Thursday, March 10, 2011

Next Stop, Charleston

After three nice days in Savannah, we rented a car and headed North about two hours drive to another low-country jewel of the South, Charleston, South Carolina. The rental rate from Hertz for less than 4 hours use of their vehicle was obscene, but we didn’t have much choice. The ride was a pleasant one as the road meandered from Route 17 onto Interstate 95 and back to 17. Coming from New York, where everything is vertical, we were surprised at how flat the landscape looked. We were told to watch for speed traps, so our pace was leisurely. We also saw road signs that reminded us that we were a long way from Staten Island. Lots of stores selling guns and ammo, and I must have seen twenty signs advertising taxidermy services. As we entered the Charleston city limits, we saw fewer house trailers and more big bucks mansions.

After checking into our hotel in the Charleston Historic District, we walked across the street to the conveniently located Visitor’s Center to get some tips on what we should see in the city during our stay. We were lucky to just catch a departing, 90-minute mini-bus tour of the area narrated by a guide who was very well-informed of Charleston’s history. His great grandfather had fought and died for the Confederacy, and we heard all we needed to know and more…I thought the guy was going to follow us back to our room. He did provide some useful recommendations on local restaurants which we put to good use. The first place we tried was Virginia’s, just a couple of blocks from where we were staying. Our waitress, Stella, was friendly and told us that the tour guide had steered us right. After devouring the She Crab Soup followed by the Shrimp with Grits, I felt like a good old boy gone to heaven.

Next day we set out for a walk along Meeting Street, which went in a straight line down to the Charleston waterfront. We passed stately mansions, churches, restaurants, museums, and a long row of stalls that comprise City Market, an assortment of wares sold by hundreds of vendors. Sweet grass basket weavers can be seen in every building, along with, local artists, jewelry, spices, sauces, and local candies. Stately horse and carriages gallop by with people from all over the world, and restaurants line both North and South Market Streets. The atmosphere is festive and distinctly Southern. After picking up some souvenirs, we visited the Gibbes Art Museum for some local culture. The following day we hit the Charleston Museum and were pleasantly surprised by the extent and depth of their collections. One exhibit had period costumes from the Civil War era and people were encouraged to get dressed up and take pictures.

Like Savannah, many of Charleston’s historic homes were saved from the wrecking ball by the local preservation society. We toured several of these magnificent mansions and can’t imagine that anyone would ever have condoned their destruction. One house in particular, the John C. Calhoun Mansion, was spectacular. After falling into disrepair and sinking so low as to be used as barracks for naval personnel, the house was bought by a Washington, D.C. lawyer who spent millions restoring it. In addition he puts his considerable collection of antiques on display in every room of the home. Interestingly, unlike most homes open to tours by the public, the Calhoun Mansion is actually lived in by its owner and his family. The rooms and the surrounding gardens were a pleasure to see, and a reminder of the grandeur of a different time when generations of families lived in splendor in the old ancestral manor.

Travel helps us understand the diversity of this great country into which we had the privilege of being born. People are so different down south and out west and up north, and yet they are all part of the fabric of America. I have been critical of people who immigrate to the United States only for a paycheck and the government-funded freebies. They have no love for this country except for what it can give them. They long for the day when they can leave our shores and return to wherever they came from; I say good riddance and don't let the door hit you in the ass. My ancestors came to America for a better life, and they worked hard to achieve it. I am proud to be an American and proud of this country and all it represents. I hope to see a lot more of it before the good Lord cashes me in.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association


The Whiner said...

Sounds like another lovely place, minues the copious amounts of taxidermy. Nothin says high-class like a dead stuffed animal.
p.s. Thank you for using the word "comprise" correctly. :) Most people use it incorrectly.

Jim Pantaleno said...

Every day I try to use the word 'comprise' in a sentence. Obviously my practice has paid off.