Palmetto trees, colonial architecture and cobbled streets. Thick accents, flickering gas lamps and bizarre cuisine. I was told that the culture down south was different, and probably the most authentic in the USA. After a few days in Charleston, South Carolina, I realised that whoever it was who told me that was right. And man am I glad they convinced me to come check it out.
It was a two hour drive down from Columbia past lots and lots of marshy forest. What I was immediately struck by upon arrival was that the “city” didn’t really look like a city. Not by American standards anyway. That’s because Charleston is an extremely historic town, and it was someone’s (great) idea to preserve it that way. Hundreds of buildings date from the 1800s, which for the USA is kind of a big deal. As a result, “Charming Charleston” is one of the prettiest towns about. In fact it was actually named the best city in the world a few years running by someone or other (this year it came second).
The colonial architecture (also called antebellum as it dates from before the civil war) is pretty iconic. Timber clad houses in bright or pastel colours. Two tier wrap around porches and balconies – fences painted white. Big windows with shutters, big columns, staircases outside and all over the place… it’s a really curious style. Many of the houses are leaning on their neighbours and could do with a coat of paint, but a lot of them are resplendent and gigantic mansions, their yards full of the state tree, the palmetto. They’re difficult to photograph so please excuse my poor attempts, but the overall appearance makes for beautiful neighbourhoods that are a delight to stroll around. That’s probably been my favourite thing to do whilst here. I’ve never seen buildings like them, and they’re just so American I can’t believe they actually exist.
Walking around Charleston is an exceedingly pleasant pass time, but there are a myriad other attractions here. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the United States in 1860; the decision was made right here in Charleston. This of course led to the founding of the confederacy and civil war. As a result there’s a lot of history to read about here, which I enjoyed doing in the Old Slave Mart (no prizes for guessing what happened there) and the Charleston Museum, where you can learn about plantation life and dress up in a confederate soldier’s garb.
The hostel I’m staying in has been kinda quiet unfortunately, but I guess it’s not surprising due to the time of year I’m visiting. One night I palled up with Ben and Alex from Darwin, Australia, and we went to check out a few bars on King Street. We ended up drinking local ales (gross) in Prohibition, which was pretty lively on account of the band they had playing (complete with whistles and banjos and hilarious accents). People were actually dancing, and it wasn’t long until a local girl spied us three foreigners and invited us to the dance floor. Ben and Alex couldn’t be convinced, but I thought why the hell not, and went along with Alicia, who apparently dances to relax. I didn’t feel particularly relaxed at all, in fact I’m a hopeless dancer and the song couldn’t finish soon enough. Alicia patiently taught me a few steps, as well as the Charleston. So now I’ve danced the Charleston in Charleston (woo). It probably looked like nothing on earth so after the music finished I rushed back to my seat and my beer. Alicia joined us and the four of us had a pleasant time chatting about various things, including American foreign policy and terrorism. It was awesome hanging out with new friends, probably people I’ll never see again. But that’s travelling for ya!