“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?’” – John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1994).
And so, this is Savannah, Georgia for you. I would call myself a fairly seasoned traveler, I think– I have made my way around most of Europe, the United States, and ventured a little bit beyond. However, as much as I see, one part of the world that always baffles me a little is the outdoors lovin’, drawl speakin’, slow talkin’ South.
So, when my friend Dona and I ventured down to the Lowcountry for the week, the Hilton Head Island/Bluffton area, I jumped at the chance to visit Savannah, Georgia, for the day, a mere 20 minute drive from Bluffton, which is a small, cozy, and unappreciated town only about 20 minutes away from Hilton Head as well.
Savannah is basically a more tame New Orleans, which reminds me your typical Southern city gone rogue. If you’re into a slow-moving and historical city with a great open-container policy, then Savannah is made for you. However, it’s still worth a visit if you’re in the area, especially if you are familiar with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, a novel by John Berendt chronicling the trial of Jim Williams taking place in the city.
Dona and I took an Old Town Trolley tour of the city, which is overpriced at $33 a pop, although the commentary is good and entertaining and the trolleys are efficient, coming by every ten minutes or so, even though they are advertised to take even longer. However, if you can stand the heat and the walk of the two-and-a-half mile historical center, the largest historical center in the country, then buy yourself a guidebook, skip the boring stuff, and do it yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be dropped off the designated stops with really no information in your hands.
Our first stop was the City Market, which is just a concentrated gathering of less-obvious tourist traps featuring candles, chocolates, Georgia peach sangria (do it; like I said, there’s an open container policy) and of course, Paula Deen’s restaurant and store, “The Lady and Sons.”
The next drop-off point was Chippewa Square, which is where “Forrest Gump” was filmed, although the bench itself where Gump sits is now located in the Savannah History Museum, located at the edge of Savannah and where the Old Town Trolley tours begin. We didn’t visit this museum, however since I hate history I was perfectly content Googling screenshots of the movie and then figuring out where the bench was and just taking some cheesy photos from there.
On our way to get to the Victorian District, a handsome line of beautiful Victorians definitely worth a casual stroll for the sheer wow factor, we also passed the Six Pence Pub, where a scene of Pretty Woman was filmed.
And then, finally, the sight I waited my whole life to see- the Mercer House, the home where Jim Williams lived, and ultimately, died of a heart attack– in the exact spot where he allegedly shot his employee and also alleged, lover, Danny Hansford. The tour of the house is a little dry (and expensive, at $13), but for hardcore Midnight fans, it’s worth it just to be in the house and think to yourself, Jim Williams lived and died right here. And yes, you do go into the front sitting room, as well as the hallway and another two sitting rooms, as well as see some of his art and antique collection among the rooms. Don’t expect too much information about Midnight- the home is owned by Williams’ sister and clearly, there are orders to keep the whole crazy ordeal on the hush-hush.
If you’re still obsessed with Midnight, you can stop at the Telfair Museum of Art to see the Bird Girl statue, the famous statue from Bonaventure Cemetery outside of Savannah where the photo from the front of Midnight was taken. The statue was moved to protect the dignity of the graves surrounding it from the family who purchased it in the cemetery.
And, even though it’s also a huge tourist trap, stop at River Street just to stroll about by the river and look at the beautiful buildings and water, since all of the shops are really just overpriced t-shirt shops.
My bottom line? Savannah is nice. It is. It’s a classic Southern town with beautiful homes and trees and happy people who like a nice sweet tea. However, unless you’re a huge history or Midnight buff, don’t go out of your way for a visit.