Tuesday, 27 May 2014

American Road Trip - What Charleston has to offer! - Part 12

Cobblestones.  Catfish Row. The start of the Civil War.  wonderful food.  Friendly folk. Gardens of houses behind wrought iron gates.  On the water but not sea-side. Bill Murray.  Exceedingly good manners  - oh, and pedicycles!  That's just a smidge of what we found in this lovely city. 
Here is a picture that could have come from an old street anywhere in the UK, brick wall and old cobbles.  So how on earth would old cobblestones like this appear in a small lane leading up from the port in Charleston?  Cobblestones were used as balast in ships going over to Charleston.... and of course, left behind because the hold was full of goodies going back to Bristol, London, Southampton, etc.  Well, who knew?!  Certainly not us, and it's such a surprise to see something so familiar a long way from home.  These cobbled lanes lead up from the port to a terraced row (now all houses) which formerly had shops on the ground floor.  This row is now called "Rainbow Row". 

The  whole row of 18th century buildings are a great tourist attraction in Charleston, and have an interesting history.  Wikipedia has a great entry.

We had booked a 2 hour walking tour on the internet, and we meet a wonderful guide, Mary Helen, a retired lawyer, one of the two sisters of Two Sisters Tours.  She was born and brought up in Charleston, and loves her town.  She knows as much about it as any guide book will tell you times 10!  She also knows all the back alleyways, so will walk you places you might never find on your own, or as part of a bigger tour.  It is very hot, very humid, and just me, Maccers and a couple of very quietly spoken Texans, so we can ask any question and it gets an immediate answer.  We find ourselves up an alleyway looking at a little house that is so pretty I want to move in.  But once upon a time it was the outside kitchen and living space for the "help", black slaves who worked for the big house.  The outside kitchens were very common in the Carolinas - for safety reasons (wooden houses in a lot of cases) and the risk of fire, but also because for several months of the year it is so hot that cooking inside in a confined space would finish you off altogether.  We find out that Catfish Row from the opera Porgy and Bess really existed - although not under that name..... It was originally a slum area where black and poor whites lived together.  The negro people grew cabbages and sold them to other poor families, and it was originally known as Cabbage Row. The author of the book, Porgy, on which the libretto of the opera was based, used it as inspiration and called his version Catfish Row.



We walk and walk - houses, churches, history - we are actually on this tour for two and a half hours which includes 20 minutes when Mary Helen gave John a personal lesson on the Civil War, on the Battery, with Fort Sumpter right across the bay.  It's a town of wonderment.  Pretty old houses, old houses that trick you, new houses amongst the old, little alleys that lead to pretty gardens - it's hard to stop looking round!  The last picture below is a new one, squeezed in between two older houses.  I'd like that one myself!!  We say goodbye to our lovely guide, and see an Italian Gelato cart - just right for the heat.  We have a couple of free tasters, and I decide on "Pango" - Pineapple and Mango, and John has Lemon.  Just right for sitting under the trees in a nearby park to collect our thoughts and decide where to go for lunch.  We walk (slowly, it's very hot indeed!) round the corner and a couple of blocks towards "home".   When we find a brew pub it's time to place an order - especially as John isn't driving today!
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