Sunday, November 20, 2016

Deep South USA - Charleston v Savannah

Either side of lapping up the less famed delights of Beaufort and surrounding islands, we took the obligatory tours of the twin historic Old South coastal cities of Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA. This aims to be brief "first feel" comparison.


Having battled through the traffic of the suburbs, passed a man dragging a crucifix and struggled to find somewhere to put the car, on finally finding ourselves on foot in its centre, Charleston certainly had that wow factor. Imposing public buildings, grand churches, beautiful old town houses and a zing of gentility.

It is littered with interesting sites, great cafes and, when the day gets going, tourists galore. While we really enjoyed walking the old streets and popping our heads into the odd interesting looking building which would let us in, it did have the undeniable whiff of a theme park. A bit like Venice, where so much of the city centre's energy is devoted to tourism that you wonder how much is left for real life.
We decided to embrace this reality full on, joining a dozen slightly rotund, retired, shorts and polo shirt wearing Americans on a "traditional" horse and cart ride around the city. As you would expect, the kids loved it and I have to admit I rather enjoyed it, cheesy tour-guide jokes and all.

For me, the highlight of our visit was parading along the water front in glorious sunshine, playing in water fountains with the kids and peering out to Fort Sumter, contemplating the shots fired at her which started the American civil war.
My lasting impression is of a very beautiful and historic city, that, while charming, is a little less so than it deserves to be due to the hollowing out effect of the tourist dollar.


When people talk about their visits to this part of the world they so often mention these two cities together that I suppose I assumed on entering Savannah that it would be much like Charleston. I was to be surprised.

Grittier, steamier and with a different type of beauty. While the heart of the city is also full of old, historic buildings, they fail to take centre stage. In Charleston, wide open avenues show off its grand facades. In Savannah the even wider, park strewn squares are dominated by hundreds of live oaks dripping with lashings of Spanish moss. These trees and their pretty parasites suck out the harsh Southern light, creating a softer, yet more sombre tone, enhanced by the dozens of statues of long gone city citizens.

We spent a day pushing the pram up and down the streets of the old town before settling down in Forsyth park for the afternoon. It may sound strange to keep banging on about these trees and their moss, but they really are startlingly beautiful, wonderfully creepy and, of course, quintessentially Southern. No where else did I encounter them as impressive and imposing as those in this mid-nineteenth public green space. It was fantastic.

While Savannah of course has its tourists and its tack, to be honest, I barely noticed it. Its beguiling atmosphere blocked everything out. Georgia's old city was the place for me.
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