Southern Charm and Spanish Moss: Charleston to Savannah

The most painted bridge in the U.S. It's a landscape artist's dream!
The most painted bridge in the U.S. It's a landscape artist's dream!

This is the eighth and final post in our Summer Road Trip series. We have covered road trippin’ Maine, Maui, Florida, California, the Finger Lakes, Arizona and Route 66.

Recommended Time: 5-8 Days

Postcard Perfect

Postcard Perfect

Let me paint you a picture: Giant live oaks shrouded in Spanish moss tower above a mile-long driveway that leads to a stately plantation set on acres of manicured gardens—and a swamp complete with an alligator or two. It’s enchanting—quintessentially Southern. A road trip from Charleston to Savannah means being encompassed in the elegance of a different era. It includes comfort food, a few ghost stories, and scenes from Forrest Gump. It’s full of history, folklore, and, of course, that famed Southern hospitality.

Begin your road trip in Charleston, consistently ranked the No. 1 small city in the U.S. by Travel + Leisure. It’s friendly. It’s charming. It’s Charleston. The best way to explore it is by horse-drawn carriage with Palmetto Carriage Works. Pass by historic mansions, gardens, and churches in the Holy City, while learning the history that made it what it is today. Make sure to spend some time exploring Charleston City Market for some handcrafted souvenirs, most notably handwoven sweetgrass baskets, a centuries-old tradition in Charleston.

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Every history buff will enjoy a visit to Fort Sumter National Monument, which, on April 12, 1861, was shaken by explosions that signaled the start of the American Civil War. Be sure to venture just 12 miles north of Charleston to visit Middleton Place, a stunning plantation sitting on America’s oldest formally-designed gardens. Spend the day observing the working plantation, taking a house tour, or kayaking down the Ashley River.

Next, it’s time to soak up some sun and sand on Hilton Head Island. This is the perfect mid-way point between Charleston and Savannah, and a beautiful respite from city life. A playground for wealthy retirees, there is no lack of beautiful resorts and world-class golf courses! Spend a day or two strolling along the beautiful beaches or playing a round of tennis before continuing on to Savannah.

Savannah’s 2.2-mile Historic District is full of activities—from art gallery hopping on River Street and strolling through scenic Forsyth Park, to gorging yourself with Paula Deen’s downhome cookin’. Board the Old Town Trolley for an easy hop-on, hop-off tour of the best sights in the city.

But don’t be surprised if the city gives you the creeps. After all, it’s called America’s Most Haunted City—a city built literally upon its dead. With unmarked graves beneath your shoes, it’s no surprise that Savannah is as heavily draped in myth and legend as it is in Spanish moss. Visit Bonaventure Cemetery, made famous by the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, and be sure to take one of many ghost tours in the city—including one that escorts you in a hearse!

Have you soaked up Charleston and Savannah’s Southern charm?

Places

Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC, United States

Hilton Head, SC

Hilton Head Island, SC, United States

Savannah, GA

Savannah, GA, United States

Charleston, SC

Charleston, SC, United States
http://www.charlestoncvb.com/

Hilton Head, SC

Hilton Head Island, SC, United States
https://www.hiltonheadisland.org/

Savannah, GA

Savannah, GA, United States
http://www.visitsavannah.com/

The 14 Best Travel Moments of 2014

Rainbow over Costa Rica
Rainbow over Costa Rica

Each year, we like to look back on some of the highlights from our year of travels. Check out the post from 2013! We did a lot of traveling this year, going everywhere from Washington D.C. to New York City, Charleston to Orlando, Cancun to Costa Rica. We’ve decided to each pick our seven favorite travel experiences, and share them with you in no particular order.

Feel free to share your favorite travel experiences in the comments below!

Kim’s Top 7

Be Free, Little Turtles!

What fun it was to release several hundred baby sea turtles to the ocean one evening in Cancun. I got to hold three of them, feeling their flippers beat against my fingers as they squirmed to be set free. There is no flash photography allowed, as it could disorient them, but watching the tiny turtles slip and slide their way to the ocean in the dim light is something I won’t forget anytime soon.

Escape to Alcatraz

After a failed attempt to see Alcatraz last year due to the government shutdown, I was bound and determined to see the famed prison this year while I was at a conference in San Francisco. It was surreal to walk the hallways and see the cells that hardened criminals once inhabited. And what an eerie calmness passes over you when you go out to the courtyard area of the prison which overlooks the city, seemingly a world away.

Science, Stars, and Sharks… Oh, My!

Exploring the Nightlife of the California Academy of Sciences was a real highlight for me this year. What a fun place! With a rainforest, aquarium, natural history museum, and planetarium, this place has a little bit of everything. This adults-only event happens every Thursday night, and I just so happened to be there for Sharktober, which was awesome!

Christmastime in the City

As an Upstate New Yorker, I’ve long wanted to go to NYC to see the Rockefeller Christmas Tree and the beautiful seasonal window displays, and this year, we finally got to do it! The City is one that always hustles and bustles, but there’s something special—almost magical—about it on an evening in December, and I’m so glad I finally got to experience it, cup of hot cocoa in hand.

Home Away From Home

I’ve often heard that some people find their “home away from home” while on vacation, but it hadn’t happened to me before. That all changed in Costa Rica. The nine beautiful days we spent at the Beach Bungalows in Tamarindo were absolutely perfect—both in our surroundings and the company. Our hosts Trish and Claudio were the friendliest, most generous people we’ve had the pleasure to meet while traveling, and they made our time there an absolute joy. And, of course, we loved spending time with their beautiful dogs, Stella and Parker. What a paradise they have created in this seaside town!

Soaking in the Hot Springs

I have wanted to go to Costa Rica since high school, and one of the things at the top of my list was to soak in some natural hot springs. Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort was certainly the place to do it, with the beautifully manicured grounds, and gloriously warm water cascading throughout the resort near Arenal Volcano. Whether you wanted to sit under a waterfall, or relax in a shallow pool, the options were limitless, and there seemed to be enough room for everyone to enjoy the water—something I had been worried about since it’s such a big attraction. It was a great way to spend an afternoon!

Christmas in Costa Rica

Kyle and I have been talking about spending Christmas at a beach for a long time, and this year, we finally did it! How amazing it was to spend the entire day splashing in the waves, and soaking in the sun. This year convinced me I’d trade a snowy Christmas for a sandy one any year!

Kyle’s Top 7

Visiting the Newseum in D.C.

Opened in 2008, the Newseum was created to educate people on the five freedoms provided by the First Amendment. Out front is a display of the front page of a newspaper from every state (and several countries) for that particular day. Aside from this very cool street-side display, the Newseum has some fantastic exhibits worth checking out. Highlights for me included sections of the Berlin Wall, a collection of historically significant headlines (e.g. outbreaks of war), a memorial to fallen journalists including a truck shot up in Sarajevo and a truly touching 9/11 memorial. Overall, I can’t think of a single exhibit that was lacking when compared to the rest – this is a must for anyone interested in some of the biggest moments in history for the last two centuries.

Whitewater Rafting in Costa Rica

I’ve been whitewater rafting a couple of times in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon when I was a kid. The rapids are class II/III there, but are overall pretty easy to navigate. The opportunity to go again in Costa Rica was one of the things I was most excited for, and the Río Colorado just north of Liberia did not disappoint. We took a tour from our hotel in Tamarindo to reach the Cañón de la Vieja Adventure Lodge – about an hour drive. This tour featured several activities, which we’ll write about in the future, but the rafting was by far the best. There are a handful of calmer spots for you to catch your breath and overall, beginners will have no trouble tackling these rapids; however, there are a couple of thrilling drops to ratchet up the experience. You WILL get wet and it is awesome!

Wormsloe Historic Site

I wrote about this one recently, but let me sum it up for you. Wormsloe is a beautiful plantation built by one of the members of the party that founded Savannah, Georgia. Unlike other plantations in the south, this historic site doesn’t feature an extravagant mansion with large, well-groomed grounds. Instead, Wormsloe is more like a nice nature park centered on the long-abandoned ruins of one of the first homes in the area. It is known best for its gorgeous driveway, which is frequently photographed, but I really liked the tabby ruins themselves. This was my favorite part of Savannah.

Xcaret: The History of Mexico

Part of a group of attractions aimed at educating people on the history, traditions and ecology of Mexico, Xcaret is a park about an hour outside Cancun’s Hotel Zone that features a dinner show similar to Medieval Times – except that this one is infinitely better. The food is good, but the show is awesome, transporting you from ancient Maya to present day and highlighting much of the musical tradition of Mexico. Standout moments included a recreation of two ancient sports from the region: pok-ta-pok and pelota purépecha (similar to field hockey, but with FIRE). This was one of the handful of touristy things that we got to do in Cancun while we attended TBEX and it was a real joy to experience.

Visiting Charleston Plantations

More plantations… really? How many plantations can one person enjoy in a year? Yes – more plantations, but only because each plantation has its own feel. Magnolia Plantation & Gardens features the traditional southern plantation home surrounded by gardens that have been allowed to grow in a more uncontrolled fashion. This means it has a much more natural look and ensures you’ll see more wildlife – we saw alligators, turtles and a bald eagle here. Middleton Place on the other hand is beautiful in that aristocratic sense – its gardens are carefully manicured and beautifully kept. Overall, both are absolutely worth the visit.

The Rides in Disney

We had a rough time in Florida this year, but problems aside – Disney has world-class rides. I’m a big fan of Expedition Everest – I love everything about it from the set dressing to the rapid shifts in direction. Kim on the other hand – she’s all about Space Mountain.

Visiting Central Park for the first time

Despite having been to New York City a number of times, somehow neither of us had ever managed to make it over to Central Park. It’s kind of a weird oversight, I know. We visited in late spring and lucked out as the weather was perfect. As we walked around, Kim pointed out that this was the first time she’d ever really liked NYC. Until that moment, both of us had always seen NYC as a dirty, busy, necessary evil that we had to visit for work or to see a Broadway show. It took us walking around the oasis that is Central Park to understand that NYC doesn’t have to be about fighting your way through crowds and running all the time. Instead, you can enjoy lunch by the boat pond, watching as people of all ages sail their miniature boats. You can stroll about, just taking in the well-kept park as people walk their dogs or play pick-up games around you. Finish out your trip by riding the carousel at least once – it certainly isn’t the most amazing carousel of all time, but it just feels like something you have to do. Overall, walking through Central Park was a standout New York moment for both of us.

Cheers to many more adventures in 2015!

Wormsloe Plantation – Haunting Reminders of the Past

Wormsloe Gate
The gate to the Wormsloe Historic Site.
This post contains photo spheres. You can click the links within the post to view these 360° photos. Click and drag the picture to pan around the scene.

On our recent trip to Savannah, Kim and I visited a plantation known as the Wormsloe Historic Site. Wormsloe was constructed by Noble Jones, one of the members of the party that founded Savannah. He landed in Georgia alongside James Oglethorpe in 1733. Noble Jones performed many duties as a member of the fledgling colony, including surveying, scouting and more.

Eventually, Jones would request a lease of 500 acres of land from the trustees behind the colony overlooking Skidaway Narrows. His fortified house, which was completed in 1745, was to act as a defensive structure built to patrol the area and block any Spanish incursions into English-claimed lands.

Jones constructed the home using wood and tabby. Tabby is an inferior concrete created from oyster shells and lime. It was frequently used in place of bricks which were expensive and difficult to create in colonial America. Now, the home lies in ruins, tucked back in the woods on the property.

Upon driving through the gates of the property, you will see one of the most beautiful parts of Wormsloe. Its mile and a half approach consists of a dirt driveway surrounded by live oaks draped in Spanish moss. This drive lends an almost mystical feel to the property that is characteristic of so many southern US locales. These trees and their ghostly drapery create a haunting air that drags your mind back to the past, allowing you to fully appreciate the history of such places. See for yourself (this is a video of our drive out of Wormsloe):

Once you’ve driven up to the parking area, there is another short walk to the actual ruins. The property has several hiking areas, but we only checked out the museum at the parking area and the ruins themselves. The ruins themselves are beautiful in the way that nature has had its way with the fortified home. Little remains except for the crumbling tabby walls. Even still, you can feel the history of the place and the fact that it was set back from any populated area gives it a calming, contemplative feel. We had the place to ourselves when we arrived and all we could hear was the occasional snap of a twig or the scrabbling of a squirrel through the underbrush. I really enjoyed taking pictures of the ruins.

As we wandered the grounds, I could not help but think about how starting anew with only the smallest comforts and advantages we are accustomed to would be a great concept for a game. With the spike of survival games, we have begun to capture this concept in very narrative-lite games. Games like DayZ and even Minecraft drop you in a world with almost nothing, expecting you to figure out your own survival or die trying. I think there is definitely room in the narrative open-world space for ideas like this and that the concept will only become more popular as we are hopefully at the dawn of a new era of exploration. Missions are slowly gaining traction to send people to Mars and possibly one of Jupiter’s moons, Europa, even farther down the road. Some of us may live to see the start of a new era of colonization (albeit hopefully a more responsible and considerate version of the past).

Imagine a game set in an untamed world where you have been sent by a corporation to create a profitable colony. You have enough supplies to feed your small party for a few weeks, but must begin making your own way in this hostile world or die. Combining emergent narrative and scripted, but randomized narrative events while also blending elements of first person action/adventure and city building sims could create a very interesting player experience. Players would be responsible for managing their brave group of explorers while also putting their own work in to ensure their fragile community succeeds, lest they lose the favor of their investors.

Wormsloe is essentially a remainder of such a concept – an abandoned, fortified home left over from the dawn of a colony that would eventually grow into a city. While Wormsloe stands broken, it is not forgotten and stands as a testament of more turbulent times. I recommend a visit for those who are interested in history, particularly early colonial American history. I know I found it inspiring!

What to know if you go

  • It costs $10 per adult to enter the site and they would prefer that you pay before snapping your pictures (since some people come into the property to just take a picture of the driveway and then leave).
  • They do offer guided walking tours 10 AM, 11 AM, 2 PM and 3 PM. These tours are included in your admission.
  • Definitely walk through the museum before hiking around the property. It’s not huge and will take you maybe 10-15 minutes and it’s worth it to get an idea of what the tabby structure would have looked like before it fell into ruin. the movie is okay, but you can skip it – it just gives you details on Noble Jones and his family, most of which you can gather from the museum pretty quickly.

Places

Wormsloe Historic Site

7601 Skidaway Rd Savannah, GA 31406 Chatham County
912-353-3023

Wormsloe Historic Site

7601 Skidaway Rd Savannah, GA 31406 Chatham County
912-353-3023
http://gastateparks.org/Wormsloe

Charleston: A Love Story

Middleton Place: The Sundial and Rose Garden
Middleton Place: The Sundial and Rose Garden

This fall, I took on some freelance work, which included putting together a road trip guide to coastal South Carolina, with a focus on Charleston, a place that time and time again has been ranked No. 1 for best cities in the U.S. and Canada by Travel & Leisure magazine. I had never experienced the quintessential “South”—the Southern charm, the Spanish moss. The more research I did, the more I realized I had to visit this vibrant city.

Kyle and I made a relatively spur-of-the-moment decision to book tickets to Charleston and Savannah for Thanksgiving. I’d been told you’re either a Charleston person or a Savannah person. I, for one, am certainly a Charleston girl—100%. Although Savannah certainly has its charms, Charleston has this intrinsic blend of vivaciousness and history that you’d be hard pressed to find in many cities.

The best way to tell you about Charleston is to let the city do the talking.

I’ve always been completely captivated by Spanish moss, but have never had the pleasure of seeing it in person. All I could do was stare in awe at the bewildering beauty of the drapery of the South.

What a way to spend Thanksgiving! A visit to two of the most spectacular plantations in the country: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens and Middleton Place.

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I don’t know how the historic downtown pulls it off?! There’s a certain bustle to it. You know it’s the place to be and be seen. There’s an elitist air to it. But then there’s this sense of calm. You know you can linger over a sweet tea or take a leisurely stroll through the market. Everyone is so down-to-earth, and there isn’t a soul who doesn’t welcome you to the city with open arms.

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There is so much beauty in every single detail in this city. It is completely and utterly enchanting.

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And best of all, the South knows how to decorate for the holidays.

Cheers, Charleston, you beautiful city, you!

Stay tuned for more about one of my new favorite cities: What to see, what to do, and best of all, what to eat!

Soaking Up Southern Hospitality for Thanksgiving

Zeb hopes we'll mistake him for an extra piece of luggage so he can go, too!
Zeb hopes we'll mistake him for an extra piece of luggage so he can go, too!

It’s the night before Thanksgiving, and despite the impeccable timing of a snowstorm, we’re headed to Charleston, SC, tomorrow morning to experience some of that famed Southern hospitality. It was a hard decision, to leave during what is probably the most family-centric holiday of the year. Some might even call it selfish—heck, I call it selfish. But we’ve been talking the last couple of weeks about making the most of limited vacation time, and this is how we have to do it. With only two vacation days left this year, this was the only possible time to make a trip like this. Plus Thanksgiving Day is one of the cheapest days of the year to fly, so we got great rates! It’s hard to pass up. We’re lucky to have an understanding family. (Thanks, guys!)

We booked just a few short weeks ago, so I’ve had an abbreviated amount of time to plan the perfect trip. Somehow actually booking things with real money is very different than dreaming my day away while perusing travel sites. I actually find it rather stressful. I know we have a finite amount of time, and I want to make the most of it. The worst thing for me is getting somewhere and then having to read a guide book because I don’t know what to do. I like to have a game plan; whether I stick to it or not is a different story.

Plan of Attack

What do I do to plan my days, you ask? I always like to go into a trip with a day-by-day schedule, which gives me easy access to a general timeline, and pertinent reservation details for airlines, hotels, and car rentals. In college, my roommate and I took a grand 8-day road trip down the east coast to Florida and back up through Louisiana and Tennessee, and had every minute planned out on elaborately decorated pages placed in a three-ring binder. I don’t take it to quite that extreme now, but I don’t leave home without my travel folder.

I’ve been scouring TripAdvisor for the best attractions and restaurants, reading review after review, and picking places that make the most sense for us. I’ve also found the 36 Hours column in the New York Times extremely helpful. We’re actually going to Charleston and Savannah, so I’ve printed both and placed them in my folder for some reading on the plane. (I do leave gaps in my itineraries for serendipity, but I like to have suggestions like these to fall back on in case we find ourselves with an afternoon free and nothing to do. That hasn’t happened yet, but it’s always good to be prepared!)

TripAdvisor helps me plan my life.

TripAdvisor helps me plan my life.

Packing Tips for Short Trips

A lot of friends have asked me about some of my packing tricks. I’ve come a long way since having my three pieces of rolling luggage for two arms during my study abroad in Florence. Seriously, it wasn’t pretty. The thing that sealed the deal for my packing wizardry was my trip to San Francisco in early October. I broke my finger several weeks before in Cancun, and wasn’t able to carry any luggage. I was traveling alone, so I had to make five days’ worth of necessities fit in a backpack. And I was going to a conference, so I needed business and practical clothes—plus room for souvenirs.

Even for long weekend trips, I used to need “options.” I’d fill up a giant suitcase with clothes for a week, and would only wear a quarter of them. I’d take a giant make-up case filled with all kinds of products I never wore at home, and a separate set of jewelry to match every outfit.

Now I pack the basics. Five outfits for five days (and even that’s a bit much, because you can re-wear things). I like to bring versatile outfits—one cami for two different days. A scarf that will go with three things. Multiple outfits that can handle the same couple sets of jewelry. I no longer need the huge Vera Bradley toiletry kit. I pack my medicine, face wash, toothpaste, jewelry, and make-up in separate sandwich bags, and place them in a much smaller zippered case. It takes up a quarter of the space, and is really all I need. Kyle and I are only taking carry-ons this time, and I had so much room left in the small suitcase that I packed an empty backpack in one of them so we can bring home souvenirs. Yes, I’ve become much more efficient!

 

We are really excited to be visiting Charleston and Savannah—two of the most beautiful cities in the country. Charleston is consistently rated amount the top cities in the world, and I can’t wait to discover why people love it so much. I’ve heard that you’re either a Charleston person or a Savannah person, so it’ll be fun to visit them back to back to see which one I enjoy more.

Have you been to either city? Do you have any recommendations for us—you know, for that “serendipity” time in our itinerary?

 

 

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