Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Doing the Charleston

Charleston, South Carolina, nicknamed the Holy City because of the number of churches ensconced amid stately homes and businesses, exudes a genteel Southern flavor.
Spring makes its appearance in Charleston!

Food is a major attraction for locals and tourists. A week of Southern cuisine took a toll on my body, unused to gobs of salt, sugar and salt (one example – fluffy, scrumptious biscuits), fried foods (vegetables, meat and potatoes) and lots of carbs. I developed a taste for fried green tomatoes and highly seasoned grits with cheese. The contrary terms ‘Southern food’ and ‘diet’ force me to be vigilant in my eating practices, beginning immediately upon leaving the Charleston city limits.

The city’s historic district is a vibrant area full of people on the go, most of whom are tourists. People, cars, pedi-cars and horse-drawn carriages travel everywhere. Charleston rates high on must-see tourism lists. Travel and Leisure’s readers rated the city #1 in the U.S. and #2 in the world in 2017. Why? Read the reasons here.  More than 4.8 million visitors a year attest to the city’s popularity. New buildings, mostly hotels, can be spied in various stages of construction throughout the city.

The historic district is a walkable peninsula full of stately 18th and 19th century homes and refurbished buildings now hotels, restaurants and retail establishments. A city ordinance bans buildings taller than the highest steeple in the city. Pedestrians do not feel overpowered by towering skyscrapers and the multitudes swarming in and out of them.

Hub and I spent a week in an airbnb a five-minute drive to a reasonably priced parking garage in the center of the historic district. We spent days leisurely touring the city and nights relaxing in our two-bedroom apartment with a fully stocked kitchen and family room equipped with a large screen TV hub could not fathom how to operate.

On our way into Charleston we stopped at a visitor’s center to stock up on brochures. The volunteer behind the desk made us an offer – spend an hour listening to a travel talk and we would receive two tickets to three different tourist attractions.

We were hooked.

Our horse and carriage
Our first morning in the city we drove downtown before tourists packed the streets and markets, stores and museums opened. A 45-minute presentation promoted a travel scheme –not a timeshare, the salesman stated several times – where we purchase a concierge-type travel plan. We declined the invitation, but received our tickets.

We passed the rest of the day on our FREE carriage ride, a great introduction to the city’s history and a leisurely, stress-free way to get an overview of the historic district before heading out on our own. We also enjoyed a FREE boat tour of Charleston harbor, relishing the sun’s warm rays as we cruised by Fort Sumter and other historical sites.

One afternoon a culinary tour found us strolling city streets, learning about Charleston’s food history and modern cuisine. We sampled local foods, including fried green tomatoes and okra, grits, red rice, oysters, pralines, cornbread, benne wafers and smoked pork sliders. (full disclosure: I skipped the sliders.) The main ingredients of French pralines, a cookie-shaped candy, are pecans and sugar. The key ingredient in paper-thin Benne wafers, a Charleston original, is sesame seeds (along with sugar, salt, butter…all the good stuff).
 
Navy vessels, Patriots Point
We saw a comedy-mystery show, toured a Navy destroyer and carrier, but one thing we did not do – the Charleston, the dance. Apparently the wildly popular 1920s dance originated in black communities on the islands outside Charleston. Speculation is that many of the moves derive from dances slaves brought over from Africa.

Enjoy this video of 1920s dancers showing off  their Charleston moves.