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VALUE TRAVEL Charlotte: Capital of the New South
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times

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Have you been to Charlotte, North Carolina, lately? It's reinvented itself again as claims itself to be the capital of the "New South." It is also know as the Queen City. The booming city is a millenial magnet. Skyscrapers adorn the skyline.

Getting there—I took Southwest via Midway. However, the best service is on American, as Charlotte is a fortress hub for 90 percent of its flights.

Hop on the Sprinter Bus to downtown ( $2.20 ) from the airport.

Plan your trip on Sprinter and the Blue Line Light Rail at . ( You won't need a car to see the sights mentioned below. ) You can also rent a bike easily using the B-Cylce or the new Lime Bikes and their equivalents which don't rely on docking stations.

Where to stay—I stayed with my friend but the Hilton looked nice and had a full-service YMCA in the lobby ( and was adjacent to the light rail ).

The new Kimpton is also very nice. The Fairfield Inn is a bargain. All the major chains are downtown, which residents call Uptown.

What to do—Make your first stop The Levine Museum of the New South ( 200 E. Seventh Street, ). The "Know Justice, Know Peace" exhibit on the complexities of urban policing is a must.

The Let Love Reign exhibit highlights same-sex couples. Catalina Kulzar-Marin took the photos.

Watch the 10-minute movie in the museum on how Charlotte has reinvented iteslf ( from cotton fields to skyscrapers ). The exhibits also show how the struggle for equality led to the growth of the area today.

The #KnowCLT exhibit indicates that the struggle continues ( and not just in Charlotte ).

Have lunch or a snack at the 7th Street Public Market next door. It's like the French Market in Chicago in the Metra Station.

Next, hop on the new CATS Blue Line Light Rail for a 20-minute ride north to the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Must-sees while you are on the beautiful campus include the Botanical Garden, the Asian Garden and the McMillan Greenhouse ( full of orchids and other tropicals ). The botanical garden features spring wild flowers, rhodedendrons and azaleas as well as magnolias and is a must in the spring.

The Art Gallery in the Student Union has a great display, "From A Southern Window," which includes watercolor paintings by artist Alan Butt. It is free.

Downtown has an enclosed walkway system that is fun. Enjoy the stunning modern architecture, including the Bank of America building with its Queen Charlotte's crown on the top.

Nightlife—There is no gayborhood, per se. We did find a few bars including the Bar At 316 ( near the East West CATS Metro Station ) which features drag shows on the weekends. It is in a funky old house. The cover was $5. You will find it at 316 Rensselaer.

The Sidelines Sports Bar also had a $5 cover. It didn't serve wine. Next door was the video bar which had a $10 cover.

The Boulevard 1820 had no cover, but patrons are required to eat at the restaurant. It had drag shows at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. on Saturday nights, and the spot is at 1820 South Boulevard. The Tupelo Restaurant nearby featured Southern cuisine.

Workout—The Gold's Gym in the Epicenter had a daily rate, as did the YMCA in the Hilton ( which also has a nice pool ).

Where to Eat—I liked Zoes Kitchen,1055 Metropolitan, in Midtown. Try the salmon.

Meet the locals—The Frontrunners meet Saturday mornings at 9 a.m. The Charlotte Rainbowlers meet for bowling.

Spring arrives early and lasts a while in Charlotte. It is worth a visit if only to escape the last vestige's of a Midwest winter. However, it's LGBT scene appeared dispersed if not invisible unless you track it down.

The wonderful Light Rail makes exploring the city a breeze as does the shared bike system.

For more information, read Creative Loafing ( the Charlotte Weekly ) on line or pick up a copy. The monthly Charlotte LGBT newspaper, Q Notes, has a nice map which also lists the bars in the area; visit .

For more information on a North Carolina vacation, go to . The state is also well-served by Amtrak. Finally, if time permits, head west to beautiful Asheville and explore the Appalachian Mountains.

Bill Malcolm is based in Indianapolis. He also writes for All Aboard Indiana and has a column in The Broad Ripple Gazette. Writing is is hobby as he has a regular job. His syndicated travel column has appeared in publications in Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis. He receives no compensation or comped equivalents. His opinions are his own.

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