Friday, January 14, 2011

Christmastime in Charleston

I realize that this post is a bit out of season and I should have written it a month ago, but life got a little hectic and here I am. With an upcoming trip to Charleston (this one actually happening before the aforementioned Nashville trip!) I wanted to get it out of my system and write about my very first trip to Charleston--which, as the title of this entry implies, happened during the Christmas season. I've already reviewed the hotel we stayed at, the Holiday Inn Historic District, which I absolutely recommend especially if you've never been to Charleston before. The concierge--a free service--is amazing!

That said, Christmas really is an amazing time to visit this city. The weather is a bit cooler, of course, but if you're lucky you will see sunny and 60 degrees as we did on our visit. And the decorations and special activities are plentiful! We were only there from about 4 PM on Friday until maybe noon on Sunday and that definitely wasn't long enough. Upon arrival we had our first dinner at Poogan's Porch, which has consistently been rated one of the best restaurants in Charleston. Considering that and the quality of their food (everything was delicious!), the prices were reasonable and if you're looking for a Travel Channel-recognized, reasonably priced meal I recommend checking it out.

We even fit in a tour on our first evening, as the Edmonston-Alston house runs candlelight holiday tours around Christmas. The house was filled with period Christmas decorations to complement the approximately 90 percent authentic furnishings throughout, and on top of that I can now say that I've been to the place where General P.T. Beauregard watched the shelling of Fort Sumter--not to mention the fact that it even sheltered General Robert E. Lee for a night!

Now, the one thing this trip didn't include was nightlife, as I was visiting with my mother. But that doesn't mean that we didn't have one heck of a good time. We were up and at 'em early on Saturday morning in order to visit the Farmer's Market on Marion Square, which was pretty happening this time of year as local artists and farmers were offering their wares and goods as Christmas gifts. The market only took us about an hour or so to explore, though, which left the rest of the morning for a tour. We had originally planned on doing a walking tour, but this is where the concierge came in--he suggested that we take a riding tour, with an older woman who had not only lived in Charleston all her life, but had been one of the first people in the city to receive a tour manager card.

View of Charleston on our "driving" tour
Unfortunately, I have since lost the business card of this amazing lady and can't seem to find her on the internet. But despite her tour being twice the cost of a walking tour, it was worth every penny. We saw far more of the city, heard not just the usual history but many personal anecdotes from our guide, and as she knew practically everyone we passed we even got to do some other special activities--such as tour the private garden of one of her friends.

Once our tour was over we were starving and headed to Hyman's Seafood on Meeting Street. This restaurant is also dubbed one of the "must-eat" locations in Charleston and while we certainly enjoyed our meal, I wasn't overly impressed with it. However, I am fully prepared to admit that that is more because of my tastes than anything Hyman's did "wrong". I grew up on seafood from Cape Cod and Maine and that's my style--fresh, not fried, basically. I've never been big on the way Southerners serve their seafood and Hyman's is no exception. Still, the experience was fun and if you're not super picky about your seafood I can safely say that Hyman's is a great place for a meal.

City Market's main building
The rest of our Saturday afternoon was spent at the City Market, which is full of everything from kitschy Confederacy "souvenirs" and cheap jewelry to tin baskets hand painted with Charleston scenes and two-foot-tall Santa Clauses made out of cypress knees...and of course the ubiquitous Charleston basket weavers! We perused the market for a couple of  hours and even that wasn't long enough; but things were winding down for the day and we had a special holiday season activity that night--the Progressive Dinner.

Unfortunately, this Progressive Dinner--offered by the Charming Inns company who runs the Kings Courtyard Inn, Circa 1886 and the John Rutledge House Inn--was the "lowlight" of our trip. I am extremely open-minded when it comes to food and will try anything--and although I don't remember the exact offerings (and they change almost every year anyway) I wasn't impressed with any of them or pleased by many of them, either. It was certainly interesting to visit these historic places, and the carriage rides between them were pleasant, but I really wouldn't suggest this as a dinner option in Charleston. There are so many other amazing Charleston restaurants that are less expensive and have more and probably better food to offer.
My mom, my sister and I on one of the Progressive Dinner carriage rides
When our Progressive Dinner was [finally] over, we called it a night back at the hotel and were packed and leaving Charleston just after breakfast the next morning. Yes, it was quite a short stay, but considering this is a far less crowded time of year and how many beautiful Christmas decorations we saw, Charleston on a December weekend is tops in my book :o)

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