Savannah–Like a Box of Chocolates

Today our tires are driving straight for Savannah! A place that has, for me, always evoked much intrigue and fascination.

I mean, did you know that General Sherman way back when, was so awed by the beauty and charm of this place, that instead of burning it to the ground during the American Civil War, he gave it to President Lincoln as a Christmas gift! Bless his heart!

Reading books back when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, I knew that over yonder lay a magical place. And I would imagine what Savannah might be like. I felt it would be humid hot so I could not only hear but could almost feel the cool waters bubbling forth from decorative fountains in large picturesque gardens. In my mind’s eye, I would imagine standing in the shade of the tall oak trees with their large gnarled twisted branches almost hidden with hanging drapes of Spanish moss. I could easily imagine historic Victorian type homes with their antebellum architecture. It would be a place filled with haunting mansions, fiery history fraught wars, cotton fields and slaves. But nothing could ever seem to rival good old-fashioned Southern hospitality. Being a foodie, don’t the word Savannah just conjure up smells of fried green tomatoes? As in the food, not the movie. And saucy shrimp and grits, and well…  for those with a sweet tooth? There might even exist a sweet box of chocolates?

Because, all y’all, here in Chippewa Park is where filming took place of the iconic bench where Forrest Gump sat, right? 

Not the bench and not Chippewa Park

For those who may not know, Tom Hanks plays “Forrest Gump” in the same-titled movie released in 1994. And as he sits on a park bench, somewhat like the one in the photo above, he relates the story of how his life was “like a Box of Chocolates.” **

Have you ever opened a Box of Chocolates? You know what I mean, don’t you? A decorated box that once opened allows you to instantly inhale the sweet goodness inside. Perhaps there’s a laminated piece of paper laying on top, providing a detailed description of each and every bite-sized piece of sweet goodness. Or not, and you’re left guessing until you take that first bite. Don’t your mouth start to water in anticipation?

And being all comparative and all, isn’t driving around visiting new places and adventuring on the roads, somewhat like opening a Box of Chocolates?  You might have a general idea of what there is to see and do where it is that you’re going, but you never really know what you’ll get, until you get there, and have a bite.

So here we were, our tires pointed straight towards Savannah, Georgia. With a quick glance at two of our most used RV Apps: AllStays and RV Parky, we quickly confirmed that we could park overnight at the Visitor Center for the surprisingly very affordable price of $8 per night. (Note: The Visitor Center does not allow overnight parking anymore.)

The heavy construction traffic, watching for touristy pedestrians walking helter-skelter, combined with a lack of street signage had us going around in circles until, stopped at a traffic light right by the Thunderbird Inn, we rolled down our window and asked the traffic director for some help.

Off like a herd of turtles we drove, and shortly thereafter we finally entered the parking lot by the big red-bricked building that was the Visitor Center. Suffering from a slight case of the hangries.

“Let’s have lunch before we head out?” I suggested, knowing we wouldn’t get very far with empty bellies. One of the pleasures with this lifestyle is that we can have a quick bite at any moment’s notice. Re-heated leftovers satisfied us just fine, and it wasn’t long that the dishes were cleared away, our comfy sneakers laced on and we were ready to go.

The man at the Visitor Center welcomed us with a friendly hello, circled a few must-sees on the map, and once we paid for our overnight stay, we were on our way out the door. Before we could grab the handle, familiar faces pushed the door in, and be bumped into each other. Why I do declare it’s friends from back home! We made plans  Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise to get together later in the evening to catch up.

As we walked about getting our bearings, I inhaled the hot humid air. Somewhat like I had imagined, the live Oak trees created beautiful shadows as we walked underneath the shade of their gnarled and twisted branches.

We meandered in the gardens, and saw ourselves some fountains,

and everywhere we looked, dangling Spanish Moss swayed in the breezes.

“Did you know that Spanish moss isn’t really moss?” I said to Dave.
“Oh, no? What is it, then?” He replied. 
“It’s actually an Epiphyte, which means it gets its nutrients from the air. And it’s a relative to the pineapple!”

We explored so many of the 22 squares that connected the various neighbourhoods that we lost count and were pretty soon Worn Slap Out.  The city was originally developed with a specific grid-like pattern as a fire prevention method, a way of allowing every house in the neighbourhood, no matter which street you lived on, to have an equidistant chance of being saved from flames.

Then we found ourselves exploring the Colonial Park Cemetery, a place where, under the detailed guidelines of the Code Duello, “pistols for two and a coffin for one” resulted in a staggering 11,000 people being buried here. Why are there only 600 tombstones? Ahh, If only those gloves could tell their tales of what honour they were defending.

That evening we enjoyed a wonderful reunion with our friends but it was pretty soon time to stifle our yawns and catch some serious zzz’s. Comfy cozy in our beds parked in the Savannah Visitor Center parking lot, which contrary to the day’s hub-bub of activity was now very quiet, we spent some time catching up on social media.

“Look… “ I said, rather incredulously, “at this post from our (other) friends! It says here that they’ve just checked into the Thunderbird Inn!”

Hold your Horses!” said  Dave, “It can’t be that hotel we drove by earlier today, can it?”  Thanks to the power of instant messages, they quickly confirmed that they were indeed just down the street from us, but had pre-bought tickets for the Trolley Tour the next day, and did we want to join them? Can’t never could, so in the spur of the moment, we said “Sure, we’ll stay an extra day, see you tomorrow Lord willing and the Creek don’t Rise.

The departure point was conveniently located at the Visitor Center, so we had nowhere to go in the morning but right to the booth to buy our tickets, and then inside the Visitor Center to pay an additional $8 for the second night.

Having explored so much by foot the day before, we thoroughly enjoyed the more restful, Hop-On/Hop-Off Trolley Tour, which was, thanks to our driver,  extremely informative, and Funny as all Get Out. The Trolley stops at roughly 16 places of interest, and you can get off, explore, and get back at your leisure. Or you can enjoy the drive from start to finish before deciding anything, which would probably only take two hours of your time.

We listened to the historical anecdotes about the places we’d seen the day before, saw places that our feet never took us to, like the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, Girl Scouts founder. Touring the many rooms of the oldest standing building in GA–Pirate’s House. And stood quite in awe at the most incredible Cathedral of St John the Baptist, an incredible sight both inside and out.

The many unique mansions too beautiful to describe, all of them adorned with cast-iron balconies and stair railings and window guards, not to mention the grillwork adorning the fountains and entryways.

A sign of wealth, back in those days. And the ones with two sets of staircases? His and hers. Really! Men and women had to walk up different steps, something to do with men not being allowed to see women’s petticoats.

Down by the waterfront, the trolley dropped us off and the driver cautioned us to watch our steps. Sure enough, the uneven footwork of the colourful cobble and quarried stone, originally ballast on ships of old, was repurposed and resulted as this uneven road, needing our attention as we made our way towards the water and shops.

Perhaps history would tell of a meeting between General Oglethorpe and his crew of 114 men, women and children, aboard the galley ship Anne.  They landed somewhere along the River and Oglethorpe named the area Georgia, and Savannah became her first city.  On his arrival, he was greeted by Chief Tomo-Chi-Chi and his wife, Senauki. A friendship between the two developed and the rest, I reckon, is now part of the sweet southern Savannah history.

All that exploring sure made us hungry, so we headed for a restaurant with a view, our table on the rooftop patio overlooking the Savannah River. On the menu? We chose dishes we hadn’t ever tried before, ones that evoked full Southern tastebuds, because, well… that’s what we’re here for.

Fried green tomatoes: Unripened green tomatoes are seasoned, coated with cornmeal and flour or a derivative thereof, and fried! Oh my, why have we not tried these before?

You just can’t go wrong with fried shrimp, can you?

We were in what’s often referred to as the “Grits Belt” and so we just had to have shrimp and grits.

Heavens to Betsy, it was Oh My Delicious, and we left there Full as a Tick. And if a ship goes by while you’re feasting? They’ll pour you a shot!

We meandered along the waterfront, and found ourselves at the gate to board the (free) Savannah Belles Ferry,

a ride that takes you across the river to Hutchinson Island, where you can disembark if you wish, walk around, and at your leisure, grab the next ferry back.

This time the ferry deposited us a little further upstream than where we had initially boarded, and that is how we came face to face with Florence,

the Statue of the Waving Girl. A long time ago, Florence, pretty as a peach, met and fell in love with a sailor. His ship was soon set to leave and Florence bid him adieu, waving goodbye on the shore as he sailed away.  Day after day she would come back to the waterfront, waving at the ships, hoping he would be on the next one. Some days she would wave a white handkerchief, and sometimes, in the dusky darkness, she would carry a lantern. She sure had Gumption! As with some dramatic love stories, this one doesn’t end well. History notes he never did come back, and rumour has it that she died of a broken heart.   

Well, I do declare! After a crushing love story like that, I think I need something sweet.  As we walked the waterfront, we were multiple times offered free samples of pralines. Made with pecans, cream, sugar and butter … they are an incredible melt in your mouth morsel of goodness. And a sure-fire cure for what ails those achy feet, we were worn Slap-out. 

And that’s how our time in Savannah was just like a box of chocolates, plenty full of unknown yet deliciously sweet surprises. We highly recommend it, all y’all.

** The bench that Tom Hanks/Forrest Gump sat on, in Chippewa Square, was a movie prop and is now on location in the Savannah Historical Museum.

Savannah on My Mind

If you’ve ever shied away from visiting a large city because you want to avoid navigating, parking and driving within, shy no longer. A resort-like campground with a convenient shuttle service to Savannah, Georgia’s fifth largest city, just opened and is ready to serve a 5-star resort-quality stay.

So, first I’ll take you to the campground, and then move in and on to the city once gifted to a president, and where Forest Gump sat on a bench waiting for that bus with his box of chocolates.

CreekFire Motor Ranch

CreekFire Motor Ranch, a 105-acre facility, boasts roomy full-hookup sites, a clubhouse, pool pavilion, a 35-acre lake and more. You can choose from 103 level, back-in, pull-through, gravel and paved pad sites. Just opened in October 2017, this multi-million dollar facility is so new that we could still see the newly-laid turf patterns in the grass. An Airstream trailer serves as a food truck, currently open for events, weekends and holidays.  Their shuttle service, at $10, takes you to the Savannah, a service to be appreciated as the Savannah Visitor Center recently changed its policy and no longer allows RVs to park in their lot past 6:30 p.m., or overnight. Bill is pretty comfortable driving our 2015.5 Leisure Unity MB in crowded cities, but this shuttle service lessened our work.

Cabins and RV spots by the lake at CreekFire Motor Ranch.

“This campground was designed with the guest experience in mind – and we can’t wait for visitors to create lasting memories here,” said Matthew Lipman, owner, and president. “CreekFire’s location is one of the elements that make it so special,” added Lipman. “Guests have easy access to Savannah, but at the same time, our amenities make the campground a destination in itself.”

Our spacious campsite.

Relax at the pool and hot tub.

Little ones can play in the kiddie pool.

And, there is more yet to come at CreekFire. A grill and bar for the pool area and will be open for Memorial Day weekend. Under development is a Lake House to open summer 2018.  Phase II will start construction next year and will include a driving range and golf putting area as well as a lazy river around the pool house.

Now, about Savannah. The oldest city in Georgia, founded in 1733 on the Savannah River, it’s the place where low country boils (I’ll explain later), hand-made pralines (depending on your region, pronounced prawlines or praylines), and southern hospitality are served with a smile, and just a hint of a drawl. It’s the place known for its ghost tours and hauntings. Some say it’s one of the top 10 haunted cities in America, and it is certainly up for boasting rights for #1. And, it’s the place with museums, period architecture, those picturesque city squares seemingly on every block, art galleries and more. The city’s downtown area, including the Savannah Historic District and Savannah Victorian Historic District, is one of the largest National Historic Landmark districts in the country.

Foodies will want to sample handmade pralines made with pecans, butter and sugar and other ingredients found at several candy stores. And, even if you’re not a sweets lover, you’ve gotta try’em. Savannah’s diverse cuisine includes locally sourced seafood, fried chicken, barbeque, grits and more. But if you’re coming here for food, make sure ‘sea’ is the prefix, as you’re on the Atlantic, and close also to the Gulf.

Watch pralines being made.

Pralines and other goodies at the candy store.

Let’s pause for a bit of history here. In 1864, Union General William Tecumseh Sherman “gave” Savannah as a Christmas present to President Abraham Lincoln, rather than burn it all down. It thus remains as one of the few cities in the South that escaped the Civil War’s carnage. You can research several stories on how the city was saved, and decide which story sounds most plausible. There are several. It’s also a place where slaves were sold, and sadly, in 1859, was the site of the largest auction of slaves ever, known as “The Weeping Time.”

On to our visit. We arrived at CreekFire Motor Ranch on a Thursday afternoon, settled in and grabbed the 6 p.m. shuttle to the city. Dropped off at City Market, from there we strolled toward River Street, stepping down one of several historic flights of steep stone steps, remnants of the 1800s, onto the old cobblestone streets. You can practically breathe in the history here as you imagine a time when horse-drawn carriages, riverboats, and smoke-belching steam trains were the modes of transport.

Wear comfortable shoes to stroll River Street.

The refurbished warehouses, once home to King Cotton, nowadays are filled with hotels, shops and spots for dinner. Fiddler’s Crab House, set in a historic 1850’s cotton warehouse, was our choice. We dove into a Low Country Boil for two, with oysters raw and steamed, littleneck clams, crawfish, shrimp, and crab legs, plus our pick of sides, including cheesy grits, Caesar salad and redskins, for about $26 each.

Low Country Boil Dinner: Crab legs, oysters, littleneck clams, crawfish, and shrimp, plus cheesy grits, broccoli and potatoes.

After dinner we walked along River Street, tasting a sample of fresh-made pralines at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen, buying one chocolate and one regular of these pecan delights to savor later in our trip. We then sauntered back to City Market, with just enough time to share a dish of ice cream and listen to live music from the Tree House Savannah restaurant. The shuttle picked us up as scheduled at 9 p.m. and brought us back to CreekFire.

The next morning we took the 9 a.m. shuttle back to the city. After walking through City Market again, we wandered toward Forsyth Park, a little more than a one-mile walk, admiring the turrets, towers and decorative trim of the historic homes and churches, and tree-lined E. Oglethorpe Avenue, one of the city’s most famous sights, that trademark live oak-canopied street the city is known for. We stopped at several city squares, including Chippewa, where Tom Hanks, aka Forrest Gump, sat on a bench in that movie (the bench was placed there only for the movie and is now in the Savannah History Museum).

Madison Square

Telfair Academy of Arts and Sciences

Another 10 blocks and three city squares down, we arrived at Forsyth Park, with its live oak-lined walkway beckoning us to Forsyth Fountain, modeled after a few other fountains found around the world, including fountains in Paris and Peru.

Forsyth Fountain

In the park, we watched a “plein air” artist painting the way Monet would have, and young mothers exercising together. Tourists posed for photos at the fountain, named for Georgia’s Governor John Forsyth, who led the state during the city’s expansion in 1851.

Continuing our walk back to Market Street, we stopped to ask about lunch at Belford’s because of its inviting outdoor patio. With accolades from Bon Appétit, Southern Living and The New York Times, this is one of THE places to eat in the city. Sitting outside to watch the passersby, we each chose a Low-Country tradition, She-Crab soup, and shared an order of fried green tomatoes and baby kale salad with bourbon-soaked peaches. We missed the crab cakes, which were described by all we met as “the best in the world.” Next time.

Baby Kale Salad

Outside dining at Belford’s

She-Crab Soup, Fried Green Tomatoes

When You Go

Contact CreekFire Motor Ranch at[email protected], or 912-897-2855 to make your reservation. If you are a Leisure Travel Van owner, mention this blog when booking and use promo code VANS20 to be eligible for a 20% discount within the month of April 2018. Rally groups can also be accommodated. CreekFire Motor Ranch, 275 Fort Argyle Road, Savannah, GA is just one-quarter mile west of I-95 exit 94. Discounts are given for Good Sam Club, Family Motor Coach, and military veterans. One discount per visit.

Get acquainted with Savannah by taking a Hop-on, hop-off trolley tour or a horse-drawn carriage ride. There are several trolley lines, and our favorite is Old Town Trolley Tours, where people in character come aboard to give you a bit of first-person fun, or history. If you’re lucky, Forrest Gump and other characters might join you on the tour.

After visiting Savannah, consider head south along the coast, to St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the nation. But, someday, you must visit Savannah.