I got my first taste of the ‘south’ with my trip to Austin last fall, with Australia, England and Dublin coming after that, President’s Day in February presented the next great ‘excuse’ to explore more of it. While New York was freezing its ass off, South Carolina should be a good few degrees warmer even in the winter and perfect for a three day weekend in Charleston.
Having left it a little late to book, direct flights to Charleston SC were a tad on the extortionate side (ranking just below brokers who try to charge a fee on non-fee apartments). So..we had to get a bit creative with our travel.
Luckily we both had a short Friday so from work we trained it over to Queens where Danielle’s grandfather picked us up and dropped us off at LaGuardia airport. We were there to experience Spirit airlines, destination Myrtle Beach. For non-US folk who don’t know Spirit, think Ryan Air without the fan-fare (literally, they couldn’t even claim to be on time). The only redeeming factor we got seats next to each other, though having waited over an hour without any announcement I think we would have taken seats in the hold by the time we got on.
The following morning, we picked up the rental car from the airport. I’ve realized recently I’m particularly bad at picking up on accents and so when the rental employee asked where I was from I answered England. The response back however was slightly unexpected, “That’s obvious, but where?”. While the recognition of my English accent is recognised quicker than I often expect, the “but where” is less often asked! The person was actually English and had moved out to Myrtle Beach several years ago but knew Wantage!
English discussion and accent lessons over we were on our way. A pit stop for brunch, then another for my first Walmart visit (Danielle needed some clothes, I needed a memory card for my camera after leaving without any in my camera) and we were properly on our way.
On the drive into Charleston we made a small diversion to Boone Hall plantation, such estates a prominent feature in the South. I’m told The Notebook, or Ryan Gosling; can’t remember which, is a rather big deal and it turns out (spoiler: known before) part of The Notebook was filmed at Boone Hall.
Initial apprehension on what to expect was displaced as Boone Hall became one of my favourite parts of the trip. Epitomising the misplaced hesitation, we had signed up for a house tour which conflicted with a live show about the “Gullah” culture, something we were less sure about. Clearly on a different agenda to the rest of the visitors we were the only ones standing outside when the guide opened the doors of the mansion. A fair but forceful conversation made it clear we should see the Gullah show and take the next tour. Taking the suggestion proved sound advice, the presentation was the most insightful and entertaining part of the whole plantation, a combination of storytelling of life at Boone Hall and Gullah culture including song and music performance.
Back on the road and shortly thereafter entering the parking lot of the car hire it seemed suspiciously dark. Indeed, the office, where we were meant to drop the keys off had closed an hour before (we were on time). There was a box to leave the keys but a sign accompanying it spelling out any keys left would be considered as returned the following day. Luckily a customer service call later and everything was resolved without further payment, now we could catch a taxi to our hotel.
It’s said that hospitality in the south is better than New York (we are cold, rude and impatient, apparently; like what people outside of London say about Londoners). Our Lyft driver, Mari, did her best to live upto this reputation, the location input for our hotel had us nowhere near the hotel and as we were searching for it (in vein, until I googled it) Mari ended the ride so we didn’t pay anymore. Upon realizing we were in the wrong location there was no request to resume the ‘meter’, instead we received an impromptu guide as we got back on track. All setting a good tone for the rest of the trip.
Top of Mari’s recommendations had been a horse drawn carriage tour around Charleston. It had been mentioned to us before but thinking it was going to be a gypsie rip-off à la Central Park we didn’t pay much attention. Thankfully the recommendation of the local held more weight as it was superb. We booked with Palmetto Carriage works (oldest and good focus on animal care). The logistics of the horses and tours are managed extremely well by the city. To avoid overloading certain streets with horse drawn carriages the city operates a lottery type system. All trips start at something resembling a toll booth where a coloured ball is automatically drawn out, the colour dictating the route. We got ‘front row’ seats (to everything) though by the end we were regretting not packing warmer clothes.
Despite the slightly colder than expected weather (to be fair, no coats in February still a treat), there were plenty of great restaurants and cafes for us to find escape alongside that warm southern hospitality (housekeeping leaving a note complimenting my choice of reading a notable highlight!).
The final third day in Charleston felt like summer had arrived. A morning spa massage had us all loosened up and ready to enjoy the last day of the ‘holiday’. Determined to take full advantage of the weather we then saddled up, this time on bicycles from the pun-tastic “Holy Spokes’. Venturing across some paths our carriage tour hadn’t taken us and re-visiting some of the mansions it had we spent an hour or two soaking up vitamin D and peaceful streets. Capping off the day and weekend we found a rooftop bar, some comfy chairs and refreshing drinks to reflect on the peaks and the few pits of the trip. The quick conclusion being to come back in more consistent warmer weather for further exploration of the city and neighboring Savannah.