Southern Comfort: A Long Weekend in Charleston

I imagine that a good number of my friends are confused as to why I decided to go to Charleston. Fair point, given that the only time I ever flew south to a place other than Miami was to Nashville to visit Vanderbilt during my junior year of high school. Initially, I was planning on going to Columbia, SC, which my mentor told me has a fantastic innovation culture, but the flights were more expensive and even less convenient with regard to getting to my second intended destination, Durham. So I opted for Charleston instead, and except for one mediocre bowl of grits and really out-of-whack expectations for the sweetness of sweet tea, was not disappointed by anything here.

I began my adventures here when I stepped out of the airport onto the CARTA public transit bus, hoping it would take me downtown. It did, and for a bargain at $1.75. I spent my hour on the bus reading 'Tales of a Female Nomad' by Rita Golden Gelman, a perfect read for this trip, and watching the area transform from undeveloped marsh with churches and corner stores into a quaint but lively downtown that reminded me of a more upscale version of Key West. The houses on the waterfront were stunning beyond measure, and if the flood insurance isn't too crazy and I still care about this place in 50 years, I'm going to buy one and retire here.

I dropped my bags off at the hostel (cleverly named 'Not So Hostel') at around noon, and since I couldn't check in until 5, I joined up with two other people staying there for a very long walk through town, along the Battery, and finally to Hyman's, a family-owned seafood restaurant that, to my delight, had a gluten-free menu. As mentioned before, their grits weren't too great, and I never made it over to Hominy Grill, but I took pictures of two really authentic recipes for grits out of the cookbook collection at Aluette's Cafe, where I had a late lunch on Sunday. It's better to have the recipe to take home anyway, right? But what I really wanted was the recipe for Aluette's Lima Bean Soup, which was so good that I can't imagine surviving Boston winter without it. Let the test kitchen experiment commence...

Passing at least 2 yoga studios and 2 more wellness centers on Friday, I decided  that I would hit up a class or two during my time here, if for no other reason but to stretch my travel-tightened muscles (and, later, recover from the very squishy hostel bed). The classes were the hardest I've ever done, in part because of the teachers being really good and in part because of the heated room. Holding myself in a pose and staying balanced is hard enough without my pouring sweat turning my mat into a bona fide slip n' slide. That said, I might now be sold on the whole hot yoga phenomenon if for no reason but it's easy to let things slide when you're literally sliding everywhere.

Not knowing there was going to be a farmers market while I was here, I was lucky enough to be walking down King Street post-yoga on Saturday and finding an extensive selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, handmade artwork, and some incredible prepared food stands. If I weren't living the gluten-free life, I'd have waited for days for the crepes, and if I could tolerate just a little more sweetness, I'd have gotten myself a sweet tea. As it was, I did get a peach popsicle from King of Pops, which was the perfect refreshment on a warm day.

Because I had some work to do for HBS, I looked around the corner and found a place called Dellz Vibes that advertised having free wifi and fresh juices. I was prepared for it to be overpriced, breathlessly touristy, and only mildly delicious, and I was wrong on all counts. The price was fair, the crowd was very local (as was the family that owned it and the deli on the other side of the block), and the 'Spicy Coco Boy' was quite possibly the best smoothie of my life. I hope I'll have the pleasure of grabbing one last smoothie before hitting the airport for North Carolina and having another conversation with Nikki, who runs the place and is pursuing a second career as a raw foods chef. She, like Aluette, had some incredible cookbooks she let me peruse as part of her curriculum at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. All the while, I consolidated research for two case studies while I sat on the bar. And the juice bartender looked like he was pulled out of a Hawaii tourism ad (in a good way, if you didn't gather as much). Not bad.

Durham has quite a challenge in trying to top some of the food and friendliness I've enjoyed here. The root vegetable stew with roasted portabella mushrooms at Five Loaves Cafe, the Blood and Sand cocktail at The Belmont, and the almond milk lattes at Kudu Coffee hit all my culinary weak spots, and the people I interacted with in all these venues were so kind. And I'm sure I'd have adored the gluten-free bakery, Sweet Radish, were it not closed by the time I heard about it on Sunday.

Now, it's time to pack and prepare for the journey to the other Carolina, where I'll actually be in the company of people I know. After a weekend alone (but not lonely), it'll be a welcome change.