Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Park With A Beautiful Boardwalk And An Awesome Panaramic View Of What We Love About Charleston

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. In the near distance, the spires of the Ravenel Bridge rose
above the trees. The periodic ominous clouds and a rolling rumble of thunder reminded me there were storms in the area. No surprise, they were in the forecast.

Opportunistic sea gulls squawked overhead, patiently waiting to pounce on discarded bait. Pelicans cruised the surface of the waters below for any unsuspecting prey. Several dolphins playfully splashed close by.

On moored boats across the waters, shrimpers fussed with their nets while listening to music. A crane stood motionless in an opening of a weather worn structure on the tall docks. An endless succession of boats of all sizes had been parading past since my arrival. It is one of the busiest waterways flowing into Charleston Bay for recreational watercraft.

A family with young kids tended fishing rods and crab traps under the covered section at the end of the boardwalk nearby. My fishing rod was propped against the wooden rails of the long boardwalk, baited line trailing in the slow moving current. I kept one eye on the rod tip for the slightest hint of popping motion and the other eye on the groups of paddleboarders and kayakers floating past, sometimes too close to the fishing line. We were competing for the same water space.

Fellow anglers politely called out to the groups to warn them away from their line. An unsteady paddleboarder, obviously new to the experience, plunged into the water while trying to maneuver around one of the near invisible lines. I called out to him, "How's the water." A fellow paddleboader answered back, "You should jump in and find out." I was just being friendly but I believe by his response he felt inclined to defend his buddies damaged dignity.

I started a conversation with a woman on a paddleboard. I inquired, "Do you live here or are you visiting." She informed me she was from Erie, PA. "Where are you staying," I asked. "In downtown Charleston, with friends," she replied. She was joined by five other paddleboarders. She asked me to take a picture of them and send it to her email. Conversations come easy on the boardwalk. People are here to relax, have fun and enjoy the unequaled beauty of the creek's marsh scenery.

One of the angler's fishing line began to peel off his reel. It was something big. He grabbed his rod and pulled the tip back hard. The long tug of war began. Reeling it in would be a challenge with all the boats coming in and out of the creek. My guess was a stingray, which turned out to be correct when it momentarily surfaced and showed itself for verification. He battled the ray for over twenty minutes before it finally surrendered. Bringing it up onto the decking would be impossible, so he walked the fish down the boardwalk to the steel floating docks where he pulled it up, took pictures, and released it back into the rising waters.


These are the scenes you will see from the 2,200 foot long boardwalk that extends from its park entrance on Coleman Blvd to near the mouth of Shem Creek. It is called Shem Creek Park. The $2.5 million park and boardwalk were built and inaugurated in 2011. It includes a 250 foot floating dock where visitors can tie their boats. At the entrance of the boardwalk, you are greeted by Pete the Pelican, a 9-foot-tall sculpture covered with marine debris collected in waterways during the 2011 Beach Sweep. Pete the Pelican has been there since April of 2012.

The Charleston Water Taxis departs from the floating dock at Shem Creek Park. Visitors and locals staying or living in the Mt. Pleasant area can take the Water Taxi directly to downtown Charleston. Boats land at the Maritime Center next to Aquarium Wharf. Taxis run every hour so you can take one of their hourly boats back to your destination. Please call 843-330-2989 for pickup prices.

Shem Creek is known as "a seafood and water lover’s paradise". After a relaxing chill on the boardwalk, take the opportunity to visit one of the many restaurants and bars. The Palmetto Breeze also departs from Shem Creek.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Botany Bay Plantation Personifies The Reasons Why I Love Charleston And The Lowcountry-A Must-see

A 4,687 acre wildlife preserve tucked away on the mossy oak draped roads among the marshy tidal creeks of Edisto Island is a pristine step away from civilization. Even its name summons an air of resplendence, as do the two plantations that were combined to make it, Bleak Hall and Sea Cloud. However, having been established after the Civil War, it is not officially a plantation. But that is of little import when compared to the beauty and splendor of Botany Bay Plantation.

The original homes of Bleak Hall and Sea Cloud Plantations are but a whisper of the glory days of Edisto Island's Golden Age. The sea island cotton raised on these plantations was famous for its high quality and highly prized throughout Europe. It all ended when they become occupied by Northern troops during the Civil War and were devastated at its end. Bleak Hall was burned in a fire and barely traceable ruins are what's left of Sea Cloud. What remained after was finished off by the boll weevil. That's Botany Bay's history in a sea shell. If you want the full historical details visit Edisto Island Museum.

This would be my first visit to Botany Bay. I have seen photographs and read articles, which only heightened my desire for a visit even more. I have been to Edisto Beach in previous years, driven past what has become known as the mystery tree, but had no idea the entrance to Botany Bay was right there. That realization came to me when we turned off of Highway 174.

The drive on Botany Bay Rd was magical. A dense canopy of old oak trees covered the dirt road. We passed cultivated fields of sunflowers and corn before arriving at a kiosk manned by an older gentleman who requested me to sign in and gave me printed material. It was a guide for taking a driving tour of the preserve with 15 marked locations of interest and an explanation of their significance. I am a beach person, so my focus was on the two miles of unspoiled shoreline accessible only by foot. From the kiosk, it was another two mile drive to the beach parking area where a sign reminded patrons of what was prohibited on the beach-notably shell collection.
From the parking area, it would be a 1/2 mile walk through a sprawling salt marsh to the beach. It was high tide, so the creeks and marshes were filled with the salty waters from the ocean. At the halfway point of the narrow path, we came to a patch of treed land called Hammock Island, but no hammocks did I see nor should I have expected to. Islands located landward of barrier islands are called hammocks and are typically inhabited only by plants and animals. South Carolina has 3,500 such islands. Always something new to learn.

We continued down the marsh path toward a thick line of trees common to the barrier islands that opened up onto Botany Bay's beach. The resulting view was everything I had envisioned and more. Weatherworn palmetto trees grayed by the salty sea breezes and age lined the sea shelled beach. As we walked, looking for the ideal spot to plant our chairs, we soon became aware of a custom peculiar to the beach. Visitors indulge in a practice of lining the trunks of downed trees with sea shells and hanging them on their branches. I saluted this custom by honoring it with a gesture of my own. I hung a couple of hand-picked shells on my ears while we sat.

We let the whole experience wash over us like the waves rolling onto the beach. I stepped into the warming surf for a swim, but walking into the waters was precarious due to the numerous sharp shells. Some people came to fish, some came to look at the shells, some came to photograph and some laid out blankets under beach umbrellas. I came because Botany Bay Plantation personifies the reasons why I love Charleston and the Lowcountry. It was idyllic.

We later drove into Edisto Beach and had lunch at the Seacow Eatery located at 145 Jungle Road. Nothing fancy, just a typical beach restaurant with the smell of beer batter soaked fish and french fries. It had decent prices and hospitable service. We sat on the beach near the Pavilion Restaurant and took more memorable pictures. Enjoy the photographs. They tell the whole incredible story. Botany Bay Plantation and beach is a must-see.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Spoleto Finale At Middleton Place June 9, 2013-Live Music And A Dazzling Fireworks Display

The day's forecast was calling for a 60% chance of rain. It was Spoleto Finale day at Middleton Place. I had been looking forward to this day since Spoleto began on May 24th. The Red Stick Ramblers were the featured band due to take stage at 8:30 pm followed by the traditional fireworks. Rain could change everything. The main venue was an open-air stage and water does not react well with electronics. I would be keeping my eyes on the sky.

The day was shaping up to be a hot one. I started it off at the pool. Even at that early time of the day the skies were looking threatening, but as of yet no rain. I bumped into a friend and got into a conversation about Middleton Place and the fireworks. I expressed my concern about the potential for storms and what that could mean for the days planned events. A heavy downpour at the wrong time could alter expectations.

She looked at the weather radar on her IPhone and it was looking pretty ominous. Oranges and reds were surrounding the Lowcountry. Even as we spoke, dark clouds were building in the distance, but time and the prevailing winds would prove favorable for the moment. Even after leaving the pool, I kept a weary eye on any potential development. As the day progressed through the afternoon hours the skies brightened and the dark clouds dispersed.

We arrived at Middleton Place around 7 pm and parked the truck. On the short walk through the tall trees to the ticket table and will call, I could here the music of a live band. One of the days scheduled bands were entertaining the late afternoon crowd scattered around the historic Middleton Place grounds. Our first objective was to check out the menu and purchase food tickets. A three piece chicken dinner with a biscuit was available and cost $6. For refreshments, we chose wine for $6 and a soda for $2. A fruit salad for $2 was an after thought. Picnic tables were available, but all were occupied. So, we sat in the indoor dinning area, which was thankfully air-conditioned.

So far pretty much a seemingly ordinary experience, but this was Middleton Place, a National Historic Landmark. Nothing ordinary about that fact. Notably, its owners played an important role in American history. The main family residence was constructed in 1705. It no longer exists. Burned by Union troops in 1865 and destroyed by the earthquake of 1886, it is now just a pile of bricks overlooking the Ashley River. The remaining building that survived, called South Flankers, was restored and now serves as the House Museum. Middleton Place has been honored with the designation of being America’s oldest landscaped gardens and a rejuvenated 18th and 19th-century plantation stableyards that offers carriage tours to remote parts of the plantation not seen by visitors. It has a restaurant on the grounds as well as an inn.

After finishing off the food, we headed out onto the grounds to take in the extraordinary history. Gnarled and sprawling oak trees, as old as the plantation, stood like guardians in the retreating sun. The Belgian draft horses used on the plantation could still be viewed, so a few moments were spent observing these magnificent animals and peppering one of the stable workers with questions. Peacocks strutted around the stable fencing and a bird called a guinea squawked frantically when we got too close.

With the time nearing 8:30 pm, I headed towards the main stage to photograph the band making final preparations. A boisterous party crowd scattered around on blankets and fold-up chairs waited patiently for the Red Stick Ramblers to kick-off the festival finale and highly anticipated closing fireworks. Behind the stage, the original house's ruins laid seemingly frozen in time. Beyond the terraced landscape, the old Ashley River wound through the marshy landscape, once the watery highway that transported plantation residents into Charleston on the outgoing high tides and back again on incoming high tides.

The Louisiana based band began and a hearty bunch of festival goers gathered in a roped off area in front of the stage to dance. They cranked out their Cajun, country, stringband and swing style music. It was interesting music, not what I generally listen too, and if you do not know French, sometimes quite foreign. Still, the catchy beat lured you in and the desire to dance was irresistible.

In conclusion, the fireworks were spectacular. The crowd cheered with every explosion as the dazzling array of colors lighted the darkened skies. It was a great final tribute to the Spoleto Festival.

For a complete list of events at the plantation, go to Middleton Place Events.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Celebrate With Two Of Charleston's Best In June-Special Events At Circa 1886 And 82 Queen

Although, I have lived in the Charleston area for eight years now, I haven't as of yet cut beyond the crust of all the fine restaurants available throughout the city. They are numerous. One of the most highly anticipated culinary events in the Charleston area, Charleston's Restaurant Week, affords Lowcountry residents and visitors an excellent opportunity to sample the best at a discount. This is one event I look forward to year after year.

I generally pick two from the long list of participating restaurants offering prefixed menus consisting of three items for one set price at either $20, $30 or $40. The last time I chose High Cotton on E. Bay Street. You can read about the adventure here. I've had some great culinary experiences and some unexpected surprises in the form of staples, pun intended with a smile. The next installment is September 4-15.

You will have to wait a few months for Restaurant Week, but in the meantime, there are two opportunities for you to enjoy Charleston's finest with an added treat in this month of June. The first is a Blue Jeans and Craft Beer Dinner at Circa 1886 on Friday, June 14th and the second is part of 82 Queen's Summer Dinner Series, a Bourbon Dinner featuring Jim Beam on Friday, June 28th.

Circa 1886 is located on the grounds of Wentworth Mansion and was the original carriage house, and this is no surprise, built in 1886. It offers an elegant dining experience and it is unlikely you would see patrons wearing blue jeans, but for this event putting on your favorite pair of blue jeans is required. Join Chef Marc Collins for an informal fun food and craft beer night.

Festivities start with a reception on the patio from 6:30-7 p.m. followed by a 4-course dinner paired with newly released beers from Westbrook Brewery. The dinner is $50 per person, price excludes tax, gratuity and additional beverages. Reservations are required. Click on Blue Jeans and Craft Beer Dinner at Circa 1886 for more information. I personally have not been to Circa 1886 and it is on the top of my must-see list. It is located at 149 Wentworth Street.

82 Queen is located in the Historic French Quarter and its address, you guessed it, is 82 Queen Street. It has been serving southern hospitality for 30 years, but its address is 300 years old.

I have been to 82 Queen. The entrance is a long alley way that opens up into a beautiful outdoor courtyard. Inside are eleven different dining rooms spread throughout three buildings, each with its own name. The restaurant is famous for its she-crab soup.

The special event, Bourbon Dinner featuring Jim Beam, is part of the restaurant's Summer Dinner Series. Chef Steven Lusby has created a menu that not only compliments their unique Bourbons such as Basil Hayden's and Knob Creek, but infuses their special elixirs into the food. It's the mating of an old all-American tradition with the famous Lowcountry cuisine. Tickets are $79 in advance, or $99 the day of the dinner. Prices excludes tax and gratuity.

Want to have some fun and an opportunity to win something? Penelope the Pineapple has returned to Wentworth Mansion starting Monday, June 10th with a full itinerary of warm weather adventures through Charleston. You can follow her documented travels on Charming Inns of Charleston's blog and their Facebook.

Each week on Monday, you’ll have the opportunity to guess where she is, who she’s hanging out with and what she’s up to. You will have until Wednesday of each week to guess correctly and be entered in a drawing.

The prize is an overnight package for two at the Kings Courtyard Inn and a $30 gift certificate to Charleston’s brand new breakfast and lunch restaurant Kitchen 208. Contest ends Wednesday, July 3rd. Full details are on Charming Inns of Charleston.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Party at the Point, May 31, 2013-An Entertaining Night With Occasional Milkshake and Southwood

An Occasional Milkshake is good for you, especially when it is served up by Mark Bryan of Hootie and the Blowfish, Hank Futch of Blue Dogs and Gary Greene of Cravin' Melon. At the Party at the Point, they stayed true to their mantra last night and it is simple: play music for fun with laughter as the key ingredient. There was no rigorous play list. Spontaneity was the rule of law on stage. Whatever moved them in that moment, they played. Bluegrass, punkabilly, and everything in between. They sang about hot dogs, beer, homegrown tomaters, and threw some Sponge Bob into the mix for the kids. The whole gig was smooth and sweet, pure fun.

They were preceded by Southwood, a group who put a show on of their own. The group closed out the night at Buffalo Wild Wings on Coleman Blvd. Hank Futch was there and stated this observation to me about Southwood, "These guys are good." A few songs later Hank verified his delight by stepping onto the Wild Wing stage and joined Southwood for one song. It was great. Buffalo Wild Wings is a great music venue for the after party. Half of it is open to the outside and half is enclosed with the main bar and a raised stage and dance floor splitting the two sides.

I arrived around 6:30 pm. Cover charge for the night was $7-it usually varies between $5 and $7 depending on the bands. I purchased my refreshment tickets and made my way onto the sandy beach and to the stage. Southwood was already warming up the crowd. At this point, I generally take a walk on the pier to get a feel for the crowd and to soak in the beautiful view of Charleston Harbor and the Resort to set the mood. The Party at the Point is the complete package-salt water, sandy beach, music, and atmosphere. A kid and pet friendly event on top of it all. A bring your fold-up chair and sit back and soak in the beach ambiance and music event.

The night was Charleston beautiful and got even better when I found out my two favorite ladies were on site enriching the already beautiful scenery-Chelsea Summers and her mom, Aura Lee. Chelsea is an aspiring singer/songwriter with many successful gigs under her belt and a rising popularity in Charleston. She was there for Southwood, having met the bass player at a previous engagement. We kicked off our sandals and kicked around some sand, but it was at the afterparty we made some serious dance moves. Chelsea will be at Molly Darcy's on Friday, June 14th. Come on out and join the fun. As Chelsea's number one groupy, I will be wearing my Chelsea Summers t-shirt.

Only four left in this season's schedule. The next Party at the Point, June 7th, Stop Light Observations with Fowlers Mustache are scheduled. Join the fun-this event is the premier happy hour concert series in Charleston at the Charleston Harbor Resort-5:30-9:30 pm and one heck of a beach party.