Gulf Shores, Alabama

Nicknamed fondly by some the “Redneck Riviera,” Gulf Shores, Alabama, is a spring break destination frequented by families and college students alike.

Before this week, I had only ever gone to the beach in Delray Beach, Florida, with my parents and grandparents. I knew that experiencing Gulf Shores with 18 of my sorority sisters would most definitely be a different kind of beach vacation.

Las Saturday, I left St. Louis bright and early and headed to the airport: I had a long day of traveling ahead of me. There were no direct flights from Lambert International to Pensacola, so I had a two-hour layover in Houston. Although I visited Dallas, Texas, last summer, Houston airport, with its rodeo exhibit at the center of the terminal, exemplified my perceptions of “traditional Texas.” After exploring every souvenir shop and caving into some window displays’ temptations, I boarded my flight to Pensacola.

I’d like to consider myself an experienced flyer, and I am typically comfortable on most flights. However, the pouring rain in and around Houston made take off and the majority of the flight extremely rocky. I was more than happy to escape the screaming child across the aisle from me when we landed in Florida. I found my shuttle with little trouble and was finally on my way to Gulf Shores.

The one hour 15 minute drive along the coast was filled with beauty on one side and dilapidation on the other. There was no direct highway route to the island, so the driver took back roads, which showed some of the poverty that exists in the area. When we reached the main strip in Gulf Shores, West Beach Blvd., I was not surprised to see how tourist-driven the area was. Souvenir shops dotted the road every hundred yards, and signs flashing “SPRING BREAKERS” were everywhere the eye could see. But then we pulled up to our little beach house, and I ran into my friends’ arms.

The week as a whole is one I will never forget. It will forever remain in my mind as “that one time I spent a week on the beach with my sorority sisters in college.” It was filled with ups and downs, drama and laughter and many memories. At times, I forgot I was temporarily living along the Gulf of Mexico in a state I had never even visited before, but the restaurants at which we ate and the people we encountered brought me back to reality. Gulf Shores, Alabama

Of course, we ate masses of seafood along the water, but we also went to a southern-style, quirky restaurant called Lambert’s where the portions were huge and the pranks were hilarious. Not only did waiters throw rolls at our heads, but they pretended to spill soda and various condiments on my friends. Confederate flags appeared here and there and southern drawls were everywhere.

I did not experience as much of a culture shock as I feared I would because Gulf Shores is such a tourist town, but I want to explore more of Alabama in the future. It is a state rich with civil rights history, which is not something I experience up north in Chicago.

Sitting back in Pensacola International now, I wish I could have another week (or two) and a car to continue exploring this part of the country. However, I am happy to have been able to spend this short time, at least, down in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

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