Charleston. Just the sound of it brings to mind southern gentility.
Its history and beauty charm the visitor and captivated our Carolinas LTV group. This is our second Rally with the group who hail from North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and a few from as far as Nova Scotia. I would like to think they were coming to the rally just to meet our little group but I have a feeling the fame of Charleston, South Carolina had something to do with their visit. Nonetheless, we were delighted to see old friends and make new ones at this gathering. Our leaders, Jerry and Debbie Stephens, kept us in line while our hosts Russ and Pennae Johnsen created a perfect itinerary for the visit.
As our group arrived, we gathered to share a beverage, discuss the itinerary, and learn more about all of the 32 attendees in 16 rigs. It was a relaxed pace that allowed us to recover from our drive and begin reconnecting with friends.
Our first full day launched early with a coach ride into downtown Charleston. We had a local guide waiting to give us a walking tour, but that was just one of several options for the morning. The history of Fort Sumter and the draw of Patriot’s Point pulled a contingent from our group. The former is where the Civil War began in 1861 and the latter is home to the aircraft carrier Yorktown as well as a maritime museum. For the rest of our group, Miss Sarah Fisk greeted us as we stepped off the bus and into the history of Charleston. We walked the cobbled streets of the most historic parts of downtown listening to the stories and descriptions of the quaint architecture, people, and customs of the area. From the waterfront through the city market to the old churches and parks, we got a feel for the resilience, pride and hospitality of Charleston’s residents.
We ended our tour where we had begun – at the old Customs House on the waterfront. We left our guide and, breaking into smaller groups, ventured off in search of lunch. We chose Fleet Landing, overlooking the harbour. Probably the best plate of shrimp and grits with tasso gravy in all of Charleston. We ate and admired the harbour view, discussed the morning’s tours and enjoyed sharing about our travels. Meeting up with our bus, we headed back to the campground for a Rig Hop. Since there are so many different configurations for LTVs the Rig Hop gave us a glimpse of all the different models represented as well as some of the clever modifications each owner had made to their rigs.
It was nearing dinner time so the group wandered over to a pavilion in the centre of the campground where we shared a meal, pot-luck style, with the meats catered by a local restaurant. Conversation for RVers always turns to sharing information about repairs, modifications, campgrounds, and places to see. Before we knew it, our dinner had moved into a session of questions and answers. The experience of the group always trumps the experience of the individual. So many ideas and helpful hints were offered as well as suggestions for making our rigs more comfortable.
On day two, we were up and out early taking a couple of large vans to visit Magnolia Plantation. This lovely estate has been in the same family for 12 generations. It has been welcoming visitors since just after the Civil War when the owners decided tourism might be a good way to fund the reconstruction of the estate’s home, gardens, and rice fields. We toured the rice ponds-turned-nature-reserve by tram with a naturalist as our guide. She pointed out the alligators sunning themselves on platforms scattered about the ponds. White egrets filled several trees like over-sized holiday ornaments seeming too large for the branches holding their nests. Gigantic yellow-bellied sliding turtles poked up from the ponds and walked about the grounds.
The second tour, led by the park historian, took us to four slave cabins remaining on the estate. We learned about the rice cultivating skills of the West African slaves and the way they lived on the plantation. Even after the end of the Civil War, many slaves remained on the plantation as paid workers. The living conditions were deplorable, but their contributions to agriculture and southern customs were mighty. We were able to tour the four cabins, each representing a different time period. As we pondered the magnitude of that history, we made our way back to the main house where a boxed lunch awaited us. We sat under the trees eating sandwiches and talking about what we had seen. Then it was off to tour the zoo and gardens.
The small zoo on the grounds features a flock of peacocks, resplendent in their plumage and quite noisy crying out to one another. There are many alligators on the property and the zoo provides a closer view of these prehistoric creatures from a safe distance. We also saw deer, foxes, snakes, rabbits, and owls. It is an interesting way to get an “up-close” look at all these indigenous animals.
The gardens are naturalized, meaning that some of the formal structure is still evident but the clipped and manicured plantings are gone. They are replaced by natural as well as cultivated plants along a maze of pathways. The gardens wind around the house, along the river and over several small ponds by way of picturesque wooden bridges. A conservatory near the house features orchids and palms, while Carolina Jasmine climbs over trees and trellises perfuming the air with its sweet scent. Although the planting beds are numbered, it was not always evident where the path would lead. We joked that we felt a bit lost in the maze of pathways around the estate, and getting back to the van area proved to be a bit of a challenge – even with a map in hand! We didn’t lose a single person though, and we returned to camp for a quick rest before the evenings’ events.
Our last dinner together began at a local distillery where we learned about the process of distilling botanical gin, bourbon, and vodka. The tour included a tasting of their products and, after a quick look around the gift shop, we jumped back in the vans to get to our dinner stop. We pulled up to a large courtyard buzzing with activity. Tables and chairs dotted the space and music wafted on the breeze. The enticing smell of something cooking drew us into the food court. The concept for “Workshop Charleston” is interesting. The developers built a brewery and then offered the surrounding food court areas to local chefs to try out new dishes. There are six kitchens offering a rotation of chefs trying out new food ideas and, from all accounts of our group, each one delicious. Pick up your favourite beer at the brewery and then choose a cuisine! Great fun and a casual way to have dinner with lots of tasty options. This time they offered Vietnamese, Indian, Mexican, Cuban, and Pizza as well as a kitchen in the brewery.
We went home full and happy. It is always bittersweet to see the rally come to an end and most of our group wrapped up the evening gathering for a conversation about the days’ events. Three days flew by with so many great things to do, good conversations, meeting new friends and reconnecting with old friends. We are grateful to our chapter leaders and our Charleston hosts and can hardly wait until! to meet again!