As some of my past posts hint, I love (love, love, love) South Carolina, and most especially Murrells Inlet and Charleston. There are a few cities that have captivated my heart and spirit, mainly New Orleans and New York. And most recently, Charleston. All three have some things in common: they are all old cities, by American standards. They are all large, prominent cities. One is ultra-modern, one is a rich blend of classes and customs and cultures. Charleston is a charming blend of old and new – Kings Street offers shopping on par with the best and funkiest boutiques in SoHo, while one block south is Meeting Street, which except for the occasional powerline and fire hydrant, might be mistaken for pre-Civil War era.
Maybe it is because it blends old with new so effortlessly. Maybe it’s the palm trees that grace the streets without being overbearing. Maybe it’s the walled gardens, which give you a glimpse into each resident’s tastes and gardening prowess. Maybe it’s the food, which is comfortingly familiar to my southern palate, but yet rich, decadent and unique in its own right.
Whatever “it” is, it had me at hello and hasn’t let me go. When I visit my other favorite vacation haunts, I take my leave full and satisfied. Not so with Charleston. Every time we visit, I find new places to explore and a new litany of excuses to return.
We did not make our annual spring pilgrimage to the Low Country and I had resigned myself to skipping a year. But Mr. Official offered a South Carolina football weekend getaway: the only catch was hitting the road at the uncivilized hour of 3:30 on Saturday morning so we could make opening kickoff in Columbia by 11:00 a.m. I agreed and we did. After coming achingly close to closing the deal against USC, we wiped our eyes and drove on into Charleston. We arrived before dark in time to discover the city damp after a day of dreary drizzle, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. A leisurely dinner at Cru Cafe and a stroll along East Bay Street with the winds whistling through the palms found us back at our hotel where we turned in earlier than most of the Saturday night crowd.
In the morning we found a new favorite breakfast place in Toast of Charleston. (How can you not love a place that dares to stack a poached egg on a crab cake on a fried green tomato and cover the whole mess in remoulade?)
Fortified, we wandered around the Charleston City Market where for the first time I noticed the Daughters of the Confederacy sign on the upper level:I darted into a favorite little Christmas store and picked out this year’s keepsake; a spun glass pineapple will join two other Charleston mementos on our Christmas tree this year.
After I oohed and ahhed my way through the flea market type stalls, we hopped on a carriage ride with Freddie pulling us along for an hour. It was a leisurely and lazy way to learn more about some of the grand residences on the southeastern tip of Charleston. The rest of the afternoon was spent strolling around the streets near Battery Park, camera in hand before . As the sun settled low in the sky, we made our way back to the hotel, soaked up a few more minutes of sunshine in the courtyard then darted to Magnolias just in time to keep our dinner reservation. As I drifted to sleep, contentedly full of sights, sounds and savors of this wonderful city, my mind was already making plans for the next visit, which can’t happen too soon.
And can you blame me? These snapshots are just a sampling of the pictures I captured and the sights that captivated me. If I thought Charleston was beautiful in the spring – and it is – I know now it is equally glorious in October.
While the memories are still fresh, I think I’ll try my hand at making some tasso for hearty winter and holiday meals of shrimp and grits, jambalaya and red beans and rice. Maybe they can keep me warm this winter, until I have a good excuse to return to this amazing and gorgeous city.