With New Orleans in our rearview mirror we took a short two hour drive northeast to Mobile, Alabama to spend the night. Mobile had a nice bed and breakfast, so we thought it best to get a goodnight’s sleep and head out early the next day for the long drive ahead to Charleston. The Kate Shepard House was a historic building turned comfy inn cared for by a lovely and kind staffer. Our room was decorated in a nautical ship theme and the house pooch was fluffy and friendly. What more could you ask for?
The advantages of staying in a B&B is that you not only get a feel for a certain place, but you also get to meet a few locals. We had a pleasant discussion with the inn manager about politics, the Affordable Care Act, riots in Baltimore, and the yearning for the local industry of yore (this was way before the election!). Mobile once had a thriving shipping and lumber industry, but lately had their fingers crossed for the opening of big-name factories to keep people employed (a big Airbus factory opened after our visit). This open discussion was frank and respectful, and insightful in a lot of ways.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that many parts of the South have seen better days, and Mobile, Alabama really felt like one of those places. We drove around a bit before dinner, getting a feel for the town. Sleepy, worn and sparse; that’s what I saw amid the moss hanging trees and the downtown streets. We also noted a ridiculous number of law firms, never finding out what that was all about.
The city felt tired and heavy, alive with whispers of history, hidden in the Spanish moss. Perhaps it was the gloomy weather casting a shadow on our visit, but I was looking forward to leaving it behind.
Mobile -> Charleston
Distance: 600 Miles
Driving Time: 9 hours, 33 minutes
The drive to Charleston was long but uneventful. I loved the highways of Georgia, lined with blossoming trees and hilly, back roads surrounded by fruit groves. In honor of the state, during a pit stop I ordered a peach flavored, green tea lemonade at Starbucks and snagged a fresh scratch ticket. I didn’t win, but by this point I had figured out how to maximize the enjoyment from one ticket (someday I’ll share my technique) so it was less about winning and more about building suspense. Jon was convinced I had developed a gambling problem. We avoided the traffic around Atlanta and took a straight shot east across the state to Savannah for dinner on the river.
Stomach’s full, we drove north into the dark.
For a while I could see coastal grasses on the side of the road, brightened by the passing of cars in the other direction. You could smell the ocean and the cool night breeze was refreshing when we rolled our windows down. And then we crossed the arching bridge into a darkened Charleston.
It was late when we got to Zero George, a gorgeous boutique hotel made up of several cute buildings in the middle of Charleston. After such a long drive it was nice to have a beautiful room to greet us. Also their soaps smelled like heaven and I’m not ashamed to admit I snagged some lotion samples to use at home.
The next morning, after a complimentary breakfast buffet, we went out to explore. Our first stop was the Mother Emanuel church. The Charleston shooting had happened just a week before, and when we found out it was only a few blocks away from the hotel, I thought it important to stop and pay our respects.
After a few somber moments and a sign of the guestbook, we made our way over to our first stop: the Charleston Museum.
The city of Charleston is stunning and we spent the whole, toasty day wandered through museums, old homes and scenic streets. Dinner at the Obstinate Daughter on Sullivan’s Island was incredibly memorable not only because the food was excellent, but with long braided hair and a slight tan I was the most exotic looking patron in the whole place. Jon and I had a good long laugh about that.
We stayed two nights. The morning we checked out, I wanted to see a plantation, so we drove to Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.
We took a pleasant tour of the interior, but spent most of our time in the “romantic” gardens. It was a beautiful sunny day, but the gardens hardly felt romantic. The trees felt more looming than shady, and the Spanish moss left the groves feeling grey.
There was history here and you could feel it breathing out from the ground. It was not a place I’d want to be alone at night.
See what I mean? Signs everywhere…
While I was in love with the beauty, Charleston did reveal a little of its underbelly to us as we toured. We were disappointed by the lack of information on slavery, and ended up asking probing questions to various uncomfortable and scripted guides, many of whom skillfully glossed over the history. To me there felt to be a general avoidance of the subject. There’s a Confederate Museum smack in the middle of downtown (we didn’t visit) and Magnolia Plantation, if you can believe it, is still owned by the original family. All that, combined with the blurred history, made me uncomfortable. Remember, when we were visiting, there had just been the church shooting and South Carolina was refusing the remove the Confederate flag from outside their statehouse. Perhaps we’re missing something, but it all felt a little strange and disturbing. How do you come to move forward, if you’ve never taken a hard look at your past?
Charleston was lovely, but it left a certain impression, and I can’t stop thinking about how relevant it is to what is happening today in our country.