Charleston, South Carolina

We set our sights on downtown Charleston where we find historic buildings. We park and set out on foot to explore.

Very soon the architecture has me happily clicking photos, every building begs a picture and I happily comply. Even alleyways are beautiful.

On the corner of one broad street resides a beautiful building crafted in the Italianate style and built in 1853. It began its life as the state bank of South Carolina. The plaque advises us that this building has survived hurricanes, bombardment and an earthquake. It has undergone two extensive restorations, each one following the original plan. How different from Western Canada where a beautiful building is razed to make room for new, or a restoration has the inside arguing with the facade.

We notice how even trees wend their way into what is, adapting to the surroundings and challenges. There are no wrecking balls, nor a council of folks deciding on which holds more value. Each learns to live peacefully with the other, there is room for both and a beauty that cannot be created by man alone.

We find the Atlantic Ocean where a cruise ship is moored, it’s guests flooding the city for the day. There is a beautiful, tree lined cobblestone street. In the summer, typical Charleston temperatures of 30 Celsius combined with a typical relative humidity of 90% would make it feel like 41 Celsius. The homes flank one side and each have a peeking view of the ocean, while still protected from the heat and humidity of the summer. The shade more important than the view.

We find a pineapple shaped fountain where children play. There is a Southern legend that when a sea captain came home from a voyage he would impale a pineapple at the gate of his home. This would let his neighbours know that he had returned from sea and was welcoming guests into his home. In the South, the pineapple represents warm welcomes, celebration and hospitality. We can attest to this, from the exceptional customer service and the “how y’all doing?” we have enjoyed. The pineapple spirit is alive and well in South Carolina.

A short walk from the fountain we find a pub announcing it has the best fish and chips. We venture in to determine if there is truth in advertising and immediately our heads spin as we take in the gestalt. Everywhere we look are $1.00 bills stapled to the beams, walls, artwork. It’s a curious place. We look closer and see that folks have written messages for future patrons. It’s a quirky set up, though interesting as we gawk while awaiting our fish and chips. The fish so tender, it melts in our mouths, while the chips were perfectly crisp. We are not disappointed.

It’s getting late and we have barely scratched the surface of Charleston. We decide we will need to come back another year, though for today we are determined to see as much as possible. We see cobblestone driveways and imagine how horse and carriages instead of cars once graced these driveways. One or two horse power instead of an equivalent of 200 horsepower in todays average car.

We venture to Rainbow Row, a collection of houses painted in a variety of pastel colours. The homes, like everything in Charleston has a rich history, coupled with folklore. The houses were built in the architecture style of South Carolinian Georgian row house between 1740 and 1845. When these homes were constructed, docks came right up to the street, and ships carrying goods from all over the world were moored virtually at the buildings’ doorsteps. The bottom floors housed shops and the Merchants would live in the upper floors. After the Civil war, the buildings fell into disrepair, the homes and area became a slum. Easily, they could have been bulldozed, though here in Charleston there is no appetite for modern, ticky tacky boxes. Instead, beginning in the 1940’s, the homes on Rainbow Row were revitalized and restored to the original style, creating unique historical homes that rarely are for sale. The cheery colour palate began with the first house restored and continued with subsequent restored homes. Legends abound about the origins of the choice of palette, some claims say the distinctive shades were necessary to help drunken sailors choose the correct house to sleep.

As we take photos, a horse drawn buggy ambles along the cobblestone street. The guide provides folks with rich historical facts. John with his love of history, looks longingly, ready to jump onboard. Not for the first time today, we vow to return. There is so much to see, to experience, one day is clearly not enough.