I can’t believe my trip to, and race in, Birmingham is over – I have been dreaming of it for over a year now!! And what a great experience it was!!
I flew (via Detroit) last Thursday to Birmingham and was able to check into my hotel, the Sheraton, at 11am! I showered (my flight out of Ottawa had me at the airport by 5:30am) and then started my touristing adventures!
I Uber’d my way over to Birmingham’s Vulcan Statue. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about the “cool factor” for this but turns out I had nothing to worry about!
I started with a self-guided tour of its museum which offered a great intro to the history of Birmingham which actually served to better inform me for all the other tourist attractions I visited. Birmingham was founded in 1871 because some very smart people recognized that it could become a major industrial city with its natural resources providing the ingredients to make iron and steel. And it did – by 1900 it was called the “Magic City” because it had grown so quickly. So, the city wanted to advertise this to the world by entering an exhibit into St. Louis’ 1904 World’s Fair and the end product was a 56 foot tall cast iron statue weighing 101,200 pounds and is the largest cast iron statue in the world. The statue represents, from Roman mythology, Vulcan – the god of fire and forge. This figure was chosen given Birmingham’s industrial forte, and others agreed on the choice as well because the statue won Grand Prize at the fair.
After going through some tough times, Vulcan was refurbished in the early 2000’s restoring it to its original condition and is now an interesting tourist attraction that includes the chance to get almost to the top (either via an elevator or climbing 160 stairs – I counted!) to the viewing deck which offers you a great view of the city!
That night I went to a pub down the street and, being the Chatty Cathy that I am, quickly made friends with people at the bar and had a great night! lol
Friday morning I headed over to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI). While reading and seeing pictures of the atrocities that have occurred in our relative recent history is extremely difficult, I feel it is my duty to learn and to pay respect to so many people who gave their lives to fighting such injustices.
But seeing these types of exhibits and knowing that they are real, that someone wore this and committed terrible acts…I just can’t wrap my head around how horrible humans can be to each other.
After I finished at the BCRI, I headed over to to the 16th Street Baptist Church for a tour that I had booked months ago. This was perhaps the thing I was most looking forward to – to be able to stand in this church where Martin Luther King Jr had spent so much time in and is also the site of the terrible 1964 bombing that took the lives of 4 young girls during morning worship.
But when I got to the church, there had been a mix-up and the tour was no longer available. I was devastated…and my face must have shown it because the man I spoke to said, “Ok…hang on…I’ll figure something out”. Five minutes later he was motioning for me to join him, an elderly man and a woman…and suddenly I found myself on a tour with them.
As we moved from one room to another, the woman took me aside and said, pointing to the elderly man, “Do you know who that is?” I shook my head, no. “It’s James Meredith. He is the first black person to enroll in the University of Mississippi…major riots ensued as a result”. Seemed impressive enough to me at the time that I asked to have my picture taken with him…
…but as I learned later, I apparently had NO IDEA. I sent this pic to my dad along with a link to James Meredith’s wikipedia page that I had googled – figuring that my dad wouldn’t know who he was. Wow. I could not have been more wrong. My dad is not dramatic, he is even keel…and this was his response to my email:
Whaaaaaaaat?? My dad sent my picture with James Meredith to friends and family members, etc. and the same reaction was had. This man is a REAL LIFE HERO…and I got to meet him and be on what turned out to be a private tour of the 16th Street Baptist Church. Wow.
After the tour ended, I got a message from my friend Luis (he is from Georgia and we ran Atlanta together this past summer and, after I told him I was doing Birmingham, he decided to come as well given that it’s not a far drive for him!) saying that he had arrived and was checked into his hotel. We met up, headed over to the expo and picked up our race kits…and something else, but I’m going to save that as a surprise – I need to get it all together and hanging on my wall before I reveal it to you…but I am SOOOO excited!!). After that, we had a drink and caught up a bit…
And then we went for dinner…meeting up, finally, with my friend Carson (and her husband, Alec). Carson and I “met” through our blogs about 1.5 years ago. We are both runners, but what probably bonded us the most was that we both own wiener dogs!!
It was so awesome to finally meet in person…and hear their awesome accents!!! We went to John’s City Diner and I (and I think everyone else) ordered the Mac & Cheese…mine was the:
On Saturday morning I had booked me and Luis in for a 10am historic walking tour of the downtown but, when 10:15 rolled around and there was no sign of a tour guide, I started to get worried…I got in touch with the woman who I had booked it with and she had mistakenly thought we had canceled it!! She felt awful and said she could meet us at 3pm that day to give the tour. We agreed and just switched our original plans around a bit.
Before we headed to our next tourist destination, we needed to get some lunch and I knew EXACTLY where we would go. Bottle & Bone. It’s a butcher and a restaurant. And why did I want to go there? Hint: they have these cards on all their tables…
OMG. Three types of bacon – their regular (which, I’m sorry, it’s not regular, it’s like crack cocaine), a honey glazed and a spicy one. At first, Luis was suggesting that we share and I was like, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? And when he didn’t order one himself I told him that he was not getting any of mine. The woman taking our order said it was 6 slices of bacon and I KNOW I can eat 6 slices in about 3.2 seconds. Buuuuuut, I ate my words. Apparently she meant 6 slices meant for a small dinosaur. I just about died when it arrived and immediately told Luis that he HAD to help me eat it!! lol And while I LOVED the bacon (it literally melted in your mouth), it’s now been 5 days since I ate it and I STILL have no desire to have bacon. Bacon overload. I didn’t think it was possible. I’m not sure when I’ll eat it again…
After lunch, Luis and I Uber’d over to Sloss Furnaces for the guided tour as advertised on their website. But when we got there, we were told that unfortunately, although their website did say they had tours on offer, they had just opened a new visitor’s centre and tours weren’t running yet. I was starting to feel as though I was bad luck for tours. But, then we were told that a professor happened to be there that day (he comes once a month) and he would give us a tour. Turned out to be the best deal ever. This man has been OBSESSED with the furnaces since he was a boy (he’s probably in his 60s now) and knows EVERYTHING about them.
Shut down years ago, these furnaces were incredible technology at the time, adding to Birmingham’s notoriety as being a major producer of iron. But lord, the lack of safety mechanisms in place back then!!
After this it was on to meet up with our tour guide for the walking tour! It’s offered by a woman named Darlene who just has a love for history – especially of Birmingham. She gave us a great tour, showing and teaching us things we would never have picked up on our own.
This intersection, in 1911, was dubbed as the Heaviest Corner on Earth because, in a very short period of time, the 4 tallest buildings in the south were erected here.
This one just hurts my heart.
Before coming to Birmingham, I had been warned, by Carson, that it was not the safest city to be walking around in. And her husband Alec, a former police officer, readily agreed. So Luis and I were selective in where we went when on our own – not wanting to naively walk into a bad part of town (which happened to us in Atlanta…). But with Darlene, we were able to confidently walk through parts of downtown that Luis and I would never have ventured into on our own, and see sites that we would have missed. She tried to not make us pay the $15 fee/pp at the end, but we insisted – she had spent 1.5 hours with us and given us great information!
I will end this post here and my next one will pick up with the race report (where I nearly died from exposure), Carson & Alec welcoming me into their home, and then my hilarious bad weather filled 36 hour trip home to Ottawa (it should take 5 hours) during which a practical stranger gave up their seat on their original flight so they could stay with me and keep me company during my 11 hours in the airport.