Erica J. Hobbs is traveler, writer and communications professional always up for adventure. In addition to her home state of Michigan, USA, she’s lived in Italy, England and Malaysia and spent a year backpacking across India, China and Southeast Asia. Originally a small-town girl, she is now a passionate Detroiter and loves exploring the latest events happening in the city. Along with travel, she loves musical theater and small, cuddly animals. For more information visit www.EricaJHobbs.com.
A trip to South Africa would not be complete without a visit to the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Point – the most southwestern point of all of Africa. More than just a point on a map, what people may not realize is how beautiful the Cape actually is! As part of Table Mountain National Park, people can spend days there, taking in its stunning views of mountain, sea and cliffs. I combined it with a trip to Boulders Beach (about 30 minutes away), but I would have loved to have spent more time.
Fun fact about the Cape of Good Hope – it is NOT the most southern point of Africa, but it is the most SOUTHWESTERN point of Africa. The southern most point of Africa is Cape Agulhas, about 93 miles away.
If you really want to experience the Cape, plan ahead and take your time. Keep in mind, the park is open from roughly dawn until dusk and is about an hour and a half drive from Cape Town. I managed to see a lot in an hour and a half but would have much preferred to have had more time to enjoy more of the walks.
For more information visit http://capepoint.co.za.
Those familiar with Detroit know the city is full of historic neighborhoods containing row after row of stunning architecture. While numerous tours throughout the city offer opportunities for visitors to see these homes up close, there’s a new event in town that allows guests to experience this time period on an even deeper level: The Detroit Gatsby Winter Gala.
As the name suggests, the event is a celebration of everything fabulous about the 1920s. Set in the historic Charles T. Fisher Mansion, the location itself makes this event a winner. The 1922-built house was the home of the co-founder of the Fisher Body Company, the world’s largest manufacturer of car bodies in 1914. The 15,000 square-foot mansion features 46 rooms containing Tudor-style ceiling murals, a grand staircase, a pipe organ, a Prohibition-style speakeasy and more – the perfect backdrop for an evening of opulence and entertainment.
With this setting, fringed, feathered and tuxedoed-party-goers are transported back in time enjoying a night of dancing, drinking and mingling throughout the house – the dream of any Great Gatsby or Downton Abbey fan.
While new, the party is looking to become an annual or semi-annual occurrence. Organizers held a less formal, outdoor event last summer with their First Annual Detroit Gatsby Lawn Party at Detroit’s Palmer Park neighborhood, and they are planning to repeat the event this September.
Ticket prices range from $80-$100 for the winter gala and $25 – $150 for the lawn party, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting a local charity. Events sell out, so it is recommended to purchase tickets early.
By far my favorite thing to do in Cape Town was visiting Boulders Beach – a small beach near Simon’s Town famous for its colony of African penguins. It gets its name from the large boulders in the sand and water, but really, no one cares about the damn boulders.
What people care about are the penguins, because:
They live on the beach not in the arctic
They sound like braying donkeys
Basics on what you need to know:
Boulders is located about an hour outside of the main city near Simon’s Town – accessible by car or MetroRail train (walk from Simon’s Town)
Costs R65 – about $4
Penguins are viewed from the boardwalk – you get close but not*that* close
It is recommended to pair with the Cape of Good Hope – about a 30-minute drive away
I’ve recently returned from South Africa, a truly incredible country. The mountains and coastline in the south offer one amazing view after another. The sheer number of and proximity to wildlife on safari at Kruger National Park created one of the most amazing travel experiences in my life. And Johannesburg is a fascinating city offering a raw, real perspective of a country that has been through a lot and continues to move forward.
Some of my favorite experiences included:
Visiting the African penguin colony at Boulders Beach in Cape Town
Walking along the cliffs at the Cape of Good Hope
Stumbling upon Hermanus, the charming whale town along the coast
Getting up close and personal with ostriches in Oudtshoorn
Watching a pride of lions devour a kudu on safari
Learning about the fascinating history of South Africa on a six-hour walking tour of Johannesburg
Below is a short slideshow of the highlights from the country. Lots more (including lots of video) to come!
Multi-purpose items are always a good thing when trying to pack light for a trip, which is why a sarong makes it to the top of my list of things to carry with me while traveling. From a skirt to a blanket to a beach towel and more, check out the different ways to use a sarong.
If you’re like me, soap and toothpaste just don’t cut it in the grooming department, but nobody wants to carry a bag of multiple toiletries on long-term trips.
For those travelers who *require* multiple products to be pretty everyday – this tip is for you! Check out how contact lens cases can be repurposed to store your favorite specialty toiletries without weighing down your luggage.
Photo credit: Motor City New Year’s Eve – The Drop Facebook Page
Most people think the New Year’s Eve ball drop is a New York-thing, but what if I told you there’s an equally-cool and way-less stressful alternative right in the Motor City?
That’s right – Detroit’s own Campus Martius in the heart of downtown is the proud host of the now 6th annual Motor City New Year’s Eve – The Drop. If a grand countdown is what you’re looking for, there are several reasons to consider this drop over its more well-known competitors.
Why drop a ball when you can drop a “D”?
Dropping a ball for New Year’s has become so cliché. In the Motor City, we drop a “D” – a sparkly, 7-foot tall one. Because what better way to show off your city pride on New Year’s than to make a formal display of its title letter?
In Detroit, you get two drops!
That’s right – for the price of…nothing…participants of the Detroit drop get not one, but two drops! In addition to the traditional 11:59 p.m. countdown, a special children’s drop happens at 6:30 p.m. so kids can participate in the fun without the late bedtime (and revelers can enjoy a more adult-focused party later on).
There will be horse-drawn carriages!
Try fitting that in Manhattan. Starting at 4 p.m., revelers can enjoy romantic horse-drawn carriage rides around the city. In addition to the rides, the family-friendly event includes three stages of live music, a Kid Zone and fire pits, as well as ice skating in front of the city’s Christmas tree. What’s more charming than that?
Behold – food, toilets and breathing room.
Regular complaints about the New York City ball drop include lack of food, toilets and breathing room. With more than 1 million people expected to descend upon Times Square this year, that’s unlikely to change. Compare that with the 20,000 estimated people who came to Campus Martius last year. Add in food trucks, portable bathrooms and a variety of events to explore, and you won’t feel the need to strategically dehydrate to save your spot on New Year’s Eve.
There’s a new tent in town.
This year organizers added a party within a party with its new VIP Motown Countdown, a ticketed event from 8 p.m. – 1 a.m. The party takes place inside an 11,000-square-foot heated structure full of live entertainment. The $89 admission includes eight drink tickets, a midnight snack, party favors, a celebratory balloon drop, heated restrooms, a coat check and access to four LED screens broadcasting the football game.
One of my absolutely favorite things to do in Michigan in the fall is a corn maze, and the Blast Corn Maze at Nixon Farms in Dexter doesn’t disappoint.
The experience is basically what it sounds like – a winding journey through the corn stalks with the goal of finding the way out. At Blast, that maze goes through more than 10 acres of corn with three options of a short, medium or long route for all levels of skill (or patience). For extra challenge, bring a flashlight and try it in the dark!
In my case, my friends and I arrived in late afternoon and opted for the long route. We decided to really test our navigational skills by splitting up and racing, which seemed like a great idea at the time, except then I remembered my personal sense of direction was lacking, and I hadn’t bought a map…
Luckily, the maze is marked by eight check points to lead you on your journey and extra exits are available if you truly cannot find your way out.
Despite literally running around in circles for 15 minutes (and somehow finding my way back to the start!), I was determined to make it through the entire path and made friends with a young family who had had the forethought to purchase a map.
Together, we examined the pumpkin-shaped design to navigate to our next checkpoint, hitting some dead ends along the way but making our way steadily through the path.
In the end, I lost (badly) to my friends, who had made it through the maze sans maps in about a half an hour. For me? 57 minutes :).
For those with a less competitive spirit, just walking through the stalks on a crisp autumn day is worth the experience. There’s a peacefulness to being surrounded by corn under sunny blue skies, and the sunset reflecting off the stalks and surrounding trees was absolutely beautiful. Though I certainly wouldn’t recommend a viewing of Children of the Corn beforehand ;).
At $8 per ticket, Blast is one of the more affordable corn mazes in the region and, being open until early November, it also makes it one of the longest-running in the state. In addition to the maze, it offers a variety of supplementary attractions including a pumpkin patch, hayrides, petting zoo, cider and more, making it a fun fall attraction for the whole family.
People in Detroit love Christmas – and there’s nothing more evident of that than Noel Night, a 43-year-old annual event in Midtown celebrating everything Yuletide. It is this time of year in early December when tens of thousands of people descend upon Woodward Avenue for what can only be described as a magical evening.
The big institutions – the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Michigan Science Center, the Detroit Public Library, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Historical Museum and the Detroit Symphony Orchestra – lead the pack as focal points for both culture and festivities. Surrounding them, more than 70 shops, businesses and churches follow suit featuring artists, holiday treats and more than 200 area music, theatre and dance groups.
While a significant focus of the event is shopping, one of the best aspects of Noel Night is the opportunity to explore all the historic Midtown museums, churches and institutions that may not otherwise be easily accessible, and for free! My personal favorite experiences at Noel Night have been exploring the Victorian mansions at the Inn on Ferry Street, seeing the murals at the Detroit Public Library and discovering the history of the Scarab Club – a more than century-old artists’ club patronized by artists including Diego Rivera and Norman Rockwell. Add in carriage rides, ice sculptures, a petting zoo and a community sing-along on Woodward Avenue and you have yourself a pretty unforgettable night.
The key to a successful Noel Night is not to get overwhelmed. Despite its five-hour duration, it’s impossible to see everything and traffic will be intense. A better strategy is to go online or pick-up a Noel Night brochure to view the schedule ahead of time and identify the performances you’d most like to see or the spaces you’d most like to visit. Otherwise, take advantage of the pedestrian streets and allow yourself to wander and delight in whatever you happen to stumble upon. And if there’s something you missed, take comfort that, with a history spanning four decades, you can always go back next year!
If you’re looking for something a little more unique for Halloween, Detroit has possibly the coolest party around: Theatre Bizarre.
To call Theatre Bizarre a Halloween party would be superficial at best. While the event is a costume party and does take place in October, Theatre Bizarre is just as much a performance as it is party. And comparing it to your average Halloween party, it’s frankly, more bizarre…
After about a decade at the Michigan State Fairgrounds, the event moved to its permanent home in Detroit’s Masonic Temple in 2011. And while there are many old-schoolers yearning for the illegal days of the past, the Temple’s beautifully gothic structure adds its own dark atmosphere perfect for an evening of spectacle, magic and debauchery.
Theatre Bizarre is not for the faint of heart nor is it for those, we’ll say, a little too pure of heart… The Temple’s eight floors are filled with a variety of experiences to choose from ranging from live music and dancing on the ground floor to a train ride in the dark on the top floor to a plethora of characters performing (in various states of dress and costume) in between. The real fun is in the exploration and never quite knowing what’s coming next…
While the event has developed quite a hype over the years, to truly understand Theatre Bizarre one must experience it first-hand. But if you do – come prepared. Below are a few tips:
Purchase tickets early: Tickets go on sale in the summer and sell out every year. If you don’t want to be hunting through Craig’s List (like I did) and pay exorbitant prices beyond the $80+ ticket, get yours early.
Dress to impress: Costumes are mandatory but tend to be quite elaborate with some preparing months in advance. This is an opportunity to get creative and go full out – take advantage of it!
Bring an open mind: Theatre Bizarre’s themes explore sexuality, illusion, counterculture and the general bizarre. Come with an open mind and enjoy an evening of marvel!