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Southern Style

Travel by Train for a Tybee Island and Savannah Day Trip

Kris Decker

Kris Decker is a Minneapolis-based freelance journalist, humor columnist and commercial copywriter.

Traveling through the low country, I pass idle shrimp boats and long lonely docks fringed with tall marsh grasses. I'm on my way to Tybee Island for a much-anticipated beach day. Sadly, the bruised sky and blustery winds suggest otherwise.

Tybee is Savannah's beach, a barrier island located just 18 miles from the city's historic district. I visit its quirky shops and eateries, eventually stopping at the Marine Science Center, a cozy beach-side building brimming with kids and aquatic life. Jellyfish, loggerheads, stingrays and exotic sea creatures reside in the tanks, eliciting "oohs" and "wows" from the museum's small patrons.

Marine Science Center, a beach-side building brimming with aquatic life.

At dinner I wade into a seafood platter heaped with mouthwatering crab, mussels, shrimp and crawfish. It's incredibly fresh, as if the Gorton's Fisherman sailed in and prepped it all just for me.

Departing for Savannah the next day, the rain follows me like Pigpen's dirt cloud. I take up residence at a landmark inn that skirts the historic district's River Street, just steps away from the Cotton Exchange and the gold-domed city hall.

Settling on a bistro, I begin lunch with fried green tomatoes, a crispy dish that doesn't disappoint. With a lilting drawl, my waiter recommends can't-miss places to visit. Ah, Southern hospitality.

An après lunch stroll reveals still-weeping skies, but even rain can't diminish Savannah's charms — the clip-clop cadence of horse-drawn carriages on cobblestone; the 21 classic town squares, each boasting impressive monuments or bubbling fountains; the Spanish moss draping the gnarly branches of ancient oak trees; the last of the season's glowing white magnolias; the fragrance of blooming jasmine lingering like one final piano chord.

Wright Square, one of 21 public squares, named in honor of James Wright, perhaps the most notable of Georgia's royal governors.

As the sun at last emerges, I pass the Mercer-Williams house, the site of a notorious murder involving a high-society antique dealer and a scheming charlatan (dramatized in the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.) In true understated fashion, Savannah natives still refer to the scandalous event as "The Incident."

The story of the Telfair Hospital for Females begins with Mary Telfair, a wealthy, distinguished Savannah native. Ms. Telfair funded the hospital, and in 1876 it opened to women patients exclusively who were treated by an all-female staff. It was said the only way a man could be admitted was through the maternity ward.

Juliet Gordon Low's house stands here as well. Perhaps because of her wealth and privileged life, she felt unfulfilled. So in 1911, at age 51, she founded the Girl Scouts. At a time when society dictated a woman belonged in the home, Low prepared her girls for professions in the arts, sciences and business.

The City Market, a gathering of shops, galleries and restaurants located where the cities' first market was built in the 1700s.

Afternoon stretches into evening as I pass the Pirate's House, a rickety wooden structure built in 1794. Reportedly frequented by pirates and the inspiration for the novel, Treasure Island, it's rumored to be haunted. I believe if the ghosts look anything like Johnny Depp, I'd be willing to meet them.

I end my day at River Street where the Waving Girl statue stands. Commemorating Florence Martus, it seems she spent decades waving at passing ships on the Savannah River. Some said she was awaiting the return of a sailor whom she'd loved, but after 44 years, she quit. I'm assuming her arms got tired.

It's curious why that sailor would choose not to come back. After all, Savannah is a delicious gumbo of charm, hospitality and spicy history, flavored with a touch of eccentricity. It's a city of folklore and fabrication; of imaginary apparitions and real-life characters, all utterly fascinating. Best of all, from its beaches to its porches, ancient oaks, magnolias and legendary squares, it's a place of blossoming beauty, and one to which I'll surely return.