Helloooooo. Oh my goodness it’s so great to be typing on my beautiful little computer + preparing a post to share with you. THIS. This is what I love. And, while the little blogging hiatus I’ve had has been good, it feels even better to be back. And I’ve got so much planned for this autumnal season. But, first things first. How about some posts from my travels this past summer?! I thought I’d start with a little peek into small town living in the mountains of North Carolina. The setting of our summer vacation (and my old hometown).
Lina, my wife, and I flew to the States from Sweden in the middle of July and landed in NYC. Because we love the Big Apple more than we could ever describe, we stayed two nights in NYC before heading down south to the ancient, beautiful mountains of North Carolina.
So, after an inspiring 48-ish hours in NYC, we hopped a cheap flight (I highly recommend Allegiant Air, by the way. Not sponsored, just my opinion) straight to Asheville, North Carolina.
Truthfully, most people don’t think much about North Carolina. But, guys, you really should.
Like the beach? It’s there! Like mountains? They’re there too. Want small town friendliness and big city funkiness? Easy to find! Nature lover, art lover, coffee +/or beer snob? Farm to table foodie? Theatre buff? Extreme sport freak? Festival, concert, musical venue go-er? I’m telling you… it’s all in North Carolina.
And, even more than that… all of it (except the beaches) can be found in the ancient Great Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains.
So, Americans, don’t forget about this northern southern state. And non-Americans, to see what the US is really like, make an effort to leave NYC and/or LA and find a small town somewhere to discover more about life in an American small town. It’ll be real, gritty, authentic, and just as inspiring as those big cities.
Now that I’ve talked it up, it’s time for me to show you what I mean. Through my eyes, my experiences, and my reflections on returning to the small town that I once called home.
As soon as we touched down in the small airport outside of Asheville, we jumped in the car with my parents and headed directly to grab some locally brewed beer at one of our favorite breweries. Asheville, a small city with only 85,000 residents, boasts 26 craft breweries + 60 in total in the mountain region. That’s insane. And awesome. And perhaps a good explanation as to why I am such a craft beer lover. Hehe.
What I’m trying to say is, first stop for me + Lina will always be… BEER.
With full bellies + smiles on our faces, we headed west about 25 minutes from downtown Asheville, to Haywood County. A rural county filled with two small towns + quite a few other little communities dotted throughout the mountainous terrain.
My parents live in Haywood County. Lake Junaluska/Waynesville, to be exact. At one point, I also lived + worked in Haywood County. And, while I absolutely adore the city of Asheville, there is something even more authentic and rugged in the towns of Canton and Waynesville. Cozy, mountain small towns filled with regular folk. Simple, real, country, hillbilly, hippie, nature-lovin folk.
After settling in at my parent’s place (so good to be home with them!), we started talking about what we wanted to do. And one of the things that Lina + I decided was important to us was just soaking up the slow moments of being back in the south.
That led us to dreaming up a plan to go buy some local veggies + meat, and have a yummy summer cookout. Just me, Lina, and my parents. And a long, hot summer evening. But, first… food shopping!
We wandered through the local produce stand, picking up corn, beef, and every other veggie under the sun. All locally sourced from just a few miles away. I mean, seriously. We get good food + help our neighbors. Win-win all around.
Another foodie thing that is classic small town America is a diner visit. Oh, how I love breakfast at a diner. Bacon, eggs, hashbrowns (shredded + fried potatoes). And coffee. Perfect!
We visited 2 diners in Waynesville. The Buttered Biscuit for breakfast one morning. And Waffle House (a national chain you often see in movies) for breakfast one late, hung-over night. ‘Cuz that’s when you visit Waffle House.
Diners are gathering places for America. Visit one and you will most definitely get a real feel for regular people. Plus, the greasy food is delicious (in small doses). Truthfully, I am able to have a pretty nostalgic, romantic view of American diners. I choose when I want to go there. But, there are many of those regular folk who eat there daily. For company, because it’s all they can afford, and because it’s comfortable.
I am fully aware of my romanticising of American diners. But, in no way do I look down on the “regulars”. In fact, I often try to meet and chat with whomever I meet. And, in my own soul, I give thanks for the life that I live…
Another popular gathering place in small town America is the front porch. You may think there’s no difference between a front porch, a deck, or a backyard. But, oh good lord, there is. A front porch is special. And specific. It’s the place to watch the world go by. To greet neighbors as they pass. To sip coffee in the morning, sweet tea in the afternoon, and wine or beer in the evening.
Everyone, from fancy pansy southern belles to redneck country folk sit on their front porches. Especially in the evenings before and after dinner. It’s often cooler on the shady front porch. And, the rocking chairs provide just the breeze that you need to get the humid, stuffy summer air moving a bit.
We spent an evening on one front porch of friends of my parents. As I sat there, chatting the evening away, sipping on white wine, looking out over the lake, I was transported back in time to the summer nights of porch sitting in the same area with my grandparents. On this night, we sat and rocked and watched the sun set behind the mountains. And I felt grounded + connected to my past. Oh, what peace and simplicity.
Well, are you convinced yet? Small towns really do give a glimpse into real life. It may not be glamorous or glittery or even exciting. Yes, in the south, the pace is slower. But, in many ways, it’s more intentional. It’s real. Not that life in the big city is not real… the type of life that one lives is really all about the type of life one chooses to live – no matter the location.
What I love about simple, authentic living is that it is up to me to decide how I want my life to flow. Whether in the hustle + bustle of NYC or the relaxed, overly-friendly south or the simple practicality of nordic cities, I choose how I want to live. I make my days and nights how I want them. I create my life.
Just as I can decide how I want to live my everyday life, I can also decide how I want to travel.
And, in an effort to learn more about as many people and places and cultures as I can, I create space to get away from touristy things. I seek out those authentic moments of life, those experiences that give me, if only a glimpse, a little peek into how people really live.
That’s one of the things I love about returning to my old stomping grounds… it gives me a chance to reconnect with what I experience and know as my own heartland of America. I see people of all different walks of life. I talk with them, laugh with them, observe them, and interact with them. And I remember that, even though we may have completely different religious + political + social beliefs, we are all still connected through our humanity.
More importantly, instead of looking at the differences, it’s so easy to meet someone, listen to their thoughts, and find tons of things that we have in common. Dialogue and the willingness to slow down and meet each other with respect, that’s what will heal the divisive pain in the US, and around the world, today.
And, for me, visiting small town North Carolina is just one more reminder to slow down, simplify, and create community so we can move forward together.
More North Carolina summer posts coming soon! Think: beer, nature, and special friends. In the meantime, lovelies, have a beautiful weekend. And thanks so much for reading!