Tybee Island and Savannah

 

After spending several weeks enduring a frostbitten winter, Mike and I headed for the southern Georgia coast to soak up some sunshine and do a little sightseeing.

Mike traveled south on business and, then, picked me up at the airport in Orlando, so we started our trip with a couple of days at Daytona Beach Shores, just to relax by the ocean and warm our souls.

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We headed up the coast to Tybee Island, GA. This place reminds me of an old-fashioned beach town, with 60’s music playing over speakers on the sidewalks, old wooden surfboards in the store windows, and soda shops on the street corners. We did a little browsing and shopping in the many shops and had lunch in a seaside restaurant before heading down to the beach. Winds were extremely high, which meant we ate some sand and very few people were on the beach, but that didn’t stop us from exploring. It’s a peaceful, relaxing beach. I especially love the old wooden bench swings that beg you to come and sit a spell, swing a bit, and just take in the sights and smells of the ocean.

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After spending a day on the island, we headed to Savannah. There is so much history in this city that it seemed important to take advantage of one of the many tours offered in order to learn as much as possible. The tour guides kept us entertained with jokes while also providing a wealth of historic information and interesting trivia. We followed their advice to stay on the trolley for the entire tour, so that we could learn about all of the areas of town. Once the tour was completed, we were able to continue on, hopping on and off of the trolley at different sites, so that we could walk around and explore some of the areas in more detail.

We learned how British General James Edward Oglethorpe established Savannah, the first organized city in America, on the Savannah River as a means of allowing a fresh start for many of the “working poor.” Slavery, alcohol, and interestingly enough, lawyers  were not allowed in Savannah when it was first established. People were free to worship God as they chose, which was appealing to the immigrants as that is why many of them left their homelands.

The city was designed as a series of grids, with wide streets and plenty of park settings as well as places for work and town meetings. The town squares still remain, along with countless statues and memorials paying tribute to historical figures, such as General Oglethorpe, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, and Revolutionary War hero, Nathaniel Greene.

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We visited the Cathedral of St. John The Baptist, which is beyond stunning.

 

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Savannah has served as the location for several movies, including the park bench scenes for “Forrest Gump”, and the Six Pence Restaurant, where Julia Roberts’ character catches her husband cheating in “Something to Talk About.” Other movies shot on location in Savannah include “Glory,” starring Denzel Washington, and several Burt Reynolds movies, including “Gator” and “The Longest Yard.”

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“Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” which tells the story of eccentric Savannah business man, Jim Williams is, of course, of major interest to many tourists. Tours are offered of the Mercer-Williams home, which is still owned by one of Jim Williams’ family members, but the trolley tour guides warned that the owner does not appreciate questions about the murder; she is only interested in discussing the home’s architecture.

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One of the most popular sites in Savannah is Forsyth Park. Among many statues honoring Civil War soldiers and the Marine Corps sits the Forsyth Park Fountain, which was designed to resemble the great fountain in Paris, at the Place de la Concorde. Residents and tourists turn the water in the fountain green on St. Patrick’s Day.

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Costumed characters will sometimes hop onto a trolley during one of the tour stops to provide additional historical information about the city. “Eli Whitney” came aboard our trolley to explain how the invention of the cotton gin allowed the city of Savannah, as well as the whole state of Georgia, to prosper.

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Another costumed visitor was this young lady. She informed us, in her thick Irish accent, that she and her husband were Irish immigrants who came to America as indentured servants and worked for years in Savannah to pay off the debt to their master, who had paid for their passage in exchange for several years of servitude. She provided much insight as to what life was like for indentured servants during that time. Before departing, she informed us that she and her husband never saw freedom in America, as they received a sentence of hanging for killing their master. We found her particularly interesting, as some of my husband’s Irish ancestors actually came to America as indentured servants. (I’m not aware of any of them killing their masters, however)

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We visited the Bonaventure Cemetery. The “Bird Girl” statue, which is on the cover of the book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” was originally in this cemetery on the grave of a little girl who had passed away, but had to be moved to a museum due to so many people wanting to touch it after the popularity of the movie. The cemetery is huge and filled with many extremely old graves and tombstones.

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River Street is, of course, one of the most fun places to visit in Savannah. Steeped in historical tradition, it is lined with shops and restaurants along the Savannah River. Endless food choices, and absolutely the best praline I have ever tasted!

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We decided to do things the old-fashioned way and take the original stairs that were built  as the only way for people to get down to River Street when the city was first built. The pictures don’t tell the true story of just how steep and narrow these stairs are – there are warning signs for those who are brave enough (or foolish enough) to try it. I don’t know how in the world women ever made it up or down those stairs in those long dresses during the 1700’s!

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The City Market, which sits in the heart of the Historic District, is filled with artist shops, sidewalk cafes, pubs and restaurants. Bands were performing in the street when we went for dinner. It’s also the place where people were gathering for the Haunted Tour. We skipped that tour. Paula Dean’s restaurant is located in this area, as well. Extremely crowded! But there are endless choices for every appetite. It is a great place to relax, enjoy some music, do some shop-browsing, and enjoy a good meal after a long day of sightseeing.

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We had a wonderful time exploring Savannah. It’s definitely a must-see for anyone who appreciates learning about American history.

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One final note – If you are serious about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, you may want to make plans to be in Savannah one March 17th. The city is famous for its St. Patty’s Day celebrations. The streets in the Historic District are closed to traffic to allow for all of the visitors. People literally park their cars on the sides of the highways and camp out on the lawns of the many town squares for the Irish celebration. Every business is decorated in green and there is definitely a lot of dancing in the streets!

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