Bye bye 'Bama...

Trip Start May 04, 2012
Trip End May 20, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Alabama
Sunday, May 13, 2012

So we're just about to leave Montgomery; we arrived two nights ago from Muscle Shoals.

We were supposed to call in on Birmingham Alabama on the way but we stopped off at an Indian Mound in Muscle Shoals before leaving so we didn’t have time but we’re glad we checked out the site. Many people in Europe assume America has new history (last 200 years or so) but what we saw was very different from that – artefacts from 500BC and a proud history of the Indian tribes that inhabited Alabama for many years and some who still do. The mound isn’t a burial mound but a ceremonial mound that saw many generations through important and difficult times. The wildlife there was beautiful; giant sapphire blue butterflies and ants that looked like they would eat us alive... oh and a bunch of Fourth graders on a field trip. To be honest it was reminiscent of UK field trips; screaming, teachers calling for calm, the ginger kid (no, not Dave) and the ear shattering sound of newly purchased Indian whistles and drums.  The old boy who ran the mount charges a measly $2 for adults and 50c for children... They can’t be making a profit. After the children had been rounded up like sheep with whistles and loaded back on the bus we had chance to talk to the old guy who ran the show; he’d worked there for 4 years but only recently gone full time after his retirement, before then he worked at the TVA for 30 years and before that he was an archaeologist in the Alabama and Tennessee areas. He had even recovered some of the artefacts on display. We didn’t get his name but he was a real old character with a passion for what he did. He had many stories and obviously loved the area he lives and works in. We shook hands, wished him well and headed out on the road to Montgomery.

The journey was entertaining (to be honest we’re actually enjoying the travelling; it’s so easy compared to travelling through England) but I’m sure you’ve all seen that from the previous blog.

We arrived in Montgomery at around 4pm which is when unfortunately most things close. Luckily the visitors centre was open so we got some pointers on where to eat and what to do the next day. We decided that sampling Alabama BBQ was the way forward.

Dreamland BBQ is pretty much an institution here in Montgomery and we happened to get a table when it was particularly busy before a local Biscuits Baseball game but we were served quickly, efficiently and our waitress was incredible. The food was to die for and I got a hi-five for telling the waitress we thought 'Bama BBQ beat Tennessee BBQ hands down.

We retired to our room with full bellies and sleepy thoughts... I was crashed by 9pm.

The next day we got up early and ate waffles (they seem to be the staple breakfast food) and headed out for a day of history and sight-seeing. We went back to the visitors centre to get on a trolley that toured the city but not before meeting a great older local lady called Sally who was ‘Bama born and raised. She loved talking to us about the area and asking us about England and told us many tales about her younger years when she travelled around as her husband was in the military. Now what you gotta realise is that in The South people get much slower as they get older in a really endearing, delightful way... I happened to mention that we have nothing like the following they have for university sports in Alabama and that we’d only just worked out the whole War Eagle/Roll Tide thing... Sally instantly came alive, raised up her arms and screamed OH MY GOSH WAR EAGLE!! With the biggest grin on her face. Turns out she was an Auburn graduate who was only too willing to explain the whole thing and recount tales of sports support in her youth. WAR EAGLE SALLY, WAR EAGLE!!

We eventually got on the trolley and were shown around the beautiful city. We had already agreed on the things we wanted to see; The State Capitol, The First White House of The Confederacy, Chris’ Hotdog diner, The Museum of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King’s church.

The first stop was the State Capitol as they had free organised tours at 9am and 11am every day but places were limited and you had to know about it. We, of course, knew about it. We had our bags searched and went through scanners like an airport as this was the State Capitol and they had to make sure were weren’t just a bunch of crazies and a danger to Governors or the political parties who work there (mine went off due to my jewellery and tongue bar so I had to be investigated further *rolleyes*)
The tour was pretty good and it was great to see where the declarations have been signed and where Jefferson Davis stood for the Confederacy in the late 19th Century.  We stood on the steps where the civil rights protests started and ended and took in all of the rich political history Alabama has including controversial Governors (such as George Wallace) and even saw a room dedicated to the fallen Alabama military from 9-11 to 2011. Harold also came on the tour with us and the State Troopers decided he counted as ‘contraband’ but let him tour the Capitol anyway... The Southern sense of humour is very similar to that of the English, maybe that’s why we’re getting on with the locals so well.

From the State Capitol we walked around to The First White House of The Confederacy – Jefferson Davis’ home when the confederacy was strong. In England we don’t know much about American history or their Civil War but this house is most definitely worth a look. The house is still original but was moved wooden board by wooden board by the Daughters of The Confederacy from Biloxi Mississippi in the late 1800’s (The organisation is still alive today and ran by the descendants of the original women). It’s amazing to see carpets from the 1850’s still in place and Jefferson Davis’ own artefacts being displayed with pride. At the White House we met a volunteer called Henry who was in a full Civil War get-up; woollen coat, hat, everything. He was such a character and so warm. He chatted to us for ages about music, his heady days in California, Mr Bean, the Civil War re-enactments he takes part in (he’s the Surgeon General you know!) and KISS. Yes, we found lots of common ground. Henry is a real asset to The White House and obviously loves what he does. He can tell you anything you want to know and does it all with his Southern charm and sense of mischief. Needless to say, details were exchanged and he’s now following this very blog. (Hi Henry!!)
In England we believe the whole Confederacy/Yankee thing is a sore subject in The South but we can assure you that in Montgomery it couldn’t be further from the truth. I think it’s great how they celebrate their rich past and display their confederate history alongside their black civil rights history... It’s where it all happened and they’re proud of every last second... Such is the Duality of The Southern Thing.

From The White House we walked to a diner called Chris’. It’s been in the same spot, cooking the same dogs and smotherin’ the same signature chilli sauce for 95 years. Yes folks, Chris’ was open way before Dr. Martin Luther King preached in Montgomery and before Rosa Parks said "No" to moving from that bus seat. Chris’ was quaint and homely; a real Southern diner. No airs and graces, just good cookin’ at a cheap price. The staff were super friendly and so grateful for the tips... Even though our waiter got the order wrong and we ended up with a double cheeseburger each as well as a Special Cheese Dog each!

We headed down to the Rosa Parks museum at Troy University via the church where Dr. Martin Luther King preached before becoming the rightly infamous Civil Rights leader. We were going to have a tour but it was 2:10pm, the next tour was at 3pm and that’s when the Rosa Parks museum closed... I guess it’s an excuse to come back ;)

The Rosa Parks museum isn’t a musty old museum full of artefacts and relics; it’s more an experience and interactive education about the Civil Rights movement and everything that happened after that famous bus ride. We watched a film about the segregation in the area in the lead up to peaceful protests and boycotts... Being white English folk completely removed from any segregation we had absolutely no idea what the black communities went through from separate water fountains to abuse and physical assault on buses. Rosa Parks took a stand that was long overdue and all she did was calmly say no to moving from a bus seat to let white folk sit down.
The experience was moving but empowering. The Civil Rights protests were peaceful and any violence that occurred was towards the black and white people supporting equality on the buses... because that’s all they wanted initially - fair treatment on buses. Neither Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King nor any of the other supporters would have any idea how big the movement would get or what they would achieve in their lifetimes. These people faced awful adversity including Ku Klux Klan members burning crosses outside black universities, people being beaten in the street and bombings... How they all stood strong should be a lesson to us all... and there are people alive today who remember it like it was yesterday; it was only 50-60 years ago.

We went from the Rosa Parks museum to a bar called the Alley Bar – $18 for 6 beers – Full of win. We discovered another Southern Brewery from Atlanta Georgia called Sweet Water who do an excellent IPA and Blueberry ale.

Food was then required before the beer did any real damage (just embarrassing videos, no vomiting this time – Sorry folks!) so we headed over the road to Wintzell’s Oyster House. I had fried shimp, oysters, okra, slaw and hush puppies; Dave had deep fried stuffed crab with slaw and cheese grits... we’re really getting into the proper Southern cookin’! Dave tried his first raw oyster and surprisingly didn’t spit it out screaming something about eating snot. I’ll give him credit, he’s being far more adventurous with his eating than I thought he would be and he’s finally learnt that Louisiana hot sauce makes everything taste better.

We headed back to the Alley Bar for another drink before bed... That descended into another evening of flowing beer with a local couple called Jonathan and April. Again, ‘Bama born and bred, April was a school teacher (4th Grade, just like we saw at the Indian Mound... Much respect to her) and Jonathan worked for a software development company... This lead to Dave and Jonathan having a riveting conversation about coding. Anyhoo, turns out we had lots in common in regards to music, attitudes towards life and many other things. They asked who we’d chosen in the whole Roll Tide War Eagle thing... I stabbed blindly in the dark and said “War Eagle?”, this was greeted with cries of “NO!! ROLL TIDE!!”... Turns out Jonathan is an Alabama University graduate... I guess whoever we chose to cheer would be wrong for some nice folks somewhere in Alabama! They toasted to our honeymoon and April gave me her beautiful necklace depicting a map of the South, she said she chose to give it to me due to my attitude, respect and love for her home (I’m wearing it right now). Facebook details were again exchanged and I hope they’re reading now... If you are, Hi April! Hi Jonathan! Great meeting you both and thanks for a good night :) ROLL TIDE Y’ALL, ROLL TIDE!!

So I guess that brings us to this morning. We're glum due to leaving but looking forward to the journey and seeing the Gulf Coast... and Dave has a hangover. We’re gonna get us some seafood... That'll sort him out ;)
Montgomery is absolutely beautiful. To be honest, on reflection, Alabama is beautiful; it really feels like home from home. So many good people with good hearts, great landscape, tasty food, love and fun times. I’m so sad to leave behind the pines but we’re both agreed we’ll definitely be back.

Oh and one final thing, we were supposed to call in Birmingham but didn’t get chance so apologies to Windy and Arwen who live there but we’ll catch up with you guys when we’re Atlanta in January :)


Sian xx
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