Hello Fellow world travelers,
The Traveling Eye is in Montgomery, Alabama. I must say I didn’t really know what to expect, but as our trip has unfolded I am pleasantly surprised and intrigued by what Montgomery has to offer. I guess their new slogan sums it up the best. Courageous, Visionary, Rebellious. The latter is not a word usually used to describe a destination. However, as I tour the city’ landmarks, museums and memorials and dine around each word rings true. The courageous people from the civil war and the civil rights movement, the cities vision for a better tomorrow and revitalization, and the rebellious people who left their mark on history and sacrificed for a future that the city, state and our nation could be proud of.
Upon arriving we were immediately greeted with that southern hospitality. At least a dozen people said hello, how y’all doing? Our friendly driver from Touch of Class eagerly introduced himself and welcomed us to Montgomery. We then arrived at our hotel and another pleasant surprise awaited us. The Renaissance Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center, is a lovely hotel with a resort feel and while it has every amenity a business/convention hotel would have anyone would get the feeling of being on vacation. To use a phrase from a real estate agent, location, location, location. The location of the Renaissance Hotel & Spa is perfect and within walking distance to many significant Montgomery attractions. The Spa is said to be one of the best in the city. The Spa is located on the second floor, near the pool and fitness center and in addition to a full menu of services, they have two signature treatments, a signature facial and massage.
Our day started early on an 8am American Airlines flight so the first thing we wanted to do was to get something to eat. We went to The Montgomery Brew Pub, which also has a micro-brewery. The Montgomery Brew Pub is very casual and has affordable fare. Between us we had the black and blue burger, the Gouda burger and the Shrimp Po’boy. We enjoyed them all. Now, you all know that I am a foodie and I am a a self proclaimed french fry aficionado and their thick cut fries are crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and passed the test. With our tummies full we headed to the Civil Rights Memorial Center. The memorial itself was undergoing re-lettering but that did not take away from the mournful yet prideful feeling you get as you walk past it and read a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King ” Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream” The memorial itself is a table like slab with water flowing over it that bares the names of those who died in the civil rights movement. Inside the memorial center are four rooms, a theatre, the memorial exhibit (a timeline of the civil rights movement), the march continues (an area dedicated to contemporary social issues) and the wall of tolerance (those who pledge to be a part of practicing and encouraging tolerance). We all took the pledge and posted our names, which immediately cascaded down the wall. What shocked me the most was the story of Michael Donald, who was abducted and lynched in 1981. The Civil Rights Memorial Center is a must see and it’s only $2 for adults and free for children 17 and under.
This evening we went to the Riverfront Pub Crawl, a bar hopping event including eleven participating bars in the riverfront area. We went to Dreamland first for dinner. Dreamland is a lively place with a live band, a singing employee, good BBQ and a good time. You must look at the walls for hilarious sayings and a display of wonderful photos and stories. We then headed to the Alley Bar for a visit to their cold room, a room that serves cocktail shots in a shot glass made of ice. Faux snow leopard fur jackets are provided and you get to break the ice glass when you’re finished. On the night we went the special was $2 Alleycat shots. Each bar offers a special and a list of participating bars is available. Out of the eleven participating bars we went to two only because we were tired from our long day so we called it a night.
Friday proved to be just as busy and exciting. We started our morning at Cool Beans, a local cafe, for breakfast. The owner Shari Rossman is a transplant from New York which she pays homage to with New York bagels on the menu. Also on the menu is the best apple walnut muffin with chunks of apple, whole walnuts and made with whole wheat and flaxseed and a sweet potato waffle (on Fridays only) also made with whole wheat. I have to add that you can get a great cappuccino or latte in a single, double, triple or quad shot. On our way out two gentleman were also enjoying the sweet potato waffle. One had it for the first time and like I did, truly enjoyed it and the other said “I come every Friday for a sweet potato waffle” After breakfast we headed to the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, another must see in Montgomery.
The Rosa Parks Museum is interactive and affords you the opportunity to learn about the events of one of the most successful and well known boycotts of the Civil Rights Movement as if you were there. I thought I knew about the events but I learned so much more and I realized that I had some of the facts mixed up. The Rosa Parks Library and Museum is well thought out and one of the best museums of its kind. After our visit to the museum we headed back to the hotel for our live broadcast.
After our successful broadcast we were eager to see more of Montgomery. We first headed to lunch at the Farmers Market Cafe, a cafe that gets it food fresh from the farmers market. Bonnie swears by the fried green tomato’s. The cafe serves down home southern cooking like, collard greens, jalapeno and crackling cornbread biscuits, fried catfish, fried chicken, etc, cafeteria style. After tearing ourselves away from The Farmers Market Cafe we headed to the Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and Parsonage. The church is a museum during the week and holds service on the weekends. The unique location is a stones throw from the Alabama State Capitol. Dr. King pastored at the Dexter Baptist church from 1954 – 1960 and resided at the parsonage during his time as the pastor. You walk away feeling as though you knew Dr. King and his family and you take a grand piece of history with you. At the Parsonage they are asking for donations of books to add to the library for the room that was Dr. King home office. To give you an idea of the history that abounds in Montgomery, just a few doors down from the Parsonage is a hotel that was part of the chitlin circuit. Because Dr. King is one of the most talked about and noted black Americans you think you already know all there is to know about him. I thought I would hear the same old stories but being there and visiting actual sites is more powerful than you can imagine and at each museum, memorial and location I learned something new.
Later that evening we finished our day with a riverboat cruise aboard the Harriott II Dinner Cruise, a relaxing cruise down the river with good entertainment.
Saturday, our final day of touring Montgomery promised to be eclectic and just as exciting as the other days. We started our day at the Hank Williams Museum. The museum houses a grand collection of memorabilia and personal items of Hank Williams, his family and the Drifting Cowboys. Even if you are not a fan of country museum you’d enjoy the museum. It’s fun and informative and Hank Williams story is a fascinating one. It just so happened that the museum was celebrating Hank Williams 86th birthday while we were there. They had a concert and tribute and fans came from miles around to honor and celebrate Hank Williams.
Bonnie always asks about the best kept secret of a destination and when asked this of Montgomery we were taken to Mulberry Street. On Mulberry Street there is a collection of homes that have all been transformed into boutiques offering antiques, clothing, children’s clothing, flowers, nick knacks, monogrammed items, etc. We visited Unicorn, an antique shop with a collection of items from France, England and Germany; Painted Pink, a wonderful clothing boutique with unique and fresh finds that would rival any boutique in any major city and Sac’s Gallery, a nonprofit gallery that exhibits a wide variety of works by members of The Society of Arts and Crafts.
After our stroll down Mulberry Street we headed to The Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts located at the Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park. The MMFA is the oldest fine arts museum in Alabama and is known for its collection of American paintings, sculpture and works on paper. We didn’t have time to see the entire museum and collections but what we saw was fantastic. The Contemporary African American Quilts of Alabama, featured artists include nationally renowned Mozell Benson, Nora Ezell and Yvonne Wells. A very poignant exhibit from Beverly Erdreich, a Birmingham artist whose items beg you to consider the broad picture of social issues. The Porcelain and Glass Collection and our favorite, the Family Learning area, a great interactive area that promotes introducing fine art to children and the entire family. Also at the Cultural Park is the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Yes, little ole Montgomery has the sixth largest Shakespeare festival in the world! ASF was originally located in Anniston, AL in a high school auditorium as a summer theatre festival. In the early 80’s the ASF faced bankruptcy and member Carolyn Blount approached her husband Wynton Blount about saving it. Wynton Blount using his own land (250 acres) moved the ASF to Montgomery. The ASF is now a year round festival and draws people from all around the US and world. We were given a unique backstage tour. In between our visits to the MMFA and ASF we stopped for a bite at the MMFA’s Cafe M. That days special was savory and sweet crepes. Cafe M is a great place to rest and grab a bite or just have coffee or a glass of wine while visiting the museum. The view is excellent, looking out over the pond and the food was fabulous! All of the options looked tempting so we decided to share. We had the Smoked Salmon and Vegetarian crepes for the savory and the Strawberry and Chocolate crepes for the sweet. Delicious!
Sadly, our day is about to end. We have one final stop and you’ve probably guessed it’s dinner. Right in the middle of all the historical sites we’ve visited is the Olive Room. The Olive Room is a quaint restaurant with olive green painted walls. It’s long and narrow with a relaxed lounge feel. On Fridays there is Live Jazz by Sam Williams and Company. The menu is a mix of southern and continental cuisine. The Rosemary Shrimp appetizer, the Shrimp and Gouda Grits and the Mussels appetizer are wonderful. However, our favorite were the desserts. The Olive Rooms gem is Chef Jerry Irwin, he creates wonderful cheesecakes from a variety of common yet unsuspecting ingredients. For example, the Margarita Cheesecake. He makes a margarita, reduces the beverage down and then infuses it with the cheesecake and puts a little extra sauce on the plate that is mouthwatering. Overall his cheesecakes are light, fluffy and melt in your mouth.
We’ve seen so much in such a short time and yet there is so much more Montgomery has to offer. Just as I started with saying, Montgomery is a pleasant surprise. It’s a small city that is packed with history that has shaped our nation. The people are warm and greet you with true Southern Hospitality, like the couple we met at the Olive Room who were celebrating their anniversary. We talked for quite a while about the food, a little politics and Montgomery. Everyone makes you feel like you’re an old friend. The culture is southern, homegrown and sophisticated from local treasures like Hank Williams, the fine arts and theatre to the best kept secret, Mulberry Street. We’d definitely visit Montgomery again!
A special thanks to The Montgomery Chamber of Commerce/Convention and Visitors Bureau for organizing our local arrangements. American Airlines and American Eagle for providing our air from Chicago to Montgomery.