Travelogue: Atlanta 1999
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Atlanta Photo Itinerary: 3/10/99 Ė 3/16/99, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. The first stop on my Round the World trip. by Andrew Sigal

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The Unofficial Guide to Atlanta

Wednesday 3/10/99

Flight to Atlanta via Denver on United, First Class. Staying at the JW Marriott Lenox Buckhead tonight. Car rental from Avis - a Pontiac Grand Am. Not a bad car for a rental; good acceleration, but lousy handling, and only fair to middling seat comfort.

The JW Marriott Lenox is a very nice hotel and well located. Unfortunately, it is quite expensive, so I'm going to try to find a less expensive place to stay.

Thursday 3/11/99

Had a late breakfast with my friend Steve Moroski who lives here in Atlanta. Went to the Waffle House, a southern institution. Had a yummy breakfast of waffles, eggs, bacon and terrible grits. Afterwards, Steve took me on a driving trip of some of the historic neighborhoods in Northern Atlanta.

Steve had to head off to a meeting, so I went off on my own to the Atlanta Botanic Gardens. The Botanic Gardens are really great. Throughout the gardens are these great sculptures of frogs sitting on benches. Had a good time trying to get a photo of myself sitting with one of the frogs. It's still a bit early in the year for the gardens though; I suspect they will be spectacular in a few more weeks. The highlight of the gardens is the Fuqua Conservatory, a truly excellent conservatory with great displays. The layout of the place is really great; everything about it works well. There is also a very noteworthy display of carnivorous plants in a room where mist sprays down from the ceiling. Nice.

Had an interesting "social studies" experience watching a man with his two young children. The three walked up to a display of plants entitled "Ant Plants". The man said to his children "These are called 'Ant Plants'". The young boy asked "Why is that?" So the man read the display's discussion of the symbiotic relationships between these plants and ants to his son. He then reached out to touch one of the plants and said "Ooh, that one had thorns", which caused the little girl to burst out with "Careful daddy, donít hurt yourself!" I was struck by how early these gender patterns are instilled in children (are they innate?) The boy asks questions that probe for information and the girl expresses interpersonal concern. The children's expressions were not prompted for in any way that I could discern - they were automatic.

After the arboretum I intended to go to Piedmont Park. However, I could not find a way in to it. I drove around several one way streets trying to find the entrance but was foiled. At one point in frustration I made a left turn that was disallowed between 4pm and 6pm. Unfortunately there was a squadron of police waiting around the bend with lovely gifts for folks like me. I gave the kind officer my best "dumb tourist" act, but to no avail. Oh well. After that I gave up my attempts to find an entrance to the park.

My travel guide (the fairly mediocre "Unofficial Guide to Atlanta") said that the World of Coca-Cola Pavilion was open till 9:30pm, so I decided to head off there. I thought it was odd that it would be open so late, but if it's written down, it must be true, right. Of course, the Pavilion closes at 5:30, and I got there at 5:35. Hi ho. By then I was getting really hungry, and I was right next to "Underground Atlanta", so I went over to the food court there and had some really bad Cajun food.

Underground Atlanta is basically a mall ala Boston's Faneiul Hall Marketplace or Seattle's Pike Place, though with much more of the generic mall-chain type stores and less unique boutique-like stores. There is supposed to be a lot of fun street entertainers in the mall at night, but either I was there too early, or Thursday just isn't the night. Overall I found it to be OK, but not a must see at all. If, when you hear the name "Underground Atlanta" you imagine something like the "Underground Seattle" tour, think again. It ain't the same thing.

Finally I headed off to the bars and clubs of Buckhead. Spent some time at a bar named Mako's, and a great Irish bar called Fado Fado, and generally walked around. It was a pretty good time, but I stayed out too late.

Friday 3/12/99

Stayed out way too late last night, and woke up really jet lagged today. Hi ho. Checked out of the Marriott today - got a room at the Crowne Plaza Ravinia for about 40% less. The Crowne Plaza (aka Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza) is less conveniently located, and certainly not as nice as the Marriott, but it is such a big savings of money that I am willing to give up the marble bathroom. [Epilogue: The Crowne Plaza really is kinda out of the way. A "hotel consolidator" (www.hoteldiscounts.com) had an even lower rate for the Holiday Inn Buckhead. I suspect that it would have worked out better being closer in to town.]

Got out so late that I decided to skip breakfast altogether and move straight on to lunch. Had a hankering for better Cajun, so I went to the French Quarter Food Shop (the suburban one, not downtown.) The crawfish etouffee was good, but not the best I have had. In fact, I have had better in both Chicago and Seattle. The crawfish were very fresh, but the etouffee wasnít rich enough.

Got checked in at the Crowne Plaza, then headed downtown. First stop was the World of Coca-Cola Pavilion. I wanted to make sure to get there, since I was such a huge Coke fan during my adolescence. This place is amazing. What a palace of advertising. Three stories of Coke, Coke, Coke. It is really mesmerizing. Spent a long time reading the displays of old advertising, and learning about how Coke went from a soda fountain only drink to being bottled, etc. Watched two video presentations, and just generally let myself get into the whole thing. I also had a really good time on the second floor tasting soft drinks from around the world. Finally, of course, I had to buy a Coca-Cola sweatshirt in the gift shop. How can you not?

Left the Pavilion and proceeded to walk around town. Checked out the Flatiron building, which is kinda odd, since it is a period building, but appears to be a duplicate of the one in New York. I need to remember to look into that. I decided to walk down Auburn Street and check out the sites of historic significance to the civil rights movement. However, I must admit that part way through my walk I started to get uncomfortable being the only white person in a very Afro-American neighborhood. Finally I let prudence get the better of me and retraced my steps to a more fully integrated area. I feel somewhat embarrassed about my reaction, but I definitely did not feel like I belonged where I was walking. After walking around some more of downtown Atlanta's buildings, I made my way over to the Westin hotel. This is fairly well known hotel, as it is said to be the tallest hotel in the world. I went up to the rotating bar at the top and took in the impressive scenic view.

Atlanta really has some very striking architecture. Quite a number of the buildings are well worth checking out, and the skyline is distinctive. Unfortunately, it is a little challenging to enjoy Atlanta's architecture, because the distances are quite large for walking, but the traffic moves too fast to really sightsee by car.

That evening I was to have dinner at the home of Steve and Deborah Moroski. I had heard from another mutual friend that they like fine port, so I decided to find a bottle for a gift. This was easier said than done. I asked the concierge at the Westin where to find a liquor store in Atlanta, and he directed me to a "package store" three blocks north. When I got there it turned out to be the worst wino dive I've ever seen. If winos donít drink it, this place doesn't carry it. On the way back to my car, I called the American Express Platinum Card Concierge and asked them where there was a fine wine store in Atlanta. After a brief time on hold, they gave me directions to Mack's on Spring Street. Got to the car and headed off. When I found Mack's, I was a bit surprised to see that it was conveniently located behind a sex shop and a "lingerie modeling boutique." Needless to say I was less than certain of the fine port's that I would find there. To my surprise, Mack's did indeed have an excellent wine selection, and many fine ports, champagnes and liquors. So much for "location, location, location!"

Had a lovely dinner with Steve and Deborah and their friend "G man", then headed back to the hotel.

Saturday 3/13/99

Got up to find the weather looking really threatening. Just as advertised. Decided to just have breakfast in the hotel. The French toast turned out to be pretty good. By the time finished breakfast and was ready to head out, it had started to rain. I had hoped to do a walking tour of Atlanta Victorian homes offered by the architectural society, but on a cold rainy day that didnít hold much appeal.

I headed off to the Atlanta History Museum, which the travel book had raved about. It was truly excellent. The exhibits were well laid out, dramatic, eye catching and interesting. The whole museum was excellent. They are currently running an exhibit on quilting, which was really well done and very very interesting. Apparently the Georgia Quilt Project has photographed and cataloged thousands of quilts representing an extraordinary piece of American folk art heritage. The display at the museum showed several dozen quilts, and did a great job conveying the personal significance of these works. Definitely recommended.

I heard on the radio that there was a big St. Patrick's day celebration going on in Buckhead, so I headed over there (in spite of the rain.) Evidently the rain, wind and cold had dampened the celebrations a lot more than the radio announcer had let on. Things looked like they had been set up for a crowd, but the crowd hadn't shown up. I was pretty hungry, so I went into John Harvard's Brew House and had one of the best burgers of my life. Kicked around for a while longer, then went back to the hotel and passed out.

Got up much later and went to the Buckhead Diner, a fine restaurant with a diner motif. I still wasnít all that hungry having had a really late lunch, so I just had the soft shelled crab salad, which was a salad of seasonal greens with 3 halves of deep fried soft shelled crab on top. It was pretty good, but I donít think it really showed off the place's best work.

After dinner I headed back to Buckhead to experience the legendary Saturday night Buckhead club scene. However, the day's light rain had turned into a major downpour. There were a lot more people than had shown up for the afternoon's celebrations, but I suspect it was a relatively slow Saturday night. I was really not into the rain, and bowed out early.

Sunday 3/14/99

It's raining cats and dogs out this morning. So, I decided to take a drive around town. After a while I pulled into a place called Huey's for brunch. Had the Creole Shrimp omelet, which was disappointing. The service was pathetic. Not recommended.

Based on recommendations from my friend Ian, I went off to Virginia Highlands and Inman Park, both of which were really cool. This is definitely the interesting part of Atlanta. Wandered into an extremely cool shop in Inman Park called The Junkman's Daughter. This place was so "cool", it was too cool. I'm not sure if they really are cool, or if they are intentionally cool. Hard to decide.

Went to the South City Kitchen for dinner. It was a really nice space, and the food was great. Had an appetizer of fried green tomatoes with goat cheese, then the autumn vegetables soup, and finally pumpkin seed encrusted turkey for the entrée. Everything was very good.

After dinner I checked out Virginia Highlands and Inman Park at night. It was fun, and a lot more authentic feeling than Buckhead. Things were pretty quiet though since it was a rainy Sunday night.

Monday 3/15/99

Woke up to more crappy weather this morning. It finally cleared up around noon. I went for another breakfast at the Waffle House. It was a very consistent experience.

Spent most of the day at Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park and wandering around Historic downtown Marietta. Some people get very excited standing on ground where something important happened in the past. I donít seem to be one of those people. There isn't much to see at Kennesaw Mountain. There are a few cannons, but that is about it. I was expecting trenches and foxholes, embattlements and life size dioramas. Hi Ho. They are building a museum there, but it isn't there yet.

Historic downtown Marietta? Forget it. As a Victorian town, Marietta doesnít rank with the simplest of New England towns.

Upon returning to Atlanta I hooked up again with Steve and Deborah to have some really interesting sushi. A good time was had by all.

Thoughts on driving in Atlanta: Atlanta is renown for confusing tourists with 43 different streets containing the word "Peachtree". It is also famous for its winding streets, one way nightmares, and streets that change name at random. There is no doubt that this makes Atlanta at least as challenging as Boston. The highways, on the other hand, are excellent. Very wide, and very fast. In some places the highways are as many as 8 lanes wide. They also have great electronic signs on the highway that tell you approximately how long the drive time is from the current location to important exits further along. A nice touch. In addition, the roads are clean and attractively constructed. I imaging this may be a leftover effect from the Olympics.

People drive very fast here, with the average highway speed being 70+ even though the posted speed limit is 55. Had a surprising experience speed-wise today. I was cruising along at about 70, pacing the other traffic. I noticed in my rear-view mirror a pair of police on motorcycles, so I slowed down and went to move towards the right. Other cars went screaming around me on all sides. Did no one else notice the police? Did they not care? Apparently the police here must not care about 70mph+ on the highway, because no one besides me slowed down, and they didnít pull anyone over. Hmmm. Speaking of police, in general I have noticed a very high police profile (and I'm not just saying that because of my ticket for an illegal left turn.) While walking around town and driving I have noticed a huge number of police on foot, motorcycle, and in cruisers. I suppose that is a good thing.

People also drive very fast on the surface roads, and there are very few places where there is on-street parking. This makes sightseeing by car a challenge. It is difficult to go slow without having people tailgate (and they do), and one frequently cannot pull over to let someone go by, or just to get a better look at something. Frustrating. Other drivers here seem very discourteous. I find this surprising, because by-and-large people are quite courteous and friendly here. However, on the road they will change lanes fast and furiously, refuse to let you merge, cut you off, and box you in.

Another thing that makes driving in Atlanta a challenge is the signage. Generally speaking the signage on the highways is excellent. However, that on the surface roads is not as good. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I have been having a hard time finding and seeing the street name signs. One problem is that the signs are on only one of the four corners. To make matters worse, somehow or other the signs are always blocked by something: the sign post, the sign for the perpendicular street, etc. Also, all the street signs appear to be what I would call "residential sign size". They donít have any nice oversized signs for big important roads and major city streets. Since everyone drives so fast here, that often means you are looking for a small street name sign while whizzing by at 45mph. In a lot of cities they have taken to hanging large signs above the streets on higher speed city streets. This would be a huge improvement in Atlanta. Finally, the signs pointing to highway on-ramps often times donít give enough warning. On many occasions I have found myself two or more lanes over from where I need to be, and there is no way to make it over to the exit in time.

Tuesday 3/16/99

Finally the weather turned nice. Really nice. A beautiful, clear, upper 50's day. Drove off to Stone Mountain, the number one destination in Georgia, and also the largest exposed granite block in the world. The "mountain" (all 800 feet of it) is pretty cool, and the surrounding park is nice. I decided to take the tram up and then hike down. The view from the top was good, though Atlanta was shrouded in haze and my camera refused to focus on it. The hike down was really pleasant, and the rock formations are interesting. I particularly enjoyed the walk along the path through the woods back to where my car was parked. None of the deciduous trees had leaves yet, but there were some beautiful little yellow wildflowers growing throughout the woods.

Carved into the side of Stone Mountain is the Confederate Memorial, a relief carving of Confederate President Davis, General Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. It is apparently the world's largest relief carving, and was finished in the 1970's. To be honest, it left me stunned. I can't think of any other place in the world where the victors made a monument to the losers, and where the society that built the monument does not hold the ideals that the losers were fighting for. The Confederacy was fighting for two ideals: (1) the right to own slaves, and (2) the ultimate rights of the states over the federal government in all things. In this country (and, I assume in Georgia), we do not hold to either of these ideals. So it is kind of shocking to see a modern monument to men who struggled for those ideals. I donít think I would be any more surprised to see a monument to Hitler, Himmler and Goering (sp?) carved into the largest mountain in Germany. I couldnít help wonder what a Georgian father says to his kids when he takes them to Stone Mountain: "Kids, this is a monument to some of our forefathers who held a set of beliefs that were wrong, and who lost a war trying to defend those wrong beliefs. Uh, so we, er, built this, uh, monument to, um, celebrate, er, their failureÖ. UhÖ.. Let's go get an ice cream cone!"

As the sun was starting to set I headed back towards town and went to Dukes for some Carolina style bar-b-que. Pretty darned yummy. Shredded pork, Carolina style coleslaw, deep fried okra, and hush puppies. A cardiac feast.

Finally, off to the airport to fly to Miami. Amusing aside: as I sit here writing this, our flight is delayed because the food delivery people cant get their dolly out from under one of the hot entree carts. They pushed the cart onto the plane on the dolly, and shoved it into the place in the galley where it goes, and now the thing is stuck. They've been pulling and banging and tugging on it for almost 1/2 an hour now. It turns out that they could just lock the cart into place without any danger to the plane, but it is the only dolly they have. If another 727 shows up, they won't be able to bring any food aboard! Finally we're 10 minutes late departing and the captain tells them they have to leave their dolly and get off the plane.

Epilogue:

Atlanta is definitely not a tourist destination. It seems like a pretty pleasant place to live (as huge cities go). The people are nice here, there is good food to be had. However, if you are going to go to Atlanta for sight seeing, you'll wear the place out pretty quickly.

Round the World: [On to Florida]

© 1998, Andrew Sigal



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