The Atlantic Coast – April to May 2008

The Atlantic Coast
We hit the Atlantic coast in the charming southern town of Savannah, which sits alongside the Savannah River amid Low Country swamps and mammoth live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. Steeped in tradition, Savannah’s history can be seen in its antebellum mansions, cotton warehouses and colonial public buildings.

Savannah is a fabulous city for long, leisurely strolls. The city’s main attractions are its twenty-odd squares and its grand 18th- and 19th-century southern homes and buildings. The picturesque squares are the perfect place to relax among flower gardens, shade trees, fountains, and usually, a monument to some notable person who is buried in the square. There are also many beautiful places of worship, including the country’s oldest Reform Judaism synagogue and oldest African American church.

We enjoyed discovering Savannah’s secrets, which included little entryways, courtyards, and gardens hidden behind latticed forged-iron fences and gates. On the brick-and-cobblestone waterside promenade of the Riverfront, we wandered among the succession of bars, restaurants, and shops located in converted warehouses in the old Cotton Exchange. And we enjoyed the Sidewalk Arts Festival in Forsyth Park held by the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). The festival features temporary chalk artwork on sidewalks of the park by current and prospective students. It was all good until the humidity of the hot and heavy air turned our leisurely stroll into a game of cat and mouse with the raindrops.

From Savannah, we biked through the swampy lowlands area of the Atlantic Coast known as Low Country, where the land is fractured into a multitude of islands separated by marshes, tidal creeks, and pretty beaches. We stopped in Beaufort, South Carolina’s second oldest city. The small town is a gem by the sea. Although smaller than Savannah, it likewise has many beautiful and historic antebellum homes shaded by enormous moss-covered live oaks and a riverfront promenade parallel to Bay Street. Galleries, antique shops, and clothing shops fill the old buildings on Bay Street, across the street from the marina.

Beaufort is the gateway to Gullah communities, where descendents of West African slaves lived on coastal islands in relative isolation until the mid-20th century. Because of their isolation, they managed to preserve a good part of their culture, food, and language. The term “Gullah” today refers to the people, their lifestyle, religious beliefs, communal practices, art, music, and food. In this area, we saw people selling African art and sweetgrass baskets, which are traditional coiled baskets made from marsh grasses and strips of palmetto leaves.

We summoned up superhuman strength to battle the very strong headwinds that faced us for the remaining 65 miles to Charleston. Beautiful Charleston is one of America’s oldest cities – almost 300 years old. Like Savannah, it is one of the most appealing urban areas in the country. The city is meant to be walked, as its grand antebellum homes, blooming gardens, and historic churches and cemeteries are best seen from the sidewalks.

Its historic district, located at the southern tip of a peninsula between the Cooper and Ashley Rivers, is overflowing with quaint, bending back streets filled with colorfully painted houses. And the colorful downtown area is filled with shops, antique stores, restaurants, coffee houses, taverns, and art galleries. We browsed in the covered City Market, which is full of little stalls that sell any number of items, including the sweetgrass baskets crafted by local Gullah women.

We stayed at the marina in Mount Pleasant, an upscale residential community across the Cooper River from Charleston. Along Shem Creek in the Old Village, we watched incoming fishing boat crews clean their day’s catch, to the delight of flocks of pelicans who gathered in anticipation. Dolphins surfaced regularly in the narrow creek.

It was here that we met mom and dad and got a ride up the Atlantic coast on the boat, to arrive in Maryland in style. We had expected dad only, as mom thought she wouldn’t be coming. What a surprise it was when we saw her on the docks at the Charleston Harbor Marina! Way to go, mom!

The four of us spent two weeks traveling up the East Coast on the narrow Intracoastal Waterway and the open bays. We admired the changing architecture and stopped in the pretty waterside towns of Georgetown, Cape Fear, Wilmington, Beaufort (N.C.), and the Solomon Islands, among others. We wondered at all the different types of bridges, and Captain Dad often had to adjust his speed to coincide his arrival time with the hourly or half-hourly opening of the bridges. We were only one of many boats traveling north- or southbound on the Intracoastal Waterway. We shared the waterways with recreational boats, commercial boats, tugboats, sailboats, yachts, Navy boats, Army boats, U.S. Coast Guard boats, and police boats. We saw pelicans, herons, cormorants, eagles, deer, alligators, and a surprising number of dolphins. And we tasted the local fare, such as Low Country shrimp and grits, oysters, gumbo, and crabcakes.

By the time we reached the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, the climate, vegetation, wildlife, architecture, accent, and food had all changed. We are now in the Northeast Corridor, only slightly more than 100 miles from the northern suburbs of Philadelphia, our final destination. We are celebrating Memorial Day Weekend with the entire family on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland before biking the home stretch the last week of May 2008.