08.11.2014 - 13.11.2014 19 °C
I find that I regret leaving each place, thinking that I could have easily spent much more time there, but somehow the place I move on to is even better than the last: it makes for a great travel experience. Last time I was in this part of the world, I sat on the edge of a defunct motorway for an hour or so, dithering over whether I should head west, towards Knoxville and Memphis and on to Texas, or south, through Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans before heading to Texas. I picked west, and enjoyed the trip immensely. This time, I went south, and enjoyed the trip immensely (although I did not get to New Orleans - next time). Charleston is just a fabulous place to hang out and enjoy life.
In the Washington hostel, I met a young couple from Hamilton, New Zealand who were kind enough to offer me a lift. If I hadn't already paid for my ticket, twice, I might have gone with them. (The ticket was paid for twice because I'd organised it before being stuck in Toronto, then couldn't use it. To be fair, I apparently will get a refund at some stage). So, it was a fairly early start to hit the Amtrak train to Charleston: there was a delightful moment in the station when a mother had to admonish her daughter, who was maybe 8 or 9, saying "stop dancing and get on the train". I didn't actually see very much as I travelled because they seem to have created a wee corridor for the railway line, hiding it behind trees. There was one point, however, where I was a bit surprised to notice a couple of giant military aircraft parked beside the railway line - I knew at the time what base it was, but its gone. The train didn't arrive until about 8:00 in the evening and Charleston is off the map when it comes to mainline public transport - both the train and buses stop several miles north of the city - so I decided to stop the night in North Charleston - the motel I picked was about a mile from the station: when I went in, the reception lady said "you didn't walk from the station did you, that's a bad area, really dangerous". I'd noticed a couple of blokes on push-bikes, nothing scarier. It was actually a good motel, and there was a mall with a choice of not too horrible places to eat and a huge used bookstore open till 9:00.
Once I hit downtown Charleston, my hostel was initially a bit of a concern - locked up with no sign of life, and a message to say it would not open until 6:00, I was really wondering about it. I hid my bags behind a tree out the back and went for a wander. Once I was in, however, it was fine, one of the most sociable I've ever been in - starting with the free bagel breakfast, where everyone sits around and chats, and then I came home from my day out and about to find a pot-luck dinner under way. I declined and sat in the next room, and had people coming in for long talks. Other nights, there might be no-one there at all: one poor bloke came along after the office closed and couldn't get in, because not even any of the guests were there - hate to think how long he'd been waiting. Then someone told me that the helicopter buzzing around overhead was looking for a runaway murderer - made me wonder who I'd let into the hostel.
There was a slight downside to such a friendly hostel: I planned to go see one of the remaining tea plantation mansions, and knew there was just one tour a day to get there. Unfortunately, a bit too much bagel chatter saw me arrive at the station just as the tour bus pulled out the other end. I had to console myself walking around the southern tip of Charleston - most of the houses were built in the 1600's and some are very grand. I don't often describe things as awesome, but that was the word that came to mind as I walked around. The grandest of all are on immense grounds with huge gardens which obscure the houses, some have high walls so peeps like me can't interrupt whatever people do in grand houses behind walls. Here's a selection of what can be seen in the area between Broad Street and South Barrack - but really, it was their aggregate effect which worked its magic on me.
South Battery is a gun emplacement - there is also a Fort (Sumter) on an island - which is a pretty big deal of a fort, as it is here the first shots in the civil war were fired. If you couldn't tell from the houses, Charleston has history - it has been here since 1670. There is a monument at South Battery to commemorate the soldiers who fought in the Battle of Fort Sumter. I was amused as an elegantly dressed lady wandered up and was busy taking a photo, and obviously suddenly noticed about this statue, because she exclaimed "ewww! Where's his clothes?" (being elegantly clothed is not a sign of knowing or caring about grammar).
It is when you head round to East Battery and East Bay that you hit the really old part of town - there are houses here from the 17th century although most are 18th century (including the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon - the balcony of which was used to read out the Declaration of Independence, and was itself used as a slave market).
Two more houses - about the smallest I saw and definitely the largest:
Charleston was named in honour of Charles II and has long enjoyed a hedonistic lifestyle. I certainly found lots and lots of places to eat, drink and make merry - King Street is the main street, and has maybe six, maybe eight, blocks of glamourous shopping, posh bars and places to eat, with lots more dotted on the side-streets - I went to one called Poogan's Porch (result of a long chat in the hostel) and pigged out on southern fare - mac'n'cheese and fried chicken. I was a bit wary of the mac'n'cheese, because the last time I seriously ate some was when I was a student, eating hostel food - the only way to get any taste out of that mac'n'cheese was to smother it in tomato sauce. This version, though, was delicious (and terribly unhealthy) yet not the best I've eaten. Further up King Street, there are lots of big old buildings which have obviously been run down a bit, but now a lot of them are being turned into very sophisticated bars. I went into one, Prohibition, where they had an old-time band playing and people actually dancing - maybe the Charleston, I don;t know because I wouldn't recognise it - 1920's and 30's style. It was a great place to hang out - I went a couple of times, and once had their mac'n'cheese - fantastic, with local sausage, mushrooms, a hint of spice: they guy eating sliders at the next table was quite jealous.
Another bar I went into, the Rarebit, ostensibly to meet some people from the hostel but really because I had heard about its ginger beer, made inhouse and it packs a punch: completely non-alcoholic, but a huge fresh ginger kick. I vaguely remember promising the people I was with that I would make some when I get home. I had dinner here as well - they served mac'n'cheese as a side. Might have to make some of that when I get home as well.
I did work when I was there - a day and a half in the public library, half a day in a pub because the library was closed for Veteran's Day and then I discovered that College of Charleston isn't some community college, but is a proper liberal-arts college, with a great library - I particularly liked their solid individual work-spaces. I did make a bit of a mistake - I saw a building called the Towell Library so tried to use it, but it has changed function somewhat.
Speaking of towels, near time to throw it in as I'm running out of pictures. Here are a few randoms: