Sunday, May 16, 2010

A Weekend in the Garden of Good and Evil

I love traveling as much as I love writing, so it's a bit of wonder why it took me so long to blend the two. This is my first attempt at travel writing, and I think I like it.

Paraphrasing from John Berendt’s novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, “The whole of Savannah is an is isolated, and gloriously so. A little enclave on the coast, surrounded by nothing but marshes and piney woods, and not easy to get to. If you fly there, you usually have to change planes at least’s a terribly inconvenient destination!”

But, oh, how worthwhile that journey is.

Upon arriving in Savannah, my first stop is always a place called Fiddlers, where I sit on the upper balcony overlooking the Savannah River, inhaling the fresh air. It is here that my blood pressure drops and my neck tension releases. It is here that life is good. I found it by chance, but I think maybe it found me and said, “this is where you’ll sit a spell.”

So how do you get the most out of a weekend in this fair city, nicknamed the “Hostess City of the South?”

The only way to stay in Savannah is at a historic bed and breakfast. The city is full of them, each one unique, and many offer a little something extra that you won’t find at a chain hotel. A resident ghost--or at least the legend of one--is common. In fact, Savannah boasts some of the finest ghost tours you’ll find in the South, which detail more stories of skeletons in closets and unexplained beings than you’ve likely ever heard before. You can even take a ghost tour while riding around in a hearse for a truly spooky experience.

Now, depending on where you’re from, Savannah may take a little adjustment time. If you’re city folk, slow down a bit. In Savannah you walk slower, you talk slower. The city just wants you to relax. Take your time, Savannah’s not going anywhere.

Understand that this is a walking city. To get the most out of what’s really worth seeing, put on your comfortable shoes and head toward the riverfront through the historic district.

The historic district is situated around 21 grassy squares, or small parks, which are over 150 years old. Most have a noble statue or a fountain in memoriam to a war hero or other city historic figure; all have benches and grand oak trees, with blooming azaleas in the springtime. Remember the scenes from the movie Forrest Gump where Forrest was sitting on the bus stop bench? That was filmed in Savannah’s Chippewa Square. That bench is no longer there, but you’ll recognize the square nonetheless. And don’t be surprised to see an eccentric old woman in a fancy hat pushing her Pekingese in a baby carriage, or art students sitting on a bench, sketching.

The district is easy to navigate, and sidewalks are plenty, but keep a basic map handy just to keep the street names straight.

It is through this easy meandering that you will discover part of the city’s exceptional beauty: its architecture. From Georgian and Greek Revival mansions to colonial rowhouses, hidden gardens and brick alley passageways, you’ll find yourself peering through wrought-iron gates in search of a peek at a hidden treasure. You don’t have to be a student of architecture to appreciate Savannah’s dedication to both historic preservation and old Southern charm.

But all this walking can make a person hungry. Being a coastal city means many things, not the least of which is delectable seafood. The riverfront section on River Street is full of casual restaurants serving up the fresh catch of the day. I especially recommend the crab cakes at Fiddler’s.

From here one can meander down the clunky cobblestone street—remember those comfortable shoes, this is not for the stiletto crowd, trust me—and grab an icy drink. Savannah knows everyone is happier with a cold drink in hand, and has a relaxed attitude on folks who prefer to amble with a go-cup.

If the feets are achin’ but the soul is still willing for more Savannah touring, there are many options. Tours are always circling, just take your pick of your desired mode of transportation: horse-pulled carriage, motorized trolley, Segway...hearse. Tours are affordable and all give an excellent overview of historic points of interest, and tour guides are personable and quaint, giving a wonderful representation of Southern Hospitality with humorous commentary.

But don’t think you’ll see everything in one weekend; you won’t. Savannah is a city of great warmth and kindness, but it delights in teasing you to come back for more. And you will want to.

It clings to your memory like so much Spanish moss clinging to the boughs of a 300-year-old live oak. No need to brush it away, though. Savannah will welcome you back, anytime, with a cold drink and a soft breeze. Savannah’s an old friend with an open gate; come on back anytime, Sugar.

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