You can't leave NC without ...
August 14, 2006 7:56 AM   Subscribe

Experiences you can have in North Carolina, but not in England? Please help me show my soon-to-leave new friend a good time. She's been here in NC for almost two years (from England and, before that, India). What should she not miss before she leaves?

I live in Chapel Hill, she's in Durham/RTP, working at NIEHS doing some kind of genetics post-doc work. Very soon, she'll move back to England to get married to her true love, a physics professor at Oxford.

She's been to the Museum of Life & Science; I took her to tea at the Carolina Inn, though I suspect that she and her fiance will chuckle over their attempt to emulate Britishness. We're all vegetarian, so please don't suggest BBQ. She doesn't want to go ice-skating; she's really rather a proper young lady. She's been to Duke Gardens, the UNC arboretum, and I plan to take her to visit Witherspoon Rose Culture (a big rose garden shop -- she's fond of that kind of rose). She likes only "traditional" plays (not newer edgier stuff, a pity since I seem to have fallen in with an alternative theater crowd).

She doesn't really like animals; she enjoys nature walks and her new craft, embroidery.

Shopping isn't the best idea since, though she can always have belongings shipped, she's moving to a rather small house adjacent to the university.

What experiences are uniquely available here that she might enjoy? I've already ruled out stock car racing and she's confirmed that hang-gliding holds no appeal.

She's a fairly young 32 years old (I think her life has been a little sheltered).
posted by amtho to Society & Culture (42 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: A nature walk in pursuit of Venus Flytraps:

"Although it has been successfully transplanted and grown in many locales around the world, the venus flytrap is found natively only in North and South Carolina in the United States; one such place is North Carolina's Green Swamp."

Or perhaps there is some sort of carnivorous plant attraction that she should be sure to see.
posted by hermitosis at 8:12 AM on August 14, 2006

Best answer: Go west, young man. :) Take her to the mountains -- lots of nature there. Drive the Blue Ridge Parkway, or parts of it. There are frequent pullouts along the Parkway, and there's a foot/bike trail that runs alongside the Parkway. Check out Linville Caverns. Go to Asheville and see the Biltmore Estate and check out the local artisans. Gorgeous stuff to look at and get ideas from, even if you don't buy anything.
posted by jlkr at 8:14 AM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

Being from the south, I'm thinking Monster Trucks. But your friend sounds like the type upon which the sublime joy of top fuel dragsters and the intricacies of arena cyclocross would be lost.

You could road trip out to the outer banks. If your friend cares anything about history and technology then strolling along Kitty Hawk allows you to glimpse the place where man slipped the surly bonds of earth.
posted by wfrgms at 8:16 AM on August 14, 2006

Kill Devil Hills.

Go to the beach and see where flight started.
posted by konolia at 8:17 AM on August 14, 2006

Picnics in the hot sun on those wonderful white sandy beaches (the emptier the better), along with good California white wines, as many fresh summer vegetable/fruit type foods as possible, some time out to swim in the warm ocean and generally lolling the day away in a blissful state of slightly buzzed conversation with friends she wont see again for a long time. She wont get anything like that in Oxford or anywhere else in the UK and if she has done it already it will still be THE thing any sane person will miss.
posted by anglophiliated at 8:18 AM on August 14, 2006

Best answer: Waterfalls aplenty in the mountains, including the spectacular Hickory Nut Falls at Chimney Rock park, which has good hiking and beautiful scenery.

Does she like folk art? There's Vollis Simpson's whirligig meadow 45 minutes east of Raleigh in Lucama, and Clyde Jones' critter-filled yard just south of Chapel Hill in Bynum. Both make great 1/2-day trips.
posted by mediareport at 8:25 AM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: These are good suggestions, but is there anything within the triangle area (Durham, Chapel Hill, Raleigh, Cary, Hillsborough) that anyone could recommend? I realize that I did not specify this in my original question, but I don't know how many weekends we have left. Maybe three, and I've got plans for at least one.
posted by amtho at 8:26 AM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, mediareport. I'm not sure she'd appreciate folk art, but I can ask. She's really into embroidering dainty flowers at the moment.

She did seem to really enjoy tea at the Carolina; maybe some activity that is like that but not so directly emulating Britishness.
posted by amtho at 8:28 AM on August 14, 2006

The North Carolina Aquariums, pulled pork BBQ, and (i've only heard, never been, despite being born-and-raised in cackalack) NASCAR.
posted by casconed at 8:30 AM on August 14, 2006

Well, you have to leave North Carolina to get to it, but you really shouldn't go far enough away from North Carolina that you can't easily get to South of the Border!

That or a quick trip to Fayetteville to get cheap "Death from Above" tattoos on Bragg Boulevard.
posted by mph at 8:37 AM on August 14, 2006

Asheville - THis time of year, they have Shindig on the Green (but I think it has moved to the ball park due to some construction this year.) Nice little town. (My hometown!)

I'd skip the Biltmore. If she's from Europe, she has seen limestone buildings and modest art. It impresses Americans, but I can't imagine a Brit being at all impressed by a 100 year old country estate full of European furniture. I know the owners and have been there a lot, and honestly, I'd rather spend a microsecond at the British Museum than a year at Biltmore. Big house, gift shops, winery, yada yada. $50 entry fee, too. Ouch!

Joce Kilmer Memorial Forest, on the other hand, in the far southwest corner, is virgin forest and unlike anything I have seen in the east. There is a short loop through enormous poplars and huge conifers that is remarkable.

Feed her flatlands barbeque, too. Nothing else in the flatlands worth seeing, in my opinion.
posted by FauxScot at 8:40 AM on August 14, 2006

August 19 in Charlotte. Monster Bash.

I took a van load of foreign students from my university to a monster truck rally - reserved and gentle folk all - and they were on their feet ten minutes into it, screaming for more Grrrrrrrrrrrravedigger and snapping photos and just being blown away by the scene.

It's not really even about the trucks - it's the 9-year-olds doing backflips on dirtbikes, the intense announcers, the people dressed in outfits sewn from stars-and-stripes fabric. We had this great discussion about why the whole monster-truck thing exists and the people who really follow the circuit. If you've never been, you've got to give it a try at least once.

That said, I think anglophiliated's beach/wine/conversation idea sounds fantastic - could you get a house for a weekend? And to add to the picnic idea, be sure to include foods which are rare or expensive in the UK and abundant and cheaper here: pumpkins, avocados...
posted by mdonley at 8:42 AM on August 14, 2006

People tend to over-value stuff and sightseeing and undervalue participation.

Network with meat-spacers to find out/participate in:

A) Civil war reenactments (go as guests, not as spectators - an amazing experience).

B) Get yourself invited to an African-American family reunion. Odds are the family has been in the area for more than 300 years. The food, fellowship, history, and sense of belonging are astonishing. Failing that, get yourself invited to an African American church service and Sunday social.

C) Don't rule out NASCAR. NASCAR is the public religion of white North Carolina. Go with passionate and knowledgeable friends. Can be a white-bread version of (B) above, if you are with the right people. The peopel watching alone is worth it.

There's lots more, but you get the drift - ask your friends/coworkers what they'd most what to share, not what you should see.
posted by Jos Bleau at 8:43 AM on August 14, 2006

The North Carolina Botanical Garden in Chapel Hill off 15-501 is a quite nice place to wander around outside in. They're obsessed with native plants and the front part of it has a Coastal Plain, Piedmont, and Mountains division. It's like a walking tour of the whole state in under 200 yards! There's also a set of trails through the woods there. And it's in town, so you can spend as little as an hour or two on the whole trip.
posted by rogue haggis landing at 8:44 AM on August 14, 2006

A right proper lady, hey? If money isn't much of a problem, then take her to the Biltmore Estate Asheville for a weekend. It's America's largest private residence and it's in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
posted by NoMich at 8:45 AM on August 14, 2006

...Biltmore Estate in Asheville...
posted by NoMich at 8:45 AM on August 14, 2006

Will she still be there on the 31st? Take her to the Cat's Cradle to see Who's Bad?. Second South of the Border. You can't get that in England. Finally, I would suggest that she step out of her comfort zone a little bit. What is the point of travelling to different places if you only do things that you already know you like. The list of things that you have done and that she likes reads like a boringness hall of fame. If she won't go see a Michael Jackson tribute band or South of the Border, then I say England is welcome to her.
posted by ND¢ at 8:48 AM on August 14, 2006

I haven't lived in Carrboro since Toby Keith started putting his boot in certain people's asses, but what I remember fondly (besides hush puppies and okra at Mama Dip's) was the Duke Homestead, which shows the history of one of the world's most favorite deadly hobbies, smoking tobacco, and the nearby Bennet Place, the site of the largest troop surrender of the U.S. Civil War.

Also, I don't know if they still do old-time music jam sessions at El Chilango in Carrboro, but that was fun and definitely something indigenous to NC and the surrounding area. If you can't find it there, I recommend looking elsewhere.
posted by billtron at 8:58 AM on August 14, 2006

Raleigh has a nice little Rose Garden near NCSU, part of the Raleigh Little Theater, which is currently producing a country-flavored musical revue that may or may not be quite to her taste, but is probably something she won't find back home. And NCSU's agricultural roots are nicely on display at the Raulston Arboretum just a couple of miles up the road from the Rose Garden. It's my favorite place in town to get away without getting away. I'll check a few guidebooks at work today and see what else I can find for you.
posted by mediareport at 9:05 AM on August 14, 2006

We're all vegetarian, so please don't suggest BBQ.

OMG HUSH PUPPIES!!! Vegetarian crack.

Are the Bulls playing? That's a high-quality slice of life. Especially if Wool E. Bull and his fly girls still shoot hot dogs into the stands.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:14 AM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks! Please keep the suggestions coming.

I realize it was hidden in the middle of my original question, but we're both vegetarian (as are, weirdly, a lot of my more unusual friends), so BBQ isn't that interesting.

Boringness Hall of Fame, eh? Is that nearby? Sounds like we should definitely check it out...
posted by amtho at 9:18 AM on August 14, 2006

When I was in grad school in Chapel Hill, the Orange County Speedway changed my life. Southern rural culture just doesn't much exist anymore. I had so many other science geeks into it that on a given Saturday night there'd be more Ph.D. wannabes at the track than at the Dead Mule Club. Good times.
posted by lost_cause at 9:19 AM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks, ROU_Xenphobe; I should have previewed.
posted by amtho at 9:19 AM on August 14, 2006

I second the mountains and the waterfalls. I'm not sure there is anywhere I'd rather be.

I'd also give NASCAR a thought, but I don't know where you are going to find a race before she leaves.

You could take her to a local vineyard and try some of the regional wines.

Take a day trip to Charlotte. There is always something to do in Charlotte.

As far as vegetarian fare goes, try Mellow Mushroom. It's my friend's favorite restaurant on the planet and she's a vegetarian. Actually, it's my favorite restaurant too. There are a few in Charlotte and one in Asheville and there may even be one near you, too.

Good luck and have fun!
posted by bristolcat at 9:28 AM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: I meant ROU_Xenophobe.

How about things that are more about _American_ culture, rather than emphasizing rural Southern culture?

These stock car racing, folk-art viewing, soul-food-eating ideas might be fun for me, but I'm hesitant to suggest them to my friend. Either end of the state is indeed probably too far away. Any other ideas?
posted by amtho at 9:30 AM on August 14, 2006

I also recommend the western part of NC. Asheville, Biltmore, the Grove Park Inn (it has an elevator in the chimney!), Boone (great veggie restaurants), Tweetsie Railroad, maybe a scenic drive through Valle Crucis. For the ultimate in nature walks, there's Grandfather Mountain (not a state park, so bring cash for admission).

If you decide to go the beach route, Jockey's Ridge near Kitty Hawk is gorgeous and is somewhere I always go when I'm out that way. You can skip the hang-gliding there if you wish.

FWIW, I went to Chapel Hill, and while there are great things to do there, there's not much in the way of unspoiled, majestic nature in the center of the state.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:55 AM on August 14, 2006

Isn't part of the reason to travel to experience things outside of one's comfort zone? I have approximately zero interest in stock car racing, but if I was in NC for 2 years I'd sure as heck go to a race! There may not be an actual NASCAR race in the area, but there must be dozens of amateur dirt tracks around, and if it is anything like major vs. minor league baseball, it may be a more pleasureable spectator experience. Find someone knowledgeable about the local scene (as Jos Bleau said), and just go for the experience of it. Will she love it? Probably not (she won't go ice skating?!) but at least she will have a story to tell.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:01 AM on August 14, 2006

We always enjoyed an afternoon walk in Moses Cone Park when we lived there.
posted by mattholomew at 10:12 AM on August 14, 2006

A few people have suggested Asheville, and I too think it would make a good trip. It's about a 3 to 3 1/2 hour drive from Chapel Hill to Asheville, so you can make a day trip of it if you really want.

I would definitely recommend picking up some bluegrass while you are in the state, and there doesn't seem to be any better place than Asheville for that. Someone mentioned Shidig on the Green, which I think would make a great experience. They have a stage with booked bands playing, but there are also lots of groups of people just jamming together. It's also a cool culture clash because you get the Asheville hippies and the old guys who just came down off the mountain all playing banjos and mandolins together. Plus it's free.

I'm a vegetarian too, and I've never seen a place like Asheville for vegetarian dining. I would recommend Laughing Seed (overpriced, but very good selection) and Early Girl Eatery (both on Wall Street downtown), Sunny Point (only a few years old but already has a pretty hardcore customer base, in West Asheville), Over Easy Cafe (also downtown), and Rosetta's Kitchen (with the most tattooed and pierced staff of any restaurant that I can think of).

Biltmore Estate is cool, but too expensive ($42 per person on the weekend right now, but includes free wine tasting at the Biltmore winery). I could actually see how it might be more interesting for someone from Europe to tour the estate, since the Vanderbilts were trying to emulate the European estates that they had seen when they built the place. In fact they bought a lot of the funishings, and at least one ceiling, from wealthy European families who had fallen on hard times. It might be cool for your friend to see the wealthy American take on Europe.

And of course there's the gorgeous Blue Ridge Parkway which makes a great afternoon drive.
posted by Who_Am_I at 10:15 AM on August 14, 2006

I had never seen the Milky Way before I went out one night in the mountains round Asheville NC. Ambient light is a huge problem in much of England: you simply can't get that clarity of the night sky over here any more.
posted by Hogshead at 10:24 AM on August 14, 2006

I just got back from Asheville and I enjoyed the views on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Jerusalem Garden middle eastern restaurant (great for vegetarians).
posted by matildaben at 10:40 AM on August 14, 2006

The Eno River is right near you two -- it's one of my favorite nature preserves ever. There's a particular swimming hole there with a great swinging vine, but I would need to be there to lead you to it...

Also, for some classic Americana experience, there's the Starlight Theater. Old-school drive thru! Best way to see bad movies. Snakes on a Plane will be there, apparently, this Friday. That will be rather appropriate.

If she's into embroidery, she might find some neat things at the Scrap Exchange, which is downtown Durham and one of my favorite places in the city.

Finally, for one last night out (if she's British and in her 30s, she'll probably want to go on 80s night!) go to Ringside. Place feels more like New Orleans than North Carolina, but it's definitely something unique!

There! All Durham, though Asheville is nice too.
posted by greggish at 10:41 AM on August 14, 2006

Also, let us not forget Winston-Salem, NC. Old Salem Village, the Reynolda House, and the Souteastern Center for Contemporary Art should make for a fine daytrip.
posted by NoMich at 10:56 AM on August 14, 2006

Go to Sliding Rock!
posted by trbrts at 11:10 AM on August 14, 2006

How about things that are more about _American_ culture, rather than emphasizing rural Southern culture?

Visit a plantation or Civil War site; there are several you could hit in a road trip that takes, say, from morning to midafternoon. There are also some Revolutionary War things to see in NC, IIRC a little ways east of the triangle.

Also, if neither of you have been to the various Elmo's-es in Carr Mill or Durham/9th St., start going now and eat many meals there. You want milkshakes. Beware: the veggie sampler will have your table bending under its weight.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:22 PM on August 14, 2006

How about things that are more about _American_ culture, rather than emphasizing rural Southern culture?

These stock car racing, folk-art viewing, soul-food-eating ideas might be fun for me, but I'm hesitant to suggest them to my friend.

Wow. Is it possible to experience American culture without buying anything, eating meat, or driving an automobile?

How about a tour of the NC Statehouse? It's local and national at the same time, and there aren't many animals. Maybe you can see some embroidery too.

Or you could drive to Maxton where 500 Lumbee Indians attacked and drove away a Klan mob in the Battle of Hayes Pond in 1958.

If you do go to Biltmore, you could stop by the Biltmore Baptist Church to experience a megachurch service with 4000 congregation members in attendance. That's pretty American.
posted by billtron at 12:37 PM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I love NC, lived here for all my 43 years, but I don't think there are any "can't miss" attractions. The Outer Banks are pretty nice, unspoiled beaches, though.
posted by JamesMessick at 12:59 PM on August 14, 2006

Take her to a barbecue place and feed her babyback pork ribs.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:02 PM on August 14, 2006

We really don't do ribs here in NC. We're a pork butt* state. Besides, her the people involved are vegetarians.

* - I'm sorry to report that what we call "the butt" on a pig is actually the shoulder of the animal.
posted by NoMich at 5:13 PM on August 14, 2006

Eastern NC: BBQ from Goldsboro, sweet tea (take that King George!), and hush puppies from Sanitary Fish Market in Morehead City

Western NC: BBQ, Biltmore, Bluegrass (Brevard has all three)

If you can find a dirt track race or NASCAR race, that's a unique experience.
posted by Frank Grimes at 5:52 PM on August 14, 2006

Three words: Blue Ridge Parkway. Biltmore rightly impresses Americans, but there are dozens of grander homes within an hour of London. The mountains, though, are higher and greener and more spectacular (in their own way) than anything back on yon' side of the pond. Asheville is a good base for a weekend exploring the west, and you don't really get the same kind of small-town boho thing in England. Four and a half hours from the Triangle, but it feels like a different country.
posted by holgate at 6:40 PM on August 14, 2006

For a quick day trip, I'm astonished nobody has suggested Fearrington Village, not far from Chapel Hill. An idealized modern version of a plantation village (such an American concept), it's so charming that I'm sure your friend will enjoy herself.
posted by rob511 at 8:15 PM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

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