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Daily Vacations? Go on, Sneak one in…

    Yesterday, I had to go into downtown Charleston to run what I thought would be a quick errand.  I had been given the duty of tracking down an item that was to be a wedding gift for Kristin’s sister and fiance.  When I got out of my truck,  I wasn’t super pumped about the weather…It was cold and windy, and I was tired.  However, as soon as I turned the corner onto King Street, my attitude changed. 

Why?  It’s because I really enjoy the vibe of downtown Charleston. 

    The item I was seeking literally led me on a scavenger hunt that took me in a 2-3 mile loop through the city.  As it turns out, no one had what I was looking for, but when I got back to the truck I couldn’t have felt better.  I had just spent about 2.5 hours walking around in the cold and wind loving it!  Then I realized that yeah, it was a “waste” of my time, but it was therapeutic for me.  Kristin and I have both been really busy lately, and just strolling around somewhere I love had helped to clear my head.  

    Most people have an area around their home town that levels them out.  You don’t always have to be on a vacation to relax and wind down. Sometimes you just need to do something you enjoy…Don’t stumble into it like I did.  Make a point to go, you’ll be glad you went…

Happy Travels,

Kristin and Jason


King Street, Charleston, SC

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Our Middleton Place Experience…

    This past weekend Kristin and I celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary.  Knowing that wood was the proper gift to be given on a fifth wedding anniversary, I decided to put my own twist on the occasion by taking her to the woods at Middleton Place Plantation

Right…

Ok, Ok….in reality, I thought of this on the way there after Kristin told me about wood being the traditional gift for five years.  Pretty nimble with my words if you ask me, but she didn’t buy it for a second…I did plan something special though, so I have that going for me.

    At any rate, The Inn at Middleton Place had a fantastic two day “Winter Getaway” package that we took advantage of.  It included two nights at the inn, dinner at the restaurant one night, wine and chocolate covered strawberries for the room, and free roam of the grounds.  We decided to make a weekend of it and not leave the grounds for the two days.  
    
    We arrived in the afternoon and checked in with the desk to receive our vouchers and keys.  The property is gated for security at night, which is nice since it is so secluded.  We opted for a Riverview room, which is middle of the road as far as accommodations at the Inn go.  The room was very cozy and comfortable, but wasn’t extremely lavish like we assumed it would be.  However, it did offer beautiful views of the Ashley River and the oak trees outside through a wall made completely of windows covered in plantation shutters.  The room was very much like staying in a cabin in the woods, which is fitting for the surroundings.  A wood burning fireplace was the perfect accessory to the room, but unfortunately the available wood was pretty damp from recent rain and snow.  I pulled out my very best boy scout style skills to no avail.  I could only manage a slow smoky smolder in the fire place.  Kristin thought it was hilarious that I couldn’t get the fire blazing.  In hindsight, I should have realized that I was fighting a losing battle with the wet wood, but I am stubborn…




    Since, we never left the grounds during our stay we had many opportunities to try a variety of dishes from the restaurant.  Standouts on the menu included the seared sea scallops, grilled new york strip, and a peppered yellow fin steak that was a special.  Other mentionables were the she crab soup and shrimp and grits.  All of the food was very well prepared and tasty.  Nothing really wowed us, but overall everything was very good.  The service staff were all very friendly and attentive to our needs.  Unfortunately, due to operator error on my part the food pictures were lost…on the upside we have many others to share of the grounds.

  

     The Plantation as a whole was gorgeous even in the middle of winter.  The gardens and immediate property surrounding the House Museum were ryed and were very green and lush.  The outlying areas were brown with dormant centipede grass, which has it’s own beauty when properly maintained and weeded.  The House Museum was beautiful, and contains many Middleton family heirlooms and priceless antiques.  Many beautiful paintings are on the walls also.  I am nowhere near a history buff, but I found the guided tour to be very informative and entertaining.  It is definitely worth taking.




    The stableyards have also been preserved, and give a glimpse of what many of the slaves did day-to-day on the plantation.  There are many people employed in this are to reenact and explain their duties and the significance of them during the time period.  Everything is very tastefully done with respect to the heritage of all involved.  The stableyards are also home to many animals that I considered unusual like peacocks, water buffaloes, and guinea hogs.  There are also chickens and horses roaming about. 






    A few things that we didn’t do, but would have if it had been warmer included kayak rentals and biking at the Outdoor Center.  There is also an Equestrian Center if you are into horses or the riding of them.  Also on the property are a garden market and museum gift shop that offer snacks and gifts to remember your trip.



    All in all, we had a very nice time.  It was very relaxing, and informative.  There is just so much history to the family and grounds that you really have to be there to take it all in and appreciate it’s significance.  If you’d like to visit Middleton Place, we’d be happy to help you with your arrangements!

Happy Travels,

Kristin and Jason






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A Little Winter Magic For Ya…

    Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone!  We hope y’all had a good one.  We just got back from a nice dinner at Fuji Sushi Bar, which was a solid ending to a good day as usual.
    
    Something crazy awesome happened this weekend!  I know what you’re thinking…”Does he mean the Olympics?” Nope.  “Could it be the NBA All-Star game?”  Keep guessing…”Oh, Oh, The expo…The Southeastern Wildlife Expo!”  No.  Give up???

IT SNOWED IN CHARLESTON, SC!!!

    

    Depending on what part of the globe you’re from will surely dictate your reaction to that news.  You see, down here in the Lowcountry it has only snowed three memorable times in my 29 and 1/4 years. Once after Hurricane Hugo in ’89, then again in 2000, and finally February 12, 2010.  That’s it…

    For everyone that just read this and thought, “So, who cares?” snow is a nuisance, and a normal part of your winter months.  Down here, snow is a myth of winter that seems more like fiction than fact.  Admittedly, after it loses that light and fluffy texture and turns to slush it’s pretty lackluster.  However, for that small window, it’s a piece of life that most locals have been deprived of their whole lives.  I remember in ’89 getting my dad to take the trucks and wheels off my skateboard so that I could ride it down the big hills in the neighborhood.  I ended up with some road rash, but also memories that will last forever.
    
    So, thanks to the North for letting us have a small taste.  Y’all can take it back now, as it is stinking cold outside!  I’m all ready for Spring, bring the pollen!

Jason
 














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Valentine’s Day Ideas Around Charleston, SC

    Valentine’s Day is coming up soon and to kick off our “Raised on Salt Air” series we’re going to give  you some romantic spots to take that special someone around Charleston, SC!

Places to Stay


Woodlands Resort & Inn

We have stayed at the Woodlands a couple times, once on our wedding night before we flew to Jamaica and on an anniversary.  The grounds and rooms at the inn are beautiful.  The staff went above and beyond what we expected even in a five star hotel.  The Woodlands is located in Summerville, SC which is only about 25 minutes outside of Charleston.  It is the only hotel in the state to have a five star rating in both lodging and dining. 


The Vendue Inn

We stayed here on an anniversary also.  The Vendue Inn has a unique personality.  It is very beautiful, and offers guests many different common areas to enjoy like a music room and a reading room.  There are also two very good restaurants on the grounds, The Library and Rooftop.  The Library offers traditional southern cuisine, while the Rooftop offers great appetizers, views of the city and harbor, and live music.  I think younger couples would enjoy The Vendue Inn very much because of it’s many options.


The Planter’s Inn

The Planter’s Inn is in the running for our anniversary this year.  We have dined there, and it was outstanding.  However, I wouldn’t feel right writing a review, so this is how they describe themselves…”Nestled in the heart of the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina, the hotel dazzles guests with sumptuous detail. Take a soak in a whirlpool tub, enjoy a glass of wine, or simply sink into the exquisite handmade bed. Enjoy a glass of sparkling champagne or cool refreshing iced tea on the piazza overlooking the Garden Courtyard, or on a balcony overlooking the history of Charleston, SC. You will feel both revived and indulged at Planters Inn!” -plantersinn.com


Places to Eat

Peninsula Grill

The Peninsula Grill is a four star restaurant located inside of The Planter’s Inn.  The restaurant is very elegant and open, but not at all pretentious.  It is actually a little loud inside as guests pour through bottles of wine and cocktails.  However, the food is outstanding.  It is one of our favorite places to eat in Charleston because of the light atmosphere and quality of the food. Try the Lobster “3 Way”.

The Dining Room at Woodlands Inn

The Dining Room at Woodlands Inn is a five star restaurant located in the Woodlands Resort & Inn.  The food is inventive and creative.  We have eaten the a few times, and have never seen the same menu twice.  The chef is always changing the menu to keep things fresh.  The dining room itself is very beautiful and intimate. 

Charleston Grill

The Charleston Grill is located inside of Charleston Place Hotel.  The restaurant offers traditional cuisine with a nod to invention.  Every time that we have been it has been excellent.  There is typically live jazz being played inside to accompany your experience.  The dining room is very open and beautiful. 


After Dinner Sights

Waterfront park


Within walking distance of all of the hotels and restaurants mentioned, Water Front Park offers beautiful views of the harbor and surrounding areas.  There are many swings and benches to sit and admire the view or just spend time with each other.  A stroll through the park is a great way to end a romantic evening.

The Battery


The Battery offers beautiful sunset views of the harbor.  It is also across the street from many gorgeous historic Charleston homes, and White Point Gardens which has many large oak trees and civil war monuments.  It is also a nice place to stroll through and just be together.

Just Take It All In

I think a lot of us take for granted just how beautiful Charleston is at night.  Just taking a walk down East Bay or King Street at night is great.  There are many places that you can duck into for a night cap if you choose.


We hope this has helped you with your Valentine’s Day plans around the Lowcountry! 

Kristin and Jason

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Check out our Favorite Spots around Charleston in the series “Raised on Salt Air”

    Through all of our travels, what Kristin and I always love the most about a trip is pulling into our driveway here in Charleston, SC.  Don’t get me wrong, we love seeing new places and meeting new faces, but there is just something about Charleston. 
    We were both fortunate enough to grow up here, and find employment in our married life together that allowed us to stay.  We’ve been sharing some tips and tales about our travels around the globe, and we are going to continue to do so.  In addition, we are going to start telling y’all about what we love most about our hometown and life in the southeast.  We’ve been coming to your hometowns on vacation, but we think you might like to check out ours too!  So keep and eye out for a new series on the blog called “Raised on Salt Air”.  In it we’re going to be sharing our favorite spots on land and water, some awesome food, and anything else we think you might be in to through video and written stories. 

We hope you like it!

Jason and Kristin



The Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, Charleston, SC

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NYC Shopping, One Gal’s Experience


    I have done some shopping, but I have never come close to dropping.  However, I am pretty sure that your chances increase significantly in New York City.  There is an endless number of stores, and a little something for everyone.  When I travel I have a rule to never shop anywhere that I could visit in Charleston, which helped to cut out a lot of the larger retailers.  I’d like to share a couple of experiences and tips from the trip, so here goes.

    
    
    It’s a little cheesy, but you have to get an “I Love NY” t-shirt!  Sometimes cheesy is a good thing, especially when it only costs you $2.99…that’s right, for less than three American dollars you too can be the proud owner of an “I love NY” shirt.  There’s really nothing more that I can say here, just get one.

    
    
    Now that you have your obligatory t-shirt, we can move forward.  Our first stop was Century 21, not to be confused with the real estate company. Supposedly, this is one of the best shopping stops in NYC.  To me, it sounded like a huge TJ Maxx or Marshalls but with more designer clothing.  My expectations were very high as I held my clutch and ordered Jason to “stretch it out, these bags may get heavy.”  Instead, I only found disappointment inside of the doors.  The store does have a little of everything, but it is so crowded and cluttered that I found it difficult to navigate.  Hordes of shoppers randomly grabbing and invading my “personal shopping bubble” kept me from finding any treasure.  After finally losing hope, I retreated to the center aisle and made my way out.

   

    Our next stop was Tiffany & Co, it was my first time being inside one of their retail stores, but I have a history with them none the less.  You see over the Summer Jason took a trip to Las Vegas with his buddy Joe.  Joe’s fiancé’s parents lived there, and he was asking for her hand in marriage.  Innocent enough right?  That may be, but every gal out there knows that for her man to be turned loose in Sin City for a weekend there must be gifts given.  Jason was specifically told to “bring me back something pretty and platinum”.  Seemed like a fair trade to me.  Instead, I received an In-N-Out Burger t-shirt…colossal failure in the husbandly duties.  Soooo, knowing that you can imagine how excited I was to see Tiffany and Co.!  Finally, Jason could redeem himself in my graces…just how to convince him.  Inside I found something I loved in every case, but I have to hand it to him, he stood his ground.  No little box for me this go round, but there will be others.  A girls got to try right?  


    

    I grew up being a fan of the movie “Big”.  The FAO Schwartz scene in the movie is famous because of the large floor piano inside the store.  When we walked inside we made our way through the thousands of toys and candies to the piano.  A couple of employees have mastered the instrument and routinely play songs.  We stayed for the recurring concert and saw them play chopsticks and even some difficult classical pieces!  Afterward, the children in the crowd  were allowed to play a few notes themselves.  We all felt like kids again as we walked around this enchanting store looking at toys new and old.

FAO Schwartz Piano from The Shady Umbrella on Vimeo.

  
    



 

    Do you remember having a pair of KangaRoos brand shoes as a child?  I never had a pair, but Jason happened upon some that were in adult sizes.  I have never seen him so excited!  Roos have a pouch made into the shoes that you can keep things in.  As a child, Jason would haul around his lunch money in the pouch.  Apparently they are still a fairly popular brand, even though they are new to me.  We found them while trying to find me a pair of rain boots on a very nasty morning.  They were having a huge sale on them, so we each grabbed a pair. I initially bought them to have something to wear in the rain so I wouldn’t ruin my boots, but I have come to really like my lime green Roos.  These are Jason’s. 

    
    
    Before going to New York we heard stories about going over to Canal Street to get unbelievable deals on purses.  I don’t know whether they’re real or just good knock offs…Who knows?  We knew that we wanted to check it out, but didn’t really know what to expect.  Should you ever end up there, here’s the low down.  We had no sooner stepped out of the cab than to have a woman on the corner start questioningly whisper names of high end designers to us.  A little caught off guard we retreated to collect ourselves and have dinner.  There was a lot of suspect behavior happening all around.  Groups of women disappearing behind false doors in the backs of junk stores, whole families hopping into parked cargo vans with perfect strangers, shoppers hurriedly following scouts back to the goods…you get the idea.  Oh, also everyone, and I mean everyone, was toting big black trash bags filled with stuff.  I spoke with a woman with a bag at dinner that was kind enough to explain what to expect.  While we were all a little nervous, this is what we had come for.  Don’t misunderstand, we didn’t feel threatened at all, we just usually don’t spend our weekends ducking in and out of concealed rooms.  The scouts that are stationed on and around the street corners have inventory cards with pictures of what they offer.  They show you what they have, and if you want to see some items then you are escorted to them.  We had one woman actually go and retrieve the items for us on the street, but this was the only one.  She must just be getting her feet wet in the biz, as her competition all had very James Bondesque hidden doors and passages that are hidden behind the facade of  trinket shops.  

    While waiting for some bags to arrive we ran into a cute couple from Savannah, GA who was also waiting.   This helped put my mind at ease, especially when one of the guys asked where Jason was from because he was the only person wearing boat shoes in NYC.  When the goods came back, I checked them out and decided what I wanted.  I would estimate that $35-$45 a bag is about the norm, but deals can be struck on multi item purchases.  Pay in cash, and never take their first offer.  Don’t be afraid to low ball them.  They will only say “no”, then you continue negotiating from there.  We definitely got taken on the first deal by about $35, adrenaline got the best of us on that one.  Live and Learn.  After the first few deals we were becoming more comfortable, and it was even turning into a funny game.   When we went into a dark basement only to find a dad laughing while his wife and daughter picked out their goodies it was hard not to shake our heads in disbelief of what had become normal for the day.  This was by far my favorite experience in NYC.


 




    We also checked out the designers on 5th Avenue.  I think most people have an idea of which retailers line the street, so I will spare you those details.  I will leave you with some pictures of the very elaborate and beautiful window displays along 5th instead. 

Happy New Year!












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Great Friends Give The Best Shameless Promotions!

Thanks to our great friends Wesley and Elizabeth for the kind words!



The Shady Umbrella from Wesley Donehue on Vimeo.

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Tasty Bites in NYC


    I hope everyone had a great and blessed Christmas and holiday season!  We caught the Christmas fever in our house, literally.  Kristin and I have both been a little under the weather, but are happy to be back with more details on our trip to NYC!

    
    So…where should I begin talking about New York City?  Let’s start with something everyone likes to do…eat!  NYC has more varieties and variations of food than anywhere I have ever been.  It’s hard to know where to start because of the sheer volume of restaurants.  I can honestly say that we would have likely not found the number of awesome restaurants had it not been for modern forms of communication that utilize “word of mouth”.  My friend and fellow NYC traveler, Wesley, is a huge fan and user of new media.  He has been telling me for a few years now how useful new media can be in professional and social applications.  Well, if there were ever an example, navigating NYC is it.  Within minutes of asking friends on facebook, twitter, and simple texting we were swamped with suggestions of “must go” restaurants.  It made sifting through the sand and grit to find the gold pretty easy. 

    
Pop Burger was the first place that we tried in NYC.  We were out getting our bearings in the city and wanted a quick bite to eat. They offer tasty small burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and the usual gang that you would expect as sides at the first floor counter.  The lounge on the second floor offers the same as the first as well as some more options for dinner. The décor in the restaurant is a retro tribute to pop art.   On the first floor there is a simple eating area, but upstairs there is a lounge, pool table, and full bar.  It’s the best of both worlds, somewhere quick to eat or somewhere to chill out at night and grab a snack. 


 
   
    Our first night in the city we ended up at Pastis, a French Bistro in Manhattan’s meatpacking district, through a recommendation by a neighbor.  They offer some traditional French dishes along with a few twists on bistro fare.  It is a very open, tightly knit restaurant that gives a true sense of community.  You can make reservations, or take your chances on finding a seat at the community table.  We were lucky enough to be able to walk in and grab seats at the community table.   I would actually recommend this option because of the forced interaction with other people.  You may just end up next to someone that provides you entertainment with your meal.  The food was outstanding. 


  
    
    Admittedly, I watch a lot if Travel Channel TV…I love Man v. Food.  Watching Adam do some of the spicy food challenges has inspired me to attempt a few of them myself.   I was interested in checking out Brick Lane Curry House whenever the show visited it to do its Phaal Curry Challenge.  Phaal is a super hot curry that uses the ghost pepper, which is the hottest pepper on the planet.  If you finish the phaal you’ll get a free beer and your picture on the wall.  Not exactly like winning the Superbowl, but a small victory none the less. We hoofed it over there for an early lunch on day two.  I had never been to an Indian restaurant, so I didn’t know what to expect.  The staff was very friendly, and explained what everything was to us. I considered doing the challenge, even went as far as to try the sauce on its own (incendiary), but decided being on foot in NYC after braving that was not gonna be very well thought out.  Kristin spent the rest of lunch telling me I was scared, but I didn’t see her attempting it either.  All of the food was very flavorful and well prepared.  It is worth a go if you want to try something different and spicy. 


    

    

    That night after some suspect Chinatown shopping we decided to head into Little Italy and try Angelo’s.  To me this was exactly what I was expecting in a NYC Italian eatery.  The food was rich and flavorful.  The quarters were intimate and dimly lit.  The majority of the staff and patrons all seemed to have been cast by Francis Coppola himself.  It all just felt right…not to mention that they have, without a doubt, the best veal marsala that I have ever eaten. 


            

    
We took a subway ride down to the Lower East Side to try Katz’s Deli.  It is a Jewish kosher style delicatessen.  The restaurant has been around since 1888, and was the site of Meg Ryan’s climactic scene in “When Harry Met Sally”.  The restaurant has some of the best pastrami and corned beef that I have had.  The meat punches you square in the mouth with flavor!  House made pickles and fresh cut fries made it outstanding.

       
    

    
We tried out Sushi Samba for dinner on our third night in NYC.  It is a unique restaurant that offers a blend of Japanese, Brazilian, and Peruvian food and music.  While the food was very good, the volume inside of the restaurant was deafening.  It seemed like the “seen and be seen” crowd was out in full force fronting for the world to see.  Finding humor in this sort of situation though, I enjoyed the dinner and the façade that the tables around us tried to project…good times.



    Throughout the trip there only remained one constant…Coffee.  I don’t want to speak for the entire group, but I know that I have a healthy addiction to caffeine.  I am not sure how many Starbucks there are in NYC, but we visited a good many.  Sometimes you need something to level you out, keep you going, or to get your fix.  Why not make it a legal addictive substance?  We take our coffee pretty seriously around here…



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I took a bite of The Big Apple, and it was surprisingly sweet…

    Everybody’s got their place…the place that you’ve always wanted to go, and the place that despite people’s praises you’ve never cared about seeing. I am from the south. I love the pace of life here, and the simple courtesies associated. I love the outdoors, and getting back to the simpler things. For me vacation means white sand, blue water, and a few cold beers. You can imagine my dismay when I first heard that were we spending our Christmas vacation in New York City. 


    Everybody has heard that “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”…blah, blah.  Maybe you can’t, but I can and did for many years.  My work has taken me around New York a few times, but I have never cared to go into the city.  Now I know where your mind is wandering, “this fella here is just some bumpkin, ain’t never seen nothin'”…Let me assure you, I have been around and have seen plenty.   Like I said, I enjoy keeping my life simple.  I have a beautiful wife, a lazy dog, and a little boat to sneak off on now and again.  Give me a pair of jeans and some broken in boat shoes and I will change my shirt based on the occasion.  You can have the hustle and bustle, bright lights, over population, and pop culture.  I am fully aware of the significance that New York City has in society and commerce. I get the jist of it, which had always seemed like enough for me.


    Having said all that, I was completely wrong about New York City in every sense.  Sure, all of the things that I mentioned that kept me away were there, but they just bring balance to a city that is rich with history and culture.  So…I have to join the masses and say that if you haven’t been to New York City, you should go.  Over the next few blog entries we’re going to hit the high points of the trip.  What we did, where we ate, things worth doing, and things to avoid.  So, hang tight…



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Football Season Ending or Just Heating Up?

    We’re on the road right now heading back from the Charlotte, NC where our NFL fav Carolina Panthers just put the whammy on Brett Favre and the Vikings.  All of the men in the family decided it was high time that we took in a game together, so away we went.  Travel in an out of Bank of America Stadium is relatively easy with plenty of available parking to be had.  After a short walk you are in the thick of a rockin’ tailgate party complete with punt, pass, and kick contest. Feel free to step right up and be embarrassed…

    Inside the stadium is very clean and easy to navigate.  Find your seat and let the energy of the crowd take over, it’s time for some Panthers football!  Every game, win or lose, is a blast, but let a big name team (coughVikingscough) roll into town and get dominated…that stadium crowd feeds the players with their energy!


Like what you hear?


    This kind of experience happens every week around the country.  Primetime running backs and franchise QB’s light up the scoreboards and the eyes of fans every game. You don’t need to be at the stadium to feel and see it, but it is a different experience.  One I would recommend you take in at least once… 


    The Shady Umbrella is always happy to help you find transportation and lodging near your favorite team,  We can even steer you in the right direction to find the perfect seats for your game.

So, Are you ready for some football?



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