The weather outside is not exactly frightful — in fact, in Orange County, NC that almost never happens — but let’s admit it: it’s getting cooler. Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to get warm and stay toasty around here.
If you want to come in out of the chill, there’s probably no other place around that gives off more inviting warmth than the warren of rooms housing the North Carolina Collection Gallery at UNC Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library. Just walk past the imposing library facade that anchors the southern end of the Polk Place quad, make a left past oil paintings of former university presidents and you’ll be snugly ensconced by the whole sweep of the state’s history.
The amazing array of exhibits begins with examples of early currency used in what was then a colony, through a life-sized statue of Sir Walter Raleigh set in a cozy wood-paneled room from the 1580s. Under the soft lighting of elegant chandeliers, you can move on to a reconstructed 200-year-old plantation library, complete with 1,800 leather-bound volumes and then to a display highlighting Chang and Eng, the North Carolina residents who were the first named Siamese twins. If you’re looking for something more current, consider the recent exhibit on the history of the state fair (complete with vintage popcorn and peanut sacks!).
You can just wander from exhibit to exhibit or one of the student volunteers will give you a free tour of the gallery, which shows just 10 percent of the entire massive collection. In either case, it’s a lot, and it’s easy to get blissfully lost until you suddenly realize it’s lunchtime, and you’re looking for something to warm your insides.
What’s better on a cold day than soup?
At Lime and Basil on West Franklin Street, soup is the specialty — specifically, pho, an aromatic Vietnamese rice noodle soup. It’s a main course here and it wafts up from a wide, white ceramic bowl and fills you with a pleasantly warm sense of fullness because it’s full of your choice of an assortment of meats; eye round, maybe, or shank, or if you’re more adventurous, try it with tripe.
If you’re looking for a more traditional — but equally filling — soup, check out Neal’s Deli on South Greensboro Street in Carrboro. Consider yourself lucky if the soup of the day is chicken noodle with fresh dill. Rich and satisfying, this is the kind of soup —eaten on site or taken out with you — that helps you understand why parents long have advocated for chicken soup as a kind of secular penicillin for their kids.
And if you want to go traditionally southern, try the gumbo at The Pig on Weaver Dairy Road. There’s spicy andouille sausage here, along with chicken, okra and peppers. If that doesn’t warm you up, nothing will.
OK, now that’s you’re fortified inside, time to work it off and get the blood warmed with a little exercise. And no need to play outside either. While the temperature may be headed down, it’s always summertime inside local indoor swimming centers.
On a recent brisk weekday, while the thermostat hovered just about 40 degrees outside, at the Community Center pool on Estes Drive the water temperature was 82.6. Perfect for a few laps or just grab a noodle — not a soup one, mind you — and float contentedly. When you get out, it’ll be OK, too, because the air temperature right outside the Olympic size pool registered 82.5.
Things were just a big cooler at the Homestead Road Aquatics Center – although not much. Go past the wonderful photos of swimmers in their element by Barbara Tyroler in the atrium lobby and you’ll hit the lap pool, where the water temperature is a toasty 81 degrees and the pool air a nice 82.8.
Hillsborough may be further north, but the water temperature at the Orange County Sportsplex competition pool is a steady 80 degrees. The recreation pool is an even warmer 85 degrees and, if you really want to get that chill out, the baby pool is kept at 88 degrees.
After you’ve done your laps or played with your baby, eaten your soup and immersed yourself in North Carolina history, you’re probably ready for anything the winter months will throw at you.