I tend to be a person of, shall we say, passion.
I choose the word passion with great vigilance, as I am attempting to cast a rainbow rather than a grey-umbrella-term over a few of my characteristics, which may seem somewhat ostentatious. For example, I can blame my inability to cope with losing a game of bocce ball on the fact that I am passionate about the art of throwing lead balls, and simply need each member of my team to pull their weight. I’m not obnoxiously competitive, I’m passionate. Or, if an Australian calmly refers to America as the land of sodas and muffin-tops, I sweetly respond with a long-winded rebuttal of statistics on global obesity rates and passionately smack the 3,000 calorie meat pie out of their hand and glare judgingly at his Coke. It’s passion folks, not shameless, prideful patriotism.
Earlier this morning, as I was perusing the internet in an attempt to avoid productivity, I came across a post about a road trip through the southern states of America, written by a fairly popular travel blogger. Naturally, I clicked and began reading. As I was reading through the tales of each state, I noticed the absence of one slightly important (and possibly favored) southern state… Georgia. When I scrolled through her list of southern states and finally reached the bottom of the page, my raging (ahem) passion burst from me suddenly as I took on the form of a She-Hulk and pounded two veiny green fists into the innocent table beneath me. How could one possibly claim to have successfully completed a road trip through the south, if they skipped Georgia?!
So yes, I may be quite passionate about the fact that my beloved home land is often skipped over when backpackers and travel writers make their lists of must-sees. But as the green in my hulk hands began to deflate, I suddenly remembered that I am also a travel writer. So as I reflect on my recent journey through the heart of the south, I’ve composed my personal list of why Georgia should be one of your must-sees.
1. Fried Chicken and Grits. (This had to be number 1 on the list)
While I’m quite aware that nearly every southern state offers grits, and even dirt roads through rice fields in Indonesia will eventually lead to KFC, these two delicacies are just simply done better in Georgia. From fried drumsticks at Gus’s Gas Station in Dublin, all the way to the deep fried gizzards and liver box from The Village in Blue Ridge, the battered bird belongs on a silver platter when served in Georgia. And while grits may be a southern staple in every state, it’s on the coastal marshes of Georgia, like Savannah or St. Simon’s Island, that you’ll find grits rendered in cheese and spices, serving as a molten bed of goodness for large Georgia shrimp. And you know you’re in a beautiful land when they chuck a fistful of bacon atop the mound. If that’s not reason enough to book your flights to Atlanta, you’re only through number one on my list…
2. SEC Football.
This was my original number one on the list, but fried chicken is a year-long sport in the state of Georgia, while football is that beautiful season of multi-colored leaves and blood pumping of red and black.
If you stumble into the state of Georgia between the months of August and November, drop all of your plans and venture up to Athens for what will surely be one of the greatest weekends of your life. I spent five amazing years living and studying in Athens at the one and only, University of Georgia. Academics aside, completing your degree at an SEC school is a University experience unlike any other. Sanford stadium, packed with 100,000 fist-pumping, dawg-barking, chest-painted fans, becomes the state of Georgia’s second largest city on game day. Women wear cocktail dresses and pearls as they play competitive games of corn hole, while the gentlemen sport bow ties and red trousers, standing around flaming grills and hand-welded smokers. And nothing beats the walk downtown from the stadium, chanting glory songs to “Ole Georgia” breathing in air that smells of fireworks and a hint of bourbon.
3. Live Oaks and Spanish Moss.
Paris has the shadow of the Eiffel, Florence has cobblestone paths and Sevilla is lined with the scent of orange trees that fill your lungs along every step. But Savannah, Georgia… we have the live oaks, dripping with Spanish moss and rich history.
I grew up seeing these stunning trees lean across sidewalks, shading us from the sun and sheltering us from rain. And even today, walking along the streets of Savannah I can’t help but marvel at them. I’ve seen some incredible cities, but Savannah, Georgia will always have a seat on my list of world beauties.
4. The People, Definition of Hospitality.
The south is known for hospitality, but I didn’t realize just how true that was until my recent trip home. As I’m currently living in Australia, I decided to have two travel pals join me for my two weeks back in Georgia. I felt a pang of nervousness rush through me as we left the airport in Atlanta, wondering, “What if it’s not as amazing as I make it sound?” But from every encounter from gas station clerks to strangers on sidewalks, the beautiful folks of Georgia more than exceeded my expectations and welcomed my two Aussie companions with open arms and sweet tea. Women called us darlin’ while southern gentlemen opened doors and held out hands of support as we stepped down from oversized pick-up trucks. It’s not about being friendly, it’s about being family. And if you’ve taken the time to fly over seas just to visit our lovely state of magnolias and peaches, then you my friend are a guest of true honor.
5. Pick-up Trucks and Dirt Roads.
There may not be movie theaters and bowling alleys in every small town in Georgia, but you could bet you nannie’s cast-iron that we’ll have pick-up trucks and dirt roads. And really, what more could you need in life? Southerners are raised as social beings, as we always speak in the grocery store and never meet a stranger. Our social culture knows nothing of boredom, which is how the pleasure sport of “riding flats” came about, giving us all an excuse to pack into the extended cab of F150’s, cranking Garth Brooks and cruising the dusty trails leading to nothing. I doubt I would ever choose a movie date over a late night on dirt roads with a little Conway Twitty in the speakers.
6. Low Country Boil.
It was somewhat difficult to only allot two points on my list for food, but low country boil has certainly earned its place. This meal is the perfect marriage of Coastal Georgia cuisine with sweet southern socializing. Boiled in one large pot, which in this case was the sawed-off bottom of a beer keg, you have potatoes, corn on the cob, sweet Vidalia, Georgia onions, cased Kielbasa sausage and sweet Georgia shrimp. A shockingly large dose of salt in the boiling water and a couple fistfuls of sliced jalapeños and you’ve got a finger-burning feast. The social ingredient of this meal comes in when you dump the whole pot on one table and invite your guests to stand around and dig in. No plates or forks necessary, just a shared stick of butter for the corn and a chatty group of good company. Just wash your hands after you peel your last shrimp, if you don’t want swamp fire in your eyes later.
7. Sweet Accents and Good Manners.
I’ve traveled the globe and heard the swoon of a French woman simply ordering a coffee. The charm of an Italian man with the lingo of a Shakespearean character would be enough to make any woman melt. That is, until you meet a Georgian. This is a land where ladies call strangers “sugar” and gentlemen will always answer you with “yes, ma’am.” Men have firm handshakes and offer their jackets to any lady with chills. We bake casseroles for anyone having a rough moment and always write personalized Thank You notes for even the smallest of gestures. Spend an evening in a Georgia pub listening to sweet southern accents and you’ll walk out with a cavity and maybe a phone number.
8. Skeet Shootin’ and Moonshine.
Back to knowing nothing of boredom, a lazy Saturday in Georgia will likely be filled with beer drinking and shotguns. Why? Because we always have both on hand. My Australian gal pals were quick to jump on the chance to layer up in camo and punch in the safety of a few shotguns.
With a few boxes of clay disks patiently waiting to be launched to the sky and pulverized, we successfully completed a cool Wednesday afternoon, Georgia style. And when in Georgia, you never know when a jar of homemade moonshine may be passed around the fire pit.
9. Pearls and Lipstick.
Ladies of the south have a reputation to uphold, and the gals of Georgia are certainly no stranger to the traditions of pearls and tasteful heels. We know how to dress for the hour of the day, and a true Georgia lady knows never to wear white, red or black to a wedding. Two hours past Labor Day? A lady of the south packs away the white trousers and stocks her wardrobe in shades of Autumn. Our lipstick is crimson and our fashion may dip into varying depths of hipster or classy, but we will never be caught with our hair untamed unless it’s tucked neatly beneath a UGA ball cap.
10. Blessed Hearts.
No matter the person or the situation, if it’s a negative remark or an unfortunate event, we will always end a sentence with “Bless her heart.” This statement makes all things right and good with the world, so we toss it around like a football on game day. My sister keeps this sign in her guest bathroom to remind her visitors of this concept, and the beautiful land they are in.
Georgia is the state of peaches, pecans, and pearls. We’re the state of the nation’s perfectly paved highways, red lipstick ladies and gentlemen in cardigans. We may not have Lynard Skynard singing our anthem, but I’m pretty sure Ray Charles wrote a little diddy about us, and you can always catch the midnight train to reach us. So pardon my passion, as I chant Glory Glory to Ole Georgia! Pack your bags and don’t skip the blessed heart of the south!