For my second trip out off Raleigh, I prepared much better than a week ago. Being able to find lots of information about sights in Durham online was probably the main reason. I made not only a list of sites but also decided about the order I should see them in so as little walking as possible is involved. My hand-drawn maps also improved.
Again, I traveled by bus. This time one change was involved but the second bus connected so well that it was not a bother at all. I only had to leave an air-conditioned space for about five minutes, that was it. The bus ride gave me a chance to see more of the North Carolina’s landscape and make a list of colleges and universities I passed during an hour long ride: Veterinary School of NC State, Meredith College, Durham Technical Community College, North Carolina Central University and Duke University was to come later on.
With a few photography detours, I made it to the Visitor Information Center without much trouble. I stopped at a church that actually looked like a church (and not like a business center in the case of the church I attended few weeks ago) and regretted it was not opened as there was a chance that it was nicer than usually inside, too. On my way, I struggled a bit to take a satisfactory picture of an unusual skyscraper that in fact was Duke Clinical Research Institute – the building was so tall and the sun so bright. I also wondered whether it was somehow related to the Duke University there, whose visit was on my list as well. The last significant delay on my way to the visitor place was the Carolina Theater. I liked it very much and again, wished I could go inside. I also bumped into a woman sitting there who called my “Honey” all the time and thought that I was a Photography student. My involvement in Science probably disappointed her a bit but she seemed relieved once I told that Photography was a big hobby of mine.
In the Visitor Center I got some advice on what too see and also received a map and a guide. The guide looked like lots of advertisement (yet I may use it for planning my next visit if I decide to come back) but the map was very helpful. The Visitor Center lady also told me about a free bus line running downtown (Oh, cool!) and a Farmer’s Market that was held at the moment. Upon my request, I also got a short Durham History intro. While I thought it was a pretty old city, the truth was that there were much older settlements all over North Carolina. The major reason why Durham made it to its size and success seemed to be tobacco. This explained why the first building I saw was a tobacco company and why there was a Tobacco District downtown.
Before exploration of the city center, I stopped by the city hall as it was super close to the Visitor Center. However, I was disillusioned once again. It looked way too formal, way too much like a company’s headquarters and on top of that, it was covered in scaffolding from a great part. Thankfully, a row of little colorful houses compensated well for the city hall washout.
My next stop was the Farmer’s Market that was not originally on my list but I though it could be nice to go there. Indeed, it was not a bad assumption. Once I made it through all the fast food trucks and stands (whatever-American-city-style sandwich, hamburger, pizza and bunch of others), a gyros place, a shabby cookie table and a local bakery stand, more exciting stuff revealed to me. Good, so the Americans indeed care about something else than just food. There were some jewelry, soaps, knitted figures (such as Minions), bags, fabric postcards (which were my favorite), metal, nicely painted pinwheels and African glass beads art. Eventually, I found the farmers! They were selling pretty much any kind of fruit and vegetable but for double and more the price at Food Lion grocery store, and some flowers and herbs as well. Lots of over-weighted people were changing tomatoes, corn, peppers and others – probably hoping they could reduce the impact of the junk they had before. In the farmer’s section, my favorite stop was the hedgehog guy. He had three of them: Oscar, Bonita and Peaches. Too cute! But I could not tell the difference between them. He either somehow could or pretended he could.
Having seen enough of vegetables, it was time to see the city’s famous sights. It turned out be rather difficult to keep the desired course. There were so many buildings to take pictures of. As a result, I was constantly taking detours to get the best shots, including crossing the streets all the time so the buildings would fit in the frame or I would eliminate as many traffic signs as possible from my pictures.
The downtown Durham is divided into seven districts and although I missed the Tobacco District and the two most eastern one, I enjoyed exploring the remaining four: Brighleaf District, a bit of Central Park (there was the Farmer’s Market), City Center and Warehouse District. The heart of the Brightleaf District was a square of the same name, which was shopping and dinning center but not for poor students. Among others, Morgan Imports was located there. Initially, I walked in to cool a bit but it turned out being lots of fun. It probably was one of the most unusual stores I have ever been too, offering anything from souvenirs-like items, to useful kitchen utensils, to toys, American decorations, fun items and to absolute crap.
Warehouse District resembled the warehouses of Hamburg, except for in comparison to the Europe’s biggest port it was funnily small and there was no river. The buildings made from red brick were all right though. It was also the most depopulated of all the districts I visited today.
Cooking in the early afternoon sun and saturated with downtown architecture of a US city, I decided I should check the place that originally made me to come to the Bull City. The Duke University. I wanted to take advantage of the free bus lane. While it indeed did not cost me a single penny to get on, I paid a lot in terms of wasted steps while desperately searching for a bus stop. Even harder part, however, was to get off the bus at the right time. Even in Durham, I had signal in order for the bus to stop, while having no idea where I was and how many bus stops the driver skipped already because no one wanted to get on/off. This user-unfriendly system, however, made me to visit the Ninth Street, which I did not plan any more because I had spent so much time downtown. It was basically shops and dining places. I did not stay too long as too many dark and rain-promising clouds started accumulating above my head. While trying to fulfill the shopping part at least a bit, it finally started to rain. And as soon as I entered the Duke University properties, the storm was there. Great! I had only a little idea where I was and it was rather hard to try to read the map with an umbrella in my hand and trying to keep my camera dry. The preparation I had done prior to the trip thankfully paid off and I was able to reach the Nasher Museum of Art in too long time and without my camera and me getting too wet. I did not plan to go to an Art place at all but my priorities changed as soon as the storm got really bad. In the end, it turned out to be quite a nice shelter.
Luckily, the storm was over soon and I dared to leave the museum, heading to the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. Beautiful! With threatening clouds up in the sky, I cowardly stayed on the main path only and did not take any detours to specialized sections such as Historic Gardens or Garden of Native Plants. I do feel sorry about such a rushed visit but still had a chance to take some pictures. A lily flower with raindrops on its petals was a rewarding object!
Through the Gardens, I made it to the Duke Chapel. This one needed some reconstruction too and so did its closest neighborhood. It was a pity I could not see this site in its full beauty, neither could I go inside. I got in the university store instead. I found nothing interest there – just T-shirt, hoodies, shorts, caps and bunch of other stuff any other university offers. In comparison to NCSU, the prices were very different though. I assume there is a correlation between tuition and prices of merchandise products.
The campus must have been huge and I probably missed some of its important places – such as Lemur Center that must have somehow disappeared from the Earth during the time of my visit. All the buildings I saw today were built from bricks, however, at Duke they preferred grey ones. They compensated for this rather boring color with fancy look of the buildings. The campus looked so Gothic. It has been a while since I saw a couple of Harry Potter movies but the Duke campus would undoubtedly be the right location for any of the movies from the series.
I accidentally found a Biological Sciences building but there was nothing interesting or unusual about it. The greenhouses were worth a picture though. Pretty much next to it was a Law building and from there I reached the Sports area. Now I know that except for their own theater the Duke kids can go to a large stadium to support the Blue Devils at. Having passed the baseball field, tennis court and peeked into a basketball gym, I gained a feeling that I saw all the essential of a US college and headed for the free bus. This was a great opportunity to walk down the Gardens one more, this time through the Asia section of it.
When waiting at the station I watched bus travel-related clips on a big TV screen. At first, it seemed they would try to teach the Americans how to get on and off the bus which made me laugh. However, my smile was gone in not too long – specifically, when the “show” changed and “Ten most wanted people of July 2015” were introduced there. I wondered if making their faces and criminal records public was a part of the punishment or whether all ten of them have not been arrested yet and could show up any time. Anyway, they were mostly involved in drug distribution and I had to reason to assume I would meet them.
Although I do not regret going to Cary a week ago, the visit of Durham will probably be remembered for a significantly longer period of time. I was surprised how large it was and that they actually expected tourists there (so different even from Raleigh!). I enjoyed taking pictures of historical buildings – so different from European architecture and so much younger, yet emitting some zeitgeist. I was glad to have a look at the campus of one of the country’s top universities, especially after taking two MOOCs guaranteed by this institution. The campus, in fact, was a nice trip destination but I did not develop any deeper feelings for it – I love the red campus of NC State too much by now to foolishly fall in love with something supposedly more exclusive.