"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Saturday, December 26, 2015

A Quick Overnight in Historical Savannah, GA

An old friend of Rick's from their New York Maritime days, Kevin McCarey, invited us down to Savannah to visit one of the city's many museums and have dinner with he and his wife Fran. Sounded like a fun get away to us. It may seem strange that we feel the need to get away at times from the life we live, but like everyone else, we get into our ruts and it's good to change things up sometimes. We packed for one night and drove the two hours from Charleston, SC to Savannah GA.

When we have to stay overnight away from the RV with our dog Honey, we usually look for a La Quinta Inn because they are pet-friendly and don't charge an extra pet fee. They aren't a fancy hotel in any way, but usually they suffice. There are three La Quintas in Savannah, but based on my research online, I thought they looked a bit too time worn. So for one night we decided to splurge and stay downtown in the historic district at The Brice, a pet-friendly boutique hotel. This was a first for us and we were really glad we stayed there.

The Brice Hotel

Looking up in the foyer at The Brice

After being greeted enthusiastically (with major dog treats!) by the valet, the concierge and the front desk, we went to our room to settle in. The hotel website had promised a dog bed and dog dishes for Honey, but they weren't in the room, probably because we had checked in early. One call to the front desk, and all her accoutrements showed up in a flash, along with another treat.

One of three 7" gourmet dog cookies Honey got at The Brice

The decor of the hotel is what I'd call new urban funky chic, but not in an extreme way. This is historical Savannah, so of course there is tradition mixed into a more contemporary ambiance. The guest rooms and common spaces were interesting, comfy and somewhat unconventional, at least compared to La Quinta.

Common space off the lobby at The Brice

The lobby of The Brice

The Brice has a restaurant, called Pacci, which we didn't try, but looked pretty. It also has an outdoor pool, which also looked nice. I think the hotel just opened this year in this renovated warehouse building. It used to be a Coca-Cola bottling factory, among other things over the years.

Pacci - the restaurant at The Brice
The "Secret Garden" 

Our room had more than the typical amenities: a well stocked minibar and bathroom, lots of unusual throw pillows, extremely comfy beds and a unique selection of art on the walls.  Everything was very clean and fresh. 

Our room at The Brice

Funky chic decor at The Brice

Your photographer

We left Honey to luxuriate in the room and asked the front desk to call a Pedicab for us. While we waited out front Rick and the valets and concierge talked football. (Amazing where you find Patriot's fans.)  Our Pedicab driver Royce, ("Ride with Royce and Rejoice!") peddled us slowly through the narrow streets and historical squares while chatting in a friendly way about Savannah.  I am convinced that "Pedicabbing" is the best way to see Savannah, as long as the weather is good. It's slow, calm, safe and so scenic. You pay your driver what you think he or she deserves, unless you are renting by the hour.  

Rick and Royce or Boyce (we disagree in our memory of his name) our Pedicab chauffeur

Royce dropped us at the Jepson Center, one of several Telfair Museums in Savannah, where they were having an exhibit called Monet and American Impressionism. (No photos allowed.) 

The Jepson Center

We met Kevin there, where he is a member, and he generously treated us to the exhibit. In addition to being a classmate of Rick's from the SUNY Maritime College, Kevin is an author and filmmaker who currently teaches at Savannah College of Art and Design (acronym SCAD, which has a very strong presence in Savannah).  Kevin has made an outstanding documentary film about Frederick Freiseke, one of the American Impressionists featured in this exhibit. He was the perfect tour guide.  

Kevin and Rick reunite

Afterwards Kevin took us for a long stroll through historic Savannah as the sun set. One beautiful garden square after another is what Savannah is known for.  

The Mercer Williams House of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil fame

Historic Temple Mickve Israel

One of many historic inns and B&Bs

Sunset in historic Savannah

The temperature was perfect and we could have walked forever, but we worked our way to Bella Napoli, a cozy Italian restaurant, where we met Fran for lovely dinner.

Bella Napoli

Kevin walked us back to our hotel where Honey was happy to see us. She hadn't gotten into any mischief.  After a good night's sleep we got up early to take Honey for a long walk and find ourselves some breakfast. Our walk took us along the upper levels of Savannah's historic waterfront.  The row of buildings are old multi-storied warehouses of cotton companies converted into restaurants, boutiques and other businesses. From the sidewalk we were on we could look down to the lower level basements and the original cobblestone streets leading down to the river. 

It's a complex and beautiful historic neighborhood I'd like to explore more. 

We ended up at Goose Feathers Cafe for a tasty and inexpensive breakfast of croissants, cinnamon rolls and coffee at their pet friendly outdoor seating. Savannah is dog friendly, with lots of outdoor seating, water dishes, and specialty stores for dogs.  We wound our way back to the hotel, through many of the beautiful squares again, and checked out from the Brice where we had felt so pampered.  It was really hard not to stay longer. 

Before leaving Savannah, Honey and I found Daffin Dog Park while Rick went to the elegant Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum.  Everybody was happy, aesthetically pleased and well cared for by the time we headed back to Charleston.  I hope we return to Savannah for an extended visit someday soon.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"Nights of a Thousand Candles" at Brookgreen Gardens, SC

It was the end of a busy day, especially for our niece Sarah who seems to go nonstop 24/7, taking care of three children under the age of 5. But she treated us to a glorious evening out for Christmas, despite the challenges of getting out of her house without the oldest two kids. 

Curtains of light hang from the live oak trees

With baby Will in tow, we left Mount Pleasant at 7:30 and headed 1.5 hours north on Rt. 17 through Georgetown and Pawleys Island, and got to the Gardens at about 9:15. Luckily, they extended the hours to 10:30, half an hour after their usual closing time. It turned out that an hour was really just right to see the light display. Unlike some drive-thru' Christmas lights, this is a walk through the beautiful sculpture garden that is open year round, and decorated for the holidays.

Also unlike other displays, there are no representational lights. No Santa's, no elves, no snow flakes, no reindeer, no snow castles...nothing but abstract lighting effects highlighting the natural beauty and structure of the formal gardens and their delightful sculpture collection. It is a remarkably effective approach, and such a breath of fresh air during a stereotypical image filled season.

Reflecting pools under the lights

The gardens are divided by color and form themes. Our first experience was walking through their vast ancient live oak avenues, dripping waterfalls of white lights.

Lights like Spanish moss drip from the live oaks

 Then at the suggestion of one of the omnipresent volunteer guides, we visited the multi-colored Children's Garden (even though Will was fast asleep and too young to appreciate it anyway). But we loved it.

Rick strolls sleeping Will through the Children's Garden

The colorful Children's Garden

Just a few interesting facts. There are approximately one million lights (90% LED), and 4,500 candles in the display. Forty people light and blow out the candles every night. There are 5 miles of extension cords.

Our path led through more light-wrapped live oaks...

The lights accentuate the sculpture throughout the gardens

...and on to the red and white garden where an interesting use for wine bottles lighted the ground under the red trees.

Wine bottle lights under a tree

The red and white garden

Then on to the blue garden,

The blue garden

...the reflecting pools,

...and a grand light tent over an immense reflecting pool. You can't see them well in these photos but there are sculptures in all of these reflecting pools.

A tent made of lights covering a reflecting pool

One formal garden was completely lighted with Chinese lanterns so that it felt like a Hawaiian luau.

Chinese lanterns and luminaries

By this time is was after 10:00 and most of the people were heading out because they didn't know about the extended hours I guess. We had the place almost to ourselves...

...as we finished at the giant evergreen tree. It was very peaceful.

Sarah and Rick appreciating the Holiday Tree

Thank you Sarah for a beautiful night that sparked our imaginations and our appreciation for the beauty of the holiday.  It was so worth the journey through the dark silent night.

Wishing all our readers a love and peace filled holiday with friends and family.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Boone Hall Plantation: Mount Pleasant, SC

This December we've returned to Mount Pleasant, SC to visit with family for the holidays. We're staying at the KOA, which has made some improvements since we stayed two years ago, most importanly (to us) a new dog park.  Although we've done lots of sightseeing in Mount Pleasant/Charleston in previous years, we never got to Boone Hall Plantation, one of the most popular historic destinations in the area.

The 88 live oak lined entrance to Boone Hall

The admission fee to Boone Hall covers a guided house tour, tram tour, self-guided walking tour of grounds, gardens, cotton dock and slave quarters, butterfly garden and access to the Butterfly Cafe. It easily takes at least half a day.

As we drove down the 88 tree, 3/4 mile live oak lined entrance road, we stopped  to take a picture and noted that we were standing on an old brick bridge over an unusually deep canal. Later we learned that the canal was dug during the Civil War as an effort to detain the advance of Union troops into Charleston. We also learned that the bricks had been made right at Boone Hall Plantation brickyard. 

If you love history, you'll love visiting Boone Hall. Originally a British land grant to John Boone in 1681, it has been a working plantation ever since! It's ownership has changed many times, from John Boone, to a Russian prince, to the current McRae family and others. 

The plantation house and serpentine wall

Its source of income has also changed many times: from rice, cotton, bricks and pecans to peaches, vegetables, tourism and special events.  No cotton any more due to the infestation of the boll weevil along the coast.

As we waited for the noon house tour we walked through the gardens, which were being changed over to their winter annuals. 

However, beautiful pink and white camellia bushes, unique to these semi-tropical climes, were blooming along the garden paths.  

We had just enough time to wander along the creek and visit the smokehouse.  At 250 years, the smokehouse is one of the oldest structures on the plantation.

Praise house and serpentine wall

After walking along the serpentine wall (invented by Thomas Jefferson) we headed back to the big house for the tour.

Our tour guide was entertaining and informative as she took us through the downstairs of the period antique furnished house, where no pictures were allowed. They were in the process of decorating for Christmas with hundreds of poinsettias and a couple of trees in every room, each one decorated uniquely. One was decorated completely with cotton balls right off the bush (surprisingly effective) and another with woven sweet grass ornaments.  This house is not the original Boone home; it is actually the fourth building on the site, the others having been lost to fire and or torn down for this new structure by Thomas Stone in the early 20th century designed after the traditional southern plantation style.

After the tour we made our way back to the row of brick slave cabins along the oak avenue. Typically the slave houses are placed in back where visiting guests wouldn't see them, but historians guess that this land was the only acreage on the plantation that was not farmable because it flooded regularly with salt water. So they built the slave cabins there. 

Each of about eight cabins has a display inside with either an audio or visual recording explaining the display. The first house was described as the "praise house" where slaves were allowed to worship separately from their white owners and overseers.   Music, audio description, mannequins and informative plaques explained the history of worship tradition among the slaves, as well as notable spiritual leaders of the time. Other cabins housed displays about dimensions of slave life, emancipation, archeology, agriculture, etc.

Sweet grass baskets are still a highly prized traditional craft of the local Gullah people and are sold along Rt. 17 in Mount Pleasant. Here too a local artisan sells her baskets and explains about the art form.

Sweet grass basket detail

A local historian was available to answer questions and expound on topics of his choosing outside  one of the cabins. 

These houses are not in their original condition, as they were destroyed by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. They are constructed of the same bricks, which were made in the plantation brickyard. The tile roofs replaced the original wood. 

Another building on the plantation that was seriously damaged by Hurricane Hugo is the cotton gin. As most readers will know, the cotton gin (short for engine) revolutionized cotton production by providing a fast and efficient method of processing the cotton after picking. The large buildings that house the gin are also called gins. There are still many modern gins in operation throughout the south.  This gin had been used as a gift shop and restaurant until the hurricane almost destroyed it. Now it is braced and waiting for a planned multi-million dollar renovation.

We finished our visit with a chilly open air tram tour around agricultural fields of the plantation. Our guide told us more about the history and current use of the plantation. We drove through peach orchards and strawberry fields (that will be ripe in two weeks!). Produce from the farm is sold locally to agricultural cooperatives.

As Christmas approaches our family activities intensify. We'll be visiting, dining out, shopping, having meals at one another's homes, baking cookings, and dancing. There's a nice contradance in North Charleston and one of our nieces is an avid ballroom dancer. We've promised to attend her dance if she'll attend ours, so we anticipate even more dancing and holiday fun.