Cha-cha-cha Charleston!

“Why Charleston?”

When my daughter and I were preparing to head out on our second annual mother-daughter travel trip, Charleston came to mind. Neither one of us had spent any time in the deep south, where local tradition speaks loudly through their attitude, their architecture and most importantly to these two foodies – their food. She Crab soup, hominy, shrimp and grits, crab cakes, collard greens, southern fried chicken, mac and cheese, corn bread, crispy pig ears…. This hidden gem, is a must see, and now for us – a must return.

Two gals (my daughter and I) enjoying a girls night out on the town in Charleston!

Two gals (my daughter and I) enjoying a girls night out on the town in Charleston!

We had searched travel magazines, travel blogs and talked with others who have traveled to the south and the city that kept coming up to fit all our criteria – was Charleston. And that would be Charleston, South Carolina. There is a Charleston in West Virginia, Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. Every time I went to book something – our hotel, restaurants, flights – I had to make sure I was booking for the correct Charleston. Not to mention the confusion added when dealing with other similarly named cities in the area – Charlottesville, Charlottetown, Charlotte.

Thick lush green landscape surrounding Charleston.

Thick lush green landscape surrounding Charleston.

Multiple waterways and harbors along the South Carolina seaboard as we make our way towards Charleston.

Multiple waterways and harbors along the South Carolina seaboard as we make our way towards Charleston.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our introduction to southern hospitality started with our chatty, sweet, informative taxi driver in our ride to our Inn and didn’t subside one iota until we left this great city of 125,000. Greeted with smiling dispositions everywhere we went, we heard more ‘yes mam‘ and ‘y’all‘ from a city filled with locals. Every person we met in the service industry was from Charleston or the surrounding area. They all truly love the area so much they can’t think of why they’d ever leave. And those we met who weren’t from the area, said they came to visit and just never left. We have to say the thought crossed our minds.

Located on the tip of a peninsula that juts out into the Charleston Harbor, Charleston is a city deluged in history. Magnolia Plantation, about 12 miles outside of the city, was built in 1676 by the Drayton family and is still owned and run by 12th generation Draytons. A battery park lines the western and southern edge of the city along the waterfront – showcasing Civil War era cannons. Original cobblestone streets, housing, stores and churches that date back to the 17th century line the streets of inland Charleston. For blocks in every direction are beautiful character homes, colorful row houses on Rainbow Row, and private gardens to rival any I’ve seen anywhere in the world. This time of year things are lush and green, but I would imagine the spring would have your nose in the air, breathing in the scents of multiple blossoms. And your eyes would be treated to a palette of hues only mother nature could create.

Fort Sumter sits off in the distance of Charleston Harbor.

Fort Sumter sits off in the distance of Charleston Harbor.

The expansive veranda on the backside of the main house at Magnolia Plantation was build as one of the most modern homes of its time back in the late 1800's.

The backside of this wrap-around veranda is part of the main house at Magnolia Plantation, which was built as one of the most modern homes of its time back in the late 1800’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On a regular day I walk about 10,000 steps (Jawbone), but in Charleston my daughter and I averaged nearly 20,000 steps a day. We hit the summer time heat and HUMIDITY on this last weekend of summer, with temps hovering around 85-90 and the humidity in equal percentages. We showered and changed 2-3 times a day just to get refreshed and drank lots of that wonderful southern iced tea. And we slept very well. But no amount of heat and humidity could wipe the perennial smile off our faces as we fell in love with this magical city, hour by hour, day by day.

It started with our stay at the Wentworth Mansion. This grand old mansion was built in 1865 by Francis Silas Rodgers, a cotton and phosphate baron, where he and his wife, Marie Elizabeth Evans Cochran raised their thirteen children. Our suite was once the billiards room where you can still see the ceiling detail that mirrored the table below. (See the Global Gallery for more Wentworth Mansion pics.) The house is bathed in carved wood detailing throughout with a grande four-story staircase. The old carriage house has been converted into one of the cities fine dining establishments, Circa 1886, which is a must visit whether you are staying at the hotel or not. And the stables have been converted to a beautiful spa replete with the original brick walls and wrought iron accents on windows and doors.

The back, but main entrance to Wentworth Mansion.

The back, but main entrance to Wentworth Mansion.

The four-story hand-carved ornate stairway leads out of the reception area of the Wentworth Mansion.

The four-story hand-carved ornate stairway leads out of the reception area of the Wentworth Mansion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

King Street is the main street shopping street – and works from the tip of the peninsula northwards. High end stores are mingled with local and regional favorites. As you walk further inland on King Street you come across more restaurants and hotels, and bars that have line-ups on weekends for the throngs of university students and Citadel cadets looking to let loose after a week of hitting the books and regimented protocol.

King Street in Charleston - great shopping, eating and drinks.

King Street in Charleston – great shopping, eating and drinks.

Charleston we applaud you for staying true to your history and culture and not falling prey to the pressures of becoming a commercialized tourist destination. You are a hidden gem we hope stays somewhat hidden. We will return to peruse the many galleries, visit historical spots like Fort Sumter, walk the grounds of another grand plantation, golf at the world-renowned Kiawah Island, and indulge in more of your southern cooking and hospitality – which one can never enjoy too much of either.

Heavily treed and well-manicured streets line the multi-colored row houses on Rainbow Row.

Heavily treed and well-manicured streets line the multi-colored row houses on Rainbow Row.

Check out more pictures of Charleston and Magnolia Plantation in the Global Gallery. Be sure to click on a photo to get an enlarged picture.

ALSO: Stay tuned for the new “end-of-the-month post for foodies” (beginning at the end of this month) – where I will be collaborating with my daughter to showcase all of the food we have enjoyed during that given month, whether locally or on our travels, together or separately. Charleston’s restaurants will be some of our first highlighted foodie destinations.

Middle East: Jordan: Amman

After a four-hour drive, through the mainly desolate Arabian Desert, save a random police vehicle parked under a lone tree with a prayer blanket at its side, we arrived back in Amman in the bright daylight. We dropped our rental car back at the Queen Alia International Airport and saw the construction we had dealt with in the dark of night when we left the airport to make our way to the Dead Sea four days ago.

Amman, Jordan

Amman, Jordan

Signs of growth and prosperity in the region are shown in the almost finished new main terminal, looking very modern in a very ancient setting. After dropping our car off, we hailed a cab for our first taste of life in Amman – a much faster pace than we experienced in the Dead Sea, Petra and Wadi Rum. In Amman, speed limits are a suggestion, road lines go unnoticed and steering with one’s hands are optional. Our driver had one hand hanging out the window with a cigarette dangling from it while the other hand-held a phone to his ear, using his knee to steer the car while racing down the highway at uncomfortable speeds.

But that is life on the roads in Jordan – kind of a cross between NYC and Rome taxi drivers. Once off the streets in Amman, the pace of the culture leans to the other extreme of subdued and reserved. Timelines are not strictly adhered to and things will get done when they get done. There is always time for tea, prayer or an occasional puff of watermelon flavored shisha from a hookah pipe.

A dear friend enjoying a quiet moment and a puff on a hookah pipe at Old View Cafe, Amman, Jordan

A dear friend enjoying a quiet moment and a puff on a hookah pipe at Old View Cafe, Amman, Jordan

At our hotel, we were greeted with barricades on the parking lanes and security check points at the hotel entrance. These were installed in 2005, when 60 people were killed after the nearby Grand Hyatt Hotel, the Radisson SAS Hotel and the Days Inn, were all bombed.

For me, it wasn’t until we arrived in Amman that I experienced what it was like to exist in a male dominated culture. In the U.S. men open doors for women. In Amman, men walk through the doors first and their women follow, a certain amount of paces behind. But other than the need to cover our shoulders and wear long skirts or slacks, my daughter and I did not feel oppressed in this male dominated culture and were always greeted with respect and equality.

Making sure to cover up, even in the heat of the summer, Amman, Jordan

Making sure to cover up, even in the heat of the summer, Amman, Jordan

Since my daughter had already spent several weeks in Amman she was able steer us in the direction of the local highlights, while she spent her days at work, at a local English language Arabic magazine, Living Well. There have only been street signs in Amman for a short period of time but locals don’t use them. The city is set up on a series of eight circles and directions send you left or right off each circle, towards landmarks or down a certain number of blocks.

My daughter doing a little modeling for Living Well Magazine where she interned in Amman, Jordan

My daughter doing a little modeling for Living Well Magazine where she interned in Amman, Jordan

Amman is an ancient city, founded in 7000 BC. From the ancient Roman ruins of the Citadel to the modern Abdoun Bridge, life in this city of almost 3,000,000 inhabitants is constantly in motion. Walking the streets of Amman we were greeted with the smells of falafel (fried balls of chickpea and spices); the sights of limestone architecture (all buildings have to be built of limestone or the be the color of limestone): heard the calls to prayer (five times a day); and felt the warmth of the arid hot summer sun.

My husband and I set up a private tour that took us to the Citadel that sits up high on the opposite side of town; then down into the bustling market place lined with street vendors; then past one of the oldest mosques in town; and finished at the ruins of the Roman amphitheater.

Roman ruins of the Citadel in Amman, Jordan

Roman ruins of the Citadel in Amman, Jordan

Bulk spices at the Il Balad Souk - and open marketplace, Amman, Jordan

Bulk spices at the Souk Jara – and open marketplace, Amman, Jordan

King Hussein Mosque, Amman, Jordan

King Hussein Mosque, Amman, Jordan

Roman Amphitheater, Amman, Jordan

Roman Amphitheater, Amman, Jordan

Our driver, a well spoken man who had served as a steward on several major airlines, had us take note all the different license plates from surrounding countries, people taking refuge in Jordan – denoted as the ‘neutral’ country of the Middle East. He said that generally the streets in Jordan are empty during the summers – too hot for the locals – but with all the civil unrest in bordering countries, the city is in full swing year round and it puts a strain on their own natural resources for their own people.

One of the highlights of our whole middle eastern trip was getting to know a family that had befriended our daughter. The patriarch was a business associate of one of my husband’s brothers who not only graciously agreed to be a ‘go to’ person for our daughter in case of emergencies, but they became her family away from home. They picked her up at the airport, provided her with a local phone, drove her around the city and invited her to their home to share in family dinners.

Mrs. Taghreed overseeing a family dinner at the home of Abu Jawad

Mrs. Taghreed overseeing a family dinner at the home of Abu Jawad

When our daughter first wanted to go to Jordan, we were very hesitant because of the ongoing unrest in the region surrounding Jordan. But after meeting this special family and experiencing their hospitality, my husband and I left lighthearted knowing our daughter was in good hands for the duration of her stay.

I want to dedicate this post to Abu Jawad and his family and to Mrs. Taghreed. Your friendships will be treasured for a lifetime.

Abu Jawad, my daughter Allison, Mrs. Taghreed

Abu Jawad, my daughter Allison, Mrs. Taghreed

Check the Global Gallery – Jordan: Amman for more pictures of this great ancient city.