Meeting the natives!

Passing through Atlanta, GeorgiaOn July 8th we could celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary. We wouldn't make much ado about it though, as this would be a rather long day in the car. We had no goal when we left New Orleans except that we would stay the night somewhere in Georgia. The day was actually quite boring, staying on the Interstate as we did. But the we managed to visit two Welcome Centers, one of which was closed whe got there. From New Orleans we took I-10 to Slidell and then I-59 north to Meridian where we changed to I-20 to Birmingham, Alabama. At the Missippi/Alabama border we visited the Welcome Center. We did'n't enter  Birmingham but stayed on the interstate and headed for Atlanta, Georgia. When we passed the Alabama/Georgia border it was after six pm, and the Welcome Center had closed so we continued to and through Atlanta still on the I-20. Even though the traffic was quite heavy, we, that is Dorte who was driving while I navigated, managed to change to the I-85, without misplacing ourselves even once. We continued on the I-85 leaving Atlanta behind once more, heading north east.

We reached the small town of Suwanee around 8 PM and decided to call it a day. We had been on the road for more or less 12 hours and had driven well over 500 miles. We found ourselves a hotel, and then went out to get some dinner. We didn't want to look far, so we just ate our anniversary dinner at an Outback Steakhouse, where we enjoyed a nice steak and an ice cold Australian beer. This was actually the first beer we had since St. Louis more than 10 days before.

Mistaken for Englishmen

The next day we continued on I-85 into South Carolina, thus visiting this state for the third time. We crossed the border without visiting the Welcome Center continued to Greenville before we made our first stop. It was here that we celebrated our 25th anniversary two years earlier. We passed the hotel, where we stayed then, and also the restaurant, where we had our anniversary dinner then, but only stopped at a gas station to refill the car (with petrol) and the cool box (with ice). At the gas station we both went into the store and walked around looking at the goodies, before we went to the cashiers desk with a cup of coffee for me, and a latte for Dorte. The man behind the counter was a young man, who must have heard us talk to each other, while in the shop.  For some reason he did not ask the usual question: "Where are you guys from?" No, his question was of a different kind, though the intent was the same. He simply asked if we were English! We had to explain to him that this was not the case, and that we were from Denmark. Dorte went into her geograhpical quizz mode and asked him, if he knew where Denmark was - which he didn't. We told him that it was about one hours flight east of England, but that didn't help much as he didn't know where England was either. After some time, using different countries, we gave up on the explanation and just told him, that Denmark was part of Scandinavia. He nodded to this as if he knew, but his facial expression clearly showed that this didn't mean anything at all to him. We didn't have the heart to tell him, that the language spoken in England was very close to his own, so we just left it at that. I know that George Bernard Shaw once said that "England and America are two countries separated by a common language", but still...!

It was the first and only time we were taken for Englishmen in America. However, we have often become confused with Germans or Dutchmen. In fact, at one time we even became the subject of a bet between to locals about whether we were one or the other. This also took place in South Carolina by the way, where two sales girls in a peanut shop on Market Street in Charleston, had made a bet, one claiming that we were German, the other that we were Dutch. Unfortunately we had to disappoint both of them, so how they settled their bet, I do not know. That Danish sound almost like Dutch to Americans, we have heard on several occasions, and I if didn't know how Dutch sounds, I might start to believe it. But on the several times I've visited Holland and the Flemish speaking part of Belgiun, I have been confirmed in my belief that Dutch is the only language in the world that is spoken equally well by humans and sea lions. Sorry Dutch people. I love both you and your beautiful country.

After the experience at the gas station, we continued towards the North Carolina border. You guessed it, we took the opportunity to visit a welcome center. At Charlotte, North Carolina's largest city, we changed to to Interstate Highway 77 north. It was around lunch time and we were a bit hungry, but none of the places we passed really appealed to us. When we reached the town of Statesville, hunger however plagued us seriously, so at this time we weren't so picky. We left the interstate and found - of all places - a Waffle House. Tourists were apparently rather unusal here, and the two waitresses were busy chatting with some locals, and it took some time before they found time to serve us. When we ordered only a salad, they looked at us as if we had escaped from a mental hospital. Apparently nobody there ever ate lunch without ordering meat.  But in the end, we both got a very nice salad, and we had nice conversation with the waitresses when the locals left the place. Unfortunately we didn't understand much of their southern dialect, and they didn't understand much of we said either, but we all smiled a lot :-).

Very poor picture of the field where Tom Dooley was executed.Anyone who has read these pages, will have discovered that I have a weakness for the Tom Dooley story. And if you didn't know before, you will know from my Dooley pages, that Tom was finally convicted and  executed in Statesville, North Carolina. I would therefore like to visit the city's visitor center to see if I could learn more about the story that (at this point I was just beginning to get a real interest in. The visitor center proved to be located in the old, now disused railway station from 1911. At this point, I knew that Tom Dooley had just been hanged in a field near the railway station and the nice lady at the Visitor Center told me that the old railway station and the field had been on the other side of the tracks, and she with pleasure identified the place where the gallows had stood.

I took some pictures of the execution site and the new (old) railway station, but as I had still not gotten quite used to the new camera that I bought in New Orleans the pictures came out rather bad. From Statesville we continued north to Union Grove where we had booked a room at a B&B named Madelyn's in the Grove. When we arrived, if was just before three pm, and our room wouldn't be ready until 4 pm. We therefore decided to drive to Wilkesboro, where Tom Dooley was imprisoned shortly after his arrest. The old prison from the 1850s still exists and is now a museum that I wanted to visit. Unfortunately we didn't locate it at that time, and went back to Union Grove.


Friendly winegrowers in Swan Creek

When we arrived at our B & B just before 4 pm, we were greeted by Madelyn herself, who started out with regret that we unfortunately could not get the room we had booked from home as the air conditioner was broken. In return, she had another room that she wanted to show us, and it certainly was nice too, so we got that instead. But before we got any further, she asked us what we would be doing for the rest of the day? We had planned to relax in the room for a few hours, but when she suggested we went on a "wine tour", we accepted immediately. Madelyn believed that most of the local wineries probably closed around 5 pm, and as it was now around 4.10 she thought that if we hurried, we could manage to visit three before they closed. She drew a map and explained the fastest way to the first winery, from here to the next and from there to the third. Just before we were about to leave, she asked where we were going to have dinner. Since we did not know the town or the surroundings, we hadn't really considered a place to eat in advance. Union Grove has about 2,000 inhabitants, so it's not the big city, so I had an idea that we were going to either Statesville or Wilkesboro for dinner. Madelyn told us, however, that if we would like to try a good southern rural diet, she knew just the place. When we confirmed this , she wrote down directions from the final winery to this very nice place, as she put it.

Without unpacking the car we took off, and using a map and Madelyn's handwritten route plan we found  the first winery without too much trouble. Windy Gap was the name, and I think it has been closed down since then. A young lady received us in the tasting room, and when we told her that Madelyn had sent us and that we wanted to taste their wines, but didn't have as much time as we had to visit two more places before 5 pm. "Don't think about it", she said, and grabbed the phone and called the other two wineries that Madelyn had recommended. Shortly after, she could tell us that both places were now aware that we would come, so they would simply stay open until we arrived. See, that is what I call god service.

We tasted some real good wines there and bought ourself a bottle of viognier to take back home. From Windy Gap we then hurried on towards the next winery, Raffaldini. Both Windy Gap, Raffaldini and the last winery we visited, are located in the area of ​​the Yadkin River Valley known as Swan Creek, and the wine here was said to be somewhat different than the rest of the valley. After our visit but maybe not because of it,  Swan Creek has become an American Vitcultural Area (AVA) of its own.

Another poor picture. This time showing the porch of Laurel Gray winery.Madelyn had told us that the place where Raffaldinis was located, had a view that looked like Italy, and she was quite right. It actually look lie something out of Tuscanny.The Raffaldini family was of Italian descent and orginially came from Lombardy, where they had grown and made wine since 1348, according to the flyer we got there. We chatted for a while with the owner, and before we left, he got our e-mail address. Since then we have received their monthly newsletter from the wine division, often with an invitation to attend concerts or the like. We have not yet had the opportunity to participate in any of these events though.

Since we had one more place to visit, we had to say goodbye to the Raffaldinis. We admired the view once again and then we were off to Laurel Gray, who was to be the last stop on today's wine tour. If the people were nice at Windy Gap and Raffaldini, they were unbeatable at Laurel Gray. The owner and winemaker herself, Kim Myers, waited on us. It was now almost 6.30, so they should have closed more an hour earlier, yet we were greeted like we were long lost family, who came to visit. We tasted the wine, and Kim told us about herself and her family who had lived in the area for 10 generations. She had been in the advertising industry and her husband in the tobacco industry, but now they made wine - and an excellent wine as well. The winery was named after her two children, her daughter Laurel and her son Gray, and has existed since 2000, so it was fairly new when we visited them in 2004. Here we bought a Viognier and a sweet red wine whose name I've forgot. But it was excellent as an aperitif. Kim also sold homemade bread, but as it would be difficult to keep it fresh until we reached Denmark, we didn't buy any.

After the tasting we were introduced to Kim's husband, Benny, her sister and a friend who was visiting, and while we chatted with them, another local came around, and so we chatted with all of them. All in all a really nice winery, which I would recommend to anyone who passes the area. We also promised to come back some day, and hopefully I will in the summer of 2012. But for now it was time to get some dinner.

Dining with the locals

The place we were looking for were called Gaby's Diner (today The Korner Kitchen) , and it was in the middle of nowhere according to Madelyn, and could be rather difficult to locate and to recognize when we found it. Madelyn had warned us that we could easily pass the place without noticing that it was a diner. And she was absolutely right, her directions led us to the place with no difficulties at all. When we got there 8 or 10 pick-up trucks, one SUV and a small sports car was parked outside. All had North Carolina license plates, so it did not suggest that the place was overrun by tourists. Our car had Virginia plates, so we were completely out of order, so to speak. We were a little unsure if the place was something for us, but finally we entered the  place. When we got inside we found that the place was not much bigger inside than it looked from the outside. 8-10 tables with seating for four at each table and a slightly larger table with seating for 8. All tables were apparently occupied, and when we asked the hostess for a table, she looked desperately around the room for a place to offer us. A guy at a table right next to the larger table, sat alone with a young man and the man yelled to the waitress that we were welcome to sit at their table. The waitress asked if we would like that, and we did.

Gaby's Diner - today known as The Korner Kitchen On our way to the table, we noticed that the preferred attire for both men and women were jeans, cowboy boots, T-shirts and baseball caps (like us except for the boots and caps). Some, however, was wearing overalls, and the guy who invited us down to the table, was dressed in a chore shirt, not a T-shirt. At the larger table the guest were a bit more dressed up. At this table we also noticed the only child in the restaurant, a girl about 10 years old. When we were seated one of the women from the larger table asked us if we were from Scandinavia, which we could confirm. The lady, whose name we never got, told us that they had visitors from Sweden - actually one of the other women and the little girl. This of course meant that we had a nice conversation with them. Primarily in English, but the little girl was so happy that there finally was someone who could understand her, that we talked a bit in Danish/Swedish with her. When the waitress gave us the menu, we discussed what to eat, and when the woman who had first approached us, heard that we would order catfish, she warned us that the catfish was not particularly good that day, so she suggested that we ordered flounder instead, which we did.

When the food arrived, we had found out that the party at the next table were Methodists. Each year apparently a joint Scandinavian/American camp for young Methodists is arranged . It alternates between being held in the U.S. and in Scandinavia, and this year it was in North Carolina. The Swedish lady was a leader of the Swedish children at the camp, and she was staying in the home ofd the woman that had started the conversation with us until the camp actually opened. That evening they were going to a blue grass fgestival in Union Grove, across the road from Madelyn's where we stayed. When our food arrived, they had to leave for the festival.

When the waitress brought our food, it was rather large plates. On each there was two very large pieces of fish, some fries, some cooked vegetables, including beans and corn cobs, and then some strange, seemingly deep-fried "cannon balls", about the size of a table tennis ball. We wondered what it was, when the man who had originally invited us to sit at the table, asked us if we had never seen hush-puppies before? When we told him that we had not, he explained that it was deep-fried balls of corn dough with various spices. Originally they were made for the dogs as an inexpensive treat, but now it had become a southern specialty, and were often eaten with fish.

The talk about the hush-puppies had established contact with the man at the table, who presented himself as Chris. And likewise we presented ourselves. Chris told us that the young man at the table was his nephew but I don't remember his name. Chris asked if we wanted to visit his house and dine with him thenext day. Then he would serve deep-fried strips of "redfish" and turkey cooked cajun style. Unfortunately we had to fold, as the next day we were going north, but we agreed so that it would have to wait until next time we passed through this remote part of North Carolina. We haven't been there since then, but Tim and I will in the summer of 2012, so maybe the invitation is still open? Chris told us that he was employed by Freightliner. Moreover, he took care of his farm, and in his spare time he volunteered as a fireman and so did his nephew. Chris told that his not so talkative nephew had just gotten his hunting license, which led to a long talk about nature in general and hunting in particular, and he wanted to know if we went hunting in Denmark. We had to disappoint him that some did, but not us. He then told that where HE came from everybody went hunting. Furthermore, there was no one who did not own at least one firearm. We explained a little about the Firearms Act in Denmark that prevented people in general from owning a weapon. He didn't quite understand, that we were not allowed a gun for some target practise og skeet or something? Only when we told him that Dorte had been shooting pistol for some years in a shooting club, he stopped looking nervously at the two extremely strange foreigners.  Then our chat continued on more innocent topics, such as the stunning beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, where he wanted to show us a great place, with the most amazing views, but as with the dinner, we had to decline.

Finally, we talked a little about cars, and we told that at home had just a single car, and what we had paid for it. If our lack of firearms hadn't shaken him, he was certainly shaken now and he told us, that as he mostly used his Harley Davidson motorcycle, he only had two cars. As it turned out he used the word cars for exactly that, not for vehicles in general, for he went on to mention he also owned a truck and a tractor. And then two 4x4s and a pickup truck, which he used occasionally. Furthermore, we were informed that he had no children, but that he spend a lot of time with his nephew. Finally we had to break up to return to Madelyn's in spite of the pleasant company, so we exchanged addresses, and just when we were about to leave, Chris' sister and father entered the restaurant, so we had to meet them as well. Unlike many others, his sister actually knew where Denmark was. We chatted with them for a while, and we promised to visit them the next time we came by. A promise we have not yet been able to keep. When we finally left Gaby's Diner, a lot of the customers said goodbye to us, because most had followed our talk
with both the Methodists and with Chris and his nephew. Finally we managed to get to say goodbye to everyone and pay for our food, which totaled just under $ 20. The food was maybe not a gastronomic challenge, but it was plentiful and tasted good, and it was a very reasonable price. This was by far the most entertaining and enjoyable meetings with the natives on all our trips to USA so far.

When we got back to Madelyn's we carried our  luggage from the car to the room, and then I went for a walk to look at the surroundings, and in doing so I passed the spot where the bluegrass festival took place, but I did not enter. Meanwhile Dorte relaxed and digested the day's impressions on a bed so filled with pillows, mattresses and featherbeds, that made her look like the princess in "The Princess and the Pea" from the old Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.

Leaving North Carolina

Madelyn's in the GroveNext day, we were heading north to Virginia, but let me just dwell a little more by out stay at Madelyn's.

Madelyn's was located in a very nice house, built in 1934, and had five guest rooms. Back home, we had booked The Garden Room, not because we had any particular preferences, but the picture on the Internet looked very nice, but unfortunately the airconditioner had broken down as mentioned above, so we couldn't get that room. Instead we got The "Aunt Propst Room", which was certainly not less cozy. The room was named after Madelyn great aunt Clarissa. How the name "Aunt Propst" came into the picture, we never found out, but a picture of the lady hung on the wall beside the bed from where she kept an eye on what we did at night. Which we did :-).

When we returned from after our little tour of the local sights, Madelyn asked us when we would like to have breakfast and decided on 08.30. So we woke around 7, and after bathing, etc. we carried our luggage to the car so we were ready to go right after breakfast. We had to drive around 400 miles, and we would like to see a few things along the way. Breakfast turned out to be even better than we had expected. Actually it was quite overwhelming compared to the one we had at the various hotels and motels. We started with a great deal of fresh fruit with sorbet ice. Then followed scrambled eggs and fried sausage with hash browns, muffins, and finally freshly baked wafers with banana and jam. Moreover, lots of coffee, juice and ice water, so we agreed that we probably would not need lunch. While we ate, we had a nice chat with Madelyn and her husband, John, about Denmark, USA, immigrants, crime in rural areas versus cities, ours and their children, etc. It was really nice, and it was past 10.30 before we finally left.


- Return to Family Visit -
- Return to Travel Stories -