Stretching our legs in Charleston

I’m a walker, and it’s a good thing, too, because living on a boat and without a car you end up walking a lot. Long walks to the grocery or to tour a city give us much needed exercise and also make for a more intimate experience with a place. We were first here last December during our initial boat-shopping grand tour to see a lovely catamaran named Suzanne. Jack went all gaga, I liked the way she looked outside but not the accommodations, specifically the bathrooms. Jack wanted to put an offer in right away and I wanted to wait and see more boats before I settled for something that didn’t ring my chimes. In any event, we didn’t spend any time in Charleston because we had to high-tail it to our next boat-for-sale.

This time, with the anchor down securely and a short nap behind us we took a reconnaissance lap with Alan from Snow White and made the obligatory coffee shop visit to plan our stay here. On Friday, with Alan feeling a little under the weather, Jack and I set off to explore by foot. We had both read South of Broad, Pat Conroy’s love letter to his hometown and were eager to explore. Right away we could see that this is the best kind of walkable city, where a turn down any street reveals stately houses and lovely gardens. Every gate beckoned toward landscaped alleyways showing a hint of what may lie just beyond our sight.

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We wandered over to the City Market. Markets are my favorite place to go everywhere we travel. You can get a sense of a place easier in the market than anywhere else. This one is mostly local artists and craftspeople and very little food, unfortunately, but still, we walked from one end to the other, oohing and ahhing over the wares. We’ve never been souvenir-buyers and are doubly not now that we’re living on a boat, but we appreciate the skill and creativity of those who make a living making beautiful things with their hands. We especially enjoyed the women making sweet grass baskets, since we had seen a PBS episode of Craft in America about this art form. (This is a wonderful series about all kinds of American arts and crafts — worth watching!)

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One of the few food vendors had this for sale:

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I was taking a photograph when the vendor asked if I’d like to try it. I let out an unintentional gasp of revulsion and said, “Oh my goodness, no. I’m from the north! We don’t do that!” He smiled and said, “That’s right, I forgot.” I could have been more diplomatic, I guess, but I had just seen this and it had turned all of the good things I’d been feeling about Charleston slightly sour.

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Not long after that we were meandering down Broad Street when we saw a horse drawn carriage of re-enacters on a tour of the city.

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Again, my reaction was revulsion and swift. There were two men on the corner hanging Christmas decorations, one on a ladder, one on the ground. When the light changed and the carriage passed by I turned to the man standing near me.

“That gives me the creeps. Does that give you the creeps?” I asked him. Both men were black.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“Up north,” I said and he nodded.

“That’s why.” I was puzzled. Did he mean he was used to it?

The man on the ladder was half listening and asked, “Where did you say you were from?”

“Pittsburgh,” Jack said. “Go Steelers.”

The response was revulsion and swift.

“I’m a Minnesota Vikings fan. Step away from my ladder.” And then he laughed.

We waved and continued on our way. You don’t argue with a man on a ladder wielding a Christmas wreath.

There were galleries and more homes and gardens, enough to fill up weeks of wandering.

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Eventually we made our way to Waterfront Park, where there are beautiful cast bronze maps showing the growth of the city by century.

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We ended our day at a gem of a cafe with tasty croissants and the New York Times. It doesn’t get any better.

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3 Comments

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3 Responses to Stretching our legs in Charleston

  1. Martin

    Kristin and I love towns like this, with art and local culture (save for the dubious glorification of times such as the one you comment on). Lovely photos.

  2. Jeff & Carla

    Yeah, there is a lot of Southern pride. To them, the Confederacy doesn’t necessarily mean slavery or The Klan or racial discrimination. We have neighbors affiliated with The Sons of the Revolution who proudly fly the Confederate flag. They even had a Confederate guard wearing vintage uniforms at the father’s funeral. It does seem a bit creepy until you understand the culture. Right or wrong, their great-great grandfathers fought for the South and they still consider them to be heroes.

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