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Back in the Day Bakery

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Unless you want an eight-hour sermon that includes nutritional charts, a Powerpoint presentation and tears of righteous fury, don’t get Jürgen started on American breads. And never use the phrase “Wonder Bread” around him. I will not be held responsible for anything that happens.

Fresh Bread

Imagine how it is for a European to shop in American supermarkets. They’re used to tiny shops, and ours are huge! A 300-foot aisle of cereal, 479 varieties of pasta (I’ve counted), and a larger selection of bread than the human mind can even begin to contemplate. But although there’s a great breadth to the variety, there isn’t much depth. The bread is almost always this squishy, fluffy, possibly poisonous sort.

“Where are the real breads, the ones not for toothless babies?” Jürgen complains, and I’m not sure how to answer him. “What shall I do with this sponge cake, bounce it like a fußball? Play with it like a toy?” I lower my head, averting my gaze as Jürgen starts launching loaves into the air. “Wunderbrot? Ha! The wonder is that people pretend that this is bread!”

So when we discovered the Back in the Day Bakery, on the corner of Bull and 40th street, we were overjoyed. Bakeries are on almost every street in Germany, but in the States, that’s not the case. But Back in the Day is serving Savannah real breads, along with muffins, sandwiches and coffee. We’ve been a few times, and the tiny shop is always packed full. The last time I went, the line was out the door. There’s clearly a market out there for healthy, freshly-baked bread.

Their loaves aren’t exactly the cheapest bargain in town, but the quality make them well worth the expense. And we should all hope that new bakeries like this thrive in the USA; God knows we need more of them!

Back in the Day Bakery – Website
Location on our Savannah Map

How to Bake your own Bread?

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November 30, 2010 at 7:50 pm Comments (3)

Telfair Square

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Originally called St. James Square after the famous London park, Telfair Square was renamed in 1833 in honor of Savannah’s VIP-iest family. It was one the city’s original four squares and, for a long time, its most fashionable district.

Telfair Square

The four walking paths which cut through Telfair Square create a tic-tac-toe pattern in the grass. In the northeastern quadrant, there’s a curious monument in the form of a nautilus shell, and a tribute to the Girl Scouts in the southeast. The Girl Scouts, I can understand, since they were founded in Savannah. But the shell monument is a total mystery.

The Telfair Academy sits along the western side of the square. Done in Regency style by William Jay, the Telfair is the oldest public art museum in the South, housing both classic European paintings and regional art. The museum is gorgeous but rather small, so the Jepson Center, on Telfair Square’s southern border, was opened in 2006 to accommodate modern works. Between the two art museums is the Greek Revival-style Trinity Methodist Church, built in 1847.

In stark contrast to the classically beautiful buildings of the western side and the modernist audacity of the Jepson Center, two tiled government buildings occupy the eastern end of Telfair Square. When I say “tiles”, I mean “bathroom tiles”. These are ugly buildings, which really stick out in this otherwise gorgeous corner of Savannah.

Location of Telfair Square

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November 29, 2010 at 5:33 pm Comment (1)

Scenes from Savannah City Streets

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Savannah Jazz

Photographers visiting Savannah are going to have a hard time holding to any sort of schedule… and their partners will have a hard time holding onto their sanity. During our stay in Savannah, it happened often that I lost my patience, and finally ditched Jürgen, who was again snapping photos of a random saxophone, or ivy, or a dog, or another Victorian house. “Have fun, and take your time! I’ll be at the bar.” I think it saved our relationship.

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November 28, 2010 at 4:11 pm Comments (2)

The Owens Thomas House – Our First Bad Experience in Savannah

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We had been excited to get into the old homes of Savannah, especially after our experience at the Scarborough House. So it was with high expectations that we visited the Owens-Thomas House on Oglethorpe Square. Unfortunately, our high expectations weren’t met, this time.

Owens Thomas House

Let’s start with the good. This house built by architect William Jay house is a masterpiece, with design elements I’ve never seen before, such as a bridge connecting the two halves of the upper floor. It was one of the first houses in America with running water, and every room has been designed with timeless elegance. Plus, the house has been remained in excellent shape. The price is initially shocking, at $20 per head, but when you consider that it includes entrance to the three sites of the Telfair Museum for a week, it becomes less outrageous.

Moving onto the bad. The first, and least understandable, problem was the unfriendliness of the ticket sellers, who treated us with an attitude that approached open contempt. It wasn’t just us; they were equally rude to the group behind us. “There are NO pictures inside!” Fine, okay. “I mean it, absolutely NO PICTURES! Not even with your phones!” I was shocked that we were being yelled at before we’d even done anything wrong.

Our tour began in the carriage house with a little history, and then we moved into the main residence, were we encountered Problem #2: our group was sandwiched between two other groups. The people ahead of us were moving too slowly, and those behind us was advancing too quickly. Our guide often became flustered, not knowing what to do with us, and we were repeatedly shoved through rooms before having a chance to properly admire them.

Problem #3: the guide, while pleasant enough, was obviously not an expert in the history of the Owens-Thomas House. As long as she stuck to the script, she was fine, but when (god forbid) we had a question, she was almost always at a loss. For example, this was an actual exchange:

“Please admire the fine engraving on the fireplace, which was based on a famous myth.”

“Interesting! What myth is that?”

“You know, that’s a good question. I have no idea, but it is a very famous myth”.

While we were waiting on the group ahead of us to move on, she would just stand there in uncomfortable silence, having exhausted the four factoids she had about, say, the kitchen. Even when we’d prompt her (“Who is that a portrait of?”), her awkward responses made us feel bad. Eventually we stopped putting her on the spot.

The worst moment came while we were viewing the balcony from which the Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the Revolutionary War, once gave a famous speech. She described how he spoke “of liberty and freedom, and these things that…” And now, she turned her attention to Jürgen, whom she knew to be German. “As an outsider, you have to understand that the concepts of Freedom and Liberty are very important to us Americans.” I almost died, although Jürgen was able to answer with a grin. “Liberty? But vas ist das, mein Fräulein?”

The Owens-Thomas House could offer a rich experience, but the staff needs to get its act together. The docents should study up, the ticket ladies should take an etiquette course, and customers who’ve just paid $20 should not be rushed through. From reading online reviews, I don’t think our experience was a fluke. It’s a missed opportunity for the city.

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November 26, 2010 at 9:58 am Comments (16)

Drayton Glassworks

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Biking home with a fresh loaf of bread from the Back in the Day Bakery, we passed a tiny shop in which someone was at work blowing glass. Curiosity stoked, we returned to the Drayton Glassworks a couple days later to meet Jonathan Poirier, a Rhode Island native who spent years in Sweden learning the art of glass blowing.

Drayton Glass Works

While heating, blowing, spinning and shaping colored glass into the form of bottles, Jon told us about his life and the shop. He’s been in Savannah since 2001, building a reputation as one of the best glass blowers in the country. Despite industrialization having long-ago made glass-crafting largely obsolete, Jon has been able to find plenty of customers looking for unique, hand-made pieces.

I was amazed that he could continue to work, not missing a stride, while carrying on a conversation with us. This is clearly something he’s been doing for a long while, and he’s able to perform the spinning, shaping and blowing almost on automatic. To us, these tasks looked insanely complicated, and I almost had a heart attack a couple times as he swung around a nearly-completed vase, without paying any attention to it.

Drayton Glass Works

When we returned to Savannah five years later, we checked in on Jon and his business. Nothing had changed; Jon was still the same friendly, funny guy, and it was great to catch up. One new thing he’s added to Drayton Glassworks is the opportunity for people to participate in workshops and create their own piece of glass-blown art. Check out his Facebook page, if you’re interested.

And definitely make sure to stop by his shop, to check out the pieces he’s made, and perhaps have a chance to see how it’s done. It’s really more a workshop than a store, and he’s always busy creating something new.

Location on our Savannah Map
Drayton Glassworks – Facebook

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November 24, 2010 at 12:52 pm Comments (6)

No Liquor! No Slaves! No Lawyers! No Catholics!

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When he founded Savannah, the capital of his newly chartered colony of Georgia, James Oglethorpe had some utopian ideas. His planned city would be built around four squares and four simple prohibitions. No rum. No slavery. No lawyers. No Papists.

Slavery Savannah

Oglethorpe’s vision for an idyllic society didn’t last long. Like any American kid up until the age of 21 could tell you, banning liquor just makes you want it more. That was a doomed policy from the get-go, especially in the hard days of the city’s inception.

The ban on slavery was noble, but sadly ahead of its time. Slavery was legal in South Carolina, and nearby Charleston was flourishing. Jealous of their neighbor’s wealth, it didn’t take long for unscrupulous Savannahians to revolt against their leader’s decree. Soon enough, affable society folk were lounging on the front porches of their plantation houses, sipping Chatham Artillery Punch while getting rich off the labor of others.

The ban on Catholics is more curious, considering Savannah’s tolerance toward other religions. But Georgia was originally founded as a buffer zone between the Carolinas and Spanish Florida. It wasn’t the Catholic belief in transubstantiation that earned Oglethorpe’s distrust, but because they might be Spanish spies. This was another law which would be relaxed soon after the colony’s founding.

And the decree against lawyers? Please, that one never had a chance. An aspiring lawyer probably just sued, until the city realized they’d need a lawyer to defend their anti-lawyer law.

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November 23, 2010 at 9:30 am Comments (3)

In the Water with North Island Kayak

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Click here to buy kayaks online

There are a lot of activities you can do on Tybee Island, but one of the best is to go kayaking. We decided to take my brother, who happened to be visiting, as a surprise present for his birthday.

Lighthouse Kayak

We arrived early at North Island Surf & Kayak, on the interior border of Tybee Island. The shop’s owner was out-of-town, but his parents had come down from Augusta to manage the place. They were a friendly couple, possessed of that southern tendency to immediately warm up to complete strangers. We enjoyed long conversations both before and after kayaking, and before leaving at the end of the day, we all got hugged.

We spent the whole day out on the water, paddling up the Lazaretto Creek which flows inland, and then into the ocean. It was a wonderful day, the highlight of which came when a dolphin surfaced just ten feet from my kayak. Being outdoors on a perfect, warm fall morning, exercising muscles that haven’t been used in years… it couldn’t have been better.

The kayaks can be leased for the whole day, and are of good quality; despite being total newbies to the sport, none of us were in danger of capsizing. The shop is perfectly situated. You can choose to go upstream, paddle over to Fort Pulaski, or just coast along the coast of Tybee. They also offer day-long guided tours. If you’re in the mood for some action, check our North Island.

North Island Surf & Kayak – Website
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November 22, 2010 at 7:02 pm Comments (5)

Savannah Derby Devils – Insanity on Skates

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One night, we decided to check out a Roller Derby match between Savannah’s own Derby Devils, and the Cape Fear Roller Girls. I had only been familiar with the sport from the 1980s program RollerGames (Saturday afternoons right after American Gladiator), and Jürgen had never seen it at all.

Tough Roller Derby

The sport practiced by the Derby Devils has absolutely nothing to do with the pro-wrestling-like circus I so fondly remembered. These chicks play for real, and I was shocked by the brutality of it. A couple hits could have made a seasoned NFL pro cry for mommy. Watching the girls bob and weave their way to the front of the pack, barely dodging the massive hip of one of the opposing blockers, made for a heart-pounding spectator experience.

It was the last match of the season, and the Supergoose Arena was packed. Savannah really gets behind their Derby Devils. Fans tailgaited for two hours before the match, and much of the audience came equipped with signs to cheer on their favorite players, each of whom is known by an awesome stage name like “Fear Abby” or “The Sexecutioner Jr.”

Unfortunately for the home crowd, the Roller Girls of Cape Fear were the superior, larger, and much more terrifying team. But the final score was secondary to the fun which everyone was having. And any misgivings I might have had about the authenticity of Roller Derby have vanished. These girls are real athletes.

Savannah Derby Devils – Website
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November 21, 2010 at 4:57 pm Comments (2)

Paula Deen’s The Lady and Sons

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While we were living in Spain, eating incredible, organic dishes fresh off the fields, the Paula Deen Phenomenon was sweeping America. And by the time we moved to Savannah, she had become a bona fide celebrity… especially in this city. No matter where you turn, there she is, her smiling visage peering out of every storefront window, dominating the cover of every magazine, sneaking into every conversation. “You look skinny,” she seems to be saying. “Come here and let Mrs. Deen rectify that.”

Paula Deen Lady Son Savannah

Everyone we’ve met here has had two pieces of advice for us. 1) At all costs, avoid eating at Paula Deen’s restaurant, Our Lady and Sons. 2) And since eating there is unavoidable, stock up on cholesterol medication.

I didn’t understand how eating at a restaurant could be “unavoidable”, but that was before I talked to my friends and family. “You’re moving to Savannah? Now, where have I heard of that city before? Oh, that’s right: Paula Deen!”

My mom: “Of course I’ll come to visit, sweetie. As long as you promise that we eat at The Lady and Sons”.

My aunt: “So tell me all about Paula’s restaurant, I’m on pins and needles! Excuse me, what? You haven’t have eaten there yet? What’s wrong with you, Michael?! Are you into drugs?”

And so, we went to The Lady and Sons. It was everything everyone said it would be, both good and bad. I’ve never eaten greasier food. Even my beer was greasy. Even my napkin. It freaked me out, but The Lady and Sons seemed to be a sort of deep-fried Mecca for most of our fellow diners. People were moaning with pleasure as they bit into their deep-fried whatever. We were transfixed by a woman at the neighboring table who, with every bite of her biscuit, was sent into a spasm of gratified rapture. So delicious! She was literally shaking with delight… or now that I’m reflecting on it, that might have been a heart attack.

If you’re not a Paula Deen fan, I’d say you can comfortably skip The Lady and Sons, and not feel the slightest bit guilty; Savannah has plenty of other restaurants that are more worth your money. And if you are a fan of the flamboyant Ms. Deen… well, I shouldn’t waste any more breath. You’re going regardless of what I say, and you’re going to love it. (But seriously, consider adding some cardiovascular exercise to your daily routine.)

The Lady & Sons – Website
Location on our Savannah Map

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November 20, 2010 at 1:55 pm Comments (11)

Tybee Island – Savannah’s Beach

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Just a short half-hour drive from Savannah, Tybee Island is the region’s top recreational destination, with a beach, surf and kayak shops, nature trails, cool restaurants, dolphin tours and bunch of hotels.

Tybee Island

Tybee was our first excursion outside of Savannah. The drive is easy, a straight shot east along Victory Road, and gorgeous. You go across Whitemarsh Island, and follow the course of the Savannah River past Fort Pulaski until reaching the island. Of course, it might take you a long time to actually arrive at Tybee, as you’ll be tempted to stop frequently for photos of Georgia’s picturesque coastal region.

Our initial visit to Tybee’s beach was a quick one. We had brought our dog, without realizing that they’re prohibited, since turtles use the sand for nesting. So we cracked the windows, paid for parking, left our dog in the car, and took a short walk. Not short enough, unfortunately — we got back five minutes after our parking had expired, and saw a cop already writing a ticket. Tybee’s parking enforcement is notoriously thorough; don’t leave your car parked illegally for even a moment.

Tybee Island was originally inhabited by the Yuchi Indians, in whose language “Tybee” means “salt”. For a brief period at the end of the 50s, it was renamed “Savannah Beach,” and although the original name has been restored, that’s basically what it is. The majority of visitors are hear on day trips from the city. Only about 3000 people live on Tybee full-time, and I would guess that almost all of them are in the tourism business.

If you’d like to learn more about Tybee Island, head toward its most prominent landmark. The Tybee Island Lighthouse can be visited, and includes a small museum dedicated to the history of the island.

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November 19, 2010 at 6:22 pm Comments (8)

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Back in the Day Bakery Unless you want an eight-hour sermon that includes nutritional charts, a Powerpoint presentation and tears of righteous fury, don't get Jrgen started on American breads. And never use the phrase "Wonder Bread" around him. I will not be held responsible for anything that happens.
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