Middleton, Beaufort, and Savannah

Leaving the stately mansions and leafy gardens behind, we headed out of Charleston early today and no, we didn’t have enough time to see it all.
We went to the plantation country, where, once again, our time was short and all we managed to see was just one plantation, Middleton Place. We would really need a whole day to cover only this one plantation. But even in the couple of hours we spent there, we got a feel of the life before the civil War – both high (for the owners) and low (for the slaves). You can understand why white Southerners went to war to preserve their way of life and why the Yankees fought to destroy it.
Most of the plantation was burned in the Civil War, but the part that has been restored lets you glimpse the lavish lifestyle of the owners and the miserable life of the slaves.
The grounds were vast and bucolic. A pond,encircled by ancient oaks with Spanish moss hanging off their branches and reaching out for the water, was that of a painting – a beauty so profound, you could hardly believe it real.
En route to Savannah, we made a slight detour for the costal resort town of Beaufort. A few miles before reaching Beaufort, we came upon a stand on the road advertising homemade ciders and pies. So we stopped and went in. In addition to blueberry pies and blueberry/strawberry cider (delicious!) we tasted boiled peanuts (ugh) and unshelled deep-fried peanuts (interesting). The pie and the cider, though, were well worth the stop.
Beaufort is a small town with a large number of antebellum homes. The town is pristine, civilized, with no riffraff. I don’t know if it’s worth the detour, but personally, I enjoyed strolling by stately pre-Civil War mansions and then on the main street with art galleries selling local artsy crafts and jewelry.
Next door to the visitor’s center, we stumbled upon an 18th century synagogue – could have fooled us. it looked like a Baptist church from the outside. Who would have expected to have an active Jewish community in this small town deep in the South!?
We arrived in Savannah in the evening. The first thing that struck us was how crowded the streets were! Charleston was completely deserted in the evening. In the darkness, we felt uncomfortable walking the empty streets there. Here, people mill around, sit on the benches in numerous parks, the town is well lit and restaurants are full. I don’t know how it’s going to look in the daylight, but at night it is lively and pretty – not as charming maybe as Charleston, but more city-like and vibrant. Here too, we stumbled upon a synagogue (this is becoming a Jewish tour of the South :-). Here too, if it were not for the Jewish star on the facade, we would have taken it for a Catholic church, why, with it’s steeple and its neo-Gothic structure, who would have thought???
There were people hanging out outside. They started walking in and we followed
This was a wedding rehearsal, and thus we became wedding crashers 🙂
Well, not exactly… We were honest and told the very cool young rabbi that we just wanted to see the interior. He was very sweet and told us to wait until the end of the rehearsal, and then personally took us on a tour of the sanctuary and the museum. Actually, it was a neat museum! Spanish and Portuguese Jews landed in this area in 1733 and founded a shul. In the museum, among other artifacts, they have letters from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to the synagogue officials, and also a torah scroll dating to the 15th century and brought to the New World by these Spanish exiles.
Tomorrow, we’ll check out the city in the daylight and report if our positive impression still holds.

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