Across North Carolina (part two)

Today’s publication is the sequel to North Carolina (part 1), where I cut the narrative a bit short considering that there was one more place in Wilmington left to talk about. The name of that place is Airlie Gardens, and the reason it got carried over to this post is to even out the number of photographs that come with each story. Now, back to business.

Although one cannot deny that the Airlie Gardens are essentially gardens, I would venture to broaden the description somewhat. Beyond its botanical function the gardens are a large outdoor craftwork display, and a rather silly (in a good way) at that. The exhibits included both individual items and a thematic group. First, the non-thematic part:

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And now the thematic one (frog alert!):

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Later that morning we continued our study of the aquatic fauna, switching from the man-made amphibian sculptures to the much-alive reptiles at the Myrtle Beach alligator farm in South Carolina. We did not return to North Carolina until a few days later, resuming the exploration of the state at the Douglas Airport Overlook in Charlotte.

Charlotte

In defiance of aerial safety and much to the joy of aviation-addicted Charlotteans, the Douglas Airport Overlook provides unobstructed sight of an operational runway, with jets landing and taking off every couple of minutes. When you add the picnic tables, loads of parking, and a clear city skyline to the mix, you get one splendid place to waste an afternoon.

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Comforted by the thought that the telescopic lens is something more than just ballast in our travel gear, we tucked it back into the camera bag and moved on to our next goal, the Metalmorphosis.

Metalmorphosis is an ingenious water fountain in the shape of a large human head stacked with several dozen horizontal metal slabs. See for yourself:

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I am in the dark as to why it was installed in the middle of a corporate center. Maybe the monument hints at the stand of the financial powers that be towards the common people?

The night was drawing on as we rushed up I-77 North to Charlotte Center City to get a closer look at the distant high-risers. Our trip, however, involved an unexpected delay due to a tire blowout, so by the time we put on a donut and crept to roughly where we wanted to be, it was too late (and risky) to roll around town much longer. Hence, very few pictures were made at that time.

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We made it safely to the hotel later that night, yet with an uneasy feeling about the rest of our journey. If we could not find a new tire the next morning, our plans were in jeopardy.

When I got up, barely at daybreak, I started calling all the local tire and automotive shops I was able to find on the Web. Alas, thirteen-inch tires are not very common, so the best anyone could offer was to have one ordered for pick-up the following day, which was less than ideal. Fortunately, at one place close by they had what we needed in stock and were willing to install it straightaway. To cut a long story short, I was back at the hotel in time for breakfast; what a relief.

Before too long, we were in motion again. The plan was to finish with Charlotte and survey most of Asheville in one day, so we pretty much had to bypass the Marshall Park, even though the views from the park were said to be quite exciting. Instead, we swung by the historic Fourth Ward before proceeding to the Foundation for the Carolinas art museum.

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The Foundation owns a moderately sized collection of glass works, paintings, and handicraft pieces, acquired mostly through donations or on loan from various art patrons. Given the high level of workmanship, diversity of the exhibits, and admission free of charge, this place deserves to be on any art-appreciating tourist’s must-visit list.

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I wonder how much these items would go for if they were auctioned at some prestigious arts venue. Personally, if I were wealthy and an aspiring art collector, I would eagerly bid for most of the seen at the Foundation’s exhibition hall.

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In conclusion of our busy morning we made a quick stop at the University of North Carolina’s botanical garden, though ended up only walking through the adjacent greenhouse building. Not very large or dainty in its looks, the greenhouse was nonetheless well-attended and featured an array of curious species.

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Asheville

Actually, one reason we did not go into the gardens at UNC was that we headed for the North Carolina Arboretum in Asheville next. Only by the time we reached there, we got caught up in a chilly downpour to which there was no end in sight.

I had to overcome myself and drag my butt out into the dankness and dreariness of the forest. Walking like a cripple with an umbrella stem shoved through my shirt (to free both arms for photography, when still) and a camera strap slipped over, I faithfully followed the marked trail until it looped me back to where I started. That was one introduction to Nature that I was glad to be over.

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If we had ever had any doubts whether to visit the Biltmore Estate, due to its magnitude and priceyness, all doubts went moot in that weather. So, we made for the Basilica of Saint Lawrence instead.

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And on, through the lovely shopping streets, to the locally renowned Double D’s Coffee and Desserts, a cozy café arranged inside a red Double Decker bus.

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Indoors photography, we thought, would be more suitable for the nasty weather we were in, and the River Arts District provided plenty of that.

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Spanning just a few blocks, the Arts District is home to dozens of artists’ workshops. Some shrinking into corners, others deliberately in the open, painters and craftsmen alike toil hours on end at their next product. When coming here one can always count on seeing some new masterpiece in the works.

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In the spirit of true bohemian lifestyle, most of these artists’ creations provide means of their own existence and are therefore for sale.

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In continuation of our cultural outing, we drove around town some more, taking pictures of the Asheville Urban Trail’s landmarks. What a neat way to liven up the downtown.

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Having wound up at the corner of the tastefully stylized Pack’s Tavern, we decided to call it a day and hit the road back home.

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So long, North Carolina.

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P.S. Here is the map:

map

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