you’re planning a vacation to Savannah, Georgia. And for this
reason or that, you find yourself having a conversation with someone
and the subject of the trip begins to come up. At some point,
you make a very simple statement: “Yeah, we’re going to Savannah.”
of two reactions will follow.
“Oh, I’ve always wanted to go there!”
“You are going to have an incredible time!”
that’s pretty much it. It’s like some magic spell that Savannah
holds over people where only two responses are permissible. Reaction
one -- someone that hasn’t been to Savannah expresses that they
have it rated highly on their someday list. And reaction two --
someone that has been to Savannah confirms that it’s worthy of
a place near the top on everyone’s someday list.
there might be a person that does not offer one of those responses.
There could be people that don’t care at all about heading to
Savannah. After all, just about anything’s possible.
thing is… I’ve never met one. Not one.
all very mysterious. And you might not even think much of it.
Ellen, Richard and I have always wanted to go to Savannah. Plans
were put into motion for a visit. But as we mapped out our few
days and the vacation crept closer, something occurred to me.
All those people that loved Savannah? Yeah… umm… they never said
why they loved it.
someone you’re going to San Francisco. You’ll hear about the Golden
Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, wine country, and more.
DC? Smithsonian… Arlington… The White House… pandas at the National
Zoo… and more.
York? Times Square… Empire State Building… Statue of Liberty.
Australia? The Opera House… Harbour Bridge.
course I’m missing some fabulous sites in these cities, but as
examples you get the idea. Why wasn’t anyone openly sharing the
to-do list of Savannah?
I began asking a question whenever the subject came up and I had
been told I was going to love Savannah. I wanted to know what
types of places and things we should be sure to include. And every
time I asked these “You are going to have an incredible time!”
people what we should do, not one person provided a single suggestion.
the more I tried to get some thoughts, the more it concerned me.
from a person that seemed a bit confused that I would even ask
what to do, I was told that Savannah is just beautiful. (And it
couldn’t get a restaurant recommendation though… or experiences
with museums or historical sites… or advice on where to stay…
or… well, or anything.
I wasn’t alone. Once I mentioned it to Terry, Ellen and Richard,
they all realized that their experiences were the same.
were going to Savannah. We were excited to be going to Savannah.
People that had been to Savannah were telling us we should be
excited about going to Savannah. But apparently, no one knew why.
here we are… with my approaching the travel diaries, “Best of…”
columns, and other portions of our 2012 journey to Florida and
Georgia… and I’m glad that I took a few months to put things together.
It provided some perspective. Because even after the visit, I
find at times I’m still a bit confused by Savannah in ways that
are difficult to describe.
have arrived at a conclusion though.
is two distinct places… and one great place.
the tourist Savannah and the historic Savannah. And more so than
any other place I have ever been… any city, state, or country…
there is a divide between the touristy and the historical that
is difficult to separate and impossible to unite. Characteristics
blur. It’s really quite strange.
can start with the tourism.
you go to Savannah you will be stunned by the overwhelming presence
of two things: Number one… Paula Deen. Number two… Midnight
in the Garden of Good and Evil. I’m telling you this now…
and you might even tell yourself that you expect a lot of material
based on these two… and you can prepare for the onslaught… and
you will still be stunned by how much they are on display.
are the driving forces behind the bus tours… the shops… the restaurants…
and everything else. They provide tourism and touchstones and
connections to virtually every element of life in Savannah. And
honestly, nothing else is close. Even when not directly mentioning
Paula or the book, you’ll get references to The Lady and Sons
restaurant and the Bird Girl statue. These culinary and literary
giants cast an immense shadow across the region, which in turn
is frankly shocking considering the longevity of the city and
its place in history.
not the only touristy aspect of the city of course. The shops…
especially along the water… will seem familiar to anyone that
has been to San Francisco, Fort Lauderdale, Newport, or another
recognizable waterside destination. Obviously the beaches and
mansions and histories change… but the concept is the same. Been
there… bought the t-shirt.
near the Savannah River is East River Street. And strolling along
this road you’ll come across places to shop and eat. Check out
what I wrote about John’s
Pass Boardwalk after a 2010 visit to Madeira Beach in Florida:
some of the shops were kind of boring. Seemed like the pattern
of stores repeated at every fourth door. (Door number one… shells
and dolphin statues and discount t-shirts, none of which truly
captured the feeling of Madeira Beach but seemed more likely
set up to be just cheap enough and just beach-themed enough
to take a dollar or two out of your pocket. Door number two…
perhaps a restaurant or bar or store selling water. Door number
three… something amazing and different and unusual that really
attracted you by offering brilliant original stuff, plus the
feeling that if you didn’t pay attention and look at everything
you were definitely missing something. Door number four… shells
and dolphin statues and discount t-shirts, none of which truly
captured the feeling of Madeira Beach but seemed to be ordered
from exactly the same catalogue that was used at door number
one (and I mean, exactly the same catalogue). Door number five…
perhaps a restaurant or bar or store selling water… and you
see how this is beginning to repeat.) The goal was to get to
as many door number three locations as possible.
in Savannah on East River Street? Same idea… bought the t-shirt.
mentioned that things blur though.
were talking to a waiter in a restaurant on our first night. We
had parked our car and planned on spending the after-dinner hours
walking around the area and wondered if there were some things
we should look for. He talked a bit in generalities… surprise,
still no specific advice, “it’s all great”… and then he mentioned
how much he loved the history of River Street.
years ago… not decades ago… quite literally centuries ago, the
ships sailing from Europe into Savannah would come across the
ocean and up the Savannah River loaded with ballast stones for
stability. They would pick up cargo and leave the ballast stones
behind. These stones were in turn used in the construction of
buildings… stairs… and, for this waiter’s story most specifically,
for the actual street of River Street.
Street is a cobblestone road of sorts -- formed from the very
history… the very ballast stones… of the city’s early days. It
is quite impressive and stunning when you are standing on River
Street and are aware of this.
combine things. Touristy like everyplace… filled with unique and
amazing historical significance few locations could compare with…
literally woven into the fabric of the city.
want touristy? Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and
the Bird Girl are on display in every gift shop, from copies of
the book to different sizes of the statue. And suddenly, it blurs,
and you are on Bull Street… across from Monterey Square… at the
want touristy? You find The Lady and Sons… cookbooks and Paula
Deen bus tours… referrals to Uncle Bubba’s. And then that overlap
comes into play… just casually speaking to the owner of The Christmas
Shop on Bull Street and she asks if you’re in the area for lunch.
And when you ask why she refers you to the greatest restaurant
you might ever set foot in -- Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room.
isn’t simply what you experience… it’s how you experience it.
And that can create quite a different visit to this gorgeous city.
it is striking.
people we met were all wonderful.
those advising me though, I will break the spell and give you
and check out some of the squares and get to Forsyth Park -- all
different and filled with history, while claiming a place in the
incredible design of the city. Do not miss the Cathedral of St.
John the Baptist -- one of the most breathtaking and brilliant
places I have ever set foot inside. And, whatever you do, get
to The Wilkes House for the meal of a lifetime.
Park and the Savannah Squares… the St. John Cathedral… Mrs. Wilkes’
Dining Room… the three must-do places of Savannah.
casual thoughts? Ok. Please stop in The Christmas Shop on Bull
Street. Friendly people there. (Conveniently located near Madison
Square… and very near St. John’s.)
see at least one of the historic homes. I’d refer you to the Mercer
House (actually called the Mercer-Williams House), but there are
several worthy of note and I’m certain would offer a fascinating
tour as Savannah’s bygone days merge with current events.
could go on… but that is the perfect start. You can build from
when it comes to Savannah… I can’t tell you that you will have
an incredible time on your visit. That’s going to be up to you,
and how you decide to experience it. What I can tell you is that
this city is amazing and wonderful… you just might need to be
open and flexible with your expectations and plans.