10 Days, 10 States: On The Road In Southern USA (II)

The roads from Texas to the East Coast and back guided us through ten states. On the beat of Tennessee Whiskey and Jailhouse Rock, we explored the inland South. Our return journey travels through Charleston, Savannah and the rich history of the Southern coastal states.

Five highlights of Southern USA – Coastal states

  • Watch the sun set over the Smoky Mountains with a cocktail {Asheville, NC}
  • Enter an oasis of green covered in insect repellent {Congaree NP, SC}
  • Discover different takes on fresh seafood {Charleston, SC}
  • Wander through the city of squares {Savannah, GA}
  • Dive into the Civil Rights Movement {Birmingham, AL}

We left Tennessee behind for a sunset over the Smoky Mountains from North Carolina. The backdrop for this stunning sight is the Hyatt Place Asheville. The Monford Rooftop Bar takes cocktails with a view to the next level.

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Day 5 – Congaree & Charleston, South Carolina

On the road from Asheville to Charleston, the North Carolina mountains make way for South Carolina’s wetlands. This green oasis harbors one of the smallest US national parks. Only four hours away from the most visited national park in the US, Congaree is one of the least visited ones.

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Covered in a tick layer of insect repellent, we started our visit in the Harry Hampton Visitor Center. The mosquito meter was clear: we would not come out of this trip unharmed.

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Don’t go calling Congaree a swamp. It’s a floodplain forest, meaning that it regularly floods but is not constantly under water like a swamp. The boardwalk trail keeps your feet dry on a 2.5-mile loop through the park.

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The self-guided boardwalk tour is a real treat for biology bluffs. My mind was already in Charleston and how to get there in time for the evening reception. Many upscale hotels in the South offer a complimentary hour of wine sipping and cheese nibbling. So does the HarbourView Inn, our elegant stay in Charleston.

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Day 6 – Charleston, South Carolina

My favorite part about the HarbourView Inn was breakfast. Fill out the breakfast menu the night before and breakfast is served the next morning at your desired time and place. We opted for the lovely rooftop, which we had to share with savage seagulls.

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After successfully preventing a seagull from stealing my quiche during breakfast, I had to take a hit on our morning stroll. A seagull (seeking revenge?) pooped all over my brand-new dress.

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Historic Charleston reveals one picturesque street after another. The most photographed one is Rainbow row, a colorful part of Bay Street.

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We found more seagulls and delicious seafood in Fleet Landing, Charleston’s only waterfront seafood restaurant. Indulging in seafood is part of the Charleston experience, so that’s what we did in Amen Street Fish & Raw Bar and Hank’s Seafood Restaurant. The latter is a classic white-tablecloth restaurant, the former is a hip but classy eatery.

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The port of Charleston used to be one of the largest slave entry ports in the USA. The slaves who survived the journey were auctioned and sold on slave marts. Charleston’s Old Slave Mart conducted the last slave auction in 1863. Eighty years ago, it was reopened as a museum. The museum sheds a different light on Charleston’s colorful facades.

Day 7 – Drayton Hall Plantation & Savannah, Georgia

Rain was pouring down while we drove from Charleston to Savannah. Guided by our Lonely Planet book cover, we stopped at Drayton Hall. This 18th-century plantation home survived both the Revolutionary and Civil war.

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We made it just in time to Savannah for the evening reception at the Marshall House, a historic hotel in the heart of the city. Everybody gathered in the library for the wine reception accompanied by a history talk. But even free wine and snacks could not persuade guests to sit out the entire hour, as the historian tried to fit each person that ever walked the streets of Savannah in his talk.

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Dinner was served in the beautiful Husk restaurant. Husk has four locations in the South, all serving seasonal southern ingredients with a modern touch. Or as Husk likes to phrase it:

If it doesn’t come from the South, it’s not coming through the door

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Day 8 – Savannah, Georgia

We didn’t get to escape the Savannah climate. It was hard to determine whether we ended up drenched because of the rain or the humid heat. This weather contributes to Savannah’s status as one of the greenest cities in the US. The tree-lined squares from the 18th century give the city a very European feel. The streets are laid out in a grid pattern, with another square every so many blocks.

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What makes Savannah truly enchanting are the hundreds of live oaks draped with Spanish Moss. Besides enchantment, they provide much welcome shade too!

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Of Savannah’s twenty-two squares, the most famous one is without a doubt Chippewa Square. Forest Gump was waiting for the bus on a bench in front of this square, while recounting his extraordinary life stories to complete strangers. The bench was just a movie prop, but the square still makes for a great photo op.

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Savannah’s waterfront is a cobblestoned street lined with restaurants. We went for lunch at Huey’s, as I wanted to give my parents an introduction to Louisiana cuisine. But gumbo and po’boys don’t taste nowhere near as good as within Louisiana borders.

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Day 9 – Birmingham, Alabama

Birmingham is tucked away in the heart of Dixie. We spent a lazy Saturday in this surprisingly diverse Alabama town on the way home to Texas.

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The city is most widely known for its role in the civil rights movement, which we learned all about in the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. Birmingham used to be a Ku Klux Clan stronghold and notorious for racism. In the midst of the civil rights movement, activists launched the Birmingham campaign. Led by Martin Luther King, they organized marches, sit-ins and boycots to protest the strong segregation laws in the South.

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In a violent reaction to the campaign, members of the Ku Klux Clan bombed the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. Four young girls were killed in the bombing. This event and the protests that followed were an eye-opener for the entire country. Birmingham events contributed to the adoption of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which put an end to segregation in public places.

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The four schoolgirls killed in the bombing are commemorated by the “Four Spirits” sculpture in front of the institute, located across from the Church where the bombing took place.

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A great place to sample southern brunch staples is Roots & Revelry. We went for two classics that are indispensable on the Southern brunch menu: chilaquiles and chicken and waffles. The portions were clearly impressive.

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We walked it all off in Birmingham’s Railroad Park. This modern green space offers views of Birmingham modest skyline.

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The Southern climate asks for regular rehydrating stops. Good People Brewing Company faces the Regions Field, home to minor-league baseball team the Birmingham Barons. The brewery serves up ales from the heart of dixie. The land of Dixie refers to the Confederate states in the American civil war. I immediately thought about Hart of Dixie, the show that put Alabama on the map for me.

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Day 10: Vicksburg, Mississippi

On the last day of our road trip through Southern USA, we made our way back to Texas through Mississippi and Louisiana. We stopped for lunch in Vicksburg, a unique little town on the banks of the Mississippi.

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Vicksburg is a popular stop on Lower Mississippi cruises between Memphis and New Orleans. We got a sneak-peak into the cruise ship action from 10 South Rooftop & Grill. Our last toast to this amazing trip – and Father’s Day – was served with 360-degree views of the Mississippi delta.

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