Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mystery solved . . .

. . . the sombrero belongs to that enchanted place of oversized Mexican things cleverly positioned "South of the Border" in northern South Carolina. Despite the anticipation invoked by the surfeit of billboards appearing light years before actually arriving at South of the Border, the thing itself is a unique kind of disappointment.

Now Charleston, SC, though, is one destination living up to its reputation. Although I look rather angry in the picture below, we actually had a wonderful time in this charming peninsula town.

If you don't know, Charleston is appreciated nationwide among urban planners for its vitality and character. As an urban planner myself, it was a travesty that I had never been before - a travesty that has now been resolved.

The architecture of Charleston's signature homes, the holy legacy retold through its many steeples, and the cultural heritage felt in its textured cobblestone and brick streets deliver a full embodied, city experience sure to rejuvenate the ambitions of many a discouraged city planner.

One of my favorite parts of Charleston was the park system. Nearly all the residents in the historic area of the city have access to some kind of park within walking distance of where they live. And the abundance of mature, native trees, with their gnarly branches supporting strokes of Spanish moss, effortlessly transports the beneficiaries of their shade to an age of plantations, sailing ships, and horse-drawn wagons. If you're extremely lucky, you may find a beautiful young woman cooling off by a fountain in a park.

Of course Charleston is steeped in history. Indulging our recent fascination with French Huguenots, we had to check out one of the few remaining original Huguenot churches in the U.S.

Sandwiching our day in Charleston were two nights of camping in Francis Marion National Forest. Our inability to find someone to pay for the use of a camp site the first night led us to ask a neighbor about who to pay for our second night. Turned out the small campground was free and our neighbor had essentially set up permanent residence there. Normally, our site was occupied by another full-time dweller, but he had flown further south for the winter, leaving his personalized site for us. Among his personal touches was a sweet potato garden with a sign declaring "God's sweet potato patch. Dig up when plant turns brown."

Although the sweet potatoes weren't ready yet, Grandpa and Grandma sent us away with enough food to feed a good many Fort Sumter soldiers. Armed with Michelle's great-grandpa Norris' cold handle frying pan, Michelle prepared us quite an elegant breakfast.

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