[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on March 7, 2005]
I spoke -- or wrote -- too soon in my negative assessment of the Savannah Hostel. Although you can see at hotel review sites that other people have had bad experiences with the manager as well, he warmed up as the weekend progressed, and I really enjoyed talking with the guests from around the world, and that made up for a lot.
I started out Friday morning by going to the visitor center, since there seemed to be a consensus that that was the place to go, but it turned out to be little more than a ticket counter for the many commercial tours available: you can see the historic district on foot, on a rented bike, in a horse-drawn carriage, or in a noisy diesel bus made to look like a trolley. My second stop was City Market, which I hoped would be a farmers' market, but it's a pedestrian mall. An Internet cafe there let me plug into the phone line, and I caught up with my e-mail over coffee. Next I headed for the riverfront, where I saw containerships much taller than those I'd seen on the Mississippi, but shorter in length. I guess the channel on the Savannah River must be deeper than the Mississippi's to allow the taller ships.
The main attraction on the riverfront is supposed to be the assortment of quirky shops, bars, and restaurants, but I've been through so many towns in the past month that storefronts don't make much of an impression anymore! But I enjoyed the way the place is laid out: the riverfront is so steep that most of the buildings' first and third floors are both on ground level, with the second floor only accessible by catwalk.
The trouble with historic districts is that they rarely have modern photo labs! My search for one led me to a mall in the southern part of town. On the way I stopped at a library to determine whether I needed to buy maps of North and South Carolina. I decided I did, and I was able to do so at the mall. The traffic on the way back into town was just awful. Had I known I'd be out until rush hour, I would have put off some of my errands until Saturday! At least I didn't have my trailer along. I got back to the hostel, met the new arrivals (two young couples from Florida), and made a big mess of spaghetti. It's great to cook for myself for a change, with a real stove and perishable food and leftovers!
Saturday was more relaxed. I accompanied the folks from Alaska on a tour of the First Black Baptist Church, which was founded in 1775. I missed the beginning of the tour, so I'm not clear on whether it was a stop on the Underground Railroad or a coordination center. The best part of the tour was the guide, who has personally researched the history of the place and encouraged all her guests to question what they're taught in school about slavery and American history. One curious feature of the church that's still being researched is Hebrew graffiti on the ends of the upstairs pews! It was the guide herself who figured out that it was Hebrew script.
I spent most of the afternoon researching my route through South Carolina at the library. Then I hung out at Forsyth Park -- sort of the Central Park of the historic district -- until the hostel's "lockout" period ended at 5:00. Forsyth Park is world-class people-watching. I think if I were playing People Bingo the only squares left uncovered would be women in hijabs and Hare Krishas. A lot of new guests arrived at the hostel Saturday night, including a pair of young men from Australia and another from Japan. A college sophomore from Atlanta moved into the bunk above me and told me all about how the world works. I remember when I knew everything...
I stayed at the hostel until lockout Sunday morning (10:00) and then checked out the Tree Climbing Championships on my way to church. This is not kids' stuff, but the kind of climbing done by professional tree trimmers, with helmets and ropes and harnesses. The winners from this regional competition go on to the worldwide championships.
The UU Church of Savannah calls itself the Jingle Bells Church (http://www.jinglebellschurch.org) because John Pierpont was serving as its music director at the time he published "Jingle Bells" and a number of other ditties. He wrote the song while he was still living in Massachusetts... anyone driving a sleigh in Savannah would be pulling it through mud. I was interested to visit the church because most of the congregation were actual Southerners, unlike in Florida where they were mostly snowbirds from New York and thereabouts.
In the afternoon I rode out to Bonaventure Cemetery, which despite its fame is not shown on the tourist maps and not, as far as I can tell, included in any of the bus tours. As a result it was very quiet as well as beautiful, and I enjoyed it very much. While I was riding in the cemetery, I heard a snapping sound from underneath me. I thought one of the welds in the seat back might have broken, since that was a recurring problem on my previous BikeE, but they were fine. A few minutes later I went to adjust the seat position and found that one of the two bolts that holds the seat onto the frame had broken in two! I scrounged for something to replace the bolt with and settled for a spare spoke -- it was a very narrow bolt -- but you can believe I rode very gingerly for the rest of the day!
I rode out to Skidaway Island State Park, southwest of town. Had I not known about the hostel, I would have tried to use the park as my base of operations while seeing Savannah... I'm very glad I didn't do that, because it's a long ride on narrow roads with lots of traffic. The hostel was much more convenient, despite its faults, and it cost the same.
Addendum: I got a replacement bolt on my way through town Monday morning, so you can stop worrying about my seat falling off. See you in Charleston! --Ben
Skidaway Island State Park, GA