A boat trip with some salty dogs

My friend Magen and I have been talking about going out on her boat for a few years, but the timing just never seemed to match my schedule until this week.

Since I haven’t been swimming at all this summer due to one of my favorite beaches being closed and the others being too crowded for comfort, this Floridian was excited to be on the water. I was also excited for my dog, Vash, to finally have his first boat ride.

For all his barking and bouncing around my yard, he really isn’t an adventurous dog outside of it. Vash was apprehensive about getting on the boat and it took me and Magen both to coax/pull him on. He nervously paced around and tried to hide underneath me, but he eventually got used to it.

Magen and I had talked about looking for Shark Tooth Island, but due to uncertain weather, we ended up off the coast of Pigeon Island between Shipyard Creek and the Skidaway River, which part of the Wormsloe Historic Site.

Since it’s protected property, people aren’t actually allowed on the island. You can stay just off of it. Magen told me there aren’t any gators or wild boar, so it was safe for the dogs to run up and down the tiny beach while we swam. That’s the closest we got.

Even though Magen and I were just splashing around, we were still able to enjoy some wildlife. Magen pointed out an eagle as we were pulling into shore. Its huge nest in one of the pine trees was hard to miss. While Vash and Magen’s dog Miles were busy playing tug of war with a stick they found, I spotted a dolphin a little ways off the coast. Magen wondered if it was the same dolphin she spotted earlier this summer near the Isle of Hope Marina.

If you head out to Pigeon Island, DO NOT GO ON THE ISLAND! You don’t have to worry about being chased by a wild boar or eaten by an alligator, but it’s important to protect natural habitats. I can’t tell you how many nifty places I’ve seen ruined by careless tourists with no regard for nature or history. (More on that in next week’s post.) Being just off the shore is still fun, and there are plenty of good photo opportunities.

A walk around Wormsloe

I love taking my dog, Vash, and my foster dog, Hemingway, out for scenic walks. Before the pandemic, Vash and I would walk around downtown most weekends and end at Gallery Espresso for a puppuccino. Nowadays, it’s too crowded for my comfort level, so we look elsewhere. Luckily for us, Wormsloe Historic Site is close by, dog-friendly, and gorgeous.

When we arrived, I stopped by the office to say hello to my friend Gretchen, who works at the park as the site manager. She gave the boys some homemade dog treats that she keeps on hand for all the dogs that visit. In fact, Georgia State Parks are incredibly welcoming to dogs. There is also an entire program dedicated to them called Tails on Trails! Gretchen was able to explain a bit about it before the dogs signaled that they were bored and wanted to starting hiking.

Tails on Trails offers hikes at 42 different parks across Georgia. A $20 membership gets you a t-shirt for yourself, a bandanna for your dog, and a checklist for your explorations. You can learn more about it on the website. I didn’t have time to get my membership on this trip, but I’ll definitely get it next time.

Once the dogs got me outside again, we headed down the trail to the tabby ruins, which is all that’s left of the home built by Noble Jones in the early to mid 1700s.

The Tabby Ruins

I stopped there to give the dogs a break and some water while I shot some video of the ruins. I’m always amazed at what it took to live in places like Coastal Georgia before the invention of air conditioning. You can still see the remnants of a cellar inside the fenced-off portion of the ruins. That probably was a relaxing place to steal a few moments on hot summer days.

The dogs and I kept hiking down the trail along the water before taking another mini-break at the family burial ground. If you ever go to Bonaventure Cemetery, you’ll notice Noble Jones has a family plot there. His wife and son are still buried at Wormsloe though. In fact, some descendants of the family actually still live on the property. You pass their home as you drive to the Wormsloe visitor’s center.

Hemingway and Vash sported their new bandannas from Buddy Bandana.

After some more wandering, we ended up at the Colonial Life Area. There’s a blacksmith shop and a small home with a garden. It was quiet the day we went, but this spot is buzzing with activity in February during the Colonial Faire and Muster. There are reenactors showing how early settlers would make tools, cook, harvest, trade, and defend the area. (Vash may have been startled and growled at a Revolutionary soldier, who laughed it off and told him to use that attitude on red coats.)

Poor Hemingway was getting tuckered out by this point, so we had to cut the trip short because he’s just a bit too big for me to carry. On previous visits, Vash and I have explored more of the 3.2 mile trail. During the summer, this trail is perfect because it’s shaded and breezes from the nearby salt marsh keep it cooler than some other hikes we’ve been on. If you’re tackling this trail, don’t forget to bring bug spray and water. Sand gnats and mosquitoes are no joke, and the humidity makes it easy to get dehydrated.

One of the things I love about Wormsloe is the photographic opportunities. Some of my photographer friends love taking clients out to the park because the canopied drive and salt marsh offer beautiful backdrops, so when you visit, don’t forget your camera.

Skating through the streets

There’s something liberating about street skating. While nothing beats a freshly polished indoor skating rink, skating outdoors is equal parts dangerous and delightful. To make it a little less dangerous, I always wear my protective gear: helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, and knee pads.

Eenie, doesn’t that get hot in the summer? It does, but it also saves my brain and knees from serious damage, so it’s worth it. Now with COVID, I also get to add a mask which makes me look like a mysterious roller skating bandit.

In Savannah, one of my favorite paths to take downtown is the Lincoln Street bike path. It’s been painted a bright green to let drivers know that it’s exclusively for non-motorized transportation. It’s also a fairly smooth skate. There are portions that are a bit bumpy because of tree roots or brick crossroads, but it’s also shaded. Perfect for summer skate time!

In my last post, I told you about the Birthday Bash at Leopold’s Ice Cream that happens every year in August. (Fingers crossed that they’ll be able to have it this year too.) That’s one of my favorite times to skate downtown because you really work up a sweat. That makes the ice cream taste even sweeter by the time you get there.

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50's costume contest! #leopolds96

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I won the costume contest one year. Can you spot me?

Outside of Savannah, my favorite place to skate is the Spanish Moss Trail in Beaufort County, SC. It’s about an hour’s drive from Savannah. Its a 10-mile paved walking trail that takes you past some gorgeous scenery filled with marshes and historic buildings.

You might be tempted to skip wearing protective gear on this trail, but I wouldn’t recommend it if you plan to skate the entire trail. There’s a tunnel with a rough grate on both sides, plus there’s always the possibility that you’ll need to jump over a snake like my friend Krystal did.

She’s fine.

If you’re ever in the Savannah area and want to go on a street skate, you are more than welcome to message me. I love an excuse to lace up and roll!

Chillin’ at Leopold’s

When people ask me for a list of places they absolutely must visit in Savannah, Leopold’s Ice Cream is always on that list. One visit, and you’ll see the magic for yourself.

In Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, there are places in America that hold real magic, such as House on the Rock. While Savannah is never mentioned in the book or the TV show, I still feel like Leopold’s should’ve been added. Every time I visit, something new and amazing happens. Plus, their ice cream is just so good! I don’t know what old god the Leopold Family made a deal with to have ice cream that delicious, but it’s worth it.

The black marble soda fountain and wooden back bar are original to the first location.

The ice cream shop was originally opened by the Leopold Family in 1919. It’s now owned and operated by Stratton and Mary Leopold. The shop you see today is in a different location, but the family tradition of quality ice cream continues. Aside from some of the fixtures in the shop, another holdover from past years is their signature flavors like Tutti Frutti and Rum Bisque. My personal favorite flavors are Lemon Custard (perfect for cooling off on hot days) and two seasonal flavors: Rose Petal Cream (the lightest, creamiest floral taste) and Lavender (which strangely tastes like the milk left in the bottom of the bowl after you finish your Fruity Pebbles).

Yes, they have seasonal flavors, and they aren’t what you’d expect. They offer Guinness flavored ice cream in March, Spicy Mocha in July, and Sugar Plum Fairy in December. There are loads more to try and even vegan and gluten-free options.

One of my favorite Fourth of July traditions involves Leopold’s. I go for an evening run downtown right before the fireworks on River Street. If I time it just right, there isn’t a line. I run in, take a picture with the Captain America: The First Avenger poster, and grab a scoop of whatever strikes my fancy before heading to my secret fireworks-watching spot. Unfortunately, that won’t happen this year. The fireworks have been cancelled due to COVID-19.

Stratton Leopold was a unit production manager on Captain America. Also, you may not be able to read it, but my shirt says, “on your left.” I admit I’m a nerd.

If you’re wondering why there’s a movie poster in Leopold’s, well, there’s actually a lot of film memorabilia. Stratton Leopold’s other job is in the film industry. He’s been a producer, a production manager, and a bunch of other things on movies you may have heard of. He has posters, clapboards, props, and pictures all over the ice cream shop.

You can see how Stratton’s work with productions pays off every August for the annual Birthday Block Party! This year marks 101 years in business for Leopold’s Ice Cream. I’m not sure if the pandemic will mean postponing the celebration or not, but if you have a chance to go the party, do it. Broughton Street in front of the shop is closed to traffic. There’s dancing, music, a car show, a photo booth, games, contests, and tons of ice cream!

When I say Leopold’s is a magical place, I really do mean it. There are special moments that only seem to happen there. Back in my news producer days, I was there with a reporter who was interviewing Mary Leopold. Mary would stop every so often to check in on customers. Towards the end of the interview, we ended up outside where a group of ladies, all wearing sparkly green cowboy hats, were sitting with their ice cream. Mary asked where they were visiting from, and they told her they were all from Ireland. They had seen Leopold’s on a travel show and made it a point to stop there. Mary thanked them for coming, and then this group of Irish women started singing. I don’t remember what song it was, but I remember being entranced. It felt as if I had entered a dream. I’ve lived in my fair share of tourist attractions, but I never experienced the same sense of happiness I felt coming from Mary and these women. When I think about Leopold’s, I think about that moment. There’s a special magic there if you look.

Art for both enthusiasts and the uninterested

I love art museums! But I fully realize that it isn’t everyone’s jam. That’s part of the appeal of the Jepson Center in Savannah. There’s a little something for everyone even if you aren’t an art fan.

Source to the Sea exhibit by Ansley West Rivers

The Jepson Center is more of an experience than it is a museum. There are the usual art museum exhibits of paintings, sculptures, photographs, and mixed media, but there are also interactive, history, and video exhibits.

Five Decades exhibit by Suzanne Jackson

My baby sister is in high school. She loves art, but the Jepson Center has so many different exhibits to check out that she can’t get bored with the same style presented in the same way. Our favorite spot was the interactive exhibits. We must’ve spent an hour in there alone playing with the flight simulator and games involving movement and lights.

The last time I went there, they had an exhibit on tea sets! It made me think back to when I was little and my grandmother would gather all the little cousins together for tea parties using her Peter Rabbit tea set.

There weren’t any Peter Rabbit tea sets at the Jepson that day, but I couldn’t help snapping some pictures to send to my cousins’ group text. Even though they weren’t there with me, it was fun to share the experience with them.

If that’s not enough art for you, admission into the Jepson Center also gets you into the Telfair Academy This is where you’ll find the iconic Bird Girl statue from the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. (Yes, I know I mentioned Midnight in the last blog post, but it’s very popular, and this won’t be the last time. I haven’t even told y’all about the Mercer House yet.)

The Bird Girl

Aside from the Bird Girl, there are pieces from all over the world and throughout different periods. You can choose to have a guided tour, which I recommend because the guides point out so many things you wouldn’t normally notice, or just walk around at your leisure.

Hours have changed a bit because of COVID-19 prevention measures, so be sure to call or check the website before you go.

Gallivanting through the graveyard

A graveyard may seem like a strange place to take your dog for a walk, but Savannah is used to the strange and unusual.

Cemeteries aren’t just got Goths and ghost hunters. The South has plenty of fun graveyards to explore; each with its own unique stories to tell. Savannah is no exception.

Driving through the gates of Bonaventure Cemetery, it’s easy to see why it was used for the opening of the 1997 film adaptation of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” The branches of oak trees laden with Spanish moss crisscross over dirt roads winding through old headstones.

My dog, Vash, and I like walking here for different reasons. I like it because it’s quiet and easy to socially distance from people, and I also enjoy spotting the names of tombstones that match with streets, squares, and nearby towns. Vash likes it because it’s shaded against the summer sun and there’s plenty of wildlife to smell.

Vash loves all the smells the wildlife provide for discerning doggie noses.

It isn’t just local historical people you’ve never heard of buried there. You can follow the same paths that inspired poet Conrad Aiken to write Cosmos Mariner, and even stop by his grave site, sit on the bench inscribed with his name, and see what words it inspires in yourself.

If you’re a music fan, pull up a Johnny Mercer playlist on Spotify (Yes, the guy who wrote the song Moon River.)and wander over to his family’s plot. Snippets of the songwriter’s vast catalog can be found engraved on some of the headstones as well as a bench.

Given the recent scrutiny Confederate memorials are receiving, it’s worth pointing out that there are some graves of those who served in the Confederate army. A few years ago, you would’ve found tiny battle flags next to the headstones. Those have all been removed, but you can recognize some of them by a small Maltese cross sticking out of the ground nearby.

If you love a good ghost story, don’t forget to stop by and say hello to Little Gracie.

When you pull up to the cemetery gates, you’ll notice there are two entrances. The one to your right leads to the Jewish side. Savannah is Georgia’s first city and is home to the state’s oldest Jewish congregation. If you’re wondering why the Jewish side has a separate entrance, it’s a religious custom. There’s also a special chapel.

On one trip to Bonaventure, Vash and I found the Holocaust monument.

While Vash and I walk here year round, I think the best time to go is in the spring when the azaleas are in full bloom. If you have seasonal allergies like me, make sure to take your antihistamine before you go, but the sight of all the pink flowers spilling out everywhere is worth a few sniffles.

There are plenty of tours available to give you a better history (and some ghost stories) of Bonaventure Cemetery. The Bonaventure Historical Society also has a free app available if you’d like to tour by yourself. And if you happen to see me and Vash out there, you can definitely ask me for directions.

Here’s some video of my favorite spots with a Johnny Mercer tune.

Strange Times

The middle of a pandemic and BLM protests may seem like a strange time to start a travel blog. I’ll fully admit that. But both of those things are inspiring people to explore new places where they already live.

The pandemic has more people looking for outdoor locations, like state parks, and local restaurants that they may have overlooked. The BLM movement is renewing support of Black-owned businesses and creating interest in history they were never taught in school.

Recently, I left my broadcast news station where I had worked for almost a decade. When I started going through the files and photos on my cell phone, I realized I had a lot of pictures of places I wished more people knew about. I quickly downloaded and sorted them into different files in my Google drive and started putting this blog together. Finally, I had an opportunity to bring attention to these places!

At one point in my journalism career, I was the assistant editor and contributing writer for a now defunct magazine called Waterfront Living. It focused on the sights, sounds, and tastes of Florida’s Forgotten Coast. I loved this job. I would spend hours in the library looking up the history of the area and how it evolved over the years. For instance, did you know the Florida Panhandle used to include portions of Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana?

I learned way more about the history of ice in the U.S. than I ever imagined I would. This journey included a trip to the Dr. John Gorrie Museum in Apalachicola and taste test of whiskey lemonade with ice from a glacier and ice from an ice machine. If you’re a fan of cold drinks and air conditioning in your house, thank Dr. John Gorrie. (I’ll explain more about all that in a future post.)

Now I live in Savannah, GA. I fell in love with this city as soon as I drove down Victory Drive with palm trees standing proudly along the median and Spanish moss-draped oak trees arching overhead. The Hostess City has an incredible history. Some of it’s nice, and some of it is heartbreaking, but it’s all fascinating.

I can’t wait to tell you all about the restaurants, museums, hotels, shops, and parks I’ve come to love across the southeast. If you’d like to share some hidden or underrepresented spots you love, I’d love to hear those too.

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