Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Amtrak Adventure - Day 4 - Charleston, South Carolina

Day four got off to an early start- and I do mean early.  The overnight trip from Richmond, Va. To Charleston, SC, had us arriving at the North Charleston station at 4.55am. Given we had only got on the train just before ten it made for a short night’s sleep. Fortunately our hotel, The Charleston Plaza, was only a few minutes taxi ride away and we managed to get an early check-in so we did the only sensible thing and went to bed until a more reasonable time of day!

The hotel, while convenient to the Amtrak station, is twenty-five minutes from downtown Charleston but offers a shuttle service into town. We were dropped off at a modern bus terminal on King Street, one of the main thoroughfares. Low-rise buildings, an abundance of independent stores rather than the usual chains, and side streets lined with sedate 
residences all added to the relaxed atmosphere in this delightful southern city.

We meandered along the street until we saw the Sweetwater Café where I sampled biscuits with sausage gravy and my sister had “what came first”, a meal of chicken and egg. Now fully fortified, we made for Charleston City Market, one of the country’s oldest public markets.

From the outside the market looks small, but it stretches back for a considerable distance offering everything from fruit and vegetables to sea-grass baskets, t-shirts and jewelry. Half way through we found a stall selling freshly made lemonade, the perfect thirst-quencher on a sticky, sweltering day.

Deciding it was too hot to walk, a horse-drawn carriage ride seemed like the perfect solution. Dale, the horse, and Dennis, our driver and guide, took us on a journey through part of the historic district, past elegant houses in pretty colors, each one more stunning than the last. We learned how old tax rules had resulted in houses only having one room fronting the street and that what appeared to be the front door was actually a door leading to a patio which in turn had an entrance into the interior.

Charleston’s tallest buildings are its churches, four of which are linked by a Gateway walk. Or at least that’s what the guidebook told us. No matter how hard we looked we couldn’t find the beginning of the walk so we decided to try starting from the other end. We did find a small portion of the walk but that came to an abruupt end in a grave yard so I’m not sure where we went wrong.

All was not lost however as it did bring us out close to the Slave Mart Museum. At one time Charleston was one of the centers of slave trading with over 40 markets in the city. The Slave Mart Museum is the only remaining market place building. The exhibits detail what it was like for the slaves who were bought and sold there, how their fears and concerns were not only with regard to their new masters, but with the worry that husbands would be separated from wives, children from their parents. The buyers were only concerned about getting value for their money, the cost to the families was deemed irrelevant because a slave was considered to be merely a chattel. The indifference to the emotional suffering was chilling. While not a particularly big museum it’s definitely worth a visit.

With the threat of rain we had to make a decision. Either head back to the terminus and catch the shuttle back to our hotel or stay for another three hours in town and try to find somewhere to eat. It may have been fun to stay a while longer in town but with another early start in the morning (we had to get on the same time train as we had got off) eating at the hotel seemed the right thing to do. 

Verdict: Charleston is a beautiful city, well worth a visit. If we'd had more time I would have like to visit some of the old plantations such as Boone Hall Plantation or nearby Sullivan's Island. I'd definitely like to return one day. 

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