A visit to Michigan used to mean touring an automobile factory in Detroit and visiting Greenfield Village or slipping away to the Upper Peninsula for a quiet getaway at the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. But now the state has a bright new star on its tourism map -- Ann Arbor. And fall is the perfect time for a visit, with colorful foliage to entertain en route and perhaps a football game when you arrive.
Not a Michigan fan? It's still fun to take the 90-minute tour of "The Big House." The University of Michigan football stadium is so nicknamed because it is the biggest in the United States with an official capacity of more than 109,000. In addition to hearing colorful stories about games and players from the past, guests get to go through the press box, VIP suites and locker room, then out onto the field.
The university campus has a lot more to offer visitors before they head downtown. For starters, there's the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library. The museum portion of the Ford collection is located in his hometown of Grand Rapids, but with 90,000 items indexed here, there's plenty to see. Among my favorites were the former president's No. 48 football jersey and photos of its retirement ceremony; a letter from Dick Cheney, then Ford's chief of staff, outlining the transition process if Ford had won re-election; and a Time magazine cover that would have been released if he had won. His library office is kept just as he left it, and there's a telex from then-Ambassador to Vietnam Graham Martin begging for additional helicopter sorties at the end of the war.
Also on campus is the UM Museum of Art. The collection was begun in the mid 1800s and housed originally in the library. Later it was moved to Alumni Memorial Hall, and an expansion was completed in 2009. The building is spectacular, and the collection is surprisingly comprehensive, with works by Picasso, Calder and Goya, to name some of the most famous, along with an Asian collection and restoration department.
The music school is another place to stop. Here in the Stearns Collection consists of 2,500-plus antique musical instruments amassed by Detroit industrialist Frederick Sterns. Among the pieces are some made from animal hides and others from corn husks, a two-stringed Chinese fiddle called an "arhoo," a Japanese Taiko drum from 1400, an omnitronic trumpet and an instrument made by Adolph Sax, who also invented the saxophone in 1846.
Most of these pieces are behind glass, but the gamelan room in Burton Tower, which has the Javanese name of "The Venerable Lake of Honey," contains bells, gongs and drums. Visitors are encouraged to play, and simple instructions make it possible for groups to actually make music instead of just fool around. Burton Tower also is home to the school's carillon, where visitors are welcome when the musician is playing the bells, and a pipe organ in a room specially built for the best possible acoustics.
But football and culture aren't all Ann Arbor has to offer. Its downtown is filled with one-of-a-kind stores and galleries that tempt even the most reticent shopper. Kerrytown, the oldest district in Ann Arbor, has been refurbished with a farmers market and more unusual shops. Hollander's decorative papers store was one of my favorites. Cooks will appreciate Spice Merchants, with 150 spices on offer and 85 blends of tea, and local artists display their wares at 16 Hands. Mudpuddles is a kid's delight with every creative toy imaginable.
The best place in town for kids, however, is Hands On, a children's museum housed in an old fire station. Here 250 exhibits combine science, art and technology so that children can learn and have fun at the same time. At one station they find out what happens when a toilet flushes; at another they can make a person-size bubble and stand inside it.
The Lyons Country Store, a mock store within the museum, shows them how stores used to function before the era of computers, and they can also go inside a real ambulance that is complete with gurney, siren and firemen's uniforms. This museum is as entertaining for adults as it is their offspring, so it's no surprise that it has also been voted one of the best cheap dates in the city.
Food in Ann Arbor is fresh and unusual. My favorite lunch was at Ayse's Turkish Cafe. The owner and chef, Ayse Uras, came from Turkey as the wife of a graduate student at the university. When friends told her that her food was so good she should open a restaurant, she did. The unusual combinations of flavors make eating here a real adventure. I had the lentil soup and a salad of cabbage, apples and onion, and for dessert the Asure Pudding with chickpeas, wheatberries, pistachios, walnuts, apricots and rose water.
Other favorites were Vinology, where the specialty is pairing a seasonal menu with the most complementary wines; Frita Batidos, where I discovered ginger limeade; and The Last Word, a mixology bar styled on the speakeasies of the Prohibition Era. My choice was a drink called "You're My Boy Blue" that was made of blueberries, bourbon, lemon juice and St. Germain, a liqueur made from elderflowers picked in the Swiss Alps.
Zingerman's Delicatessen in Kerrytown is a landmark where the line often goes right out the door and around the block, especially on football weekends. In addition to the European-Jewish food they serve, they're also famous for their customer service. In fact, co-founder Ari Weinzweig has written books about the subject and offers workshops on training and empowering staff members.
At the end of the day there's still plenty to do. The Performance Network is a 139-seat space for performing Broadway-quality plays. The Blind Pig is the premiere location for musical acts in an informal club setting.
WHEN YOU GO
The best way to get to Ann Arbor is to fly into Detroit and rent a car. The drive to Ann Arbor takes only about 20 minutes.
Stadium tours: Go to www.mgoblue.com and click on facilities, football stadium and tours.
The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library: www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov
The University of Michigan Museum of Art: www.umma/umich.edu
The Stearns Collection: www.music.umich.edu/searchstearns
The Burton Tower Carillon: www.music.umich.edu/about/facilities/central_campus
For a list of Kerrytown shops: www.kerrytown.com
Hands On Museum: www.aahom.org
Ayse's Turkish Cafe: www.aysesturkishcafe.com
Frita Batidos: www.fritabatidos.com
The Last Word: 301 W. Huron, 734-623-2070
Zingerman's Delicatessen: www.zingermans.com
Performance Network Theatre: www.performancenetwork.org
The Blind Pig: www.blindpigmusic.com
Glenda Winders is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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