Charleston: the most polite and hospitable city in America

The pineapple has long been the symbol for Southern hospitality

The pineapple has long been the symbol for Southern hospitality

The weekend bag had been sitting idle in it’s tiny corner of my closetIMG_2184 for about a month. After emptying it of discarded museum brochures, a couple of bobby pins and some hotel-issued toiletries at Christmastime, I kept it inside the house, as a reminder of the good times we often have when that little black roll-a-board bag is in my hands.

And what good times we had this past weekend on our 3-day trip to Charleston, SC. Tim was scheduled to lead a marriage retreat for military couples at the Embassy Suites. It’s true that our family loves staying in hotels—dozens of TV channels, free snacks and drinks at the Manager’s Reception, as well as made-to-order omelets? But when you toss in a chance to soak up southern charm and walk leisurely in a historic American city, it’s not hard to get us to pack up those travel bags and hit the road.


The old Citadel, Charleston

The hotel is set in the original Citadel Military College on Marion Square. It’s architecture reflects the building’s past, from gun ports in the façade to artifacts and exposed brick walls in parts of the hotel. The architecture is reminiscent of a medieval castle and the soft salmon color gives the hotel a regal appearance. We arrived late Friday afternoon, and since Tim had to start training that night, the kids and I made our way down King Street in search of some tasty food. There were tons of people milling about the street, lots of students from the College of Charleston as well as a number of Citadel cadets in their school uniforms. No matter how often they passed our way, was always impressed by their crisp uniforms, short haircuts and impeccable manners.


a decent alternative to pizza…ribs at Sticky Fingers, Charleston

The kids wanted pizza for dinner but the line at Mellow Mushroom was out the door so we opted for Sticky Fingers, a chain restaurant at 235 Meeting St, featuring mouth-watering ribs. While waiting for dinner, the kids immediately pulled out their electronic devices, but this made me lonely for conversation so we shut down the technology and opted to people-watch in the restaurant. I think I introduced Lilly and Will to a valuable and entertaining (alternative) activity.

Saturday dawned bright and sunny and I decided to sneak out of the hotel for a photography walk of downtown Charleston. The city is flat and laid out in a grid so navigating the sights isn’t difficult. I had Battery Park as my destination and enjoyed ducking into old cemeteries, reading historical markers and peeking into private gardens on the way. It was a perfectly still Saturday morning and the only people I met were runners enjoying the traffic-free streets. Many visitors to Charleston take a historic carriage ride around the town and I was surprised that at 10am, only one carriage was hooked up and ready for passengers. I guess southern charm also includes sleeping in late and eating a leisurely breakfast.

DSC_0250If you didn’t know it already, the highlight of Charleston is the architecture. Impressive mansions with curlicue iron gates and moss-covered walls line the harbor. Their private gardens are just out of sight and face long, wide and breezy side porches. The historical society operates several private mansions and for a reasonable fee you can tour the homes led by docents who share what it might have been like to live as a wealthy merchant in 1770’s Charleston. There are 2 plantations located near Charleston for those who want an introduction into cotton, tobacco and trade. During our 4 times living at Ft Bragg, we’ve done just about everything a tourist can do. My money is on the horse drawn carriage tour and entry to 3 private homes.

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Later in the afternoon, Lilly and I visited the South Carolina Aquarium, a quick walk down Calhoun St from our hotel. Many years ago, Tim and I remember taking the older girls to the just-opened aquarium. For visitors, this is a good option on a cloudy and cold day. It is exceptionally clean, very interactive and fun for all ages. They do a fair job of showcasing water creatures found in all regions of the state and even incorporate some mammals like the lemurs in the Madagascar exhibit. While the jellyfish and giant yellow eel mesmerized me, the aquarium is an expensive way to kill a few hours and definitely not recommended when the temps are in the mid-60s and the sky is ablaze in sunshine.

Check out our video of the jellyfish

Although we love jellies, the aquarium had some cool fish (and snakes) as well

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Charleston skyline--Sunday morning

Charleston skyline–Sunday morning

Sunday morning the kids slept in late, I enjoyed some time reading and Tim finished up his training. We loaded up the car and then made one last stop—Sticky Fingers ribs sounded just about perfect for an evening match-up between the Seahawks and the Patriots.

(postscript: the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl to the Patriots, 28-24. The last minute 4th Qtr interception sealed the deal and the wings and ribs were the only things comforting us in our time of mourning.)