Thursday, September 29, 2016

A Weekend in Birmingham, Alabama

Every year my mom, sister and I try to go on a girls weekend. Sometimes we make it happen - and sometimes we don't. And it has centered around the Southern Living Idea House over the last few years (Southern Living is a magazine that includes travel, decorating and food) This year the Southern Living Idea House is in Birmingham, Alabama - and we headed there a few weekends ago to see what The Magic City is like. Here are a few things we did:

Alabama White Barbecue
Northern Alabama is known for barbecue -specifically white barbecue,  a sauce made with mayonnaise and vinegar. There are several famous barbecue institutions here, including Dreamland which is probably the mother of them all. We chose to eat at Saw's (there are 3 locations and we ate at the one in Homewood) Delicious, delicious, delicious! I tried the white sauce and deemed it a bit too rich for an entire sandwich so I went with the regular red sauce. It's just a hole-in-the-wall but man, is it good! I highly recommend Saw's - just as it was highly recommended to us.

Sloss Furnace
One of Birmingham's nicknames is The Steel City. All the natural resources were in place in Birmingham to make iron.Starting in 1882, Sloss Furnace produced pig iron-ore and it was the mainstay of the city. But  in the 1950's, there was new technology which was making pig iron-ore production obsolete. By the early 1970's Sloss Furnace - one of the largest pig iron-ore producers in the country - had shut it's doors. In 1971, Birmingham voters agreed upon bond funds which would make Sloss Furnace into a National Historic Landmark. Currently it is the only blast furnace in the US that is preserved as an historic site. You can take a guided or self-guided tour of Sloss, there is a visitor center with a movie and as long as they are not to be sold, you can take photos of this unique piece of the past. 

The Irondale Cafe
Fannie Flagg wrote a book that was made into a motion picture in 1991 called Fried Green Tomatoes (the book is Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe) Irondale Cafe is the cafe that the book was based on (Flagg was born and raised in Birmingham) Today the cafe - now called the Irondale Cafe - is still operating and dishing out delicious, southern style, homemade food. We ate lunch here - it's located about 15 minutes east of Birmingham - and had fried chicken, green beans, mac n cheese and fresh peach cobbler. 

The Civil Rights Institute and District
A six block area of downtown Birmingham is designated as the Civil Rights District. A very important part of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's, Birmingham saw many struggles including the deaths of four young African American girls and the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Included in the district are the church, Kelly Ingram Park where many of the protests occurred, the Fourth Avenue Business District, Carver Theatre (now the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame) and The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. You can take a walking tour of the area and visit the Institute. Considered hallowed ground by those in the Civil Rights struggle, the district is one of the most important places you can visit in the city.

Mountain Brook

Mountain Brook is the wealthiest zip code in Alabama. It's a residential area with incredibly large homes and a couple little areas such as English Village with upscale shops and eateries. We took a recommendation for lunch to eat at Olexa's - a small little cafe and bakery in Mountain Brook. The reason: dessert is cake served warm!

The Vulcan
The Vulcan is the largest cast iron statue in the world. It's the symbol of the city and for $6 you can go up in a glass elevator and walk out on the balcony of the statue for views of the city. Fifty-six feet tall, the Vulcan represents the god of fire. We saw a wedding party taking pictures - we just missed the ceremony - and people walking in the park. We also just missed a music festival held there - it was the weekend after we were there!

Steel City Pops
Steel City Pops are gourmet popsicles made from all-natural and local ingredients. There are six Alabama locations and the pops are split into two lists - fruity and creamy. I went to the Summit location on a Saturday afternoon - it was very crowded - and tried the strawberry basil lemonade. Super refreshing and light!

The Southern Living Idea House at Mt. Laurel
This years Southern Living Idea House was built and decorated in the planned community of Mt. Laurel. Just outside of Birmingham, Mt. Laurel is a small community with a few businesses - a few restaurants, a dentist, small corner grocer and fire station - with a walkable and small hometown vibe. The idea house costs $15 to walk through (partial proceeds go to charity) and you can take all the time you want. Six different designers decorated the house and the "idea" is to get different ideas for your own house. It will only be available to tour until December so if this is something you're interested in, get there before then.

There's more! We just didn't get to it all. There's the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum, which I heard is awesome cool; the Birmingham Museum of Art and the Botanical Garden, which are both Free; Railroad Park, a green space downtown; and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

One just can't do it all, can they? 

How about you? Have you ever been to Birmingham? Or done a weekend in a city you've not been to?

This post is part of a linkup with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, The Weekend Wanderlust Travel Blog PartyThe Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sailing Florida's Boca Ciega Bay

Boca Ciega Bay is ginormous. From it's northern border at Madeira Beach all the way to the tip of Pass-A-Grille and until it empties into the Gulf of Mexico, it's one big body of water. And it's a boater's paradise. We stayed on Boca Ciega on vacation this past summer, and I loved watching all the boats. We saw every kind of boat - from a dinner yacht to an old houseboat and everything in between. But what was really fun was sailing on the bay ourselves.

We sailed on the Dolphin, one of Dolphin Bay Charter Rentals, sailing yachts. We left from their port an hour before sunset on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. It was hot - but still a nice day for a sail. Dolphin Bay Charters allows you to bring your own food and drink on board so we brought a cooler with salami, cheese, crackers and homemade bruschetta. With wine, of course. You can't do a sunset sail without something to toast the sunset with!

Our captain headed out onto the bay and we saw lots of palm trees, waterfront homes and the famous pink hotel, The Don Cesar. 

We passed under the Pinellas Parkway bridge - just barely with only inches to spare - and headed down to Pass-A-Grill to see the sunset. On our way, the weather started to turn. The wind started kicking up and thunder started rolling in. But our captain promised us a sunset and he delivered. We caught a glimpse of it just as the rain started coming down.

He requested everyone come in from the bow to be safe. It was quite a different ride back to port than the ride out. Some of us went down below into the hull - and some rode under cover watching the lightening show. 

We arrived back at the dock safely - if not a little damp. A fun adventure - a sunset and a storm.

This post is part of a link-up with: Travel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox, Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute and The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond!

Friday, September 16, 2016

An Autumn Visit to Vail

During World War II, the US Army established a training camp near Vail, Colorado where the 10th Mountain division trained for alpine combat. That division fought in the mountains of northern Italy. One of those soldiers, Pete Siebert, returned to Colorado and worked at several ski resorts. He came up with the idea to create a new ski resort at the base of Vail Mountain with his buddy, Earl Eaton.  Construction began in 1962 and the town of Vail was incorporated in 1966. Built as a European resort village, Vail is now world famous for it's huge ski resort and it's celebrity filled apres ski. The name Vail has always conjured up some magical place to me - mountains, European looks and growing up in the midwest, it seemed like a place I would never get to. So when we were headed to Breckenridge's Oktoberfest, I thought what's another hour and a half to Vail?
Turns out that Vail was having an Oktoberfest that weekend also! So to Vail it was!

We arrived in Vail on a beautiful fall morning where the end of the Colorado Grand was happening and an afternoon Oktoberfest celebration. After inquiring at the visitor center, we found that buying a lift ticket on both the Lionshead Village lift and Vail lift combined, we would have our lunch included. So we headed up in the gondola to eat some lunch and take in the far reaching views, after taking in the charming alpine style village with it's Swiss style chalets and gabled roofs.

After enjoying the views and our barbeque lunch, we went back down the mountain and took the free bus into Vail proper.(The town runs a shuttle bus between Vail village and Lionshead ) We walked across the small bridge with it's famous view, and enjoyed a bit of the Oktoberfest celebration. There were yodelers and tables in the street for people to sit at and enjoy their food and drink.

Part of our lift ticket included the lift from Vail village. So we went back up the other side of the mountain and enjoyed sitting in some adirondack chairs watching the mountain bikers fly down the mountain. 

It was my first visit to Vail and I couldn't have asked for a better day. Sunshine, views as far as you could see and only a small crowd.It definitely exceeded my expectations! If you visit Colorado in the fall, I suggest a visit to Vail! 

Lucky me,  I visited again at Christmas - and I liked it just as much - but that's a story for another day!

How about you? Have you been to Vail? What did you think?

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This post is part of a link-up with: The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond and Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute!