Two nights in Savannah would give you time to see it, but three nights allows you to better savor it in all its verdant mystery. We chose to go at escargot pace and loved every minute of it!
I went back and forth about where to stay in Savannah. You have the town with its leafy squares and you have the river. We chose the river and booked at The Bohemian. And it was. Bohemian, that is. I have never stayed in a hotel with a quilted red velvet headboard or faux fur throw or crustacean-decorated chandelier. Which is to say, I suppose, that I have never stayed in a place that seemed quite so much like a brothel.
We were of two minds about our hotel stay. Admitted hotel snobs that we are, we found our surroundings a bit peculiar. Yet, the riverside location of The Bohemian has a lot going for it. We checked in, arched our eyebrows at the decor, and headed over to the breezy, busy Vics on the River for dinner with great views, good service and their contemporary interpretation of low-country cooking..
First order of the day was to explore the town and collect a few squares. We strolled up Bull Street and picked off Wright, Chippewa and Madison squares en route to one of Savannah’s most revered tourist traditions. Lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room is a rite of passage for Savannah visitors, and waiting in line is part of the experience. We thought that by arriving at 10:30 am ahead of Mrs. Wilkes’ 11 am opening that we would be ahead of the crowd. Wrong. We were right around fortieth in line and had the unlucky cut-off spot for the first seating. We stood in line for nearly ninety minutes, but enjoyed getting to know our fellow would-be diners.
The original Mrs. Wilkes has gone on to her reward, but her granddaughter continues to oversee what used to be a boardinghouse dining room. The food is served family-style at tables for ten. We counted twenty-three different dishes on the table when we were seated. The piece de resistance, fried chicken, is presented after guests have had a chance to fill their plates with mashed potatoes, black-eyed peas, okra, collard greens, macaroni and cheese, meat loaf and a host of other low-country specialities. Plastic pitchers of sweet tea are placed at the table; you will have to wait a bit if you’re a Yankee who prefers your tea unsweetened. A word to the wise: pace yourself and save room for dessert; our choices were berry cobbler or banana pudding.
We needed a walk after lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ so we picked off a few more squares. Fans of Southern Gothic literature should note that Flannery O’Connor’s birthplace is on Charlton Street near Lafayette Square.
It probably would have been better to pass on dinner after lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ but we had reservations that evening at another of Savannah’s famed establishments: The Olde Pink House.
Built in 1789, the Olde Pink House is both a fine dining establishment and a history lesson. Our server tantalized us with arcane tidbits about the house while she steered us toward an award-winning first course: Fried Green Tomato Salad.
We learned that the house was originally painted white but that the pink in the bricks used to build it eventually bled through to give it its rosy hue of today. A Savannahian we met during our visit told us that some years back a wealthy young transplant to the city demanded that her father purchase the home for her to live in and that when he failed in that attempt, he built her a similar home a few blocks away. I don’t know if the story is true, but it sounds like something that would happen in Savannah, where the buildings that escaped Sherman’s March to the Sea are cherished as crown jewels of the South.
Some people follow up dinner at Olde Pink House with a a digestif at the popular Planters Tavern in the building’s cellar. We chose instead to take advantage of the fading light and visit a few more squares as we walked back to our hotel.
Next day, we headed uptown once again, curious to see Forsyth Park. Its thirty-acre swath gives it the appearance of being one of Savannah’s squares on steroids. Named for Georgia governor John Forsyth, who donated twenty of the park’s acres. the park features a Confederate War Memorial and a fountain modeled after one at the Place de Concorde in Paris, France.
We had lunch near the park at 700 Drayton in the Mansion at Forsyth Park, which is a sister hotel to The Bohemian. It features a similarly bold decor.
After lunch, we paid a visit to one of Savannah’s finest sights: the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. The interior of this church is stunningly beautiful!
The CE had his heart set on a river cruise, so once again we headed back to the riverfront and boarded the Georgia Queen for a leisurely look back at River Street from the water.
After the boat cruise we somehow found ourselves in one of the many candy shops that dot the riverfront. It was, of course, the one where they were handing out free samples of freshly-made pralines. It would have been impolite to resist, right?
Then it was back to the hotel, briefly. No sooner had we settled back into our room (still giving that chandelier the side-eye) than the fire alarm went off. “This is not a drill. Leave the building immediately. This is not a drill”. So we did. We walked across the street to Moon River Brewing Company and sipped a beverage while we watched the fire trucks and emergency vehicles arrive at The Bohemian. The all-clear was sounded half an hour later and we returned to find our room – and that scary chandelier – intact.
Our time in Savannah was coming to a close, so off we went to search out a few more squares. As we walked through Savannah’s City Market area, we discovered A.T. Hun Gallery’s homage to The Dude. If the price point had been a bit lower, several friends and family members (you know who you are!) would have received this as a souvenir:
After dinner at Circa 1875, the CE announced that he had saved up a surprise. As we stood at Reynolds Square and the dusk turned to dark, a carriage pulled by a handsome white Percheron named Pepper pulled up, and off we went for an evening tour around the city squares. What a lovely way to say farewell to Savannah!
It’s hip to be square in Savannah. (And yes, we qualify!)
Well, at least it’s hip to do squares in Savannah.
General James Oglethorpe, the most revered gentleman in the state of Georgia (with the possible exception of Uga, the University of Georgia mascot), laid out the city of Savannah in 1733 with a square established for each ward in the community.
Who gets your vote?
Oglethorpe’s four original squares overlook the Savannah River. By the mid-nineteenth century, the “hostess city of the South” boasted twenty-four squares, of which three were demolished or altered in the twentieth century. One of those, Ellis Square. was reclaimed and dedicated to favorite Savannah son and songwriter Johnny Mercer in 2010.
When I have asked people who have been there, what is Savannah like?, I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer. “It’s great”, people will say. “It’s a must-see,” they will tell you. But that doesn’t really explain the place and now I understand, because I can’t adequately explain it either. It is not Charleston, that’s for sure. In fact, I guess it is not like any other place I’ve ever been.
There are the antebellum houses, preserved because General Sherman, instead of continuing his “March to the Sea” through Savannah in December of 1864, decided it was too pretty to burn and instead presented the city to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift. There is the river and its environs, scented with commerce and a whiff of the bawdiness that traditionally characterized that part of the city over the past two and a half centuries.
There is a taste of too-close air even in cooler months, presaging the sticky humidity that keeps things slow there in summer. And there are the towering live oaks, festooned with Spanish moss, reigning benignly over the city’s squares which greet you every few few blocks as you explore the town. Like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you will get next: each square is unique unto itself.
The CE decided that the best way for us to experience Savannah would be to visit each of the existing twenty-two squares. We only made it to seventeen of them, which assures a return trip to pick up the remainder. We quickly chose our favorites: for me it was Whitfield Square with its lovely gazebo.
We both did our pre-Savannah homework by reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and when we made the requisite pilgrimage to the book’s setting on Monterey Square, the CE instantly declared it his favorite. Monterey Square is one of Savannah’s prettiest and it is surrounded by beautifully-restored townhouses including the Mercer-Williams house which figures prominently in John Berendt’s book, which occupied the New York Times best-seller list for a then unprecedented 216 weeks.
We weren’t the only ones traversing the squares. We came across many other couples on a similar journey, armed with maps or, like me, with Paul Bland’s The Savannah Walking Tour & Guidebook. You can also download a walking guide of Savannah’s squares.
Of course, not everyone visits Savannah for the history. There is a definite party scene vibe wafting through the town, from the beer-stained floors of the pubs along the river up to the stately townhouses overlooking the squares. As John Berendt says in his book “If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, “What’s your business?” In Macon they ask, “Where do you go to church?” In Augusta they ask your grandmother’s maiden name. But in Savannah the first question people ask you is “What would you like to drink?”
What can I tell you about Savannah? It’s great! It’s a must-see! And I’ll share a bit more in my next post…
Before this trip, words that came to mind when I heard the word Georgia:
“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”
“Midnight Train” a la Gladys Knight
Words that never ever came to mind: King George II.
(Guess I was snoozing during high school US History classes)
If nothing else, our Southern trip provided a much-needed kick upside the head to remind us that Georgia’s history is tied as much to colonial days as it is to the debacle of the Civil War. Our first lesson along these lines came when we stopped along our way from Sea Island to Savannah to tour Ft. King George near the little town of Darien, GA.
Originally established in 1721 to counter French and Spanish forays into the area, the fort was, at the time, the southernmost outpost of the British empire in North America. The fort was eventually abandoned after 140 of the soldiers posted there died in harsh conditions that brought on camp diseases including malaria and dysentery.
We got a feel for the harsh conditions. Eighteenth-century Georgia did not have strip malls or Netflix. These poor soldiers were marooned in a lonely corner of the “New World” and they didn’t even have dial-up. What they did have was plenty of standing water and the attendant miseries that accompany stagnant ponds and marshes. The park ranger who greeted us at the visitor’s center drawled “Y’all came on a good day; the cool weather knocked down the deer flies.”
Well, not all of them, and I still have the welts to prove it.
We were also treated to plenty of attention from the resident “no-see-ums”. Luckily, we had no encounters with the deadly coral snakes or water moccasins common to coastal Georgia. We did see lots of scurrying fiddler crabs. And, everywhere, the twining bramble of Smilax or “cat brier” that must have daily moved the soldiers to profanity as they attempted to clear the inhospitable land around the fort.
In 1735, after founding the new British colony at Savannah, General James Oglethorpe (who is the only person more famous than Justin Beiber since we saw his name and visage plastered everywhere in this state!) recruited a hardy group of willing Highland Scots to re-settle this spot at the mouth of the Altamaha river and christened it Darien.
Oglethorpe built another outpost on St. Simons Island where guests at The Lodge at Sea Island can watch bagpipers greet the sundown to commemorate the area’s Scots history.
The reconstructed buildings at Ft. King George include a blockhouse, barracks, a guardhouse and other structures. Also on view are the original remains of a 19th century saw milling operation.
If you go: Ft. King George is at 302 McIntosh Rd SE in Darien, GA and is located just a few miles off I-95 on the route from Sea Island to Savannah. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 9 am – 5 pm. Good for history buffs of all ages. Insect repellant recommended in warmer months.
Also of interest along this road is the historic Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation but be advised that the operating hours are not correctly listed on the nps.gov web site. Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation is NOT currently open Mondays, Tuesdays or Wednesdays.
“Just get through Orlando as fast as you can,” said Mark, as we left Sarasota to begin our road trip. We needed to travel from Florida’s Gulf coast to the Atlantic coast to be on course for our first stop at Georgia’s Sea Island.
Mark suggested St. Augustine as a place to stop to stretch our legs, have lunch and take a look around. I’d made a reservation at The Reef restaurant on the coast north of St. Augustine thinking we would enjoy the ocean view and then go into town to see the oldest settlement in the US. But the skies turned ominous north of Orlando and by the time we arrived at the Reef, the wind was up and rain had started. The weather has not been our friend on this trip.
We did drive along the narrow spit of land at Ponte Vedra where trusting souls have built beach homes that appear to be daring a hurricane to sweep them away. But the rain deterred us from going back into St. Augustine and we continued north.
What is your image of the state of Georgia? Mine was of red clay dirt and weathered rural houses viewed from the back seat as we wound down narrow “highways” back in the late 50′s during family driving trips to Florida. But as we crossed the border from Florida into Georgia last week, everything we saw was lush and green. Maybe because of all the rain we’ve encountered…
I initially booked us at The Cloister at Sea Island because it seemed like Savannah was too long a day drive from Sarasota. I wasn’t expecting all that much since I knew the resort dated back to the late 1920′s. So you can imagine my surprise when we stepped inside The Cloister’s main building and saw this:
It turns out that the Sea Island Company initiated an extensive renovation in 2003 and held so carefully to re-creating founder Harold Coffin’s vision of “restfulness” before hosting the G8 summit in 2004 that the resort actually went bankrupt when the economy went south in 2008.
Sea Island is not the easiest place to get to if you live on the West Coast or even from many places on the East Coast, but it is worth however many miles or plane changes you have to make to get there. We got the impression that (wealthy!) families return to The Cloister for summer vacations not just year after year but generation after generation.
As we wandered through the main building, we realized that our first stop might be the best of the trip. At every turn we noticed thoughtful attention to the guests’ comfort; from lemonade and cookies in the Conservatory to the chocolate “gold sovereigns” left on our bedside tables at turndown.
We felt like we had been transported to Wonderland, and indeed, as we explored the 1200+ acre resort, we discovered an old fashioned soda fountain at the beach club that is actually named Wonderland, and for good reason!
And it’s not just Wonderland for kids. The 65,000 square foot spa looks like an idyllic destination for adults.
The Mediterranean design of the resort hearkens back to the time when Spanish conquistadores established missions and settlements along the chain of more than one hundred barrier islands dotting the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
As we reluctantly left Sea Island to continue our travels, we stopped off at St. Simons Island to see Christ Church. Still hosting an active Episcopalian congregation, the lovely church dates back to 1808 and is the second oldest parish in the state of Georgia. It is especially notable for the fact that John Wesley preached there as an Episcopalian priest before returning to England and founding Methodism.
Next stop: the road to Savannah
The idea was to go someplace completely foreign without having to update our passports. And that, friends and readers, is how we ended up here in the deep South.
We eased into it with a familiar stepping-off point, bringing Phyllis along with us to Sarasota, FL where she is visiting the CE’s brother, Mark, his wife, Jean, and Soho-lookalike Pearlie Mae. Their son, Nick, will graduate from the US Naval Academy next month and we’re told we may get a sighting of daughter Laura, a University of Florida student, on our return visit at the end of our southern sojourn.
On Florida’s Gulf Coast, Sarasota bears no resemblance to its Atlantic coast relative, hot-blooded Miami. Simplistically, it’s way more Jimmy Buffet than Scarface. As we ambled around the village of Siesta Key, every corner seemed to boast a bar with a make-shift patio where mid-day revelers enjoyed a brewski or three while garage bands kept the volume on high. We, of course, were drinking coffee.
While the bands of Siesta Key may never rise to fame, its beach is known worldwide. In 2011, it was named Best Beach in America on Dr. Beach’s annual list in a nod to its sugary miles of quartz sand called the “finest and whitest in the world”.
Mark is a natural-born tour guide and he zipped us around Sarasota’s various neighborhoods during our brief stay there. We had a glimpse of chi-chi St. Armand’s Circle and enjoyed a fabulous dinner at Libby’s in Southside Village.
We also attended a play at Asolo Repertory’s stunning Mertz theatre, which was formerly the Dunfermline Opera House in Scotland prior to being dismantled and reconstructed in Sarasota.
Of course, we also made time for relaxation:
And for visiting with Pearlie Mae:
We would like to have stayed longer in Sarasota, but we had miles and miles to go before we slept so we packed up and headed for the great state of Georgia. Next stop: Sea Island.
I am an avid animal lover, but if you had asked me a few years back if it was possible to love a chicken (other than one on a plate drenched in lemon caper sauce) I would have said no. After all, given their reptilian feet, sharp beaks and beady eyes, what is there to love about a chicken?
All that changed in June, 2009, when our first little batch of chicks came off the mail truck. Once I cradled each of them successively in the palm of my hand, stroking their dandelion-soft down and listening to their plaintive peeping, I was a goner. Chicken love washed over me and has never abated.
Thus it is with great sadness that I must report the passing of two of my sweet hens: Lucy and Hope.
All had been well with the flock for quite awhile. We experienced unexplained losses of Lily at just six months and Amelia at a year or so and we struggled unsuccessfully to save Autumn from an internal laying condition in her second year. But lately everyone had been healthy and the hens were happily scratching about, enjoying the beginning of spring.
When you keep chickens, you become inextricably linked to their world. You notice tender shoots of grass and worms writhing in the soil. You are hyper-vigilant to the sounds of hawks. You even know the distinct voice of each of your hens and you know exactly where each hen stands in the pecking order. Hope, a Buff Orpington, was the broody mother stand-in for my second batch of chicks, and the undisputed leader of the flock. Lucy, a Speckled Sussex, was skittish and unsure, and occupied the unenviable spot at the bottom of the pecking order.
As a flock-keeper, you notice any changes in your hens’ behavior. While we were in NYC in March, both Lori and Ashleigh, who watched over things while we were away, noticed that Hope didn’t seem “quite right”. She perked up when we returned home, but still was not quite herself, although we couldn’t put a label on her symptoms other than that she wasn’t as interested in treats as usual and didn’t seem to want to take charge of her flock. She hadn’t laid since going broody last summer and molting in the fall, but at three years of age, I wasn’t sure if I should expect much in the way of eggs from her.
Then, last weekend, as we were about to leave for Newport Beach, I went into the coop and noticed that Hope had not come down from the roost that morning. When a chicken stops moving, all the alarm bells go off, and the CE rushed Hope to the vet. Dr. Sellers at the Cat and Bird Clinic was double-booked, as always, but took the time to look at Hope and called us to say that she thought it was a case of sour crop and there was a good chance that Hope would survive.
We heaved a sigh of relief and celebrated with pizza for lunch in Newport Beach. But our high spirits were short-lived.
We received a tearful call from Ashleigh on Sunday morning. She had checked on the hens first thing in the morning and all seemed well, but a bit later when she went over to the coop to let them out to free-range, she found Lucy dead on the floor of the coop.
After the first moment of shock, I immediately went to the twin fears of communicable disease or poison, given that two of my hens were affected. I asked Ashleigh to preserve Lucy’s body and she bravely ferried her to the vet on Monday morning for a necropsy. Dr. Sellers decided to send Lucy to a UC Davis facility in San Bernardino for a full work-up as she continued to try to heal Hope.
All week long we waited on news about both hens and I anxiously watched my other four for any signs of distress. They all seemed healthy, although it was clear that they were missing Hope’s leadership.
We were due to leave on another trip Thursday morning and hoped for some news on Friday. We’ve been putting in a new lawn and our underlying worry has been that something poisonous in the soil or amendments had affected the two hens and could be a threat to the remaining four.
More bad news was to come. We learned yesterday afternoon that Hope had passed away. We asked Dr. Sellers to perform a necropsy.
By day’s end, the mysteries were solved. Lucy had died of natural causes. One of her organs – either her liver or a kidney – had ruptured, probably as she jumped down from the roost in the morning – and she bled internally and died within minutes. There was nothing anyone could have done for her.
Dr. Sellers called back in the evening. She had lovingly tended Hope all week long and was probably as anxious as we were to understand what had killed her. As soon as she opened Hope up, the reason was clear: Hope had suffered from ovarian cancer that had spread to her digestive system. This explained why she had stopped laying and why she wasn’t eating. Again, there was nothing anyone could have done to save her.
We are so, so sad to lose these two beautiful girls and it grieves us to be reminded yet again how fragile hens are. A hen’s life-span is supposed to be at least five to seven years, but we have had no such luck. Hope would have been four in June and Lucy was only going to be two. Yet we are also so relieved to know that their loss was unavoidable and not due to a contagion or poison.
I know that everyone’s next question will be: are you going to get new chicks? Too soon to know. Four is such a tiny flock, but our hearts ache so right now and we wonder how many more times we can bear to say goodbye.
It’s probably too late to be posting Easter photos, but I just can’t resist bunny ears. We had such a nice Easter in the city! Both boys and assorted friends joined us and Angie and her family made the trek in from Bonxville. And Teri came all the way uptown from Brooklyn to round out our group to an even dozen. We worshipped at Redeemer Presbyterian on the UWS, where the line was a block long to enter the service.
After the service, we all walked down to Cafe Arte for brunch. We felt so blessed to spend Easter with so many of our favorite friends and family members.
The sun barely came out while we were in the city this trip, but I did get this photo late in the afternoon on Easter Sunday that reminded me of how much I love where we live there:
It took us two days to get home. All the bad juju from the UAL/Continental merger seems to have descended upon us. We’ve had cancellations in Chicago, LA and NYC now. I hope that fulfills our quota. Our luck may be turning, because just as they announced there would be no food for purchase on our rescheduled flight to LA the next day, our name was called and we were given our first biz class upgrade in over a year.
We arrived home to ridiculous animals and ginormous projects. We are replacing the entire front lawn in anticipation of Alexandra’s upcoming wedding. Multiple backhoes, lots of noise and consternation and every single animal we own daily caked in dirt. So glad we came home!
A few days after we returned to So Cal, Tina brought Caleigh up for the weekend to meet her great-grandmother. It was just the two of them since John had taken the two older girls for a skiing vacation in Utah. We all had a lot of fun convincing Caleigh that sleep is a good thing.
Have a happy weekend!