Charleston, North Carolina 11/18 – 11/25

Charleston, South Carolina:  Population =  132,609 (Metro area = 727,689), elevation = 30 feet, average January low temp = 42.1, Average July high temp = 88, average sunny days = 209, annual snowfall = 0.3”, annual rainfall = 46”, air quality index = 38, water quality index = 50, comfort index = 31, median age of residents = 36.3

The difference between Charleston and Myrtle Beach is stunning.  Where Myrtle Beach looks like a new arrival, Charleston almost drips with history.  The first settlement was in 1670, on the banks of the Ashley River in a low, swampy area.  Since the French, Dutch, Spanish, and English were all fighting over the Carolinas, they thought it would be more defensible.  After many hardships and crop failures, Charleston was founded at its present site, across the river, in 1680.

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From the site of the original colony, you can see some of the existing city
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The city was once walled with cannons on the river for defense

Colonial Charleston was the trading center for the many plantations that sprung up in the area.  These plantations were worked by slaves, brought over from Africa.  Of the estimated 400,000 slaves transported across the ocean, about 40% landed here first.  By 1708, the majority of the people in Charleston were black African slaves.

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A preserved and restored plantation house at the end of its Avenue of Oaks
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This was once an alley where they held slave auctions. It is now a museum of slavery.

Prior to the Revolutionary War, George Washington read the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the Exchange building in Charleston.  During the war, Charleston was attacked three times and finally, defeated and occupied in 1778.  It was not until 1782 that the city was besieged and reclaimed.

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The Exchange and Provost Dungeon, built 1771, was a mercantile exchange, jail, and slave market.

The Antebellum Era was a time of great prosperity and power for the 90 richest plantation owners who ruled the area.  Cotton was king and slavery provided the labor to make it hugely profitable.  But then the Civil War erupted.  With the election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina voted to secede from the Union.  Fort Sumter was bombarded by a shore battery and taken.  The city withstood a blockage until 1865, when General Sherman’s “march to the sea” captured it.

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Fort Sumter is just across the river

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Somehow, the geography and luck has protected the city from the worst of hurricanes, earthquakes, war, and fires.  Stroll through the downtown and you see building after building with historical plaques dating them back to the 1700s.  Even some of the alleys are the original cobblestoned pathways though the gardens and huge trees.

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The Philadelphia Alley, built in 1766
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A classic old house on Broad Street, downtown.
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A house on the Battery. Yes that is single family home.

Church steeples rise everywhere, earning Charleston the nickname “Holy City”.

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The ancient cemeteries look especially eerie with the gnarled live oaks overhead.
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The Angel Oak is about 400 years old. If you look very closely, you can see people near the trunk.

Maybe this has been kind of a term paper but, with so much history everywhere, it is hard to describe Charleston without it.  It is also a big modern city with all of the food, nightlife, business, and office buildings.  It is a complex city with a lot to see and we didn’t have enough time to really see enough of it.  Maybe another time.

Next up:  Savannah, Georgia

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Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 11/11 – 11/18

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina:  Population =  27,109 (Metro area = 465,391), elevation = 30 feet, average January low temp = 37.3, Average July high temp = 88, average sunny days = 218, annual snowfall = 0.9”, annual rainfall = 49.1”, air quality index = 85.1, water quality index = 28, comfort index = 30, median age of residents = 39.5

A good 60 miles of the coast of South Carolina is what is known as The Grand Strand.  This is uninterrupted sandy beach, as far as the eye can see and more.  Myrtle Beach is the largest city on the Strand and its number one industry is tourism.  Ocean Boulevard is the street closest to the ocean and the site of hundreds of resorts, condos, and hotels.  Viewed from the ocean, the resorts look like the teeth in a gigantic mouth; some glistening new white ones, some older yellowed ones, and a few gaps where hurricanes have delivered a punch.

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Downtown is flypaper for tourists.  Get a T-shirt with something corny or sexy painted on it.  Or maybe a legal bathing suit (thongs are illegal here).  Buy something fried on a stick.  Play video games.  Walk the boardwalk.  Ride the Skywheel 200 feet into the air.  Walk out onto a pier.  Visitors centers have info and discount tickets for local attractions and coupons for things you didn’t even know you wanted.  Get pierced or tattooed.  In November, Downtown is scarcely populated, but in the summer it is jammed with sunburnt flesh.  Myrtle Beach gets roughly 14 million tourists a year.

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The Skywheel looms over the city
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The Boardwalk wanders along next to the beach.
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The 2nd Avenue Pier stretches out into the Atlantic

The next road in from the beach is Kings Highway.  This is where the entertainment district starts.  It is lined with restaurants (especially pancake), bars, souvenir shops, golf shops, lots of miniature golf parks. and strip malls.  This where you go after hanging at the beach, when you need food or gear or beer or something else to do on a cloudy day.

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Kings Highway has an unusually high concentration of pancake restaurants and mini-golf courses.

Between Kings Highway and Highway 17 is a wide open area with parks, golf courses, and malls.  Driving through here, you can see the evolution of the American Mall.  Phase one is the strip mall: shops in a row and a parking lot in front.  Phase two is the enclosed mall; one big building with surrounding parking, with maybe another ring of big box stores around that.  Phase three is the amusement park mall; a cluster of non-connected shops, bars, restaurants, games, and rides with scattered parking lots.  Phase four is the lifestyle mall; a little village of upscale shops, restaurants, and bars with parking both curbside and in lots.  The retail is at street level and there are condos on the floors above and in rows all around the village.

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The Coastal Grand Mall (phase 2) is all trimmed and ready for holiday sales
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The Broadway At The Beach Mall (phase3) surrounds a pond and has paddleboats, carnival rides, and chain restaurants.
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The Market Common Mall (phase 4) looks like a big city neighborhood without the big city around it

There is a lot to do in Myrtle Beach.  That is the whole point.  This is a town wholly given over to entertaining tourists.  Beach and golf are the main product, but there are lots of other venues for soaking up those tourist dollars when it gets dark or cloudy.

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Ripley’s Odditorium
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Most of the big restaurant chains have located here

We enjoyed walking the beach in Myrtle Beach.  We enjoyed the great variety of food and shopping.  We enjoyed touring the sheer tackiness of the downtown tourist shops.  But, other than that, it seemed to me that something was missing.  There is no real history here, no classic old buildings, no tradition.  To me, the beach is a metaphor for the city; miles of beautiful sandy beach, but the rest rooms are for customers only.

Next stop: Charleston, South Carolina

New Bern, North Carolina 11/5 – 11/11

New Bern, North Carolina:  Population =  28,227, elevation = 10 feet, average January low temp = 34.9, Average July high temp = 90, average sunny days = 213, annual snowfall = 2.4, annual rainfall = 55.4, air quality index = 85, water quality index = 81, comfort index = 30, median age of residents = 39.8

From inland Raleigh, our next jump is to coastal New Bern.  New Bern is located on the banks of the Neuse River, where it widens prior to meeting the Atlantic.  It is a historic old city, having been settled in 1710 by Swiss and German immigrants.  It is named after Bern, Switzerland.  Since Bern is Swiss for bear, it is also called Bear City and sports many whimsical, gaudily painted bears.  Some of the city buildings even have what look to be stuffed real bears sticking out of the walls.

Back in the Colonial days, the governor of the North Carolina Province was William Tryon.  He is probably most famous for building an elaborate mansion, funded by raising taxes.  The taxpayers were very unhappy about this state of affairs and promptly nicknamed it “Tryon Palace”.  The Palace still stands, rebuilt after a fire and long neglect.  It is not really much of a palace, by European standards, but it is solid, spacious, and, for the times, very modern.

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Tryon Palace
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Formal dining room. Servants changed dishes, glasses, cutlery, and tablecloth for every course served.
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In the kitchen building. Very modern for its time, the fireplace has a clockwork device for turning the spit.

Across the city from the palace, there is a historic district of beautiful old homes from the early 1800’s to mid 1900’s.  There are many fine examples of Federal and Victorian styled homes, nestled into a lush landscape of manicured gardens and towering old trees.

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Victorian house with turret and porches
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A Federal house, square, solid, symmetrical

Closer to the middle of town, you will find the New Bern Firemen’s Museum.  That definitely is a stuffed bear on the front of the building.  Inside are horse drawn wagons, steam powered pumpers, and a hook and ladder unit.  There is also a lot of history.  Firefighting in New Bern started with the Atlantic Hook & Ladder Company in 1845.  In 1865, the Union army occupied New Bern and a group of their soldiers formed the Button Company to fight fires.  After the Civil War, the Atlantic Company was back.  Both Companies raced to be the first ones at the fire and fistfights were many and vigorous.  Finally, in 1928, one firehouse was built for both Companies.  The building was symmetrical, with each half housing a Company and their equipment.  The rivalry today is a lot friendlier.

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The New Bern Bear guards the Fire Department
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A steam powered, horse drawn 1884 Button water pumper
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A 1927 Seagrave hook and ladder. The ladder was wood and took five men to raise it.

Take a stroll through downtown New Bern, and you will find more historic buildings, fine restaurants and fun little eateries, a few breweries and taprooms, and lots of nice little mom-and-pop shops.  There are cute little courtyards with benches where a person can rest their bones after a long stroll.  Some of the bigger buildings have large yards with huge trees, dripping Spanish moss.  It is a sociable, fun, and welcoming town and the parking is free.  It breaks our hearts to have to leave before the Beer and Bacon Festival.

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New Bern was the birthplace of Pepsi Cola
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The old courthouse
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The Centenary Methodist church was established in 1772 on this site and rebuilt in 1904 after a fire.
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The Beer Army Brewery is in an old bank building.

Meanwhile, across town, is the other half of the story.  Like so many of the towns we have visited, New Bern has both a quaint little historic downtown, and a sprawling modern suburb.  Out West of the city, away from the rivers and mansions, are the malls and big box stores.  Get an antique lawn rake at Mitchell’s Hardware downtown; get a riding lawn mower at Sears in the Mall.  It is the best of both American worlds.

Next up: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

 

Raleigh, North Carolina 10/29 – 11/05

Raleigh, North Carolina:  Population =  370,896 (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill metro area = 2,037,430) , elevation = 400 feet, average January low temp = 31.5, Average July high temp = 89, average sunny days = 213, annual snowfall = 4.6, annual rainfall = 45.2, air quality index = 26.2, water quality index = 90, comfort index = 36, median age of residents = 33.6

Our trail South has become a zigzag, crossing from coast to inland and back again.  This week finds us inland, exploring yet another state capital in Raleigh.  Sorry, North Carolina, but your capital is pretty pathetic.  We entered this smallish building to look around and mostly we saw beige paint and peeling wallpaper.  The chambers are drab little rooms with plain wooden desks.  The rotunda is plain and bland.  A statue of George Washington, sitting in Roman toga and short haircut, for some inexplicable reason, resides in the middle.  OK, we finally figured out that this building is kind of a museum of state government as it was a century ago.  The only active part of the building is the Governor’s office.  That may explain a lot.

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Capital of North Carolina (retired)
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George Washington as Roman Emperor?
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Plain vanilla rotunda

We found the actual, active government in the State Legislative Building.  Out of session and under construction, but still, this is the building.  Flat and boxy, squares with little courtyards and fountains in the center, dull and utilitarian, this building has the grandeur of a scrub brush.  If there were lockers along the walls, it might pass for a high school.  I searched and finally found a room labelled “Rest” instead of “Mens”, so I would not have to show a birth certificate.

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State Legislature Building in Raleigh
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A couple of courtyard, no rotunda

Anxious to rinse that stale government taste out of our mouths, we crossed the city to find some good beer.  Raleigh is in the midst of a craft beer explosion and breweries are everywhere.  Trophy Brewing came highly recommended, with good reason.  They make a great selection of beers, including the popular DAVE series.  Their pizza is thin crusted and crunchy and topped with creative blends of good things.  We had a great time talking to the staff and regulars, who were bright, fun, and funny (and dapper!) and made us feel (again) that the Millennials and GenX’ers are going to build a new and better world.  If they get involved and vote out the knuckle draggers.

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Good beer, food, and conversation at Trophy
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The mural at Trophy says it all

Downtown Raleigh is compact and walkable.  There are a few tall office buildings, but mostly you will find shorter buildings with many shops, restaurants, and small businesses residing at street level.  Good and varied places to eat are everywhere.  We found Jamaican, Lebanese, Laotian, Irish, Mexican, Cajun, Chinese, and Southern, to name a few.  We understand there is a great live music scene here too, but most of it starts after 9:00 PM, so us old fogeys didn’t get to see it.

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The house special pho at Pho, Pho, Pho
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Barbacoa tacos and an al pastor torta. Mi gusta!

Just outside of Downtown we found Pullen Park.  This is a big, beautiful park with a lake, trails, and flower gardens for sunny afternoon strolls.  Follow the calliope music to the carousel for a ride on your favorite animal.  Look both ways at the tracks because the little train may be chugging along with its load of kids, big and small.  Be sure to say “Howdy” to the Andy and Opie statues.

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Ride the ponies on the carousel
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Andy and Opie going out fishin’

On another trip to the ‘burbs, we went to the North Carolina Museum Of Art.  Besides the many collections of art, both old and new, they were showing Art Deco Cars from the 1930’s and 1940’s.  These were concept cars: unique, trend-setting, and beautiful.

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Back downtown in the city, we also toured the North Carolina Museum Of History.  North Carolina is one of the original colonies and has a lot of history.  The museum is arranged in a series of sequential rooms that each display text and artifacts of the period.

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A model of Queen Anne’s Revenge, Blackbeard’s pirate ship
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Civil War battle flags and artifacts
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Mask of a KKK Grand Wizard

Raleigh is a city of many diverse neighborhoods.  Driving around the city we saw everything from tired old shacks to stately brick mansions; middle class suburbs to college campuses.  One section stands out though, the Oakwood neighborhood.  This was a community of big mansions that became multiple family houses that became restored jewels.

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The cities of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill form the Triangle, a large and diverse area including several colleges and major businesses.  With only a week to spend, we couldn’t really get to the rest of the Triangle.  Maybe next time.

Next up: New Bern, North Carolina