Charleston, South Carolina is probably the prettiest city in America. It’s also one of the oldest, and most historically significant. Four of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence came from Charleston, which in 1776 was one of the four biggest cities in what was to become the United States. George Washington didn’t just sleep here, he stayed for a week. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the Union. And of course, the shots fired at Fort Sumpter signaled the start of the War of Northern Aggression, sometimes known as the Civil War)
Many, many of the buildings date from the 18th century. There are no skyscrapers, no high buildings at all. Partly, this is due to the earthquake that almost shook the city from its foundations in the late 19th century. Still reeling from the financial devastation of the war, Charlestonians couldn’t afford to tear down their tottering buildings and replaced them. So they shored them up, using what came to be called “earthquake bolts” that literally ran through the houses and propped them up.
All of the streets are designed for horses and carriages rather than automobiles, and smaller streets are cobbled with the stones that were originally ballast from ships that came to Charleston empty and left with a cargo of rice, or indigo. And there are parks everywhere, from the lovely Waterfront Park where Xingxing and I walk every morning and evening to the tiny, vest-pocket parks tucked between the beautifully kept, old, wooden buildings.
The people are as gracious as their surroundings. They’re polite, they never seem to be in a hurry, and they smile a lot. Boys and girls still learn ballroom dancing, and attend cottilions. They no longer wear crinolines and string ties, but the girls still don long, white gloves when they’re going to a ball. You almost feel as if you’re in a time warp.
We did a walking tour that ended at Charleston Cooks! where Liz showed us how to prepare three Low Country classics -- Southern Fried Chicken, Grits and Butterscotch Pie. The grits were a revelation. I always thought grits tasted like cream of wheat, and I hate cream of wheat. These grits -- with apples, onions and cheddar cheese -- were so good that I later purchased a pound of stone-ground grits (very important they be stone-ground) grits to take home and cook for myself.
That first evening in Charleston, Azamara treated us to an AzAmazing Evening -- an Anchors Aweigh Party aboard the USS Yorktown, the famous “fighting lady” of World War II. Now, she’s a museum. Is Xingxing the first Shih Tzu to board an aircraft carrier? Of course, with waiters in black bow-ties carrying trays of drinks and canapes, it didn’t feel like an aircraft carrier. We walked past a Wildcat, an Avenger, a Corsair, a Hellcat, a Skyraider and a Cougar and found ourselves at the buffet. There was food, wine and music. It was a magical evening, a wonderful end to a perfect day.