Much has changed since I last blogged about my travels, just over two years ago exactly. New job, new city, a few new life goals. What will always stay the same, however, is my passion for exploration. Places I’ve never been and want to experience for the first time, places I’ve already been and want to visit again, it doesn’t matter. There is so much in the world to see and do and nothing motivates me more than adventure.
Last week I combined the old and the new into a Carolina-themed roadtrip, hitting Raleigh, Columbia, Charleston, Wilmington, the Outer Banks, and Greensboro along the way. I soaked up the sun, consumed history, took in a few baseball games, and even did some work for my university. Have to make the most of your time on the road!
I’d been to Raleigh briefly a couple years ago, just to check out the state capitol building and walk around the campus of NC State University. This was my first extended experience, and I fell in love with the city.
I was there in my capacity as an Admissions Counselor for Radford University, recruiting the best and brightest from North Carolina Governor’s School at an event held locally at Meredith College.
I took advantage of my off time, though, to have one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had at Big Ed’s City Market, located a few blocks from downtown Raleigh in a market area filled with appealing restaurants and charming shops. If the South does one thing well, it’s cuisine in general and breakfast in particular. I had local salty country ham with red eye gravy, two scrambled eggs, homemade buttermilk biscuits, and my personal favorite when down south, grits. Perfect.
From there I indulged another passion by heading to the North Carolina Museum of Art. Their collection was strong in Renaissance and Baroque paintings from Italy and Northern Europe, which are not particularly my area of expertise, but I was thrilled to see some quality examples of American Impressionism. I was hoping to see more Hudson River School works and pieces that depict American expansionism, but the American galleries were largely being renovated. Still, a worthwhile experience, and free!
I also stumbled upon the mural pictured above on the side of a local diner. More than simply striking me with its aesthetic appeal, I thought it was the perfect response to a controversy that made national headlines. When North Carolina’s House of Representatives passed HB2 in March 2016, the law eliminated anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ community, legislating that individuals must use restrooms and changing facilities that correspond to the sex on their birth certificate. The mural advocates universal inclusion, and I certainly second that notion.
From Raleigh I moved onto Columbia, the capital of South Carolina and home of the Palmetto State’s flagship university, which I had visited on numerous occasions in the past. This time, though, I was on my own and in town primarily to attend a Columbia Firelies baseball game. When I planned this trip, former Heisman Trophy winner and national champion Tim Tebow was still struggling miserably in his transition from the gridiron to the diamond, and Columbia seemed a near certainty to be his home for the entire 2017 season. Imagine my shock, then, when I found out two weeks ago that the ex-University of Florida star had actually been promoted to a higher level of minor league baseball, and I’d be missing him.
No worries, though, because it was still a stadium I’d never been to before, and what better way to spend a Friday night than three hours at the ballpark? Unless it rains, and you’re sitting in the stadium when the game gets cancelled. In that case you go to Carolina Ale House and get beer and French onion soup before going back to your Holiday Inn Express. Good times, good times.
The one positive from this stop was my dinner at Cantina 76, just a few blocks from the capitol. Having been there before, my expectations were high, and it did not disappoint. The best tacos I’ve ever had – chicken pesto, BBQ shrimp, and chicken teriyaki.
The most anticipated stop on my roadtrip was Charleston, a place I’d never been but about which I’ve heard nothing but incredible things. After visiting for a full day, I largely echo that sentiment.
I made the short drive from Columbia down to the Low Country on Saturday morning, getting clutch free parking near the Battery, which has protected Charleston’s harbor since the Civil War but is now famous for antebellum and postbellum homes that more resemble Mediterranean villas than any domestic architecture that comes to mind.
I spent the entire morning and afternoon walking around Charleston, beating the stifling heat, humidity, and summertime crowds by ducking in and out of the various high-end stores on King Street. Shout-out to Steve Madden and the 50% off discount I got on my new pair of work shoes.
Charleston is filled with color and character…and also with tourists, especially in the summer. Tourists who walk slowly on narrow sidewalks, fill restaurants, and overwhelm a Colonial-era town not designed to handle the masses that now pour in since every travel guidebook you’ve seen over the past ten years has hyped Charleston as a hidden gem. Not anymore, trust me.
In general, Charleston is a fabulous city. Stunning architecture, roaring fountains, leafy squares, beautiful people, plenty of ways to spend a weekend. This includes going to a Charleston RiverDogs baseball game near the campus of The Citadel and on the banks of the Ashley River. The view pictured below is from the stadium concourse, and it’s one of the finest you’ll get at any sporting venue.
After another night in a Holiday Inn Express (racking up those IHG points!), I headed back into North Carolina for a quick stop in Wilmington. Wilmington, the site of filming for so many late ‘90s-early 2000s TV shows and movies, most notably Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, has captivated me since middle school. Other than visiting the university there once, though, I had never been, and it was about time to change that.
Wilmington has been recognized as having one of America’s best riverfronts, and this coastal city on the Cape Fear River utterly charmed me. I couldn’t stay for long – I had a pressing engagement (cough cough, a baseball game) in rural Kinston later that afternoon before arriving at my aunt’s house at the Outer Banks for the night – but I perused a city market that was established in 1880, walked along the river, and thoroughly enjoyed some quality people-watching.
I usually visit my aunt for Thanksgiving and Christmas, which is the perfect time to visit the Outer Banks because the weather is still warm and you’re not overwhelmed by thousands of obnoxious beachgoers from North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland.
Suffice it to say that the prospect of visiting over the July 4 weekend had me panicking, but my time got off to a good start when I struck up the most pleasant conversation with a couple bartenders over a burger and a beer at Lost Colony Brewery in the heart of downtown Manteo, a safe distance away from the holiday crowds flocking to Corolla, Duck, and Nags Head. One of my favorite things to do is talk to strangers. You never know who you will meet, and some of my most interesting encounters come where I’d have least expected them. After finishing dinner and getting an ice cream cone at a nearby establishment, I caught up with my aunt, an elementary school principal who had just returned that same night from her summer vacation in San Francisco.
Early next morning, we drove down to Cape Hatteras – fun fact, Cape Hatteras is the nearest landmass to Bermuda. Hat tip to Wikipedia for that knowledge. The lighthouse at Cape Hatteras has been in use since 1870, when it was absolutely critical for maritime navigators. The large number of ships that ran aground because of shifting sandbars near here led to the area being nicknamed the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” The lighthouse was moved to its present location in 1999 due to erosion and the ocean coming too close to where it had been positioned near the shore. It rises 210 feet above sea level and can be seen from 20 miles away in clear conditions.
I left my aunt’s around noon, stopping in the small town of Plymouth to see another lighthouse on my way to Greensboro for the fourth and final baseball game of the trip. I was very excited for this one, knowing that it would be a great atmosphere in a stadium sold out for July 4 festivities, and because the visitors that night were the Asheville Tourists, who I have now seen play over 40 times dating back to my time living there as a summer intern in 2012.
I got goosebumps hearing the national anthem that night, with a crowd of 9,189 singing along to every word. Nothing is more patriotic than hearing the Star-Spangled Banner while enjoying the national pastime, and in that moment, I experienced a surge of ecstasy and contentedness that is rare for my nomadic spirit.
Asheville was manhandled 12-4 by the homestanding Greensboro Grasshoppers, and it rained nonstop for the final three innings. Even with that, there was no place I’d have rather been that night, and it certainly made arriving back home in Blacksburg around 1 AM much more tolerable.
So another trip down, and another one awaits in a couple weeks. I’ll be headed west this time, to Lexington and Louisville, Kentucky before finishing up in Cincinnati, Ohio. My hope is to be more consistent with blogging moving forward, as the experience of writing is therapeutic for me and allows me to remember all the little things about a trip that I value so incredibly much. Until then.