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Going to the Chapel ! (Chapel Hill That is)

Carolina Inn

Photos and story by Carol Antman

The long stretch of I-95 between Charleston and Chapel Hill is filled with opportunities to enjoy the journey.  And to learn a few things on the way to college.

Before I left for example, I wondered why anyone would go to Fayetteville, NC.  My image: an unprogressive, unimpressive town with no ethnic restaurants, no cultural diversity and no natural attractions.  I started to learn how wrong that was immediately as Mustafa Somar presented me with an appetizer platter of Turkish delights at his Sherefe Mediterranean Grill. While I enjoyed the very garlicky hummus, tabouli, eggplant, stuffed grape leaves and shrimp he told me about the three years he’d spent familiarizing people with his cuisine. Mustafa is a man who cannot be denied.  His enthusiasm is contagious and the message got out.  Now he’s always busy.  “It’s really a very diverse population here” he said “because of the military.  At our International Festival, there were forty five countries represented from the Fayetteville community.”

The Cape Fear Botanical Garden

The Cape Fear Botanical Garden

Walking off the meal at the seventy-seven acre Cape Fear Botanical Garden, I discovered what must be I-95’s best rest stop.  A dazzling array of camellias, daylilies and expansive gardens wind through wooden paths and down to the Cape Fear River.  A Heritage Garden with 1886 agricultural crops contrasts artistically with the magnificent visitor’s center that attracts dozens of weddings each year as well as classes and a cheerful café.

I learned that Fayetteville has some of the best soccer fields on the East Coast and hosts tons of amateur sporting events.  I hope some of them stay at Home 2 Suites where environmentalism is more than a marketing tool.  Tremendously green conscious and modern, I was especially pleased to find a complimentary breakfast that included a granola and fresh fruit bar and wholesome breakfast sandwiches instead of the usual over-processed sugary choices.

Later that evening I enjoyed an open mic night at “The Coffee Scene” where a multiracial crowd alternately fiddled with their smart phones and attentively listened to earnest guitarists and singers.  Talking with the friendly audience members, my last misconceptions of Fayetteville fell.  “You never feel like an outsider here because everyone is from elsewhere.”  Melody Foote told me. And this revelation from Ashleigh Dippolito:  the military is an agent of social change.  “Fayetteville made me appreciate diversity” she tells me.  “In the military everyone learns to work together and gets training in how to live with all kinds of people.”

One of the many colorful common rooms at the Carolina Inn.

One of the many colorful common rooms at the Carolina Inn.

Even if you don’t have children at UNC Chapel Hill, you owe it to yourself to spend a couple of nights at the historic and luxurious Carolina Inn.  Its mix of early American and English Regency styles creates a unique atmosphere of easy elegance and historic ambiance that earned it a place on the National Historic Registry, one of the first hotels to do so.

The Carolina Inn's solarium

The Carolina Inn’s solarium

“I’m the keeper and the curator. I do the same things I did in the museum I worked in.” Ken Zogry tells me as he proudly points out woodblock printed wallpaper similar to that used by Jacqueline Kennedy in the White House renovation, a lighted cabinet displaying custom designed pine-motif china, portraits by Thomas Sully, extensive North Carolina-made furniture, botanical prints by Catesby, twelve hallways of photos of illustrious alumni and a bar lined with provocative cartoons from the Tar Heel Press.  Displays are all annotated with descriptive labels that draw history-minded visitors.  This approach to “pubic history” was another revelation to me.  An “un-museum”.

The Southern Season's expansive food emporium.

The Southern Season’s expansive food emporium.

The star of the culinary scene in Chapel Hill is undoubtedly the Southern Season, a sprawling department store-size food emporium.  Carly Varney, VP of marketing explains that their goal is “to be the tastemakers of specialty food because it’s part of everyday existence that makes life brighter.” I happily wandered the expansive aisles. From bakery to deli to wine, to accessories to gadgets and finally to the high tech cooking classroom upstairs where Lynn Edgar greeted me.

Lynn Edgar sautes shrimp at the Southern Season tapas class.

Lynn Edgar sautes shrimp at the Southern Season tapas class.

Here’s where my education really kicked into high gear.  I learn about manchego cheese, what a brunoise cut is, how to properly crack an egg, about bouquet garni and the very sophisticated “wiggle and mush” technique of whisking.  Meanwhile twenty students and I prepared a delicious menu of tapas.  Wine was pored as Lynn charmingly instructed us.  “I’m not a measure-er.  I’m a taster” she said.  Classes are offered every day in every imaginable subject by a wide cast of instructors.

Franklin Street reset my calibration of Chapel Hill as a college town.  Among the art galleries, cafes, boutiques and ethnic restaurants I reconsidered my misconceptions about the area and all that it has to offer.  I’d learned so much on the way to college.

If you go:

Sherefe Mediterranean Grill:

Fayetteville Area Convention and Visitor’s Bureau:

Chapel Hill Visitor’s Bureau:

The Carolina Inn:

Cape Fear Botanical Gardens:

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