Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > United States
Reload this Page >

More in Amtrak Travel. Falling for North Carolina in Charlotte and Asheville!

More in Amtrak Travel. Falling for North Carolina in Charlotte and Asheville!

Old Jun 25th, 2021, 06:31 PM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,210
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
More in Amtrak Travel. Falling for North Carolina in Charlotte and Asheville!

Hello,

So, life had brought me to Northern Virginia from Montreal in May, to help out my parents. Luckily my job as a teacher was all online, so I was able to finish out the rest of my semester virtually and opted to not do a summer school course to make it all possible.

Getting to northern Virginia was quite the adventure, with no direct flights to anywhere near DC from Montreal in May (closest were to Newark) and I debated the sagacity of flying unvaccinated with 8 hours travel time so close to the end of the pandemic. Anyway, so the plan was hatched and executed. My friend Evelyne dropped me off in St Bernard de Lacolle about 40 minutes from Montreal at the border, I wheeled my luggage for 7 minutes on the shoulder of Autoroute 15, then walked onto the highway as I was instructed by Customs and Border Protection to do, waited behind 2 SUVs at the only open lane to enter the United States, waving to the one SUV that eventually came behind me. Might sound terrifying (as I worried it might be) but it really wasn’t since there were no cars on the highway at all. Complete desolation at what is usually a busy border crossing. Then, being a dual national, and therefore a US citizen, I was let across the border, as repatriation is considered an essential reason to cross the border. My fully vaccinated brother then was waiting for me on the other side and drove me to Northern Virginia to my parents’ after I crossed. Good guy, my brother, even spent the night in Plattsburgh NY to do this. One of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.

Anyway, I decide that to celebrate being fully vaccinated (2 doses plus 2 weeks), I would at long last do some travel. Lots of ideas swirled but I eventually decided on Asheville, North Carolina, a place I’d never been to before that has long been on my radar, with a friend living nearby in Hendersonville who’s been asking me to visit for a long time now. And it would allow me to indulge a passion of mine for train travel that many on Fodor’s are aware of.

So, the plan was this:

June 23 Washington DC-Charlotte (Carolinian train)
June 24 Charlotte-Asheville (Greyhound)
June 24-28 Asheville
June 28 Asheville-Charlotte (Hickory Hop Airport shuttle)
June 28-30 Charlotte
June 30 return to Virginia

One thing I love about trains is how they open my eyes to places I might not have discovered otherwise. The Carolinian was no exception. Even though I have passed along some of this route in the past on the Silver Star and Crescent trains, much travel is at night, so I’d never really seen the North Carolina train route past Rocky Mount NC. And while it is true that I’ve been in North Carolina before in other contexts, it was always in passing, no more than staying in a cheap motel on the highway on the way to see my grandparents in Georgia as a child, or once I had to stay in a hotel by Charlotte airport because my flight arrived too late to meet a connecting flight. I can honestly say I’d never visited a single town or city in NC, not really.

And my curiosity has definitely been piqued! Raleigh with its skyscrapers and Durham with some genteel handsome brick buildings visible from the tracks. Kannapolis has quite the stunning and grand building right before the station and I left curious what Greensboro, Salisbury and High Point have to offer, larger cities than I realized, that made me wonder what interesting stories they might have to tell. As I’m sure they must.

*Coming up: My thoughts on my first time visiting Charlotte, the Queen City*



Daniel_Williams is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2021, 02:26 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,551
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Well, we can't wait!! Your are a very gracious poster and traveller!!
Gretchen is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2021, 05:16 AM
  #3  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 11,190
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
Daniel, I love reading your very well written reports. Keep it up!
schmerl is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2021, 05:53 PM
  #4  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,210
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I intended to click “trip report” but didn’t. Oh well, and it doesn’t look like “edit” allows you to change that.

*Charlotte Part 1*

So this was my first time ever in Charlotte, other than that airport hotel and passing by on the highway, which I don’t count. I love exploring cities for the first time and my Uber driver assured me that my Springhill Suites on W 5th, not far from what he told me was the main drag (Tryon St.), was a good base. I asked this Jamaican Uber driver how he liked Charlotte; he told me that he actually lived in nearby Concord, but had come to NC from New Jersey about 7 years ago (and from Jamaica 12 years ago). He said that prior to the pandemic, it reminded him of New York in that it was a city that never sleeps. And that it was definitely starting to bounce back. I had never heard Charlotte referred to in such terms, as a city that never sleeps, so his words definitely aroused my curiosity; seeing the light rail and some lively looking sidewalk eateries and pubs near my hotel that seemed to have a fun energy about them spoke to the validity of his statement and awoke in me that inner excitement I feel when checking out a new place.

So, the hotel receptionist told me at that hour (9:30ish) a place called the Local would be open that served food. I was hungry as I had chosen to forgo the Amtrak café car options for something better when I saw we were to arrive in Charlotte on time. The Local looked charming but the thing that struck me most was that no one was masked inside. That day I was exactly 2 weeks past my second dose and weird though it is to say, my first instinct was to get out of there, so used to being masked in all contexts indoors I had been for a year. However, I told myself that I was fully vaccinated now, so I instead placed my order as I was hungry after all, although I did opt for an outdoor seat. I was not expecting such a sharp difference as Northern Virginia grocery stores still had a lot of mask-wearers and Canada had strict rules when I left as many were still unvaccinated in mid-May. Anyway, I enjoyed my beer, an IPA by what I thought the waitress said was unknown (how can it be unknown I asked?); apparently, there’s a brewery known as Unknown Brewery LOL.

The next morning as I always do when seeing a new city, I do a walking tour of my vicinity to get a sense of the lay of the land. I quickly appreciated the sculptures of the city, especially the four statues at the intersection of Tryon & Trade, some sculptures in a park by the Convention Center as well as a brick bas relief on Tryon, to name three of a larger number.

In the end, I had maybe 3 hours to explore before continuing on to Asheville after breakfast & a morning workout, so I decided to pick one museum to visit. And I ended up choosing...the NASCAR Hall of Fame; kind of funny since I have never watched a NASCAR race in my life and know next to nothing. In fact, it was sort of embarrassing as you get an ID card for the interactive displays and I had to pick 2 favourite drivers from 2 liststo be my ID card “avatars”. I had heard of Dale Earnhardt on The first list, so chose him but the second list I knew absolutely nobody; the guide who was helping me was nice but I’m sure wondered how I knew so little...I picked some guy whose last name began with a B that the teenage guide said was quite popular, whose name didn’t even ring a bell. LOL

Gretchen—I did enjoy the history part of it; I had no idea before you told me that NASCAR began as outlaws trying to build better cars to escape the vehicles of the law when they were trying to sell their moonshine. I also liked the colourfulness of the cars (particularly one that said Mountain Dew on it) and thought maybe this would help me know more than zero if my trivia group meets again. I definitely would recommend to the museum for kids that like stock car racing as there’s a mock pit stop that looked like fun where 3 participants do pit stop things (one lifted the car with a lever, the second does that thing with the nuts on the wheel with what reminds me a bit of a drill but isn’t (LOL I so know nothing) and the third puts fuel in the car I think) and an area where kids (and adults) get in a motionless stock car and do a simulated race like a quasi virtual reality and compete with other museum goers as an employee gives the minute-by-minute of the race. Looked like fun.

That’s all for Charlotte for now. I’ll be back there in a few days for a longer stay where I look forward to reporting more.

*Coming up: Greyhound to Asheville!*
Daniel_Williams is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2021, 06:15 PM
  #5  
Forum Moderator
 
Join Date: Jun 2017
Posts: 2,875
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Added trip report tag.
Moderator3 is offline  
Old Jun 26th, 2021, 06:18 PM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,210
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thanks so much, moderator3.
Daniel_Williams is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2021, 02:36 AM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,551
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
That is cute that that is where you ended up. When you come back DO go to the Bechtler!! OUr grandson did enjoy that pit stop thing to do with his dad--and they are NOT NASCAR fans. but you did see something very unique.
Gretchen is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2021, 03:36 AM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 16,551
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I will comment about your being allowed to eat unmasked was interesting. Our governor had kept masking and distancing and early closings for bars/restaurants for SO long that when he gave the open up order, we truly rejoiced. I am under no illusion that the pandemic is over (and no one else should be either), but with caution I think we are safe. There are places still needing them--and for a little while I asked when entering what that shop wanted us to do. Most have signs.
Gretchen is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2021, 03:59 AM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Aug 2007
Posts: 2,434
Received 17 Likes on 10 Posts
Good guy, my brother, even spent the night in Plattsburgh NY to do this. One of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me.
Understatement of the year.
cdnyul is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2021, 04:16 AM
  #10  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,210
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts



Some favourite sculptures in Charlotte.

Colourful cars at NASCAR Hall of Fame
Daniel_Williams is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2021, 04:50 AM
  #11  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,210
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Cdnyul—Indeed! Believe it or not, my original idea was that I would rent an apartment in Plattsburgh for the time that it took me to get fully vaccinated and then go to my parents. I like the older area of Plattsburgh and thought strolling along Lake Champlain would be an ok way to while away 5 weeks. At the time, the QC government was saying 3-4 months between doses and I was determined to see my parents that summer. When I told my brother I was considering this, he offered to pick me up at the border, saying it would be better to get vaccinated and help out at my parents instead. He likes road trips and liked an excuse to drive a car he rented with a cop engine (no idea what a cop engine is). At least it’s a lovely drive through NY state if the NJ Turnpike not so much and I think he checked out Lake Champlain. Unquestionably though, an unbelievably kind gesture; he must love his brother—I was very moved.

Last edited by Daniel_Williams; Jun 27th, 2021 at 04:54 AM.
Daniel_Williams is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2021, 05:13 AM
  #12  
 
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 26,395
Likes: 0
Received 1 Like on 1 Post
A belated welcome to North Carolina! I think mask wearing here varies a lot depending on where you are. I live in the Research Triangle area and a lot of people in grocery stores are still masked. Since I'm immuno-compromised I'm not eating in restaurants and happily curb-side pick up is still available.

I'm impressed that your train was on time! I've taken Amtrak to/from DC several times, and it has always been late going south.
thursdaysd is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2021, 07:04 AM
  #13  
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 25,916
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I just hopped on for the trip! How kind of your bro to drive. As for cop engine, my guess is that it's high-powered. Others can confirm, but I think Charlotte is a big banking center.

Looking forward to Asheville.
TDudette is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2021, 10:18 AM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 78,935
Received 44 Likes on 15 Posts
"And I ended up choosing...the NASCAR Hall of Fame; "
Yay!
(and I told you about the moonshiners too!)
starrs is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2021, 01:11 PM
  #15  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,210
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Thursdaysd— Glad to hear curbside pickup is available. I must admit to being glad that I was fully vaccinated before doing this trip!

starrs—Yes, indeed! Thank you for telling me about the moonshiners! One thing I’ve noticed when submitting a reply is I that I don’t see the posts when replying, so I go from memory and sometimes mix up facts! Sorry about that! Once someone on Fodor’s said that the weather system caused them to be stuck on Nantucket and I said I hope you got off Martha’s Vineyard safely as that is where I had remembered them being from their reply which I couldn’t see. I didn’t notice my error until weeks later!

tdudette—I just looked through your Asheville trip with pictures, and we hit a lot of the same ground. I stayed very near the Grove Arcade you spoke of and a short walk from the iron sculpture, where a violinist was playing. Even had supper at Tupelo Honey!
Daniel_Williams is offline  
Old Jun 27th, 2021, 07:00 PM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jan 2008
Posts: 78,935
Received 44 Likes on 15 Posts
I stayed very near the Grove Arcade you spoke of...

My friend lives literally around the corner.

That area of Asheville is so lovely.

(sending a PM)
starrs is offline  
Old Jun 28th, 2021, 04:44 AM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Jan 2020
Posts: 396
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Sounds like you are doing an interesting trip, Daniel. I am glad you are on the road again. Hopefully we will get going again in August. Thanks for taking us along on the ride.
oldemalloy is offline  
Old Jun 28th, 2021, 12:00 PM
  #18  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,210
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Speaking to a woman who appeared to know more on the subject, that “thing” the pit stop team of kids was using at the NASCAR Hall of Fame was a lug nut wrench (possibly an impact driver?). The images I’ve seen of the wrench look right.

*Thoughts on Getting from Charlotte to Asheville and Back*

Greyhound Charlotte to Asheville: There’s one a day only Sunday to Thursday that does this route that leaves Charlotte at 3:05pm. Had it not been for all too common Greyhound chaos, this probably would have been fine. The bus arrived late at 3:20pm, which didn’t bother me in the least, but then we waited until around 4:30pm with no announcements. Turns out the driver who was as supposed to do the route was sick so they had to get a last-minute replacement. No problem, but I wished they’d told us what was going on, so we could at least adjust expectations. Traffic was pretty horrific on I-26 between Hendersonville & Asheville, so we only arrived in Asheville around 8:30pm. Be aware that one arrives at a Shell a good bit out of town and it was a bit of a wait for an Uber. Which should have been a warning sign for what was to happen in the next paragraph.

The return Greyhound leaves Asheville to Charlotte once a day only Sunday to Thursday at 4:30am, which was quite unappealing, so I looked for alternatives. Luckily, there is an option, the Hickory Hop, which goes from Asheville to Charlotte Airport, with multiple runs daily, including a time that seemed perfect to me, 10:30am. I was very happy with the friendly and personable service of Hickory Hop, which got me into Charlotte airport a little after 1pm as promised. Note that one switches shuttles in Hickory NC, where a few passengers are picked up (including some from Boone) before continuing to the Charlotte Douglas Airport. One thing to be aware of if you visit Asheville is that Uber is less prevalent than other cities and I was really panicking as there were no drivers available when I needed to get to the Hickory Hop stop in a shopping center about 10 minutes by car from my Downtown Hotel. I wound up getting an Asheville Cab (with a 20 minute wait for it to arrive they said), arriving only *3 minutes* before the Hickory Hop was due to leave, *waaaaaay* too close for my comfort!!

*Coming Up: Thoughts on My First Time to Asheville*


Daniel_Williams is offline  
Old Jun 28th, 2021, 01:06 PM
  #19  
 
Join Date: Jun 2008
Posts: 25,916
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
What a shame non-automobile transportation isn't better! Looking forward to your next installment.
TDudette is offline  
Old Jun 28th, 2021, 01:26 PM
  #20  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,210
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Gretchen—That’s interesting that the mock pit stop was fun even for some who are not NASCAR fans! And as you say, a unique experience; I don’t think I’ve seen anything like it in my nearly 50 years!

Daniel_Williams is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell My Personal Information


All times are GMT -8. The time now is 09:13 PM.