Thursday, October 18, 2012

Charleston, South Carolina

By Chuck

First Day

We have passed the 6500 mile mark with Cristina and we are most definitely in the Deep South.  Everyone is so friendly.

Upon our arrival from Asheville, we were hungry.  It was too early to check into our motel, so we drove directly into town to eat:  We each had a bowl of the highly recommended She-crab soup--absolutely delicious chowder.  We are learning that they really like to eat down here. 

Charleston is famous for many things; but, my main memory of it is as the site of the start of the Civil War--Fort Sumter was fired upon by Confederate forces on April 12, 1861.  This is referred to down here as "the Recent Unpleasantness"--since there was nothing civil about this war. 

Spanish Moss, so named by the Indians because it looked like the beards of the Spaniards

Front door placed for privacy only.  If the door was open, that meant that company was welcome. 

Former grocery store

Oldest continuing synagogue congregation in the United States.  Charleston had greater religious freedom than other areas in North America because it was an English Colony established to prevent both the French and the Spanish from advancing northward, it had a bias against Roman Catholic incursion.  Protestants of every persuasion were welcomed, as were Huguenots and Spanish Jews trying to escape persecution by the Catholic Church. 

When we planned this trip and knew that we would be passing through Charleston, we decided we would try to hook up with Pete.  He was one of our companions on our Rick Steves tour to Scandinavia last July; in fact, he was the one who flew over his bicycle handlebars coming down a grade at the end of our morning ride on the Danish island of Aero.  He had been planning to move here; but, even if he hadn't, he lived nearby and might be able to join us for a while.  As an added bonus, we got to meet his very interesting and youngest daughter, Gretchen, who was still living here, having passed her boards for Physician Assistant, as she waits for final paperwork to clear before moving to a new job in Beaufort.  He was more than agreeable to meet; he was so gracious, picking us up at our hotel, he even insisted on treating us to dinner--easily our best meal on the trip.  We had a wonderful time with both of them.

Shrimp with basil, feta and kalamata olives in tomato sauce and penne pasta (Claire)

Mahi-Mahi with pumpkin salsa purée and prosciuto wrapped asparagus (Pete)

Shrimp and couscous (Chuck and Gretchen)

Pete, Chuck, Gretchen, Claire

Second Day

Today we met with our guide, Clara, and a small group of 7 for a Charleston Stroll, a historical and architectural walking tour of the old town.  They take their preservation seriously, here--any building more than 75 years old must get permission before making exterior changes.  Tourists benefit. 

Charleston has a long and interesting history.  Founded in 1670, it was involved in both the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.  It has a tradition of living in style and a social consciousness that goes with it.  We are told that you aren't a native until your family has been here for 3 generations.  I was surprised to find out that Carolina (Carolina is Latin for "Charles land") was not originally a colony--it was a Lord's Proprietorship granted to 8 nobles by King Charles II for the loyalty of those worthies in restoring the Crown to England after Cromwell's reign.  Carolina was settled to make profit from trade and also by selling land.  John Locke, an English philosopher, wrote a constitution for the colony that covered topics such as land divisions and social rankings.  The town of Charleston was originally named 'Charles Town' for the King; it was renamed in 1783. 

One of the stops on our walking tour was this striking columned building.  Charleston was a polyglot community and each of the ethnic groups had its own society, which has limited membership.  This was the meeting house for the Irish.  The pillar between the endmost right columns are stones from The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.  Speaking of stones, there are virtually none in this area; the buildings are either wood or brick--though sometimes the brick is covered with stucco, and a few houses have faux stone lines carved into them.  We thought it delightful that they alternated between Catholic and Protestant presidents of the organization.  There is a limited membership, so parents sign up their children for eligibility at birth. 

  $5 million house for sale.  Real estate near the tip of the peninsula is a tad pricey. 

 Office out back--guess they didn't have enough room in this block-long mansion

19th Century thief deterrent.  This house was once owned by a slaver and blockade runner named  Rhett.  Some people believe he provided the model for the Rhett Butler character in Gone With The Wind.

Classic "single" house with side piazzas (their word) to benefit from sea breezes.  Double (Side by side) houses would not permit air to flow through from one side to the other.  A $1,000 a plate fundraiser with Obama in attendance was held here in 2008.  This year it was $30,000 a plate.  He mistakenly called the piazzzas porches.  These were often used in warm weather, with windows open on both sides, to allow air flow to cool off the occupants.  They sometimes sleep on their piazzas in the summer.

This house with cupola helped cool the home down when opened along with front door.  The wind passed through as with a house fan. 


Waterfront and homes

Locals call this the "Chinese, Chippendale, Victorian" house

Dixie Supply, a lunch spot, earned best dining experience in Diner, Drive-in and Dive category

 Their specialty:  Tomato pie, with molasses cake for dessert, delicious!

Next stop, Lowcountry Bistro for dessert, again

Their specialty:  Grilled cornbread strawberry shortcake.  Need I say more? 

 The Battery

The Arthur Ravenel Bridge opened during a week-long celebration in July 2005. It is an eight-lane, cable-stayed bridge with two diamond shaped towers that allow clearance for modern ocean freighters to access the Port of Charleston.  It hosts an annual Cooper River Bridge Run and has a bicycle and pedestrian lane. 

Rainbow Row.  This is an iconic image of the city and is found on postcards, ash trays, refrigerator magnets--almost anything that can hold a picture.   The drivers of the horses and carriages face backwards while addressing their gaggle of tourists.  I saw one driver repeatedly look over his shoulder as he approached a traffic light--to be sure his horsed didn't either run the light or ram a car.  I don't think pedestrians are a major concern, here.  We are careful when we cross the street.

Shutters that open up and down.  A great convenience, as ordinary shutters often require that you go outside to release and close them.

A blend of styles?

Dentist's home, painted the color of healthy gums. His enterprising young daughter used to sell pink lemonade to tourists.  She made a small fortune, as there are no commercial interests south of Broad Street--and this is some distance away.

Iron work balconies.  This is one of the touches that reminded us of New Orleans here.

More piazzas

Halloween is just around the corner

St. Michael's Episcopal Church, designed to look like St. Martin-in-the-Field in London, where we dined in the crypt several years ago.  This is famous, partly because George Washington prayed here during a week long stay.  He is rumored to have said this "lengthy" sojourn here was because Charleston had such pretty ladies.  Robert E. Lee also attended this church.

 Circular Congregational Church

We visited City Hall to see a famous painting.  Charleston is rightly proud to possess a John Trumbull portrait of George Washington, painted during the president’s lifetime.  Commissioned by Charleston, the painting portrays Washington after his 1791 visit to that city. 

Trumbull’s first effort, which shows Washington after his 1776 victory at Trenton, New Jersey, did not please the city fathers, for Trumbull had portrayed the Battle of Trenton, not the city of Charleston.  They turned it down, and Trumbull produced a second work.  This one showed an identical Washington posed on the shore of Charleston Bay, with the city skyline in the background.


Charleston’s leaders were pleased this time, paid Trumbull his commission, and he promised to deliver the painting after he had added some minor details.  The rejected Trenton portrait was kept by Trumbull, who eventually gave it to the Society of Cincinnati.  When the society was dissolved, they presented it to Yale University.  Trumbull's crypt is nearby.

Trumbull’s “minor detail” was Washington’s mount.  The artist turned the animal around.  Now its hindquarters are prominently displayed, with its tail raised as if the horse is about to relieve itself upon a boat containing the city fathers (which isn’t visible in the photograph).  Charleston’s skyline appears in a most-vulnerable position – between the horse’s thighs.  The painting is aptly nicknamed Trumbull's Revenge.

We liked our luncheon dessert so much that we returned to Lowcountry Bistro for dinner.  It was wonderful.

Sangria--ciroc peach, pineapple, sparking wine, pure cane syrup, muddled fruit

Shrimp and Grits--grilled shrimp, parmesan & chive grits, fried green tomatoes, smoked tomato & bacon sauce--fantastic!

According to our guide, Cond√© Nast Traveler readers recently voted Charleston, South Carolina, the number one city in the United States for the second year in a row.  This year the magazine announced its readers have now voted Charleston the top tourist destination in the world.  The designation is based on a poll of about 47,000 readers of the magazine who judge cities on a five-point scale.  The categories include ambiance, friendliness, lodging, restaurants, culture/sites, and shopping.  

I'm going back to dignity and grace. I'm going back to Charleston, where I belong. ~ character Rhett Butler, in 1939 movie, "Gone with the Wind"