The best thing about travelling for me is the sense of freedom to roam both physically and mentally. Stroll, shop, wander. Observe, note and question.
One of my favourite things to do is to collect bits of wisdom I see and hear. On this trip, I have quite the variety; from cafe tabletops to napkins to random things being typed by strangers using an old typewriter on demo.
Some of my favourites:
@ Sur La Table, Portland OR
@Oblation Papers & Press, Portland OR
@ State Capitol Giftshop, WA
@Cipher Escape, Morrisville NC
@The Alamo, San Antonio TX
@Frog Cafe, Taipei City
Modelled after a 16th century European marketplace, the 20-acre park offers food and entertainment complete with knights, fairies, pirates, jugglers, jousting, falconry, dancing and the general circus. The annual event is held over two months or so in the weekends, and seems to be the one of the largest such fair in the US.
It’s like walking into another world. The mood is set the moment you walk through the gates by a jolly fellow draped over the balustrade on the second floor, yelling for you to whip out your tickets and just get your butts through the gates – in the fancy costume you stashed at the back of your wardrobe that finally got to see the light of day.
Visions, real and otherwise, of Robin Hood, Three Musketeers, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, X-Men, Avengers, Skullduggery Pleasant Steam Punk flashed past as we made our way deeper and deeper into the forest. You get my drift.
We didn’t go in costume though. If there is a next time, we will. 🙂
A phenomenon seemingly unique to the US that occurs immediately after Thanksgiving Thursday i.e. midnight onwards, which also marks the beginning of Christmas shopping.
On this day, participating retailers mark down prices in the hope of increasing sales volume large enough to help them go back from ‘red’ (loss) back into the ‘black’ (profit). Items on sale (at the outlets) are typically out of season, for clearance, limited sizes or could be a tad faulty. But they’re all authentic, all new, and all genuinely cheaper.
Being Singaporean and completely fascinated by this, we decided that we ought to try and make one trip to North Carolina that coincides with this period. We’ve never celebrated Thanksgiving, in wintery November, and in a typical American neighbourhood; We’ve never gone shopping past midnight with our tummies full of turkey; We’ve never ever not slept because we wanted to shop for Christmas or any other reason.
We arrived at the Premium Outlets at Smithfield around 2am and left in the afternoon at about 3pm. We walked and walked from twilight till dawn and past noon, lugging around our bags of stuff, completely mesmerized by the discount labels hanging in our faces. We had one meal in between – pancake breakfast at Cracker Barrel (YUMS!!!) – and forged ahead till we finally broke and craved for rest.
This was a couple of years ago. Looking back, I think it must be one of the craziest things we’ve done. Not sleeping at night to go shopping makes you delirious and lightheaded. And it makes you lethargic the next few days.
That said, it was utterly fun and I would do it all over again.
[First published:3 Apr 2011]
Whenever we visit North Carolina, I think I’ve never once missed eating at the Cracker Barrel @ Smithfield (1109 Industrial Park Drive, Smithfield, NC 27577-6028). There are two reasons for this – first, I’m irrevocably in love the food served there and two, the North Carolina Premium Outlets are just a 100m away.
The biscuits are particularly good served with whipped butter, and so are the corn muffins. I’m not terribly familiar with local cuisines, but I was informed that this is good old southern fare with nice gravy over tender meats, with beans, corn, okra, mash and very sweet tea. We are always there in winter, and so the Cracker Barrel that we see always has logs burning in their fireplace, and their merchandise store out front is always swathed in X’mas ornaments and lights, accompanied by jolly music. Very festive. I walk out of that warm and cosy place filled and happy every time.
What’s distinctive about dining at Cracker Barrel is that you get to play their signature game. I still don’t know what it’s called but there’s a wooden triangle with holes, and golf tees are placed in these holes except for one. The objective of the game is to remove the golf tees save for one. You do this by jumping one tee over another, taking away the tee that got ‘jumped’. I’ve only ever managed to leave two once, but mostly three tees. There are solutions available online so you can cheat :). I prefer to give it a go or two when I’m there. It’s no fun otherwise!
[First published: 25 Mar 2011]