Thursday, June 11, 2015

Coon Dog Cemetery, Rattlesnake Saloon, Ave Maria Grotto & more touristy fun!

Each year, my mom, who is also my best friend and the best mom a girl could ask for, forms an itinerary we like to call "Daughter's Day Weekend." It varies in location, but it always includes a fun time, good food, and memories made.
This year's weekend was no different as we traveled to Florence, AL. My sister Lauren had never been before, so we had a lot to cover in a short amount of time over the Memorial Day Weekend.

We began our adventure by meeting at our glorious hotel for the weekend, the Marriott Shoals Hotel and Spa. It does not disappoint.

We ate lunch at one of the best Italian restaurants you'll ever find, Ricatoni's. Usually I get the brick oven pizza, but I tried the grilled chicken sandwich and it was great!
We shopped downtown and went in the famous Billy Reid, but didn't see anything we could afford! ha!

Next stop, Una & Leo, on the campus of The University of North Alabama, which is within walking distance from downtown.
 Here is Una getting some loving by her caretaker.

 And Leo snoozing in the shade.

They were having an extra lazy day but they are so fun to watch! We asked what they eat and it's a special diet of ground up beef from Colorado!

We needed to cool off and what better place than this pool at the hotel?!

After a refreshing dip in the pool, we threw a frisbee outside on the back lawn and walked around.

By this time, we were getting hungry and we had reservations (required) at the 360 Grille, atop the Renaissance Tower at the hotel.
What a treat this place is. From the moment we stepped out of the elevator, we heard the soft live music playing, and beheld the views at the top of the 22 story revolving restaurant.


I chose to get the Farmer's Market Special--which all ingredients from the spring vegetable salad to the mushroom gnocchi, to the finale, the mint strawberry shortbread were all purchased that morning at the local farmers market!
On Sunday, we began the morning with brunch at the hotel and then packed up and headed on another road trip. The destination was the Coon Dog Cemetery in Tuscumbia. It took about 45 minutes to get there from Florence on winding roads out in the middle of nowhere, but we finally made it.

Founded in 1937 when the beloved coon dog, Troop, passed away, his owner buried him at the spot, and it soon came to be a burial remembrance ground for other owners of the breed to do the same. Today, over 185 coon dogs are buried there and it is the only cemetery of it's kind in the world, thus making it a tourist attraction.

There is a sign in book and on the grave sites/markers you will see pennies laid from others who have come to pay their respects. Is there really anything like the special bond between a dog and it's owner?

If you're ever in the area, you should make the trip up to see this one of a kind memorial. But prepared, it's rustic (no restrooms, vending machines, cell service).

Next on the adventure was the Rattlesnake Saloon, also located in Tuscumbia and only amount 10 miles from the Coon Dog Cemetery.
We pulled in to the dirt gravel lot and waited at the shuttle stop to then climb up on the bed of a pick up truck that would carry us down to the Saloon, which is a large cave opening with restaurant inside and outdoor seating on plastic tables and chairs. Opened to the public in 2009, it is another tourism gem, and although we didn't eat because of the large wait time, the food looked and smelled amazing!
We ate a quick lunch back in downtown Tuscumbia before we had to say our Daughter's Day Weekend farewell!
On the return trip, Mom and I decided to complete our tourist day by stopping off in Cullman at the Ave Maria Grotto. I had never been before and yet it's only an hour from home! Dedicated in 1934 by Benedictine Monk Brother Joseph Zoettl, the Grotto, which means cave in Latin, features over 125 miniatures, reproductions of famous shrines, churches, and buildings throughout history.

 We even spotted a rat snake--not a reproduction (OR A RATTLESNAKE) thankgoodness!

 It took about 30 minutes to walk through outdoors, but is something everyone can appreciate all the time and detailed work that Brother Joseph constructed out of materials sent to him from all over. This included colored glass, marbles, cold cream jars, punctured commode floats, wrecked marble, broken bathroom tile, costume jewelry, gifts from every state in the union and from many foreign countries.
While we were walking through, a large tour bus with about 50 people unloaded and began touring alongside us. They were a group of Roman Catholics from Chicago and chanted many Catholic prayers aloud along the way. Mom and I were surprised at first but found it really contributed to the feeling of being in another country and seeing all the biblical replicas. 

Living Out the Plans:
This special Daughter's Day Weekend makes me reflect and be thankful for my family. I am blessed with wonderful parents (who celebrate their 40th Anniversary this month), a sister who is also such a great friend, and to live in such a great state. Let us not take our culture, our upbringing, southern hospitality, values, and traditions for granted. I know that people in other parts of the country and world would love to have and experience the everyday things like talking to our family on the phone, celebrating special holidays and occasions and taking trips together. It also brought home just how much our State has to offer. Such a wide variety of unique experiences to see and do all in the matter of a few hours driving. A good mix of city, country, contemporary, history, music, culture, and cuisine.
One thing I am ashamed to say I didn't know, but the Alabama Motto is "Here We Rest." How simple, yet fitting. Alabama has a lot to offer in the way of "rest," from the beaches, the mountain tops, trails, lakes, and everything in between. It reminds me of this scripture: "My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation comes from Him. He alone is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken." Psalm 62:1-2

Happy Summer everyone! I would love to hear from you if you've been to Florence, Coon Dog Cemetery, Rattlesnake Saloon, Ave Maria Grotto, etc.

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