Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Let the record show that I absolutely cannot take on any more projects at this time. I am so swamped and overwhelmed, I have forgotten how to just be happy.

As much as I think the idea is good and deserves execution, as much as I want to help, as much as I wish I had accomplished X, I must remember:

I absolutely cannot take it on right now.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Southern Comfort

OMG, did I forget to tell you all about my trip to The South?

When we told people we were going to Savannah and the south for vacation, we got a lot of confused looks from people. "oh... how interesting. ... how did you pick that destination?" as in "uh? why in the heck are you going there, of all god-forsaken places?"

We decide to take advantage of Paul's time off, and we also discussed the great trips we've had when we went to places we would not have necessarily chosen as our first choice vacation. Stuff like a roadside apple orchard in Wisconsin, a beautiful park in the middle of Atlanta, a tiny saloon in a town not really on the map near Cincinnati-- in short, there is a wonderful quiet satisfaction in the things you find when you aren't looking for them. And perhaps it's good to go off of your own beaten track of adventure. If my habit is to prefer big cities, then the only way to see something new is to go somewhere I don't want to go. It's a weird logic. Anyway, we made a list of places we'd like to see, and checked the weather for March, and found ourselves pointed to Savannah!
We booked our flights and were excited to see the old town in all its quiet charm...
And then we quickly discovered that Savannah was going to be hosting the second biggest St. Patrick's Day parade in the country that week. Gulp. well, we thought, how bad can it be, really?

So we went to see!

We flew out Thursday night on a red-eye, swapped planes in Charlotte, and landed in Jacksonville, Florida, where we picked up our sweet ride and headed north!
From 200903 Trip to the South
(our sweet ride)
Note: if you click any of these photos, it should take you to see the whole set.

First stop was Brunswick, GA, which our tour book suggested might be cute-ish. It really wasn't all that cute, but we did circle around some rather run-down neighborhoods with funny signs before getting lunch. Then on to nearby St. Simon's Island for our Very First Sights! we pulled over to see some slave houses
From 200903 Trip to the South
(in our neighborhood, they would try to sell this as a 3/2 for $850K)
and were attacked by the onslaught of Southern beauty in its purest form: the Spanish Moss covered oak giants.
From 200903 Trip to the South

Then we moved on to Fort Frederica, to see the remains of the fort founded in 1736. There's not much standing still, but they've excavated a lot and determined who lived and worked in some of the old buildings. There's a nice audio tour, and the grounds are beautiful!
From 200903 Trip to the South

From 200903 Trip to the South

After enjoying the tour and the views, we piled back into the car and headed to Savannah. We arrived in time to head out for dinner (Thai food) and a little walk. I immediately fell in love with the city's thoughtful layout and intimate squares and greenery. What I didn't love? Crowds. Lots of people, and it was only Friday--still days away from the main event. On the waterfront, we found throngs of revelers crowding in long lines to get into pubs and restaurants. Lines of porta-potties were in heavy use (according to the next day's paper, the porta-potties the city planned for the weekend were filled before Saturday noon, and they had to call in for emergency backups) an some smart enterprise had popped up with special fancy porta potties. You paid $5 for the night and had access to these fancy crappers. Genius. We had a nearby hotel, so this didn't impact us, but, from a woman's point of view, totally worth it.
From 200903 Trip to the South

("A regal portable restroom experience")

We took Saturday to explore the city. Which? Is adorable. I would like to put it in my back pocket and take it home. I tried, but it was taken away by the TSA at the airport.
From 200903 Trip to the South
(the view I awoke to from our hotel room)

From 200903 Trip to the South
(enchanting public spaces, and again with the beautiful greenery everywhere)

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(we visited the birthplace of Girl Scouts)

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(we visited Colonial Park Cemetery)

In short, we had a grand time. Savannah is a gorgeous, full of beautiful rows of houses pushed up against public squares, all designed around the scale for, um, people! Not cars. It is wonderful.

But, the nicest thing about being in Savannah? You can drink in public! Which is one of my favorite pastimes, and here I did it with impunity! It is so delightful to get a bottle of wine and enjoy sitting in a square watching the world go by.
From 200903 Trip to the South

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!
We decided to go to a swamp and then on to Charleston.

So we hopped in our sweet ride and headed north. As soon as you leave Georgia, the sides of the road are littered with billboards for fireworks stores. Fireworks, how novel! But not here, where, when you get off the freeway, you'll find about 4-6 fireworks superstores clustered at each offramp.

From 200903 Trip to the South

From 200903 Trip to the South

(fireworks in South Carolina is like starbucks in California)

We did not stop for fireworks, as we were on a mission! To get to a swamp! Cypress Gardens, to be exact. And, for me, this was one of the highlights of our trip. We got there a little late, sadly, with only an hour and a half or so left before closing. We paid our ten bucks or whatever to get in and were asked if we'd like a boat tour. Well, yes, is there an extra charge? Only if you want a guided tour. Nah, we'll do it ourselves, we said. Now, being from California, I expected a 30 minute training video, fourteen pages of waivers, a life vest, and some stern warnings from uniformed killjoys. But, being South Carolina, what you get is a sort of quizzical look of, "well, the boats are there, obviously. Here's a paddle, now go." The guys at the boat dock also added a helpful "I think there's a female alligator right over there on the other side of this island. Um, really? No instructions? No opinions on how close we should get or what we shouldn't do to an alligator? No! In South Carolina,it's up to you to figure out how many limbs you want bitten off by alligators or blown off by fireworks. OMG, I'm an adult!

Anywho, this place was perfect. Just... and I mean this with no irony, for once: it was magical.
We took a ton of pictures, and if you click a thumbnail, you will be taken to the album to see your fill of them.
From 200903 Trip to the South

(our first alligator, the one the boat guys pointed us to. Apparently, she had been sitting there all day. Alligators are lazy)

From 200903 Trip to the South

(we paddled along between the trees)

From 200903 Trip to the South

(the water is black, and the lighting of the day created perfect mirrors, with the trees growing up to the sky, and their reflections shooting down over the water's surface)

From 200903 Trip to the South

(there were also lily pads and more gators)

From 200903 Trip to the South

(paul was there too!)

In all, we saw NINE alligators. One, we didn't even notice until we were looking at photos later and realized that there was a bonus gator hiding in the water in front of one we had been taking pictures of. They are very still critters.

After the boat tour, we took in more of the onsite goodness, first stopping at the alligator pit to see these lazy bastards:
From 200903 Trip to the South

(These gators were totally going to eat us. One of these days, when they got around to it)

We toured a little reptile/fishie museum, where Paul made friends with a cockatiel, and then we went to see the butterfly house, where we were greeted by this stern admonition:
From 200903 Trip to the South

Well! We most certainly will not Touch The Duck!
Well, at least we tried not to. But the duck, Cypress, took a liking to Paul, particularly Paul's shoes, and so he climbed out of the little fence area and proceeded to chase Paul. Paul valiantly rebuffed his advances, but Cypress was persistent.

From 200903 Trip to the South
(video of Cypress accosting Paul)

We had a few more minutes before the park closed (and there was a wedding setting up), so we took a quick hike round one of the nature trails. While we poked around the grounds, it started to drizzle. It was gorgeous. One of those perfect times and places you'll always remember.

From 200903 Trip to the South
(I love you, swamp day!)

We ran out of time at Cypress Gardens, sadly, we had to go. (knowing what I know now, I would have allowed several hours to do this-- you can actually take off and paddle around the lagoon freely wherever you want, and there are trails we didn't get to see)

We got to Charleston in time for dinner at a brewery and then a walk to Waterfront Park well before sunset. Waterfront Park has a pier with the great swinging benches, so you can sit and watch the water while swinging and listening to bats. At the end, we watched the birds (pelicans, cormorants, gulls, an some mystery birds) and then got very excited to see fins. FINS! OMG! A DOLPHIN!

This was terrifically exciting. Then we saw another. And... another. And then we realized the harbor was lousy with dolphins, and yelling every time you saw one was a little ridiculous. Total newbie move.

We walked down the waterfront and around to the Battery Charleston, at least this area of it, is full of grand old mansions. It sort of reminds me of the Nob Hill/Pacific Heights areas, but the mansions are more densely packed in. Each of the houses had at least one giant covered porch, and it was easy to imagine wonderful parties on these piazzas (as they are apparently known there). We hiked through these neighborhoods and noticed a lot of For Sale signs. In fact, Charleston's historic districts were full of For Sale signs, on historic mansions and iconic commercial buildings alike. We stopped in at a pub where we conversed a bit with the bartender (I was able to help him remember a motorcycle part he wanted) and his friend who laughed and told us that Savannah's St. Patrick's Day was "the biggest party on the East Coast." Oh, boy. We were in for it.

We had seen enough of Charleston to be intrigued, so we decided to head north again the next day. This time we stopped to experience a fireworks store. These places are all branded with themes and some of them decorated quite kitschy and fun. Each one had hand painted signs of the fireworks brand logos, each one made different by its owners hand. The best we saw was actually the one closest to the Georgia border:
From 200903 Trip to the South
(Joes seemed to be a common theme: Papa Joe's, Hobo Joes, etc.)
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(well, you can't very well have fireworks without.. fruitcake?)
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(and, you know, elephants. of course.)
Inside the store, the cashier was exactly the guy you imagine was working there. Ponytail, a couple of teeth, flannel shirt, watching daytime TeeVee.
From 200903 Trip to the South
(the array of fireworks was dizzying. This is only one end of the store, probably about a quarter of the whole thing)

And, onward!
Our plan was to see a plantation and then go back to Charleston. We knew we couldn't see everything, so we went looking for old decrepit plantation, rather than fancy maintained plantation. Drayton Hall fit the bill pretty well. (though we both had expressed an interest in something totally overgrown and ruined, but we'll look again next time we're in the South)
From 200903 Trip to the South
(Drayton Hall has not destroyed during the war because it was used s a hospital. Now it stands in wonderful condition, but without being filled with restored furniture. Here you can see that if you stand on one sie, you can see right through. Just the house, nothing else. This comforted us)
We skipped the formal house tour, due to time constraints, but took the two walking tours of the grounds. This was a really neat tour because the little hike straddled about three different types of ecosystems.
From 200903 Trip to the South

From 200903 Trip to the South

From 200903 Trip to the South

And finally, we got back to Charleston We could not resist the dolphins in the harbor again:
From 200903 Trip to the South
(this is video of two of the many dolphins, showing off just a few feet from us)

Our second afternoon in Charleston, we again walked around, traipsed through graveyards and peeked in the windows of mansions wherever we could, getting soaked in a rainstorm, and had dinner in a church-turned sports bar. Charleston is a big old town, full of grand buildings, but not a lot for us to do there on such a short visit.

Tuesday! The Big Day!
We'd toyed with the idea of spending Monday in Savannah so we could avoid the whole St. Patrick's Day thing by fleeing to Charleston Tuesday, but then decided that since we were there, and suffering through the weekend crowds, we might as well just see the thick of it. Each night we'd been in Savannah, we'd seen more people than I've ever seen before. Worse than Burning Man, worse than Gay Pride in San Francisco. More like Halloween in Castro, but the whole city was covered. Lines a block or more long, to get into pubs (not even dance clubs--pubs!) Every restaurant full to the gills, and crowds wandering around every street. We'd come to call them the green zombies. We saw them from our hotel every morning (yes, morning), clusters of people wandering mindlessly in the streets, clutching plastic cups of beer, covered in head-to-toe St. Patrick's day junk-- green mardi-gras beads, blinking green LED hats, and requisite green shirts and flip-flops.

So there we were, in the thick of the biggest party on the East Coast, per our barmate in Charleston. And off to the parade!

We took quite a few pictures of the parade, but rather than go through it all, here are some higlights:
  • Apparently, it is tradition for the ladies to run out and kiss the troops as they parade through. I imagine this started innocently enough, but has evolved to this: young women piling on the thickest layer of the reddest lipstick they can find, and then planting lipstick all over the guys as they walk through (they have to stop every so often due to parade traffic, and then they re left quite vulnerable) Every unit that came through was covered in lipstick. But even funnier was that the tradition seemed to be leaking into new territory, such as: a father carrying his small daughter (maybe 4y/o? wearing lipstick) who lost her courage at the last minute and refused to kiss the soldier; the female soldiers also covered in lipstick, other random paraders also getting lipsticked, and finally, a float that had a dancing bunny mascot? Also covered in lipstick. Why not.
    From 200903 Trip to the South
  • Shriners. A lot of Shriners. But they don't have the little cars! instead they had a bunch of other weird vehicles and vaguely un-PC things (an "oriental" band?)
  • Sons of the Confederacy. "Southern Loyalty is Not Hate" said their sign. I had my doubts. The places we went were sprinkled with memorials and plaques honoring the confederate dead and their good fight and oh isn't it a tragedy we lost the war? It made me very curious and very irritated-- did these people honestly believe that victory should have been theirs? Obviously the war was about many things, but slavery being a part of it, I found many of these plaques offensive, and imagined that all people of non-white heritage would too. So when the confederate glorifiers came by during the parade, there were a few very noisy people cheering them as loudly as they could, and the two African-American guys next to us were visibly discomforted (I can't remember their comments, but Paul heard them berating this part of the parade)
    From 200903 Trip to the South
The parade went on forever. Thankfully, we had brought a bottle of wine and some plastic cups to get us through it. After the parade, we walked around some more. Every square was packed with people. We found a pizza place that had been recommended, and it, too was completely packed. It was a 45 minute wait just to get seated! Once seated, we were too exasperated to try to speak to each other over the noise. Every few minutes, someone in the restaurant would go "Woo-ooo!" and then a wave of "Woooooo" would rip through the place. It was crazy loud and crowded. St. Patrick's Day in Savannah is just too much for little old me!
After walking around the waterfront, in the evening, we hit up The Pirate House! Which sounded totally cheesy, and I guess if animatronic pirates are cheesy, I'll take the cheese! It was also set in several historic buildings that had been cobbled together, so we had fun poking around there a bit after dinner.
From 200903 Trip to the South
(Paul took a liking to the pirate. I think the feeling was mutual.)

The next morning we headed back to the Jacksonville airport, a little sad to leave so early. We loved Savannah, and really wished we could have seen her without all the St. Patrick's Day craziness. I definitely want to return to Savannah someday, to spend more quiet time, and to see some other nearby sights, and more swamp please!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Yes. Thank you.

Homeopathy and all manner of stoopid pseudoscience crap bugs me. Particularly when it pretends to address medical issues.

Really. So here:

From here