Welcome to Savannah
Bob and Terry on Tour 2012, with Ellen and Richard
Days One, Two, Three and Four


As part of this trip to Florida, the four of us decided that we all wanted to take a few days and head to a place none of us had ever been -- Savannah, Georgia.

So on Monday morning, we got up, finished off a couple of errands, and hit the road.

Because of the location, I’ve kept this separate from the 2012 Florida entries, which you can begin by looking here for “Days One, Two and Three”… or… head over to the Travel section of the site. You can also check out my Savannah overview -- “A Tale of Two City” -- as a way of preparing for this journey.

For us… it’s time to get out of bed and start the day…

Day one – Monday, October 1, 2012

We’ve only been awake and moving for a few minutes, but Terry is already smiling and happy.

She’s just gotten off the phone… she called that Monday-Friday Southwest customer service number… and things went wonderfully.

I heard most of the conversation (at least from our end), and it sounded very friendly and smooth. When her call was answered, Terry politely asked if she was speaking to someone that could help her as she only wanted to cover all the details one time. She followed that up by quickly outlining the flight number, what happened, and the story of the wet luggage upon arrival. And, she finished it by saying exactly what she was looking for in return.

She was off the phone in less than two minutes, with an approval for what she wanted. (And… full credit and applause to Southwest… I even had an e-mail confirmation of everything before we got out the door this morning. Great effort on their part. Thank you Southwest.)

Sam will be staying in the kennel with his vet, and we are dropping him off as we leave Ocala. So the bags are packed and loaded in the car… Sam is getting a final walk… and everyone is ready to go.

Oh… wait… Ellen wants to get gas for the car.

“Which way is the gas station Richard?”

“The one you normally go to is past the highway, so it’s a bit out of the way.”

“I know. I want the other one.”

Before Richard can respond, Ellen quickly slides the car over two lanes and then turns left while saying “it’s right there.”

There’s silence as she pulls up to the pump. She turns to look at Richard. “Almost missed it. Where were you on that one?”

Richard… wisely and showing tremendous experience… smiles, nods, and silently gets out to pump the gas.

One of the great restaurant finds when we were in south Florida back in 2009 was J. Alexander’s. We’ve got the address of a location in Jacksonville, and have decided that since it doesn’t seem out of the way we’re going to target it for lunch.

We find the restaurant and are immediately hit with a problem. No calamari. It was highly recommended to us back in 2009… and after we had it, we agreed it was tremendous. Not on today’s menu though.

Richard digs in for his classic, reliable anywhere order… a burger. Ellen goes for the white bean soup and a Caesar’s salad. Terry and I order to split -- onion rings, not your ordinary mac n cheese, and a barbecue bacon chicken sandwich. We all enjoy our meals, settle back in the car, and prepare for the remainder of the drive to Savannah.

I don’t want this to sound bad… but there isn’t much of a way to cushion this. I’ve driven roads all around this country. And there is something about almost every one of them. Character would be one good term for it. A regional flair might work as a concept… though that can often be an idea quite tied in to the season of your visit as well. The point is… even the most desolate and barren of highways generally have some unique features that can elevate them above boring. (Note I said boring… elevating them above tedious is something completely different.) Now… that established… the stretch of interstate 95 between Jacksonville and Savannah might just be the most boring stretch of highway I have ever driven.

We’re talking roughly 135-140 miles of three lanes north, and three lanes south, and steady trees off to the side, and nothing else. I mean seriously… the three lanes even make it so it’s really difficult to get stuck behind someone, which means during routine traffic you can’t even waste time complaining about the way the guy in front of you is driving.

(Hey… guess what I found? It’s the Florida Highway Landscape Guide. Really! I don’t know if it’s active policy. (And the link is no longer active.) I couldn’t read the whole thing… and it was submitted in April of 1995. But it is dedicated to the idea that: “The Sunshine State’s strong tourist-based economy is dependent upon a well-maintained and aesthetically pleasing highway system.” Isn’t that a great concept? Well… of course it is. Unfortunately, we’re crossing over to Georgia. And we… areBORED.)

I suggest we try the license plate game... rattling off the different states we can find on the cars and trucks driving along with us. Ellen grabs a pad of paper and we get started.

Things go great with the game. And… for the most part… they continue to go great all the way until we are approaching the hotel. But two things need to be mentioned.

  • I started talking about The Lady and Sons restaurant and our plans. Since we aren’t sure which days we are going to do what, I’m wondering if this is something we all want to do. (It is.) We mentioned possibly seeking it out today, and if so I point out that maybe it should be something we check on now for tonight’s dinner in case you need reservations. Terry calls to make sure they’re open, and we all agree on heading there for dinner tonight.
  • As fun as the game is, Ellen is getting tired of writing down the states. So, Terry takes the pad from her. Within five minutes, she’s tearing out the sheet and re-writing it. Ellen had started keeping the names as we rattled them off, but quickly realized how hard double-checking them was going to become when not in alphabetical order. She had stayed on the same page, but since she knew what she had done when she restarted, she wasn’t having any problems with the scratch outs and scribbles. Once she passed it to Terry… well… do you know how many states begin with the letter M? Here’s a hint… it’s more than you would think. And Ellen didn’t give much of a gap between Louisiana and Nebraska. So once Maine begins messing with her, Terry decides to begin the listing again. (The answer is eight states… Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota Mississippi, Missouri and Montana. And in Ellen’s defense, keeping the listing is not an easy job.)

A few things from the license plate game.

  • First… why are so many of the license plates on trucks from Maine? Tennessee too. Is it something in the registration process?
  • Always check both plates on a truck. A semi will regularly have different plates on the tractor than what is on the trailer. Depends on the rules you set up in your game, but nabbing two states with one unit is pretty sweet.
  • Wisconsin. I don’t know why, but Wisconsin seems to be the forgotten state. And by that, I mean the one where it comes up frequently enough, but no one seems to remember you already have it -- “Oh look… Wisconsin. Do we have Wisconsin?” And then the same comments would repeat every ten to fifteen minutes as if it had never been mentioned.
  • We ended up collecting forty states. In our experience that seems to be really good. The first ten are a breeze, and usually getting to twenty is simple enough. As you close in on twenty-five though, it starts to become frustrating. You tire of seeing Maine and Tennessee on virtually all of the trucks, and know every option and variation available on plates from the state you’re in and the three or four adjacent to it. Clear thirty and, well – you begin chanting a list of the states you haven’t seen… if you were crossing Arizona, you might begin to wonder what you need to do to find any New England states… you consider whether or not North and South Dakota really are harder to find than Rhode Island… you think about what types of attractions could be close that might entice a tourists from Hawaii or Alaska to be there with their cars… and so on.

We’re closing in on the hotel… the Residence Inn Midtown on White Bluff Road. As we’ll discover, the location isn’t bad, though it is definitely not in the center of everything.

(We had never been promised it was in the center of everything. We were led to believe we could get to most anything in 10-15 minutes of driving, and that was definitely true enough.)

There are no ends to the funny items you keep encountering when trying to plan a visit to Savannah. While we were doing our research, we kept stumbling across comments that had us thinking about issues we normally place on the backburner. For example… parking.

I mention this because when doing your research online, you need to be able to consider the sources of comments and reviews, and filter the information. There are plenty of fake and misleading reviews out there. Sorry to say it… it’s true. And for this trip, quite often, off to the side or in the review sections for a hotel, restaurant or attraction, there it was -- something indicating that parking was limited. The thing is… even with our “skeptical of critiques and reviews” approach… the idea of keeping an open mind meant when it kept coming up it was there often enough that had us seeking it out as a potential concern. We never did have any real problems with parking during our visit, and yet I can recall searching a few times for places in a lot or for an open meter on the road. I could definitely see where parking could be an issue.

Ultimately… we selected the Midtown location of the Residence Inn because we wanted a suite-type of arrangement, and felt good about the price and amenities we were seeing. And overall… really good choice.

They offered a breakfast that was fantastic and varied enough that each morning was a treat, plus afternoon snacks and wine that were really good. Hey… low cost hotel option and a quick meal or snack… if you were expecting bacon-wrapped scallops and a $500 bottle to be opened, that’s your fault. What the Residence Inn provided was solidly in the good category, and we’ll get to more of this as our stay develops.

For now… we’re at the front desk, speaking with Patricia, and she is fantastic. Bubbly, friendly and helpful, she runs through all of the details we need to get started. Only…

Ok… in keeping with the experiences we’ve had with everyone so far… Patricia doesn’t really tell us anything specific to do. (I’ll come back to what she does recommend in a second.) But one thing she does provide us with is a compass… a guiding star… a building block.

Abercorn Street.

Savannah is an amazingly easy place to drive when you understand some of the basics about its design. There are curveballs… a tangled web of one-way streets… the famous squares… increasing and decreasing road widths complicated by parking patterns and straight-only versus turn-only lanes… and other peculiarities that I suppose would seem quaint and obvious and hardly bothersome once you got used to them. For the most part though, the roads are true and straight. And once you are handed a piece of information like Abercorn Street… a lot comes together in front of you.

Abercorn Street is one of the main roads to use in accessing Savannah. Only when you drive in, you learn about it as route 204 and not by the name Abercorn. It leads from the “midtown” areas directly into the “historic” districts. The street address for The Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist is on East Harris -- in reality you drive around Lafayette Square and walk into the church off of Abercorn Street.

Let’s get back to Patricia…

She gives us information about the hotel and answers some questions about general things. The one specific thing she does recommend is a trolley tour. Now… we didn’t heed her advice on that. But, we did see that trolley, and its stops, all over the place. I’m not saying to use it -- we drove and did fine with navigating around and finding parking -- but the trolley she pointed out to us seemed to have stops at all the major locations. I’m not even going to name it, since there are multiple tours around and we didn’t ride any of them. Plus I can’t say anything good or bad about it. We decided against it because we didn’t like the hours it was running and preferred to have the freedom to move around at our own pace to any of the attractions we were so inclined to seek out. In summary… it wasn’t a bad recommendation.

We settle in to the room, organize our moving-around materials (such as… oh, I don’t know… my backpack), and get ready to head out. We’ve decided to look toward the City Market area, which will put us near The Lady and Sons. (How do we get there? Left on Abercorn, drive straight into Historic Savannah, turn left and drive until we see a parking lot next to the City Market area. Yeah… basically if you eliminate getting out of the parking lot at the hotel, it was two turns. And as noted a moment ago, the drive took us through a couple of squares and past St. John’s.)

It is during this run that we begin to see the moss in the trees. And… I can tell you… it is an amazing sight. At night it creates an almost haunting atmosphere in the light from the moon or streetlamps. (Actually… not almost. It does create a haunting atmosphere.) During the day it adds a fullness to the trees in a way no other place I’ve been can claim. And to say there is a lot of moss doesn’t even really capture the reality.

We cross the street and hit Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. (They have two locations… one here in City Market, and another we will later find on River Street. Pralines were very good… and very sweet.) Terry and Ellen meander into a shop they found interesting called Twinkle. (Some cute stuff… the girls were very entertained.) And then we all decided to try the wine tasting at a shop for Meinhardt Vineyards.

Now… Meinhardt…

First of all… they have some lovely boxers in their family. Gorgeous puppies.

Next up… the wines… they were good. I think we each tasted about five, and I believe we all enjoyed everything we tried. A bit different… but not necessarily better than anything we’ve had in other places.

We head out of the market area and on to West Congress Street. We’re just a few blocks from The Lady and Sons, and as we walk we point out a few shops we are thinking about checking out later.

First up though, we turn into the Paula Deen Store. It’s nice… but the best part of it for Terry was the old magazine issues that they are offering for, as I recall, one dollar per issue. Now we like Paula, and have enjoyed making (and eating) several of her dishes. However, there wasn’t much in the store tugging at our wallets.

Around the corner we head into The Lady and Sons. And… well…

Everything on the menu is $22 or more. Ok… I get it… price probably shouldn’t be the thing, and that’s not really a truly fair place to start. Plus, if you look over the dinner menu, everything isn’t $22 or more… just seven out of the eight entrees with prices listed. I’m just saying that it’s a bit shocking to walk into Paula’s place -- where you might be expecting comfort and an easy-going feeling -- and see chicken pot pie for $18.99. And that’s the lowest-priced entrée at an establishment featuring plenty of tourists and a very casual atmosphere.

But let’s not talk price. What we need to consider is Ellen and Richard.

Terry has fallen in love with the idea of a crab stuffed shrimp, wrapped in bacon, served with a lemon basil cream sauce, jasmine rice, and asparagus. I’m looking over things and, honestly nothing is really jumping out and grabbing my attention. And with so much based on seafood (six of the entrees) it seems like The Lady’s Southern Buffet is getting my vote.

Ellen and Richard are not fans of buffets. From what I’ve gathered, it is in part because of the all-you-can-eat concept. And you have to stretch that out to what it means for preparation and service… not necessarily as a statement on the quality of the food being offered. They’d simply prefer to not feel stuffed to the gills by too much food, and also prefer an individually prepared dish instead of a mass produced and on a steam table item. I understand these points.

They both order the buffet.

(Wait… what? Ellen and Richard both ordered the buffet? Yup. Three buffets. One crab stuffed shrimp. And truth be told, we probably should have gone with the chicken pot pie.)

The best part of the meal? Easy… dessert. The buffet comes with a choice of three items… so we get servings of the chocolate gooey cake, banana puddin’, and peach cobbler. Those were all fantastic.

We ask out waiter for some thoughts on the best places to settle in for the evening… a run of shops to check out… maybe a bar or place to get a drink or hear some music… any options for the night. He gives us a history of the cobblestones on River Street. (I mentioned it in “A Tale of Two City”…)

Not 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.

River 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.

However, other than pointing us in the direction of River Street… I know you’ll be stunned… we don’t get many specific recommendations from him.

We turn onto Whitaker Street and begin the walk toward the water. After heading down a flight of stairs, we hit River Street at an amazing sight… Cracked Earth – A World Apart. It’s a striking sculpture… a monument to World War II.

Off in the distance is the Talmadge Memorial Bridge, and we spend a few minutes alternating between looking at A World Apart and watching the boats on the Savannah River.

The group isn’t talking much. It was actually something I noticed right around the time we ordered three buffets. I’m not sure how to interpret it… it’s almost like everyone is trying to figure out Savannah, as if it isn’t connecting with us in a way we expected.

After looking through a few stores, including a very nice Christmas shop, we decide to head back to the car and get in some cards before bed. We stop for a bit of candy and then we’re off to the Residence Inn.

Ellen and Bob took the game of Hand and Foot.

Day two – Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Our suite consists of two bedrooms. Each has its own bath.

Last night, when we went to bed and closed the door, Terry and I found a large gap between the two doors that led to our room. All four of us commented about the noise overnight, most of which seemed to be created by what sounded exactly like a helicopter flying overhead.

(In trying to research the noise I found many comments about a military base nearby. Zero clue if this means anything as to what we heard… but sure enough, Hunter Army Airfield is right there. I don’t know if this is true or not, but evidently, this air base specializes in helicopter pilot training.)

The end result is that as we are in the process of getting ready, there are a few overlapping conversations taking place. Most of it involves yesterday. Some of it involves the construction and location of our hotel. It seems as though all of us are a bit underwhelmed right now by Savannah.

Nothing’s wrong. Nothing’s bad -- at least not in a wet suitcase kind of way, or to the level of a real issue.

It’s hard to put a true description on it. But if I was forced to try, I’d simply say that if you asked us at any point between the moment we decided to visit Savannah all the way until we made the left turn onto Abercorn the night before, we NEVER would have guessed that three of the four of us would order a buffet for any of our Savannah meals. (And yet, there it was it, part of the first meal of the trip and, of all places, at The Lady and Sons.)

Savannah is out of tune right now… out of focus… something is distorted. And none of us can really explain what it is. After being told over and over again that Savannah can be described by just one word -- awesome -- it is obvious that we aren’t certain where to head to find that awesome Savannah.

Funny how things can change though… because we’re minutes away from one of those small moments in life that you cherish (and a rain storm away from a major breakthrough).

The Savannah Midtown Residence Inn by Marriott serves a complimentary breakfast. It features a waffle station, breads and muffins and pastries, fruit, cereals, and so on. The only way to describe it -- and please understand, I’ve had complimentary breakfasts in many places, some of them very well run and good -- is that at this place it’s extraordinary.

The four of us have a really diverse set of tastes… some of us look for fruits, some must have coffee, and others aren’t drawn to either of those as initial morning thoughts… and yet somehow this small hotel is going beyond satisfying for all of us. (While offering suites, I believe they fall between 60 and 70 total rooms, which is one of the smallest I have ever seen that offered a decent breakfast option.) I don’t want to go crazy here -- it’s a free, hotel-based, serve-yourself breakfast folks -- and yet it was perfect for us, the morning staff was incredibly friendly, and honestly… we all left the lobby area with smiles and a completely fresh outlook on the day.

In the room we finalize some thoughts that we were kicking around while we ate. We are going to start the day out at the railroad museum, and then head in to see the St. John Cathedral. (I hope you can forgive me for taking the “Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist” and abbreviating it here and there.)

If you read the diary from the first days of this trip, you might recall that back in Ocala we had been looking around at some options for Savannah and what attractions to seek out. And I mentioned that our results were, to say the least, pretty vanilla. We were finding out about the squares… heard about City Market… and, the reason for this aside, we saw two railroad museums listed. The thing is… the Georgia State Railroad Museum and the Roundhouse Railroad Museum had different entries, but seemed to have the exact same street address.

Mi Luv U is working fine, but the streets are giving us some troubles. The Roundhouse Railroad Museum is located at an address of 601 West Harris Street. It is just one museum, and while the primary name is the Roundhouse, it is also known as the Georgia State Railroad Museum. The main way to get in is off of Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. The trouble we find is, the museum really isn’t on West Harris at all. We parked in the street… at a corner near the end of West Harris and just outside the semi-circular wall of the museum’s main building… but had to walk along paths, around fences, and use the edge of the building to lead us to the gift shop and ticket counter.

The girls are in a silly mood. Richard loves trains… so he’s happy. And while all of us enjoy history, I tend to really get a bit absorbed by places like this. The girls are trying to figure out how to ditch the two of us for the rest of the morning.

(I exaggerate… but not by much.)

One of the first exhibits is a show… a video… in an old boxcar. All four of us sit down and begin watching. After about five minutes, Ellen and Terry get up and take off.

Remember I said they were in a silly mood? Well, they find a passenger car with a sleeper section and decide they’re going to scare us. They hide and begin to wait.

And wait…

…and wait…

…and wait…

…and “Where the hell are those two?” continue to wait…

…and wait…

…and “Did they go by us?” continue to wait…


After about twenty or thirty minutes they give up. They climb back into the center of the car and start looking out windows. After not seeing us wandering around the main display area, eventually they backtrack and -- they’re reaction was close to rolling eyes and “oh hell no” -- they find us sitting in exactly the same places we were when they left, still watching the show.

See… we actually sat down after it began, and it cycled around and started again. And there were parts we missed. The two of us had been listening and laughing and pointing and really having just a great time learning some very surprising facts.

The girls though… not only was their perfect scare-the-boys plan thwarted (actually, it was pretty much thwarted after they almost gave another couple at least one heart attack), but they now knew we were settling in and planning to look at virtually everything (with three or four more buildings to go). To say the morning was headed in a direction they hadn’t planned would be an understatement.

All kidding aside, The Roundhouse Railroad Museum is pretty cool and interesting. I won’t lie to you and try to say it will keep everyone’s attention from the moment you buy the tickets until you are leaving hours later with a stuffed bag from the gift shop. (Because it won’t.) And yet all of us kept stumbling on items throughout the property… including the “ghost staircase” and looking up a 120-plus-foot smokestack… that were something we had never seen before, really neat, or just captured our imagination.

As our visit begins to wind down and we walked around some of the last areas to see, we talk about where we might head next and how lunch might eventually be accomplished, and I make a suggestion that everyone seems thrilled by… a picnic.

My idea is to head over toward Lafayette Square and the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist so we can see both of those. And, after that, Forsyth Park is nearby. So… visit the cathedral and go inside, check out a square a bit more closely than we had driving around last night, and then get a to-go lunch to enjoy in the park.

Before we leave though… a conversation takes place in the gift shop. I’m about to learn more about the Bird Girl.

More than seventy years ago, Sylvia Shaw Judson created a sculpture called Bird Girl. It depicts a young girl holding bowls in slightly outstretched arms. Four statues were created from the original mold. One of these was bought by a family in Savannah, Georgia, and placed in family’s area of a local cemetery.

About twenty years ago, John Berendt released his celebrated book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Jack Leigh was hired as a photographer, and assigned the task of capturing an image to use on the cover of the book. Leigh, a Savannah native, ended up in the Bonaventure Cemetery, where he took the simply brilliant image of the Bird Girl statue. Many people have attributed a portion of the book’s success to the stunning picture.

As a result of the immense popularity of Savannah, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and the Bird Girl, the statue was moved from the Bonaventure Cemetery. And what I learned in the gift shop was that the Bird Girl is on a long-term loan to the Telfair Museums, and is on display in Savannah at the Telfair Museum of Art.

We get back to the car and drive for only a few minutes before we arrive near the corner of Abercorn and East Liberty… where we park and get ready to head over to the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.

I will tell you right now, the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist could be the most amazing church I have ever set foot in. It is beautiful… historic… and impressively maintained. Magnificent is a word used on the cathedral’s web site, and magnificent it is.

I’ll let some of my pictures do most of the talking about this gorgeous place… but honestly, they don’t do it justice. It is, easily, a must for any visit to Savannah… especially a first visit.

While inside, I debate purchasing an ornament of their Rose Window. My father has one from our church at home, and I’m thinking it will be a great gift for him.

We leave the street and cross over to Lafayette Square.

I’ve said… here in this diary a bit, and more in “A Tale of Two City”… that Savannah has been a mystery for me, and one that unfolds over time and through experience. The concept of “squares” was one such mystery.

Now… I’m not saying a mystery from the concept of trying to grasp the idea of them. When you learn about Savannah, you learn about how the city was designed. When reading about the city, that includes descriptions of the gorgeous settings created by moss-laden trees. When reading about the city, that includes hearing about its many squares. And… for me at least… when reading about the city, that meant I was trying to unite the idea of squares with the concept of a park.

And in many ways… this works. And yet, then again, it doesn’t.

So… what does work?

Think more of roundabouts.

Yup… it’s driving around Savannah that the reality of the squares begins to fall into place for me. It’s the one-way streets and traffic patterns around them, and seeing them in person to get a grasp of their size and location and the buildings nearby. That begins to place it all into perspective.

Now… look… the park theory isn’t far off. Almost every one of them contains a dedication, or a memorial, and/or some historical significance. And they are not roundabout in size… several are a minimum of a city block and a few are larger.

But once you experience the reality of this truly designed city in person instead of in your head or from a map… well, you can adjust and see a pattern of sorts. Not a perfect pattern… but a pattern. There’s a flow to driving around, and the squares are a very real part of that flow.

Lafayette Square? It’s a beautiful place to see. There is a nice fountain in the center of the square.

As we head back to the car, we’ve decided to move over near Madison Square. This is located along Bull Street. There is a Christmas shop -- funny enough, called The Christmas Shop -- that I want to stop and check out. And I figure between the square and the shop, we’ll be arriving quite nicely up against the time to head out and prepare for our picnic lunch.

Inside The Christmas Shop, we are given some amazing advice. While making a few small purchases, a terrific conversation begins. Turns out that there is a connection back to Rhode Island for the staff, and we’re having a great time. And it eventually turns to us going for lunch... and I am about to ask the magic “if you were us, where would you…” but I can’t even get to the question. I was just going to ask where to get some sandwiches. But the person we were speaking with heard us mention lunch was next and asked…

“Are you going to Mrs. Wilkes’?”

Turns out we’re a couple of blocks away from the best meal… well, not just in Savannah, but possibly the best meal in the entire world. (And that is not an exaggeration.)

The Christmas Shop itself is a terrific representation of Savannah at its best… unique items, decent pricing (there was easily enough items of interest to appeal to any visitor, a few collectibles were pricey), and a very friendly staff. I came back later in the day, and the person we spoke with wasn’t there. Still got great service.

As far as Mrs. Wilkes’… our conversation turns to a few warnings. Lines traditionally start no later than about an hour before the 11am opening. Usually earlier. And, if you aren’t in line by 10:30, you’ll be lucky to be seated before noon. Also… by the way… Mrs. Wilkes is open from 11am until 2pm.

I’ll let that set in.

And now… I’ll repeat.

Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room… a place that I am telling you right now, ahead of the coverage of our visit, delivered one of the finest experiences and some of the most delicious food I have eaten any place in the world (in fact, some of the best food any of the four of us have ever eaten)… is open Monday through Friday for three hours each day.

They do not accept reservations.

They do not accept credit cards.

The price for lunch is an insanely and ridiculously underpriced $18 per person.

I skip over to Madison Square to take a few pictures, and then meet everyone back at the car. The sky is threatening rain, so we decide to take a chance. Hey… it’s Tuesday… roughly 12:30… let’s drive by Mrs. Wilkes’.

Over we go to West Jones Street, and before even turning off of Whitaker Street we see a line. We decide to continue along with the picnic idea… risk the rain… and make a unanimous group decision to be in line no later than 10am on Wednesday at 107 West Jones.

The night before we had seen a place called Atlanta Bread. It looked like a sandwich place in the spirit of what we recognize at home as Panera… serving bread along with an assortment of menu items. Terry had seen a place called Gigi’s Cupcakes while we were driving along Abercorn. So the decision was made… sandwiches and a cupcake for our picnic.

I won’t go out of my way to recommend Atlanta Bread or Gigi’s to you. What I can say is that all of us were satisfied with our selections and enjoyed the meal. The food was good… nothing too memorable though (and I even have notes about what we tried).

What I can tell you is that as we left The Christmas Shop, finished scoping out The Wilkes House, and passed Forsyth Park, the sky opened up. I mean… it opened up. Seriously… buckets of water cascading down.

As we arrived at Atlanta Bread, it was still raining hard, and we decided to move our picnic into the hotel suite. We were only about a block away, and thought it would be more comfortable eating and playing cards on a table while we waited out the storm.

The move paid off. By the time we were unwrapping the cupcakes and finishing our meal, the rain had stopped. Within ten more minutes, the sun was out.

We drove back to St. John’s so I could run in and purchase the Rose Window ornament (Dad loved it), and then headed to Forsyth Park.

It’s only about two blocks wide, so to try and even make the comparison of Forsyth to New York’s Central Park isn’t really something I can pull off if you want to debate me in depth. However… in general terms, I like the comparison. Forsyth Park occupies about 30 acres according to what I’ve been able to find, and has a very nice fountain as one featured attraction. There are several walking paths, plenty of open areas for play, and room for just sitting around to observe the surroundings. The park is also used for concerts and organized athletic activities.

We wrap up our visit to Forsyth and begin to kick around thoughts of what to do next. I had been debating suggesting the lighthouse on Tybee Island, and that gets some interest from the group. We fire up Mi Luv U, plug in the lighthouse, and find out it will take about thirty minutes to get there. Decision made.

The drive out to the Tybee Island Museum and Light Station is, for all intents and purposes, a drive along US-80. That’s misleading though. And between the Savannah River and a wildlife refuge, there is plenty of interesting scenery along the way.

We arrive to find… well… it’s Tuesday. And I’m guessing just about anyone in the Savannah area can tell you the Tybee Lighthouse is closed on Tuesdays.

No one is complaining though. Sure… would have been nice to do more than get out of the car, walk around a bit, and take a couple of pictures. Still… was a nice drive.

On the way back in, we stop at a fruit stand. The idea is to get some peaches… a treat for Mumbles Sabetta… and Terry also has a chance to try boiled peanuts. (If you’re wondering… apparently they weren’t horrible, but… yeah… Tiggers do not like boiled peanuts.)

We head back in to River Street, with the design being to set ourselves up on the opposite end from where we were and what we saw the night before. And yet we find… it’s basically more of the same. For instance, one store was the second outlet of Savannah’s Candy Kitchen. And then there are a couple of places with “Savannah” written across some of the same pieces we’ve seen labeled “Key West” or “Fort Lauderdale” or wherever so many times before. Occasionally we find a cute and distinct store with some interesting offerings.

Sure… I suppose… it is all very nice. It’s just not the amazing Savannah we found earlier in the day… the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist… stores like The Christmas Shop… the promise of The Wilkes House… Lafayette Square and Forsyth Park and the Tybee Lighthouse and incredibly friendly people.

Not a total loss though.

We head back from the stores along the cobblestone roadway. We get in our car, and stop at the Statue of the Waving Girl. And while I will not retell the story here… use your favorite search engine, because the story behind this memorial is wonderful, and another great moment from Savannah. The history is all around us… and we’re finally beginning to get a feeling for it… if we could just get past the garden of common and touristy.

We’ve been trying to figure out what to do about dinner. We’re not hungry… but we could eat. And we’ve sort of decided that unless something jumps out at us, we’re going to take it easy for the remainder of the night. For no reason in particular, I don’t even know who said it first, we all kind of remember at the same time that there is a Bonefish Grill near our hotel.

Drinks… sharing a few appetizers… we’re all good with the idea.

As we get moving away from River Street, the skies open up again. (We take that as a sign we made the right choice.)

I don’t have many notes from the next hour-plus. We had a fantastic time at Bonefish. We got there in time for Happy Hour, which included some great specials for the day. The conversation is good… everyone is happy with the food and beverages… and, ok, new paragraph…

I grant you that mentioning this at a point where we have just finished a meal in a chain restaurant is a bit funny. But it’s incredibly noticeable… all four of us are obviously feeling significantly better tonight about our trip. The cathedral was incredible… the people continue to be some of the friendliest and most approachable you could ever meet… the history of the surroundings was significantly more evident… and even places like the railroad museum and lighthouse were entertaining. We saw a lot of the area today, and had a really good time doing it.

The buffet selection and tourism haze of day one were caution flags, which had us wondering what was going on. Today was a complete turnaround.

We stop in Kitchenware Outfitters… which has a place in the same plaza as Bonefish. (And… amazingly enough… the grocery store we used on day one and Atlanta Bread from our lunch.) Nice little store. They were closing down for the day… they were only open because of a cooking class taking place, and the owners talked with us a bit while we looked around and picked up a few small items.

Back to the Residence Inn… where the wine and snack hour is going on. We stop in the lobby to pick up a few cookies, a glass of wine or two, and some other drinks, and then back to the room. Ellen and Bob win Hand and Foot for the night.

And as the day winds down and the four kids go off to sleep, visions of Mrs. Wilkes’ dance in our heads.

Day three – Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ok… here’s the plan… get to The Wilkes House before 10am.

And that’s about it.

Yesterday were told three things: (1) The Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room is fantastic. (2) People line up for it. And, (3) it is only open three hours each day.

And yesterday, we saw one thing: (1) At 12:30pm there was still a line at a restaurant that would be closing at 2pm.

Add that up, and we’re determined not to miss out. So we’ve decided that with doors opening at 11am, we’re going to be in line no later than 10am.

It’s morning… we’re awake… so we wander down to the lobby and get a pretty fantastic breakfast. We all changed things up… switching around who got what, but still incorporating waffles, cereal, yogurt and granola, and other nice offerings… and were laughing as we went back to the room.

Still too early to depart for the day, the cards were dealt and after two hands Terry and Richard had bolted out to a decisive, 3,000-point lead.

We arrive on West Jones Street just before 10am. Terry, Ellen and Richard get out of the car and into the line while I park. About three or four minutes later, when I join them, the clock still hasn’t hit 10am… and the three of them tell me that from what they’ve heard we may not make the cut for the first seating when the doors open.

At 11am the line slowly begins moving forward, with groups being taken in to fill tables… and by about 11:15 we’re being seated at one of the last tables for the first service. It’s a family-style setting, where we have been seated with three other groups at a table and several plates of food are already in place. There is no menu to select from… just the menu served completely at every table for the day.

Here’s a listing of some of the food we were served…

Fried chicken
Meat loaf
Beef stew
Pulled pork
Green beans
Black-eyed peas
Carrot salad
Collard greens

And that’s just a start. I’m not including red rice and okra and mashed potatoes and cucumbers and cabbage and cream-style corn and baked beans and stuffing and lima beans and… look, I’m getting hungry. Corn bread and biscuits and sweet tea… oh my! (And oh my YES!)

We figured out that once you counted dessert (which included banana pudding and blueberry cobbler), well over 20 dishes had been served to us. And everything was fantastic.

The meat loaf was beyond description. It was so incredible we bought cookbooks and made it again when we got back to Ellen and Richard’s. (And then fought over those leftovers.)

The meal costs $18 a person, and that’s just beyond a good deal. It’s mind-boggling.

I am not kidding you… between the fried chicken and meat loaf and assorted other goodies, I honestly did eat several of the best meals I have ever experienced in just this one sitting. There is no fancy description needed, between the taste of the food, the atmosphere, the value and the people, this was the greatest restaurant I have ever been in, it’s not even a close competition, and I seriously doubt that any other will ever eclipse it.

Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining RoomBRILLIANT!

We’ve been kicking around visiting a house while in Savannah. There are several historic places to consider, and thanks to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, we’d been looking at The Mercer House as our likely destination. After lunch, it’s decided, and we head back to Bull Street.

There are no pictures allowed inside… something I understand, but that always bothers me a bit about some places since I’d like to capture a few moments. The tour covers the first floor and was a fun stop for all of us. (If not The Mercer House… when you are in Savannah I highly recommend finding at least one historic house to tour.)

From there we drive back toward City Market. We stop in a pet store and a gourmet shop on Barnard Street, and then encounter a real treat when we wander into the Savannah Bee Company for a honey tasting. (There were a few shops in this area… and other than Savannah Bee, we liked them but none jump out to specifically mention to you. However, this was a true collection of unique treasures when it comes to retail options… different, not at all touristy, and kind of fun. Plus… Goose Feathers is in the same place (coming up tomorrow). This was what we were expecting to see much more of from Savannah.)

After that it’s over the Talmadge Bridge for some pictures and a bit of exploring.

This is the point where anyone reading this needs to consider Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room before continuing on with our day. We couldn’t stop eating while we were there. It was just so amazing… delicious… plentiful… just wonderful.

So as we crossed back over the bridge, we decided that we really just wanted to kick back and play some cards for the evening. None of us were hungry, but we figured we should probably think about getting something while we were out rather than deciding we needed something after getting back to the hotel. And so we did…

…at Pizza Hut.

(I know. I get it. But again… AMAZING meal earlier in the day.)

Back in the room, Ellen and Bob mount a furious comeback, ending up 200-points shy of taking the game.

Day four – Thursday, October 4, 2012

The day begins in a similar fashion to the other days on our visit to Savannah… in the lobby of the Residence Inn, enjoying their fabulous breakfast offerings.

We’ve decided to head back in to the City Market Area to check out a place called Goose Feathers, which for some reason we keep seeing named all over the place but have never managed to stop inside.

We check out… head to Goose Feathers… pick up a couple of items (which were pretty good, and we would recommend Goose Feathers to you)… and then hit the highway for our drive back to Ocala.

We are continuing our license plate game, and end up adding Rhode Island, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to leave us short on Vermont for sweeping New England.

While thinking about what to do for lunch on the road, we decide to stop at a Sonic location.

At home we play some more cards… Terry and Ellen winning the game of Hand and Foot today… and then we watch Dark Shadows.

The Savannah portion of the trip is over… and it was different and fun. We found a couple of places we would recommend (and also would compare favorably to any location in the world) -- specifically the Cathedral of Saint John and Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room. And yet, we never did see the Savannah we were expecting… the Savannah everyone raves about.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Let’s wrap up this entry with a familiar note for those that have been with us for the full 2012 Florida – Georgia travels so far… we’re back in Florida and picking it up tomorrow with the “Days Eight, Nine and Ten” travel journal.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com