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Trip Report Twenty-five years in Savannah

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Without warning our 25th wedding anniversary was barreling in and we were (again) unprepared. Each year we vowed to mark the next anniversary with a suitable commemoration and without fail we failed. This year we started preparations a full two weeks in advance---no staying home with take out Indian or Mexican on our 25th anniversary.

While researching airfare for my sister's upcoming trip to Hilton Head, I noticed that we could still get frequent flier tickets to Savannah, if we were willing to leave on Sunday during the Memorial Day weekend. I dimly remembered reading good things about Savannah in travel magazines many years ago when I read travel magazines and, of course, there was that bestseller "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" which I started but never did finish. A few minutes of consultation with DH and tickets were booked to Savannah. (After booking the tickets I did sneak a quick glance at the weather in Savannah which appeared to be a tad warm (100!) but since we've had a very cold spring in Chicago warmth would be good.)

Although Savannah wasn't an exotic destination worthy of such a momentous anniversary, it did fulfill our vow of doing "something." It was also fitting to be traveling during Memorial Day weekend since twenty-five years ago we planned to get married on Memorial Day weekend but it was the year that Memorial Day was unceremoniously moved to the last Monday of May and we ended up getting married the weekend after Memorial Day, much to the annoyance of the fortunate few who scored invites to our wedding.

One of the advantages of last minute travels is that you're spared months of planning anguish. There's just not enough time to read zillions of reviews. A quick search of tripadvisor and Fodor's pointed us to the Avia hotel, even though I secretly thought we should be staying at a romantic, historic inn. A pleading post for restaurant recommendations on Fodor's resulted in several suggestions. Unable to choose among them we were forced to schedule three anniversary dinners: The Olde Pink House, Elizabeth's on 37th and Noble Fair.

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    Our flight to Savannah was unremarkable, except for the heaviest fog on the expressway our taxi driver had ever seen, an exclusive private pat down at security because my hand swab was positive for dangerous chemicals, a four hour delay in boarding the aircraft due to fog and then another hour's delay on the runway attributed to an approaching storm. We did enjoy a great breakfast at Rick Bayless' newly opened restaurant at O'Hare, Tortas Fronteras, www.rickbayless.com/news/view?articleID=171
    I tried not to think about the fact that we could be landing in London in the time it took to get to Savannah. At least we wouldn't miss our dinner reservations at The Olde Pink House.

    AVIA Hotel
    Since we had carryon only, we immediately hopped a cab to downtown Savannah ($28 for the first person, $5 for each additional.) In less than a half an hour we were at the Avia Hotel, www.aviahotels.com/hotels/savannah . Avia is a modern hotel located about 10 minutes from the Riverwalk and 4 minutes from City Market. Everywhere in the historic district was a manageable walk, even with temperatures in the 90s.

    Our room was a Grand Studio Suite, a complimentary upgrade from the standard room that we booked. The suite was spacious, clean and well equipped. Since it faced the street it was noisy if the windows were open, especially over the weekend. There was free WiFi but it didn't reliably reach everywhere in the room, a problem easily solved by moving to a better location. The hotel staff were extraordinarily friendly and welcoming. We didn't eat any meals at the hotel, though we did look at the quick breakfast option one morning when we were pressed for time and decided that the pastries were not appealing. I wondered if I would regret not staying somewhere more "atmospheric" but that wasn't the case. The Avia was excellent in all respects and we enjoyed the modern comforts.

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    thanks for taking the time to write this up.I think Savannah itself is a pretty sepcial place,so i woildnt feel youve settled--its certainly more romantic than Chi-town.Great choices on food--probably the best 3 in Savannah--did you have time to visit Bonaventure--i think its quite an experience--and have ice cream at Leopolds.We stay at Planters, kind of in between a large new place like Avia and soem of the more quaint B&Bs--our stays are pretty quiet there

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    Thanks for reading, bigbomoho. We did visit Bonaventure and Leopold's. Details coming up.

    Dinner at The Olde Pink House

    Our first anniversary dinner was at the Olde Pink House, a short walk from the Avia. Based on Fodorite recommendations we had asked to be seated in the old part of the building, in what must have been one of the original salons. The restaurant is quite large and lively, tables are close together. The service was excellent and everyone was eager to please. There's also a tavern downstairs which we couldn't squeeze into after dinner. (It wasn't that we had grown so large, the place was packed.)

    We ordered fried green tomatoes and blackened oysters for appetizers and then scored flounder and crab stuffed grouper. Dessert was key lime pie since they were out of pecan pie. Several people, including the cab driver from the airport, recommended the flounder which is served with a sweet apricot-shallot sauce. Although we though that the sweet sauce detracted from the locally caught fish, it's a combo that seems to be a regional favorite since it was on several menus that we saw. The Olde Pinke House was an excellent introduction to dining in Savannah. www.plantersinnsavannah.com/menu.htm

    After dinner we wandered through some of the gorgeous squares, eavesdropping on ghost stories told by earnest tour guides. Our last stop was for some OK gelato in Market Square, www.gelatohhh.com. That's also where we bought "The Savannah Walking Tour Guidebook" for $5.95. It's a great little book that outlines several walks through the historic city and tells you a little about what you're seeing. Next morning it was off to Huey's.

    Breakfast at Huey's

    The riverfront is a 10 minute walk from the Avia, down the bluff. You can walk down staircases or take an elevator down from one of the hotel lobbies or the tourist center. Besides the riverfront setting, Huey's features beignets, a much acclaimed New Orleans delicacy that I was eager to try. There were many breakfast selections, including eggs sardou, DH choice, www.hueysontheriver.net/menu. Since we arrived soon after Huey's opened , we were seated at a window table without any wait. DH enjoyed his eggs, I was disappointed by the beignets, which were not "fluffy pillows" but were heavy and covered with several inches of powdered sugar. The best part was the praline sauce that accompanied them. Again, I've never had "authentic" beignets so it's possible that these were exquisite and my provincial taste failed to recognize their excellence.

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    Touring the Mercer Williams House and lunch at 700 Drayton

    After breakfast we walked along the river until the Waving Girl Statue and then climbed the bluff to Emmet Park. Our goal was to walk through each of the 22 squares. At Monterey Square we decided go on a half hour tour of the Mercer Williams House ($12.50) which is featured in the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil that we had both re-read before coming. Although we usually avoid house tours, we enjoyed our visit to this stunning mansion. The guide was excellent. I'd read that Williams' sister didn't allow discussion of the book at the house but that's changed and the guide noted where the various events took place. www.mercerhouse.com

    Since lunch time was almost upon us, we continued out walk to Forsyth Park, admired the fountain and headed to the Mansion on Forsyth Park, a striking hotel on the park's edge, www.mansiononforsythpark.com. Since we wanted to be hungry for Elizabeth on 37th, we had only a modest lunch at 700 Drayton, the restaurant in the hotel: crab bisque, fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and a smoked duck salad. The day was getting progressively hotter so we sat inside and admired the paintings of the animals from the African savannah. It was a great lunch spot, providing strong air conditioning and good food and wine. The walk back to the hotel was long but we persevered, checking off visited squares on our map.

    Elizabeth on 37th

    Our dinner destination was a bit out of the historic district and in a neighborhood that we were advised to avoid. I had read that someone was actually shot in Elizabeth's parking lot, so we asked the concierge to call us a cab ($10). Elizabeth, like the Olde Pink House, is in a restored mansion but the atmosphere is quite different. The Pink House is bustling, noisy and crowded while Elizabeth is quiet, elegant and roomy, with tables spaced far from each other. Even though it was Memorial Day the restaurant was almost full. Unlike the friendly wait staff at the Pink House, our waiter was sullen and while we were still eating dessert plopped the bill on the table.

    Dinner started with an amuse bouche of a single spiced mussel. We would have gladly ordered a plate of these but that wasn't an option. Our shared appetizer of shrimp, tomatoes and corn in a baked parmesan basket was markedly inferior to the amazing mussels. Again we ordered fish: flounder and red snapper, both excellent. Dessert was a large piece of Savannah cream cake. Except for its generous size, the cake wasn't particularly distinguished. Since our waiter couldn't be bothered to even ask whether we wanted coffee or anything else, we just the paid the bill on the table before it grew cold. Although my husband had mentioned that it was our 25th anniversary when he made the reservation, it was never mentioned. Overall, we liked the ambience of Elizabeth's, although the food fell a little short of expectation and the service was far from charming www.elizabethon37th.net

    After dinner we took the cab to the Bohemian hotel on the riverfront and had drinks at their roof top bar which was very crowded and suffered from the Hyatt blocking views of the river. http://www.bohemianhotelsavannah.com

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    Touring Bonaventure Cemetery with Savannah Heritage Tours

    Based on comments by Fodorites we felt we didn't need to take a Savannah tour. Our feet and the walking tours book would suffice. However, Bonaventure cemetery was a different matter. It was too far to walk to and if we just took a cab there we'd have to walk long distances to see the highlights. Finding a tour of just Bonaventure wasn't easy. Most tour companies tack it on to "The Book" tour or a ghost tour. The only tour I could find was given by Angela, the owner of Savannah Heritage Tours, www.savannahheritagetours.com, 912-224-8365 ($26/person for an 1.5 hour tour). She picked us up promptly at 9:00 at the hotel and drove just the two of us in her 15 person van to Bonaventure. We hadn't booked a private tour, but no one else had signed up. Lucky for us that she doesn't have a minimum number for a tour.

    Angela is a Savannah native and seems to know and love every nook and cranny of Bonaventure, one of the most atmospheric cemeteries we've ever been to. Gracie, Johnny Mercer, Conrad Potter Aiken, we visited them all. If you want to see Bonaventure, and you should, I highly recommend Angela and her one woman company, Savannah Heritage Tours.

    Lunch at SoHo South and Dinner at Noble Fare

    Lunch was at the exuberantly decorated SoHo South, www.sohosouthcafe.com , a cafe within an art gallery. Or is it the other way around? We were happy to rejoin the living after visiting the dead and had a light lunch of a tuna nicoise salad and salmon blt. In the afternoon we walked to the river and took a roundtrip on the free ferry to the island which houses the convention center. It was good to do something for a change that didn't involve lots of walking, especially since the temperature was approaching 100.

    Our last anniversary dinner was at Noble Fare, www.noblefare.com, again a reasonable walk from the hotel, though we did take a cab there since it was so hot and I was wearing my dancing shoes. The restaurant is small, seating 32, the decor tastefully modern.

    Since it was our actual anniversary and we weren't anticipating any more fancy dinners, we ordered the tasting menu paired with wines: cucumber popsicles with aquavit; diver scallops with corn relish; tuna sashimi; grouper; duck; venison; local cheeses, and creme brulee and lava cake. Every dish was well executed and beautifully plated. We were lucky that we saved the best for last.

    Thanks to everyone who gave us dinner recommendations!

    Breakfast at Clary's, a visit to Leopold's and lunch at Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House

    Our plane back to Chicago wasn't until 5 PM so we weren't done eating in Savannah. For breakfast we walked to Clary's to see where Luther from The Book ate. It's a typically diner, generous portions but nothing noteworthy. I had mediocre biscuits and gravy, DH devoured an immense breakfast plate with lots of eggs, bacon and pancakes.

    On the way to Clary's we passed the legendary Leopold's ice cream shop which opened at 11, so we passed several hours revisiting some of our favorite squares while waiting for it to open, www.leopoldsicecream.com. Worth waiting for.

    After hearty breakfasts supplemented by generous portions of ice cream, it seemed silly to line up for the buffet at Mrs. Wilkes' Boarding House, www.mrswilkes.com, but we did. Why come home hungry? The line was long when we arrived at 1:00 and I had to keep encouraging DH not to give up, reminding him of the long lines for pizza in Naples. You taste it and forget the line you stood in. The same was true for Mrs. Wilkes'. After a 45 minute wait we were seated at a table with 8 others and began eating the 26 or so dishes laid out before us. What was amazing was that they were all so well prepared and flavorful. There wasn't much conversation around the table since we were so busy eating. I viewed Mrs. Wilkes' as something to do to pass the time before going to the airport so I was delighted to be enjoying the food so much. Don't miss Mrs. Wilkes' in Savannah!

    We were both very pleased with our visit to lovely Savannah. Time to start planning that 50th anniversary...

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    > Although Savannah wasn't an exotic destination
    > worthy of such a momentous anniversary

    Interestingly, if you had asked me a year ago where would be a perfect place to celebrate a Silver Anniversary, Savannah would have been near the top of my list.

    You don't want "exotic" for an anniversary, you want ROMANTIC. And Savannah is hard to beat in that category!

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