CHARLESTON – I was sure the guy was kidding.
As my group proceeded on a horse-drawn carriage ride through the streets of this historic South Carolina city, our tour guide insisted we were about to pass a beautiful old home with owners who kept pet African parrots.
“They’re great at mimicking, and they even whistle the theme song to Andy of Mayberry.”
Sure they do.
A few seconds later, there it was: “wheet, wheet, wheet, WHEET, wheet, wheet, wheet, WHEET ….”
Of course, whistling parrots aren’t the major attraction to this city, one of the most-loved tourism sites in the world and certainly one of the top draws in North America. There’s Civil War history, gorgeous, antebellum architecture, plenty of nice shops and a lot more.
This a hugely popular city, of course, and it’s quite something to see the way they organize all the horse and carriage tours. There are 20 carriage companies that make the rounds, so in order to keep things orderly the city has approved five distinct routes they can take. Before they head out, the carriages stop at a central location and get a “bingo” number that identifies the route they’ll take.
“If I vary from the route they’ll fine me $1,100,” the driver told us. “Of course, I’m happy to take a different route. The price is negotiable.”
The guide insisted the horses are well looked after and not overworked. I asked if they got overtime and was told no, but that they have good medical/dental coverage and get a day off every five or six days and do only three to four one-hour tours a day and spend four to six months a year in a pasture in the country. Hopefully with lots of carrots, apples and sugar cubes and horses of the opposite sex, but I didn’t ask.
The guide, a nice, local kid with a degree in history, told us how many of the early settlers of South Carolina came from Barbados, another English colony at the time. Hence the pastel-coloured buildings in town, he explained.
He carefully explained the way the houses were built to take advantage of local breezes, with giant porches and lovely gardens.
It wasn’t part of the tour, but we passed the Charleston market at one point and I looked over at some fun signs folks can buy to put up in their homes or out in the garden. My favourite read, “My bridge club can kick your bridge club’s ass.”
I only had a couple hours, then had to make the dash two hours south to Savannah, Georgia.
The architecture isn’t as pretty in the main part of town as it is in Charleston, I think, but the Savannah waterfront is cool; with a large park and riverboats and street musicians and more. There are some really beautiful buildings, including the old Cotton Exchange on Bay St.
I’ll check it out a little more Friday and report on Savannah in more detail in this space next week….