Beautiful Savannah and the nightmare that almost turned it ugly

It’s rumored that when the Union general, Sherman, rolled into Savannah he had every intention of burning it to the ground. He said it was much too beautiful to destroy, but the locals have a different story. They insist that their most important citizens (AKA: the very richest of the rich) bribed Sherman, convincing him that this town was worth saving. Southern charm supposedly enraptured him in Lafayette Square, whereas it couldn’t do any such thing in any other part of Dixie. I tend to believe the former rumor, that Sherman halted his steed as soon as he saw the stately live oaks, the haunting sway of the Spanish moss draped over the limbs of every tree, and decided this is a place he’d most definitely want to come back to. Whatever the truth, Savannah is definitely one of the most beautiful places in America, and this is a country of endless beauty.

I had been to Savannah several times in the past, but I always just passing through the airport or racing by on the interstate. I never stopped inside. When my husband and I had to use our Covid voucher from Amtrak, I suggested we choose a warm city by the sea that had a spooky reputation. Enter Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

“Let’s go to Savannah!” I suggested, and Leonardo being the kind of guy who’ll go just about anywhere on a trip, enthusiastically jumped in.

Because we booked in March, two months before our travel date, we were able to snag a bedroom on the Silver Meteor for, both, the trip down from Philadelphia and the trip back up. I’ve ridden on Amtrak many times in my life, across the country and up and down both coasts. There’s something to be said for the comfort you can get on a train’s coach service that you can’t on a plane’s. However, for overnight accommodations, sleeper service is best.

The bedroom includes a private shower and toilet, sink, a fold out double berth, and an upper bunk. Two adults can sleep on the lower berth. Two adults and a child can travel all together in the bedroom. It has a large reclining sofa by day, bed by night, and an observation chair as well. There’s plenty of room for luggage storage on the shelving near the ceiling. If you’re vertically challenged, your porter can store things for you. Luckily for me, the Hot Latin Husband is pretty tall. He put everything up there and we had lots of leg room. However, if you’re a large person, you will find the bathroom to be very small. Just an FYI.

How to Choose Amtrak Sleeping Accommodations on Overnight Trains
Amtrak Bedroom with the beds folded up as a couch

All your meals are included in the price when you purchase any of the sleeper rooms: a roomette, a bedroom, or a family room. You also get one complimentary alcoholic beverage with your dinner. We had white wine. Being the lightweight that I am, it took me about three hours to finish my 6oz. glass, and I threw out most of it, but if I’d wanted more, I’m sure I could have had it.

Sleeping on the bottom berth is not great. Though, it’s not from lack of comfort. Maybe it was the 6oz glass of wine or the excitement of travel after a year and half of being, mostly, stuck inside for fear of an invisible monster called Covid? I don’t know, but that first night on the train, we didn’t sleep. It didn’t matter, however, because we were on vacation.

We weren’t able to enjoy the continental breakfast the first morning on the train, because we departed at 7:30am, before we could get it. Besides, I had a goal of eating grits, biscuits, and gravy every day, so I was headed in that direction. We called an Uber to get us to our Avis rental place and headed off to Tybee Island, where our beachside AirBnB awaited us. We had several hours to kill, so we had breakfast at Clary’s, and let me tell you right now, friends–I’ll never again eat a breakfast as good. If you’re ever in Savannah, this is your place for everything delicious. It’s not expensive, pretentious, or touristy. It’s just the neighborhood cafe’, but if you go nowhere else in Savannah, please go to Clary’s. Please.

Cheese Grits and Biscuits at Clary’s. You’ll remember this restaurant from the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Afterwards, we walked a portion of Forsyth Park (it’s huge) and began a week long tradition of simply walking Savannah. It’s the kind of city where you can meander endlessly, people watch to your heart’s content, and simply relax. In Savannah, I was reminded of the merits of my own Southern ancestry and culture. I’m two things: Ashkenazi and Celtic. Three out of four of my grandparents were from the South (even some of the Jewish ones), as were both of my parents, and that is also where I was born. Everywhere I walked, I heard the accents of relatives past. I thought of my mother and my aunts and cousins. I was at home, though it was a new place entirely.

We fell asleep in our rental car, relaxing on the beach, waiting for our check-in time. We just couldn’t stay awake anymore. College kids with coolers full of beer strolled onto the sand as the sun started to sink a little further towards the horizon. Families sauntered to their cars. The air smelled of salted caramel and coconut sunscreen. We’d eaten at a restaurant earlier for dinner, and I’d filled up on the best hush puppies of my life (outside of my grandmother’s in Oklahoma City). I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to maintain any sort of sensible diet while on this trip if those first few hours were any indication of how things were going to go.

Tybee Island, GA | Official Website
Tybee Island

Eventually, we found our apartment. It was clean and pretty. There was a lot of room. We were exhausted and headed strait for bed. I took a shower first and slipped under the covers before the moon even rose above the sea. Something, maybe the noisy people walking above us, woke me, but I got up and decided I needed tea. Leonardo went to make me some, and yes, this is an important part of the story. Listen up, friends. A lesson in vacation booking is coming. Roaches! Everywhere! Yes. You read that right. The kitchen was crawling with them. We were horrified. In this trendy little apartment, this spotless modern place that smelled of bleach and fresh air, we were contending with a huge infestation of roaches. I don’t handle these things well. I fled. I notified the host. Told her we were getting a hotel and wanted a refund. We left, tossing out all the food we’d just purchased at a local grocery store for the week. I’m pretty sure the neighbors heard our midnight tire squeals.

Air BnB corporate was wonderful. We sent them a video of the nasty things and they promised us a refund. It arrived in our bank account about a day after we returned from Savannah. We found a beautiful room, in the middle of the night in Historic Savannah, at the Holiday Inn Express. It was actually one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever had to stay in in an emergency, and I was surprised by this. I don’t usually think of Holiday Inn as luxurious, but this place was very nice. Everything was new and spotless and Covid protocols were followed to the “t.” We had a lovely stay there. If you’re looking for a hotel on Bay Street, this is an excellent choice. It’s right across from the river.

As much as we had come to enjoy Tybee Island, it was Historic Savannah that we fell in love with. We clocked about five miles a day on foot, walked in and out of all manner of museums (history, cultural, art, etc.), went on a cheesy ghost tour, and ate our weight in shrimp and grits. We went in early spring, when the weather was perfect. It averaged about 85 degrees F every day. We took a river boat tour, and we shopped for stupid things, which is what one does on vacation, right? We’d never been on a vacation for more than eight days in our entire 26 years of marriage. We took full advantage of it.

A Collage of Savannah’s Trees (Tiffani Velez)

I’ll write more later, and in greater detail, about the various parts of Savannah–the cemeteries (yes, you must walk through all of them!), the squares, River Street, the boats, the food. But for now, take this lesson from my words, if you take anything at all, document any problems you have with Air BnB, because they want you to be happy. No one wants a bad review. We noted in the guest book that several of the previous tenants had complained about “bugs,” but no one had ever reported them. Demand a refund if you have any issues. They’ll do everything they can to assist you.

Savannah is dreamy. I moved there in my mind, picking out this million dollar house and that one, over and over again. Leonardo did the same. People smile at you and ask you how you’re doing, and they thoughtfully wait for your answer. No one is in a hurry. The people watching is at a prime here. When it’s hot and you’re tired, you can just sit on a bench and watch the tendrils of the Spanish Moss wave in the breeze. Savannah is what the world needs right now. We need rest, we need adventure, we need an escape from all the horribleness of 2020. If you’re looking for a great getaway, I suggest Savannah, but wait until the fall. It’s hot as hell by now. There’s plenty of shade though.

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