Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Savannah - Georgia USA

Second time lucky, the Amtrak train from Orlando to Savannah excelled itself by arriving around ten minutes early this time as opposed to five hours late as was the case on our Miami to Orlando leg.  Cousin Andy and Tracy picked us up from the train station and took us out to Olive Garden for some dinner.  Andy used this opportunity to bring me up to speed on the nature of tipping a little more in America than you would back home as tipping isn’t so much as a choice here as a prerequisite if you’ve enjoyed your meal, or even just for drinks at the bar.  A tip under 15% can just as easily show your dissatisfaction as a complaint would.  Afterwards Andy and Tracy showed us the apartment which was in a great location near Forsyth park and conveniently opposite a supermarket.  We made ourselves at home and unpacked before going to sleep in a nice comfortable bed.  

There is plenty of free transport around the historic district of Savannah.  We had a complimentary shuttle service stop not two minutes away from the apartment which took us down to River Street although we only ever used this once as the walk was so nice.  The squares that break up Bull street from Forsyth Park all the way down to River Street play gorgeous homes to oak trees and the Spanish Moss that hangs from the branches.  Each square has some statue paying homage to various heroes of Georgia’s history and the sleepy lanes are traversed by countless tour trolleys and horses pulling carts.

Forsyth Park

Forsyth Park Fountain

Toursists on a horse-drawn carriage

Kate by our favourite Oak tree

Many of our days were spent hanging out around the touristy but delightful River Street.  The street unsurprisingly runs parallel to the Savannah River which sees constant activity from boats sailing up and down, from humble tug boats to freight ships with massive containers.  The street is home to all manner of shops, restaurants and bars each with their own personality.  We loved Savannah’s Candy Kitchen and the River Street Sweets stores (couldn’t really tell the difference) which were dangerous shops to visit owing to all the sweet delights that are being made in house.  You get a free sample on every visit (or more depending on how many times you can get away with going round).  Their products are quite expensive but they are unique, delicious and fresh and the shop is worth a visit even if you don’t buy anything.  Their salt water taffy making process alone is a joy to watch and worth the visit!

River Street

Delicious looking candy apples

Saltwater Taffy Machine

'Bear Claws' being freshly made
There is a classic tram running up and down River Street all day so there is no excuse not to see everything here that there is to see.  You can board it for free and it will drop you off at various points along the strip.  There is also a free boat that does a triangular route from one end of the street to the other with a stop off at Hutcheson Island on the other side of the river.  The Oyster Bar had a happy hour special of ten oysters for ten dollars (don’t forget to add on the service) which we really enjoyed with a pint of beer.  Another great thing about Savannah is that you can get alcoholic drinks ‘to go’! We never found much of a use for this service but other people were forever getting their beer served or transferred into plastic cups to take out of the bar with them.  This would be an amazing service for the busy times such as St. Patrick ’s Day and any festivals where you wanted to be outside, great for the bars in this area I imagine. 

Riding the River Street Tram

The complimentary ferry

Happy Ferry-goers

Classic ship moored off River Street

Kate by the Savannah River

Massive Cargo Container Ship

Shucking Oysters

Yummy fresh oysters

A street over from River Street on Bay Street was Andy’s pub Churchill’s which we were dying to see.  I saw the old pub when I was about thirteen years old but this had burned down and much time and money was constantly being spent on the latest much bigger pub on Bay Street.  Andy introduced us to the staff and showed us around the different areas which are spread out over three floors!  Downstairs has a long room with its own bar and pool table and also served as a function room for large parties.  On street level is the main bar where we spent most of our time which is home to the main kitchen and dining area; it’s also home to a long mahogany bar that sits in front of a wide selection of liquors and bottled and draft beers brewed locally and important from all corners of the globe.  There are constantly beers in rotation and we sampled various seasonal specials for Oktoberfest and Halloween, most of them excellent.  Our favourite American beers were Sweetwater 420, Fat Tire, Sam Adams and Miler Light all of which served as good brews to help refresh you after a hot walk.  Behind the bar were usually the amazing Michelle and Bob who were lovely people and attentive bar staff, constantly checking that everything was to the customer’s satisfaction and knowing many of the clientele by name which is a nice touch that isn’t so often seen back home any more.  
Outside Churchill's Pub on Bay Street

The beautiful long bar at street level

Some of the seating area on street level

Upstairs there is an outdoor patio area, again with its own bar where it was possible to relax in the milder winter temperatures.  It served as a great change of scenery and was handy for the smokers too.  The newest addition on this floor is the great idea of 10 Downing.  This is an upmarket function room which is very smart, sophisticated and the place to go for any special functions or events if you want that added class.  This is made possible by an additional kitchen adjacent to the room and you guessed it, another bar to keep the customer’s thirsts quenched.  Every member of staff we met was amazing.  The front of house guys we got to meet were Michelle, Bob, Chris, Chris and Randy and all were great fun.   

The upstairs patio bar

Chris and a crazy masked man

One night Andy and Tracy took us out for our first experience of a Japanese steak house.  This was as much a night’s entertainment as it was a meal and was an unusual setup.  As we had our orders taken and waited for our chef to appear at the hotplate which sat in front of us, there were staff members banging out beats with their cooking utensils and singing to customers who were celebrating birthdays or other special occasions.  When our chef appeared he was full of energy and fun, constantly making wise cracks and pretending to squirt Tracy with sauce whenever he got the opportunity between cooking.  I’ve never had so much rice on my plate in my entire life and there was no chance of leaving hungry after our steak and shrimp combo was cooked in front of us and served straight off the hot plate.  It was a great atmosphere and it had to be as Jojo the chef launched shrimp tails at the table behind us and into his own hat.  Much of the meal ended up ‘to go’ and was a substantial second dinner.

Jojo the chef cooking up some pumpkin

Watch your eyebrows!

Everyone knows Halloween but you will probably be less familiar with Wagoween which is the doggy version where all the well-loved pooches in town go trick or treating with their owners.  Like the kids, this privilege has to be earned by wearing fancy dress only this time it has to be the dogs wearing it.  There were many funny and cute pets dressed up and some owners had their own costumes coordinated with their pets.  Countless dogs made their way down the street to the registration desk from where their owners were given a map of businesses taking part that would provide them with some doggy treats.

Register here for poochy trick or treating

Yes it is for real


Bumble Bee


Cop and Convict

Wagoween day also happened to be Savannah Food day.  There was an event going on in a park not too far from the apartment so we made our way there where we found stalls pitched on an open field with live music and cookery classes going on.  The first stall we came across belonged to the Savannah Bee Company which boasts all things Bee related.  They had a big block of honey comb which you were allowed to sample with crackers and cheese.  It was really delicious and sticky, so good that there were a fair few bees trying their best to get it back!  The other stalls were selling various things, one was simply giving advice on how to run a more ecologically efficient home.

Honey Bee enjoying the fruits of his labours with some cheese

Stalls at Savannah Food Day

Cookery class taking place

The live music went down a treat

Soon one of the most important days of the year was upon us, Manchester Derby day for the English Premier League.  Kick-off was taking place at half ten in the morning local time which wasn’t too bad and nerves were such that early morning breakfast beers were in order.  As the only United fan I had plenty to deal with, especially considering how badly we lost and that I was watching the game with Dave and Dave, two of Andy’s mates who also happened to be City fans.  I’m not going to dwell on the result but it is an important game and therefore there were some who now needed to drink to celebrate and others to forget the agonising 6 – 1 score line. 

We headed to a Mexican restaurant for some lunch and they served up some great food.  Following this we took a taxi to a nice bar that was located amongst the Savannah marshland that even played host to dolphins on occasion.  It had its own jetty and boats could pull up for their afternoon food and drink before chugging back along the river.  We enjoyed a few more drinks and some shrimp here before we carried on, driven by our new friend Olly to the final bar of the day which I’m damned if I can remember the name.  Sore heads ensued the next day.

Me, Andy, Tracy and the Dave's

The riverside bar

The marsh and lake surrounding the bar's dock

The lads

The lady!

Andy and Tracy had complimentary tickets to take one of the local guided trolley tours around the historic district of Savannah.  This was a really worthwhile and interesting way to spend a couple of hours and helped to put some context around various buildings and other places in Savannah by explaining its history.  Founded in 1733 by General Oglethorpe as a representative of King George II, Savannah was founded to create a buffer south of the Savannah River with the aim of protecting the Carolinas from Spanish Florida and French Louisiana.  There are currently 22 squares in the downtown area, down from the original 24 due to construction that has taken place.  At the end of Bull street stands the impressive city hall which has been gilded on the top with real gold.  The first trolley that we boarded was actually from a different company and although three different people checked the tickets before we got on, none of them realised that it was for another company until we reached the terminal!  From here it was easy to transfer to our correct trolley and continue our tour although some information was repeated and some of it was contrasting! 

The feather falls from the top in Forrest Gump

Birthplace of Judith Low, founder of Girl Guides

Beautiful building in the Historic District

Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Savannah City Hall

The city market area was a nice area originally used for trading goods but now home to restaurants and bars.  We passed statues each with their own story to tell, haunted houses including 432 Abercorn Street which is known as being haunted.  Just off the riverfront is the Waving Girl (Florence Martus) statue who during her life made it her responsibility to wave at every ship that came past her lighthouse on the Savannah River.  There were rumours that she had a lover that she was specifically looking out for but she denied these shortly before her death and declared that it was purely to relive her boredom and be hospitable.  We drove past the Pirate House which is Savannah’s oldest pub where we had previously had a nice crab bisque on one of our various wanderings.  The cobblestones in River Street were placed there by slaves and originally brought over as ballast on ships arriving in Georgia from around the world as there is no stone available to quarry locally although the ample number of oak trees provided great ship building material. 

City Market

Statue outside City Market

The Haunted 432 Abercorn Street House!!!

The Waving Girl

For a couple of days it was possible to help out at the pub as it was a busy weekend and there were some parties coming in who had ordered quite a lot of food.  We got to know Chef Glen and other kitchen staff Chris and Kyle best over the two days as we skewered shrimp, chicken and vegetables and put together some sausage rolls and brie parcels.  It was the first time that we had worked in a long time and it actually felt good!  Time went surprisingly quickly in the kitchen and we got a bit of a buzz just from being able to help out a little bit in return for the good hospitality we had received from Andy and Tracy.  We spent time in both kitchens and had a little bit of an insight into a commercial kitchen.  It’s great that Churchill’s decides to make this food fresh as many companies save time by buying their bar bites premade.  I hope that the parties enjoyed their nibbles as a lot of love went into them! 

Helping out in Churchill's

Forsyth Park was a great place to hang out and we had fun just chilling out on the quieter days and chatting to locals who were enjoying their free time.  It was a great place to have a picnic.  On the less quiet side of things we got to spend Halloween in town, we were looking forward to Halloween in America immensely and Savannah is a great place to be for the occasion.  We made our own costumes, Kate opting for a scary clown look and personally deciding to weird out the general public as ‘backwards man’.  We decided not to take the camera out with us on the night, but after a few drinks we were ready to hit the town and hit the town hard!  Originally going to Churchill’s to try to find our man CJ we didn’t have any success, so we had a drink in the rooftop bar and made our way to various bars and clubs in Savannah.  We stopped for a little while in Club Rain which prominently appealed to the black community but we paid it a visit and enjoyed the tunes for a while before heading to Bar One for some Cabaret.  Cross dressers were lip synching to popular songs for dollars and one actually sang live and sang well.  It was all good fun.  Over the course of the night we visited a couple of other bars including Wild Wings and Bay Street Blues.  There were some great costumes and the vast majority of people were dressed up to some extent.  More sore heads followed the next day.

Forsyth Park

Scary Clown Kate

The Backwards Man

Gruesome twosome

The evidence of where we had been

We enjoyed the remainder of our days in Savannah and had our final knees up with Andy and Tracy in the Mexican restaurant of Chili’s, making the most of the two for one offer though we still managed to rack up a substantial tab that the guys wouldn’t have us pay a cent towards.  We finished the night with a relaxing dip in the hot tub and jamming out to Rock Band.     

Enjoying a beer in Chili's

The Rabbit wasn't on the menu
We had had lots of fun in the sleepy town of Savannah with its beautiful squares, oak trees and all the shops and bars that are full of character.  There weren’t many days where there was nothing going on and it was nice to enjoy the peace and quiet when there was opportunity because Savannah can party hard when it wants to.  We especially enjoyed hanging out with Andy and Tracy or in Churchill’s with the staff and enjoying the great food and beers that it had to offer.  Our next stop was New Orleans where we had arranged to Couchsurf with some guys living on the outskirts of the French Quarter and we were really looking forward to seeing everything that the city had to offer.

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