Thursday, June 25, 2009

Visiting the South - Wilmington and Nags Head

Picking up the from where I last left off in describing our recent trip the south...

After visiting Charleston, we made our way north. Ultimately, we were headed to Williamsburg, VA to visit family there. However, that's a LONG schlep to do in one day. So, we decided to break it up a bit and see some places. With this in mind, we planned one night each in Wilmington, NC and then Nags Head, NC on our journey to Virginia.

Wilmington, North Carolina

OK, first of all the drive from Charleston to Wilmington is about four hours. After our great lunch in Charleston at the Cru Cafe, this meant that we arrived into the city at about 5:30 p.m. This proved just enough time to check into our hotel by the river and then stroll on down the river walk to Elijah's Restaurant (also on the river) for a seafood dinner and to watch the Kentucky Derby. Man, did you see how Mine That Bird came from behind to blow away the field in that race? Spectacular.

Wilmington is the largest city on the coast of North Carolina. It's an old traditional city, founded in 1739. From what I could piece together, it was founded as a port city and thrived as such through its history up and until today. The University of North Carolina-Wilmington is located in the city, there are nice beaches nearby and there are also quite a few TV programs and movies filmed in and around the Wilmington area too. Additionally, the World War II battleship USS North Carolina is moored prominently on the river and is a tourist attraction. (Left: The Wilmington Riverfront)

Our activities focused only on the riverfront and old part of the city. We only had one evening and the next morning to look around, so our experience there is admittedly limited. After our dinner, we took a walk back to the hotel through the old part of the city. This was on a Saturday night, so all the restaurants and bars were open and, for the most part, full. My impressions were that the city looks a bit shabby...and perhaps has seen its best days. Other than the street with the entertainment, all the other streets were empty and struck me as a bit depressing. This is in direct contract to the instant hit of color, energy and activity we experienced in both Charleston and Savannah.

On the other hand, the old buildings were great and with some nice Carolina beaches close by, I could see how this could be a nice small city to live. Anyway, I probably shouldn't judge as we didn't see all that much of the city. The next morning we took a sunny run along the river, and then packed up and headed north again to...

Nags Head, North Carolina

Nags Head is one of the many little towns on what are known as "the outer banks." These are long, narrow islands that border the main coastline of the state. As you can imagine, a lot of vacation houses, hotels and all the amenities to service visitors have sprung up over the decades. However, it seems far less of a tourist trap and strip mall than what we observed as we drove through Mrytl Beach earlier in our trip.

We underestimated how long it would take to get from Wilmington to Nags Head. It turned out to be about five and a half hours. We arrived at the very nice First Colony Inn bed and breakfast at about 4 p.m. The first thing we did after checking in was to take a nice stroll on the beach. (Right: Outer Banks beach at Nags Head.)

Next, it was off for dinner at The Black Pelican. While you'll never mistake this joint for upper crust fine dining, we really enjoyed the atmosphere and great seafood. And that was about it for us that day.

The next morning we took another great walk on the beach after breakfast and, by about 10 a.m. we were on the road again to our final destination in Williamsburg, VA. However, before leaving the area, we stopped a one very historical place - Kitty Hawk. This is the place where in 1903 Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first to fly a heavier-than-air, engine-powered aircraft. It's the spot where humans first flew and airplane. The site is only about five miles north from where we stayed the night, so it would be a shame to miss it. (Left: Flight landing markers for Wright brothers' flyer flights at Kitty Hawk.)

After looking through the museum, we walked over to where the Wright brothers first four flights occurred. All of them took place on the same day and all started from the same point - today marked with a large boulder. Each of the landing points of the flights are also marked down range with stones - the last of which was the longest. Nearby is a hill with a large monument to the Wrights and their accomplishments. Suitably impressed, we moved on.

In the end, our plan of breaking up the trip to Virginia worked and we enjoyed seeing new places and things, but if we were to do it again (or if you're thinking of a similar trip) I'd revise and add in an extra day on the road between Charleston and Williamsburg - either stay an extra day in the outer banks or stay a night in third town along the way. Those two drives of 4+ hours each were pretty long.

As for the destinations themselves, I'd definitely recommend Nags Head or towns nearby. Wilminton to me was more of a "stop over" destination. If you're looking for beaches in North Carolina, I understand that the ones near Wilmington are that's a possibility. But, the city itself is not a must see in my book.

I'll be back to finish up the "Visiting the South" series with the caper on our visit to Williamsburg, VA.

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