By Audrey Massey
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So, you donít have the time or money for a big vacation this summer? You and your spouse canít coordinate your leave times? Your boss canít turn loose of you for two weeks at a time? Unexpected dental expenses took your vacation money? Then why not scope out your own area for choices of interesting day trips? Keep in mind that weekend trips can be made all year long, and mini-vacations donít have to wait for summer.

While we were living in Germany several years ago, I purchased a delightful little book titled 100 km around Frankfurt by Rudolph Klein. It included hand-drawn maps, showing clear directions to, and lacy pen and ink sketches of, over 20 intriguing sites within a dayís range of the city. Without incurring overnight lodging expenses, and by taking along some of our own food, we could load the station wagon full of kids and set off to discover this wonderful area where we were living.

Always a family who cared more for soaking up the local culture wherever we were, Kleinís book provided us the incentive for developing a lasting habit of looking about us. We moved many more times after living in Germany, and we spent many weekends exploring our environs. Taking a map of our state, or country, we would stick the point of our compass in the center of our town, calibrate inches to miles, and draw a circle corresponding roughly to 100 miles from us in all directions. Then we set about investigating what historic, scenic, informative or just plain entertaining sites our circle emcompassed. When our children were asked to write papers at the beginning of each new school year on the theme How I Spent My Summer Vacation, they had plenty about which to write!

From our home in Germany, we could reach France, Switzerland, Austria or Luxembourg in about an hour, the Netherlands, Belgium or Austria in an hour and a half. Also, in about an hour and a half, we could walk through the vineyards on the Mosel River, tour the ancient Roman fort of Saarburg, stand in awe at the Porta Nigra of Romeís westernmost oupost town of Trier, ferry across the legendary Rhine, sit enthralled at a performance of The Student Prince in Heidelberg Castle, enjoy a Dutch pastry or gather an armload of freshly-cut tulips, pay homage to the fallen of American and Allied armies at Verdun battlefield, or, if we chose to spend the night, sleep like the pampered rich under fluffy feather-filled comforters in white duvets in a quaint chalet in Switzerland.

Within 100 miles, more or less, of my present residence in Huntsville, AL lie a sparkling assortment of vacation jewels. Beginning with Huntsville itself, there is the world-famous Space & Rocket Center with its full-size mock-up of the Space Shuttle, and Space Camp, which attracts children from every state and several foreign countries. Included with a tour of the Space & Rocket Center is the home of the Saturn rocket, Marshall Space Flight Center, where Dr. Werner von Braun and his German scientists made plans for the early space program in America. Also within Huntsville are: Constitution Hall Park, an historic living-history community depicting the early days of Alabama and Huntsvilleís role as the first state capital; Joe Davis Stadium, where you can watch the Huntsville Stars, farm team for the Oakland Athletics, play professional minor league baseball; and Big Spring Park, where concerts on the lawn are held under the stars several times a year.

Other attractions in Huntsville include: Monte Sano State Park, with camping and picnicking facilities, scenic overlooks and a nature walk; Brahan Spring Park, with its duck pond, paddle boats, playground, tennis courts, carnival rides and concessions area; Kidsí Space, a community-built wooden playground and picnic area, uniquely themed for Huntsville, including a turret designed like the Space Shuttle; the $9 million Huntsville Public Library, built like a French castle and housing a large genealogical collection and unique facilities geared toward encouraging children to read; the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail; the Old Huntsville Depot, where a family can hitch a ride through town on a old steam engine; the Twickenham Station trolley that tours historic downtown Huntsville and its 100-plus antebellum homes; and Harrison Bros. Hardware, filled with antique tools, toys, books, Christmas decorations, dolls and an assortment of unique gift items. The store has been preserved just as it was 100 years ago by the local historical society.

Stretching out two hours and less from Huntsville, we find: beautiful Lake Guntersville with exceptional boating, fishing and camping facilities; other scenic wonders like picturesque Buckís Pocket State Park, Mentone Resort, Cloudmont Ski Resort, Ditto Landing on the Tennessee River; Russell Cave National Monument, Ave Maria Grotto, Cathedral Caverns State Park, and DeSoto State Park, with its beautiful deep canyon. Did you know the Appalachians reach into North Alabama?

Then there are: William B. Bankhead National Forest; historic Mooresville where the movie Tom and Huck was filmed; Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller, at Tuscumbia; Wilson and Wheeler Dams; Alabama International Speedway at Talladega; Limestone County Zoological Park and Petting Zoo; Cheaha State Park; Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge in Decatur, AL, with nature trails and lookouts; and the Birmingham Zoo.

In and near Nashville, TN, and still within two hours of Huntsville, are: Grassmere Park and Zoo; Opryland, with its exciting rides, musical reviews and vast hotel; Bicentennial Mall, where you can learn about the history of Tennessee; Belle Meade Mansion, a queen among antebellum homes; the riverboat General Jackson that plies the Cumberland River, while a band plays Dixieland jazz; the Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame; the Tennessee State Capitol; and the Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson. Also in Nashville is the only full-size replica in the world of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece, built for the Tennessee Centennial in 1896 in Centennial Park. The park is a treasure of its own for picnicking, enjoying the beautiful gardens or just plain relaxing.

Still well within our two-hour radius are: the ancestral home of President James Knox Polk in Columbia, TN; Falls Mill, a 100- yr. old working flour mill, with gift shop and small B&B, in Belvidere, TN; Stoneís River National Battlefield; the famous Jack Danielís Distillery and Miss Boboís Restaurant, famous for its food and hospitality, in Lynchburg, TN; the Carter House in Franklin, TN, where five Confederate generals lay dead after the Battle of Franklin; Lookout Mountain, Rock City, Museum of Creative Discovery, and the Tennessee State Aquarium in Chattanooga. Our list goes on and on.

These are only a few of the interesting places to visit that our 100 or so-mile circle of Huntsville and environs has to offer. If your appetite for discovery has been whetted, try looking around you. Sometimes itís almost shocking to find how interesting your own hometown can be. Just ask a visitor!

Before you decide you have neither time nor money for a vacation this year, get out your compass and discover within your circle the hidden treasures in and near your own backyard that can be experienced in only a few hours and at minimal cost. Until you do, youíll never know what youíve been missing.

As Dorothy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz finally learned, after traveling far away from Kansas, "thereís no place like home!"

Source: Audrey Massey is a talented freelance writer, and genealogical researcher, who lives in Huntsville, AL. She has freelanced feature articles for several Southern newspapers and magazines on topics such as wildlife and travel.


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