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!

An Adventurer’s Guide to Detroit

mural in detroit
Mural by Hygienic Dress League

Do you have an adventurous spirit? Are you looking for an out of the ordinary place to explore? Do you enjoy underground culture, experimental art and private parties open to everyone?

Then Detroit is the perfect place for you to visit.

The Comeback City

After decades of poverty and abandonment, it seems like Detroit is finally getting back up on its feet, with big investments transforming the blighted city into a polished, bustling metropolis. Still, the gentrification hasn’t yet reached far out of downtown, leaving an abundance of neighborhoods still featuring Detroit’s unique style of quirkiness mixed with genuine warmth and friendliness.

Why You Should Go Right Now

In other words, now’s the time to go. While it still has some character and charm, and before it’s turned into just another big American city, with stressed-out young professionals and high-and-fast-fashion stores dominating the streets.

My Guide to Detroit

I recently wrote an article for Travelista Club, featuring a guide to Detroit made specifically for urban explorers. Click the link below to check it out!

Click here to read more!

Detroit’s Art Scene is Blooming!

Mural by Greg Mike

From scrap metal sculpture gardens to world-class museums, Detroit has a strong creative energy and an extensive artistic history. A mix of old-time pioneers who never gave up on the city, and fresh artistic blood streaming in to take advantage of the new opportunities and reasonable living costs, makes the art scene bustle like never before.

The healing power of art

Much of the art of Detroit is defined by the philosophy of making the most out of what you have. A lot of Detroit’s people didn’t have much during the decline of the city during the last decades. The struggles didn’t kill the artistic spirit, on the contrary, for some people it reinforced it. You will see signs of this a lot throughout the city, from huge outdoor installations built up by urban debris, that stands out like jewels in scarred neighborhoods and create safe spaces, to majestic street art that shows people’s strong pride for Detroit.

Amazing museums

And then there’s the big world-renowned museum the Detroit Institute of Art, which holds one of the largest and most important art collections in the US, with more than 65,000 artworks displayed in 100 galleries. Another big one is MOCAD – Museum Of Contemporary Art Detroit, which features contemporary visual, literary, music and performing arts.

Read more about art in Detroit

Do you want to read more about the blossoming art scene of Detroit? To check out my in-depth article for the Norwegian art magazine KUNST, click the link below! Bear in mind that the article is originally written in Norwegian, and that you need a subscription to read the full article.

Click here to read more!