11 January 2013

2013 SOUTH & EAST COAST Charleston to N. Carolina 17 - Charming Charleston

Travel time today 3'57", covering 174 miles. This does not include the 2-hour bus tour through the streets of Charleston. Highest elevation is King Street in Charleston of 7 feet. We know this because it was part of the tour. If there is a heavy rain and high tide at the same time, this is the place to be because some of the other streets tend to flood. This is also a great shopping street, along with the Charleston Central Market which is mostly crafts and local goods.

First time we had to set an alarm on the trip so far. It was psychologically painful for me, even though it was set for 7:30am. I didn't sleep all night in anticipation. But the sun was brightly shining, a contrast and a worry from last night because it had been heavily misting during our walk.

The tour pick-up time was 9:30 and we had a young and funny (not sure if he was joking, but he said don't sit in the front seat cuz he tends to spit when he talks) guide named Mike. Once again, facts were flowing and I even started getting things mixed up with what we'd heard yesterday on our Savannah tour. I'll try to piece a few things together. Hope I get all this right.

Charleston is 75 years older than New Orleans and it looks similar to NOLA but NOT on steroids--more genteel and less frenetic. It even has a French Quarter as one of its 13 boroughs. Charlestown was a walled city established in 1680 and was named after King Charles II of England. It was later changed to Charleston to disassociate itself from the King.

Originally, rice and indigo were the top two crops. They were the first exporter of rice, as previously it was grown only in Asia for Asian people. Rice was a labor intensive industry so after slavery was abolished this crop was soon abandoned. Cotton did not start til later. Now peaches (he says they produce more than Georgia) and peanuts are the biggies.

They are also famous for their sweetgrass baskets which are mostly made by the Gullah peoples, the name for the mixture of all the descendants of the African countries which came here through slavery. There is also a Gullah language developed from 17 African dialects, and bubba is the word for neighbor-brother.

60% of all slaves imported into the U.S. came through Charleston and we saw the slave auction house (gray 2-story building). It was the first city to connect mail from steamship to railway. The "Don't Tread On Me" slogan and flag came from here as a warning to the English. The College of Charleston was established in 1793 and was the first municipal college in the U.S. The bird artist Audobon spent a lot of time here.

Vice President John Calhoun was not from here but married a Charlestonian. (I made that up, but it could be right!) In St Phillips church, they have two graveyards across the street from each other. On the church side, only those born in Charleston can be buried, so that is where his wife is. He was not born here, so had to be buried across the street and apart from his wife. At a later date he was moved next to her and at an even later date he was moved back across the street because of an uproar from some town ladies.

Broadway was the original dividing street between the rich and the poor. People on the south side were closer to the Ashley River. They also put small symbols on the outside of their homes to indicate what their profession was--a papal hat for a priest, a cotton blossom for the cotton farm owner. Also the founder of Piggley Wiggley Markets lives here. He carries on the tradition by  displaying a big copper pig on his front lawn. By the way, the Ashley River can get as warm as 90 degrees in the summer and manatees often frequent there.

South Carolina has the second largest snake population in the U.S., behind New Jersey (!!!). BUT NJ has no venomous snakes, while SC has six venomous species out of their 37. Charleston is in the third most active U.S. earthquake zone in the U.S., but hasn't had a significant earthquake since 1886. They have the oldest golf course in the U.S. and the second oldest fire department.

Charleston has very strict property laws. There are only 14 colors you can paint your home. You cannot sand down old paint on the outside of your home because it changes the texture and look. No swimming pools or air conditioners can be seen from the street. All very neat and tidy.

So after cruising town and cramming our brains with history, we stopped at the Palmer house. It is pink colored which looks like healthy pink gums because it is owned by a dentist. These owners live on the bottom floor, allow tours on the 2nd floor, and have a B&B on the third floor (floors 2 and 3 help with expenses). This home is appraised for $14 million dollars and I think he said they pay $30,000 in taxes each year. Most of the furniture is original, including an old spinet and an oil painting with a bullet hole in it. The fireplace has African stone with gold naturally streamed through it.

The best feature, however, is the wrap around veranda on the second floor. We got to lounge there and enjoy the Ashley River for about 20 minutes. We also received lemonade and cookies. The view is a somber reminder of the Civil War, as it overlooks the island where Fort Sumter is located and where the first shots of the war rang out. Imagine sitting here when that was actually taking place. This ended our enlightening tour and, although Savannah is a lovely town, we still think Charleston wins it hands down.

Again heading north, stopped by the small fishing town of Georgetown SC. Chose the Big Tuna for lunch. It was a hoot. All old weathered wood overlooking a boardwalk and a brightly colored parrot for a mascot. I had a shrimp po' boy and Mike had a shrimp basket with black beans, rice, slaw, fries. All good. Chatted for a few minutes with a couple that came in with their two Boston terriers named Katie and Kujo. This town also has a Rice Museum, explaining the history of that industry.

Next destination, Myrtle Beach. Also on our bucket list to see. Another disappoint. The EXACT opposite of Hilton Head. We expected a quaint seaside town (maybe like Santa Cruz CA), but it was more like a cross between Las Vegas, Telegraph Road in Detroit, and Miami Beach. About 30 miles of nothing but tacky commercial attractions and businesses and high-rise hotel units, with a lovely beach hidden from the road as the orphan side attraction. It is all about $. The one good thing we saw that it had going for it was a big ferris wheel. Must be a gorgeous view of the shore.

We were also back to the land of giant cement animals and things. Big crabs, po' boys, octopi, cobras with spread faces, volcanos, on and on. Most of these "works of art" were at least two stories high and located at mini-golf courses or restaurants. One structure was three stories of thatched tiki huts and Egyptian tombs. Outrageous. There were also scores of bargain beachwear and tattoo shops. I can't imagine the insanity of this place in "the season." It was too much for the eye and mind to take in and totally detracted from the natural beauty of the beach.

Exhausted from the eye invasion, we bedded down in Wilmington NC. Did a load of laundry, losing a sock in the process. Just how does this happen! Bacon on the freebie menu in the morning. Yahoo. First on the trip. Up til now it's been mystery meat (various versions of strange looking sausage patties). We do like the pre-made cheese omelets though.

Plans they are a changing and we aren't quite sure of our timing or route to get to Rhode Island. We've decided to add Fort Eustis VA to our itin and should be there tomorrow. This is another spot where Mike attended military training. As we will be relatively close, we decided to stop by the museum there to compliment our Ft Rucker museum visit.

Also we are tossing NYC out of the trip. We decided that NYC needs a trip all of its own and without our vehicle. We'll look at that another time. So things are topsy turvy and we are playing it a little by ear. Hopefully tomorrow we will have a draft of the rest of our itin for Teshia and Sahas to follow.

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