Having left the fair rather late we didn’t get into Charleston until after midnight. Feeling overconfident or overly lazy (slash completely unaware that Charleston is the “top destination in the world” per Condé Nast and hence impossible to get a decent priced hotel reservation in) we made zero reservations in advance. While at the fair we had called the Not So Hostel and booked a room for that night, though they were full over the weekend. No sweat, we figured we’d find another spot no problem.
Well, we’re getting into town around midnight and take a wrong turn, which got us a bit lost, and in an area that’s looking a little on the shady side, and not in the shade of the live oaks kinda way. One more turn and the blue lights start flashing in our rear view. The officer asked what we were doing, and Alan replied that we were looking for our hotel. His response, “well you lost son. You in the hood!” Welcome to Charleston! Ha. He gave us directions and told us not to come back. Pretty crazy that only a few blocks away from a really nice part of town cops pull over nicer looking cars just for being in the area. In fact, they came over to both windows and shone their flashlight in to see what we were doing. I wondered if they thought we were trying to buy drugs. So that was our first observation of Charleston – super nice areas are right next to the hood areas. It seems there is no in-between.
We had a private room at the Not So Hostel Annex that night, which was a steal in Charleston at $70 a night, but definitely not impressive. The bed squeaked every time you took a deep breath in, Alan had to fix the broken toilet while I made the bed, and the door to the (communal) bathroom basically didn’t shut. Oh, and I almost threw up from the smell when we opened the fridge in the kitchen that claimed to have free breakfast. No thanks. (That sounds really whiny when I type it. It was perfectly fine for a hostel, but definitely not one of those awesome, charming kind of hostels that make you glad you’re choosing to stay in a hostel).
Unfortunately this left us in Charleston on a Friday and Saturday night with nowhere to stay. Opting in light of our first night’s experience to choose location over a further away and moderately less expensive spot we picked the Days Inn in Downtown Charleston. The location was phenomenal. The hotel was gnarly. It was the worst hotel we stayed at on the entire trip. At $250 a night it was by far the most expensive place we stayed on the trip (except for weddings when we stayed at fancy places, and our anniversary splurge at the Statler). I’m no priss, we stayed at a lot of grungy hotels/motels/etc. on this trip and I can totally hang, but this place was gross. The carpet smelled like vomit, the shower was covered in dirt, and there was an open box of condoms in the bedside table, right next to the Bible. That said, we could walk to everything, which was great, and everything else we could find online was $450/night or more. So, here’s what you can learn based on our mistake: book in advance for Charleston.
Our first day in town we spent the entire day at a coffee shop and a Fedex copy store. Nine plus hours completing our visas for China and India. It’s kind of ridiculous the hoops they make you jump through. Not to mention all the weird issues we had in answering certain questions because we are homeless, unemployed, had basically no plans of which port of entry we’d be coming in, where we’d be staying, which cities we’d be visiting, which port of entry we’d be exiting through, when we’d even be there, so and so on. I’m trying to not bore y’all with the details, but I guess my point is to offer some advice for anyone who might do something like we are: plan way more in advance when you have the comforts and advantages of a home and access to a printer and so on.
We rewarded a hard day of work with dinner at Slightly North of Broad. Took me a while to realize it stood for SNOB. We were starving by the time we arrived, so shared a charcuterie plate that had some great rabbit pate (sorry to all the cute bunnies at the fair, but you are so delicious). I ordered the calamari salad and Alan the stuffed quail, and we also split a cup of butternut squash bisque. We were both surprised at how crowded the streets and restaurants were. The city is filled to the brim with college students, tourists, and of course lots of Citadel uniform clad young men. We were also a touch surprised by how dressy the people were there, lots of pearls and Vera Bradley. The city is beautiful, filled with bright colored old homes with the most incredible porches and palmettos and live oaks dotting the streets everywhere.
Saturday morning we checked out the Farmer’s Market, which had a lot of Southern staples such as chow chow, grits, boiled peanuts, pickled okra, pimento cheese, and chicken n waffles. There were an unusually large number of puppies (literal baby dogs, I know I call most dogs puppies) out. Obviously I enjoyed this. There was also an awesome large lady singing “Don’t Think Twice” and “Lime in the Coconut” on the square. After that we did a bit of a walking tour around town, passing the Nathaniel Russell house on Meeting St., the White Point Garden, Waterfront park and Rainbow Row on Bay Street. We were unenthused by the City Market which was a tourist trap filled with junky knick-knacks. Horse drawn carriage tours pass by constantly, and you can practically get the info for free just by overhearing the tour guides as they pass.
We stopped at Bull Street Gourmet and Market for lunch and I had an incredible shrimp and oyster salad, Alan a smoked duck club sandwich. Afterwards we went back up to Marion Square where the Farmer’s Market was held to fit in some exercise.
Before dinner we grabbed a quick drink at Closed for Business and then headed over to dinner at Macintosh. We split the burrata and gnudi with BBQ rabbit. I ordered the scallops appetizer and Alan the duck leg. The food was great and Alan also enjoyed a martini with pimiento bacon olives.
We were off our game again in Charleston. By this time we were insanely behind on blog posts, and realizing how many things we had to do to get ready for our six month trip to Asia. These things impede your ability to focus on and enjoy the current places. But we slapped ourselves on our faces, and got back in the groove. We packed up the car with effort again so we could put the top down finally (Sven hadn’t gone topless in quite a few states).
Leaving Charleston we stopped on Shem Creek for a little brunch, sitting on the deck where we could watch the boats and kayaks. We took a quick walk on the boardwalk through the salt marshes where we learned that “cooter” is Gullah for turtle, and saw a woman catch a really cool puffer fish.
From there we headed over to the Boone Hall Plantation, which I chose among others for it’s stunning long driveway lined with 100 year old live oaks dripping in the most romantic Spanish moss. Especially with the top down you feel like a princess driving in there. If it looks familiar, it’s because you’ve probably seen the house in The Notebook, one of a handful of movies filmed on the property.
We took a tour of the mansion, which is still privately owned and inhabited, so you can only see the first floor. We also took a tour of the plantation where you’re driven around on a tractor type bus to see the areas where cotton was grown, bricks made, and pecan trees. It was all set up for Halloween haunted hay rides and a corn maze, and over by the main house for a wedding later that day. The slave quarters are filled with exhibits about various aspects of slave life. It was my first time on a plantation, and fascinating to learn all about it.