Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Hey Y'all-- from Charleston, South Carolina

I love all of the travel opportunities available here in Europe but there are also still many places I haven't been to in America. Charleston, South Carolina has been on my To-See list for several years and I was very excited to travel there with my family while I was recently in the US.

We spent a nice weekend strolling through the city, eating delicious seafood, soaking up Southern hospitality, and visiting Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.

Our first memorable meal was lunch at a charming restaurant called 82 Queen. The weather was pleasant enough so we were seated under a magnolia tree in the enchanting courtyard. My mom ordered grilled chicken with fried green tomatoes, cheese grits, and a lowcountry crab cake. I had jambalaya with tasso ham and Carolina red rice. It rivaled any jambalaya I've had in New Orleans. Have I ever mentioned how much I miss Southern food?

Mansions along Charleston's harbor.
We spent the next few hours wandering around the French Quarter, walking along the harbor and counting dolphins, and browsing through whimsical boutiques. Charleston has an open-air shopping market filled with endless stalls of vendors selling everything from homemade pralines to handwoven sweetgrass baskets.

Before we knew it, it was time for dinner. Charleston Crab House reminded me of Fiddler's Crab House in Savannah, Georgia-- a little touristy and kitschy but worthy of mention due to crab legs so rich and succulent that they don't even need butter. To my knowledge, you can't get that in Germany.

The next morning we decided to take a half-hour drive to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens. The Plantation was founded in 1676 by the prestigious Drayton family. It was originally a rice plantation. The gardens were opened to the public in the 1870s, earning the distinction as the oldest public gardens in America.

The grounds are massive and there are many different ways to explore the rich history of the plantation. There is a boat tour, a nature train, and even a petting zoo. For time's sake, we chose to tour the gardens, the house, and the slave cabins at the edge of the property.

Row of Slave Cabins

For me, the Slavery to Freedom tour was the most interesting. While a petting zoo and nature train are all well and good, they most certainly didn't exist during Magnolia Plantation's heydays, and it doesn't make sense to visit a southern plantation and ignore the sobering fact that the plantation existed largely because of the blood and sweat of slave labor. The Magnolia Cabin Project was founded to preserve and restore five historic slave cabins that date back to 1850. Each cabin reflects a different period including slavery, Reconstruction, the Jim Crow Era, and then 1960s Civil Rights Era. As we walked through each cabin, it was very easy to picture people crowded into small lofts, sleeping on the dusty floorboards, and cooking dinner in the fireplace. In one cabin, remnants of old newspapers that were used as insulation remain affixed to the crumbling walls.

Newspaper Insulation
From the cabins we walked to the cemetery that is the final resting place of the families who worked on the plantation. It's a very serene spot, shaded by oak and cypress trees and surrounded by tranquil ponds.

Our house tour was still a few hours away so we passed the time wandering the gardens. Though it's only February, flowers were still blooming and canopied pathways led to views of the Ashley River and quiet cul-de-sacs with interesting sculptures and inviting benches. Unexpectedly, there's even a bamboo forest!

During the house tour we learned about the property's history of destruction. The first house was ransacked during the American Revolution. In 1865, during the Civil War, the house was destroyed by fire. The present house was constructed in the 1870s, built from a summer house (in nearby Summerville, SC) which was disassembled and floated down the Ashley River on barges to be reconstructed on Magnolia Plantation at the site of the former house.

The weather had taken a gradual turn for the worse during our time at Magnolia Plantation. When we left, it was raining and the temperature had dropped nearly ten degrees. We decided to go back to Charleston and enjoy an early dinner at an Italian restaurant downtown.

Mercato has live jazz music, an enviable wine list, and traditional Italian fare featuring local ingredients and fresh seafood. I didn't have one bad meal in Charleston!

We ended the evening with glasses of wine accompanied by a bird's eye view of Charleston, first from the rooftop of the Library Restaurant and Bar and then from the top of the Market Pavilion Hotel.

Charleston was charming and I had a wonderful time eating food you can only get it in the Deep South, being lulled by the sound of delightful southern drawls, saying, "Yes, ma'am," and, "No, ma'am," and having doors held open for me by chivalrous Southern gentleman.

I love it here, but there's no place like the South.


  1. Thanks for sharing your adventures in Charleston. I remember vacationing there aout 5 years ago with my family and I remember thinking about how beautiful of a town it actually is. It is just the classic image everyone has in their heads of the south. A few years back I was looking into the Charleston, SC real estate market to see if it would be a good investment for my retirement. I am still thinking about it these days.

    1. Charleston would definitely be a wonderful place to retire! Have you been to Savannah? It's still my favorite. :-)