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Posts tagged ‘savannah’

savannah 2.0

finally, a new post!  Listening to Andrew Duhon as I edit this post and fondly remembering an incredible birthday trip to New Orleans.  He’s singing Girls from Other Countries as I type this.  For me, it’s boys but the song resonates strongly and that trip was one of many that proved the serendipity and magic that comes from leaving your comfortable home base can make your life feel rich beyond your childhood dreams.  I check myself when I am about to say something obnoxious like “yeah, I am kind of bored of Paris”.  As a child growing up in the middle of nowhere, getting to Paris even ONCE seemed like a fairytale.  Paris was one of those fantastic places that taught me to just be more adventurous,  Stay in a cheap hotel near Gare du Nord, which was way too dangerous the first time I went, but now just provides a new, fresh Parisian experience 🙂

 

If you read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, you will also gain an understanding of why Savannah has such an Austin feel.  If you stay in the Historic District you will likely pass the building that really shook up Savannah several times.  John wrote the book because cheap airlines were new and he started travelling from New York to Savannah on a regular basis and became more or less a local.  One of the other developments happening at that time was a push to expand the Savannah College of Art and Design.  According to him, Savannah was the conservative southern place you likely envision at the time and there was a definite clash of cultures but the college expanded and added a layer of hip to sleepy Savannah.

you could be in france!

What you get now is a fascinating mix of genteel southern manners and modern 21st century comforts and enticements.  For me one of the most delightful parts of Savannah was just wandering the streets from square to square.  It’s worth going into the Cathedral of St John the Baptist.  It was dedicated in 1876 and is one of the most spectacular in the region.

The other area worth checking out is the riverfront.  There are lots of options for eating and drinking and plenty of shops catering to tourists.  Two of the best options are River Street Sweets for pralines, salt water taffy and other sweet treats and the Arts and Crafts Emporium (up a staircase) for local arts and crafts you can take home as non-edible souvenirs.

Two places to check out in this neighborhood are Chart House and the Bayou Café.  Chart House is right on the water and you can have a meal on the patio.  The Bayou Café has live music every night so was where I spent my Monday night birthday.  It’s more Louisiana than Georgia but in the ‘hood and with basic but delicious seafood and Cajun fare.

I decided to try snow crab for the first time.  It took a few tries (and several stains on my top) to get

the beauty of latin squares

the hang of it but it was delicious and I acquired a new skill.  The singer noted that I was eating alone, found out it was my birthday, sang me “happy birthday” and bought me a shot of bourbon.  As already noted, there are a lot of friendly Americans.

He had recently broken up with his girlfriend so to make sure things didn’t get weird after last set, I left a bit early and encountered a young late night busker so ended up listening to him and then conversing for quite a while as he gave away some of his earnings to beggars.  I kept giving him money as I didn’t think he could probably afford his generosity.  He insisted I couldn’t walk back to the hotel (I had been doing it every night) so I waited for some sort of Uber arrangement he had made. I gave him money for that too so he had a great night but I remember being young and poor and am very generous to young people if they treat me well and I like them.

For shopping, the other street to check out is Broughton Street. It’s the main thoroughfare.  Nearby is a wonderful restaurant that is a Savannah institution, Belford’s.  The restaurant only arrived in 1996 but is housed in a historic building and is one of the best rated restaurants in town.  I managed to indulge in happy hour, which is a great bargain.  I also discovered that, like New Orleans, you can get your wine to go as long as you stay within a certain part of the Historic District so you can indulge in happy hour prices while strolling the historic streets with your beverage of choice.

One final suggestion if you like local history is a drink at The Desoto.  It’s now super modern 21st century complete with mixologists but its origins come from 1890 when it opened as a luxury hotel that became known as the Dowager Empress of the South.

Beaches and resorts are not far away if that is more your scene.  For me, pretending to live in different century is always a delightful adventure. Of course, I prefer my experience to not be TOO authentic.  I love the glamour and romance of the 17th and 18th centuries but I also totally enjoy actually living in my own.  Savannah offers you the best of both 😉

kermit would love it

I started this post a long time ago and then realized I forgot to mention the most surprising discovery of my trip to Savannah to listen to music.  Apparently they do St Patrick’s Day better than maybe anywhere else in the world.  One of my best friends had a dream of seeing it in New York City so I’ve done that.  I would love to check out Chicago but I’m not sure it will surpass Savannah.  It is so huge they sneak in and practically every fountain is green a few days before March 17th.  It is also WAY nicer weather in Savannah in March so that is part of the reason it is so successful.  Northerners are happy to come and celebrate in a climate that is much more hospitable than Ireland 😉

Any proper Irish person would consider them pussies 🙂  Being partly Irish, I have discovered it is more an Irish-American thing than an Irish thing.  I’ve been an immigrant a couple of times and totally understand that nostalgia for home.

So, what are you waiting for?  Savannah in March has so much to offer.  As I was heading to the airport, my taxi driver (who looked like a character from the Dukes of Hazzard 😉 teased me… “you don’t really want to leave, do you?  Quite honestly, I said, “no, especially as I am leaving just before St. Patrick’s Day.  Next time I stay longer…”

 

southern charm

Even if you are not interested in music, there is still plenty of reason to visit Savannah.  It first got on my radar when I saw the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  It’s always fun to read about a place while you are visiting so I bought a copy of the book in Savannah.  I would highly recommend it. The book is far superior to the film and the author (John Berendt) provides a lot of insight into Savannah.

I had always envisioned Savannah as a grande dame of the mythical South, one of the few parts of the United States I had not yet seen.  This is definitely Confederate country but Savannah is closer to Austin and Portland than to the old Deep South, at least the parts that I checked out.

I am very interested in history, architecture and all manner of artistic expression so the Historic District seemed the perfect place to hang out.  It’s also where all the Savannah Stopover events occur.  It’s a perfect place to play tourist.

What is astonishing and commendable is that this area actually exists in the grand form you will find it in 2018.  Like most of North America, the 1950s saw young families rush for the suburbs using new highways and the historic centre was abandoned and the historic homes became rundown and the neighborhood’s crime rate rose.  Many buildings were demolished.

Then, everything changed.  Seven local women formed the Historic Savannah Foundation to purchase and preserve the Davenport House, saving it just 24 hours before the scheduled demolition.  They mobilized others and saved and restored many historic homes.  Most of them are now inns or tourist attractions.  A few even sport ghosts.  If you aren’t staying in a “ghost” inn, you can take a ghost tour.

While I wouldn’t recommend staying in historic inns while doing the Savannah Stopover as you miss some of the benefits, I would definitely recommend them when you have an easy schedule and can take advantage of all the extra amenities, which generally include breakfast, pre-dinner wine and appetizers and post-dinner port and dessert.

eliza thompson house

I stayed in two different inns and both were excellent but the offerings were a little different.  At one, I had my own separate entrance.  At both I had a large room filled with antiques and history.

gastonian

The staff were amazing.

I think southern hospitality is a real thing.  There was an extra level of charm to many of my encounters and the accent is seductive.  The inns I stayed in were Eliza Thompson House and the Gastonian.  Eliza Thompson House is closer to the action of the Historic District while the Gastonian is closer to Forsyth Park.  The attractions of the Historic District are walkable from either inn.

There are some tourist attractions you can check out but it’s a small city so the prices for the small

famous fountain

museums seemed a bit steep and I was worried I would be disappointed so I spent my time wandering the streets from square to square.  Savannah has a European feel and there are small squares every few blocks.  They are filled with statues, flowers and benches and many are surrounded by stately mansions.

The most spectacular statue and flower place is Forsyth Park.  If you read the book, you will also want to look for the Mercer-Williams House.

You can take a riverboat cruise but some other tourists at the inn said it was boring and I took a steamship up the Mississippi in New Orleans so I stayed on shore.

It’s not healthy to live in the past too much but Savannah allows you to indulge in a little nostalgia and spend some time pretending you lived in a different century (but with 21st century plumbing and food! 😉

music lover nirvana

That is the fun of a much smaller festival.  I didn’t generally run into people more than once but it was easy to make connections and the venues are all close together and it is easy to hop between venues generally without having to wait in long lines.

Later that night I got braver and found W. Congress Street and was lured into The Jinx by the music, discovering Sun Parade.  I wanted to get my full breakfast at the inn so didn’t stay out too late the first night.  The charming gentleman at check-in had given me a good map with various highlights, including the route back to the inn from W. Congress along Bull Street.

My ability to navigate both the streets of Savannah, the locations of the various clubs and the band schedules improved considerably on day two and I think I hit every venue before the festival was over.  One of my favourites was the Congress Street Social Club.  Not only did it have an outdoor patio, it also had Shiner Bock, my favourite beer from my visit to Austin.

It also ended up providing the most fun story of the trip. By Friday night, I was pretty comfortable with Savannah and so checked out the after-hours lounge that was just for VIPs, volunteers and bands.  As a bonus, drinks were free 🙂  On Friday night, it wasn’t too busy but there was one lively young woman who decided we should all be dancing.  I’m not sure why but being lured onto dance floors to boogie with strangers is a very common activity in my travel life 😉  At least there were no fancy twirls and dips this time.

birthday club

I didn’t think much about it until the next day at the Congress Street Social Club when I was waiting in line to get a Shiner Bock and the guy behind me commented on my dance moves.  What was extra fun was that it turned out he was the lead singer for the band I had come to see, Birthday Club (from Houston).  While I was waiting for them to get set up, I also met Zack and John David who were incredibly entertaining (almost as good as the band).  That added some pressure for the band to be good so that they would be impressed by my musical taste.  Luckily, the band was great and I bought them a CD and a poster since they had bought me a beer and introduced them to the band as new fans. Everyone was thrilled.  I had even more fun at the after-hours club on Saturday night since I knew some band members by then and it was a lot livelier.

Unfortunately Zack and John David didn’t find me later in the night as we agreed then but it was

plastic picnic

easy to meet people and there was a really relaxed atmosphere everywhere I went.  The next band was also very good (Plastic Picnic from Brooklyn). Unfortunately they didn’t have any CDs.  I tried my best to buy CDs and support the artists since I know it’s a tough industry these days for emerging artists.

spectacular entrance

The most impressive venue is the stage at the Ships of the Sea Museum where the opening and closing acts are showcased.  The closing act was Of Montreal, a friend of the event and definitely a band to check out live.  They are a bit more established so likely a bit easier to find beyond the Savannah Stopover.

Another impressive venue was the Trinity United Methodist Church.  That’s where I discovered Colter Wall.  I went because he is from Swift Current

colter wall

in Canada not that far from where I spent my childhood.  To see someone from my own environs in faraway Savannah, Georgia was a no brainer.  He is a country guy so I didn’t know of him before Savannah.  While his performance was a little stiff, his voice is a revelation.

It’s the kind of event where you can talk to the performer so I told him I had been to Swift Current, that he sounded like a young Johnny Cash and asked which album I should buy. He acted like a nice Canadian kid and seemed pleased with all of it – and I loved the album so have been talking him up ever since.

vegabonds

I do have a soft spot for country so checking out bands from Nashville not out of character but also loved the Vegabonds who are Nashville but more southern rock than country.  I have listened to their album, What We’re Made of, a LOT.  Highly recommended.  And again, band was very friendly.

You get the idea… I would definitely recommend to come and check out Savannah Stopover for yourself and find your own musical discoveries.  You can also just come for the local talent, especially if you live nearby.  My final musical encounter of sorts was meeting Danielle Hicks at the after party.  Her show had been on the same time as another on my list so I just stayed at the same venue and missed her but she kindly gave me a CD at the party and converted me into a fan.

It was so much fun and I am sure I will return but it was agreed I had probably travelled further than anyone else at the festival so likely not every year – but for those living on the east coast, you don’t have that excuse 😉

p.s. also check out these bands.  They are all emerging and could use your support.

p.p.s. since I started writing this, had a fun random encounter.  Since the government mostly controls liquor distribution in Canada and sin taxes are insane, it is really rare to find a decent bottle of wine for under $10.  I’d taken a chance on a Chilean rose at my local store and apparently I was not the only person who thought it was a great deal so had to take the train to a bigger store that had some in stock to buy more.  It’s a specialty store that has products I can’t get at most stores so bought enough to make the visit worthwhile and looked like a pack mule when I got on the train.  A young woman named Jessica kindly offered me her seat but I told her I was fine.  While Canadians aren’t unfriendly, there is definitely some British reserve to the culture so assumed that would be the end of the conversation but I could see she wanted to chat so I found out she didn’t normally drink alcohol but did like rose so I showed her the label and provided some background on the Australian wine industry (where it all began for me).  More was discussed and I felt a little sad that I didn’t have very many stops on the route.  It made me realize how delightful human interaction can be and that we could all use more of it.  I do it a lot when I travel.  One of the reasons travel makes me so happy.  Some cultures are especially easy to interact with when you are a stranger so a little shout-out to Americans.  The rest of the world is wondering a little about some of their choices these days but they are one of the friendliest cultures on the planet and that made my trip to Savannah so much more enjoyable.

 

 

a tale of two georgias…

I am going to skip the chronology for a while and bop between continents so…

A lot of my travels are booked really far in advance so it was purely accidental when I realized I was hitting both Georgias within a couple of months of each other.  Both trips were great but about the only thing they have in common is the name.

stunning gardens

Getting to the state of Georgia was pure coincidence.  A couple of years ago I went to a Christmas party for a client and some consultants from Portland were able to attend the party.  I had been to South by Southwest not long before and got into an animated discussion of indie music with Brian, which made him recommend the Savannah Stopover.

It’s a fairly new music festival focused on young bands that are generally undiscovered except by a few fervent fans.  His sister had moved to Savannah from NYC and discovered a lot of fledgling bands drove through Savannah on their way to Austin and were keen to have more chances to showcase their music so she found some likeminded people and started Savannah Stopover where bands can play the weekend before South by Southwest.

If you are like me and knew about SXSW before the internet back when indie music was very indie and new band recommendations generally came from college radio stations or word of mouth, you will love the Savannah Stopover because it is like South by Southwest was in the early days before the corporations and Ashton Kutcher discovered it.

It’s actually fun to do both but Savannah will be a lot cheaper and easier to navigate than Austin.

Since it was going to take me close to a day to get there and get home, I went for the full VIP package, which is very reasonably priced and comes with some extra perks like hanging out with the bands late at night and an after party where I actually got to meet Brian’s sister, which was very cool and closed the loop on the whole lucky chapter.

she started it all

I got a little overly ambitious and tried to do historic inns at the same time so it was late and dark by the time I got to headquarters to pick up my festival pass so decided to not be too ambitious about finding all the venues that night.  Wanted to first enjoy the early evening complimentary wine and

they said kayne gives them the best bands 😉

snacks perk at the inn.  Was good enough to count as a light dinner.

I’d walked by the El-Rocko Lounge on my way to pick up my pass so decided I could give it a try.  The place was fairly deserted as the first band was just warming up so I got a seat at the bar with a great view of the stage and met one of the volunteers who was sitting beside me eating his dinner.  It would end up being extra meaningful.  Once things got started, a friendly young girl from Florida with some links to Canada sat down beside me and we chatted a bit.  In a completely bizarre twist of fate, I would learn her name was Danielle since we ended up completely unplanned in the exact same seats at El-Rocko for the final show of the festival.

There was lots of happy coincidence and serious fun, which we will explore more in the next post…

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