Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Visiting the South - Sights and Tastes of Savannah, Georgia

My wife Diane and I just returned from a wonderful trip the southeast coast of the United States. With the economy still not doing well, the dollar weak around the world and the specter of layoff present, we decided 2009 was not the year to take an overseas vacation such as we do most years.

Rather, we decided to visit someplace in the U.S.A. that neither of us had ever been and that could offer us some warm sunny weather. After pondering it a while, we settled on a visit to the southeastern coastline - namely taking in Savannah, GA; Charleston, SC; and Williamsburg, VA - with stop overs in Wilmington, NC and Nags Head, NC. We figured the food would be great, the weather good, beaches nearby, history prevalent and opportunities for adventure abundant.

Over the next week or so, I'll post some reviews and observations about the places we visited, food we ate, sites we saw and some general observations about the south.

To kick things off, I'll start where we started - Savannah, GA. Some of you may recall that Savannah was the setting for the book and movie Midnight In the Garden of Good & Evil.

Kicking It All Off With A Haunted Pub Crawl
After a long day of coast-to-coast air travel, we alighted in Savannah in the early evening. After checking into our wonderful accommodations of The Bed & Breakfast Inn near Forsyth Park, we walked though the warm breezes and lamp lit streets of the old quarter on down to where the action was to kick our trip off with, well, a haunted pub crawl of course. And why not.

This actually works really well in Savannah. Here's why:

First, Savannah is one of the only cities in the U.S. where you can walk the streets with open containers of alcohol, drinking as you go. Needless to say, this adds a nice dimension to any pedestrian activity - most especially a pub crawl!
(Left: Our pub crawl kicks off)

Second, Savannah is one of the most haunted cities in America - or so "they" say. It's an old town with lots of Revolutionary War, Civil War and slavery history and, according to our tour guide Jeremy, the city's people do not have a historical track record of treating the dead very well.

Jeremy pointed out that there are several mass graves from the 1800s that today are paved over parts of the central city, not to mention the deaths and graves related to the Civil War and other conflicts fought in or nearby Savannah. (Right: Tour guide extraordinaire Jeremy tells the group about a particularly disturbing haunting)

At any rate, off we went - walking the balmy streets of Savannah on a Saturday night with a group of other revelers. We stopped at a number of pubs, each with its own haunted story. Some of these places apparently still are haunted with proprietors reporting unusual activities regularly.

Regardless of what you think of ghosts or hauntings, we really enjoyed this two hour tour as a fun way to see the city and get our bearings the first night - not to mention meet some cool

Sight Seeing
Savannah is a beautiful city with lots of parks, plazas, squares, neighborhoods filled with elegant old homes, a river waterfront and an "old quarter" with tons of restaurants, bars, antique shops, boutiques and more. We took most all of this in our two days there. Here are some highlights:

Mercer-Williams House
Built more than 140 years ago and restored completely by Jim Williams in the 1960s
and 1970s, this is the house in which the true-life events told in the book and movie Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil took place. Because it's open for tours, going in is a neat way to see the famed place where Williams defended his life, killing another man in the process. The house is also a fine example of grand southern home architecture, so touring the house is also a great way to see how many upper-crust families lived in the old south. There are loads of other similar homes you can tour through in the city, but one was enough for us to get the idea.
(Right: The Mercer-Williams House)

Forsyth Park and City Squares
Savannah residents are rightly proud of their grand parks and beautiful city squares. Featuring 32 squares throughout the city, Savannah boasts perhaps one of the most picturesque city centers in the U.S. Each of these squares is unique, but there are some similarities.

All of them have large oak trees with hanging Spanish moss for loads of shade, park benches, grassy lawns and usually some sort of monument or fountain.

It was a delight to visit some of these squares...sitting to relax and watch the world go by. Since Savannah is flat, we walked most places. However, it was quite hot and sunny. Therefore, these squares came in handy as shady rest stops on our routes to and from various places.

Forsyth Park is the big city park about 2 miles inland from the riverfront. You may have seen the park fountain before in pictures or movies.

As a central gathering place for Savannah residents, the park hosts any
number of events and activities. We walked the park the day after a street art festival and saw some interesting and very colorful drawings on the sidewalks and walkways. (Left: Fountain at Forsyth Park. Below: Street art at Forsyth Park)

Like most riverfront cities, Savanna has a nice promenade along the water with shops, restaurants, bars, art galleries, etc. (Below left: waterfront walkway. Below right: shops along the waterfront.)

We indulged in a pleasant stroll
along this strip one afternoon and ran into an art fair where we promptly bought some great prints from a local artist. The same waterfront serves as a nice running track in the morning hours.
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Last but not least, we ate well in Savannah - launching our "eat-a-palooza" through the southern destinations on our itinerary. Breakfast at the B&B proved superb with blueberry pancakes or luscious eggs benedict. Since we basically had beer for dinner our first night on the pub crawl, we sat down to dinner with some friends from the area on our second night at...

Situated in Savannah's City Market district, we had dinner at this restaurant with some of Diane's work colleagues who live in the area. Sitting outside to watch the world go by as we ate, we indulged in mint juleps and some calamari to start. I had spicy crab-stuffed ravioli and Diane had a pecan-encrusted piece of white fish that looked delicious. The meal was very enjoyable and I'd recommend eating there if your in Savannah.

Lady & Sons
Lunch on our second day in Savannah was at the well known Lady & Sons downtown. Specializing in southern comfort food like fried chicken, pulled pork sandwiches, greens, mac & Cheese and much, much more, Lady & Son's has risen in popularity as its founder and original chef Paula Deen has become a mainstay on food TV programs. The place is so popular that you have to go down there at about 9:30 a.m. to stand in a line just to make a reservation for lunch or dinner the same day. We did this and ended up standing in a 30 min. line. So, the question then is, is this really going to be worth all that?

Well, the answer is a bit mixed for me. The food we had for lunch was good. Diane had a delightful crab cake, and my pulled pork sandwich exceeded my expectations - tasty. However, the restaurant is quite Disney-fied if you know what I mean. To get seated you have to go through their store and the service - while certainly polite and nice - was very much "conveyor-belt" mentality designed to get you in, feed you and get you out efficiently. Also, the place is so crowded with tourists that you definitely do not feel like you eating at a hip place or some place you just ran across. So, I felt that the quality of the food was offset by the ambiance. So, while we enjoyed ourselves, I'd recommend skipping this place and using your time to find a smaller, less well-known joint to get some soul food.

With our trip off to a smashing start, later that second day after some shopping and looking into antique stores, we picked up our rental car and drove north for about 2 hours to reach our second destination on our trip - Charleston, South Carolina for a five night stay in the historic center of that city. I'll share some thoughts and experiences we had there in my next post.

Meantime, to see more pictures that I took in Savannah, go here. The first couple dozen images are from Savannah.

1 comment:

stonesforyou said...

Would love to hear about your other visits in the South.