The best outings are those I don’t plan to do. Usually they are cooked up by my amazing husband who often knows what I will love long before I’ve even paid any attention to where we are going (Grand Place in Brussels, the city of Ghent, the ruins of Villers Abbey, Boulogne-Sur-Mer; the list just goes on). July was the mother of all unplanned activities.
In the span of mere weeks we found out we were leaving Nassau and rushed to do all the things I would normally have six months to a year to accomplish. Add to that the uncertainty of going to a US posting where there is no housing assignment, no welcome kit, no car, and every little piece of information I usually cling to, to get me through the limbo phase of moving, was absent. Because we couldn’t fly the dog with the bigger airlines in the middle of summer, we opted to take a charter flight into Ft. Lauderdale and rent a car for the long drive up to DC. My only goal was to get to our final destination as quickly, safely, and inexpensively as possible.
Our first night on the road was spent in a dodgy little Motel 6 off of I-95 in Savannah (we were splurging the next night for better digs in Myrtle Beach so I didn’t feel too bad about the decision). I expected us to hit the road early for our next stop, but my husband had done his homework. He suggested we go into Savannah to check out Bonaventure Cemetery with it’s Spanish moss-filled trees and famous old headstones. Wait, what? You had me at old cemetery, and clinched it with Spanish moss. He gets me. He really gets me…
Bonaventure began as Bonaventure Plantation in the mid 1700’s, eventually housing the family burial plot, which still exists on the property today. In 1846 the plantation was sold and the northeastern portion, which included the site of the original plantation houses (long since destroyed by fire) was turned into a public burial ground.
The economic success of the Savannah’s elite would see the cemetery transformed in the tradition of England’s garden cemeteries, with an infusion of lavish gravesites, artistic memorials and sculptures, and park-like landscaping. The cemetery was sold to the city of Savannah and the name was officially changed to Bonaventure Cemetery in the early 1900’s.
Most of us became familiar with the cemetery through movies in the 1980’s (you know the one in particular!) and associate it with a sense of magic, voodoo, and an eeriness that plays on the imagination.
Even at noon on a sunny, hot, and humid day the cemetery is both beautiful and haunting. You could easily envision questionable things happening within it’s walls after dark, whether manmade or paranormal.
On this trip we barely scratched the surface of this massive cemetery. We tried our best to visit most of the highlights, but there is so much more to explore (as well as the rest of the city!) on our next trip to Savannah.
During this crazy summer of transition I was treated to a outing with friends that mirrored some of our experiences in Brussels together. Sherry, now retired and living in DC, and Sarah, visiting from her home base in New York, invited me to explore the museum and gardens of Dumbarton Oaks in Georgetown.
This early 20th century estate houses the art collections and libraries of Robert and Mildred Bliss. The house and its treasures now belong to Harvard University, providing a place for scholarship to those whose interests lie in Byzantine and Pre-Columbian Art, as well as garden design and landscape architecture.
In 1944, the Music Room was the site of talks that laid the groundwork for the creation of the United Nations, producing the United Nations Charter that would be adopted by the member countries in San Francisco the following year. (The above pictures do the room no justice! I was harried by a tour of 9 year old scholars!)
For me the highlight of the day were the gardens. While the house was gifted to Harvard, the grounds and carefully crafted Italian gardens were gifted to the National Park Service. Entrance to the park is from a completely different location than the house and a nominal $10 entrance fee is charged to those wanting to wander the grounds (entry into the museum’s galleries is free).
Mildred Bliss worked closely with Beatrix Ferrand to create the gardens and the result is a wondrous place to both appreciate the artistry of the garden’s designs and to take in the beauty of nature all around you. I highly recommend a trip to Dumbarton Oaks to anyone living in, or visiting, D.C. You can find more information on their website here.
There was so much more to see, but with the forecast calling for storms within the hour, our time was cut short. In fact, we only made it as far as the guard’s canopy before the skies opened up. After a brief wait we continued on our way to M street and the nearest Irish Pub for a beer.
I am grateful for friends who also enjoy exploring the cities around us and digging up the gems that so often go unnoticed during our time in the area. Our day evoked, for me, memories of exploring ancient chateaus, 12th century monastery ruins, quaint shops, and the natural wonders around Belgium. I may not have access to those sites anymore, but I still have access to good friends who share my curiosity and love of adventure. I now have a job that will take up a good portion of my time, but I do hope to see a lot more of this in the coming months of our D.C. tour.
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