As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I pretty much can't get enough of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, re: Charleston and Savannah. The last time I had the opportunity to go was May 2015. My 2017 trip was designed to be a much-needed getaway and reward for a jam-packed winter and early spring. And rewarding it was.
Wormsloe Historic Site
"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea," goes the old adage. And Charleston and Savannah, with stops in Beaufort and Wilmington, was exactly what the doctor ordered. My first stop after arriving in Savannah from Charleston was not the beach though - it was Wormsloe Historic Site, about 10 miles from downtown.
I don't like to over-plan when I go on a trip, rather pinpoint a few places to visit, and leave the rest up to strategic yet aimless wandering and exploration. So I hadn't planned on visiting Wormsloe, until I was mindlessly Instagram-scrolling a few days before and happened upon a photo of Wormsloe's much-photographed, Spanish moss-draped, live oak entrance. TIP: Visiting somewhere new? Let other people do the research for you by clicking on Instagram's geo-tag (or, of course, city hashtag) of the place you want to visit, and you'll often find solid insider tips on what you should see or do.
Wormsloe features the ruins of the colonial estate of one of Georgia's earliest settlers. In addition to the structural remains, you can explore more of the former estate along the nature trails, which meanders next to some scenic marshes. TIP: Be prepared for wildlife; I spotted at least one snake, and was greeted by one friendly lizard that didn't hesitate to attempt to scatter up my pant leg.
Bonaventure Cemetery is to Savannah what Hollywood Cemetery is to Richmond, a historic garden cemetery that invites walking, visiting, exploring, and learning about the past. The well-known "Bird Girl" statue featured on the cover of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil," was originally located at Bonaventure, but has apparently been moved to the Telfair Museums' Jepson Center. (P.S. The book's cover photo was taken by Jack Leigh, one of my favorite photographers.)
One of the more prominent figures buried at Bonaventure is singer-songwriter Johnny Mercer - of course, the Mercer name is integral to Savannah's history, most notably tied its founding history and to the Italianate-style Mercer-Williams House Museum downtown. . . . . .WHICH I am just learning re: Mercer House, was the scene of the murder in "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" (bringing those connections together!).
What I love about Savannah, in comparison to Charleston, is its "grittiness." Charleston is all fun-loving, breezy, and sunny, while Savannah is a little darker, more Gothic, and eccentric. But don't all Southerners harbor some eccentricity?
One could spent all day in downtown Savannah, ogling the historic homes. If you are crunched for time though, my suggestion would be to first stop at Forsyth Park, the city's most popular park, where you'll spot loads of gorgeous old manses and homes along the perimeter. There isn't a ton of shopping around this area, but you should make a point of stopping into gift and home furnishings store, One Fish, Two Fish, which is near this park.
Much of the downtown area is built on a grid or city square scheme, designed for easy-of-navigation and community (which today's city planners, in my opinion, really need to get back to, instead of miles-upon-miles of asphalt and high volume highways like Broad or many suburban areas. The Fan is a good example of that grid-square-parklet pattern, where if one street is blocked off, you can just go down another and be on your way. If you are just dying to know more about community/suburban/urban planning, read "Suburban Nation.").
The above house is the aforementioned Mercer Williams House Museum. While you're scanning the next set of historic homes, know that there is shopping to be had in Savannah. You'l want to head to Broughton Street for that, and to a lesser extent, River Street. Savannah has all of the shops you'd expect to find in any trendy city, like Free People and Urban Outfitters (where a girl has GOT to get stocked up on her beauty/face masks, even though I can get the same thing in RVA), but it also has some fun shops like Paris Market, Savannah Bee Company, and Nourish, where I snagged some all-natural bath bombs and aromatherapy shower steamers in Mint Julep and Orange Blossom, and some summer-y hydrating mist in Coconut Lime.
The most popular beach around Savannah is Tybee Island, about 20 minutes from downtown, and after a long day of walking around, it was a great way to end my single, solitary day in Savannah. (Sorry - no photo! What was I thinking. . .) Until next time, Savannah! Stay tuned for recaps of Beaufort, S.C. and Wilmington, N.C.
If it's not yet clear that I LOVE the south, then perhaps the next series of posts will drive that point home. I recently road-tripped to the lowcountry yet again, with stops in Washington, N.C., Charleston, S.C., Savannah, Ga., Beaufort, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C. I've covered a fair amount of tourist-y territory on previous trips (I used to live in Atlanta, so had access to the coastal deep[er] south more easily then), but I still trod some of that same high-traffic ground this trip, with some side excursions to see some things I hadn't seen before.
My most immediate, got-to-go-to-now visit (after a pit stop in Washington, N.C., where my brother lives in a prime river house on the Pamlico) was the Angel Oak on John's Island, about 12 miles from downtown Charleston. If you look it up online, Google describes it on its map simply as "an iconic photo opportunity of a large tree." That's plainly accurate, but I'd swap out "large" for "majestic" or some other sweeping word to describe this aged Southern live oak.
The Angel Oak is estimated to be 400-500 years old, and it was impressive to see it in person, to say the least. It's a stunner. I was there on a Sunday, and my goal was to get there as soon as they opened at 1PM so I could snap some photos before it was overtaken by sight-seers. Don't do that. Everyone else was thinking the same thing. After everyone got their selfie or group photo in, the throng of tourists and park-goers thinned out, and I got my shots (still had to erase/clone out a few objects and people). In sum, my advice if you want to see the tree is to get there at least an hour after it opens.
Caw Caw Interpretive Center
My next stop was the Caw Caw Interpretive Center, and while that may seem too "educational" for a vacation, it actually offers a great opportunity to explore lowcountry nature a little more, in contrast to the bustle and gleam of Charleston. I was told that I may see some alligators while walking around, and I was really hoping that'd happen, but c'est dommage, I didn't spot any. (If you go to Middleton Place, you'll probably have a better chance of seeing some lurking in the ponds.)
The Caw Caw Interpretive Center, now a wildlife preserve, is part of a former rice plantation situated in an expanse of cypress swamps. It features more than six miles of trails, with wetlands, boardwalks, and wildlife- and native plant-viewing.
How can you not be seduced by Charleston? This time of year (April), jasmine is in bloom, and Charlestonians LOVE it. It was covered on brick walls, gated entrances, trellises, wrought iron fences - just about everywhere - and the hot and humid air intensified the scent. Could not inhale enough.
I did the requisite tour of the Battery, near Rainbow Row and lots of stately antebellum homes and structures. Suggestion: Take a detour off the "main" roads re: off Bay and Murray and head down the alleys to see how homeowners have decked out their "backyards" and back porches. It's often with more southerly pomp than what you see on the "tourist-facing" street side.
The next day, I made my way to King Street, which is by and large the "Carytown" of Charleston, where you can find a mix of locally-owned boutiques along with regional/national retail shops, like J. Crew, Madewell, Blue Mercury, Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, etc. I was happy to stumble into Roberta Roller Rabbit, where I spotted some boho embroidered tunics I wanted to snag, but resisted. I of course scouted out some new and old favorite bakeries, like Saffron and Bakehouse, both on E. Bay St.
I managed to make time for a beach visit in each city. In Charleston, my pick was Folly Beach. . .
My hotel was on the Mount Pleasant side, and I learned that the town had a seemingly new (or new to me) outdoor space called Memorial Waterfront Park, which offered one of the best up-close views of the Arthur Ravenel Bridge. (There is no way I cannot think of Thomas Ravenel from Bravo's "Southern Charm" - the bridge is named after his congressman father... Yes, I watch that show, and yes, I'll be watching "Southern Charm: Savannah" too.)
I had a full day-and-a-half in Charleston - not enough to see and do everything I wanted. It's never enough time to soak in this gracious, fun-loving, decadent southern city. Up next: Savannah.
You've been to Maymont. . . Richmond's favorite family-friendly park, known for its 100 acres of green space, Dooley estate museum from the Gilded Age, owls, bears and gray fox exhibits – and killer hills that are SERIOUS quads and glute-builders. And we of course all know and love Maymont for its formal gardens. May is when the peonies start poppin' around Richmond and at Maymont, so it's one of the best times of the year to experience the park.
While many tend to gravitate towards the Italian Garden at the top of the hill with it's always Instagram-worthy vine-wrapped pergola, or the Japanese Garden at the bottom, with its Zen-inducing Koi pond and waterfall, the Herb Garden (where you'll find Bee Balm, Geranium, Chinese Mint, Costmary, Pineapple Sage, as well as more traditional herbs) in front of the Stone Barn and the Children's Farm Vegetable Garden are not to be missed as spring turns to summer. Here's an ICYMI review of what's in the garden in May.
There are two cities that I could return to again and again - and again - and never tire of: Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga. On the surface, you may think they have a trapped-in-amber quality - and they do in the very best ways - but they are two cities with an edge, defying convention and breaking free of common perceptions.
Charleston clings to the edge a little closer than Savannah, but both cities are constantly reinventing and renewing, whether that's through maintaining and preserving a sense of history of old buildings by adapting them for new use (see some of the decades-old buildings the Savannah College of Art and Design has renovated) or by being a national attraction on the culinary scene (Sean Brock, anyone?), where you can find food that's both traditional AND modern and like no where else all at the same time.
I lived in Georgia from 2001 to 2003 when I was getting my Masters at Georgia State University - in fact, I only applied to all-Georgia graduate schools because I wanted to live in the state for a while and experience the South, a South much deeper than Virginia. And, if afforded me a closer proximity to Savannah, another bonus.
Any chance I get - and it is way too far and few in between these days - I visit Charleston and Savannah and absorb the sea salt air, coastal, flow-y, Spanish moss vibe, southern hospitality and all-around decadence that is ingrained in the air, soil, trees and streets. These cities know how to live and take care of people.
So take a quickie photographic tour through the lens of my most recent visit to the Hostess City of the South, spring 2015, and try not to fall in love.
This time last year, I was at work on one of the greatest assignments a girl could ask for – photographing the Richmond brew community in all its splendor for the book, "Richmond Beer: A History of Brewing in the River City" published by The History Press, which is based in Charleston, S.C.
The book was released in the fall of 2014. The author is, of course, Lee Graves, then "The Beer Guy" columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch and all around craft beer historian and aficionado. A few weeks after its release, news had come from the publisher that the book had already gone into a second printing. Hopefully by now, it's in its third or fourth.
When I moved back to Richmond in 2013, I had no idea that craft beer was over-taking the city. Hardywood Park Craft Brewery and Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery seemed to be catching all of the buzz at the time, with others like Strangeways Brewing, Midnight Brewery, Isley Brewing Co. and Center of the Universe Brewing Co. hot on their heels. I had to up my knowledge of the suds scene, so I dove right in and wrote a story on the "brew trail" from NoVa to RVA for Northern Virginia Magazine.
In the article, I quoted Strangways' founder Neil Burton, who referred to Richmond’s brew scene as "'probably the fastest growing in the United States,' noting the surge in the number of breweries from three just two years ago to nine in early 2014."
Well, since then, even MORE breweries have taken root, including Ardent Craft Ales, Triple Crossing Brewing, Rock Bottom (Restaurant and) Brewery, Rusty Beaver Brewery, and not counting the myriad of pre-existing brewpubs, bottle shops and homebrew supply stores – too many to name here – and new brewery announcements that seem to be unending.
Before aaalllll of these new craft beer brewers, however, there was Extra Billy's Smokehouse & Brewery and the grandaddy of local beer-makers, Legend Brewery. (And yes, there were others before those, but you can read about that history in "Richmond Beer.")
As I whittled down the top candidates from all of the photos I took that summer to submit to the publisher, there were many others that I loved that just couldn't all get squeezed in because – hey, they can't all go to print – so I'm sharing some of those faves here with this little "Richmond Beer" retrospective.
Lee Graves may have put it best in the book when he said that "the story of beer reflects the story of Richmond itself. . . . Richmond has always loved, embraced and celebrated beer," a current sentiment that's "coincid[ing] with a renaissance on several fronts – brewing, dining, artistic creativity, urban hipness, outdoor recreation and civic pride." You can see and feel it when you walk down the street or take a sip of a Honey Ginger or Gingerbread Stout. That's the taste of history being made.
I'm not a cocktail expert. . . but how hard can it be?
I picked up an interesting-looking book called The Cocktail Club: A Year of Recipes and Tips for Spirited Tasting Parties at Mongrel in Carytown recently, hoping it would spark some creativity in the art and science of cocktail-making in my kitchen. I have immersed myself as much as humanly possible in the world of beer the past six months - its time to expand my palate a little (but I'd try out home brewing if I had the space.)
So summer. . . it's the ideal time to experiment with different cocktails, which I have a feeling I will be modifying, based on my tastes. I found a nice collection of recipes on TheKitchn.com today, "20 Summer Cocktails with Fresh Herbs," and I may end up making half of them, they look so good. (The author of The Cocktail Club, incidentally, is a columnist for TheKitchen.com! I knew I picked the right book. . .)
The first one I selected was Peach Whisky Smash. . . I had some Apricot Simple Syrup (snagged at Union Market in Church Hill) already, and I wanted to make a cocktail with peaches in another recipe, so picked up some apricots at the grocery, and tweaked the recipe. Instead of peaches, I subbed apricots, of course, and in lieu of mint, I added basil. I have gobs and gobs of basil on my upper floor deck, and I don't want to see it go to waste.
I wasn't sure about the combo of basil and apricots but. . . I was pleasantly surprised how tasty it turned out - and how "not too shabby" my cocktail-making skills are!
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