It was time to say goodbye to Savannah and head south, deeper into Georgia.
We checked out of our smashing hotel, the Hamilton-Turner Inn, after an over-the-top waffle for breakfast, served by our friendly innkeeper. A true Southern lady, she stopped to chat to us about the fascinating history of her house, including its links to the story that became Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The building is named after the man who had it built in the 1870s, businessman Samuel Pugh Hamilton.
They really were a great team at the hotel, although free drinks in the parlour of an early evening was always going to be a vote-winner with me regardless of the welcome.
We jumped in the Mustang and drove to a mall on the edge of town to replenish my stock of shirts. But what a depressing, sterile place it turned out to be. The shops sold huge quantities of the same old stuff, which explained why so many Savannah men seemed to wear the same check shirt.
I found a few things amid the ocean of dross and marvelled at the extreme sizes on offer. In fact, I was lucky to find anything smaller than extra, extra large. I shouldn’t have been surprised. The US is full of grossly fat people and quite a few of them were in the mall, stuffing their faces with the junk food and sugar that made them that way in the first place.
I couldn’t wait to get back in the car, where we set the sat-nav for the final stop of our trip, Jekyll Island.
About 90 minutes south of Savannah we experienced some bizarre weather, from blazing sunshine to brief but torrential downpours that terrified the life out of the driver in me. Hurtling down the freeway we could see the curtains of rain heading towards us repeatedly. When they hit, I couldn’t see a bloody thing out of the windscreen. It was like driving blind.
Other than the weather, the journey threw up forests and marshy wetlands, verges dotted with giant billboards. Periodically we passed interchanges, which were little more than ugly conglomerations of petrol stations, fast food joints and cheapo hotels.
We stopped at Brunswick, below beautiful blue skies and with the temperature off the scale. The guidebook rated it as an historic downtown but while the high street had clearly been tarted up and looked the part, there were numerous empty shops. The remaining bookshop was having a closing down sale.
It was a high street that looked curiously familiar, but only because those like it were a staple of the countless Hollywood films I’d sat through over the decades.
However, it was barely clinging on to life, clearly unable to compete with the out of town stores and malls. And it didn’t really have enough to keep tourists occupied either. We had coffee and a sandwich in a cafe, doing our bit for the local economy, before continuing on our way.
We drove over the modern and majestic Sidney Lanier Bridge, which offered great views beyond of a flat landscape of marshland and rivers, the occasional industrial stack billowing smoke and steam.
We were just a few feet above the water as we drove along the causeway to Jekyll Island, paying our 6 dollar fee to set foot on its shores. At the visitor centre, we looked back towards the bridge over more marshes and creeks, below a huge blue sky and billowing white clouds.
And then we were on Jekyll, once a destination for the rich and famous and still pretty select, even if I say so myself.
Our base was the Jekyll Island Club Hotel, built in the 19th century as an exclusive club and island retreat for some of the country’s richest industrialists – the Rockefellers, Carnegies and their ilk. Set in lush and immaculate grounds, the main hotel building was surrounded by a collection of grand ‘cottages’ built by some of those very millionaires as a retreat from the main building. Huge, sculptural trees filled the grounds.
The welcome was friendly, the heat oppressive, but the hotel had the air of a place coming to the end of the season.
Our room was 90s-style, smallish but comfortable, looking out over a courtyard with a tinkling fountain. After unpacking we went for a walk to the beach, about a mile or so across the island. We discovered more venerable, wooden buildings in the grounds, which were once club outbuildings but that now served as shops and cafes.
Beyond that lay a beautifully landscaped golf course, a lake and endless bugs. A couple of deer scampered through the woods.
Like Tybee Island, the beach was an endless stretch of sand backed by dunes but there was nothing of the tackiness of Tybee.
The hotel had a pavillion on the beach, which lacked a good bar and cafe, and the staff were shutting up as we arrived. Everything looked a little gloomy below the grey clouds. We had a beer and walked back, stopping off for a drink at the hotel’s Vincent’s Pub, where we met a chatty barmaid and an elderly couple keen on a gossip. One thing about the south, everyone was so friendly.
In the evening we ate at the Courtyard at Crane, located in one of the hotel’s grand cottages, manned by a gaggle of Hungarians. I went for an excellent veal saltimbocca.
We drank in the hotel’s lobby bar, served by a big bear of a gent called Mark, who hailed from Ohio. And we got talking to another couple – he a typical southerner, she a Filipino-American lawyer who loved her drink and had a strange fixation with Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
I sensed that we’d have trouble shaking her off…