I recently embarked on a week long trip to Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA to pay a visit to a friend who is studying there. I was pleasantly surprised by what this quaint city has to offer in the realm of entertainment, food, coffee, and culture. Along with being a welcome respite from the daily grind of my 9 to 5, I found Ann Arbor to be a breath of fresh air. While I enjoy living in Austin and taking advantage of all it has to offer- from greasy tacos, craft donuts, and obscure live music, I’m not fully convinced the “Keep Austin Weird” culture has prevailed in the midst of hyper-growth and ubiquitous gentrification. Ann Arbor’s vibe is reminiscent of Austin twenty years (from what I’ve heard) and I was excited to have the opportunity to explore!
One of the first things I did in Ann Arbor was explore the University of Michigan campus. Since I attended a small, liberal arts school in Texas I was shell shocked to say the least. The pristine buildings and manicured lawns of the university are delightfully collegiate and reminded me of a Harry Potter film. I was struck by the sheer number of students donning Michigan gear, which got me thinking about the corporate nature of modern American universities (which is a discussion for another day). While my friend was in class, I decided to head over to an archaeological museum that I discovered courtesy of my smartphone. One of the buildings I had been intrigued by earlier during our campus tour ended up being The Kelsey Museum of Archaeology. Admission to the museum is free and the collection is small, but impressive. I was transported back to my college days when I travelled abroad to Italy and Greece. There is no shortage of Etruscan, Egyptian, and Middle Eastern artifacts in this museum and there was an eerie mummy on display that caught my eye. I also paid a visit to The University of Michigan Museum of Art during my stay. Having frequented the DMA as well as the Met on several occasions, I found this museum a bit underwhelming. However, it’s definitely worth a visit and I especially liked the wing devoted to Asian art as well as the modern art section.
After the museums I needed a quick fix, so I headed to a coffee shop called Espresso Royale despite a warning from my friend. If you are a serious coffee connoisseur, I would suggest skipping this one. After the male barista hit on me and the female barista asked me if I had a lot of classes that day, I was handed a cappuccino that was way too hot and way too foamy. I did, however, very much enjoy a superb coffee shop on the edge of town called Roos Roast that I visited later that day. We soaked up the relaxed atmosphere as the barista suggested a pumpkin spice-esque autumn latte that did not disappoint. Another coffee establishment that I loved was the Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room, where you can browse bestsellers alongside books on alternative medicine and other esoteric topics.
Luckily, my friend was free of her scholarly duties for most of the week and we were able to spend ample time together. One afternoon, we headed over to Zingerman’s Deli– a quintessential part of the Ann Arbor experience. Zingerman’s is a popular Jewish deli with a coffee shop and a small store attached to it. Their sandwiches are legendary, so I ordered a “new pickle,” bottomless coffee, a corned beef Reuben that I’m still dreaming about to this day. Zingerman’s has an ambiance that is both eclectic and welcoming. The store itself is a hodgepodge of coffee, spices, jams, cheese, honey, and more treats that you can sample endlessly. All in all, Zingerman’s is a true Ann Arbor gem that I am happy I didn’t pass up.
If you’re looking for a chic happy hour spot in Ann Arbor I would suggest checking out Savas, which I went to on the recommendation of a coworker. I loved that the location was accessible (right near campus) and I ordered a poke bowl that was extremely fresh and satisfying. As I walked around Ann Arbor, I was taken aback by the plethora of unique houses and local businesses. It was a nice change of pace from the sterile high rises and chain restaurants that infest most cities. Along the way, I stumbled upon an amazing restaurant called Jerusalem Garden. This restaurant reminded me a lot of a vegetarian restaurant in Austin, Texas called Mother’s Café, which I used to patronize when my best friend was going through a vegetarian phase. Jerusalem Garden reignited my love of baklava with their walnut and pistachio versions of the dessert. I also tried Turkish coffee for the first time, which was unexpectedly good. Being the coffee fiend that I am, I savoured every drop.
Another relaxing Michigan pastime we enjoyed was apple picking at Erwin Orchards just thirty minutes outside of Ann Arbor in the town of South Lyon, Michigan. My grandfather was a farmer in Texas and I grew up around various crops, but I had never been exposed to the colorful foliage and lush greenery of a region with actual seasons. We sipped apple cider (non-alcoholic much to our dismay) while walking around the apple trees and blackberry vines. This was a good opportunity to slow down and enjoy each other’s company and I definitely recommend this excursion for small children and for those of us from the South where fall activities are few and far between.
Eventually, my stay in Ann Arbor came to an end and I made my way back to Texas. I could go on for pages about the places I went. I was sad to leave such a dear friend and I knew that I would miss this beautiful and interesting city. Despite that my mother is from Michigan, she falls under the “not from Texas, but got here as fast as I could” category and this was my first visit to the state. I truly believe that there is something invaluable about travelling to cities that aren’t traditional tourist destinations. Americans are captivated by a culture of constant stimulation. This obsession pervades both our personal and professional lives and we feel the need to be productive during every hour of every day. On this trip in particular, I was able to fully immerse myself into the feeling of being present and only doing the things that I felt like doing in that specific moment. For that I will be eternally grateful.
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