Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Taste of the History of Charleston

Charleston, SC was a busy port during colonial times and a visit brings you face to face with the history of our country, from those times of prosperous trade and giant plantations, through the civil war and post-antebellum days to the modern city of today. It is a history fraught with the reality of being the top port for importing slaves. Though, interestingly, the others in the top 3 were all northern cities and northern states overall had more slaves, but the huge, southern plantations relied more heavily on their labor in large numbers.

Today's tourism revolves around that history, both traditional and the more sordid...with jail tours, ghost walks and tales of intrigue. It is a great city to walk around and soak in the architecture, stopping at the many museums and original homes. Carriage tours compete for your business...and they are a nice way to get an overall impression of the city from some well-informed guides. We chose Polo Tours and our guide, Patrick, was not only knowledgeable but had a great sense of humor. It was fascinating to learn about the regulation of the carriage tours and general management of the city...which is working carefully to preserve its history and quality of life for residents--maybe a little too zealously for some. Even on a cool, drizzly day, the carriage ride was enjoyable...and because of the weather, crowds were minimal.

The city market is a fun place to wander around, looking at everything from the traditional, locally crafted baskets to flea market "junk". I picked up a nice silver charm of the state symbol (one of my favorite travel souvenirs, to add to my bracelet which reminds me of many past trips). We also took the nighttime jail tour, which was interesting if not super spooky (okay, that is easy to say now, but I would not want to be left alone in that place). The city's many churches and graveyards also make for interesting viewing, on your own or on one of the walking tours.

The other thing you can't miss about this southern charmer is the food. You can find a little bit of everything in this cosmopolitan town, but don't miss traditional low country cuisine. Shrimp and grits will be good almost anywhere and if you've never tried grits, this would be the town in which to do so whether in this dish or a traditional breakfast.

The good restaurants are too numerous to name here, but these are a few worthwhile spots to check out on a visit:

Hominy Grill -all the traditional favorites, especially known for breakfast.

Cypress (and its sister restaurants, Magnolia and Blossom)-I loved the modern decor (I was picturing myself living on the second floor overlooking the dining area and huge wine wall) and the banana pudding pops were my favorite dessert in a while (a modern twist on an old southern favorite that only improved upon the original).

39 Rue de Jean- for tasty french food--a whole range of items so that you can enjoy a more casual snack at the bar or something a bit more upscale, but all of it high quality. I've had mussels many places and these were definitely in the top--with perfect bread to sop up all the buttery, garlicky sauce.

Husk Restaurant
- Unfortunately, we didn't get there this time, but I might have to make a special trip back with reservations in hand. This place focuses on spotlighting local ingredients and traditional styles with a new twist. Reading over the daily menu had me salivating and until I get back, I may just go online and read it every now and again...

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