Monday, February 14, 2011

Savannah in February

Oh, vacation, where do I start? I mentioned last week that our trip to Georgia probably seemed super random as far as vacations go. I can't really speak for the rest of the country, but when people in the northeast go on vacation it's usually to a beach somewhere tropical and lovely and WARM. And I totally get that, but although our life is busy, it's not chaotic. And sitting on a beach for six days just didn't really appeal to either one of us this year.

We did want to get out of New England and get someplace warmer and without three feet of snow, but we also just wanted to feel like we were experiencing something new and cultural. Europe isn't in the budget right now, so we picked Savannah & Atlanta based mostly on the fact that I hadn't been there yet.

Then we realized that we had some great family friends in Atlanta which would make the trip more fun and also more reasonably priced (no hotels for that part of the trip). Other than one lunch upon arrival at the Flying Biscuit Cafe where we ate cheese grits so good we were near tears (and also saw Queen Latifah) and a visit to the Georgia Aquarium, we didn't spend any time exploring Atlanta. It seems as though they have several great museums though, so I'm excited to go back one day.

We spent four days and three nights in Savannah and since tourist season doesn't start until March, we really felt like we had the city all to ourselves. It's true that we still had to wear coats the whole time, but when we took the tour of one of the mansions, we got to take it alone as opposed to taking it with the 30-40 people they said was typical for a peak-season tour. I'll take a slight hit on weather any day if it means I get to soak in the beauty of a place and not feel like I'm fighting to enjoy it.

The whole city is so quiet and lovely and just hauntingly, achingly beautiful that it really lends itself to an off-peak visit. And if budget travel is your preference, we were told that not only are the accommodations cheaper this time of year, but the tours, the pedi cabs, and everything else is cheaper as well.

I think the thing that makes the city so beautiful and so interesting to tour is the fact that the past and the present are so seamlessly intertwined. I've never visited another American city where that's been the case. I lived in Boston, which obviously has gobs of history, but I never really felt that walking around the historic district. And there are places like Colonial Williamsburg and St. Augustine, FL where it's only the past on display and that doesn't seem any better.

The Savannah historic district, which comprises all of the downtown and is a very large area, is the perfect walking town, complete with 22 town squares. The river front is built right into the bricked ports and ramps where the country's main cotton and slave trades used to occur.  The fact that we came back from our trip with 454 pictures on the camera ought to give you an idea of how much we loved the town and our trip in general.

Below is a city guide of the places we ate and what we did if you have a trip in your future. And of course some photos. Because the pictures tell a far better story than I could.

Azalea Inn & Gardens - Great bed and breakfast one block from Forsyth Park, the main park in Savannah. The staff were extremely helpful and the food was great. In addition to a full breakfast every morning, there were appetizers and wine at 5:00p, and a home made dessert at 7:00p. Because we were there in the off season we got to stay for three nights but only pay for two. Huge win.

Old Savannah Tours - The first thing we did was to take a 90 min trolley tour of the city. There's no better way to see the whole town, get all of the history, and figure out where you want to go back to than this. We paid $3 extra for the "On/Off" feature of the tour which lets you get on and off all day. This was especially helpful when we wanted to get back to our inn, which was two blocks from one of the stops.

Sorrel Weed House - There are several mansions in the city that you can tour, but this one was right in our walking path and also came highly recommended by our trolley guide. As I mentioned, we were the only ones on the tour, so we got to ask plenty of questions and really luxuriate in the details of each room.

Magnolia Day Spa - On the one day that it rained and walking around town had to be limited, we got a couple's massage. Again, because of the limited tourists in town we got to use the sauna and the steam room together as opposed to being separated into the men's sauna and the women's sauna.

Six Pence Pub - This was one of the places we stumbled upon for lunch on the day we arrived, then we learned the next day on our trolley tour that it was in the Julia Robert's movie Something to Talk About. We had a great lunch and drinks at the bar, but there was outdoor seating as well.

Sapphire Grill -We were in town for three dinners, but the first night was the Superbowl and we were still full from our late lunch at the pub, so we had a low key dinner at a bar downtown. But the next two nights we wanted really killer restaurants, so we took the recommendations of our B&B owners. Sapphire Grill is downtown next to Paula Dean's restaurant and was great. Great food, knowledgeable staff, and a hip atmosphere.

The Olde Pink House -This restaurant, as the name would suggest, is literally inside a pink house. We were upstairs in a side room and definitely had the best table in the place. The food was phenomenal and the history of the building was incredible. We were told this was a "must do" if you're in town and I totally agree.

Ms. Wilkes Boarding House -We hadn't heard about this place until our last night in town when someone staying at our B&B told us we had to go. It's a famous lunch joint where you eat family style and have to line up around the block to get in. At 2pm sharp the last person in line has the unfortunate job of telling anyone behind him that they aren't serving anymore.

I had a bit of a humorous moment when we sat down with the eight other people at our table, with 20 bowls of food in front of us and I couldn't identify one single thing. Traditional southern food is crazy, y'all! I fully understood the obesity problem when looking at the table. I was able to slowly parse out what about half of the food was. Is everything "creamed" below the Mason-Dixon?

Leopold's Ice Cream - Another recommendation from our trolley guide. This was the very last thing we did before leaving town. Turns out Leopold's ice cream is owned and run by Stratton Leopold, movie producer and VP of Paramount. He happened to be at the shop that day and struck up a conversation with B.

From the ice cream shop, we learned that they make all of the ice cream by hand from the original 1920s recipe (it really was different from all other ice cream in the best way possible), and from Stratton we learned that when Steven Spielberg made the fourth Indiana Jones, he shot Harrison Ford from above and never below thanks to his aging neck skin.

This is what all of the streets look like. Paved in brick, gorgeous homes on either side, and Spanish moss hanging from all the trees.

Many of the old homes have windows made to look like eyes. This is so the spirits knew that they were being watched. This house specifically made their eyes look like an owl.

Walking towards the fountain in Forsyth Park.

You can't go to Savannah without first watching (or reading) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Luckily I've seen the movie about a hundred times, so I was well prepared. This is the house, right on one of the main squares, where Jim Williams lived and committed the infamous murder.

Inside of the Savannah Bee Company.

In the cafe at the Parisian Market store downtown. I essentially hyper ventilated with joy for 45 min. One day I will live in Paris...

In the basement of the store they had a board set up for you to pin up your new year's resolutions.

We all know what mine is....

Down on the river there is a naturally occurring echo spot (thanks, trolley guide!) where even a whisper will echo in your ear. However, no one else can hear it, only the person standing in the spot. 

Half the county is named after Button Gwinnett and I'm one of his direct descendants. He died in a duel and has a huge monument in the cemetery.

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

The Girl Scouts, started by Juliette Gordon Low, were started in Savannah.

I don't know the type of tree this is, but it was outside the Girl Scout house. It had smooth orange bark and looked like a painting.

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