Saturday, October 22, 2011

Southern Elegance

There really is no place that compares with Savannah, Georgia. It is elegantly, beautifully on its own as a city, and if you can somehow get here one day, do it. This is such a charming place to walk around, with its many and varied fine old buildings, broad-spreading oak trees draped with cloudy fingers of Spanish moss, and a layout of streets and squares that makes it feel like an urban parkland rather than a city. We took lots of photos and here's a tiny fraction of them, about 20 views of this gorgeous town.

Here's a link to the Wikipedia article on the layout of Savannah's streets, but to summarise, the old town area follows a grid based around 24 park-like squares, like this one. Each square is about 30 metres deep but the squares' widths vary from 30 to 90 metres. At the centre of every square there is a focal point, such as this fountain, but other squares have statues in the middle, or a gazebo, or sculptures, or just a circle of greenery plus benches for citizens and weary visitors to rest on.

Each square is shaded by several enormous Southern Live Oaks draped with Spanish moss. These trees are huge, wide-spreading beauties. I paced out the spread of one typical branch on an average-sized tree and it reached out 15 metres from the thick trunk. So some of these squares, though cool and shady, needs no more than nine or so trees to cover the whole area with cool, dappled shade.

The locals use these squares: to sit and chat, others perch laptops or books on their lap and pass the hours, some just sleep. And it also seems that lots of people get married here: we saw two wedding ceremonies in the squares just yesterday – such a romantic place to tie the knot. Close to the main business district close to the Savannah River the squares offer a patch of cool green relief to the workers in offices nearby, but the surrounding buildings down this end of the city are charmless offices and shops. As you move further away from the city the atmosphere changes entirely as the squares are surrounded on all sides by lovely old houses in my favourite higgildy piggeldy style, with very few houses the same as their neighbours.

Let's just look at a few of the houses, such as this pretty little yellow one.

White weatherboards with dark grey shutters, a popular colour scheme.

I can't remember any ramshackle houses anywhere here in the downtown. All were beautifully and proudly looked after.

And not all the houses are grand. This little row of simple dwellings dates from the 1790s.

I like the twin staircases leading to the front door.

Flags and flowers are a common decoration out front, along with countless Halloween pumpkins.

Even the pavements were interesting, often very old bricks from these two companies.

Otherwise the pavements were made from a concrete infused with millions of seashells.

This eye-catching garden used a colourful foliage infill between the neatly clipped hedges.

Pleasingly, many planters were full of life and colour.

These colourful mounding blooms were a popular choice all over the city and feature on many front steps.

A cool courtyard glimpsed through an iron gate.

Beautiful, ornate iron staircases like this one decorated many houses.

Even the local birds seem to be very relaxed about all those tourists wandering around admiring the place.

Later in the day, Pam and I went for a drive to have a look around the city beyond the tourist hub of the historic downtown area, and the pleasant surprise was that the huge oaks with their Spanish moss, and the lovely old houses, stretched out for a few more miles, well beyond the downtown area. Driving out on Abercorn Street, one of the main thoroughfares leading out of town, the stretch of such beautiful neighbourhoods lasted all the way out to 62nd street.

Such a humble, simple plant the Spanish moss, and yet it's the star attraction here. When we saw a huge Southern Live Oak NOT draped in Spanish moss, somehow it didn't seem right.

Trying to do justice to such an extraordinarily beautiful city by showing you just 20 photos is never going to tell the whole story, so I think the best idea is for you to put Savannah, Georgia on your 'must visit' list and come here one day. Set aside a few days at least to see it all. We were lucky in that the weather here has been sunny yet cool to mild (65-70°F), making it very easy to walk around, but Savannah is a subtropical city and it can get very hot and humid here at times.

We walked everywhere, but there are countless alternatives for those for whom walking is not an option. There are buses, trolleys, horse-drawn coaches, rental pushbikes and motor scooters, even Segways. But if you choose the slow pace of walking you'll see all the details, at your own pace.

We also went out to the coast, to Tybee Island, so we could officially say we had made it to the Atlantic seaboard, and that's where our next blog will come from.


Anonymous said...

Who knew you were going to swing all the way over to Savannah?! You could have dropped by Jacksonville for a home-cooked meal, a tour of my garden (and maybe dropped off a cutting of that gorgeous white cane begonia I drool over all the time!) Hope you are having a wonderful trip!

Jacksonville, Florida, USA

Sue O said...

Have you seen any kudzu yet? I am fascinated by it. My daughter lives in North Carolina and last time I was there I took scads of photos of the kudzu people and did a whole blog post on it. The Spanish moss looks cool and creepy. I guess we'll have to hop down to Georgia one of these days.

Lani at Edible Urban Garden said...

It looks beautiful. Exactly like I had imagined it while reading Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt.

Jamie said...

Sue: so that's what that stuff is called. It's everywhere! Not about 'Kudzu people' though, but the invasive vine is all over the place.
Lani: they trade heavily on that novel (and movie) in all the tourist spots. In one shop they had the movie on endless loop on a video screen in the corner. They also do a roaring trade here in night-time tours of the streets.

Sue O said...

Kudzu people is what happens when kudzu drapes over bushes and small trees. The shapes look just like people standing and having a good natter.
Southerners never think of it, it's such an integral part of the landscape, but it seems exotic to me.