Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: A Taste of the Deep South (2013)

Settling into graceful Savannah

ABOVE: An unpromising start in Atlanta, and a glimmer of hope 

I woke up after a night that had been nowhere near restful enough for my liking, went through my morning routine and had breakfast in the Hilton's Executive Lounge. This turned out to be a fairly basic continental offering and was absolutely nothing special. I re-packed, checked out and rode the shuttle bus back to the airport.

Very pleasant surroundings on arrival
at Savannah Airport
LEFT: Atlanta Airport

Check-in was as easy as it gets and I enjoyed having a look around the terminal before going airside. Among other assorted attractions were a pair of large display cases containing Pan Am memorabilia. Security was crowded but well organised, and passage was swift. A somewhat pathetic attempt on my part to gain access to the Delta lounge inevitably ended in instant failure. No same-day international sector? Bye-bye!

(Link to flight log in side panel)

Despite all the problems of the previous day, Bruce had managed to get into Savannah before me and was waiting at the gate for me, looking particularly smart. The airport terminal was small but attractive-looking, particularly the landside 'village square' area. The rental car desk was conveniently located inside the terminal, with the cars parked just outside. We were upgraded to a Chevrolet Malibu bearing South Carolina plates; they were clearly letting us take it home. Once on the open road I was immediately struck by an impression that traffic was somehow moving a little more sedately than I was used to. I was already coming to the tentative conclusion that people had their own way of doing things down here.

LUNCH STOP: Babe's Barbecue Shack 

In no time at all we had successfully found our way to our first scheduled stop: a lunch break at one of Bruce's more off-beat recommendations from Chowhound, Babe's Barbecue Shack. In the interests of avoiding consternation and bewilderment among regular readers, I should point out without delay that the name of this establishment contained an apostrophe and was a tribute to legendary baseball player George Herman "Babe" Ruth Jr (1895 - 1948). As suggested by the rest of the name, the surroundings were basic, the food rustic but wholesome and the welcome warm and hearty.

Bruce had pork and I opted for chicken, while we shared our sides of potato salad and collard greens. The experience also served as my first introduction to an unexpected recurring feature of the trip: an apparent Southern love affair with cute-looking images of pigs. We had a quick run into town, found the hotel with no trouble at all, checked in and were pleased to hear that the room was already available. After taking maybe half an hour to get settled in, we were ready to get back out on the streets and have an introductory walk. The skies were looking more threatening by the minute and we wanted to see something of the historic district before the rain inevitably came down.

ABOVE: Typically grand old trees
draped in Spanish moss

We began by heading in the direction of Chatham Square. It quickly became apparent that the historic centre of Savannah is laid out in a typical American grid, but with the pattern considerably enhanced by the addition of a number of gracious squares. Typically, these would feature large, mature trees draped in Spanish moss. Particularly in the humid afternoon heat with no breeze to speak of, the drooping moss spoke eloquently of the heavy, languid feel of the day and, along with the beautiful architecture, conjured up what I imagined to be a real Southern atmosphere. No wonder the city was popular with movie-makers and TV crews! It was already clear that this place was built on a more manageable scale than we had feared, a Savannah city block being only a fraction of the size of its New York counterpart. In this heat, that could only be good news!

Passing through Chatham Square, we continued on to Monterey Square, visually beautiful and serene and considered by many to be the ultimate portrayal of historic Savannah. The centrepiece of the square was a monument dating from 1853 and honouring General Casimir Pulaski (more of whom tomorrow). Confusingly, the monument is NOT in Pulaski Square! We noted the Mercer-Williams House Museum, made famous by the book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, but decided to press on with our walk rather than visit it. Directly across the square from the museum was the Temple Mickve Israel, Georgia’s first synagogue, the only Gothic one in the country, and home to the third-oldest Jewish congregation in North America. The building looked young for its age and, apart from the symbols that it bore, seemed remarkably similar to a Christian church.

We moved on to Calhoun Square, the last of the 24 squares making up Savannah’s original grid, and the only one with all the original buildings still intact. Two of the more notable structures were the Massie Heritage Center building (1856), the first public elementary school in the city, and the Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church (1875), home to Savannah’s first Methodist parish. We continued east through Whitefield Square, turned right onto Price Street, walked south about 6 blocks to East Hall Street and followed it back west towards Forsyth Park. The two residential blocks between Price Street and Lincoln Street were unusual in having the original paving still intact, and offered some truly grand Victorian architecture.

LEFT and ABOVE: Introductory walk in the streets and squares of Savannah's historic district  

ABOVE: Forsyth Park

As we entered Forsyth Park from East Hall Street we saw the Confederate Memorial towards the middle, a tall monument dedicated in 1875 to commemorate volunteers who gave their lives fighting for the Confederacy. Turning north, we soon arrived at two small buildings in the centre of the park. On the east side was the Dummy Fort (1909) that was formerly a training ground for local militia, but had later become home to the park café. We stopped for some light refreshment and enjoyed a short chat with the very friendly staff, once again showing this to be a feature of travelling in the South. To the west was the charming Fragrant Garden for the Blind, which unfortunately was closed at the time of our visit. Continuing north we came to the Forsyth Fountain (1858), cast in iron and based on a design from the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

We wandered back to the hotel at this point - perfect timing, as it turned out, because the rain that had been threatening to fall all afternoon had now begun. Back in the room, a couple of G&Ts seemed in order to celebrate a successful first full day in the Deep South.

Dinner was at a nearby restaurant that was famous for its specialist beers. Confusingly, it was called The Distillery and it contained some seriously loud people. (In fairness, this is as likely to happen in the UK as in the US these days.) We were happy to call it a day after that: the previous night hadn't been as restful as I'd hoped and this was the perfect opportunity to recover properly from my recent intercontinental journey.