Charleston, Savannah and Florida

The people in Charleston seem surprisingly friendly. 037 That is, for anyone who doesn’t realise that it is a given that complete strangers will wave at you from across the street, or from their cars, or any time your eyes cross theirs, in fact. It is their way and was interesting for me, a new ‘New Yorker’. For instance, a man at a petrol station offered to take me out in his boat because I admired it!039 025 029 031

The first thing that struck me about Charleston, South Carolina, was the ‘live oaks’: I mean, when a tree is growing, surely it is alive? But that is what they call them. It is an evergreen oak (well, not a true evergreen but they retain their leaves until the new ones grow), with leaves very different to our dear UK oaks, but similar bark. They grow, apparently, from Virginia to Florida and across to Texas.

They are iconic of the Old South and they are very prolific. Julie, in whose sweet little one bedroom guest house we stayed, has several of them, forming a canopy over her entire garden. Because I love oaks, Julie and I drove with her sweet daughter Zaura to the Angel Oak on Johns Island which is estimated to be at least 700 years old, more than 28 feet around and 66 feet tall, with a huge limb spread of 187 feet. It is, in fact, the largest tree East of the Mississippi River, and I was thrilled to visit it (and yes, do the usual tree-hugging thing that I do).

The other characteristic of these trees is that they attract Spanish Moss that looks like it is dripping off their branches and to me now typifies the South. Both old Charleston and old Savannah contain hundreds of these trees covered in this moss: brilliant for photography, atmospheric films and all things gothic. The moss lives off the air, not the trees, and therefore does not appear to harm them.

034 035Julie lives in a charming house in Northern Charleston and Alfie and I spent 3 happy days in our little retreat in the garden, making friends with Rex – a sweet-natured but slightly scary-looking pitbull – one of the 4 banned breeds in the UK. Alfie couldn’t quite relax around Rex who, frankly, I do not think would hurt a fly but goodness me are those dogs strong and powerful-looking.

I learnt about how to drive in town by driving Julie around, who was initially horrified at how I hadn’t grasped the basics – the STOP signs really mean stop absolutely, even when there is no-one about, and look left and right very deliberately, including when you know no-one else is about, and then proceed: odd and time-consuming.

There are four-way stops where you take it in turns, according to who arrived first. Roundabouts are rare. The speed limits are rarely posted on the roads and you travel at the speed of everyone else, even if they are speeding…

You never put yourself on the right-hand side of the road when there are two lanes because inevitably the right turns come up and given you turn right through a red traffic light you will irritate the people behind if you stay still….  All quite a hairy experience but I have now got used to it.

We drove out to Folly beach where at 5 p.m. you are allowed to let dogs off the lead (or leash as they call it here …) and saw the sun go down.

They have some very small sand dunes between the beach and the homes along the beach, not more than 5 feet high and it will cost you $500 if you dare walk on them, which Alfie almost did… There is a lot to get used to here!

040 044 047 049 050 Julie and I spent a lovely evening sitting around a fire, chatting about life. Her partner, Zaur – who is from the Caucuses – is a talented bee-keeper with 40 hives. Like all bee-keepers, he has to be vigilant for disease and colony collapse. He keeps his hives over an hour away and, because of insects living around his garden, has not been successful in keeping hives locally.

We took a trip to a huge former naval base where they have created a park and are gradually doing up the houses. The former Admiral’s house is stunning. In the park are some lovely sculptures.019 023


I had a lovely Saturday in old Charleston, bumping into a bride and bridesmaids having photos taken before church and walking along the waterfront. We found a great cafe with good live music called Tabuleh and Alfie made himself at home in the doorway, greeting people as they came in.


041 042 043 051 062 052At one point I bumped into a group of girls, brimming with life, sporting tee-shirts with ‘unplugged’ on them.


I asked what this meant and they said they were from a church organisation that works with teenage girls enabling them to make different choices in their lives. When I asked if I could photograph them they immediately formed this smiling line.


Saying goodbye to Julie after 4 days, Alfie and I made our way down the Interstate 95 towards Savannah. I was keen to see where they had filmed ‘Midnight in the garden of good and evil’ (based on John Berendt’s book concerning real-life events in Savannah during the 70s and 80s) starring John Cusak and Kevin Spacey.


Entering Savannah we stopped at the Tourist information booth and picked up a really useful map: Savannah is a planned city that was designed by General James Oglethorpe – 22 of the original 24 picturesque squares still remain today, including Monterey Square, containing Mercer house where much of the action of the film took place. Most of the squares contain the inevitable live oaks dripping with Spanish Moss, and truly lovely houses and gardens.053 055 056 060 063 066 069 070 071 072 073 075 076 077


After an enjoyable stroll up Bull Street, bumping into a wedding party, and a couple that had just got engaged.


Alfie and I met Michael – well, Alfie met Michael who then started talking to me, which is how it usually happens. After a great walk along the waterfront, Michael – in town to discuss propane gas – and I found ourselves in a shrimp restaurant where he generously invited me to dinner and we enjoyed shrimps, French fries, salad and asparagus. He and his partner live in Glastonbury (!!) Connecticut. Alfie and I are invited to visit, although I do not know if our trip will take us that far North East – we already have thousands of miles planned.078 079 080 081 082 083


Saying goodbye, Alfie and I returned to our car and headed off towards St Augustine – the oldest continually-occupied European-established city in the USA, and a very pretty one at that.


When I do these longer journeys, I stop the car at well-lit service stations on the motorway and have a nap until I am ready to move on. Alfie patiently sleeps in the car and enjoys the opportunity to have a leg-stretch and something to eat when I have rested. It helps that instead of the ordinary little Kia that I had ordered, I was well up-graded to the 4×4 that has tinted windows and gives us a lot of space.


Entering St Augustine at 9 a.m., we found a useful tourist office and collected a city map. On arrival we checked out the beautiful gardens around a chapel dedicated to the holy mother, and the old fort on the seaside.085 086 088 090 100 103 104 105 106 109 113 116


St Augustine has its fair share of very picturesque houses and gardens. After walking around them, Alfie was happy to stretch out in a restaurant garden under the thick vegetation while I had a coffee and relaxed in the shade on a warm sunny afternoon.


118 120 122 124 125 003 005 006 008 009 010 007It was then time to leave for Indian Rocks near Clearwater, Florida, to stay with Jan, David and Gizmo, the adorable Shorkie – a Yorkshire terrier and Shitsu mix, more teddy bear than dog! We all met on the Queen Mary. Their house is on a thin strip of land with the inland waterways of Pinnalis County on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other– with a really pretty outlook…


We spent 5 days relaxing, walking the dogs in the mangroves, swimming every day in the warm residents’ pool and visiting colourful coffee shops. We also visited ‘Honeymoon Island’ which was opened in 1939 by a wealthy man who literally launched his business by inviting about 40 honeymooning couples to come and stay in the tourist huts on the island.


There is a little museum that has some very interesting photos of these couples! Now, the island is a nature reserve and there is a dog beach but still you have to keep the dogs on a lead: ignoring that, we let Gizzie and Alfie run off-lead on the white sands and they thoroughly enjoyed themselves.


On the final evening, we left the dogs to their own devices and enjoyed the ‘all you can eat’ fish evening at the Holiday Inn – as well as dancing with the great  group of people who were there, from Texas, to celebrate the wedding of a young couple. The groom is the nephew of the Police Chief in Laredo, Texas who gave me his card – I am not sure why, but if I have difficulties when I go to Texas I guess I am now pretty well connected!

Saturday, Alfie and I woke early to the morning sun, ready to set off for New Orleans to see the lovely Carla.  I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this post-box, in the shape of a manatee sea cow!