It took us two days to drive down here from Pittsburgh. Of course, we took the scenic route down the Ohio River during a driving rain storm, narrowly avoiding an ominous funnel cloud in Virginia before spending the night in Hickory, North Carolina (I highly recommend the Comfort Suites there, by the way). It was a much more pleasant drive the second day into Columbia.
First of all, I don't recommend taking your South Carolina vacation at the end of August. Unfortunately, I didn't have a choice because this whole trip was predicated by the need to be in Columbia for the last week in August because of a conference I had to attend. It is very hot and humid, oppressively so, at this time of the year.
That's not to say that Columbia is a bad place to visit. It's a pretty town, very southern, situated on the lovely banks of the Congaree River. In any other season, it's a great place to be.
Our lodging would be at the Whitney Hotel, about one mile northeast of downtown. I wish more hotels could be like this one. Our suite had two bedrooms and two bathrooms separated by a large living room. There was a balcony, a dining area, a full-sized kitchen (with full-sized stove and refrigerator), and my favorite feature, a separate laundry room with washer and dryer in our suite. Plus pool, cable TV (two!), A/C, phone, and dataport. Our price? $79 per night...including a full, hot breakfast.
Although accessible rooms are available, we stayed in a regular room with no ill effects other than the narrow bathroom door. If you have a wide chair, make sure to get an accessible room.
Now comes another bad point about Columbia, especially if you can't drive, or have access to, a car. Public transportation here is atrocious. For some reason, the buses are run by the local gas and electric utility. They obviously don't take their mandate very seriously. Buses are frequently broken down, have no markings on them (to let you know who they are or where they are going), and getting information about routes and schedules is just about impossible.
There are two accessible trolley routes that connect the downtown area with the two most popular hang-out areas (the Vista and Five Points). They provide decent service at a good price (25-50cents) but only run a couple of hours in the afternoon and then again during the evening.
We had a rental car. My wife would drop me off at my conference in the morning and then play tourist with Tim during the day.
We arrived on a Sunday. I checked into my conference and then we checked into the hotel. After a drive around town to show my wife where everything was, we had dinner and then settled down for the night.
Monday morning. The bad thing is now I'm back at work and have to wake up early. My wife and Tim drop me off and head to the Riverbanks Zoo. They tell me it was a very nice zoo with lots of neat animals and good accessibility. A lot of it is under construction due to an expansion there. I should be top-notch in a year or so.
I spent my lunch break taking in the McKissick Museum of Art at the University of South Carolina (home of the Gamecocks...boy, does that make for some interesting school clothes. Think about it.). It's an interesting and free museum, if a bit small, located on the historic Horshoe of USC. This is the original part of the campus that dates back hundreds of years.
That evening we had dinner at the New Orleans Riverfront Restaurant. The view was spectacular and the food wasn't so bad, but we've had better New Orleans style food back home.
Tuesday, the wife and kid puttered around town looking for things to do and shops to visit. We met at lunch. We visited the Columbia Museum of Art and had sandwiches across the street at Rising High Bakery.
The museum has a pretty extraordinary collection of art and furniture dating back to the 1400's. The galleries are arranged around time periods including a great collection of original Tiffany glass, original Remington sculptures, and paintings from Dutch masters to contemporary Americans. I only had an hour and a half here. I wished I had much more time.
The Rising High Bakery had great sandwiches with some pretty poor service at the counter. Hmmm.
Thursday, the wife and kid said they'd seen and done everything they could think of in Columbia and said take the car to the conference, we'll just chill at the hotel. That evening, we took in some minor league baseball as the Capitol City Bombers took on the Columbus Red Sticks.
There was hardly any fans in attendance, maybe 100 people tops. As you can see, I was able to commandeer some really cool seats. It was a blast, but a bit buggy after dark. (The team has since moved away...I wonder why - Ed)
Thursday, wife and kid are pretty bored now. They tried to take a long walk during the day, but the August heat in Columbia just saps your energy. The air conditioner at the hotel was better. I'm pretty bored by the conference.
We walk over to the Five Points area (kind of a grungier Vista) a few blocks south of the hotel for pizza.
Friday. It's finally over. The conference ends at 11:30. While Columbia is pretty, it's also pretty sparse on things for visitors to do. Three days here would be great, five is stretching it a bit. Well, now it's on to our ultimate, and much more exciting, destination...Charleston.
Ah, the conference is over. Time to rejoin my family on our vacation.
While I spent the last three hours counting the minutes until the last speaker shut up, my wife and Tim were packing the bags at Columbia's Whitney Hotel.
You know...why do they even bother to have a speaker for the last morning of a conference? People are just attached to the cell phones...trying to bump up a flight...looking for an excuse to duck out early...arranging a ride to the airport...all we hear of the person up from is "blah, blah, blah." Wouldn't it be better just to end it the day before...the last full day?
Oh well, it's finally 11:30 and I'm zooming back to the Whitney. The family is already in the lobby with the bags. We toss 'em into the car and off we go.
It's a ninety minute drive over to Charleston and I'm in a different world. Columbia's a fine city but it can be a bit staid, the public transit is terrible, and there's just not a whole lot to do over a full week. Charleston has a fine transit system, hundreds of top-notch historical sites, great restaurants and bars, and a joyful, fun atmosphere.
See our first trip to Charleston here.
This evening we have another great dinner at the Southend Brewery and Smokehouse.
Afterward, we walked over to the office of the Original Charleston Walks and saw what kind of tour was being offered tonight (last time we really enjoyed the Ghost Walk). This time, our journey into Charleston's rich tapestry of history would be focusing on the pirates who had lived, plundered, and died here.
As with all their tours, this group meets at the beautiful gas-lit park next to its office. Our guide takes us out the back entrance of the park as we quickly get to the first stop, an art gallery that is the oldest building in Charleston (circa 1695-?) where pirates drank and caroused in the brothel.
Also along the tour is the building (now a private residence) where pirates where tried and sentenced, the spot on the battery where their tarred corpses were hung as a warning to others, and spots around town where Edward Teach (Bluebeard) showed up from time to time.
All the walking tours are wheelchair accessible and I highly recommend them for an intimate look into this fascinating city.
Last time we were here, we visited Fort Sumter in the bay, the recipient of the first shot fired in the Civil War. This time we visited the other end of the trajectory, Fort Moultrie on Sullivan's Island.
It's much quieter here and you can take in many of the batteries that comprised the shoreline providing shore-based defenses for over a hundred years. There are spots where a wheelchair could get to the upper level but the thick ramparts will block all but the very hardy from getting a view across to Fort Sumter. There is a very interesting template in the visitor's center showing just how cramped it was in the Confederate submarine Hunley. The submarine itself has been found and recovered since our last trip and now has its own museum.
Our last evening here and we have a superb dinner with shrimp-boat views straight out of Forrest Gump as we dined at Slightly Up The Creek, situated along the banks of Shem Creek in Mt. Pleasant. As these pictures show, we had one last sunset break on us for our odyssey.
Then is was over. The next morning, after 17 days on the road...two countries, 8 states, and too many miles to count... we turned in our trusty rental car at the Charleston airport and flew home.
Copyright 2001 - Darryl Musick