July 2013 Archives

The Bedraggled Savannah Tour
July 31, 2013 9:12 PM | Posted in:

We left Palmetto Bay (which I've written about here and here) to make a day trip to Savannah, which is about twenty miles away, although it drives much longer. (Seriously, South Carolina...60 mph on your interstates? We have school zones in Texas faster than that.)

An impressive bridge
OTOH, they do have some impressive bridges.

Savannah drips with history. Also with humidity. Weather-wise, that was our most uncomfortable day of the week, and it was made worse by the amount of walking we had to do, thanks to the trolley tour. Allow me to explain, and take this as a cautionary tale.

We decided the best way to see Savannah was via one of the ubiquitous trolleys, complete with knowledgeable tour guide, so we spent $50+ on a 16-stop tour; the package included the entry fee to a cultural museum along the way.

We were trollied (is that a word?) from one overheated parking lot to another stifling parking lot where we boarded the real trolley (not the shuttle trolley), and the tour began. The first stop was in a shopping district, and we elected to disembark in order to buy a tote bag to replace the one we had conveniently forgotten to bring. We wandered around a bit and then re-boarded another trolley to continue the tour.

Paula Deen's store
A museum dedicated to that great Civil War heroine, Paula Deen

We hit the jackpot with that tour guide, a transplanted Brit named Michael who dispensed a steady stream of interesting historical trivia mixed with relevant current cultural references; it was fun to hear an oral history of the Old South dictated with a Cockney accent. (Was it really Cockney? I don't know; who do you think I am, Rex Harrison?) He was a wealth of information that I suspect you could find nowhere else. For example, we learned that Savannah was captured by General Sherman, who had the advantage of a fleet of biodiesel-powered tanks, during the Civil War. After taking a trolley tour of his conquest, Sherman gave the city to Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas gift. Lincoln was later overheard complaining that he'd rather have gotten a tie. I might be paraphrasing some of this, but you get the general idea.

We stayed with Michael for several more stops, until we came to the above-referenced museum. We didn't really want to leave the relative comfort and relevant narrative of the trolley, but felt compelled to display some cultural leanings by going through what turned out to be The Most Boring Museum In History. After a half hour of feigned interest, we went back outside to await the next trolley. We had apparently just missed it, because we had a long wait, and when it finally appeared, guess what? It was full, and no one got off! Apparently, we were the only tourists in Savannah who failed to read the memo regarding the MBMIH.

It was now midday, and we decided to find a place for lunch, with the assumption that the trolley hunting would go better on a full stomach. The MBMIH wasn't located in a hotbed of gastronomic delights, but we did happen across a small diner called Clary's Café (Where the staff is just as much fun as the food!). If that name sounds familiar, you have a better memory than me, because you obviously recognize it as a key fixture in the movie Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, taken from the two-decades-old best-selling novel of the same name written about a couple forced to spend their lives waiting for a tour trolley in downtown Savannah. Or something like that. I read the book; I don't remember much about the plot (obviously), much less the name of a diner that the filmmaker must have liked or disliked enough to shoot it. [And, by the way, it's amazing that with the hundreds of years of legitimate history bound to Savannah, that particular book and movie - along with Johnny Mercer - consumes an inordinately large proportion of attention from tour guides, in an apparent nod to the small appetites tourists have to actual old-timey historical stuff. Events that form the foundation of our nation and society? We'll pass. Spicy anecdotes about movie-set romances? More, please.]

Clary's Café

Anyway, we had a pedestrian meal in a semi-famous café. Clary's claims to be famous for its Reuben sandwich, and I like Reuben sandwiches, so I ordered one...only to be told that they were out of rye bread. But they did have excellent French fries, so it wasn't a total loss.

After lunch, we trudged down to the next trolley stop in hopes of completing the tour, only to find we were behind at least a dozen other hopeful boarders. After the obligatory 20-minute wait, the next trolley pulled up, and about six people got off the full shuttle. At that point I made the decision to cut our losses and pull the plug. It was hot and muggy, plus we were on the edges of a passing thunderstorm and our umbrellas were safely locked away in our rent car. So we walked a mile or so back to the parking lot, slumped into the stifling interior of the car, and drove away from Savannah. 

The only historical tidbit that has stayed with me is that when a statue shows a horse-mounted rider looking down and back, it means that the rider died from battle-inflicted wounds. Had I not had a healthy sense of self-preservation, that's the posture I would have assumed driving back to Palmetto Bluff.

Debbie and statue
Debbie and another tourist who stayed too long in Savannah

Animal Life in the South Carolina Lowcountry
July 29, 2013 9:07 PM | Posted in: ,

[We continue our vacation report from South Carolina. Here's part one.]

One of the most enjoyable aspects of Palmetto Bluff was the diversity of flora and fauna. I'm not much of a botanist, but the coastal pine forest, gigantic live oaks festooned with Spanish moss, and comic-book-sized magnolia trees bordered on awe-inspiring. It was the animal life, however, that fascinated me. It seemed that everywhere we turned we saw something interesting and generally un-West-Texas-like. Following are some random scenes to illlustrate this.

Photo - Green Anole
A green anole kept a close eye on us one morning during breakfast. (He dined a little himself.)

Photo - Dolphin fins
Shark! Well, not really. These are two of the Atlantic bottlenosed dolphins that frequent the May River
It's indescribably cool to paddle board around these friendly mammals.

Photo - Egret Sanctuary
Those white dots are egrets, roosting on an island in the lagoon just inland from our cottage.

Photo - Egrets
This is a little better view of some of the egrets. They were pretty noisy (and just a bit stinky, depending on the wind direction).

Photo - Bird and Gator eye each other
A shore bird keeps a close eye on a small alligator.

Photo - Alligator
This was the first of many gators we spotted while at Palmetto Bluff. They're qute shy.

Photo - Alligator head
A close-up of one of the lagoon gators. He wasn't thrilled with the papparazzi.

Photo - Rippled water behind a swimming alligator
There's something artistically sinister about the ripples following a slowly swimming alligator.

It's worth noting for those who might have some trepidation about vacationing around large aquatic reptiles with unsavory reputations that the alligators wanted to have absolutely nothing to do with us, or any other humans. And while we spotted them almost every day, we went out of our way to do so. It's not unlikely that one could spend a week on the grounds and never see a gator (which saddens me greatly, but that's just me).

Photo - Great Blue Heron
A Great Blue Heron was trying to stalk dinner while simultaneously keeping an eye on me.

Photo - Turtles
How many turtles can you spot?

Photo - Ant beds stretched across a dirt road
Ant beds might not have the excitement of gators, but I was curious as to why the ants lay out a series of
beds in a straight line across a dirt road. We came across several occurrences of this phenomenon.

Photo - Debbie in front of hill of dirt
And speaking of ants, they grows some big honkin' fire ant mounds in South Carolina!
(We couldn't help yelling "Marabunta!" as soon as we spotted it. You SyFy fans know whereof I speak.)

The last scene needs a bit of setup. One afternoon after lunch we were walking around the grounds. One of the lagoons was on our left, and we normally kept an eye out for alligators as we walked or bicycled past them. But Debbie looked to the right and spotted three deer just across the road in the wooded area. I didn't have my camera with me (what?!) so pulled out my phone, even as I realized they were too far away for a decent shot. A movement back toward the lagoon caught me eye, and I suddenly had a really good reason to keep my phone out and filming.

The bird is a Great Blue Heron (we've actually seen them around our neighborhood). The snake is a Small Unwilling Meal.

A Week in the Lowcountry
July 28, 2013 6:51 PM | Posted in:

It took us fifteen hours to get there, instead of the expected six. We fell into bed at 4:00 a.m. of the morning after we had planned to arrive, and were awakened at 7:00 a.m. by a tornado warning. We were telephoned by the front desk informing us that we'd overstayed our welcome and asking when we'd be leaving. And in between, we had one of the best times ever on a vacation.

The Destination

We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary a couple of weeks ago, and we decided that a special trip was in order. Debbie researched potential destinations on the web and landed on an hitherto unknown place - to us, anyway - known as the Inn at Palmetto Bluff, located on the coast of South Carolina in a part of the state referred to as "the Lowcountry" (which, frankly, strikes me as a poor nickname, but if it works for them, who am I to judge?).

Palmetto Bluff is a 20,000 acre planned development, with beautiful custom homes living in harmony with rentals, town homes, and, of course, the Inn. The property has 35 miles of shore line along the May River and lagoons that wind through some of the most beautiful coastal forest you'll ever see.


The Trip

We were scheduled to leave Midland via Southwest Airlines around 1:00 p.m., and catch a connecting flight in Houston that would take us directly to Charleston, which is about two hours north of Palmetto Bluff. We figured we'd be in our room no later than 9:00 p.m. We figured wrong.

Thanks to a mechanical issue, we left late enough that we missed our Houston connection. SWA had thoughtfully booked us an alternate flight to Charleston...through Chicago. Long story made short: we landed in Charleston just after midnight, trudged out to our rental car in a steady drizzle, and drove on unfamiliar roads, much of which were under construction, to a destination we'd never been to, arriving after 3:00 a.m.

But get this: a bellman was waiting for us, greeting us with a smile, calling us by name, and he quickly loaded our bags and us into an overgrown golf cart and took us to our cottage. It was just a foretaste of the service we'd get all week.

The Accommodations

Our new home was a pristine 1100 square foot cottage with a vaulted ceiling, pine flooring, a full-sized fireplace with a wall switch-controlled gas log, and a screened private back porch overlooking the May River. Here are 11,000 words worth of photos; click for full-sized pictures.
Main Living AreaMain Living AreaSitting AreaWet Bar Gas FireplaceWindow SeatDressing AreaHis and Her ClosetsBathroomBack PorchPierra, the Bed Gator

The little alligator is Pierre, and if the housekeepers find him on the bed each day, they know not to change the sheets. You could say he's an ecogator, but I wouldn't advise it.

As you can see, the room was well-appointed and made for spoiling guests. We weren't thrilled to have a Keurig coffeemaker - it's not our favorite form of coffee - and the wi-fi was a bit on the slow side, but those were the only complaints we could come up with.

After a couple of days, however, we noticed that the lighting wasn't as bright as it was when we checked in. We wondered if they'd come in and swapped out all the bulbs; it took us a while to notice the details on the light switches.

Light switches with dimmer sliders

We're a bit slow on the uptake, I guess, because we didn't notice that every switch in the cottage had a tiny dimmer slider, and housekeeping had set all the lights to a more romantic [I suppose] level. We were happy to restore the lighting to a level more in keeping with our aging eyesight.

In any event, waking up to a view like this each morning provided plenty of atmosphere.

Morning sun through the shutters

The Surroundings

I could spend hours trying to describe the beauty of the landscape, but as always, pictures will do a better job.

Our front porch
Our front porch and bicycles

Our front porch
Even the path to our cottage was amazing.

View from our back porch
View of the May River from our back porch

May River at low tide
May River at low tide

Looking north from our back yard
Looking north from our back yard

Looking south from our back yard
Looking south from our back yard

The common area in front of our cottage
Part of the common area in front of cottages

Palmetto Bluff is crisscrossed with miles of paved walking/bicycling paths (and we discovered some additional miles of unpaved-but-smooth roads off the beaten path). Every cottage has two cruiser bikes assigned to it; they weren't speedy but they were comfortable and well-maintained, and we put them to good use spending hours exploring the property. Some of the views were just stunning to our West Texas eyes.

View from bike path
Morning view from bike path; can you spot the gator head?

View from bike path
The paths meandered along these lagoons.

View from bike path
Wood and steel bridges with separate cycling paths span the lagoons.

View from bike path
You sometimes felt you were on the world's largest golf course.

View from bike path
The paths were wide, smooth, and well-maintained.

View down unpaved road
We did explore some of the undeveloped parts of the acreage. Never saw another person.

Around the Grounds

It seemed like everywhere we turned, there was something interesting to see.

Driftwood sculpture of nesting birds
A driftwood sculpture of nesting egrets was donated by one of the residents.

Driftwood sculpture of nesting birds

Firepits
These fire pits were lit each night and all the ingredients for DIY s'mores were provided.

The community vegetable garden
There was a community garden...

The community vegetable garden
...and anyone could partake of its produce via the honor system.

Debbie on a rope swing
We couldn't resist this rope swing overlooking the lagoon.

Exterior view of the chapel
A chapel on the grounds had a bell tower that announced the hour.

View from inside the chapel
View from inside the chapel

Sign at the swimming pool
The weather was delightfully mild during our stay...

The shopping center...one store
...and the shopping was delightfully limited (one store).

Plantation ruins
These are the ruins of the 19th century plantation/lodge that once dominated the site.

Burial site for hunting dogs
This small cemetery in back of the Inn contains the remains of beloved hunting dogs.

Palmetto Bluff Inn
And speaking of the Inn, this is it.

Oyster beds at low tide
Low tide exposed oyster beds as far as you could see.

Boats stacked like firewood
There were plenty of boats stored on site, but very little actual boat traffic.


The Dining

We're getting to the serious stuff now. Palmetto Bluff doesn't have a plethora of dining choices - there were four restaurants on the property - but what it lacks in quantity it more than compensates in quality.

The River House Restaurant is located in the Inn, and it's the most elegant of the alternatives. We ate there twice, once to celebrate our anniversary and again on the last night of the stay. The staff was friendly, knowledgeable, and observant, and the meals were memorable. In the afternoons, the restaurant offered a veranda menu of appetizers and libations.

River House dining room

River House veranda

The Canoe Club had a slightly more casual ambiance, but the menu was just as impressive, as was the staff, and the view was even more so. It's on the second floor, and the full length windows that lined both walls provided beautiful views of the May River on one side and the lagoon on the other.

As much as we like the elegance of the River House, we thought the Canoe Club offered the most enjoyable combination of food and atmosphere on the property.

Canoe Club
The Canoe Club from the lagoon side

The May River Grill is located on the 18th hole of the golf course, serving only lunch and giving hungry and thirsty golfers a first-rate rest stop. We ate there the first morning following our arrival, and we weren't too drowsy to be surprised at the delicious offerings of what we first thought would be basically a burgers-and-fries diner. We would gladly have enjoyed more lunches there, but it was closed the remainder of our stay for some maintenance.

May River Grill
The May River Grill as viewed from the golf course

View of the golf course
The golf course as viewed from the May River Grill

Finally, Buffalos served breakfast and lunch in a very casual setting. We bicycled over for breakfast every morning, and for lunch at least once. We were also fortunate to be there on a Sunday, because their breakfast buffet was not to be missed. We tried to eat on either the patio or the screened-in porch whenever possible; the photos below offer sufficient explanation, I think.

The patio at Buffalo's

The view from Buffalo's patio

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from July 2013 listed from newest to oldest.

June 2013 is the previous archive.

August 2013 is the next archive.

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