Day Trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan

The beautiful views of green farm land became difficult to see when the sky suddenly became dark, very dark, perhaps even darker than we had ever experienced before. Before we knew it the sky opened up and dumped LOTS of water on our car in the fast lane of the Highway 94. Little did we know that this would not be the strangest event we would experience on our day trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan!

With both of us learning all the way forward in the car, straining to see out the windshield, we managed to a) stay on the road and b) find a place to park on Jefferson Avenue. We dashed down the street and ducked inside Bartertown Diner, our intended restaurant for lunch, and froze as the cold air-conditioning hit our soaked skin.

We settled into a nice booth in the back and quickly decided on what we would order: a Reuben Sandwich and the Chickpea Melt and a pot of hot tea to warm us up. We were starved and so very much looked forward to that first bite!


Reuben from Bartertown Diner


Chickpea Melt from Bartertown Diner

The siren has gone off…

The food arrived, we quickly took our mandatory pictures of the sandwiches for Facebook and were just about to enjoy our first mouthful of a meal that had been prepared from scratch, when the owner made an announcement that we had never heard before. He calmly explained that there was a tornado warning, even stating that “the siren” had gone off and said if we would feel more comfortable, that we were welcome to go down to the basement. After he finished though, everyone sat motionless. Since this was our first tornado scare ever, we planned on taking our cues from others who might be more familiar with them. I think asked the owner where he was planning on going and when he answered, “the basement”, the decision was made.

So never having taken a bit of our sandwiches, we picked them up and walked down the steep and dark staircase to the underbelly of the restaurant. We were ushered into what looked like the manager’s office and sat in the chairs the staff brought us. Finally, with our plates on our laps, we were able to satisfy our grumbling stomachs. Soon some other patrons joined us.

You biked across Wisconsin in how many hours?

We began to learn a bit about those sharing this experience with us. A young straight couple from Iowa, who were both avid bicyclists, sat with us in the dark basement office as well as a mother and daughter from Michigan. After the four of us outsiders got some suggestions from the two from Michigan, the conversation turned to them and what brought them to Grand Rapids in the first place. It turns out that the woman was there to pick up a sponsored bicycle that she will be using to bike and blog about various journeys she will take. She had already made a few long-distance trips and for us the most impressive was the 18-hour trip she took across the entire state of Wisconsin! We quickly began wondering just how long it would take us to cross the state and I wasn’t sure just how many weeks we decided it would take, but we knew we wouldn’t be traveling at any speed where someone might count the hours!

Eventually the news was passed down to us that there were indeed two tornados in the area but that they hadn’t touched down in our vicinity. We decided it was time to start the sight-seeing part of our day trip to Grand Rapids and so we paid for our meal and in lieu of a tip (as they suggest in their restaurant claiming that their wait staff gets paid a living wage), we participated in the Give a Taco/Take a Taco program by pre-purchasing a meal for someone in need of one.


We were so happy to see that so many people had participated in this program

What do you mean it’s closed on Saturdays?

We stepped out of the restaurant and noticed a strange green/gray color to the sky. As we drove to the May House designed by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, we noticed that branches were down, some traffic lights were out and debris had been thrown everywhere. Only a handful of cars were on the roads, making the experience even more surreal.

We recognized Wright’s unique style as soon as we saw the house and felt lucky to find a parking spot right across the street. I was very excited for a tour as this was one of his only houses that are furnished with original pieces. We noticed a distinct lack of life around the house and discovered that the house was closed on Fridays and Saturdays. We were so disappointed and had never thought to double-check ahead of time since they were such strange days to be closed.


This is all we could see of Frank Lloyd Wright’s May House

Is that a turkey in the road?

We decided to visit Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park on the opposite end of town. We began navigating our way there, when we saw something very odd in the middle of the street: a turkey. We immediately pulled over but, as we looked around at one suburban house after another, we quickly realized that we did not know exactly how to help. So I escorted the turkey across the street and onto what looked like a lovely lush green lawn. We left the scene completely perplexed as to where the large bird might have come from.


The beautiful turkey we met in Grand Rapids

So we finally made it across town, found a place to park and got up to the ticket counter only to be told that they closed at 5pm, which would only give us an hour and the price of the ticket would have been the same $15 that we would have paid if we had been there first thing in the morning. Again, we were taken by surprise by a place’s opening hours; we had never imagined that a park would close so early in the summer time when it stays light so late. We managed to see a few sculptures that were outside the gated park but ended up back in the car looking for other options.


Artwork outside the Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park

We decided to go to Millenium Park, this time checking ahead for the closing times. But, of course, this park was back on the other side of town so we crossed town once trying to stay hopeful. The greener the way got, the more excited I got about the prospects of a scenic and enjoyable walk in the wilderness.


Beautiful scenery at Millenium Park

We found a place to park and began walking around a small lake, which led to another lake and another. We eventually took a detour off the main path into thicker forest, crossed an overflowing river and arrived at a small pond with fish and beautiful surroundings. The wind, still strong from the tornado earlier, was ripping through the trees creating both the pleasant sound of rustling leaves and a welcomed breeze. With each step the frustration of the day began to chip away.


One of the beautiful lakes we walked around in Millenium Park

Isn’t the car that way?

Back on the main path again, we began to wonder how much longer it might be until we reach the entrance again. We walked around yet another lake and crossed a bridge before we came to a map that we must have stood at for at least twenty minutes, trying to decipher how each dot and line translated to the landscape we were looking at. In the end, we went Mindy’s way and I’m so glad we did because it led us back to our parked car. And besides we were getting hungry again.


Gorgeous detour from the main path


Swollen river from the heavy rains

We had already decided on Little Africa, at 956 Fulton Street E, because it was the only other vegan restaurant in town. In fact, they had been serving vegan Ethiopian food to the citizens of Grand Rapids for the previous 16 years! We became excited when we arrived to find a medium-sized hole in the wall with an old sign out front and we prepared our taste buds for an authentic meal. We were greeted with a unhurried smile and were brought two menus. Neither of us can ever decide on a meal in Ethiopian restaurants so always opt for the variety platter, which we promptly ordered. We also were able to speak with the waitress and a friend of the owner about the history of veganism in Ethiopia and learned that their version of Christianity calls for “fasting food” or vegan food. Discovering this new information, as well as the delicious meal, has put Ethiopia nearer to the top of our travel list.


Ethiopian platter for two at Little Africa

We left Grand Rapids with a full belly and had two very uneventful two hours back to Chelsea to debrief from all strange, frustrating and wonderful experiences of the day. Our day trip to Grand Rapids is definitely an experience we won’t soon forget!

Is Grand Rapids on your bucket list?

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