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Travels With Alice

February 2017

 

By Jeanne DavisJeanne Davis

We have enjoyed our contributing writer Jeanne Davis’ regular Beyond the Headlines for some time.

Look out each month for the latest story in our exciting new series Travels with Alice. Written in her usual thought provoking and entertaining style, we know you will enjoy her fascinating insights into human behaviour and great locations .

This is going to be a great addition to Laterlife that will become addictive…

To view all of Jeanne's articles visit the Interest Index.

Georgia and South Carolina


Gracious Southern Living and She-crab soup

Jekyll Island: Alice and Jeanne
Jekyll Island: Alice and Jeanne

How about Georgia and South Carolina?” Alice says. Even though Alice and I have grown up and travelled widely in the US, neither of us had ever been to these south eastern Atlantic seaboard states. Alice books a small group tour that fits our budget and our availability. The brochure talks of places reminiscent of long-ago days of gracious Southern living, a rarefied world of plantations, 19th century mansions, magnolias and live oaks hung with Spanish moss. 

These images become alive on our eight day tour along with much more that was new and enlightening.

We stay at Jekyll Island: Resort for the Rich and Powerful

Live oaks hung with Spanish Moss on Jekyll Island
Live oaks hung with Spanish Moss on Jekyll Island

The tour begins in gracious style, in Georgia, at the elegant Jekyll Island Club Hotel. Here we stay and dine in what was once the club house for the island resort that was founded in the late 19th century as a hunting retreat for some of America’s richest and most powerful families including the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts.

Here these wealthy northern families built their winter homes, or “cottages” as they were called, designed to house entire families with staff. Hardly cottages, they exemplified Victorian tastes in architecture. You can explore the Queen Anne style Indian Mound Cottage, built with twenty-five rooms for the Rockefeller family and the Italian Renaissance Crane Cottage, the largest and most lavish of the cottages.   

Historic Savannah and Ships of the Great Atlantic Sea Trade
 
It was an Englishman, James Oglethorpe, however, who in 1733, landed on these shores to establish the first European settlement. He had sailed to the New World with the idea of establishing a colony for the working poor. With King George's charter in hand, he declared the land for England and named it Georgia for his monarch, by the way beating the Spanish who had landed here years before but had never settled. He then went on upriver to found the port city of Savannah.

Forsyth Park, Savannah: Tauck Tours
Forsyth Park, Savannah: Tauck Tours  

He had with him, too, cotton seeds, that took root and soon flourished on great plantations. The cotton enriched the English settlers and exported fed the textile mills of northern England well into the 20th century.

Our day begins with a visit to the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum that tells the story of the great Atlantic sea trade of the centuries past. Displayed is the model of the steamship Savannah, which became one of the most important vessels in maritime history – the first steamship to cross the Atlantic in 1819.  The Wanderer brought the slaves from Africa to work the plantations.

Ships brought household goods, too, to furnish the homes of the wealthy merchants. The best of English furniture, the most costly of European porcelain and paintings. You can visit these houses that line the twenty-four verdant park squares, in Savannah’s National Historic Landmark District.

Savannah Mansion in the Historic Landmark District: Tauck Tours
Savannah Mansion in the Historic Landmark District: Tauck Tours

At night we visit the Mercer Williams house, the setting for the popular Pulitzer Prize winning book and real life murder “Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil.” The Williams family still occupies the mansion featured in the film adaption, surrounded by its garden of gothic horror of twisted trees and sad statues.

Hilton Head Island, Silvery Sands and Championship Greens 

A few miles up the coast and we are in South Carolina, luxuriating in yet another of the playgrounds of the rich and famous; Hilton Head Island, known for its beaches and top golf resorts. In the early morning we walk the silvery sands, invigorated by the fresh Atlantic Ocean breeze.  

Alice, a golfer, would have liked to stay and play the championship greens.
But our tour leader says we must go on to Charleston.

Charleston, Antebellum Architecture, Foodie’s Delight

Colonised by the English, the colony of Carolina was named for Charles I (from the Latin form of his name, Carolana) and the city, Charleston, for Charles II. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the South, Charleston draws more than 4.8 million visitors a year: drawn by its warmth and hospitality, its historic buildings, antebellum architecture and carriage rides that clip clop down the cobblestone streets. It is here we savour the classic food of Carolina’s Low Country.  

You start the day with a bowl of breakfast grits, a porridge made from ground corn, sweetened with butter and sugar and served with sausage or bacon. In the evening, the menus feature shrimp and grits, sautéed shrimp served over cheese grits.

The she-crab soup is the city’s signature dish, a cross between a bisque and chowder made with their famous blue crab meat. She–crabs are known to be a real delicacy because naturally with their roe they have much more taste than the He-crabs. And adding her roe to the soup gives it extra flavour and colour. Laced with dry sherry and you have a not-to-be missed foodie experience, especially lunching in a magnolia scented garden restaurant, as we did. 

Our Charleston harbor cruise takes us to Fort Sumter, where in 1861, an attack by Confederate forces famously began the Civil War. We climb the ramparts where Union soldiers fired the cannons that drove off the attackers.

Fort Sumter: Here the first shot of the Civil War was firedFort Sumter: Here the first shot of the Civil War was fired

After the Civil War, won by the Union, and with the Emancipation Act that freed the slaves, the great plantations became uneconomical without slave labour.

Gracious Southern Living: Drayton Hall   

Not far from Charleston is Drayton Hall, a Palladian brick mansion, set amongst 500 acres that once grew cotton and rice and one of the few plantation houses to survive that is not restored or rebuilt.

Drayton Hall: South Carolina plantation house: Tauck ToursDrayton Hall: South Carolina plantation house: Tauck Tours

Said one visitor,”One of the things I loved about this tour was the fact that Drayton Hall is one of preservation. If you are looking for a plantation replicated as how it could have looked, then this will disappoint you.  However, if you’re looking for a plantation house as it really did look, then this is for you.

 “While you listen to the guide weave the tale of the generations of Draytons who lived here, let your imagination fill the empty rooms with furniture, parties, dinners, servants and children of the Drayton family.”

Linger a little longer. Sit on a window seat and look out on the beautifully landscaped grounds. Can you see the horse-drawn carriages coming up the drive? And, perhaps you’ll imagine, too, the southern belle, Scarlett O’Hara, alighting and the dashing Rhett Butler following closely by her side.

 

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