I’ve had the pleasure of visiting North Carolina three times with my a cappella group for a conference called SoJam. The first two times, if I remember correctly, were at Duke University in Durham. I didn’t spend a great amount of time there because it was mostly spent on campus at the conference, but I do remember my awe at seeing orange leaves.
As a Florida girl, I’d mostly seen palm trees and varying degrees of green and brown, but never orange. It was like a candlelit forest, and their delicious crunch under my feet as my boots crackled over fallen piles satisfied me like a precisely executed harmony.
I always forgot to pack a chap stick with my things, so I can’t tell you how many I’ve bought on all my travels, but most of them came from North Carolina. The cold, still atmosphere that captured my breath mid air reminded me within an hour of walking around outside that chap stick was a necessity. My fingers would get stiff and achy without gloves, so I finally caved and bought a pair of those too. My hair loved the freezing temperatures though.
Okay, it wasn’t freezing. It was really only in the mid-40’s. That hardly counts as snow conditions, but it did delve deep into the bones. Good thing there were plenty of coffee shops to grab a hot cup of tea or cocoa, because at that time, I didn’t drink coffee yet. I remember one shop had board games and puzzles for patrons to pass the time indoors before venturing into the cold once more.
My favorite part of all these trips was always the nightly visit to a local Cookout. Late night treks with the crew to the little stand, putting in our orders at the window and sitting around on the dirty ground just really hit the spot. Gourmet milk shakes, hush puppies and delicious, greasy fast food is exactly what a college kid needs after a 10 hour bus ride into North Carolina.
There’s a lot of local flavor in the city, and I wish I could have seen more (and remember, but it’s been a few years now). I have these flashes of memory of a strange bull in the city center, restaurants lined up side by side serving chicken and waffles in one and exotic salads in another, world-famous ice pop joints even though I’d never heard of them, and a flurry of oh my god did we get on the right bus?!
Oh, and of course I can’t forget that North Carolina is where I learned about a certain turtle flavor of chocolate. Yeah, it’s called turtle and I was hella confused when the waitress asked me if I wanted it. (Just chocolate and caramel, guys, relax.)
I wouldn’t mind heading out that way again someday, with more time to devote to the scenery and local sites. I will say this though, as cold as the climate was, it sure felt like a warm welcome everywhere I went.