I have deemed it a great shame that North Carolina doesn’t generally make it on to a tourist’s trail through the US. I’m so thrilled that Colleen gave me an opportunity to visit this wonderful state; I really can’t speak highly enough of it! But I guess I’ll give it a go in the coming paragraphs.
We arrived in Durham by bus from Washington DC on a rainy Friday afternoon, being the day before the wedding. We hired a car, and thanks to Sabrina’s navigation skills, we made it to our hotel in Chapel Hill. I suppose I deserve some kudos too, given I had to tackle driving on the right (wrong) side of the road, and torrential rain.
During our exchange in London, I heard plenty about North Carolina – particularly Chapel Hill. Both Colleen and Isabel went to university there and I believe had lived there beyond that, and Tiernan spent the early years of her life there. Sabrina and I soon discovered why our study abroad friends were so enthusiastic about this little town.
On Friday night, Colleen and Jonathan organised a get-together for their wedding guests, particularly those who had arrived from out of town. Atop a trendy brewery on Chapel Hill’s main street, it was wonderful to reconnect with our study abroad friends; especially those who I hadn’t seen in the almost three years since exchange. It was also great to meet some of Colleen’s friends and family, who were incredibly welcoming to us throughout the weekend.
We began Saturday with some traditional southern fare – biscuits. For Australian readers, these are not the sweet biscuits we know and I originally expected. I would describe them sort of like savoury scones which are shaped more like flat rolls. Isabel recommended we go to the Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen for breakfast (readers of my previous blogs will know that whenever Isabel makes a suggestion regarding food it is definitely one to take up). They fill the biscuits with egg, cheese, meat – whatever you want. It was so delicious.
We spent the morning exploring Chapel Hill. We were lucky to be joined by Tiernan, who acted as tour guide and showed us around the University of North Carolina campus and a couple of other attractions. Wow, UNC is unbelievable. It makes my university seem like a rubbish dump. It opened in 1795 as the nation’s first public university. As well as its buildings and grounds being aesthetically amazing, academically the university rates amongst the world’s best.
One thing (of many) that I loved about Chapel Hill was the university spirit it exuded. On the same weekend as the wedding, UNC was playing a basketball match against its rival school, Duke University. Every person we encountered, be it in a shop, eatery, etc, enthused ‘Go Heels’ as we left. UNC’s team is called the Tar Heels. I’m definitely a Tar Heel now – I even bought a t-shirt to prove it. Unfortunately Duke won this time around. Another thing I loved was the southern flavour of the place. There was a lot of ‘how y’all doing?’ and chat along those lines, the novelty of which did not wear off.
So, to the wedding; simultaneously the excuse for this trip and its highlight. The ceremony was held in the gardens of a place called Fearrington Village. The weather gods must have known Colleen and Jonathan had an outdoor ceremony planned, because the weather on Saturday was absolutely perfect. Brilliantly sunny and certainly no jacket required. (This was a revelation for me, after two weeks of North American winter weather.)
After a cocktail hour, the reception took place in a barn, which was very cool. It was beautifully decorated with fairy lights, and had a rustic, vintage feel. Everything about the night was wonderful. Colleen looked divine, as did her bridesmaids, who included our very own Isabel and Emily. The food was delicious, the toasts were poignant and funny, the music was great and it was obvious that everybody had a ball from beginning to end.
At our hostel in Washington DC, I met and chatted to a girl from Scotland, who was visiting DC during a break from her semester abroad in Montreal. She was with a bunch of friends who were also study abroad kids from various countries. This girl was so incredibly excited by the fact that Sabrina and I were friends from exchange, and going to the wedding of another exchange friend, where we would reunite with a portion of our group. She said she hoped she would go to her exchange friends’ weddings one day, and commented what a special bond it was between friends who meet abroad and travel together.
I had a fabulous time at the wedding, but indeed the overwhelming feeling for me was how special it was that I could be there amongst six of our exchange friends. If not for the limits of geography, there undoubtedly would have been a few more from our group there too. I am confident this won’t be the last of our reunions.
Now, a few words on Wilmington. The day after the wedding, Sabrina and I drove to the coast of North Carolina. Colleen had recommended it for visitors who wanted to spend a little longer in NC. It was an absolute delight. It’s a sweet little place on the riverfront, and particularly exciting for Sabrina and myself is the fact that shows including Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill were filmed there. Movies too, like A Walk to Remember. In contrast to the other cities we’d visited, there wasn’t a whole list of tourist attractions we had to tick off, so we took it as a little vacation to finish our trip. We explored historic Wilmington, walked the River walk, checked out shops, ate, and enjoyed the sunshine. For the two nights we stayed we rented an apartment, which overlooked the water.
During our time in Wilmington we drove to Wrightesville beach, which was very nice. It was so warm and sunny that we both got a little sunburnt. And, we found the pier where they filmed the opening credits of Dawson’s Creek!
On our final morning, we drove the few hours back to Raleigh/Durham. We returned our hire car, and Colleen and Jonathan came to hang out with us for a couple of hours at the airport before we had to check in for our flights. Of course, they were very much in demand at the wedding, so it was great to be able to spend some time with them.
Sadly, that was it for America and my time traveling with Sabrina. Happily, London was next.