February 27, 2013

One-day tour of Birmingham

Last week we got to see our town through tourist lenses when our relatives came to visit. Amory and I are both from pretty big families, so having a lot of people in the house is always a welcomed distraction from our regular (i.e. crazy-house) routine. By big families, I mean that he is the ninth of ten kids, and I'm the sixth of six, or seven if you count our uncle who grew up with us. 

Amory's family about 5 years ago (parents, siblings, spouses, and kids included)

This visit was from his older sister Tassie and her family, who are taking a four-month tour of the US via friends' and families' cities. We were the third stop or so on their way down from Maine, and from here, they're headed west to Texas. With this mega road trip, their goals are to grow closer as a family, get to know (historically) the places they visit, bond with extended family (like us!), and avoid Maine's winter. There may be more goals, but this is what I gathered from talking with them about their road trip extravaganza. 

That whole avoiding Maine's winter would be pretty high on my list. If you live in a cold climate, how do you do it every year? And still run outside?! Pretty much, you're rockstars. I would have wimped out long ago.

Back to our visitors. They have three kids who are still living at home, and they coordinated with their school in Maine to finish out this year with homeschooling. Doesn't this sound really cool? They're pretty much living my dream life right now. Giant road trip with the family all over the United States. Yes, please. Some of my best (and worst) childhood memories are from road trips, so I'm always game for stuffing my kids and an extra set of clothes in the car and hitting the open road. 

If you're ever in Birmingham for a race (like Mercedes!), the following list will give you an idea of what you have time to visit in a quick weekend. All but the hike we accomplished in one day of touring. 

Tourist highlights of Birmingham, Alabama: 

1. Hikes. You can choose from some of the larger parks like Ruffner Mountain, Red Mountain, Moss Creek, or Oak Mountain, but we picked a smaller trail called Boulder Canyon Nature Trail that's located just behind Vestavia Hills Library in the Forest. It's an easy hike for adults, yet slightly challenging for short kid legs. The trails aren't terribly long, so you can cover the circle if you have an hour for slower hiking. 

There are a few obstacles to keep it interesting, like creeks to cross and fallen trees to climb over. Plus, you get to hike around some waterfalls, which are very easy to access so that you can stand relatively safely right at the top of the falls. 

Cool idea: my nieces each have a walking stick for hiking that they are decorating with medallions from the state parks and historical sites they are visiting. Very cool tradition that I want to start with my own kids.

2. The Vulcan. Go here for the history of the Vulcan. This can be a quick stop on a one-day tour of the city. Even if you don't visit the museum or top of the statue, it's fun to walk around the park and laugh about the statue not wearing underwear, at least that's what our kids love to do. Plus, there's a nice overlook of the city to enjoy if you're not too busy staring at the Vulcan's uncovered rear.

3. Kelly Ingram Park. Go here for more history of Kelly Ingram Park. The park is located right across from the Civil Rights Institute and the 16th Street Baptist Church. If you're visiting Birmingham, these are must-visit sites to learn about the history of racism in the South and the long fight against the institutionalized racism that was pervasive in Alabama and other states. 

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy." MLK, Jr. 

Martin Luther King, Jr., statue at Kelly Ingram Park

4. Birmingham Museum of Art. Go here for more information about BMoA. Admission and parking for the museum are free. The exhibits themselves are not the most young-child friendly, but they have a few nice areas for little people to hang. Like the sleeping dog couch -- sitters welcome. 

Plus two hands-on rooms for kids to experiment with their own art. 

These were my favorite paintings at the museum. I love the contrasts in the one below. 

Plus I'm always a fan of bright, poppy graffiti art. 

The BMoA also provides these chairs for you to take and place in front of paintings so you can stare at them as long as your eyeballs can handle it.

6. Birmingham Zoo. Go here for more zoo information. There is a zoo entrance fee, but our family and our visiting family both have annual zoo passes. For our family of six, it pays for itself in less than two visits.

Highlights of this visit were seeing the gorilla out and moving. He usually likes to hide in a cave.

And the orangutan mom and baby were out, and we rarely see more than a glimpse of their fur from their shadowy hiding spot. The mom and baby had a five-minute interaction between the two that was really special because of how seldom we see them. Plus the baby orangutan, who was born last year, is the cutest animal alive.

Thanks to our extended family for visiting and helping us revisit some of our favorite spots in Birmingham. And thanks for planting the seed in my brain for a summer family road trip. 

How often do you take a tour of your own hometown? Not often enough. We are fairly into our routine places, which include lots of playgrounds and libraries. 

Love or hate family road trips? Love, but I hated when my brother tried to cross the invisible line we drew to divide the backseat. 

Which are cuter: baby orangutans or baby gorillas? Too close to call.