Day 75: HOME!

After 1900 miles in 5 days we made it home mid-day on Friday. We are so happy to be back  (but tired).

We arrived home in time for Shayna to surprise her friends at her school’s annual Harvest Festival (Halloween Carnival). Sometimes coming home after a trip can be somewhat anti-climactic. But this was the perfect homecoming. We had just enough time to unload the car (because I knew we would be way too tired after the carnival.). I sent Shayna ahead in her disguise

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and then I went over afterward. The kids had plenty of time to talk and play and I had a wonderful time catching up with the parents and some teachers.

We are thankful and grateful to have had such an incredible adventure, with very few “incidents”. As I stated before, I never could not have imagined how well it would work out.  It definitely was the opportunity of a lifetime that Shayna and I will continue to talk about and learn from. (Last night I started watching the 2008 miniseries John Adams with a whole new appreciation and understanding – and can even identify some of the historical inaccuracies!)

Again, a huge thank you to Michael for allowing us this adventure, to Eli for his patience and understanding, and to our other family members and friends who helped with the day to day, especially giving Eli some special care and attention while we were away.

Also a special thank you to all of the family and friends who hosted us while we were on the road. I cannot image what it would have been like to do this trip having no contact with familiar faces. It definitely made a huge difference to spend time with family and friends along the way.

Until the next adventure . . .

Day 69/70: NOLA continued . . .

It was a relaxing weekend, taking our time getting up and out each day. We started the day wandering around the French Quarter checking out the antique and tourists shops. Our goal for lunch was my family’s favorite, The ACME Oyster Co, but turns out the line was a bit longer than we expected so we had to skip it so we would have time to eat and get to our activity for the day, a swamp tour.

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We went with the Pearl River Eco Tour Co. which we highly recommend. Throughout the tour, our guide, John, provided a thorough discussion on the geography, history and ecology of the Louisiana swamp. We were in a small boat which allowed us to travel through some small bayous where we saw plenty of alligators and other wildlife.

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Later we had a chance to visit with John again since he plays piano in the hotel where we were staying. We had dinner at a local very casual venue called Mother’s for some real home cooking of jambalaya, red beans and rice, and etouffee so that we could make it back to the hotel in time for the Halloween Parade.

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It is about as close to a Mardi Gras parade experience you can have outside of Mardi Gras. Some local women were standing next to us and told us all the ins and outs of parade traditions and etiquette. It was definitely a bonus event for our weekend that we had not planned for.

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We started Sunday morning with Cafe Du Monde beignets and chickory coffee. Yum!!

Then we split up. Michael, Eli, Mary Ann and Shelley went to the WW II museum, which is also a must see. Shayna and I opted to walk around the French Quarter a bit more and when it started raining we hopped on the St. Charles trolley to see the Garden District. We ended the day with another great meal at a restaurant called Peche.

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On Monday morning we had a tearful parting as we started our drive home, heading west on Highway 10 until it ends –  Only 1900 miles to go!

Day 66: We had a dream . . .

Wednesday was one of the last days for focusing on our America history agenda. Still in Montgomery, we spent the day visiting more Civil Rights venues. This day was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

We started the day at the Rosa Parks Museum.

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We expected it to be just like most, a room full of pictures, documents, captions. It was NOT. For this museum you have the option to start on what is called the children’s side. You enter a room and step into a time travel machine designed as a bus which is surrounded by large screens. (It is an incredibly creative way to present the video.)

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You time travel with Rosa Parks back to the early 1800’s and then progressively forward in time (the bus vibrates with each time travel) with Rosa Parks narrating the significance of the time period and how it lead up to the bus boycott.

Once you arrive to 1955, you proceed to the other side of the museum where you move from room to room, each having another creative method of presenting what happened the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat through the year that the bus boycott lasted.

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Once again, we felt like we left the museum with a thorough understanding of not only the events that happened, but also the political and social climate of the time period.

From there we walked over to the Dexter Avenue Baptist church where Martin Luther King was head pastor for 6 years.

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We were greeted by the tour guide, Wanda, a current church member, who immediately gave us hugs.

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She is one of those people who exudes an infectious energy. We hung out with her for a few minutes and she asked us about our travels while we waited for the Road Scholar group that was scheduled for the tour.

Once the 40+ Road Scholars and the two of us were seated in the chapel, Wanda asked us to introduce ourselves to the Road Scholars and tell them about our adventure. They all instantly fell in love with Shayna. Then Wanda asked a few people to stand up front with her and said we were going to sing. One of the Road Scholars said she was from a different tribe, we looked over at her and she looked at us – instant understanding. We all sang a round of “This Little Light of Mine”. Wanda then talked about the history of the church and how her mission of continuing the dialogue of equality and understanding. Then we all went downstairs to see a mural that outlines the history MLK and Civil Rights

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and then a chance to sit at MLK’s desk.

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The whole affair was not so much a tour as it was an experience and only because of Wanda’s passion and energy.

We were so inspired by Wanda’s “tour” that we decided to walk to the far end of town to see the home where MLK and his family lived.

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Turns out it is a home that is owned by the church and all of the past pastor’s of the church had lived there. This tour was just as much about MLK as it was about the history of the church itself. The tour guide was a church member who had been a member when MLK was there. So, it was very exciting to hear about her first hand experiences. The most meaningful part of the tour was when we were all standing in the kitchen of the house and she played an audio recording of one of MLK’s sermons when he talked about sitting in that kitchen struggling with the decision to become an official leader of the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association) which lead the Montgomery bus boycott and other Civil Rights activities.

It was getting late and we still had to drive to Mobile. But on our way back to our car (just a little out of the way) was the Freedom Riders Museum which is housed in the original Grey Hound bus station (original doors and walls). It is a just a one room museum.

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We arrived about 10 minute before it closed, and we were the only people there, so the  staff person offered to give us a quick version of her tour. So glad she did because Shayna was too tired to read the displays. By the end of the “tour” Shayna said it was one of her favorites. It was another opportunity to learn in detail about another one of the major events of the Civil Rights era.

As we thanked the guide and left the bus station/museum Shayna and I agreed that this day had really been the perfect culmination of our historical journey. We have spent the last 10 weeks traveling around the country learning about Native American history, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and Civil Rights. While we had dreamed about what the trip would be like, we walked (or rather drove) into it with few expectations or pre-conceived ideas which left us open to all of the experiences we encountered. I honestly never imagined how well it all flowed together, how the multiple tours, discussions and experiences coincided and complimented each other, not to mention the incredible amount that we learned along the way. For Shayna, these experiences will provide images and bring to life the history she learns about in school over the next few years. And maybe more importantly, provides some perspective and understanding of these historical topics that she would not otherwise be exposed to in the classroom.

 

Day 65: Tuskegee

On Tuesday we headed up the highway in the opposite direction from Selma to the town of Tuskegee. Our first destination was the National Historic site of the Tuskegee Airman Museum. It is located at the airfield where the Tuskegee airmen trained and the museum is set up in the two “original” hangars (one burned down in the 80’s and was rebuilt).

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Most of the original buildings are on the grounds so you can walk around and read the descriptions. Inside the hangars are detailed exhibit (and a video) about the history behind the creation of the first African American Air Corp.,  and the support crews, their training, their combat stories and biographies of what they accomplished after the war. There are multiple video displays to watch with first person accounts of their experiences.

The exhibits not only highlight the incredible accomplishments of these pilots and the influence they had on the integration of the military, but also the struggles discrimination, and racism they faced from inside and outside the military. The displays highlighted how their efforts to challenge the separate and not equal conditions they endured contributed to the Civil Rights movement. Because of their accomplishments and experiences as successful pilots within a hostile military environment they felt less intimidated by the racism they encountered on the streets and became leaders in many of the Civil Rights activities. The displays included many biographies about these men and women and their post war accomplishments as African American pioneers and successful leaders in their industries – engineering, nursing, aviation and politics.  There was so much information and it was all so intriguing that we were shocked when we looked at our watch and saw over 2.5 hours had passed.

Next we drove over to the Tuskegee University campus which is also a National Historic site, to visit the George Washington Carver Museum.

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The home of the first president of the University, Booker T. Washington, is a part of the National Historic Site, but it is no longer open for tours. Not sure if it is being renovated.

The museum exhibits provide a detailed history of the life and accomplishments of George Washington Carver and through the displays you learn a bit about the role that the University played in not only providing higher education for African Americans but also helping to improve the lives of the people in the surrounding community. Carver created a moving school, a wagon built by the University students, and took his education out to the neighborhoods to educate farmers on better farming techniques and how to use the resources available to them. (Carver was an expert at creating useful items out of natural resources and discarded material.) On campus he also held yearly, week long conferences, to educate and train farmers on better farming techniques like rotating crops and how to use their crop yields for creating other foods stuff and materials like peanut oil as medicine and sweet potatoes for color dye.

As a dietitian I was particularly interested in his work with food and crops. One of the exhibits explained how Carver’s introduction and use of peanut, soybean and sweet potato crops have influenced current work at the University. The University has received three consecutive 5-year grants to provide research and resources for creating sustainable food options for NASA space exploration. Fascinating!!

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After the museum we walked back toward our car through the campus which is beautiful. It is a private university of 3100 students, 90% are African American, and is known for its engineering and agricultural programs.

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Day 64: The Road Traveled

After a nice weekend of hanging with family in Jasper, Georgia on Sunday we drove down to Montgomery, Alabama which was our base for the next few days. We were staying downtown and it was super quiet on Sunday night, but turns out their downtown just isn’t that busy or crowded (by California standards) at any time.

Montgomery was a focal point of Civil Rights activities in the 1950’s and 1960’s, so there was a lot to see. We started on Monday driving the 50 miles to Selma, Alabama to explore the now National Historic Trail of the Selma to Montgomery March. We started in Selma at the National Park’s Selma Interpretive Center. We started with watching a video on the 3rd floor of the building (did I mention before there is always a video?). From the video room you can see the Edmund Pettus Bridge out the window.

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That floor also had an exhibit of photographs from the 50 year anniversary Selma Montgomery March and portraits of some of the key figureheads who attended including Rev. William Barber, who gave that amazing speech at the 2016 DNC.

As you move down to the second and first floors there are various exhibits describing the key players and events leading up to and what happened the weeks of the Selma Montgomery March. (There was one video of a woman explaining that the Marchers were paid to show up and the March was really just a big party – sound familiar?) It provided a detailed explanation of that time period, so we left feeling well versed in the events of those days.

From there we drove around Selma a bit to see a couple highlights, the Jewish temple

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and a very Southern looking cemetery (lots of confederate flags). We did not feel too comfortable walking around so just took some quick pics and moved on.

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We drove over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and just at the end opposite from Selma is a small park that was designed and dedicated as the Bridge to Freedom Memorial Park.

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We parked and looked at a couple monuments placed there. Then we saw that there was a woodsy park that had a wooden pathway through it. We did not feel comfortable walking too far, it was a bit eerie, so just walked the closest wooden walkway that went from the entrance, in, then circled back a bit under the bridge back to the entrance.

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I have to say as we walked under the bridge I stopped, looked up, and I could actually feel the energy of the events that had occurred there. I honestly was not even thinking that deeply about it, but it just hit me as we moved closer to the bridge. It was an unexpected and intense feeling. Shayna and I just kind of looked at each other and remarked on the impact of being there. Another surreal moment.

We then returned to the Historic Trail and started driving back toward Montgomery passing the markers for each of the campsites from the March. There is another Interpretive Center along the trail where we also stopped. In addition to more details about the March,

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we learned that people from the area who participated or supported the marchers were fired from their jobs and lost their homes. The location of this Interpretive Center is the location that in 1965 became a tent city for the families that had lost their homes and employment. The amount of violence and discrimination that was happening in this area is incredibly scary and it is disheartening that is was happening such a short time ago. I was explaining to Shayna that even though 50 years seems like a long time, in terms of social change, it is not such a long time. Not only does it feel quite recent in terms of the history we have been studying, it makes sense why we are still encountering so much racism and discrimination today. People who were a part of that history are still alive and their shared experiences and beliefs persist.

We arrived back to Montgomery with enough time to go visit the Civil Rights Memorial and Center which is run by the Southern Poverty Law Center. This memorial was also designed by Maya Lin, the woman who designed the Vietnam Memorial.

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It is a small space (the original SPLC office space). We had about 30 minutes to visit and it was just enough time. There was a video (did I mention there is always a video) describing the significance of the design of the memorial and the Center, which is to highlight 40 people whose lives where taken in the name of Civil Rights. (They were not the only people whose lives were destroyed by the conditions of that time period, but rather, there were 3 criteria set to identify these 40 people, that they were murdered because of their activities in the Civil Rights movement, they were killed as an act of intimidation, or their deaths played a role in galvanizing the movement.)

Shayna and I signed a pledge of tolerance and added our names to the Wall of Tolerance.

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Day 61: The Appalachian Trail

We are staying with Michael’s sister’s family in Jasper, GA which is about an hour north of Atlanta. Jasper is a small mountain town of about 3,000 people in the county of Pickens, population 28,000. They live in the mountains by a lake, about 5 miles from town.

Being that we are in the mountains we decided to do some hiking. About 25 minutes from here (everything is at least 25 minutes from here) is Apicalola State Park which is known for Apicalola Falls, the tallest waterfall in Georgia. It also turns out to be the southern end of the Appalachian Trail, which was kinda cool even though we were not actually on the trail. But it definitely had me contemplating one of the my other dream goals – to walk the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Whitney. If anyone is interested in joining me, I am looking for a hiking buddy for that adventure!

While we have done LOTS of walking this trip, we have not done much strenuous activity, so the 2 mile hike up and around the falls was a perfect challenge to our physical status. It was beautiful to be in the mountains.

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Afterward, we wandered over to a town called Dahlonega, which Shayna remembered from California history studies last year, as the first gold mining town in the country (impressive!). It is also a mountain town, mostly catering to tourists. We had lunch and walked around the cute historical town checking out the shops.

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Even though we are a bit off of our itinerary and road map, we opted to say around here a couple extra days so Shayna and Alexis could have some quality cousin time together. They definitely had that with our evening event, a Halloween hayride.

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Definitely not something you can do in LA but one of the more popular activities around here this time of year. Around 9pm we climbed up on a hay wagon being pulled by a tractor with about 20 others. (We dressed in our hayride best flannel shirts for the occasion.)

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The wagon is pulled through some kind of wooded area (pitch black) for about an hour. They decorated the trail with all kinds of Halloween decorations and occasionally dressed up people (mostly dressed as famous horror characters) would hop out of the woods and jump onto the wagon and try to scare everyone. The younger kids were not as scared as the teens. They seemed to build up the fear in their minds and to them everything became much scarier than it really was. I think the younger kids did not have as many preconceived ideas. I found it quite entertaining to see the teens freaking out. (The only thing that really got to me were the guys with the chain saws!)

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Day 59: MLK

On Wednesday we headed back to Atlanta again. We started the day with lunch at True Food Kitchen in Buckhead (the Beverly Hills of Atlanta) to have lunch with our friend Sherrie, who moved here last December. It was fun to see her and catch up and the food was awesome! Like being home!

Then we drove over to the MLK National Historic Site.

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Unfortunately it is being renovated so things were limited. We had a chance to see MLK’s boyhood home and neighborhood which is a national park preserved historical site. We would have had to wait 2 hours for the tour of his house, so we eavesdropped on the tour outside the house for a few minutes, but did not get to go in.

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A block down from the historical block there is a center which has rooms dedicated to artifacts of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, Ghandi and Rosa Parks. We also had a chance to visit the original (and beautiful) Ebenezer Baptist Church which is where MLK was a preacher. It now preserved as a museum. (They have built a new Ebenezer Baptist Church across the street.) When you walk into the nave they have a recording of Martin Luther King’s Drum Major speech playing. It is quite an experience to sit in the silent room hearing his booming voice.

Afterward we headed back home, hoping to be ahead of the Atlanta traffic, which is just as bad a LA!

Day 58: This day is brought to you by the letter C!

With Nate gone, on Tuesday we had some decent weather to go into Atlanta which is about and hour drive from Jasper where we are staying. Alexis took the day off from school to join us. (There was a funeral that day for a student from her school so the teachers were not doing much in class.)

We started the day at the Center for Civil and Human Rights.

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Going through the exhibit was like taking a walk though civil rights history. The displays were set up in chronological order of the significant events from the early 50’s to the late 60’s. It was a perfect summary of of events for Alexis and Shayna to learn an overview of what happened in the south during the civil rights era. The one hands-on exhibit was a lunch counter. You sit at the counter, put on a set of headphones, then put your hands on the counter which starts a recording and a timer. The recording replicates the harassment experienced by the participants of the lunch counter sit-ins, and it measure how long you can tolerate it. It was very difficult for Alexis who lasted about 20 seconds. Shayna was not allowed to do it without my permission and the recording was a bit too violent for her in my opinion.

The exhibit included a biography of many of the key players during the civil rights events. We were able to find multiple pictures and descriptions of John Lewis, which connects to our seeing him while we were in the House gallery in Washington.

The upper floor of the Center holds a human rights exhibit which provided a overview of the meaning of human rights, summaries of some of the human rights issues people face today and biographies of key players in the human rights efforts from the past and present.

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From there our day got a bit less educational. We went to the World of Coca Cola which is right next door to the Center for Civil and Human Rights. It is interesting if you are a Coca Cola fan or thirsty because you receive free drinks when you walk in, and unlimited tastings in the tasting room.

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After that we walked through Centennial Park,

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which was not as big as I had imagined, to get to CNN where we took the CNN tour. It was interesting but not as immersive into the world of news production as I was hoping.

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Day 55: War!

Friday was a travel day. We drove from Savannah to Americus, a small town in southwest Georgia. It is known as Carter country, close to where President Carter grew up. It is peanut harvest right now, so we have not been able to see what the peanut fields look like before harvest, but there are plenty of cotton fields. Is it un-PC to say that cotton fields are really pretty?

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We stayed at a cool little RV park, well it would have been cool, if it were cool and if it were not infested with nats. They give you paper fans upon arrival to help you keep the nats off. The camp host said they are particularly bad during peanut harvest. If not for the nats, the RV park has a disk golf course, a foot gold course (soccer golf), regular golf course, and paddle boats on a small pond. There were not many options of places to stay in the area so we tolerated it for a night.

The reason we were in this area was for the Civil War re-enactment event. There are plenty throughout the country but this was the only one that worked with our itinerary. It took place in Andersonville which is where the Confederates set up their war prison camp. So, there is definitely significant civil war history there. About Andersonville prison.

The event was a combination of town fair and re-enactment. It started with a home-town parade: mayor, marching band, queens;

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Then the re-enactment people marched through.

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There were lots of food booths, craft booths, and entertainment. The re-enactment people also set up their tents, as they camped there for the weekend.

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You could visit their tents and talk with them, so we learned a bit of Civil War history from the Southern perspective.

The actors told us that they typically re-enact real battles they way they actually happened at the authentic locations but since this location was not an original battle spot, they kind of ad-libbed the event. It still gave a us a good taste of what re-enactments are like.

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This particular battle lasted about 35 minutes. There were 4 cannons on the Union side, 2 on the Confederate side, about 25 Union soldiers and about 60 Confederates. The Confederates won! We took some video which I cannot post, but if you are interested in seeing the action we can show you when we get back or try emailing it to you.

Afterward you could visit the medical tent. The woman is Rachel, a friend of Nicole’s (Cousin Brian and Joan’s daughter-in-law). She is a nurse in real life. They try to re-enact the medical activities as true to history as possible. We did not watch for too long.

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This day was probably our most surreal day, given the location and activities.

Afterward, we headed to Jasper, GA, which is about 1 hour north of Atlanta to ride out Hurricane Nate with Michael’s sister Ilene, her daughter Alexis and Alexis’ father Sandy. It was not really a hurricane but rather just persistent rain.

Day 53: Midnight in the Garden . . .

We had the whole day to explore Savannah and with the help of Brian and Joan we came up with a plan. We drove downtown to the visitor’s center, bought our tickets for the Hop On/Off Trolley and our selected activities for the day and walked over to the Museum of Civil Rights. It was closed. So, we walked back to the Visitor’s Center and were reimbursed for our tickets. Then we hopped on the trolley and started the tour around historical Savannah. It is as beautiful as you see in all the pictures and films.

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The design of the 22 (originally 24) squares was the idea of the founder of Savannah, James Ogelthorpe, in 1733. It was designed that way partly as a way to protect the city from military attack. I am curious if the square design lends itself to a stronger sense of community.

There are 15 stops for the trolley and you can get off at any to see the sights and then get back on and travel to your next destination while the driver provides details about the history of the city and the sites. We got off at stop 5 to tour our next choice in activities, the oldest active reform congregation in the country, Temple Mikvah Israel.

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It was closed due to Sukkot. Ugh! Now we needed to come up with another plan. We looked at some reviews of the home tours and selected the Green-Medrim House because it had some civil war history to it. General Sherman used it as a base when he was in town. It was definitely interesting to learn how Mr. Green basically saved Savannah from being burned down by his hospitality.

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Afterward we hopped back in the trolley to get to a good place for lunch. The driver suggested the river area, which is a street of restaurants and shops along the Savannah river. Thinking it was going to be something like the shopping neighborhoods in San Francisco, we quickly discovered it was much more like the Santa Monica pier, tourist shops and fried food. Luckily I had eyed a place close by from the trolley and managed to find it. We ended up having one of the best meals of our trip so far. The restaurant is called B. Matthews, a nice little cafe/restaurant. We asked the waitress for her recommendations. She said they are known for their fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits. We ordered each and split them.Yum!!! That definitely made up for all of our failed plans for the day.

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After lunch we wandered a bit, hopped back on the trolley to finish the tour and returned home and had a lovely evening with Joan and Brian. Thank you Joan and Brian for your Southern hospitality!