It takes 7 hours to drive from Baltimore, MD to Florence, SC on a good day. On a bad day (meaning hitting stupid Washington, DC traffic) it can take up to 12. Seriously, DC traffic is terrible. There is always some traffic between DC and Richmond, but I managed to time my departure just right, and I made the trek from DC to Richmond at the most ideal time as possible. Meaning in-between rush hour. Since rush hour extends to 11am and starts before 2pm, there's not a lot of time to squeeze the 2 hour distance between heavy traffic times. I got to DC around noon and made it out fairly unscathed into the wide open road that is Interstate-95 south of Richmond.
From there on out it is just endless driving.
438 miles on I-95.
I was determined to make good time so I made only one quick stop- at a gas station to fill up. Yay for my Honda Fit and good gas milage! P.S. Her name is Penny.
Why am I talking about Florence? This post is about Charleston!
Before I got to picturesque Charleston, which is 2 hours further south than Florence, I stopped off in Florence to visit my awesome grandmother. She is 90 years old, still lives independently and does a remarkable amount of gardening and other somewhat labor intensive things that make her family members nervous. It is very cool.
Florence, on the other hand, is not very cool. Not to hate on a city that I'm sure its residents adore, but Florence is not for me. For one, these are the predominate food options in Florence:
As a health foodie, Florence is a bit of a food desert. I can get on board with Chipotle, and even Ruby Tuesdays and Red Lobster have their merits, but the main drag of Florence is a rather unattractive stretch of chain restaurants surrounded by massive parking lots. Western Sizzlin' is my grandmother's favorite, which is cute because she's 90, but to compare:
This is an example of Western Sizzlin' meals:
Note how the vegetables in the pictures are not actually ON the plate.
And this is a list of what I packed for traveling food and snacks for Carmella and I to have on hand in Charleston:
Organic carrots, Organic celery, 2 types of organic hummus, gluten-free crackers, 85% dark chocolate and 70% dark chocolate with salted almonds bars, Raw lemon-pomegrante-seed bites, Raw cacao-goji berry bites, 2 Moms In The Raw bars, Organic coffee with french press, and Organic Tulsi green tea.
LOL! My hippie, real-foodie ways don't really gel with Florence.
Still, my grandmother's house is cute and the town fits her 90 year-old lifestyle well. I spent over 24 hours chilling with my grandmother before proceeding on to (the decidedly more cosmopolitan) Charleston.
Ah, Charleston. Okay, I'm going to back up quickly and explain this road trip. My bestie Carmella grew up in Monck's Corner, SC. She was to be a bride's maid in an old high school friend's wedding back home. Since she has been on the west coast and I've been on the east coast during my grad school stint, we've been a bit further apart than we would prefer. Seeing as she was flying to the east coast, we decided to take advantage of the opportunity and I would drive down to meet her in Charleston and get in some long-overdue friend time. Thus, I planned a partial east coast road trip for myself with a stopover in Florence to see my grandmother. But, the main event was Charleston.
Charleston is beautiful. The architecture and location right on the water make this city an absolute treasure. Old massive homes with columns, detailed landscaping and vast porches are everywhere.
People in Charleston are rather healthy and active; it is a college town after all. We got treated to more than a few handsome, shirtless male joggers. Charleston has neat juxtaposition of southern style and progressive industry.
Charleston hosts carriage rides, historical architecture and is famous for it's delicious pralines (OMG-level delicious). It also has a Whole Foods, restaurants that sell craft beer and quaint coffee shops offering chai lattes with milk alternatives. And BONUS: It is home to Sticky Fingers, famously endorsed by Stephen Colbert and featuring a painting of him inside.
Essentially, Carmella and I spent our time eating (and drinking coffee) our way through the city. We did a bunch of walking and a bit of driving, since we were staying in North Charleston at a La Quinta (La Quinta again!) to save money. Hotels in downtown Charleston are a bit steep.
Granted, my former comments about food in Florence seem a tad silly considering that I ate at Sticky Fingers, drank a sweet tea and got a praline in Charleston, but I say that those are cultural experiences! We also hit up the Whole Foods, ate my previously mentioned snacks and had a lot more options for food in general.
I got a tour of Carmella's hometown, ordered a $3 house-made cinnamon whisky shot that came served in a plastic dixie cup and took a bunch of pictures of flowers because that's what I do. We essentially wandered around, got to chat (and chat and chat) and admired the town. It was good fun.
I'm still not particularly cut out to live in the south because of stuff like this:
NOPE! Not okay.
But Charleston is a remarkable, little oasis in South Carolina.
I was also reminded how much I love road trips. Even the 9 hour haul from Charleston back to Maryland was a fun time for me. Give me good music* and open road and I'm a happy camper. I did hit considerably more traffic on the way back when I reached Richmond, but it still wasn't as bad as it could have been. Of course, Carmella and I had stayed up talking all night and had gotten no sleep before our VERY early departures, so I was subsisting on fumes, caffeine and music tempo. I did not look great when I got home.
*In case you were wondering. Ben Howard and Bastille.