From Charleston to North Carolina and Virginia

In this post I wanted to update our travels in the past several weeks.   We left Charleston on March 30 after a 17 night stay, our longest since our month stay in the Cajun Country of Louisiana last November/December.   It was a great stay in South Carolina and we could have stayed longer since there was so much to see and do, but we needed to push on.  I had to say goodbye to the huge oaks and Spanish moss, how I will miss them!  It is a sight I have grown accustomed to in the almost five months we had been traveling in the South.   So, I took a little souvenir with us.  Although most of it blew off our spare tire within a short period of time, there is still a few strands dangling.

Our stay in Eastern North Carolina was brief but sweet at only four nights and I felt we were “shortchanging” the state.  But I was anxious to get to Virginia and the sights there.  North Carolina has much to see and I am hoping we will get back to the mountainous western part of the state during the fall season.  We weren’t crazy about the RV park we stayed in, although it was out in the country and fairly quiet.  But the best thing was stepping outside from our trailer the first evening and seeing the sunset so bright it was like the sky was on fire!

One day we visited Raleigh, the capital city and spent several hours at the State History Museum.  I really enjoy seeing the state museums when we have visited the different capitols as we learn a great deal about each state’s important events.  This museum was well done along with the museums in Baton Rouge and Topeka.  When we walked in we saw a replica of the Wright Brothers Flyer, built in 1903 and the first aircraft to take flight, although only for 12 seconds.   It is positioned 12 feet above the floor, the same height as it was flown.   A few years ago I read a novel about the Wright brothers and have wanted to visit Kitty Hawk where they first took to the skies.  I was researching traveling there and possible RV parks but my hopes were “grounded” when we realized that traveling there did not fit in well with our plans and staying on our chosen route.  Perhaps we will make it to Kitty Hawk at another time.

I try to make a plan to visit each state capitol if possible and it worked out well as the historic North Carolina capitol is right across the street from the state history museum.  This capitol is now used for the governor’s office only and is very visitor friendly for exploring inside.   In the picture above, a statue is located in front of the building with the three native North Carolinians who served as U.S. presidents.  This is the second building on site as the first one burned to the ground in 1831.  The cause of the fire is ironic.  While the roof was being fireproofed the workers were careless and boiling lead solder spilled setting it on fire.  It burned to the ground in several hours.

A wheelbarrow filled with wood is a strange sight in a capitol building.   It was placed here to show why the stair steps are worn and chipped.  In the early days of the capitol slaves had to lug iron rimmed wheelbarrows loaded with firewood up several flights of stairs for the fireplaces.  As I walked up I did notice the wear on the steps and thought how awful to lug that load over and over while the legislators were in session.

We visited the Bentonville Battlefield, site of the largest Civil War battle in North Carolina.   There was a driving tour which was okay, but the highlight was visiting the Harper house located next to the Visitor Center.  It was taken over by Union soldiers in March of 1865 as a hospital.  The Harper family of eleven members was allowed to remain in the rooms upstairs while 500 Union and 45 Confederate soldiers were treated downstairs during the three days of battle.   The house has been set up to look like a hospital with operating and recovery rooms.  The most unusual “discovery” in the house was the round dark outline on the floor in one of the operating rooms.  It was analyzed and found to be blood.  Popular thought is that the stain is from the Civil War although there is no way to determine the stain’s age.

Leaving North Carolina we arrived to the Virginia border and another welcome center.   I discovered that Virginia’s motto is “Virginia is for Lovers.”  A lady at the center recommended we stop at a peanut shop five miles down the road.  Southeastern Virginia is known for growing large sized peanuts that are often roasted in the shell.  There were no peanut samples at this welcome center.   Florida has the only state welcome centers we have visited with free samples of the state specialty – as can be expected it was orange or grapefruit juice.

The Good Earth peanut shop was in a ramshackle but cute building out in the country.  There were lots of samples here and of course we came away with some peanuts.  Mark wanted to get an even bigger bag than the one he is holding but I disagreed as we are in a small RV!

Have you ever heard of peanut soup?   After getting to the Williamsburg Virginia area I saw it on a couple restaurant menus and one day decided to try it.  It was pretty good but not something I would eat on a regular basis.

We arrived at our RV park outside of Williamsburg.   The park was in a really nice country setting with trees at the sites and surrounded by forest with nature trails.  I was surprised that the hardwood trees were not leafed out even though it was April.  This winter and spring have been colder for Virginia and the South so the leaves are slower to come.  But we did have a spring surprise at the park – gorgeous cherry trees in full bloom greeted us.

As I write this we have moved on after a few weeks at Williamsburg to our next camp further west near Charlottesville Virginia.  In my next blogs I will be writing about our stay in Williamsburg and all the history we saw there.

Thanks for reading and hope you all are enjoying lovely spring weather!

A Tree, a House and a Church


What do a tree, house and church have to do with each other?  Other than all three being very old and found in South Carolina, they are not connected.  I found these three places intriguing and special in their own way, so wanted to write about them but didn’t want to do a separate blog post about each one.  So, I have combined them to share my visits.

There are many, many large oak trees in the Deep South including South Carolina, but the Angel Tree definitely stands apart.  I am not sure if it is the largest live oak but it is certainly one of the largest.  Over 66 feet tall, it has a circumference of 28 feet and shade from this tree covers 17,200 feet.  The longest branch is 187 feet from one tip to the other.  Located on Johns Island near Charleston, the tree is estimated to be between 400 – 500 years old.  One of the signs I read reported that the tree could be expected to live another 500 years.  Other signs warn not to climb, sit or stand on the tree but touching is okay including a “gentle hug.”  You just have to touch a tree this massive and old, I sure did and spent some time soaking up its majesty.

The tree has limbs jutting out in all directions with a number laying along the ground.  As you can see from the picture above, it looks like a tangled mess!  In a few places there are posts supporting the branches.  Do you notice all the greenery covering the top of these branches?  They are called resurrection ferns, an epiphyte living on water and air that is common on live oak trees.  During dry spells the ferns shrivel up like they are dead and turn a brown color.   When it rains again, they perk right up and look like lush green ferns.  The City of Charleston manages the property and tree and has visitation hours.  There is also a gift shop nearby for the tree which I found a little amusing, but didn’t take the time to visit.   Live oaks are one of my favorite trees so I was quite pleased to be able to see this “Angel.”

Drayton Hall was founded in 1738 and is considered the oldest preserved house still open to the public in the United States.  This historic home is unique in that it has never been restored, only preserved as is from the time it was built.  Therefore the home has no period furnishings to admire and give a taste of what it was like to live in the home.  It might sound boring to tour an empty house, but it is actually the opposite.  Instead of focusing on furniture, paintings, decorations, I could look at the floors, walls, ceilings, moldings, windows, shutters, doors, etc. and really notice and appreciate the details of the home itself.  I wasn’t busy trying to look at every knick knack that often fills historic homes.  We were also able to walk through each room in the house, including the ground floor under the porch where the slaves and servants cooked the family’s meals.

The home is located off the same road as Magnolia Plantation and Middleton Place, both I reviewed in earlier posts.  It doesn’t have the grand gardens of the other two but is still in a beautiful location on a large property with a huge sweeping lawn up to the house.   I am really glad someone mentioned in a Trip Advisor review to check out the pond in front of the house for the reflection.  It was my favorite view.

Before coming to South Carolina I found an internet site about Old Sheldon Church and knew I wanted to visit here.  I love seeing historic churches as I travel and this church which is in ruins is one of my all time favorites.  Located near the town of Beaufort in the Lowcountry, the church is located off a country road with not much around.  It is on private property maintained  by another church which is reportedly near by, but we did not see it.

When it was built in the 1750’s it was called Prince William’s Parish Church.  The church has an interesting history in that it was partially burned during the Revolutionary War by the British and then rebuilt in 1826.  It was burned again by the Union Army during the Civil War in 1865.  The story is that when Sherman’s Army made its famous march from Georgia through South Carolina leaving a path of destruction in the South, the church was again burned.

Since the church is not fenced, you can walk around the outside and inside, admiring the old brickwork, columns and window openings.  It has a lot of atmosphere with old tombs and grave markers outside the back of the church adding to the mood of the place.

This church was probably quite a handsome building in its much earlier days and the remains today are impressive as well.  I am very glad that it still stands even though two wars, age and weather have tried to tear it down!

As always, thanks for reading and your support!  In the next blog we leave South Carolina for North Carolina and Virginia.  I will close with one of my favorite places to be – a cypress swamp. This picture is from Caw Caw Interpretive Center, a wildlife refuge outside of Charleston.

Charleston’s Magnolia Plantation and Gardens

Magnolia Plantation located outside of Charleston considers itself the oldest natural garden in America.  It has been in the Drayton family since 1676 and today is home to the twelfth and thirteenth generations who currently manage it.  This property is really big with 500 acres of grounds and over 70 acres of gardens.  Visiting Magnolia takes a little planning as there are many available activities:  House tour, nature boat tour on the river and former rice fields, tram tour of the property, slave cabins tour, self-guided swamp walk and gardens exploration.  When you arrive to the ticket window you have to decide what to see as everything is not inclusive with admission, but additional price.  Above is a picture of the long driveway into the plantation.

I started out with a walk through the Audubon Swamp Garden.  The duckweed covers the top of the water with a neon yellow-green color which I think looks cool and is common to the wetlands.  A sign here noted that lots of duckweed is a sign that a swamp is healthy.   This is a good sized swamp and great for spotting birds, alligators and turtles.  There is a heron and egret rookery and I saw a number of them sitting on nests in the trees.  I was able to see two Great Blue Heron with babies in the nests, but it was hard to get a good photograph of the babies.

My favorite sighting was the mother alligator with a baby resting its head on the mother’s nose.  I found this interaction of mom and baby rather sweet.   At first it was hard to see the baby but I thought there was something strange about the “bump” on the mother’s nose.  With all the duck weed covering the water, the baby was almost camouflaged.  I also saw two other babies close by – if you look closely you can see the head of another one in the upper middle of the photo above.  I left the area for a few minutes but came back to show another couple how to find the baby gators.  The mother had moved further away from the pathway, leaving several babies alone and closer to the pathway.  We were surprised the mother was not more protective.

After my swamp walk I headed for a tour of the house which is beautiful inside and out.  This is not the original home as it had to be rebuilt twice.  First it burned down from a fire and the second time it was damaged during the Civil War.   Although a successful rice farmer before the War, Mr. Drayton was almost penniless after as he had invested in Confederate money which became worthless.  His main asset was the hundreds of acres of plantation property and developed gardens.  In 1870, he decided to open his gardens for tours giving people in the city the opportunity to visit a country estate.  The popular tours saved the plantation financially and have been given here ever since.  Since the plantation is located on the Ashley River early visitors would often come by boat as it was much faster travel from Charleston than by the poorly developed and slow roads.

I skipped the tram and nature boat tours but took the slave cabins tour.  It was like being in a history class because the guide had us sit down in front of the cabins and went over the history of slavery from the beginning of the trade in West Africa to slaves being shipped to America  where Charleston became the largest entry port.  There are four remaining cabins at Magnolia and each is set up for a different time period in the history of the plantation.

The first cabin (above) shows the early years of slavery when slaves had few to no furnishings and a family crowded into one room.  The cabin had two rooms built to hold two families.  In a loft above the sleeping mats were stored.  Slaves used a wooden mortar and pestle that you can see in the photo to pound the shell of the rice off the grain.  This took skill because if the grain was cracked it reduced the quality and therefore the price of the rice.  After the pounding was done, the rice was winnowed in the basket you can see on the fireplace to get the loose shell away from the grain.

The second to the last cabin was covered with newspapers on the walls and ceiling for insulation as shown above.  This cabin showed a time period after the Civil War when it would have been lived in by sharecroppers.  I noticed how the floor boards and walls had many cracks in them, so keeping the cabins warm and dry must have been very difficult.  At Magnolia one slave descendant lived on the property in one of the other cabins until 1969 without any modern conveniences.   He raised 13 children here and they cooked on a wood fireplace, used a water pump and outhouse.  He added a few more rooms as his family grew.  The cabin he occupied had been wall papered which was peeling away from the wall.  These cabins are an important reminder of a tragic time in the history of our country and a lesson to be learned of how slaves really toiled and lived to build up and maintain a plantation such as Magnolia.

I spent the rest of my time touring the gardens which are quite extensive.  Magnolia prides itself on being a “romantic” garden which does not try to control or keep nature out but combines the gardens with nature.  The main flower features here are the azaleas and camellias.  The camellias had for the most part already bloomed but the azaleas were quite lovely.  They probably would have been even prettier a week or two later as it didn’t look like they were in the peak of full bloom yet.  I did think the azaleas at Middleton Place had a better display.  (I previously did a review of these gardens).    My favorite spot at Magnolia was the beautiful Long Bridge (above) that was built in the 1840’s and spans Cypress Lake.  It is a favorite bridge of photographers.  I found it quite captivating.

There are other bridges here and I really felt like I was in a time gone by as I crossed this small bridge located near the Ashley River.  The oak trees and Spanish moss gave it a romantic allure.

It was a great day with lots of good exercise walking around.   It is a popular place so can be crowded but a must see in the Charleston area.

Thanks for reading!

Charleston – The Holy City

After arriving to Charleston I found out the city has a nickname – “The Holy City.”  The name comes from the large amount of churches and the city’s history of religious tolerance.   Charleston does have a number of historic churches which are a beautiful sight to see.   The oldest church in Charleston is St. Michael’s Episcopal, built in the 1750’s and pictured above.  We weren’t able to go inside, but they have box seats common at the time and in one of them, George Washington sat for worship during his visit.  In the attached graveyard are graves of two signers of the U.S. Constitution.

I was taken with the pretty Huguenot Church, a French protestant church built in 1845.  The Huguenots immigrated to this area in the late 1600’s to escape religious persecution.  The church was damaged by shell fire during the Civil War and nearly demolished in the 1886 earthquake.  The church continues to hold services but they are only in French one time per year.

St. Phillips Episcopal Church (above) has an interesting history as well.  This building was built in 1838 and during the Civil War, the church’s bells were “donated” to the Confederate Army to be cast into cannons.  During the War, the church was bombarded ten different times but still stood.  From 1893 to 1915 the steeple was used as a beacon to guide ships into the harbor.

Charleston has some unique characteristics which make exploring the city interesting and give it character.  I wanted to write about them.  To begin with, you can’t walk around the city and not notice that many of the houses are tall, narrow in the front facing the street and long toward the back.  Lots laid out in the city in the 1700’s were narrow and long necessitating the “single house” style.   The houses are usually just one room wide in front with long porches or verandas on the side of the house.  The main front door is in the middle of the porch area and the door seen off the street just goes onto the porch.  Above is a picture of a single home built in 1743 that once belonged to a Revolutionary War naval hero.

Charleston is known for hidden courtyards and gardens.  It was fun to spot these as we walked down the streets.  Some were easier to see than others especially those with open gates like in the picture above – almost an invitation to come on in.  I can just imagine sitting at the little wrought iron table in the courtyard.  The owner comes out to tell us how nice that we dropped by and brings us tea and pastries.  Well, I can only dream.

Since the gate was open, I couldn’t resist checking out the narrow passageway to Pirates Courtyard.   The Pirate House was so named because pirates used to hang out here when it was an Inn and trading post.  Legend has it that Blackbeard the Pirate stayed here and that an underground tunnel used by pirates to smuggle goods from the waterfront was accessed from this house.   I just peeked for a minute, but the brick courtyard looked like a nice place to relax with a few tables and a fountain.

Charleston is known for having lots of wrought iron work which is used for gates, fencing, balconies and around windows.   Much of it is decorative and it really adds to the charm of the city.  We even saw an authentic iron boot scraper in front of one house.  Boot scrapers were once handy when Charleston’s streets weren’t paved.   Wrought iron work has been popular in the city since the 1800’s.   Above is an example at Washington Square.

The wrought iron gates above lead to the cemetery across the street from St. Michael’s Church.  Notable people are buried here including Henry Calhoun, a former Vice President.

It is unlikely to visit Charleston’s historic area and not see sweetgrass baskets for sale along the streets or in Charleston City Market.  This basket making originated in West Africa and was brought to this area by slaves.   The craft was passed down through slave descendants also known as the Gullah.  They are supposedly still made by hand today using marsh grass that thrives in the Lowcountry.   The baskets really are beautiful but not inexpensive.   I came upon a woman hand weaving a basket and asked if I could take her picture.  She said I could if I bought a basket, but I wasn’t prepared to do that so no picture of the weaver for this post.

Another frequent and charming Charleston sight – colorful wooden shutters and flower filled window boxes.

Charleston’s streets are narrow and fun to explore, like the one above.  Hey Matt and Emma, do you spot the little red Vespa?  With these narrow streets, Charleston is a Vespa city for sure.

As always, thanks for checking in with us.  In the next post I plan to write about Magnolia Gardens.

Charleston – A City to Admire

There is something special about discovering a wonderful city and adding it to your list of favorites.  I have felt that way about a number of cities I have explored – San Francisco has always been my favorite, but other cities have also touched and amazed me.  New Orleans, Victoria and Washington D.C. captivated me as well as several others that I was happy to get to know.  As I walked around Charleston taking in all the historic buildings and streets, I was transfixed by the beauty and historic preservation.   I am so glad that much of it was not destroyed as has happened with other cities.  Charleston is a real delight with many treasures to enjoy.

I think seeing Charleston on foot is the best way to experience it close up and personal.  Plus the narrow streets make driving difficult, especially when you have a truck like we do as the streets were designed in the 1700’s for horse and wagon traffic.  It is fun to be able to explore the narrow alleys like Stoll’s pictured above.   Unlike other cities we have visited, I couldn’t find any Hop on or Hop off busses or trolley tours.   Perhaps that is a reason walking tours are so popular in this city and there are many of them to choose from.   I briefly considered scheduling a group walking tour, but perhaps you should meet Mark, an “anti groupie.”  When I am joining a group to tour an attraction, museum, etc., he is usually finding a bench to sit and wait.  He doesn’t mind waiting and is supportive of my group tours, just doesn’t want to participate in the activity himself.

Where do we go next?

Before we arrived to Charleston, I had already picked out two self guided walking tours for the city from my South Carolina AAA book.   Although the guided tours are more informative and we probably missed out on some great architectural and historical tidbits, walking on our own means we can go at our pace instead of hurrying along.   I like to soak in the ambience which is hard to do with a group of people all standing together on the sidewalk trying to pay attention to what a guide is saying.   As an example, during one of our walks we came upon the longest cobblestoned street in the city and soon after, a guided tour came by.  After they had seen it and left,  I was still admiring the stones and testing them out on foot.  Below a picture of the “pink house” on that cobblestoned street.  It was built in the early 1700’s, was once a tavern and is considered either the first or second oldest house in the city.

Charleston, founded in 1670 by English colonists, is one of the oldest cities in America and one of the original 13 colonies.  The city prospered as a busy seaport and from plantations growing rice, cotton and indigo.  As a result, the city is full of many beautiful and stately homes.  As we walked around the historic area, it seemed like most of the houses were built in the 1700’s or 1800’s with plaques and descriptions of who first owned the home.  It is amazing that so many are still standing because the city was attacked during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, endured a major earthquake in 1886 that damaged over 2,000 buildings and suffered through Hurricane Hugo in 1989.  After each disaster, the city has bounced back.  Many of the homes have “earthquake bolts” which are iron rods placed into the house for stabilization and visible from the exterior.  Below you can see two of those “x shaped” braces.  This house was built in 1740 and became the first post office for Charleston.

Our walk took us down to Battery Street next to the waterfront with some of the grander homes in the city.   An elevated walking path takes you above the street and by the water with remarkable views in every direction.

The homes on this street are really more like palaces or mansions.  I thought the prettiest was this pink palace, built in the 1840’s.   The homes on the Battery are worth a fortune and this house is no exception.  In 2016 it sold for 6.5 million.  Prior to the sale it was a Bed and Breakfast but was being bought as a private residence.

Charleston has a few nice parks near the waterfront.  The most well known is Whitepoint Gardens off Battery Street near all those mansions.  It is full of huge oaks, monuments and a gazebo.  When we came upon the park there was a peaceful demonstration going on with Confederate flag wavers and people dressed up in Civil War attire.  In the picture below, Mark relaxes next to the park.

Below is a picture of Waterfront Park, a lovely area with shade trees, benches and my favorite, azaleas in bloom.

The pineapple fountain near this park is a favorite monument and popular with youngsters who like to splash in the water.  Here in Charleston the pineapple is a symbol of “Southern Hospitality.”  I could feel that hospitality as we explored this charming city with friendly people and great ambience.    Do you have any favorite cities to share?  Thanks for “strolling” along with us – until next time.

Congaree – It’s All About the Trees

I have always been a fan of visiting the National Parks with the goal of trying to see as many as I can in my travels.  Did you know there are 59 National Parks in the United States?  The two states with the most parks are California and Alaska with eight each.  Although I would like to see every one, I doubt I will make it to all, especially the parks in Alaska!  Some of them are quite remote and hard to get to.  I have now seen about half of the parks and will do my best to see the majority of them in the years to come.

Until last year, I had never heard of Congaree National Park in South Carolina.  I was following the videos of a young couple traveling full time and they posted one of their visit to Congaree.  I made a mental note to check it out when we started full time traveling and reached South Carolina.  National Parks are not as plentiful out east as they are in the west, so it was a bit of a thrill to find one in the southeast.  Congaree protects the largest remnant of old growth floodplain hardwood forest in the United States.

There used to be a lot of this old growth forest in the southeast stretching from the Carolinas to Texas, but now 99% is gone, lost to logging, farming and development.  Thanks to the preservation efforts of a journalist, Harry Hampton in the 1950’s as well as other environmentalists, legislation was passed to preserve this floodplain forest.  In 1976 Congaree became a National Monument and then upgraded to National Park status in 2003.

Unlike most National Parks and Monuments, there is no charge to visit Congaree.   The park has a nice visitor center with exhibits and a film that we watched.   We then headed out to do some exploring.  The park has a variety of trails with the most popular the beautiful 2.5 mile boardwalk loop which we really enjoyed walking.   Some parts of it are elevated but most of the boardwalk is closer to ground level.  The Congaree and Wateree Rivers cause flooding in this forest certain times of the year bringing in fresh nutrients important for the growth and health of the forest.  During those times, the boardwalk is often covered with water making walking difficult or impossible.  We were fortunate to have no flooding when we visited.

The park is known for having what they consider “champion trees” – the largest of their kind in the state or even in the U.S.   Some of these champions include the Loblolly Pine (the tallest tree in South Carolina), Pawpaw and Sweetgum.  Other trees that can be found here are Cypress, Tupelo and Beech.  Many of the trees still had that bare winter look when we visited on March 26 and were just starting to leaf out.  I have seen pictures of Congaree when the leaves are all out and the trees on the boardwalk trail looked so full and green.  The film that we watched in the visitor center showed an aerial view of Congaree looking like a lush, green jungle.  In the picture above, a tall Loblolly Pine next to the boardwalk reaches for the sky.

I never tire of seeing the Bald Cypress in their swampy habitat – one of my favorite trees.   In our travels through the south, we have seen a lot of Cypress and their “knees” which are the small nobby looking protrusions that rise up from the roots of the tree.  This forest though had the most knees we have seen.  It is believed the knees provide the tree with extra structural support during floods and high winds.  Bald Cypress can live to be over 1,000 years old and are rot and water resistant so were logged extensively in the late 1800’s.  There are few old growth Cypress trees left today.  Above is a picture showing many knees.   Below a picture of a black water Cypress and Tupelo swamp.

After our walk I noticed the mosquito meter sign outside of the visitor center and found it amusing.  The meter shows an “all clear” the day that we visited but mosquitoes can be a big problem here during the warmer months.  We were fortunate to see not even one, but I would hate to be here when the meter reads “ruthless” or “war zone.”   Congaree does have a bug display that is greatly welcomed each year.  Around the middle of May synchronized fireflies appear in the park for a few weeks.  This becomes the most visited event at Congaree with lots of people viewing the fireflies at night lighting up all at once.  I would love to see this spectacle.  I have yet to see any fireflies in action, but hopefully some time during our trip.

We had a delightful visit at Congaree hanging out with the many trees – a National Park I am glad to add to my list.  What about you all, do you have any favorite National Parks or ones you are most hoping to see in the near future?   It is great to hear from you!

Thanks for checking in and Happy Easter!  In the next blog I plan to go back a few months to our trip to Pensacola, Florida.

Flower Power


The Charleston area is known for having a variety of historic plantations that are popular with tourists and locals.   Although there are a number of things to see at these places, I was most excited about the gardens.   I love seeing garden plants and especially flowers in bloom.  Before we sold our house, my flower beds in the spring, summer and fall were a big delight.  I enjoyed cutting the flowers to bring inside the house or take to work. Growing a garden of flowers is not possible now, but in our travels I can enjoy the immense beauty of these southern gardens.   Spring was the right time for us to be here because the azaleas, which the South grows so abundantly were blooming profusely.

Of the two main plantations I visited with lots of blooming azaleas, Middleton Place was my favorite.   Middleton contains the oldest landscaped gardens in America and is a historic treasure.  It was settled in the early 1700’s by the Middleton family who were rice farmers when rice was the most important cash crop in South Carolina.  The Middleton men were also active in politics with Arthur one of the more prominent as a member of the Continental Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence.   Middleton Place has been run by the same family for over 300 years.  The original home can be toured but I skipped the house tour and spent some time checking out the barns and stable yards before hitting the gardens in earnest. Sheep run freely on the grounds and a variety of other farm animals are kept here to give visitors a chance to see a working farm during the time period.

Crafters in period costume worked in their shops including a barrel maker, potter, blacksmith, candle maker and wool dyer.  My favorite was the dyer who just finished a mustard colored batch using onion skin.  I either did not know or had forgotten that you could get a natural dye from onion skin which is rather cool.  I especially liked the blue yarn which was dyed from the indigo plant that grows on the plantation.  At one time, growing indigo was another main cash crop in South Carolina.  Dye created from the cochineal bug provided the pinkish color.  This bug can be found on prickly pear cactus which has to be imported.  While watching this crafter I thought how interesting it would be to take a class or learn how to dye in the traditional manner.

Middleton Place is a feast for the eyes with terraced lawns sweeping from the house to the Ashley River.  The river was the main transportation source for the plantation as roads took so much longer.   The property has a number of ponds and small lakes surrounded by huge oaks draped with Spanish moss.  Several alligators swam by or lounged on the banks.  The gardens were created in 1741 and continued to expand and change over the years.  Azaleas were not introduced to South Carolina and grown here until about the 1840’s.  There are now over 100,000 of them on this property!    As I walked around I was amazed by the amount of azaleas.  They bloomed en masse along many pathways and next to the long reflection pool pictured below.

I really enjoyed walking the trail along the “Azalea Hillside” where azaleas were planted in a more natural forest setting.   Although they were gorgeous during my visit, some of the plants were not in full bloom and maybe more stunning a week or two later.

I am always a fan of a swamp and Cypress Lake had impressive views of azaleas reflected in the water along with cypress trees and hanging moss.

One of my favorite spots was the secret garden.   I returned here again at the end of the day before closing time to sit on the bench and reflect on the beauty of the dogwoods, azaleas and statuary placed at each corner.

I spent several hours in the gardens dazzled by the beauty, strong color and abundance of the azaleas.  It was hard to leave but my feet were tired from wandering and the day was coming to a close.  The azaleas here at Middleton definitely had me in their power!

As always, thanks for reading!  In my next blog I continue our adventures in South Carolina!

U.S.S. Yorktown – The Fighting Lady

Located at Patriot’s Point in Charleston’s harbor, the U.S.S. Yorktown is a popular area attraction.  Besides being a great visit, it also has some significance to us as my father served on this aircraft carrier in 1958 – 1959 when it traveled to Japan.  It was fun to wander through the ship and imagine my dad sitting in this officer boardroom, getting his hair cut in the  barbershop, eating in the mess hall, sleeping in the officer quarters or landing his helicopter on the flight deck.  In the picture above, one of my favorite views was the long bridge walk to the carrier with many American flags positioned along the way.

The Yorktown was the 10th aircraft carrier to serve in the U.S. Navy, commissioned on April 15, 1943.  The carrier is best known for her role in the Pacific during World War II.   In 1968 the ship also recovered the Apollo 8 astronauts, the first men to orbit the moon.  In 1970 the Yorktown was decommissioned and dedicated as a museum at Charleston in 1975.

There are several levels of the ship to be explored, so good exercise up and down the many stairs.  In the picture above, Mark disappears down a level.  Along the ship’s passageways you can get a picture of life aboard ship seeing the mess halls, kitchens, dining and sleeping areas, supply quarters and medical treatment rooms.  Over 3500 men made this carrier home during WWII.  Some of the rooms just featured information on other wartime ships with sign boards and photos.  It was too much to read and remember so I passed through quickly!   The day we visited there were many visitors including large groups of students we had to navigate around.   At one point, I wanted to go down the only stairs to tour a level and found a throng of about 50 school age kids also trying to get down the narrow opening.  I decided not to join the throng and returned later.

In the 1950’s the ship was converted to an anti submarine carrier and my father flew one of the helicopters that searched for subs and was prepared to drop torpedoes if needed.   Above is a picture from the torpedo room.  The sign explained that this is a 1960’s era torpedo and once in the water, began a spiral search pattern to find the target.  I thought for sure the twisty end of the torpedo was the front that enabled the spiral search.  When Mark quit laughing, he told me that was the propellor on the back end that made the torpedo move.   I often realize how little I know about how mechanical things work!

The flight deck (above) was one of my favorite spots as there are expansive and lovely views of Charleston, the harbor and Ravenel bridge.   A number of planes are positioned on the deck but there were no helicopters from the time period when my dad served.  I would have liked to have seen one of them!   In the picture below, I am looking down on the flight deck from the Radar Deck. The U.S.S. Laffey Destroyer which is also docked here can be seen to the left and was our next stop.

The U.S.S. Laffey has a fascinating history and is known as “The Ship That Would Not Die,” as she barely survived attacks by Kamikazes during WWII.  On April 16, 1945, the Laffey was near the island of Okinawa when the Japanese launched an attack of 50 planes.   A fierce battle ensued with six Kamikazes and four bombs hitting the ship, killing 32 men and wounding 71.  Although the ship was on fire and suffered much damage, it was able to shoot down 11 of the planes with the help of nearby fighter planes who came to the rescue.

Mark and I were amazed that this small ship (above) could withstand such a fierce assault.  There was a wonderful film as well as a simulation of what it would feel like to have been on the Laffey during the Japanese attack.   In addition to serving in the Pacific, the ship was also at Normandy during D-Day, bombarding Utah Beach.  While docked here the ship weathered another potential disaster when in 2008 over 100 leaks were discovered in the hull.  Due to concerns that she would sink, she was towed to dry dock for repairs at a cost of $9,000,000.

There is much to see at Patriot’s Point which also has a submarine that can be toured as well as a Vietnam Experience.  You would need a whole day or more to really see everything.  What an enjoyable day we spent here!

Thanks for joining us!  In my next blog I plan to talk about “flower power.”

Charleston Tea Plantation

We arrived in Charleston on March 13 and the day after visited our first attraction, Charleston Tea Plantation.  I had wanted to see this tea farm for some years.  Mark asked me when I first learned about it, but I couldn’t remember for sure.  I have always been interested in researching places to visit around the U.S. and a fan of attractions where things are grown and processed.  Mark and I really enjoy drinking tea and learning about it.  Mark taught some tea classes at Modesto Junior College Adult Education – a three night course spaced once a week.  For awhile, he collected different kinds of tea ware.  Our first visit to a tea production facility was at Celestial Seasonings in Boulder, Colorado.  Although they don’t grow tea there, you can tour the processing and packaging plant.  The mint room was the most interesting – they warn you before you enter as it really opens your sinuses with the intense smell!   We relaxed in their tea tasting room where we could sample many varieties.   It was a cold, overcast fall day when we visited and I can still remember sitting around the inviting room drinking cups of hot tea and admiring the Celestial Seasoning art on the walls.

So it seemed only fitting that our first place to visit was the tea plantation which is actually located on Wadmallaw Island outside of Charleston.  The drive to get there is a scenic byway along a tree shaded country road with lovely small churches, homes and farms.  The plantation is also quite beautiful with fields of green tea bushes and huge live oaks with Spanish moss (above).  Below a close up picture of tea bushes.

Tea plants were imported from China in the late 1700’s to South Carolina, but in the next 150 years, propagating and producing tea was unsuccessful.  In 1888, a Dr. Shepard founded a tea plantation in Summerville, South Carolina where he was able to produce tea until his death in 1915.  His plantation closed and the tea plants grew wild for the next 45 years.  In 1963, an experimental tea farm was begun on a former potato plantation with tea plants from Dr. Shepard’s former plantation.  In 1987, Mr. Hall, a tea expert purchased the property and the Charleston Tea Plantation was founded.  His tea company became known as “American Classic” and was the first to have 100% American grown tea.  In 2003, Bigelow Tea Company a well known tea brand in many stores bought the property in partnership with Mr. Hall.

This part of South Carolina is perfect for tea growing due to the sandy soil, hot, humid climate and abundant rainfall.  I really enjoyed walking in the tea fields, checking out the plants.  In the picture above, I am standing in the experimental field which has the original and oldest tea plants on the farm that came from Dr. Shepard’s 1888 farm.  Although the tea bushes come from just one type of plant – Camellia Sinensis, there are many variations.

There is a trolley that takes visitors around the plantation to see the fields with a guide explaining history, plant care and harvesting.  We also stopped at the greenhouse to view the tea plants that are being propagated and prepared for planting.  We learned from our guide that no pesticides or herbicides are used on the plants which are naturally pest free.  We were told that tea is the second most consumed beverage in the world.  We were asked what we thought the first beverage was.  I answered “coffee” but actually it is water.  Makes sense, but I guess I wasn’t thinking of water as a beverage, ha, ha.

We visited the farm before harvest time which usually begins between April and May. That is when the tea bushes have produced the first new leaves called “first flush,” considered the best for tea making.  The leaves are harvested by a special machine called the “Green Giant Tea Harvester” which can be seen above.   The bushes are planted close together and the harvester passes easily through cutting off several inches from the top and throwing the leaves into the machine.   As the plants keep producing new leaves, harvesting continues every few weeks until fall when the weather cools.   This one machine replaces a labor force of 500 people hand cutting tea.   In most tea growing countries tea has to be hand cut because the plants are located on the sides of hills or mountains.  Charleston Tea Plantation is one of the few tea farms that is on level ground.  Below is a picture of me next to the plantation’s mascot, Waddy who holds a cup of plantation tea.

The plantation has a small tea processing plant with a short but informative 12 minute video tour explaining the whole process from fresh leaves to processed tea.  We were able to see the machinery but there was no tea being processed due to the season.  In the gift shop there is tea and tea ware for sale including delightful teapots and teacups.   At a tea station we were able to sample as much tea as we wanted from six different flavors.   My favorite was the mint (I am a big mint tea fan) and we bought a tin of this tea to take with us.  The tea is rather costly here so we didn’t stock up, but we thought it tasted quite good.

It was a delightful and relaxing visit to this tea farm getting to see tea bushes close up and learning how they are grown and processed.

Thanks for checking in!  In the next post I plan to write some more about our visit to the Gulf beaches in Northern Florida.