Friday, May 7, 2010

Charleston - Day 6

Tuesday morning, while I showered, SP walked over to the Visitor's Center and purchased tickets for Magnolia Plantation and Drayton Hall. If you buy both at the same time, there's a small discount. Also, the brochures we had picked up said Magnolia Plantation's gardens and Drayton Hall were handicap accessible. SP made sure he was very clear with the woman behind the counter: I use a wheelchair and we will only buy the tickets if the places are wheelchair accessible.So off we went to Magnolia Plantation. In addition to the gardens and plantation house, there are a swamp walk, nature train, boat tour -- lots of options for which you pay extra! So we asked the girl at the entrance booth 3 times if the plantation house was wheelchair accessible (we were pretty sure it wasn't but we wanted to be sure). After 2 yeses, on the third query, she said, oh, no, it's not. This did not bode well - uninformed employees. She told us the swamp walk was accessible, so we paid an additional $7 each for that and went in.The first thing we noticed is that all the garden pathways seemed to be gravel. Tiny pebbles. Into which the wheelchair wheels sink. And get stuck. So our stroll through the romantic gardens was not so sweet and romantic but more me being constantly jostled and shaken and worrying about tipping over and SP struggling to get me out of the gravel.When we weren't on gravel but instead on dirt path, we got all excited - until the tree roots poked up through the earth. Protruding tree roots are bumpier than gravel.The flowers and gardens are quite beautiful. There are a couple lakes. Statues. Bridges. The Drayton family tomb. When we stopped to rest and enjoy the sights, it was quite pleasant and relaxing.It took us about 2~2.5 hours to walk through the gardens. We were hungry and SP's sweet tarts weren't doing the trick (for his blood sugar) and we hadn't grabbed either of our food bags when we left the hotel. So we decided to stand in line with a bunch of other tourists (because it was about 1:00 pm and apparently everyone decided it was time to eat) and buy somewhat overpriced lunch food from Peacock Cafe at Magnolia Plantation.

We opted to split a pimiento cheese on whole wheat sandwich and a piece of pound cake.We took our food over to one of the outdoor tables. There were a couple dogs wandering around so we had to shield our food a bit! The sandwich was OK - the sandwich could have used a bit more pimiento. The pound cake was tasty. We shared the bottle of water that had been in my purse all day. Happily the water was still kind of cool (it was actually a bit cool that day)!

After our lunch, we drove over to the Swamp Garden.Our walk started off fine. We were on a wood boardwalk. We saw turtles - you can sort of see one in the center of the photo above. But shortly after leaving the boardwalk over the watery swamp and getting onto a dirt path, we encountered problems. Like a really steep, tree root filled, uphill obstacle. We got stuck. I had to remove the leg from my wheelchair because the hill was way too steep and it kept getting stuck in the dirt. I held my legs up as SP grunted (I think I gained a bit of weight... or maybe it was just that steep and bumpy; definitely not to ADA guidelines!) and a lovely older couple came to our rescue and helped make sure we didn't topple backwards!It's amusing now, but not so funny then! The path was dirt for the rest of the loop walk back to the boardwalk, and there were lots of tree roots to go over, rocks to avoid, and 1 or 2 other steep parts that were tricky. The lovely couple stayed near us since they were worried about us getting stuck again - so nice of them and we both were really grateful to not be alone on the walk!

We saw birds (egrets and herons) and birds (egrets, we think) in nests with baby birds and we saw an alligator sizing up a turtle:We also strolled through a small cemetery where plantation slave families are buried. And then our lovely and difficult swamp tour was over (after about 1~1.5 hours of worrying about one or both of us ending up on the ground or in the swamp!).

As we left, the employee who was at the entrance asked us how the wheelchair fared on the walk. We are too nice to share our true feelings (this walk is not for wheelchairs!) and said it was OK with just a couple tough spots. Our frustration and annoyance were just too fresh to calmly convey our thoughts. We probably would have just ranted on in a not very nice way had we said anything other than, oh, it was fine. The employee then told us that other wheelchair people had reported no problems except for the steep hill. Uh-huh. We think they also were too nice, or maybe they had turbo powered chairs or all-terrain wheelchairs - ?!!

Next up we drove to Drayton Hall. We went to check in for the house tour and the employee informed us that the house was not accessible - ?! SP told them that their brochure said it was and that when we asked at the Charleston Visitor Center, they said it was. Turns out they used to have a stair lift, but it broke quite some time ago, and they have not yet repaired/replaced it. I would be unable to tour the house. We asked about a refund. They told us to go back to the entrance booth to get a refund. We did and that lady told us to go to the Visitor Center to request a refund - since we bought our tickets at the Visitor Center, Drayton Hall would not reimburse us at Drayton Hall. Grrr.

They did apologize, but we were the ones who had to 'suffer.' Apologies only go so far. Plus, we (I) do A LOT of research before traveling and A LOT of accessible research. I was beginning to understand why, when I googled 'accessible Charleston,' I got no info on wheelchair accessibility. Charleston's roads, sidewalks, and main tourist attractions are NOT wheelchair friendly.

Plus, I was really peeved that Drayton Hall and the Visitor's Center were giving out incorrect information! We tried to do research and get correct information ahead of time - both when we were planning at home and when we arrived. The Visitor Center, for a second time, had proved itself not too useful - the day before, our first day, when we asked them for wheelchair accessible information, like the wheelchair friendly streets map we got in Savannah, they said they didn't have any, and gee, that would be a good idea, wouldn't it?

All of which strikes us as odd since there were busloads of older tourists in Charleston. On several occasions, I saw older tourists stumble over the uneven sidewalks and struggle with the steep stairs. I know there's the 75 year rule in Charleston (buildings over 75 years old cannot be torn down) but can't they fix the sidewalks? Add some ramps? Elevators? Biltmore in Asheville, NC is accessible. The Frick House here in Pittsburgh is. What's Charleston's deal?

OK, rant over. It had been a rough day with all the gravel at the gardens and then the swamp walk stress and then the wasted trip to Drayton Hall. So we went back to the hotel. I got some soothing tea in the lobby while SP went to the Visitor Center to get a refund. They were apologetic, too, and showed him that Drayton Hall had in fact already emailed all Charleston Visitor Centers about the wheelchair lift situation so this would not happen again. Also since that day, Drayton Hall's website has been updated to reflect the non-accessibility.

We both dozed off in the hotel for a bit. When we stopped nodding off, we decided to get some dinner. I did not want to walk far. I was tired of being jostled around and honestly, most of Charleston's sidewalks totally suck for wheelchairs. SP was tired of jostling me. So we got in the car and drove up and down E. Bay Street looking for a parking space on the street or a parking lot.

And suddenly, Charleston smiled on us: a parking lot, free to those who dine at Blossom, Cypress, or Magnolia's (all 3 are part of the same restaurant group). And, all 3 are accessible. Yay!!! Dinner issue resolved. We went to Blossom.Even though we did not have reservations, we were seated right away in a lovely, bright dining room, next to a window. We promptly ordered drinks. Not just iced teas, but also a Sauvignon Blanc for me and a Gin & Tonic with cucumber garnish for SP.Ahhhhh the stress started to slip away. It receded even more when the lovely bread and herb butter arrived.Delicious bread. We ate it all. A nice crumbly crust, and yes, we got bread crust crumbs all over the table. We decided to share an appetizer: Pan Seared Scallops with applewood bacon and vidalia onion polenta, honey whipped ricotta, and apple puree:Oh. My. Gosh. The scallops were perfect. Nicely seared but still melty good inside. The polenta tasted so good with the scallops. This might be the best scallops appetizer ever. I'd go back to Blossom just for this appetizer.

Next up, we shared a salad.
Baby Arugula with vanilla poached pears, cherry tomatoes, buttermilk blue cheese, and bacon sherry vinaigrette. So good. The vinaigrette was amazing. The poached pears so soft and flavorful. All of the ingredients together - heavenly. The day was rapidly improving. Nothing like some wine and tasty food to make things better.

For my meal, I ordered Four Cheese Mushroom Pizza: ricotta, pecorino, parmesan and mozzarella cheeses, cremini mushrooms, chopped herbs.This was very tasty. Thin crust. Lots of mushrooms - sometimes I think places go light on toppings like mushrooms, but there were a lot. And the greens on top - I am quickly becoming a huge fan on greens on top of pizza. So good.

SP and I shared the pizza and we shared his meal, Grilled Mahi Mahi with carolina rice pirloo, rock shrimp, asparagus, tomatoes, basil, and lemon citrus butter.I had never tried Mahi Mahi before. It was good. Not quite as strong a fish taste as I expected. The grill marks were gorgeous. But the rice with shrimp and veggies and citrus sauce - oh my gosh. So good. SP was amazed at how much of his fish dish I ate.

We had devoured every bite placed in front of us, and yet we still had room for dessert. I can't remember what we ordered, I just have the photo:Whatever this dessert is, it's not on the online dessert menu. The red sauce was strawberry, I think. Whatever it was, it was delicious and light and just right to split with SP.

Blossom saved the day. We would definitely go back. It was a terrific meal. Our server was very friendly and efficient. It was relaxing. Delicious.

Not wanting to risk ruining the happy vibes, we drove right back to the hotel room, watched a little TV, and crashed for the night. A terrific ending to a difficult day!

3 comments:

  1. We are so sorry for the miscommunication regarding Drayton Hall’s wheelchair accessibility during your recent visit to Charleston. We value feedback from our visitors as it lets us see things from their point of view and use it constructively to evaluate and improve our programs and offerings and ensure a quality experience for every visitor.

    As soon as our stair-track system became unavailable last fall, we posted the news on our website and notified the local visitor centers and hotels. Unfortunately, with the haste of the busy season, correct information may not get relayed. Our rack cards still carry the handicapped-accessible icon because they have been in circulation since last spring.

    We have been looking for alternate accessibility solutions and until those can be found, we offer our pre-recorded house tour and our historic landscape tour produced by the History Channel - both are available for viewing in our library. In addition, we offer an African-American Connections program available three times daily which is accessible to all visitors.

    If you would be willing to share your address at info@draytonhall.org, we would be pleased to send you our “Voices of Drayton Hall” tour on DVD. Produced by the History Channel, it provides archival images, family memoirs, and stories of the site, vanished structures, and rare period features.

    Sincerely,

    Natalie at Drayton Hall

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  2. I enjoyed your account of your visits especially the information about the accessibility aspects of the Plantations and Charleston. I moved to Charleston just under 2 years ago and have just recently started playing tourist. I've visited Middleton Place and Boone Hall and found them both to be non-accessible friendly so I had to walk them and that made it very difficult. I would love to follow your blog and look forward to hearing more about your travels. Thank you.

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad you are finding the posts helpful!

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