Homer's Travels: June 2021

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

The Great Getting Out Of The House Southeast USA Vacation Of 2021 - Part Of Day 6 And Day 7

After visiting the Hunley we headed back to the market district of Charleston.  Ruling out a walking tour due to humidity we decided to substitute a horse drawn carriage tour instead.  We were a little early so we had an ice cream lunch (Chocolate and Banana Pudding for those wondering) while we waited.

A garden from one of the one hundred thirty churches in Charleston.
The carriage held sixteen people and took us through various historic parts of downtown Charleston.  The Wife and I both registered the lack of African-American history in the driver's descriptions.  Good parts were emphasized and bad parts were glossed over.  It was a very sanitized history of Charleston.  The most controversial thing on the tour were the college students yelling "Ride a bike" at us as they passed the carriage.

A gate make by Philip Simmons, a renown blacksmith.
Our last stop of the day was the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon which had been recommended to us by a couple we'd met at the Hunley.  The tour was through the basement ("Dungeon") of the exchange building where trade goods once flowed in and out and, as the name suggests, held prisoners.  The interesting thing is how far the Exchange building is from the water.  Over the years land was reclaimed resulting in the coast being pushed back a couple blocks from where it once was.  The basement was inhabited by poorly made mannequins which gave everything a cheesy feel.  The docent in period costume talked of the history and how the African-Americans were enslaved by other Africans.  How he did this with a straight face while standing next to an African-American family is beyond me.

Inside the Charleston Gaillard Center.
On the seventh day we decided to risk a walking tour and met with Franklin Williams, the guide of Frankly Charleston African-American tours.  This morning we were the only ones with Frank.  The tour was a casual walking tour that took us to various locations important to the African-American history of Charleston.  We clicked with Frank right away.  He filled in the blanks that we'd seen the day before.  He came across as honest and truly caring about getting the truth out there.  We all had a laugh as we compared the sanitized history we'd heard the day before with the grittier side that Frank showed us.

A little literary history for lunch.
(Picture taken by the Wife)
After the tour (which we survived despite the humidity) we headed just outside of Charleston to a restaurant recommended by one of the Wife's students.  Poe's Tavern was exactly the type of restaurant we liked.  Good food and good atmosphere.

The Aiken-Rhett House with the enslave quarters,
kitchen, and stables along the sides.
Back in Charleston we headed to the Aiken-Rhett House that had been recommended to us by Frank.  The house and adjoining enslaved quarters are now a museum.  Unlike other museums that gloss over the enslaved, this self guided audio tour is honest and includes the lives of the enslaved using their actual names.  You hear about their lives and the lives of the house owners in an unvarnished way that was quite refreshing.

A Joggling Board.
These last couple days were very interesting.  It is hard to find honesty and truth.  We were reminded of the undercurrents of racism as we visited the Mother Emanuel AME Church where nine African-Americans engaged in Bible study were murdered.  People just want to forget the indiscretions of the past but if we forget them, how are we supposed to learn from them and improve ourselves? 

Photos can be found in my 2021-06 Southeast USA Google Photos album.

Friday, June 25, 2021

The Great Getting Out Of The House Southeast USA Vacation Of 2021 - Day 5 And Part Of Day 6

On day five we drove into Charleston, SC.  We were spending three nights here exploring history mostly.  We stopped at our hotel, dropped off out bags since we were too early to check in, and headed to Liberty Square where we would catch our boat ride to Fort Sumter.

Fort Sumter where the Civil War started.
The first thing we noticed after getting out of our car was the humidity.  Neither of us expected it to be so hot and humid in June.  I thought this was more July and August weather.  We went to the Fort Sumter park headquarters, bought our tickets, and explored the small museum as we waited to get on our boat.

You can see the red mark on the flagpole that marks
the height of the walls before bombardment.
The boat ride was short one providing views of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge and the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier (now a museum).  As we approached the fort we were given a brief historical lecture about what happened on the island.  A red mark on the flagpole was pointed out.  This mark was the original height of the fort walls. The pounding the fort received first from the Confederates and then by the Union forces had reduced much of the fort to rubble.

An unexploded shell embedded in the inside wall of the fort.
We got off our boat and explored the fort seeing the canons, the shells embedded in the walls and the fingerprints of the enslaved people who made the bricks the fort was made of.  Seeing these things helped make the Civil War more real.

The three indentations are fingerprints of enslaved workers who made the brick.
After touring the fort the boat returned us to the mainland.  It was lunchtime and our plans were to leave the car where we'd parked it and walk to a place for lunch before heading in search of a walking tour of Charleston.  It didn't take long for us to discover the issue with that plan.  In the four to five blocks we walked to the restaurant we were drenched in sweat and very hot.  It was obvious that a walking tour was no longer in the plan.  We sat in the bar and ordered food while we cooled off.

We finished our lunch and headed south to where the walking tours started.  We never got there as the heat and humidity reasserted itself.  Instead we walked through the historic Charleston City Market.  We both came to the conclusion that the market was … underwhelming.  We saw nothing worth buying and things were overpriced.  We left the market and headed … slowly … stopping frequently … back to our car.  Our hotel picked by the Wife was in the perfect place to walk to everything.  In the end, we walked nowhere.

The USS Hunley submerged in water to help preserve the wreckage.
On day six, after a breakfast at our first Waffle House, we headed to north Charleston to visit the USS Hunley exhibit.  The Hunley, a civil war era Confederate submarine, was the first to ever sink a ship.  The Hunley disappeared after it sunk the ship and was not found until 1995 by a group financed by Clive Cussler, the author.  This was a very well put together presentation given by an enthusiastic docent and I would have to say the Hunley was one of the highlights of this trip.  The tours are held on the weekends so that archeologist can work on the submarine during the week.  During the weekend the wreckage is submerged in water and other chemicals to help leach out the salt and slow the degradation of the submarine.

Lt Dixon's coin recovered from the Hunley.
One story that has been confirmed by the archaeologist is the story of Lieutenant George E. Dixon who commanded the final voyage of the Hunley.  It was said he carried a gold coin given to him by a young lady.  During an earlier battle he was hit and the coin, bent by the ball, saved his leg and possibly his life.  While examining the ruins of the ship the coin was found and the story was confirmed.

The final resting place for the last crew of the Hunley.
(The only appropriate place for the Confederate flag in my opinion.)
No one knows for sure how the crew on the Hunley were killed.  The one I think is most likely is that the shockwave of the torpedo (actually an explosive attached to the end of a pole connected to the front of the submarine) killed the crew instantly.  In the end the Hunley's successful sinking of a ship was a suicide mission.  The remains of all eight who died that day were recovered and, in 2004, given a burial with honors and a four mile long precession.  After visiting the Hunley we visited their graves.

This afternoon we would see one side of Charleston's history.

Photos can be found in my 2021-06 Southeast USA Google Photos album.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

The Great Getting Out Of The House Southeast USA Vacation Of 2021 - Day 4

On day four we left Erwin, TN and headed southeast, away from my Appalachian Trail memories, toward Ashville, NC.  On the way we stopped at a small diner for a good down home breakfast at a greasy spoon where you had to listen carefully to the waitress to understand what she was asking.  The food was excellent.

Ashville, NC is the home of the Biltmore Estate. This small bachelor's pad (and eventually a family home) was built by George Vanderbilt with help of architect Richard Morris Hunt.  The not so modest home with its adjoining gardens (designed by Central Park designer Fredrick Law Olmstead) occupy a small portion of the eight thousand acre estate.

The Biltmore house and its modest front yard.
We were shuttled from the parking area to the home and arrived roughly an hour before the entry time on our house tour tickets.  We use the time to walk through the expansive gardens and the green house with it's models of the estate buildings and model trains.

One of the model buildings and trains in the greenhouse.
By the time our house tour started the day had turned hot.  The tour was a self guided audio tour.  We walked room to room with the other visitors.  There was no air conditioning so we moved from one blowing fan to another as we admired the large rooms and the custom made decor.  By the time we reached the servant's quarters and kitchen area we were both getting warm and the Wife has never handled warm well so we rushed through the basement area to the food court in search of shade, hydration, and a snack.

The modest library.
The house itself reminded the Wife of Hearst Castle.  It felt less ostentatious to me.  Hearst Castle was filled with actual European antiques and furnishings and had a darker, more cluttered feel.  The Biltmore house felt more open, airy, and all the furnishing were custom made.  It felt much less crowded.  In my opinion George, and his wife Edith, Vanderbilt had much better taste.

A stop at the gift shop for t-shirts and magnets and we left the moneyed abode and continued southeast towards our next stop on the coast.

Photos can be found in my 2021-06 Southeast USA Google Photos album.

Monday, June 21, 2021

The Great Getting Out Of The House Southeast USA Vacation Of 2021 - Days 1 Thru 3

On the first of June we loaded our stuff in the car and headed out on the road like our butts were on fire.  It was our first multiday vacation out of the house since Patagonia in 2019 and to say we were eager to go out into the world, fully vaccinated of course, would be an understatement.  Anticipation for this vacation predates the pandemic as it was originally going to be our summer 2020 trip so by the time it looked safe to leave the confines of our bubble we could taste it.

Our travels would take us to the southeast region of the country.  We would explore nature, history, civil rights, and American literature.  We first headed east driving through Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia on our way to my small personal contribution to our itinerary, Shenandoah National Park.

It took us two days - nineteen hours of driving more or less - to get to the park.  Ever since I hiked this park during my Appalachian Trail (AT) hike in 2019 I'd wanted to drive Skyline drive (the road follows the original AT path through the park) and the Blueridge Parkway to the south of the park.  Our stop on the second day was the Big Meadow Lodge.  We spent the night in the lodge and we watched hikers come in to get food and enjoyed the views from the lodge.

The view from one of Skyline Drive's many turnouts.

On our third day we drove south on the Skyline drive and the Blueridge Parkway.  These roads follow the heavily forested ridgeline passing multiple turnouts where you can see for miles on a clear day.  As I drove south I remembered my hike north through this section.  The AT crosses the road over twenty times in the park and I watched for crossing points and saw a few AT blazes marking the trail.  The memories flooded back as the road winded south.  I couldn't remember how long it took me to hike the park (it was seven days) and along the way I tried to calculate how many days.  I think the curvy road messed with my calculations.  I was off by two days.  I think I talked the Wife's ear off about my AT memories though I think we've been married long enough that she's learned how to tune me out.

After leaving the parkway we drove the highway south and I kept seeing exits to towns I'd zeroed in - Waynesboro, Buena Vista, Daleville, Pearisburg, Marion, Damascus.  Every name has a thousand memories attached to them.  We ended the day in Erwin, TN.  We'd driven in one day what took me thirty-eight days to hike.  It felt surreal.  We drove by Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Hostel where I'd stayed when I was in Erwin.  This was the end of my AT remembrance.  Tomorrow we would leave the AT and head southeast to North Carolina.

Photos can be found in my 2021-06 Southeast USA Google Photos album.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Happy Solstice Everybody … And So Much More


I'd like to wish everyone a happy start to the Summer.  The world has changed a lot over the last year and a half.  May this Summer welcome positive change to our lives.

P.S. For those out on the trails, Happy Hike Naked Day!!!! (June 21st).

P.P.S. Hope you all had a joyous First (federally recognized) Juneteenth celebration (June 19th).