Blessings and surprises in Huntsville Alabama and TBEX

I feel blessed.

I hesitate to write those words, in part because of the religious connotations of it, but also from wariness that it comes across as if I have been favoured over others.

A favouring to be blessed is not the truth, more so, the ability of one to see their own blessings.

It’s up to us to awaken to what the blessings are and live humbly through them with gratitude and the desire to pass it on.

I’ve recently spent a few days in Huntsville Alabama for the TBEX travel blogging conference. (Actually, it was last month. It’s taken me awhile to finish this post!!)

As Samantha Brown said in her TBEX keynote, something I have always considered to be the truth about travel and life,

“it’s rarely about the destination or the sights, but more about the people you meet along the way.”

I love these deep connections with others, hearing their stories, celebrating their triumphs and helping to boost their spirits and confidence when they many be feeling down.Even if we feel our life is not blessed, it is simple things like an outpouring of genuine kindness that can raise up.

I was surrounded by that kindness at the TBEX conference. I learned a couple of new things, but mostly I loved the conversations and laughs I had in the conference hallways and the bars in the evening.

I loved finally meeting many people I’d chatted with on the online space for years, and meeting some new ultra cool people as well. The blogging and entrepreneur community can be so uplifting and supportive and a lot of fun to hang around.

Brett Love and I chatted about the up days and downs of the blogging journey and life in general.

Green Global Travel and yTravel Blog
With Bret and Mary (Green Global Travel) and Ajaay Sood and Anton Diaz on the photo bomb

“I don’t feel I have bad days. I sometimes just have bad moments within the day. I can balance out those moments with good things so the day is not a complete waste. “

Each day can be great, despite the difficulties, if you learn to see the blessings. I think TBEX helped me refocus on that as did the wonderful destination of Huntsville, Alabama.

Huntsville Surprises

If someone were to ask me a word to describe Huntsville, Alabama it would be surprising.

I am grateful I had the opportunity to visit because of TBEX. My visit to Huntsville was the spirit of America Unplugged defined –

Allowing the locals to shape our experiences and uncover the hidden surprises of the destination.

From the outside, Huntsville doesn’t look like it has much to offer the traveler. There’s a space camp here and a rocket museum, which is pretty awesome, yet at the same time wouldn’t inspire me to visit just on that alone.

As my time in Huntsville opened up so did my appreciation of it. It’s a culture rich with arts and tech, possibly the only place in America where those two worlds meet and thrive.

The city is nicknamed “The Rocket City” for its close history with U.S. space missions. Huntsville has been important in developing space technology since the 1950s.

Fun Fact: Huntsville, Alabama is where rockets were developed that put men on the moon

It also has the second largest research park in the country with over 300 companies of engineers, doctors, students or creatives, making Huntsville a pretty intelligent place to hang out.

Huntsville local rocket engineer, Destin Sandlin is evidence of that.

He’s the Founder of the YouTube channel Smarter Every Day, with over 4.9 million subscribers he spoke at TBEX and I have now subscribed daily viewing of his show to the girls as part of their homeschooling routine!

My first Huntsville experience upon arrival was when I was walking down the street and a car drove slow beside me and a man drawled, “Well ain’t you a pretty little thing walking on the street.”

“Well thank you, sir. I’m gonna keep walking my way and you keep going yours.”

“Welcome to Alabama,” I told Craig on the phone later. “I’m not sure if I’m going to like it here.”

I was so wrong.

The unexpected moments are the ones we cherish most.

The most fascinating man in America so far

Okay, so maybe he leans more to the British side than American, but he is now a Huntsville local artisan with a fascinating career.

Meeting David Nuttall, the founder of Artimaps, showed me how a different world can be opened up to you just by engaging in curious conversation. It was also a reminder that anyone can create a thriving business around their passion.

David, Janet and Caz TBEX Huntsville
Learning about the art of map drawing. With David and Janet from Journalist on the Run

I heard rumblings of the Map Guy in the Lowe Mill Art and Entertainment space on the night of our speaker’s party.

“Did you see the map guy? He was pretty cool.”

How cool could one be drawing maps? I didn’t pay much attention until David joined our table for dinner the next night and explained to me what he did.

He draws fictional maps – visual representations of someone’s life, generally on their naked body, and then photographs them.

“Like fully naked?”

David Nuttel Artimaps drawing fictional maps on naked bodies (3)

I couldn’t understand why anyone would want to do this, but after talking at length with David about this over the remainder of the conference, I offered up my arm one day for him to draw a map on me.

David says his subjects find it quite a cathartic experience.

They come to him with wounds, scars on the outside from car crashes, or ones on the inside that run much deeper.

In drawing the maps of their stories on them, and talking about it with him, it helps them let go. Through the vulnerable experience, they find their strength and confidence.

David Nuttel Artimaps drawing fictional maps on naked bodies

He doesn’t just draw maps on naked bodies. These maps can be created on a variety of mediums, including wood, board and canvas.

He was recently commissioned to draw fictional islands on a piano and chairs that will be on display at one of the downtown bike stations in Huntsville for the Relax Play Ride event.

I told ya – fascinating!

When you visit Huntsville make sure you stop in at the Lowe Mill to say hi and learn more about his craft. You might even want to offer up a body part or two for some good storytelling.

Post it to our Facebook page if you do! I promise I’ll show you the one on my arm when we meet again!

You can also follow David’s current projects on his Instagram channel. 

The largest privately owned art space in the US

Lowe Mills Art and Entertainment Space Huntsville Alabama (2)

Our speaker’s dinner was held in Lowe Mill Art & Entertainment. We first entered into a spacious warehouse and dove straight into drinks and conversations.

The greeting speeches than let us know there was actually more to this area, and as we walked to explore, we discovered that more was not an adequate description – it was gigantic.

This huge historic factory building has been redeveloped into three levels of 148 working studios for over 200 artists and makers, including 6 fine art galleries, a multi-use theater, and performance venues.

Lowe Mills Art and Entertainment Space Huntsville Alabama (2)
Photo Credit: David Nuttall

Lowe Mill is the largest privately owned arts facility in the United States. It serves as a space where the artists can create, learn and collaborate. I loved the vibrant, colorful, creative atmosphere.

We wandered the halls lined with studios, tasting delicious southern dishes, watching artists at work and looking at their amazing designers.

I grabbed these cool screen-printed T-Shirts for the girls. It’s a quote I want them growing up remembering so they can live a life reaching for the stars.

quote by astronaut Mae Jemison

As a visitor, you can visit at any time to see the artists at work, enjoy a coffee, perhaps some whiskey tasting, and enjoy some of the food on after.

It is the culinary arts after all!

US Space and Rocket Centre – largest space museum in the world

Huntsville Rocket and Space Center

The US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville has one of the largest collections of rockets and space memorabilia on display anywhere in the world.

A visit here will take you through America’s Space Race, the space shuttle program and give you a glimpse into future space explorations. Hello, Mars!

In the main hall is an authentic Saturn V rocket – one of only three in the world. We were lucky to dine underneath it on the first evening of the conference. The dinner party on the second evening of the conference was held at the Space and Rocket Center.

Saturn 5 US Space and Rocket Center Hunstville Alabama

The Center is also famous for its annual Space Camps, drawing future rocket scientists from around the world to spend a week learning how to push the boundaries of human exploration.

The center is open to guests seven days a week.

Read More: Best Space Museums & Space Centers in the USA

The most unique nightlife spaces in the US

A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard

A.M Booth Lumberyard Huntsville Alabama (6)

What do you get when you combine a mismatched and ill cared collection of buildings with a bit of imagination and innovation?

One of the most eclectic and thriving entertainment districts you’ll ever see.

I had several conversations with different people at the opening night party all saying the same thing – imagine how much fun this would be on a regular Saturday night when you were twenty?

people smiling with their arms around each other
close up of a polaroid picture

A.M Booth’s Lumberyard has multiple personalities and it’s easy to find one that suits you no matter the time of day. If you have multiple personality syndrome, you can just bounce around all night and be very happy.

There are four stages, large patios, multiple bars with its own personality,  a large 1924 Pullman train car decorated with unique treasures, and an outdoor games area in Booth’s Alley.

A.M Booth Lumberyard Huntsville Alabama (2)

Each bar had different beers and live music.

We spent a good amount of time in the Tap Room, which is usually the dining room. The barman here were great at keeping the energy up with constant calls of Roll Tide and bar slapping.

A.M Booth Lumberyard Huntsville Alabama (1)

Roll Tide is an Alabama football thing! The live music in The Tap Room was awesome – Gotta love a bit of acoustic Chili Peppers.

I could go back to Huntsville just for a night out here again!

Campus 805

inside a building

Ring the bell. Saturday School’s in sesh and it has never been so much fun.

Campus 805 was once Stone Middle School until developer Randy Schrimsher purchased it  in 2014, five years after it has shut down. With a bit of vision and innovation, he transformed the school into a dynamic entertainment venue while maintaining the middle school building structure and vibe.

Yes, those old classrooms are now bars, breweries, restaurants, and retail spaces!

It’s called 805 (the last three digits of the zip code) to pay homage to memories held by all that once studied in the classrooms and played in the halls.

It’s brilliant.

Take your pick from the East or West Wing or just roam from bar to bar.

Make sure you find the Speakeasy. It’s located somewhere near the lockers. I had all intents of having a drink in there but got caught in the Yellowhammer Brewery bar having a fun time chatting with all my new friends.

And I totally missed the Fringe Salon- my only awareness of it was after it was closed and seeing friends walk in with 80’s fringe hairdos. Apparently, you can just pop in while you party for a makeover. (Not sure if that was just a TBEX thing though!)

Check out Lillie’s’ hairdo.

Lillie Marshall Fringe Salon Campus 805 Huntsville Alabama (800 x 800)

By the way, Lillie from Teaching Traveling is one of the coolest people from the online world I’ve met. She’s great fun, super nice and so easy to get along with.

We did wander the halls at midnight to find the late night bar The Lone Goose Saloon by way of the games arcade.If you follow my Insta stories you would have seen that random surprise.

Campus 805 Huntsville Alabama (1)
Campus 805 Huntsville Alabama (1)

We rocked on to the live music until after 1 am – way past the departure of the last school bus. The kinda place you always dreamed school would be like.

I told you, Huntsville is way cool!

The best acai bowl and coffee in the US (so far)

Honest Coffee Huntsville Alabama (2)

I loved stumbling upon Honest Coffee in Downtown Huntsville. I visited more than once as I fell in love with their acai bowls and their coffee. I eat a lot of acai bowls and make them myself. The acai bowls at Honest Café were outstanding.

The café had only just opened that week and was doing a roaring trade. Cuba coffees were the rage. Every second person seemed to be ordering one. I settled for my cappuccino and was not disappointed. I even ordered another to go as I knew it would be some time before I had one that good.

I still haven’t had one to beat it yet.

I also had delicious nachos at Taco Mama.

Update: I LOVED Huntsville so much, I took Craig and the girls back in the second week of our RV trip across the US with Goldie and the Beast. I found it just as wonderful the first time. Check out the post here of what we did – Christmas related events included.

Where to stay in Huntsville

I stayed at the SpringHill Suites by Marriott which was comfortable and easy walking distance to downtown. Book your stay there here.
Check out other places to stay in Huntsville here.

Other South East Destinations to consider

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How has a destination surprised you before? Can you add any other tips for my next trip to Hunstville, Alabama?

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About The Author

12 thoughts on “Blessings and surprises in Huntsville Alabama and TBEX”

  1. Hi Caz,

    I really like your post, especially because of the Map guy 🙂 I have never heard about anything like that and I have just checked his website and it is quite amazing. Such a great idea 🙂 I am wondering, do you know if he ships his art work into Europe? I think it would be a great idea for a gift 🙂 Do the maps represent the life story someone tells him? That you talked and he was inspired by it?

    I like the rest of the post too, but I just find this very fascinating 🙂

    Best regards,

    One and Half backpacks

    1. Hi Tereza,
      Thanks for the kind words. I have been drawing maps since I was 5 years old, and create a variety of hand drawn pieces.

      In addition to the Human Terrain maps on skin, which are very personal, I do create other commissioned maps that can incorporate a person’s (or family) life story. These are on wood, board or paper. Feel free to email or DM if you want to chat more. ([email protected]).


  2. What an amazing post Caz.! I Love Bruce Poon Tip, he’s speaking at congerence I am Helping organise and I can’t wait to hear what he has to say. He is one of the good guys that truly inspires me. As for Map guy … as a woman with a body riddled with so may scars, both physical and mental, I’d love to let him have my way with mine Xx

    1. Hi Aleney,

      Glad you appreciated my maps. I have met so many great people who have such interesting and personal stories – often with scars of some form. It is an honor to get to work with them and play a small part in looking at their body in a different way.

      Please do reach out if you come to Huntsville.

  3. Hi Caz!
    Thanks for including me in your excellent post. I am so happy you were surprised (and in a good way) by my adopted home town.

    Best wishes for your continued travels.
    aka “the Map Guy”!

    1. You are right Lillie, a great recap.
      Thanks again for your interview.

      I have really enjoyed keeping up with all my new friends on their travels and seeing where they are or what cool things they have discovered.

      Plenty of inspiration for my fictional places!

      Best wishes,

  4. Hey Caz, what an amazing post! I especially enjoy the map guy. It is such a great idea. Can’t wait to stop by Huntsville soon and visit his shop and all the cool places.

    I really enjoy the quotes too.

    1. Hi Mao,

      There is so much to see at Lowe Mill and I would love for you to visit my studio.
      I call my work “hand drawn plausible fictitious maps” and I research real places to be able to create my fiction while being serious about staying plausible!

  5. Hello, what a great read, Caz, so much to ponder and I will re-read again. What joy to learn about a place I might never have heard of myself. And so much detail too.

    Reading in a car on way to Bangkok airport after a wee stopover. There’s wifi in cars here!! London next. Great to have a mini adventure on the way to Scotland and to read about travel whilst travelling.

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