US State No 3
I have visited North Carolina and in particular its capital Raleigh 3 times, on account of having friends there. But to be honest, I haven’t seen that much of this US State that stretches from the Appalachian Mountains in the west to the Atlantic Ocean in the east.
The only place in the UK that you can fly direct to the capital Raleigh-Durham is not surprisingly London Heathrow. But with a bit of playing around, you can pretty much get there via a stop off from any other airport, for example if you flew from Edinburgh and changed at Newark, you can be there in just under 12 hours and Birmingham via Paris to Raleigh-Durham takes just under 13 hours, you can also fly direct from London To Charlotte.
I have flown once to Raleigh from Manchester via Philadelphia, but the other two times, I was visiting other places on the east coast and arrived via the Atlantic Coastal Route Amtrak Train, once picking it up in Trenton, New Jersey (8hrs 20) and another time from Washington DC (6hrs). So if you like trains (like I do) and time is your friend, then I would suggest kicking back, bring a good book and some snacks and take the train, otherwise air travel is the best way to go.
North Carolina is bordered by South Carolina (not surprisingly), Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia and of course the Atlantic Ocean, so although its not necessarily known as a leading tourist destination for us Europeans, when touring this part of the US there is certainly a rich enough culture and history to merit a stop off point on a road trip.
My friends live in the capital, so it is here where I have stayed each time, and we tend to hang out at their favourite local spots, with a few day trips thrown in for good measure. I would say a car is an essential, and I was lucky enough to have the use of my friends car each visit. Other cities which are within driving distance for a South East road trip which would encompass North Carolina could be Atlanta, Charleston and Richmond. I did a southern states trip by Greyhound one year, but that’s for another blog, all my North Carolina visits have mainly been to the coast and around the capital.
So why visit North Carolina unless you have business or friends and family here? Well, its the place where the Wright Brothers had their first successful flight, Pepsi and Krispy Kreme donuts where invented here, its the home of NASCAR Hall of Fame and of course Barbecue! When I first visited the South, my friends kept saying they wanted to take me ‘for Barbecue’, I had visions of us standing outside in their back garden, huddled round a smoky steel bbq burning sausages and potatoes (with less rain and umbrellas), but Barbeque in the US has a whole different meaning. It is still slow cooked meat over an open fire, but especially in the southern states, it refers to pulled pork and how it is marinated, its the marinade that is the important distinction here, with even different parts of N Carolina never mind the neighbouring states having their own Regional Barbecue Sauces.
So, one of the things you must try if passing through N Carolina is a Barbecue restaurant, of which there are many. I remember visiting Smithfields on pretty much every visit (I was eating meat probably daily back then) its a BBQ chain exclusive to N.C. be sure to try some hush puppies too which is deep fried cornmeal, perfect for soaking up the BBQ Sauce. Don’t eat meat? There are more and more veggie and vegan options popping up nowadays, with the Ficton Kitchen in Raleigh and Luella’s in Asheville offering pork free BBQ.
Another thing I remember doing in the Raleigh-Durham area was an Art Walk, as my friend I was staying with is a painter. As well as chatting to the artists and seeing their work, there was music, food and drink, with free samples everywhere, we had a great evening chatting with local painters, trying out crafts and sampling the free wine and snacks.
You will always have a great time in a local bar in the states, especially if you ‘aren’t from around these parts’ and having a British accent will probably at least score you a free pint! Although my accent didn’t stop us from coming close to last in the weekly quiz night!
Next time I visit I must do some more tourist spots in the capital, but mainly we ate, shopped and hung out in my friends gorgeous house, and at the pool club, one year I even helped with a garage sale.
My friend is a beach lover, so we had a day trip over to the Atlantic Coast, and to Wilmington, a port side town on the South East Coast. There are lots of lovely shops, restaurants and cafes just a short walk from the beach, and we spent some time exploring Cape Fear Riverwalk. I had my first and probably last ever salt water taffy, despite the name of the sweet, it doesn’t actually contain any salt, but I found it an acquired taste none the less.
One thing that I thought was strange was the number of gifts featuring the cast of Dawson’s Creek, until I realised it was filmed here, I am not aware of any official tours, but its an easy search on the internet for all the TV shows memorable locations if you fancied a self guided tour.
I plan to return at some point to NC, so I will aim to do more research and visit some more sites during trip number 4.
Other North Carolina spots.