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Holiday trip takes in history lesson

It was a use it or lose it situation. I had a prepaid condo week that expired on Dec. 31 so it was travel over the holiday season or say goodbye to my investment.

Querying my travel crew the response was sure why not but let’s head to someplace new, different and near a beach.

Requests were made to head to an amusement park but most very closed for the season and Disney in either Fla. or La. was not an option. This was going to be a revival of the great American family road trip. You know, pack the car hit the open road and spend plenty of quality family time together.

Having waited until the last minute to exchange my vacation week the selection was extremely limited but I was fortunate to snag accommodations on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

This locale worked for everyone so it was off to the low country.

Working out of Hilton Head our plans were to explore Charleston S.C, Savannah, Ga. and the surrounding countryside. This is an area rich in American history, art, culture, dining and more.

Thriving port cities in our nation’s early days Charleston and Savannah offered well preserved examples of the old South.

It was close to a 600 mile drive and with a middle of the afternoon Christmas Day departure we elected to stop over en route. Wytheville, Va. was selected as the evening stop.

Just needing a place to camp out for the night Wytheville offered inexpensive lodging right of the freeway and was about 200 miles from home.

I’ve never really traveled on Christmas Day and discovered dining options to be very limited at the stopover point. It was either gas station hot dogs and chips or the Waffle House.

Let me tell you there was an eclectic mix of folks dining there that evening.

Our next stop was Hilton Head Island. It was a rather upscale destination with resort hotels, time-share condos, specialty shops and restaurants.

There are plenty of great public beaches here but you have to access them through certain walkways.

The resorts don’t want any guests wandering through their properties which is understandable.

American towns don’t come much nicer than Savannah, 17 miles up the Savannah River from the ocean, on the border with South Carolina.

The appealing Historic District, ranged around Spanish-moss-swathed squares, formed the core of the original city, and today boasts examples of just about every architectural style of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the atmospheric cobbled waterfront on the Savannah River, key to the postwar economy, is edged by towering old cotton warehouses.

Savannah was founded in 1733 by James Oglethorpe as the first settlement of the new British colony of what eventually became the state of Georgia.

Founded in 1670 by a group of English aristocrats as a specifically money-making venture, Charles Towne swiftly boomed as a port serving the rice and cotton plantations.

It became the region’s dominant town, a commercial and cultural center which right from the start had a mixed population, with immigrants including French, Germans, Jews, Italians and Irish, as well as the English majority.

One-third of all the nation’s slaves came through Charleston, sold at the market on the riverfront and bringing with them their ironworking and building skills.

The town had a sizeable free black community too, and its then unusually urban density allowed an anonymity and racial openness that, although still dominated by slavery, went a lot further than in the rest of the South.

One of the finest-looking cities in the U.S., today spreads way beyond its original confines on the tip of a peninsula at the confluence of the Ashley and Cooper rivers, roughly one hundred miles south of Myrtle Beach and north of Savannah.

It’s a compelling place to visit, its historic district lined with tall, narrow houses of peeling, multicolored stucco, adorned with wooden shutters and ironwork balconies wrought by slaves from Barbados.

The Caribbean feel is augmented by palm trees, a tropical climate and easygoing atmosphere, while the town’s pretty hidden gardens and leafy gardens