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Queen City Q -- Charlotte, North Carolina: Southern hospitality meets modern world. Get reacquainted with the part-fancy, part-funky, all-charming "other" Queen City. / (Image: Clay Griffith / Cincinnati Refined)

Dear Charlotte... Love, Cincy

What can we say? It's human nature.We're not proud of it, but y'know what, it's pretty easy to get territorial about stuff. ... Property. Friends. A hairstyle. And when you really identify with a location, it's very (read: very) challenging to not let that pride turn into something overly protective.

So when we recently touched down in Charlotte, NC -- via a fabulous (& marvelously easy) flight on Ultimate Air Shuttle -- we definitely had our shields up. Suffice it to say, we were not looking to walk away from the trip with a crush on this so-called other Queen City.

But... That's precisely what we did. (Nothin' like a forbidden romance, right?)

THE VENN DIAGRAM

Long story short: Charlotte, like Cincinnati, seems to be in a pretty good place. Top-notch culinary options, national-level sports teams, an arts community that's as broad as it is deep. And while each of those aspects has the potential to be a "toe-stepper," a tresspass into Cincy's turf, they work more as a bridge. Here's a place that we can really identify with.

It's true, the cities are quite similar on many levels. (As of the 2013 Census, Charlotte's metro population was approximately 2.3 million. Cincy's: right around 2.2 million. There are several overlaps in industry and corporate presence as well.) But the total effect of those parallels is less "Why you jockin' my style?!" and more "Oh look, we have things in common. Isn't that nice."

And then there's that whole "Queen City" nickname thing.

Cincinnati, as we all know, gained its royal status -- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "Queen of the West" -- for being a central figure in the economic and cultural development of the surrounding region. Charlotte, on the other hand, was granted the moniker in honor of an actual queen: lover of plants, patron of the arts, and wife of England's King George III, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Same conclusion. Different work. Similar. But unique. (Sounds like the foundation of a great friendship, if ya ask me.)

ZOOMING IN

A bit of full disclosure: Being from the Tarheel State's more, shall we say, untamed mountain region, I've always regarded Charlotte with a fair amount of skepticism. Isn't that town too schmancy to be the real North Carolina?

Ah, the blind absolutism of youth.

The reality is that, sure, Charlotte's got some fanciness to it. But, guess what, it's got some funkiness, too. It's got great folks. And it's probably got a few busters. (Not that we met any. Everybody -- literally everybody -- we ran across was helpful, well-informed, and open. Whatever "schmanciness" exists in the city's DNA wasn't cultivated at the expense of good ol' Southern hospitality.)

To skip ahead to the end: CharIotte is a modern city. It's full of the triumphs, strains, foibles, growth, and goals that go with the territory. And that doesn't have to mean that it's removed from the culture that surrounds it.

Tina Fey (via her 30 Rock counterpart Liz Lemon) once said, "No one part of America is more American than any other part." Same goes for states.

THE CHECKLIST

Top of the list: food. Duh.

Get ready for a newsflash. "Southern" doesn't just mean biscuits anymore. ( Unless you want it to. And, as a matter of fact, I did. It's been a hot minute since I've reveled in the buttery goodness of a proper NC biscuit. Thanks, Tupelo Honey!)

If, however, your appetite leans more toward lighter fare, no problemo. Charlotte's got ya.

Looking for some fresh-made, locally sourced, artisanal nibbles? Check.
Hankerin' for a cup of organic, direct-trade, pour over coffee? Double check.
Got your eye out for reimagined (& perhaps more health-conscious) takes on traditional faves? Dig in!
Swing by the 7th Street Public Market for a taste of what the city's bringing to the table.

And while we're on the subject of quintessential Carolinian cuisine, you can't visit the Queen City without trying at least one BBQ restaurant. (Really, two or three should be the bare minimum). Check the photo gallery for a peek at the plates from Queen City Q.

But I digress Back to the checklist!

World-class arts: Whether you're looking for a night at the symphony or an evening of pickin' & grinnin', Charlotte's got all the art bases covered. Plus, there's public art (statues, fountains, abstract sculptures, etc.) throughout the entire city. The city's skyline isn't rough on the eyes either.

Top-notch accommodations: The Ritz-Carlton, The Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge, Aloft Charlotte Uptown at the Epicentre, Omni Charlotte Hotel.

Stellar sports: The Panthers. The Hornets. The Checkers. The Roller Girls. The list goes on.

One-of-a-kind attractions: Charlotte's got it all. Everything from the Nascar Hall of Fame to Discovery Place to Levine Musem of the New South. And if you've been looking for an opportunity to straddle the line between North and South Carolina, you found your chance. Head to Carowinds amusement park.

Eclectic shopping: National chains. Local boutiques. Too many to name. (Which is as it should be.)

ICING ON THE CAKE

To make matters even better, Charlotte's got a pretty kick-booty light rail, the LYNX Blue Line. Like most tracks of this nature, the route is simple. (It's pretty much a straight shot that connects Uptown with various neighborhoods. 9.6 miles. 15 stations. Done.)

What the light rail lacks in complexity, though, it more than makes up for in ease. And access. You'll find a number of fun, totally-worth-checking-out little 'hoods all along the route. Make sure to hop off in the South End district and check out the Atherton Mill and Market.

The real bonus here: opening up to an entity that was once a territorial adversary is a very liberating experience. Not only do I now have lots more time in my day (that standing 10-10:30am "Hate on Charlotte" appointment is now entirely free), but I made a new friend along the way, too.

From one Queen City to another, here's a hug.

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Interested in learning a bit more about Charlotte, NC (the other Queen City)? Here's a great place to start.

That Ultimate Air Shuttle experience got your interest piqued? Away you go!

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