Tuesday, September 27, 2005

A trip to Charleston

Well, what can I say - working life sucks! Of course, I gotta work to make money, but wouldn't it be much nicer if I were to win the cash though? I mean, then I could do what I want to do most - travel.

Finally, last weekend we got out of Daytona and went to see my cousin Olga and her husband Noah at their new place in Charleston, SC. Of course, because of our jobs, we couldn't leave until Friday evening. And of course we had to be back on Sunday evening. Now figure in 6-hour drive (one-way) and you get the idea of how much time we got to spend in Charleston. And, to make it all even better, my boss absolutely insisted on me working overtime on Friday night! So we didn't get out of the house until after 7pm. But we made it to Charleston and even managed to spend an hour or two talking with Olga and Noah, Russian-style, in their little kitchen.

If you think we didn't wake up too early next morning, you just might be right. Either way, after spending time eating breakfast, talking, and getting ready, we finally set out on a tour of Charleston. First, Noah drove us all around a local getto. It looked very Southern - some of the people on the streets might have come straight out of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" or "Gone with the Wind". The whole place didn't look dangerous or scary, not by the light of day anyway, just very sad - old row houses that haven't seen any maintenance in decades with their peeling paint and grimy siding, with walls leaning in every-which direction and sagging porches, with old rust-covered air-conditioning units practically falling out of the half-boarded windows.

After such a great start, things started to look up. We parked in the Historic Distric and walked around a bit. Since neither one of us really knew any appropriate historical facts, we just read occasional plaques and mostly gawked at the architecture or landscaping details. Here's the thing about Noah - he walks very fast, almost at a running clip. What's more, he walks very determinately, as if he had some particular destination in mind. Put the two together and you turn a leisurely sigh-seeing stroll into an endurance race with a couple of short stops to read an inscription or two. The thing is as far as I figure out, there is no particular destination we MUST get to. May be it's Noah's propensity as a journalist to move quickly, always on a look-out for a story.

Still, our walk was most enjoyable, if somewhat short. We returned to a car and drove to Mt. Pleasant to "keep it real", as Noah jokingly suggested. What a nice place it was! The word "pleasant" would describe most of what we saw - tastefully rich houses (with their expensiveness merely suggested by architectural details, location, and landscaping, rather than by size and gaudiness), narrow sandy beaches, remains of old fort that gave South Carolina its Palmetto State status, a small diner on a tree-lined corner, and a tiny and welcoming elementary school.

After a short drive and a shorter still walk on the beach, we returned to Charleston for some afternoon drinks on a rooftop terrace of some posh restaurant. The sun was shining straight down on us and the temperatures must had been well above 80. We found a cool place under a striped umbrella and I started imagining a large frozen drink - a daiquiri perhaps - so cold that the beads of water slowly run down the side of the glass, cooling my fingers... I was almost tasting my drink, when the waitress announced that they do not serve frozen drinks or tap beer. By the looks on some other faces I could tell that it wasn't just me who just seen a dream die. But there were plenty of other drinks to have and so we ordered. My Flirtiny with Smirnoff Raspberry vodka was mild and sweet. Olga's Perfect Manhattan was perfectly strong. And Chris won the prize for the fruitiest drink of all - bright pink in a tall glass full of ice-cubes and with a cherry on top.

Later that evening we went on a short walk in the park by the Citadel, trying to find some magnolia pine cones for Olga. But it was getting dark and as we couldn't see too well, we returned home to some food and wine and a totally weird Russian movie about the Hermitage Museum.

The next morning we had little time to waste and yet we wasted it plenty. The time spent on getting ready to get out of the house is apparently directly proportional to the number of people involved. And so we didn't step out until noon (and that's without spending time on breakfast, mind you). First we head straight to a local bakery for some brunch (oh, the delicious grilled portabello mushroom sandwich!). And then we decided to briefly stop by the library that was having the book sale. Hehe, that was a major mistake since we spent at least an hour or two there.

Finally, we said goodbyes and exchanges invitations and were on the road home. The most memorable part was a small country store on Rt. 17 that was selling peach and cherry cider. If you ever drive in those parts, make sure to stop by - it's worth a small delay.