Research Triangle

So, after a change into dry clothes, we headed north/east towards Chapel Hill through rain that at times was so heavy all we could see was rain and hopefully the tail lights of the car in front. But it didn’t last forever and after about 2.5 hours we reached our next destination Carrboro, which neighbours Chapel Hill.

We stayed at another almost new hotel in Carrboro which is kind of a bit of a trendy (??) neighbourhood adjoining Chapel Hill, which is the home of University of North Carolina – the Tarheels. UNC is most known for its basketball – Michael Jordan its most famous basket balling student (I’ll get to that later). This was a two night stay so we could have a look around, try some good food (North Carolina BBQ and anything else) and enjoy.

Carrboro was good and we were amongst some nice restaurants and bars and also walking distance to UNC. However, what we wanted to try needed a car. Firstly, we had to try Allen & Son BBQ, which is one of the famous North Carolina BBQ joints; and as we were driving to our next location in Lexington, we also had to try Lexington BBQ, which is rated the best of the NC BBQ. Now, like many of the different US BBQ States, NC is different. The main BBQ is pork – in fact, the only BBQ is pork. But not ribs, just kind of chopped or diced or sliced (think pulled pork), with a bit of a vinegar/chile based sauce. Also know for hush puppies, which are kind of like a deep-fried cornmeal dough – and forgetting the description, they are quite addictive.

Allen & Son was your real basic restaurant (as are most of these BBQ places) but as we were there late we missed most of the crowd. The BBQ was okay and perhaps better than my pulled pork – perhaps. Lexington BBQ was a bit more of a sit down restaurant with a server where I found a new drink – cheerwine – which I had great difficulty understanding our server in her southern accent, but I understand it was cherry flavoured Dr Pepper like and I enjoyed it and had it several more times on our trip in through NC. As for BBQ, I’d rate Lexington better, which is maybe why it is scored the best in NC. It was also full of trucks (people don’t have cars these parts), old folks and even a table of state troopers.

Back to Carrboro, we had a great meal at place called Acme and some excellent beer at Steel String Brewery. There is some good coffee to be had in these parts and good music if that takes your fancy. Our hotel was in the same block as Cat’s Cradle which has been around for over forty years and has had people such as Nirvana, Public Enemy and Iggy Pop play – Chapel Hill/Carrboro very much a scene for grunge. And a lot of guitar shops (which I did not frequent). Well worth the visit if you are interested in this kind of feel.

We didn’t really taste much of downtown Chapel Hill but did go for a walk to check out UNC. I had the map and Caroline thought this walk would never end, especially when we started walking down this street that was just hospitals – not very scenic. I think we are also the only people walking around, aside from when actually within the student area at change of class and it was mad but very ordered. Also a few extra police around that morning as there had been an unknown terror alert for the university (or so the morning news had said during a “break-in-transmission”) but nothing happened. Anyway, back to the long walk, we did end up at the UNC basketball museum (which is the one where I thought Caroline said she wanted to see but she wanted to see the NC sporting museum, which wasn’t even in Chapel Hill). Anyway, after I read some comments about the basketball museum and realised that it was where Michael Jordan went to university I thought this could be worth the visit. And it was, found this interesting and gained more of an understanding about how sport plays such a role in the US university world. I loved seeing the training notes from the college basketball coach (who was a legend) to the young Michael Jordan.

We then had a wander back through the actual school grounds streets, which were much nicer than the hospital street. Also took the opportunity to visit Durham while in the research triangle area. Known as this because of three neighbouring cities – Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh, each with their own university. One of the Lonely Planet advisors said that Durham was dead. The only thing dead there was the old Lucky Strike cigarette factory. However, this area has all been regenerated and turned into a bit of a living museum if you like. Known as the Tobacco Road area. It was lovely for a walk around and in the same precinct was the known Durham Bulls baseball stadium. I could imagine what this area would have been like back in the days of Lucky Strike but now it had all been modernised – same buildings but turned into offices and restaurants and a nice little park and stream – and no-smoking signs (bet they weren’t there in the old days). Well done Durham – we had no idea this was there and found it by accident when Ms TomTom was too late on her directions and Jim missed the turn.

Overall, we were happy we chose to stay at Chapel Hill – we had the choice of one of the three of these cities (just to break up the driving). Never saw Raleigh, apart from freeway that avoided downtown so can’t comment about that one. Next stop was a few days in Asheville where Caroline had a dinner already booked. Bit of a theme for this trip – good food – and it has been.

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