I have now been sheltering at home, as they say, for 7 weeks, and you would think that it would be easy to go upstairs into my airy office, with a window on the street, and start to write. I have a schedule everyday to help with this new way of living, but it seems I keep finding other things to occupy me like planning meals, walking the dog, singing, doing Pilates on Zoom, having dinner with friends on Zoom, writing grocery lists, talking on the phone, keeping up with Facebook, and reading the news about Covid and when things will be opening here in Toronto. It hasn’t been bad at all. I have read three books and many articles in magazines, done some gardening, cleaned cupboards, made a short birthday video for my sister etc. So writing, it seems, is at the bottom of my list. Discipline, and a need to reminisce and tell you about our winter trips, has drawn me back to the computer.
The picture at the beginning just reminds me achingly of how beautiful the beach was in Fernandina, Florida. That was our second trip this past winter, and I will describe it in my next blog. The first was in December when we decided to drive from our home in Howey in the Hills ,and go for a long weekend visit to Savannah, Georgia. We pass by the exit to this city on our way south every October, but we have never spent time there, and we have been told that it is a very pretty place especially around Christmas. So I planned a little holiday for us. Usually my planning goes like this: how far is it, where to stay, what to do, tour guides, what’s happening when we will be there, where to eat. That’s my template for all our trips.
It is about a five hour drive so we basically followed the same route we take when we are going north back to Toronto, and when we are driving north we always stop for breakfast at a Cracker Barrel. Of course we don’t have the glider trailer in tow or the dog, so it is simple parking. The food is good if uninspired, with no surprises. It is clean and the staff is friendly. The washrooms are just fine.
I love perusing the internet and finding accommodation. I discovered a Kimpton Hotel in Savannah and booked it. It was centrally located and charming. We have stayed at a Kimpton in Vero Beach and have enjoyed the intimacy of the hotel, the room furnishings and the food. We were surprised the last visit that there was a resort fee, the new and controversial fee that many southern hotels have added. They say they offer a manager’s reception, and valet parking free, and use of the pools etc., but really you are paying for these services with this fee.
the lobby of the Brice at wine time, quite the Christmas tree
The Brice turned out to be a very pleasing city hotel. The small lobby was inviting, and they were serving wine and some cookies. We went to our chosen room and although it was delightful, it was freezing. After many attempts of the tech staff to fix the thermostat, we ended up in another much more comfortable temperature- wise room. The decor of the bedroom was whimsical and the bathroom very large and well appointed. I had a hot bath, we changed our clothes and headed out to a restaurant I had chosen from the internet, called The Grey.
bar at The Grey with menorah celebrating Hanukah
The menu online looked tempting and did not disappoint. We were ushered into the bar on our arrival, a very retro art deco space, and started with a drink, champagne for me as usual, and a red wine for Charles. Our table was one of many in a row along a banquette and we managed to move from the one at the wall. This turned out to be good as we eventually started to converse with the couple beside us. They were young and talkative, but isn’t everyone younger than we are these days? She was fluent in German, French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish, the daughter of a diplomat, and had lived in many countries all over the world. Our conversation ranged from wine to food to great cities. They suggested a restaurant that was not on our list called Elizabeth on 37th. So we booked it for our final night. Our meal at Grey was very good. We had wreck fish that was fresh, and with such a name, was still incredibly delicious. I learned that wreck fish (AKA Stone Bass) are found all along the East Coast, most commercial landings are from the Charleston Bump, a deepwater bank located 80 to100 miles southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. A cousin of grouper and sea bass, wreck fish was first harvested by accident in the South Atlantic in the early 1980s. We also enjoyed a fruity Sancerre. Sadly, now when I check out the restaurant site I see that it is closed because of Covid. I hope that is temporary.
We returned to the hotel to discover that the bar was not open in the late evening, disappointed as we always like a nightcap in the hotel bar, we went to bed. Of course now nothing is open, but that is another story.
The next morning we had decided to walk around, check out the sites and visit some museums that were highly recommended. We had a good breakfast in the funky dining room and then grabbed some massive umbrellas from the front desk where the management apologized for the lack of heat in our original room and offered us a hotel, food and wine credit of $100. That was pretty nice. It was pouring, but we persevered to visit The Telfair Museums, that included The Owens House and Slave Quarters. . We learned about the buying and selling of slaves, and the complicated relationships between the most and least powerful people in the city of Savannah in the early 19th century. Nine to 15 enslaved people, about half of whom were children, lived and worked on the site at any given time between 1819 and the end of the Civil War. Once the war ended, the space became servants’ quarters, housing many of the same people. Our guide was a young African American woman and I wondered how she felt about seeing all the slaves quarters and telling the stories, but I guess she has grown up free, and rightly with all sorts of educational opportunities. Nevertheless, as we know, racism just doesn’t die and go away, but thank God slavery has.
waiting for tour of the slave house
We moved in small groups through the house and then walked very gingerly outside as when it rains in Savannah it really rains, and puddles, little ponds were everywhere. But there is something about being on tour in another city; you just keep going. We also visited the Jepson Center, designed by Moshe Safdie, where we viewed a Frank Stella exhibition. The museum also has an excellent contemporary collection. We were ready for lunch, blame the rain, and went to the Savannah Seafood Shack, which it was, but they had yummy clam chowder, albeit in paper bowls, and sat with the locals in this downscale take out joint. Back at the hotel I needed a cognac to warm my wet feet, then a nap and a hot bath. All good.
seafood shack below
pictures in the slave house
Frank Stella and contemporary art
The choice for dinner in the evening was the famous Olde Pink House. Now it was pretty obvious that this was a very touristy place. It was a beautiful old house, but just about everyone had told us about it and indeed it was lovely inside, filled with other travellers like ourselves. We ate upstairs in one of the dining rooms and were seated in front of a roaring fire. Our waiter was young and very eager to please, perhaps too eager, but he did a fine job. It was a huge menu with lots of southern low country choices, like ham and gravy, she crab soup, shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, mac n cheese, but the crispy duck got my attention. Charles ordered a few apps. And they had a good wine list from which we chose a new favourite called Belle Glos, a yummy pinot noir. After dinner we went downstairs to the Planters tavern jazz bar which turned out to be the highlight of our evening. The place was jammed on this Friday night, but because we had eaten upstairs we got a priority spot and sat listening to super music.
at our table
at the tavern for jazz
As I write this in our 7th week of sheltering at home, I find I am envious of how easy it was to go out and eat, go to a bar and listen to music, and how we took all that for granted. Now it is an at home affair, not bad because we have a beautiful, spacious, home and I adore cooking, but what fun it was to have freedom to travel. Who would have thought?
The next morning we woke early, had a pleasant-tasting breakfast in the large dining room of the hotel and then headed off to meet our tour guide, Andrew Coton, who I had found on Trip Advisor, and who turned out to be superb. After our previous rainy day it was cloudy and very cool almost cold. We met at the pre-arranged spot in Johnson Square not far from the hotel. Andrew was extremely knowledgeable about Savannah and its history. Our tour was booked as a walking tour for a half day. There are many squares in Savannah each with its particular history which turned out to be fascinating. It is the oldest city in the state situated on the Savannah River. If you go to the hyper link you can read in detail about this wonderful historic place, but Andrew told us about the American Revolution, and the history of the Jews in Savannah, which interested me.
Charles and Andrew our guide
synagogue outside and in, much like a cathedral
many views of Savannah
In 1733, shortly after the colony of Georgia was founded, an epidemic (thought to be Yellow Fever) started killing off the settlers. Because Savannah’s only doctor died early on, a ship carrying Sephardic Jews was allowed entry on the condition that a doctor onboard, Samuel Nunez, would treat the sick. Soon after their arrival, the Jews organized what would later become one of America’s oldest Jewish communities. This has been integrated into the history of the city. Mickve Israel’s synagogue is perched on one side of Bull Street—a major avenue in Savannah’s historic district—where one can also find the Oglethorpe Club (named after Savannah’s founder), and the Mercer House, where Midnight in The Garden of Good and Evil took place; two blocks north of the synagogue is the small park where Forrest Gump sat on a bench. Washington’s response to the letter he received from Mickve Israel congratulating him on his inauguration is the first presidential letter to any American Jewish community.
Andrew told us that Georgia was named after King George, and described the market area, the underground railway, Martin Luther King, windows no doors because of tax tithes. All this while we walked about and also shivered because it was a damp raw cold, but I managed to corral us into a coffee shop where he continued with his stories.
We were with him for about four hours and then we walked and searched for someplace to have lunch and warm up and found Sorry Charlie’s Oyster bar that was filled with seafood in display counters, very tempting of course. We chose a simply luscious chowder, crab claws, fried green tomatoes, superb great blue point oysters, and we just kept eating. I had some brandy to warm my soul and my feet. By the time we returned to the hotel we figured we had walked five and a half hours. Of course on our return the sun came out and ruefully smiled on us.
For our final evening I booked the restaurant that was recommended a few nights earlier, called Elizabeth on 37th and it was a total delight situated in a large old house with plenty of history, circa 1900. We were seated in one of the cozy rooms, all decked out for Christmas. There was a large family party in an adjacent area, and it was actually fun to listen in on their happy, but respectful chattering. Our waiter was not a young man, but friendly and extremely knowledgeable. We had had such a large lunch that we were not very hungry. But were both drawn to the jambalaya which is usually a large filling dish with lots of seafood. At this point I wondered what the difference was between jambalaya and gumbo and google told me ‘Gumbo is a soup or stew that is served alongside or on top of rice. Jambalaya is a casserole that is cooked in the same pot as the rice. They are both meat/seafood and rice dishes that originated in New Orleans. Okay. The waiter saw we were hesitating and suggested we share the dish which in Savannah is cooked with red rice, which turns out to be very nutritional. It also turned out that the waiter, Greg, was one of the two owners. No wonder he knew so much, and he was helpful with wine as well. He suggested the most yummy Stag’s Leap Sauvignan Blanc, and then the pecan pie for dessert. We felt a real connection with him and the restaurant. We grabbed an Uber for the way back to the hotel, sated and ready to start our journey back to Howey in the Hills the next morning.
deconstructed jambalaya with red rice yum
in the entrance and with the owner, Greg
We had a wonderful long weekend away although when you have a change of scenery, it feels much longer. Even a day away can feel like a little holiday. Sigh. Now it is our walks that offer a change of scenery, and if the weather warms up we can go in the back yard. The golf course is open tomorrow, but there are strict protocols in place during this pandemic, so there will be no hanging around and having a drink or lunch with friends, but it will be great to see the course and to play, that is if I win a lottery in the draw because there are so many members who want to play and the course is being kept to a limited number at this time of social distancing.
This ‘at home’ is making me quite lazy, or rather slow with starting the day. Although I am up early, and walk the dog, I seem to dodder over breakfast and reading the paper and I don’t even feel guilty about this. Sometime I even feel like returning to bed to read and snooze. Somedays, Charles and I choose an old movie and watch a matinee at home with popcorn. These are different times.
I will tell you about our brilliant trip to two Florida beaches in my next blog.
If you are ‘at home’ stay safe and be healthy!