Downtown Decatur, Alabama, is one of those wonderful historic neighborhoods that doesn’t get as much attention as it should. It sort of loses out against such publicity stars as Natchez, Mississippi, for instance. And I’m one of the worst offenders. For folks in northwest Alabama/northeast Mississippi, Decatur is “on the way” when driving east to Huntsville. Usually I’m on a schedule as I roll by the edge of downtown and I glance out the window and think, “That is so pretty. Sometime I really should come here and explore.” Because otherwise I’d miss gems such as this cottage tucked away on a quiet side street. Couldn’t you just open the gate and walk up the steps and go sit a spell on the porch? I really had to restrain myself to keep from trying out that rocking chair. There are two adjacent historic districts in downtown Decatur — Old Decatur and New Albany — where you can park your car and enjoy an afternoon of wandering through neighborhoods of cozy Craftsman cottages and stately Victorian homes. And with spring in glorious bloom right now, it’s the perfect time: Peaceful and quiet and breathtakingly lovely. There are plenty of spots nearby for shopping and eating, too, with no drive-thru lanes or mega-parking lots required. Not that there is anything wrong with drive-thru lanes and mega-parking lots. But sometimes a shady porch and the sweet smell of camellias is all you need. At http://www.decaturcvb.org/, print out self-guided walking tours and get details on the upcoming Mayfest.
Sometimes it’s fun to play tourist in your own town. My town is Florence, Alabama, and the other day I was waiting for a doctor’s appointment (stupid high cholesterol) and instead of eavesdropping on overhearing conversations in the waiting room — “And then the nurse told me I should have taken two tablets instead and I told her, ‘Honey, I can barely swallow one!'” — I decided to wander around the block. I’d never walked here before and I was tickled to find the Cedar Nest, http://www.cedarnest.net/, a tourist apartment I’d heard about but never really knew where it was. This one-bedroom apartment is just a block away from all the action of historic and hoppin’ downtown Florence. It’s like a bed-and-breakfast without the breakfast part, although you could walk to several downtown coffee shops and bring back breakfast to eat on the treehouse balconies. Across the street, I found this beautifully stately house surrounded by an intricate — and slightly menacing? — iron fence. This house makes me think of a graceful and gracious older aunt who remembers her days as a young belle of the ball before her fiance was killed in the war and she spent the rest of her life gently fading away. Or maybe I should stop reading so many Victorian novels. Anyway, I believe that this mansard roof means the house dates from around 1860-1885. Aren’t you impressed that I know that? Thank you, Mr. Google!
I don’t know about you, but I could sure use a Sunshine on My Shoulder cupcake right about now. Either that or a Strawbaby Blush or Southern Belle. These yummy confections were at The Clay Cup Cafe on the square in Murfreesboro, Tennessee — my husband’s hometown and the place where we met at college and almost 30 years later got married. (Aw … I know. It’s sweet, isn’t it?) We were there for a couple days this past week while my husband went to a journalism workshop on creating new newsrooms. While he was pondering the fate of newspapers, I got to wander around town — one of my favorite pastimes. Murfreesboro is a wonderful town for walking, and in the morning I took my cupcake (it’s a great breakfast food) and cappuccino and strolled the historic-preservation districts. I always am in awe of the Boro’s dedication and commitment to historic authenticity — and I always find something new. For instance, I’d never before noticed this playhouse. I spied the 5-foot-high creation in the backyard of a stately Victorian and was immediately charmed. Isn’t it delightful? I would have loved to have crawled in there with my cupcake (OK, by this time in the walk I was on my second — I couldn’t lie to you!) and coffee and spent the rest of the day. But then my husband would have been left with a roomful of truth-seeking journalists, and I couldn’t do that to him.
After a week of spring here in north Alabama, we were hit with winter again. It’s been rainy and cold for a few days now and everybody’s going around coughing and sniffing and complaining. ( I know, I know. Cold weather doesn’t really cause colds. But it can’t help.) My older daughter and I, however, recently braved the chilly rain and went out in search of spring. We found it at Al Christopher in Huntsville, Alabama — a wonderfully warm and cheerful shop in the historic Five Points area. We were charmed as soon as we walked in the door and saw candles, table ware, baby gifts, stationery and spa products that made me immediately want to go home and take a bath — in a good way. Also, those soft and silky pajama sets demand you lounge around the house all morning with a cup of espresso and a good book. (And of course you’d be wearing makeup and have your hair combed brushed and your teeth brushed. And the dishes washed and cat boxes cleaned out. Sigh.) Al Christopher is one of those shops that just makes you happy when you go in and wander around, which we did as long as my 11-month-old grandson allowed us to. Then we ducked into the nearby Olde Town Coffee Shoppe for that espresso and found touches of spring there, too, with this delightful recycled decor in the women’s room. I am so going to steal this idea.
Five Points, an Historic Preservation District, was a working-class neighborhood near downtown Huntsville. Dedicated supporters have preserved the area and encouraged its emergence as a vibrant arts and music venue. Most shops and eateries are in restored and remodeled bungalows that add so much character to retail spaces. Go here, http://fivepointshistoricdistrict.org/, for details.