You could say Savannah attracts a certain type of traveller; someone who loves old-world charm, a small town, Southern hospitality and relaxed meandering.
Don’t get me wrong: all kinds of tourists go to Savannah, because the city is skilled at advertising itself as an attractive destination. It’s idiosyncratic but still familiar enough for people to find compelling. But, it is unlikely most will return. If it’s close enough, sure, but to go out of their way? Not after the pen strikes it on the bucket list.
For years, my travels to Atlanta always made me want to stop in Savannah, but it was an awkward distance–four hours by bus or a quick flight. Plus, when I was in Atlanta I was usually on a strict work schedule that forced me to fly from one city to another during a work travel grind.
One year I decided to be intentional–Savannah had been on my list for years and it was time to visit. So I hopped on an early bus from ATL and was in the city centre by midday. I was only in Savannah for four days and wished I was there longer. I suppose I could have created a hyper-fast travel itinerary, but it’s not my preferred mode of exploring a new place. Instead, I went into flaneur mode. I had a loose guide of what I wanted to see, but remained flexible if something intriguing came up.
Food and Savannah
There is something so storybook-like about Savannah that instantly made me trot slower. I stopped at a garden to literally smell the flowers on my way to my hotel. Upon checking into The DeSoto whose look and feel was a fuse of corporate with local aesthetics, I set out to go to Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room. Let me tell you about this place. People lined up while the restaurant closed to prepare. They had timed seating and people ate in batches. Then they opened and diners were seated at round, banquet tables. This meant that unless you were part of a group of ten people, you would one-hundred percent be eating with strangers.
I met a couple while lining up who not only became my dining companions but friends who I ended up hanging out with for the rest of my trip. I won’t bore you with how we bonded and became good friends (we did), and I got an offer to visit them in Florida (I did). We all know that story. What is important about this experience is how the restaurant’s system gave people an opportunity to bond at the lineup with mutual anticipation, and then share a damn good southern meal that included mac and cheese, grits, fried chicken, candied yams, butter beans, rice and gravy, and beef stew. This was the essence of communion and true Southern hospitality. Making friends with strangers was an easy opportunity, and reflected the business’s core values.
I had one of the best servings of fried green tomatoes in Savannah. In fact, it was so good I flagged the waiter down with a serious face. He approached my table, his face clearly looking tired and forlorn, ready for a complaint from an irate diner, and after I told him to tell the chef that this was the best helping of fried green tomatoes I’d ever had, he laughed and breathed a huge sigh of relief. #gotcha
If you like ice cream go to Leopold’s. I was transported back to the 1950s with its parlour-style interior and had one of the top ten scoops of ice cream of my life. There were no bells and whistles–I had the plain chocolate flavour; it was the quality of the ingredients that made it stellar in my taste buds. #chocolatepoliceapproved
I took a tour on the hop-on-hop off bus to orient myself to the town and noticed the large presence of Christianity through the churchs’ presence. In fact, the first African Baptist church was built in Savannah dating back to 1774.
Savannah’s Historic District was where I felt in my element. I visited all the squares (twenty-two of them) including where Forrest Gump sat, Chippewa square. While many were similar, I loved the gazebos in some of them, the pretty gardens in the others, and just plain people-watching. I also made it a point to visit as many squares during sunset because as you can probably tell from many of my posts on this blog, afternoon and early evening light is one of the best ways to see the South.
The Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) has a huge presence in town. Since it’s fairly well-known even beyond the United States, I saw a cosmopolitan group of people who were international students and scholars. I don’t think Savannah would have grown artistically and attracted as many non-American tourists if it weren’t for the college. I visited in the fall and since the semester had just started, I passed many art students who were enjoying the fresh beginning of hope a new academic year promised: there were parties in balconies, gaggles of young men and women walking the streets, and music blaring from random apartments.
If I had to describe the most beautiful part of my trip to Savannah, I’d have to say it’s the main fountain at Forsyth Park. Yes, I was in major tourist mode. But it was so breathtaking that like most people who visited, it made me think of wanting to get married there. And I did witness a wedding happen. The size of the big fountain was grandiose but not overbearing. The mini-fountains surrounding the main one made it look playful, removing any pretension a sole tall statue would evoke. The way the light hit the water while the fountain was running made me want to jump in and splash around.
I will not forget the giant Southern oak trees draped with Spanish moss, especially on Jones street. It was picturesque, with mid-19th century homes that with only the most minor cosmetic changes, remain untouched. Stroll down this popular street, you’ll feel like you’ve gone back in time.
If you want to get your tourist on, visit the Plant Riverside district where you’ll find souvenir shops and some cool patios. When we visit new places and are overwhelmed with newness sometimes it’s important to default to something familiar to re-centre us, even if it’s just for one meal. After all, there’s a reason Mcdonald’s and Starbucks are so popular abroad and are typically visited by tourists.
Definitely Worth Returning
My affinity for old world charm will likely bring me back to Savannah. There were too many restaurants and dessert places to fit into four days, and I will return to Forsyth park, even if it’s just to take photos of it during twilight. There were bookstores I wasn’t able to visit, and a missed opportunity to go to Bonventure cemetery. I’m not much for horror films, but I do like history, and I hear it’s one of those places that tells silent stories, like most places where people are buried.
Until my next visit to Georgia’s oldest city…
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