North Carolina–a slice of the South
Posted by joeabbott on August 7, 2016
My small family is in the habit of getting together with assorted in-laws and cousins every three years or so in different places. Colorado, Northern Minnesota, and Michigan are all places we’ve held these mini-reunions and this year the 20-or-so of us met in North Carolina at Atlantic Beach (Emerald Isle). While Suzy and I wanted to spend a LOT of time in North Carolina (as neither of us had been there), demands at home, logistics of being on the Isle, and enjoying time with family made the trip shorter and the extent of our wanderings less extensive than we would have liked; we saw far less of this wonderful place.
But, here’s a day-by-day account of our time on the Nation’s “other” coast.
Monday – getting in
On Monday we flew out from Seattle … no pictures today as the six-hour flight, three-hour time zone change, and another three-hour drive to the Emerald Isle all did their part in eating up the day. I had hoped North Carolina would have a “Maine flavor” and be a string of tiny towns and interesting sights along the drive, but was surprised when our first hour out of the Raleigh airport was greeted by pavement, trees, and little else. And that’s it.
Don’t get me wrong … I love a good stand of trees but we have plenty of these in the Pacific Northwest! We’d seen so little in the way of “sights” that upon coming on a “Bojangles” restaurant, we stopped in. While I was interested in the advertised “chicken and biscuits”, I was disappointed by the fact that, for all intents and purposes, it’s a KFC. Just another fast food chicken restaurant. It wasn’t bad … and as we were hungry, it was very good … but I was hoping for something more than a fast food stop. Given how many Bojangles are in NC and how we’d never heard of them before, we were happy to have stopped, just wished our first meal was a bit more authentic in terms of NC food.
Upon getting to the condo we were staying at with my sister and her family, we caught up and then headed out for a late night stroll on the beach. And this is something North Carolina does very well: the beaches were amazing. Great sand, that wonderful rolling surf sound, and miles and miles of it. Just wonderful. But that was the day.
Tuesday – Kitty Hawk
As a degree-holding aerospace engineer, I couldn’t pass up the chance to see Kitty Hawk and yet, it was a three-hour drive from the condo. While many families had shared an interest, the long drive dissuaded all but my sister and her family, so we piled into our rental and headed north!
On the way, I tried a boiled peanut and found dry roasted is more my thing, as a boiled nut, it has the texture of a bean or firm pea and just not what I associate with being a “peanut”. The proprietor of the shop took my opinion in stride and happily sold me a couple containers of roasted peanuts: one pepper-and-salt, one sugar-coated.
Kitty Hawk, from the tourist “where did the Wright Brothers fly” standpoint, is a pretty simple affair: a main exhibit building complete with a Wright flyer replica, the small “airstrip” used in their initial flights (complete with stone pillars denoting flights taken on the birthday of flight: 12/17/1903), and a massive tower commemorating the brothers on a nearby Kill Devil Hill.
I think I was looking to be moved by the birthplace of flight and managed to generate some of those feelings: the walls of the main building are lined with portraits of those who furthered the science of flight … most whom I recognized and “knew”, interactive models and displays describing the physics of flight … all the stuff of my early college studies, and context of the story of putting it all together were impactful. Only sixty-five years separated the first flight from the Apollo astronauts landing on the moon and seeing it all starting with a kludgy canvas and wooden “aircraft” and a lot of guts and vision … well, profoundly impressive.
But, we walked the exhibits, strolled the airstrip and markers denoting the four flights, and climbed Kill Devil Hill to walk around the Wright memorial. And yet, at 95°F and +80% humidity, it was hard to be out long. My wife reddened, I sweated buckets, and we made our way to the gift shop LONG before my interest in being at Kitty Hawk had waned.
We then drove a short ways north to Duck, NC, and found Duck Donuts. Before sampling their wares, we ate at the BBQ place next door (my quest for some perfect southern BBQ) and I found the brisket to be a lot sweeter and tangier than I was used to. It was my first of many BBQ meals and while the regional style is distinct, I prefer the smoky tang of a Texas BBQ, thank you.
The Duck Donut shop, however, is a real treat. When we stepped in, they fired up the donut press and started pumping out our donuts! Yup, the ones we’d be taking home. All their donuts are a cake-type batter but what makes it unique is the just-made donut and the toppings. I ordered a vanilla glaze with Oreo crumbles and a glaze with salted caramel; Suzy got a couple chocolate treats. While eating a warm donut is absolutely marvelous, I couldn’t possible eat two and ended up enjoying one of my donuts then next day. Not the recommended way to eat a Duck Donut but it worked for me.
After this, just a long ride home and a family gathering on the beach for a late night stroll and search for the elusive “ghost crabs”.
Wednesday – New Bern
A few of us were interested in the birthplace of Pepsi cola and with New Bern just off the Atlantic strip, it was a quick trip. And I’m happy we went. The drug store that birthed Pepsi was charming and the current proprietors congenial… and the Pepsi float was very fine … but the charm of New Bern sold me. Overall it had the quality of a well-kept historical town with lots of character. It looked like a southern town.
Beside the stop at the Pepsi shop, we toured the gardens around the Tryon Palace (very fine … especially our time chatting with the in-character blacksmiths), walked the battlefield of New Bern, and (as best we could) avoided sunstroke.
For lunch we stopped at Moore’s Barbeque and I enjoyed sweet and tangy ribs. While the sauce wasn’t completely to my liking, the ribs were smoked to perfection.
That night my niece played host to a family gathering at the condo she was staying in and we all contributed to a potluck. Having planned ahead, Suzy and I brought about 30 different Seattle Chocolate candy bars of all different flavors, broke them into squares, and everyone sampled and compared the varieties.
Thursday – Maritime Museum
Today the various families split up, some opting to see wild horses, take sea cruise tours, or … like we did with my sister … head to the North Carolina Maritime Museum. They were happily in the middle of a Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge show so, in addition to history and culture on how the Atlantic and the various ports played for this area, we got in some pirate stories! And to hear about the excavation of Blackbeard’s ship (Queen Anne’s Revenge) that was currently in process just a mile or so off the coast.
Lunch couldn’t have been easier than a trip to Finz, across the street where we bumped into my mother, brother, and his family! The meal was good as I heartily enjoyed my first shrimp burger but I have to opine that you owe yourself a trip to Seattle for a better cup of chowder; Finz did well, but we’ve perfected the recipe in the Puget Sound region, IMO.
We then walked the town and continued enduring the mid-90° temps and abusive humidity but it finally was too much and, upon returning to the condo, I took a nap. The heat, bustle, and time zone change all took their toll.
That night we gathered at Plaza Mexico Restaurant Bar and Grill … not because we believed North Carolina had the best south-of-the-border meals, but because they could seat 21 people. That said, it was very fine and our waiters were prompt and attentive.
Friday – Aquarium
Our last full day saw a wonderful trip to the North Carolina Aquarium … a place that we spent a lot of time at and could have spent more. It was clean, the exhibits in working order, and aside from a couple of uncharacteristically lazy otters, there were plenty of animals doing their things. I even saw an egret dismember and eat a fiddler crab on the Bogue Sound! Not your everyday aquarium sight.
Lunch was Crab Shack fare while I tried another sampling of shrimp burger … and shouldn’t have. Not bad, just not as great as the day prior and it took the edge off the “wow, what a treat!” experience the first time I enjoyed one.
Afterward we had enough time for a short visit to Fort Macon and really enjoyed it. So much so, we came back the next day before departing for our flight out! The main tour building contained informative and interesting displays, the fort had been meticulously restored, and we enjoyed a musket-firing demonstration that, if not memorable for the instruction, it was memorable from my ears still ringing from that shot! Hoo boy is that loud … and that was just one musket.
That night we gathered at my cousin’s condo for pizza (thanks, mom!), snacks, and lots of conversation. One of the other nights we had brought some store-bought cookies that went over well enough that we did it again … to the same effect.
Saturday – coming home
What can be said … it was a homecoming. The quick tour of Fort Macon bled into a rush trip to the aquarium to exchange a too-small souvenir shirt, and then the long, uneventful drive over pavement and through trees to Raleigh. Monday rush hour traffic wasn’t bad and we found our rental car drop off spot quickly. The flight home wasn’t as quick and, upon getting up after landing I remarked to Suzanne that there were small children in seats both rows ahead, behind, and across the aisle from us … a fact that she said she was very aware of even without me pointing it out, thank you very much. Yeah, I guess it had been a screamy, fussy, jibbery sort of flight.
But we were home. No ocean crashing but the temps were in the lower 70s, the humidity around 30%, all the whiskers and beaks were healthy and well … it was good to be home.
Thanks for dropping by and taking interest in the trip. While the weather wasn’t exactly what I’d have ordered, but the beaches were fabulous, the people warm and welcoming, and that sweet and tangy BBQ really says you’re in North Carolina. I strongly recommend you drop by when you get the chance.