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Savannah, GA – Get outta town! To Bonaventure and Tybee

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After a few days, we come to a point that we just have to get out of Savannah.

Not because we hate it…on the contrary, we consider pulling the emergency brake on this nomadic life to stop for 91 days in Savannah like our friends Juergen and Mike. After all, there is so much to see in dreamy Savannah. We just want to explore two places we kept hearing about, so we just hop in our rental car and headed to two popular places outside of the city center – a graveyard and an island.

bonaventure cemetery avenueBonaventure Cemetery

As one of the stars of the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the Bonaventure Cemetery outside of Savannah is one of the most beautiful we have ever visited, easily on par with our favorite Gothic cemeteries in London, the colorful cemeteries of Latin America or the famous Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

bonaventure cemetery savannah georgiaEntering through the main gates, we find ourselves on a tree-lined road, a slight breeze blowing through Spanish moss draping down from the centuries-old trees causing an eeriness among the calm. We lock up the car and wander aimlessly between the graves for hours, reading inscriptions on the tombstones that tell succinct life stories of German settlers, Jewish merchants and Southern generals buried here.

gravestones at bonaventure cemetery in savannah georgiaThe cemetery is quiet and peaceful, and somehow traipsing over grounds filled with dead bodies takes on a romantic feeling. Bonaventure is set along the Wilmington River, and is home to unusual flowers, plants and trees, which add to its unique atmosphere as do the incredible obelisks, statues and tombstones which are as much works of art as tributes to the dead.
bonaventure cemetery angelsTybee Island

Relaxed after exploring the serene cemetery, we are curious to see tiny Tybee Island, just outside of Savannah. A short 30-minute ride through the marshes, and suddenly we are in an entirely different environment. The ocean comes into view, and along the quaint main street colorful one-story buildings house surf shops, souvenir stores and seaside restaurants.

tybee island rock houseA wide sandy beach stretches around most of the island, inviting us to lay like lizards and recharge in the late afternoon sun. We could have rented a kayak or cycled around the island, but we are feeling lazy. Later on, we do make our way to the Tybee Island Lighthouse, which is Georgia’s oldest and tallest, and one of the few lighthouses from the 18th century that are still in use.

tybee island lighthouseLike many places we hit on the road trip, we wish we would have planned in more time here on the beach, to laze around, maybe rent a cottage and take in the gorgeous sunsets at night…how could we know just how many places throughout the south would appeal to us so much. Instead, this is just a day trip, and we are back in town by nightfall.

tybee island beachGetting away

Take the Island Expressway to Tybee Island, or take the detour that passes Bonaventure Cemetery: follow the Truman Parkway and then turn east on the 80, get off at Bonaventure Cemetery, and then get back onto the 80, which will meet the Island Expressway again.

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Savannah, GA – To tour or not to tour?

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If you had asked the two of us about city tours a few years ago, we would have rolled our eyes at you. Tours are for package tourists, we would have told you, followed by: Travel is about soaking up local culture, not going on tours. Fast-forward to the present day, to a couple that now lives and breathes travel, and our opinion has changed a bit with experience.

Do not misunderstand – we would never advocate organized tours as the principal way to see a city (that is just lazy!). There are, however, definite advantages, especially for time-starved visitors. Certain tours make finding out more details/facts about the city, seeing more neighborhoods and getting your bearings in a city much easier.

When we arrived in Savannah for our five-day stay, we were shocked at just how many tours this small Southern city of just 137,000 has on offer – a number easily on par with New York, Paris or London. Alarm bells sounded, red flags were raised…Savannah’s breezy city center is compact and can be explored on foot in a day or two.

Do you really need to take a tour in Savannah at all?

savannah carriage tourWe say yes…Savannah has one of the most unique, interesting stories of all U.S. cities, most of which would go overlooked on a series of leisurely strolls across the famous squares and Forsyth Park without a guide. Taking one of the hop-on, hop-off tours (we liked the Savannah Trolley Tours) can be a good way to dip into a quick history lesson and get a sense of the size of the city center.

The two of us are absolute movie geeks and Savannah, known as the Hollywood of the South, has starred next to Kevin Spacey and Tom Hanks as a key film location in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Forrest Gump – among many, many other films. And so it was that, with limited time to see city between our stints both judging and partaking in the Savannah Craft Brew Festival over Labor Day Weekend, we chose to take a movie tour over the Black History Tour, which ran at the same time.

The truth is, Savannah Movie Tours was actually the most disappointing tour we have ever taken.

Tricked by the shiny wrapping, this was an utter disappointment – what we would have given for a ‘Do Over’. The 90-minute outing, which costs $25 per person, stops at various movie locations and flat screen TVs inside the bus show clips of the movie set in the location. Much of the information given was the same as the hop-on, hop-off tours, plus the clips were too short and paying attention to the clip and the boring guide (we kept track of his ums and uhs until we lost count) at the same time was too hard. Maybe we couldn’t keep up because the air-conditioning was cranked up so high in the bus that it actually froze our brains. Everyone on board was shivering (outside, a 100 degree southern summer heat), and Jess nearly lost it when, at the end, the guide had the nerve to ask if we wanted to stop at the famous Leopold’s ice cream. Were the 12 of us freezey-pops not enough?!savannah movie tourPick a tour – just not any tour

So how to know which Savannah tours to book? Check reviews and recommendations on sites like TripAdvisor before you book, plain and simple. Below is a listing of the types of tours available in Savannah. Each type often has 2-5 tour companies offering the same thing:

  • Savannah trolley tours
  • Savannah hop 0n, hop off tours
  • Savannah walking tours
  • Savannah haunted walking tours
  • Savannah foodie tours
  • Savannah movie tours
  • Savannah horse carriage tours
  • Savannah ghost tours
  • Savannah riverboat tours
  • Savannah historic homes & gardens tours
  • Savannah black history tours
  • Savannah pub crawls and martini tours

savannah mercer williams houseTours we chose in Savannah

For history buffs, several historic homes offer tours of the house and gardens. These shine a personal light on history as you catch a frozen moment of a bygone era – how the bedrooms looked, the history of the house, what the customs were. We especially loved the tour of the Mercer Wiliams House, the home of the flamboyant Savannah playboy Jim Williams, familiar to some as the main character in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Having never heard of Savannah icon and Food Network cooking star Paula Deen, we couldn’t miss learning about her in Savannah. Fans line up to eat at her Lady and Sons restaurant (get there early, the lines are looooong) and there are also Paula Deen foodie tour around town. True foodies might best enjoy the Savannah food tour – a great introduction to Southern cuisine with strong reviews on Trip Advisor and this USA Today article.

For people who are interested in African American history in the South, the Black History Tour includes remnants of the Underground Railroad, Old Black Communities and slave burial grounds. We are still kicking ourselves about choosing the movie tour over this highly rated tour.

savannah wright square at night

Savannah is also known as one of the most haunted cities in America. The city’s history is filled with plagues, wars, duels, and murders and every cemetery and Gothic mansion has a ghost story of some type to tell. Not surprisingly there are 31 ghost tours: A Savannah sixth sense tour, a Ghosts & Gravestones tour, a creepy pub crawl, a Savannah Hearse tour (check out Amanda’s coverage of the Savannah hearse tour over at A Dangerous Business), to name only a few.

With a late evening free, we opted for a simple walking ghost tour. It was not electrifying and more like a non-ghost walking tour, until we toured the Juliette Gordon Low birth house (founder of the Girl Scouts), whose ghost stories were creepy enough to get the hair on the back of our necks standing on end.

Whether you are immune to tours or addicted to them, Savannah confronts you with a seemingly infinite amount of shiny packaging… just make sure to do your own research before choosing a tour. Most importantly, sit down on a bench like Forrest Gump in each of Savannah’s 24 breezy squares and take in the mingling of the city’s eccentrics, its visitors and the daily life of the Savannah locals. It is free and the best entertainment of all!

savannah Oglethorpe sculpture in Chippewa Square

Comprehensive listings about tours in Savannah, check out  VisitSavannah.com and TripAdvisor Savannah, two great resources on what to do in Savannah.

Have you been to Savannah? Would recommend any Savannah tours? In general, how do you feel about taking tours while visiting a city?

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Dreamy Savannah in pictures

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Savannah was one of the destinations on our New York to New Orleans road trip that we both looked most forward to, having wanted to visit this little town in Georgia for a long time. We both had certain images of the town in mind before we even arrived: grand Victorian mansions, little squares with locals reading the papers on the benches, trees filled with Spanish moss…

And when we arrived, we were not disappointed! Savannah turned out to be one of our favorite places in the U.S., and we loved the small-town feel, the friendly people, the independent cafes and walking the tree-lined streets for hours and hours.

Enjoy Savannah through our lens:

savannah lionssavannah sculpture

savannah sculpture

We love the public statues in the squares around town…

savannah red houses

savannah building

savannah purple yellow house

savannah houses…and can easily imagine living in one of these gorgeous buildings…

savannah church...hell, we could even find religion – these churches are so beautiful!

savannah butterflyThis butterfly fluttered by us in a square…

savannah historic house…on our way to this supposedly haunted house.

savannah architecture

savannah georgiaThe details around the town make Savannah such a unique city…

savannah turtles

savannah black lions

fish rain gutter…with unexpected quirks that make you laugh out loud…

savannah theater

savannah architecture…and intricate, yet crumbling features that make us realize Savannah’s rich deep history…

savannah statue

savannah fountain figureWe could easily spend hours in the squares of Savannah…

savannah forsyth park…but seriously, couldn’t you?

savannah gravestonesSoldiers chose to spend time in the graveyard instead and trampled it – leaving mismatched or unmarked graves.

savannah railingWe were so charmed by the sprawling properties…

savannah spanish moss

savannah spanish moss…and even more so by the Spanish Moss…

Cupcakes Savannahwestin savannah brunch desertsSavannah is a sweet city, too…

savannah vintage cars

savannah sunflower gate

savannah windowEverywhere we looked, tiny details were just begging to be discovered in Savannah, and we can not wait to go back for more!

If you plan a visit to Savannah, we recommend For 91 Days in Savannah – anecdotes, advice and photos from three months in Savannah, now available on Kindle, by our friends Mike Powell and Juergen Horn.

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Vegetarian Dixie: The Best of Southern Food

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We. Love. Food. One of the best things about traveling is the new food we try in each new place we visit, and our NYC2NOLA road trip was no different. We were super excited to try all the local specialties and from New York until we hit the South, this was a piece of cake. However, it turns out that finding vegetarian food in the Land of Dixie is a challenge when plates are normally piled high with pork, chicken and shrimp. We did manage to belly up to some fabulous southern restaurants for some traditional soul food. Caution: this post may make you hungry!

charleston mac n cheese sandwichAtlanta, Georgia

Mary Mac’s Tea Room
While visiting a college friend and Atlanta local on our road trip this summer, she insisted we dine at Mary Mac’s, an Atlanta institution which has been serving up classic Southern cuisine since Mary MacKenzie opened it in 1945. 60 years later, this old school southern restaurant serves up southern staples like country-fried steak, chicken pan pie with gravy and sweet potato soufflé, and always with the utmost, genuine southern hospitality. To start, all diners (most of whom are locals – this ain’t no tourist trap) are served ‘potlikker’ (broth of cooking up greens) with bread – and though this usually have chicken in it, the waitress organized us two vegetarian bowls of the stuff. Mary Mac’s is meat-heavy Dixie food, so we both opted for the vegetable plate of four sides, which was a great way to sample several small plates of Southern food. We were already familiar with the Southern Vegetable Plate concept from our road trip stops at Cracker Barrel along the way.

mary macs tea room atlanta georgiaBetween the two of us we had broccoli soufflé, cheese & vegetable soufflé, fried green tomatoes, mac’n’cheese, coleslaw, a vegetable medley, fried okra, and of course, a side of fresh home-made corn bread on the side. For dessert the three of us split the banana pudding, bread pudding and Georgia peach cobbler, which were all seriously good, before waddling out to the car. Meat lovers and veggies alike should check out Country Skipper’s review and great photos of Mary Mac’s for more details.

Savannah, Georgia

This open-minded everyone’s-welcome city may not have many purely vegetarian restaurants, but plenty of places in town have veggie-friendly options on the menu.

Breakfast at Clary’s
You might know Clary’s already from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which hosted many of the scenes of the film. This traditional diner opened over 100 years ago, so they know a thing or two about pleasing local customers to keep ’em coming back for more. Veggie options here include mouth-watering Stuffed French Toast, Eggs Benedict or the ‘Elvis’ – thick-sliced sourdough toast stuffed with peanut butter and bananas, the sandwich the King made famous. You can also try classic Southern items such as griddle cakes (pancakes), Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns, grits or Biscuits & Gravy.

savannah breakfast at clary'sThe Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
We have a special place in our hearts for our home-base in town, the Westin Savannah Harbor– where we not only had the most comfortable beds we have ever slept in, but a staff that went above and beyond the call of duty for us. We happened to be in town for the Savannah Craft Brew Fest, which was held between the Westin and the neighboring convention center. We got to talking food to Westin’s General Manager Mark Spadoni, and once Mark discovered that we did not believe an intersection of classically Southern and vegetarian food to be possible, he put a challenge out to the head chef to create just that: a classically Southern vegetarian dish. Less than twenty minutes later we were each served a soft, succulent grit cake topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and green asparagus, lightly covered in a subtle, yet tangy sauce. Until that night we hadn’t touched grits (they just seem so slimy), but this grit cake blew us away with its flavor and consistency. Mark made sure to follow this up with two pots of blueberry crumble cake – which literally melted in our mouths.

savannah grit cake at the westinThe ‘Vegetarian Food Challenge’ was a one-off, but we also had the Sunday brunch held in the hotel’s Aqua Star restaurant – which might just be the best brunch in town! Brunch staples such as made-to-order omelets and waffles, blintzes, hash browns and all the meat you could want (bacon, sausages, beef medallions, lamb, etc), an entire table of sea food and sushi, fresh made-to-order penne pasta dishes, garlic bread, salads, and a dessert buffet that would alone be worth the price: fresh macaroons, éclairs, pies and cakes of all varieties, ice cream, homemade chocolate truffles and pralines, chocolate covered strawberries, bread puddings, crème brulee and mousse, and the Westin Savannah’s signature dish – bananas foster.

sunday brunch at the westin savannahThe Distillery
The Distillery is first and foremost a beer lover’s bar, with hundreds of craft brews to choose from, and though not really a veggie-hangout, we left the place absolutely stuffed. Along with the Black Bean Burger (which we went back for it again the next night) we sampled the grilled cheese, deep fried pickles (surprisingly good) and soft pretzels with a variety of dips. We could also have ordered  a hummus plate with veggies and pita bread, sweet potato or stout fries served with home-made Creole remoulade or chili & ale cheese. We could have ordered a salad without the meat, as well, but somehow the deep-fried pickles seemed to go so much better with craft brews. To top it all off, the owner Michael decided that us two out-of-towners needed to try his ultimate southern dessert creation – a deep-fried moon pie a la mode. Whether this sounds delicious, disgusting or just plain dangerous to your health – order it. Just once. It’s so good!

savannah deepfried pickles at the distilleryNew Orleans, Louisiana

In the land of gumbo, jambalaya and po-boys, it was not easy finding vegetarian food in the Big Easy – but we managed to find a few top spots for vegetarians in town.

Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters
One place where we found plenty of options was at the Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch, which we would recommend to anyone visiting New Orleans.  The tables are set in a shady, breezy courtyard  surrounded by flowers under a canopy of trees. A jazz trio entertains guests with live music at the perfect volume to still hold a conversation. The sprawling brunch buffet has a generous selection of breakfast and lunch items and if you are not a vegetarian, you can eat your way through dishes like creole seafood omelets, ceviche, spinach and crawfish pasta, seafood mousse, roast beef and chicken breast and shrimps. We enjoyed brunch staples like eggs and potatoes, creative waffles and delicious salads, and with the bottomless coffee we enjoyed classic Southern desserts like Pecan Pie, Bananas Foster or Mardi Gras King Cake. Do not waste your time like we did at the disappointing Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues – which serves up a limited brunch (eggs and hash browns, the only veggie options), put on a forced show to tourists and they kick you out when the show ends after an hour. The Court of Two Sisters brunch is an authentic, relaxing experience any day of the week.

jazz brunch at the court of two sisters new orleansThe French Market
This foodie market is a collection of some of the freshest, healthiest options in New Orleans. We loved Meals from the Heart, where we gobbled up a Black Bean soup with fresh avocado. Then we ordered an amazing salad with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, pistachios and apples from Albertos Cheese & Wine, right next door. More than just simple stands, these two market eateries have completely different, yet equally veggie-friendly dishes. Meals from the Heart is run by a friendly New Orleans native, while Albertos is run by Spanish Alberto and his Mexican wife. We even went back to Albertos for a second salad we just could not forget about – the mixed vegetable salad with walnuts and gruyere cheese. Yum!!

french market veggie foodMahony’s Po-Boys on Magazine Street
Po-boys are traditional Louisiana sub sandwiches, the most classic option is stuffed with shrimp so not a dish we thought to try. One day while strolling along Magazine Street, we discovered Mahony’s Po Boys, a laid-back po-boy shop with several veggie options. We couldn’t resist being able to sample this NOLA staple, and tore in to the eggplant parmesan po-boy. We rate it as only okay, but that is because we compare it to what might be the best sandwich in the world – the New York-style Eggplant Parmigiana sub sandwich. However, the other options – like the grilled cheese po-boy or fried green tomato po-boy – we would probably have really enjoyed. We had the the fried green tomatoes on the side and loved them.

mahonys new orleansCafé du Monde
Dani’s favorite thing about being vegetarian on the road is that any and all local sweets are not only an option, but an exercise in intercultural understanding. Translation: it is our duty to try the sweets. We could not leave New Orleans without stopping in at the city’s most famous institution: Café Du Monde. This French-influenced, Chinese staffed New Orleans cafe on the Mississippi River has one of the simplest menus in town. Eat the famous beignets (deep-fried dough pastries covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar) and drink the Café au Lait (coffee with milk) made with chicory. The beignets were so good,  we ordered a second plate right away.

beignets & cafe au lait new orleans cafe du monde
This is not a comprehensive list of veggie-friendly Southern restaurants, so please add your suggestions on where to get great vegetarian food and also any tips on other typical southern dishes we need to try on our next trip through the south.

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Great American Road Trip – Raising the Spirits in Savannah

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They say Savannah, Georgia is a city built upon its dead…atop over 26,000 bodies, in fact. Victims of wars, Yellow Fever and infamous duels are buried just beneath parks, parking lots, and house plots throughout town, and are apparently quite easy to raise. This Labor Day weekend, however, in addition to traipsing through cemeteries, exploring haunted houses and hearing plenty of ghost stories, we have been raising a friendlier type of spirit here in town, too. We happen to be in Savannah just in time for the Savannah Craft Brew Fest 2011!

savannah craft brew fest

Since we have arrived in Savannah, it has been all about the beer! On Thursday, we GlobetrotterGirls were lucky enough to be beer judges at the professional tasting events to decide the top domestic beers for the festival. Best in Show accolades go to Plowboy Porter, a micro brew from Missouri.

Beer Tasting

The Craft Brew Fest officially opened with a beer dinner on Friday, where we sampled as many beers as possible while nibbling on cheese & crackers (who says cheese only goes with wine!).

cheese board craft brew festival

Yesterday’s Craft Brew Fest beer festival was all about home-grown brews. We drank various domestic beers from around the country such as RJ Rockers, Magic Hat, Sweet Water beers and Woodchuck Cider. We were really amazed to see how many people came out to the festival, which is growing exponentially from year to year.

beer float Savannah Crafts Brew Fest
Our first Beer Float!

Of course, we’re not only drinking beer here…we have explored the city’s squares, cemeteries, and sampled both the world famous Leopold’s Ice Cream (top ten in the US) and Mrs. Myrtles Cupcakes. We recommend you go to both while in town – your heart won’t thank you but your taste buds will!

Cupcakes Savannah

Needless to say, we are loving Savannah so far, and with only two days left- have some mega exploring to do, along with more heavy beer drinking this Labor Day weekend.

Dani & Jess at Craft Brew FestStay tuned for further adventures in Savannah, followed by our next step – Atlanta! If you have suggestions for us on what we should see or do in Atlanta or New Orleans, please share! You can get in touch with us here in the comments, or on Twitter or our GlobetrotterGirls Facebook page.

A special thanks to VisitSavannah for inviting us to the Craft Brew Fest and to the Westin Hotel for accommodating us so comfortably.

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