Spring break was, on the calendar, just a week. I was one of those instructors, however, and cancelled classes the Thursday and Friday before break. Attendance is usually pretty miserable the last couple days before break, and I decided I didn't feel like hauling in a quarter of the class for class. So.
Thursday morning the 3rd we got up, got breakfast, and finished packing up. Then, we had to drive into town for my phone charger, which I'd left in my office. (I've since ordered more cables, so that this can't, we hope, happen again.)
After that, we got on the road and got all the way down to Liberty, when I realized that I'd forgotten Bradley, the Junior Dinosaur Ambassador of Travel and Tourism. Fortunately, Liberty is not too far away from the house, so we got off of 421 and drove home, where we grabbed Bradley and ate lunch.
Finally, we got back on on the road, and the rest of our drive was uneventful. We got to our campground (Carolina Beach State Park) about 4:30, got our site picked, and got unpacked. However, while checking in, we discovered that the campground gates would close at 8, and that there was no gate code or anything ("You can park outside the gates and walk in if you want to stay out longer, there's plenty of space." And it wasn't far, but we were so not interested in that option. So.) So we hustled out to dinner at El Zarape, and then came back, read, crashed early (setting a pattern for the rest of the trip).
Friday morning, we were up early (when I'm camping, once the sun is up, I'm pretty much done for). We got up, had leftover Mexican for breakfast, and made coffee. Eventually, we wandered out of camp and headed to Port City Java for more coffee and internetting. Then, we headed back up 421 to Wilmington. We wandered around the waterfront and window shopped. Jeff showed me a place in one of the shop buildings with the signatures of some pretty famous people. We did lunch at Trolly Stop Hot Dogs. It was really good, really cheap, and they were happy to make me a bunless hot dog. After that, we wandered around The Cotton Exchange, ending up in Two Sisters Bookery, where we had a great conversation with a lady working in the bookstore who'd started out at Hippie College and ended up at the main university that I teach at. (Side note: everyone we met during the week was genuinely, absolutely, friendly).
Finally, we headed across the river to the USS North Carolina, which was easily one of the highlights of the trip. It's a decommissioned WWII battleship which is now open to the public for self-guided walking tours. It is totally worth the $12 adult admission, if you ever find yourself in the area. Warnings: there is a lot of walking (I wish I'd been wearing a pedometer), and a lot of climbing up and down some rather steep stairs. (I had a major vertigo incident climbing around in a turret, but I'm also unnaturally afraid of heights.) We had 2.5 hours from when we arrived until closing, and we didn't get through the top layers. So, if you're the kind to read signs/take pictures/dawdle at all, start in the morning.
It was awesome. I kept walking around going "They put 2000 men in this?" There were bunks everywhere. I cannot imagine spending weeks and months cooped up like that. It was fascinating, and we'll be going back.
Once the museum closed, we drove back down to Carolina Beach, and finally ran by the beach, so I could say I'd seen it. Then it was back to camp. We did soup for dinner, and again, crashed out with books early. However, the night was not to be a restful one. We had a raccoon shaped visitor about 9:30 because someone (okay, me) spaced out and left out a sack of rice cakes. We got that taken care of, and tried to drift off again, but the passel of teenagers a couple of sites over (they were from a local high school, I'd run into a very nice chaperone in the bathhouse earlier in the night), would not shut up. Quiet hours came and went. Finally, Jeff got up around 1 and asked them to put a lid on it. I got up at 2 and asked them to stop watching videos on their phones, and reminded them that sounds carry like a mofo in quiet camp grounds. Finally, they settled down (after another chaperone whined at me that they only get to do this twice a year) and we got some sleep.
Despite our weird night, we were up when we needed to be (which was the ass crack of dawn). Our plan for Saturday was to go on a historic tour of Bald Head Island. To get there, we had to take the NC state ferry from Fort Fisher to Southport, then a ferry from Southport to the island.
The ferry from Fort Fisher to Southport was really cool - I've been on ferries before, but never been in a car on one. The one from Southport to Bald Head was more like an overgrown boat.
We got to the island and got picked up in a golf cart for our tour (no cars on the island). It turned out that we were the only folks on the tour for the day (yay, off season). So we got driven around and looked at the island and I got to ask questions to my heart's content, and it was good.
Toward the end of the tour, one of the highlights was the opportunity, if we so desired, to climb Old Baldy, North Carolina's oldest standing lighthouse, should we so desire.
I say highlight with a bit of trepidation - you see, I am painfully, drastically, incredibly afraid of heights. I have been my entire life. (One of our favorite family stories is of me climbing the Mt. Mitchell [the highest point in NC] watch tower with the family and telling a stranger "I'm irrationally afraid of heights." Now, at 34, I want to go back and tell myself that no, it's a very rational fear.
Nonetheless, I told myself that we were climbing the damn lighthouse. There were long sets of circular stairs inside, with landings periodically (which was good. If you'd been able to see all the way down, I would have backed out). I was doing fine - until we got to the top and saw the ladder. I just about backed down then, too, but convinced myself that I hadn't climbed a 110 feet of lighthouse to balk at the end. So I crept up the ladder (with some coaching from Jeff), and the view was lovely, but man, I'm never doing that again.
We survived the trip back down, and were driven to lunch at Eb & Flo's vouchers to said restaurant were part of our tour. I got a steam bucket with corn, potatoes, kielbasa, and half pound of shrimp. I was a happy girl, let me tell you.
We wandered around the island a bit more, then did the ferry ferry hop thing back to Fort Fisher.
The plan for Sunday had originally been the Fort Fisher historic site and the aquarium. However, I forgot my zoo membership card that would get us into the aquarium, and Jeff was only really interested in the aquarium because I was. Then, it turned out that off-seasons, the historic site is closed on Sundays and Mondays (I hadn't even thought to check hours. I was running on major ditzy before the trip). So, since we had to pass the historic site when we got off the ferry anyhow, and they were open for another hour, we went ahead and visited. And I'm glad we did. Fort Fisher was a Civil War fort that basically defended Wilmington and allowed supplies to get into the port of Wilmington, and thus, to the Confederacy. When the Fort fell, Wilmington soon fell, and the confederacy after that. It was very, very interesting, and we had a good tour guide.
Finally, they closed up, so we wandered back to camp and hung out a bit. It was starting to get a little drizzly and a little cold, and we decided that since it was a vacation, if we wanted to go out to eat instead of doing soup, we could. We headed back out to El Zarape for more Mexican food, then came back to camp and crashed. We slept like logs, with no racoons or teenagers to disturb us.
Sunday we woke up to, at first, a beautiful day. Rain was supposed to come in, but sunrise was clear and gorgeous. We went down to the marina and took some pictures and enjoyed the morning, before coming back to camp to start to pack up and make breakfast.
During which, it started to pour. I mean, pour.
So we packed up in the rain, basically horking everything in the car as fast as possible. We swung down to the marina and borrowed the (thankfully open) restrooms so I could change, then headed back to to Port City Java for coffee and internetting and warmth. Eventually, we went back to the park to hit up the gift shop (yes, there was a gift shop at the marina) and the exhibits at the park visitor center, then went into Wilmington, with a stop at Waffle House for breakfast. Our goal was Old Books on Front St. We'd seen it on Friday when we were in town and decided to come back by, and it was wonderful. We chatted with the owner, browsed, and left with a few books (as you do). Lunch was at the The Eat Spot (gluten free bread!) Sitting at lunch, we talked about what we wanted to do. We didn't want to walk around Wilmington in the rain anymore. What we really wanted to do was relax (it being a vacation and all). So we called our B&B to see if we could check in an hour early. They said yes, so we headed down to Carolina Beach and found Beacon House. I fell over into an epic nap. We snacked on chips and fruit for dinner, and read the rest of the evening. (I finished 3 books on vacation. It was awesome).
Monday morning we got up to a pretty day. The B&B had coffee out at 7:30, and we sat around and read until breakfast at 9. Breakfast was delicious - ham and cheese omelets, fruit, hash browns, and toast (and they even had gluten free bread! One of their regulars is GF, so they just keep some in the freezer).
After breakfast, we took a quick walk on the beach (we had time, with the ferry schedules), and then we took the ferry to Southport. We had lunch at Fishy Fishy, recommended by our innkeepers (and it was good. We also had the most polite young man I've ever met - seriously, I've never been "ma'am"ed so much in my life as our waiter. He also had an Australian accent. Lovely, but odd to run into on the NC coast.)
Afterwards, we walked down to the visitor's center to discover that the Maritime Museum that we wanted to check out was closed for moving and renovations. Sigh. (Which was not reflected on their website. Sigh). So, we took a self-guided historic walking tour, looking at houses, getting a glimpse at the old jail (also closed for renovations), tromping through a historic graveyard. We grabbed some ice cream in the afternoon, poked around the waterfront a bit, and agreed that we want to come back. We caught the ferry back to Fort Fisher. We poked around the Fort Fisher recreation area a bit. We ate an early (really good) dinner at Ida Thai, came back to the B&B, and read the rest of the evening.
Tuesday morning was a repeat of Monday morning. Coffee, books, breakfast. There was another couple checked into the B&B, so we had some light but pleasant morning conversation. Afterwards, we got packed up, and then it was time to head out, unfortunately. We got back on 421 pointed north and got home without any trouble.
In sum: had a great time, even though it was off season and a lot of things were closed (this made it uncrowded, so it was a good trade off), but we think we want to brave the area in high season, too. We definitely want to go back.
All of the pictures are over here and here. Bradley's report is over here.