American Cities: Birmingham (+ A Miata Reunion!)

You may be just as surprised to read this as I am to type it, but: Birmingham, Alabama is currently my favorite city in the United States.

Birmingham was the last stop on our summer road trip – it was actually the whole reason our road trip was planned. Chandler claims it’s my fault – one too many trips to the vet with our rescue cats. It seems he ran out of podcasts and started perusing Miata forums and discovered that not only do they have an annual meet-up, this year’s would take place in July – only nine hours from Dallas.

Chandler knew he’d have to beef up the road trip in order to convince me to go along. Which is how we ended up spending our final two weeks of summer in Houston, New Orleans, Fort Walton Beach, Montgomery, and Birmingham.

If I’m being honest, I’m pretty far from a car aficionado – but it was impossible not to get caught up in Chandler’s excitement. We met fellow Miata owners (all of whom are incredibly nice) and discovered there’s only one rule to owning a Miata – you have to buy a manual! Guess it’s a good thing Chandler overruled me on that one.

Most of the event took place at the Barber Motorsports Park and included a car show, track time, parade lap, group drive, professional photos, vendors, and likely more that I’ve already forgotten. Also in attendance was Tom Matano – the original designer of the Miata in the late 80s – and Norman Garrett – the guy who developed the original suspension and packaging layout. You best believe Chandler walked away with a commemorative cap and a signed poster : )

All told, there were 238 Miatas in attendance. My personal favorite was the orange ND Miata (pictured above), with the green NB Miata in close second – though I’ll always love ours too (white ND pictured next to its NA big sister)!

I can honestly say Chandler’s highlight of the event was the parade lap. All 238 Miatas drove onto the track for a group photo and the chance to drive around the track. We thought we’d get one loop in – but we drove around for nearly 30 minutes! I even had to reapply sunscreen at one point.

If that’s all we’d done in Birmingham, we’d have had a great time. Luckily, there’s so much more to love about the city.

Since we clearly hadn’t driven enough on our road trip, we decided to drive around the many neighborhoods of Birmingham to get a better feel for the city. We absolutely adored the English Village and found a lovely vantage point overlooking the rest of the city nearby. We saw a couple of homes for sale and couldn’t help looking up their listings – while we’re 100% not buying a house anytime soon, it was certainly fun to look!

If you read my recent post about the food scene in New Orleans, you’d know I’ve become obsessed with southern food. That may sound unusual coming from a fairly healthy vegetarian, but it’s true! And nowhere in the US does vegan food like the south.

Birmingham was no exception and we ate at some incredible restaurants: Underground Vegan (classic cheezburger & skrimp po boy), City Bowls (island bowl, city bowl, & powerhouse bowl), Crestline Bagel Company (eggwich & biscuit sandwich), Kale Me Crazy (vegan wrap & quinoa bowl), Blue Root (Santa Fe bowl & green god salad), Ampersandwich (super veggie), Bay Leaf Modern Indian Cuisine (paneer korma, chana masala, veggie curry, & garlic naan), and Big Spoon Creamery (magic city cone & beach bonfire sammie).

My only food regret is that Underground Vegan was closed when we went back to order the 3pc chickun tender – but the amazing food we did eat there is photographed below.

Also, had we done our research a little better, we’d have known how amazing Birmingham is for hiking! The entire city is green – there were definitely times driving around that we joked that we couldn’t find the city. This wasn’t a hiking trip for us, but we did visit the Birmingham Botanical Gardens (guess that just requires a return visit!).

The conservatory wasn’t all that memorable, but they had by far the best Japanese Garden I’ve seen in the United States. There was an audio guide to explain everything – plus the bonsai were adorable, the bamboo grove was huge, the tea house was authentic, and there was even a red torii at the entrance. And there was so much more that we didn’t have time to see (not realizing quite how large the gardens would be).

And, I’d stop reviewing museums if I could – but I still can’t get enough of them! The Birmingham Museum of Art was no exception. We went for their special exhibits: Expanding Darshan, Light Play, and Ways of Seeing. But we were caught off guard by how fantastic the rest of the museum is. Both the African and Native American collections hosted a lovely variety of modern and historical pieces.

The Expanding Darshan exhibit was easily the most fun to experience (and photograph!). Artist Manjari Sharma set out to photographically recreate the experience of encountering nine Hindu deities in temple settings. And, amazingly, she created each scene without digital manipulation. All items visible in the images were present when photographed, not digitally added later.

Pictured below are Maa Laxmi (Goddess of Abundance: Lakshmi), Maa Kali (Mother of the Universe, Goddess of Time, Slayer of Ego and Evil: Kali), and Maa Durga (All-powerful: Durga).

One of the last things we did in Birmingham was head to my new favorite brewery: TrimTab Brewing Company. I had fallen in love with their Paradise Now beer at the beach in Fort Walton (a Raspberry Berliner Weisse – yum!) and wanted to try some more! The setting was lovely, with plenty of seating both indoors and outdoors. We spent a couple of hours there, playing various board games. My only disappointment is that I can’t find their beer anywhere in DFW.

It was such a relaxing way to end our road trip – and so normal too. I think that’s what I loved best about Birmingham: It felt like a city we could live in. Now, after two weeks back in the classroom, I think it’s safe to say I have zero interest teaching in the US long-term – but I’m sure we could find something else to do in Birmingham : )

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