Savannah, Georgia’s Grand Lady

Jack Leigh’s 1993 image titled “Midnight.”

 

If Charleston is a Southern Belle than Savannah is the South’s Grande Dame. The city is built close upon the deltas of the Wilmington and Savannah Rivers at the confluence of the Savannah River and Little Back River. Traditionally, the culture of Savannah is rooted in the coastal “low country” just like its’ sister city of Charleston a hundred miles to the north.

Savannah Map from 1818

The city of Savannah, Georgia was laid out by James Oglethorpe in 1733 around four open squares. Each square was surrounded by four residential (“tything”) blocks and four civic (“trust”) blocks. Once the four wards were developed in the mid-1730s, two additional wards were laid out and the city grew out from this plan. Almost three hundred years later it is those squares (http://www.savannah.com/savannahs-historic-squares/) that make Savannah so unique and attractive.

East River Street

James Oglethorpe was a British soldier, Member of Parliament, and philanthropist, as well as the founder of the colony of Georgia. As a social reformer, he hoped to resettle Britain’s poor in the New World. Savannah was the beginning of his Georgia colony. The charter allocated each family a city plot to build a house on along with a larger garden plot outside the settlement proper and an additional large farm plot farther out into the countryside. The inner city design was originally intended to allow for defense from the Spanish to the south and the native tribes around the area.

The SCAD Theatre

Today it doesn’t matter if the plan was a result of genius or luck or centuries of dedication, Savannah is one of the world’s most beautiful, walkable and livable cities. It is home to SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) which is a dominant force in the culture of the city. Be sure to make time to visit their gallery and museum and ShopSCAD .

Savannah is also one of America’s most historic cities having played major roles in the colonization of America, the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. It is also known for food, ghosts (there are dozens of haunting legends as well as tours) and a vibrant lifestyle. When people think of this city they usually think of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the birdgirl statue, cemeteries and grand steepled churches.

The Fountain in Forsythe Park

The last time we visited Savannah was a year ago in August, during the heat of summer. We came back in November and the weather and temperatures were glorious. We spent most of our time touring on foot, taking time for frequent stops to shop and snack. While walking along the river late one afternoon we decided, for old times sake, to stop into The Charte House for happy hour. In addition to good happy hour drink prices and snacks we were pleasantly surprised with an order of fried green tomatoes, some of the best we have ever had.

Crystal Beer Parlor

While strolling around the outskirts of the historic district we stopped for lunch at Crystal Beer Parlor, a local treasure on West Jones Street. Located in a former grocery store the “Crystal” is Savannah’s oldest restaurant, dating back to 1933. Its’ menu features solid American fare and an extensive beer list including a nice selection of local brews.

Market Square

On a previous visit to Savannah we took a walking “Famous & Secret East Side Food Tour” which was the most fun we’d had for lunch in a long time. We started at Smith Brothers Butcher Shop  and visited a half dozen spots for everything from tea and sweets to gyros. One of the stops was at Angel’s Barbeque, which had garnered a reputation for some of the best barbecue and homemade sauces in Savannah. We enjoyed delicious pulled pork sandwiches. I’m glad we stopped at that time as the owners, Andrew and Alieen Trice, have now sold the building and retired. To some this amounts to a tragedy.

If you are spending a day doing a walking tour of the city, a popular lunch idea is to stop by Smith Brothers Butcher Shop and order a sandwich to-go or pick up some items for a picnic in one of Savannah’s many squares.

For an introduction to the flavors of the city one should consider a number of dishes that the city is known for like low country boil, Shrimp and grits, Crab Savannah, oyster roast, crab cakes, beans n rice or red beans, fried green tomatoes and for dessert look for Georgia Peach Pie or cobbler, pecan pie and pralines or gophers.

Some must have treats in this historic city are legendary Leopold’s Ice Cream , Savannah’s Candy Kitchen for pralines or gophers, Southbound Brewing Company  for a tour and samples and one of Savannah’s popular and eclectic coffee shops.

 

 

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Cat & Wine Café in Charleston

Pounce

On a recent trip to Charleston, while walking down Meeting Street on our way back to our B&B, we passed an interesting café. It was after dark and the large front windows glowed with a view of an attractive “living room” furnished with overstuffed chairs, sofas, plenty of pillows and cats. There were a number of people enjoying beverages and petting the cats and, I admit, we had never seen anything like it before.

The café’s name is Pounce and it’s described as a pet adoption service. You purchase a ticket for either a half hour or hour stay. The admission includes a beverage (coffee, wine, beer or soft drink), pastries and sweets and “cat time” in a living room setting. It is best to call ahead as peak periods require a reservation.

We are not “pet people” but, based on reviews, this seems to be a good idea. Maybe if you visit Charleston you can have a glass of Merlot and take home a companion?

Pounce

283 Meeting St, Charleston, SC 29401

(843) 212-5500

Hours: 11AM–7PM

Historic Charleston, South Carolina

A Southern Road Trip Part One: Charleston

We started our November road trip in Charleston, South Carolina with a stay at the Barksdale House Inn, a beautiful bed and breakfast located on George Street in the historic district. It has been a number of years (actually a few decades) since we last visited and, while it is hard to believe that a city, which is over two and a half centuries old, can change a lot in that time, it really has.

The restaurant scene here has simply exploded. A wide range of culinary styles are offered with special emphasis on the “Low Country” recipes of the region. Seafood is featured in Southern dishes like shrimp and grits, oyster stew and she-crab soup. We stopped into Pearlz for happy hour at the bar and ended up turning it into dinner. Afterwards, walking back to the B&B, we finished the night by picking up pralines at Savannah’s Candy Kitchen of Charleston. The next day we sampled and purchased cookies from Byrd’s Famous Cookies and also stopped for lattes at a local coffee shop of which Charleston has more than a few.

There are a large number of high-end retailers that have moved onto King Street creating a unique shopping venue in the historic district. Another mecca for tourists and visiting shoppers is the city market on East Market Street. The market stretches for a number of blocks east from Meeting Street with both indoor and open-air buildings. Stalls include local food sellers, crafts, jewelry, art and a limited amount of clothing. There are also a number of stalls featuring traditional Gullah hand-woven sweet-grass baskets which are unique to the region.

The Gullah are the descendants of African slaves of various ethnic groups who live in the Low-Country regions of Georgia and South Carolina, in both the Coastal Plain and on the Sea Islands. They developed a Creole

language, the Gullah language, and a culture rich in African influences which makes them distinctive among African Americans.

Other big draws to Charleston are the Colonial and Federalist architecture and the revolutionary and civil war historic sites. Good ways to see the town are with narrated horse-drawn carriage tours operated by several different companies or walking tours which can be self-guided or with a tour company.

Cedar Key, A Piece of Old Florida

If you travel west on Florida State Road 24 from Gainesville to where the road ends, you find yourself in a bit of old Florida. Out in the middle of nowhere on Florida’s northwest coast is the little village of Cedar Key with its’ population of around 700.

A post office named “Cedar Key” was established here in 1845 and by 1860 Cedar Key became the western terminal for the Florida Railroad, connecting it to the east coast of Florida. The town grew as a result of the railroad but in the late nineteenth century when shipping terminals and a railroad line where built in Tampa, the town got passed by.

At the start of the twentieth century, fishing, sponging and oystering had become the major industries but, when the oyster beds played out, the town became primarily a draw for sport fishing. It probably looks much now the way it did sixty years ago but, behind the façade, there have been some changes. The town now has a thriving art community and attracts tourists to the galleries and shops and fishermen to the Gulf.

We made our first ever visit to Cedar Key in July of this year and, while the town has its’ appeal, summer is not the time to go as a good deal of the town is actually closed. When we went looking for a cup of coffee in the morning we simply could not find anything open. The town has a few coffee shops and a donut shop and they were all closed for vacation when we were there. There are only a few hotel/motels in town and none of them received much in the way of inviting reviews. The one we chose, The Beach Front Motel, was basic and nowhere near a swimming beach.

You arrive in the town as Florida 27 turns into D Street. It crosses 2nd Street which is the main thoroughfare and offers a number of nice shops. If you turn left on 2nd Street and in a block make a right on C Street you will find yourself heading toward the Gulf and Dock Street.

Back in town at the corner of D and 2nd is Tony’s Seafood Restaurant which is famous for award winning clam chowder. That was where we went for our first meal and we were not disappointed as the chowder was remarkable. You can also take some cans home with you or mail order later. If you are looking for white tablecloths and atmosphere in Cedar Key you’re probably going to be disappointed.

Along the waterfront on Dock Street there are a number of gift shops and five or six restaurants worth considering. We tried Steamers Clam Bar and Grill which offered a fairly extensive menu including lots of fresh seafood in both small plates and entrees. They also featured a nice selection of local craft beers and a full bar.

Cedar Key is not the sort of town you just discover since it is so far off the beaten track. There is very little in the way of a beach to draw people and nothing like a resort area vibe. Unless you are into fishing, it’s hard to think of a reason why you would spend more than a day here. There is one recommendation we would make, however. If you are spending time in north central Florida say near Gainesville, Cedar Key is an excellent choice for a day trip. It is less than an hour and a half drive. It has a character that reminded us of the Florida Keys thirty years ago – a laid back place with good seafood, fishing and salt air.  The town has a vibrant art colony and the galleries and craft/gift shops are worth perusing. Also, in winter when more things are open, we were assured that we would find more to make a trip off the beaten path worth the time.

The Geology of Hawaii

Hawaii

The Royal Hawaiian Waikiki Beach
Waimea Bay

When you visit Hawaii it doesn’t take very long to realize you have come to a place like no other on earth. Isolated from continental land by at least 2,400 miles of ocean. It is blessed with year round average temperatures in the eighties and abundant rainfall. Its history is both ancient as well as recent. First populated by the Polynesians over fifteen-hundred years ago it was not discovered by the European explorers until January, 1778, when the English explorer Captain Cook set foot ashore. The native Hawaiians speak a language unique to them and proof of this is everywhere from highway signs to greetings from the locals. Because of Hawaii’s isolation the flora and fauna are a blend of unique as well as introduced species from all around the world. Modern Hawaii has also the most ethnically diverse population found anywhere with seven races each representing over five percent of the population. This includes the Polynesians, Asians with Japanese being the largest segment, whites, Filipino, Blacks, Hispanics with twenty-one percent of the population being of mixed race decent. Even the geology and origins of this island chain are unique. Welcome to paradise…

The shore at Lanai Lookout, Oahu

Hawaii – a Geological Wonderland

Most of the earth’s islands are found at tectonic plate boundaries either from spreading centers (like Iceland) or from what are called subduction zones where one tectonic plate slides under another (like the Aleutian Islands). Hawaii is geologically unique because it is caused by a ‘hot spot.’

Illustration from the Jaggar Museum, Hawaii

 

There are a few ‘hot spots’ on earth and the one under Hawaii is right in the middle of the Pacific Plate, one of the earth’s largest crustal plates. A geologic ‘hot spot’ is an area under a crustal plate where volcanism occurs. It is easy to geologically explain volcanism at plate spreading centers and subduction zones but not as easy to explain a ‘hot spot’ where molten magma breaks through the crustal plate. (Some theories describe this as a particularly hot part of the molten magma).

Another hot spot under the American plate is Yellowstone National Park with its geysers and other thermal features. The Hawaii hot spot is under the seafloor producing undersea volcanoes. Some of these volcanoes build up to the surface of the ocean and become islands. Over millions of years the plate moves across the ‘hot spot’ and the original volcanoes become extinct and new volcanoes begin to form in the area of the ‘hot spot.’

Understanding all of this explains why in the Hawaiian islands, the more southeast you go, the more active the volcanoes are. This shows that the plate is moving northwestThe island farthest south is the big island of Hawaii with no fewer than five volcanoes with some active most of the time. The farther north you go, the islands are older and the more time erosion has washed away the land. Niʻihau is the largest and last lightly inhabited island before the ten islands and atolls in the uninhabited Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

He iconic profile of Diamond Head east of Waikīkī Beach on the island of Oahu is the crater of a long extinct volcano.

Hawaii – The Big Island

Volcanoes of the island of Hawaii, Illustration from USGS exhibit

Kīlauea

The three largest volcanoes on the big island are Kilauea, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea. Volcano National Park encompasses Kilauea with a number of different volcanic features.

Picture caption: Halema’uma’u, a pit crater, inside Kilauea Caldera started erupting in 2008 creating an almost constant plume of steam and volcanic gases (sulphur dioxide).

Halema’uma’u crater

On a recent visit to the big island we went up to Kīlauea. The caldera was shrouded in rain and fog so we didn’t have an opportunity to see much but we did get to Halema’uma’u. We spent time at the USGS museum and also hiked thru the Thurston Lava Tube.

Thurston Lava Tube

Thurston Lava Tube is part of a trail in the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Visitors enter through a ‘skylight’ (collapsed roof of a lava tube), walk a ways through the tube and exit via another ‘skylight.

Lava & sea at the edge of creation

Lava tubes develop as the lava flows and hardens on the outside. The inside continues to flow and may drain out of the ‘lava tube’ entirely. Some of these lava tubes are small but some are very large (as much as 20 feet in diameter). Many of the lava tubes have a flat bottom as the lava hardens when it slows down and look like subway tunnels. When the top of a lava tube breaks through it is called a ‘skylight.’

Midnight off the southeast coast of Hawaii

Due east of Kilauea, lava from Pu’u O’o volcano travels downhill for miles in lava tubes to reach the ocean where it spills out along the shoreline creating large clouds of steam and volcanic gas. Our cruise ship crossed around the southern coast at night and around midnight moved to within one mile of the lava flows as they poured into the ocean. Viewing the display at night from the sea is an awesome event. There are also trails that allow hikers to get down near the area where the lava spills into the sea but we’ve been told that the hike down and back can take most of the day.

In addition to the volcanoes on the island of Hawaii there is a new eruption just south of the island called Loihi. This volcano has been erupting from the sea floor and currently its peak is at a depth of 3,000 feet. At its present rate of growth it will probably break the surface of the Pacific after another 10,000 years.

Maui

Looking down from 10,000 feet up on Haleakala

 Haleakalā Volcano

The summit of Haleakala
Haleakala

Haleakala is home to the highest peak on Maui, at 10,023 feet. It also holds the world record for climbing to the highest elevation in the shortest distance- a mere 38 miles from sea level to the top! Because Maui is north of Hawaii the volcanic activity is dying down. It is believed that the last major eruption was in the seventeenth century with only a few smaller events in the twentieth century. The USGS lists the eruption risk now as normal. A Normal status is used to designate typical volcanic activity in a non-eruptive phase.

We visited the top of Haleakalā a couple of years ago and it is almost like traveling to another planet: bare peaks and slopes covered in a spectrum of colored rock, dirt and sand. Clouds hung near the slopes with vistas across the crater* that stretch on forever and views back across the island are breathtaking. The drive to the top of the volcano is an adventure in itself as the road snakes back and forth up the slope with temperatures dropping as you ascend and winds blowing as you reach the summit.

O‘ahu

The profile of Diamond Head on O‘ahu is the western rim of an extinct volcano and is perhaps one of the most recognized volcanic mountains on earth. In addition to Diamond Head there are a few additional extinct vulcanoes on the island including Hanauma Bay, Koko Head, Punchbowl Crater, Mount Tantalus and Aliapa’ak.

Diamond Head

Throughout the Hawaiian islands the high and jagged peaks catch the tropical trade-winds causing huge amounts of rainfall. This micro-climate results in a lush landscape crossed with rushing streams and dotted with beautiful waterfalls. The islands are noted for their vertical cliffs, isolated valleys, incredible beaches and acres of farm land. This tropical climate and rich soil yields plentiful cash crops that include pineapples, macadamia nuts, coffee and cacao nibs used for making chocolate. Welcome to paradise…

 

Shave Ice In Hawaii

Snow cones go way back. We have memories of walking the boardwalk in Ocean City, MD with a snow cone in hand. Even before that we used to mix up concoctions with freshly fallen snow. More recently our children, and now our grandchildren, also love this icy creation. In Hawaii it has become an institution called shave ice and the original was brought to Hawaii by Japanese migrants. Shave ice is literally that, ice shaved from a block of ice.

The undisputed king of Hawaiian shave ice has been around since 1951: Matsumoto Shave Ice located on the Oahu North Shore at 66-111 Kamehameha Highway, Haleiwa (808) 637-4827. They are so popular that on a good day the line goes out the door and around the courtyard. Matsumoto offers a couple dozen flavors and tradition dictates that you select three for your shave ice. As extras they offer mochi (Japanese rice cake), condensed milk, azuki beans (Japanese red beans cooked with sugar and water) and, of course, ice cream.

While shave ice is probably not worth the trip all the way from Honolulu (45 minutes each way), a visit to Haleiwa and the North Shore is worth it. The town has great shopping with art galleries, jewelry stores and numerous eating options including a wide variety of food trucks. The main road runs along beautiful beaches including Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and the Banzai Pipeline so it’s easy to spend an entire day in the area. In addition, Waimea Falls Park offers a nature trail through lush botanical gardens leading to the great waterfall.

When we spent the day in Lahaina over on Maui we also treated ourselves to shave ice at Ululani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice. Their main location is in a courtyard on the north end of Front Street in an area full of shops and galleries. In addition, they have five other shops and stands on the island featuring their Maui inspired flavors which, in our opinion, are even better then Matsumoto.

 

Our Caribbean

Discover the Caribbean

For over twenty-five years the heart of our business was servicing customers in the Caribbean. It would be easier to list the places we haven’t been than were we have. As a result we like to think we know the neighborhood pretty well.

Back in the beginning, Eastern Airlines was the primary carrier from the U.S. to most islands and they sold an island hopper ticket that allowed us to travel around the islands for a discount price. We would usually go out for a couple of weeks at a time spending a day at each island and staying at local or discount accommodations. Fast forward a decade or more and Eastern is gone (mostly replaced by American) and, because we now have to book each flight in and out with between islands mostly being LIAT and seaplanes, the trips take in fewer stops at much higher prices. Fortunately our business is more successful but travel has gotten more complicated because we are hauling children with us.

The restaurants, hotels and resorts are more upscale and we tended to spend more time in each location, partly because of the airfare, but also because we are spending time with more customers. We also took a number of busman’s holidays because we liked skin diving and beach combing but also because we could include business and offset some of the costs.

There are some places that we haven’t been back to in a while but we can still talk about the character of the islands. There is one place we can’t go back to because a volcano buried it (Montserrat). There are a number of places we return to often and can offer current tips and suggestions. Keep an eye out as we add articles about our little corner of the world including:

Barbados      St. Croix      Antigua      Curacao      Sint Maarten

St. Kitts       St. Lucia       Caymans      Jamaica       St. Thomas

Dominica      Grenada      St. Barts     Bahamas      and more

We have also taken more than a dozen Caribbean cruises and we will offer some comments on these as well. Cruising the Caribbean I offers an overview of cruising the Caribbean.  Cruising the Caribbean II talks about the short 3 and 4 day cruises out of South Florida and their destinations. Cruising the Caribbean III looks at the seven day and longer cruises.

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