Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Appreciating Winter (No, I'm Serious)

Even if you're a fan of winter (which we have established that generally I am not), this winter has been brutal. It's the first of March, and we're expecting more snow in the morning. We have several feet of snow piled up on either side of our driveway, and I'm over it. Really, really over it. Despite that I think I've overall been a good sport this winter. I went to Marquette in Michigan's frigid Upper Peninsula in January and fell in love despite the air being so cold it hurt to breathe. In the (hopefully) waning days of winter, I will aim to appreciate what's left.

A few weeks ago I went to Frankenmuth, Michigan for work. Frankenmuth, known as Michigan's "Little Bavaria", has a German-themed charm that attracts visitors from across the country. While I don't necessarily love the overly touristy nature of the city, there was some winter charm that stuck out to me. There were huge snow and ice sculptures in the parks downtown that were extraordinarily charming. There were people everywhere despite the cold and snowy weather. Frankenmuth embraced winter, and people were loving it. Even I didn't hate it.

Last week I headed to Holland, Michigan on the west side of the state. I'd never been to Holland, but I'd heard great things. Holland, like Marquette, is one of the eight Michigan cities who received funding for PlacePlans, a project that helps communities plan and design placemaking projects. Holland's project is looking at the 8th Street corridor near downtown to better strategically connect downtown, the lakefront and historic neighborhoods. Along with my colleagues I attended meetings with city staff and a community meeting to talk about the project. We later had dinner with local and state elected officials in downtown to continue the discussion.

Downtown Holland is just awesome. It's a relatively small city - around 33,000 in the last census. It's widely known for its rich Dutch heritage and Tulip Time Festival that occurs every spring. Despite my love of festivals and tulips (my favorite flower), I've never been to the Tulip Time Festival. I have promised the mayor that will change this year.

While I knew Holland was a great spring and summer destination, I didn't realize how vibrant downtown would be on a winter evening. We stayed at the fabulous City Flats Hotel in downtown, just one street over from the main shopping district.  The variety and amount of retail in relatively small downtown is inspiring. Whatever they've done to attract so many retailers is something other communities should look at (ahem my own city of Lansing). We discovered both having cocktails at Curragh Irish Pub and dinner at New Holland Brewing Company that downtown Holland is a happening spot on a cold winter Thursday night. One of the beacons of winter awesomeness the city's downtown snowmelt (i.e., heated streets and sidewalks). As a woman who insists on rocking heels in the worst of weather and will not go out for cocktails or dinner without them, snowmelt is genius. It's also environmentally friendly because there's no need for plowing or salting. But seriously - I could wear heels without ruining them every winter.

I've worn these shoes a lot this winter. They won't make it through another one. In Holland they would!
My visit to Holland was impossibly brief, so I'm definitely due for a follow up. I didn't make time to run in the city (which snowmelt would've given me the perfect opportunity), so I'll have to run that town later this spring when I return for Tulip Time. My winter travels this year have been varied and interesting, and each one has left me wanting more. As much as Marquette got under my skin, Holland did too in the brief time I was there. I wonder what Holland is doing later this spring...the first week in May perhaps? I think I'll be back.

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