Days 193-199 – Charleston, SC

Well, we thought we were all set to leave Asheville but just the night before we were due to leave, the national news said a huge storm was headed up the East Coast from Florida to Boston. The local Asheville weather forecast was just for cold but Charleston is expecting ice and snow. I’m a nervous traveler in poor weather and we agreed there’s no reason to get on the road and risk getting into trouble.

Our Asheville landlords are great about the change of plans, telling us to stay the week if we need to. We just need the extra night and then we’re off to what turns out to be a still-frozen Charleston. The interstate is snowy and a little icy – but nothing like it was the day before – for about the last 30 miles into the city. We see lots of cars and trucks that clearly had slid off the highway the day before but everyone seems to be going slowly today and we make it to our new rental no worse for the wear.

Unfortunately this iced-over city is not the Charleston we were expecting. Our rental townhome is lovely and walking distance to all sorts of shops and restaurants but most of them have hand-written signs saying they are closed due to the weather. We pick our way over the unsalted sidewalks and finally find a few places that look open. The Ink and Ivy restaurant provides us with a nice dinner and we head home, hoping, but not expecting, a thawing tomorrow.

No such luck on the thawing. The day is sunny but when we head out at 11 a.m., it’s barely hit the freezing mark. Still, we walk the length of King Street, ducking into a few open shops and making it all the way down to the battery at the tip of the peninsula before heading for an oyster restaurant, Pearlz, recommended by our Charleston host. I’m afraid to get my hopes up that it will be open, but it is and we enjoy oysters and gumbo and cod sliders before heading back out into the cold and retracing our steps up King Street. At the end of the day, we’ve walked about 7 miles (but only 1 floor of elevation gain).

We wake up the next day to another weather-related disappointment: our tour of the H.L. Hunley submarine has been canceled. Tours of the Civil War-era submarine only take place on the weekends because conservators are working Mondays to Fridays to restore it (I guess when you sit on the bottom of the ocean for 136 years, you need a few decades of work). There are no tours this weekend and we won’t be around next weekend. We are really upset; it was the thing we most wanted to do (besides eat good food) while we are in Charleston, but there’s nothing to be done.

Time for Plan B. We’ve realized that one of Charleston’s small distilleries is just down the street from us, so we book a noon tour and tasting. We’re the only customers in the distillery, so we spend about an hour learning about the grains and process Hi-Wire Distilling uses to make its vodka, gin, bourbon, amaro, etc. Then we taste a few items and head out, with a stop at nearby Revelator Coffee for me. The weather is still chilly but the sun is out, as are more people. The Charleston Museum is also not far away, so we check out the exhibits: textiles, silver, ironwork, furniture, as well as a huge section devoted to Charleston history.

Our next stop was supposed to be for me: a visit to the Pounce cat café where visitors can interact (and adopt) kitties. Walt sternly reminds me that we are just going to visit and “we’re agreed that we are not leaving with a cat.” I hadn’t even thought about adopting; we are traveling cross-country in a convertible, there’s barely room for us, never mind a pet. When we arrive at the cat cafe, there’s a sign saying they are booked for the next few hours and to make reservations online. I had no idea we wouldn’t be able to just walk in and pet a few strays. When I check the website, it also says there’s a $15 fee (which includes a glass of wine or beer) and a one-hour time limit for visits. I content myself with peeking in the window for a minute and move along. I miss having a kitty but not that much.

We decide to head back to King Street and see if another host-recommended restaurant is open and, on the way, we just happen to bump into Christophe Artisan Chocolatier (I swear I did not remember which street it was on when I told Walt to turn right on Society Street). A coffee and a treat later, I’ve forgotten all about the cats. Sorry guys.

We shop our way up King Street, mostly browsing through antique stores, until I hit a used bookstore; one of my big weaknesses. I seek them out in every city and never come home empty-handed and today is no exception.

A little more walking, a casual dinner and we are back to our cozy rental for the evening.

For the next day, I’ve already made brunch reservations at High Cotton with a bluegrass band accompaniment. The restaurant is lovely, the food is fabulous (a heavenly cherry-cheese-almond Danish, eggs Florentine with fried oysters). We walk down to the Nathaniel Russell House for a tour. The historic house is famous for it’s “flying staircase” and it really is an amazing, three-story marvel.

We mosey back to our car. The weather is sunny again but no warmer than the day before so any snow and ice that are in the shade are not melting. We stop at a grocery store for crackers and peanut butter and fruit – we have no need to eat a full dinner tonight.

After four days, the weather is finally warming up to a more seasonable high 50s, so we hop the first tour boat out of Charleston to visit Fort Sumter. We only knew the barest details of the fort, what most people know: it is considered the spot where the Civil War began. We learn a great deal about the history, although I think Walt and I are more fascinated by the fact that it was a manmade-island, built mostly by ballast-rubble brought in from New England. I’m also, as always, fascinated by the cannons, which are being saved from the seawater that washes over them during hurricanes. You can actually adopt a cannon to help the conservation process. How cool is that?

We spend the rest of the day doing a little exploring outside of Charleston before heading to Swig and Swine for barbecue. It was so good.

The weather has definitely improved so we head to Magnolia Plantation, one of several historic plantations on the banks of the Ashley River. The gardens, for which the plantation is most famous, are not in bloom (the camellias should be but they got whacked by the ice) but we enjoy walking the grounds and touring the house.

We have to drive past Swig and Swine to get “home” but resist temptation and instead check out an Italian restaurant on King Street, also recommended by our host. It’s Restaurant Week in Charleston so we get a great deal on a three-course meal, including leftover pizza for breakfast.

It hasn’t been the week we expected in Charleson – except for the food, which was as wonderful as we’d hoped – but we’ve had a good time. Now we’re headed to Hilton Head Island, to visit with Walt’s sister and brother-in-law before we head west.

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