The next morning dawned bright and warm and after breakfast, we decided to split the day into two halves, the first part being a drive down to Fort Fisher in order to take the ferry over to Southport, a charming town on the mainland side of the Cape Fear River. The second part would see us spending the afternoon at the beach, soaking up some sun.
The ferry over to Southport takes about 35 minutes and much like our experiences earlier in the summer up at the Outer Banks, it’s a delightful way to spend time. Given that your journey takes you across a body of water not directly at sea, the ride is smooth and accommodating. Not going anywhere fast forces you to slow down a bit and enjoy the moment, the sun shining, the wind blowing your hair as you stand outside by the rail and simply watch the sea birds dancing in the air.
We drove into downtown Southport, found parking on W. Moore near a shop recommended by Ann, the Christmas House. Situated in an old two story house, this place is the ultimate Christmas decoration and touristy shopping destination. It is a maze of rooms containing decorations, salt water taffy, candy, decorations, puzzles, and even more decorations. I easily spent 45 minutes covering all of the rooms and managed to escape, barely, without buying anything.
Hungry and thirsty by now, small groups of our gang broke off to find sustenance, most landing around the corner at Port City Java, a chain of thirty shops based in Wilmington and serving North and South Carolina, Washington DC with international locations in Jordan and Abu Dhabi. Joanna and I split a large iced coffee and a Chicken Salad Sandwich, (with roma tomatoes and romaine lettuce on a toasted multigrain croissant). For the two of us it was just the right amount of food to tide us over, particularly as we kept sampling salt water taffy from the bag JB bought.
We crossed the street to stop in at yet another Tourist shop, Bull Frog Corner at the corner of N. Howe and E. Moore, giving us another opportunity to try to resist leaving significant chunks of cash behind. Successful in that endeavor, we walked back to the cars and made the return journey via the ferry to the house. A longer option would have been to continue up the mainland side to Wilmington and then back down to Carolina Beach, but that would have cut into our planned beach time.
Upon our return to the house folks gathered up their stuff and walked two blocks to the beach, setting up in the hot sand, chairs facing the rolling surf. Swimming in the Atlantic Ocean is an entirely different experience than the Pacific. The water is much warmer, the waves smaller and choppier. I grew up at near the ocean; some of my earliest memories are of running into the surf at Venice Beach with my Dad. I was a junior lifeguard in Middle School and in high school spent most days there during the summer.
Unfortunately, the waves that day did not encourage body surfing so our time spent in the water was minimal, some floating and dodging of waves used mainly as an excuse to get wet and cool down. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and talking, then walked back up to the house to prepare for our last meal at the beach, a Low Country Boil (Frogmore Stew) suggested by Ann and a delightful way to end our stay. We were first introduced to this meal a few years back and have come to identify it with the east coast, looking forward to eating it each time we have an opportunity. I mean, what’s not to like about eating shrimp, sausage, corn, and potatoes that have been cooked together in a common pot, and served in a fashion that encourages you to eat with your hands while consuming healthy quantities of the adult beverage of your choice.
We finished up the evening with a marathon session of Cards Against Humanity, a game we’ve enjoyed in the past having played mostly with Jessica and Kris, but also with an array of other folks. As described at their web site; it is a “party game for horrible people and unlike most of the party games you’ve played before, it is as despicable and awkward as you and your friends”. It was a fine way to close out our stay at the beach.
We returned to Charlotte the following day and finished with yet another round of the Carnitas, proving yet again how effective it can be in feeding a large group over an extended period of time. Doug and Sharon took off the next day for Ohio while the rest of us spent time driving around the area, with a stop at the Summit Coffee House in Davidson and a visit to Bailey’s Glen, an “active adult lifestyle community” in nearby Cornelius. We’ve all reached that age where we are starting to think about the next place we might move to with these types of communities a consideration. It made for an interesting and speculative visit; what if all of us could live close to each other in place like this?
Dinner that night was at Bonterra, one of the nicest dining options in Charlotte. Housed in a former church, this beautiful setting is known for their changing locally sourced menu and is home to a large by the glass wine program with more than 200 options at any one time. We’ve enjoyed many fine dining experiences here and were glad to be able to share it with good friends. As the menu changes frequently, I won’t report on the bulk of what we ate with the exception of the appetizer we shared, Bonterra’s take on Fried Green Tomato’s
Typically this is a simple dish, slices of green tomato fried in a batter and served with a sauce. Bonterra changes it up by infusing it with pimento cheese and country ham and topping with a tomato jam and pickled onions. What I will say about it is that opinion on it was evenly divided in our house. Joanna really liked the creative approach to a simple classic while I found it to be a bit over the top without a single distinctive taste. I’m thinking we’ll need to go back soon and try them again for research purposes.
Sheila and JB departed for home Saturday morning and after dropping them off at the airport, we did some more touring around the area with Jan and Evan, stopping in at Trilogy, yet another “active lifestyle” community, on the south side of Lake Norman. Jan and Evan had toured some other Trilogy sites in California and were curious to see what those in North Carolina would look like. Unfortunately, they are in the early phases of construction and no homes were available to tour, so we dutifully sat through a short video extolling the virtues of the place and departed for our next destination, the U.S. National Whitewater Center to kill some time before heading to the airport for their flight home.
Once a struggling outdoor recreation venue asking for forgiveness on its debt obligations, a change to a more entertainment oriented philosophy has led to success. During the summer live music (River Jam) is free on Thursday nights and Saturday days and has led to an expansion of the food and drink options available with a dramatic increase in attendance. Our visit coincided with a first time event for the venue, the River Slam which featured an amphibious duathalon and bands playing from Friday night through Saturday night.
It was quite crowded but grabbing a beer wasn’t a problem and it gave Jan and Evan a good look at how fun and exciting this unique venue can be. We finished up our drinks and with the clock ticking, drove them out to the airport thus completing, for us, our week long Cisco Fest. The universal feeling amongst all participants was that it needed to be repeated the following year in a different venue and we all were assigned locations to investigate. Who knows where we will be reporting from next year?
Fort Fisher/Southport Ferry: http://www.visitnc.com/listing/fort-fisher-southport-ferry
The Christmas House: https://www.facebook.com/The-Christmas-House-91223632553/timeline/?ref=mf
Port City Java: http://www.portcityjava.com/
Bull Frog Corner: http://www.yelp.com/biz/bull-frog-corner-southport
Low Country Boil: http://www.coastalliving.com/food/entertaining/lowcountry-boil
Cards Against Humanity: https://cardsagainsthumanity.com/
Bailey’s Glen: http://www.baileysglen.com/
Whitewater Center: http://usnwc.org/