For the American Thanksgiving holiday we decamped to Charleston, South Carolina, and it was one of the best trips ever. Best Ever.
At the airport we serendipitously found ourselves in the screening line of my darling nursing school friend, Amanda. Pure providence. As we queued and I stared at this gorgeous TSA worker I thought “I know that hot tamale.” I screamed at her and she screeched at me and we hugged and she helped us get through unscathed.
It was a non-walking day for the Little Angel – he was in a darling mood (bless him!) – and standing / walking were just not going to happen. Evidently the TSA is prepared for non-ambulatory travelers so he was able to go through in his cute red wheelchair and the screeners who patted him and his chair down could not have been nicer with Mr. Noodle (aka Little Angel).
I thought my heart would explode from the happiness I felt seeing Amanda, hugging her. Amanda is one of my all-time favorite people, and I have been around the block once or twice … thousands. She made our intensive nursing school so much more fun, and studying with her that much more productive. She has four young sons (ten, nine, three, one), works full-time, and is studying to become a pediatric NP (nurse practitioner), so my hat is off to her.
As we went to our gate at the airport I said to my three boys that seeing Amanda, ending up in her line, was the best omen possible. Best Ever. Amanda set us up for a terrific holiday.
We four fell in love with Charleston, its gorgeous architecture, its fantastic and fascinating history, and the genuine kindness of the locals. Wow.
You know, it’s real old, and now that I know all about its history I could go on and on, and knowing me I probably shall. Old habits and all that. Suffice to say it is not ADA-friendly, not in a rude way, but in an old building / cobblestone street way. Little Angel’s wheelchair went bumpety-bump down the streets and I think he kinda liked it … for a while. Getting in and out of some buildings was a chore, though, with one of us carrying him up the stairs and the other carrying the chair. Luckily we’re super-buff (cough cough). Chez nous, “super-buff” is how we say “soft and fat.” (cough cough / wheeze wheeze)
We quickly realized one of the first (and best) things to do is to go on a horse drawn carriage tour from the myriad providers on West Market Street (the City Market bisects Market Street). We walked along and asked the sundry hawkers when they were leaving: the one leaving the soonest got our allegiance. It’s a fun way to get a terrific, historic overview of Charleston. There are three different routes the City allows the tours to take, and it is pure luck of the draw on which route your tour will go (a city employee hands a route card to the driver once the carriage is boarded and already moving). We found it so fantastic the H.J. and I said we’d’ve loved to go on all three … but we’re not crazy (or rich).
I also think a walking tour is a fabulous first stop.
The Big Angel felt that visiting the Old Exchange + Provost Dungeon should be a First Stop. Besides seeing Amanda, I’d have to agree it was the best thing we did on this trip. The Old Exchange building has an elevator to make it Accessible – thank you! The upper two floors are fine and dandy, but the real treat is in the Provost Dungeon, and our real real treat was Stephen our guide. He was so animated, so engaging, made the history so accessible and fascinating.
The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (dungeon is in the basement)
The Provost Dungeon
This is the old walled city of Charles Town when it was the capital of the provisional colony of South Carolina. The building drawn at the letter G, with the half-moon shaped seawall, is The Old Exchange + Provost Dungeon: land has since been claimed two+ blocks into the water and many more seawalls built, so The Old Exchange is no longer waterfront. In the Provost Dungeon is a terrific scale model of the walled Charles Town.
We’d purchased a combo ticket for the Old Exchange and The Old Slave Mart Museum, and The Old Slave Mart definitely rounds out our Top Three of Must Sees in Charleston. It is small, down cobblestoned Chalmers Street.
It turns out there was much we did not know about American slavery, and what we thought we knew was the Hollywood version. Docents were there who could not have been more patient with everyone, offering insights, explanations, and answering questions. Because that was it, really: The Old Slave Mart Museum raised so many questions for us.
The H.J. and Big Angel were excited about Civil War stuff (not me and who knows about the Little Angel), so we went to visit the Friends of the Hunley (Civil War submarine which had multiple tragic endeavors …) in North Charleston (in the industrial section) and Fort Sumter (which requires a nearly hour-long ferry ride each way — so-so for Accessibility …), right next to the Aquarium (which we never visit). While I could have done without both, I have it on very good word (from my male relatives) that both were Must Sees.
I was, naturally, gaga for the plantations. There are many from which to choose but in all immodesty I chose the best two: Middleton Place for its sumptuous gardens and Drayton Hall for its unrestored house. Middleton Place has a steep admission price (ouch) but it’s the more mass-market of the two, and it had clearly marked wheelchair accessible paths. Because Little Angel’s chair is an off-road model (we call it the 4×4 of wheelchairs), we did it all (well, not the stairs, obviously). The gift shop at Middleton Place has a few Middleton-related mementos but it really is more of an upscale tchotchke shop, which predictably I enjoyed. They had these fantastic horn necklaces (made from the horns of water buffaloes) for only $50, so I marched up to the darling gals working there and told them they were underpriced. And then we gossiped about other stuff. The gift shop at Drayton Hall is teeny and perfect, mostly filled with Drayton-related things, like pencils and bookmarks and mugs; I purchased the Little Angel a t-shirt there.
As a girl I remember seeing in my mother’s Town + Country magazine the famous aerial picture of the Butterfly Lakes of Middleton Place, so to finally have the opportunity to see it in person was too much. Too, too much. Like everything built up in one’s mind for thirty or so years, it wasn’t quite as WOW WOW WOW in person, but these two months later I have to say I do feel so so so happy to have seen it in person. Of course, what really made seeing the Butterfly Lakes (or The Lungs – Big Angel’s appellation) fantastic was the company with whom I got to see it.
Most of the Butterfly Lakes are pictured below the gorgeously tiered path
Drayton Hall’s gardens have gone fallow, and by design the house has not been updated so we can see le vrai chose, not what the twenty-first century thinks it looked like, but how it actually was. Drayton Hall, like most everything else, was not ADA friendly and they didn’t want to allow his wheelchair in the building, but as it was a quiet day they relented. I’m glad they did (and they should have) as our tour guide was terrific and as we learned the history of the house we also discovered more about Charleston’s history.
A bitchy moment: it irked the H.J. and me that we were given guff about taking Little Angel’s wheelchair into the building when a) we’d been sold tour tickets by a sighted human being (meaning: not an automated machine) right there on the premises, so they could see visibly disabled small child. Then, there was another family in our tour group and they also had two young sons, younger than mine. It was evident (to the H.J. and me) that their eldest (whom I believe was eight) is on the Spectrum (of Autistic Disorders) — I hazarded he had significant ADHD, but of course I am not a diagnostician, merely judgmental. The pert tour guide told our collected group (the rest were retired white people) that we were to touch nothing, to sit on nothing, to not slide down the banisters, and yet what did each of those other boys do in every single room, on every single banister? Touch and sit and slide. Their father chose to ignore it and the mother was picking and choosing when she admonished her boys, but the H.J. and I thought “what the hell?” We were given a hard time because of our son’s pediatric wheelchair when he’s touching nothing, harming nothing, getting absolutely nothing from the tour (yet we bought him a ticket!), and these other two boys are willfully disobeying and, more importantly, their parents didn’t remove them. Uh, no.
Drayton Hall, exterior
interior shot of Drayton Hall with original paint
We were also enamored with Angel Oak tree over on Johns Island, purported to be 400 – 500 years old. Note: there is limited parking inside the gates but plentiful handicapped parking inside, so if you have your handicapped placard do wave it at the guard and they’ll let you in
a few of the Alleys, Philadelphia, Stoll’s, Unity
I could have walked through Old Town for days, which I did, but I mean for even more days than we did. I was enchanted and wanted to see it all, more than once. Famed King Street held zippo appeal to us — it felt like The Grove in Los Angeles, California (fake ambiance) — and the bulk of the shops on the street are chain stores. Like, who in their right mind goes to Charleston to buy Sperry shoes or a St. John suit? Wait: three bright lights on King Street, 1) we purchased some delicious (and sweet) pralines in a candy shop; 2) the College of Charleston’s gift shop is where the Big Angel got his Charleston t-shirt and I a porcelain box with Randolph Hall on it; 3) and best of all from an eleven year-old boy I procured two palmetto roses which at present are hidden from molesting cats ….
Graffito, a bijou shop into which the Little Angel and I popped and then out of which we popped with a few lovely bijouterie, on East Bay near Unity Alley – note to self, even though I think I’m being awfully clever traveling with hardly any jewelry I always end up buying some on our adventures, including (somehow) in Glacier National Park, because I don’t feel ME without being weighed down …
And note to others: East Bay Street is filled filled filled with restaurants, at none of which we ate because the vegetarian offerings are slim-to-none, and we refuse to pay $20 for a vegetable plate. Refuse! Plus, you know, we were staying in a condo so we mostly cooked our own food. The H.J. was so excited about going to a Piggly Wiggly (southern US chain of grocery stores)
but much to his sadness there are no Piggly Wigglys in Charleston … so we shopped at the local Harris Teeter, which while beautiful inside (reminded us of Draeger’s in Menlo Park, California) is not as cute a name as Piggly Wiggly.
Other than the trip itself, our sweetgrass basket was by far our most cher souvenir. The H.J. has been on a bread making kick for a month or so (and this is very, very odd because he doesn’t care for baking and doesn’t believe in recipes …), so he gets to serve his bread wrapped in a Randolph Hall tea towel placed in our sweetgrass basket.
Randolph Hall, College of Charleston
Two days after we got home Little Angel’s health quickly went to hell and on my 46th birthday he was hospitalized. However to keep this post peppy, my favorite birthday gift was an incredible drawing of a pineapple from the Big Angel; the H.J. matted and framed it for me and when we eventually finish the remodel of our bed and bath, I’m going to hang it!
sweet little pineapple porcelain box found at the City Market
Even though this is not in the style of my beloved navel-gazing I really wanted to write this entry because our time in Charleston, South Carolina, was utterly fantastic, and we four agree that we did Everything Right. We have been left with wishing to have spent more time in Charleston, yet knowing we didn’t leave anything unseen. Because it was so perfect I wanted to have it somehow memorialized.
goodbye, Palmetto state