Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Delightful Charleston

City Market, Charleston. Photos by Vickie Kelber

City Market, Charleston. Photos by Vickie Kelber

“Let’s give ourselves a short trip as a Christmas present,” my husband said a dozen years ago. All I could think was, “Oh no, another ski vacation” – cold, terrifying, and crowded.  He surprised me, though. “We’ve always wanted to go to Charleston,” he said. “Why not now?”

What a wonderful Christmas present it was. Charleston is a friendly, welcoming city, the epitome of “Southern hospitality” and grace. I am an early morning walker; everywhere I went, I was greeted with pleasant “good mornings” and “happy holidays.” Charleston combined so many things I enjoy – walking, the ocean, shopping, eating, and appreciation of history as represented by preservation and restoration.

I love to walk and have found no place else in the United States as conducive, indeed enticing, to walk….among historic, beautifully preserved homes

Colorful houses line ‘Rainbow Row’ on East Bay Street.

Colorful houses line ‘Rainbow Row’ on East Bay Street.

full of colorful legends. It was unusually cold that December, but blooming hibiscus, paper whites growing in cemeteries, and pansies in a window box were promises of warmer weather to come.

The ocean always calls me. I find its contradictions – serene one day, tumultuous the next, to be restorative. We strolled along the Waterfront Park, watching water spray from the pineapple fountain, a tug pulling a cargo ship, a lone dolphin searching for his lunch. In the distance were reminders of our nation’s history – Fort Sumter and the USS Yorktown.

I love to shop. In addition to the “downtown” shopping on King Street, the City Market on Meeting Street was near our hotel. No matter how many times I walked through the market, there was always something new to catch my eye.

The Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park.

The Pineapple Fountain in Waterfront Park.

The traditional sweet grass baskets have been made for more than 300 years and at one time were almost a lost art. The last thing I needed was another basket, but how could I let an art die?

We enjoy trying different restaurants. Many of the restaurants in Charleston featured low country food specialties. Shrimp and grits were not as bad as they sounded and in some of the Charleston establishments have been raised to  Epicurean heights.

We appreciate cities that preserve and restore rather than knock down and rebuild, and Charleston was a delight, with historic homes, public buildings, churches, cemeteries, and gardens. We took a Civil War-themed walking tour; our guide painted a vivid picture of those times through stories and photographs.

The city was tastefully adorned for Christmas with natural decorations predominating.

One of Charleston’s historic homes.

One of Charleston’s historic homes.

Everywhere were  pineapples, the symbol of hospitality. Did you know poinsettias were discovered in Mexico by a Charleston native who brought them back to his city to propagate them? We took a special evening carriage ride, available only during the holiday season as a charitable fundraiser.

It was a wonderful Christmas present, despite the cold. We made a  promise to each other to return some spring when magnolias, azaleas, rhododendrons are in full bloom.

We did make that return trip, not in spring, but last fall. We found Charleston to hold that same grace and charm. Charleston is a very walk-able city and we strolled from the City Market, along Waterfront Park to Battery Park, and back up among the stately homes and cobblestone streets. Instead of a carriage tour, we took a harbor

Sweetgrass Baskets, a more than 300 year old Charleston tradition.

Sweetgrass Baskets, a more than 300 year old Charleston tradition.

tour by boat.

If you visit Charleston, stop at the Visitor’s Center, 375 Meeting Street. In addition to an abundance of literature about the area, staff members are available for assistance and a 36-minute film, “Forever Charleston” is shown every 45 minutes.

Some of the popular restaurants in Charleston include High Cotton, Hymen’s Seafood, Aaron’s Deli (where there is usually a line), Magnolia’s, and one of our favorites, SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) at 192 East Bay Street.

Charleston is 608 miles from Marco Island – about 10 hours driving time. Charleston International Airport is 20 minutes from the city. Transportation options from the airport include rental cars, taxis, shuttle service, and a public bus run by Charleston Area Rapid Transportation Authority (CARTA). Once in Charleston, besides taxis,  both CARTA and Downtown Area Shuttle (DASH) provide local transportation; all-day and 3-day passes are available.

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