Charming Charlotte, North Carolina, the Queen City, is home to welcoming people, plenty of green spaces and everything is a charming stroll away. Charlotte offers visitors much to see and do, for art lovers, those who enjoy history, fans of sports and those like myself who are drawn to nature, there are a diverse group of green spaces and parks.
Strangely enough, when I chose Charlotte as my first solo trip and people asked me why, I had two simple reasons, first and foremost I wanted to visit the North Carolina Zoo and secondly to meet one of my favourite bloggers. But as the world consistently likes to throw me curve balls – even though I have no interest in baseball – neither of these two things transpired. The travel blogger I had hope to meet was sadly not going to be in town for my visit and the zoo was simply too far away, with no transportation that could take me there. Two strikes – I wasn’t going to let these or a possible third strike take me out of the game or knock me down. I was determined to see what Charlotte had to offer and make the most of my visit.
“Travel is never wasted and always a good idea as well as rewarding”
On my first full day I realized that the city had much to offer with secret gems around every corner – like stunning statues, green spaces and parks abound – like breathtaking Freedom Park, and a twinkle of charm in it all. It was on this first day that I stumbled upon the theatre where they were playing ‘Sleeping Beauty’. I was thrilled to find out that I was able to still get a cheap ($20) ticket for that night’s opening night. I was so excited to be seeing my first ballet, and this particular one, Matthew Bourne’s modern – gothic twist on the classic Sleeping Beauty tale. It was stunning and beautiful, like a delicious sweetness for the senses.
One thing that really stood out about charming Charlotte was the total cleanliness of the city, I never saw garbage or cigarette butts or even a coffee cup astray. Charlotte was not only clean but the Wi-Fi was excellent! For travellers, especially bloggers, Wi-Fi is essential and the speed and strength was great in the cafes, restaurants and even other places near these establishments.
Charlotte has plenty for the sports fan, like the huge Nascar Museum as well as a track just outside the city, the Panthers stadium and the Time Warner Arena. But a sports fan I am not. So I was pleased with all of Charlotte’s museums, like the free Wells Fargo History Museum which was entertaining and interesting, and the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. I was wowed with the striking “Firebird” statue guarding out front of the Art Museum over its treasures of Picasso, Warhol and many more. I was also pleased, without visiting the zoo, to get my animal fix at the Discovery Place with its enchanting Rainforest exhibit where I could have stayed all day watching and looking for all the bird species that called it home, and their aquarium that draws you into its deep blue. I also visited Charlotte Nature Museum that had some native species of turtles, snakes, owls and mammals like opossums and others.
My main method of exploring a new city is on foot, from sidewalks to pathways to off the beaten trails. It’s this way that I strolled through Charlotte’s infamous 4th Ward. The city is made up of four wards, with the 4th being home to historic, Victorian homes that are over 100 years old, hidden foot paths and a charming park full of eclectic bird houses that looked right out of Alice in Wonderland. I loved strolling through these streets with their colourful houses full of personality and so quiet, you could hear the birds singing, you feel like the city is miles away instead of just around a corner.
From where people live to where they rest, it might be morbid to some but I’m always fascinated with old cemeteries and enjoy browsing their crumbling tombstones in search of the words of those lives that once called this city home. Charlotte’s Settler’s Cemetery is just such a historic place, right in the city that was in use from 1776 to 1867. It was strange to see people cut through the cemetery quickly passing possible ancestors without notice. It made me think we must learn from our past, our history, in order to walk freely into our possible future.
One afternoon I decided I wanted to learn more about Charlotte and what better way than through a local, so I decided to take a tour. I was told from various people that the best was C-Charlotte Tours, so I booked a spot. I was floored when the tour van pulled up to my hotel to find I was the sole passenger and was in turn getting a “private” tour of Charlotte. Nice! My guide, the owner, had been doing this tour for years and has been around the world and was not only hospitable and charming but he knew everything there was to know about Charlotte’s history, its people and their homes – like the regal Duke Mansion in the Myers Park neighbourhood, as well as the best places to eat for everyone’s tastes in every area of the city, and even the interesting details of the city’s landscape and statues – like the hidden meanings of The Square’s four symbolic statues at Trade and Tryon. He was great, and his love and passion for his city came through in everything he spoke of, I couldn’t help but love it too! One thing we as travelers must always do in a new city or town is to connect with locals, whether through a tour or otherwise, to learn from someone who calls this place home and knows its secrets.
For my last day in Charlotte, since my flight didn’t leave until the evening, I took one last stroll and decided to visit the a museum after a stop at my favourite café, Amelie’s – an eclectic (in style and people – patrons and staff) Parisian inspired café for my morning chai latte and another chat with an interesting barista – whom I shared a love for writing with. On my way to Amelie’s I thought what a ghost town the streets are on a Saturday morning, much different from the weekdays hustle of business folk in suits and cells rushing off to the next meeting on high finance – who I might add are still polite and relaxed enough to not run you over and kindly let a lady go first. But after leaving the café I was shocked to see hundreds of people all lined up along the streets and cops diverting traffic – at first I though something bad had happened, an accident or something else, but as I made my way to Trade and Tryon square I noticed a fire truck parked with a massive US flag hanging down into the square from it’s raised ladder. Then it started. It was the Veterans Parade. What a way to end my visit then with a parade, surrounded by so many happy, grateful people who are proud of their country. I was amazed by the energy, it was palpable, as young and old cheered and waved their flags, it was exhilarating to get caught up in it. Another thing I realized us travelers should always do is try and celebrate with a festival or parade in the country we’re in, it draws you closer to its people and you can’t help but love that country and its people more with all that positive and intense energy surrounding you.
For my first solo trip I realized life is full of surprises. Though I didn’t get to do what I went to Charlotte for, I came to the conclusion that those were only things I wanted to do and even though I didn’t do those things, I did do so much more. And why did I really go to Charlotte, or to anywhere indeed? I went – I traveled for the sheer bliss that travelling brings, I travelled to see new things, learn more and meet the world at large. Travelling to Charlotte was like visiting an old trusted friend who always greets you with a warm, welcoming embrace. Charlotte was a small city but with big charm.