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Birmingham, the Magic City
A Walking Tour of Birmingham, Alabama

You fly into the Birmingham International Airport from Atlanta (because you can't get to hell from Birmingham without going through Atlanta.) Don't ask why it's called the "international" airport. The rumor is that a plane from Canada made an emergency landing here one-day; we're not sure. But after the Atlanta airport, you'll be agreeably surprised at how uncrowded the restrooms are.
You won't have any trouble finding us. I'm Patricia Anne Hollowell and my sister is Mary Alice Crane. She's the six foot tall, two hundred-fifty pound woman who currently has red hair and who'll be shouting, "Yoo, hoo." I'm the little dignified one.
She and I have talked this over. What if we had only one day to show someone Birmingham? It couldn't be done, of course. But this is the itinerary we decided on.

Vulcan Park
First, Vulcan Park. We'll leave the airport, go the old route downtown, under the sign that says, "Birmingham, the Magic City," up Twentieth Street past all of the hospitals that make up the University of Alabama medical complex, through Five Points South (we'll come back here for dinner tonight), and up Red Mountain.
And there he'll be. The great iron statue of Vulcan, the god of the forge, bare-butted, rising 180 feet into the air. From the observation tower, you should be able to see all of the city, all of the surrounding mountains. Vulcan is nothing less than Birmingham's Eiffel Tower. You should be able to see from the tower, but you can't. Unfortunately, the park is closed. Vulcan is having problems with cracking because of the hole in his head (don't ask) and the fact that at some point in time his bottom half was filled with concrete. Talk about pumping iron! But at least we can look up at him, admire his prodigious mooning of Shades Valley, and then head on to the botanical gardens.
Botanic Gardens
These are lovely. Rose gardens, fern glades, exotic shrubs, green houses, cool walkways with benches and wooden swings so you can rest. Most people prefer the Japanese gardens, but my favorite part is the old woods, a virgin Alabama forest, dark and dense with a narrow path leading through it. In here, it's hard to believe you're in the middle of a metropolitan area populated by almost a million people. Squirrels are racing around; birds are singing. Mary Alice's favorite part of the gardens, of course, is the fancy French restaurant located in the main building. If she's buying, it'll be Gus's hot dogs, Milo's hamburgers, or Dreamland barbecue. Good eating.
The zoo is across from the botanical gardens, but we voted against that on our tour. It's a nice zoo, but a zoo is a zoo. Instead, we're going back downtown to the Museum of Art. We want to impress you with our culture. And Mary Alice is on the Board of Directors, so this is a must. She'll take you to see the Kress collection of paintings. She claims she knows all about them. I'll head for the Wedgewood room, though. This is supposed to be the greatest collection of Wedgewood china in the United States. Don't hold me to that, but it is impressive. Then we can rest for a while in the sculpture garden. There's a Coke machine in the basement.
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
A few blocks away is the Civil Rights Institute and the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The role Birmingham played in the civil rights' movement can never be erased from our history. Nor should it be. So this is a must stop. Like all of the other visitors in these two buildings, we speak in whispers. What we see there speaks loudly, though.
But Martin Luther King's prediction has come true. Often, as we leave the church, a school but has pulled up, and little white children and little black children are getting off and going into the Institute, laughing, holding hands.
This is a good place to live. This is a beautiful place, this Southern city, a wickedly funny, cock-eyed mixture of the new and the old. It's home, family, and more than a little schizophrenic. And we love it just like it is.
Tonight we'll eat at one of the fancy "American" restaurants on Southside, share an incredibly expensive bottle of wine (If Mary Alice is paying). Then, who knows.
Piggly Wiggly
Maybe we'll take in the big-truck-tractor pull at the Civic Center of the symphony concert at the Alys Stephens Center. Stay another day and you can see the Sports Hall of Fame. And Legion Field, and Arlington antebellum home, and Meyer Planetarium, and Sloss Furnace Museum, and Visionland Amusement Park, and...
Great. I'll just need to stop by the Piggly Wiggly and pick up some sweet rolls for breakfast.


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