13 Weeks of Wandering: Charleston

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver


Where To? Charleston, South Carolina
How long? 3 days
Mode of Transport? Car


13WoW – Charleston

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“Looking good!” I hear you say. Thanks – I try my best. Oh, you were talking about the car? Okay yeah, fair enough, it is pretty sexy. So I picked this beauty up at the Airport after booking online with a pick up from Atlanta and a drop off in Miami. Unlimited mileage. Full tank. Two weeks. Now the road trip really begins.

A word of warning in case you were thinking of doing the same, if you are given a price online, expect the price to double when you go to pick it up. I had not anticipated this when I stretched my already-thin budget to hire the car, and it wasn’t soon until the additional extras that were adding up had me crying over the counter… quite literally.

Yes, head was on the counter, tear puddles building up and a salesman’s hand reaching over to pat me on the head… “Please don’t cry?” I think he may have been begging rather than asking.

You see, if you get insurance, it covers you for if you hit someone else but not damage to your own car, and so you have to buy another insurance to cover any damages to the hire car (which I’m glad I did because I’d soon have to replace the car). Plus they try to sell you these toll passes, fuel agreements, add VAT and all sorts of other extras that just cost so much more. I left with a heavier heart and a  lighter wallet.

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But all that was soon forgotten, the next challenge was picking my car. They pointed to a row, “choose a car” they told me. They didn’t tell me that once I’d chosen a car, I could pretty much just drive off with it. The keys were already in the ignition, I spent 15 minutes getting used to the steering wheel on the other side, the clutch pedal missing and the gear box condensed into D,R,L. Thankfully my uber driver had given me a crash course on driving automatics before dropping me at the airport; basically D for Drive and R for Reverse, not really sure what L was for….
Eventually I knew I’d just have to go and figure the rest out on the roads. Confidence was key, and I was scared AF!
Spotting another car driving out, I decided to follow it – surely at least they knew what side of the road to be on. At the barriers, I showed my license and paperwork fully expecting them to take one look and refuse to let me drive out with their car but the barrier was lifted and I was let loose on the roads. My first journey? The four hour drive to Charleston!

 

Charleston Grand Hotel

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When I arrived in Charleston, I hadn’t booked a hotel/hostel or anything, still staying true to my free-spirit. So I had to book the cheapest hotel available and that landed me in the Charleston Grand Hotel in North Charleston. My review on North Charleston? Don’t go there. Just stick to Charleston. The staff were friendly and the room was comfortable, in fact the bed was very comfortable. Generally, there appeared to be a good vibe in the hotel and I liked the lobby area, but on the other hand I found a pillow riddled with ants stuffed down the side of the armchair in my room and the chair itself seemed pretty dirty so didn’t want to sit on it.

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So , basically found out pretty quickly that the area is pretty sketchy; thought I was going to get stabbed just going across the road to the petrol station. It was dinnertime, but there were no restaurants open nearby and I couldn’t have afforded it even if there was so when the “Gas Station” across the road came into view, I decided that was my best option for dinner.
The decision was immediately regrettable when stepping foot on the other side of the road, as I suddenly became aware of the kind of people that surrounded the gas station. They were the type of people that nearly definitely had a weapon on their person, drank alcohol out of brown paper bags and hung out territorially by the gas station. I looked left, I looked right, and I looked down… at my ripped jeans… and that’s when the plan came together. Realising that I could probably pass for one of them with my thoroughly shredded jeans, flat cap and trainers, I mustered up as much swagger as I could pull together and strolled confidently into the shop.

The cashier was well protected behind one of those bullet-proof glass screens that you only see in movies, and I hid in the back of the shop to get out the exact change for my pot noodles – taking no risks. At the counter, I slapped down my change, the cashier nodded and I walked back to the hotel as fast as I could!

 

Charleston

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Charleston, situated by a harbour, is the oldest city in South Carolina, founded in 1670 as Charles Town, named after King Charles II. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was the epitome of deep south, bible belting, rich patriots judging by the feel of the area around White Point Garden (the fact that the film “The Patriot” was filmed here had no bearings on my judgement). But not too far beneath the surface of the prosperous, clean cut, not-a-petal-out-of-place exterior, there is a dark history.  Historians estimate that approximately half of all African slaves brought to America arrived in Charleston. At that time, Charleston grew from a small seaport to a very wealthy city, it’s economy prospering due to its well positioned harbour and the growing of cotton, rice, and indigo (most certainly undertaken by the slaves). Charleston was the only major city to have a majority-enslaved population with white planters and merchants in control, mostly English colonists.

Do make sure you visit the Battery Park and White Point Garden if you go, it’s worth seeing the large historic houses, stunning low branched trees and the beautiful ocean harbour. You can still get a feel for the rice fields as you walk by the harbour, and you can visit one of the most well-known plantations; Boone Hall.

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Another place of interest is the Charleston City Market. Full of history, this market is always buzzing with people; an array of tempting stalls to choose from. Many merchants sold hand crafted goods, some sold spices and seasonings claiming to be so good “you’ll want to slap yo mama”. And I’ll let a couple of my favourites speak for themselves.

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Finally, I also enjoyed a visit to the Waterfront Park. A famous pineapple water fountain signifies that you are welcome as you approach the park. Heading to the edge of the bay at sunset, I took in stunning views and listened as one of my favourite songs from “A Cinderella Story” was played- “Angels”. A shower broke out and I ran for shelter nearby. A young man decided to chat me up whilst we waited, except he assumed that I was 14 years old and when asking how old he was, he replied “legal”. I told him my age, he told me his; he was 21. “Stop approaching 14 year old girls,” I warned him.

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Later on, after a few cheeky drinks with some new friends, I was taken to a late night pizza place, Pizzeria Di Giovanni ,where the staff had just as much fun as the customers… at least whilst I was there! We ordered the largest slice of pizza I’ve ever seen, and then this…

I returned to the Waterfront and found a pair of glasses by the pineapple fountain. A group of friends were sitting by the fountain giggling, so I approached them with the glasses. No-one else was in sight. What was funny was that one of the women had lost her glasses over a year ago that looked identical to these, and when she tried them on, they were the exact specifications as those she wears. Even stranger, she had lost another pair of glasses a few days ago and needed a new pair. So it seemed like it was meant to be!

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As we parted ways, her partner urged me to visit Edisto before heading to Savannah, and so, that’s where I was headed next.

 

 

 

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13 Weeks of Wandering: Atlanta

Bangkok | Cambodia | Vietnam | Laos
New York >> Miami | Portland >> Vancouver


Where To? Atlanta, Georgia
How long? 4 days
Mode of Transport? Bus


13WoW – Atlanta

I stared at my screen for a while unsure how to begin writing about this adventure, because this adventure began with an ending. You may already have read August’s challenge; Saying “Yes” to new opportunities, but for those who haven’t I will start from the beginning… of the end…

The bus took me from Charlotte on a scenic route crossing enormous lakes on route, the view a blur of birch then pine trees, until we eventually arrived in the city of Atlanta.

A gut feeling told me before finding out, but as I settled in to my spacious hotel suite, I was soon to face one of the most difficult challenges I’d faced since beginning my travels. In all challenges, there is often an opportunity hidden within. So as July came to an end, so did my 9 month relationship, which kind of messed with the travel plans, but lead to my first adventure in Georgia. Again, if you read August’s challenge, you’ll have already heard me say it; It’s never easy dealing with breakups because your heart just wants to say “no” to everything. To waking up, to getting dressed, to stepping out of the door! Eek, humans!

Thankfully, immediately across the road was a Chinese takeaway, and a corner shop where I looked into grabbing some Ben and Jerry’s but ended up with a mango sorbet somehow. I binged watched American TV and ate until I couldn’t eat anymore. Yeah so the food may have had some added saltiness, but suddenly all these movies were just so meaningful!

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Enjoying the Accountant Movie for the second time
It took a lot of getting my shit together, but I had to convince myself to go out and explore (like, I didn’t pay all this money to sit in a hotel room watching chick flicks and shovelling mango sorbet down my throat).

Surprisingly, this bump in the road lead me to my first Adventure. Processing my sudden life change by crying into sorbet and binging on movies all night, I woke up the next morning seeking the comfort of the place I have always received peace from; Church. And it just so happened that around 15 minutes away was a church I had been familiar with as a youth – The Vineyard.

So after crying some more at the front desk staff and a police officer who listened intently (come to think of it, why were the police there?!), I jumped in an uber to go to church!

A kind woman  offered greetings and handed me a welcome pack, it had snacks, books and music (which I later gave to a begging child). They invited me to lunch with them after the service, and that’s where I met a bright, smart 9 year old with the most beautiful smile, Eden.

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She was over the moon to hear that I was from England and even more excited when she found out about my travelling adventures. “I wish I had your life” she said, longingly. I swallowed back tears, she had no idea how much that meant!

Her lovely parents, Phil & Daesy had been in the worship band. Daesy was from the Philippines and so we had a lot to talk about with my recent travels to Asia. It wasn’t long until Phil turned to me and said “Mary, Daesy and I have been talking and we would love to offer you a place to stay.” I was so overwhelmed by their kindness!

breakfast by Phil & Daesy

Before I knew it, I was part of their family as we shared meals, watched Dr. Who and they even gave me lifts to places. It was exactly what I needed when feeling so low and I am ever thankful that we met. We stay in touch even now!
This also lead to a new connection as it turned out Paul & Daesy had family in Portland which happened to be on my travel route. But you can read about that later!

 

Atlanta

So here’s a few of the places I visited in this stunning city.

Olympic Park

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This thriving park is the heart of the city with a vibrant and fun air, you would never have known it used to be a run-down multi-block district. Fountains spraying up from the floor, the laughs of little children echoed as they played in the water. A little further on, a group of young people were making their  own music video – I smiled to myself. On the green, many college football players were sporting their gear and chatting happily with family and friends. One sculpture was a large fan with Olympians running through, another was the famous Olympic circles over a platform that one girl was trying to get the perfect insta-selfie from. The Park hosts music festivals, concerts, fundraisers, free community events and private events. But surrounding the park are popular attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium, Center for Civil and Human Rights, College Football Hall of Fame, World of Coca-Cola, as well as hotels, nightlife and restaurants.

Atlanta City Pass
If you are planning to take advantage of the city attractions, it’s worth it to take advantage of the city pass. You get admission to five of the most popular attractions for $62.75. Discounts are sometimes available on their website.

The City Pass Includes the following.

 
1. Georgia Aquarium
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This aquarium used to be the largest in the world until 2012, incredibly, it holds more than a hundred thousand animals within over 10 million gallons of water. I was able to view an incredible dolphin show, watch the most incredible beluga whales peacefully swim with smaller fish taking shelter beneath it’s large body, and walk beneath a glass arch surrounded by colourful fishes.
If it happens to be your birthday when you visit the Aquarium, then you will qualify for FREE admission! Just make sure you have valid ID or a copy of your birth certificate for proof and you will have free all access admission!

2. World of Coca-Cola
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“I paid Coca-Cola world to brainwash me with advertisements and feed me diabetes…” were my regretful thoughts summarising my tour of the attraction. On entry I was handed a mini vanilla coke as I queued to get in. We were then all lead into a room as we waited for the previous group to finish a screening, this room was probably the most interesting of all as it had all of the original Coca-Cola memorabilia. It reminded me of Christmas.
We were then ushered into a room to watch a 3-D “film” a.k.a advert about Coca-Cola with plenty of not-so-subtle messages about how Coca-Cola is the best thing since sliced bread – and why wouldn’t that be the case? It’s Coca-Cola world!
After being thoroughly brainwashed, we were all lead into the “world” where you could enter the “secret vault” where the secret recipe of Coca-Cola is supposedly held or you can go to the next floor and try unlimited sugary drinks until your tastebuds can’t take it anymore. A child’s heaven.
To exit, you go through the Coca-Cola shop for your greatly desired souvenirs.  Still, it was something to do, your kids will certainly love it!

3. CNN Studio Tours


The world headquarters of CNN, this commercial office offers an inside peek into the behind-the-scenes of CNN’s newsrooms. For many of the people within the building, this was their everyday place of work but for a few of us, this was a chance to understand the world of news anchors!
Something you couldn’t miss as you entered the ground floor is the 196 foot long escalator leading into a large globe of the world that takes visitors to the CNN tour. It is listed as the longest freestanding escalator in the world in the Guiness Book of World Records.
Equally as noteworthy are the restaurants and cafes available to business employees and visitors alike. Most importantly (especially to the people of Georgia) is the popular fast food chain, Chick-fil-A. If you know, you know.

 
4. Zoo Atlanta (Or Center for Civil and Human Rights)
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So I opted for the Zoo, but in hindsight that probably wasn’t a place for a single person. Families and couples everywhere, I contemplated borrowing a child to not look weird by myself. But that’s also weird.
Home to the rare Giant Panda, there are many beautiful animals to see. Elephants are my favourite animal and I was happy to get up close to some of these beautiful creatures.
You will also be pleased to know that the zoo is directly involved in field conservation programs for wildlife around the world.

 
5. Fernbank Museum of Natural History Or College Football Hall of Fame
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Sadly, I didn’t make it to either of these but the website assures me that Fernbank Museum of Natural History is a world of adventure filled with dinosaurs, live animals, cultural artefacts and hands-on science explorations.
I also have it on good authority that College Football Hall of Fame (supported by Chick-fil-A) is a hall of fame and museum devoted to college football.
But maybe you can let me know if you go?
That’s all I managed to see before I head to Georgia Airport… to pick up a car! Keep reading to hear about out all the drama when I got there. Next stop; Charleston!