Saturday, December 31, 2011

Back to Britian

With 300 years passed, it’s easy to forget that we were once British and glad to claim the pedigree. That’s the good thing about re-visiting Williamsburg, Va. This tidewater city was the capitol of the biggest and wealthiest British colony in the New World in the 1700s.

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, which operates the historic area and several outlying museum and other attractions, is careful to remind visitors of those English roots. A special program yesterday in the courthouse was set in the years before American Independence, when British justice was the rule in Williamsburg and a “dissenter” Presbyterian could be tried for missing Sunday services at Bruton Parish Anglican Church, the official church of England.

Today, during a program at the Capitol building, the tour guide reminded about 50 visitors that revolutionary colonist weren’t particularly angry about British rule. They generally were proud of their nation. They rebelled because they felt the crown wasn’t affording them the rights guaranteed to every British citizen.

There are a million things to enjoy in Williamsburg. It’s hard to believe that after seeing the Fife and Drum Corps, it’s still possible for its music to stir the soul. A kids program at the magazine deftly engaged children of several ages while being funny and informative at the same time.

Thanks to the Foundation’s marketing department for complimentary admission to its programs.

Out of N.C., on to Williamsburg

Williamsburg is not in North Carolina, and this is a North Carolina travel blog. But this North Carolinian has traveled to Colonial Williamsburg this New Year’s weekend. So I’ll write a few posts about it.

It’s a familiar place for my family. We’ve visited in the area several times where our daughter was younger, and one year even enjoyed an annual pass. We drove to Virginia’s colonial capital four times that year. Another year, we took my mother and mother-in-law for several days. This year, we’ll travel with our daughter, her husband and our three grandsons.

What’s the draw?

Plenty. Williamsburg is one of the more unique historic attractions in the nation. It consists of several blocks of restored colonial-era buildings. Historic interpreters in period costumes inform the hundreds of thousands of visitors who make the trek each year. Cars are banned from the restored area, so it is nearly always family-friendly. Thomas Jefferson earned his law degree in this town, at adjacent William and Mary College. A 20-something George Washington took a seat in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, worshipped at Bruton Parish Church in town and spent his honeymoon in Williamsburg after marrying the widow Martha Custis. There was Peyton Randolph. Lady Dunmore. The traitor Benedict Arnold, who seized Williamsburg for two days in spring 1781.

Virginia was one of England’s first New World settlements, and it became one of this nation’s most prominent colonies, both financially and politically. The Royal Governor resided in Williamsburg.

What is there to see? The Governor’s Palace. The courthouse and the armory. Greenhowe’s general store. A period bakery. Several taverns that still serve meals. A renown Fife and Drum corps that performs regularly.

It would take years to see everything. I’m a witness.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Groupon Deals

Groupon, the e-mail discount coupon service, is offering a nice deal in North Carolina. You can save a bundle on a cabin in the Great Smoky Mountain town of Bryson City. The venue is Mountain Vista Log Cabins at 11 Hwy. 19 South. An example: four people, two nights, for $155. There's a deadline to book (about eight days from now). There's a limit to how many cabins will be rented at the discounted rates. Taxes and a $25 cleaning fee are additional. Here's the website

A separate deal offers a one-night stay for two adults and up to two youngsters at The Blake Hotel in Charlotte. It's a king or double room, and you can combine up to three nights. There's a deadline for this one, too (about eight days).
Here's the link

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quick, Beach Cottage Contest

One more contest, this one for a free week’s accommodation in an oceanfront cottage at Sunset Beach this spring. Deadline to enter is Dec. 15th.

Sunset Properties has teamed up with Our State magazine for the special promotion. You’ll stay in Sea Oats West cottage, which has four bedrooms and four baths. Sleeps up to 10!

Includes free linens and setup, free DVD movie rentals and discounts to area businesses.

Sunset is a wonderful beach, and within easy driving distance to wonderful food in the small town of Calabash and the big entertainment in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Sunset Properties has been around since 1988 and offers more than 400 homes on the barrier islands of Sunset Beach and Ocean Isle Beach.

Enter Here...Good luck!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Win a River Cruise

This post has nothing to do with North Carolina travel, but it looks too good not to pass on to you. I found it on's Twitter account (@MyBestFareFindr).
The Great American Steamboat Company is giving away a 7-day river cruise for two to St. Louis, Missouri, over the July 4th holiday. You'll cruise June 28 to July 5, 2012 aboard the steamer American Queen. You'll luxuriate in a Deluxe Stateroom with veranda.
Go to the website below to enter. Deadline is March 15.
Click Here to Enter

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Graveyard Worth Visiting!

The state Department of Cultural Resources operates three fine maritime museums, including one on the Outer Banks. Here's a press release about that facility's Christmas open house, which is coming up fast!

HATTERAS – Cookies and caroling will be among the delights of the first annual Christmas Open House at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum on Saturday, Dec. 10, from noon until 4 p.m. Vintage Santa Claus displays, twinkling lights and a holiday village will make for festive times at the free family-friendly event. Even the animatronic dog and bear and a snowman or two will be part of the fun.
Children will enjoy making nautical bracelets and stencils. A variety of homemade soups will warm the soul, and door prizes will be given. All donations brought for the food bank will earn a 5-percent discount in the gift shop and also a special holiday bag.

Island history will be on display in the “Flags Over Hatteras” Civil War exhibit, and in the familiar names and faces of the “Ship Ashore” exhibit. Actual artifacts from Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge shipwreck are in the “Pirates, Scalawags, and Brigands” exhibit, and will make for a full fun-filled day.

The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is located at 59200 Museum Drive, Hatteras, N.C. 27943, and is one of three N.C. Maritime Museums, along with the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort and the N.C. Maritime Museum in Southport. The Maritime Museums are part of the Division of State History Museums in the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Slightly Cheaper Road Trips

They’re still painful, but gas prices in the Triad have dropped slightly during the week. So reports today’s The Business Journal.

The average price of a gallon of regular in the Triad market dropped to $3.26 from $3.32 a week ago, the Journal said, basing its report on the AAA Daily Fuel Gauge Report. A month ago, the cost was $3.42 in the Triad metro area, and it was $2.76 a year ago.

The average price in North Carolina dropped four cents during the week to $3.31. It was $3.42 a month ago. The national average is $3.30 per gallon this week, compared to $3.45 a month ago.

The full story is here.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I'm Flying Here!

I received the following note from a good friend. I've never heard of Sylvan Heights, but I'll go soon!
Find the website at the end of this post.
"Hey Paul,
Our family at large went to the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park in Scotland Neck, NC. It was a great, short drive, get away. The admission is $9 for adults and $5 for children, so it was reasonable, especially with the Groupon coupon I purchased a few weeks ago. The waterfowl are beautiful and it is so much better than a zoo because the birds are right there up close. Taking a camera is a must. I love parks where you have to decide if you will get close enough to get bit. There are warnings about the birds who bite, so it is up to you if you want to test the warning. It is great one day get-away with unique, beautiful, animals."
Check here for details:

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gotta Go: Wright Brothers Memorial

Next month marks the 108th anniversary of Wilbur and Orville Wright’s great accomplishment, man’s first controlled flight in a heavier-than-air craft. Join the celebration.

On Dec. 17, the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kitty Hawk, N.C., will hold its annual celebration of the first flight from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. It’s free. National Park Service rangers will lead a tribute at the exact place and time as the historic flight. You can also visit a replica of the brothers’ encampment; an extensive visitors center; and the soaring, 60-foot granite monument to the brothers’ feat.

Wright Brothers National Memorial is at mile post 7.5 on U.S. Highway 158. Here’s the website.

There’s more to do that weekend on the Outer Banks. Take in a home and gardens workshop and a kid’s craft day at Elizabethan Gardens. From 10 a.m. until noon, learn wreath making during the same time that children from 5 and over enjoy arts and craft and a stroll through the Gardens. Both have a cost and have limited enrollment. Visit this website for details.

At the Indoor Theatre at Roanoke Island Festival Park, UNC-Greensboro’s troup will perform “Amahl and the Night Visitors” on Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. in. It’s an opera about the biblical three Wise Men, and is performed internationally every Christmas season. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for those 12 and under. For details, click here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Gotta Go...

OK, maybe it’s not the case that you GOTTA go to some of these events or destinations. But from time to time, I’ll post something called Gotta Go…places I think that you really ought to consider going. I’ll be careful. One traveler’s “gotta go” may be another traveler’s trip to nowhere. But they will be places that I think you’ll really enjoy.

Look for one soon, in fact.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Holidays By the Sea

A lake just a few hundred yards from the Atlantic Ocean is the focal point for the holiday festivities at this area in N.C. year. From the day after Thanksgiving through Christmas Eve, the towns of Carolina Beach and Kure Beach host the Island of Lights Festival. Beachgoers and visitors follow a one-mile path around Carolina Beach Lake to view displays built around the lake. On the first day, Nov. 25, free hot chocolate and cookies are served. Admission is free.

On Dec. 2, fishing and pleasure boaters decorate their crafts with thousands of lights for a water parade on the Intracoastal Waterway. The parade, from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., cruises from Snows Cut to the Carolina Beach Boat Basin and back. The parade and parking is free.

Find all the details at

Monday, November 14, 2011

Enter to Win the High Country

The deadline is Nov. 30 to enter a drawing for a trip to the North Carolina High Country, aka, the state’s northern mountains. The sweepstakes is through, North Carolina’s official travel and tourism website.

It’s an impressive prize package, enough for a couple or a family. It includes:

Two-night stay at the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Boone
Four tickets to Tweetsie Railroad Theme Park
Four tickets to Grandfather Mountain
$100 gift certificate to the Storie Street Grille
$25 gift certificate to the Mast General Store
$25 gift certificate to Tanger Shoppes on the Parkway
Plus a $500 Visa gift card to help get you here

Go here to enter.

And good luck!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Local Leaf-Peeping

Leaf-peeping season is winding down in the upper elevations of Western Carolina. But there’s plenty of eye-popping color in the foothills and Piedmont regions.

Tell us the sections of roads in your county where the trees are putting on a brilliant show right now…with enough detail that interested travelers can easily find those areas.

Like U.S. Highway 501 in northern Durham County, beginning about two miles north of Latta Road until the Person County Line.

Or U.S. Highway 29 north of Reidsville.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Titanic Deal

The Natural Science Center of Greensboro has extended its run of Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition for six week, through Jan. 8. Gives your family a chance to catch the popular exhibit through the holiday season.

Here's how the Center describes the exhibit:

"Beyond the authentic collection of artifacts recovered from the ocean floor, Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition showcases emotional human stories from passengers who were aboard the Ship, captivating photographs and extensive room recreations. Visitors see what life was like for a 1st Class vs. 3rd Class passenger, touch an iceberg wall that simulates the temperature of the water that fateful night, and become one of the actual passengers who sailed on Titanic whereby they discover at the end whether they survived or perished."

April 2012 marks 100 years since the Titanic sank
General admission is $21 for adults and $20 for children 3 to 13.
Contact info: Titanic or call 336-288-3769.

Travel for a Tree

You don't have to travel far to make a Christmas memory. Or maybe start a holiday tradition.

Pack a snack, bundle up the kids, and head out into the brisk air to cut down your family's Christmas tree.

North Carolina is a leader in Christmas tree production, and 10 times since 1966, when the tradition began, a North Carolina tree has graced the White House. The mountainous western counties lead the state, but several cut-your-own Christmas tree farms dot the Piedmont.

In the center of the state, Boyce Farms at 2813 Mount Vernon Church Road, Raleigh, offers white pine and Leyland cypress varieties. Mistletoe Meadows Christmas Trees (formerly Pop-N-Son Christmas Tree Farm), is at 2518 Benson Road, Garner. Travel to Apex to find Jordan Lake Christmas Tree Farm at 2170 Martha's Chapel Road.

Two websites that provide lists of local cut-your-own farms are NC Christmas Trees and Pick Your Own Christmas Tree

Deal for First Responders, Vets

If you’re former military or a first responder (police officer, firefighter, EMT, paramedic or ambulance personnel) and have been thinking about a visit to Greensboro, go on Veteran’s Day. You can get a special admission rate to the Natural Science Center.

"Lifesaver" employees will receive a special $6 group admission rate to visit the Natural Science Center and Animal Discovery, and a $14 group admission rate to visit Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition (admission also includes entry to the Museum and Animal Discovery).

To obtain the discount, "lifesavers" have to show valid ID as proof of vocation.

The offer is to people in the Triad, but Marketing Director Steffany Reeve says anyone in North Carolina who produces valid ID will be given the special pricing.
The Natural Science Center bills itself as three attractions in one destination: a hands-on science Museum (featuring a Dinosaur Gallery, Herpetarium and touch labs); Animal Discovery Zoological Park (featuring tigers, gibbons, wallabies, meerkats, lemurs and many other unique animals); and a state-of-the-art OmniSphere Dome Theater.

Veterans Day is Nov. 11. The Center is at 4301 Lawndale Drive. Call 336-288-3769 or visit for details.

Christmas Past at Tryon

Christmas today bears little resemblance to how our colonial forebears celebrated the holiday. The folks at Tryon Palace in New Bern has a children's event that gives preschoolers a taste -- literally -- of Christmas in the 1700s.

The Palace's "Tryon's Tales for Tots: Twelve Days of Christmas" is for youngsters aged 3 to 5. Set for 10 a.m. on Dec. 14, parents can accompany their children on a visit to the John W. Stanly House on the Palace complex, where tots will learn how the Stanly family celebrated Christmas.

That includes playing a popular game of the season and decorating miniature, edible Twelfth Night cakes. Admission is $6 per child. Adults are free with regular admission.

A state historic site, Tryon Palace is the reconstructed home of King George's royal governor to the colony of North Carolina. The handsome home and administrative building was planned and built by Royal Gov. William Tryon. After the American war for independence, Tryon Palace was the site of the first sessions of the North Carolina state legislature and housed the state governors until 1794.

It burned down in 1798 but it was rebuilt in the 1950s and is one of the state's most popular tourist attractions.

New Bern is about 125 miles from Raleigh and 250 miles from Charlotte. It's a straightforward trip from most locations by taking Interstate 40 to U.S. 70 East

Travelin' Money

My wife and I love to travel, especially to the coast and to cities steeped in history. But a journalist doesn't make travelin' money, and that was even more the case early in our marriage, and when our daughter was just a little thing.

But we've always traveled. How?

Early on, we received some wonderful advice that went something like this: You ought to decide what character your family will have, and then work to make that happen. On the ground, that meant for us to become a family that traveled. By necessity, that meant finding a way to make that happen financially.

Since we didn't have a lot of extra money lying around or flooding over the transom, we became intentional about saving for travel. It's easier than you think.

For instance, we got paid every other week, for a total of 26 paychecks. But we budgeted our mortgage on a 24-pay-period basis. What to do with the money from those extra two paychecks? We put it in a special fund, and used it to take quick long-weekend trips with our daughter. It worked for spring break, for instance. Or a fall trip to the beach. On occasion, we'd combine it with other funds for a longer vacation. The point is, it was a painless way to finance a get-away.

Another funding mechanism was our annual tax return. We intentionally set our withholdings slightly higher than they needed to be, so that we'd get several hundred dollars back each year. That went straight into our vacation fund, which financed our longer vacations. Sure, the federal government got to keep some of our income interest free for the year. But it was, again, a painless (but surefire) way for our family to have ready traveling money.

That's still one of our strategies. This year, we've spent a week at the beach in June and taken our extended family on a three-day trip to Fredericksburg, Mount Vernon and George Washington's Birthplace. Sweet!
Here's another idea:

If you and your spouse work, and each squirrel away just $5 a week for travelin', that's $10 a week, $40 a month, $120 a quarter. That'll get you a hotel room and a few dollars toward a tank of gas, to spend some family time far from the homestead for an overnight. Maybe to the foothills. Or Wilmington. Or a shopping trip to Concord.

Little things, in other words, add up to a road trip.

Starting Out

There aren't many things I get really excited about. But my adreneline positively pumps whenever I think about a trip that we have planned. And we just LOVE to travel.

I'm a husband, father of one, granddad of 2 (soon to be 3) and a former newspaper journalist, and our little family always has put travel high on our priority list. Mostly it was to relax and to learn. We love visiting historic places, and when our daughter was young, we'd drive to New Bern for the day to tour Tryon Palace or to Greensboro to enjoy the Guilford Courthouse battle re-enactment or carve out several hours during a week at the coast to wander Fort Macon.

Sure, we've enjoyed Cape Canaveral and Chicago and Williamsburg, Va. But my wife and I really enjoy traveling the Carolinas. My wife is a North Carolina native, but I grew up in Philadelphia. Our beach was the "shore" at Atlantic City or Cape May, which are fine. But they're not North Carolina.

Emerald Isle enchanted me from the first time I saw its sea. We honeymooned on the Outer Banks. Our mothers both climbed to the top of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse alongside our teenage daughter during an extended family trip several years ago. One of my favorite memories is several days with my college-aged daughter in Hilton Head. We ate the best Greek food in the world at the Greek Festival in Charleston. My wife and I spent a night in a castle in the North Carolina mountains, and experienced total darkness in the heart of Linville Caverns.

We made a decision as a young couple to set aside money each year to travel, and it was one of the best decisions we ever made.
We tend to take short trips, and we're frugal travelers -- mainly because we traveled on a journalist's pay. So that will be the focus of my blog. It will be about travel, traveling in and around the Carolinas, and traveling so as not to break your bank.

I hope you visit Nearly There often. Please send comments and suggestions for posts.

And I hope Nearly There energizes you to get there often...wherever "there" is for you and yours.
Here's a photo from a trip we took to the N.C. coast around New Year's 2009.