Friday, January 30, 2009

Georgia on our minds...

Ray Charles had it right when he sang the song of approximately the same title, because the crew of Gypsies couldn't wait to drive south from Hilton Head in order to visit the city of Savannah. However, since there was a driving rain, we needed a plan to visit America's "first planned city." That plan entailed a Sunday afternoon ride on the "Old Town Trolley" tour bus, which kept us (relatively) warm and dry as we made the rounds of this fascinating town.

John here, incidentally, and I apologize for my prolonged absence from the blog. After flying home for a week of work in New Hampshire, it's taken me another week to decompress on the boat.

How to describe Savannah? In many ways, it's like a time warp; a genteel southern city that was built around 24 -- now down to 22 -- gorgeous town squares. For locals, those squares (or parks) may constitute a driving nightmare, but for visitors, they offer a glimpse into a slow-paced way of life that would have been prevalent when the city's founding father, Gen. James Oglethorpe, was laying out the town in his mind's eye.

Our tour guide was a droll Savannah boy named Don, and whether he was showing us the site of the bus-stop bench scene in "Forrest Gump," or haunted mansions like the Sorrel-Weed House, or the Mercer home -- scene of a scandalous murder as played out in the film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" -- he managed to weave history, folk-lore and popular culture into a comfortable tapestry.

Consider the tale of the "Pirate House," where the shady, rum-soaked conscription of sailors was said to have been an inspiration for "Treasure Island" author Robert Louis Stevenson,
and, as for small touches, Don pointed out the ornate iron dolphin downspouts that indicated the prosperity of the homeowners on the most elegant of the squares.

Among the other highlights? We saw the Savannah homes of Juliette Gordon Lowe, who started the Girl Scouts of America, plus songwriter Johnny Mercer (whose hits include "Moon River" and "Chattanooga Choo-Choo"), and the fabulous fountains at Forsyth Square where a semi-homeless writer named Eddy Barnes agreed to take our picture in exchange for a small donation.

If you've been following along, you won't be surprised to hear that we hopped off the bus on Savannah's famous "River Walk"
to sample a few brews before we headed to the City Market area, (where we encountered a replica of a famous film star you may recognize.)
Next stop was the Wild Wings Cafe to watch the first half of the Patriots-Steelers game. Half-time proved to be the perfect time to leave. We left so Colleen and I could celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary -- along with Tammy and Doug, naturally -- with a rather lavish dinner at a Hilton Head restaurant called "CQ's." It was all we could have hoped for, and cheers to Colleen for finding such an out-of-the-way gem.

Ridiculously high winds compelled us to stay tied down at Skull Creek Marina on Monday, and since the rental car was still in our possession, while Doug and Tammy took care of some business on the boat, Colleen and I were able to cruise back to Savannah for an encore visit. This time, without the driving rain, it was a walking tour.

Since you're all big history buffs, you should know that Gen. Oglethorpe's success in creating Savannah was helped in no small measure by "Tomochichi," a Yamacraw Indian chief who kept peace between the Native Americans and white settlers. Proof of his legacy can be found at his burial site in Wright Square, which is marked by an enormous chunk of granite taken from Georgia's famed Stone Mountain.

Moving ahead to the American Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette was instrumental in helping us secure our freedom from the British. He came to Savannah on a victory tour some 50 years after the fact, and the balcony from which he addressed the people of Savannah is a site of some historic renown.

Meanwhile, you can't write about a Southern city without mentioning the Civil War -- I know, DON'T MENTION THE WAR! -- so it should be noted that Savannah didn't fall under Union control until Dec. 22, 1864. That's when General William Tecumseh Sherman entered the city shortly after burning Atlanta and everything else in his path on his "march to the sea." When he reached Savannah, however, Sherman was so impressed by its beauty that he could not destroy it. On the day of his arrival, he sent a famous telegram to President Lincoln, offering the city as a Christmas present.

An extra day in Savannah was a present indeed, and after returning the rental car this morning, we cast off at 8:30 a.m. and resumed our voyage south to an anchorage on the Herb River in Georgia. The warm weather is still eluding us -- it's about 50-degrees, max, which has Doug and Tammy running the boat from the enclosed helm station -- but we know the warmth is down here somewhere. That, and cruising on through Georgia, is definitely on our minds.

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