GEORGIA

Short and Sweet in Savannah

Driving into Savannah on Interstate 16, at first blush, looks like driving into just about any city on any interstate. The road is elevated and you see the tops of buildings and trees and the usual billboards. It's the termination of I-16 in the historic district of Savannah that makes it unique. After one final curve, the road plops you out at a fairly routine intersection, yet within a few blocks you find yourself having to drive around one of Savannah's historic squares. Suddenly the buildings look older and you're driving past cobbled streets while vying for road space with horse and carriages.

This stop in Savannah was to be a very short one; just an overnight stay to break up a long drive. We had reservations at the Hilton Garden Inn Savannah Historic District on W. Bay Street one block off the river. We arrived just before dark and after having spent eight hours in the car, we asked the concierge if there was a place within walking distance. Thanks to our friends at the Savannah CVB, it turns out that we had been placed in the perfect environment to take advantage of dinner and attractions within walking distance.

This area of Savannah is a National Landmark Historic District. The historic district encompasses the area that was first mapped out by city founder General James Edward Oglethorpe in 1733. The city was designed in a grid pattern interspersed with public squares and parks, most of which remain preserved today. It was Franklin Square, developed in 1790 that we drove around as we entered into the Historic District. This was one of the squares that was almost lost to urban renewal in the mid twentieth century, but was has been preserved. It is now home to a monument honoring Haitian volunteers who fought in the Siege of Savannah during the Revolutionary War.

We exited out the Montgomery Street entrance of the hotel and walked across to City Market. It was four blocks of shops, galleries and restaurants on a cobbled street with an open air market feeling. City Market was first established in 1755 and was the social and economic center of the city. Four different market buildings served the market square during the 200 year history of Savannah. The last being a large, ornate brick structure built in 1872. It was torn down in 1954 to make way for a parking garage on nearby Ellis Square. The demolition of that building became a rallying point for native Savannahians interested in preserving the history of the city. The Historic Savannah Foundation has now helped to restore Ellis Square and the area surrounding it.

Adults, children and pets milled around and headed into quaint shops and bistro type restaurants with outside seating. As this was November, it seemed the perfect opportunity to do some Christmas shopping for unique presents that can't be found in a mall. The perfect gift was a pair of silver earrings in the style of the distinctive ornamental ironworks found around the city. City Market exuded history and genuine goods and one could easily envision what it would have been like to shop here in the previous couple of centuries.

Dinner was at Tapas by Anna on the square. It was a lovely evening to sit outside and watch the people go by. The server was very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu. The food was good. Towards the end of our meal, one table filled with a family with two young children while another had a bulldog puppy yelping ferociously at anyone who moved. It was a very casual and fun atmosphere.

The next morning we again wanted to stay in the area and headed toward the riverfront. It was a very different look as we walked up Bay Street and then followed an old, bumpy and cobbled ramp down and around the corner. At first it seemed wrong to walk this way past dumpsters and delivery trucks to get to a tourist spot, yet again the sense of history and the past was overwhelming. I pictured horses and carts filled with cotton heading down the steep slope to do business on the riverfront.

River Street is on Oglethorpe's bluff overlooking the river. Old warehouses have found new life and house restaurants, shops and galleries. The cobbled road is made up of the original ballast stones that were carried across the ocean on ships arriving in the New World. The riverfront was quiet and rather empty on this early Sunday morning. We passed just a couple of places open for breakfast. We stopped in at Huey's on the River. The menu was what you would expect in a proper Southern city: Eggs Benedict, and grits but with a Cajun flair so we enjoyed Anduille sausage and beignets as well. We were seated by the window and watched as early morning joggers, strollers and dog walkers passed by. By the end of our meal, the line was building outside and we knew we had picked a hopping spot to start our day.

As we walked back towards our hotel, we stopped in at River Street Sweets. It was a place where you could see the actual candy being made and could just feel the sugar oozing into your pores. We were shipped back in time once again as a pigeon flew in the open front door and started pecking around on the floor. Nonplussed, one of the shop workers shooed him out peacefully with a broom. Not something you experience often in your neighborhood grocery store.

Though we spent less than 24 hours in historic Savannah, we got a wonderful taste of the Southern Hospitality offered by this beautiful city. It would make for a wonderful long weekend with time to explore the rest of the Historic District and experience the night life on the river. For more ideas and information on planning your Savannah getaway go to: www.visitsavannah.com

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