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Augusta and Savannah, Georgia

June 18, 2012

In March of 2008, just a few months before we got married, we set off on a road trip to see several graduate schools that David was considering. Since we were driving so far anyway, we worked in a few “vacation” stops between the universities. Good thing, because the schools and their locations turned out to be much duller than the cities and towns we popped in along the way.

Our route took us from Nashville to Augusta, Savannah, Charleston, and Asheville. I’ve been wanting to share the pictures here since I started this blog, and am just now finally writing up the posts to go with them.

So, Savannah. It was absolutely gorgeous and full of character. It was my new favorite U.S. city… until we got to Charleston the next day. I’ve been eager to go back, and will try to put into words what exactly what made it so alluring.

First, the historic district is absolutely beautiful in the spring. Eventually I figured out that I should stop zipping my camera into its protective case as long as I was outside, because each time I turned a corner the view seemed unbelievably picturesque. Every few blocks there was a garden square with benches, fountains, statues, trees, lawns, and flowers. Everywhere you look there are stately buildings, shops, cafes, chapels, and beautiful blossomy trees and bushes. Most streets were tree-lined and many houses had little lush gardens in front of them, flowered windowboxes, or hanging plants. It was so pretty. I honestly don’t think the pictures do it justice, and literally the entire historical area was like this.

The owners must take incredible pride in their homes, because it truly seemed that each one was perfectly landscaped and maintained, ready to be photographed for a magazine. The gardens in front of the private houses also seemed open, inviting, and on display, which made me feel like Savannah residents might not only welcome tourists, but also make an extra effort to put their best foot forward and impress us. It worked on me, no doubt.

There was also that elusive Southern factor I wrote about in my post on Mobile Bay. Again, I can’t put my finger on it, but I feel certain that if you were blindfolded and floated into Savannah on a parachute, you would have no doubt that you were in the Deep South. There were graceful trees draped with Spanish moss, bow-ties, seersucker, old fashioned architecture, the subtle vibe of class and sophistication, the reverence for tradition and formality. When we walked around town in the mornings, everything was quiet and serene, like you had escaped real life.

Like Mobile Bay, it was easy to imagine the city centuries ago without changing very much about it, especially when you strolled along the cobblestone roads down by the river, below and behind the historic downtown. You could practically see pirates and seamen walking on those same stones and feel the seedy past around you, despite 250 years of separation and strains of a Justin Timberlake song coming from a bar or restaurant nearby.

Savannah definitely had a personality all its own. One piece was the historical factor, the storied past evidenced now by cobblestone streets, ghost walks, carriage tours, a tiny shop dedicated to the book Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil, another full of Irish culture and trinkets, restaurants that claim to have served pirates, and several different Irish and Scottish pubs.

Another piece of the city’s character is its lively, festive side. We arrived late in the afternoon of Friday, March 14, and found Savannah already full of St. Patrick’s Day revelers of all ages and fashion sensibilities. We spotted green leafy bras and coordinating dog collars, green feather boas, mardi gras beads, huge green felt hats, plastic green bowlers, t-shirts reading Born to Golf; Forced to Work and Beer: It’s Not Just For Breakfast Anymore. There were booths down by the river selling fried catfish nuggets, turkey legs, and polish sausages to the crowds. Apparently everyone had descended on the historic district for the parade on Friday and used up all their best green outfits. Why save them for Monday when there is a parade going on?!

While we were in the area, we drove over to Tybee Island, which had beaches and cute, colorful beach houses. There was a Crab Shack along the way advertising live alligators and exotic birds.

Tybee Island was adorable: a casual, down-to-earth, summery Southern beach town filled with locals, families, spring-breakers, and day-trippers.

A couple more notes on cities we traveled through on our way to Savannah. First, Augusta (where the Masters Golf Tournament is held every April) struck me as very odd. For one thing, you can barely get a glimpse of the golf course, because it is surrounded by a chain link fence that is covered in green tarp and lined with huge thick bushes and signs telling you not to enter, like a zoo. I did sneak a picture of the entrance from across the busy boulevard by “trespassing” on private property. Across the thoroughfare, on Magnolia Street, there was one very nice looking clubhouse-style building that was unlabeled and then the whole rest of the surroundings seemed to be very plain, very modest homes.

The downtown area had some small pockets of historic-looking Southern buildings and pretty blossom trees, and then more run-down areas around it. All in all, it was just not what we expected based on the picture-perfect course where the Masters is played on TV. I could not visualize famous golf pros hobnobbing with each other anywhere in the parts of town we saw, which is totally opposite what I remember of Pebble Beach, a famous golf location in my home state. However, we arrived on a gloomy, stormy day and not many people were out while we were exploring, so maybe that impacted our impression.

Lastly, on the way from Augusta to Savannah, we drove through Waynesboro, Georgia, which appears to be the self-proclaimed Bird Dog Capital of the World.

It was a sweet small town to pass through, and I’ll never forget the church bells we heard ringing there, because they were the loveliest I’ve every heard: complex and melodic, like a song.

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