Thursday, January 3, 2008

Ringing in the New Year in the Carolinas

It was with hope of some R&R that I set off for New Year’s weekend in the Carolinas with my best friend, and resident southern belle, Candace. Despite the lack of non-stop flights from SFO to Durham, NC and United’s knack of losing my luggage, it was a pleasant trip. It started with a tour of Candace’s alma matter, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I quickly fell in love with the quiet intimacy of the campus (despite its large size) and the Southern culture and history that seemed to echo from every brick and cranny. And it is always insightful to see a place that someone you are close to considers “home.”

A couple random facts about the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Chartered by the North Carolina General Assembly on December 11, 1789 and beginning instruction in 1795, the University of North Carolina is known as the oldest public university in the US. Some of the famous alumni include Michael Jordan, Caleb Bradham (inventor of Pepsi-Cola), John and Elizabeth Edwards, Andy Griffith, and Thomas Wolffe. Even the local firefighters show support for the UNC Tarheels, as their vehicles are painted in the school’s colors of light blue and white.

My favorite stops on Candace’s tour was “the Old Well” and the outdoor theater known as the “Forest Theatre.” The Old Well, modeled on the Temple of Love in the Gardens of Versailles, is considered the most enduring symbol of the University. Originally used by students since 1793 as a water supply, current campus tradition dictates that one can "drink from the old well" as a symbol of good luck. Of course, Candace and I couldn’t resist starting off the new year with a bit of luck on our side.

After a long walk around the campus, Candace, her father, and I stopped for a quick bite to eat at the Carolina Brewery, where I sampled some of their ales, Southern BBQ, sweet potato fries, and squash soup. (All came highly recommended and were quite enjoyable!) Of course, any trip to Chapel Hills is not complete without a stop at Southern Seasons. What an amazing store! It is kind of a cross between a southern William Sonoma, Berkeley Bowl, and Trader Joe’s. If you are in the area, it’s a must stop. Unfortunately, we didn’t get time to tour the campus of the UNC arch rivals, Duke, as we had a dinner date with Candace’s grandparents. However, now I have something to look forward the next time I am in the area.

The next day we were off, despite the rain, on our road trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. As tourist towns go, this one is filled with its share of beach front concrete high-rise hotels and golf courses. But, Candace and I found the quiet off-season crowd quite enjoyable and made friends nearly everywhere we went. It was a good idea to stay off the beaten path at the Grand Dunes with its spacious luxury suites and well-kept golf greens. Although I didn’t get a chance to try out the golf course, we did however have an especially grand time with dinner at Medieval Times. There is something about knights, jousts, horses, and a rowdy crowd to get you in a good mood. Overall, it was a relaxing trip and a low key ringing in of the New Year, which is exactly what I needed (although I do hope that United returns my luggage sometime soon!).

To quote Princess Esmeralda of Medieval Times, “I fare thee well, ladies and lords, in the new year…”

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