Durham: Beyond Duke’s Stone Walls


Submitted by Alex Shapanka

The first time most of us stepped onto Duke’s campus, we took pause to comprehend its overwhelming beauty. At some point early on in our time here, however, amidst classes and extracurriculars, the gargoyles and pointed arches lost their magic. We walk through our gothic wonderland everyday but its true worth goes unnoticed.

Last Thursday, as I begrudgingly walked from Edens to the main quad for my 8:30, the sunlight coming over the back of Few caught my eye. I became motionless, standing in them middle of the McClendon walkway, taking in our campus. Sophomore year I had a similar experience. Leaving the library at 7:00 AM after pulling an all nighter to finish a paper, I froze gazing up at the Chapel as the first rays of day peeked from behind the clouds. Perhaps I stopped both times because I find Duke more romantic at dawn or maybe my mind is asleep and can’t process anything but what it sees. Whatever it was that compelled me to falter, I’m happy that I took the time to really look at Duke and appreciate it.

There is an ingenuous joy from living in such a pretty environment. If you don’t believe me, sit on the wall in front of АФΩ section in Few FF facing the tower and look up at the stars. If you truly appreciate it all, your preoccupations and stress will drift away.

The charm of where we chose to spend our more formative years extends beyond Duke’s stonewalls into the heart of Durham, a city with its own unique allure. The aesthetics alone are enough to make downtown inviting. As a former tobacco giant, this city is sprinkled with old brick warehouses chock-full of character. Many of the walls are dressed in sun washed murals and advertisements for Wrigley’s, Chiclets and Pepsi-Cola to name a few. There is something encouraging about taking a walk and seeing the cracked paint cling to the walls. It provides a sense of culture and past.

Durham offers more than an intangible visual experience. Every Duke student has heard of the farmers market, but how many of you have actually gone? Teaming with vendors, food trucks and people, it is a full event. The farmers market provides a kind of sustenance beyond produce. Its inviting atmosphere projects a sense of community – a feeling of belonging.

Across the street from the pavilion sits Durham’s Central Park. Don’t think New York. Picture a much more intimate environment. But what Durham’s park lacks in grandeur it makes up for in quaintness, offering a comfortable spot to lay down and enjoy the flowers and sculptures. If you were a ‘Brink’ fan, maybe check out the skate park at the top of the hill. 

For another outdoor respite make the short trek (Durham isn’t that big) over to American Tobacco Campus. With its waterfall, preserved warehouse exterior and grassy lawns, it serves as a great place to kick back and hangout with friends, though it does have foot traffic from a successful startup incubator and several restaurants. For those of you who are more intrigued by the coffee shop vibe, check out Francesca’s, Beyú Caffé, Bean Traders, or Straw Valley Café (which isn’t downtown but it’s my personal favorite).

A major facet of our host city’s charm comes from its incredible food scene. Durham’s culinary assortment includes (but is not limited to) BBQ, French, Italian, Mexican, Spanish, Indian and Thai cuisine. And nearly all restaurants place an emphasis on fresh and local food, which only heightens the experience. The catalog of eateries is far too exhaustive for me to enumerate, but check out the list created by the city of Durham. This new food Mecca is constantly growing and has had several restaurants open within the past month (not included on the list).

Durham is a place with history, character, and an unusual beauty that makes it worth your while to explore.