Culture

U.S. Travel

THE CAROLINA’S :: CHARLESTON

charleston11

Why do so many people have a love affair with Charleston?  That’s such an easy question to answer (said this “expert” after a three-day visit).  Southern charm, waterfront destinations, great restaurants, walk-able streets, lots of history, affordable lifestyle for residents, and so on and so forth.

View from the Hotel Bennett rooftop
First lunch and a must in Charleston
Leon’s Oyster Shop — great food

South Carolina’s largest city has it all going for it, including subtropical weather — a drawback for me.  The timing for this trip was unusual in keeping with pretty much everything else this year so it was go with the flow.  I would love another visit in spring or fall.  It’s a good idea to always carry an umbrella for the sudden and intense downpours.  The summers are hot and humid, exactly our experience.

Charleston Gaillard Center for Performing Arts

It seemed like there were tall church steeples in just about every direction, reinforcing Charleston’s nickname of “The Holy City.”  But it’s also home to two very old synagogues, Kahal Kadosh Elohim (below) founded in 1749 (fourth oldest in the United States) and Brith Shalom Beth Israel, the oldest Orthodox synagogue in the south — founded in the 19th century.

Kahal Kadosh Synagogue

We had an interesting experience apropos of what’s going on nationwide.  Upon exiting Hotel Bennett on Marion Square for the evening, we witnessed a a rally and protest taking place simultaneously.  At issue was the statue of John C. Calhoun, the 7th Vice President.  One side was generally advocating for monuments to remain in place; the other for removal.  The statue was taken down on our last day per the decision of the Charleston city council.  By the way, removal of such is no easy task.  Our 7th floor room was barely higher than the statue itself.  The top portion was removed via an enormous crane, but we were told the large granite base will remain for the time being.  The CPD did an excellent job of keeping the peace during this heated period, exhibiting grace under pressure.

For history buffs, a visit to Fort Sumter is a must.  Much like the gentleman we encountered at Bennett House (see previous post), one of the rangers at the Fort is likewise in his retirement “job.”  These guys really know their stuff.  At the risk of sounding like a judgemental parent, I asked him if any of the teenagers that visit seem remotely interested in the history of the Fort.  As was pretty obvious, he said most barely look up from their phones.

At Fort Sumter with the Ravenel Bridge in the background

If one is in the area, seeing Angel Oak on nearby John’s Island is an absolute must.  This extraordinary tree was in the private care of the Angel family for most of it’s 300-400 year history.  The City of Charleston took over in 1991.  It is 28′ in circumference and provides 17,000 square feet of shade.  It’s nearly impossible to get the entire tree in a photo!

Angel Oak — the main portion
Side branches

After a terrific stay, it was back to Highway 17 for the two-hour drive to Hilton Head, the last stop on our visit to the Carolina’s.  Details to follow in the next post.

Classic home in Charleston
Favorite Charleston images
Things You Should KnowU.S. Travel

NEVER WASTE AN OPPORTUNITY: A VISIT TO THE CAROLINA’S

IMG_20200618_143122

When a great fare was “scored” via American Airlines for an arguably optimistic June trip to Anguilla only to have the island remained closed, a quick decision was made to go anyway.  Obviously not to the island, but rather keeping the round trip flights to and from Charlotte.  I have found the upside to these travel disruptions is a seemingly greater flexibility and willingness on the part of the airlines (at least AA) to make changes.  The original fare included “free” system-wide upgrade awards (meaning flying up front without using miles); that somewhat played a role in the decision.

My curiosity about flying during COVID has been satisfied.  Here’s my report:   The TSA folks have managed to create a “no touch” procedure.  Rather than handing over your ID, they ask you hold it next to your face for comparison, and they remain behind plexiglass.  There are distancing signs as well as cleaning crews everywhere.  Masks, are of course, required in the terminal.  Few food stores were open, but it was a very early flight.

On board the flight, masks are required at all times except if a passenger is eating or drinking.  Even though this was a cross-country flight of more than four hours, there was no beverage service although we were able to request drinks after take-off.   Snack bags were provided at boarding:  a small water bottle, a bag of corn nuts and a wipe.  Upon landing, deplaning is like leaving a funeral — stay in your seat until the row in front of you has exited.  The directions were somewhat adhered to.  All in all, the whole experience was uneventful.

Worth the wait!

The year 2020 for us has been about visiting new states as opposed to new countries.  With this trip, my count is 46 out of 50 (still missing: Maine, Michigan, Mississippi and Alabama), of which I am very proud.  Neither the hubby nor I had been to the Carolina’s.  Again, it didn’t take long to map out the 11-night itinerary.  There’s so much to see, the trip could easily be longer.  It is a relief to have “short” drives to the various stops, as opposed to 400-500 miles on average covered daily in the recent road trip.

NASCAR HQ

As for Charlotte, it is immediately apparent why this has become one of America’s best cities in which to reside.  The hubby and I seriously considered leaving CA maybe 10 years ago.  We took a survey that asks what your priorities are for a city and then tells you what location best suits your criteria.  Charlotte was at the top of the list for both of us.  When our kids settled in LA for their careers after college, we decided to stay put.

Downtown Charlotte

The city is a sprawling metropolis but at the same time is easy to navigate with some beautiful residential areas. Gracious homes on generous lots is very different from what we So Cal dwellers are accustomed to — not to mention how much less the cost is for much more house.  Of course there were some delicious food finds; one is depicted in the photos below from Flour Shop.  Bank of America headquarters anchors downtown Charlotte along with their beloved Panthers’ stadium, Hornets’ arena and a beautiful new stadium for the AAA baseball affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.  My personal favorite — Lowe’s — is likewise based in Charlotte, together with more than a dozen Fortune 1000 companies.  Big city opportunities, southern charm and four distinct seasons.  All that’s needed is an MLB franchise.

Next stop:  Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill — aka The Triangle.

Jerry Richardson brought the Panthers to Charlotte.

 

Help!  Where can I see a game?
Snippets from the RoadU.S. Travel

JUST A COUPLE OF ROADIES, PT 4: 10 DAYS/10 STATES/FIN

Stunning Park City vista

After one week on the recent road trip (click HERE for earlier posts), it was time to begin the long journey back.  From South Dakota, we ventured for a brief time to western Nebraska.  Small town food once again was a delight, as in tapas-style dishes for lunch in Scottsbluff.  The Tangled Tumbleweed is doing some delicious small plates and we were very happy to have found them!  On the to-do list is a longer trip to Nebraska, in particular Omaha.

Nebraska-style Tapas

We had an overnight in Denver on the first day dine-in was allowed in restaurants.  Few places were actually prepared.  The hubby called about six restaurants to find a dinner spot until we landed on one that was open for business, called Gaetano’s.

They were very polite (but firm) in the requirements:  Masks at all times except when seated; temperature taken upon entering; guest book sign-in for contact tracing.  Nevertheless, kudos to these places as it’s harder on the staff than the patrons.  They are running around in masks and gloves, constantly cleaning surfaces while trying to provide service with a hidden smile.  It’s not easy to converse either.  We were happy to support the establishment nonetheless.

From there it was a hike to the next stop, Salt Lake City.  We stopped for lunch in Laramie, WY, after which a warning light about tire pressure caused another stop.  We were directed to downtown Rawlins to a tire store.  Unable to find it, we pulled into a hardware store parking lot to ask directions.  The driver rolled down his window, and we asked if he knew the place.  He began to direct us, paused, and said: “Are you ready to go now?”  “Yes, we are.”  He said, “Follow behind me; I’ll drive to where it is.”

I’ll refer you back to an earlier post entitled “Never Underestimate the Kindness of Strangers.” At any other time, I wouldn’t think to mention this gentleman happened to be black and we’re a couple of white strangers.  But this occurred during the Minneapolis riots.   After following him to the right place, we thanked him for his graciousness as he went on his way.  We have been the beneficiaries of this type of random goodwill and kindness and would do the same in our home city without a moment’s hesitation.  Perhaps the timing of this particular incident is what made me tear up wishing this happens without exception.

On a lark we stopped at the renowned Park City area for dinner (The Eating Establishment) before heading on to Salt Lake City for the night.  Oh, how I miss my skiing days.  Then I remember the creaky, artificial and repaired joints and I snap out of it.  It was a gorgeous and unseasonably warm night and Main Street was lively with people.  Just beautiful.

Yummy burger & fries
Main Street, Park City
Stunning Park City vista

From there, it was an insanely long and boring drive to the last night of our trip, Reno, NV.  There were two unexpected high points:  a “pit stop” at the world famous Bonneville Salt Flats (below) and the discovery of another wonderful cafe called McAdoo’s in Elko, NV.  Absolutely delicious and very fresh food at this very small establishment in what I like to call “the middle of nowhere.”

McAdoo’s
There’s another one??

The hubby had not been back to Reno since living there in the early 80’s.  His two older brothers had a business called Parts World (six locations), and he handled the finances.  See below for what the “world HQ” now looks like.  To say Reno has changed in the 37 years since he was last there is the proverbial understatement.   All hell began to break loose in the evening as we dined with his great Reno friend and political menptor, Patty Cafferata.   Our phones all sounded the curfew alerts so we made a mad dash for our hotel.  We had a view of the protests from our room, but thankfully things calmed down.

I did not know that.
Patty & Bruce

The long drive home took us to Mammoth for a quick lunch, then that familiar drive along HWY 395 and then 14.  A helluva journey.  Ten states in 10 days clocking 4,500 miles with so very many lasting memories.

 

Things I LoveU.S. Travel

JUST A COUPLE OF ROADIES, PT 3: THE DAKOTAS

dakota5

“Remind me again why we’re in Bismarck??”  I may have said that more than once on this portion of our recent road trip (click HERE for previous posts).  Or more than twice.  There’s a good reason North Dakota gets very few tourists.  There’s not much to see.  Sure, the people are very nice and everything is relatively inexpensive.  But that’s pretty much it.  The close proximity of our itinerary indicated why not go — as in when we will ever get to this state again?  Maybe it’s the fondness for “Fargo” — movie and TV show.  I kept thinking what it must be like when the state is blanketed in snow … as far as the eye can see.

The high point without question was a little pizza joint called Fireflour.  Online reviews by pizza haven residents of CT and NY said the pizza is just as good as theirs.  That is high praise indeed.  An authentic wood burning oven brought over from Naples cooks the Neoplitan-style pies in 90 seconds.  “You get to go to America to install an oven!” was possibly told to the oven installers in Italy.  “Did I mention it’s in Bismarck?”  That part was probably left out.   Regardless, it was indeed as good as any I’ve had in LA .. Pizzana, Mozza, etc.

All the way from Naples!
White pizza. Insane.

The other part of the Dakota adventure, that being South, is worth every mile driven.  By the way, Rapid City (an overnight stay) is bustling.  There is so much to see in SD .. jaw-dropping landscape and two towering, utterly remarkable feats:  Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse.

Wild, wild west aka Deadwood
Exquisite display after the rain at Mt. Rushmore — like prisms.

A friend advised us the best viewing is at sundown.  We arrived about 30 minutes in advance to virtually no crowds, crisp weather and that view.  It truly must be seen in person to fully appreciate.  We chatted with visitors and watched as the colors changed on the faces, which we were told look different every day depending on weather — snow, rain, sun all play a factor in the faces.  It is incredible.

The lighting on the faces is extraordinary

Also in the Black Hills is the lesser known Crazy Horse monument some 15 miles south.  An orphan (at age 1) from Boston of Polish descent named Korczak Kiolzowski puts himself through trade school at 16, is impressed by meeting an Indian leader, moves to South Dakota with his passion as a sculptor, lives in a tent then builds a cabin, marries and has 10 children and Crazy Horse becomes the family enterprise to this day.  It is still a construction site, where the vision is now carried on by grandchildren whose hope is to see it finished in their lifetime.  How about that for a story?

The original bronze cast of the monument
Construction is visible all around.

We headed south via the most direct route to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, for a lunch stop.  Driving through SD is not scenic at this point.   On top of that, we were forced to stop at the north border of the SD Sioux Reservation with no advance warning.  Two young kids with badges that looked to be lifted from a Cracker Jack box interrogated us (politely):  “How are you feeling?”  “Where are you going?”  “What is your name and telephone number?”  Only at this point were we informed we lacked the proper permit to proceed, thus necessitating us backtracking some 20 miles to re-route.  I politely inquired what would happen if we chose to proceed. They would inform the police who would puncture our tires.  And with that we turned around.  This is an issue between the SD government and the reservations, which obviously has not been resolved.

Sioux greeters

The upside to this part of the drive?  The legal speed limit is 80 with virtually no cars around.  My lead foot was quite pleased (it’s safe to go 10% faster than the limit!)   Next post:  The final leg of this road trip.

U.S. Travel

JUST A COUPLE OF ROADIES PT 2: 36 HOURS IN SHERIDAN, WY

IMG_20200525_165913

After enjoying the spectacular scenery and wildlife in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks (click HERE for last post), the next stop was two nights/one full day in Sheridan, Wy., where a lifelong friend (since first grade) has long resided with her husband.  It didn’t take long to understand the draw.

My friend Gwen ..

For us, this stop was right in line for the itinerary — Sheridan is on the way to Mt. Rushmore from Yellowstone.  That simply made it more convenient but we would have routed accordingly to make the stay work.

En route to Sheridan. Maybe that’s “+/-“

We toured Sheridan’s neighborhoods, saw lots of new housing developments, wide open spaces, an actual Main Street, a beautiful new YMCA complex, medical center, college and golf course.  While there’s no Trader Joe’s, there’s good shopping and coffee.  Brinton Museum is highly regarded for western art.  And there’s lots of really nice people.

Bison and elk refuge right in town

I was so happy to finally see Gwen and husband Rick’s Sheridan home and vast property (12 acres), not to mention a menagerie including falcons (2), chickens (13 adult plus young ones), roosters (2), pigeons/doves (150ish), dog (one – Hattie) and snap turtles.

For this gardener, a dream come true!
Why would you ever leave this view?

Dinner at home with great friends, some excellent Russian River Pinot, seeing the property and animals, insanely cheap gas (WTH, California?) — all made for a wonderful time in Sheridan.  Hopefully a return visit won’t take as long as the first.  Next up:  The Dakotas ..

One of Rick’s prized falcons
Future producers

Below:  Scenes from Sheridan

Rick and Bruce by the pigeon/dove house
Bidding us adieu in front of our hotel
This view is everything.
To-Do ListU.S. Travel

ON THE ROAD AGAIN … MAY 2020

road-trip

When news that our great National Parks are reopening May 18 — at least the outdoor parts if not all the Visitor Centers — it took about a nanosecond for us to decide to go.  We’ve had this road trip on our radar for a while.  Given that the baseball trip in late July is not likely (Dallas, Cleveland, Detroit & Chicago), then why not get the hell out of dodge?!

As for any COVID-19 concerns, the states where we are traveling have had among the fewest reported cases.  In fact, the combined total for Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, the Dakotas and Montana is less than what we’ve had in Los Angeles.  So, off we go ..

Below is our proposed map.  We’re really doing this “on the fly,” meaning arrival dates uncertain save for the first night in Salt Lake City.  That’s roughly 10 hours of driving, a compromise for the hubby wanting to “push it,” and me less so.  But it is certainly do-able.  Next we go to Yellowstone, then Sheridan, WY, to see a lifelong friend (with her Trader Joe’s wish list in the trunk), then on to Mt. Rushmore.  Bismarck is added because the hubby said practically no one goes to North Dakota and since we’ll be so close, why not?  The route home is to be determined pending seeing another friend in Montana.  That’s the basic outline, subject to adding more.

This trip contains many firsts — at least four states, parks and monuments, plus whatever unexpected experiences happen along the way.  Seeing the USA is always a gift.  We’ll be back with lots of stories and photos soon.