Never, in my life, have I experienced a city as friendly as Charleston, South Carolina. How’s thats for a sweeping declaration?
Back in June I stumbled across a pretty sweet deal from Southwest Airlines: You could fly anywhere in a 500 mile radius for $40 each way. Despite having been home from Vancouver for maybe 6 days I was itching to start planning something new and set right to studying the map. You know me, can’t sit still for long!
Although I travel abroad quite a bit, I’m a strong believer in exploring the United States as well. There are so many interesting and unique places around the country that are well worth a visit. I wanted to take Mike somewhere as an early birthday present- somewhere neither of us had been.
I finally settled on Charleston, an old fashioned antebellum city by the sea. I lived in Atlanta for four years and made a couple visits to gorgeous Savannah but somehow never made my way to Charleston. Historic and pretty and a chance to eat southern food? Sounded like the perfect romantic getaway.
In the United States, where everything is fairly new, Charleston is over 400 years old. As the guidebooks would say “it’s a city steeped in tradition.” It really is too. There were legends and ghost stories and beautiful old churches. There were cobblestone streets (the stones, I learned, were pulled out of the Thames river hundreds of years ago and brought across the Atlantic on ships). There was the romance that is unique to these old Southern cities, but more than anything else, there were the people.
The people in Charleston have the kind of effusive southern friendliness that you read about in books but so rarely get to experience. Everyone, from cab drivers to the bartenders, happily unfolded their personal stories for us.
This complete openness on first meeting is not something you often encounter in my hometown of Washington DC, or in most big cities I’ve been to. Even in Atlanta people mostly kept to themselves.In certain cities trying to start a conversation with a stranger will just get you some really weird looks (I’m looking at you London). At first it was a bit unnerving to talk so frankly with people I didn’t even know, but after awhile it started to feel really cool.
It was a great reminder that really, everyone has an interesting backstory hidden away somewhere. On our way into the city we met a shuttle driver who also owns a restaurant in Suzhou China. Over dinner we talked to a college student who was opening up a sushi bar. The next day we met some adorable kiwi girls doing a road trip of the southern United States.
Often when I’m traveling I feel too shy to talk to random people without prompting. This was a great reminder that some of the best stories and experiences can be had simply by chatting up the locals.