Welcome to Savannah.
The saying goes…
“If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, “What’s your business?” In Macon they ask, “Where do you go to church?” In Augusta they ask your grandmother’s maiden name.
But in Savannah the first question people ask you is “What would you like to drink?”
Savannah’s distinctive vibe is courtesy of the preservation of 21 of its original 24 town squares bathed in Oaks and Spanish moss (a note on the Spanish moss: they used to stuff pillows and mattresses with the stuff, which became the source of their bed bug problems and the saying “don’t let the bedbugs bite”). Round it off with the unique Gothic and Georgian architecture, monuments to the Southern port city’s fascinating history and breatheless humidity and you have the perfect setting for some great story telling as evident by the wide choice of ghosts tours you can take.
But anyone who has read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil knows that it doesn’t need ghost stories. Locals call it “the book” and grudgingly credit it with a bit of a tourism revival here. You can visit Monterry Square and the Mercer-Williams house all though the tour inside is quite expensive, typically rushed and frustratingly you can’t take pictures. But I think the combination of Savannah’s distinctiveness and Jim Williams’ impeccable taste and appointment in the home are so evocative of the story it’s completely worth it. I was blown away by Williams’ style but also when our tour guide told us how Savannah “needed him to get off” his infamous murder wrap because of the conservation work he had done around the city … a little bit of Southern eccentricity for you, right there.
Despite it’s carefully preserved past, I really enjoyed the city’s vibrancy. I managed to arrive on Grad weekend so weaves my way through gowned and capped graduates and a free evening concert in Forsyth Park. Farmer’s Market’s sprung up in idyllic surroundings and thousands of dogs descended on a dog carnival in the park on one afternoon. On Saturday evening you couldn’t move without running into Brides everywhere (imagine the bun fight to get your favorite square on the right date). I watched one ceremony from one of the many park benches in front of the fountain while listening to an old couple describe their many years in Savannah.
And still so peaceful and pretty to just relax and catch up on some reading in.
I must admit I planned this part of my trip around the cheapest route on the Greyhound I could find (It is TEN South African Rand to the Dollar after all!!). I just needed to get east … And north again, obviously. One or two of the places were just names on a map for me. But one of the best things about traveling is being able to connect some distant, distant stories with some real people and actual places and turn words and ideals into relative realities.
And so I found myself in Montgomery, Alabama.
It wasn’t a city name that initially rang a bell with me and I was going to see how quickly I could bypass it altogether. Until I put two and two together (with the help of some googling) … And was able to explore the place that Rosa Parks refused to get up off her bus seat for a white man and inspired a young Minister named Martin Luther King Jr to lead a 13 month bus boycott to end segregation on Montgomery public transport. And let me tell you, I think I had to visit to truly understand how sprawling and spaced out this little Alabama city is to fully understand the determination of its people to stick to bus boycott that lasted longer than a year.
In the meantime, across town (I know, because I walked there) was a completely different little bit of history. One of Montgomery’s other famous daughters was none other than Zelda Fitzgerald, the flapper figure head and tragic wife of F. Scott of Great Gatsby fame. The couple moved back to Montgomery in between Zelda’s mental hospitalization and their residence has been turned into the only Fitzgerald-dedicated museum to date. Let’s just say the combination of the party-loving Fitzgerald couple and southern-style story telling is a complete treat even though the house itself is quite simple.
Next up was Atlanta. I think the beginning of my fascination with the South started with reading Gone with the Wind so I had to go to Margaret Mitchell’s house …
…even though I still struggle to understand the absolute reverence people still hold here for a war fought in the name of slavery, that they lost and ruined them for years to come. A town or museum will offer up Confederate monuments right next to those from the Civil Rights Movement. I have seen one reference to the War of Independence (and commemorating another battle they lost by the way) the whole time I’ve been in the South but you can’t get away from the Civil War.
It has certainly been a journey through the places, museums, books and reading to try and understand. And then seeing reality at the Greyhound station.
The party atmosphere. The history. The jazz. The warmth of the people.
The beignets (French-style doughnuts drowning in icing sugar) and the cafe au lait.
The crazy stories bought to life by crazy characters and their crazy descendants.
The gumbo or the shrimp and grits. The beads everywhere. The cocktails necessary to recover from the ever present heat.
The mighty, muddy Mississippi.
The plantations and everything they represent to everyone.
New Orleans is everything you’ve ever read about, heard in the jazz or seen in a movie.
It’s also everything you’ve seen on the news.
At first I didn’t notice any Katrina damage but that’s because the touristy or well known areas I visited are all older and were originally built on higher ground. It’s was only when I was making my way further out to visit a swampland that the bus driver pointed out some of the houses still in ruins and the corporations that have just upped and left, rather then rebuild. One of New Orleans’ poorest suburbs that was worse affected by Katrina still hasn’t had its hospital rebuilt almost eight years later.
One of the reasons I wanted to visit New Orleans was to see its recovery from Katrina. But the one thing that struck me from visiting was that even now I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like. I’ve seen some of the water levels but I can’t actually imagine water like that filling up so quickly, full of everything and everywhere. Remember this whole area is actually either swamp or lake so that water has nowhere to go. New Orleans isn’t the first place I’ve visited that is worried about global warming. When I mentioned my shock that they still hadn’t rebuilt the hospital in Ward 9, one local questioned the point of it given the environment even though a lot of people are still living there.
Anyways. Just some thoughts from someone who only spent a few days in town.
Below is that beautiful swamp. And how high above sea level you would have to build on that swamp to get insurance in the State of Louisiana if you wanted to get insurance on your house.
I think I’ve just picked out the ultimate souvenir from my trip right here in New Orleans.
It wouldn’t be from Bourbon Street.
Maybe it was the drunken crowds over Memorial Day weekend but I think this party strip has to be one of the most disappointing tourist traps I’ve ever come across.
But New Orleans has so much more to offer.
I spent hours and hors wandering up Magazine Street and through the surrounding areas including the historic and very swanky Garden District.
If I had to take something home with me it would be one of these amazing houses, complete with patio or balcony, old fashioned lamp and splashes of color.
Not anything big or fancy, just one of the little guys at the end will do.
I promise I’d work extra hard on my mint julip recipe for those long, hot Louisiana evenings overlooking the tree lined streets from the patio. For guests, of course!
Every traveller I’ve met so far has giggled guiltily if they had been to the US of A
“It’s just like the movies!”‘ they’d say about some detail they didn’t get back home but had seen time and time again on the big screen.
And so it was when I landed in Seattle complete with Indy music right away in the airport and a Starbucks on every corner (it was founded here and now boats around 170 odd in the city).
It wasn’t only all the famous things emanating from the far off North West (including Jimmy Hendricks, Nirvanato, Microsoft and Amazon to name a few) that bought me here. I was excited to catch up with Kate, a school friend and her husband who moved here almost two years ago.
It’s always great to have local advice when exploring a new city and Seattle was particularly easy to explore what with walk able distances and plenty of coffee culture to keep you going.
You obviously can’t miss Pike Place.
One of my favorites was the ferry. It doesn’t only offer great views at low prices, but with the canteen serving beer I like to think of it as one of the ch cheapest, in disguise booze cruises around.
One of the highlights was getting out of town and checking out some of the breathtaking North West scenery. I immediately regretted not spending more time here and exploring Canada and Alaska if the little that I saw is anything to go by!
We also managed to stop off in a fake Bavarian town just outside Seattle, which amused us endlessly (I’ve spent way too long deciding between one-liners about this so I’ll just leave it there).
I hadn’t said all I wanted to say about Mexico City but have fallen behind in my blogging (for good reason to come), so here is a concise note of …
What we should learn from Mexico
1.) Pride in our Art
This is the land of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera after all.
Frida even graces their 500 peso bill.
But I don’t only mean revering talented artists, but literally being proud of who we are in our art. This Rivera mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameida Park is literally set in one of Mexico City’s main stomping ground and contains most, if not all, of Mexico’s historic and noteworthy figures including his wife Frida, the fictional satirical La Calavera Catrina love her, worth a Wikipedia read on her own) and Leo Trotsky, who of course spent the last years of his exile here and must boast the most disconnected grave from his heritage surrounded by the aloes he collected during is stay.
Need I say more?
They’re cheap, fresh and everywhere.
There is the roughly five minute ritual of deciding what you want, watching the taco being prepared and main ingredients chopped and heated. OK, re-pan-fried.
Usually served here simply with onions and cilantro … Which only happens to be my favorite herb. Meant to be!
Why, oh why don’t we have more of there back home?
We all love a good cocktail bar. But what about one where it is old age tradition to serve snacks with your drinks. From the traditional …
To the modern (imagine chille/sour worm candied apple)
OK. All the food. Especially the Street Food.
Have I mentioned Mexico’s magico pueblos?
They’re towns around the country that the tourism board promises will give visitors a magical experience through their natural beauty, cultural riches or/and historical relevance.
Mexico boasts 83 so there are a lot of cobbled streets, old churches and taco stands to cover.
So you’ll forgive me if I’ve become a little fussy as to the town or city where I’m spending any of my precious 16 days in Mexico.
Historical and beautiful churches, quaint cobbling and architecture reminiscent of past centuries are obviously a given. Bustling markets with original local crafts sold by traditionally dressed old ladies is a basic. I quite like a bit of edge – usually in the form of some recent political movement not scared to throw around the word revolution – chucked in for good measure. And I’m not sure I could do without the entertaining guide book blurbs of old hero’s and tales to keep me entertained while wandering the easily-walkable streets.
A zocalo, or main town square, just isn’t a zocalo without an imposing cathedral, trees for shade and a statue or central kiosk of some kind. I prefer a high ratio of old people sitting and judging from the benches, surrounding coffee shops, shoe shining stations and newspaper stands. And there should always be some sort of live music floating through the air, maybe some soothing guitar strumming in the afternoon heat before becoming more up tempo for evening. If I could choose.
Seriously though, it’s impossible not to be swept away in one of Mexico’s traditional towns or city’s. I know Oaxaca is a bit of a cultural hub so this probably isn’t typical throughout the country, but it’s almost impossible to walk down the street without hearing someone play a musical instrument. Even something as simple as the candles left under the Oaxaca Cathedral Saints are touchingly, brightly decorated and fiercely Mexican.
So imagine my surprise to discover Oaxaca isn’t even on the list (I think it might be too big).
But it’s certainly has met the criteria and then some. And I guess there are 83 pretty good reasons to visit Mexico.