This museum/memorial, celebrates the Mighty Eighth, a division of the Air Force, telling the story of WWII’s American bomber boys. These brave soldiers fought in B-17 Flying Fortresses and B-24 Liberator bombers at 25,000ft, tirelessly wreaking havoc on German defenses.
Resting in the middle of the museum is their prized piece, a restored B-17 Flying Fortress, the “City of Savannah”. Several other planes were on static display, including a Boeing Stearman, the bi-plane my grandfather flew as a flight instructor. Additional exhibits included a typical French home with secret attic space used as a safe-house for hiding downed airmen… as well as a POW camp detailing prison life for captured Allies forces. Examples of artifacts donated by former POWs include a blanket sewn from airmen patches and a Nazi flag signed by POWs after liberation. Pretty powerful stuff.
We learned these bomber boys stood only a one-in-five chance of surviving their standard tour of duty of twenty-five missions. 1:5. The loss numbers were astounding…and humbling when you consider it… As we meandered, two very old men slowly hobbled through the corridor with a granddaughter (my age) videotaping their witty commentary. These two friends were acutely familiar with the stories we were merely reading on paper; the photos and crewmen names meant something - they knew them. They lived it. And both miraculously survived their ‘one-in-five chance’ tours. One was a founder of this museum. We talked with them a bit and thanked them for their service. Wow. Just. Wow.
Charleston Tea Plantation
I am addicted to iced tea. So when our friends told me about this place, it was top priority! The Charleston Tea Plantation is the only tea manufacturer that grows its own tea leaves here in America - everyone else imports their leaves. Expert tea taster and horticulturalist, Bill Hall, took advantage of Charleston’s optimal soil, temperature and rainfall for growing tea plants and founded the plantation in 1987. Now the company is associated with the big guys, Bigelow. For just $10 you can tour the manicured tea fields, the sapling greenhouse and learn how tea plants are grown & harvested. The best part? Free samples!
We are in love. With Firefly Apple Pie Moonshine.
Thirty minutes from Charleston and tucked in the middle of nowhere amongst the wooded, marshy, South Carolina low country is a little distillery you definitely need to visit. Even if you’re not a big fan of imbibing, the ambiance is worth a trip. It’s just quintessential south. Like fireflies in tinted Ball canning jars? Yes. Think super-cool, wood-barn tasting room, twinkling white Christmas lights, picnic tables, and laid-back, warm summer afternoons set in the midst of grape vines and iconic live oak trees draped in… (Haven’t you been paying attention? We’re in the south!)…more frilly Spanish moss.
Saturdays offer live music and a delicious pulled pork food truck. Then choose your poison: wine-tasting from Deep Water Vineyards or spirits-tasting from Firefly…or both. Firefly is known for being the first to make Sweet Tea Vodka made from actual tea (from the Charleston Tea Plantation of course); and it’s delish. But our fav was the Apple Pie Moonshine. Mix it with the Caramel Shine and you get… Caramel Apple Pie. To. Die. For.
Boone Hall Plantation
One item on my agenda was to visit a real plantation house. And Charleston has several to choose from… Brian wouldn’t hear of going to more than one (the tea planation did not count since there isn’t a house). While most of the original civil-war-era plantation houses no longer exist, many were rebuilt in a similar grand style. So, despite the fact that this plantation has remarkably existed since 1681, the Colonial Revival mansion itself was built in 1936 by a Canadian Ambassador.
The famous Avenue of Oaks is reason enough to visit this landmark. The long, scenic driveway lined with nearly one hundred, 150-yr-old trees, is long-vaunted as the one shown in Gone with the Wind leading up to Tara…as a photograph, not a live shot. But the miniseries North and South as well as scenes from The Notebook were filmed in this dramatic southern setting, dripping with…you guessed it…Spanish moss.
Set aside about 3 hours to leisurely meander the grounds and do the tours, all of which are included in the fee. A guided tour of the first floor includes the formal dining room with imported antique wooden table, ceiling-high mirrors and fine china, a library with vintage tomes lining bookshelves with doors uniquely shielded in chicken-wire (to allow air flow and keep humidity at bay), and the charming sun room with its unique brick floor. Unfortunately, taking photos of the interior is a no-no.
Next, get on a 700-acre motorized tour and learn about current farming techniques and the former brick-making business. Visit the enclosed butterfly garden and watch graceful Monarchs flit about (my personal favorite). View a presentation about the Gullah culture and see preserved slave quarters showcasing period relics. Stroll the rose garden and marvel at beautiful blooms… 100-yr-old pink roses, bright orange daylilies and sleek black petunias.
In addition to maintaining the house and immediate grounds as a historical museum, Boone Hall is still a working plantation. Having continuously grown crops for over 300 years, they are one of the oldest farms in America and use their massive acreage to its fullest potential. Boone Hall Farms is their adjacent farmer’s market which sells all manner of fruits and veges grown on site. Dozens of local restaurants feature their fresh produce in farm-to-table menus. An intricate corn maze is professionally designed by a different sponsor each fall for their Halloween pumpkin patch. Locals flock to U-Pick patches of strawberries, blueberries, even tomatoes.
Oozing romantic, southern charm, Boone Hall is an unforgettable venue for weddings, concerts and corporate events. With enormous swaths of lush, grassy fields they also host festivals: the Oyster Festival, a Strawberry Fest, the Taste of Charleston, even a Zombie run! Their largest event is the annual Scottish Games, enticing over 6,000 people from all over the world to watch Highland Dancing, Conan-style athletic competitions (cool stuff like axe-throwing and log-lifting) and, of course, bagpippery (yes, I just made up that word). These days, Boone Hall does so much more than just conserving their museum status; they are intricately woven into the identity of this small north-Charleston community.
Myrtle Beach, Land of Mini-Golf and Campground Resorts
After Charleston, we cruised through Myrtle Beach, and gazed at our surroundings partly awestruck but mostly unimpressed. This budget vacation haven just seems like row after row of cheap hotels and bars lining the oceanfront drive with tourists galore stuffing the beach. But we only spent a couple hours here, so who knows, maybe we were missing something cool.
However, MB is clearly the mini-golf capital of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love mini-golf (Brian wouldn’t stop to play). But just how many putt-putts does one city need? 50 apparently. Literally. FIFTY. And must ALL the fountains throughout town run with toilet-bowl-cleaner-electric-blue-tinted water? Is this normal, or a cruel prank? (And I thought St. Augustine was a tiny bit cheesy. That was nothing!)
We toured a campground right on the beach because their website stated it had 900 campsites. I thought it was a misprint - it wasn’t. Incredibly, there ARE 900-some campsites and we were shocked to see the place was nearly full. Multiply 900 x 2, 3 or 4 people per site? The potential numbers are astounding. And sites are so tightly packed you can hear your neighbor chewing gum. This ‘resort campground’ mini-city included a restaurant, waterpark and pool on a mile of beachfront; it even had an on-site RV repair shop and a hotel-style guarded entrance with concierge who only gave us a 1 hour lookey-loo pass. Like a mini-‘The Villages’, golf carts rule here. There must be hundreds, veering around the miniature streets and lining the beach-front like sardines. People enjoy this place for its amenities, incredible access to the beach and kids can run around like chickens, but this circus is NOT our cup of tea. Especially for an outrageous $80 a day. Pass.
The Rest of the Story
So we skipped hectic Myrtle Beach and stayed at the quieter Carolina Beach State Park near Wilmington, NC. This is a nice state park on the Cape Fear River with great boating, fishing and paddle-boarding, new electric sites and beautiful hiking in a sandy pine forest. Highly recommended.
After that we had a great time visiting Brian’s other aunt and more cousins for a few days in New Bern, NC. Heading back home to Michigan, we stopped briefly in Ohio to visit a couple friends we hadn’t seen in many, many years. But we had to get back by a certain date. Why? Guns and Roses! Brian got in some overdue brotherly bonding time at this concert in Detroit with his brother Matt. But do you think he’d take a picture for my blog? Bah!