Our first full day in Savannah dawned cloudy and cool. The shuttle to the historic district, which our hotel provided free of charge, was supposed to leave at 9am. Unfortunately, we were unaware of this fact until approximately 8:25am. Undeterred, we sprang into action. A flurry of showers, getting dressed, and grabbing any items we could ever possibly need later, we were out in front of the hotel at 8:55.
9:00 came and went. No shuttle. We went back inside to check with the clerk and were assured we were in the right place. We sat on a bench and waited as the quarter hour approached. Other hotel guests continually poured out of the lobby, hopped into their cars, and disappeared. The idea became more and more appealing as 9:20 came and went.
Finally, the shuttle arrived. We boarded along with one other couple and, a few minutes later, were dropped off downtown, ready to begin a self-guided tour of the historic district. Did we mention that it was cool outside? With the wind whipping between the buildings it was downright cold. On top of that, a light rain began to fall. Huddling together to stay warm, we trudged along, ice cold on an early June day!
Eventually we began our tour, though not before we’d purchased coffee, long sleeve shirts, and an umbrella. Of course, it wasn’t long until the sun came out and the day warmed considerably, which left us carrying the things we purchased. Oh well, what are you going to do?
We began our tour with a visit to River Street, the oldest area of Savannah. We walked along the cobblestone street, below bridges where cotton was once sold to the hordes below, as huge barges loaded with containers cruised by on the river.
After a while, we veered off River Street and headed deeper into the historic district. Everyone who visits Savannah returns with stories of how beautiful the city is. After just a few minutes, you can see why. Everywhere we looked were stately 19th century homes, ancient brick buildings, and streets lined with live oaks covered with hanging Spanish moss.
Savannah is laid out around a series of squares, so every few streets we came to a grassy park filled with trees, benches and monuments. We set out on a walking tour outlined on a map we obtained from the visitor’s center; a path we followed for approximately two blocks before freelancing.
After a couple of hours exploring, it was time for lunch. We headed for the Savannah Seafood Shack, a place we’d read had good seafood. We entered the long, narrow space and ordered at the counter, choosing one order of low country boil and a shrimp po’ boy. While we waited for our food, we checked out the interior, which was decorated with fishing and sailing paraphernalia.
When the food came, it was every bit as good as we’d hoped. The boil came in a bag, and when poured into a bowl, it produced a wonderful aroma. For the unfortunate among you who’ve never had this coastal favorite, low country boil consists of shrimp, andouille sausage, red potatoes, corn and a generous amount Old Bay seasoning. We tore into the food, relishing every bite. Both dishes were excellent, and we polished off every bite.
After lunch, we resumed our tour of Savannah. There is much to see in Georgia’s oldest city; too much, in fact, to recount it all here. Therefore, in an effort to keep this blog from becoming epically long, we now present a few highlights from our day in the historic district:
-Wright Square: This open space is the burial place of Yamacraw Chief Tomo-Chi-Chi, who was instrumental in the founding of the colony of Georgia. A friend of the English who negotiated the treaty which allowed for the settlement of Savannah, Tomo-Chi-Chi was buried in the square in 1739. Today, a boulder rests near his burial site, adorned with a plaque which reads:
In Memory of Tomo-Chi-Chi
The Mico of the Yamacraws
The Companion of Oglethorpe
And the friend and ally of the
Colony of Georgia.
This stone has been here placed
By the Georgia Society of the
Colonial Dames of America
-Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Originally dedicated in 1876, this gothic cathedral has undergone multiple renovations over the years. Now complete, and open to the public, the inside of the cathedral is breathtaking, with vaulted ceilings, ornate pillars and beautiful stained-glass windows. We sat in a pew for a while, taking it all in, before approaching the sanctuary. There, we lit candles and said a few words for all those we’ve lost. Peaceful, as well as sobering.
-Historic Stairs. All along River Street, which is well below the bluff upon which the rest of the downtown area sits, lie stairways that were built in the 1700s. Each stairway has a sign which informs pedestrians to use at their “own risk.” We climbed a number of different flights, many of which were steep, with little or no handrails. Despite the warnings, we were able to successfully navigate these “steps of death.”
-Colonial Park Cemetery. Established in the middle of the eighteenth century, this cemetery was the primary burial ground for the city until 1853, when it was closed to new interments. During the Civil War, Union soldiers reportedly desecrated many of the graves, changing dates on headstones. Many of these headstones now line the back wall of the cemetery. Colonial Park is the final resting place of many who died during the yellow fever epidemic of 1820, as well as a number of victims of Savannah’s dueling era.
-Chippewa Square. Forest Gump once sat on a bench in this square, telling anyone who would listen about his life. While that bench is now in a museum, hordes of tourists still flock to Chippewa to see the famous area. For us, it was all about the statue of James Oglethorpe, the founder of the colony of Georgia, that looms over the center of the square. Looking up at the stature, we were struck by the history (which we fully acknowledge was often less than worthy of praise) of our state. Without Oglethorpe, tours like ours wouldn’t be possible. So despite anything that may or may not have happened back then, we gave our grudging respect for the man who gave us Georgia!
At last, hot and tired from walking around town, we elected to retire to the hotel. We called the designated phone number for the shuttle, and were informed that the next pickup would occur at 4:15pm. Since it was currently 2:00pm, we made the only rational decision on how to spend our downtime.
Ten minutes later we were sitting on the patio at Tubby’s on River Street, sipping Tybee Island Blonde beers as the afternoon crawled by. Two hours later, we were still sipping beer on River Street when we realized that our shuttle would arrive in five minutes.
We hastily paid our tab and hurried to the Hyatt Regency, the drop off/pickup point. We made it to the stop just in time to catch our ride. On the way back to the hotel, we stuck up a conversation with the driver, a chef who spent his mornings preparing breakfast at one of Savannah’s premiere bed and breakfast inns.
As we cruised across the city, we spoke with the driver about his other job. At some point, he mentioned his impending wedding. We congratulated him on the upcoming nuptials. Eventually he mentioned that he was originally from Columbus, a city that the Bear Team will be visiting in the near future. After speaking with him, we can’t wait to experience the second largest city in Georgia!
Back at the hotel, we prepared to meet our friend Alison, who lives in Savannah, and her daughter Lily for dinner at one of Savannah’s most well-known restaurants: The Pirates’ House.
The Pirates’ House, which is built around the Herb House, thought to be the oldest building in the state, has a long and infamous history. Legend has it that ships’ captains in need of crew members would wait until sailors became drunk at the bar, then knock them unconscious before dragging them through tunnels to the river. The sailors would later awaken on a ship, doomed to serve against their will forever. Who’s hungry?!
Seated at a table in the Captain’s Room, we ordered a Seafood Harvest Platter and a Shrimp Athens. As we waited, we caught up with our friend and discussed our visit. When the food arrived, we dug in. The Shrimp Athens was the highlight, with fresh shrimp and a delicious sauce over pasta. The Seafood Platter was also good, but a little too big to finish. We packed up the leftovers to enjoy later.
Eventually, the hour grew late, and we said goodbye to Alison and Lily. We left the restaurant and walked back to our car. It had been an awesome day, touring Savannah and enjoying good food. Still, there was one thing we still wanted to do before calling it a night.
We hadn’t seen the Atlantic Ocean since a 2010 visit to Charleston, South Carolina. During our time on the West coast, we’d visited the Pacific quite a bit, but we’d missed the Atlantic over the years. So we headed for Tybee Island, which is 20 miles East of Savannah.
We crossed the causeway and pulled into a parking lot just before 10pm. Under the watchful eye of the Tybee Lighthouse, we crossed the street and walked along a long bridge which crossed the sand dunes. Suddenly, the ocean appeared, shimmering in the moonlight. We stood on the beach, watching waves lap the shore as a cool breeze brought with it the salty smell of the Atlantic. Not a bad way to end our night!
That’s all for now! We’ll be back soon with the conclusion of our Savannah trip. As always, thanks for reading. We certainly appreciate it.
-By Keith and Dena Maxwell