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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

48 Hours in "The D"

    One-Tank Trip column

   (c) By Jim Fox

   It's "not your father's Oldsmobile" any longer or just the "Motor City" as the revitalized Metro Detroit has much to offer visitors.
The Detroit RiverWalk is a new promenade along the Detroit River linking parks, parks, restaurants, retail shops and includes a carousel at Rivard Plaza
   Getting our motor running, we headed out on the highway (401) to "rediscover the D," as they like to call it these days.
   Once you run out of highway in Canada at Windsor, head north -- that's right, north -- to the "D" through the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel or across the Ambassador Bridge.
   The "D" represents "cars, culture, gaming, music and sports," a winning combination for tourists.
   "We want people to rediscover Detroit and especially those gems that keep visitors coming back and back," said Renee Monforton of the Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau.
   Cars drive the Motor City: The grill from a 1933 Lincoln Phaeton at the Concours d'Elegance. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   It had been a few years since we explored some of these "gems," so we buckled up and headed to "Destination D." www.visitdetroit.com


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   Downtown D
   In Windsor, that gleaming skyscraper complex in the distance across the Detroit River is the Renaissance Center (RenCen), world headquarters of General Motors.
   In front of that is one of the most impressive sights when we emerged from the tunnel and exchanged pleasantries with U.S. Customs, the Detroit RiverWalk.
   The first 5.6 kilometres of the eventual 8.8-kilometre riverfront promenade that will run from the Ambassador Bridge to Belle Isle opened three years ago.
   It connects parks, restaurants, retail shops, skyscrapers and high-rise residential areas, while at Rivard Plaza, there's a carousel, concessions and bikes for rent. www.detroitriverfront.org
   Downtown is the spot for sports including Comerica Park where we headed off to see a game between the Detroit Tigers and the Toronto Blue Jays in this open-air, real grass stadium.
   Commerica is an entertainment complex on its own, including an ornate carousel, ferris wheel and centrefield fountain that produces "liquid fireworks" synchronized to music. http://mlb.mlb.com/det/ballpark

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A collection of U.S. presidential limousines, including John F. Kennedy's and Ronald Reagan's, are housed at the Henry Ford. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   Pedal to the metal
   The auto industry that powered the lifeblood of this city for so long shows signs of getting back in gear while not forgetting the past.
   There's no sign of a slowdown as the assembly line is full while crowds of visitors watch Ford F-150 trucks being assembled at the Ford Rouge Factory Tour.
   It's at the Henry Ford, aka the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, the largest indoor-outdoor history museum in the U.S.
The Henry Ford museum houses an eclectic collection of memorabilia and Americana. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   Car king Ford preserved items of historical significance from the Industrial Revolution here, such as an array of automobiles, including John F. Kennedy's presidential limousine and Abraham Lincoln's chair from the Ford Theater where he was assassinated.
   There's the Wright Brothers bicycle shop, Thomas Edison's laboratory and numerous famous homes, machinery, exhibits, and Americana. www.thehenryford.org
The bus stops here with its dual horsepower for tours at the Henry Ford museum's Greenfield Village. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   We then motored to one of the "auto baron" homes, the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, a 60-room mansion filled with antiques and original furnishings, on the shores of Lake St. Clair.
   The estate includes an eight-car garage, with several historic Edsel-designed cars on display. There's a turntable so cars can drive out instead of being backed out. www.fordhouse.org
The annual Concours d'Elegance, one of the most prestigious shows of classic and collectible automobiles, is a Detroit auto highlight. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   Over at another auto baron home, Meadow Brook Hall, now Oakland University, we attended the Concours d'Elegance, one of the most prestigious shows of classic and collectible automobiles.
A red wheel with wide whitewall tire from a 1929 Packard. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   The mansion was built in the 1920s by Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of auto pioneer John Francis Dodge, and then husband, lumber broker Alfred G. Wilson.
A hood ornament from a 1929 Packard. (Photo by Jim Fox)

   It turns out this was the last time it will be held there after 31 years as the show moves to the Inn at St. John's, a former seminary, in nearby Plymouth. Show date for 2011 is July 31. http://concoursusa.org

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   Ohh baby, baby
   Smokey Robinson sang it so well as the world moved to the grooves of Motown music emanating out of a modest Detroit house from 1959.
   Visitors can see where Berry Gordy's music empire began and spend time in Studio A where the hits just kept on coming through to 1972 when Motown relocated to Los Angeles.
Motown's Hitsville where they cranked out hit after hit is open for tours. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   The piano where legendary artists such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye banged out their hits is still there and can be touched and played.
   Tours are offered here at Hitsville USA and there's a gallery of historical photos, stage uniforms, the Gordy living and Motown working quarters on view.www.motownmuseum.org

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   Catching some zzzs and chowing down
   Downtown on a Friday or Saturday night is like the city that never sleeps with the nightclubs, bars, three casinos and street life.
   We stayed at the Greektown Casino Hotel so we could explore the area and become immersed in the nightlife.
   We had a corner suite in the 30-storey hotel, affording great views of the downtown as well as Windsor. www.greektowncasino.com
   There's always something happening in Greektown, one of the diverse ethnic neighbourhoods with distinctive restaurants, bakeries and clubs.
   We had a traditional Greek dinner at Pegasus that included flaming cheese (saganaki), set ablaze tableside as the waiter yells: "Opa!" Open until 3 a.m.; 4 a.m. on weekends. www.pegasustavernas.com
   A quick way to get around is on the funky People Mover -- an automated light-rail system running on an elevated single track looping five kilometres through downtown.
One of Detroit's fine-dining spots is the Whitney in an 1894 lumber baron's home. (Photo by Jim Fox)
   We returned to a favourite dining spot, the Whitney set in the 1894-era Romanesque home of lumber baron David Whitney, Jr.
   Seated in the original dining room of the 52-room mansion, our waiter showed us the secret vault room hidden behind a bookcase panel. It offers "elegant American" cuisine -- beef, fish, seafood, lamb and veal. www.thewhitney.com

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   If you go:
   To plan a visit and learn more about the D: www.visitdetroit.com; 1-800-DETROIT.

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 (This column was originally published as a newspaper/web feature in August 2010)

Jim Fox can be reached at onetanktrips@hotmail.com

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