Meet our writers

 







Travel Logs November 2015

Charleston: A Cool City When It’s Not Hot

By John C. Liburdi

Your visit will be infinitely more enjoyable if you keep your car parked and use the many available forms of public transportation: city buses and taxis, free hop-on/hop-off trolley buses, free Scoop Car electric taxis, horse-drawn carriages and human powered pedicabs. You’ll also notice skateboarders in the midst of all the traffic. In Charleston, skateboards are treated as street-legal vehicles.

The irreverent nickname for Charleston, South Carolina, is Chucktown. Its more reverent moniker is the Holy City. In the context of the latter, Charleston is a marvelous place to visit when it’s blessed with relatively cool weather. Early May and early October are the two optimum times to enjoy all that Historic Charleston has to offer. Furthermore — except for those who are patrons of the arts — it would be smart to avoid overbooked hotels and congested traffic during Charleston’s annual Spoleto Festival that starts in late May. 

Getting to Charleston is easy enough. Forget about a rental car if you fly in; use a taxi or shuttle service to reach the heart of the port city where the historic center is located. Even if you drive into Charleston, your visit will be infinitely more enjoyable if you keep your car parked and use the many available forms of public transportation: city buses and taxis, free hop-on/hop-off trolley buses, free Scoop Car electric taxis, horse-drawn carriages and human powered pedicabs. You’ll also notice skateboarders in the midst of all the traffic. In Charleston, skateboards are treated as street-legal vehicles.

Finding your way about in downtown Charleston is a snap. Just a few points of reference and you’ve got it nailed. Meeting Street and King Street give you north-south orientation; Calhoun Street and Broad Street provide east-west orientation. To make it even easier to locate key places of interest, tour companies offer 90-minute get acquainted excursions aboard small buses with large windows. The buses depart every half hour from the big Visitors Center on Meeting Street; there you can also sign up for tailored tours that include outlying mansions, plantations, etc.

You’ll quickly realize that Charleston’s history has a dominant military theme, from the Revolutionary War all the way through to even our most recent wars. Landmarks and monuments everywhere manifest Charleston’s proud military heritage. Among them are The Citadel, The Battery, Fort Sumter and Patriots Point. The latter includes the Congressional Medal of Honor Museum aboard the USS Yorktown. If you opt for a boat excursion out to the Fort Sumter island fortification, the huge Charleston Aquarium is also located at the dock area you’ll be departing from.

Dining is always a pleasure in Charleston. There’s a spectrum of fast-food joints on King Street, many of which are locally born establishments. There are restaurants aplenty for those who favor a more formal dining experience, but check prices before committing – after-the-fact sticker shock could sour your sweet desert. That said, Charleston features unique fare such as she-crab soup, Hoppin’ John rice and Huguenot torte. On Saturday mornings, there’s a vibrant farmers market in Marion Square where the area’s specialties can be enjoyed as you wander around the small park. A common denominator to local cuisine is the use of fresh rather than frozen ingredients – take note seafood lovers!

Surprisingly, the historic district has a very youthful spirit, and that’s largely due to the presence of a university and several colleges, including The Citadel military college. Smart looking young folks are always walking and jogging throughout the city. By the way, there’s little doubt that young gals wearing scanty shorts led to the demise of the textile industry in the Deep South; they greatly reduced the demand for fabric! At any rate, the downtown area hosts a happy mix of folks, most of whom enjoy Charleston’s jazzy nightlife very late into the night.

Now what about your souvenir? The city’s market is in the southwest portion of the peninsula, Market Street to be precise. You’ll stroll through a series of large buildings that seem like a bright and airy tunnel, with hundreds of imbedded shops offering too many choices. Beyond the requisite refrigerator magnets, two big favorites are handmade reed baskets and cypress carvings, neither of them made in China. Local craftsmen weave a variety of reed baskets that are well suited to hold fruit and bread, and the cypress carvings are especially nice because termites can’t stomach that type of wood that lasts forever!

Clearly, at least one visit to Charleston is an absolute imperative. The well-preserved European style architecture is extremely impressive, and this port city is the heart of gracious Southern culture. You’ll be treated well in the Lowcountry, and there’s no need to feel out of place. In fact, the locals don’t even declare themselves to be native Charlestonians unless they can officially trace their family roots back to the earliest immigrants. So, although you may not be a descendant of “The Old Guard,” wonderful Charleston is unofficially your town too — even if just for a few pleasurable days. 

 

Liburdi’s books are available at online bookstores and on the Kindle Reader.

Meet John


PHOTOS:

1) Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion remains vigilant

2) Welcoming foyer in restored Manigault House

3) USS Yorktown Military Museum at Patriots Point