There are many great things about my job as a flight attendant. One of them is being able to explore new cities. October 15th was a great day. As a regional flight attendant, I don’t get to go to exotic places like San Juan or foreign destinations like Paris. We fly mostly into regional sized cities like Tulsa, Raleigh, Charlotte and Knoxville. Occasionally, we get really cool opportunities like Toronto, Canada or gulf coast cities. My airline flies into Mexico and Canada and covers regional routes from Denver to Newark to Houston. On this particular trip, I was scheduled for a 31 hour overnight in Des Moines.
I have had a few overnights in Des Moines before and we stay in a very nice hotel in the West Des Moines area. It is surrounded by a zillion stores, shops and restaurants. There is a massive mall area equipped with everything any shopper would love. The thing is, I don’t like to shop much and I really dislike corporate shopping malls and franchise restaurants. I work for a huge corporation but I prefer to walk in historic downtown America and spend my money in Mom & Pop stores. Once I saw the long overnight on my work schedule, I was excited to go a bit further than the mall. I did a quick Google search and saw that Des Moines has B Cycle bike share. I have done bike share in many cities; Austin, Nashville, Omaha, Cincinnati, Fargo, Milwaukee, Madison, Columbus OH, Chicago and Washington DC. Bike share is the best way to check out a new city. I can cover so much more ground on bike than I can on foot. I also saw in my Google search that Des Moines has a well-connected bike trail system.
My next concern was how I was going to get from West Des Moines to downtown. It’s over 12 miles and I wanted an inexpensive option. I looked up mass transit and found Des Moines has the DART system. I called a representative with DART and they were very helpful. They gave me preliminary directions and assured me there was a way to get from West Des Moines to downtown. So, that morning I stopped at the hotel front desk and inquired about the bus stop. It is actually across the highway, Mills Civic Parkway. The highway is easy to cross at the stoplight and the area is well-lit and safe. The stop number is #3292 and the #52 bus comes approximately at :25 after the hour, every hour. Do not go to the stop #3284 on the same side of Mills Civic Parkway as the hotel. You can always call 515-283-8100 for time clarification and tell them stop #3292, bus #52, to downtown. The ride takes about 35-40′ and you go around two malls. The clientele riding the bus are safe and the buses are very clean. You will be dropped off downtown at the DART center, right in the middle of downtown. There is a B cycle station right there at the bus center.
B Cycle is very easy to use. The kiosk leads you easily thru the process. If you are completely new to bike share programs, you can go to B Cycle’s website and they give a very thorough overview of how bike share works. In Des Moines B Cycle, they give you 60 minutes with the bike. Some cities, like Madison only give you 30″ at a time because they have so many stations throughout the city. I always buy a 24 hour pass and then return the bike in the 30 or 60 minute time limit to avoid fee overages. It is a good idea to have the B Cycle app downloaded on your smart phone, so you can easily find other bike stations. The app has all the B Cycle cities listed, you just pick the city you are in and then all information given will be particular to that city. That day, I also stopped in the DART station and got a paper map of the B Cycle stations. The lady was very helpful setting me in the right direction.
When I start riding bike in a new city, I am cautious at first and try to find a side street and ride around a few streets to get a feel for the city. Some cities are more “bike friendly” than others. The motorists of Des Moines were fairly bike friendly. Most of the time, the motorists will see that you are on a bike share bike and give you wide berth. Des Moines does have some bike lanes but I did find the one way streets a bit confusing at first. And their stop lights are ridiculously long. It’s always a good idea to look at the map before riding. I rode the bike to the state capital first.
I have been taking pictures of all the state capitals that I have overnighted in. I have photos from quite a few of the states. It is always nice to check another capital off my list! Des Moines’ capital is quite beautiful and has the perfect location, overlooking the whole downtown area. There was definitely some forethought thought in the placement because you can view the capital from certain streets, the full length of the street. I then rode all the way down to 14th street, crossing the river to where Meredith Publishing is. They publish Better Homes & Gardens. I wandered from street to street for a while and found a sculpture garden full of interesting sculptures. There is a lot of construction going on in Des Moines. The bars along Court street look fun and had a fair amount of outdoor seating. There were many insurance companies and banks, of course. There is very few vacant buildings. The economy of Des Moines appears to be really thriving. Many old buildings were under remodeling/construction as well. There was pockets of new mixed-use condos popping up everywhere. I then rode back towards the East Village area, crossing the river again.
I went to a delightful bike shop, called Ichi Bikes, on Walnut street and bought my husband a new bike bell and the guy in the back fixing bikes gave me directions to get to Gray’s Lake. I then wandered around the East Village area on foot. My kind of area. Lot’s of kitschy shops; clothing, art, hair salons, gift stores and I found a new yarn store. I am obsessed with knitting and yarn and I can never pass up a skein of yarn found in a new shop. The girl running the store (Hill Vintage & Knits) was so nice and lovely to talk to. I stopped next door and had a salad at a little bar/café. There is so much more to see and do in that area. I will have to come here again! I decided I wanted to ride the bike out by Gray’s Lake yet, so I headed in the direction the guy at the bike shop said to go.
It was easy getting into the bike trail system of Des Moines. Like any other city in America; just follow the river front. Every city is trying to get their share of the tourism dollar and riverfront’s are big business. Des Moines has a very nice shared use path along the Des Moines river. The signage was very easy to follow. I rode around the back side of the AAA Iowa Cubs baseball stadium and followed the signs to Gray Lake. The lake is beautiful and did not disappoint. Many people were out walking today as the weather was absolutely beautiful, sunny and high 60’s/70 today. The lake has a very cool bridge over the water. There were plaques to commemorate the lives of loved ones, posted along the railing. The sun was starting to go down and everyone was out walking their dogs, riding bikes or jogging. Absolutely lovely. Little girls learning to ride bike, dogs sniffing the path, geese flying over the lake. Idyllic. I love the energy you feel when everyone is sharing in nature like that. And it was good to see many overweight people walking diligently, taking action to improve their health. People of all ages and abilities. I actually rode around the lake twice. Then I headed back to the DART station to return my bike. I put on 8 miles from downtown to Gray Lake and my circuit around the lake. A nice little workout to add to my activity of the day.
It was quite easy to get back to the hotel. I went to the “E” platform (as instructed) and waited for the Westbound #52 bus. It leaves every 30″ on the :15 and :45. It was a 35-40″ ride again, around two malls and then once you get on Mills Civic Parkway, watch for the hotel, it is about 2-4 stops. You might want to mention to the bus driver which hotel you are staying at on Mills, so they know to stop. You will need to request the stop. The bus to downtown costs $1.75 one way. I spent about 6 hours in downtown and really enjoyed myself. I love being adventurous in a new city and Des Moines is a safe city to explore. I loved being able to get out of the corporate jungle and see history, architecture, art and nature. It truly makes this job a pleasure and creates many great memories.