My Detroit Story vol. 1

I’ve stayed here in Detroit for over a year now, and I grow more and more fond of the city. Detroit was actually my very first place to visit in the U.S., when my friend Harald and I drove from Toronto to California back in 2015.

Detroit was far from our top destinations on the road trip; it was merely a quick stop on our way to Chicago, all the national parks and our final goal: the magnificent West Coast.

The city’s reputation at the time didn’t help, we knew we were entering one of the U.S.’ most dangerous cities, and we had been warned against staying out after dark, walking alone in the streets and even driving our car through some of the neighborhoods. So we planned to stay for just a day or two just to have a quick look around, and then move on.

Even though we didn’t experience much of the city back then, Detroit’s harsh beauty hit me right in the heart. I instantly fell in love with people’s genuinely friendliness, the obscure sight of all the abandoned buildings and just the whole feeling of the city. It was a feeling that made me decide there and then that someday, I had to come back.

And so, two years later, I did. All alone, I landed in Detroit just before midnight on an October night, and I still remember the taxi ride from the airport as grim. It was pitch-dark outside, hard rain poured down on the windshield, water gushed around the tires. I spotted a car nose down in the ditch, police cars flew by us, gaudy billboards lined the street. To say the least, it wasn’t the coziest drive. And when we finally approached my hostel and had to stop to let a dark hooded figure cross the street, the taxi driver looked back at me and said “This isn’t a good neighborhood. You’ll see it tomorrow, there are vacant lots and burned down houses everywhere. Be careful.”

Okay! At least I had an idea what I was getting into.

My first few weeks

When I got into my hostel dorm room, it seemed untidy and sort of shabby. It was dark, everyone was sleeping except a wasted girl in the bunk bed below me. I tried to be quiet, but she made a big ruckus and tried to get me to go out partying with her. I didn’t like her energy, she seemed kind of aggressive, so I said I was tired and got into bed. I pulled my blanket up to my chin and wondered what the hell I was doing. I felt lost and lonely, but still stood by giving this city a fair chance. If it didn’t work out, I could always head over to my beloved West Coast.

The next morning, everything felt completely different. The sun was shining through the windows, I realized the hostel was actually really cozy, and the energy in my room was friendly and relaxing. The drunk girl turned out to be super nice, and I ended up going to the MOCAD and the DIA with her and a bunch of other people from the hostel. I also saw The National at the Masonic Temple that night, one of my favorite bands in one of my favorite Detroit buildings. Great first day.

The National in Detroit Masonic Temple

Finding a home

I had booked one single week at the hostel, and because of some car event happening, it was fully booked after that. So I had to find a place to stay pretty fast. I spent that first week searching for a new home on Craigslist (haha, oh my, I got so many weird offers), and hanging out with some great people from the hostel.

I did find a new home, a cheap shared house in the Boston-Edison Historic District, with ten roommates. I moved in, took the bus to Kroger to buy a pillow and blanket, and started my new life in Detroit.

If you want to read more about my adventures as a newbie in Detroit, I wrote an article about my first few days here, for the Norwegian travel magazine Vagabond. I also wrote a guide to the city, featuring a few of my favorite places. Bear in mind that they’re written in Norwegian, although they actually translate pretty well.

Sloooooow Roooooooll

If you’re ever in Detroit on a Monday, see if there’s a Slow Roll bike ride scheduled. There’s no better way to see the city up close than to ride a bike around, and Detroit is flat as a pancake, so don’t worry. No steep uphills, only comfortable cruising.

But what is Slow Roll, you say?

What started as a small bike ride with just a dozen friends in 2010, is now a (generally) weekly event engaging hundreds, sometimes thousands, of people. As the name may imply, the ride is slow and laidback, and is suited for anyone. People from all ages and backgrounds come together for the love of rolling on bikes in all forms and shapes. Here, you’ll notice that a bike isn’t a bike! It really is a spectacle, and well worth checking out.

Slow Roll is arranged every Monday except on or around holidays. Check their website for the upcoming schedule and location. The ride rolls through different neighborhoods every week, goes for a couple of hours, is well organized, and patrolled by the police. It is chaotic, some people are playing loud music from boom boxes; there’s weed smoke in the air, but people are there to enjoy themselves and overall it’s a family-friendly event.

I have never actually attended a Slow Roll myself, but I have seen them around town multiple of times. Last Monday they started at Eastern Market, so I went out there to take some pictures and take in the colorful buzz. Good fun!

Belle Isle Summer Adventures

dog in water, flooded lake

Finally! Summer is here, with bright sunshine and temperatures crawling above 80 degrees. Honestly, it’s a tad bit too warm for a Norwegian like me. Fortunately, we live just a short drive from the beautiful Belle Isle, an island park located in the middle of the Detroit River, which makes it perfect for refreshing activities.

I can’t explain how much I love Belle Isle. Surrounded by water, seven miles of shoreline with multiple swimming spots, 982 acres of winding canals, grassy fields, forested wetlands and huge trees. And of course lots and lots of wildlife (we’ve seen a coyote, foxes, turtles, deer, beavers, so many weird and beautiful birds; there’s even a bald eagle’s nest!).

After weeks of rain, the island is flooded by historically high water levels. Lots of fun for Ellie the dog, but the weeping willows standing in deep water was an eerie sight.

The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory

Kayaking

A couple of days ago we inflated our kayak and moseyed across the island up and down the inland canals. Belle Isle has this really unique wet-mesic forest, which almost makes it feel like you’re submerged in a tropical rainforest. So crazy beautiful!

The canals intertwine through the forest, into lakes and out to the Detroit River, so you can easily spend a whole day floating on the water. Bring some snacks and drinks, but remember: CLEAN UP AFTER YOURSELF, goddammit! We saw a lot of trash and plastic bags in the canals, so sad and embarrassing…

kayak on canal with bridge across
turtle in canal
cayak on canal

Aaaand, we’re actually moving even closer to Belle Isle in a couple of weeks, so it’ll be easier to bike or walk there. Can’t wait!