Top 5 Places to Hike in Birmingham

DSC_0178Birmingham is located at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, providing adventuring souls with hundreds of acres of trails to explore. Whether you want a short, easy walk or a steep climb, there is a hiking trail just for you.

Oak Moutain State Park
What to do: hiking, biking, geocaching, boating, fishing
Best Hiking Trails: Peavine Falls
Location: 200 Terrace Drive, Pelham, AL 35124
Hours: 7 AM – 7 PM
Admission: $4/person

Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve
What to do: hiking, Visitors’ Center exhibits
Best Hiking Trails: Crusher Trail, Overlook Trail
Location: 1214 81st Street South, Birmingham, AL 35206
Hours:9 AM – 5 PM
Admission: Free
Things to know: No exit after 5 PM, closed on Mondays, opens at 1 PM on Sundays
Tech tip: Go to Ruffner’s website to access a trail map that can track your current location

Moss Rock Preserve
What to do: Hiking, bouldering
Best Hiking Trails: Orange Trail
Location: 617 Preserve Way, Hoover, AL 35226
Hours: Daylight
Admission: Free
Note: Be sure to go to the boulder fields!

Red Mountain Park
What to do: hiking, biking, zip line, geocaching, dog park
Best Hiking Trails: SkyHy Treehouse (via Smythe)
Overlooks: Ishkooda Overlook, Grace’s Gap Overlook
Location: 2011 Frankfurt Drive, Birmingham, AL 35211
Hours: 7 AM – 7 PM
Admission: Free

Jemison Park
What to do: Walking/Running, Picnicking
Location: Shades Creek Parkway/Lakeshore Drive near Mountain Brook
Hours: Daylight
Admission: Free

 

Code Like a Girl

 

Keyboard pic edited

The push to teach girls and children to code has gained significant momentum in recent years. Organizations like Code.org and Girls Who Code have made an effort to teach youth and women about computer science, a field in which women have been under represented in the past. The supporters of these programs hope to make computer science a regular part of academia for school children, just like math, English or biology. Celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher, Shakira and supermodel Karlie Kloss have encouraged children and teens to learn to code via social media. Many celebrities, including President Barack Obama, have also  participated in the Hour of Code, hosted by Code.org. The Hour of Code is an one-hour long introduction designed to demystify computer science and show that anyone can learn the basics.

Learning to code is a worldwide phenomenon, and Birmingham is not excluded from the trend. John Johnstone, associate professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), teaches a Coding for Girls class at Homewood Library. The class is geared toward girls in grades 6-12. Here’s what Johnstone had to say about the coding phenomenon:

How did this course come about?
It was grassroots. I was approached by a local high school student. She saw the Girls Who Code website and wanted someone to teach a coding class in Birmingham. She reached out to me and then reached out to the Homewood Library to host. I’ve been interested in it for a long time; computer science isn’t really taught in high school. The main thing is it’s one more avenue to get people access to coding.

How can you explain learning to code?
Learning to code is a beautiful thing. It’s just expressing your thoughts in a different language. It’s a new vocabulary and learning a new way to think about things. The closest thing to coding is mathematics. It’s transforming things step by step and requires thinking logically. Code requires people to learn to think precisely and put something into steps. It’s like a recipe, but you have to generate the recipe.

How does the coding education software work?
There was a steep learning curve in the past but now there have been a lot of developments in learning material, so it’s become easier to learn. Normally you write code, submit it to a compiler and then correct the mistakes. This is immediate. You write code on the left side of the screen and see it generated on the right side. It also gives you suggestions about what you’re doing wrong. Little things like that make it quite approachable.

There’s a big movement to teach kids, specifically young girls, to code. Why do you think it’s so important?
For a long time, we haven’t had enough women in computer science. We also don’t have enough computer science, period. We need to get more people interested in it. Economically we need more people in the field. It’s lagged behind in attracting women, and we’re attempting to fix that.

“People don’t know what coding is and that’s what we’re trying to combat. When I go around and talk to random people, there’s a disconnect. They’re holding an iPhone. They know there’s some coding that goes into Googling, etc. They just don’t know how much. When they think about what they want to do, they don’t think about coding as a viable option for a career. But there’s so much to it.”
-John Johnstone

Signs make a city: Birmingham’s history of neon

They blink in storefront windows, illuminate historic theaters and glow in the corners of basement man-caves.  From the first experiments in the early 1900s to their use as road-signs in the mid 20th century and now as a revitalization tool for historic buildings, neon lights are a central part of Americana.DSC_0229

For Birmingham native Tim Hollis, neon signs are more than an indication of whether or not a store is open.  In his book “Vintage Birmingham Signs,” Hollis gathers decades of old photos of iconic Birmingham locations and the decorative neon signs that made them famous.

“In the memories of people who are still alive, neon probably plays a really big part in it,” Hollis said.

Many of Birmingham’s most iconic locations have a place in neon history, such as the Alabama Theatre, the City Federal building and others.

Even the Vulcan statue’s torch was wrapped in neon from 1946 to 1999. As what Hollis deems the most visible use of neon  in the city, the statue’s torch was used by the Jefferson County Safety Committee to encourage traffic safety around the city. Vulcan’s torch glowed green, except in the case of a traffic fatality, in which case it would glow red for 24 hours. The lights were removed in the restoration process started in 1999.

Neon, Hollis said, has not always been a fashionable nod to Americana, but was for decades considered to be “road-side blight” or an industrial necessity, not an art form.

“For a long time, people considered neon signs to be ugly,” he said.

For some of these historic lights, the photos in Hollis’ book are all that remain. When signs would wear out or get damaged by the elements, they would simply be taken down, taken apart and recycled.DSC_0325

“Over the last 10 or 20 years, people have discovered how pretty they really were, but unfortunately it was too late to save a lot of the older ones,” Hollis said.

Because of the fragile nature of the components of neon signs, those that have been restored, such as the Paramount sign on 20th St. N., are actually recreations of the originals.DSC_0300

Still, Hollis said he thinks that neon “seems like something that is coming back” because of a new outlook on the medium.

“Now, neon is considered an art, whereas in the old days it was strictly just an industrial project,” he said.

Neon signs still face strict zoning laws, which were the cause of the initial removal of vintage signs in decades past. Now, for businesses to install large vertical signs such as those outside of Paramount or The Alabama Theatre, there has to be a historic use of neon on that building to get past most modern zoning regulations.

Hollis thinks, however, that the “retro” appeal neon has to younger generations and the nostalgic appeal it has to older ones will keep it around for a long time.

“I think neon is being used more by businesses and by people that appreciate it as the art that it was,” Hollis said.

 

Hollis’ “Vintage Birmingham Signs” can be found at local Books-a-Million and Barnes & Noble locations, as well as online.

 

There is more to Melt than grilled cheese

Melt's fried Oreos
Melt’s fried Oreos

Melt has been bringing decadent and unique grilled cheeses to the streets of Birmingham since 2011. Recently, the popular food truck decided to open a brick-and-mortar establishment in the Avondale community. The restaurant serves all of your food-truck favorites and much more, including desserts.

Any fan of fair food must add Melt’s fried Oreos to their list of top Birmingham eats. The crispy batter mixes with the warm Oreo to create an indulgent treat. Five to an order, they’re perfect to share!

 

Melt’s restaurant is located at 4105 4th Ave. S. in the Avondale community. They are open Tuesday – Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. The food truck, also known as Matilda, is available for private parties, events and catering. Find more information at meltbham.com.

Sweet tooth still not satisfied? Keep an eye out for more Birmingham desserts featured in the next print publication of Exodus.

Klingler’s: A Birmingham Treat

Klingler's black forest torte is a long-time Birmingham favorite, and it's not hard to see why.
Klingler’s black forest torte is a long-time Birmingham favorite, and it’s not hard to see why.

In a Vestavia Hills shopping center, tucked away behind an understated storefront, is a European-style Birmingham gem. Since 1982, family-owned Klingler’s European Bakery has dished up a variety of treats in a quirky, German folk-style atmosphere. Banana custard French toast and strawberry blintzes, as well as heartier fare like sauerkraut and sausages, are noteworthy menu items.

There’s one treat, however, for which Klingler’s has earned much acclaim. Their black forest torte was named a “dish to eat before you die” by the Year of Alabama Food and ranked in Birmingham magazine’s Best of Birmingham.

Exodus staff took on the task of putting these claims to the test, and we were not disappointed. The moist chocolate cake, which sells for $5.50 per slice, is filled with whipped cream and cherries and topped with chocolate shavings.

Don’t take our word for it, though – this is a dish you should try for yourself.

Klingler’s is located at 621 Montgomery Highway in Vestavia Hills. They are open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Find more information at www.klinglers.com.

Sweet tooth still not satisfied? Keep an eye out for more Birmingham desserts featured in the next print publication of Exodus.

Doorways to Downtown

by Sydney Cromwell

A chalk drawing of Birmingham's most distinctive sites on a wall on 3rd Avenue North.
A chalk drawing of Birmingham’s most distinctive sites on a wall on 3rd Avenue North.

The landmarks of Birmingham’s skyline are easily recognizable – Sloss Furnaces, the Vulcan, the Regions building and City Federal, among others.

From the streets, however, the variety of doorways in the city are a glimpse into how Birmingham’s architectural tastes have changed over time. Below are just a few of the unique entrances around the city.

 

Alabama PowerAlabama Power

The geometric metal and gold design of the Alabama Power headquarters entrance reflects the art deco style popular when the building was originally constructed, in 1925.

The building was restored in the 80s and the headquarters complex added in the 90s, but the art deco motif remains in the original doors and the gold leaf-covered statue of Electra on the building’s roof.

 

 

 

First United Methodist ChurchFirst United Methodist Church

One of downtown’s older buildings is First United Methodist Church, which was built in 1891 and holds services to this day.

The church, built in the American Romanesque Revival style, cost $160,000 to build, a steep sum for the time. The church’s stained glass and towers lend it the appearance of a European cathedral or castle. It is now on the Register of Historic Places.

 

Regions Harbert PlazaRegions Harbert Plaza

Across the street from First United Methodist, the Regions Harbert Plaza was built in 1989 on the former site of the Temple Theater. The plaza’s entryway features a post-modern style (as well as revolving doors that I was tempted to run through).

The colors of the building were chosen to reflect its other religious neighbor, the Cathedral Church of the Advent.

 

 

 

Federal US CourthouseRobert S. Vance Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse

The courthouse is more recognizable by its long row of columns facing 5th Street, but I found the side and employee entrances to be striking as well. The gold door, arched window and lamps stand out from the white marble wall and steps.

The courthouse was built in 1921 in the Classical Revival style, and later named in honor of Circuit Court Judge Robert Vance after he was killed by a mail bomb in 1989.

 

 

 

Hugo Black CourthouseHugo L. Black Federal Courthouse

Across an intersection from the federal building, the Hugo Black Courthouse was built in 1987 for the federal district court. Despite the modern look of the glass-encased upper stories, the entry to the courthouse is built using limestone and a more classical style.

The courthouse is a blend of classic Birmingham architecture and more modern tastes.

 

 

 

Continental BakeryContinental Bakery Downtown

The cousin of Continental Bakery and Chez Lulu in Mountain Brook, Continental Bakery Downtown opened in 2014. The French-style bakery’s sign mimics an old theater marquee, an intentional choice by the owner, Carole Griffin, to reflect the bakery’s placement near the Alabama and Lyric Theaters.

 

 

 

 

 

Shive SalvageShive Design Sign and Salvage

The Whitmire Lofts building, home to Shive, Revelator Coffee and residential lofts, bears little resemblance to the original 1912 construction. Appleseed Workshop, an offbeat design-build firm in Birmingham, overhauled the building into an ultra-modern steel and faux-wood exterior.

The steel design is patterned after the Lyric Theater, which is right down the street.

 

 

 

Lastly, as I passed by the Lyric on Saturday a group of young ballerinas were preparing for a performance. No doorways in sight, but too adorable not to share.

Ballerina

 

 

The Sun Also Rises Over Magic City

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Vestavia Hills Baptist Church parking lot 6:28 a.m.
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Chili for a Cause

More than 100 chili-cooking teams will battle for judges' and people's choice awards.
More than 100 chili-cooking teams will battle for judges’ and people’s choice awards.
The Exceptional Foundation’s largest annual fundraiser, its Annual Chili Cook-Off, will be held on Saturday, March 7 in the Brookwood Village parking lot from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

More than 100 area teams will bring their best chili recipes and vie for a variety of prizes, including Grand Prize, 1st Runner Up, People’s Choice Award and Spirit Award. A panel of community judges will sample the chili, and the public is invited to sample the chilis and donate to the Foundation.

Advance tickets will be sold online at www.exceptionalfoundation.org or at the Exceptional Foundation for $10. Day-of tickets will be available for $15. All proceeds from the Cook-Off go toward the work of the Exceptional Foundation.

The Exceptional Foundation provides year-round social and recreational activities for mentally and physically challenged adults. Programs include competitive sports teams, field trips and social events. The Foundation serves over 400 individuals in the greater Birmingham area through its programs each year.

A place of your own: Finding an apartment

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Looking at potential apartments is often overwhelming.
A leasing coordinator welcomes you into his or her office by running down a list of expenses with the same speed as a used-car-salesman, then pushes you through a sparsely furnished model apartment, barely giving you time to take a few photos on your phone. As you try to ask the few questions you thought up in the car ride over, he or she is already walking you back to the office explaining credit-checks, pro-rated move-in rates, and pet policies, and you leave with more questions than you had answered.

For students and young professionals looking at an apartment for the first time, there are several things that can be done to simplify this process and make the “great apartment hunt” less stressful.

1.) Take a friend.
If you plan to have a roommate, go together to look at potential locations. Not only will this give you better insight into how the two of you plan to live together, but it will also make sure that there is a second brain thinking through the leasing process. If you plan to live alone, take a friend or family member that can help you maintain your confidence and ask the questions you might not think of.
2.) Bring a list.
Write down a list of questions you absolutely need the answers to to make a decision, and inform the leasing coordinator that you have them. As different topics come up, be confident in asking your questions—it is that person’s job to answer them. Ask questions such as, “Are there any additional fees when moving in,” or “Is there a grace period for paying rent.” Questions like these may or may not be addressed in the information materials available, but are important when considering how much a unit will cost.
3.) Take notes and regroup.
Immediately after seeing an apartment, write down everything that comes to mind, even if that means sitting in your car in a parking lot for 10 minutes. Write down any issues you saw with the unit, any questions you need to call back and ask, and how it compares to other places you have looked.

In Birmingham, it is also important to keep in mind utility costs, pest-control fees, and other factors that are unique to the area. Many complexes also require a significant income before tenants can be approved, so it is important to maintain communication with the leasing coordinator throughout the process.

For information about different locations, sights like apartmentfinder.com and apartmentratings.com can give insight and reviews that can be helpful as well.

Last Chance to See Warhol Art

Since the beginning of January, art by the legendary Andy Warhol hasbeen on display at the UAB’s Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts. This exhibit contains several signature pieces including:

  • “Marilyn”
  • “Mick Jagger”
  • “Red Lenin”
  • “Hammer and Sickle”
  • “Joseph Beuys in Memoriam”
  • “Reigning Queens (Queen Margrethe)”

If you haven’t seen this Warhol exhibition yet, this week is your last chance.

Admission is free.

Hours
Monday-Friday: 10:00 a.m – 6:00 p.m.
Saturday: noon – 6:00 p.m.
Sunday: closed