Friday May 11th – Sunday , May 13th
We’d planned on starting early in the morning but with, my son getting to Edison after midnight , everything got pushed back and we left Edison around 9:30 AM . It was sprinkling a little as we started but the skies soon cleared and we had some glorious weather. Our planned route to Durham was : first, the New Jersey Turnpike to the Delaware Memorial Bridge , then I-95 to Baltimore , Washington D.C and Richmond and finally the I-84 to Durham . The first part of the trip to Washington D.C went off without a hitch . It’s a road we ‘ve taken many times before to visit our daughter when she lived there and the part between Wilmington and Baltimore is a favorite stretch. There is never a traffic jam and there are some good views that make the drive very relaxing. Near Baltimore however , there always seems to roadwork going on and the traffic starts to build up. This time was no exception but we made good time until we hit Manassas , Va. There I made a bad mistake by not taking the HOV lane . The next hour and a half saw us advance only 6 miles in stop and go traffic. A traffic accident near Richmond set us back another 15 minutes and we got to Durham at 7: 30 PM, our journey having taken us ten hours .
Despite the traffic problems , I really enjoyed the drive as it was the first time in years that our son had accompanied us and it was fun chatting with him . When one is trapped in a car ,with not much else to do, one really gets to talk. Also I can never get bored on a journey like this as each new sight, each sign board triggers another thought . For example :
Havre de Grace , MD : I wonder how the town came by a French name ? ( Answer: The Marquis de Lafayette thought it resembled Le Havre, France and so the townspeople gave it this name which means Harbor of Grace ).
Millard E. Tydings Bridge : A beautiful bridge over the Susquehanna near Havre de Grace. Who was Millard E. Tydings ? Answer: Tydings ( 1890-1961) was a long time Senator from Maryland . The bridge , incidentally ,was dedicated by President Kennedy on November 14th 1963 , just eight days before his assassination.
On catching a glimpse of Camden Yards ,the home field of the Baltimore Orioles and reputed to be the best, most beautiful stadium in the major leagues. I must make a trip here to see a game . But when ? I’ve been saying this for years .
Quantico , VA : Doesn’t it have something to do with the Marines ? Sure enough ,a little later there is a sign saying Marine Corps base.
Manassas, Fredericksburg : sites of famous Civil War Battles . I must read up on the Civil War .
And so it goes .
I can never get bored on a long drive .
Durham , NC is one vertex of the Research Triangle ( Raleigh- Durham – Chapel Hill) renowned for its Universities and research facilities . Durham got its start because of tobacco ; the Brightleaf tobacco grown in this area was a favorite of Civil War era soldiers because it was milder and more flavorful. The Duke family made its fortune first with tobacco ,then with electric power generation ( from hydro-electric dams)which in turn resulted in the growth of the textile industry around Durham. Today, Durham is a very pleasant university town with a population of about 250,000 centered around Duke University.
Little Trinity College, founded by Methodists in 1838, moved to Durham in 1892 . It was renamed Duke University in 1924, having received generous endowments from the Duke family. As is only to be expected from its beginnings , it is very forward-looking and progressive . It is regularly ranked in the top ten universities in the U.S and is particularly well-known for mathematics , biomedical sciences , law business and nursing . It is also a leading center for cancer research.
With only two days in Durham , and much time spent attending commencement ceremonies , we couldn’t really explore the city . What we saw of it ,and of Duke, we liked . The campus, home to about 6,500 undergrads and 8,000 grad students , is beautiful . We spent most of our time on the West Campus with its stone Gothic style buildings but I understand the East Campus and its brick Georgian style architecture is just as lovely. We would have liked to have explored the Sarah P. Duke Gardens that we drove past but it was drizzling and we had ceremonies to attend.
Durham is known as the “foodiest small town in America” and our nephew was all praise for its delights . Alas, we didn’t get a chance to visit the Full Steam Brewery or the food carts parked outside it . It would have been fun to sample the fare at Chubby’s Tacos or the small plates at Revolution ( Doesn’t Haystack Shrimp with Lemon – Pepper Aioli sound great ?).
However , we did have some memorable meals. The first evening we went to Blu Seafood and Bar , located right next to the better known Vin Rouge on Hillsborough Road. We were not disappointed . Some of us had the fresh oysters on the half shell while others enjoyed appetizers such as Crabcakes with chipotle aioli and jicama slaw, Warm Spinach Salad with Roasted Beets , Mushrooms and Feta and Tuna Tartare with Avocado , Miso and Sweet Soy . The Caesar Salad too was excellent .My entree , Diver Scallops and Shrimp in a tangy Romesco Sauce disappeared in a trice as did my wife’s Shrimp and Grits . My general practice when traveling is to sample the local beer and at Blu , I had the Big Boss Hells Belle. It was luscious and complex but don’t ask me about its name.
At lunch next day , we were determined to try the North Carolina barbecue and drove to the Backyard BBQ Pit . It was certainly popular and almost all the tables were occupied but the fare laid out on a steam table did not look appetizing , consisting as it did of southern food rather than barbecue, and offering southern staples such as smothered pork chops , fried flounder , fried whiting , collard greens , baked beans, fried okra and Mac and cheese . We beat a hasty retreat and tried Bullock’s Bar-B-Cue , a family owned Durham fixture since 1952. It’s a large establishment , somewhat like a Denny’s or a TGI Fridays in its ambience. Many of the diners were large families out for a weekend feast. Bullocks has an extensive menu and ,at our nephew’s suggestion , we all ordered the family platter , all-you can eat for $ 11.95 per person ( $ 14.95 with ribs ). We sipped sweet iced tea , the preferred drink in these areas, and nibbled on Hush Puppies until the food arrived . And what food ! There were heaping plates of BBQ Ribs , Fried Chicken , Pulled Pork , Brunswick Stew , String Beans , French Fries, Baked Beans, Coleslaw and an extra , Fried Okra. The Ribs were very good ( perfectly cooked just the way I like them : firm and tender , not falling-off – the -bone , and doused in a thick ,tart brown sauce) but the fried chicken was even better , the chicken meat encased in a thin , well seasoned papery coating that put KFC to shame . The Colonel would have given his eye-teeth to come up with chicken as good as this. Other winners were the creamy Coleslaw ( the cabbage diced fine , rather than shredded),and the baked beans ( sweet and tangy) . We didn’t care for the Brunswick stew ( a hodgepodge of a dish without any discernible taste ) , the string beans ( over-cooked) and the pulled pork ( finely chopped ,almost a mash).The French Fries were good but the Fried Okra was a disappointment ( doughy and soft). There was so much food that our son remarked that it was like a Thanksgiving table . We tried valiantly and ( almost) finished the chicken , ribs and coleslaw only to have the waitress ask if she should bring out more … it was all included in the $ 14.95 per person price. We declined hastily and refused her offer of to pack the remaining food for us to take home , feeling guilty at wasting it but unable to think of eating again that day. How can people eat so much ?If we ever go to Bullocks again , we will make sure to stick to the ribs and the chicken and a couple of sides.
After the commencement ceremony , we dined at Parizade , a fancy Mediterranean restaurant despite the vaguely Middle Eastern sounding name. It was a gorgeous place , packed with families celebrating their scions graduation. Parizade’s decor and furnishings were luxurious and our meal began well ; the salads and the starters were good and were beautifully presented.However , my crab cakes were topped with an aioli that looked and tasted like thinned yoghurt and my wife’s so-called ” Spanish paella ” was soupy. The others in our party enjoyed their steaks though ; perhaps we should have stuck to the grilled meats also.
Next: The Commencement at Duke , Fareed Zakaria