Where the Past is Always Present ~ Charleston, SC

As we left Savannah heading for Charleston, my thought was that it might be a bit overwhelming to visit these two cities back-to-back, given their historical significance.  I did not have long to worry as the weather forecast made most of our plans for us.  A strong storm system was moving our way, bringing lots of rain and the potential for thunderstorms and a tornado watch.  And if that was not enough, we learned upon arrival that the Cooper River Bridge Run, one of the best attended 10k races in the country, bringing 40,000 runners plus family and friends to the city, was to take place the weekend we would be in Charleston.  This race shuts down part of the city, so decision made.   We would have a short window of time to explore so as soon as we finished setting up at the Oak Plantation Campground, we headed to historic downtown.

One of our first stops in many big cities, Charleston being no exception, is the Visitor Center to get the lay of the land and pick up a map.  We headed out on foot, our typical mode of travel, hitting some of the high points but in general just inhaling the city’s ambiance.  Known for its rich history, well-maintained architecture, and gracious residents (having received ‘America’s Most Friendly City’ award twice in the past three years), I felt the city still maintained its antebellum air.  I would not have been surprised if I rounded the corner to find men and women in period dress, ready to greet us.

Charleston, South Carolina’s oldest city, founded in 1670, is a much larger and sprawling city than Savannah so traversing her streets takes time, more time than we had.  It was evident this was to be a cursory review of a city that deserved much more attention.

With Charleston’s 100+ churches and the nickname of “Holy City”, what could we do but visit a few?

St. Philip’s Church, housing the oldest congregation in all of South Carolina, dates back to 1680.  Her stately steeple stands as a testament to her storied history and her interior stunning, most notably the Trompette en Chamade (Shouting Trumpets) that we were told take your breath away no matter how many times you hear them.  Old cemeteries on many of the church grounds have stories to tell, and St. Philip’s has a most prestigious tale, with this being the final resting place of Edward Rutledge, signer of the Declaration of Independence and Charles Pinckney, signer of the Constitution.  This is only one of many magnificent places to worship in the city.

Wile visiting Sullivan’s Island, across the bridge from Charleston, I was taking a few photos of what I thought was an interesting old church, when a young man walked up and asked if I would care to see the inside of what was once a church turned private residence.  After offering my apologies for intruding, I gestured to Terry to get out of the truck and follow me inside.  The inside was gorgeous and had a Gothic castle feel and the kitchen, oh my!  You can read the interesting story of this property here.

Is it a church?  Is it a castle?  Nope, just a very pricey private residence.
Is it a church? Is it a castle? Nope, just a very pricey private residence.

Churches, universities, and cemeteries seem to be our “thing” when visiting cities, so a trip to the Citadel, rain or shine, had to be one of our stops.  The ceremonial parade ground comes into view as you cross the gates, with impressive stark-white buildings lining it.  With their core values of “Honor, Duty, Respect”, there is an intimacy felt walking these hushed grounds, a special way to round out our Charleston experience.

Citadel graduates have fought in every American war since the Mexican-American War of 1846.  Alumni and author Pat Conroy wrote The Lords of Discipline, based on his time at the Citadel.

Sightseeing makes one ravenous and with so many fabulous-sounding restaurants to choose from, we settled on the Bull Street Gourmet and Market for lunch.  The smoked duck salad was soo yummy! 🙂  And on a rainy day, while watching Bizarre Foods America with Andrew Zimmern, to see just what he might put into his mouth masquerading as something edible, he featured a funky little soul food eatery in Charleston, Martha Lou’s Kitchen.  About as much time as it took us to say “let’s go”, we were out the door.  You will not find any low-cal food here, but you will find two women with a lot of spunk who are passionate about their southern comfort food.  The fried chicken and the pork chop were both so tasty and once again I ate my collard greens – delish!  The women who work here will sing and dance their way into your heart, and if you come during the week you will be graced with Martha Lou’s presence, still a force at age 84.

Here is just a sampling of the lovely sights you can see when visiting historic Charleston, a city where the past is always present:

We now look forward to some downtime, “beach-style” as we head to Murrell’s Inlet, SC.