The Seductive South

I love to travel. That’s a very good thing, since I do it 365 days a year. I feel that every place I’ve been, from tiny hamlets to massive cities, has its own unique charm. I’d go back to Anchorage or St. Thomas in a second, and I’m heading back to Boston and NYC in a couple of months.

Yet I’ve come to realize something. I’m still a Southern girl at heart. Savannah has completely captured my heart in a way that previously belonged only to New Orleans. It’s definitely different, and I’d still give NOLA the edge, but I was down at the river last night, and I realized that Savannah has many of the things that I love most about NOLA: live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, picturesque cemeteries, riverfront access and gorgeous 18th century construction. People of all socioeconomic classes mix together freely, everyone knows everyone in the historic district, and the overall mood is so laid-back and friendly.

The Savannah riverfront is hard to describe. It’s sort of a mix of the upper Quarter/Bourbon Street area and the lower Quarter/lower Decatur area. There’s a touch of pre-gentrification Orlando thrown in, when Church Street Station was still the place to be. Local dives side by side with white-tablecloth restaurants and tourist bars; street performers competing to be heard over the professionals; home bums and street kids mixing easily with overdressed tourons. Just an awesome atmosphere all the way around.

Wednesday night we did a ghost tour. It’s sort of a tradition in every city we visit, but they’re often cheesy or somehow lacking in comparison to New Orleans’ Haunted History. Not this time. The company was Sixth Sense, and our guide was so knowledgeable, so well-spoken and so engaging that I was literally hanging on every word. One of the houses has been abandoned since 1984, and the owner is apparently a friend of his. The mail slot was open, so he actually let us climb the stairs and use his flashlight to peek inside. That was the first house on the tour, and it was so indescribably creepy that we nearly lost about four people! Just terrifying. Then there was the house that seems to be an evil entity on its own, sort of like the Amityville Horror or Rose Red. On and on it went, two hours of absolutely riveting touring. Very well done.

We went to the maritime museum in Savannah yesterday, and I picked up some belated birthday gifts for Dad–three books: Celestial Navigation in the GPS Age, one on knot tying for beginners and one on building your own nautical navigation instruments. We’ve been talking about sailing lessons, and he was so excited to get the books. I love it when he’s happy!

What else have we done this week? Visited the birthplace of the Girl Scouts founder, took a guided tour of the old Savannah railway company, went through the Savannah history museum, rode the Old Town Trolley all over the place, visited the City Market (Savannah’s answer to NOLA’s Jackson Square)…just so many fabulous experiences.

We happened into a restaurant in Savannah called the Crystal Beer Parlor, on the recommendation of a very nice woman at the Visitor Center. The place was originally a grocery store, and the family that owned it lived upstairs. During Prohibition it became a speakeasy. Gambling and drinking took place downstairs, and the upstairs was a brothel. Just like the Red Onion in Skagway, Alaska.

Anyway, we had a wonderful waiter who made awesome menu suggestions and much delicious dinner was consumed. We started talking to the waiter about the history of the building. He didn’t know that the upstairs had been a brothel, but when he called the owner over to talk to us, that rumor was confirmed. The owner said that the upstairs was currently “rented out.” After the meal, we suggested to the waiter that once the current lease was up, they consider taking the upstairs over and turning it into a museum. At the Red Onion, girls in period garb give tours of the reconstructed brothel. They charge $15 for 15 minutes “just like they did in 1898.” We suggested that it might be a profitable side business for the restaurant.

Somehow in the conversation it also came up that I’m a travel writer. The waiter got really excited and summoned us into a corner away from everyone. He then told us that he’s actually the one renting the upstairs. He snuck off the floor for a few minutes to take us up there! It’s all one apartment now, running the entire length of the second floor. He’s in the process of renovating it, and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Photos are forthcoming, I promise! Anyway, what an amazing treat to get to see the place.

That’s how it’s been this entire trip. Just serendipity, being in the right place at the right time. We’re moving on soon, but I have decided that Savannah is definitely every bit as seductive as New Orleans. And for me, that’s saying a lot!

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One Response to The Seductive South

  1. David Gardner says:

    Savannah is absolutely magnificent. It has one of the best St. Patrick’s Day celebrations EVER, and the riverfront is great. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I always do…and what a wonderful story about the waiter who lives upstairs. I’ll have to try the Crystal Beer Parlor next time I’m there.

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