Looking at Charleston through the eyes of outsiders is revealing.
During Spoleto Festival USA and the Piccolo Spoleto Festival, seven graduate arts journalism students from Syracuse University wrote more than three dozen previews, reviews and stories to connect enthusiasts with the city’s bubbling art scene.
Along the way, they noticed things about the Holy City. You might know some of them; others may be novel. Regardless, their observations highlight the depth and breadth of what it is to be in Charleston — for visitors and residents.
Charleston’s slow, laid-back nature
As a northerner who is all too familiar with New York City’s hustle and bustle, I found the pace of Charleston to be admirable and definitely something to get used to. Whether it’s the incredibly humid weather or the number of beautifully preserved buildings, something about this city makes people move slower than molasses.
On one hand, this is great. I feel too many cities have a hustling quality that takes away from what the city has to offer. At the same time, it can be frustrating when you are on King Street and stuck behind a group of inebriated 30-somethings who fill a narrow sidewalk. That being said, I appreciate Charleston’s laid-back atmosphere. It gives visitors a better chance of experiencing the city as a whole and not getting lost in a desire to be quick and passive with what comes your way. —Patrick Henkels
Oh, Carolina, Cheerwine is you in soda pop form: Sweet, but not sickly so dark like a storm cloud cola in the bottle, but revealing a deep maroon of an invitation as you pour over ice that melts in the early summer heat. Up north, we have Loganberry. The Midwest loves its Green River. Yet there’s something classy, almost soothing, about your Southern Cheerwine. I bought a two-liter bottle from Harris Teeter, and the cashier wished me a fine afternoon. If I smile as I walk down King Street, my teeth stained a Cheerwine red, tell me, Charleston: Will you smile back? —Matthew Nerber
The many shades of Charleston green
The color “Charleston Green” has a storied past, one that now makes me wonder about the history of other iconic colors. Whether the murky, dark shade came from mold on dark shutters, degrading paint or color-loving locals fighting against government-issued black paint by mixing it with yellow and blue, it has its place in the city. Spotting the shade became a fun scavenger hunt during my weeks here.
Amongst the humid haze of the Holy City, this shade of green recalls an international icon — Lady Liberty. The muted green perfectly complements the city’s peninsula position and works with the brighter pops of pinks and yellows. Throughout Charleston, on shutters and patio chairs, the pops of verdigris green are light and breezy. These touches seem to beckon back to summer days of the past. —Samantha Savery
The preservation of classic architecture
One of my favorite things about Charleston is seeing the gorgeous historical buildings. I wish more cities would preserve older architecture. In Syracuse, a lot of buildings have not been taken care of. The historical buildings that have clearly been maintained seem to be museums. In Charleston, the houses are especially well-kept. Despite obviously being older buildings, most look practically brand new. Perhaps the use of the vibrant pastels — such as the soft pink on a handful of the buildings — helps make it that way. Another striking difference is the stunning iron fences that surround the houses. During a tour, I learned that Philip Simmons worked about 78 years as a blacksmith in Charleston, and that he created more than 500 separate pieces during his career. Each fence I walked by looked one-of-a-kind. —Emily Johnson
I have a massive sweet tooth. If I could eat desserts all the time without it being unhealthy, then I would. I also love tea. So I was naturally excited to indulge in some Southern sweet tea.
I didn’t do research on the best sweet tea spots before coming here, but I’m realizing I should have. I just assumed it would be good everywhere. I ordered sweet tea with a few of my meals, and each was less than sweet. Obviously my tastebuds are used to sugar, so I understand that what’s not-so-sweet to me may be sweet to someone else. But I’m confident that if I were to ask anyone to drink the “sweet” teas I had down here, they would agree .While this disappointed me, I won’t write Charleston off for sweet tea just yet. I only tried a few places. If I ventured out more, I’m sure I would find the right spot with the perfect sweet tea for my palate. —Cydney Lee
Extraordinary dining in the Holy City
The past two weeks have been filled with some of the best meals of my life. With no fast food chains in sight and the three main food groups of meat, carbs and pimento cheese covered on seemingly every menu, I feel like I’ve arrived in my personal food heaven. However, beyond the two salad places I frequented for lunches, vegan or vegetarian options seem to be few and far between.
There is a weight to the food here — tangible in the way it settles in your stomach and leaves you wanting to sit for a couple of more minutes after eating, abstract in the history that is interwoven with restaurant decor and the dishes themselves. Flexibility has been key while attempting to find dinner here. Being able to snag a reservation for the next night is a pipe dream, and many restaurants had walk-up wait lists that were hours long, even on a rainy Tuesday. —Mackenzie Snell
The Uber fiasco
One Tuesday, a group took a day trip to Folly Beach. Though we’re all from different areas of the country and Canada, none of us live near the ocean, so being able to take a 25-minute Uber to a beach was exhilarating. I had not been to a beach in nearly two years, due to pandemic travel restrictions set by Syracuse University. And being from Pittsburgh, the nearest “beach” is Lake Erie.
The five of us easily hopped in an Uber XL from our hotel to Folly Beach, where we spent a few hours walking, swimming, tanning and shopping. It was the perfect day for a bunch of northerners. We finally got to smell the salty sea breeze and see the sun reflect off the ocean. However when it was time to head back to the hotel, we encountered a slight problem. Uber said, “NO CARS AVAILABLE.” Lyft said, “Very few cars available.” So we waited. Surely, something would open up soon. That did not happen. After a solid hour of trying to get Uber to work, we finally worked out something with a local cab company. For a moment, I thought I might be stuck at the pier at Folly Beach forever. And that’s how I learned that Uber in Charleston is not the move. —Sarah Connor