Don’t Go Alone
In the Holy City, ghosts are said to roam freely – the result of so much history, the Civil War, and the inevitable conflicts that occurred. To set the stage, Charleston is filled with old houses, graveyards, repurposed buildings and stories about those who perished under unfortunate circumstances.
For folks who seek out a bit of terror with their history and fun, choose one of the ten ghost-themed tours offered by Bulldog Tours, a longstanding and very popular attraction for visitors and locals entertaining family and friends.
Look on Trip Advisor and you’ll find mostly favorable reviews of evenings spent wandering around with Carol, Barry, or one of the other knowledgeable guides. There is history – just enough to add interest and lay the background for the paranormal activities.
Families report that children enjoy the tour – a tiny bit scary and very interesting. There are stories of love lost, intrigue, families separated, and the loss of children, which was a very common occurrence in earlier days.
Bulldog Tours has the exclusive rights to take visitors inside the gates of one of Charleston’s oldest graveyards. The headstones are fascinating – with or without creatures that go bump in the night.
For folks who travel specifically in search of the paranormal, Charleston is the perfect host city. There are many tour companies, and at Bulldog, visitors can choose from Haunted Jail, Haunted Arsenal and haunted Pub Crawl tours, among others.
WOW Factor: There’s a reason Charleston is one of the most popular visitor destinations in the world. It has everything – history, charm, architecture, restaurants, pubs, scenery, water and very friendly residents. When visiting Charleston (and you should), consider starting your exploration with a tour because you’ll learn more about the city, have a bit of fun doing so, and learn where you’d like to return. If you’re specifically counting on seeing a ghost, you may be disappointed, but bring your flash camera, because one never knows what lurks in the shadows.
Hint: Wear comfortable shoes and plan on walking. It’s certainly not too strenuous, but graveyards are notorious for roots and uneven patches of ground. Tread carefully. If you check out the review sites, you’ll see ghost enthusiasts discussing orbs. Depending on your source of information, orbs are round balls created when the flash of your camera catches a particle of dust, or perhaps an insect. If you’re of a more ghostly frame of mind, those same balls come from energy being transferred from power lines, people, batteries or such into the departed to help him/her/it materialize.
Whatever, take your sense of humor and adventurous spirit and enjoy a very entertaining evening in one of the most amazing cities you’ll ever visit!
Where the Civil War Began
This adventure calls out to history enthusiasts (and boat lovers, too). Most school children studied the first shot of the Civil War. Many of them probably could tell you that Fort Sumter National Monument is in the Charleston Harbor, at the mouth of the Cooper River. What makes this an adventure is the entire experience, beginning with a thirty-minute boat ride that also gives you a glimpse of the magnificent Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, as well as the beautiful homes along the Battery.
Tours depart from Liberty Square in downtown Charleston, as well as from Mount Pleasant, which offers views of the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier. You may see dolphins as our granddaughter did, which added to her excitement and confusion because the three-year old could not figure out where the beautiful creatures were going when they disappeared under the waves.
You’ll hop off the boat and immediately become aware that this is a tiny island to have had such a huge impact on the United States. (More than 700,000 died during the conflict.) Find a park ranger. They know this fort well, and they are happy to share tidbits of information and history.
WOW Factor: This is real history, in a fort which looks much the same as it did generations ago. It feels like you are 100 miles from shore, which makes it easy to imagine how the soldiers felt as shells were bursting around them. Between the information shared on the boat ride over and the stories from the rangers, you’ll learn much and enjoy the visit. Want to do more? Adopt a cannon. No, you can’t bring it home, but you’ll help preserve our history.
Hint: Before you return to the boat, stop at the Fort Sumter Eastern National Book Store, located in the Fort Sumter National Monument Museum. You’ll find unique souvenirs for the history lover in your family. Accessibility is limited at Fort Sumter. The museum, restrooms, bookstore, and top level are only accessible by climbing stairs. Call if you have any questions about the fort’s accessibility: 843.883.3123.
www.nps.gov/fosu/index.htm | www.fortsumtertours.com
Charleston Center for Photography | Charleston, SC
Ready, Set, Smile
Really great photographers sometimes get lucky, but more often than not, it’s their appreciation of light and skilled eyes that identify the shots worth taking. You can find photography workshops in almost every Southern city of any size, but what a treat to have the largest selection of specialized photography classes and workshops in the Southeast available in what is arguably, one of America’s most photogenic cities.
The great aspect of the center is its versatility. Just starting out? They’ve got that covered, with basic digital introductory workshops, and free lectures on the second Monday of every month (given by some pretty heavy hitters in the photography world).
Consider yourself an advanced beginner? How about a walking photography workshop that covers Charleston Battery, or the College of Charleston’s historic campus?
Want to get edgy? Consider aerial photography from a four-seater helicopter, or night time photography, or perhaps Painting with Light photo workshops? It’s all covered, including a workshop on the Human Form, where you will learn to how to capture the ever-fascinating body with style and grace.
WOW Factor: Great instructors in one heck of a location. Variety, to suit your skill levels and interests. Ongoing workshops, classes and lectures. Odds are you can pick up a workshop during a vacation, or the day after a business conference. Without a doubt, you’ll learn composition, lights, and lots of tricks of the trade. From cityscapes to landscapes, the choices are endless.
Hint: Read the fine print. Some workshops require specialized equipment, while others suggest prior classroom experience learning the basics. Still others may be taken with only your cell phone as equipment. Weather may be a factor for outdoor photography shoots, so make sure the instructors can contact you in the event of inclement skies. Costs vary, but for folks who love to capture the moment, it’s a small price to pay. Not a shutterbug, but know someone who is? They have gift certificates.
Learn more at: www.ccforp.org
Charleston Culinary Tours | Charleston, SC
Take Your Taste Buds for a Stroll
Charleston Culinary Tours has been awarded a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence for 2014 as well as five stars out of a possible five. Not too shabby! Those taking the tour love the different tastes, anecdotes from the guides and interaction with the chefs.
When you first arrive in Charleston, plan to take a culinary tour of the city. It offers a great overview of what is, without question, one of the most amazing food towns in the world. Charleston Culinary Tours combine the best of Charleston history, food and cocktails with unique historic tours that highlight the local cuisine. Tours include Downtown, Upper King Street, Chef's Showcase at the Farmer's Market, Chefs' Kitchen, and Mixology. Each one visits several different restaurants, bars or the Farmer's Market to combine elements of a historical tour with a culinary adventure!
You’ll get to sample some of the Lowcountry's finest food offerings, and meet the owners, chefs and mixologists behind Charleston's impressive culinary innovation.
WOW Factor: You’re in one of the world’s favorite cities. It has it all – history, romance, intrigue, gastronomic delights, and fabulous food. Southern charm is in abundance. Afterwards, you’ll have a great idea of where to return that evening, or perhaps the next day as you continue your getaway. All food and drink are included in the tour. Start hungry because you won’t end that way.
Hint: Most tours sell out, and all reservations are required in advance. Book groups at least three days prior to tour. Each tour is limited in size to about 14 people, so get your reservations early. Dress appropriately, because rain doesn’t stop the tour. Many streets are uneven, so wear comfortable walking shoes. Hours: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 2pm-4:30pm.
Cost: $60 per person. Learn more: www.charlestonculinarytours.com
Southern Season | Charleston, SC
That’s what renowned New York Times food critic, the late Craig Claiborne, called Southern Season. He was on the money! A recent visit to the Charleston shop convinced us all that this was a worthy Carolina Adventure. Bright, airy, beautifully appointed – but that’s not the point. It’s got the good stuff and my credit card is here to prove it.
Grab a cup of mocha or perhaps a flavored latte from the coffee & tea bar, then stroll on. You’ll pass the coffee section, with 50+ varieties from which to choose. A picky gourmet could stand there for hours. The pastries and deli offer delights, but it was the cheese department I was interested in seeing. How good was it? Very good indeed, with a trained staff who knew their way around cheese.
And then there’s wine. I stepped inside the climate-controlled fine wine room and was helped by another staff member who reverently showed me their bottle of Petrus French Merlot from the region of Pomerol – yours for a mere $3,755. No, I didn’t succumb to the temptation of learning how something like that really tastes, but I did inquire about a nice Portuguese red. He led me straight to the source and one of those beauties traveled home with me where it awaits Saturday night.
And then the candy section – another knowledgeable staff member showed me the dazzling choices. I passed by the barbeque sauce section (remember, we’re in the South), and counted 168 different kinds of sauce and an equal number of hot sauce bottles. Could’ve stayed there for hours. And the salt, sugar and pickles. And the home accessories, cooking school, flowers. So much to love.
WOW Factor: This is not a grocery store in any sense of the word. It’s a top-shelf destination for specialty foods and products. Open since 1975, I just want to know why I’ve never been to this paradise before. With more than 70,000 items sold in-store and online, it will take some time to cover it all – but I’m willing to make the commitment. Be sure to check out Chef Vivian Howard’s favorites, on display as gift baskets.
Hint: Take a list and don’t go hungry, or you’ll simply graze your way through the cheese and around the tasting station. On second thought, go a bit hungry, so you’ll pause to savor the tastes. Take a cooler. I didn’t, but the staff provided an ice pack to accompany my cheese on its trip back home.
Learn more: www.southernseason.com
We’ve debated the merits of front-of-the-house versus back-of-the-house importance when it comes to the quintessential dining experience. For my money, the ambience can only prop up ordinary food; however, exquisite food will elevate the most mundane dining environment to something better.
That’s why it’s so much fun to go behind the scenes, especially in Charleston, with its remarkable cadre of chefs, restaurants and food-themed experiences. Charleston Culinary Tours produces a number of foodie tours, but one that caught our collective eye is the Chef’s Kitchen Tour. Here, you step behind the curtain and learn a bit about the chef and his/her philosophy.
Although the tour visits a variety of restaurants, it’s the kitchens that offer a bit more how-to info. Depending on the date, you may meet four-time James Beard-nominated Chef Jeremiah Bacon at The Macintosh. Trust us here, the locally sourced ingredients, his remarkable skills, and the emphasis on the American South are guaranteed to whet your appetite for more. (Ask about the seafood charcuterie.)
Another chef, three-time James Beard nominee Josh Keeler, of Two Boroughs Larder, may be on your tour, bringing dynamic American seasonal cuisine to the table and delighting you with his skill.
There are other chefs you may meet along the way, including Nate Whiting, of 492 King. If he’s participating on the day you go, you’ll enjoy his personality, philosophy and background.
WOW Factor: Charleston is like no other in terms of talented chefs and amazing restaurants. The Chef’s Kitchen tour offers an opportunity to dig a little deeper, to get to know the people behind the food. Sure, you’ll be tasting and tippling, but you’ll also have the advantage of a super tour guide who knows these chefs and their environments.
Hint: Take a look at Trip Advisor and you’ll find rave reviews about Hoon Calhoun, one of the Chef’s Kitchen tour guides. He’s known as a wonderful and knowledgeable storyteller who entertains and amuses as he introduces and teaches. Of course, wear comfortable shoes and know that the tour goes on, rain or shine. Go hungry, expect to taste and taste some more. If you’re vacationing in Charleston, take this tour as soon as you arrive (Thursdays and Fridays, 9:30am to 12 noon). You’ll want to return for dinner, without a doubt.
Learn more: charlestonculinarytours.com/chefs-kitchen-tour
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