- Chuck Marra
Day 2 - Durham - August 20
We woke up late; must have been 11 a.m. There are pictures of me sleeping that will never see the light of day because I look like raw pretzel dough that fell from the counter and lay just where it landed.
So let’s pick up after coffee and pastries that we brought from the Ovenbird Bakery back in Baltimore yesterday (was that only yesterday?). Even day-old, they were delicious and a great way to wake up.
I didn’t know much about Durham, so I was excited to have Laura show us around.
I learned that Durham was established as a railway station back in 1849 and really developed
after the Civil War because of the tobacco industry. Eventually the little train stop turn into a lovey city.
Since tobacco practically built this county, our destination for the day was The American Tobacco Company. It has long since stopped producing cigarettes now is a haven for the arts and sports and food.
However, our first stop was Brightleaf Square in downtown Durham.
Brightleaf Square was originally the Watts and Yulie tobacco warehouses and was built by the American Tobacco Company as a place to dry and store tobacco.
Judging by the old black and white photos it was kinda dreary back then but, now it’s a bright, hip, and cheery place to meet. The gorgeous renovated brick building with a courtyard lined with cool shops is a place where I felt like I could just hang all day. Laura is lucky enough to work in here.
Every shop seems to be all privately owned and unique; not a chain store or franchise in the whole bunch.This is also the home of Bull City Olive Oil , which we discussed previously so if you want to go in person, this is the place to find it!https://www.bullcityoliveoil.com
It was a beautiful sunny day. Each and every shop was so inviting. It is good Megan doesn't work here. The would never get anything done!
Cafe tables and benches are placed everywhere.
Off in the distance, down the tree-lined courtyard, an old Chesterfield billboard still stands.
It’s one of the warmest, most charming spots for shopping and grabbing a bite to eat or a good brew.
The next stop was The American Tobacco Company itself.
It’s not a factory, it’s a complex; it’s enormous. It is a million square foot tobacco plant that has been renovated into a thriving cultural center. They call it: “An Entertainment Destination”. There is food, sports, music, films. The Durham Arts Center is there, a baseball field (The Durham Bulls play ball there), you can live there. I mean you can literally live there, in cool trendy apartments.
Burt’s Bees is housed there.. the company and the bees. It is an active indoor hive; the largest in North Carolina. You can see the bees in hives and clear pipes going about their business.
They have even moved Burt’s original Turkey Coop from Maine right there in the middle of the courtyard.
If your around in the spring you can see the Full Frame Film Festival. A project of the Center for Documentary Studies.
Each year the festival shows 100 films. They also have year-round programming. https://www.fullframefest.org/about/
Even though so many places were closed down because of Covid, we still spent the morning and the early afternoon there just walking, taking in the dramatic architecture. Megan's dad smoked Lucky Strike cigarettes every day of his life as long as she remembers, so seeing the big Lucky Strike water tower and smoke stack was very cool for her. L.S.M.F.T.
The American Tobacco Company (https://americantobacco.co/about-our-campus/ ) is a place I could stay all day and then return the next and have another great day, but we had one more major stop to make. So, we left the city, and drove down the winding suburban roads that are swaddled deep in ancient trees.
I’m from the northeast and used to seeing old gothic-style schools, and every one of them makes me want to immediately enroll and rush off to a history-in-something-or-other class. In other words, I was prepared for another gothic-style campus; I wasn’t ready for this.
We turned at the stone sign that read: Duke University We can see ahead of us is you can see is a dark road through old trees to a giant Gothic Cathedral. It’s impressive.
Duke University feels like it’s always been there and an ancient forest grew up around it. In fact, it was founded in 1924.
It’s an evocative, sensual experience, I was unprepared for. I walked up the heavy slate walkway, under oak and hickory and pine trees whose old branches just seemed to be heavy
with stories and knowledge and wisdom, then past the Hogwarts-style buildings, imagining great lesson and lectures being given just inside walls.
They call the architecture Neo-gothic, and some buildings look like an American version of Hogwarts. Other buildings are Georgian style, so, others look like they might have come from Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello estate. At the center of the campus stands Duke Cathedral rising 210 feet into the heavens.
The whole place made me feel like it was a gateway out of almost any pressure life created.
If we lived in Durham I’d make visiting here a regular part of my week. If you are passing by, I’d highly recommend that you take some time to stop and let it work its calming charm on you.
Laura wanted to show us one of her favorite restaurants called PICNIC, so we drove back toward her home..
picnic and made it gourmet. Vegetarian Fried Green Tomato BLT, Megan had the brisket, Pickled Deviled Eggs, Mac & Cheese, and Hush Puppies. Megan tried real honest North Carolia BBQ sauce for the first time and was duly impressed. She's a Texas girl, ya know, so no-one does BBQ properly outside of Texas. This trip,however, she kinda fell in love with a new sauce, "vinegary" and light and yummy. There is room for both sauces in her world now.
The food was impressive. They took the food that you might normally take on a country
picnic and made it gourmet. Vegetarian Fried Green Tomato BLT, Megan had the brisket, Pickled Deviled Eggs, Mac & Cheese, and Hush Puppies. Megan tried real honest North Carolia BBQ sauce for the first time and was duly impressed. She's a Texas girl, ya know, so no-one does BBQ properly outside of Texas. This trip,however, she kinda fell in love with a new sauce, "vinegary" and light and yummy. There is room for both sauces in her world now.http://picnicdurham.com/
We ordered our huge feast to go, as it was the only option right now, and took it home, where we opened more wine and drank, laughed and feasted late into the night. Being with your best friend is great and especially when you are discovering the new city that they now call home.
Check out our Old Durham Town playlist on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/51VICqL1ZHt1kaIjdWeD4w?si=7R2mCaBfS9-_1Hisq7S-wg