Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

Wandering Through Charleston

John and I have this habit, on vacations, of just going to an area and then discerning what's interesting in this new place and going to explore that with intensity. We've done this repeatedly: flying into Hawaii, knowing we had a free resort setup but little else, flying into Mexico with just our suitcases and asking the taxi guy where a cheap and good hotel was, and flying into London and lugging our luggage to a garret room with shared bathroom for a night before deciding to drive over 1000 miles all over the tiny island. China was an exception for us, and I think I now realize that I might have resented that in some small part, but also was grateful for it, though I spoke as much Spanish as I do Mandarin and we got by fine in Mexico. Still, China's government makes it a bit more difficult to go anywhere without requisitioned permissions.


John had been doing his usual research during the week, and we'd both been asking his cousins about what was worthwhile seeing and eating. *laughs* So we decided to head further South, thinking about both Charleston and maybe even touching base somewhere in Georgia just to complete our continental US map. We've set foot in every state other than Georgia on the continental US, even taking an extra 20 minute trip from a building site in Mississippi in order to stop at a rest stop in Alabama. So it and Alaska are the only states we haven't visited, yet. It's only a matter of time.

South from where we were for the reunion was water. Lots and lots of water. So in order to go south, we had to take two ferries. The first jump was between Pea Island, where the houses were, and the next one down named Ocracoke. And the ferry between the islands is actually free, and considered a part of highway 12 that runs through all the islands.

We got there early in the boarding process, and the fascinating thing was that Highway Patrol officer took down our license plate and asked for John's ID! That's the very first place I've ever seen where the ferry records that information for every vehicle going on board. Someone was speaking of a pretty active drug trafficking that runs up and down the islands. Partially because boats and ships aren't monitored nearly as closely as cars and trucks, but I guess the ferry traffic is monitored pretty tightly on the legal pathways islands, now.

The ride was a lot longer than we'd originally anticipated, too, and someone later told us that there wasn't enough money to dredge the channel between the islands enough to be safe for the ferries. So they had to go the long way around to make sure they didn't run aground, again.

It was interesting because while we drove through Ocracoke Island, the road could actually see the ocean. There were huge sand dunes, stabilized by planted grasses, that loomed over the ocean side of the highway.

So I asked John to pull into one of the beach access parking lots, and we walked along the stairway that was built over the dunes, to get out onto this gorgeous sand beach. There were dozens of surfers out on the gradual, smooth waves, and it was obvious even at a glance that this beach was a lot more gradual than the ones at Salvo. The longer, smoother sand underneath the waves gave them a longer, smoother ride in to shore. None of the banging around that was happening at Salvo, and I half envied all the people who were here. *laughs* But we couldn't stay as we had a reservation for the 3 o'clock ferry from Ocracoke to the mainland.

We actually drove the length of Ocracoke, looking over the offerings of food, and we ended up getting some lunch at the local quick mart. When they said that all their fried chicken was in boxes under a heat lamp, I decided to go with the boys and get their fried fish special, which they only made to order. It was just whatever was the fresh catch of the day served with fries, slaw, and tarter sauce. It was all right and filling enough, and more satisfying than pizza or BBQ would have been when we were surrounded by water.

We spent a little time wandering about the tourist shops and John and I bought some locally made art cards while Jet found a ball that was made to bounce across the surface of any body of water. The ferry ride was long, and since our car was under the shading of the upper deck, we just opened all the windows and I napped in the passenger seat while Jet read in the back seat and John wandered the boat and got all the pictures.

Dead End
It was a several hour ride, and when we arrived, the land was still more water than earth. We were surrounded by waterways on both sides of the highway and we wended our way south along state 12 and then 70. We thought we were headed toward Beaufort, just to see what was there, and maybe find some dinner as it was nearing six in the evening, but the GPS started to direct us down some interesting side roads. They were beautiful, right on the water, and then there were two more turns and we were at this cemetery.

There was a tiny road through it, that the GPS directed us down, and then there was supposed to be a road right to the water. But the "road" it had us on was someone's private driveway, leading to a several story house. The GPS had us going right around the house and out onto the water!

Something had gone whonky with the GPS and it was obvious at that point. We turned back, and found out that it was taking us to some random coordinates, and somehow thought that there was either a road or a ferry or a bridge that no longer existed...

So we redirected it and were more wary from that point on. Beauford turned out to be a quant little waterside town without a lot of hotels, we crossed the water and went into Morehead City and found the Morehead Motor Inn, a little strip hotel with a pool in the center. We decided to check in there, put all our stuff in the room, and go back to Beauford to find some dinner.

Core ChowderCore Lemon PieFeeding the Birds
We found a beat up, big restaurant called Captain Bill's, right on the water, and we went in, found ourselves a table as the front desk directed us to, and we had menus with dozens of fried seafood platters. You could have the fish broiled, too, but since they were all served with fries anyway, it seemed moot. Jet and I shared one of the three item platters. They all came with hushpuppies, and we nibbled those. John got a salad, and I got the Core Sound Clam Chowder.

There's the Core Sound just a few miles north of Beauford. The chowder that bears its name is more brothy than New England style. It has potatoes and celery and the necessary clams, and it was lighter. I really enjoyed it along with the other Core Sound specialty, which was this lemon pie. It seems like a normal lemon meringue pie, sorta, with Ritz crackers stuck on the sides. But when I tasted it, I thought it was more related to a Key Lime pie. The lemon custard had evaporated milk in it, instead of being a clear gel. The bottom crust was Ritz cracker based instead of graham cracker or normal pie crust, and there's one version of Key Lime that's topped with a soft meringue rather than just whipped cream.

It was tasty, too.

On the way out, we saw the man in the last picture feeding ton of seagulls with the garbage/scraps from the restaurant. They were in a huge cloud all around him and he was expounding happily to all those who had stopped to watch the spectacle that he didn't call them, all he did was bring the food and they all came to him. That was fun to see. We went back to the hotel, swam, and played with Jet's ball.

It was supposed to bounce on the surface of the water, so when I walked up to the pool with it, I threw it as hard as I could at the surface of the water, and it was "plop" and went right in. It turns out that the ball is supposed to be skimmed across the water like a skipping stone, not thrown right in. So we spent most of the swim time learning how to throw the ball across the water, and it was amazingly effective at bouncing when thrown correctly. *laughs*

King Kong Love Grand Prix
One of the things we hadn't been too sure of was whether or not we wanted to spend time at Myrtle Beach. We do like beaches, and we love the ocean and sand, but we weren't sure if it would be a good place to stop.

So we drove through and determined that, sure enough, it wasn't a place for us to stop. *laughs* There were more tourist attractions, traps, and shops per city block than I'd seen anywhere in my life. There were four beachwear stores on all four corners of one intersection. There was a giant volcano spewing pink water as "lava" in one of at least a dozen huge mini golf "resorts". There was a Pirate themed resort by Dolly Parton, and there were at least three big gated resorts with guards, gardens, and graceful sweeps of white buildings on green lawns.

It was pretty scary how much money there was right there. So we kept going... all the way to Charleston, NC.

Big Bridge
I love the profiles of this bridge... It's just beautiful, and some of the natives said that when it was built they were upset because it was going to change the profile of the city, and now they're pretty proud of how it looks. It's the longest span between two suspension supports in the country.

Another unique thing that we found along the way were these permanently built "Sweet Grass Basket" booths on both sides of the big streets. They were obviously built to be reused frequently, but only a few had vendors with wares in them. Later on, in the city itself, we saw a lot more people selling things made of the grass, including countless roses made by teenagers on the street.

Sticky Fingers
We hadn't eaten much lunch on the road, and as soon as we checked into our hotel on Meeting Street in the peninsula of the city, we walked down the street to the Market St. Sticky Fingers. Sticky Fingers is one of those local chains that I do love. Usually a small, local chain is popular enough to have good food, but still retains a lot of the flavor of the community that created them.

It was really good. We had the "lighter" meals, and I had a small pulled pork sandwich with a small cut of ribs, and it came with coleslaw and beans, but I asked for a substitution of the Brunswick Stew. It cost a little more, but it was well worth it. It's a "stew" of tomatoes, BBQ's ends, potatoes, corn, and onions, and it came super hot and extra tasty. I loved it, and I was pretty amazed by how huge the lighter meal actually was. *laughs* They had five kinds of sauces on the table, Carolina Sweet, Carolina Classic (mustard based), a Memphis style tomato, and a Habanero Hot that John didn't find hot at all. I liked the mustard style sauce and the coleslaw on my sandwich. *laughs* It was good.

Wading at Waterfront
Once we satisfied our hunger, we went walking through town just to see what there was to see. The waterfront was mere blocks away, and we walked down Market Street, which had an enormous covered market between the two ways of the street. Some of it was even walled in and air conditioned, but it was all closed at six in the evening. I would have thought that they'd take advantage of the evening wanderers, but it was also a weekday, and there weren't all that many people around. Market also had ice cream shops, restaurants, food and candy stores, and the usual tourist offerings as well, including carriage tours of the city. One store we walked into had all kinds of roasted nuts and all the free sample you'd want to eat, but in one corner they also had a stand of Savanna Bee Company products, including tupelo and palmetto honeys. I still have a bottle of Florida tupelo that I've been slow to eat, but it still hasn't crystallized even after years and years on my shelf, which is one of its characteristics.

Given that I also had three and a half pints of honey I'd just harvested at home, it seemed a very foolish thing to buy, but I contemplated it. *laughs*

We made it all the way down to the waterfront, and found a nice park. It was hot and humid and in the sun it was just blistering, but these kids were having a blast in the very chlorinated fountain at the entrance. The sprays were steady, so one could just walk in and walk out without getting too wet, but what was the point of that? There were rails where one could see out into the bay really well, and then a walk under an avenue of trees next to countless apartments of brick, and it was a beautiful spot to just walk and observe.

Given that taste, we decided to stay for another night and explore for the whole of the next day. We went back to the hotel and went swimming and ball throwing in the pool, got the reservations we needed to go to Fort Suumter National Monument in the morning, and slept quite well.

Spirit of the Low Country
The boats to the Fort Sumter memorial only went three times a day, at 9:30, noon, and 2:30, and given the heat of the days up to this point, it seemed wisest to go there first thing in the morning. The parking at the hotel was pretty restrictive, so we really didn't want to move our rental car while we were staying there, so instead of taking the car, we walked to the museum from the hotel. It wasn't as long as my walks at home, and we stopped at a coffee shop in the way there. Whisk, the supposed bakery, was pretty forgettable, but they had iced coffee, juices, and breakfast breads, so we took our drinks with us and walked.

We got there in plenty of time, and got to wander around the museum and see some of the history that involved Fort Sumter, where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Basically, the Confederation had just formed with a US officer decided that the fort he was assigned to in the Charleston bay was indefensible, rightly so according to the records of the time. So he moved to Fort Sumter, and Charleston was afraid of the bulk of the brand new Fort Sumter having Federal troops in it. So they asked him to leave, and he refused, but he didn't have that many supplies. The North sent down supplies, and when that ship arrived at the mouth of the harbor, the Confederates attacked the fort with all the fire power they could muster from the surrounding forts. There were a bunch of them all designed to protect Charleston's port, and they all surrounded Fort Sumter, which pretty much was on an island in the middle of the bay.

The Remains
These are the remains of the fort. It had been used by the South as a shield for their ocean traffic for most of the war, and only at the end of the war did the North get a chance to pound it to rubble. It was partially reused during another war after that, and then in WW I it was refitted again with those big black bunkers in front of the flags. The refitting would have cost millions of dollars to take out when they wanted to restore it as a memorial, so without the money, the parks division couldn't do it. So they still stand there, and are used for the museum and gift shop. *laughs*

Originally, just before the civil war, the walls were three times higher. There are paintings and drawings of the time period of the original fort. It was built on a sand bar out in the water and it commands a clear shot at nearly everything in the bay.

It was interesting, looking back at Charleston, to see that it doesn't really have a city skyline, or at least what I would associate with a big city. There aren't any modern high rises, at all. It's just a city that's kept to its old time story, I guess, other than for the ultra-modern bridge.

Recovered CannonRiflingFlying HighIMG_4421

It was a fascinating place to wander through. During the WW I usage, they filled in half the place with sand, just because sand could take all kinds of bombardment. And when the Parks division took it over, they started digging out the sand to take it away, and they found these cannon that were probably put there during the Spanish-American war. They're all rifled barrels, as you can see in the picture I took right down the throat of one of these old beauties.

There were dozens of cannon placements. The portals for the guns were blocked off, but you could see how it had originally been designed. Above were the flags, and they were on top of the new battlements. The observation platform is what you see on the right, behind the camera is the gift shop and the World War I gun placements.

Our guide said that the one thing that was still original about much of the site was the brick. It was made by slaves in Charleston, and the soft clay was probably fired in the city, brought out here, and then mortared and placed in these beautiful walls. But the clay is pretty soft, and the bricks break down easily, so they asked everyone to not climb or stand on top of the few remaining brick walls or fallen places where it was possible to see the guts of the pillars.

There was one broken open pillar, and we could see that the center had been filled with a concrete that included a lot of broken oyster shells. That was an intriguing thing to see. The brick also kept the underground areas much cooler than the steel-supported battlements. It was possible to think of the cannoniers with the smoke and heat of their work really being grateful for the brick and these open galleyways laid next to them. There was a constant circulation of air through these, and it was quite pleasant.

I was really happy with the tour and seeing and learning all the things we learned.

Mini Sandwich
We took the free trolleys from the museum back into town, and ended up in the shopping district. We wandered about and found Groucho's Deli, which has been around in the area for a while, and is another of those local chains that still has its personality. One of their specialties was an STP Dipper, which was roast beef, turkey, and Swiss, topped with bacon and with a side of their salad dressing. I found myself very grateful that they'd made a mini version.

We wandered about for a little bit, realized that the shopping district really didn't interest us, and so we made our way back to Market Street and decided to go on one of the carriage tours. We've done similar historical tours around Key West, Philadelphia, and other places, and it's always a good way to figure out what else we might be interested in exploring further and get a good sense of the history associated with the city.

This was our horse, Max, who was a retired plow horse. Our guide seemed quite fond of him, and had to hold him up as Max had just been on a three month rest/vacation because he'd had a skin condition from the harness. The guide was a little worried about what kind of shape Max was in, but Max had a mind of his own as to how fast he wanted to go, especially when we'd been stuck behind a two mule cart for a while. That was pretty impressive, as there were about a dozen or so of us in the "carriage" and he pulled us like it was nothing.

It was a nice ride through the old parts of the city, and the guide was fun and informative in all kinds of things, but all I remember of the company was the red sash that everyone wore. It was the thing that they advertised, look for the red sash.

The Circular UCC Church
One of the places I found fascinating was this church. It's a UCC church, like ours, and it's Open and Affirming, i.e. accepts all people of all orientations and gender expressions as members, pastors, and lay leaders. But the guide told us that it is built with a circular floor plan because the original belief was that the Devil lay in the corners, so this church was built to have no corners.

And on another point of the spectrum of churches, we also went by the First Baptist Church of Charleston, and it was actually the very first Southern Baptist church in the nation. So it all began here.

But Charleston is filled with churches of all kinds, though Catholics were only allowed in late in the game because it was a Protestant town until the Constitution was signed and the whole nation declared complete freedom of religion. The oldest synagogue in the US is also in Charleston.

The Cathlic brownstone
When the Catholics did arrive, they brought along a few tons of New England brownstone to make this church, but didn't bring quite enough to make a steeple. The steeple was added on a hundred years later. The original brownstone was handfit into the building, and on every single stone small stars were carved into the outer face that signified Abraham's children who were supposed to be as numerous as the stars in the sky...

It was also surrounded by a lot of the exquisite wrought iron gates that characterized much of the city.

The Pineapple Gate
Charleston, of course, was a shipping city. The story that the guide told was about how a captain's wife would stick a pineapple on the gate in order to signal to everyone in town (including her lover) that her husband was back from the sea, so that they should come to socialize. So it amused me to see this pineapple gate in wrought iron, and it made me wonder if some wife had it installed when her husband finally retired from sailing. Finally, he's home for good.

Phillip Simons was a black iron monger, who specialized in these gorgeous wrought iron gates and fences, and he was known to say that all the gatework in Charleston was either 200 years old or something he'd made. There were beautiful examples of his graceful work all over the tour, and the guide was happy to point them out in all directions. He used to do iron work, and really respected the wrought iron more than the cast iron work, and liked to point it out when he saw it.

Air Conditioning or Chimney?
One of the houses near the end of tour had this beautiful cupola on the top of it, and it turns out that there were only a dozen or so big houses with these at the top of the house. They were very useful for ventilating the house, because if you opened all the windows up there, all the heat would rise out of the building through those windows, and pulling in the air from the ground up. It worked great for cooling the house.

The only problem was that if the house burned, the cupola would act as a chimney, drawing air up and basically making the fire in the house burn all the faster. Half the buildings that had these cupolas were destroyed in one way or another, and all but one of them burned down in fires. It amuses me that my brain wondered what percentage of all the homes that were destroyed in the city were burned down, and if it was pretty much the same.

Much of the architecture and buildings that now stand in Charleston were built after the Civil War. The bombings and the fight to retake Fort Sumter left vast portions of the city destroyed, so far as we could tell, since the dates on nearly everything start at that time.

Lowland Kitchen SeatingLowland ChioppinoPecan Waffles and ChickenShrimp and Grits
The tour ended right at Market. And on one of the last bits the tour guide pointed out a Moon Pie store!! We went in and the cashier lady was just as disappointed as I was that they no longer made the mint chocolate Moon Pies anymore. I bought a box of mini's thinking that that was all they had.

We decided then that we were hungry. So we ate at the Lowland Kitchen right there. It wasn't super expensive, and it was good when we were pretty hungry. John got the Lowland Cioppino, Jet got the pecan waffles and chicken, and I got the shrimp and grits and a cup of the she-crab soup which was rich beyond compare. All the seafood was fresh, Jet loved his waffles and the chicken. Mine was a little confusing to me, as it had the grits circles on the bottom, then layered a slice of fried green tomato on it, on that they put some kind of tomato sauce, and then the shrimp on top of that. Pretty, but all the liquids made the fried green tomato kind of soggy and blah. It was an example of a chef taking a local favorite and trying to dress it up too much.

Anyway. It was a nice enough dinner, and we were good and full. John said that he'd seen boxes of the single Moon Pies at the store, not just the big boxes of the double decker ones. I can get double deckers in Longmont, but I can't get Minis or single layer sandwich Moon Pies here. So we went back to the store, and I traded in my Minis for a box of the singles and I was very happy indeed.

It had been a beautifully busy day, and when we swam that night, we saw a good dozen bats zooming around over the pool. They were tiny, quick creatures that were hunting night bugs, and I lay in the water watching them for a while, until I even climbed out of the pool to get my glasses so that I could see their flitting shapes better. It was so cool to just see them up there doing their work of ridding the world of more mosquitoes. They were so fast, darting through the air sometimes mere feet over the surface of the water.

We loved that. John and I also talked over where we wanted to be by when and how far South we really wanted to go. Thursday and Friday, the Fourth of July, would be spent with Brenda and Tim, and we'd fly out on Saturday afternoong. We decided that rather than head down to Georgia, we'd go back north to the Raleigh/Durham area and meet up with Rodney, his mother, and his daughters while they were still there. His mother was taking his daughters for a small trip the next day, so we would only have the possibility of Wednesday evening with them. Since Rodney was hosting his mom, we'd just set up camp at a hotel near there.

So we did. John got all the reservations ready, told Rodney to expect us the next evening, and we went to sleep knowing we'd have to hit the road again in the morning.
Tags: travel

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