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Apr 12

Charleston

Jeff and I split town for the weekend, which was a Very Good Thing. We left Thursday night and got haircuts in Greensboro (yes, I drive to Greensboro for haircuts…have I mentioned that before?), then headed on to Charlotte to spend the night there. We added 2 hours to our drive time down, but were able to leave “early” (for me at any rate) from Charlotte (and get shorn en route), which put us in Charleston at 11:30 am and well rested (with “hot donuts now” for brekkies…mmmmmmmm!) .

We stayed at the Charleston Place, which was absolutely fabulous — definitely one of the nicer hotels I’ve stayed in. Jeff found a good deal (he’s the king of finding good deals) on the Executive Club level, so we splurged and stayed on the seventh floor. The nifty thing was that on the Executive Club level there was a nearly non-stop supply of food and drink — so much so, in fact, that we only ate out once (!!!) between arrival Friday morning and departure Sunday morning.

The “schedule” of treats was as follows:

  • continental breakfast — pastries, cereal, fresh-squeezed orange juice, sliced meats, cheese, fresh fruit, etc.
  • afternoon tea — this was the winner for me. A classic cream tea, with cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, Camembert, fresh fruit, cheesecake, truffles, pasties, tea (of course) and coffee
  • evening cocktails and hors d’oeuvres — heavy hors d’oevres, including spring rolls and miniature spinach quiches, cheese, pita & hummus, grilled vegetables, wine, beer and “spirits”
  • after dinner cordials with desserts — including cheesecake, pistachio cake (odd, but quite good), truffles, cookies, fruit and cream tarts, and, of course, liquors. (I’ve decided my favorite after-dinner drink is Bailey’s, Kahluha and cream (which seems to be a mudslide minus the vodka)

A plethora of food choices — all delicious (these were not the typical continental breakfast stale danishes!).

After arriving and checking in Friday we headed to the historic part of town, where I took about a gazillion pictures (links to come as soon as I get them sorted out). We headed back in time for tea (of course), and arranged a carriage tour with the “club level” concierge. A wee respite from the heat in our room, then the driver picked us up at the hotel. There are apparently six different routes the carriages take and which one you get is determined by a lottery ball in the carriage-driver-routing-stand. (I kid you not). After boarding the carriage, we left the hotel and went to the routing station, where our driver had to give his license number and wait for the assignation. We were lucky and drew the “historic homes” tour, which is only available before 6pm (since the neighborhood deserves some peace & quiet at night). Our driver was full of content (most of which I admit I missed, as I was busily snapping photos and ogling at the houses), and the ride itself was lovely. (There are two types of carriages, BTW: the ones run by the tour groups, which are more like trams that are pulled by the horses, and which have 6-9 people on them; and the “proper” (IMHO) carriages, which are what you think of when you think of horse-drawn carriage, and which hold only two (or four, I suppose., given that the seat facing us was empty. We opted for the latter, and would definitely recommend it.).

One funny thing — as we were at the stand waiting for the route, we overheard one of the drivers telling his cart (it was the other type of tour) that if you see what looks like a ball floating in a puddle DON’T let your kids pick it up. Apparently the drivers carry markers that look like half a superball with a little flag on top, which they use to mark the piddle puddles so the sanitation crews can see which areas they should hose down!

We arrived back at the hotel in time for hors d’oevres (=dinner … I wasn’t joking about the food) and pre-sleep cordials.

Saturday morning we got up in time (for breakfast and) the Easter Hat Parade. This was a blast (and should definitely be seen, so I will post photos soon). The parade was comprised of about a hundred ladies (who lunch, I imagine) in fabulous hats and one tiny chihuahua in a tuxedo parading through downtown Charleston. Truly startling! I was a bit sad, as I’d wished I’d brought one of my “fancy hats”. As it was I only had my squashable black straw travel hat (which was, I guess, better than being hatless!).

Post-parade we hiked north and rented bikes. Charleston is, IMHO, the ideal biking location, as it is completely flat. Yah! We rode the bikes further north and visited the Charleston aquarium, which was nice (good exhibits, clean, etc.) though sort of small. Admittedly I’m biased, as aquariums are a “thing” for me (undergrad was in Zoology with many of my courses in Marine Sciences), so I’ve been to some really fantastic aquaria (Monterey Bay, Baltimore and Chicago Shedd top the list). I was curious about one of the exhibits: an “open” bog (plants and water and mud and turtles in a big, open container, with no lid, so you could lean over and see them). I’m not sure how long they’ve had this exhibit, but I noticed it contained several tadpoles (one of which had its rear legs), which made me wonder if there was someone whose duty it was to monitor the polywogs for “legginess,” as it seems that once they’ve gotten legs, they could just jump right out. Frog on the loose!

Oh! And on the way to the aquarium, we passed MINIland! This giant parking lot *full* of new little MINIs all waiting for their people (normal people would call it a “shipping depot,” I think). I am, I am 90% sure, buying a MINI very soon, so this was quite exciting.

Then south on the bikes to the “point” of Charleston — a long ride on an avenue with sea breeze a’blowing. Very nice on the way down. A wee bit tricky on the way back, as the lovely breeze was blowing the wrong way, impeding progress. We turned the bikes in and hobbled back to the hotel so as to (a) have tea and (b) recuperate a bit before our dinner out. (And shop, too, although I was quite restrained, in light of upcoming MINI goodness).

Dinner was at Tristan’s — wow! We did the chef’s tasting menu and were quite pleased at his willingness to deal with our peculiarities (I won’t eat spicy food and Jeff’s not all that fond of seafood and is experiencing a lack-of-tummy-happiness with raw tomatoes of late). Let’s see, dinner was:

  • corn chowder with sauteed shrimp (me) and black bean soup (Jeff)
  • amuse bouche of tiny quail leg with some sort of sauce
  • grouper cheek with some sort of savory/sweet sauce (mango?) (me) and duck confit with cherries on an arugula bed (Jeff)
  • skate wing with sausage butter (me) and sauteed duck breast with confit sauce (Jeff)
  • Halibut with shallot sauce, squash medley and garlic mashed potatoes (me) and and rotisserie leg of lamb with rosemary/garlic juice and vegetable medley (Jeff)
  • chocolate hazelnut mousse (yet, solid, somehow) with mint ice cream (me) and pear tart (Jeff)
  • cotton candy — yep! a big plate of cotton candy as the final treat!

Was I in heaven? Why yes, I was.
We stumbled home in a state of bliss.

Permanent link to this article: http://ginalikins.com/2004/04/12/charleston/

3 comments

  1. jason0x21

    Heh, my parents spent the weekend in Charleston. I think they has as good a time as you two!

    1. gina

      Cool! I wonder if I saw them anywhere? :)

  2. ex_shemaiah

    What an amazing trip! I love tasting menus. I feel like a queen when enjoying one. JG and I had the tasting menu with wine pairing at Noe’s here in LA for my birthday. What a treat! I truly loved reading this post. YOur adventures sound like fun.

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