Culture is the theme of our last two days on our Florida – Georgia road trip.
We’ve hiked, seen marine life and traveled on an airboat through mangroves. Then we went back into architectural history, saw and tasted chocolate and learned about plantation and slave history. These last two days are about the culture of both city and state, plus modern culture.
Historical culture of Savannah versus modern media and fizzy pop culture
Sure, we have been traveling to do this 7th day of our road trip, and yes, it’s about 400 km /248 mi. But we know from experience that we can do that in two blocks of two hours or 4 hours in total.
First, though we have to explore Savannah by daylight.
You know, how you can visit a city and instantly love it? That’s what happened for me in Savannah!
There’s that ‘je-ne-sais-quoi’ atmosphere that embraces you. A sense of history and culture. I can’t tell you what it is exactly that connects the ideas I have of America’s south to this city but there it is.
That quintessential ingredient to make the mix work. The full-grown, green trees casting their shadows over well-maintained houses, cobbled streets and sidewalks.
Talmadge Memorial Bridge
Mist is hanging over the river this morning, clouding around the cable-stayed Talmadge Memorial Bridge. This combination makes for beautiful pictures.
The structure was finished in 1991 to replace an older version that had become too low. Something that just shy of 30 years seems to be on the agenda for this version too.
The port of Savannah is the fourth biggest and growing port in the world and containerships from Asia and Europe are becoming too high to make it through underneath. Instead of the current 56 m/185 ft, the height to accommodate should become 60 m/ 200 ft.
Whatever will happen here, this morning with the mist and the sun out, the white construction just looks stunning.
As always, we walk. And, yes, the kids moan, sputter, hem, and haw but, at some point in their life that penny will drop and they’ll realize what they’ve seen and done. Right? Well, it did for me, so here’s to hoping.
Doing it this way allows for detours, sneaking through little alleyways and saves time trying to find parking. Especially since we turn out to be at the southern end of the historic district in Forsyth Park .
Though still quite early, the sun is out and the lush, tall, green trees provide shade over the benches that sit in a circle around the fountain. A little breeze through the shrubbery behind us, the whispering of the leaves…
We take pictures, dip our hands and just hang for a while, even as we wonder why it looks familiar. As we find out later, it’s because the fountain has been modeled after fountains in France.
When we continue on towards the port, we’ll find more of these connections of differing culture, country, and global influences, for on St Paddy’s day (February 17), for example, the water in the fountain is coloured green.
The park itself was named for the Governor of the state who donated the additional 20 acres of this 30-acre park.
As we make our way towards the river through the historic district, we walk through, past and over Savannah’s squares. These squares were designed by the founder of the city, James Oglethorpe, in 1733.
The idea was that around each square, initially intended to also serve as exercising grounds for the military, there would be functional and residential buildings.
Functional buildings could be churches, markets, administration, schools, etc. It even included an initial traffic plan with traffic, on each side, moving in one direction only.
History and culture
24 squares once existed, but there are 22 now, you can visit. They’re all different, in terms of layout, the shrubs, trees and art or monuments. With a lot of them containing a monument depicting a person or event that another square is named for. The monuments commemorate founders, governors, Native American nations and their leaders or native Savannahians.
The original four squares are: Johnson, Wright, Ellis and Telfair square and each has its own history which over the century has changed too. Changes due to renewed insights in moral and just behavior.
- Which square was used to try and start a silk industry?
- What square was the setting for the opening scene in a well-known movie?
- One square had a street that has been known as Prince street, State street, Presidents street, and King street? And which square was it, and what name did they decide on in the end?
- Which square once held a water filter and tower and thus was also known as Water Tank Square or Reservoir square?
Since each of these wards – the square and its surrounding buildings – has so much history, be sure to either buy a guide, try a self-guided tour or better still book a tour. We’d have loved more time here.
Criss-crossing through town and visiting one ward per block of four, we make our way towards the river.
Riverstreet along Savannah’s quay
Riverstreet immediately alongside the quay is cobbled and shaded because of the big, green trees. The original cotton mill buildings transport you back to the 1700s.
If you close your eyes, you can imagine the hustle and bustle of ships unloading and loading. Unloading good and people – the slave trade is an unhappy part of the area’s history – but also ballast.
Ballast in the shape of pebbles and stones that were later used as a cheap building material to pave Riverstreet for instance.
Now, the buildings have been repurposed, although some of the dark past can still be seen if you take a tour through some of the buildings, to become shops and restaurants.
Stop by to browse for souvenirs, t-shirts or sit for a drink or a bite to eat. Though tramway or trolley rails are still embedded between the Riverstreet pebbles, the line only ran for a short while and was abandoned a few years ago.
We’ve reached the water, the quayside, and the ‘Queen Georgia’. A replica of a paddlewheel-type ship as a reminder of what used to be. It’s like standing at the meeting point of different times. Turn to the modern bridge with its car traffic, sets you in the here-and-now. But look in the other direction and again you can easily picture the city two centuries ago.
The ship has served multiple purposes, initially built as a casino in 1995 while it now is used to do sightseeing boat tours. As it can hold 1000 passengers and 200 crew, plus it has a multideck kitchen, it also serves a venue for weddings, conferences or other festivities.
Unfortunately, we don’t have time but we’d have loved to do either the lunch or dinnertime boat tour. Something to go on our bucket list.
City Market – Savannah’s Candy Kitchen
We make our way back over Ellis square towards the City Market where we’re lured by just the smells: sugar. It’s coming from Savannah’s Candy Kitchen and we have to go in. Two spaces have been dedicated to anything and everything sweet: chocolate, fudge, candied nuts, and toffee.
With so much to see, you just don’t know where to start. Unless, you have the miniature train that travels, along the walls above our heads, guide you from room to room. In the first space, the center is taken up by a fort of glass display cases with chocolate enrobed pretzels, pralines, and pecan log rolls.
In the other room, colour takes center stage with beautifully wrapped taffy and popcorn in every shade of, and taste under the rainbow. It is a very happy overload of choice.
Way too soon it’s time to head back to pick up the car. We pass through Franklin square, past the bright orange trolleys and say goodbye to Savannah. We most definitely hope to return here for a longer stay.
Then we hope to do some of the following activities:
- Festival (taking place in February)
- Walking tour
- Boat trip
- Ghost tour: through this or this company
For now, we make our way back up north towards Atlanta where we’ll stay our last two nights.
As we’ve taken longer than intended in Savannah and traffic today is slow due to road works, we only stop to stretch our legs and have a roadside picnic.
We’d hoped to do a short walk or hike along the way for the necessary exercise and as a break but we skip it in favour of getting to the hotel on time.
Atlanta – modern culutre
After a nice meal in our hotel and a good night’s sleep, we’re ready for the modern-day culture in Atlanta. Our first, pre-arranged and paid-for tour is at CNN headquarters. We’re very much looking forward to it as we head into the city early.
Centennial Olympic Park
So early in fact that we have time to check out the Centennial Olympic Park 1996 Summer Olympic rings and fountains, and more importantly a very smart layout of the city. Around this massive square, not only do we have CNN, but also the World of Coca Cola the Georgia Aquarium and College Football Hall of Fame.
There is parking underneath most of these highlights and buses full of tourists get dropped in the very center every couple of minutes. Something we realize after we emerge out of the CNN building after our behind-the-scenes tour again.
Our tickets with bar codes in hand, we line up on the ground floor of the building, next to the Teletoons shop and experience. The entire building is like a wall of offices and shops set around a city center with high above a steep incline towards the roof.
After our very thorough – what is it with security people who seem to fancy themselves special agents while they look as if they haven’t seen daylight for a long time – security check, we meet the incline-in-the-sky: an escalator that’s 60 meters/196 ft long and truly steep.
At the top, the escalator delivers us inside a big globe, every party gets to take a picture against the green screen. Souvenirs to show you visited one of the world’s biggest news channels and then we are shepherded to the next.
Here everyone is seated on benches looking out onto a camera and green screen where we get an explanation and presentation of how these work in a real-time studio.
One of the kids gets to present the weather and ‘disappear’ halfway through another green screen, and then again, we’re guided along.
Truth be told, we really don’t see or experience that much. The make-shift studio area is the most interesting room and the remainder of the tour is through hallways, and explanations of what once was or could be done when visiting this behind-the-scenes tour.
Of course, we understand we don’t get to be in a studio, try to shoot an item, or meet anyone in particular but there’s a sense of complacency about the tour.
The guide tries but with as little as he can truly show and the honestly, overly present security guards – (like being marched up to a prison cell), make for a boring and disappointing experience.
Yes or no
Well, that’s always up to you. In a way, we’re happy we did the tour, it promises CNN after all. But if you’re short on time, money or consider other highlights, I’d recommend you skip this one.
World of Coca Cola
It could very well be that we’re too spoiled or too European but our visit to Coca Cola on the other site of Centennial Park feels the same.
Droves of people made it here. Even though we have a ticket, there’s still a lot of waiting to be done. And here too, due to the enormous number of people that want to visit, the feeling of being treated like cattle quickly overshadows everything.
Ads, merchandise and branding
In the first space in Coca Cola’s World, everyone gets a Coca Cola taster; coke, coke light or cherry coke. Recognizable bottle in hand, we have to wait for the next room to empty out so we can be driven in.
It’s a room with merchandise from all around the world fastened to the Coca Cola- red walls and ceiling. We’re enticed to cheer and laugh as we listen to the company and tastes history.
Once again, the doors open and we’re freed into the inner ‘world’. The space is well laid out, there are viewing areas with large replicas of the bottles, merchandise from the early days until now.
In the cinema, we see both short and long, old and new Coca Cola ads, and after views of advertisements per culture and country, we get to the tasting area.
Culture and Taste
Here you can taste over 100 drinks that are being sold under the Coca Cola company flag. They’re from all over the world and are an excellent indication of how each culture likes their drinks.
Tasting is unlimited but – and I’m sure this is part of the business plan – there’s only so much you want to try. I’m guessing the average number of drinks you try is about ten.
What we notice most is the difference in sweetness. Where the North American flavours are very sweet, the European ones are less so and the Asian tastes way less so. The latter has by far more layered and light tastes than the rest of the world.
The sun outside is beckoning and we leave. If we thought it was busy when we entered, the throngs of visitors have tripled now.
Like Heineken in the Netherlands, Coca Cola is, one of the oldest and biggest companies in the world. As such, it is interesting to go and see. The sheer number of billboards and original iron plaques with their lacquered veneers and beautiful lettering.
Better still, the vast imperium that grew from what started with a drink intended to be medicinal. Quite the feat, and understandably they’re proud of their contribution to American culture.
As a visitor, again you’re treated like cattle. Seeing the number of people that visit daily and making sure everyone gets a chance to see or taste it all, I don’t know how else they could do it.
Expect to spend about an hour to an hour-and-a-half here with lots of other visitors. If you like Coca Cola, want to taste flavours from all over the world and like merchandise, go see this. Book in advance, and the earlier you go, the smaller your herd will be.
In terms of sales, do go into the museum shop where you can find the smallest, cutest, weirdest and most ridiculously priced Coca Cola souvenirs.
We wander through the city some more that afternoon and then return our rental car. Our hotel is situated underneath one of Atlanta Airport’s railways so early the next morning we hop on and make it straight to our terminal.
Our road trip through part of Georgia and skirting the outline of Florida has been amazing. We’ve seen a ton, learned a lot and made memories for a lifetime.
I always use Canva to help me turn my pictures into blog post heading, for more information.