Sunday, September 14, 2014

Georgia Geocaching and a Spontaneous Trip to Savannah

The Two Train Wrecks moved back to Florida from Nevada in January. We decided that now that we live in civilization again (as opposed to Las Vegas where you have to drive 300 miles to ANYwhere), that we were going to start a new tradition... THE TRAVEL JARS.  Now, so far, the jars are apparently invisible or can only be seen by mom's night vision because I can't find the physical jars, and with our memories, we really should have something tangible. The idea is, we have one jar for 'big' trips like cruises or major road trips, and the other jar for 'little' trips like over-nighters or nearby trips within the state. When we think of a place we want to go, we stick in the jar. My vote for Rome went in almost before the idea came out of mom's mouth, as did a return trip to Paris and Ireland. I guess mom wasn't expecting them to be THAT big because she just started laughing and said, "Keep dreaming. Neither of us can afford that on our pensions. Go play the lottery."  That's mom. A dream-destroyer. If I wanted reality, I would have put Gainesville in the jar and been done with it!

At any rate, one place that mom and I did seem to agree on and discuss more than once was Savannah. We started planning that trip a couple of times but with gas, hotel, and various places we'd like to see there, it wouldn't be a cheap trip so we nixed it the first time and went to Downtown Disney instead. Another time, we decided to head over to the gulf.

 I feel compelled to explain something here about geocaching (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, there is a "Geocaching 101" page on the left-hand column of this blog page): Every geocacher has something they really like to get on their statistics page. Some like to hide a lot, some like to discover and move trackables as much as possible. Some are almost feral about getting the "First to Find" claim on a new geocache (which, by the way, is NOT something included on the stats page, but I've known cachers that actually have their phones set up to alert them when a new cache is published and will get up in the middle of the night to go find it).

(The states we've cached in. The darker the shade, the more caches we've claimed there. So far, 16 states, including HI and AK)
For mom and I, because we travel a lot, we're all about the maps and souvenirs.  Souvenirs are special badges you get when you go to a new state or if you attend a special event. For example, last year in August, we had the 31-days of Geocaching, which earned you a (cyber) souvenir badge each day you cached.

But back to this story, when mom and I drove back to Florida from Nevada, we kind of did a zig-zag pattern to pick up a couple of states we otherwise wouldn't have, like Oklahoma and Arkansas. But we had a hole on our map. Georgia. It was driving us both nuts. We used to go camping up there often when I was a kid, but we hadn't been back in 27 years and we didn't hit it on our move back.!

Mom was bored on Labor Day weekend and tells me, "What do you think about going to Georgia this weekend?" I looked at her like, haven't we discussed this several times? She had decided that if we went to Kingsland, GA, it's right on the Florida border and we could get there in two hours. Well, hell, I'm in! We actually booked a room there so we could have some time to look around while we were the. We were in the car 3 hours later.

We arrived in Kingsland which is right next to St. Mary's, and there were several caches to choose from.These are two small but historic towns, mostly because it was an early settlement and there is a Navy and Submarine base nearby. We did spend some time geocaching in both places, but I didn't get to spend any time in the cemetery of St. Mary's because my blood is apparently even better than Sookie Stackhouse's...every mosquito in three states was having a go at me!  Mom?  Nope. Just me. The cemetery there goes way back to the 1700's and I'm a Graveyard Rabbit, so bummer. But there was a very nice area nearby down by the riverfront: a couple of restaurants (one serves gator-burgers, YUM!), the submarine museum, a tiny bar playing reggae and a park with plenty of benches to watch the sun go down over the swamp marshes. (It's prettier than it might sound, but hopefully you're not there when the swamp-gas is really bad. Blech.)
(The Sidney Lanier Bridge near Brunswick, GA)

While in our hotel room that night, mom says, "Want to go to Savannah?" My usual dumb-founded expression was the only answer. I didn't know where she was going with this or if she was kidding. She says, "It's only a couple of hours from here and who knows when we'll get back up here." I gave her all the logical arguments she had used on me, but in the end I was in! As usual. She found us a less expensive hotel about 20 miles south of Savannah (Tip for the area: If you want to stay close but not IN the city, meaning less expensive, try hotels in the "Gateway" area).

I had been to Savannah once. At night, at the airport, which really isn't in Savannah. The Marines were sending me back to CA from Parris Island, SC, and that's where they sent me to stay in a hotel until my flight early in the morning. So, it's not really fair to say I had actually BEEN there, St. Simon's Island is among several islands along the Georgia coast, and I had been there when I was about 12 with my church youth group (there's a large Methodist Conference Center there), but I only remembered the chapel (still there!). We were up early and actually went out to St. Simon's island before heading for the tourist district of Savannah. The island was much bigger than I remember with actual towns and historic areas. I guess the youth group powers-that-be figured that the history wasn't really important. We did stop at the lighthouse, as well as another really cool cemetery at Christ Church. We also stopped at Fort Frederica, but I don't recommend it. There is very little still remaining of the fort.

On our way to Savannah, we stopped at Bonaventure Cemetery, which is actually quite famous and very big. The only thing I wanted to see there was the 'bird girl'. You might recognize her from the movie, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". She's a little girl holding out a plate in each hand for bird seed. We went into the office and asked where we could find her. The lady said, "Oh, they took her out a long time ago." What?  Apparently, too many people were touching her so they moved her to the Savannah History Museum. That sucked, but she told us to maybe go out and look for "Gracie", also famous in a local way. (Tip: Don't want to go on a guided tour? Lurk about the ones already there. There were two different tour group at Gracie's grave and we couldn't get close enough until they had all moved, so I don't feel the least bit guilty about it. Keep an eye on those tour groups and follow at a safe distance. They'll take you straight to the most note-worthy graves.) Also, we weren't aware of it while we were there, but one famous person is buried there... Oscar Wilde.

I must tell you how hot it was. It's freakin' AUGUST in the south! It's like being wrapped in a hot, wet blanket on the surface of the sun. We were worried about this, but the goals seemed more important at the time. My mom is especially bad in heat and humidity and I have a long history of dehydrating quickly in the same circumstances. At one point, mom complained about it (she was wearing a tank top and shorts) and I said, "You do remember that I went to Parris Island in August and that's only 50 miles north of here? If you think this is bad, imagine a full set of cammies (camouflage), combat boots, a hat, a rifle, sand, sand-fleas (aka "no see-ums"), a 50 lb. sea bag on your back and hiking through the swamps with all the critters THAT entails. I don't want to hear anything else about it!" I must have had way more tolerance, or at least fear of my drill instructor, back then because (and I'm getting old...I'll say it!) this was wiping mom and me out!  It was 94% humidity and sunny both days we were there. I swear you have to take 3 showers a day down here!

Finally heading in to Savannah, providence stepped in because one of the first places we saw was one of the places I wanted to go:  The Pirate House.  It was air-conditioned, a historic building, a good size shop and a LOT of rum drinks to choose from! (Tip: Order from the menu and sit in the bar section. The dining area often has a wait and is quite loud. After our lunch, we walked around the building and saw the buffet. No way near as appetizing as what we had. Plus it had fried okra which is a deal-breaker for mom. LOL

Finding parking in historic Savannah can be quite the adventure. Sunday's aren't too bad because you don't have to deal with meters, so if you're patient enough, you can find a free place to park. If you're not patient, there is pay-to-park or you can go to the Visitor's Center and join a bus tour. Mom and I happened to get a spot right next to the Independent Presbyterian Church. I am a movie-junkie. Must be because I was an only child or something, but I love going to places where movies were filmed. My mother, the bookworm, does not understand this. No amount of explaining to her makes her get it. Sometimes, she just humors me. At any rate, Savannah seems to be pretty proud of their "Hollywood" history. The only problem, unless you're quite a bit older than me, you probably haven't heard of the majority of them. The two I was aware of were, again, "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", and two scenes from the beginning of "Forrest Gump". (Ironically, most of "Forrest Gump" was filmed in Beaufort, SC, which is also where Parris Island is... my boot camp) In the opening scenes of "Forrest Gump", you see a feather floating around. It floats by the Independent Presbyterian Church before continuing on to land on Forrest's foot where he sits on the bench talking to people and waiting for the bus. If you're looking for the house from "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil", you're looking for the Mercer-Williams House, which is located on Bull Street, on Monterey Square.

 (The Mercer-Williams House)

Now we come to the second disappointment. The square (Chippewa Square) does NOT contain Forrest Gump's bench. If you're familiar with the movie, you would instantly know this square. This time I went the Chamber of Commerce and asked the lady, "Where is THE bench?" I did not need to explain to which bench I was referring to. Without missing a beat, she said the bench was fake and made of fiberglass for the movie. THAT bench is currently also housed in the Savannah Historical Museum.

(Chippewa Square - this statue can be seen behind Forrest Gump's bench)

Savannah was not what I was expecting. I'm not sure why, but I kept envisioning the historic district of New Orleans. Old building with lots of wrought iron, and there was some of that, it's just that the main area of Savannah is all mish-mashed together in no particular order, that I could figure out. You may see 10 blah things and one cool thing. However, traffic is bad and the city streets wrap around several 'squares', which doesn't help and you have to watch one-way streets as well. One stop we had to make was at the Juliette Gordon Low House. She was the person who started Girl Scouts at the turn of the 20th century. I was raised in Girl Scouts from brownies until I went in the Marine Corps and my mom was my Girl Scout leader. It's a bit pricey for the tour and be prepared, there are several flights of stairs.

(Savannah's River Street and water taxi view from the river)

Let's talk about the Waterfront area. This is one of the most historic parts of Savannah. You will definitely want to check it out, as that's where all the "touristy" stores are and a couple of pubs and restaurants. You CAN drive on the River Street. I do not recommend this. First of all, it's set on a very steep incline to get there from the main roads. There is absolutely no parking. The road is made of large river rocks (original I think), and it's a narrow road. Added to that, there is a rail streetcar that goes up and down this street. People driving down there makes this even worse. Park somewhere near the Cotton Exchange building (there's an elevator down to the Riverfront to the left and behind that building), and walk down. If you want to get from one end to the other, the rail-trolley runs constantly and is free. Look for the "DOT" signs for stops and other free transportation.

(Today, the River Street area and Street Car look much the same, except no iron fence on the right)

The thing that makes Savannah so difficult to navigate is that, unlike most other historic towns and cities I've been to, where you can park and basically walk the whole town (we even did that in San Francisco), you really can't do that in Savannah because depending on where you want to go, it may be on the other side of town. We walked quite a bit, which would have been nice in say, February, but not in August.  Get your map of town ahead of time and mark what you want to see. Hopefully you can find parking somewhere in the middle and go from there. 

Savannah is rich in history and in architecture. There are eight kinds of architecture you will see: Federal, Georgian, Gothic (Victorian) Revival, Greek Revival, Italianate, Regency, Romanesque Revival and Second French Empire. Some areas are lumped together, like the 'Victorian' sector, but most of the time, you'll see them all jumbled up.

(One of my favorite buildings, the "Gingerbread House" in the Gothic/Victorian section: 1921 Bull St.)

On our second day in Savannah, mom tells me, "You know, South Carolina is just across the river. Literally." I knew where this was going. I was like, okay!  Another souvenir and another state on the geocaching map! Unfortunately, the closest one was near a fence that was just covered with huge spiders and webs. You could see where someone had managed to crawl under some of them to retrieve the cache, but I wasn't having any part of it. My mom (afraid of EVERYTHING in the woods!), asked me if I was going to get it. I told her she was insane. I counted no less than 6 of the giant orb spiders, mud and muck and who knows what other critters out there. I had a shower that morning, wasn't sweating just yet, and was wearing khaki pants. It was not going to happen! And I certainly wasn't going to marine-crawl down there to get it. Mom stared at the spot longingly, perhaps thinking if she concentrated hard enough, the cache would come to her. Nope! There was another cache 5 miles further up the road and I didn't have to get all icky to do it!  My kind of cache! Mission accomplished!

After seeing a bit more of Savannah, we headed out to Tybee Island. There's a nice lighthouse there that actually has all five of the original buildings standing and in use. But traffic getting on and off the island was HORRIBLE. Not sure why, but it was bumper to bumper and moving slowly the whole way. There is a very cool fort (Fort Pulaski) on Tybee as well that is in excellent condition if you're into the history.

My only other disappointment in the trip was the ghost tour. I LOVE to go on ghost tours in historical cities. I've done them in Edinburgh, London, St. Augustine, Williamsburg, Prescott, and several others. I really wanted to go on one in Savannah but it didn't work out for us. Since we were staying 20 miles out of town, it wasn't reasonable for me to take mom to the hotel and then go back for the ghost tour. The other thing is that the ghost tours in Savannah (there are several) are very expensive compared to others I've gone on. I think the most inexpensive on was $25. Nope!  The budget didn't allow for it. My mom doesn't do the ghost tours, and frankly doesn't know why I do. I keep explaining that a lot of the stories they tell are based on legitimate historical facts, and the boogy-man stuff is just cool for the same reason you sit around the campfire and tell ghost's fun to get creeped out! You can find flyers for the ghost tours at the Visitor's Center or the Chamber of Commerce. They offer cemetery tours at Bonaventure, they offer general ghost walking tours, ghost bus tours, and even haunted pub crawls. Take your pick!

Overall, mom and I enjoyed it, but I think we'd enjoy it more in winter. This little getaway gave us an idea of where we want to go and what we want to do for our next excursion up that way. There are more road trips in the plans, more states to go geocaching in and lots more trouble for us to find! And dammit if we STILL have a blank on the map for Louisiana!

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