Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring Break Highlights | Charleston, Savannah, Hilton Head

In a brilliantly frugal state of mind, I suggested to the hubby that for the girls' spring break this year, we tag-along with him on one of his work trips. We are fairly new transplants to the southeast portion of the country and much of it, we have not seen. "We" referring to the girls and I. On the contrary, my husband travels nearly every week, visiting his offices in all the states south of us, plus Puerto Rico. 
As it turns out, the stars aligned and he was able to plan two nights in Charleston, South Carolina, followed by a night in Savannah, Georgia. On top of that, our neighbors and fast-friends were planning to spend the Easter weekend (which wrapped up our break) with their family on Hilton Head Island and would we like to join them? This rounded out the tail-end of our "southern spring break adventure" with two nights on the island. Here's a summary of how we spent our time. 

This post will probably be VERY long--but count yourselves lucky (unlike me) that I lost my camera and with it, most of my pictures from the trip.

Charleston, South Carolina

The hotel was great. It had a pool, which was the girls' only requirement. For me, it was terrific because of the location. We walked everywhere (including the aquarium, below). There were shops, restaurants, people-watching, the waterfront, parks, etcetera--all right there. Our first discovery was the French chocolate cafe, Christophe Artisan Chocolatier. We had ample time to wander down King Street where each of us found a new sundress. We even picked up a pair of super-silly socks for the Mister.
The aquarium itself is nice: well-appointed, organized, and clean. Overall, it was quite small--especially if the "standard" by which you measure aquariums is based on your memories of childhood afternoons spent at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Though it must be said, the mermaid element was actually awful. Yes, they really did feature "mermaids" swimming (that's an overly generous description) among the fish in their largest tank performing "shows" which consisted of trying to not float up to the surface while simultaneously sucking on an oxygen tube. I was viscerally offended. Apparently, I was the only one who was, as there were approximately 10,000 (total exaggeration) parents in line with small children (and some not so small) to pay an additional fee to have their picture taken with a girl wearing a long blond wig, her legs stuffed into a sequined tail, and arriving to the throne (what the hell?) via a wheelchair. I guess it's one thing when you're in the Magic Kingdom--we've been conditioned… However, I was terribly unprepared to encounter the farce at what I'd always considered a place of science and learning. Despite the underwhelming aquarium exhibits, there was one HUGE highlight: The Sea Turtle Hospital. The only way in is to purchase regular admission to the aquarium and then pay an additional entrance fee for the private tour of the hospital. It was fantastic. There was "actual real science" happening everywhere you looked and my kids ate it up (as did I). 
Family Dinner with Friends
While in Charleston, we had the pleasure of a delicious home-cooked meal with the Brannen family. As you can see below, the girls had no trouble jumping right into the mix with the three Brannen boys. (Oldest not pictured--but certainly was involved in the battles, explorations, zip-lining, and treehouse scouting.) We sipped amazing wine, ate like kings, and enjoyed ourselves immensely. 

Savannah, Georgia

Savannah is all live oaks, Spanish moss, public parks, history, and monuments--sprinkled with SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) students donning purple hair in lieu of shoes (another exaggeration). What I loved most about Savannah (aside from the 22 stunningly green public squares generously situated throughout the historic district) was the laid-back vibe of the place. We stayed at the Mansion on Forsyth, a charming boutique hotel directly adjacent to Forsyth Park, the largest public park in the city. The sunshine brought out picnickers, frisbee chasing dogs, soccer players, loungers, musicians, and squealing children. It was a riot of activity and after a quick dip in the hotel pool, we took our time strolling along the canopied path dripping with oak branches and moss. Between several monuments and the huge parisian-inspired fountain, we came across a terrific playground and spent some time on the swings. It was here that we first heard "whisper" of the possible danger in collecting the fallen lace-like trails of Spanish moss (which G had been doing all afternoon). A small boy with a big accent sitting atop the play structure announced to us, "Y'all keep touchin' that there moss, is gonna steal yo soul." For real. He said that. This four-year-old authority on spiritual safety with regard to botany. The girls looked to me, wide-eyed. I silently shrugged my shoulders in a way I hoped communicated, "He seems like he has our best interests at heart; let's not mock his voodoo story while he's still within earshot." Smiling, we continued on our way, dragging the moss behind us. 
The following day (Friday) was soggy, as was the remainder of our spring break. I was disappointed with the weather but pleased that it meant Greg's golf outing was cancelled and his vacation with us could officially begin. For the first part of the trip, his presence was limited to the over-stuffed duffle in the corner of our hotel room. He'd slip out before we woke to head to work and return late, after a work dinner, when the girls were already fast asleep. After a tasty breakfast, I convinced my family that a tour on one of the many shuttle/carriage services was in order. Just outside our hotel, we hopped on a covered trolly and were ceremoniously carted all over the historic district and down along the waterfront. Your tour is largely reliant on the guide you happen upon. We were told that each guide did their own research and was left the autonomy to craft their stories, highlight legends, provide history lessons, and share travel tips to their liking. "Tammy," originally from Tennessee, was a long-time Savannah transplant and her thick accent added to the experience. Though heavy with dining, snacking, and "where to get the best candyice-creampralines" tips--the tour was historically informative as well. I would recommend taking a guide-led tour if you're ever in Savannah. You can get off and on the route at any of the stops to further explore the area. It was on this tour that we next heard about the dangers of Spanish moss. Tammy told us, "they was full of chiggers" and that we "best not go around handlin' any of it, les' y'all wanna cover yo red welts with nail polish--cuz thas the only way you gonna get rid of 'em." It seems our tiny spiritual advisor was onto something… 
{Our selfie at breakfast in the gallery restaurant, 700 Drayton}
{Forsyth Park via}

Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

After our tour, we hopped in the car and headed to Hilton Head to meet our friends, Beth and Adam (and their adorable twins) for the holiday weekend. We were warmly welcomed at the home of Beth's parents who could not have been more generous, funny, entertaining, or inclusive. Enjoying the best accommodations of the trip, the girls had their own room and so did we! We dined on a gourmet meal, put the kids to bed, and finished the night laughing, playing board games and visiting, fire-side.
Although the soggy conditions of the day turned into a torrential storm that lasted through the night on Friday, we did manage to take advantage of the break in the downpour on Saturday morning to walk over to the RBC Heritage PGA Tournament happening around the corner from their home. Leaving the Dads to enjoy some golf, Beth and I took the kids and walked over to the Harbour Town Lighthouse and Marina. Due to the weather, the place was practically a ghost town; however, we managed to enjoy the views and the kids got to run around and explore. We were back at the homestead by 10am and we hastily got ready to attend the Bunny Brunch where we were entertained by the grumpiest Easter bunny any of us had ever encountered. All six of us "grown ups" had a delightful time whispering to one another the bunny's inner thoughts (including the imagined details about the night he had before arriving to the brunch that morning).
{Getting photo-bombed by Lucy} 
When the fellas headed back to the tournament later that afternoon, Beth and I took the kids on an epic bike ride through the misty wet of the afternoon, winding our way along the paths to the beach where we collected shells and then over to the stables where a better-prepared mother generously shared her 10 pound bag of carrots with us so that we could all feed the horses. Warm baths and movies followed for the kids (plus reading, reading, reading for one of them) while the adults spent the remainder of the day and on into the night relaxing, eating, and sipping. One of the best moments of our trip was when Beth's dad sat down at the piano and taught G to play Heart and Soul with him.
Easter morning arrived with the biggest "backyard" egg hunt I've ever witnessed. The four kiddos made out like bandits! After indulging in yet another fabulous meal (Have you ever heard of Christmas Brunch--the recipe? You must try it!) we leisurely collected our belongings, packed our bags, and loaded up the car. Four and a half hours later, after many samples of the girls' Easter loot, we were home.
Richard Parker was well-cared for in our absence but clearly missed our company. He demonstrated this by practically climbing the french doors to get to us as we came across the driveway and into the house and then trailing us from room to room for two days. Of course, now that our spring break was officially over, the sun burst into the sky and we've been enjoying warm temperatures ever since.
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