Last day in North Carolina

The time had almost come to say goodbye to North Carolina for the time being, but I had one more day to go, and it had from the start be planned as a day of sightseeing and relaxation. But first I enjoyed Lori's excellent breakfast. While I was eating, she told me that on Saturday (and it was actually a Saturday, although it had been difficult to keep track of the weekdays on such a holiday where you experience something new every day), a local farmers market was held in the parking lot behind the Statesville Civic Center, and as it was only approximately 400 yard further down the same street as the Clichy Inn, I decided to walk down there.

Fresh vegetables sold at the farmer's market in Statesville

It was a rather small but interesting market with all kinds of fruit and vegetables from local producers. Everything looked very fresh and good, but unfortunately it was impossible to bring home so I didn't buy anything, but I admired the line at the truck that sold fresh peaches. I had already tasted those, because Lori had been at the market earlier in the morning, so I had been served peaches for my breakfast, and I can vouch for how good they were. I also tasted some honey! Normally I don’t like the taste of honey, which I find too sweet but I tasted three different kinds here, and there were actually all quite good, and even if I don’t know much about honey, it was evident that the different flowers that the bees collected the nectar from, had a great influence on the taste. Finally, I talked to a lady selling vegetables about the preparation of okra, which is a vegetable that we don’t often see in Denmark if ever. In the southern United States, it is very popular. I have only tasted okra in connection with the cajun dish gumbo, where okra is used to thicken the soup, but the lady told me that they were much better if they were fried. You can also eat the leaves in a salad, but I've never tried that. Okra contains a large percentage of fibers, and besides that it’s mostly water, so it is also a fairly healthy eating, and although it seems very "slimy" at first glance, the taste is ok, something like asparagus.

After my visit to the market I walked back to the B&B to get my car, and then I headed for the first goal of the day, Linney's Watermill, an old watermill a bit north of Statesville. It turned out that the mill was not that interesting in itself, but there was a small but cozy shop that I visited. Here you could buy a few things, not least flour, but I skipped that and just walked around and looked at the goods. After the visit I headed further north to the small hamlet of Hamptonville. Or rather to a place outside Hamptonville, known as Shiloh General Store, a general store run by members of the local Amish community. This store was considerably larger than the shop at the mill, and with a very wide range of various Amish-produced foods and snacks, but also handmade furniture etc. This group of Amish people is apparently not so foreign to modern technology as the more orthodox members of the society. Here were both electricity and you could pay with your credit card via a regular online terminal, and the store even has a website. Here I bought a few things to bring home as gifts, eg some jam, some pickled cucumbers and so on. All things that would survive the plane trip across the Atlantic. If I had lived in the area, there were certainly several things that I would probably have bought such as freshly baked bread etc.

The next stop was at my favorite vineyard and winery in not just North Carolina but in the United States in general, namely Laurel Gray, which is also located just outside Hamptonville and not so far from the Amish store. It has become a tradition for me when I am in Western North Carolina, to visit Laurel Gray, where Dorte and I visited the for first time back in 2004, even if I have to take a detour to get there. However, I did not have to detour on this occasion. As usual I had a tasting, and as usual the wine was excellent. As usual I made various purchases, and also as usual I spent too much money buying wine and BBQ sauce, which both I and Tim like and which I had promised him to buy. Unfortunately, none of my credit cards seemed to work here, so I had to pay cash, and that saved me at least some money, as I didn’t have more than about $100 in cash. Of course, I wondered about the rejection of the cards, as they had both worked perfectly the previous day. Ten minutes later, I withdraw cash without a problem from an ATM at a gas station with one card and paid for gas with the other, so something must have been wrong with the system at the winery. But that will not keep me from going back there on my next visit to Western North Carolina in April 2019.

Granite Falls

After the visit to the gas station, I headed for Granite Falls in Caldwell County, which I had also visited the previous year. My goal was to find the waterfalls that had given the town its name. In 2017, I believed it was a waterfall on the Catawba River, a fairly large river running through town, but I didn’t find the waterfalls at that time. Now I had discovered though, that I had been wrong about the waterfalls being on the Catawba River. Instead, it was a located on a much smaller stream called Powder Creek. From Hamptonville there are approx. 60 miles to Granite Falls, so it took about an hour and a half as I chose not to take the freeway which would have been much faster. In Granite Falls I drove around looking for the falls, but with no luck. I therefore chose to park the car in the town center if you can call it that. Opposite the parking lot was the local police station, and I thought they had to know the place. Unfortunately, the police station was closed here on this Saturday afternoon a little before 2 pm, so I had to leave with no success. When you consider that there are almost always shops and the like that are open 24 hours a day, the town was amazingly abandoned this Saturday. It actually reminded me of Spruce Pine on a Sunday, see the article A ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. I therefore walked a bit around in the nearby streets and passed a small library that turned out to be open. There were no customers inside, but a man sat at a counter and he was very helpful. He started by explaining that there was not much to see at the waterfalls, but then invited me to come behind the counter where he had found a map on his PC, and then he showed me how to find the place.

I thanked the librarian and then I walked back to the car and headed for the waterfalls. It turned out that now that I knew where I was going, they were actually not hard to find. I just couldn't drive all the way though, as the road was blocked by a bar. There was already a car parked at the bar, so I parked mine next to it, and walked the rest of the way, alongside a lake, The Old Millpond. I did not see any mill, but I came to a dam where Powder Creek was dammed to create the pond, and from here there was a nice view of the waterfalls, or rather the rapids, as the librarian was right that it was not much of an actual “waterfall”. But I got a few photos before I went back to the car. Back in the car I decided that the next goal of the day was to be the town of Newton, the county seat of Catawba County, Why I wanted to go there, I actually don't know, but anyway I did. Before leaving Granite Falls, I had another cup of coffee at a gas station. For some reason, the coffee at gas stations is often considerably better than the coffee you get at restaurants and hotels. The coffee I had had at the three B & Bs I had stayed in on this vacation excellent however, and I must admit that even the coffee at hotels and motels has improved in recent years. In the old days it tasted much like hot water with a bit of brown color added. My 88 yo father has a saying that cannot really be translated, but in Danish he says: “Her hjælper hverken tro eller håb; her hjælper kun bønner.” Translated it means something like “Neither faith nor hope will do any good for this coffee, only prayers will help”. It’s a word play in Danish on the double meaning of the word “bønner” which translates to “prayers” as well as “coffee beans”. When I got to Newton I passed an old church which I knew existed, but I had never visited before, St. Paul's Church, that looked more like a large villa than a church. The church is a Lutheran church and the building dates back to 1818, but many of the gravestones in the cemetery are considerably older. I spent about half an hour walking around and looking at the cemetery at before I continued my sightseeing.

Newton has largely grown together with Hickory, the largest city in Catawba County and with its 40,000 inhabitants, the second largest city in all of Western North Carolina, and that was my next goal. In Hickory is another one of the universities that I had already visited quite a few of on this trip, and now I would visit Lenoir-Rhyne University as well, and from the church the drive was only 15 minutes. The university, like many other universities in the United States, is private, and it is a rather small university with only about 2,500 students, of which the majority (about two-thirds) are women. The University was founded in 1891 and has an affiliation with the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Many private universities in both North Carolina and the rest of the United States have some form of affiliation with various religious denominations, although one does not have to be a member of the particular denomination to enroll there. The buildings were like most other universities I had visited, and when I had looked at them, I continued to the small town of Conover, which led me back east. Conover is approx. a quarter of an hours drive east of Hickory and just north of Newton. Conover was one of the towns in the area I had never visited, but it looked pretty nice, and I took a few pictures before I drove to my last goal before returning to Statesville.

Solar panels at the Apple solar plant in Maiden.

Maiden was the town I wanted to visit, and it is located about 10 miles south of Conover. Maiden is a rather small town with only approx. 3,300 inhabitants. There were two reasons why I wanted to visit this small town. One was the town's name for itself, "The Biggest Little Football Town in the World". Why the town uses this nickname, I didn’t discover, but perhaps their high school has a football team? The city's name has nothing to do with human maidens either, but derives from a species of grass that the Native Americans grew in the area, maidencane grass. Too bad. It’s so easy to be conned by your own imagination :-). The second reason I wanted to visit the town was that Apple has one of its iCloud data centers in a 500,000 square feet building. I was well aware that I couldn't get inside, but I could see place from the outside. And so I did while taking a few pictures through the locked gate. Opposite the data center is one part of the largest privately owned solar plant in the USA. 100 acres of solar panels. 3 miles away is the second part, which occupies 150 acres. Despite the size, the two plants together provide only 60% of the power used by the data center. I also took photos of the solar cells, and then I headed back to Statesville. Here I chose to take the freeway as soon as I reached it, and I was back at my B&B around 5.30 pm. I emptied the car for all the things I had lying around, and carried them up to my room so I could get everything packed in my two suitcases. When I was done it, I carried one of the two suitcases back to the car, so I only kept one in my room, the one that contained the clothes I would wear the next day.

When I had finished packing I went on my only third exercise walk of the whole trip, and as the first one it was not very long, only about a mile or two. Along the way I passed the last university of this vacation, Mitchell Community College, where I took some pictures with my phone. I ended my walk on North Center Street, where I had my last dinner in North Carolina for this time at a restaurant called The Twisted Oak. Here I had eaten lunch in 2017, but this time it was dinner, and I had the first burger of the trip, but it was a very large, almost gigantic, burger, of which I could only eat about one third. I also drank one of the few beers of the trip, a local one of some kind. On the way back to the B&B, of course, I walked a little more around the city and looked at several buildings, statues etc. Back at the inn I set the alarm clock to wake me up at 6 the next morning after having arranged with Lori that I would like to have breakfast at 7, as I had a long drive ahead of me. And then I relaxed after a very rewarding day with very many impressions that I had to digest. The weather had been good all day with sunshine, a few clouds and temperatures around 85 degrees, and the day’s driving distance mounted to 210 miles.

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