I’ve had a bit of a love affair with South Carolina my entire adult life. The roots of this fascination can be found in the most unlikely rite of passage; the college spring break. While most kids trekked en masse to Florida for the storied beaches of the Lauderdales and Daytonas of the 1980s, we opted for the somewhat closer and less insane Hilton Head (though trouble could be found in you looked hard enough). Back in the 80s, it wasn’t crowded, and renting a house on the beach was an easy and affordable thing to do. I instantly fell in love with its wide beaches and palmetto trees, lagoons and tidal creeks, and this genteel life that was far removed from the mountains of home. Oddly enough, not only did we claim Hilton Head as our spring break destination, but many of us continued the tradition as we packed up our little families years later and headed back.
However, at this particular juncture of my trip, I cross the border from North to South feeling a little lost. My South Carolina = Low Country. Beaches, shrimp boats, and well-loved cities like Beaufort and Charleston. This Upstate stuff just south of the border from Asheville seems unfamiliar and nondescript. My first impression (through the rainy windshield of a quickly passing thunderstorm) isn’t hitting me in any of the right places – but in fairness I had literally just come off of my mountaintop experience. I can’t help but feel for the first time on my trip, a little let down.
Okay, so the feelings were likely spurred on with second-guessing my next big “first” of my trip – an Airbnb. I realize I am a little late to this now-popular game, but I’m determined to give it a whirl. If you’re traveling with others, this is surely not intimidating. But for one person, one female person, (and with that one being on a super tight budget I might add), it’s a little more daunting. It means going to someone’s home who you do not know, and staying in their house for the night. Sounds wacky, right? Well, everyone’s doing it, didn’t you know?
So, on to Greenville. I had done my research and was prayed up on the way. It was paid for, so I was committed. The pictures looked great and the reviews indicated that the hostess was not an ax-murderer, so I needed to just get over myself. In the end, maybe I can chalk it all up to great vetting on my part, or God, or both, but I hit the jackpot for my first try at this. The house was great – a 100 year-old totally restored beauty My cozy bedroom and well-appointed bath were on the second floor at the top of the wide mahogany staircase. It was perfect.
My hostess, Linda, was great too. I had free reign in the kitchen, easy parking, and an invite to sit on the porch and have a drink. She gave me a few suggestions for dinner after offering me some of what she and her friend were cooking up. I opted for exploring first. Part of the reason I chose this house was because it was on the famed Swamp Rabbit Trail, the 22 mile biking/running trail that covers much of the Greenville area and beyond. From the first moment I had heard about it, I was curious. A winding trail all through and around the city, with restaurants and even Furman College in its path, was way too tempting not to investigate. I knew it had to be great as many hotels, restaurants and even apartments all boasted their proximity to it in their advertising.
First off, however . . . food. Linda had mentioned a taco place to me, but Taco Bell-like fare didn’t appeal, so I headed into town. And just wow. I had no idea what the heart of Greenville was all about. Friday night and it was alive with people of all ages, sitting leisurely at outdoor cafes, window shopping and just enjoying the summer evening with friends. As the sun began to set and the warm shine of sunset coupled with the soft glow of the lights strung across the streets, the town appeared painted gold. It drew you in in that way you just instantly want to be part of it. For now, I felt ridiculous in my sweaty running clothes. There would be no getting out of the car here for a quick bite to eat. Reluctantly, I headed back towards the house, stomach growling.
Everything on this trip so far just worked out, regardless of whether it was in my original plan or not. Somehow this has provided in me a sense of peace and trust with it all. My natural impulse was to regret that I couldn’t enjoy the night scene, but I felt satisfied with filing it away for another time. However, food is important to me. My otherwise sweet and patient disposition was in jeopardy of crumbling if I didn’t solve that problem, and I was determined to stick with my travel rule that it had to be something local. And so, I remembered Linda’s taco suggestion reluctantly. I just went with it though, and went in search of the nearby White Duck Taco Shop. The named seemed a mixed message at best. But, they were open for 30 more minutes and close to the house, so off
And again, things were just working out. Snuggled next to the Birds Fly South Ale Project in an old industrial-feeling building, it was bustling with young and older, enjoying the evening both inside and out. With a pretty tasty peach sangria to hold me over while I waited for my Bangkok Shrimp tacos, I sat and surveyed the place. Welcoming, fun, open and cheerful. By the time I headed out of town late the next morning, these would be the words I’d use to describe much of Greenville.
With a full belly followed by a great night’s sleep, I rose early to trek 4 miles on the Swamp Rabbit Trail (just a fun name, right!) to explore from a different perspective. The many, many folks out running, walking and biking on the trail were friendly to a person, and the Reedy River, which cuts through downtown Greenville, proved to be mesmerizing with its flowing rocky falls that bend and break along the trail as the city sits on its banks and looks on approvingly. This trek alone could stand as a post, but I’ll just encourage you to visit and see a few photos here.
For me, I can only really get a sense of a place on foot, and last evening’s drive into downtown was nagging at me. I mentally adjusted my schedule for the day, checked out of the gracious Linda’s Airbnb, and drove back to town one more time to explore the streets on foot. I found a shopper’s paradise. But wait – caffeine first. So many cool choices, and even a stretch of downtown road bearing the name “Coffee Street”. Clearly they take this seriously. Buoyed with a first-rate chai latte, I poked my head into tea and spice shops and vintage clothing stores. All the typical nicer chains were woven in amongst the rest as well. The place reeks of a great girls’ weekend spot.
Time to hit the road, but a little something to eat first. I did the unthinkable and let the aromas of the Maple Street Biscuit Company pull me in for “The Five”, the flakiest of biscuits, piled with chicken breast, sausage gravy, wood-smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. There wasn’t one thing on it that resembled my typical clean-eating regimen, but I just had to. At least I wouldn’t need to eat again for a few days. Heaven.
Most fun attribute of this popular joint? They ask everyone the “question of the month” when you order. The current offering was, “What superpower would you want to have?” Easy. I respond quickly. “Flying!”
I’m thinking that this question concept turns the monotony of ordering into something a little more fun for both cashier and customer. It turned hilarious, however, when the true purpose was revealed as I waited for my name to be called, only to realize that each order was called according to superpower. Waffles for “Mind Reader”, Biscuits for “Time Traveler”, and yes, “The Five” for Flying. I grabbed my life-sized biscuit, spread my wings, and headed out of town. Georgia, here I come.