Charleston, South Carolina

Monday 29 October 1007

We should have anticipated that the domestic weight allowance for aircraft travel would have been different to the international rate.  One of the suitcases was 66lb, or about 32kg, acceptable for one, not for the other. $US50 for excess baggage.

Clearing Washington was a nightmare.  More than 150 people in the queue to get seat allocation on United, then the problem with weight.  Clearing through security was also an issue.  Again a queue of 150 or more, and the one bag issue which we overcame through putting a couple of Marg's things into a carrier bag.

[Right - Customs House, Charleston, SC]
[Below - Pineapple-shaped Water Fountain in the park]

Customs House, Charleston, SC

We were on a small domestic jet, two seats to a side, and in the course of the entire trip I understood only one word the lone hostess said. I think it was "and"! Boy were we grateful to get into Charleston where things are a little more laid back and a little less stressful. Checking in to the Holiday Inn Riverview was easy, but I wasn't feeling the best, and decided not to go out in the afternoon.

Margaret took the opportunity to use the hotel's shuttle bus to have a look at Charleston. She takes up the narrative from here.

I walked through the markets are a series of roofed buildings without side walls where stallholders display their wares.  There is basketwoven stuff, clothing, souvenirs, handmade jewellery, jams and other foodstuffs, and so on - you get the picture.

While I was downtown I did a bit of a reconnaissance to see if I could find A.W. Shucks seafood restaurant which Clive went to in '89 when he was here. We only recently threw out the T-shirt that he bought there. It's actually on Market Street, so it was really easy to locate.

In downtown Charleston there are many boutique shops with clothing, accessories, souvenirs, so I browsed through there for a while.

At one of the shops I bought a cherry-flavoured ice-cream and ate it while I went down to the water-front. There's a nice little park which the locals seems to use a lot and it has some really interesting public sculptures.

[Right - Water fountain in the water-front park.  Below - House front] 


The architecture of the houses is pretty interesting, and some of them are really old, which is sort of unexpected, but shouldn't be if you think that the area was one of the first to be settled way back in the 16th(?) century.

It was about time to go back, so I waited in front of the Noisy Oyster seafood restaurant and then caught the shuttle back to the hotel.

We had dinner in the hotel, the food was excellent, but Clive's stomach had the last word. He wasn't able to finish his meal and went back to the room early.

Tuesday 30 October 2007

Early in the morning we took the shuttle in to down-town Charleston and started to catch up with what I'd seen the day before.

Some people were offering free sight-seeing tickets in exchange for us looking at a resort/time-share thing called Blue-Green. 

In the end it probably wasn't worth wasting the time on the information, but the package would have been good had one been resident in the USA.  The resorts that they use are very up-market and the entry-points were not nearly as expensive as we had anticipated.

Anyway, it was a done deal, and we probably saved ourselves $150 on tickets, so it was a fair exchange.

We used the tickets in the afternoon to go on a horse-drawn tour of the city.  It was a lot of fun and the tour-guide had a very dry sense of humour, often self-deprecating, which suited our Australian attitude down to a T!  The horse's name was "Brock" and the tour guide's Richard.

 Swing on the Charleston pier
[Above - A swing on the pier at Charleston]

Brock the Percheron's bum

He had his patter down pretty slick and he was dressed in a sort of Confederate uniform.  He's worked for the company for more than 10 years and reckons that he's worn that uniform for longer than anyone who actually served in the the Civil War!

One of the early stops was at one of the oldest churches, prompting the remark that Charleston is known as a "holy city" for two reasons - the first is that there are 182 churches and the second, the state of the roads.

He was able to tell us about the various architectural features which made the houses the way that they are with narrow frontages and considerable depth, with the verandahs (called piazzas) along the south side to catch the breeze.

[Above - Brock the Percheron's bum (a reminder that, if you're not the lead dog in the sled team, the view's always the same!)]
[Right - Old Charleston Jail - or is that Goal?]

The traditional colours are pastels, but the ceilings, and often the floors of the verandahs are a blue which mimics the sky so that ghosts will think that it's open air and water, and won't stay.

The piazzas have a door called a "visitors" door, which when open indicates that you are receiving visitors, so you can pretty quickly get a block-party atmosphere going.

When we were on the return leg we stopped at the old jail, which apparently Brock the Percheron doesn't like at all. He spent the entire time trying to move along, and when he finally got permission to go, we did a very respectable time for 0-15 mph in a horse-drawn carriage.

Old Charleston Goal

[Left - House with "visitor's" door]

It was too late to go on the boat tour, so we decided to have a late lunch at about 3 or 3:30. The place we stopped at makes its own boutique beers, which we were forced to sample at gun-point. With it I had a bowl of she-crab soup with crackers while Clive had a bowl of chilli which, rather predictably, "could have been hotter" !

After a bit more sight-seeing, and browsing through the souvenir shops (we continued to be very good, which is against our nature, but we are limited by what we can carry - or rather, what the airlines will let us carry) we had dinner at AW Shucks. 

The quality of the meals was really good, but the quantity is ENORMOUS.  No wonder the Americans, like many of the British, are overweight or obese. We shared a dozen huge oysters for an entree then Clive had the jambalaya while I had shrimp and grits. Grits are like grated or mashed-up corn.

We met up again with our travelling companions from the plane trip from Washington, an ex-military, now contractor called Vince, and three young officers with short hair-cuts and the word "Military" tattooed in invisible ink  across their foreheads.  They were nice, and very polite  with their "Ma'am" and "Sir".

Clive went inside (we were on the patio) to go to the toilet and on his way back had a brief chat with an African-American Vietnam vet.

Wednesday 31 October 2007

Clive spent the night running to the toilet and things weren't any better the next morning so he decided to rest up for the day. A wise decision as it turned out that it took until the afternoon for things to settle down properly.

Rather than waste the day I went on the boat trip to Fort Sumter, the scene of the opening battle of the Civil War.

The guide started off by giving an outline of the history of the town and the Cooper/Ashley Rivers area where we boarded. The bridge across the Cooper has only been open six or seven years, and has two main supports from which the supporting cables are suspended.

Fort Sumter was built during the Revolutionary War and was manned by Union soldiers at the opening of the Civil War, but as this was somewhat unexpected they weren't well equipped with ammunition or food and had to surrender quickly.

Fort Sumpter from boat

[Above - Fort Sumter from the bay]
[Below, left - Confederate banded and rifled 42 pounder cannon on wooden carriage]

Confederate 10 inch mortar unearthed in 1959

The Confederates bombed the fort for several days and the accommodation section of the fort was totally destroyed as a result.

Later, when the fort was in Confederate hands, the Union shelled it for 22 months, and while they inflicted a reasonable amount of damage (there are still shells embedded in the walls), they never came close to being able to recapture it.

Throughout the fort are many guns ranging from large cannons to small mortars. I went on a self guided tour rather than the ranger guided tour. There are boards with information about particular exhibits everywhere, as can be seen in the pictures.

Americans are very patriotic about their flag, and at the fort there is a display of flags ranging from the earliest Confederate flag to more recent ones which have flown over the island.

[Above - Confederate 10 inch mortar unearthed in 1959]
[Right - Rifled 100 pdr Parrott (?) cannon]

I had about an hour to look about the fort and then it was time to board the boat to return to the wharf.  As I do not have the military/history knowledge that Clive has, my commentary is not as comprehensive as it could be, and I can only comment on what I can see.

This ten inch mortar was unearthed in 1959 and the sign said that it was similar to the one which fired the signal shot which started the Civil War.  The stubby little thing is a real visual contrast with the other cannon, yet I suppose in their own way they caused more than enough human casualties.

The weaponry was somewhat evocative of what I saw at Fort Queenscliffe, but of course these were used in hot blood, while in Australia it never came to that point.

100 pdr rifled Parrot (?) cannon
Aiken-Rhett House from stables

[Left - Entrance to Aiken-Rhett House from the stables]

I had planned to visit a plantation in the afternoon unfortunately there was not enough time so I opted to visit an urban plantation, Aiken-Rhett House  which is not far from the Visitors Centre.

The house was built in the early part of 19th century. Governor William Aiken bought the house in the 1830's and moved there with his wife not long after.

The house went through a major renovation in the 1850's and at one stage was considered one of the grandest in Charleston.

 The house was acquired from the original family by the Heritage Society in 1975 and it was decided that the house wouldn't be renovated but simply preserved.

 The tour starts in basement of the house and gradually works through the kitchens, slave quarters, the stables and  then through the house itself.  The slave quarters (pictured below) were above the kitchen and considered quite luxurious for their time.

Several original pieces of furniture and art works still remain in the house in their original positions according to photographs of the time.

[Below - Slave quarters above the kitchen at Aiken-Rhett House]

The tour is self-guided which is a great way to see this type of house. I was not able to take photos inside the house, only outside.

Even though it didn't have the grand and elaborate furnishings of other houses I found it interesting to see the infrastructure of this type of house and how it actually operated. 

To an extent I got a feeling of the people who originally lived there. The house is in quiet street in Charleston and if you didn't know it was there you would miss it.

It was an interesting day, and even if Clive couldn't take part, at least I had some pictures to show him and some brochures to fill in the gaps.  He was feeling a lot better (if somewhat lighter) in the late afternoon and was even up to having dinner with me.

Slave quarters above the kitchen at Aiken-Rhett House
Horse-drawn tourist carriage in Market Street, Charleston, SC

[Left - Horse-drawn tourist carriage in Market Street, Charleston against a backdrop of market buildings]

We walked a mile or so down the road to a local shopping centre and dined at a Japanese/Chinese restaurant there.  Nothing outstanding, but reasonable, if not to the standard that we've come to expect in Australia.  It was a little strange to be eating Chinese-style food off a flat plate with Japanese chopsticks.

We appreciated the walk back to the hotel and retired early in order to be ready for yet another round of airport lounges, poor food and "hurry up and wait".  Not that we can complain of course, because every flight means something new.

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