A Savannah Wedding Weekend

img_8048Destination weddings are always a blast, not only because you get to witness someone’s marriage and have a chance to reconnect with family and friends – but because you get the opportunity to do this in a completely new place! We just returned from such a wedding weekend in Savannah, Georgia, where we were able to experience this new city through the eyes of the couple. Since we both have some flexibility with vacation time, we tacked some days onto the beginning and end of the weekend in order to maximize our time with everyone, and get to experience as much of Savannah as we could. We were not disappointed! From the time we landed, we felt welcome in the city – our Uber driver giving us a synopsis of her time in Savannah up until the moment she dropped us at the front door of our VRBO rental – graciously booked by my in-laws.

When I say VRBO rental I really mean massive, sprawling, charm-infused Georgian home. The rental technically had three different living quarters: (1) the main house, which consisted of three stories; (2) the basement/ground-level apartment that ran the length of the home; and (3) the single bedroom carriage house that lay across the courtyard (yes – you read that correctly – across the courtyard). Each part of the property felt completely private, yet utterly connected because of the quaint courtyard area that joined them all.

From the top of the outdoor spiral staircase, we had a lovely view of our own carriage house accommodations and the nearest church (one of many), spiking up over the roof – swaying tree branches, Spanish Moss, and all. Not to mention it was a perfect 60-some-odd degrees and sunny.

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When you think “Savannah” I’m sure you immediately imagine parks, gardens, and squares – which we also did – but the sheer number of them is still striking when you arrive and start to walk the city. There are currently a total of 24 squares throughout Savannah that interrupt traffic as you walk about – making for a more pedestrian-friendly feel. Granted, we had our fair share of speedy Georgians motoring from intersection to intersection – but the squares every several blocks act as a bit of an oasis along the way to your destination. I usually recommend no destination though – wandering is when you find the best places. A few of our favorites are below:

Food & Drink

Collins Quarter – We ended up eating brunch here twice. It’s always interesting to find a foreign element in a city – which is exactly what Collins Quarter aims to do. They have fused the feel of Australia’s cafe culture into Savannah while layering on innovative and unique food. Two of my favorite things – caffeine and good eats. We would recommend them for any meal – the menu looked great regardless of when you arrive. Their website makes it clear that parties over 4 need a reservation – so run over to OpenTable and make a reservation if you’re in town!

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The Chromatic Dragon – This was another two-timer! As we Ubered into the city we saw a sign for this bar and I was intrigued – so like any good, older millennial, I ran to the Google Box and tried to figure out what this place was. Turns out it is a video game bar! Initially, I thought it would be rows of old-school arcade games, but instead, you actually sat and played pretty much any current game console and multi-player game of your choice, while you ate and drank. They’re also family-friendly, across all ages – so bringing the nephews was a-okay. Needless to say, I got my butt whooped by a 5-year-old.

For those that are a bit more old-school, there is also giant Jenga and giant Connect Four – as well as a plethora of boardgames I saw off in a corner by the bar. The menu is also full of amazing puns – icing on the nerd cake.

Kayak Kafe – Solid healthy choice when surrounded by traditional Southern food for four days! Towards the end of our trip, we were craving a salad and ended up walking to Kayak Kafe to get in some steps and take in some greens. The restaurant is actually the front-end of a local gym but has the feel of a small, local joint once you walk in and sit down. The guacamole and pita were to die for and the salads were exactly what we needed. We can speak to the “Vegetarian” and the “Greek” salads – both were home runs.

Gallery Espresso – A place that takes coffee, tea, baked goods, and employee wellness seriously. Just check out their website and read about their team and the training they’ve had while working at Gallery. We pit-stopped here for a midafternoon pick-me-up and ended up an amazing Red African iced tea and zucchini bread. They also feature a gallery space and host local artists which you can see here.

Clary’s Cafe – After in increasingly frustrating 2 hours trying to wrap up a work report I joined the family for breakfast over at Clary’s Cafe on our first full day in Savannah. The bonus here was that while I was yelling at Excel they were waiting in line, so when I finished and jogged over from the rental, they were walking in the door and just sitting down to our table! Sometimes timing really is everything.

Clary’s is a local institution from what we could discern – incredibly friendly service with photos of the owners, family, friends, and patrons all over the walls. The nephews seemed all in on the pancakes, while I inhaled one of the better omelets I’ve ever had. Breakfast potatoes – also delicious. Big diner-style fare if that’s what you’re looking for – which will provide you with a solid base for all that daytime walking/drinking

Savannah’s policy on open containers is: Open containers are a-okay! It isn’t shocking to see folks walking with a solo cup as they move from the bar to a historic site, to another bar.

Shopping 

ShopSCAD – While there are a ton of great shops and stores to poke in and out of along the way, I’d highly highly recommend the SCAD shop to anyone. Situated along one of the main roads running in between the green squares sits the SCAD shop. This shop features the insanely talented artists of SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) – everything from handbags and bowties, to candles and teas, to ceramics and furniture.

Brendan actually made a last minute bowtie purchase that made it into his outfit the day of the wedding.

Gallery 209 – great shop containing work from a variety of local artists. We ended up finding a puppy sitting gift, as well as a gift for ourselves here way too easily. The works featured here range from jewelry, to 2D and 3D work.

The Wedding!

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The wedding was a three-day event spanning the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner on Friday, ceremony and reception on Saturday, followed by a casual Sunday brunch.

The weekend looked a little something like this:

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

And from there the bride and groom quite literally rode off into the night by horse-drawn carriage…and then met us at Pinkie Masters for a nightcap!

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I leave you with this:  when in Savannah take long walks through green, fountain-clad squares – enjoy a drink while maneuvering the city (on foot w/ a solo cup) – be awestruck by the churches, cathedrals, and other architectural beauties – look for a ghost or two – stay someplace that’s nothing like your home – embrace and eat some Southern food – and then…wash it all down with a salad from Kayak and video games at Chromatic Dragon. Because soon enough you’ll be flying back to reality.

 

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Bits of the beauty…

Day 5: Wrapping up in Reykjavik

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Our final full day! Since our glacier hike was canceled on Monday we decided to rebook and do the lava caves that I talked about in an earlier post, but we were staying in contact with Pink Iceland in case the option to go out Wednesday presented itself. Unfortunately, we got the call letting us know that due to the storm coming into the region all the trips out were canceled again. We were incredibly grateful we took them up on their offer Monday instead of just rescheduling and hoping for the best.

So, with a full day in the city ahead of us, we decided Wednesday would be our wrap-up day – we planned to do a few things we hadn’t gotten to yet, and a few things that we had enjoyed again!

The list included:

The Reykjavik Art Museum Hafnarhúsið

A contemporary art museum housed in Reykjavik’s old custom’s house – the great part about their museums is that several of them are part of the same system, so when you purchase a ticket you receive admission to all of them for 24 hours.

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Bren taking in the Fact of the Matter exhibit

Ida Zimsen – our LGBT coffee house from the Pink Tour

Because who doesn’t need more coffee in their life when you’re still adjusting to the time zone a little bit – or using the timezone as an excuse to drink excessive amounts of Americano.

The Harpa – again! 

I wanted to go back and photograph more of the Harpa without being on tour. They also have a pretty amazing collection of gift shops and restaurants – we managed to find a few items to take home with us and they were actually pretty reasonable given what we purchased.

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Harpa by night – photographer’s delight

The Sun Voyager

With a view of Mount Esja in the distance, the Sun Voyager sculpture is pretty phenomenal to see in person.

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Tip of the Sun Voyager and Most. Esja in the distance

Skuli Craft Bar

The beer and the bartender were both awesome last time, so as we enjoyed the last of our Icelandic beer we wanted to do it in a place we didn’t mind giving our money to.

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The National Theater of Iceland 

Purely for a couple of quick photos. The history is also interesting. During WWII England occupied the unfinished building as part of their military operations – focusing on preventing Germany from invading Iceland and using it as an outpost.

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A dusky National Theatre

The Canopy Hotel

This was more of a quick bit of research for future stays – it’s beautiful inside and is right in the center of the city. I think we’ll have to come back with folks and give it a test drive.

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Inside the amazing Canopy Hotel

Dinner at Krost

Krost was kind enough to like one of my Instagram photos earlier in the week, which sparked my interest. After a little research, we decided to give them a try – they’re basically a nice restaurant located in the Hlemmur Food Hall, not far from our AirBnB. If we only had known this place existed! It was a small collection of coffee shops and restaurants under one roof – like a food court…but classier.

Drinks at Kiki Queer Bar

Because how else do you close out your vacation than we a few final drinks at the local gay bar? Kiki was great – the evening started off with “quiz night” and wrapped up by turning into a full-on dance party.

Fun Fact – Kiki Queer Bar is pretty much the only “exclusively” LGBT bar in the city (Bravo is also known for being queer-friendly, but isn’t strictly a gay bar) and just celebrated its 5th birthday. 

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Inside Kiki Queer Bar – love these guys no the way to the WC

 

And that was our day! We managed to hit up all of our favorites and do a few new things before we ultimately went back and packed up for our flight out on Thursday afternoon. We did squeeze in one more touristy thing on Thursday morning, so more on that soon.

 

 

 

Day 3: The City Walk Tour & Shopping

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So – late start to the morning…

Knowing that we had a tour planned for the early afternoon provided a built-in excuse to sleep in a bit later and make breakfast at the AirBnB, instead of running right out into the city like we normally would have. We also got a call from Pink Iceland  (the city’s LGBT-friendly tour company) that they wanted to start a bit earlier, which was perfect for us.  Instead of 2pm, we were going to start around 1/1:30pm – so we finished up and headed across the city to get to their main office. Once there we were greeted and offered fresh coffee (yes, please). Shortly afterward one of the co-owners (Hannes) came out and gave us a private tour! The bonus of being here in February, not quite as many tourists, so if you can deal with the colder and ever-changing weather I highly recommend it. So far this week both of our tours turned into private excursions – I think this is what they call #winning.

Over the course of about 2 hours, Hannes walked us from the Pink Iceland office along a ton of culturally and societily-relevant sites and locations, including:

  1. The location of the first openly gay bar (co-owned by him “back in the day”)
  2. The National Theatre of Iceland
  3. The Icelandic Supreme Court
  4. The Central Bank
  5. The Harpa
  6. The Reykjavík Art Museum Hafnarhús (which used to be the Custom’s House)

I’m not including much detail on the actual tour itself because if you’re in Iceland highly recommend booking the tour, or another excision, through Pink Iceland – they were awesome to us all week. The tour stopped at IDA Bookshop & Cafe, which I suspect that we’ll be back before we fly out for more americano and book shopping. While we were there we sat and talked about our common love of dogs, being married, and the short, but powerful LGBT history of Iceland.

Afterwards, Hassen walked us through some of the downtown area (as I refer to it as) and closed the tour at the statue of Jón Sigurðsson, who is known as the Father of Iceland. From this park we were able to see the country’s (Reykjavik) Cathedral and parliamentary building.

Fun Fact – approximately half of the newly elected representatives go to the blessing at the Cathedral and half go to a similar, secular ceremony with the Humanist Association (These are rough tour numbers, don’t hold me to it strictly).

From here, Hassen directed us to Glo, where we had a quick, but awesome late lunch – great if you need veggie-friendly options for folks in your group (raises hand). A little bit of everything, but focuses on fresh, local, etc. – all the trendy and healthy stuff we typically look for today. So – refusing to give up just yet, we walked around a bit afterward to window shop…this, of course, turned into real shopping at some of the co-op artist studios that seem to line the more popular streets of Reykjavik. And this obviously turned into a recommendation for a bar from a local artist.

Her initial recommendation was Kaldi (or the bar across the way, depending on our taste in drinks). Kaldi would have typically been our speed – local, lots of wood, warm lighting, local beer…but the place was packed with what we assume was a wedding party out celebrating. Still refusing to give up on our afternoon just yet, we headed across the way from Kaldi to recommendation #2 named Vedur. Good bar – GREAT happy hour prices. This is where I learned about the happy hour app in Iceland. Since everything is so expensive the happy hours are a great way to have a few drinks without spending the equivalent of a white tablecloth dinner.

Fully satiated, we agreed to hit up a local grocery store for some bites to bring back to the AirBnB – the plan being to relax, blog, upload some photos, nap (in Bren’s case), and then head back out for a beer or two at Kiki. Unfortunately, my googling failed us a bit and Kiki was closed when we headed back out, but we did end up going next door to Bravo, which was equally great and probably a bit more relaxing. I’ll be able to update you on that assumption later, as we currently plan to end Wednesday night at Kiki – we’re thinking a few drinks at a gay bar will soften the blow packing for him will deal later that night.

More soon!

Day 2: A Lava Cave, a Glacier, and Whales

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Helgafell – The Holy Mountain

Shortly after waking and meeting our guide around the corner from our AirBnB we were driven out to Helgafell – The Holy Mountain, 45 minutes west of Reykjavik, where we would be going underground into one of the many lava caves that pepper the country. The entire way out there the only thing I could think of was the roads in Ireland and how we would hold our breath as if that could make us and the car skinnier – the roads were mostly covered in inches of unplowed snow, but our guide was awesome (an obviously skilled at powering through the stuff). The only time I was a bit nervous was upon first entering the access road as she chuckled at the sign that said “Impassible!” in English and Icelandic.

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Lava Cave Entrance – Holy Mountain

But we made it though! Upon getting out to the site the sun was just starting to rise – this was about 9:15 am at this point – the wind was intense to the point that our guide helped another guide by holding his van’s door in place so it didn’t blow back and break off the hinges. We strapped on our boots, crampons, and helmets, and followed her out to the cave site where the other company’s guide was already at work digging the entrance out. It’s apparently been snowing here more than usual, so between the additional snow and high winds, the way in was completely stopped up with snow. About 15 minutes later we shimmied our way into the cave – claustrophobes beware.

Inside the lava cave
Inside the lava cave
Cave Entrance
In we go

Once inside the space opened up immediately to the point where we could stand at our full height (most of the time). Over the course of the next 90 minutes we walked through two major channels within the cave and explored the hardened lava that seemed to form drips and waves on the ceiling and walls – completely alien landscape. This experience hands down was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had while traveling. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking down below.

After exploring the lava cave we jumped back into the van and headed down the snow-covered roads to continue our tour at the Perlan Museum (the “Pearl”), which is where most of the city’s hot water is stored – but was semi-recently turned into a museum. Inside you can walk through an indoor ice cave that was created from part of a glacier they have now moved and self-contained within the museum. Once inside we were able to see an awesome photography exhibit, spend time inside the ice cave, and then walk out onto the Perlan’s 360 observation deck for some awesome views of the city and surrounding countryside. This was a really inexpensive way to spend a few hours and learn a lot about the area.

Afterwards, our tour guide was kind enough to drop us off at the whale museum (Whales of Iceland), which was something that was definitely on Brendan’s to do list. The museum was pretty cool in that it was a self-guided and self-paced audio tour through one of the big buildings along the harbor. Inside they had massive models of different whales suspended from the ceiling, as well as an interactive touchscreen (and a coffee shop, because I was fading quickly).

Tour and museum’d out we headed for what turned out to be a 3-hour awesome experience at a local bar we stumbled upon named Skuli Craft Bar. The bartender, originally from Stockholm, was beyond engaging and talked with us for almost two hours before we then both were pulled into two different conversations with other travelers. Environment and vibe alone I’d recommend this place in a heartbeat if you need to sit and take in some great Icelandic beer and conversation.

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Skuli Craft Bar

Since it was pushing 6pm at this point we decided on a late dinner reservation at Essensia, which was featured and raved about during one of the in-flight promos. Sad to say the food was average at best, so we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a must-do – not a bad meal though. We just should have stayed at Skuli instead! Lesson learned though, 4.5-star reviews aren’t always as they appear!

Thoroughly fed and “hydrated” we trudged back to the AirBnB in the Icelandic rain and wind – onto the next adventure tomorrow.