Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Charleston & Savannah

After looking at our options, Steve and I decided to spend our week checking out Charleston and Savannah.  We heard they're beautiful, and within a day's drive of home so we wouldn't have to shell out last-minute airfare.  (Note: Yes, we had trip insurance, but the way it works wouldn't allow us to cancel and rebook a new cruise.)  So we spent Saturday repacking, regrouping, reading new travel guides, and hanging out with Steve's parents who came to watch Olivia for the week. 

On Sunday morning we headed down 95, brunching at Aunt Sarah's for pancakes and stopping to walk around Brookgreen Gardens near Myrtle Beach.  We had been here once before, but all we really remembered is that it was beastly hot and I was still shooting in film.  So now that I've watched my Nikon DVD I was able to use my DSLR with more confidence.  The late-day shadows made the statues and trees look really interesting, too.

Afterward we drove the rest of the way to Charleston and checked in at our hotel in the historic district.  It is so close to everything, has been beautifully restored, and was quite affordable.  (My parents suggested staying at the handsome 2 Meeting Street Inn, but the only room available was $459/night.)  My only complaint about the Mills House was that they left the "welcome" board up from the weekend, which revealed that we'd just missed the Blue Angels.  Sigh.

Monday morning we took a carriage ride (a mule-drawn surrey with the fringe on top), checked out the open-air market, and I took about a million pictures of ironwork.  The houses are so pretty and the architectural review board* makes sure people keep up appearances.  Plus being in a colonial-era town along a river reminds us of our old neighborhood, New Castle, Delaware.  Except in Charleston they have palm trees and much more going on (verandas, fountains, sculpture) between the houses.  By Monday afternoon we were exhausted so we took naps, a luxury we don't normally afford.  And after dinner we went to a different place for drinks and dessert at 9pm, another thing we don't normally get to do.  Bliss! 

*We noticed a lot of properties on the market and our tour guide explained that people don't consider how much work is involved in keeping up an old house, plus any changes to the exterior must be approved by the architectural review board and they're slow and strict.  Our carriage tour guide said their motto is, "You have every right not to own a house here."

On Tuesday we did King Street, the "shopping district" with its numerous antique stores, galleries, and ritzy labels.  Snacked at Cupcake.  Downtime sunning by the hotel pool that afternoon, although it wasn't quite swimming weather.

Wednesday morning we drove up the Ashley River to Magnolia Plantation.  Picture a forest spotted with pink azaleas, duckweed-covered ponds lined with irises, winding pathways through the woods, along the river, and around the house. 
Brookgreen Gardens is much more open and expansive with tons of sculpture setting the stage for symmetrical French-style gardens; Magnolia Gardens was much less formal, more of an English feel.  We also did the nature tour and saw some snakes and gators (crocs?), and then walked the swamp garden trail (pictured) to watch egrets nesting.  Then we headed down to Sullivan's Island, the first day with a forecast of warm and sunny, so we brought our suits and beach towels.  But by the time we finished lunch it was mid-60s and windy, so we just watched the kite surfers for a while and headed back for some downtime.

And oh, let me talk about the food!  On the drive down I challenged myself to have grits at every meal if I could.  Breakfast three of the days in Charleston was at Joseph's, just steps away from our hotel: sweet potato pancakes with pecan butter (pictured) and a side of grits, crab/ricotta/basil omelet (and grits), French toast made with French bread (and grits)...  The other morning we went to Hominy Grill, which is the first floor of a historic house and I came very close to buying a shirt touting, "Grits are good for you."  Was hoping to find something with the acronym (Girls Raised in the South) to no avail.  Monday we had lunch at the "Barbadoes" Room - She Crab Soup - and that night we went down the block to 82 Queen, which has a back patio garden divided up into private alcoves and twinkle lights in the trees.  BBQ shrimp & grits smothered in cheddar and applewood bacon as a starter, then Steve had the osso bucco and I had the duck, and the most delicious sweet tea.  Sweetea, really.  One word.  
Not having room for dessert we sauntered around town a bit more then headed to Peninsula Grill for the most humongous piece of coconut cake: 6 layers of pound cake with half an inch of icing between each layer - heaven!  Tuesday was Southend Brewery for lunch - him the BBQ sandwich, me the berry & pecan salad, both the local brew.  Later we found a great spot on the patio of Blossom for dinner, complete with the scent of their wood-fired oven to convince us both to try the pizza.  Him the BBQ chicken, me the white.  Both the sweetea.  Sensing a theme?  Afterward we walked down the block to their sister restaurant, Cypress, and got a spot upstairs overlooking the kitchen so we could watch the salad chef doing her thing below. 
Dessert was molten chocolate cake with coffee drinks complete with rock candy stirrers.  Wednesday we lunched at Poe's Tavern out on Sullivan's Island - a bacon cheeseburger with BBQ sauce and more sweet tea.  Dinner was across from the hotel on the back patio at Poogan's Porch... crab dip, fried chicken, and Calabash-style shrimp (with Hoppin' John - a rice & black-eyed-peas mixture which, like coleslaw, probably remains 85% uneaten).  And kaluha pecan pie.  And sweetea.

On Thursday we checked out and headed south.  On the way we stopped off to check out the ruins of Old Sheldon Church.  It reminded me a lot of the Unfinished Church in Bermuda.  I'm a sucker for ruins; they are so beautiful to me.

Savannah: Charleston's younger, hipper, slightly more irreverent sister.  Our hotel lobby had beautiful gray-brick arches and pine floors - not your mama's Hampton Inn.  We walked along the river (first taking the steep steps and cobblestone road down to River Street) and got pralines and ice cream for lunch (yes, really). Then we walked around a few of the squares and City Market.  I was impressed at the artwork represented here vs. Charleston; the latter just didn't do it for me but I love seeing artists working in their studios right in historic downtown.  Savannah is home to one of the largest art schools on the east coast, so art students abound and necessitate multiple full-service art supply stores. (I got lino blocks, annealed steel wire, washi paper, and a mini notebook for jotting down designs.) 
We also found one of the largest antique stores I've ever seen.  And by that I mean *large antiques* -- zero tchotchkes, all furniture, much of it too tall to even fit in our front door.  They specialize in huge, hand-carved wooden bars like the one on Cheers. 

We ate dinner at Moon River Brewery (Johnny Mercer is a native) - me "a grilled, whole wheat sandwich packed with smoked turkey, melted Brie cheese with cranberry sauce and candied pecans" with sweet potato fries, him the ribs, both their tasty brew.  The sampler came on a crescent-shaped tray -- how apropriate.

On Friday we walked through the historic district some more, shopped Broughton Street, walked from square to square taking pictures of wrought iron and live oaks, and finally ended up at the Forsyth Park fountain. 
It was hot and our feet were tired, so we headed back toward the river and got smoothies.  There was a juried art fair going on, so we climbed back down to River Street to have a look.  I got to take home a new wirework necklace.  (Just because I make jewelry doesn't mean I don't like other jewelry!) 

Dinner was at the lovely Ruth's Chris Steakhouse -- salads, melt-in-your-mouth steaks, broccoli, mashed potatoes, and each our own personal creamy crème brûlée.  I own two butane torches and have yet to try making this stuff.  Add that and pralines to my list.  (By the way, if you want to eat at Ruth's Chris slightly more affordably, go before 6:30 and order from the prix fixe menu.  I can't find it on their website, so I'm crossing my fingers for that offer to be nationwide and permanent.  Perhaps we need to do a little on-site comparative research at various locations?)

So which city did we like better?  Charleston has bigger water views, more stores, more carriages, more restaurants (okay, it's bigger).  Savannah has much more green space, I liked the art scene, the waterfront warehouses are really interesting, and the crowd seemed to be a lot younger.  They both have beautiful architecture, cupcake stores, lots of wrought iron, horse-drawn carriages, pralines, and fantastic restaurants. I liked 'em both for different reasons.  And even though we threw this trip together at the last minute, it turns out this was the perfect time of year to go with the cool temps, low humidity, and abundant flowers.

We had a great time together!


Ann Flower said...

I just recently discovered your blog and am so glad I did. What a sweet post!

hippo chick said...

I'm so happy you got to have a trip. Jim and I were in Savannah three years ago and loved it. We plan to go again. This time, like you, we will combine it with a trip to Charleston.

I just loved all the squares filled with beautiful greenery. We enjoyed our time on the river front also. Can't remember the name of our wonderful restaurant.

Thanks for sharing this fun trip.

~hippo hugs~

PS - Cheri said their time with Olivia was wonderful.

Liz.D said...

I'm so jealous!! was supposed to go to Savannah last month, but plans fell through :( I am in love with the city - miss her terribly!!