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sav visit ctr

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Lovely Savannah marked the twelfth day of our road trip. We parked at the main visitor center and despite the heat, which we’d become somewhat immune to, decided to walk to the river rather than take a shuttle. I wanted to explore the elegant old neighborhoods and small, landscaped squares the city is known for. It felt like Beacon Hill in Boston, with less brick and more visual variety. The horticulture nerd in me was excited to see Spanish moss in the trees. It’s so fascinating … and felt like we were really in the South!

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savannah manse

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Fountain and trees with Spanish moss in Savannah square

One of the many little squares in Old Town Savannah… perfect shady oases from the heat.

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Looking over our map, I was thrilled to discover Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home! I’m not a big fan of fiction — or at least, contemporary fiction — but her work is classic, and I reread her collection from time to time. Unfortunately the house wasn’t open till later — and we didn’t have time to return. But I peeked in the windows and imagined her there, observing and developing tales to tell for later years. 

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flannery porch

Never thought I’d go all fan-boy for a fiction writer, but it was a happy surprise to discover Flannery O’Conner’s home.

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flannery house full

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We walked to River Street and explored the old port buildings there. The calliope on the docked riverboat played endlessly. If I had taken a cruise on that thing with nonstop music, I would have jumped off and swum back to shore after 20 minutes! I think calliope music is better conceptually than in reality. 

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Georgia Queen riverboat docked in Savannah, Georgia

These things — like children — are better seen than heard! Calliope music does not put me in a Zen state.

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river street

Beautiful old dock buildings along River Street (and thankfully not too many cheesy T-shirt and souvenir shops!)

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We had a fun time with Mona, who told us all about the masonry in the riverside hotel where she works. (Mtuseni was just looking for a bathroom, but we got a great story — and some laughs.) She’s a dead ringer for an old friend of mine from the 80s — in both looks and personality! She and I agreed it would be a blast to hang out and drink beers some night, but we were vagabonds, moving on to our next destination before dusk.

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mona

Thanks to Mona we know all about the masonry work in this dockside hotel. That smile totally captures her personality!

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We had lunch at the bar at The Cotton Exchange, where Mtuseni was brave enough to order alligator. He said it was good and did indeed, as everyone says, taste like chicken. I passed, thinking it might have the chewy texture of lobster, which I hate. Instead I opted for fried green tomatoes. I’ve made them twice at home and didn’t see what all the fuss is about. Same thing in Savannah. Pretty blah. Three strikes and no more fried green tomatoes for me!

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gator

Mtuseni’s lunch of fried alligator. He said that it does, indeed, taste like chicken.

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The bartender was incessantly chatty and refilled our drinks again and again. When I mentioned the Southern penchant for sweet tea, he gave us a taste of how sweet it really is. He poured about a tablespoon in my tumbler of unsweetened tea — and it was too sweet! I can see how that seemingly innocent hot-weather drink plays a role in the high rates of health issues in the South. 

When we left, Mtuseni said he had a hard time understanding the bartender because he was slurring his words so badly that he must have been drunk. I laughed. He wasn’t drunk; he just had a strong Southern drawl. I told Mtuseni he’d better get used to that accent as we headed deeper into the South!

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cotton exchange

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After lunch we went to check out the First African Baptist Church, which had been built by slaves and where a young Martin Luther King, Jr. had done some preaching. Unfortunately they only had paid tours. We’d just missed the start and couldn’t hang out for the next one. But I used my considerable charm — and Mtuseni’s connection to Africa — to get a free, private, “forbidden” mini-tour from Tracy.

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tracy church

With Tracy, our accommodating guide for our “secret” tour of the First African Baptist Church.

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She took us upstairs and let us see the main chapel (no photos allowed!) and described various points of interest. She explained how the church was built under cover of darkness, and how Dr. King tried out some of his famous speeches and sermons there. I was so grateful to her for giving Mtuseni a real sense of connection to the church.   

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outside baptist church

Outside the First African Baptist Church

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After the church we headed off to a cool little market district for a bit. The sun was blazing and the air was sticky. Twelve days of record-breaking heat was taking its toll. We got back to the car and said farewell to Savannah — but I will definitely go back to explore that historical, artsy, hip little Southern gem. And maybe have a cocktail or two with Mona.