Saturday, March 16, 2013

Charmed - a travel journal (Part 1)

As any bookworm would attest to, books have the magic of transporting us to different worlds. This time though it transpired to be a bit more actual than imaginary. It started with my friend E’s recommendation that I read John Berendt’s  ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ (from here on referred to as ‘The Book’). She had skimmed past Savannah, GA during one of her travels and wanted to explore the city and the book happened to piqued her interest even more. She started hatching a plan for a girls-only trip to Savannah.

By the time our cozy group of four had read the book, we were all curious and eager to visit the place and see for ourselves what the book so beautifully described. A non-judgemental narrative about an actual murder trial that took place in the 1980s in downtown Savannah and the colorful characters who lived there at that time. To spin the happenings of a community and weave the characters and their lives as if it were a work of fiction I felt, required great talent. It captured what I understand to be the essence of Savannah - charming, friendly, intriguing, colorful and loaded with history. And so it came about - a trip to Savannah with friends E,G and N.  

And now, a little about my travelling companions:
E : Our trip planner. An energetic, thoughtful person and a travel buff who is my inspiration to get off my rear end and do instead of just dream. In preparation for our journey, she hosted a classy southern style dinner and a movie (based on The Book) at her place a couple of weeks before the trip. She took the time to research and draft a general itinerary.
G : Our funny bone. Her art commentary during museum visits is sidesplitting and will make you appear like a giggly teenager to museum guards. She has an uncanny knack for observing people and their quirks or should I say, spotting quirky people. And don’t let her cute gelasin fool you, I have heard she can have you in a headlock before you can say Jack Robinson.
N: Our navigator. She traveled the world since she was a student, actually experiencing the places in person when I was barely learning about them in books. Her calm and reassuring presence along with her efficient iPhone steered us well and saved us from getting lost whenever I read the map wrong or did not find the sun strategically positioned to orient me.  

It was getting closer to our vacation and though I was very excited about it, I could not shake off the feeling of guilt I had about taking time off from work and family for the trip with friends. But everyone at home was fine with me being away for four days and so I decided I will enjoy myself, learn a thing or two from my travel savvy friends and soak in some Savannah culture.

Day one. Our journey to Savannah was painless even with a two hour delay due to a ‘hydraulic leak’ when switching planes after a layover. Sounded ominous but mattered little as we were asked to hop on a hydraulically sealed one:-) The airport angst I usually feel when traveling was nearly non-existent. Must be the company.

It was still sunny when we landed in Savannah. The airport’s taxi stand with its brick facade, palm trees and a fountain framed with colorful pansies was a refreshing sight to our foliage starved Ohio eyes. A graceful sculpture of an angel in the centre holding a globe with tiny airplanes orbiting around it seemed fitting. Our taxi driver doubled as an introductory guide to Savannah, talking a mile-a-minute about the place, The Book and the people. Except me, everyone else knew how to engage a local in conversation. I was in awe. Note to adult self - it’s okay to talk to strangers. Soon after we dropped our bags in the hotel, we were out the door all fired up to explore the city and scout for a good restaurant for dinner.

The first thing that captured my attention were the trees that lined the streets - live oaks with spanish moss (which as one tour guide put it, is neither spanish nor moss) hanging on them. To actually see these trees with big gnarly branches that lent Savannah so much of its character in The Book was like going back in time. N navigated us to ‘Vic’s on the river’, a restaurant suggested by a local writer whom E had reached out to for recommendations. We spent the 40 minute wait for our table by strolling down the cobbled ballast stone ramps to the riverwalk nearby. R
emnants of a bustling port city now refurbished to house elegant riverfront restaurants, shops and hotels. Didn’t realize until after our city tour the next day that we had walked through old facilities were cotton was loaded, unloaded and graded. What was obvious to us though were the riverboats gliding down the Savannah river, the Talmadge bridge and the lights from Hutchinson Island, from across the river.

We spent about three hours enjoying the food, the ambiance and our open, honest and sometimes hilarious conversations. Even the loud stomping from a wedding party upstairs added to the atmosphere of fun elegance, if there indeed is such a thing. In the soft lights and candlelit tables, every dish on the menu looked appetizing. E, our connoisseur, chose the wine, a cabernet sauvignon that we didn’t have to pay a month’s salary for. Fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and tomato chutney seemed to be a southern staple and a must-try. Hmmm... now what’s this haricot vert? Sounds french. When the waitress explained that it was a fancy word for thin green beans, we decided to skip it, french allure notwithstanding. 

The seafood was fresh off of Savannah’s waters, except of course G’s salmon. It found it’s way to her plate all the way from Chile, if I remember right. My cooked salad greens with fingerling sweet potatoes tasted delicious. E and N’s delectable grouper left no room for dessert, however tempting the choices were. I, on the other hand was glad I did not have a choice. I can always make room for dessert. While we lingered over dinner, the crowd thinned towards closing time. The noise level died down and we could now actually hear the live music well enough to appreciate it. The dinner set the tone for our trip - great camaraderie in a wonderful southern setting.

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