Ok, so you decided to take the ferry, you pass the Battery, you get off the ferry and in front of you is Water Street, Broad Street, Church Street, Exchange Street, New Street…. you’re in New York, right? Wrong! You’re in Charleston, South Carolina!! Wait, what? How can that be? It’s easy. You see, along with New York, there was Boston, Philadelphia and Charleston as the main cities that the British set up in their new world. And they built them all in the same way, in the same geographical settings and with sometimes, the same names. Charleston is a peninsula with two rivers running beside it and a great bay in front of it with forts on all sides (think NY) and bridges connecting the land on either side. Spooky, right?
I just got back from a five-day trip to this American gem of a city, and I highly recommend it for a long weekend or mid-week trip. Better to visit in the spring or fall because, guess what, it gets hot in the summer. How hot? Well, consecutive 100 degree-days are not unheard of. And its nickname is the Low Country, because it’s below sea level. That means on high tides or full moons or heavy rains, it floods. No basements in low country, only a foot or two down and you are in sand. Sound familiar? And winters get cold. This ain’t Florida (about a three-hour drive further south). So spring and fall are your best bets.
What’s this city got going for it? Well for starters: food. The restaurants, to quote a friend, “are off the charts!” History, cobble stone streets with homes from the 1700s sporting very distinctive architectural details like one-room wide homes, wrought iron railings, balconies, side doors. It’s absolutely beautiful and all walkable. Jazz music, nice little dinner clubs with saxophone led groups and the smell of Carolina jasmine takes you back, way back. Literally intoxicating.
Take a tour. They have horse-drawn carriages night and day (no de Blasio here!!), they have walking tours, ghost tours, plantation tours, Fort Sumter tours, water tours, cocktail tours, free bus tours…. you name it, they got it. And did I mention churches? This place is known as the holy city because it boasts so many churches: Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic, Jewish, and African American. Unfortunately, some nut shot up one of the churches a few years back. It was terrible. You know what the church members did? They forgave him. That’s love.
Back in the day, Charleston was the most prosperous of the four colonial cities. Of course it was built on the back of West African slaves. Rice, or Carolina Gold as they called it was the leading crop before the Civil War. Very hard work, the technology to harvest that crop was actually brought over by the slaves themselves because it was a crop they knew well from home. After the war, those plantation owners found out that once you took free labor off the income statement, it was impossible to get any revenue to flow to the bottom line. It didn’t take long for the city to look for other means to support itself.
How do you get around in this city? Well the best way is simply to walk. We found it to be safe and convenient to get around that way. They also have a free bus hop-on, hop-off bus. They have Uber too and it works quite well. They also have Pedi-cabs, and horse-drawn carriages. And they have ferries! It’s an hour-and-a-half flight from Kennedy.
Being there got me thinking (I know a dangerous thing), why can’t Rockaway have some of these things too? Think of it, a tourist takes a ferry to Rockaway and they have no idea what to do when they get here. But when they get off, there could be tour buses or Pedi-cabs waiting to take them on tour. What tour you say? Well we’ve got our own history here too: the Boardwalk, Fort Tilden, Riis Park, the beach, Restaurant Row, bars, live music, art galleries, bungalows. No, the British didn’t set up shop here back in the 1700s, but we could learn a thing or two from Charleston. Check the place out, it’s worth the visit.