I'm just back from eight days on vacation in South Carolina. I have become slightly paranoid about broadcasting a family vacation, so I was reasonably quiet about it until now that we are back. Yes, I realize that some of you live or vacation where we just were, and that by blogging/tweeting/facebooking about it, I would have had some additional tips or insight from fellow travelers. Still, I think we did pretty well at going the places we needed to go (dinner at McCrady's, carriage tour, aquarium, beach) and avoiding the places we shouldn't (Bubba Gump's, outside touring plantations on 95 degree days, the Michele Bachmann rally at Patriot's Point) without pre-disclosing. It also helped that Charles Robinson, who I have never really had the chance to hang out with before, lives there and has been encouraging me to come check it out for many years. He was right to be persistent.

Waterfront Park - Charleston SC

Something about this point in life demanded that we take a beachy relaxation vacation. Normally, our summers are filled with urban exploration, but this time, the goal was to find someplace to unwind and do little. I couldn't completely imagine a go nowhere-do nothing week away (I know, my European friends are laughing at the notion of just a week), so Charleston was a great solution -- history, great food, but small, easy to get around, and miles of great beach. OK, also hot in August, but almost anywhere we would want to vacation would have been hot.

Going all the way to the suburban American dream vacation, we decided to rent a beach cottage (and a minivan!) for a week, at the sprawling Wild Dunes resort on Isle of Palms. This turned out to be the most complicated decision-making of the trip. There are literally thousands of rental home, time-share, and hotel options in and around this resort. There are also a half-dozen realtors providing rental services, along with a very detailed vacation rental-by-owner website. I actually had to build a spreadsheet to decide where we would stay -- how many bedrooms, was there an enclosed outdoor space, did it include resort facility access, was there a grill, what was the upkeep and decor, would it be baby-friendly, and of course, price.

In the end, considering we had never been to the area and never done a rental home before, we did pretty well. It wasn't 100% perfect, but the minuses were pretty minor. I was impressed at how the Isle of Palms and neighboring Sullivan's Island have kept their islands mostly-residential. There was none of the crass commercialism often found along American beachfronts. The only downside was very poor cell phone coverage, which might have really been a blessing in terms of keeping me away from my work for the week. But the long drive across the marshes and Intercoastal Waterway, then down a palm-tree-lined boulevard, into a lush resort, all signaled relaxation from the start.

Then there was the whole Southern "nice" thing. People on the beach told us what to see and do, whether we had met before or not. Everyone we met was a friend from the start. We picnicked in a waterfront park for lunch one day solely on the recommendation of a family we talked to for ten minutes on the beach earlier that day. It turned out to be a real highlight.

Another was the accidental discovery of two interesting planned communities. The first, I'On, is a subdivision of Mount Pleasant that we encountered entirely by accident. The homes were beautiful, but the neighborhood character was even more impressive. A small commercial center is surrounded by perfectly planned streets that adjoin creeks and ponds. Really pretty. The second is Daniel Island, where we ended up for dinner one night. We didn't know anything about it before driving over, and both of us noticed how everything seemed so brand new. It was surprising to learn that it had been farmland and a hunting reserve until just a decade ago, when 4000 acres suddenly grew into a new neighborhood in Charleston.

I have said previously that one of my favorites aspects of my work is that there is someone in almost any major town in the world that I would call a friend. Charles and his partner Myron were gracious and enjoyable company during our visit, and helped prepare us with foodie restaurant recommendations (McCrady's -- see the pictures, enough said) and activities. The only thing they had not prepared us for was the small-town feel of Charleston, which has only 120,000 residents. Charleston has some impressive historic and character preservation requirements, including most buildings being restricted to four stories, anything over 75 years cannot be torn down, and gas lamps still commonplace. It is like a living museum, just with better food in the cafeteria.

Now as I head into Monday morning, it's a busy week ahead -- with a customer meeting, MWLUG on Thursday, and departing for next week's nearly-full AusLUG in Sydney after that. I am looking forward to getting into the groove, just after I take one more peek at some photos from the week. Enjoy.

Link: edbrill on Flickr / Charleston > (Used to be able to embed a slideshow, but apparently no longer)

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