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Charming Charleston
by Dana Hazels Seith

Wanting to get away, my husband and I hurried together a Valentine's Day weekend trip. We needed to relax and were not too picky about destination. We knew we wanted something within 6 driving hours from our house, something somewhat historic, and a place preferably neither of us had seen.

The drive took just over 5 hours from Atlanta to Charleston -- not the most exciting drive, but the destination, not the journey, was the point. We checked into the Francis Marion Hotel and, upon entrance, felt transported into another century with the ageless glass chandeliers and vintage maps of a Southern port city just before it boomed. The rooms in the Francis Marion were small, yet full of character. And the hotel ballroom surely has seen many women dressed in flapper fringe and feathers dancing the dance of this city's namesake.

My husband and I have one vacation rule that we try to stick with: "Instinct dictates." If we feel like walking off the beaten path, we do. If we are sleepy, we nap or sleep late. If we want a bottle of Pinot Grigio at noon on a patio, cheers! Shortly after arriving in Charleston we were hungry, so we ate.

We ate a late lunch at a Greek restaurant called the Old Towne Grill and Seafood, which boasts of being the oldest restaurant in Charleston. They may be the oldest, but not the best. Neither food nor service was anything to recommend, but it did its job of nourishing us to roam the quaint streets on a full belly.

Charleston is a very walk-able city. Most of the sightseeing, from the City Market to Rainbow Row to King Street, can all be done by foot. At Waterfront Park you can sit on wooden swings and just stare out at the water. A lovely place to watch the sunset and exactly what we did. On the leisurely walk back to the Francis Marion, we gawked at the homes that have likely been passed down for at least one hundred years. The roads are a mix of brick and cobblestone. We could picture horse drawn carriages delivering mail, women in long dresses with petticoats underneath, men tipping their hats to ladies and offering them an arm to make their way across the uneven streets. In our minds, nothing has changed from the city's Revolutionary War history; Charleston is that picturesque. Then, in an instant, you hear horns of cars in the distance, mobile phones ringing, BlackBerrys and Sidekicks buzzing with E-mails and you remember why you got away in the first place.

For supper we had reservations at The Boathouse, located on Isle of Palms. This restaurant is a 15-minute car ride from our hotel, and this was the first time in our trip we truly needed and used our car. The Boathouse by far was the best food and drink I've had in ages. I had a glass of Shiraz while my husband played it safe with a Heineken from their extensive beer list. Our calamari appetizer was very good, not greasy, lightly breaded, and complemented with an amazing garlic chili sauce for dipping. For our entrée, we both ordered the surf and turf with varying sides. I had mashed potatoes and asparagus with tarragon butter, while my husband traded the asparagus for blue cheese coleslaw. Yes, the food was superb, but the atmosphere, service and conversation were even better. I'm a firm believer that most people are one meal, glass of wine and/or conversation away from a good mood.

The three petite lobster tails that came with our surf and turf were incredible. Part of the joy for me with seafood meals is the time you invest to eat them. You have to crack the lobster tail, peel the shrimp, scoop out crabmeat with a tiny metal prong, all of which are time consuming and allow for words to cross the table as much as hollowed out crustacean shells. The meal was simply . . . perfect. The only thing that made us leave the table was the box of truffles and bottle of champagne back at the hotel.

The next day, we brunched at The Baker's Café. This, hands down, had the best frittata I've ever eaten. They also have homemade jellies, jams and croissants that are equally as delicious. After brunch, we drove around the Citadel and neighboring islands. The Citadel is worth seeing because it's such an interesting dichotomy to the city. Here you have this cosmopolitan city, lively and kind against the Citadel's bleached exterior with no individuality and a sameness in cadets that would make Charleston scoff. Yet, they have coexisted for many years and will for many more.

It's also worth the drive to the neighboring islands surrounding Charleston. I found the homes and streets unique to other sea or resort towns I've visited in the past. They aren't as art deco and modern as Florida homes, but aren't as rustic and massive as in North Carolina. They seem quite simple and relaxed. I want one!

Charleston left us wanting more, and by taking such a short trip we know we'll return. In my life and marriage I've come to realize that not every day is going to be champagne and truffles, but my goodness, sometimes you just have to cherish the days that actually are. And the charm of Charleston is the perfect place to indulge in the sweet and bubbly.


Dana Hazels Seith is a journalist and freelance writer.
Write her at Dana.Seith@gmail.com.

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