5 Days in Charleston: A Southern Sibling SojournJune 2-6, 2013
Back in the 1980s, my brother, sister, mother and I took a couple of short vacation trips together—just the four of us—sending us back in time to the days when we siblings were kids and Mother boldly loaded us up in the car for family road trips. Since we were 25 years overdue for a sibling adventure, we decided to invade Charleston together. This time we embraced Ken into our fold, and he agreed to come along as our patient and always congenial driver.
|Second Level Piazza of our rental home|
|Our home away from home on South Battery|
To avoid a long single-day drive, Mother and Jeanne made an overnight layover at our place on Saturday. On Sunday we arranged and rearranged, stuffed and pushed, and finally crammed all our necessities into the back of the Acura, arriving in Charleston just in time to pick up Woodie from the airport. He disembarked with a slew of Low Country recommendations he had picked up from friends in Tennessee. Since we were all overdue for lunch, we quickly agreed to sample one of his proposals, a restaurant called A.W. Shucks.
|Sunday - We learn our way around the city.|
Although we've occasionally stumbled upon geocaches while searching for a letterbox, this was our first experience with deliberately trying to locate one. The app uses the phone's GPS capabilities to eliminate the need for a separate device. It took us a while, but we finally found the microcache hidden away in a crevice on the fence next to the customs house. A tiny clear plastic tube about one-fourth the diameter of a pencil (pictured in Jeanne's hand above), the geocache earned a difficulty rating of 4 on a 1 to 5 scale, but we learned that only after we had scrutinized every inch of the area to find it. Delirious with victory, we decided to try for one more, a larger and easier to find container in nearby Philadelphia Alley, before calling it quits and retreating to the house to kick up our feet and relax on the porch. After dinner, we swatted at the pesky mosquitoes who tried to discourage us from our stroll along the riverside battery and White Point Garden Park.
|Monday - Further exploration by carriage|
While eating lunch at the nearby Noisy Oyster, we sympathized with passing tourists getting soaked by the hourly deluge. Escaping to the car during a break in the clouds, we returned to our refuge on South Battery to wait out the rain. By the time our date with a carriage driver arrived at 5 p.m., the monsoon had abated—mostly. Following the advice of a Southern Living reviewer, we booked our tour with Palmetto Carriage. Thanks to our knowledgeable guide Tim, we were not disappointed. Otis, the mule who reluctantly hauled us around, was not as enthusiastic. Feeling sorry for her (yes, her), we asked Tim if she might be tired since it was late afternoon. Apparently Otis just wanted to give life to the old expression "stubborn as a..." Ours was her first and only tour of the day. (Perhaps there's a good reason she was named for the shiftless drunk who frequented Andy Griffith's Mayberry jail.)
Following Tim's recommendation, we headed over to Hominy Grill for dinner, where obtaining a table involved hanging out for an hour and a half until one was free. When we declined an offer to join the wait list, the Hominy host referred us to another restaurant a block away—Five Loaves, a cozy café serving up flavorful, creative dishes featuring fresh local ingredients. A great recommendation and a delicious way to end the day.
By the end of Day 2, we discovered that the sultry coastal air had infected our speech with a heavy Southern drawl. Vowels somehow grew widah and some of ouwa ahr's just seemed to disappeah, Sugah, the longah we were in Chahlston. Since Jeanne was the mastah of this honey-drippin' tawk, Ken dubbed her Ms. Magnolia.
After returning to the mainland, we invoked our lunch reservation at Hominy Grill, where we were seated promptly. Though the food was adequate, it paled in comparison to Five Loaves. A five-spoon dish of pecan pie a la mode was the best part of the meal and a fine send-off to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, a 70-acre property on the Ashley River northeast of the city center. One of the oldest plantations in the south, Magnolia was established in 1676 when Thomas and Ann Drayton built a house and a small formal garden on the site. The property has remained under the control of the Drayton family for 15 generations.
|One of Magnolia Plantation's peacocks|
With supplies from the local Harris Teeter supermarket, we took advantage of our kitchen facilities and prepared dinner in, winding down from an eventful day. No wait for a table on South Battery.
|Wednesday - We sample the Piccolo Spoleto Festival.|
Since this would be our last full day in the city, we wanted to get a closer look at the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, stretching 2.5 miles across the Cooper River like a huge stringed instrument connecting Charleston with Mount Pleasant. This spectacular structure was designed with guidance from Charleston history. A nineteenth century earthquake that nearly leveled the city inspired a superstructure that can withstand a 7.4 quake. Hurricane Hugo's massive destruction in 1989 prompted engineers to create a span that can endure wind gusts in excess of 300 mph. One-acre rock islands surround and protect the bridge towers to protect from the kind of ship mishaps that have occurred in the past. An uncontrolled ship will run aground on the island rather than colliding with the tower.
|Arthur Ravenel Bridge (photo from Wikimedia)|
Having sampled the visual arts component of the Piccolo Spoleto, we finished off our last full day in Charleston with a local theater performance, Mary Kay Has a Posse, an amusing parody of The View hosted by four Southern women tipsy on their "spiked" coffee. These native Charlestonians have played improv comedy together so long, they seamlessly pick up the thread from each other's comments as if rehearsed. Any topic from pop culture to the lives of audience members provides fodder for their irreverent and politically incorrect humor. The show had mixed reviews from our group but generally everyone found something to laugh at.
|Thursday - Winding up our visit|
Our final stop was Circular Congregational Church, whose origins date back to the founding of Charleston. Established in 1681 by English, Scot and French settlers of various religious backgrounds, the congregation was determined to be an independent Protestant group, refusing to tie itself to any church hierarchy. This spirit of liberty pervaded the membership and served as a breeding ground for local leaders in the Revolutionary War. Though we were unable to explore the church, we were fascinated by its graveyard, Charleston's oldest burial grounds with markers dating back to 1695.
And then it was time for us to reluctantly release Woodie, who was flying south for a reunion with his Duncan brothers in Tallahassee, which Tropical Storm Andrea was threatening to flood before she arced her way up to Charleston. Dodging the rain-drenched coast, we abandoned our plans to drive home through Savannah and headed due west. Woodie arrived safely in Tallahassee, and Jeanne and Mother departed from our house the following morning, leaving us with cherished memories and a collection of photos of our week in Charleston. Not to mention a few remnants of a lingerin' sultry drawl, Honey.
|The Custom House on E Bay Street|
Here's the Trip Color blogging we did on the go in Charleston: High Times in the Lowcountry.