Thursday, March 10, 2011

New Orleans, Louisiana

First Impressions

Congestion.  The influx of people for Mardi Gras into the narrow streets of the French Quarter made the driving rather precarious. The slow speed did, however, allow us to see the architectural appeal of the buildings clustered right next to the street.


Bourbon Street. Although we arrived two weekends before Fat Tuesday, Bourbon Street would be the place to experience all of the misbehaving of Mardi Gras any time of the year. Before we participated in the celebration, we found it worthwhile to walk the street with a clear mind to take in the scene. Alcoholic drinks are permitted in the street, so we felt reassured to see the New Orleans Police Department monitoring the partying. Overall, we felt a friendly atmosphere in amongst the people on Bourbon Street.

Pat O’Brien’s. Original home of the potent Hurricane mixed drink, Pat O’s is a must when partying on Bourbon Street. At eight dollars a pop, we found the authentic Hurricanes to pack much more punch than similarly priced drinks in the area. We took a break from the madness outside by sitting in the bar, but we found that grab-and-go was the best approach at Pat O’s.

Royal Street. When we had our fill of Bourbon Street, we walked one street over to Royal Street, where we saw a jazz performance right in the middle of the road. This street is quieter, with more antique shops than bars, in a family-friendly atmosphere.

The Ruby Slipper. Just off Canal Street, The Ruby Slipper is open from 8am to 3pm for breakfast and lunch, serving standard American fare, Southern dishes, and New Orleans favorites. For a late Sunday brunch, there was a 45-minute wait, giving us just enough time to walk halfway down Bourbon Street and back. Our server informed us that the kitchen was running behind, and with all of the waiting considered, it served as a nice break from the greasy food on Bourbon Street.


Canal Street. While in New Orleans, a walk down Canal Street is part of the experience, but we recommend spending more time on the smaller streets in the French Quarter. Although it has resonances of Bourbon and Royal, Canal is largely dominated by heavy traffic and tourist shops.

Riverfront.  As we walked to the waterfront searching unsuccessfully for CafĂ© du Monde, we felt largely removed from the action. While there were some family-friendly restaurants and an aquarium, we returned quickly to the area of the French Quarter around Bourbon Street.

Lasting Impressions

Highlights of walking on Bourbon Street include: finding a balcony spot overlooking the street, catching a show at a dueling piano bar (Howl at the Moon), and people-watching. Our weekend in New Orleans went smoothly thanks to our hotel located a few streets over from Bourbon Street, but we wonder how different our experience may have been had we been forced to coordinate taxis amidst the chaotic atmosphere.


Timing. We were in New Orleans the weekend preceding Mardi Gras, so our experiences were almost certainly atypical relative to the rest of the year. Consequently, we spent the majority of our time on Bourbon Street, and did not see other areas of the city, such as the Garden District.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Tallahassee, Florida

First Impressions

Topography. Hills dominate the roadways in Tallahassee. The impediment is not so great, but it is something to be aware of for drivers new to the area.

Sweet Spot. Due to the abundance of rundown shopping centers leading into the downtown, our initial impressions of Tallahassee were fairly negative. We were pleased, however, to find the city center more appealing for on-foot sightseeing.


Historic Capitol. We were concerned there might be a stuffy air about the Historic Capitol, so we approached skeptically. Fortunately, the only salient feature of the air was the aroma of oranges emanating from the trees in front. Inside, the staff was extremely friendly, while the exhibits and portrait gallery were fairly enjoyable. To spot the Historic Capitol, just look for the red and white striped awnings, which may have been our favorite feature of the building.

Florida Capitol. Located directly behind the Historic Capitol, Florida’s contemporary Capitol is a bit of an eyesore. What it lacks in beauty, however, it makes up for in height. After passing through a security checkpoint, we found an elevator and zipped up to the 22nd floor to get a panoramic view of Tallahassee. Taking a break from overlooking the scene below, we laughed at the colorful black and white photos framed on the walls showing a wide variety of Florida’s finest.

Florida State University. We didn’t have much time to see FSU, but we liked what we saw. Stone buildings and tropical plants dominated our walk, as did the knowing looks of students that sensed we were out-of-towners.

Pitaria. We found the Greek food at Pitaria to be a suitable meal. It’s rear parking lot looked dingy, but the restaurant itself was very bright and spacious, with plenty of FSU students inside. We could understand the popularity of Pitaria when we gobbled up our vegetarian pitas and pita fries in delicious tahini sauce.

Goodies. For a light lunch in the center of town, Goodies served delicious sandwiches and soups for a low price. We recommend the Zebra sandwich on pumpernickel, with cheese and fresh vegetables.


Museum of Florida History. This state-sponsored museum proved to be uneventful, motivating us to walk through its underground exhibits quickly. Although the museum presented us with a bounty of information about Florida, the lackluster presentation and the warehouse atmosphere failed to capture our interest.

Lasting Impressions

We experienced some difficulty filling our time in Tallahassee. Strolling around the downtown was definitely the highlight of our stay, something that can easily be accomplished in one day.


Parks. Regrettably, we found the recreational parks to be unreliable, as we encountered a disconnect between the information online and over the phone. When we arrived at one park, we observed that the area was in an unsafe part of town. Despite our best efforts, they just did not work out for us.

Challenger. Although the Challenger Learning Center looked impressive, we were deterred by the price, and opted to walk around outside instead.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Savannah, Georgia

First Impressions

Spanish Moss. Upon driving into the city, we were struck immediately by the cascades of Spanish moss that poured from the overhanging branches. Creating a hauntingly beautiful canopy, the moss perfectly complements the ghostly atmosphere on which much of Savannah’s tourism relies.

Squares. Twenty-one squares comprise the area directly south of downtown. Walking through some of the squares, we noticed in each one a central war memorial surrounded by greenery and park benches. The well-laid squares leading into the gridded structure of downtown made the entire area easily navigable.

Restoration. Strolling through the historic downtown, we were charmed by the old city feel that the restoration had created for us. However, we avoided wandering through the dark and sparsely populated streets that ran toward the river, which lacked the needed renovations. Leading away from the main city attractions, we noticed ramshackle buildings on the immediate outskirts of downtown.


Forsythe Park. Besides a few tennis courts and a large white stage halfway up the park, we didn’t find much to do besides sunbathing in the open greens or seeking refuge in the shade underneath the tall trees. Having said that, we enjoyed people-watching and picture-taking as a way to take a break from the touristy parts of downtown.

City Market. While most of Savannah’s squares are green, City Market is paved in cobblestone and lined with restaurants and shops. On our first night, we found a spirited atmosphere created by outdoor dining and live music. During the daytime, we entertained ourselves by sampling some free pralines in the candy store and popping into the tourist shops.

Wet Willie’s. Specializing in strong alcoholic daiquiris, we found Wet Willie’s to be a real gem amongst the dive bars and expensive dining on River Street. We enjoyed everything about the experience: choosing from the menu of colorful drinks, sampling flavors to narrow our choices, and (thanks to Savannah’s liberal alcohol policy) leaving the bar with our large daiquiris in cool Wet Willie’s souvenir cups. As people suggested online, we found the drinks to be extremely potent. We recommend the Dreamsicle daiquiri for a sweet and refreshing taste.

Zunzi’s. A few blocks from the middle of downtown, this shack-sized restaurant had a line out the door when we arrived. The eclectic menu had both gut-pounding sandwiches and vegetarian-friendly stir-fry and salads. We made our selections and ordered from the busy yet enthusiastic staff, waiting patiently in the crowded space as the food was prepared right before us. The sweet tea and vegetable medley came quickly, but the falafel was delayed and eventually forgotten, so the friendly server made up for it with a free piece of chocolate cake. The outdoor dining looked uncomfortable, so we walked to one of the nearby squares and found a spot on a bench for an impromptu picnic.

ShopSCAD. Savannah’s student culture revolves around SCAD, or Savannah College of Art and Design, and their presence is best felt at their own store. With a selection of paintings, jewelry, clothing, stationary and small furniture, we found the products of local art students to be a refreshing turn from the repetitive merchandise of the surrounding stores. While the prices of the handmade products discouraged us from making a purchase, we appreciated the calm atmosphere as we admired the many talents of SCAD students.


River Street.  We don’t recommend you omit River Street from your itinerary, but we found that its attractions were quickly exhausted.  We enjoyed the Peanut Shop and outdoor markets by day, but at night the dive bars overtake the scenic street.  As one of the two downtown social hubs, River Street does not match up with the City Market area.

Tybee Island.  Going in February may not be ideal, but we made the 25-minute drive out to Tybee Island anyway.  Given the season, the beach was relatively empty, but what stood out to us was the run-down condition of the surrounding beach houses.  It might be all right in the summer, but we’d rather spend our afternoon in Savannah.

Paula Deen.  This lady runs this town.  With her prominent downtown restaurant, Lady & Sons, and her ubiquitous merchandise in tourist shops, Paula Deen is inescapable in Savannah.  The Paula Deen Store is certainly worth a peek – if only for laughs – but we couldn’t help but feel frightened at the sight of a thousand Paula faces watching us as we shopped.

Lasting Impressions

To us, Savannah seemed a city built for tourists, something which we definitely appreciated. Much in line with the stereotype, we found that in shops and restaurants, Southern hospitality was palpable. The smallish size and grid layout of the downtown made getting around very easy, and the myriad of free and cheap parking made staying there convenient. As a note of precaution, although we felt safe walking around the downtown during the daytime, we were very conscious of some shady areas at night. Men hassled us as we walked around, imploring us to buy palms from them. We even encountered a man sitting on a dark stoop with a large, yellow boa constrictor draped around his neck. Additionally, while most walkways are well-paved, the steep stairs leading down to River Street and the uneven cobblestones can be dangerous to walk on at night, as the area is not well-lit. Overall, however, we felt comfortable in Savannah and greatly enjoyed our stay.


Tours. Guided tours were a popular choice for other tourists, especially: ghost tours, historic tours, Paula Deen tours, and boat tours. With our budget in mind, we forwent the chance to take advantage of Savannah’s popular tourism offerings, opting instead to explore the city on our own.

Dining. We overlooked some tempting dining options, like a tapas bar in town and Huey’s on the River, because of our student-sized budget. Therefore, choosing a restaurant proved difficult for us, although we were pleased with the Moon River Brewery Company and Cotton Exchange Tavern and Restaurant, which provided local charm and affordable meals.