Wednesday through Sunday of last week, my mother came to visit me. We took a road trip to Charlotte, North Carolina. The beginning of our trip was devoted to shopping. Wednesday we stayed in Columbia and wandered through the shops in Five Points and ate dinner at Yesterday’s. On the way to Charlotte on Thursday, we stopped in Pineville, North Carolina to shop their antique district. It wasn’t very big, but there were a few cute little stores to browse. Plus, Two on Earth Bakery Café was next door, convenient for us to have an afternoon snack.Another attraction in Pineville was the President James K. Polk State Historic Site. Offering a small museum and a time period homestead, the site was pretty interesting. Neither my mother nor I really had any idea who Polk was, other than President at some point, so we learned a lot. Visits to the site are free, so I recommend it to anyone else who is also confused about Polk. The whole tour only took about an hour and the staff was very friendly. Later, we ate dinner at Rusty’s, which had some pretty good sandwiches.
Friday began our adventures in Charlotte. We had planned for our first stop to be the flea market in Pineville, but it turned out to only be open Saturday and Sunday. That was a bit disappointing, but we drove on to visit the Billy Graham Library. Dedicated to Billy Graham’s mission of evangelism, the library told the story of his life through video clips, photographs, and memorabilia. Just in front of the museum, you can visit Billy’s childhood home. It was interesting to see how many powerful world leaders had turned to him for advice over the past decades. I especially enjoyed the section of the library about his wife, Ruth. She grew up in China in the 1920’s and became Billy’s most trusted spiritual advisor. I thought she was fascinating. Tip: Make sure to budget at least two hours to see everything at the Library.
Afterwards we stopped at Bar-B-Q King, an old-fashioned drive in that served all kinds of bar-b-q sandwiches. The sandwiches were delicious and the hushpuppies were beautiful crunchy balls of steaming carbohydrates. They also had yummy strawberry pie. We found the restaurant through Flavortown USA, a Diners Drive Ins and Dives fansite. Although the official Food Network site offers an interactive map and app to find all of the restaurants that have been featured on their channel, the Flavortown site was easier to print out and take with us. For fans of the show, it was a great resource.
That afternoon the weather was beautiful, so we drive out to the Carolina Raptor Center. The Raptor Center rescues injured birds of prey and attempts to return them to the wild. Not every bird can be returned to the wild, however, so some are permanent residents of the center. Visitors can walk the quarter mile trail outside the center to see all of the birds. The birds were charming. My favorites were the vultures. The hour walking around the center was well spent.
For dinner we went to another Diners Drive Ins and Dives recommendation, Dish. A typical southern restaurant, where your entrée comes with your choice of vegetable, a biscuit and a deviled egg, the food was homemade and delicious. I had the chicken and dumplings, which would have warmed me up on even the coldest night. For dessert we split a slice of vanilla bourbon sweet potato pie. Talk about a new twist on a classic. We had to resist licking the plate.
We had reserved Saturday for exploring Uptown Charlotte. Saturday also happened to be the City of Charlotte’s big St. Patrick’s Day celebration. While it made parking and driving a nightmare, this did mean that there was plenty to see as we walked around and all of the museums we went to were empty, so overall, not that bad. First we went to the Wells Fargo Museum. Although small, this museum was very interactive. While learning about the history of the Wells Fargo Company you could get your picture taken in front of an original stagecoach, put your face on money, and ride in a replica stagecoach. There were lots of hands-on exhibits, my favorite kind. We easily spent almost an hour there.
Just across the street was the Mint Museum Uptown, a modern art museum. In addition to a permanent gallery of American and European art, they had a special exhibit on flowers and a gallery of contemporary art. The Allure of Flowers exhibit featured everything from ceramics to textiles to performance art. The art was flowery and beautiful. The craft + design gallery was divided up by material: wood, clay, fiber, etc., and featured some works commissioned just for the museum. Some of the exhibits pushed the boundaries of what is commonly thought of as art, like a Dyson vacuum cleaner, but I think it helped expand our worldview a little. After spending all morning and into the afternoon uptown, we were starving. The last stop on our Diners Drive Ins and Dives tour was Landmark Diner. Run by a Greek family, and famous for offering a wide selection of food at all hours of the day and night, this restaurant did not disappoint. I had an appetizer portion of their famous Spanakopita and we ordered a giant slice of pineapple coconut cake. It was quite tasty. Before driving back to Columbia, we drove around NoDa, or North Davidson Street, Charlotte’s arts district. We poked around the cool art galleries and shops, but then it was time to hit the road. By the time we got back to Columbia it was pretty late, so we ordered Chinese food and watched girly TV shows in our pajamas. Not a bad end to break, if I do say so myself.
It has taken me too long to get out to explore Charlotte. There were lots of exciting things to do, and we didn’t get to see all of them. Next time the first thing on my to do list is to visit the other location of the Mint Museum on Randolph Road, located in the original US Mint building. Have any of you visited Charlotte, and what is your favorite thing there?