Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wilmington, Your diamond sand was snowflakes...

The MLK holiday weekend was hanging long and empty before us. Dutch and I decided (that can be read as I decided) that the opportunity of a long weekend away was not to be missed. I planned a lovely trip to Atlanta to see an exhibit at the High Museum that was on loan from the Louvre. They were also hosting an exhibit of the terra-cotta soliders from China. But Dutch would have none of that. The hotels too expensive!! The drive too long!! The food costs astronomical! And the museum entrance fees for TWO days had him positively screaming.

There was nothing left to do. I compromised. I know. I am shocked, too. But I did. Wilmington, it was. Neither of us had ever been and two friends recommended the area highly. Here was our tentative agenda:

Sunday morning-- Leave home by 6AM for a 4 1/2 hour drive to the coast. (Atlanta is only a little bit further. But who was counting? )

Sunday afternoon-- a stop at Wrightsville Beach and then a tour of the USS North Carolina. Dinner somewhere-- preferably overlooking the Intercoastal waterway.

Monday morning-- Airlie Gardens
Monday afternoon-- Spent at the beach or maybe Fort Fisher and a short ferry ride.
Monday evening-- Riverwalk and a nice dinner on the Cape Fear River

Tuesday morning-- Historic Downtown Wilmington Tour followed by coffee at Port City Java.

I'm nothing, if not organized. I like to plan. I don't know why I bother. You can roll that agenda up and smoke it! We left an hour late, which is no big deal. Dutch is usually later than that! We arrived in good time and drove straight to Wrightsville Beach. And as soon as my foot hit the sand at the base of Johnny Mercer pier, it began to rain. But it's the beach! It's a passing shower, nothing more! We laughed and watched the rain drops drizzle down as we walked along. Finally, we gave up. It was cold! IT was wet! So we headed out to The Bluewater Grille, a restaurant that received rave reviews AND it was on the Intercoastal Waterway. It was very busy and that is usually a great sign. The interior was gorgeous with heavily carved mouldings, a pressed tin ceiling and a polished wood bar. And the food? Meh. I had a shrimp po'boy with pasta salad. Dutch had the greek salad. I was NOT impressed. The shrimp were large but completely flavorless. The bread was NOT house made. IT was a limp roll. Very disappointing start. And the rain? It was falling harder by the minute. No USS North Carolina for us. We opted instead to do a bit of shopping at the Cotton Exchange-- a mall that is housed in the old cotton exchange building. It was quaint-- and mostly closed. That's right, evidently Wilmington shuts down for the season. Lovely. We finally gave up and went to check into the hotel. Where we promptly took a nap.

Upon waking, with nothing better to do, we decided to eat again. This time trying a local diner that had been voted as the best burger and fries in Wilmington for seven years in a row-- PT's Grill. Wow. SOOOOOO glad we went! I had the PT original burger with fries and a side order of blue cheese dressing, , lemonade to drink . Dutch had a turkey sandwich with fries. Outstanding on both counts! It's a quirky place, where you fill out your own order ticket and hand it to the guy behind the counter. Then you watch them grill it up from your table-- high tables surrounded by wooden bar stools. The place was very busy and the only table left had a stool that was labeled, "RON". It was the only labeled stool in the place. Clearly for one of their regulars. It was also the stool that I was sitting on. Dutch was very nervous and kept commenting that he hoped Ron wasn't a big dude! He didn't want to fight for the stool. It was still raining when we left, so we called it a night. Nothing seemed appealing in that weather.

Monday dawned bright and beautiful. Dutch woke up gray and SICKly. Lovely. But he was a trooper and pushed on. Soo....Airlie Gardens was a go! We arrived early and were the first ones in the gate. The entire time we spent there, we only saw three other people. It was like having the place to ourselves. It was worth every penny of the $5 admission price. We chose to have a real lunch but instead snack on protein bars and rice crackers. Yes, we are party animals! We also decided to drive to Fort Fisher and also go the NC Aquarium there. Fort Fisher was closed. Well, the museum was. The beach is always open. It was quite lovely. There was a little thicket of trees that were so tightly woven that there was only a small hole to go in. Dutch had to check it out-- and of course I followed. It was like going into Fangorn Forest-- it felt dark and mysterious and the branches get pulling my hair. Luckily the trail out of the thicket was clearly marked and opened up rather quickly.

Then it was on to the aquarium! Which proved to be a BAD idea. It was FREE DAY!! Whee!!! A million people with their hordes of children. It was nice to escape to the relative quiet of the beach after that! And escape we did to the Kure Beach pier. Now, many of you know that I don't like the ocean. It terrifies me. And piers are the WORST. You're walking out over all that pounding water that wants nothing more than to undermine the pilings and pull the whole thing out to sea. I escaped the panic by taking pictures of birds. Lots and lots of pictures of birds. And then I became oddly fascinated by the way the sand billowed in the crashing waves. I understand by war photographers get into trouble-- things seem so calm and so removed when viewed through an lens.

Now, if you've been looking back at the agenda you know that Monday night was our fancy dinner on the Cape Fear River night. I have three restaurants in mind. George's on the Riverwalk, Elijah's on the Riverwalk and Circa 1922. The first restaurant on the walk is Elijah's. It was closed for remodelling. Lovely. Next? George's. Closed on Monday evenings. Circa 1922? Well, I THINK we found it on Front Street and if it WAS the place it was PACKED. Absolutely PACKED with people in much better dress than ours standing in front of it with drinks in hand. Oh, well. We finally gave in and went to Bonefish Grill, which is a chain but one that I love. I had the salmon with bacon, spinach and gorgonzola and Dutch had Chicken Marsala. I followed it with a macadamia nut brownie and ice cream. Life was good again.

Except it wasn't. Because the forecast was for snow on Tuesday. And we woke up to a cold rain and everything in Wilmington canceled due to the threat of bad weather. I thought we should forgo our historic downtown walk and head home before the snow struck. Over breakfast we decided to check the weather along I-40 before making a decision. This confirmed my worst fears-- we would be driving home in a frozen HELL. Raleigh already had at least an inch of snow on the ground and it was barreling towards the coast. That was it. We decided to head home immediately. BAD IDEA. REALLY BAD IDEA. I-40 was frozen solid from just outside of Duplin, NC all the way through to Chapel Hill, NC. I only skidded once but was so tense, I was almost in tears the entire time. (I only cried once and that was because Dutch yelled at me!!!! All his fault!!!!) We really should have stayed another day on the coast. Luckily the weather cleared outside of Chapel Hill and by the time we made Burlington, the roads were clear and dry. Dutch took over the driving at that point. A really cool side note: it was inauguration day. I heard Obama's speech on the radio and it felt rather like we were in a different time and place. Instead of seeing on television, or internet, I was hearing it, like my mother or my grandmother would have heard it in their time. It was like coming full circle, somehow. It felt oddly appropriate, very fitting for the message he delivered.

Anyway, that was our Wilmington trip. It didn't go quite as planned. We didn't do everything we wanted to do and many, many things were closed for the season. I wouldn't mind going back when Wilmington is at her best-- hosting ghost tours, trolley cars and open shops. I would like to see more of Historic Downtown Wilmington, which was so beautiful and filled with old Southern dignity and charm. But if I don't go, I won't be heartbroken. Wilmington seemed to lack the heart that draws me to Nags Head. It's a middle ground between the horrible hype that is Myrtle Beach and the charm that is the Outer Banks. If I had it to do over? I would have gone to Atlanta. :-P

You can see the photos on Flickr: Wilmington, NC January 19th, 2009

Oh, and the thing I regret most?? I never did get that coffee.

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