Charlotte in North Carolina might be considered by many people as “just another North American” Bank city, but if you take a closer look at one of my favourite US destinations, Charlotte´s location makes it perfectly suitable as starting point for roadtrips and day excursions.
Attractions like Charleston, Asheville, Greensboro, Raleigh/Durham, Myrtle Beach, Richmond or Savannah are within a three-hours-drive radius and there are also plenty of Nationalparks and reserves in close reach.
Normally, I have just an overnight when layovering in CLT, but whenever I get the chance to work on a flight with an extra night, I am in.
Like on my recent trip in January. After taking a well-deserved nap during the Arrival day´s night and a huge cup of Café Latte in the morning, it was time to pick up my rental car at the Hotel´s AVIS branch.
Just moments after the mandatory paperwork I was already sitting inside my pretty ugly yellow KIA on the road up North. Since I already felt pretty jetlagged the day we flew into Charlotte, I didn´t want to drive too far away from the city and therefor googled for possible destinations before picking up the car.
This is how I came up with the small city of Blowing Rock about one and a half hours up North at the edge of the Cherokee National Forest and right in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
It´s quite a picturesque drive there and together with my varied music library time passed quite quickly.
I selected Blowing Rock over other possible overnight destinations just because of the affordable prices during winter. The city is well-known for its eponym, the Blowing Rock itself. The rock is actually since 1933 North Carolina´s oldest travel attraction and one of the oldest in the US. Make sure to check on the website the opening times before you plan a visit. Upon my arrival, I found the doors closed and learned that it was only open in January Thursdays to Mondays (like many other things in the area as I learned later on).
So bad luck on me having a Tuesday and Wednesday available for travel. But oh well, no worries about that. Getting out of the city and into Nature is well worth it for me at any time! Even though I have similar possibilities at home with Munich being so close to the Alps, I hardly make it on any excursions in my personal freetime in between flights.
So after a little walk around the area of the entry, I decided to drive up further North to Boone. The small city is supposed to have quite a beautiful city center and since I haven´t had a real lunch yet, it sounded like a good place to head to.
Unfortunately, it turned out as rather disappointing for my taste and I didn´t waste much time there. After driving through and not being able to find visually an inviting place to stop for a decent lunch at, I took the road back to Blowing Rock.
As it was still too early to check-in at my hotel, I went for another drive down the 221 to Linville, home of the famous Linville Falls. And this is a truly worthy place to visit. If it hadn´t been so cold, I might have checked out more of the hicking trails available there, but I didn´t want to risk catching a cold. So I only took the short walk down to the water and then through the woods up to get the panorama of the cascade.
Delighted by the sheer beauty and almost frozen to death by the cold, it was slowly time to head back to Blowing Rock. But since I didn´t have much on the agenda for the rest of the day I simply enjoyed driving around for a little more.
We sold our car a few years ago and so I enjoy being behind the wheel any time I can get. Particularly, if you can enjoy the scenery outside like here in North Carolina.
So soon after I left the beautiful Linville Falls behind me, I opted for the scenic drive back to Blowing Rock via the Blue Ridge Parkway. Staying on the Parkway during winter can actually be quite hazardous, so drive safely and don´t speed! The roads are not kept clear and they can be quite slippery. You will not meet too many cars while driving, so try to stay out of deviating off the street ;)…
I didn´t reach the hotel before 6 pm. It was dark already and the weather had quite changed within the last couple of hours. From cold yet clear skies we had moved to damp and misty with severe winds.
The Holiday Inn Express that I chose to stay at offered just the right amount of comfort and quality that you could get for 50 US-$ a night. But it was clean and the bed was great.
While I took a long and hot shower, the weather outside had actually reached the state of a light snowstorm. And I was hungry. I hadn´t realised the entire day how hungry I actually was.
Driving can be quite tiering, I tend to forget that from time to time. I needed to recharge my batteries and add some energy in form of a healthy and nutritious meal. So while sipping on a cup of hot and steamy coffee, I browsed through the restaurant searches that I had googled in close reach.
To my surprise, most restaurants in the area were closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays (must be a Winter season thing), but in the end I did find a place that looked promising in forms of style, menue and atmosphere. And the best thing: It was very close and I could make a reservation over opentable.com.
Twigs seemed to be just the perfect choice for tonight. And it was open. “Fine dining in a cozy mountain atmosphere. Specializing in an array of dishes of the highest quality including crab cakes, filet mignon, duck breast and mountain trout.” That´s me.
So I made a few clicks and just 45 minutes later I found myself sitting in a mainly empty yet absolutely cozy shelter from outside´s storm, sipping French Vouvray and feasting on the chef´s specialities.
Crab Cake on Nantua Mirror, locally grown Garden Greens and a Pecan encrusted Mountain Trout with Amaretto butter and baked Sweet Potatoe were more than adequate to pamper my palate and to fill the gap that this long and strenous day had left in my stomach. And they all were fantastic!
Ok, there was no Espresso to finish this delicious menue with and the (quite sexy) waiter had his hands in his pockets all the time, but hey, I was here to enjoy a piece of Mountaineer lifestyle, right?! And I did.
So after I signed the bill for tonight´s gastronomical excursion (with just a little over 35 US-$ I would declare this as a more than adequate price-value), I headed back to the hotel and fell almost straight away into a Cinderella timeout.
The next morning I panicked for a fraction of a second. The snowstorm was still raging outside and I was not so sure about the hardyness of my ugly little yellow KIA. So I decided spontaneously to pack together and commence the drive back to Charlotte rather earlier than later.
Since this was also departure day and I had planned visits to a few branches of Marshall´s and TJ MAXX in the Charlotte area, this was the perfect time to leave. I never liked negative surpises at short notice, and even if the weather went through a major change just after I had left the Blue Ridge Moutains, it was the right decision to me. I am German. There is nothing more important than being on time.
The journey went by smoother than smooth. I got back to Charlotte without any delays, was able to do a little shopping, returned the car without hassle and even had enough time left to complete a short workout at the nearby YMCA gym.
What a short yet intense layover this was. A little tierd but completely content my eyes stare with enlightment out of the tiny porthole window next to my flight attendant seat, soaking up every little fraction of ground that eventually disappears underneath the clouds as our plane climbs into the sky. Homebound.
Thank you, North Carolina! You have been amazing as always. See you soon!
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