Roads Less Traveled...

Yet another year has gone by, and it was once again time to mull over the question of where our crazy family of five was heading to for this Thanksgiving break. We live dangerously close to Orlando – just an easy-breezy three-and-a-half-hour ride that makes it very tempting to decide to pay a visit to one of the parks on the spur of the moment. However, I have recently been having trouble shaking off the thought that every time we go to Disney or Universal, it is as if we just take the money and flush it down the toilet. Don’t get me wrong! Orlando and its theme parks will always have a special place in my heart for many reasons that are too intricate to discuss in this blog post, but it seems that the time has come to explore some roads that are less traveled. Something with less planning and more magic involved… If you know what I mean 😊.

That being said, after a few weeks of back-and-forth, I gave in and let my husband Chris put together a little itinerary for our upcoming Thanksgiving road trip. After all, I always argue with him regarding where we should go and how we should go about it, and it always turns out that he had been right. Yes, I said it, Chris – all these times you have been right.

So if you would like to explore the South that is a bit off the beaten track, follow us on our spontaneous family adventure that will hopefully inspire you to pack your bags and hit the road!

Day 1. Arriving in Birmingham, Alabama

Since we decided to take a scenic route instead of the Interstate, it took us close to eight hours to drive from Brunswick, Georgia, to Birmingham, Alabama. We enjoyed every minute of our journey through the idyllic countryside of west Georgia with its silver-white cotton fields and picture-perfect farms that spoke louder than any words of how much love and care the owners felt for their land.

Even though we gained one hour because of the time zone change, we were absolutely exhausted by the time we made it to the hotel – so we decided to say ‘yes’ to the comforts of room service and call it a night.

We stayed at Hilton Garden Inn at Liberty Park, and we loved it. The hotel is nestled just around the corner from Lady Liberty – a 36-foot-tall replica of the Statue of Liberty in New York – with real gas-fired flames and all! We were lucky enough to get a room with a view of the statue, and I have got to say, it is rather impressive, especially at night.

Day 2. Exploring Birmingham

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up full of energy and ready to explore the new city we had never visited before. I will be honest with you, when my husband suggested stopping in Birmingham, my first reaction was, “What’s there in Birmingham?”. My second reaction was, “Is it worth an eight-hour drive??” And I admit – Birmingham surprised me beyond my expectations. But I am getting ahead of myself 😊.

After having breakfast at the hotel, we drove to the Boy Scouts of America building across the street to take a closer look at Lady Liberty. It was totally worth it, since we were able to check out the statue from all possible angles and take a lot of pictures.

Our next stop was the Botanical Gardens, which, in my opinion, was Birmingham’s most pleasant surprise. The only reason we ended up there was because our main destination – Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum (more on that later) - was not opening until noon. We searched the expanses of the all-mighty Internet, as well as the map of Birmingham we had found in our hotel room, and figured we’d give Botanical Gardens a shot. And what a shot it was! It was as if we were magically transported to an enchanted garden with sparkling ponds, intricately laid-out path walks and exquisite architectural samples that, in my opinion, could even rival the gardens of the Peterhof Summer Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Transfixed, my husband Chris and I were walking around happily, pushing the stroller with our baby Chloe and taking in the atmosphere of omnipresent calm and inspiring tranquility. Our boys were particularly excited to find the hills covered in plush auburn and bright-yellow leaves that they used to roll down on to utter astonishment of passers-by.

Little did we know that the real surprise was awaiting us ahead. We turned the corner and were absolutely amazed at what we saw in front of us – a scarlet-red gate to the Japanese garden was looking back at us in all of its glory, its curved ends proudly facing the azure, never-ending sky. We walked through the gate, strangely feeling more and more like Alice in Wonderland on her quest to discover the unknown, and stopped atop a small picturesque bridge that offered a generous view of the Zen rock garden, multicolored and very well fed Koi fish gliding through the smooth dark surface of the interconnected ponds, and a traditional Japanese tea house – all accentuated by Monet-like paintbrush strokes of motley autumn foliage boasting its vibrant burgundy, amber and gamboge shades.

Naturally, we took our time enjoying the beauty and crisp air of the park that so unexpectedly turned out to be one of the highlights of our road trip. On the way back, I managed to take a candid snapshot of a photoshoot that made me feel even more like part of Lewis Carroll’s world of bizarre magic.

If you are ever in Birmingham, please pay a visit to the wonderful Botanical Gardens – you won’t regret it. Plus, it’s absolutely free!