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A visit to the American town of Charleston in 1998
It is generally said of American towns that if you have seen one, you have seen them all. The same, however, cannot be said about Charleston, South Carolina (SC).

More or less in the same league as New York, Washington, New Orleans, or San Francisco – each with a distinct character and flavour of its own – Charleston is, perhaps, a bit special, being one of the oldest and historic cities of the nation.

While visiting a young relative in North Carolina we made a foray into the south to see a bit of the Atlantic Coast. We drove out of Cary in North Carolina (NC) one early morning targeting Charleston. Driving through a few national and state highways, along which lay some sprawling farms offering the passers-by farm-fresh, delicious "pick-your-own" strawberries, we hit Myrtle Beach in South Carolina about two hours later.

Although a smallish resort by American standards yet it is very well served by lodging establishments of varied categories. We pulled into a hotel in which we had made prior bookings on the net. It was early May and not yet quite the season; perhaps therefore and because the booking had been made pretty much in advance, we got a bargain, a suite with two king-sized beds. Myrtle Beach seemed to offer everything by way of entertainment and relaxation. Blessed with expansive beaches of white sands that are its main attraction it has much else besides. It is dotted with scores of mini golf courses, nightclubs and casinos to offer enough by way of recreation for a weekend. For a compulsive shopper fantastic bargains can be had from the factory outlets of the biggies of American industry, from Dockers to Samsonite, in the neighbouring mall.

Next morning after a hearty breakfast rustled up in the well-equipped kitchenette we drove further south and came upon Patriots Point just a few kilometres north of Charleston. Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, one of the world's largest naval museums, is located in the Charleston Harbour. Some of the old and historic US Navy ships are on display but the most important exhibit of them all is the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier of World War II vintage

Charleston is only a 10-minute drive from Patriots Point. The town is situated where two rivers, Ashley and Cooper, join the Atlantic. It is the seat of the Charleston County. Originally named Charles Towne after King Charles II of England the town was established by the English in 1670. It soon became the colonial capital and within the next hundred years acquired the reputation of being the richest town in the South. Built on slave labour, hundreds of thousands of slaves passed through this city. It had a thriving slave market. Having been the scene of the Revolutionary War, as also of the first engagement of the Civil War, it, naturally, exudes history. The old section of the town still retains a quaint charm of the days gone by when it was a city of aristocratic planters and rich merchants. There are a number of stately public buildings and restored homes with gardens and period wrought-iron gateways.

Among the old public buildings are the Dock Street Theatre built in the middle of the 18th century and the Old City Market, also built around the same time and still functioning as such. Then there is the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon, a custom house before the War of Independence and later converted into a prison on being captured by the British, and then again into a governmen_ t building. Today it is one of the most important historic buildings of the United States. The West Point Garden, also known as the Battery, besides being historical is remarkable for its beauty.

The presence of many historic churches has given Charleston another name – the Holy City. There are many stately homes, which have since been converted into museums, the most important of which is the Edmonston-Alston House built in the early 19th Century. Another historic house is that of Thomas Elfe who migrated from England in the 1740s with nothing but a skill in woodwork. The house is a must-see for furniture and antiques buffs as it is the repository of some of the finest furniture of 18th and 19th Centuries.

A historic city always offers an enormous lot to see. One could go around walking or join a walking tour. The Visitors' Centre is finely equipped to cater to the needs of tourists and hands out the bonus of a free trip from there to any of the tourist sites. We promptly grabbed a ride to the downtown. Getting around in beautiful antique-looking buses, more or less, like the streetcars of San Francisco, or in carriages drawn by massive horses can be fun. We took a carriage ride and were taken around old parts of the town and the Battery. In the process we saw an architectural style typical of Charleston – from the road one only sees a side of the house and not the front which, in fact, opens out along the road hidden from view protecting the privacy of the inmates the houses.

Charleston can be an ideal base for excursions for discovering its historic neighbourhood. A number of old plantation houses are located very close to Charleston. The Boone Hall Plantation with its three-quarters mile drive known as the Avenue of Oaks, bordered with trees planted in the 18th century is the most famous one. There are formal gardens, the original slave quarters and a cotton-ginning house, etc. It displays the way of life of a bygone era when cotton was king and great plantations were the backbone of the Southern economy.

Also in the Harbour is Fort Sumter, a national monument, where the first military engagement of the American Civil War had taken place. The Confederates attacked the Federal Garrison here in 1861. The Fort was later blockaded by the Union naval ships, eventually to fall to them in 1865.

Accommodation-wise relatively cheaper, Charleston offers varied cuisine from its several eateries. For the home-sick Indian there is the ubiquitous Indian restaurant offering a buffet of delectable Punjabi fare for just $6.

Well connected by rail, road and air, Charleston and its surroundings offer a slice of American history to its visitors through its well-preserved monuments and period houses.

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