Mind you, I had already driven to the Orlando airport twice that Sunday after our cruise docked to pick up the rental car for the upcoming ROAD TRIP, and later to drop Elise for her flight home. Instead of consulting a map or, heaven forbid, trying to figure out the GPS, I simply trusted a random tourist I caught on my way out of the hotel. “Route 4, correct, to the airport?” “Yes, just over that way” (points). “That’s Route 4 EAST, right?” “Yes.” [Wrong.] My sister Donna’s flight was coming in from New Jersey in 40 minutes.
One hour and forty minutes later I pulled up at the airport arrivals and found Donna STILL THERE! I had not been so lost in decades. I was shaking, dying of thirst, my cheek was injured where the car door had hit it after I stopped to ask directions again. I had made every wrong turn in the book, not excluding a couple of wrong highways. Donna was all happy; her flight had been an hour late and she had just appeared there. You can already detect signs of Sandra traveling without Newton: direction challenged, GPS challenged, no internet on the phone to have checked the flight status.
Our road trip began and ended with especially comic, especially “Needham” scenes. Once we arrived at the hotel, thirsty and starving and wondering if they were still serving anything, we parked and removed Donna’s suitcase from the trunk. But the headlights were still on. How long does that last? And will the car start tomorrow morning when we begin our road trip?? After some minutes I decided to open the car up and try to turn the headlights off. They went off, I locked the car, but then, as we were longing to head for the restaurant, the car’s inside lights were on. How long does that last? Will the car start tomorrow? After a wait, I opened the car again and eventually found the switch that turns them off, which I had inadvertently hit when dealing with the headlights, perhaps? Now I lock the car again and the headlights are on again. Then they went off. We had stood ten minutes in the parking lot. We saved the laughs at ourselves for later and headed with the suitcase straight to the restaurant/bar. Still serving!! Here we are recovering and looking forward to our “Thelma and Louise” road trip to three beautiful cities of the South.
We arrived in Savannah, Georgia the next afternoon. This city was established in 1733 (our Europe!) as the capital of the British colony of Georgia. The Historic District retains the original town design laid out by British general, James Oglethorpe, founder of the colony. Those twenty-two heavenly town squares, full of sprawling oak trees hung with moss and surrounded by beautiful historic houses were my post-cruise sanctuaries! I stand by my decision: Savannah is the United States’ most beautiful town.
Our Best Western hotel was just one of the ubiquitous chains we landed on Hotwire or Priceline.com, but it was located smack in the historic district, was appointed tastefully, and had a crackerjack concierge. We had walking routes highlighted on a map in no time and headed out to the beauty.
Every inch of the district reflects the loving care with which it is maintained. The sidewalks and brick streets are in pristine condition, as are the mansions surrounding the drop-dead-beautiful squares - parks, really, canopied with the welcome shade of the oak trees. Savannah has one of the South’s first public museums, one of the oldest African American church congregations, the third oldest synagogue in America, and is one of the largest National Historic Landmark Districts in the US.
Here are the beautiful house of the Mercer family, best known for the composer, Johnny Mercer (Moon River) and the Sorrel Weed House:
I would typify everything we saw as “good taste,” apart from some closed down buildings along the ‘main street,’ which sports more of a mid-20th century style. But even the new library housed in an old 1950’s department store was beautifully done. The shops are full of lovely, unusual items; despite Savannah’s extensive tourism, there are no ‘tourist shops’ per se. The Riverfront development of 19th century cotton warehouses along the Savannah River is full of great bars and restaurants:
Donna had an exquisite, typical dish here for dinner: shrimp and grits. Grits (an indigenous creation) are the textured mush made from field corn for which the South is famous. Dessert was a tart influenced by the also famous pecan praline.
There’s an interesting story about the postponement of slavery in this one southern colony. The British had no qualms about slavery, they were simply concerned about the Spanish next door in Florida, who offered freedom to slaves in exchange for military service. If slaves were allowed in Georgia, they would most likely help the Spanish threaten the security of this new English colony. By the time Oglethorpe defeated the Spanish in 1742, some Georgians and particularly the experienced planters of South Carolina were ready to pounce on all that agricultural land and supply it with West African slaves.
Early on in the colony, rice production was prominent. After the Revolutionary War, the cotton grown on plantations by the slaves became the most important commodity, and its export from the Port of Savannah enabled the city’s European immigrants to become very wealthy. The port also supplied them with fine imported goods.
Back in our Sunday School days we learned about John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. What we didn’t learn is that he was an early resident of Savannah, invited from England by Oglethorpe to head the new Anglican parish. He returned to England after a bit of a scandal: he both failed to convert any Native Americans and got into trouble with a woman he promised to marry, but didn’t. The resulting lawsuit wore him down, so he returned to England and founded Methodism instead.
Here is Juliette Low’s birthplace. She was the founder of the Girl Scouts, and her home became the headquarters in 1912.
We loved this old restored Solomon’s apothecary, complete with a stained glass dome and converted into a very elegant café and restaurant. Students of SCAD – Savannah College of Art and Design, located in the historic district – run this restaurant as well as one of the best design shops I’ve seen, which sells the creations of current and former students.
One cannot escape being haunted in the South by its slave-owning past and well-deserved reputation for racism, but one of the most striking things I saw in Savannah was the dignity, the confidence with which its African American residents carried themselves. In a general way, one does not see this in the North. I concluded that these families have been in this state since the mid-eighteenth century and have the appropriate bearing of such a lineage, despite some unspeakable hardships over those centuries. I also strongly suspect that Savannah is not run by rednecks.
Donna and I were treated to the charm and friendliness for which Savannah is famous by everyone we met. I very willingly enveloped myself in the visual and interpersonal gracefulness of the place!