Tuesday, March 24, 2015

A Return to St. Auggie

“The voyage of discovery lies not in finding new landscape, but in having new eyes.”                                                                                           -Marcel Proust

We descended upon St. Augustine Beach again, once wasn't enough for us and we needed to get back. In fact, this is my confession: I am addicted to the ocean, this place and the energy that surrounds it; however, no intervention needed, I am fully and painfully aware of it. We had originally planned on spending another five weeks here, but when Sherry let us know that Todd and her were bringing the kids and her folks out in February, well that left us scrambling to extend; how could we not find a way to see them all? Bonus, we got to stay longer and our five weeks became seven weeks, a chaotic last couple of weeks as we transitioned from our first place to an interim hotel and then to our last home here, but nothing a walk along the beach can’t calm and completely worth the pandemonium in the end.

Our first place this visit was up on 13th Street, when we were here last October we were down on 6th, and I found myself pining for the lower streets. They have more of a local charm to them and it could be they are closer to that “Golden Mile,” and the beach living is at its finest. Or it could be that I wasn't in love with our place like I was with the little yellow cottage we stayed in last time. This place was updated and had some great conveniences, but was completely lacking in that perfect nostalgic beach home, especially that 50’s-70’s style retro home that makes Saint Augustine Beach so unique.

Like I said, our first place had some great amenities, especially only being a block from the beach, but is a place that had completely been updated and well it lacked in the beach feel. In fact the d├ęcor was more like the eighties got frisky with as Asian tchotchke shop and the outcome was our living space for six weeks. Fortunately we are movers and shakers and don’t really spend too much time indoors, and why would we, there is a beach a block away! Being down on the higher streets, put us in a more tourist area, so everything was close. Meaning, we could run across the street to grab dinner from one of the great restaurants on the island and the pier was around the corner, making my Wednesday produce haul from the farmers market much easier to get back home.

Time flew by and our once five weeks, that extended and turned into six, was gone and we found ourselves loading up the Flex again and off to Ponte Vedra Beach to crash at the Sawgrass Marriott. We had one night where we were homeless and in between spaces in Saint Augustine Beach, we needed to be out of the 13th street home and our next landing space on 5th not ready for one more day. So we leveraged Marriott points and pampered ourselves a bit, and Marriott thought we needed some extra love too and they upgraded us to a Villa. Ah, the perks of being married to a road warrior! And such a welcome surprise after all the stress and chaos of finding another home to rent; although I might have considered sleeping in the car had it meant we got to see our family!

The Sawgrass Marriott is right next door to TPC (Tournament Players Club) Sawgrass.  Home of the PGA headquarters and probably the world’s most famous golf course, how can one forget that notoriously famous 17th hole. Our villa looked right out on the 14th fairway and although I found it peaceful and relaxing, Tom might have might have been slightly tortured; being so close to such a famous course, not having his clubs and the $400 fairway fee kind of put the idea of playing a round a tad out of reach for now, but there is always next time. 

View from the patio of our Sawgrass Villa
Fully rested, we got back in the car and made our way back to St. Augustine Beach to unload the car and get moved into our last home here before moving on to our next destination. Our place on 5th was such a welcome and inviting surprise; we walked into a haven of beach chic. A home swarming with charm and I was ecstatic we got to finish out our visit here in a place that screams St. Auggie!
Image of the 17th hole, borrowed from the TPC Sawgrass web page, not my image :)
The home was idyllic and was the epitome of a true beach cottage. We were one house from the beach and back in the haven of that precious Golden Mile, where surfers run up and down the road and the locals are differentiated from the tourist by those that have shoes on versus those that don’t. The home was clean, a mix of vintage and even had bikes, surfboards and paddleboards for us to use; granted the water was freezing so the latter two weren't really options this stay. We also became cat parents while we were staying there, that's right, this home comes equipped with its very own cat, Donger. In fact the home is his and anyone that stays, are his guests. Donger spent his days at the beach and only made an appearance at night and had his own room off the back of the house; and my allergies only acted up once when I was giving the guy a little too much love for my eyes to handle. And how did Ethel handle the cat, well the old girl is so blind, I don't even think she realized he was there most of the time, besides, I think she was fully aware she would be a on the losing end of an battle with Donger; street cat vs. pampered pooch, the odds wouldn't have been in her favor. 

This being our last week in town and being in a place that cozy, that exemplified beach living was hard to leave, but here she is, our last home in St. Augustine, unless of course I convince Tom to move there! Which by the way, every home we have stayed at in St. Auggie is officially up for sale right now, I must be putting out some crazy, 'I want to move there' energy! 

Donger the Cat

Friday, March 6, 2015

Georgia On My Mind

 “We have a saying: If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, “What’s your business?” In Macon they ask, “Where do you go to church?” In Augusta they ask your grandmother’s maiden name. But in Savannah the first question peoples ask you is “What would you like to drink?”
----John Berendt, Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil

Savannah is romance, from the way the Spanish moss cast shadows along the pavement to the couples holding hands as they slowly drift through one of the public squares or along the river front; everyone takes the time to stop and smell the fragrant bouquet of flowers lining the sidewalks. Savannah is a true icon of exquisite southern living and I can’t imagine it not bringing out the dreamers heart in anyone that strolls her charming paths.

Fountain in Forsyth Park
Starting with a quote from “Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil,” just seemed necessary to set the stage for this captivating city, and although I call it by name, the natives just refer to it as “The Book.” The residents of Savannah are eccentric, colorful, artistic and know how to show one a good time, so much so that the city doesn't even have open container laws; they want you to feel so welcome, they allow you to walk down her fabled streets with a mint julep in hand. This adds to the magic and puts a whole new spin on “Slow-Vannah,” you have no cares and getting lost is even more freeing when one feels a bit tipsy.

River Front
There is a tranquility about Savannah, and that could have a lot to do with the remaining 22 of the original 24 squares that dot the city landscape. They create these wonderful gathering places of beauty and history, and forces one to just give in to the laid back atmosphere manifested here. When James Oglethorpe founded the city, he was on to something; build a public square and build out from it, creating a city built on a grid system and utopic space for those that live there. For my Utah people, Savannah would be like coming home; Brigham Young most likely based his “Mormon Grid” off the design of Oglethorpe that precedes Salt Lake by over one hundred years.

Tom  wishing I would hurry as I slowly walked Jones Street (deemed the prettiest street in America)
Savannah is known for being one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I must attest to the truth in that statement. Never in all my life have I visited a city that has taken my breath away quite the way that Savannah does, well I digress, Venice is superb for the jaw drop. There is a reason film after film is made here; artists and writers flock to the place as a haven for their originality and for inspiration, the place bleeds serenity and beauty. I found myself making excuses to take the thirty or so minute drive that direction on a regular basis, just to get lost on her streets or plop down on a bench in Forsyth Park and just watch the people in their own whimsical worlds while the city transported us all to another time and place.

The Book Lady Bookstore, loved this place
The outskirts of Savannah are home to Wormsloe Plantation and Bonaventure Cemetery, both pet friendly. These places both boast this alluring yet eerie feel to them. Starting with Wormsloe Plantation, once you drive through the gates you are greeted by a mile long drive down and old dirt road, lined by over 400 live oak trees, it’s almost like you've been carried away to a more genteel period in time. The entire scene is so picturesque, you can understand why it has been so photographed and used in so many films. Granted the entire drive the only words popping into my head were, “run Forrest, run!” The rest of the place, not too much to see, the home is privately owned and tours are not given. We did however add to that creepy vibe as we experienced an M. Night Shyamalan moment when we watched the “villagers” dancing and singing in circles; hopefully warding off evil spirits. I know, my smart ass remarks have now ruined the place, but seriously witnessing the live oak canopy is off the charts, and a must visit if in the area.

Wormsloe Plantation
Then there is Bonaventure Cemetery which just exemplifies the words hauntingly beautiful. It is a place that transcends time and has so many stories to tell. I can see why it was a muse and filming location for “The Book,” and although the famous Bird Girl has been moved to a museum, this place still houses many uniquely Gothic memorials. This place is magical, it’s almost like you can feel the energy of those that have been laid to rest there; I can only imagine a full moon on a foggy night and the spirits roaming the little dirt paths. But not in a creepy way, I visualize it as mysteriously romantic, if a cemetery can be such, or maybe I am just drunk on Southern Charm.

Bonaventure Cemetery
Keep driving past Wormsloe and Bonaventure and you will run out of mainland and end up on Tybee Island.  Now to understand the world and the people here, just take the unique and funky personalities of those from Savannah and kick it up a notch with a bohemian beach vibe. Those that live there have the laid back, easy going lifestyle down to a science and I am pretty sure time literally slows down here. Not only is the place beach chic, it boasts a lighthouse and pristine white sand beaches. We spent Christmas Eve here, sand between our toes and sitting back in one of the many bench swings that line the seemingly untouched beaches.

Tybee Island Lighthouse
On our official goodbye of Hilton Head, we decided to take the long way around on our journey back to Saint Augustine, yes, we went back. We diverted off of I-95 and stopped to explore the Golden Isles, seeing just a little more of what it is the Georgia has to offer. Our first stop was Brunswick, a small port town, on the Georgia coast; we checked out Old Town: the square, The Ritz Theater and the historic appeal of the town. Like Savannah, it adheres to a grid system built around squares, making it easy to navigate and adding a quaintness to the city. The town felt small, but in a cozy way and we pretty much had the boutique lined streets to ourselves, all making it a perfect scenario to grab a cupcake and eat while we walked.

The Ritz Theater in Brunswick
In St. Simon we found all the people that were missing in Brunswick, the place was packed with those lunching and browsing the fun beach shops, it was almost reminiscent of our time in Cape May. We traveled past the city center and right to the St. Simon lighthouse to explore its history and stroll the streets, taking time to enjoy the unique blend of antebellum homes colliding with beach cottages; quite appealing I must say. The island was unique, eclectic and still held on to that old world beach glamour; something I was hoping Hilton Head Island would have been.

St. Simon Lighthouse
Then finally on to my favorite of our three stops, Jekyll Island. Jekyll Island has this exclusivity about it, it was originally purchased by a group of wealthy families as a retreat and represented one-sixth of the world’s wealth, the one percenters of the one percenters, and then purchased by the state of Georgia when “The Club” closed in 1947. Interesting tidbit, the first intercontinental phone call was made from Jekyll Island in 1915, well a four-way call also including DC, New York and San Francisco.  But the best spot on Jekyll Island and one of the coolest nature made sights I've ever seen, Driftwood Beach! I didn't want to leave, I was enamored with the place! This stunning phenomena has happened over time, as the island recedes and the trees are left fighting to stand, eventually falling and creating a tree graveyard of sorts. Driftwood Beach is about as picturesque as one can imagine, almost bewitching and I am dying to back there at sunrise. If Tom wasn't so determined to get the three of us to St. Augustine to our new abode and unload, we might have stayed, but now, I have a new spot to add to our list.

Jekyll Island:

Horton House Ruins
Tybee Island:

Lafayette Square
Wormsloe Plantation
Our M. Night Shyamalan Experience
Bonaventure Cemetery
Bonaventure Cemetery