Travel Confessions: Kimberley Roberts on the Deep South
Hilton Brisbane Marketing and Communications Manager and veteran US visitor Kimberley Roberts is no stranger to the Deep South of America. Having vacationed in this part of the States 8 years ago, Kim returned to Louisiana and Georgia during the unseasonable polar vortex with temps of -5 degrees Celsius to find the Southern hospitality and charm is still as warm as she remembered. Here, our fave Southern belle talks us through where to eat and drink, what to see and all the local haunts (literally!) in Savannah and New Orleans.
What were the highlights of your trip?
So many highlights! The Deep South is my absolute favourite part of the USA – Savannah, Georgia in particular! The architecture in the historical district is amazing from Greek Revival to Regency architecture and Gothic Revival, and the historic district is accented with 22 squares, the most in the South. I met the nicest people and the history of the city is so intoxicating, you feel like you're transported back to colonial USA, the history of the Revolutionary war and Civil War. One thing I didn’t like? This polar vortex - -5 degree weather in Savannah just didn’t feel right in a Southern town with temperatures similar to our climate!
Let's talk about food. I know you have a love of US cuisine, what did you try on this trip and where would you recommend eating?
Oh, what didn’t I try? When I travel, I plan my trips on the restaurants – lots of careful planning goes into my itinerary! I go from the cheap and cheerful to fine dining but in a place like the USA, it’s cheap – even the fine dining!
In Savannah, I had the best food including shrimp 'n' grits and pecan pie and became quite accustomed to Old Fashioneds and Sazerac cocktails. I have this new appreciation for bourbon and whiskey. Dining in an 18th-century house called The Pink House I think was my food porn moment in Savannah!
In New Orleans (or NOLA as the locals call it!), I absolutely love Creole food so I took a cooking class and learnt to make jambalaya, gumbo, pralines and Bananas Foster and stocked up on all the spices and sauces and prayed coming through customs that they wouldn’t be confiscated – those prayers worked! In NOLA I went from cheap and cheerful pub fare to fine dining and walking around the city with takeaway hot buttered rums, hot toddies and spiced cider – seriously, these polar vortex sub-zero temperatures were not cool – excuse the pun! Oh, and a trip to The Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria hotel is a must – specially for the Sazerac Bar - the home of the Sazerac cocktail – quite a treat!
And drinks? Where to drink and what to drink?
In Savannah, I found a really cool speakeasy-style bar called Abe’s on Lincoln. My tip for Savannah is stay away from the slushie bars – I still don’t know what 180 proof means but I know it doesn’t feel good the next day! Oh, and did I mention that it’s custom in Savannah to always take a ‘traveller’ with you when you leave a bar? For New Orleans - Sazeracs at the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt, Waldorf Astoria and absinthe cocktails at The Olde Absinthe House on Bourbon Street.
What were your sightseeing highlights?
My favourite book is Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt and it's set in Savannah, so I did a tour of the Jim Williams house where the murder happened and I had a private tour guide take me through the city showing me all the sights from the book and also providing her own spin on the events. We also went out to Bonaventure Cemetery, which is an incredibly tranquil space – Johnny Mercer is buried there amongst other prolific American identities.
Savannah is also a burgeoning arts hub. Thanks to SCAD (Savannah College of Arts and Design), the city is full of amazing art galleries with art ranging from Impressionism and Colonial to Post-Modern. A trip to the Telfair Museum is a must-do - it’s the oldest public museum in the South and features approximately 4,500 objects from all over the world, dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.
New Orleans is always a fun place. Last time I was there a month before Hurricane Katrina hit the city and it was incredible to see it now. The vibe in the city is electric and consuming, again I met the nicest people, had the best tour guides – the haunted houses tour of the French Quarter still gives me the heebies jeebies. I didn’t sleep for days and still don’t want to know if my hotel was haunted! But I think my most absolute highlight of NOLA was Preservation Hall where jazz originated from – quite a humbling moment.
Any haunted house/ freaky cemetery experiences?
Savannah is renowned as ‘the most haunted city in the USA’ and the city has a ghost tour on every corner. I did the drinking ghost tour and I had a private tour through Bonaventure Cemetery on my Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil tour and a tour of the Sorrel Weed House, which has a reputation for being the most haunted house in Savannah – the house was investigated by Ghost Hunters. Hearing the footage they picked up scared the heebie jeebies out of me!
In NOLA, I had a private haunted house walking tour on a freezing cold -2 degree evening, me with a takeaway hot toddy and a tour guide/drama teacher/historian called Robachaux - Robi for short – couldn’t get more NOLA than that! He was awesome – this walking tour took me all around the French Quarter learning all about the sordid atrocities, murders, scandals and pure debauchery NOLA is renowned for. He took me to the infamous LaLaurie Mansion, made even more famous from American Horror Story. After my haunted house tour I couldn’t sleep for a couple of days – I was slightly unnerved!
How did you get around?
Savannah and New Orleans are very walking friendly. I also flew between cities - it's the easiest option especially if you're stuck for time. Be sure to plan at least one day travelling between cities.
Top tips for travelling to the Deep South?
Go the South! I have been on a road trip through the Deep South from Florida through Louisiana, Tennessee and Arkansas before and my pick is most definitely Savannah and New Orleans. If you love food, music and completely random enriching experiences, I cannot recommend it enough.
Plan ahead, and if you want a bucket-list experience, look at what’s happening in each of the cities - I happened to be in NOLA at the start of Mardi Gras! This is a personal thing - I plan my trips on the food (I’m in serious detox mode right now!) and I always look for cooking classes or food walking tours, drinking ghost tours, cemetery tours etc. I also love history tours as I'm fascinated by all things Civil War, Revolutionary War and how the South came to be. Savannah and New Orleans both offer amazing walking tours but do your research before you go.
I plan but also wing it when I get into the city to find out what's happening whilst I'm there. My top tip? Just go with the flow and take a 'traveller' with you - seems to be the saying in the South!