Page 10 of our daily Tour Journal   

28th May 2004
Today we leave the lowlands of South Carolina and move somewhat westwards up into the so called Piedmont regions of the American South. At last we find ourselves on some low rolling hills and a few gentle highway curves. It's good to leave the lowlands behind us at last.

We passed one of Wal-Mart's distribution warehouses and can only goggle. It's absolutely massive and could be as much as 100 acres under one roof. Hundreds of semi trailers are loading and unloading merchandise but they look like matchbox toys from our vantage point. Folks, this distribution centre is seriously big!!!

Because today is the start of the 3 day Memorial Day Weekend we encounter a lot of traffic but in due course we cross the border into North Carolina and find our way to the small town of Troy NC.

Blair House is a beautifully restored 1880's style mansion on several acres right in the centre of town. Hostess and owner Claudia Bulthuis received us in the most friendly way and whilst comfortably seated in the attractive drawing room she told us all about her ancestors and the history of Blair House.

When Claudia recently re-occupied the old family home she did not cut any corners when undertaking the subsequent restoration work. There are now five spacious guest suites and each is absolutely charming. We had previously chosen the "Winter Suite" after perusing Blair House on the internet, mainly because of the private balcony (which we hardly used). The Winter Suite entirely lived up to our high expectations but an on-site inspection revealed that some of the other suites were even nicer. We recommend Blair House to anyone who stumbles across this web page in the future. Their website doesn't do the property full justice but check it out at  

29th May 2004
Lynn very much wanted to visit the nearby small town of Seagrove where over 100 individual potters create artistic pieces in their homes and small workshops along the road. We stopped at quite a number before Brian became sick of repeating "we don't have enough room and we can't manage the weight....etc".

Lynn eventually got the better of Brian and bought one very nice pot which will in future feature from time to time in her ikebana creations.

Bass mailboxes for "The Quayside" ?

Just to get even, Brian bought eight of the above creations to replace the letterboxes out by the street in front of the Quayside Apartments in Nambucca Heads. He's sure all the Quayside residents will be delighted. As for the rest of you dear readers..... eat your hearts out!

Lunch at a really basic, basic family restaurant was a bit of an eye opener. The meal prices, dress and speech of fellow diners clearly indicated that this was a place frequented by pretty poor people. Three things really took our attention as we observed the interaction between tables of diners. Firstly, everyone was super polite (an innate trait here in the South regardless of social background). Secondly, most spoke in a very formal, really serious and almost sombre manner (even young children). Lastly, almost every sentence included phrases like:-

"the Lord showed me the way" ...or,

"if the Lord hadn't stepped in" ...or,

"I just thank Jesus that we didn't go out that day" ...or,

"we just included it in our family prayers and soon enough we got our answer".

The Bible Belt isn't just a meaningless term, it's a highly visible and tangible fact here in the South. Seeing the vast number of usually huge churches convinced Brian that church attendance must be extremely high. In reply to questions he's asked it seems like regular church attendance is approximately as follows (depending on who you ask).

White Folks - between 60% and 80%.

Black Folks - between 75% and 95%.

Compare that with Australia's 10% to 15% Christian church attendance rates nowadays!

Poverty is quite widespread here in the South. However we've seen very few signs of downright squalor even though we largely frequent country roads whenever possible. One thing which has surprised us though is the high number of permanent trailer homes sitting on owned or rented blocks of land and often right beside recently built homes of reasonably high value.

For those of you not familiar with the term "trailer home" a couple of  photos will clarify what we're talking about. We've passed many thousands of homes like this throughout the South.

A fairly typical roadside trailer home

Here's the neighbour from hell. Note that a large high
quality residence has been surprisingly built next door

In the afternoon we visited Pinehurst, one of several adjacent golf communities in this region. All the streets in these communities are super neat with manicured gardens surrounding reasonably low key  "homes of distinction". Most of the retired ladies and gents wear designer clothes and Italian loafers. They drive to boutique village shops in smaller models of BMW or Mercedes to have an al fresco coffee before going on to the Country Club for another round of golf. We looked very out of place in crumpled shorts, well worn polo shirts and a grubby Ford Taurus smothered in "love bugs". Incidentally, there are definitely no trailer homes around here!

30th May 2004
We got into a long talk over breakfast with fellow guests at Blair House and consequently didn't get on the road until after 11.00 am.

Lynn has her heart set on visiting a small city called Highpoint which is  the furniture capital of America, if not the world! Apparently the whole city is devoted to making furniture and furniture fittings such as hinges, knobs and handles. Lynn has heard that you can spend well over a week going from one factory showroom to the next factory showroom. Many of these have designer created "rooms to go" of perfectly matched furniture with perfectly selected rugs, vases, lamps and you name it. Apparently you can walk up to the sales desk and simply say "write me up for a room number 76 and a room number 102" or something like that.

Brian is shaking in his boots and keeps mumbling phrases like "I think we've misplaced our Amex and Mastercard...." and then calling on his part importing experience he says, "You do realise that US inland freight + ocean freight + Australian inland freight for a 20 foot container nowadays would have to run to over $5,000 before you even pay for a stick of furniture. And don't forget that Quarantine requires fumigation of all timber imports. Then you've got wharf charges and customs agents fees etc etc" (you can see how totally scared he is).

Lynn just smiles and says nothing.

Well folks, there's not a hint of blasphemy in the following totally sincere words. The Lord does indeed move in mysterious and ever helpful ways. As a result of the three day memorial weekend, we found  the town closed up as tight as a drum. The showrooms were shut and entire American furniture industry was definitely "out to lunch" for the whole of the weekend.

"What a terrible pity", sympathised Brian in his best pulpit voice. "It's lunchtime though so let's have a burger at Wendys before we drive on up to Boone for the night".

The Boyden Inn and Conference Centre at Boone has a great position up on the hill above the Appalachian University in North Carolina. However it looked very shabby outside and, judging from the carpark, poorly patronised, especially given the Holiday weekend. However we had already paid for our $77 room on the internet so we couldn't swerve away at this late juncture. Fortunately the room itself turned out to be perfectly fine. We love the generous size of all rooms we've encountered during our trip but we're less keen on king size beds which seem to be almost de rigueur here in the United States, even in quite small Inns and B&B's.

We felt like a steak dinner. The place recommended to us was absolutely packed as were scores of other restaurants in Boone judging from their parking lots. Nevertheless we were soon shown to a table by either a six year old girl or a midget, whereupon we ran the gauntlet of a very normal American restaurant interrogation.

"T-bone, ribeye, fillet, New York Cut or this or that?"

"How do you want it done" (8 specifications based both on colour of centre and whether the centre is hot, warm or cold)?

"Black Angus or House Select?" ("search me, give us the Angus")

"Soup or salad?"  (what if I want both)

"What kind of dressing would that be on your salad?" "Well what do you have?" (so why should we be more helpful than the other thousand people who've asked today?)

"Do you want the baked potato, the steak fries or vegetables?"

"Butter or sour cream on the potato?"

"Do you want chives or diced bacon with that?"

Would you like me to get you a drink from the bar?"    "YES!"

31st May 2004
We've got a mere 50 mile journey today to reach our cabin located in the forest at 2,000 feet up in the Appalachian Mountains.

Our first task is to buy provisions for a week. This includes buying our wine because the cabin is located in a completely "dry" county (there are quite a few dry counties in the South). Somehow we ended up with multiple trolley loads of groceries and a cash register strip we're too embarrassed to mention.

There had been a soft rain shower when we entered the supermarket. As we finished our shopping and made for the exit Brian wondered aloud, "I wonder if it's still raining?" Lynn immediately said, "well if it is, don't expect me to push any of these trolleys across the parking lot.... not after the last time!" 

We drove out of Boone and on up into the mountains where we shall spend the next week exploring the famous Blue Ridge Parkway.

Our cabin at Carolina Keep in Appalachian Mountains

In due course we found "Carolina Keep" and it was exactly what we had imagined. We're in the midst of a very green forest and our cabin has huge decks overlooking a valley and out to the ridge of Roan Mountain dividing North Carolina from Tennessee.

The ladder leads to a second bedroom in the loft

The "Carolina Keep" cottage is both spacious and comfortable. It has terraced timber decks leading down onto the forest floor. The top deck has an outdoor dining setting and several rocking chairs, the next deck down has a huge barbeque inside a gazebo, next down has another dining setting in another gazebo. The last level has a hot tub under the stars.

Lynn doing it tough at Carolina Keep

For our evening meal Lynn knocked together stir fried scallops, asparagus, garlic, ginger, oyster sauce and noodles which we ate with a Jacobs Creek Chardonnay (it's actually cheaper here than in Nambucca Heads). This was followed by a wedge of apple pie with ice cream. Nothing like plain home style cooking for a change. Sorry!

Lynn again in our secluded forest gazebo

By now it was pitch black here in the forest so we jumped into the hot tub to relax whilst watching the stars above. Suddenly we saw bright intermittent flashes around us in the forest. They must be fireflies! This is a totally new experience.

Shortly afterwards a coyote's wailing cry rose up from the valley below. Everything about staying up here is quite novel and romantic.

Brian with legs crossed in hot tub earlier in the day.

We finally turned in for the night and slept very well. There's no doubt that the next week will be very pleasant indeed.



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