Living in Chicago, I have easy access to a lot of the Midwest. However, despite living here for 14 years, I really haven’t taken advantage of easy train and bus connections to explore much of the surrounding states. So when the opportunity recently arose to head to Kalamazoo, Michigan to visit my friend Sally of Unbrave Girl, I jumped at it.

I left late Friday afternoon, taking the Amtrak train out of Union Station, conveniently across the street from my office in downtown Chicago. Aside from the fact that it is notoriously late due to sharing tracks with freight trains, Amtrak is a great way to travel if you are not in a hurry. With free wi-fi, spacious seats and no need to go through security before boarding, traveling by train beats flying in a lot of respects. My train departed on time (and I arrived only 15 minutes before departure!) but pulled into Kalamazoo about 20 minutes late – not too bad.

Sally met me at the station and after dropping my stuff off at her apartment, we headed to downtown Kalamazoo for dinner and to explore a bit. Being the first Friday of the month, the city’s Art Hop was going on, so shops were open late (some even serving up free wine!) and musicians were performing on the street corners. The Kalamazoo Marathon was taking place that Sunday, so more people were in town than usual – Sally kept telling me it wasn’t normally that crowded!

Within minutes of getting downtown, we spotted what apparently is legendary in Kalamazoo – the banana car.

At that point, we joked my visit was really complete and I could just head back to Chicago, but no, I decided to stay to see what else Kalamazoo had to offer!

We stopped for dinner at the Union Cabaret & Grille, where our waiter, Christopher, was charming, enthusiastic and (we think) transgender. As soon as I inquired about the menu it turned out he also has Celiac, so he was a great resource in figuring out what was safe for me to eat (I went with a combo of ribs and chicken and was not disappointed!). A band was playing throughout dinner as well, which just added to the overall atmosphere.

Saturday morning, we headed to nearby Battle Creek to see the giraffes and other animals at Binder Park Zoo (but really mostly for the giraffes!). Unfortunately, that meant we missed feeling a 4.2 earthquake while we were exploring the zoo’s Wild Africa area, but I think I’ll get over that.

At 3:00, we arrived at the historic Henderson Castle for a wine tasting and tour. The visit started with the wine tasting, during which we sampled three whites and three reds, but really didn’t learn much about any of them. Then, we embarked on a tour of the “castle” (really just a large mansion), which is allegedly haunted. While the tour guide tried to downplay the rumors of the home being haunted, later Google searches revealed that it is considered one of the top five haunted places in the state of Michigan.

Saturday wrapped up with dinner at Zooroona, a Middle Eastern restaurant in Kalamazoo. Because we had been on our feet all day and were running the Borgess 5K/10K the next morning, we decided to eat pretty much all the food. There was falafel and dolma to start, followed by a combo plate of beef shawarma, chicken kabobs and rice. Absolutely delicious. It was also prom weekend in Kalamazoo and several groups of teenagers arrived at Zooroona while we were there, making for some good people watching and a trip down memory lane as I thought back to my own not-so-great prom experience.

We were up early Sunday morning to take part in the Borgess 5K (Sally) and 10K (me). This was my first race in more than a year and while I wasn’t sure what kind of running shape I was in, I felt really good and really enjoyed the route, despite a few hills (which were nothing compared to the evil hills in Atlanta!). After finishing in a solid 1:04 (a 10:25 pace), we headed out to Theo & Stacy’s Restaurant (apparently a Kalamazoo institution) for a post-race breakfast.

Soon, it was time to head back to the train station to catch the 2:30 train back to Chicago – a two hour ride I was eagerly anticipating for the chance to sleep! Kalamazoo completely wore me out!

Have you been to Kalamazoo? Did I miss anything?

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