The Cranbrook Adventure – Birmingham/Bloomfield Hills – Michigan

This past weekend I took a little side trip to Detroit. OK, so I never even made into the city limits, but I did fly into Detroit’s beautiful, spotless and fancy looking airport. This was on my way to Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills. I was inspired by the exhibit “Hot House: Expanding the Field of Fiber at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, 1970-2007″ at the Cranbrook Art Museum. If you remember, from one of my past “The List”, friends of mine have a piece in the show and I decided that seeing it online just wasn’t enough for me. I was right. In the process, I discovered some pleasant places, a great museum filled with a collection of inspiring art work and had a wonderful time sharing it all with my friend Virginia.

HOW TO GET THERE
There are several airlines which fly to Detroit, including discount carrier Spirit, but the cheapest fare turned out to be on Northwest, since Detroit Metro is one of their hubs. Round trip, leaving Saturday early morning and coming back Sunday afternoon, the airfare was $290 through Orbitz, all taxes included. Northwest’s website is www.nwa.com, for Orbitz go to www.orbitz.com. The flight is about 2 hours long and once in Detroit, there is no other way to move around but by car, so I suggest getting one on Hotwire, which I did for about $20 per day. The rental came from Budget, which has a shuttle to and from the airport to the car lot. When I checked in to get my car, I was told that the class I had rented wasn’t available but I could upgrade for an extra $5 a day. I declined, and soon after a compact was miraculously found on the lot. Be aware that even if your second day is only a couple of hours, you will be charged for two days. That’s how it works in Michigan. For the trip up to Bloomfield Hills, look up your directions on Mapquest, as I found Yahoo maps to be really imprecise and sloppy. The trip from Detroit Metro Airport to Bloomfield Hills is about 45 minutes, on a surface road, probably quicker on the highways, but the second option requires quick skills and fast thinking as the exits aren’t well labeled. As a whole, have directions printed and on hand for every trip you make through the area, as the road in those parts tend to be a bit tricky and the distances farther than they appear. For Hotwire, go to www.hotwire.com.

WHERE TO STAY
Virginia did most of the bookings for this trip, checked out a couple of options and ended up deciding that the Radisson Hotel in Bloomfield Hills was the best, for location and quality. But instead of booking it on Orbitz, where rooms were around $160 per night, she went to Hotwire, went through the process (first looking up the amenities of the Radisson) and because the area has relatively few options, she figured out that the hotel she was getting on Hotwire, at $90 per night including all taxes, was the same one that cost nearly double on other sites. Bottom line, do your online research and you can probably get the Radisson for 90 bucks a night too, on Hotwire. The rooms were quiet, very spacious and very clean. An added bonus, their famous “Sleep Number Bed” was dreamy and so comfy, I wish I could have stayed at the Radisson all summer… Anyway, the hotel also has a pool, a free business center where guest have unlimited access to a computer and printer, and a wonderful coffee shop where we had breakfast in the morning. Free water and coffee in the room, all included as well.

WHERE TO EAT
Birmingham is definitely the place to go, when staying in nearby Bloomfield Hills. It is a pretty town, all designed around two main arteries, Maple and Old Woodward. On Old Woodward, we found a wonderful bakery, Charlie’s, which had the biggest cupcakes I have ever seen, at $2 each. I just had to buy two chocolate ones, with rose shaped butter frosting, which I shared with Virginia. Another speciality from Charlie’s are pink – and other assorted pastel colored – meringue “bowls” which are meant to be filled with ice cream and eaten. YUM! Anyway, for a real meal, we headed over to try brunch at the Townsend Hotel, but did not really like the vibe of the Rugby Grille and ended up eating Middle Eastern food at Elie’s, across the street, at 263 Pierce. The Townsend is the fanciest place in town, with rooms around $400, but they do offer some weekend specials on Orbitz. We just weren’t in the mood for fancy, so Elie’s Lamb Shawarma and Baked Chicken were just fine. Our meal was less than $20 for both. Be sure to try the lemonade there, as it is infused with orange blossom water. And make sure to bring lots of quarters when heading to Birmingham, as meters are expensive there and they don’t take cash, Visa or American Express!
Another fabulous place to eat is The Deli, inside the Radisson Hotel. The breakfast there was divine, my eggs just perfect and Virginia tried the Turkey Mash, which inspired this week’s Recipe. And again, the low price was just the icing on the cake. On Saturday evening, we ate in nearby Novi, at the Town Center Mall, where we went to watch a fun new Hindi film titled “Partner”. See more about that in “The List”.

WHAT TO SEE
First and foremost, visit Cranbrook. A large, green, beautiful campus which houses the Cranbrook Academy of Art, the Cranbrook Museum and Saarinen House, among others. The museum has a large collection of ethnic fabrics on the lower level and the show on the main floor is amazing. If in doubt, click on Hot House and check out the online exhibition. I have included a couple of photos of my favorite items on my Flickr account, which you can access from my Homepage. What really struck me is how labor intensive each piece is. These days, art can be just about anything some person decides to call that. But on top of being great ideas and brilliant concepts, the works displayed at Cranbrook are also created with skill and knowledge of the individuals’ crafts. Truly a magical experience. Look out for Kinnari and John Panikar’s “Lotus in Clouds”, as well as works from Gerhardt Knodel and Bhakti Ziek.
We were quite tired after a couple of hours spent looking at the Hot House show and wandering the extensive gardens, but not to be missed is a guided tour to Saarinen House. Designed by Eliel Saarinen to be his own personal home and completed in 1930, this edifice is considered by many a masterpiece of Art Deco design. The two-story house features elaborate tile work, furnishings, rugs and an elegant garden. Open for tours during the summer months. Click here Saarinen House for more info and to make an appointment.
In the evening, a great thing to do is to hit the movie theater at the Mall in Novi and check out the newest Hindi film, with – of course! – English subtitles. On the Saturday night we went, there were three different ones playing, so you can’t really ever be disappointed. In NYC in a good week, we get two on opposite sides of town, so this was a treat. The theater is a bit of a drive from Bloomfield Hills, so make sure you travel with accurate – i.e. Mapquest – directions, a good sense of directions, fun music and a pleasant travel companion. I did, and had a blast. For more info on the movie theater, go to www.novitowncenter8. But make sure to get your own directions and not the theater’s or, as we learned the hard way, you’ll end up circling around for half an hour.
Finally, it was really fun to have Virginia as a “partner in crime” for this adventure, but if you aren’t as lucky as I was to find someone who is game enough to want to travel with you, this is one trip where it’s really OK to be on one’s own. Michigan drivers are polite and unaggressive, the roads are clear and wide, all the eating establishments are friendly and unassuming and the hotel very quiet witt helpful staff. So, pack a light bag, your sense of adventure and go!

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