsula's seven wineries. We only visited a couple of them, but ended up taking some souvenir bottles and a logo glass back with us as mementos of the day.

Of course, we couldn't call it an afternoon without seeing the rest of the peninsula, so we drove to the Mission Point Lighthouse, which is located on the 45th parallel (or, the halfway-point between the equator and the north pole). So, if you've ever wondered what halfway-to-Santa looks like, here you go.

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Mission Point Lighthouse. Old Mission Peninsula, Michigan

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The view was gorgeous, but the sun was hot and the gnats were in full swarm. Still, we had fun hopping from rock to rock on the semi-swamped beach and getting sucked into the spongy sand/mud. Okay, that last part wasn't actually fun, but overall, the place was very beautiful.

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One of the many rock-art pictures we found on the beach

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I'd take my sunglasses off, but I can't see you as it is in this sunlight.

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Front view of the Mission Point lighthouse

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View from inside the lighthouse

Sunburned and exhausted from hours in the 89-degree heat, we headed back to Traverse City to rest and clean up for dinner. Deciding we were in the mood for steak and seafood (and going off of a recommendation), we went to Boone's Long Lake Inn, where the food was great, but the service and loud atmosphere were a bit off-putting. Okay, the loudness came from of a kids' soccer team, which I can understand, but our waitress kind of went MIA. Good thing another server came and helped us out, but I still think Brad left our original waitress more of a tip than he should have. He's much nicer than I am.

After dinner, we went downtown for some window shopping and ice cream. A beautiful evening in a place where every local seems to know one another--that's a lovely picture of summertime.

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Downtown Traverse City
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The glitzy, downtown State Theatre

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Brad, looking at (he said they were real) butterflies in a jewelry store window.

But wait! There's a whole 'nother day of Traverse City exploring on the horizon . . . which I will recap for you in my next post, coming soon to a blog near you (psst--that means here).

Any guesses as to what other Traverse City sites we saw? Feel free to throw out your guesses in the comment section below. And if you have no idea, I suppose you could always cheat and ask Google. Or Siri, but she'll just Google it herself.

Talk to you soon!
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