Wednesday, May 21, 2014

North Carolina Birthday Surprise

The first weekend in May, Brittany and I flew out to North Carolina to surprise Kristen (a friendship that originated back in our early UCSD days!) for her birthday.  We had been scheming with her boyfriend, Daniel, for months, and somehow we pulled it off without her having a clue.  Here's footage of the surprise:

The first night we got dinner at a local place called Venable, and spent the time catching up.  Once Kristen acclimated to the idea of us visiting for the weekend (rather than her presumed yet unconfirmed conjecture of a trip away with Daniel), we put together a slew of ideas of fun things to do over our four-day weekend.  The weather was phenomenal, so most of them took place outside!

On Friday, we visited Chapel Hill's Botanical Gardens, where we learned all about local plants and birds.  Did you know that venus fly traps, in all the world, are only native to the Carolinas?  There was an array of carnivorous plants, poisonous plants, and on the fauna side, really cool lizards with blue rainbow tails.  We also learned that bird-watching is way cooler than it sounds.  Those cardinals are really something!

That night, we headed to Raleigh for dinner at The Pit, and to enjoy the outdoor festivities of "First Fridays".  Apparently down there, "BBQ" exclusively means you roast a whole pig.  If you're just going to throw some meat on the grill, you're having a "cook-out", so be careful if you're inviting some North Carolinians over for a BBQ, because they're going to expect you to roast a whole damn pig.

Look ma, I ate the whole thing!  Fried chicken, BBQ pork, collards, and mac & cheese.  We also got to try fried okra and fried green tomatoes, not to mention the most buttery-delicious biscuits and hush puppies.  Mmm.

Happy birthday, Kristen!  The only reason they knew to bring us cake was because they checked our IDs and thus knew it was her birthday.  People are so nice here.

We continued our tour of the state capital, where we met the statue of one of Daniel's ancestors, once the governor.  These are the three presidents (arguably) originating from North Carolina:

First Fridays, if that indeed is where we ended up, was an energy-filled block party with local artisans, a beer garden, fire dancers, and live music.  We had so much fun taking it all in, especially when an extremely talented and fearless 7-year-old came out to perform in the fire dancing.

We also got to check out a couple bars, meet some of Daniel's friends from college (who would later make an appearance on our beach day) and play some pool, which got a little feisty.

On Saturday we headed to Saxapahaw (sacks-puh-haw), for lunch at the nostalgic General Store and a nice stroll along the river, where we risked poison oak with the ultimate payoff of getting to watch turtles.

That night, we headed to Durham for dinner at the Federal followed by square dancing at Pinhook. 

I never met a beer in North Carolina I didn't like.

At the Pinhook, there was an awesome local band that sat in a tight circle jamming while a tall, wonderfully hoaky man (think Kenneth from 30 Rock, only with a PhD) called out the steps.  The leaders were "biscuits", the followers "gravy", and we would jump to action as the caller proclaimed, "Promenade go two by two, now spin 'em round like you always do!"  We spent the whole evening allemanding and promenading, putting birdies into cages, opening clams, and swinging corners.  It was completely exhausting learning not only a new dance but practically a whole new language, and ridiculously fun!

On Sunday, we headed to Wrightsville to go to the beach.  The water was about as cold as the Pacific in SF, but somehow Kristen and Daniel managed to jump in while we shivered just watching them.  Daniel's friends joined us, and we just hung around chatting for hours, until the po-po arrived and gave us a ticket for having a glass bottle (of lemonade!) on the beach.  Wrightsville?  More like Wrongsville.  Seriously, they are not messing around about foot safety.

That evening we headed back to Daniel's friends' place for a cook-out.  We had veggie shish-kabobs, guac, sweet potatoes, and portabello burgers before retiring to the firepit for a rousing game of boys vs. girls charades.  The PBR was flowing and we really had the chance to feel like locals.  It was one of our favorite nights there!

Monday was Kristen's actual birthday, so we started with Monuts in Durham, where we all got amazing bagel sandwiches that looked and tasted amazing, but sometimes squirted egg yolk all over you, making Daniel gag and the rest laugh as you feebly attempted to de-yolk your watch.

We spent the rest of the day at Duke Gardens, a 55-acre free garden on the university grounds.  This time around, we could actually name a lot of the flowers and plants, and we also spent a great deal of time sitting by the lake, watching the ducks (we about died from baby chick cuteness) as well as geese and a heron.  Flying right over our heads, the ducks would land gracefully in the water, and at the luckiest point of the day, the baby chicks waddled right by us.


The gardens were magnificent-so perfectly curated with an unbelievable variety of flowers.  We couldn't help but feel like we had come at the perfect time of year-almost everything was in bloom!

On that last night, we went to Jujube, a delicious Asian fusion restaurant within walking distance of their house to celebrate.  Later, Daniel played the banjo for us and we taught them the card game we learned in Puerto Rico.  A lot of the best moments of the trip were spent just hanging out at home: surprising Kristen, opening birthday presents, making breakfast, or scarfing down some of Louise's Old Fashioned Pecan Pie.  There's nothing like getting to visit with old friends, and our lovely southern getaway with these two awesome hosts did not disappoint!  

Thanks again to Daniel for all his help, ideas, and espionage efforts in planning, and to Kristen, for welcoming the surprise, and being born in the first place!  Love to you both.

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