Travel: Savannah, GA

A few years ago, before I had gotten my grubby little meathooks all over a digital camera, my boyfriend and I went to Savannah for a vacation.  My first piece of advice about Savannah?  Ladies, wear flats, and wrap your mind around the practicalities of a floppy hat.

When in Savannah...

Savannah is a fantastically gorgeous city (and it knows it) located on the northern corner of Georgia’s coast, which is of course all the frigging way down the bottom of South Carolina.  It was a long drive, what can I say?  It’s slightly inland but manages to be a port city, thanks to the excellent navigability of the Savannah River, and much of its wealth was built on shipping of some sort.  Sugar.  Corn.  Slaves.  The dock area, with businesses now built up for tourism, is still heavily cobblestoned, and the stairs between street and dock level are cut into the town’s bedrock, cut high to accommodate a man’s stride, are uneven and often seem to be wet, even if the weather is dry.

Somehow, I managed not to kill myself on these things.

Ladies, seriously.  Wear flats.  Heels are stupid.

My second piece of advice: never go there at any point in the future without a digital camera and a dedicated memory card, because Savannah is gorgeous for DAYS.  As I am now armed with a fabby camera (and I love the city) I have ample reason to go back, and I will…I will.  Everywhere you look, there are gracious houses and manicured gardens and Spanish moss and magnolias in bloom. Fountains.  Statues.  Scenic verandas from which you can feast your eyes upon the Savannah River.  Weird guys who hang around the squares in town talking about murder.  Kudzu, but we’ll get to that later.

The Cotton Exchange, now operating as a shopping/eating complex.

It really is this pretty. Everywhere.

Steamboats!

My third piece of advice: gird your liver for a barbaric onslaught.  The joke (as I was told repeatedly) in Georgia goes:

In Atlanta, people ask what kind of business you’re in.

In Macon, people ask what church you go to.

And in Savannah, people ask, “What’cha drinking?”

Still love.

No.  Joke.  And because everyone there is so nice, and charming, “Would you like another?” sounds like an invitation, and yes, please, I surely would.  There’s no shortage of places to go—though if you end up at Chuck’s and talk nice to the bartender, they may put on a hockey game for you, even if you’re a Yankee.  And then they’ll make you the bar pet for the evening, and feed you Jell-O shots.  I wasn’t sure why that happened then, I’m still not sure why it happened, but who am I to look a gift-bringer-of-Jell-O-shots-horse in the mouth?  Though this does come with a warning as you may, by the end of the night, have an inescapable urge to crank Cheap Trick’s “Live at Budokan” on the way back to your hotel.  Embrace these moments.  (Robin Zander, I still love you.)

Fourth piece of advice: Go there ready to get your eat on.  Sub-piece of advice: it will be fried.  Deal with it.  Go to Vic’s on the River for the mint juleps and fried green tomato stack.  Go to the Crystal Beer Parlor for the fried okra.  The burger was really good, too, now that I remember, but the okra kicked its ass.  Take a day and don’t formally eat anywhere, but travel from place to place and graze (you can just walk along the lower street at river level and the upper street that parallels the river, and will be more than jam-packed at the end of the day), nibbling at

The Crystal Beer Parlor. Try the okra.

what the servers consider their best dishes.  And DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK WHAT’S GOOD, even if it takes you somewhere else.  Savannahians, I have found, {{{heart}}} their fair city and will be happy to talk about it.  Within moments of asking the bartender in Vic’s where I could get good barbecue, the entire wait staff had assembled around us and were having a boisterous debate about where, exactly, we would indeed find the best barbecue.  And at the end of the night, after all this eating, go to the Bar Bar for a nightcap.  Because when you’re in an unfamiliar city looking for a bar bar, only the Bar Bar will do.

Interestingly, no one in Savannah directed us to The Lady and Sons, Paula Deen’s joint.  I wasn’t keen on going anyway as Paula Deen sort of creeps me out and the line for the restaurant literally stretched the length of the city block, and there are a trillion other places to eat that don’t require long, sun-parched waits.  And then I began to hear—from more than one local—that as restaurants go, it’s kind of meh and kind of expensive.  So I could go somewhere else, pay less money for better food, and not have to potentially deal with the coattail jockey sons?  Sold!

Fifth piece of advice: take a ghost tour, even if you’re not a ghost hunter-y person.  It gives you a chance to learn a little bit more of the dynamic of the city, and you have a reason to do a walking tour AND, after all those mint juleps and fried green tomatoes, who doesn’t want to go out and move around for a little bit?

Sixth piece of advice: expect weirdos.  While I didn’t quite have “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”-type encounters at every turn, I did have an encounter with a crazy guy in one of the squares who thought I was there because I am a junkie for photographing murder scenes.  Apparently, I stalk dead people.  Maybe not a terribly surprising assumption but nonetheless, untrue.

Apparently, things turned tragic for a young woman in this square. But that's not why I took the picture.

Or there was the man we struck up a conversation with in a bar who seemed perfectly nice, perfectly friendly, bought us a beer and then used the term “war of Northern aggression” not in reference to a certain X-Files episode. ‘kay.  Gotcha.  Moving on.

And a few final notes:

If you are traveling to Georgia from the north, do NOT feel compelled to stop at South of the Border, no matter how deeply your taste for kitsch runs or how many road signs you see beckoning you in.  The giant sombrero is admittedly hard to resist, but you should try; it’s not a fun place.  The food sucks, it’s kind of racist, and the attractions seem to be an amalgam of poorly conceived ideas and woe.

Not as well-executed kitsch as one might hope.

Stop somewhere, ANYWHERE, and pick up some local cider.  Try the scuppernong, it’s super-sweet, but delicious.

Tuck in!

If peaches are in season, have one.  Or five.

For all I know, these could have been giraffes, now overwhelmed by kudzu.

Don’t linger too long near the kudzu.  For those who don’t know, kudzu is a vine that was introduced by the Japanese at the Philadelphia Centennial in 1876.  It was promoted as a way to conserve topsoil and prevent erosion and then?  It ate the South.  It now covers something like seven million acres of land in the southeastern US, it grows nearly a foot a day, it lays down deep root systems that are hard to kill and it also spreads through spores.  I often wonder if an inadvertent napper in the wrong place at the wrong time would end up the victim of some sort of real-life horror movie…but I’m not going to take my chances.  It inspired my boyfriend to write the following song, because it’s just so damn pervasive.  Written in Koto scale (sez George), because he is a nerd.

Anyway.  Savannah.  Enjoy your stay!

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