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Visiting the Glorious City of Charleston, SC!

Day 1 - Travel to and an Evening in Charleston

Dear friend, Kate Coleman, Shelly and I decided to plan a trip to Charleston, SC. We had not been before, and wanted to sample the charms, sites, and food of the city. We booked a two-bedroom, 1st floor apartment on the corner of Cannon St. and King St. (the main thoroughfare for restaurants, shopping, and nightlife) right in the center of the city through Airbnb, and laid out our itinerary. We planned to leave on Sunday, April 24th and return on Friday, April 29th. We figured 4 days and 5 nights would allow us to visit our selected sites, and enjoy the "low country" cooking.

For trip planning, I used the app, Wanderlog, for the first time, and I like it. It's for itinerary building, is easy to use, and works well either on a laptop or phone. You enter the name or address of the place you are staying, then add sites and restaurants you want to visit. You then copy or drag-and-drop the sites and restaurants to specific days in your itinerary. From there, you can add notes, times to visit, costs, etc. When you click on the site or restaurant, Wanderlog displays summary information, address, website link, hours of operation, and phone number. If your plans change, you can drag-and-drop new activities or your sites/restaurants to new days and times. Try it out!

Shelly and I packed our suitcases, said goodbye to Lennon and McCartney, and left at 6:00am to pick up Kate. We settled in for our 552 mile, 8-hour drive. I set the radio to SiriusXM 70's on 7 and cruised away. We hadn't seen Kate for two weeks, so we chatted and caught up on our lives.

Being a Sunday morning, the traffic was relatively light. After 2 1/2 hours, we made our first stop at Crackle Barrel just outside Richmond, VA, and had breakfast. Back in the car, we listened to Casey Kasem's American Top 40 show for April 24, 1978. The tunes were great and helped speed the ride, and the weather was gorgeous, sunny in the high 70's. We stopped once more for gas in North Carolina, and commenced the final leg of the trip.

We arrived at our Airbnb around 3:30pm. It's located at 3 Cannon St., and is a two apartment (upper and lower) house built around 1860. It's literally steps from King St. and it's offering of restaurants, bars, and shops. It has two reasonably sized bedrooms, and small living room, large kitchen, and bath room. It has a driveway with space for 4 cars (two spaces are included for the rental), which is important as both street and off-street parking is expensive and hard to come by. There are plenty of windows in the apartment so lots of natural lights beams in. Being so close to King St., it is a little bit noisy with both street traffic and club-scene people walking the sidewalks late at night, but the apartment has been equipped with sound-proofing, so that helps.

We unpacked the car, and then headed to King St. to get acclimated and find a restaurant. We chose and oyster bar and seafood restaurant, named The Darling Oyster Bar, for dinner. All tables had been reserved, so we sat ourselves down on the last three stools at the bar. We met the bartenders, who were great, and Kate ordered an Old Fashion, Shelly a Miller Lite, and I a coke. One of the bartenders, Tristan, was originally from Baltimore, so we chatted him up and got some recommendations on other restaurants. He was gracious enough to write down a list of other restaurants to try.


Here's a photo of the three of us:

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Kate and Shelly both ordered the fried clam strips with cabbage, cilantro, carrots, sweet chili, and avocado mayo. They shared sides of collard greens with ham, and hushpuppies with sorghum butter. It was a pretty big plate of clam strips, and with a side was only $13. I tasted the strips and it reminded me of bang-band shrimp, but with clams. They both enjoyed their meals, and Kate especially loved the the greens.

I ordered a lobster role in a split-top bun, scallion, and mayo for $27. Spices were added for a local twist, and it was good. Not like getting one in New England, but still good.

We chatted with a nice, young couple from New Hampshire, and then a local couple who met and lived in Washington DC for a number of years. We got some tips on places to visit, including Folly Beach, which is on our itinerary for Thursday. We spent about two hours at the restaurant and really enjoyed ourselves.

We walked south on King St. and check out the shops and menus of other restaurants. We stopped in a shop called Sewing Down South and Kate bought a t-shirt. We had reservations for a one-hour horse-drawn carriage ride of Charleston's market and French Quarter for tomorrow. So we decided to walk to the starting location of the carriage ride so we knew where it was. It was 1.5 miles south of where were were staying, so we really got our steps in after a long drive. It was good that we went, as we decided we'd drive to it in the morning for our tour.

So our first full day of touring tomorrow will start with a carriage ride, shopping at the Charleston City Market, then walking tours of sites in the French Quarter and Battery, famous for it's antebellum houses.

Day 2 - Exploring the French Quarter and the Battery

Our first full day in Charleston started early with a 9:00am horse carriage ride by Old South Carriage Company. There were about 12 tourists in the carriage and our horse, Rebel, began taking us through the French Quarter. We then toured The Battery, with it's massive, Antebellum mansions overlooking the bay. The tour guide was excellent, giving us both history and perspective on Charleston of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries as it became one of the wealthiest cities in the world. We toured for one hour and identified sites and locations we wanted to walk back to see in detail.

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Our next stop was a slow walk and browse through the Historic Charleston City Market. The market is full of stalls of merchants and craftsmen and women selling jewelry, clothing, knickknacks, and famous, beautiful sweetgrass baskets. Shelly was interested in the baskets, but did not buy any.

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We then walked to the Joe Riley Waterfront Park. The first site we saw was the famous Pineapple Fountain. The fountain and park is beautifully situated along the waterfront, and is full of oak and palmetto trees that provide significant shade.

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A tour of the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon was next. Previously a meeting place for local Patriots, the Exchange in 1788 hosted South Carolina leaders as they debated and approved the U. S. Constitution. Today, the Old Exchange Building is one of only four structures remaining where the nation’s founding document was originally ratified. Between the American Revolution and the Civil War, the Exchange was Charleston’s most common destination for public slave auctions, making the site one of the most important in the history of the domestic slave trade.

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One mistake we made was not making reservations for lunch. Restaurants were incredibly crowded all week. Fortunately we found seats at the bar at Millers All Day. Shelly had tomato soup and grilled cheese, Ken had chicken salad on a homemade croissant, and Kate had chicken salad on sourdough. All meals were delicious.

 

The tours after lunch started with the Old Slave Mart Museum. It is Charleston’s oldest museum of African American history and the first museum on the history of slavery in the United States. We learned about the slave trade (40% of enslaved people in the United States came through the port of Charleston). It's a dark and necessary history to learn from. Photographs were not allowed in this museum, but here's a photo of the building:

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We then walked to Rainbow Row, a row of pastel-colored historic homes located on East Bay Street, just along the Battery. The houses were attractive, but a bit of a let-down. The tree-lined street made it difficult to see the houses and take photographs.

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The Battery was our next stop and was very cool. We walked the streets along the waterfront and through the neighborhood comprised of huge and historic Antebellum mansions. These were the homes of the ultra-rich plantation and land owners, traders, governors, and others in high-society Charleston. The beauty was dampened a bit when we realized that enslaved people were the ones who built and serviced these homes.

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The Nathaniel Russell House is in The Battery and offers a glimpse into the lives of the mercantile elite who flourished in the late Colonial and early Federal period, the artisans and craftspeople they hired to build and adorn their opulent homes, and the enslaved men and women whose forced labor made possible their lavish lifestyles. I did not take photographs of the house or inside.

 

The last stop of the day was to the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. The cornerstone of this was laid for the first Roman Catholic cathedral at the present site on July 30, 1850. Unfortunately, the cathedral was closed for cleaning and we could not enter.

 

Here are some photos of our walk to dinner:

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We then walked to Poogan's Smokehouse for an early dinner. We were still a bit full from lunch, but we had to have some BBQ. Kate had pork, chicken and sausage sliders and potato salad, and Ken and Shelly shared pulled pork with potato salad and mac and cheese. Our meals were very good and satisfied our need for some BBQ.

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Our day of touring was done and we headed back to the Airbnb for rest and relaxation, and an evening of chat. We logged about 6 miles of walking. It was a very enjoyable day and evening, and we reviewed Wanderlog to check our itinerary for tomorrow.

Day 3 - McLeod Plantation

Day 3 started a bit later in the morning. We got to the McLeod Planation around 10:00am. It's located about 15 minutes west of downtown Charleston. We walked the grounds while we waited for the 10:30am guided tour. The grounds were beautiful with dozens of live oak trees covered in Spanish moss. There was the main, "big house", a half dozen small, bare buildings where enslaved people lived, and several other buildings like the kitchen and smokehouse.

 

The guided tour was excellent. It focused on the history of the owner and family, McLeod, and the enslaved people who worked the rice and cotton fields, and tended to the house and grounds. The original crop that made Charleston wealthy was indigo, and the Britain was the main buyer. When the Revolutionary War broke out, and Britain was no longer a trading partner, rice replaced indigo as the cash crop. But rice was relatively expensive to produce, and cotton replaced it as the primary money-making crop.

 

Many of the enslaved people were of the Gullah and Geechee heritage of Africa-Americans. These were highly skilled farmers and craftsmen with their own language and culture who were transported from western Africa under horrific conditions to the new colonies of North and South America to build new cities and enable the wealth of their "owners". It's a sad history, but one that must be learned and retained.

 

The McLeod Plantation "big house" has little furnishings so I have only included photos of the grounds.

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Folly Beach

Folly Beach is located about 20 minutes south of the McLeod Plantation. The beach is maybe a couple miles long, and there is a main road that runs north-south along the beach with beachfront houses on one side of the east side of the road, and other home on the west side of the road. There are a half dozen restaurants and a few shops on the main drag.

 

We chose to eat lunch at a restaurant Kate's son, Michael, recommended, Rita's Seaside Grill. Kate had shrimp and grits with a fried egg on top, Shelly had a seafood platter with shrimp and grouper, and I had a grouper sandwich. All meals were very good, and we were well-satisfied. Kate bought a Rita's t-shirt for a souvenir.

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Shelly and Kate walked the beach looking for shells and shark teeth. My legs were tired so I sat on a bench and watched the surf. Both Kate and Shelly brought back a plastic bag each full of shells, and Kate found a half dozen sharks teeth.

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We left Folly Beach and stopped at a Harris Teeter so Shelly and Kate could buy some Carolina Gold rice. We got back to our Airbnb and walked to Jeni's Ice Cream on King St. I had a delicious waffle cone with 3 scoops of Gooey Butter Cake. I also bought a pint to go and finished it off that evening. We chatted as the the ice cream slid down my gullet, and reviewed our itinerary for tomorrow. We had another great day, and looked forward to more sightseeing.

Day 4 - Fort Sumter and the Aiken-Rhett House Tours

Our first stop on day 4 was the Port of Charleston to catch a ferry to Fort Sumter, the location of the first shots fired of the US Civil War. The weather was cloudier and a bit cooler but the sun came out and warmed things up by the end of our tour.

 

Here's a photo of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, commissioned in 1944, at Patriot's Point in Mount Pleasant. I took this photo from the ferry to Fort Sumter.

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Here is the Park Ranger explaining the history of Fort Sumter and the start of the Civil War.

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Welcome to Fort Sumter. I was surprised by how small it was. I learned that after the War of 1812 with the British and the bombardment of Fort McHenry, the US government built a dozen or so forts in critical, east coast harbors to protect the entrance to the ports.

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Since we were the first tour of the day, the Park Rangers conducted a flag raising ceremony at Fort Sumter. Here's our flag being raised.

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After Fort Sumter, we walked about a mile to Hannibal's Soul Kitchen a famous Charleston restaurant featuring authentic soul food. There's a simple menu with a few entrees and specialty dishes. Shelly had ribs and a side dish of red rice, and Kate and I had crab and shrimp rice. Shelly enjoyed her meal, especially the red rice, and the crab and shrimp rice was to die for. It was one of the tastiest meals I have ever had! So if you're in Charleston, make your way to Hannibal's.

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On our way back to our Airbnb, we walked to and toured the Aiken-Rhett House, a well-preserved Antebellum house. Built in 1820 by merchant John Robinson, the Aiken-Rhett House is nationally significant as one of the best-preserved townhouse complexes in the nation. Vastly expanded by Governor and Mrs. William Aiken, Jr. in the 1830s and again in the 1850s, the house and its outbuildings include a kitchen, the original slave quarters, carriage block and back lot. The house and its surviving furnishings offer a compelling portrait of urban life in antebellum Charleston, as well as a Southern politician, slaveholder and industrialist. The house spent 142 years in the Aiken family's hands before being sold to the Charleston Museum and opened as a museum house in 1975.

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We walked back to Airbnb and napped for a couple hours. I was exhausted, and we all needed a break before our Ghosts of Charleston Walking Tour in the evening.

Ghosts of Charleston Walking Tour

In the evening, we took a Ghosts of Charleston Walking Tour that began at Buxton Books in the French Quarter. It began at the The Circular Congregational Church and ended at the Unitarian Church Cemetery. The tour guide was energetic and passionate, and told stories about tragic events that resulted in ghosts and hauntings at various sites. I like the tour better after reflecting on it than I did at the time of the tour. My legs were tired, and some of the stories were a bit long, but I liked walking down "bloody alley" and hearing the stories about the duels, the ghost at St. Philip's Episcopal Church cemetery, and the Unitarian Crunch Cemetery.

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We headed back to our Airbnb and got a great night's sleep. We walked over 7 miles this day, and my legs were really tired and sore. We reviewed our itinerary of our final day of touring tomorrow.

Day 5 - Middleton Place, a Massive Plantation Northwest of Charleston

We went to Middleton Place, a plantation northwest of Charleston in Summerville, SC. It's on the Ashley River, and and what would have been a few hours boat trip to Charleston. Here are some animals on the plantation:

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Here's some sheep asking for food:

We listened to an hour-long talk called "Beyond the Fields: Enslavement at Middleton Place". The speaker talked about the history of Middleton Place, and that it was not a typical plantation, but was really quite large and opulent compared to other plantations. He talked about how enslaved people worked the rice and cotton fields, built the houses and other structures, landscaped the plantation, created the gardens, and built their own houses and villages. He talked about how the main house and other buildings were destroyed by General Sherman's army at the tail-end of the Civil War, and the post-war history of the plantation.

 

We also did a garden tour with a master gardener of America's oldest landscape gardens. The landscape is quite beautiful, and you can imagine just how much enslaved labor was required to maintain it.

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The plantation was quite beautiful, and it's magnitude in comparison to the McLeod Plantation was obvious. After three hours of touring, we were now ready for lunch.

 

We found a BBQ restaurant in Summerville called Swigs & Pigs. Shelly had 4 side dishes, Kate had ribs, and I had a pulled pork sandwich. It was a very good meal.

 

We made it back to the Airbnb around 3:30pm. Kate wanted to rest, and Shelly and I went out to have a couple drinks on the outdoor patio at The Dispensary on King St. We met and had a photo-op with the reigning Miss Southern Coast, who was to appear at a magazine launch at a nearby lounge later in the evening.

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I got another pint of gooey butter cake ice cream from Jeni's and headed to bed early. We leave for home tomorrow morning. We had a fantastic visit, and thoroughly enjoyed Charleston, the shops, restaurants, and people.

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