I drove into the Visitor’s Center in Charleston to get the lay of the land. One thing you should know about Charleston is you have have to pay big bucks for parking everywhere unless you have a handicapped parking tag. For handicapped, you write your name, tag number, and tag state on the back of the parking stub and they let you park free everywhere. From the Visitor’s Center, you can catch a bus tour of the city which is quite extensive and I am sure very good. However, the buses are enclosed with tinted windows so if you are a shutterbug like me, the open horse carriage tour while less extensive is a better choice. And hey, I love a horse carriage ride!
First, I hopped the ferry out to Fort Sumter where the Civil War began and once again found my old school history books lacking. What I was taught made it sound like the South suddenly fired upon it without warning. That is not true at all. They announced they were seceding from the union after nullifying their original ratification of the Constitution. They told the then president to get union soldiers out of Fort Sumter and not try to resupply it or it would be seen as an act of war. With supplies getting low, new president Lincoln sent a supply ship. South Carolina warned the soldiers again to leave. They didn’t. They warned them repeatedly days before and even an hour before that they would fire if they didn’t leave. They didn’t leave. When it was all over after about 36 hours, the surrendered soldiers were not only allowed to leave but were also allowed to take their flag with them which is never allowed. There is still enough of the fort left on the man-made island it sits on in the harbor to get the picture of how it was. The walls are no longer as high of course after being shot down with cannon but much of the lower walls still stand. There is one wall which leans as a testament to the explosion of the powder magazine inside. My only complaint is your time in the fort is too limited. You really have to hurry through after the excellent ranger talk in order to see it all and take it in.
The carriage tour was just the right amount of time and I enjoyed it very much. We went through the old neighborhoods to see the fascinating southern styles. One street I saw is still made of cobblestones and most of the homes are on what they call “made land”. When ships came into port from overseas to pick up goods, they came loaded with ballast (rocks) since empty ships don’t sail well. The ballast was dumped and goods loaded. At first the locals appreciated the stones to use in building, however, the king’s government seeing another tax opportunity, began taxing them. In revolt, the locals began throwing the stones away in the bay instead and thus made more land. The many homes are stricly controlled concerning any changes to them. You can repair them but cannot change them. Many are held together by bolts and rods installed after a great earthquake long ago decimated the area. Many were saved but most would likely be lost if another earthquake hits.
The big thing with Charleston homes is their piazas or porches. All homes are built to face the wind for cool evening breezes. In olden times, ladies might doff their outer clothes and rock on the piaza in their still all covering underclothes to cool off. For this reason, what looks like the front door of a house is actually a door onto the private piaza from where the actual front door can be accessed. It is also the reason for a Peeping Tom law that was strictly enforced. Just saying hello to a lady on a piaza or making any effort to acknowledge her presence would land a gentleman in jail.
I browsed the open air market for fun. The grass woven baskets you will see there cannot be found anywhere else. It is a local art and like most art are very expensive. Even a small one will cost $125! I don’t need a basket that bad.
Ready to head for the barn myself, I punched up food in my GPS device for fun and found there was a Tbonez restaurant 0.0 miles away. Huh? Holy cow! I found it just around the corner. With a $25 gift card in my purse, I ordered one heck of a large steak dinner with extra sauteed mushrooms and onions. I made sure I used the whole card and took home a doggie bag. The remainder tasted very very good later that night. Mmmm!
Another day, I went to Patriots Point to see the ships there including the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, the Laffey destroyer, a Coast Guard cutter, and a submarine. They also have a mockup of a Navy support base in Vietnam there to tour. The numbered self-tours of the ships are great. You get to go all over the aircraft carrier above and below including the flight deck, hangar deck, bridge, flag bridge, quarters, etc. I had lunch of rice, salad, red potatoes, and baked chicken in the ward room or officer’s mess. You can see a plane’s tail hook grabbing one of the 5 deck wires. See the plane launchers on the bow. The Medal of Honor museum is also onboard if you would like to see what it takes to get one. Lots of courage shown in there. The captain and first officer have rooms in the island tower above the flight deck. I believe those are for use during operations and they have other rooms below. I hope so since the island is usually a big enemy target. The hanger deck has large roll up doors everywhere along the outside walls. The lifts to get the planes up to the flight deck have been removed. The Apollo 8 capsule that the Yorktown recovered is on board. It was part of the first manned mission to the moon and back.
The Yorktown was one of only the few aircraft carriers left after Pearl Harbor. It was in the battle of the Coral Seas and a major player at Midway. It is featured in the movie “Midway”. The Laffey destroyer is famous for being hit numerous times and despite the crippling injuries and loss of many crew, managed to stay afloat and make it into port.
For more pics, click here.