Friday, August 12, 2011

Discovering North Carolina...

...one teeny tiny town at a time. We find that no matter where one lives, one rarely takes full advantage of it because one always thinks "I live here. I've got time to do that later." Case in point: Jason and I have traveled through far more of the United Kingdom than most residents we know because we were there for a finite period and wanted to cram in as much as possible.

Well, we didn't want to be those people in North Carolina. When we returned from living abroad, we made a pact to try and experience the state we love so much the way a tourist might. So, in that vein, we planned a weekend jaunt to the sleepy coastal town of New Bern. But not so fast.

Upon planning our route, we happened to notice that we would be passing by Kinston - the home of one of our favorite breweries, Mother Earth. Being the craft beer geeks that we are, we stopped in for a visit.

So many choices! What ever shall we choose?

Why choose when you can have them all?

We enjoyed our tasting outdoors in the beer garden. Fun fact: The tap room at Mother Earth is 100% solar powered. Kindly notice the solar panels...

I won't lie. It was warm out. Even though we had a seat in the shade, we were very grateful for the GIANT fan providing refreshing breezes. Seriously, GIANT. This photo doesn't do it justice but the blades look like airplane propellers. I said to Jason, "That is one big ass fan."

And that was before I noticed this plaque. It really is a Big Ass Fan.

But enough of those foolish mini-beers. Back indoors, we bellied up to the bar and said "Gimme a pint glass and fill 'er up."

But Jason took it one further and said "Enough of those foolish pints. Gimme a growler and fill 'er up." It was at this point I figured we'd better pack it in and continue our drive east before he got carried away and tried to make off with a keg. The last thing I needed was Jason running down the streets of Kinston with tap lines trailing behind him. And so we left.

And so we arrived at our destination, the Aerie B&B in lovely New Bern. Quick run down on New Bern. It is named after and is the sister city of Bern, the capital of Switzerland. New Bern was founded by a Swiss gent in 17something-or-other and is the original capital of North Carolina. Also, bern means bear. (So prepare for bears.)

Why does it always impress me to no end when I am greeted by name in my holiday lodgings? Be it on paper or electronically on the tv (as is all the rage now), I just love seeing my name. Narcissistic, party of one?

That evening, upon recommendation from the innkeeper, we dined waterside and watched the sun set behind the marina. I do love a good set of flags to remind me where I am. United States. Okay. North Carolina. Got it. New Bern. Excellent. (The New Bern one is, what else, a bear. It's exactly the same as the flag for the city of Old Bern. Though outside of New Bern, I'm pretty sure they just call that one Bern.)

I spent the following morning on bear lookout patrol.

New Bern is many things. It's pretty...

It's quirky...

And it's syrupy delicious!

That's right. It's the birthplace of Pepsi! Invented right there in this very small corner shop, which used to be a pharmacy. I don't know about you, but I, for one, am glad Mr. Bradham the pharmacist decided to goof off a little and take a break from all that tiresome pill counting.

So, in memory of old Brad, we plopped ourselves down at the counter and Jason put on his very best 1940's movie voice said "Hey mister, say, how about a couple of soda pops for me and my best gal here? She's awfully thirsty, see." Then he flipped a quarter over the counter and said "Keep the change, pal."

Oh, right. That probably didn't happen. I sometimes forget I married this guy and not Humphrey Bogart. You can see how I'd get momentarily confused though, no?

You didn't think you were getting out of New Bern without me harassing a bear/bern, did you? This one is the bear/bern version of the flags. Therefore I declared it my favorite. They were all over the city. All kinds. Dressed up in all manner of outfits. Engaged in all manner of activities.

But finally, we decided we had seen and tasted all New Bern had to offer so we hit yonder bridge there to explore foreign lands.

Jason had read somewhere that Oriental, NC (See, doesn't that sound foreign??) is ranked the number one place in NC to retire. Well, we figured there must be some pretty good reasons why people want to live out their golden years in this exotic locale. So we drove there. And we drove right through it. And didn't even realize it. And then we were all "Did we miss it?" So we turned around and tried again. Nope. Still nothing.

So Jason says to me "Get on Trip Advisor and see what are the top ten things to do here." I reply "Yes sir! Just as soon as I get even one tiny bar on my phone I'm on it."

I finally see a wee bar making a shaky appearance so I ordered Jason to stop the car and with a somewhat steady signal, I navigate to the Trip Advisor app. "Okay! Got it! The list is pulling up just now. Hmmm, this is strange. According to this, there's only one thing to do here. No, I'm serious. The top ten list just stops after number one." The number one (and only) thing to do in Oriental, NC is...sailing school. And as were not exactly outfitted in our sailing gear, we decided to pass that up.

Dejected, we got back on the road. But Jason soon noticed an odd structure that looked like two silos connected by a shack of some sort. We decided we were not leaving this town until we did something. So we turned the Mini around to find out what this place was. It was part restaurant (silo #1) and part shop (silo #2). And there was a sign in the middle (some sort of shack), which you may be barely able to make out, that read "Southern Palace".

I told Jason that we were going in that shop and we were going to buy something, anything, that said "Oriental, NC" on it. Well, we did. A jar of locally made salsa and a chip clip, which I Vanna Whited all over the parking lot. Souvenirs. DONE.

Next was a stop off at White's Farm. We had some amazing blackberries in New Bern and when I commented on them, the gentleman told me he got all of his produce at a farm about 20 minutes outside of New Bern and gave us directions on how to get there. We bought a pile of blackberries the likes of which would boggle the mind. "You can't eat all those blackberries!" Jason taunted me. I said "Watch me." They lasted exactly one week.

Next, we made our way to Washington, NC upon recommendation from someone in New Bern. It's one of those places that's worth a stop if you're passing nearby but not what I would call a destination in and of itself.

I was slightly worried when we got close to Washington and started passing restaurants that looked like meth labs. This little gem was called Garden of Eatin'. Yes, you read that right. Garden of Eatin'. Some of the other fine establishments that caught my eye were Buddy's Family Restaurant and Woogie's Seafood Shack. *shudder*

But I needn't have worried. As we approached the little river side town, I could tell it was just fine. How could I tell? Well, I started spotting these lovely decorative crabs here and there.

Soon, I realized the place was crawling with them! They were on every corner! I love a city with an animal themed public art project. The bears of New Bern! The crabs of Washington!

My favorite was the construction worker crab. Alas, it appears that "safety first" is not his motto since I noticed later, once I got the photos on the computer, that he's missing an eye. I don't even want to know what series of events led to this tragic accident.

I will admit that there wasn't a ton going on in Washington as it was a Sunday and almost everything was closed. But there were a few nice places to just stroll around and enjoy the scenery. So we strolled...

Still strolling...

More strolling... And more crabs!

And we had just about made it out of town when we discovered that not all crabs are as friendly as the construction worker one. Jason was accosted by the axe-wielding George Washington crab as we meandered past the historic municipal building, minding our own business, admiring the decorative elevated portico and federal-style architecture. He cannot tell a lie, but he can commit first degree assault and battery.

So I think the lesson here is stop by Washington if you get the chance. But try to go on a Saturday. And watch your back if you're near the municipal building.

We're off tomorrow for the family beach trip and to London and Copenhagen straight afterwards but I might be able to pre-order up some entries to auto-post while I'm away. Depends on how well I manage my time today. But considering I just spent 25 minutes snuggling on Elwin, I'm not off to the best start.

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