Part Three: Bulgaria

If you’d asked me before my trip to Eastern Europe what I knew about the small country of Bulgaria, I would have been hard pressed to come up with anything. It wasn’t a place that had ever blipped on my radar. I hadn’t yet seen its stunning, 200 million-year-old rock formations.

Our first day in the country was spent traveling to Belogradchik, a small town at the foothills of the Balkan Mountains. We hiked to the top of a path which gave us an up-close view of these somewhat eerie stones.

There are many legends associated with the Belogradchik rock formations. Several involve variations on the theme of a damsel in distress who is saved from some dire fate by being turned into stone along with her beloved and her persecutor. The same fate for all?

Not sure who is supposed to be the damsel, the beloved, and the persecutor in the formations below.

Riding through the red rock countryside of Bulgaria to reach the location of these rock formations gave me a glimpse of how life was during the years of communist rule. In a word, bleak.

Look at these apartment buildings thrown up to house citizens relocated from small villages to work in Soviet-era factories.

Since the fall of communism, many factories have been abandoned. People are poor in Bulgaria, and sadly, government corruption has been rampant. In fact, one of our tour guides said there is currently no central government in place.

The population is shrinking, now that emigration to more prosperous countries is possible.

But there are bright spots in Bulgaria. This street in a small town shows life. There’s even a sign in English for a General Broker.

Here’s another sign containing some English meant to capture the tourist dollar. (It worked.)

We were treated to a Bulgarian lunch with a wonderful salad (lots of feta), warm pita bread, and a hearty stew. Dessert was a yogurt concoction. Yes, the food seemed a lot like Greek cuisine. Bulgaria and Greece aren’t that far from each other and share a common heritage going back to the Medieval Ages. And both were part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly five centuries.

Lively folk dancers entertained us during lunch. Although traveling abroad came with three required Covid tests and lots of mask-wearing, I was glad that my presence helped these performers to work again.

Bulgaria marked the end of our time on the riverboat. We disembarked on the morning of day eight of our trip and boarded a bus bound for a two-night stay in Bucharest, which, unlike Budapest, thankfully, was open for tourists.

In my next post, the last of this series on my trip to Eastern Europe, I’ll talk about what I saw in Bucharest, the capital of Romania.

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Part Two: Serbia

Serbia, once part of Yugoslavia (like Croatia), was the second destination of my recent trip to Eastern Europe. To make up for not touring Budapest due to Covid restrictions, our tour company gave us an extra day in this country. That time was spent visiting the city of Novi Sad.

Never heard of it? Me either until this trip, although it’s the second largest city in the country, after Belgrade. Here’s a view of Novi Sad from the top of an old fortress we climbed there.

That’s our riverboat, Uniworld’s River Duchess.

An afternoon stroll in a park near Novi Sad took us to an interesting monument at the Sloboda Memorial Site. The figure of the woman on top with the raised hands is inviting the people of Serbia to an uprising. The soldiers are armed partisans.

The sign there has an English translation that reads “the memorial site is dedicated to the fallen soldiers of [the] National Liberation War, from 1941, to 1945.” What we Americans call World War II was a national struggle for Serbians to rid themselves of control by the Axis Powers, specifically the Germans.

We spent our second day in Serbia in its capital, Belgrade. Check out this street sign. I think the language on the first lines is Serbian, the official national language, although other languages spoken in the country include Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak, Croatian, Bosnian, Romani, Bulgarian, Macedonian, and a few more.

Whew! As in many European countries I’ve visited, it’s not unusual for people to speak three or four languages. Several of our tour guides did. And I struggle to learn basic Spanish.

Notice, too, some English in the second lines. Accommodating the American tourists?

A highlight of visiting Belgrade was touring the royal palace there, officially called the Karadjordjevic Dynasty Palace. Built in the 1920s and ’30s, the palace is not on par with such showplaces as Versailles, but it still has touches of grandeur like the ceiling and walls in this modern media room.

As you can see, masks were required for indoor tours.

Serbia has not had a king since the beginning of World War II when Peter II fled Nazi occupation, and then faced with post-war communism, never returned. Times are somewhat different now. Peter’s son, Crown Prince Alexander, and his family live in the palace. He’s not officially recognized as king but rather acts as an ambassador for the country.

He was doing just that when he and his wife, Princess Katherine, came out on the steps of the palace to speak to our group. Interesting tidbit: the Prince is a cousin to the British royal family, and Queen Elizabeth is his godmother.

Part of our last day in Serbia was spent touring the Golubac Fortress. This place is super old, dating back to the 1300s. It was built at the point where the Danube is the widest and begins running into the gorge of the Karpathian mountains. This was an excellent strategic point, and bordering countries fought to capture the fortress during the 14th and 15th centuries.

Golubac is exactly how I expected a medieval fortress to look.

Our final destination in Serbia was the Lepenski Vir Archaeological Park. The discovery of this large Stone Age settlement in the early 1960s was a big deal in the world of archeology. Lepenski Vir is believed to have been one of the most highly developed prehistoric cultures.

I’d always thought of prehistoric people as being small in stature, but our guide said some of the Lepenski Vir Stone Age people were over six feet tall. This skeleton does look long.

Leaving Serbia, we sailed on the Danube through the Iron Gates, an 83-mile-long stretch of scenic gorges between the Carpathian and Balkan mountains. We were on our way to Bulgaria, which I’ll tell you about in my next post.

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Part One: From Budapest to Bucharest

My ten-day, Highlights of Eastern Europe trip was to begin in Budapest, the capital of Hungary. It’s a beautiful city, a bridge between Western and Eastern Europe, I was told by a few acquaintances who’d been lucky enough to have once visited there.

I wasn’t that fortunate. Five days before the trip was to begin, my husband and I received an urgent email from our travel agency. Due to COVID concerns, Hungary was closed to tourists. Uniworld, our cruise company, would not be offering the Budapest program. And if we flew into the airport there, we had to have plans for “transiting out of the country within 24 hours.”

Yikes! Not only was I disappointed that one of the major attractions of my trip was now off the agenda, but our group of eight was also scheduled to fly into Budapest a day early and had reserved hotel rooms in the city.

In a last-minute scramble, we rebooked to end our flight in Vienna, spending our pre-cruise night there. Vienna is a lovely city, too, but we’d all been there before. It hadn’t been the plan.

We hired two drivers to pick up the eight of us at our Vienna hotel the next morning and transport us straight to our riverboat docked in Budapest, about a three-hour drive.

The only view I had of this lovely old city was from the Danube as we set sail early that evening. Here’s the famous Hungarian Parliament, the country’s largest building, the one I’d hoped to tour. Doesn’t it look like a castle?

Budapest is actually divided by the Danube into two sections: Buda and Pest. Bridges connect the two parts of the city.

Our revised riverboat cruise agenda took us for the first full day to Croatia. Leaving the boat and boarding a bus, we visited Osijek, the fourth-largest city in Croatia. As with many European cities, there was a church that simply must be seen.

This is the Osijeck Co-Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul. Although titled a cathedral and the biggest structure in the city, it’s deemed only a parish church. It’s Catholic, not Orthodox, which is an important distinction in Eastern Europe. (More about Catholic versus Orthodox later.)

Pretty fancy for a parish church in my book.

What’s European about this picture? The sidewalk cafe, the bicyclists, the majestic church. What’s not? The Coca-Cola logo on the umbrellas.

Here’s the ornate interior of the Osijek Co-Cathedral. There are 40 stained-glass windows and many decorative frescoes. Masses take place here throughout the week. What a beautiful place to worship.

Visiting Croatia, we heard a lot about what the citizens there call the Homeland War, also known as the Croatian War of Independence. This conflict took place from 1991-1995 when Croat forces declared independence from Yugoslavia. Serbs living in Croatia opposed the idea and wanted to be in a state with Serbia within Yugoslavia. That’s a simple explanation for what became an ethnic war as the country of Yugoslavia dissolved not too many years after the death of its famous dictator Tito.

About 800 people were killed in the shelling of Osijek which took place from August 1991-June 1992. Bullet holes can still be seen in the buildings there.

On a lighter note, our group enjoyed an “exclusive home-hosted lunch” in a small village in eastern Croatia. The main course was baked chicken, much like we’d have here at home. What you see pictured (in addition to my husband) is the first course, a vegetable soup, that again, tasted similar to what we are accustomed to eating. What was distinctly different was the bottle of the local brew, a fruit brandy called rakija. The custom is to have a tumbler of this high-octane stuff before eating. Ah, no thanks. You can see my full glass to the right of my water.

Our cook spoke little English but we had an interpreter who sat with us at our meal. This young woman explained that the area where we were in eastern Croatia had been overrun by Serbs during the Homeland War. The residents had to flee and were unable to return to their ravaged homes until years later. She painted the Serbs as the aggressors during the war.

As I noted earlier, there is also a religious conflict at play here as well. Croats are Roman Catholic; Serbs are Eastern Orthodox. Roman Catholics look to the Pope in Rome as their spiritual leader whereas Orthodox consider the patriarch in Constantinople as their ultimate authority. There are other theological differences as well, but basically, Catholics look to the West while Orthodox look to the East.

I wasn’t that familiar with the differences between these two Christian faiths until this trip, but I learned faith and politics are intertwined in these countries.

In my next post, I’ll talk about Serbia, our destination after Croatia.

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A Gardener’s Tale in the Dog Days of Summer

It’s easy for me to feel lethargic, even defeated, during these hot and humid dog days of summer. One ninety-degree-plus day rolls into another. If there’s no rain for a day or two and I forget to water the plants the sprinkler system doesn’t hit, I may go outside and find dead flowers.

I hadn’t yet had a chance to re-pot these black-eyed Susans I got for half-price at Allen’s Nursery before they shriveled in their tiny containers. Sad little plants, I hardly knew ye.

Water or no water, by this point in the summer, some plants have simply run their course. I had a good harvest, but by late July, this particular type of cucumber is done. Nothing left but dead vines.

Then there’s the hydrangea that had beautiful blooms last year but was accidentally pruned early this summer at the wrong time. Nice foliage, but just one flower, now past its prime, that escaped the shears.

Like life itself, a summer yard and garden can be disappointing. But also, I remind myself, for all that dies too soon, doesn’t bloom, or simply runs its course, there are other plants that still provide beauty or produce.

The crepe myrtles, for example, have been stunning this year. Nature must have supplied just the right amount of water and sunshine for optimal blooms. I have several glorious trees–some pink, some lavender, some white–in my yard.

And the red begonias I planted in May in the front yard are still flourishing, looking more brilliant every day. They’re in an area hit by the sprinkler system, and if past years are any indication, they’ll last until frost.

I planted two types of cucumbers, and surprisingly, the variety at the edge of my shrubs is still alive and producing. I plant cucumbers in this same spot every year, ignoring the principle of crop rotation, and so far, I’m having better luck with my shrub bed cucumbers than with the hills I cultivated in my small designated garden spot (see dead vines above).

Again, the moral of my gardening tale is this: not everything turns out the way we want it to or lasts as long as we’d like. Try to overlook what fails, though, and dwell on all that’s good. For every shriveled black-eyed Susan, there are plenty of beautifully blooming begonias.

And in my case, it also helps that no matter how hot it gets outside during these dog days of summer, it’s always a delicious 75 degrees indoors.

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My Rocky Mount Life: Part Ten

I’ve been out and about the last couple of weeks celebrating the Fourth of July in particular and summer in general, but I’m back, as promised, with the final installment of reasons why I enjoy my Rocky Mount life. Here are the final five.

#1. A Bit of Country

Rocky Mount is anything but a concrete jungle. Within the city limits, it’s easy to find fields and woods. I pass by this pastoral scene every time I travel my section of Halifax Road. An old country girl like me enjoys seeing a dusty dirt path circling a peanut field. And nothing says Eastern North Carolina like a handmade sign hawking pecans for sale.

Country scenes within the city are a place to rest my eyes.

#2. Wesleyan College

Speaking of pastoral settings, there’s not a prettier campus than the one at Rocky Mount’s Wesleyan College. Founded in 1956, the school is Methodist-affiliated and allows Rocky Mount to be called a college town.

According to the website, in 2015, North Carolina Wesleyan was recognized as the fastest growing private college in North Carolina by NC Independent Colleges & Universities. Pretty impressive.

One of my favorite parts of campus is the Bellemonte House. This lovely plantation home, dating to 1817, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The house used to be visible from Highway 301 but in 2016 was moved to its present location on the back side of campus.

The Bellemonte House operates as a bed and breakfast and is open for special functions. I once went to a lovely Christmas tea party there.

#3. Machaven

While I’m on the topic of historic homes, let me sing praises for Machaven. Located on Grace Street in the Villa Place neighborhood, Machaven was built in 1907-1908. Years ago, it was restored and served as a venue for dining and special events. I remember attending parties there in the 1990’s. One, a Junior Guild fundraiser, was held in the winter, with huge enclosed, heated tents set up on the grounds. My youngest sister hosted her wedding reception at Machaven in 1991. A favorite family anecdote involves my nephew, then a toddler, falling in a koi pond on the front lawn.

MacHaven was dormant for several years, but–good news–is again open for business. The house and grounds look grand. Who wouldn’t want a 2021 wedding reception here?

#4. Battle Park

I’ve mentioned Battle Park before when I talked about Rocky Mount’s superb walking trail. But I’ve been encouraged by a couple of you readers, and rightly so, to say more about the park.

Battle Park constitutes the hub of the Tar River Trail. I’m a walker, so I appreciate the shaded paths and the views of the river. During COVID, a stroll in Battle Park became my alternate Sunday morning church service.

But Battle Park is more than just a walker’s venue. I’ve seen cyclists in Battle Park and families with picnics. There’s a boat landing, and my husband has many childhood memories of fishing for shad at night in the Tar River at Battle Park. If you walk far enough into the park, you’ll encounter a wooden suspension bridge, one of the largest in America.

I love the history of Battle Park, too. Rocky Mount’s first post office was located here, and the story goes that Rocky Mount got its name from the “rocky mounds” that populate the park. And of course, the historic Rocky Mount Mills is located adjacent to the park, just on the other side of the Tar River.

Battle Park is a beautiful oasis off the busy Falls Road leading to and from downtown Rocky Mount.

#5. Almand’s Drug Store

With a Walgreens or CVS on many a street corner, I appreciate anybody who still has a family-owned drug store. Almand’s, with one location at Westridge Shopping Center and one on Tarboro Street, has been around for many, many years. I remember going to the old downtown Almand’s as a child when drug stores used to serve lunch. My mother would order hot dogs for our tribe (there were six of us!).

Today, I visit Almand’s Drug at Westridge. Husband and wife Richard and Anjum Kos bought the business a few years ago and are continuing the drug store’s tradition of personal service for Rocky Mount residents. Their personal service for me extended to their graciously agreeing to stock my novel Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder, giving locals a chance to buy the book without using Amazon!

Some, but not all, good things must come to an end. Although this is my last installment of the series highlighting why I enjoy my Rocky Mount life, I’m sure there are more examples of what’s good about my, and possibly your, hometown. Thanks for joining me in my celebration.

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My Rocky Mount Life: Part Nine

I’m back yet again with five more reasons why life is good in my hometown of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Some of these I’ve thought of myself, but a couple have been suggested by alert readers who are fellow Rocky Mount residents. Thanks, y’all!

#1. Golf Courses

Our fair city has not one, not two, but three golf courses within the city limits. The oldest is at Benvenue Country Club, founded in 1922. That date means next year is the club’s 100th anniversary. Benvenue features an 18-hole golf course designed by Donald Ross, a famous course architect. The club also has an active tennis program, an awesome swimming pool, and a Tudor-style clubhouse with a well-run restaurant.

My husband enjoys the golf course, I love the pool and the restaurant (especially the wine dinners), and my daughter’s family are fans of the tennis courts and the pool.

I know, I know. Benvenue isn’t free. It’s a country club requiring monthly dues. But, believe me, those dues are a bargain compared to what you’d pay for a similar club in Raleigh or Charlotte.

Northgreen Country Club is another option for golfers in Rocky Mount. My family lived in Northgreen Village, the neighborhood surrounding the golf course, for 16 years. My girls grew up walking to the pool after lunch on summer days, participating in the kids’ golf and tennis programs, and best of all, being on the champion Northgreen swim team. It takes a village to raise a child, and Northgreen Village was mine. Today, the pool and tennis courts are closed, but the golf course is still active.

Another beautiful golf course in Rocky Mount can be found near Wesleyan College at Belmont Lake. I’ve never played my very bad game of golf at the Belmont Lake Golf Club, but I read online that “The golf course has five sets of tees on each hole, playing 7,085 yards from the back tees and 4,900 yards from the front tees.” Using those front tees might be what I need to make a double bogey (a good score for me)!

#2. Pizza Inn

“For pizza out, it’s Pizza Inn.” Okay, now I’ve planted that jingle in your head for the rest of the day. The only way you can get rid of it is to go eat the Pizza Inn buffet. Get it all: the salad, the vegetable soup, the pizza, the pasta, and especially, that chocolate chip dessert pizza.

Rocky Mount’s Pizza Inn is an institution in my book. When my out-of-town daughters come home, that’s where they want to eat lunch. We have so many memories of celebratory post-swim meet dinners, last day of school lunches, and birthday parties held at the Pizza Inn.

Today, by popular request, I take another generation to the PI, our nickname for Rocky Mount’s Pizza Inn.

#3. UNC Nash Hospital

UNC Nash Hospital will always be Nash General to me. Two of my three daughters were born there when the hospital went by that name. The hospital was a lot smaller then, without all the wonderful specialized care centers added in recent years. Rocky Mount is fortunate to have such a fine medical facility. I’m lucky to live less than three miles away.

I hope I never need it, but there’s comfort in knowing Nash General’s emergency room is only minutes from my Rocky Mount home.

#4. Stonewall Manor

Rocky Mount has plenty of old homes; after all, we’re a historic town! One of the finest is no doubt Stonewall Manor. It’s the grand old home that can be seen by folks flying down Highway 64.

Built around 1830 by a wealthy planter, the house was once part of a large plantation. After passing through several families and years of decline, Stonewall was purchased in 1916 by Rocky Mount Mills. In 1975, the Nash County Historical Association became involved and a group called Friends of Stonewall Manor has been responsible for its restoration.

I realize my picture of Stonewall looks a little crooked. There was a no trespassing sign, so I had to lean over a gate to get my photo. Didn’t want to break any rules!

The house is open periodically for tours and can be rented for special events. My oldest daughter’s wedding reception was held there in 2002, and I have a cherished photograph of my extended family taken on the steps of Stonewall Manor.

 #5. UEC Theatres

The movies! I haven’t been since COVID, but I hear Rocky Mount’s movie theater is again open. I wonder if that $5.00 all-day Tuesday ticket deal is back. I’ll have to check soon.

I know long-time Rocky Mount folks wax nostalgic about the old downtown theaters that we once had, but just as chain supermarkets have replaced the mom and pop grocery stores, so have the multiplexes taken over the one-screen cinemas.

I’m thankful that we have a theater within our city limits. Not every town does. And I do like that it’s in what used to be the old Lowe’s Home Improvement building. Nice repurposing there.

Time for a drum roll here…. The next installment of My Rocky Mount Life will be the tenth and last in the series. Be sure to check in to see what the final five favorites will be.






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My Rocky Mount Life: Part Eight

Back in March, partly as a reaction to all the negative comments I was hearing and reading about my hometown of Rocky Mount, North Carolina, I began this series of posts listing why I love living here. Each week or so, I’ve featured five businesses, activities, or places that make my life in the city limits of Rocky Mount enjoyable.

At the end of today’s post, you’ll find a list of what I’ve covered. If I’ve missed something you like about Rocky Mount, let me know. I’m drawing near the end of this series, and don’t want to overlook anything or anybody.

Moving along, below is this week’s selection of all that’s good about life in Rocky Mount.

#1. Hardee’s

Although Hardee’s was founded in Greenville, North Carolina by Wilber Hardee in 1960, many people think of Rocky Mount as being the home of this famous fast-food burger chain. That’s because early in the game, Mr. Hardee sold out to Rocky Mount businessmen James Gardner and Leonard Rawls.

The first location in Rocky Mount of what became an international chain was on North Church Street. The building was demolished in 2007 and replaced with the Veterans Memorial at the Jack Laughery Park.

Although I appreciate a veterans memorial as much as anybody, I do regret there’s no physical trace of Rocky Mount’s original Hardee’s, known as Building Number 1. I remember eating lunch there with my grandparents after finishing my piano lesson at Harris Conservatory of Music. I ordered the same thing every other Saturday: a hamburger with fries, a Coke, and an apple turnover. At 1966 prices, I’m pretty sure my entire lunch was considerably less than a dollar.

Hardees lives on in other Rocky Mount locations, though. The menu has expanded over the years, and today, I take my grandson to the Sunset Avenue location for his favorite breakfast: a biscuit with two packets of grape jelly, a side of hash browns with lots of ketchup, and a sweet tea.

#2. Bailey’s Fine Jewelry

Bailey’s is another long-time Rocky Mount business that’s expanded over the years, and Mrs. Ann Bailey, the matriarch of the company, is one of my favorite people. She and her husband, Clyde Bailey, Sr. began with a small jewelry store in downtown Rocky Mount in 1948.

I remember going into that eleven-foot wide shop in the ’60s to buy Beatle records (yes, Bailey’s once sold such). My mother would chat with “Annabelle,” as she knew her from their days together at a local business school in Rocky Mount. Mrs. Bailey always impressed me as a go-getter, a businesswoman when being such was far from the norm. She became a single working mother of two after her husband passed away at a relatively young age. It couldn’t have been easy.

Today, Bailey’s has passed to a second and third generation and, in addition to the Rocky Mount store, has locations in Raleigh and Greenville, NC. You’ve probably heard the store’s slogan: “Every woman wants a Bailey box.” I know I do.

#3. Rocky Mount Writers’ Guild

On the second Thursday of each month at 7 pm, I meet with a small group of folks who like to write. We begin with a prompt, a topic pulled out of a shoebox filled with ideas written on slips of paper, and scribble for ten minutes. Then we go around the table in the conference room at Lewis Advertising, where we meet, and we all read aloud what we’ve written.

Sound terrifying? Not really. We’re a nonjudgmental group. We laugh a lot. We even give everyone there an opportunity to read something they’ve written before the meeting. For example, I’ve shared parts of Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder, as well as the sequels I’m working on. I’m not the only published author in the group. Linda Edwards has compiled her poems in Cathead Biscuits, and Diane Henderson’s self-help book All God’s Children Got Issues is available on Amazon Prime.

Meeting with this group each month is one of my favorite activities in my Rocky Mount life. Come join us if you like to write.

#4. Mario’s Pizza and Restaurant

Although Italian cuisine is what Mario’s is noted for, this local eatery is my favorite place to grab a Philly cheese steak deluxe. My husband also gets one, and we split an order of fries. We enjoy the pizza too, also the deluxe version, with lots of toppings! One day when I’m on a health kick, I might order the grilled chicken salad, which my daughter says is excellent.

Located in Westridge Shopping Center, Mario’s is a less than ten minute drive from my house. It’s a go-to place when my husband and I want an easy, uncrowded, comfort-food dinner option, either dine-in or take-out.

#5. Sunset Park

I’m not sure what the current coming-out-of-Covid operating schedule is at Sunset Park, but in past summers, I’ve taken grandchildren to a morning of entertainment here. First on the agenda was the spray park, followed by a ride on the kiddie train, and, finally, a spin on the carousel.

Who doesn’t love a carousel? Look closely at this one in Sunset Park. Can you see the scenes of notable Rocky Mount places painted around the top?

Okay, as promised at the beginning of this post, here’s the list of what I love about Rocky Mount that I’ve covered thus far. Send me what I’ve missed.

  1. My neighborhood (you can nominate yours but since I don’t live there, you’ll have to tell me what you enjoy about it)
  2. Farmer’s Market
  3. Stoney Creek
  4. Mama’s Pizza
  5. Rocky Mount Garden Club
  6. Chico’s Mexican Restaurant
  7. City Lake
  8. Planet Fitness
  9. Braswell Memorial Library
  10. The Bath Place
  11. Prime Smokehouse
  12. The Train Mural
  13. Lilly & Lane Boutique
  14. Gardner’s Barbecue Restaurant
  15. Books and Beans Coffee House
  16. The Koi Pond
  17. The Rocky Mount Walking Trail
  18. Anne’s Donuts
  19. The Dunn Center
  20. The Imperial Centre
  21. Bin & Barrel Wine Bar
  22. Central Cafe
  23. Church Street Churches
  24. Nash Community College
  25. Edgecombe Community College
  26. Thelonious Monk Mural
  27. Sunset Park (Best Friend’s Dog Park)
  28. Ichiban Japanese Steak House
  29. Boice-Willis Clinic
  30. Harris Teeter
  31. And today’s entries: Hardee’s, Bailey’s, Sunset Park (Carousel, Train, Spray Park), Mario’s, Rocky Mount Writers’ Guild

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My Rocky Mount Life: Part Seven

If you’re a resident of Rocky Mount, North Carolina who’s been reading this recent series of what’s good about living within the city limits, have you thought of something yourself? One reader has, and I’ll share her contribution in this post. As usual, I’ve got a few ideas myself. Read on for today’s list of five reasons why life is sweet in “The Mount.”

#1. My Harris Teeter

I wasn’t always a city girl. I grew up in Edgecombe County, halfway between Rocky Mount and Pinetops. Going to town, usually the bigger Rocky Mount, required planning. There was no dashing to the market to pick up something for supper, unless you counted the local country store with its limited selections and often higher prices.

So to me, a BIG advantage of living in the city limits of Rocky Mount is convenience. I’m now only a few short minutes away from my local Harris Teeter. Rotisserie chicken for dinner, anyone?

#2. Boice-Willis Clinic at 91 Enterprise Drive

While I’m on the subject of convenience, living in the city limits of Rocky Mount means I’m only a few minutes away from my doctors, dentist, and–if needed and I hope it isn’t–Nash General Hospital.

Just in the last month, I went for my blood work and annual physical at this recently-built satellite location of Boice Willis Clinic on 91 Enterprise Drive. I left my house twenty minutes before my appointment, had plenty of time to find an easy parking spot, and was still early.

#3. Ichiban Japanese Steak House

My oldest grandson (age 13), often picks Ichiban when I offer to treat him to lunch. I totally agree with his choice. This Japanese restaurant has been in Rocky Mount for quite a few years, serving a “chef show” along with the traditional wok-style meal.

At lunch, it’s hard to choose between the salad with ginger dressing or Ichiban’s broth soup; the chicken or the shrimp or the steak for the meat entrée; the delicious sweet carrots or the onions and zucchini to accompany that meat. Of course, you can get it all and then have leftovers to carry home for another meal!

There’s also an extensive sushi menu for those who like their seafood raw.

#4. Best Friend’s Dog Park

Not being a dog owner (or lover, if you want to know the truth), Rocky Mount’s Dog Park is not something I had thought about including on a list of what’s good about life in Rocky Mount.

But long-time city resident Barbara Nuckols has this to say for those of you who appreciate a place within the city limits for your pooch to play:

“The Best Friend’s Dog Park…is located where Riverside Apartments were before Hurricane Floyd destroyed them. There are three separate fenced-in sections: one for small dogs, one for agile, and one for all dogs. Benches and tables are provided for pet parents. There is water for pets in little swimming pools….

“I’ve been out there when there are multiple dogs playing in all three areas. Some people take their dogs there after work. The same dogs and parents frequent the park so you can make new friends as you watch the dogs play.

“There’s a double-gated entrance area where parents can safely release their dogs without worrying they will run away.”

It’s me again. Thank you for that detailed description, Barbara. It almost makes me want to be a dog owner just so I can take a pet to this park.

#5. The Picnic Tables at Sunset Park

Barbara Nuckols also mentioned the pavilion area across from the tennis courts at Sunset Park. Three large covered picnic areas with multiple tables lend themselves to all types of outdoor celebrations. Church services are also held there. When I attended West Haven Presbyterian, the congregation met at the largest shelter once every fall for a Sunday worship service followed by a catered barbecue meal.

The picnic shelters are only one of the features at Sunset Park; I’ll cover more in future postings. Again, if you have something you love about Rocky Mount that I haven’t mentioned, send me some information. I’ll go take the picture!

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My Rocky Mount Life: Part Six

A few of you responded to the request made in my last post to share something you love about Rocky Mount. HOWEVER, you didn’t send me a picture or write a paragraph. I guess you decided filling up this blog is my job. So here goes Part Six in this series that highlights what’s good about our hometown.

#1. Thelonious Monk Mural

Have you seen this huge mural of Thelonious Monk downtown? If not, cross the railroad tracks at the corner of the old Belk store (more recently Towel Town). Turn left on SE Main. You can’t miss it. Awesome!

Thelonious Monk, of course, was a famous jazz pianist and composer. His Rocky Mount connection? He was born here in 1917. The mural was painted by Scott Nurkin of the Mural Shop in Chapel Hill.

#2. Edgecombe Community College

Now I know Edgecombe Community College has a split campus, with part of the College located outside Tarboro. But there’s a Rocky Mount campus that definitely enhances our city. What better to have in a downtown than an institution of higher learning? I love its location at the historic Five Points area. I remember years ago when classes were held in the old post office there.

Riding by on a recent day between semesters, I could see that parking was no problem. However, I do wonder where students and faculty leave their cars at this urban campus during a busy fall semester. What does the College plan to do when the City uses its option to build work-force housing on what is now one of the College’s parking lots? Hmm.

#3. Nash Community College

I’m not totally sure my former place of employment passes the inside-the-city-limits test that I imposed to be included in this list of what’s good about life in Rocky Mount. But it seems unfair to include Edgecombe CC without Nash CC. Also–disclaimer here–this school gave me a job for a lot of years.

During my time there, I witnessed the phenomenal growth of the campus. I saw the construction of the Business and Industry Center and the Science and Technology Building. Soon after I retired, the new Continuing Education Building went up.

New buildings are great, but the increased enrollment which required their construction is the real story. People came (and are still coming) to Nash Community College (and Edgecombe CC, too, for that matter) to better their lives.

Rocky Mount is lucky to have not just one, but two, community colleges. Being able to train a local work force helps to lure industry. Also, the college-transfer program can save a family big bucks on the first two years of college.

And I appreciate those Nash CC continuing education classes I took in Spanish as well as the curriculum course I sat in to learn how to create a blog, even if my old brain struggles to learn anything new.

#4. Church Street Churches

Let’s move from education to religion. If you’re from Rocky Mount, you surely know there’s a Church Street. In fact, there’s a North Church Street and a South Church Street. I’m sentimental about the part of Church Street that’s populated by, what else, churches.

Old churches, to be exact. First United Methodist Church, which I attend, has a plaque out front which proclaims the church was established in 1856. There’s something about a historical church that speaks to me. “As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,” we Methodists sing. There’s a comfort there, I guess.

I think of Church Street as home base for other denominations, too: First Baptist, First Presbyterian, and Church of Good Shepherd (Episcopal) can all be found within a mile or so of one another on this aptly named street in downtown Rocky Mount.

#5. Central Cafe

Another plus on Church Street is Central Cafe. This small brick restaurant on the corner of Church and Western Avenue is a Rocky Mount institution. People who grew up and moved away often find time to visit Central Cafe when they come home. The food is simple: basic breakfast items and then a menu that revolves around hot dogs, hamburgers, and fries for the rest of the day.

Central Cafe is definitely a local hangout, especially for the breakfast crowd. For several years, my retired in-laws would meet a crowd there on weekday mornings to drink endless cups of coffee and chat. The restaurant lends itself to that kind of visit.

#6. Bin & Barrel Wine Bar

Bin & Barrel, owned by Sarah and Ryan Hicks, is located in Station Square in downtown Rocky Mount. I admire this husband and wife team for (a) daring to open the first wine bar (that I know of) in Rocky Mount, and (b) choosing a downtown location.

Like other businesses, I’m sure they’ve been hurt by the epidemic, but I remember a packed wine tasting I enjoyed pre-COVID. On a recent Tuesday when I visited, the business was closed due to what looked like some sort of construction/repair work being done.

I took a picture of the sign to remind myself to visit again.

Did you notice I have six items this time instead of the usual five? I guess I could count the two community colleges as one.

Which three do you think were recommended to me? I’ll tell you in the next post!

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My Rocky Mount Life: Part Five

What follows is a tale of two visits. This week, I went downtown to take pictures of the inside of the Imperial Centre to further highlight this fine Rocky Mount cultural facility, as I promised to do in my last post. A sign at the entrance asks that all visitors check in at the main desk. I’m a rule follower, so I did.

Receptionist: How can I help you?

Me: I write a blog and recently I’ve been featuring all that’s good about Rocky Mount. I’d like to wander around and take some pictures to include with my next post featuring the Imperial Centre.

Receptionist: (reaching for the phone) I’ll have to ask Kim about that.

Me: (sensing trouble) My blog is really no big deal. I don’t think you need to call anyone.

Receptionist: (hanging up the phone) I’m sorry, but you’ll need to make an appointment through the City’s Communication Department (also something here about “protocol” and “procedure” as I began to lose it).

Me: Well, I’m sorry you have to work for the Gestapo (yes, I spoke unkindly).

I left without pictures but went home and, remembering the receptionist had called someone named Kim, I dialed up the Imperial Center and asked to speak to her myself. We had a mostly cordial chat. She told me when she heard the words “blog” and “pictures,” she decided I needed to go through official channels. She declared the incident a misunderstanding. I was asked to come back.

I did, as you can see from the pictures below. On my second visit, the receptionist again called Kim and said, “Mrs. Pridgen is here.” I held my breath but was given an orange visitor sticker and waved through.

What I learned from this experience is when going to the Imperial Centre, do NOT tell them you write a blog and want to take pictures. Say you want to see the free exhibits in the Arts Center. Act like you own the place, which, if you’re a Rocky Mount taxpayer, you kinda do.

Enough of this crazy story. Let’s talk about the different features of the Imperial Centre.

#1. The Children’s Museum and Science Center

One of the saddest losses during the infamous 1999 Hurricane Floyd was the catastrophic flooding of the Children’s Museum at Sunset Park. But there was a rainbow at the end of this storm. The museum is now housed as part of the Imperial Centre. The new digs are state-of-the-art. I’ve enjoyed taking my grandchildren there to see the special exhibits, ride the old Gurganus Brothers’ Supermarket mechanical horse, and interact with all sorts of hands-on activities. And of course, we always have to go see the alligator (or is it a crocodile?).

#2. The Arts Center

Exhibits here are ever changing. One of my favorites was the collection of Charlie Killebrew photographs, which spanned years and years of Rocky Mount people and events. Currently, there’s a magnified insects series of pictures, something my fourth-grade grandson might like to see.

#3. The Theater and The Lobby

There’s also a community theater at the Imperial Centre, but the doors were locked, probably because it was a Thursday morning and there was no play. I wasn’t about to ask to be let in to take a picture. But I can say that I have seen some fine local productions in this venue.

Since I have no picture of the theater, here’s one of the lobby area of the Imperial Centre. The space can be rented for parties; I’ve been to a few here, pre-Covid. I love, love, love the brick walls and metal features of this former tobacco building.

Moving on to a couple of other highlights this week, I have the following:

#4. The Dunn Center at Wesleyan College

We aren’t Greenville with East Carolina University or Chapel Hill with UNC, but Rocky Mount is a college town. The pretty campus of North Carolina Wesleyan College sits on the city’s northern outskirts along Highway 301. Founded in 1956, Wesleyan is a Methodist-affiliated college with roughly 2,000 students.

Probably what most Rocky Mount residents enjoy most about Wesleyan is the Dunn Center. I’ve been to plays, concerts, and children’s dance recitals performed in this spacious auditorium. It’s a wonderful venue for such.

#5. Anne’s Donuts

Anne’s Donuts and I go way back. When I was in Beta Club in high school, circa 1971-72, we members would sell boxes of Anne’s Donuts for, get this, sixty cents a dozen. There were high school boys who would consume all twelve of these delectable sugar-glazed concoctions within minutes after purchase.

I remember going with my best friend in the school truck to pick up the supply for the Beta Club sales (she drove and I rode shotgun). We’d be given a free bag of donut holes for being the delivery girls.

Today, I take my grandchildren to the Sunset Avenue location for an after-school snack. They’ll eat two or three, while I try to limit myself to just one.

People rave about Britt’s donuts in Carolina Beach. To put it in the vernacular, that place ain’t got nothin’ over Anne’s.

This is my fifth post in this series, each listing five things I love about living in Rocky Mount. If anybody would like to chime in with a favorite that I haven’t mentioned, send me a paragraph and a picture. Whatever it is needs to be within the city limits.

If I get at least three, I’ll do a guest blog featuring your choices. My email address is I’d love to hear from you.

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