Tag Archive | Columbia

The Grand Tour – Day 3 – Columbia to Charleston

After leaving Columbia, South Carolina, it was just starting to rain again.  We continued on to Charleston, where by this time it was dumping buckets.  We passed by Congaree National Park on the way, which looked like an interesting stop (it’s a national forest swamp – there could be alligators!), but it was raining so hard it wouldn’t have been very much fun.  It’s too bad really, because it is a swamp with some of the tallest tress in the world.  The trees thrive because the area floods periodically and provides lots of nutrients for the trees.  You can hike or canoe, and see lots of plants and wildlife.  And I bet they would have a stamp!  But we will have to visit on another trip.

We got to our hotel, a Holiday Inn, which is a tower shaped hotel just over the Ashley River from downtown Charleston.  You can just tell it was built during the 1960s space race!  We got checked in (in the rain) and then drove downtown (in the rain) and checked out the historic district by car (in the rain).  By this time we were getting really hungry, so we settled for dinner at the hotel restaurant.  We got a bowl of the she crab soup – they serve it with sherry that you are supposed to dump in it.  It might have been the sherry (I even only dumped in half of the sherry), but neither of us liked it much – let’s just say it must be an acquired taste.  Jon loved his oysters though and I really liked my baby back ribs!  They hit the spot!  We looked out at the city from the top floor windows watching the rain and hoping the sun would be back out the next day…

She Crab Soup

My Ribs and Jon’s Oysters

The Grand Tour – Day 3 – Asheville to Columbia, SC

On Sunday morning, we got up and headed out for our long drive to Charleston.  It is a four and a half hour drive, so we planned to make the trip a bit more leisurely, and not plan to be in Charleston before the tourist attractions closed for the day.  We got our hotel breakfast buffet, packed up and checked out, and headed out.  Soon, it started raining.  Then it started dumping huge buckets of water onto our car.  The drive became pretty frustrating, because it alternated between light rain and a torrential downpour.  We drove for a couple of hours, and then stopped for lunch in Columbia, South Carolina.  We drove around for a few minutes in the business district (which was absolutely deserted on a Sunday) and found the Liberty Bar and Grill.  I found out later that it is a chain, but at the time, we didn’t know that.  It is in an old restored warehouse (they did a good job with the restoration).  I had a Cobb salad and Jon had the Ahi Tuna Salad.  We asked our server to recommend a local brew, and ended up trying the Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale from Atlanta, Georgia.  It was light and hoppy and a teensy bit bland.  It certainly wasn’t on the same level as West Coast microbrews – I think they might get there though!

I thought we were leaving this behind in Washington!

My Cobb Salad at the Liberty Bar and Grill

After lunch we went over to the Robert Mills house before getting back on the road.  I knew nothing about Robert Mills, but I read in the guidebook that the Columbia Historic Society owns and operates four home museums that are open for tours.  We thought they all looked interesting, but we only had time for one, so we chose the Robert Mills house.  Confusingly, Robert Mills didn’t own the house, and never lived in it – he was the architect.  The home was actually owned by Ainsley Hall – his 2nd large mansion in Columbia – the first is across the street.

Robert Mills House in Columbia, SC

Ainsley Hall and his wife Sarah lived in the beautiful home across the street.  As the story goes, one evening in 1823 Mr. Hall was chatting with a colleague who offered to buy the home and asked Mr. Hall to throw out a price.  Mr. Hall responded with $35,000, what he thought was an astronomical price (about $750,000 in today’s dollars – he clearly hadn’t lived through a real estate bubble if he thought that was an unheard of sum, but that’s how the story goes).  You can see where this is going, right?  The colleague accepted the deal, then had his slaves come down and move Ainsley and Sarah Hall out of their home THAT NIGHT.  The record is silent on what Sarah thought of this, but one can assume she was PISSED!  I would be really torqued off!  Now Ainsley really had to kiss ass, so he promised Sarah that he would build her a better house across the street that looked down upon their old home.  He bought the lot and made a deal with Robert Mills to build the home.

The Side View of the Robert Mills House

The Back of the Robert Mills House

Robert Mills has an impressive resume.  He was a federal architect under seven different Presidents, designing and building the US Patent Office (modeled after the Parthenon), the US Treasury Building, and the Washington Monument.  He was an early advocate of fireproofing measures (this is significant later in this post – trust me).  Actually, nobody is really sure what sort of deal he had with Ainsley Hall to build the home, because he mostly designed public buildings.  When you look at the home, you certainly see the public building influence.

So Mr. Mills set about building the home, and when it was almost complete, Ainsley sent Sarah off to New York to go shopping to furnish and decorate their new abode.  He was going to follow her there shortly.  Well, Ainsley set out, then got sick on the journey and died.  And sadly, since he had neglected to update his will to give Sarah the new home in the event of his death, she got NOTHING!  Sarah had to go home and live with her parents…  She never remarried.  The home was sold to a Presbyterian Seminary, and was eventually purchased by a Bible College.

The tour of the house is pretty cool.  The first thing that you notice upon entering the front door is that this home has no grand staircase in the entryway.  In fact, there is no staircase in the entryway at all.  There are two reasons for this.  Mills wanted the entry to be symmetrical with matching doors.  He even put in an extra false door so they would be symmetrical!  Strangely, he could have just had two doors going into the dining room, but apparently that wasn’t what he wanted.  The other reason was that Mills knew grand staircases were a huge fire hazard.  If a house caught fire (which they frequently did back then), the oxygen would race right up the staircase and trap the occupants upstairs.  So instead, Mills put in a staircase that was enclosed in brick.  Interestingly, this is the home’s only staircase.  For the time period, it was highly unusual to not have a separate staircase for the slaves.  The grand entry is also curved, and even the doors are curved!  When you go into the rooms off the grand entry, they have curved walls – it would have been tough to curve the molding in those rooms!

The tour also took us into the basement, where the living would have taken place during the hot summer months (if you didn’t take off for Europe during the summer).  While it certainly was cooler downstairs, it was a bit dreary.  Terra cotta tile floors and less light.  But I suppose you can’t live the glam life all the time.  Megan, our guide, was cheerful and talkative and answered all my questions (we were the only two people on the tour so I could ask whatever I wanted!)

At the end of the tour, Megan showed us where Mr. Mills, had the brick walls on the outside of the home painted red and relined.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The natural work of brick and mortar didn’t create lines that were straight or perfect enough for the obsessive-compulsive Mills.  So he had the brick painted and relined, so they could give it the look of perfectly straight mortar lines running through the brick.  And Jon thought I was particular!

The Painted Lines on the Brick – Look in the Center Section

After we finished our tour at the Robert Mills house, it was time to get back on the road and head the rest of the way to Charleston.  And right about then, it started raining again!

Memorial Weekend Wine Tour – Day 2

On Friday night we spent the night in Woodburn, Oregon, right near the outlet mall.  We started our day out by venturing over to the outlets, where Jon found a pair of nice shoes at Bass and we cleaned up at Columbia.  I got two nice lightweight summer jackets and Jon got a button down shirt.  With the shopping urges quenched, we made our way over to the Newburg/Dundee/Carlton wine country.  We’ve been to several in the area before, so we decided that we would make some stops at places that we had never been to before.

Our first stop was at Carlo and Julian Winery.  It is located in a shop behind the owner’s house, complete with cats and chickens and a little girl running around.  They are very friendly people, but we couldn’t help feeling like we were imposing a bit.  We were the only ones there, but it was still early in the day.  We tasted several of their vintages of Pinot Noir, as well as a Tempranillo and a Malbec.  The Malbec was very good, but is was pricey, and good Malbecs are easy to come by at lower price points.  We ended up buying two bottles of Pinot Noir, 2006 and 2008.  Our opinion was that their Pinots didn’t have a lot of variation in taste between years.  We are curious to see how the 2008 ages.

Next we went into Carlton and wandered randomly down the street.  We stopped at Zenas Wines on the main street in Carlton.  The winemakers are two young brothers who are very interested in the technical aspects of winemaking.  If you are interested, they will go into great detail about the process.  What we found refreshing was coming across a winery that doesn’t focus on Pinot Noir, and makes some really great wines.  We liked them all and had a great time visiting.  We bought three bottles there, their 2007 Meritage, the Cabernet Franc, and their Riesling.  We will really enjoy these when we open them, I’m sure.

Zenas Winery storefront in Carlton, Oregon

A little further down, on the opposite side of the street is Alexana Winery.  They offer a Pinot Gris and two Pinot Noir’s, with grapes from different vineyards.  Their Pinots are excellent, but on the pricey side.  Their tasting includes their high priced Pinot Noir.  We loved it, but at $75, it is out of our price range.

All in all, a great day.  The weather was nice, everyone at all of the wineries was friendly and easy to talk to, and they are very proud of their wines.  Each day in the Willamette Valley is different, because it would take a lifetime to go to all the wineries.  We will certainly try though!