The Fourth of July fell on a Friday this year, which presented a rare opportunity: a three-day-weekend. After working too many hours the past few weeks, I was able to take the holiday off and take advantage of the extra time.
If I didn’t catch this nasty cold from Caitlin, I would have been much more excited about the chance to travel. Paul got the holiday off too, so it was twice as nice.
Originally, we planned to go with Paul’s parents to their beach house in Delaware. We go every once in a while to escape real life for a few days and enjoy the beach, even though the water is almost always too cold. But another opportunity arose that we couldn’t pass up: our good friends Sam and Jay invited us to go to Chapel Hill, N.C. with them for the long weekend to visit Jay’s parents.
Sam’s been raving about North Carolina and Chapel Hill almost as long as I’ve known her. She’s been with Jay several times to visit his parents. She has this dream that one day the four of us will move down there. I can’t say I’m totally opposed to the idea now.
We left Thursday night, despite some nasty rain and getting off to a late start. Jay drove and the four of us tried to keep each other awake and entertained. It’s only a few hours of driving and we didn’t hit much traffic. For the majority of the car ride, we played silly games.
We stopped in South Hill, which is in the very southern part of Virginia, near the North Carolina border. Jay and Sam told us this is where they usually stop to get food and go to the bathroom and let Sam’s small dog, grover, out. We were excited to stop at Sonic and grab shakes (half price after 8 pm!) but our hopes were dashed when we learned that the machines were down and they couldn’t take any orders. After some scrambling about where we could find a decent bathroom and a dining room still open, we ended up at Burger King.
We rolled in to Chapel Hill around midnight and Jay’s parents greeted us warmly, despite the late hour. After unloading all the things from the car, we all sat around the kitchen chatting (though I was falling asleep from the meds/sickness).
On Friday, we all slept in a bit and had a light breakfast before heading into downtown Chapel Hill. Jay’s parents live about 10 minutes outside the downtown area, so they get the benefits of having room to move and being near the center of things.
Sam, Jay, Paul and I piled into Jay’s SUV and first drove around the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus. It’s gorgeous. Jay pointed out the notable buildings, including where Michael Jordan played basketball and the Dean Dome, named after Dean Smith, the men’s basketball head coach for several years. It’s a gorgeous campus, with southern charm, lots of trees, unique buildings and lots of history. It was mostly empty. Jay also showed us some of the buildings he helped design. He’s an engineer and used to work for a firm that got a lot of work from UNC.
We drove around downtown a little bit more and Jay showed us some of his favorite places and spots he hung out at and worked at in high school.
We parked and walked down Franklin Street, the main drag in downtown Chapel Hill. We decided
to try out Carolina Brewery, because Paul and I can’t visit a new place without exploring the craft beer scene. The World Cup was on, so we decided to sit inside. We ordered a sampler of beer for the table, but Paul and I drank most of it ourselves. The beer was OK, but nothing too special. I thought the decor of the place was really cool and you could see the tanks where the beer is made behind the bar. The brewery has a second, larger, location, where much of the brewing is done. Paul ordered wings for lunch (no surprise — it’s his favorite food) and they had cackalacky sauce on them. He said it was sweet and spicy, kind of like buffalo sauce. He remarked that he had friend in the Coast Guard who used say she was from North Cackalacky. Here’s one explanation of where the word came from.
After that, we walked back down Franklin Street and we were going to get ice cream, but Sam wasn’t feeling great, so we headed home.
It was a hot July day, so we decided to hop in Jay’s parents pool for a few hours. At first, I resisted because I’m not much of a swimmer. I sat on the side and started a book. But when everyone got in and Jay’s dad brought out two rafts, I hopped in too. I spent the majority of the time on this neat raft, where you can float and be submerged in the water at the same time. Paul had fun pushing me around. Sam was on the other, similar raft. We tried to get the three dogs to get in the pool, too. Grover, Sam’s tiny dog was only very briefly in the water before begging to be taken out. Lilah, one of Jay’s parents dogs fell in, and Tequila, the other dog Jay’s parents have, refused to go in.
After a few hours of swimming, everyone cleaned up to get ready for grilling and the rest of the evening. I spent some time talking to Jay’s dad about cooking and baking and he promised he’d show me a good method for making black and white cookies. I made them once, but they didn’t come out exactly right. He showed me the amount of batter to ladel on to the cookie sheet. That was probably my issue last time – I made the mounds to small and thick instead of thinner and bigger.
We grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, and corn and had a variety of sides. Even though my appetite was diminished from being sick, I polished off a cheeseburger and some corn. We couldn’t decide if we still wanted to go over to UNC to see the fireworks because some people weren’t feeling well. So, instead, we decided to have a game night and watch the fireworks from New York on TV. Marc frosted the black and whites and told me a few secrets, including using a brush to put the two kinds of frosting on. Only one was actually dropped in the frosting, but it was fine because he gave that one to Deb, Jay’s mom, who loves chocolate.
We explored the upstairs part of the house for a little while, searching for games and discovered Jay’s dad’s vintage pinball machine. Paul had a lot of fun playing with it and watching it light up. Marc said it was a wedding gift to himself. He said every time he played, he’d put a quarter in and it was a way of saving money.
We settled on Trivial Pursuit, Disney Edition, from 1986. We had no idea what a challenge it would be to a) think of answers that would be relevant in 1986, and b) answer questions about the theme parks. I thought I’d have an advantage after living in Orlando for four years, but I really had nothing special to contribute. The questions stumped me as well. We finally stopped playing after about 1:30 a.m. and Jay and Sam edged everyone.
On Saturday morning, we slept in again, but Marc made us blueberry and gluten-free pancakes. Jay wanted to visit his grandmother that day and we didn’t all need to go with him. So, the four of us went over to get ice cream at a local place and then Sam and Jay went to visit Jay’s grandmother, Ruth. Ice cream is my favorite food in the world, and I’m determined to find the best ice cream everywhere. This time I tried lemon crunch. It was creamy, but light and tart at the same time.
This was the first bit of time Paul and I got to ourselves during the trip. We walked around Carrboro, where we had the ice cream for a bit. It’s tiny and right next to Chapel Hill, but has lots of character with neat restaurants and shops. We found a microbrewery (nanobrewery?) called Steel String and went there. We sampled five different beers in taster sizes and they were delicious. It was nice chatting with the bartender, who was familiar with Hardywood, one of our favorite breweries in Richmond. I picked up my souvenir pint glass (my second of the trip) to add to my growing collection. I try to collect them at each brewery we visit. My cupboard is already full, but I can’t not get one when I visit a brewery. I also collect shotglasses, but I forgot to pick one up this trip. I promise I’m not an alcoholic, these are just easy things to collect and are pretty to display.
We were both feeling the beers, so we walked over to Weaver Street Market, a co-op nearby. I got us some Foccacia bread to much on while we walked over to Chapel Hill. It was only a 15 or 20 minute walk, but it felt long because of the heat. We walked right over to a little place called Time
Out, that I had read about as a soul food place. It’s been featured on national shows, such as Man vs. Food. We weren’t starving after the other snacks, so we shared a snack pack that had fried chicken and a gigantic biscuit. The place had authentic southern soul food and painted in UNC colors, like most of the town. After that, we walked back down Franklin Street to walk off the extra calories. We wandered over the the UNC campus and walked along a wall where students once protested against a speaker ban.
Sam and Jay picked us up and we went over to Trader Joe’s to get delicious food to take back to Virginia with us. The closest ones to us are in Short Pump (near Richmond) and Alexandria, so it was a treat to be close to one. We loaded up on some things, like baking chocolate for me, and vowed to return the next day before heading back for cold items.
After we got home, everyone was exhausted and I passed out for about two hours. When I woke up, I learned about chocolate making from Marc. He showed me how to weight different varieties of chocolate together to make a unique combination and add in fruits and nuts to get a good texture and flavor. He put in all in the crockpot and let it sit for an hour, without stirring it. Then we had dinner — lasagna made by Jay’s mom and a turkey/veggie/pasta combination. After dinner, Marc stirred the chocolate and add-ins together and let it sit for another hour. He also made brownies and added some mint chocolate chips. We all took a walk down their long street with the dogs after dinner. After another hour in the crock-pot, Marc spread the chocolate into candy molds to form bars. He put them in the fridge for an hour to chill and harden.
When we got back, we started another game of Trivial Pursuit. This time, we borrowed the Genus
version of the game from their neighbors. Though it was even older, made in 1981, it was easier. Paul and I dominated a little more this round. We took a break during the game to eat the chocolate bars, brownies and ice cream. After that, the game didn’t last too much longer and before we knew it, it was midnight. We quit early this time, but Paul and I won. We learned a fun term: spermologer. It’s not what it sounds like. It means someone who has extensive knowledge of trivia. Paul is my favorite spermologer. :)
On Sunday morning, we all slept in again, and got a slow start to our last day. We all went to Weaver Street Market because there was a Jazz Brunch. But because it was so crowded when we got there, and there were six of us, we all sat inside and didn’t get to listen to the music until we left. Some of us were in crummy moods (guilty) and we decided to go back to the house after that because we were full, instead of going to another brewery that Jay wanted to show us, called Top of the Hill. We didn’t get to go, but we promised we’d do it on another trip. We went back to the house to get everything packed up. Jay wanted to visit his grandmother one more time before left. So, we went to Trader Joe’s again to load up on more goodies and then went over to the retirement home. Since it wouldn’t be very long, Paul and I stayed in the car with Grover, Sam’s dog, and read and talked. It was mid-afternoon by the time we got on the road, but nobody minded. The trip back was quieter than the ride down because we were all tired and I was engrossed in my book. We stopped at Sonic, which was open and operational this time. I was happy to get my Oreo/cookie dough milkshake, but I
couldn’t finish it.
We didn’t hit any traffic on 95 until we passed Richmond, so we got off 95 and took U.S. 1 instead and it took a little longer because there was traffic there too.
It was a great, relaxing weekend with friends, and I think a bonding experience for the four of us. We all spend a lot of time together and it was great that we could do it somewhere beside Fredericksburg.
I would love to visit Chapel Hill again. The town has a great feel to it — small town charm and friendly, but with plenty to do. I would also like to explore Raleigh and Durham, which are nearby, as well. It’s not close enough for a day trip, but definitely worth another weekend trip. I bet it’s completely different during the school year when all the students are around.