Sunday, August 18, 2013

Getaway to Charleston

Earlier this month, Matt and I took a little "just us" getaway to Charleston, South Carolina. I had been there before, but Matt never had, and we had a special plane fare voucher thing we wanted to take advantage of, so we decided it would be nice to have a little trip sans kiddos—the first since we've had kids! Sure, we've had an overnight to ourselves now and then, but it was the first actual vacation for just the two of us since going to NYC the month before conceiving Kate. (Now that I think of it, we went on a cruise while pregnant with her, but it wasn't quite the same!)

It was just three days, but we soaked up the lowcountry history and culture and fabulous cuisine—not to mention the sleeping in and late evenings out. (It's such a shock, one's first vacation with kids, to be confined to the hotel room by eight o'clock!) We walked the city by day, then took a late afternoon siesta before going to dinner around eight!

It wasn't exceptionally hot (just regular hot!), but very humid. We opened our hotel room curtains the first morning (after arriving after dark the night before) to see a torrential downpour. Fortunately it stopped by the time we finished breakfast, but the air was so wet, my camera lens fogged up constantly!
Our hotel was near the north end of the Museum Mile, which goes down historic Meeting Street, so we started there and just headed south with our map, pointing out the sites along the way and detouring to explore further when we wished. Our first real stop was the oldest synagogue in continuous use in North America. We're religion geeks, of course, and I especially love Judaica, so we stopped in for a tour. The stories about how this modern congregation has navigated the we've-always-done-it-this-ways of their 300-year history reminded us that all congregations have certain tendencies in common!

After walking through the old market, we had lunch at A.W. Shucks, and then continued along Museum Mile, stopping off to take in the Old Slave Mart Museum, on the site of Charleston's main slave market, established after 19th c. Charlestonians decided selling Africans publicly on streetcorners was uncouth! It was very interesting to learn more about the domestic slave trade. Maybe the most interesting fact was learning what a small percentage of trans-Atlantic captives were actually brought to the U.S.  Most ended up in the Caribbean and South America, and Brazil was actually the last to outlaw slavery.

Charleston is called the "Holy City" for the huge number of churches on this small peninsula. We walked through many of the church yards and cemeteries, and went inside a few that were open for visitors.

Finally, we made it to the south end of Museum Mile, the Battery, and looked at the colorful veranda-ed homes and out into the harbor.

Our feet were pretty sore by then, and the humidity was taking its toll, so after walking maybe halfway back, we finally found a trolley stop to hitch a free ride back to the hotel. As I mentioned, we enjoyed relaxing back at the hotel each evening before heading back out for dinner.

I hadn't realized what a "foodie" city Charleston is (though a restaurant-biz neighbor of ours did tell us he'd been down there for the Food & Wine Festival and recommended his favorite restaurant, High Cotton). Our favorite restaurant was the one practically next door to our hotel. Our flight from Charlotte on to Charleston was cancelled, so we ended up getting in five hours later than expected, and going to dinner at 10 p.m. our first night in town. We went to 39 Rue de Jean (fittingly located at 39 John St.) a fabulous French bistro. I had the duck confit, and it was amazing. The downside was that it made the subsequent great restaurants we enjoyed for the rest of the trip slightly less amazing.

Anyway, our second full day, we went out to Fort Sumter, which was Matt's must-do item of the trip. I'd been out there before (reminisce: MCC Revelations Choir Tour 1996!) but I appreciated the history and on-site museum a little more the second time around!

Back on the mainland, we had lunch at Sticky Fingers BBQ, notable to me for two reasons: (1) I'd eaten at the original Sticky Fingers in Charleston suburb Mt. Pleasant a few years back on an author visit, and (2) we buy Sticky Fingers sauce here at our local Kroger because it is one of only two brands I've found without high fructose corn syrup! (There was also a signed portrait of South Carolina-native Stephen Colbert there in the downtown Sticky Fingers!)
Our final day in Charleston we devoted to a few historic home tours: the Aiken-Rhett House and the Nathaniel Russell House. There are several great historic homes to tour in Charleston, and I haven't really discovered a favorite (in 1992, my family made sure to visit Calhoun Mansion, since some of "Scarlett," the TV miniseries sequel to "Gone With the Wind," was filmed there :) The plantations are great too, though we did not rent a car on this trip and just stayed in the downtown area the whole time.

With a flight to catch at 7:30 p.m., we spent the late afternoon soaking up the culture (sweetgrass baskets!) and relaxing in a park along the waterfront before having an early dinner of a few tapas and drinks during happy hour at the aforementioned recommended High Cotton.

After sitting on the runway a total of 90 minutes between our two flights and me swearing "it's just not worth flying anywhere!" we finally got back home, crashing into bed around midnight but getting to sleep in once again, since we'd so carefully planned for the grandparental babysitting to be at their house that night so we could relax just one more morning!

We sure missed our girls, of course (smiling wistfully at any small child we saw around Charleston or in the airports!) and were so glad to go pick them up that next day. They were glad to see us too and eagerly wore their souvenirs the next day to school—the dresses we bought for them in the old market, each embroidered with a palmetto, symbol of South Carolina!

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