We finally explored the North Carolina cities of Chapel Hill/Durham, spending a few days just walking and wandering as our water pump on the van failed there. This outdoor area pictured in front of the Co-op Market in Carrboro (an appealing neighborhood next to Chapel Hill) was the only place that seemed to invite the community to come and play during this very dead week of Spring Break. We loved seeing posters advertising small local bands plastered everywhere, but none of the venues featured any live music the week we were there, and some of the restaurants had very reduced hours (with no advance notice), making us wonder if they primarily cater to students. Yes, the Duke campus in Durham is nice, and the Gothic Cathedral on the hill is terrific. Known as the “Research Triangle”, employing smart and educated people from all over the world, this rich cultural diversity was not evident, and the towns seemed provincial and unsophisticated. So many people love this area, perhaps Chapel Hill and Durham really shine in other seasons and we just missed it.
No one told us to go to Charlotte, NC which surprised us as we found it so lively. Rich with a great Tango community, dramatic skyscraper night lighting, we were happy to find a jumping downtown evening bar/club/live music scene, with people spilling out of many downtown venues, even mid-week. Also, we found our “Cheers”, a friendly affordable neighborhood bar/restaurant (Eddie’s Place) showcasing the charm and generosity of Ben, of the the Sophisticated Signature Cocktail Concoction. Most of the staff has been there as long as he has (12 years) and they clearly enjoy the ambience and clientele as much as the many patrons who were greeted by name.
We appreciate cities that can sustain a cultural base through every season, offering at least 9 full-season theatre companies, national performers and touring companies, James Beard awarded young chefs, and featuring more local artists than the very boring, “Resort Art” (art marketed solely to tourists, the same art available in Carmel, CA as in Durham, NC). We love cities where the locals outnumber the tourists and are out enjoying their city at all hours. Not all medium sized cities in the South have the location and panache like New Orleans, St. Augustine FL, and Charleston SC with a waterfront, high walkability score, great food, great small theatre and live music venues, and historic architecture. These three are favorites; we know we will return as our experiences there linger on our minds and in our bellies.