Tips From a Tourguide
“An Introductory Image of Charleston, SC”
by Amy Tankersley
I’ve been a licensed tourguide since Aug. 2004, giving carriage and walking tours in Charleston, SC, The Greatest City In The World, hereafter known as TGCITW (please remember that). I’ve been here since 1988, and I never get tired of looking at the same old houses in a wonderfully mixed-up variety of architectural styles from the different periods over a 345 year history. They’ve been through fires, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, and epidemics like Yellow Fever. After each disaster, they come back, again and again. I feel like they are alive through the memories and spirits of their former inhabitants.
One street of Georgian style Rowhouses will “look” like merchants and businessmen in period clothing; a banker, a ship and wharf owner, a lawyer, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, making money. Another row of “Charleston single houses” turned sideways to the street remind me of a 19th century chorus line, with the dancers turned sideways to the audience. And the “Painted Ladies”; the Victorian Mansions on the waterfront, looking like a row of grand old ladies from the Civil War, in their pastel hoopskirt dresses with ruffles, lace, and bows. Each one sits daintily in her own tiny garden, side by side, gazing over the seawall, watching for her husband’s ship to appear at the entrance to the harbour, which is formed by the Ashley and Cooper Rivers meeting at the tip of the peninsula.
In the harbour, dolphins surface, pelicans dive, and seagulls soar, while sailboats, harbour cruises, and water taxis criss-cross the harbour, carrying people from one side to the other. You can watch all that from the seawall which wraps around the tip of the peninsula like the letter “U”. You’ll see people fishing, photographing, strolling, jogging, lovers kissing, and artists painting. Sunrise? Run to the eastern wall where the Cooper River empties into the harbour. Sunset? Along the western wall, where the Ashley River makes her entrance. (It’s a “she”- I’ll explain in a later article)
Various city parks are filled with majestic live oaks, palmetto and magnolia trees, azaleas, camellias, flower beds, grassy lawns for picnics, pathways, fountains, monuments, benches and old cannons for children to play on. At Waterfront Park, you can even play in the fountains on hot summer days, (and once, a duck joined us).
The main streets are now asphalt, but many side streets are still cobblestone, ballast stone, or brick. Modern cities have strict divisions of residential suburbs and urban commercial districts. But here, as in the old days, the lines are blurred. Some streets are mostly residential homes, with an occasional bed-n-breakfast, house museum, old church, or city park tucked in here and there. The “commercial” district has private residences mixed in with restaurants, bars, bookstores, boutiques, specialty shops, bakeries, art galleries, antique shops, law firms, coffee shops, hotels, more old churches, more parks, old graveyards to walk in, an aquarium, several marinas, a post office, two courthouses, City Hall, a bridal shop, and several horse barns, not in that order.
Traffic moves slowly (which is safer for pedestrians) to accommodate cars, trucks, tour buses, firetrucks, horse-drawn carriages filled with tourists, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, skate boarders, and golf carts. Some people complain about traffic, but I don’t. It’s all part of the lively energy of this city. Besides, you come here to walk, not drive.
All this is and more lies in a 3 square mile area, so you can walk everywhere. Even more great attractions lie in the surrounding metropolitan areas, such as plantations, botanical gardens, golfing, fishing, boating, beaches, and you get all this with a mild, subtropical climate and lots of history for me to tell you about. So get on down here as soon as you can, to Charleston, SC; T.G.C.I.T.W.
Watch for my next article on how to best prepare for your vacation. See y’all soon- Amy