By Diane Ako
(Part 2 of my vacation blog.)
It takes four hours to drive from Atlanta to Savannah. Martha drove down with us for the weekend. We took two cars so that she can return to Atlanta for work, while our family continues on east after this weekend's done.
It probably takes three hours, but Martha and I are two ditzy girls together in a car. I should have foreseen the many U-turns in our future. We should have let Claus and Olivia be the lead car.
We finally arrived in Savannah and checked into the famous Marshall House Savannah, the town's oldest hotel, built in 1851. It may be more famous for its haunted happenings than its impressive history. This hotel was used three times as a hospital during the war, and during a yellow fever epidemic.
Ironically, I did not intend to book us at a haunted house. My attention to the trip was spotty and the day I searched for Savannah rooms, I was distracted and rushing (typical.) I had learned that small inns or bed & breakfast homes were the favored method of lodging in this town, and in researching several of them, I read that a number of these B&Bs were haunted.
I had a scribbled list of possible places, and when I finally selected one, it turned out to be THE most haunted hotel in the city - possibly the country. I really should focus more on tasks that I do.
This now becomes a comical reminder for me that it's all about perspective. Being a little fascinated with ghosts, I was a little scared, but decided to just go with it. I asked Claus, "Should I cancel Marshall House and find a non-haunted hotel?"
"It'll be fine," he said calmly. And then I realized, this dude works in a mortuary. Of course a little haunting isn't going to freak him out.
I put the same question to my friends at work. They immediately looked up Marshall House. "You'll be OK," Serah said. "It's got a four-and-a-half stars on Trip Advisor."
As it turns out, in our two nights there, we saw or experienced nothing. Or so I thought. I have a photo of our room which has a hazy blur in the middle, which looks nothing like I've ever captured on my iPhone. (I only have a phone camera.)
I think it's not orbs or specks of dust on the lens. None of my other 300 photos have anything like it. I know what shaky-lens photos look like, and what dirty-lens looks like. This isn't it.
So, what do you think?
To clarify, I wasn't very aggressive on the ghost hunting. I read that the third and fourth floors of the inn were the most active, so I walked through those hallways one late afternoon. Nothing. So I gave up. I didn't return at midnight, I didn't ask to be relocated from our assigned room, #207.
If you go and experience something, I'd enjoy hearing about it!
Other things we did included walking the main shopping avenue, strolling through Colonial Park Cemetery, enjoying the many city parks that dot the historic district, and reading the many, many plaques about the historic homes. Savannah has so much history because during General Sherman's famous March to the Sea, it was spared from burning.
At night, we had dinner at The Pirates House by the wharf. It was decent, and probably something to do for the tourists, but I found it a little cheesy and overdone, with staff dressed up as pirates.
What I found most fascinating was its rumored underground tunnels by which drunken, unsuspecting tavern customers would be kidnapped and forced to become sailors on the high seas. This is how the term "Shanghaied" was coined: because Shanghai, China was a common destination of ships with abducted crews.
We drove to the outskirts of town to see the famous Bonaventure Cemetery, a hauntingly beautiful place best known for its appearance in the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Yes, I've seen the movie, but it was so long ago I need a refresher. It's on my to do list to rent that.
Continuing the theme of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, we toured the Mercer-Williams House Museum where the murder took place. It has a fascinating history, and is still inhabited by the home's owner, Mr. Williams' sister.
Lunch was at Paula Deen's The Lady & Sons, a three story restaurant made famous by Paula Deen's Food Network celebrity. It was pleasant and heavy food, but I am not sure I'd return. The guest experience was so heavily processed, it was like being at a theme park.
You check in at a hostess stand on the sidewalk and are told to go into the gift shop/ waiting area. The waiting area doesn't have that many seats, which is probably a strategy to force you back into the gift shop.
You're warned that even with reservations, you may not be seated exactly on time, and you will not be seated until your entire party is present. We waited about five or ten minutes past our reservation time, which was fine. Remember, we're in Savannah in the winter, and it's still busy at this joint.
Finally, an all-business staffer popped out from behind a door and yelled our name. I presented myself. "Here," she said, handing me a laminated card with a number on it. "Go around the corner, take the elevator to the third floor. The hostess will seat you."
I should pause to interject that I think I'm forever ruined by my current job in hospitality. Working at a luxury property that reinforces guest standards on a daily basis has shaped me into a different traveler. I don't expect every establishment to hew to our standards, but I now notice when they don't.
I think I'm fair about it. I wouldn't hold Quik Stop to that standard, but I don't think it would have been inappropriate to expect a major tourist draw like Paula Deen's restaurant to have a little more grace in handing guests.
The bathroom was also really, really unserviced, with no toilet paper in one stall, so that the patrons were handing a roll back and forth under the divider wall. Having said all this, I'm not sad that I ate there, and I'm hopeful that maybe I just caught them on an off-day.
It's cold, and you can only walk around to so many squares in a day. With a five-year-old, taking too many house museum tours was unappealing. So, we rested back at the hotel, and attended the hotel's daily wine mixer at 5:30.
This is something I don't usually do, because in previous trips, we're usually out or doing something else at 5:30. However, it was enlightening to experience as a hotel worker, because I vetted the amenity and the servicing through different eyes. I think it'll improve my own guest service for when I return to work because I see what worked and didn't work from the point of a traveler.
Dinner was at 45 Bistro, a vendor at Marshall House. It was fine fare, and the service was great, but we actually picked it for convenience, as it's in the lobby of the hotel.
Different parents handle bedtime differently, but we prefer not to drag Olivia out too late. Dinner becomes a hassle because she'll be tired, whining, and leaning or lying on me for most of the time. Something close - that didn't even require walking out in the cold or the use of winter jackets - was appealing.
Here, I experienced one of the favorite moments of our trip. It had nothing to do with sightseeing or the food, but rather, about family interaction. We all played a word game at the table, and it was just funny and delightful to have this family time. The server, who clearly liked children, added to my nice memory because he treated Olivia so well and gave her a little gift at the end.
A daily continental breakfast was included with our stay, and I will take the time here to compliment it as a hearty offering. They had a nice selection of cold and hot foods, and a variety of beverages. For the price point and the location, I could recommend Marshall House - and I'm in no way obligated to say this - if you were so inclined to overnight in Savannah, provided you're OK with some potential unseen visitors.
We made a quick jaunt to the City Market and the riverfront before checking out for the next town.
Next blog: Hilton Head, South Carolina