You are going to love Savannah, Georgia.
As you leave the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, you’ll drive south on Interstate 95. Turn off first to tour the National Museum of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, founded in Savannah. There you’ll find World War I and World War II displays with accompanying films, an F-4 and MIG-17 on display, and a B-17 named “City of Savannah” being restored.
Driving a bit south, turn east onto Interstate 16 for a drive lined by tall pines into Savannah itself. The city was well laid out into a grid in 1733 with many divided streets, here lined with old oaks with far reaching branches laden with Spanish moss. You’ll have 24 squares to pleasantly wind your way around. Drivers here are courteous.
We began by visiting Congregation Mickve Israel, the third oldest Jewish congregation in the United States, established in 1733. The synagogue was built to resemble a Catholic cathedral as prescribed by city regulations. Off the sanctuary is a 600-year-old Torah on deerskin, the oldest in North America.
Next was the Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, which seats 1,000 people. Originally built in 1839, the cathedral was nearly destroyed by fire in 1898. The rebuilt cathedral boasts more than 50 stained-glass windows. Ten days before St. Patrick’s Day, we watched a large congregation, all costumed in green, march across the city.
The Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum houses 35 model ships and 25 nautical paintings. Now, I know some of you brag about building model ships, but some of these are 8 feet long. There is an 8-foot sinking Titanic with lights and lowering lifeboats. Also housed in the museum are three masted ships, including the SS Savannah, the first steamship to cross the Atlantic, and the first nuclear-powered passenger and cargo ship, the NS Savannah.
The centrally located old City Market has candy shops, restaurants, art and shopping. We bought a couple of small prints of two of the city square fountains.
Time to eat and have crab cake Benedict and pain perdu down on River Street. River Street blossoms with many more shops, galleries, bars and restaurants. Three items about driving: Look carefully to find a way down there, and look carefully to find a way out of River Street. You’ll have to follow the locals as there appears to be no way out. The third item: The street is rough as cobblestones, because it is cobblestones.
Savannah is 15 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. It is the fourth busiest port in the United States. When earlier ships came in empty, they were laden with cobblestone for ballast. When ships left loaded down with cotton, iron, rice and brick, the cobblestone was cast to the shore. What better material for a rough roadbed? Today, Savannah is also an exporter of cars.
I mentioned iron. As there was once an iron mill here, you will now find an abundance of black iron gates, fences, railings, ornamentals, even fluted iron columns on buildings made to look like wood, and all of it beautiful.
I mentioned fountains. Ten days prior to St. Patty’s Day, we were fortunate enough to view the “greening” of the fountains throughout the city. We were at the most famous fountain in Savannah’s large Forsyth Park, the one known from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, watching dozens of officials in green blazers, holding green watering cans, and behold, thanks to city employees with 5-gallons cans of green dye, the water and its statuary turned green.
Savannah’s celebration of St. Patrick’s Day — or I should days — is second only to New York’s celebration. A city of fewer than 200,000 explodes to half a million. I should have known by all the Irish pubs we attended.
The Georgia State Railroad Museum, a national landmark, is a must-visit, with its turntable, roundhouse, old locomotives, cabooses, and a tour of an old elegantly furnished executive car. Of course you’ll get a ride.
Comparable to our local Campus Theatre is the Savannah Theatre. We viewed a two-hour must-see performance of Savannah Live, with singing, dancing, and a year-round live band playing music from several decades.
We visited Savannah’s simple but touching Vietnam War Memorial, especially meaningful to me.
Back to the river for some shrimp and crab bisque, pimento cheese with French bread and fried coconut shrimp.
An 18-mile drive east took us to Tybee Island to see the oldest and tallest lighthouse in Georgia, and another opportunity on our travels to dip our toes into the ocean.
They say Savannah is a walking city, but you’ll need a car also to see and take pictures of all the elegant old homes and read their historic plaques. You can’t do that well from the many trolley tours, but I suggest you take one to get the stories and history. At the tour stops, various characters will hop on to tell some of those stories.
We’ve taken other city riverboat cruises, but this time we took an evening dinner cruise, with dancing and live music.
Again, you’ll need a car to try to find the elusive way to the historic and extensive Bonaventure Cemetery, where scenes from Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil were also filmed with the cemetery’s many graceful monuments. It has a section dedicated expressly to veterans.
Back into town, the Pirates’ House still serving drinks and food, in what’s thought to be the oldest standing house in Georgia. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote tales of drunken sailors being shanghaied from this house.
We visited some of the many museums here, but I have to tell you of one pub’s history. During Prohibition, it was turned into a legitimate pharmacy, but it distilled gin and sold it in medicine bottles. I imagine that you teetotalers will enjoy Savannah as much as we did, but the rest of you, don’t pass up on the Irish beer, the multi-liquored Ruby Relaxers, Savannah Slammers, and the historically famous Chatham Artillery Punch, served to Presidents George Washington and James Monroe.
After one week, we noticed that Spanish moss was growing everywhere, and we had to leave beautiful Savannah before it grew on your author.
JIM STODOLA, a contributing columnist, can be reached at email@example.com.