Travel Story: Four Days in Charleston

Wish You Were Here

Really, it was four days in nearby Mt. Pleasant, SC, with a single worthwhile diversion into downtown Charleston. This was the trip we planned last summer, to see my ex-sister-in-law-but-still-my-sister and her sweet Waco-the-Lab. But last year Hurricane Irma had other plans, thus derailing ours.

Weather. It’s why we chose July this time around instead of our usual September, because, as my sister pointed out, July hurricanes are more likely to wind up in the Gulf. She reminded us about the sweltering heat of a South Carolina July; we waved it off, and I am so glad we did. And that kind of heat is actually not so bothersome to a chef who spends long days in a commercial kitchen.

Every second I am tempted to whine, I quipped, I shall remind myself of the pain and suffering that come after days on end of ice and sub-zero temperatures: go ahead and turn up the heat. And remarkably, the week we were down in Charleston, temperatures back home in Vermont were higher. Well played, weather gods.

In my erstwhile married life this trip was a tad easier, coming across the mountains in Western North Carolina from East Tennessee, thence to the Piedmont, and finally the Coast—in the space of roughly five and a half or six hours, give or take. But it takes a couple of days to get there from here, unless you are young and willing to drive straight through. We could do it, observed the Chef. We’d launch a little after midnight, and as long as we had a dinner break somewhere, we could push through. It would be late.

Crossing the spectacular Ravenel Bridge over the Cooper River from Charleston and into Mt. Pleasant, though: that is a thing to do in the light of day. Back in the old days the bridge it replaced gave you white knuckles and tied your stomach in knots. The way to cross that bridge, aside from gingerly, was not looking down. The Ravenel Bridge, though, is an engineering marvel that rises triumphantly from the horizon on your approach to downtown Charleston, giving you butterflies to be sure, but in the most exquisite way. You can’t really ‘look down’ because of the bridge’s artful design, and there is access for walkers, safely separated from all the traffic.

Ravenel Bridge Over the Cooper

They were waiting for us outside when we pulled in. Scout-the-Labish and Waco-the-Lab (ish, too, most likely, said my sister): they were two peas in a pod from the get-go, as we suspected they’d be. The first meeting went something like this:

Scout: <head flip, tail a-wag> ‘Sup?

Waco: <tail a-wag> Not much. Can I sniff your behind? I know all the people in this neighborhood who hand out dog treats.

Scout: Sure thing.

Scout: Can we go inside now?

Waco: C’mon. I’ll show you the water bowl.

And that, as they say, was that.

In short, the two of them behaved as if they’d known each other forever. Waco is getting on in years, rises and moves slowly, and occasionally simply stops on her walks—not to turn around, but simply to stop until she says it is time again to go. Scout is intuitive about other doggish tolerances and thus was compliant, rolled with the punches, and was okay with the agenda, whatever it happened to be—walking, stopping and then walking, snacking, or napping. Waco and Scout are both fond of napping and found a multitude of opportunities for that.

Two Peas

Meanwhile, the humans also had agendas. I had a fairly ambitious list my sister helped fulfill or facilitate on our trip, not least of all a longish outing to shop at stores we don’t have in Vermont, which also gave the Chef a chance to golf. This is the beauty, observed the Chef and I, of living in a town like Mt. Pleasant: the diversions and retail outlets part and parcel of suburban living (and one particularly delightful hamlet nearby where I had an ‘emergency’ hair cut) are all there when you need them, but the proximity of all the culture downtown Charleston has to offer is still within minutes of Mt. Pleasant. Et, voilà, the best of both worlds.

I brought both my cameras because I explained to my sister I wanted to borrow her expertise to make some adjustments for shooting without a flash in low light (check, done in an instant), and to learn how to shoot up close and capture minuscule details. That last bit I tried with the help of some of her fancy equipment. It was much more difficult than I imagined, but also, I know what I need now to start doing some of this on my own. I muffed more images than I got right with her lens kit on my camera, although I love one of the ‘mistakes’ I made. And I did get a brilliant <by my standards> shot of sweet Waco’s toes.

Waco Toes Are Tacos

Lovely Mistake

Difficult-to-Photograph Waco

On our second full day the Chef and I left Scoutie at home with my sister and Waco, and the two of us took a guided food tour of downtown Charleston. This was the Chef’s agenda—a thing he wanted to do, researched, and then scheduled for us. There are lots and lots of these tours, many of them themed. Ours started in the early afternoon and lasted two or three hours, during which time we walked from one place to another, sampling cuisine while our entertaining and knowledgeable docent gave us a wealth of history relevant to the foods we were eating and how they came to be part of the culinary diversity in the South Carolina Lowcountry. Go to Charleston and take a food tour at Bulldog. Try to get one Franny Russell as your guide: even if you don’t love every single thing you eat set before you, her wit and encyclopedic knowledge will make the afternoon worth your while. For me, a girl still missing life in the South, Franny was a most delightful mash-up of several smart and creative Southern girl BFFs. I felt like I’d known her forever.

Waiting for Food Tour to Start

Fried Green Tomatoes

Best-Ever She-Crab Soup (+ interesting take on jambalaya)

We ended our time with my sister celebrating July 4th with a dinner prepared by the Chef. He had a couple of canine ‘helpers’ and a pair of curious human onlookers. Our host is a vegetarian, a challenge the Chef took on with zeal. True to his way, he had been thinking about this and planning it for a while, but only finalized the menu on the day of. Dinner was a delightful wild mushroom strudel with Swiss chard, goat cheese, and hot peppers from my sister’s garden. The precursor to this was fresh gazpacho, and our gracious host made us a beautiful dessert of peach shortcake. This, gentle reader, is what summer is all about.

Fourth of July Dinner Prep

Butter Is Life

Ever the Helper

And More Help

First Course Gazpacho

Wild Mushroom Strudel

Peach Shortcake

I did not want our time there to end. Even today, editing photos made me wistful for the slower pace of life on vacation, and for the life my sister and Waco enjoy in her beautiful home. Time stood still in the most delightful way for a few days in Mt. Pleasant.

‘Til next time, from Wilmington, NC.

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