Sunday, October 21, 2012

I LOVE Charlotte, NC!!!!!

Duane and I were able to take a quick and MUCH NEEDED getaway to Charlotte, NC during the middle of MEA (Minnesota Education Association conferences...where it's "officially" days set aside for teachers to go to workshops and a big conference, but on which most just take a long four day weekend to get away and relax...). 

SOOOOOO needed it (see previous blog post).  The show opens next weekend, so I now launch into five hour rehearsals every night in which lights, costumes, makeup, props, orchestra, and microphones are added to the already frantic mix of singing, choreography and staging.  Oy!

Anyway...we headed out bright and early Friday morning. The airport was it WAS MEA (even though it officially started the day before, and we figured everyone would already be gone).  It took about 45 minutes to get through security, and we RAN to our gate (which, of course was at the other end of the airport).  We got there about three minutes before they closed the door....ugh!  Duane got first class.  I got coach...SUCKY!  The flight was uneventful, and we arrived in Charlotte at 10:30 A.M.

Not sure WHY we chose Charlotte, but we hadn't been there before, and knew some people who MIGHT be in town, so took the chance.  As it turned out, our friend Gary (from the Baltic Sea cruise) WAS in town for the weekend, so were able to hook up with him a couple of times.  It's kind of funny that he's in Minneapolis every week on this long consulting job, but we had to fly to Charlotte to have dinner with him!

We stayed at the Hyatt House on Tryon Street.  It was a GREAT place, and centrally located, so it was very easy to get wherever we wanted to go. 

After unpacking, and regrouping, we headed out to explore.  I Googled "Diner's Drive Ins & Dives in Charlotte", and got several good possibilities for lunch.   We settled on Bar-B-Q King, and I'm REALLY glad we was AWESOME!  The place has been around for decades, and their speciality is barbecue fried chicken (click here to see the segment on "DD&D"), which is an AMAZING breaded, fried chicken, dipped in a vinegar-y Carolina sauce, and thrown on the grill...YUM!  I also had coleslaw, hush puppies, and a really good dinner roll.

Not only was the food amazing, but so was the staff.  As we were being TOTALLY touristy, walking around outside taking photos, one of the servers came out and invited us in to take pictures inside.  He invited us to sit at one of the two tables inside, and kept coming back and offering us samples of other things (like their onion rings and tartar sauce).  We got to talk to the owner, and his brother (who flies to Minneapolis once a year, it turns out, to watch the Vikings play), and they even gave us a free t-shirt as we were leaving.  What a FABULOUS place!

After a sticky, messy, DELICIOUS lunch, we headed out to do more exploring.  We decided to drive to the University of North Carolina campus and explore the botanical gardens.  It was a long drive, but we found a Baskin Robbins on the way to break up the tedium!  It was well worth it.  Even though it's fall, and most of the flora is dying, there were some beautiful trees to view, and rustic paths to walk, and unusual sculpture to enjoy.

After the gardens, we spent WAAAAAY too long looking for a place called Antique Kingdom.  Turns out it was bulldozed and a care center went up in it's place several years ago (go Trip Advisor...).  After driving around for awhile, we went back to the hotel, recouperated from the day thus far (days beginning at 5:00 seem REALLY long at this point...), then made plans to meet Gary for dinner.

He picked us up (after waiting outside the "other" Hyatt House in Charlotte), then gave us a great tour of the city.  We learned about it's history, saw some of it's trendy neighborhoods, and explored the heart of the city.  What a cool place...small town-ish (he calls it Mayberry), yet trendy, with good restaurants, museums, and parks.

After the tour, we headed to one of his favorite rib places...Midwood Smokehouse.  Yum!  I had the pulled pork, with macaroni and cheese, hush puppies, and coleslaw (I'm REALLY glad there are no cholesterol checks in my near future!).  We got to meet Gary's friend Larry, and I THINK we all decided to try to go on another cruise sometime next summer.  I hope so...I'm sure it would be a BLAST!!

After dinner, Larry went home, and Gary, Duane, and I went downtown to look around.  Beautiful downtown area, and one of the buildings was lit in pink lights for breast cancer awareness.  On the hour the lights changed color for a few minutes, so we watched that, then walked through a really cool park that had sign posts and sculpture centered around road/distance signs and books and authors.  RIGHT up my alley! 

Gary then dropped us off at the hotel, and we dropped GRATEFULLY into bed!

Saturday morning, we slept in, then got ready, and headed out to see more sights.  OF COURSE we found a grocery store (Hi Low) to look around in, and I found some great "Southern" stuff to bring back to Minnesota...spicy meat breading, and cheese biscuit mix...yum!

We then went to the Sleepy Poet Antique Mall (which Gary had pointed out the night before).  It was huge, and we spent several hours there.  I found a Charlotte area cookbook from the 50's, and a children's book about chickens from the 40's that I couldn't live without...!

Outside was a food truck called "Papi Queso", so we check it out for lunch.  WOW!  I had the "Pig Mac"...a grilled cheese sandwich with pulled pork, macaroni and cheese, and Bourbon onions.  It was toasted to PERFECTION, and was unbelievably good.  Their home made potato chips (with truffle oil, rosemary, and sea salt) were also amazing!

We continued our sightseeing with a trip to the Charlotte Speedway.  Not my particular cup of tea, but it was interesting to see all of the NASCAR stuff.  We took a tour, and got to go to the center part of the racetrack, and even got to take a zippy van ride around the track between time trials of some of the drivers.  I must say it's unnerving to be riding in the back of a van at 90 MPH around those angled curves at the ends of the track...oy!

After the racetrack, we met Gary at Amelie's French Bakery for some quick pastries, then headed to the airport, and back to Minneapolis (in coach...again....).

On the flight back we were treated to a LOVELY sunset... 

A MUCH needed break from the "crazy" here, and I have to admit that I REALLY like Charlotte!  They say you only visit Charlotte once, and then you move there.  I don't think I'm quite there yet, but am eager to get back there again, and check out more of "The Queen City"!!!

Here's hoping YOU had the opportunity for a quick escape recently too (and that YOUR cholesterol levels are lower than mine are right now)!!!!