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Oct 31, 2014

Weekending in Savannah, Georgia

Sweet tea sippin', front porch sittin', pecan pie, pralines, and heading over to grandma's for Sunday supper. Mmm mmm, there's not a single thing I don't love about Southern living. And Savannah, well, Savannah's got-it-all.

D and I just happened to have Georgia on our minds just before we made our way up to North Carolina for my family's big beach vacation on Emerald Isle. The family would be getting to the beach house late Sunday afternoon, so we had a whole weekend to make our way up north. Wouldn't ya know it, Savannah just happened to be the perfect halfway point between our Florida home and our pending beach vacation. That's what we Southerners like to call a divine appointment. With that little gem of reasoning, D and I loaded up the car and made our way to the "Hostess City of the South" for a little sight-seeing and whole lotta sweet Southern charm.

Now, we didn't stay anywhere fancy or pre-book any activities…we simply strolled into town, grabbed a map at the information center, and flew by the seat of our pants. Even though I've been wired for detailed itinerary travel the last three years abroad, it wasn't hard to snap back into that Southern mentality and just rolllll with the day. Leisurely strolls from famed Forsyth Park to Lafayette Square…peeking in on the SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) students as they geared up for a new semester…cooling off with a scoop of lavender ice cream at Leopold's--it wasn't too long before we fell in love with Savannah. The charming row houses and colorful flower boxes reminded us of Europe. The wrought iron lamp posts and fences were reminiscent of New Orleans. The gobs and gobs of Spanish moss draped over the trees and smell of magnolia wafting through the air transported us to some iconic Southern movie…maybe Forrest Gump or Steel Magnolias. I was too smitten to care. As the squares kept unfolding and the trolley bells continued ringing, D and I marveled over Savannah's plethora of sweet moments; all scattered through a historic district no longer than a mile, end to end.

By the time we waved at Paula Deen and made it down to River Street, the Southern sun and humidity started to get the best of us. Germany managed to turn us both into pansies when it comes to heat. Thankfully, a bright light shown upon the River House and a fried green tomato lunch special sign, so we thank the Lord and walked right on in. Naturally, I ordered the FGT special (it was beyond the confines of delicious)…D, a fried catfish sandwich (we Southerned-it-up something fierce that day), and we both ordered signature Savannah cocktails to wash it all down. If you've never tried a Chatham Artillery Punch, be warned: it's like a Long Island/Whisky Sour/Sangria combo drink…enough to knock a grown man to his knees! 

After a rejuvenating lunch and some more wandering along River Street (re: eating pralines and sipping on frozen daiquiris from Wet Willies--a Savannah rite of passage, me thinks), we decided it was time to act like real tourists and hop a ride around the city with Old Savannah Trolley Tours. With daiquiris in hand, we bought tickets from a woman dressed as a pirate (strange) and boarded the cutest wooden trolley that ever was. Two hours and one quick summer rainstorm later, we'd seen and heard about every square and historic home Savannah had to offer. With time still on our side, we silently agreed...off to drink again! Duh. So, we wandered one street over and found ourselves sharing a chilled beer flight from Moon River Brewing Co. If you've never tried their Tater Sweet Potato Ale (with brown sugar pumpkin spiced rim--DIE!), then you simply haven't lived. Which might be ironic seeing as the locals say a few angry ghosts still linger inside the brewery...but then again, where aren't there ghosts in Savannah? I knew D was acting a little funny. 

We finished our flight and decided we'd better find one last place to eat before calling it a night. As much as we both wanted to dine in Savannah gems like the Olde Pink House or Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, we were sweaty, disheveled messes, so we settled for burgers and (more) beers at Crystal Beer Parlor. The place was jam-packed, but the hostess, talking with that familiar "Y'all" and "Sugar" lingo I hold so dear, managed to snag us a 2-seater near the bar. A true peach, that woman. Two local Savannah brews later and we were tapped out for the day (pun totally intended). Tired and happy we slunked back to the car and made our way to the hotel, the lovely day spent wrapped in true Southern comfort still fresh on our minds. Georgia really does stick with you. They should write a song about that. ;)

Savannah, you were everything a weekend getaway deserves. Good food, great drinks, and endless Southern cityscapes worth writing home about. We already can't wait to get back. Save us a rocking chair, won't you?

Oct 29, 2014

Baltic Cruise: Riga, Latvia

Riga was the very last stop on our Baltic cruise and truth be told, none of us knew a darn thing about it. Like the inquisitive traveler that I am, I did my due diligence and researched the crap out of Riga because I knew we'd be forgoing the tour route and navigating the city ourselves. I'm so glad we did, because Riga (Latvia's capital & largest city) is such an easy place to explore! Lucky for you, I've even got a Riga sight-seeing itinerary map all gussied up and ready for the sharing. :) If you are cruising to this port anytime soon, that map will be invaluable!

As I mentioned, Riga was quite easy to walk to from where our ship was docked. Maybe a 10 minute walk if you're in decent shape, longer if you're a meanderer. The first attraction you see instantly from the main road into town along the Daugava River is Riga Castle. From there, it's easy to see the juxtaposition of the old world and new world scattered around the city. A posh modern art-deco hotel to your left…and a classic Gothic-style cathedral to your right. It kept in time with almost every city we'd previously visited in Northern Europe. While not as charming as Tallinn's medieval walled city, Riga had a flair all its own. Colorful buildings, expansive squares, beautiful parks with rivers and lush green spaces…we strolled every square inch of the Old Town in our short 8 hour visit. 

Some fun sights to note:

The Cat House- This house, while a little bit of a challenge to find (we made a nice game out of it), has a fun story behind it. According to legend, the owner of this building commissioned two copper (angry) cat statues to be perched atop his home with their tails facing Riga Town Hall after a heated dispute with the city council. Whatever the reason the cats came to be, it's a fun attraction to hunt out. Not to mention the building's beautiful yellow color. Gorgeous!

Bastejkalns Park & Freedom Monument- Dividing the Riga Old Town from the Central District, Bastejkalns Park is just another one of those perfectly placed green spaces. With a river running through it and a few adorable love lock-laden bridges, it was a nice reprieve from the flocks of tourists wandering around Old Town. If we'd thought to grab a picnic lunch, I imagine we could have lounged there all day!

Three Brothers Dwelling Houses- Another tough site to find (17, 19, & 21 Maza Pils Street), these 3 houses each represent a different period of dwelling house development and construction. The white house featuring Gothic & Renaissance details is the oldest on the street, dating back to the late 15th century. The middle house presents exteriors with Dutch Mannerism influences and dates back to sometime around 1646 with an addition of the stone portal made almost 100 years later. The last dwelling, the green house, is a narrow Baroque-style structure that was constructed sometime in the late 1600s. Today, you can find museums inside the dwelling houses.

Riga Black Magic Bar- Along the streets leading to Old Town Square, we found a unique bar that featured one of Latvia's most famous libations, Black Balzam. Balzam (or Balsam) is a dark liquor made from 24 different herbs. The recipe has remained unchanged for 250 years and is often sipped straight or mixed into various drink concoctions. Balzam can also be found infused with black currants. We bravely tried a Black Balzam Mojito and while not my favorite cocktail, it was fun to taste an integral part of Latvian drink culture. If anything, stop in and check out the funky apothecary-style bar atmosphere. Wickedly weird.

All in all, Riga was a day well spent. Cute, historic, easily explored…everything you'd want in a quick day trip. Would we visit again? I wouldn't not wander around if given the chance, but I also probably wouldn't book a separate trip back just for Riga. Another reason why cruising is a great way to travel…you get a perfect taste of various cities and can choose which you'd love to see more of in future vacations. If you guys haven't already booked a cruise by now, well, then I'm not quite sure why I keep writing these things! Kidding, kidding. But seriously. The Baltic Sea countries are definitely a joy to explore. Such a different experience than our Mediterranean & Adriatic Sea sailings, but still jam-packed with beautiful cities and cultures worth diving into.

Miss any of my Baltic Cruise recaps? Play catch-up here!
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