As a former Florida and Guam resident, I miss having easy beach access. Now living in Atlanta, where it remained gray and in the high 50s to low 60 degrees through mid-May, I was craving some sun (take note of today’s date. I’ll never be saying that again). It’s not that I’m really much of a beach bum since I don’t need a tan and I don’t care for the mix of salt+sand+ sunscreen+sweat+swimsuit, but I do miss the sea— floating around in the cool water.
And the water at Tybee Island this weekend was definitely cool.
The closest beach to Atlanta seemed to be at Tybee Island near Savannah, Ga. A day trip to Savannah sounded like a great idea, so my friend and I drove down on Friday. It seemed that many people had the same idea for Memorial Day weekend because the beach was packed. The water was cold and murky, nothing like the beaches of Clearwater, South Beach, Ypao or Ritidian, but it was relaxing nonetheless.
After an hour or two of swimming at the beach and walking around the pier, we drove in to downtown Savannah to check out the historic district. Savannah is absolutely charming with its parks and squares centered around monuments. I particularly enjoyed the arboretum at Forsyth Park, with its rich collection of greenery and trees, fountains and the occasional sidewalk musician.
We walked about a half mile through and past the park to get to where we had planned to have lunch: a hole-in-the-wall Mediterranean food shack called Zunzi’s, which resembled Steamers back in Gainesville, Fla. Its menu was impressive, boasting some of my favorite dishes— falafel, vegetarian curry and even a portobello sub— but it only offered take-out, so we decided to check out Paula Deen’s famous Savannah restaurant, The Lady and Sons, just a few blocks away.
I wasn’t surprised that the wait at Paula Deen’s restaurant was more than half an hour for lunch. So we waited in Paula Deen gift store adjacent to the restaurant, where you can “put some south in your mouth” with Paula’s butter-flavored Chapstick.
It was past 3 p.m. when we finally sat down for lunch, and I was looking for something rich and filling, and I knew Paula could deliver on that. The restaurant turned out to be a complete bust. The fried green tomatoes we ordered as an appetizer were pretty tasteless, save for some drops of dipping sauce drizzled over them. The portobello mushroom sandwich I ordered to satisfy my savory craving was partially ruined by the sweet peppers and sweet pepper sauce. However, perhaps, as a vegetarian, it wasn’t fair for me to judge the fare I thought. But even my friend who ordered the chicken pot pie said the food was mediocre. I almost wished we had just picked up food on the side of the street at Zunzi’s instead.
After lunch, we walked around the historic district towards city market, where there are quaint little gift shops that offer everything from spices to silver, and antiques to novelty gifts. From there, we caught a city tour. We decided to take a 50-minute, fully-narrated horse-drawn carriage tour, which showed us the Hamilton-Turner Inn, one of the first buildings in the city to be completely equipped with electricity; over Jones Street, which is still paved in the original colonial-era red brick; and the home of the late Catherine Greene who coaxed Eli Whitney to create the cotton gin in 1793. We learned that the city of Savannah burned down four times since it was founded by James Ogelthorpe, and the First Baptist Church was one of few edifices to survive these fires because it was made of concrete unlike the others, such as the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. Ogelthorpe, who was known as a tolerant man, made Savannah a welcoming home for not just the Protestants, but Jews and Catholics as well.
In the mid-1700s to mid-1800s, the city was ravaged with bouts of Yellow Fever, sending Savannah’s ailing residents to the city’s already crowded cemeteries. In an attempt to reuse coffins, grave-keepers soon found that people had been prematurely buried when they found nail scratches on the roofs of the coffins– a result of people waking from the coma induced by Yellow Fever. As a result, victims of Yellow Fever were eventually placed in the ground with a bell attached to their coffins so grave keepers could exhume them should they wake up. According to our tour guide, some people believe that it’s from this era that the phrase “saved by the bell” was coined, although the more widespread notion is that the phrase is linked back to boxing. We didn’t take any of the ghost tours of Savannah to find out …
Instead, following our city tour, we walked from city market to the Riverwalk, which runs along the Savannah River and is lined with stores and street vendors. Here, modern riverfront hotels and river cruises exist side-by-side with the older grafittied buildings and tug boats. That seems to be the case throughout this historic city: charming antebellum townhouses, courtyards and antique stores juxtaposed with today’s CVS pharmacies and Starbucks Coffee shops. Savannah is a beautiful, Southern city with so much of America’s history to tell.