Me and CCB, ready for dinner at Vic's in Savannah.

Well, that worked.


Not only did we have a great vacation—sometimes a challenge for me, since I get all uptight and fidgety about keeping schedules and maximizing downtime—but, even facing a week’s worth of accumulated work as I rejoin the daily grind, I feel the pleasant, lingering residue of relaxation.


How’d we do it? Just as I’d hoped: A basic route with virtually no specific obligations. We wandered, and the good times materialized in our path.


DeLand worked out well: The Stetson bookstore was open, so I snagged a T-shirt (nearly 10 years after graduating, I recently realized that the only school shirts I owned had been provided as part of soccer practice uniforms) and, as an homage to my icier sport of late, a Stetson tuque, then hit Boston Coffeehouse for sandwiches.



Baroque coffee concoctions from Boston Coffeehouse in DeLand.

Jacksonville’s Dave & Buster’s was the first in a string of experiences that led me to what I think is great vacation advice: Wherever you go, sit at the bar—for a meal, to watch the game, whatever. I can almost guarantee a worthwhile conversation—with the bartender, at the very least, and more than likely with other patrons, too. It’s a great tool for CCB and me, who aren’t the most outgoing types, to make friends in new places. In Jacksonville, for instance, we me a couple from…Lakewood Ranch. OK, that doesn’t sound exciting, but we found ourselves in a strange city sharing an hours-long, riotous conversation about our favorite Suncoast haunts, when all we were trying to do was watch the hockey game.


The next day, driving to Savannah along Highway 17 and enjoying a breakfast of Chex Mix and Pringles, CCB wonderfully suggested a ban on all chain restaurants for the rest of the trip. (Hysterically, we would wind up failing multiple times, but totally by accident.)



I...what now?

The Hyatt on Savannah’s riverfront. How cool to step outside the hotel and be right in the middle of everything. Not only were we able to walk up and down River Street, with its rainbow of shops and restaurants on one side and idyllic view of the water on the other, but we easily strolled around the city to see the lively scene amid the great old architecture and cobblestone streets.



The Savannah Hyatt. (I've never had a room with a view of an atrium before.)


A first-class dinner at Vic’s on the River was certainly a highlight of the trip, but so, too, was a stop at the divey Warehouse for a mid-afternoon snack of steamed peel-and-eat shrimp, looking out at the bright street and the river beyond.


caution-stairs.jpg  ccb-stairs.jpg
Caution: stairs. (CCB takes caution.)



View from the Warehouse.


After dinner we strolled the river again and listened to a duet of street performers serenading passersby with weathered voices, blues guitar and foot-stomp percussion.



Just outside our hotel, just outside Charleston.


The next day’s hotel was just outside of Charleston, but right next door to a military fort-turned-restaurant with the incongruous name “California Dreaming.” (As we strolled over for lunch, we realized it was the same place that had been recommended to us by a Savannah bartender the night before.)


Alas, it turns out it’s also a chain. But how many California Dreamings, I wondered, had waterfront gun turrets and swords on the walls?


Charleston we could’ve planned better for. Dropped off by a hotel shuttle, we saw the market, complete with overflow of Gullah sweetgrass basketweavers (which, while awesome, are also damned expensive), and strolled around the area admiring the architecture. By this point, I was craving fruits and vegetables, so we stopped in at Sticky Fingers—turns out, also a chain, dammit—and I had an awesome salad topped with pulled chicken, red onions, eggs and bacon (OK, no, not health food, but at least I got some greens in me.)



At the corner of Queen and King in Charleston.


We wanted to watch Flyers game on Broad Street (get it?), but settled for a stop at the South End Brewery, which started out nice but got awfully douchey awfully quickly.


People say Sarasota could model itself on Charleston, but I’m not sure. Both could be considered upscale tourist destinations, but Charleston’s sort of “Grand Old South,” which doesn’t jive with Sarasota.


Now, I know I’m biased as a semi-slacker 30something, but Wilmington, Wilmington I could see being Sarasota’s muse. Aunt and Uncle Cheetah Club let us loose by the Wilmington waterfront, which to me has a lot in common with downtown Sarasota’s character: There was an outdoor concert by the pier, and just off the water were block after block of quirky little bars and fancy restaurants spanning every style and flavor. Seems to be a small town with high culinary standards, plus great beaches—sound familiar? But on top of that, Wilmington’s got a rousing, extensive and varied nightlife (helps to have a thriving local music scene). There was a youthful adventurousness that didn’t kill the sense of history, and also served to energize the high-end establishments. I dug it, I really did.


Wilmington's Second Street (and an Impala dashboard).


So that’s the trip, in a (800-word) nutshell. Just to make sure it wasn’t perfect, we got delayed for three hours in the Atlanta airport. But then we took a cab directly from SRQ to Stairway to Belgium to watch yet another Flyers game with the Philadelphian owners. There’s no place like home.