Happy New Year to all! We hope you had a spectacular 2013 and are ready for an adventurous 2014. We certainly are! For not only does 2014 mark a new year, but for Jeff and I, it also marks a new decade.
That’s right kids, we both turn THE BIG 4-0 this year. Whoop, whoop!
And instead of believing we are “over the hill” (such an old school way of thinking!), we choose to use this as an opportunity to celebrate. All. Year. Long.
So, as you would expect, part of this year-long celebration will include as many trips as we can take given our full-time work schedules. Specifically, our hope for 2014 is that we’ll not only savor (and share) our international adventures, but also that we’ll take advantage of all of the local beauty that surrounds us.
To that end, we took our first day trip of 2014 to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina (called the NC high country).
A mere 2-hour drive away, it’s a bit shameful that we’ve never seen this area before. Nevertheless, the area around Boone, North Carolina made a stunningly quaint first impression on us. In hindsight, I’m fairly certain that Boone faked us out. This first impression wasn’t a true one. Let me explain.
Boone is a mountain town almost wholly populated by the 17,000+ students who attend Appalachian State University there.
When we arrived, the main street was like a postcard. Leftover snow blanketed the ground, Christmas decorations were still up, and the street was empty of cars and people. We had driven into a winter wonderland and we had it all to ourselves. It was quaintness personified.
Then the reason for the quiet dawned on us…the kiddies weren’t back to school yet! Ah, bliss. We savored the silence and this inaccurate first impression. (We’ll experience their boundless energy on another visit…)
So after bundling up in our winter gear (it was 17degF/-8degC), we strolled up and down the main thoroughfare–King Street. We chatted and pointed out the eclectic mix of stores geared towards the students (tattoo parlors, bail bondsmen, and shops selling fan gear), mountain shops (selling rugged outdoorwear), hippy parlors (selling crystals and the like), upscale shops (selling wine, gourmet olive oil, etc. to those with more refined tastes), and, of course, a Civil War re-enactment store (oh dear). Intriguing!
This eclectic mix was anchored by the Mast General Store. Built around 1915, the Mast General Store is famous in these parts. (Yep, you read it right, I said “in these parts.”) There are several in the Carolinas. Quaint though it was, with its barrels of candy for sale by the piece, old coca-cola cooler, and old-school games for kids (remember the Original Wooly Willy?) we knew that the original Mast General Store waited just around the corner for us in the tiny town of Valle Crucis.
So, off we went, in search of the original Mast General Store, built in 1883.
A fairly unassuming building, we almost passed the store before realizing what it was. Don’t blink, or you’ll miss it, and Valle Crucis. This store is the heart and soul of the town.
Immediately upon walking in, we could feel the history. The worn and uneven wooden floors, the coziness provided by the dark wood walls and ceiling, the old-time (yet still used) post office, and the iron pot-bellied wood stove pumping out heat from the middle of the store, all reeked of a time gone by.
As did the “on your honor” 5 cent cup of coffee, at the ready whenever you like. I must admit that the trough full of bonnets was an unexpected sight. Do people really still buy (or wear) these? I should have asked. Or better yet, I should have bought one!
But the best part was perhaps the patrons in the store–while there were a couple of us tourists (why, oh why, can’t I blend in?!?!?!), most were locals. Hunters gathering what they need, an older gentleman relaxing in a rocking chair as he shot the breeze with a pal, and local folks chatting with old friends behind the counter.
A local woman also held a cooking demonstration, giving tastes of her homemade apple cider, which filled the store with the aroma of cinnamon deliciousness, and pork roasted in raspberry jalapeno jam. It was so delicious we bought her jam and made the pork for ourselves tonight. Yum!
Now, along with the historic feel, of course there was also the more modern. Upscale cookbooks, Elf on the Shelf for kids, and updated cookware. But displayed amidst the worn wood, it all seemed to fit exactly as it should.
As we walked through the store, we commented on how much Jeff’s Dad would have liked this place. He would have been at home amongst the many trinkets and the unhurried locals. We vowed to bring his Mom when she visits. Kay–you’ll love it!
After enjoying the store, hands down the highlight of our day, we drove around the area a bit before heading home. The frozen Watauga River reminded me of how lucky I was to be in a toasty car. Brrrr!
And as we left the mountains, the orderly Christmas tree farms that western NC is famous for seemed to say “see you next year.”
Hopefully it won’t be a year before we head to these mountains again. We have a crush on them now, and hope to explore some of their charms in the upcoming year!
Have you ever experienced a time when something impromptu turned into something exceptional (much more so than you ever could have hoped, if you had planned it)? That’s exactly how this inaugural trip to Boone and Valle Crucis went.
We arrived with no expectations, but in our wildest dreams we couldn’t have fathomed entering a mountainous winter wonderland or taking a quick trip back in time. What a wonderful way to start 2014. We hope your year is equally filled with unexpected wonder!