When I decided that I would like to become a travel writer, I asked the advise of friend, Nanci Hellmich, a retired writer for USA Today. As I expected she warned me that free-lance work was a tough business and getting in was not easy. No surprise there. She advised me to find a travel writers conference and attend.
As most of us do when we have a question – I googled and the TBEX North American Conference in Huntsville popped up. I cocked my head and thought Huntsville? Ok it’s close only 2 and a half hours.
But after attending, it’s now HUNTSVILLE! I’ll be honest I had no idea Huntsville and the surrounding area had so much to offer.
This city, with a population of slightly under 200,000, is an hour and a half due south of Nashville Tennessee was welcoming, charming, artsy, historic, and full of fun.
“Of course it was”, you say, “you were at travel writers conference.”
But the hospitality, the depth of feeling and the sincerity that I experienced was pure and couldn’t be turned on and off at will. From the owner of a pizzeria, to the docent at the Constitution Village to the parking garage attendant, everyone was available to make my stay pleasant, answer my questions and make me want to come back. Most Southerners would say it was just “good ole Southern hospitality”, but what I experienced was Southern hospitality on steroids.
My first day was consumed with a writer’s class taught by internationally recognized travel writer and editor Don George. What a treat! As part of our class we “got to know” Huntsville.
We walked the Constitutional Village and Early Works Museum, which is a recreation of early 18th century buildings that were significance in Alabama’s constitution and eventual statehood. http://www.earlyworks.com/alabama-constitution-village
In downtown Huntsville, as church bells rang out the noon hour, Mr. George told us the best way to learn about any locale, is “to talk to the locals”, a philosophy that I have long held.
We stepped into an artist shop and learned that the store actually held two businesses, the artist as well as her husband an architect that kept her shop open for customers. The walls of the shop were covered with scenes of the Huntsville area and helped us learn about the landscape of Northern Alabama.
But conversation with the husband/architect proved the most insightful as he told us how much he enjoyed living in Huntsville and how “Huntsville was big enough to be little but little enough to be big.”
We saw that axiom play out as we turned the corner of the courthouse, which anchors downtown. On one corner a person was crossing the street and a car stopped. The driver rolled down their window and had a conversation with the pedistrain. On the other corner was a very upscale cosmopolitan restaurant, Cotton Row, specializing in surf and turf.
When one thinks of Huntsville the U. S. Space and Rocket Center is the most name cognizable attraction and a must see. We spent an evening at the Space Center – “It is Rocket Science”, and enjoyed a traditional German meal and were seated under the Saturn 5 rocket that took man to the moon.
Our conference was held at the Von Braun Center (VBC), a large very comfortable center that could accommodate large conventions with a north and south wing. Each day we were treated to local delicacies such as Red Diamond Coffee and Mrs. Wikles Pickles, which are amazing when fried.
Getting to know Huntsville must include nighttime activities. The A, M. Booth Lumberyard is venure located at 108 Cleveland St, right beside the railroad track. With the Kiln, Taproom, Veranda and Patio the repurposed lumberyard offers a spot for a bar or quiet drink, snacks a bistro meal or foot stompin’ music. http://www.amboothslumberyard.co
Campus 805 on Clinton Avenue, began its life in 1951 as Butler High School, and closed in 2009 as Stone Middle School. A repurposing project begun in 2014 brought together craft breweries, historic preservation, city parks, restaurants and other business to provide a one of a kind spot for dining, entertainment and recreation.
The campus has an old and new side, with the craft brewery set up in the gym. The old side looks just like a middle school complete with lockers and even the assistant principal’s office but also now has a speak-easy. http://campus805.com
While I didn’t get to sample everything Huntsville, had to offer, especially the BBQ festival that was being held, I did learn enough to know that there is a variety of activities that would make Huntsville and Northern Alabama a destination for a day trip (which really won’t be long enough), a weekend or a week.
The areas of interest in and around Huntsville seemed endless.
Twickenham, an area adjacent to the Constitutional Village, with homes which reflect the culture and class of the early citizens of Huntsville and named by those early settlers to mirror the culture of the English countryside.
Lowe Mill, another repurposed building once a cotton mill and now the home to over 125 artisans and known for it’s concerts especially the Cigar Box Guitar Festival June 2 and 3. http://www.lowemill.net
Benton H. Wilcoon Municipal Ice Complex – Ice skating www.hsviceplex.org
Huntsville Museum of Arts http://hsvmuseum.org
The Huntsville Vistors Bureau http://www.huntsville.org/events/tours/
Huntsville Ghost Walk, Hops, Helix and Huntsville, Bikes and Brew Tour and other tours.
Ever wonder where the unclaimed airport luggage goes – Scottsboro Alabama that’s where and that unclaimed baggage is for sale. Recognized as the top retailer in Alabama, Unclaimed baggage is a top shopping and tourist stop and the only such store in the US. Thousands of items arrive each day and “you never know what you will find”. https://www.unclaimedbaggage.com
Etowah County (Gadsden), Indian Legends, Azaleas, History http://www.cityofgadsden
Lawrence County has no incorporated town but plenty of legends and history, http://cityofmoultonal.com
Land Trust of Northern Alabama, http://www.landtrustnal.org
Cullman County – History and Halos, http://visitcullman.org
Still looking – check out North Alabama Tourism http://www.northalabama.org
Even though this post is a bit long there is still one more story that probably sums up the hospitality and atmosphere of Huntsville. For our Saturday night event we were taken to the Campus 805 and told “have fun the bus will be here when you are ready to go back”.
My friends and I chose the Earth and Stone Wood Fired Pizza on the “new” campus side for dinner. When I received my pizza it was pretty brown to the point of burnt. After a couple of bites I decided it was burnt and returned it to the counter. “No problem” said the courteous waiter. But then the owner came out apologized repeatedly and personally made
my next pizza. She even gave our
table a complementary scoop of their
alcohol-laced ice cream. My rye–honey was probably the best ice cream I have ever eaten. But a taste of the bourbon butter pecan and chocolate bourbon was amazing as well.
Did owner do this because I was wearing a TBEX name-tag. No way. This woman wanted her customers to be happy and provide a product she was happy with and proud to serve.
And always remember there’s “No end to the Adventure.”
included several night time activities. Our opening event was located at the A. M. Booth Lumberyard. 108 Cleveland St and naturally right by the railroad. At first I was pretty much overwhelmed by this 2.5 acre venue which was at one time a working lumberyard. I was given a brochure and shown a blackboard describing what southern foods were in which areas of the lumberyard rooms – The Kiln, the Taproom, the Patio and the Veranda.
The trifold brochure was a long list of local and regional beers that were available in each area. It only took a few seconds to realize I needed to call in reinforcements on the beer selections. I sent a photo of the list to youngest daughter, Catherine. She quickly replied with suggestions and I will say she advised me well.
The theme of the night was to introduce the attendees to Southern foods. Each of the rooms served a different southern dish. There was shrimp and grits, jambolaya, some kind of really spicy shrimp skewer that came right off a grill, pork BBQ sliders, chicken and waffles and hamburgers and hot dogs for those unadventorus enough to try the southern delights. Of course there was dessert- banna pudding and peach cobbler. I’m not sure that folks outside the southern reagion knew aht to do with chicken and waffles – but
Depth of feeling and sincerity that is pure, and can’t be turned on and off with each