Strolling in Savannah

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The oldest city in the state of Georgia is a walker’s paradise

By Josephine Matyas & Craig Jones  

With its green, leafy squares, antebellum homes and über-orderly grid of streets, Savannah has attracted the attention of film directors who love to set their pieces there.

There’s the bus stop bench at Chippewa Square where Tom Hanks sat as Forrest Gump, enthralling fellow passengers with vignettes of his charmed life. There’s the Six Pence Pub, where a wronged wife played by Julia Roberts in Something To Talk About catches her philandering husband dining with the other woman. The Civil War movie, Glory, was filmed in and around the city.

And a wide swath of Savannah – from squares to gracious homes to the historic Bonaventure Cemetery – became characters in director Clint Eastwood’s film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The latter movie is based on a novel about Savannah that spent more than four years on The New York Times best-seller list.

Savannah was founded in 1733, at the height of the prosperous Southern plantation era. The port would have been buzzing with ships unloading captured slaves from West Africa and loading with bundles of cotton, rice and indigo bound for markets in Europe. It is a part of the dark history of the Triangle of Trade linking Europe, Africa and the Americas.

The era was marked by great wealth in the hands of very few. This was top of mind as we toured the stately mansions that were once the home of plantation owners and cotton brokers, and strolled along the historic riverfront. River Street – once the site of tall brick warehouses where cotton was stacked and then loaded onto waiting vessels – has been revitalized with shops, bars, restaurants and a pretty waterfront walk lined with the cobblestones that once served as ships’ ballast.

The concentration of wealth and the city’s genteel quality shows in its trademark network of little squares lined by massive homes. Today, traffic and horse-drawn carriages packed with tourists navigate around the remaining 22 squares with names like Chippewa, Calhoun and Pulaski. Savannah is a green city. Streets and squares are lined by a dome of trees – enormous live oaks, hanging with Spanish moss. There is the deep ring of church bells. It’s not difficult to pretend you have time travelled to another era.

We found a ride by trolley bus a quick way to get into the heart of the city and orient ourselves to the layout and highlights. After that initial spin through the downtown core, we got off and . . . walked. Because, this really is a city for walking.

Drinking in the aristocratic atmosphere, you can readily see how it acquired its reputation as “Hostess City of the South.” The city’s downtown is one of the nation’s largest National Historic Landmark Districts.

This beauty certainly caught the attention of General William Tecumseh Sherman as he fought his way to the ocean on his infamous Civil War March to the Sea. When the General arrived in Savannah he was so taken with the city that he sent a telegram to President Lincoln gifting it to the president as a Christmas present. Savannah was spared.

A day of walking deserves some indulgence. And that’s how we finished our visit – with lunch and a cold dessert at the famous Leopold’s Ice Cream. Leopold’s has been around for almost 100 years and has developed quite a following. The lineups out the door testify to its reputation as one of best ice cream shops in the world.

Georgia Tourism:

The Old Savannah Tours trolley is a great way to get a quick overview of the city. The trolley makes stops at 16 hop on/hop off stations.

Who’s writing

Our travel horizons keep expanding. For fall 2014, we’ve packed the camper van, taken along our easy going Border Collie (Eleanor Rigby) and are exploring the Carolinas and Georgia. On the way down we’re looking for everything unique about life along the ocean coastline. And on our travels back north we’re taking the inland route, looking for food, culture and roots music. We’ve added a new website devoted to our travels: with info on RV travel, pooch-friendly travel, food and music destinations.