Raleigh? Really? Really.

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Joy and I have had the privilege of living in or at least visiting some very cool cities. Who wouldn’t be impressed by Chicago’s old stone bridges and the romance of dining riverside? and the skyline? Please. Awesome. While the streets of New York may not be quite as picturesque, one has to admit that the little island of Manhattan is a one stop shop for everything attractive from antiques to contemporary boutiques. Throw in Broadway, Rao’s and other great restaurants and bars, and a plethora of cute little parks and one sees why so many of us <3 NY. Southern California is the region proffering the highest number of awesome cities per square mile in the world I have had the privilege to travel. Do you doubt me? Try driving down the coast from LA to San Diego and visiting every shop, restaurant, and site that draws your eye. Hope you're independently wealthy, because it will be a while before you get back to work. Then head up to the Palm Springs-Palm Dessert Area for a completely unique but equally stimulating vibe. Chicago does have a great beach and there is a nice marina in New York, but let's be honest, if you want the greatest combination of city and water, you'll find yourself in Honolulu. Nestled between the mountains and the sea, one finds some of the best shopping in the Pacific Rim and a dazzling skyline as well. Senor, do you like history, cities, shopping, and food? Si? Then hustle yourself on over to Old San Jaun in Puerto Rico - and pack some good walking shoes. Need a good cup of coffee, a wooden boat, a float plane, and a place to chill with a view? Then you need Seattle. Still, I have to admit that the crown jewel of all the cities I have seen would have to be Paris. Architecture, Museums, the Seine, the bridges, the shops, the food, the history, the off the charts sheer breathtaking beauty of it all, make Paris the winner so far in my experiences of many great cities. When my career landed me in Raleigh five years ago, I feared that I might never again feel that little jolt of excitement one gets from rounding a corner and discovering an unexpected treasure. Like an out-of-favor communist exiled to Siberia, I ventured into what I expected to be a cultural void. In these five years, I have experienced some pretty cool places on the east coast, but, frankly, other than the Wrightsville Beach area and our little lakeside camp, North Carolina was underwhelming me. I could visit some pretty awesome places from here - D.C., Annapolis, Miami, but I just wasn't finding any local scratching of my itch for an urban aesthetic. The attraction of my east coast family and a great job kept me here, but it was a keenly felt sacrifice. What this self-pitying son of many blessings needed was a good slap in the face and loud shout of "Wake up and open your eyes!"

Umstead State Park

Sunday dawned a beautiful, low humidity day. So, as we left the early service of church we decided that we would go look at one of the buildings housing loft condos downtown (West at North). As we tooled down Glenwood, we passed the entrance to Umstead State Park. For whatever reason, I thought it was just one of several little parks dotting the Raleigh area. Joy suggested we have a look at the park we had been passing for five years and we turned in. And we drove. And we drove. And we drove. The park was huge. Also unusual for this region was that it was predominately a hardwood forest. It reminded me of the drive out to Cooper’s Rock in West Virginia it was so beautiful – and right here in Raleigh. When we came to the lodge housing an exhibit hall, we spent about an hour learning about the history of the area. I especially enjoyed the exhibits about how the mill operated off of power from a waterwheel. Our church clothes weren’t conducive to hiking or paddling a rental boat, but we noted that dogs on a leash are allowed and planned to return with Moku and hiking shoes.

As we passed the very nice Crabtree Valley Shoppiing Mall at the inner beltway we transitioned away from the familiar part of Glenwood. Happily this lead us into the Carolina version of Beverley Hills as the homes on the southwest side of the boulevard were stately historic mansions with a sprinkling of upscale contemporaries. Grab a couple million and come shopping.

Sadly, Google Navigation dropped me at the right street address on the right street but not the right place. We were on the south end instead of the north end. As we began to drive up the street to the condo end, we discovered Raleigh’s Warehouse District. Old brick warehouses have been converted into quaint looking shops. But what really caught our eyes was a little restaurant with outdoor dining. The sign said, “H pie”. Seeing several people walking toward the restaurant, we decided to park and investigate for ourselves. Humble Pie may be a humble establishment, but what a pleasure it was to find a place with so much style. Exposed brick walls, hanging spherical paper lamps, servers in blue jeans and T-shirts, friendliness, and, as we found, good food. Joy says it is the best huevos rancheros she has had this side of Mexico. My southwestern omelette (with the goat cheese our server suggested) was the best omellette I’ve had since our last cruise. We were disappointed not to have been seated outside, but I really enjoyed studying the decor inside.

Between the park, the mansions, and Humble Pie, I found my impression of Raleigh slowly begin to shift. Not convinced about Raleigh? Keep in mind that this day was only half over.

1 Comment »

  • Matt says:

    Hi Tom! Enjoyed your thoughts about some of your favorite cities and it’s good to know that Raleigh has some great spots to keep you interested and enthused. But just in case you are still looking for that “special place” for retirement, the Bermuda Dunes house across the street should go on the market in a month or so. I’m just sayin’.

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