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Travel letters: Impressions of Alabama

Plus, a different side of Cuba.

April 28, 2013

I am a graduating senior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I'm not your typical Alabama college student and Birmingham isn't your typical Alabama city. I wanted to say thanks for the story ["Moving Ever Forward," by Alice Short, April 14] on our very diverse urban home. We do have a controversial history, but our youth are breathing life into the heart of the city through lively art galleries, cycling groups, park events, film festivals, and much more.

I encourage Short to return to the city and witness history as it happens. I am excited that the city is growing and improving Birmingham; many residents hope it will become the next Atlanta or New Orleans.

There are many things Birmingham still needs and improvements that must be made, but I love my city. Although my post-graduation plans call for me to leave, I will be back often and I hope to retire here one day.

Alex Lanier

Birmingham, Ala.

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In 1976, , my husband and I drove across the country from Los Angeles to Orlando, Fla., on a business trip. We stopped at a highway rest stop in Alabama to use the restrooms and stretch our legs.

There were drinking fountains and restrooms like any other rest stop I'd visited, except they were labeled "colored" and "white." I am Caucasian, born and raised in a suburb of Los Angeles, and had never seen segregation in any form. My husband was born in Laredo, Texas, and is Hispanic.

It was a terrifying experience, especially because my husband is neither "colored" nor "white." We left the second we saw those horrible signs. I will never forget them, nor will I ever consider visiting Alabama again or any of those Southern states known for their ugly history of racial prejudice.

E. Escobedo

Altadena

A different side of Cuba

Regarding "Cuba's Reality?," Letters, April 21: If you are looking for fine hotels and restaurants, Cuba is not for you. But if your idea of travel is to learn about a culture and interact with the people, then Cuba can be a fabulous destination.

The best way to experience Cuba is not with a tour, but on your own. I along with four family members went to Cuba in 2010. My husband was born there and left when he was 5. We went to recapture a little of his heritage, visit his grandfather's grave site and to see Cuba before it changes — and many changes would certainly be welcomed.

We had a guide and van and freely roamed the country. We did not stay in hotels but in casas particulares, which are similar to bed-and-breakfasts and regulated by the government. We chose to eat most of our meals with the families and in their homes. Every home we stayed in was clean and the food fresh. We spoke enough Spanish to converse with the families, working people, out-of-work people and people on the street. We never encountered anyone who was reticent to talk to us or wanted anything from us. Yes, there lots of concerns and complaints from Cubans, yet they were never looking over their shoulder or worried about vigilantes reporting them.

Yes, Cuba is lost in time with lots of flaws, a lot of it is a shambles, and the system of government needs to change, but everyone has food on the table (there are rations for the basics), the literacy rate is 100% (although jobs commensurate with education are hard to find) and healthcare is free for everyone (although Cubans have limited advanced care), yet with all that scarcity, life expectancy is higher than in the United States.

Yes, we saw a different Cuba, because we wanted to experience the country and people with all its flaws and fabulousness.

Ruth Abrams

Santa Barbara

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