Last-minute Detroit bucket list

It’ll be two weeks tomorrow since I packed up and left Michigan! Before I left though, I created a very spur-of-the-moment list of things I wanted to do either for the first time or again. I accomplished more than I actually thought I would, which isn’t saying much since I did only a few things.

But I’m posting my list because if you had a full 24 or 48 hours in the city, you can do a lot on here! (I also really wanted to make a trip to East Lansing, but didn’t have the time. For EL, I had on my list: the Peanut Barrel, Michigan State basketball game and the Dairy Store.)

  • Detroit Institute of Art Going in the morning and feeling like I had the museum to myself was eerie yet awesome.
  • Charles Wright Museum
  • Arab American museum
  • Cider mill So this isn’t Detroit, but it’s a quintessential Michigan fall activity. Made it out to Yates Cider Mill with my friend Maggie, who was in town from California for a wedding! Santa before he becomes Santa during the holiday season photobombed us.
  • RenCen elevator
  • Buddy’s Pizza, the original location I went twice in one week. No regrets.
  • Taqueria Mi Pueblo
  • Ride the People Mover
  • Eastern Market
  • Sarap, my friend Dorothy’s Filipino-food pop-up
  • Trivia at Atwater Brewery Our team came in a respectable third place! Our friend Aaron is the host on Monday nights.
  • Joe Bar
  • Craft or microbrewery Ended up going to River Rouge in Royal Oak, which has flights (best way to try beer) and, along with Joe Bar, was part of an awesome farewell day/night with my friends Tom and Colleen. The weather was unseasonably warm in late October, and we took advantage by sitting out on the patio.

3 kid-friendly cities in Europe

I’m so excited that my friend Melissa agreed to blog about her experience in Europe! Melissa, her husband and their toddler daughter recently returned to the United States after spending a year abroad. I admired the way they explored and traveled all over Europe with their daughter. Melissa shares her experience about the top three family-friendly places to travel in Europe — even Paris! — with tips on how to navigate the cities and book your stay.

Traveling Europe with a toddler is not easy, but it’s certainly doable. Over the last year, my husband Chris and I traveled with our 2-year-old, Ava, to 13 countries in Europe while living in Brussels, Belgium! Most of the places we went weren’t as kid-friendly as we’re used to in the U.S., but if you do your research you can find several kid-friendly restaurants, attractions and activities in each city.

Here are a few places we particularly enjoyed with our toddler.

Copenhagen, Denmark

This was one of the first big trips we took after moving to Europe. Ava was about 1 1/2 when we went, so I researched age-appropriate things to do. The best decision we made was renting bikes. Copenhagen is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the world, with safe, wide bike paths and motorists who are used to yielding to riders. Ava loved wearing a helmet and sitting in the child seat on Chris’s bike.

Riding around on bikes allowed us to see a ton of the city in a short amount of time without having to worry about navigating public transit or strapping Ava into a taxi without a carseat. We rode our bikes to the famous Little Mermaid statue on the waterfront, as well as a cool playground with miniature versions of Copenhagen landmarks. Denmark is home to Lego, so of course we had to stop at the Lego store.

Next time I’d like to visit Tivoli Gardens, the world’s second-oldest amusement park. As with all of our vacations, we stayed in an Airbnb instead of a hotel. It gave us more room for Ava’s travel crib and allowed us to keep her milk in the fridge and eat breakfast (Danish pastries, of course) before heading out for the day!

Paris, France

OK, so Paris is not the most kid-friendly city, but on our second trip there we managed to find some fun things for Ava to do, and I want to highlight those.

It was raining when our train arrived, so we set off for Les 400 Coups, a cafe that has a play area with toys for the kids. They didn’t have a big menu, but the food was good and at least we didn’t feel uncomfortable having a toddler with us! After lunch, the weather still wasn’t so great so we took a bus (easier than the subway since most stations don’t have elevators) to the Orsay Museum and saw that every other tourist in town had the same idea. The line to get in was huge, but luckily someone told us that because we had a stroller we could go to a different entrance and we got in within a few minutes!

The museum had elevators and we were able to enjoy several Monets before Ava got too antsy. The following day, Ava and I visited Luxembourg Gardens — definitely the kid-friendly highlight of our trip. If you’re familiar with Madeline, she visits the park in her famous children’s book. It’s a large, beautiful green space with tons of fun activities for kids, including a puppet theater, a large playground (that charges a few-euro entrance fee), pony rides and a pond where you can rent wooden toy sailboats. For a few euros, we rented a little wooden boat with a canvas sail and a wooden pole that you use to push the boat into the center of the pond, then wait until it reaches the side and launch it back in. I thought it would be too tedious for a 2-year-old, but she absolutely loved pushing the boat and watching it sail through the water!

Brussels, Belgium

We lived in Brussels for a year, so I’ve either visited or am familiar with just about every kid-friendly place in the city. Most of the main tourist attractions, such as the Grand Place and Manneken Pis (a statue of a little boy peeing) are within close walking distance of each other, which is nice when you have a toddler in tow.

Across from the Royal Palace is a large park with a playground and plenty of space to run around. But don’t limit yourself to just the touristy city center. For example, Cinquantenaire Park is an arguably prettier sanctuary with two playgrounds and a view of Belgium’s imposing Arc de Triumph. Or head over to the Porte de Halle, one of the only remaining portions of the old city wall that resembles a castle. There is a large castle-themed playground nearby.

Beyond parks and playgrounds, Brussels has other kid-friendly offerings, such as the Train Museum and Ferme de Nos Pilifs, a small urban farm with plenty of animals for kids to visit. Scattered throughout the city you’ll see murals and other evidence of its obsession with comics — both the Smurfs and Tintin were created by Belgian cartoonists. Oh and don’t forget to enjoy some of Brussels’ kid-friendly treats — waffles (Liege style are my favorite) and frites (fries)! For a full Belgian meal, Grimbergen Café was our go-to restaurant that warmly welcomes children.

Snapshots of Korea

Last fall, I spent three unforgettable weeks in Seoul visiting my best friend, her husband and their then-5-month-old. I don’t think I’d spent that much time with my friends for that long since college. So getting all that time with them was so special. As was learning more about the culture that identifies me — through my friends’ and my own experience.

The cultural aspects of the city felt a bit familiar on one hand but also wholly different and strange yet exciting, that mix of emotions that stir deep within you when you’re in a new place. I was initially nervous to use the language so openly, which sounds silly now in retrospect. But I worried my pronunciation wasn’t good enough, or that I didn’t know certain grammar rules and whatever. I also struggled internally during those times when locals expected me to understand the language more in depth than I could… and all that I was able to say back is that I couldn’t understand or I gave them that blank look any other foreigner might give in that situation. On the other hand, I was a bit taken aback when others addressed me in different languages, assuming I was from somewhere else. In a way, it felt like the language itself made me confront my cultural identity whether I wanted to or not, whether I was prepared for it or not.

One of the hardest things for me to learn more about Korean society is the role of the woman: how they/we are viewed/treated as it relates to the home and to the workplace/career — everything from dating “norms” to being an expectant mother to the abortion rate (though illegal, SK has one of the highest abortion rates in the world and doctors have said it’s a way to make money). Not just because I’m a woman with a type of freedom, independence and identity afforded to her because my parents left the country, but also because we had a baby girl with us When you’re confronted with the realities of your parents’ homeland, it makes you begin to understand and empathize with their reality, and I returned to the U.S. with a larger sense of gratitude for what I’ve been given in this life.

I was touched by some of the people I did encounter during my visit. Everyone was so genuinely nice, particularly in the service industry. One of my favorite memories is being on the subway and encountering an elderly woman who absolutely doted on Sophia. She was a stranger who wished a baby a long and healthy life. Not prompted. Just because. This might be strange if it happened on the train in say, New York City (where I did get blessed by a man recently, but maybe that’s a story for another day), but in Korea it didn’t seem too unusual or out of place. And to be able to translate most of it was a bonus!

Overall, it was such a rich experience, and three weeks wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted! I look forward to returning one day.

(Sidenote 1: Earlier this spring, I listened to a Pod Save the World episode with Mark Lippert, the former US ambassador to South Korea. In 2015, before he took the stage during a public speaking event, Lippert was slashed multiple times in the facial area by a South Korean citizen. The response that Lippert and his family received from average citizens — really, the whole country — was unbelievable. I strongly recommend you take a minute to listen to the entire episode. Sidenote 2: You can read Agnes’ version of my trip on her blog, Steps in Seoul.)

Anyway, here’s a collection of some of my favorite photos from my visit.

The juxtaposition of old and new that’s prevalent everywhere.

Bukchon Hanok Village

Massive crowds both day and night. Granted, the day photo below was a festival. But the nighttime shot is just a regular weekend. I hope that SUV learned its lesson because it was barely moving.

Food festival in Hannam-dong with a questionable banner indicating different cultures
The college town of Hongdae

Spectacular desserts that are nothing like I’ve had in the US. They’re on a different level. All looked and tasted high quality, not processed and not artificially sweet in the way I think of most desserts in the states.

Mr. Holmes’ Bakehouse
Make your own doughnut station!
Dessert Tree

The signs everywhere, some lost in translation, some a public health announcement.

Inside a coffee shop — need it on a T-shirt or something
Not pictured: The fire gas masks below.