Charlottesville & NC BBQ Trip Report


Aug 17th, 2017, 09:56 AM
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Join Date: Feb 2003
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Charlottesville & NC BBQ Trip Report

My wife, two sons (11 yrs, 9 yrs), and I took a 5-day road trip from northern Virginia to Charlottesville, VA in July before heading south to Greensboro, NC and then east to Chapel Hill, NC where we visited sights in the Raleigh-Durham area. The theme of our family road trip can be summarized as “history, barbeque, and baseball”.

Day 1 (Drive to Charlottesville with a Shenandoah NP Hike)

From Northern Virginia, we drove through Warrenton around 11am and stopped by Sperryville to buy a take-out lunch of gourmet sandwiches (mozzarella cheese, basil, and tomatoes). Continuing west on Route 211, we saw a young black bear crossing the road as we ascended the hairpin curves up to the Thornton Gap entrance of Shenandoah National Park (NP). Although it was a hot, muggy day in July, the outside temperature quickly fell about 10 degrees when we stepped outside the car to take a lunch break at the Stony Man overlook. We enjoyed our sandwiches and admired the vista of the Shenandoah Valley.

We then drove south for about 30 minutes to reach the trail entrance and parking lot for Bearfence Mountain. This was a fun 2-mile hike for the kids that included a rock scramble, 360-degree summit view, and stroll along the Appalachian Trail. If you have tweens in the car, I would strongly recommend this short hike, which is a sneak preview of a longer, challenging rock scramble on Old Rag Mountain. The return path of the loop trail includes a small part of the Appalachian Trail, where we encountered a couple of “long-term” hikers who were on their way from Georgia to Maine. We then exited from Shenandoah NP by taking the Route 33 exit toward the east and then south on Route 29 to Charlottesville.

The Homewood Suites (2036 India Road) check-in was fast and easy. This hotel on the northern outskirts of C-ville had ample free parking and was clean, modern, and kid-friendly. We were pleasantly surprised to see a full-size refrigerator in the spacious 2-queen bed suite. Before heading to dinner, we drove to the University of Virginia campus for a quick stroll to see the Rotunda. After taking pictures, we then returned to Route 29 for dinner at Peter Chang’s Chinese Grill (wonderful option for authentic Szechuan dishes – I would avoid the Americanized dishes) and frozen yogurt at Sweetfrog, a short walk from the restaurant.

Day 2 (Monticello and Dinner in C-Ville)

In the morning, we drove to Monticello and signed up for the standard 45-minute tour. Although our young guide was entertaining and spoke quickly at the frenzied pace of a legislative aide, he was not careful and missed a few historical details. The tour was direct in addressing the life of Sally Hemmings and Jefferson’s mixed views on slavery (i.e., despite the soaring rhetoric of “all men are created equal, Jefferson was reluctant to free his slaves because of his accumulated financial debt). Based on this visit, I gained the impression that Jefferson was a brilliant writer, but a poor manager of his personal estate and finances. For example, Monticello did not have convenient access to a river or fresh water source, which meant that child slaves carried water over long distances and emptied their buckets into a well reservoir.

After walking down the hill back to the Visitor Center (a pleasant 30 minute stroll past the cemetery and local woods), we went to Wegmans for lunch and returned to the hotel for a mid-afternoon siesta and pool swim. Before dinner, we visited the Nike Store Outlet (Emmet St.) to buy athletic socks for my 11 yr. old and 9 yr. old sons. We then drove to DOMA Korean Kitchen (on Main St. in C-Ville) for a delicious dinner of bibimbap (rice bowl combined with beef and spicy kochujang). It’s a nice restaurant for Korean food in a modern setting. Street parking can be limited if you come during peak hours, but we had no trouble finding a spot at 5:30pm.

Thursday, July 6 (Drive to Greensboro via Appomattox Court House)

After enjoying the Homewood Suites breakfast, we drove south on Route 29 toward Lynchburg. I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable the drive was (perhaps the lack of traffic had something to do with it.) We made a slightly detour of a pit stop at the Appomattox Court House National Park for a 1-hour Civil War history visit. Although my sons groaned as we walked up toward the renovated village, they both enjoyed the 20-minute video introduction (highly recommended) and reading the personal, heart-felt words of a Confederate soldier’s letter to his mother. It was worthwhile to stop by the McLean House (where Lee and Grant signed the official armistice to end the Civil War) and take a quick picture before driving to Lynchburg.

In Lynchburg, we stopped by Crisp Salad (1124 Church St.) for a healthy lunch and smoothie, followed by a cup of coffee at White Hart Café (1208 Main St.). Both places are nice for a quick lunch stop. From the 1750s until the early 1900s, tobacco was the “cash crop” that sparked rapid growth in Virginia’s economy. Some Virginia towns (i.e., Lynchburg & Richmond) became larger and more prosperous as the need for tobacco warehousing, quality inspections, and river transport expanded. Lynchburg had a ferry service across the James River, which made this city a valued location for tobacco trade and storage. After our lunch in downtown Lynchburg, our family continued south on Route 29 toward Danville and noticed a huge Confederate Flag (stars and bars) on the border of Virginia and North Carolina. This was a stark reminder that aspects of the Civil War persist in some areas of American social and political culture to this day. Painful evidence of this history resurfaced during the 2017 clashes over the removal of statues in New Orleans and Charlottesville.

In Greensboro, we checked in at the O’Henry Hotel (624 Green Valley Road) and enjoyed listening to part of a Thursday evening jazz performance in the lobby. As I was exhausted by the long drive and the hot, humid weather, our family decided to have dinner in the hotel’s air-conditioned restaurant (Green Valley Restaurant), which had soothing classical music playing. This hotel offers an afternoon tea service, which seemed to be popular with many ladies. I was disappointed by the small size of the fitness center, which seemed like an afterthought in the hotel’s design. The next morning, we enjoyed a traditional Southern breakfast that was included in the rate. It was a special treat to enjoy attentive service and a delicious breakfast with eggs, grits, peach cobbler, and a strong cup of coffee.

Friday, July 7 (Lexington BBQ & Drive to Chapel Hill – 2 night stay)

After checking out of the O’Henry Hotel, we drove a short distance to the downtown area of Greensboro for a visit to the International Civil Rights Museum. The museum building preserved the Woolworth’s lunch counter made famous during the sit-ins by four North Carolina A&T students who catalyzed a movement of non-violent civil right protests in the 1960s. I enjoyed the 1-hour guided tour, which discussed the broad context for civil rights and gave a vivid portrayal of the social engineering that helped to preserve differences in the public transportation and hospital experiences of colored and white residents.

On our way to Lexington, NC in search of Western style BBQ, we stopped by the city of High Point for a quick family photo of the “World’s Largest Chest of Drawers”. It was a fun but hokey stop in a place that appeared to have the largest concentration of furniture showrooms in the United States. Since my boys were getting hungry, we continued to Lexington and were disappointed to see that Lexington BBQ had closed for the day (presumably due to parking lot resurfacing and repairs). But we drove to the nearby BBQ Center for some course chopped pork platters with red slaw, hush puppies, and sweet tea. I enjoyed the BBQ pork, which includes ketchup and sugar in the preparation. However, my wife and sons had a strong preference for eastern-style (Piedmont) BBQ, which we sampled in Raleigh the following day. If you plan to try western and eastern-style North Carolina BBQ on a culinary quest, Lexington is a must-stop destination for western-style BBQ.

We then drove to the northeast on Business Route I-85 and I-40 east toward Chapel Hill. Although we had considered taking an alternative “Football Road” (rural drive from Alamance Church Road to Old Greensboro Road in Snowcamp, NC to Jones Ferry Road near Carrboro, NC), our post-BBQ coma led us to take the interstate to Chapel Hill to save time. Around 4pm, we checked into the Hampton Inn (6121 Farrington Road), which has a convenient location near I-40 and Route 54 for easy access to Raleigh, Durham, or Chapel Hill. Although our upper floor suite had a strange configuration, we were grateful for air-conditioning and the chance to go swimming and rest at the hotel. After a couple hours of rest, we drove over to One Fish, Two Fish in Carrboro for a simple, informal dinner of poke fish (which is originally a Hawaiian dish that has become trendy and popular in many cities).

Saturday, July 8 (NC Art Museum, BBQ Lunch, & Baseball)

After enjoying the Hampton Inn’s breakfast (which is convenient for families not only because it gives options for picky eaters, but also because it gives the flexibility for people to eat at different times), our family drove to Raleigh for a morning visit to the North Carolina Art Museum. This little gem of a collection in two buildings also includes an outdoor sculpture garden with free admission to the museum. We opted for the children’s tour at 10:30am on Saturday, which gave us a fun, yet cultural experience in developing poetry while viewing 3 paintings. I would not recommend the tour for very young children, but it’s great for tweens (ages 9-12).

We then drove into Raleigh for a delicious lunch stop at Clyde Cooper’s BBQ (327 S. Wilmington St.) to sample Eastern-style BBQ (which does not use any ketchup or red slaw). My family loved the kitschy interior and quickly selected the pulled pork sandwich or platter from the menu. Service was both friendly and down-to-earth. However, the key ingredient was the “special vinegar sauce” placed in squeeze bottles on each table. Adding the vinegar sauce greatly enhanced the flavor of the pork shoulder BBQ and led my wife and two sons to pronounce that Eastern-style BBQ was far superior to western-style BBQ based on our road-trip tasting test. For authentic Eastern-style BBQ, we had considered driving to Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC, but the extra 3 hours of driving there and back did not seem worth it. In Raleigh, we skipped the North Carolina Museum of History due to lack of time.

After a short rest and afternoon nap back at the hotel, we drove north to see a Durham Bulls baseball game. Great family experience in a kid-friendly ballpark that reminded us of Camden Yards in Baltimore! Also, another plus was the affordability of coming here: the most expensive seats by 1st base were $30.00 each (which is a bargain compared to MLB games). During a 90-minute rain delay, we took some time to stop by the team store and purchased hats and t-shirts. In August 2017 the Durham Bulls are an outstanding triple-A affiliate team for the Tampa Bay Rays. We were thrilled to see a talent scout from the Tampa Bay Rays taking copious notes as he was observing a relief pitcher in action during the 6th and 7th innings. Free street parking was available on weekends in the area just south of the ballpark, but there’s also garage parking available for $6.

Sunday, July 9 (Drive Back Home to Virginia via Richmond)

We checked out of the hotel and started the 4-hour drive back to northern Virginia through Richmond. Once again, we saw a huge Confederate flag on I-85 north near the state line of Virginia and North Carolina. This is a rather boring and flat stretch of road as little scenery is available to capture the driver’s imagination. We finally stopped for a quick lunch break in Colonial Heights, VA (just north of Petersburg, Exit 53 off I-95 North) at Zzam – a new Korean fast food restaurant (40 Southgate Square) that opened in April 2017 and is vaguely reminiscent of Chipotle.

The remaining drive was less pleasant as we encountered some traffic on I-95 north of Fredericksburg and temporarily diverted to US 1 north for about 10 miles before returning back to I-95 north to avoid the worst parts of a bottleneck that appeared in a blood red color on Google Maps. Overall, this was a great road trip!
gilber20 is offline  
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Aug 17th, 2017, 03:20 PM
Join Date: Dec 2003
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Good thing you visited Charlottesville when you did.
Underhill is offline  
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Aug 17th, 2017, 06:39 PM
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Very nice trip report. You did well to cover all that ground with two kids in tow. I agree with you about the NC Museum of Art. It's worth a visit.

"Good thing you visited Charlottesville when you did."
There were some specific time periods and locations in Charlottesville this past weekend that you would not want to wander into but the rest of the city and the weekend were safe. I was at the Downtown Mall late Sunday afternoon and other than the very sad and somber mood, the city was carrying on as usual.

It's a mistake to think that this weekend's violence was due to the statue conversation. I think more of these marches will occur throughout the country. You don't have to go far outside of DC to see a giant Stars and Bars flying by the roadside.

Thank you for the report.
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Aug 18th, 2017, 04:01 AM
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I thoroughly enjoyed your report. In fact, perhaps we will follow your itinerary on our own trip. Thank you for sharing.
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Aug 21st, 2017, 09:44 PM
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One thing I forgot to include in the report was our visit to the UNC campus (Chapel Hill) and Duke campus (Durham). We had great difficulty with street parking in the evening (7pm) and opted for a quick drive through parts of the academic campus instead of walking around.

After our visit to the NC Art Museum and Clyde Cooper's BBQ lunch, we drove over to Duke University (West campus). If you go along Cameron Blvd, and turn right at the traffic light onto Science Drive (left if coming from Route 501/15), you will be able to park easily (for a nominal fee) in a covered garage, visit the Student Center (for a restroom break) and walk to the Duke University Chapel. This is a lovely drive that passes both the Fuqua School of Business and Law School away from the Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club.

One interesting difference we noticed is the UNC campus seemed to be well-integrated with the Chapel Hill community. That was part of the reason why it was difficult to find street parking. However, Duke University was more of a corporate campus that appeared to be separate from the surrounding area (i.e., "town vs. gown"). As a result, covered garage parking at Duke was readily available in the summer months (when most students are not on campus).
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Aug 22nd, 2017, 06:13 AM
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Nice trip report! Thanks for sharing.
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