Years ago, when Matt and I still lived in Charlotte, we were invited to spend a day in Charleston, SC with some friends. Everyone spoke of Charleston's charm and beauty, so I was really excited to go! We didn't know the people we were with very well, and they were into different things than we were, so I ended up being dragged around town in heels (not realizing exactly what the day was going to include beforehand), and seeing the slums of Charleston. I was so disappointed, and when I reported back to my co-workers, they urged me to go back again and do it our own way so we could really take it in. The trip between Charlotte and Charleston was about 4 hours, just a day trip really, so I put it on my "to do someday" list, but had no real plans for our return trip.
About a year later, our four year 'dateiversary' was upon us, and it was a special one! We'd just gotten married and were trying for our first baby, and since we'd started dating on February 29th (leap day!), we waited 4 years to see that actual date again. We knew we wanted to celebrate somehow, but I had no idea what Matt had in store.
On a Wednesday in 2008 (two days before our anniversary), he told me to take a 1/2 day from work on Friday. The only hint he gave me was that I would need to be free by 12:30, and that I'd get more hints the next day. So I did - I got permission from my manager, and then the guessing began! On Thursday, he told me to look on the kitchen table after work for my next clue. It was a letter that read:
"Babe, here is your hint! To do: wash/pack the following clothes: 1 outfit for dinner (business casual - can be something you wear to work tomorrow), 1 outfit for Birkdale*-like wear, PJ's, bathroom stuff, sneakers, cell charger. Charge the camera batteries. Note: Have everything packed and in the kitchen before bed. No packing tomorrow except bathroom stuff. I love you! ~Matt"*Birkdale is an upscale outdoor shopping center in Charlotte we used to frequent.
Finally, on Friday the 29th, Matt gave me my last "hint" - only it really wasn't a hint at all. He told me it was more of a bonus. He drove me into work on Friday morning after we got everything in the car, set up our cat for a day on his own, and he informed me that he'd pick me up at 12:30 and we'd be hitting the road. He made me dress up because he said we might not have time to change - for what, I had no idea.
Work that morning was sort of torturous, but my co-workers were excited along with me. I remember feeling so blessed - all dressed up and packed up for a surprise trip with my love, having just been married and on the road to a family. I'll never forget it. Everyone left for lunch at noon, and I stayed back for obvious reasons. The office was empty when Matt arrived to pick me up, and I was SO excited and anxious - I was thankful no one was around to see me geeking out, ha! Matt was all smiles and secrets when I got in the car, and off we went! I spent the first hour of our trip still clueless about what was happening - and partly by choice. I just wanted to slowly figure out what the deal was, even though there were only a few destination places to visit in the direction we were heading. When we passed Columbia, and then the route for Myrtle Beach, Matt finally spilled the beans and said we were heading back to Charleston - it was kind of obvious by that point. I was SO happy!
After arriving in Charleston, Matt droves us to a little island off the coast called Isle of Palms. It totally lived up to its name - palm trees and beachy sights were everywhere. We entered a sprawling, exclusive golf & tennis resort called Wild Dunes. It had an unheard of amount of hotels, condos and vacation villas, golf courses, tennis courts, restaurants, spas, and adorable shops. In typical Charleston fashion, the buildings were all bright and colorful - though on the island, they were more beachy and luxurious than the what you find in downtown Charleston. Considering that we were on our first solo-vacation ever (and the last one since! Seriously, our vacations are always family affairs), staying here was an incredible experience. I felt so special and blessed to just be there!
We checked into our room, and then Matt was anxious to visit the ocean. We had time before our dinner reservation, so we changed into jeans knowing we'd get sandy, and went for a walk. We followed the boardwalk next to our hotel that played host to shops that were closed for the season (despite it being South Carolina and fairly warm, it was February, after all). There was NO one around! We had the whole place to ourselves. We took a walk along the shore and picked up some sea shells and took pictures. I remember marveling at the fact that earlier that day, I was sitting at my boring desk at work, and here I was - saying hello to the Atlantic before sundown!
After our walk on the beach, we went back to the room to get dressed again, and I had to fix my hair after having it whipped around on the beach. Just before we left for dinner, there was a knock at the door and Matt leapt up to answer it. He wouldn't let me see, and tucked something away out of sight as we left. So yeah, my curiosity was piqued! ;)
We went downstairs in our beautiful resort hotel, and had dinner in a restaurant called Sea Island Grill. At that time in my life, it was probably the most luxurious dinner I'd ever had. I got Yellowfin Tuna with ginger infused black rice and snow peas, and Matt got grilled sea bass with ribbon vegetables. They were both incredible. I almost splurged for the three chocolate souffle, Matt was egging me on, but I passed. I was already full, and this was also probably the most expensive dinner of our lives! haha
When we got back to the room, we changed into comfy lounge clothes and Matt revealed the surprise that had come to the door - a plate of chocolate covered strawberries! They were so luxurious - the silkiest, most indulgent tasting chocolate I've ever had. We share the whole plate while we cuddled in bed, and then he revealed that he had another surprise for me. I couldn't imagine what it could be - in half of a day, I felt more pampered and blessed than I ever expected to be. He pulled out a spa menu, and said that he booked an appointment for a facial at 9:30. It gave us time to sleep in before I got some extra pampering, and Matt was excited to go for a run on the resort while I had it done. I'd actually never been to a spa before, and I was sort of nervous for the experience!
So in the morning, we got ready and checked out of our hotel. We stopped at a little deli on the resort to grab breakfast, and then Matt drove me over to the spa for my facial. The spa looked like a little beach hut, and it was so relaxing inside. I had to strip my shirt and snuggle into this bed that was heated from below. The lights were dim, there was tropical music playing - it was SO relaxing. Then the masseuse went to town on my face - cleansers, exfoliates, masks, hot towels, massages on my face, scalp, neck, and shoulders. It was amazing! Matt picked me up when I was finished, and we went to take one more walk on the beach before leaving the resort. It was sunny, warm and gorgeous, and almost totally empty aside from a family of seagulls. I remember feeling so refreshed and loved. The thought of it makes me smile, even now.
When we finished soaking up the beach, we drove off the island and back into downtown Charleston. I wanted to explore the market, see some of Charleston's famous charm, and visit Rainbow Row. If you're wondering, Rainbow Row is a street full of row houses that were built in the 1700's. They went through war, earthquakes, hurricanes, and typical wear and tear until a few of them were purchased in the 1930's. This inspired other wealthy people to purchase the properties along this road (which had become a slum after all of their deterioration), and the entire thing was restored. The bright pastel colors they used on the houses became the norm for Charleston, and some claim that this particular row was the inspiration for everything else from that point on. Naturally, I wanted to see the birthplace of Charleston's charm!
We did a bit of walking, and I took some pictures of beautiful churches - like St. Phillip's (pictured left). We walked through the market as well (which is quite an experience!), and then made our way to The Blind Tiger Pub to have lunch where we ordered Carolina BBQ in our attempts at enjoying the full southern experience. It was getting late in the day, and we had to start our way back to Charlotte, but we hadn't been able to find Rainbow Row. We asked a few people about it, but no one seemed to know what we were talking about! I did some searching on my phone at lunch, and when I finally pinpointed the road it was on, we realized we were right around the corner! So we set off on foot, and - there it was. I couldn't contain my excitement over these adorable, colorful buildings. I wanted to move in immediately! Unfortunately, my photography skills of 6 years ago left a lot to be desired, but I still love having these photos and the reminder of our triumph in finding Rainbow Row just as we were about to say goodbye to Charleston.
We only spent a day and a half on this trip, but the indulgence, relaxation, and love involved made it feel like the most incredible vacation ever. It still stands out in my mind as one of my most beloved memories.
Though our vacation brainstorming is what spurred me to share this, it's fitting - because our ten year 'dativersary' is this weekend! There's no leap day this year, so we will sort of celebrate both Friday & Saturday, though I am sure it will be low-key and not at all Charleston-trip-like (life with three little kids, what are ya gonna do?). Love is still abundant here, and I live a little bit of my own dream every single day.
If you want a beautiful (and maybe a bit romantic) place to visit with your love, Charleston is a fabulous place for it. And I highly recommend the Wild Dunes resort (they're not paying me to say so!).
What was your best vacation?