Saturday, August 25, 2007

Savannah, Pickney Island, and Bonaventure

Steamy. Sultry. Savannah. The first southern town in America, settled by James Oglethorpe and made famous by The Book, has a character to her that even I have a hard time describing. There's a kind of lazy bustle, an eccentric sophistication, a distant welcome that pervades every aspect of her character and makes her a fascinating destination that my husband and I cannot get enough of.

This was our fourth visit to the town that, before The Book, was identified as, "north of Florida"*, and we wanted to revisit old sites, and explore new ones.

We arrived in the afternoon with the intent of taking a carriage ride and then having dinner on River Street, where we could watch the Savannah River flow past us as we ate in a low-ceiling, rock-walled, 300-old building. The air was thick with heat and steam, and it immediately coated us with a sticky layer of sweat. Because of that, the carriage companies apparently stabled the horses to protect them from the heat. Hurrah for the horses (should have thought about that before), but we needed an alternative. With so much to do at our fingertips, we instantly came up with a Plan B and went with it. After buying a new hat (my birthday present) at one of the local shops, we walked to the Cotton Exchange Restaurant and ate. Afterwards, we walked around the shops along the Factors Walk, located between River and Bay Streets, and then decided to watch the sunset on Tybee Island. Overall, a fantastic start to our three-day weekend.

We had several ideas for the following day. After watching the Weather Channel and guessing the heat would once again keep the horses indoors, we headed to Pickney Island to visit the Wildlife Refuge.

I found this place while perusing my copy of "Coastal South Carolina, Welcome to the Lowcountry". It's hard to imagine that any South Carolina island—barrier or erosion remnant—could be uninhabited, but it is. Pickney NWR on Calibogue Sound is a refuge for a variety of flying things from skeeters to herons, and crawling things from crabs to alligators. "All trips begin and end" in the parking lot, the book said, and after finding a spot under a large palm tree, we sprayed every inch of our clothes and exposed skin with Deep Woods Off (40% deet!), grabbed our packs and walking sticks, and headed for the "trail".

The refuge has fourteen miles of trails, all of which branch off of the 3.2-mile gravel road that runs through the refuge, past several ponds and small islands. The heat prevented us from going too far, and after crunching—loudly—for an hour and then remembering we forgot to bring sunscreen, we headed back to the car. Though extremely hot, we enjoyed seeing flocks of Ibis and several other birds flying through the air. We'd like to go back sometime. If we do, we'll check out the trails on bikes.

On the way back to Savannah, we detoured down Hwy 170 to check out the Savannah NWR. We were still drying out from the hike, so we were glad to find out the former Laurel Hill rice plantation was a drive-thru.

We crept over the four-mile road, enjoying the swamps, birds, and tidal creeks. We stopped briefly to chat with three-generations of Lowcountry women fishing in the creek, and ended up spotting an alligator. Our first in the wild! (Not counting those at Cypress Gardens.)

We still had a lot of day left after visiting both refuges, so we drove to what I consider to be the most beautiful spot in the south—Bonaventure Cemetery.

Though made famous by The Book, Bonaventure isn't the "Garden" where the movie version shows Minerva working her Good and Evil at ol' Doc Buzzard's grave on Jim Williams behalf. (I've read that no one knows, or will admit, where Dr Buzzard's grave is.) However, Bonaventure was once the home of the Bird Girl statue that graced the cover of The Book, and was featured in the opening of The Movie. The statue now resides in the Telfair Museum in downtown Savannah, but we love visiting the cemetery when we can. With its tall pines, oaks covered with the characteristic tattered moss, beautiful statues watching over long-deceased love ones, there's a beauty here, a peace and serenity that draws a person in. We drove around for a while, marveling at the natural and man-made art, enjoying the tranquility (despite the presence of us tourists), and searched for one particular gravesite, that of Eliza Wilhelmina Theus. Why this particular grave draws us to it over the others, I'm not sure, but we go there when we visit.

After leaving Bonaventure, we drove to the hotel, showered up, and then went back to the historical district where we ate dinner at Huey's. If you like N'Orlean style food, visit Huey's! They serve near authentic foods in generous portions.

We spent more time walking around the historic district both that night, and the following afternoon, admiring the architecture, visiting the historic squares and Colonial Cemetery, and trying to take in as much of the area before we had to leave.

Savannah offers a variety of activities ranging from sightseeing tours (historical, ghost, carriage, etc. I with they had an architectural tour, though) to sea excursions such as fishing and dolphin tours, to cultural events. If we spent a week there, visiting three of the city's squares each day, we still couldn't learn everything about the history, architecture, culture, and people that make up Savannah.

But that just gives us a good excuse to go back!



Savannah Aug 07

*Savannah Magazine, March/April 2007, page 61, "Living in the Heart of a Tourist Town"

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