I went to TBEX to learn a lot, make new travel minded friends and figure out what I wanted to do with my blog. I accomplished all of these but I had no idea about the events and parties that would go on as well.
If attending a TBEX conference I highly encourage you to sign up early for the Pre-Bex and Post-Bex tours that they offer. They’re completely free and since I wasn’t expecting them – as a newbie – it felt like a huge unexpected Christmas present.
Because I signed up so late I was left with the only tour that still had spots available, Free the Hops Presents Redstone MWR. (I swear, I specifically was NOT going to choose a tour based on beer this time! But what could I do?)
Each of the events had TBEX provided transportation in the form of huge comfy shuttle busses to and from the event. And so on Thursday afternoon, before the conference even started I found myself outside the Von Braun center with absolutely no idea what I was about to be in for.
Free the Hops at Redstone MWR
Waiting for the shuttle bus to arrive I met Kayleen of Cheers to traveling and Vrithi of Epicurious Passport. None of us quite knew what our tour was to be about exactly but we were excited for the chance to do something as rain was moving in and we’d have likely retreated to our rooms, staying indoors for the afternoon otherwise.
Our shuttle bus arrived and drove our group out to Redstone Arsenal where we picked up our tour guide. The rain was coming down heavily so a cozy bus tour worked out perfectly. We got to cover quite a bit of the Arsenal, our guide pointing out various building and discussing the departments that worked out of them and what they did.
She covered the history of the base and talked about how instrumental it was in the space race, diving deep into some of the rocket testing and research done there. We even got to see a historic testing site where they used to hunker down in a bunker and fire off test rockets. You would not believe how close the bunker was to the actual rocket going up. In my opinion — those guys were nuts!
It was an amazing experience. I am self-admittedly not a good history student. The only hope facts have of sticking to me are in interactive experiences like that one, a guide actually showing us around, telling us things and getting to witness what is being talked about in real time. I won’t even attempt to relay all the things I learned but I will say you should definitely check out some information on Redstone Arsenal here or here.
And then we arrived at the beer tasting portion of the day. They had set up a community event, sort of a mini-biergarten with several breweries from surrounding areas setting up tents to do a tasting. There were also Oktoberfest style games, stein holding competitions, running with kegs and a host of others I didn’t see all of. (I must confess I was very busy drinking and chatting.) The event would open to the public later that afternoon but for now it was just us. The rain did hamper a lot of the games but some carried on nonetheless in covered areas.
I spent my time connecting with other bloggers and chatting up the folks at the breweries learning more about their beer and Alabama in general. I loved talking to the guys at Goat Island Brewing in Cullman, Alabama and I also had a great conversation with Randy at Cahaba Brewing in Birmingham. Everything I tried there was delicious and I plan to make it down to Birmingham at some point to check out the brewery in person.
The rain came and went, sometimes appearing to clear, other times attempting to drown us all like a bunch of tipsy rats but we drank our way through it. Eventually the event opened to the public and about a half hour later we had to make our way back onto the bus and head back to the hotel. Altogether an awesome experience and I left feeling like I’d just spent a few hours hanging out with a ton of great friends.
Picture by Taylor Voth.
Opening night party at A.M. Booth’s Lumberyard
The opening night party a few hours after returning from Redstone Arsenal was at A.M Booths Lumberyard. Preferring to go in blind without looking up any information in advance, I was complete entranced when they dropped us off from the buses and I ended up in some sort of … maze? Well sort of … a bunch of different rooms, connected by open areas and other rooms, with different bars, restaurants, stages, everything in between. Basically heaven on a night when you and your friends can’t make decision on what to do. There’s something for everyone!
Everything was taken care of by TBEX. We sampled all kinds of food; jumbalaya, and chicken and waffles being my most memorable of the evening. The atmosphere in the place was incredible and I found myself jealously wondering why there was no place like this “back home.” Then sheepishly I admitted to myself that there very well could be, maybe I just haven’t found it because I’m always visiting other places.
Still, the place was incredible and I plan to visit again. Who knew Huntsville had so much to offer? I ended up hanging with Asia and Jen again and we found our way to a bar where an awesome band was playing. We hung here the rest of the night, talking, laughing and enjoying the music as many people stopped by for a few moments to chat and continue on. Jen is the queen of networking. This girl is ah-mazing and reminds me of one of my sisters who can talk to anyone!
These pictures in no way do A.M. Booth’s justice but check them out.
If you ever end up in Huntsville, you’ve got to check this place out!
Friday evening party at U.S. Space & Rocket Center
I’d been wow’ed by the party at AM Booth’s so I now had expectations for an awesome party but still, nothing on earth could have prepared me for the night ahead. Our busses pulled up at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and never have more adults scrambled around taking video, selfies and pictures, acting like little kids in a candy shop. Right outside of the space center stands a humongous rocket with more scattered in the background. As a group of bloggers it only feels natural to snap away so there we all were, like a herd of paparazzi, determined to capture a variety of moments to be written about in a flurry of blog posts.
Asia and I quickly got what we needed and then headed inside. I don’t consider myself “into” photography. At this point I’ll snap away hurriedly and then sort through later. I’ve acknowledged that learning more about it is just not a priority of mine for now. We snapped more pics in the gift shop and atrium before heading upstairs and into … WOW!
Asia and I chose to eat dinner standing at one of the cocktail tables, rather than partaking in the sit down dining. This proved to be intregal in how the rest of our evening turned out as various people came up to chat and squeeze in to stand beside us and eat. We met a couple of guys who worked for the Czech tourism board and ended up hanging out with them and a group of other bloggers later that evening.
After I finished eating I excused myself and went off to wander the exhibits for awhile. It seemed a shame to not take any of the opportunity to learn while I was there, as I have no idea when I’ll return. I was already feeling kind of embarrassed about my general lack of knowledge about Alabama’s role in our country’s space history. Thats the problem with school in my opinion. We learn in a rote manner to pass the test and then we forget it all because it’s not delivered in an interesting way. I’m sure I read about some of these things in a textbook as a kid. But retaining it. Not a thing.
I met back up with our little group that had formed. The Czech guys, Jen, Asia, and John of Wheelchair Travel. Someone had mentioned a tour about to start so we headed off to space camp for a guided tour. I had just renewed my cup of Yellowhammer T-Minus, and several other people were carrying rather full cups as well when the tour guide informed us we would not be able to take any alcohol with us (something about losing their license and kids being present. Darn kids!) So, we chugged and off we went. The tour was pretty damn awesome even though there was a large group of us and in the back it was hard to hear the guide. Just some of the sights: underwater training tank, dehydrated astronaut food, a treadmill on the wall (because it doesn’t matter what direction you run in space), astronaut’s quarters with upright sleeping pouch attached to the wall. It was incredible … I learned a lot and had fun doing it.
After a rowdy ride, the shuttle bus dropped us off at the conference center. Someone had started sing-alongs in the bus which escalated into hilarity when Janet Newenham tried teaching us an Irish drinking song in her amazing accent. I’m sure many of us had no idea what the words were but we gave it our best effort as she led us in a rousing version of (what I later found out was) The Rattlin’ Bog. It was amazing!
Asia and I walked over to meet up with a crew that had headed out to Voodoo Lounge. These were some of the people who had come by our table and chatted while we ate dinner. There we met and chatted with even more people … TBEX’ers were everywhere. I’m sure the locals probably couldn’t believe how many of us had descended on the small town of Huntsville.
Closing night party at Campus No. 805
By the time the conference ended on Saturday I was dragging and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. Back to back days of jam packed events and conference sessions equalled late nights and early mornings. In the break between the conference session and the closing night party I took my stuff to the new hotel I’d be staying in that night and got checked in. Asia was flying out that evening.
The busses rolled up and after a brief explanation of how our meal and drink card worked we headed off to Campus No. 805. The setting for tonight’s festivities was a former middle school turned brewery. I was a middle school teacher for 7 years. I love beer. This = heaven on earth. Dousing the memories of being a middle school teacher by doing the unthinkable and drinking on a school campus … sign me up! The property includes a number of bars and restaurants and two breweries separated by a green expanse of lawn in the middle.
I turned left after getting off the bus and ended up in the section that was once the school. The gym is now home to the brewery tanks and the basketball nets still hang from the ceiling. This is now Straight to Ale Brewing. They have a kitchen and taproom in addition to brewing beer onsite.
A group of us redeemed our first beer ticket here and sat drinking and conversing for awhile. We had tons of options for dinner and ended up splitting up to try different venues. I wanted pizza, as did another blogger named Toni so she and I struck off together. We explored the school a bit further finding Ronnie Raygun’s – a pinball room, and Lone Goose Saloon which was giving away a free shot for conference badge holders. (I’m telling you, only fellow teachers will understand the delicious naughtiness of taking a shot smack dab in the middle of school!)
We discovered the campus speakeasy, hidden behind a special bank of lockers right outside of Straight to Ale. It wasn’t hard. There were so many bloggers gathered around it and taking pictures and video that the “hidden” door remained open half the night it seemed. We wondered if there was anything upstairs so ventured up and discovered a painting studio — with class in session. Several of the offices for some of the locations on site are also housed upstairs.
We went back downstairs, and back through Straight to Ale, meeting up with Heather Raulerson of Raulerson Girls Travel. Upon hearing we were heading off to find pizza she said goodbye to her group and continued on with us. We crossed the large green lawn and entered into the brewery on the other side, Yellowhammer. I’d had their T-Minus the night before so tonight tried their Miracle Worker Tripel which was delicious! We all got pizza at Earth and Stone Pizza. At this point Debra from Traveling Well For Less also joined us and we settled in.
Toni’s pizza was a little overdone so to compensate for her wait on a freshly made pizza the owner treated us all to a round of their “adult” ice cream. It may be hard for Toni to hear … but I’m SO glad her pizza needed redone. I never would have tried the ice cream on my own. I’m not a big ice cream person but this … this … this was incredible. They have a number of flavors and I got the Bourbon Butter Pecan and with every bite I gave thanks that Huntsville, Alabama was far, far away from where I live. Otherwise the potential for disaster would be too great. Singlehandedly, the best ice cream I have ever tasted in my entire life. The others raved about their flavors as well so I can only conclude that whatever Earth and Stone is doing — they’ve got to keep doing!
Finishing up dinner concluded our time at Campus No. 805 as the hours had flown by and we needed to make our way back to the buses. I wanted to get an early start the next morning as I’d be driving back to Columbus most of the day.
All in all I was completely blown away by the activities that TBEX plans for its attendees and at the amount of value they pack into the completely affordable price of a conference ticket. While I have no plans (at this time) to attend the Ireland event in October (who knows!) I do plan to attend the next North America event.