Native Charlestonians will tell you that the Ashley and Cooper Rivers join to form the Atlantic Ocean. Located at about the middle of South Carolina's coastline at the confluence of the two rivers, Charleston is the oldest city in the state and it's a gem. We discovered its charms in 2000 on our first trip up the US East Coast. We visited again in 2001, 2002 and again in 2007. It's that kind of city … it just keeps calling you back.
Founded in 1670 and originally called Charles Towne, the city was named for King Charles II. The city has enjoyed great prosperity and suffered great losses. Major battles of both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War were fought here and the city endured the occupation of invading armies. There have been numerous skirmishes with pirates and local Indians, catastrophic fires that obliterated entire blocks of the city, devastating hurricanes and the largest earthquake ever to rock the east coast of the USA. Yet it survives and thrives today.
We only had one day to enjoy the city and ourselves plus get caught up on some chores. Some things change, some things don't. We vaguely remembered our way around, but seeing certain landmarks brought it all back to us. We did laundry (free washers/dryers at the marina … wow!) and re-provisioned at nearby Harris Teeters, a wonderful supermarket. On our way to the grocery as we passed the Port Authority, we remembered the facade of the Bennett Rice Mill building, propped up and standing there behind the fence in the middle of the parking lot. I tried to get closer for a good photo through the chain link fence, but I was shooed away, rather rudely, by the security guard. Why put something so unusual and beautiful in the middle of a secured area that precludes picture-taking?
We found our favorite bakery/cafe, Saffrons, which still offered the most scrumptious pastries, breads and mid-Eastern cuisine … we took advantage. Ludens, a chandlery we'd liked back in 2000 that subsequently morphed to a sporting goods and outfitters store, was out of business. There was a Starbucks on every corner. Parks, open spaces, historic buildings and churches dominate the downtown. It's a pleasure to walk around and take it all in.
We walked up Calhoun Street, enjoying the day and our surroundings. One of South Carolina's favorite sons, John C. Calhoun's statue stands high and proud above the trees, surveying the city from his pedestal of Carolina granite in Marion Square.
We turned onto King Street, the main street for shops, boutiques and restaurants. It's changed. There are more shops, more traffic and definitely more people. We found the Blue Bicycle Bookshop, a favorite place to browse in years past. It has expanded and reorganized … all the more fun to browse.
Heading the opposite way down King Street, we saw Goorin Bros. Hats. We only found out later that Goorin is a chain of hat shops established back in 1895. What a treat to stroll through this shop. We tried on a few hats then asked about getting David's fine Panama hat blocked. After several years aboard Nine of Cups, it was looking pretty dismal … something Harpo Marx might wear. Not only did the friendly Goorin staff agree to block it, but they did it for free. Awesome! David looked pretty dapper walking down King Street with his Panama hat. He fit right in. We splurged and bought a hat box to store the hat for future use.
We caught a free trolley down to Liberty Square, adjacent to the Maritime Center. The Visitor's Center for the Fort Sumter National Monument was open and we wandered in. We had no time to take the ferry to the fort, but enjoyed the well-presented exhibits.
We had so little time to visit all our favorite places. We never did get to the Customs House nor the old slave market where ladies still gather each day to sell their finely-woven sweetgrass baskets. We didn't walk along the Battery nor stroll past Rainbow Row … all within walking distance. Then, of course, there are the places outside the city to visit. This visit was just a taste of what we'll do when we stop on the way back down the coast next season.
All too soon, it was evening and we were charting our course for tomorrow's route.