September 20th, 2008 – by: jagnroz
"Sam & Mira" with Bubbie at the Joseph Manigault House
The alarm clock failed to go off this morning. I guess we did not set it correctly. No matter. The hotel served breakfast until 10 AM - and it was very good!
We drove to downtown Charleston over the ravishing Ravenal Bridge. The bridge's cable support towers reach for the sky and it is so graceful. It makes our San Francisco Golden Gate or Bay Bridge look very old-fashioned. The road led us into the narrow streets of Charleston, but Roada got us to the parking lot at the Visitor Center (yes, I know - yet another one!) very smoothly. We had to wait for a car to leave before we could go into the fairly small lot - it was full. Happily the wait was not long and we started on our way to explore this marvelous place.
Charming sculpture on Joseph Manigault House
We had some time before our tour was to leave, so we walked around for a short while. Across from the Visitor Center's parking lot is the historic Joseph Manigault House. It was built in 1803, mainly of brick. There is a lovely little sculpture at the top of the doorway and I have included a photograph of that.
We made arrangements to take the Gullah Tour and it left from an art gallery across the street from the Visitor Center. Our guide was a delightful man by the name of Alphonso Brown. He is also the owner of the company.
Gullah is a language spoken by slaves and is a mixture of English and some of the African dialects - actually one might call it Creole. Mr. Brown spoke it fluently and tried to teach his passengers a few words. He was great fun, a former school teacher who is rightly proud of his heritage. The Gullah people were farmers and those who are left are trying to keep their language alive and healthy. Mr. Brown took us to many places associated with African-American history and we all learned many things we were not taught in school. This applied to many of the black tourists on the bus as well as the whites. He pointed out many of the historic churches and homes in the area. He was especially proud to point out the gorgeous wrought-iron gates and fences made by a gentleman named Philip Simmons.
Our Gullah Tour guide, Alphonso Brown
The workmanship is astounding. Mr Simmons is now in his late 90's and no longer does the physical work of creating these gates. His sons and grandsons carry on his work. He is living in a nursing home. Simmons was declared a "National Treasure" during the Reagan administration. Well deserved! We visited his home and workshop. They are in poor condition, but they are still being used by the Simmons family.
Lovely Phillip Simmons gate
After our tour ended, Jag and I ate a very light lunch on the tailgate of the car, then walked down Meeting Street to the Charleston City Market, about 3/4 of a mile at least. Our next tour was going to leave from across the street. The City Market is very remindful of Portland, OR, and its Saturday Market. There are craftsmen of all kinds and many beautiful items for sale.
We saw some pen-and-ink drawings of the local area for very, very low prices. Hopefully we will be back in that area tomorrow so that we can purchase one or two. As a matter of fact, the art gallery from which the Gullah Tour left had prints that were in frames for $39.50! Heck, the frame was worth more than that!
Old Slave Mart Museum
Our next tour was a walking tour and would cover some of the areas the Gullah Tour went. However this was a more intimate way of learning about the city. We chose a companycalled Original Charleston Walks. Their advertising says they have been featured on The Discovery Channel, National Geographic Traveler magazine and many others of that sort.
That was a good enough endorsement for me. There was only one other couple, Tom and Adele Page, from Summerville, about 20 miles outside of Charleston. This made the tour very intimate and we all had the opportunity to ask questions and receive direct answers. Our tour guide, Mike, has been doing this type of work for 12 years and is extremely knowledgeable about the history of this wonderful city. He took us to some of the gorgeous old homes, most built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Even more beautiful than the houses, with their wrought-iron gates and fences, are the gardens attached to them. The lots are quite deep and this gives the landscape designers room to create something truly incredible.
Jag and Roz in front of gorgeous Charleston garden gate
We visited an area called Rainbow Row, a street filled with houses painted in lovely pastel colors. They reminded me of San Francisco's famous Painted Ladies, although the architecture is quite different. He also took us to The Battery to see some of the very large homes alongside the harbor. Many of these homes were used by naval officers during World War II, including President John F. Kennedy. He lived a very fast life in Charleston and, as a result, was sent off to the Pacific Theater to captain his famed PT Boat 109.
Immense Charleston garden
Our tour ended much too quickly for our interest, but our feet were really hurting after 2 hours. We mentioned that we were planning to have dinner at Hyman's Seafood Restaurant, but were told that it is very touristy, although pretty good. Both the guide and Tom and Adele Page recommended a restaurant called Hank's Seafood, very much preferred by the locals.
He gave us directions and we set off to search for the place. Somehow we got ourselves lost (probably my fault - I am very good at getting lost in strange cities). We wandered around for quite some time and Jag finally got us reoriented by actually reading the map correctly. We found the restaurant, but were told that other than the "community table", they would not be able to seat us until 9:30 PM. It was only 6 PM and so we elected for the long shared table. It turned out to be a really nice way to have dinner. Lo and behold - who should be at that table but our tour partners, Tom and Adele Page. They, too, had gotten lost and had only reached the restaurant about 5 minutes before we did! Dinner for us was kept simple: we both had salads. Jag had mussels in a white wine sauce and I had crab cakes, both off the appetizer menu.
Tom and Adele Page, Roz, Mike.
That not only saved us money, but the portions were just right. The crab cakes were a little bit of heaven - just wonderful. Jag's mussels were very tasty.
Majestic St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Charleston
After dinner it was time to return to the Visitor Center parking lot. My feet said: "No more, no more, no more! Pleeeease!!!" We hailed a pedicab for the long ride back to our car. It was a blessing, that's for sure. It cost us $10 with the tip, but there really was no way I could have walked all that way. The young man powering the pedicab worked so hard. In that humidity, it must be torture.
We returned to our hotel and, other than posting to this blog, I am planning to soak my feet for a good long time. My friend Tylenol should also help. I hope all the pain will be gone tomorrow. We are planning to visit historic Fort Sumpter and then tour Patriots Point Naval Museum. That means more walking. But please don't tell my feet.