Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Atlanta, GA

In order to break up the drive between Savannah and Nashville, Joe and I decided to plan a few days in Atlanta. I had never been, and Joe wanted to show me the city. Although we love Nashville and plan to stay for several years, it probably isn't the best place for me career-wise in the long-term (though who knows?!), so we're always interested in visiting other cities and trying to discern if we could see ourselves living there.

We left Savannah around 11 and got to our hotel (Microtel-Buckhead) at about 3:30. The hotel seemed to be quite a step down from our accommodations in Savannah, but it was cheap, clean, and close to the things we wanted to do. We quickly planned a few things to do that evening and left the hotel.

Atlanta has better shopping than Nashville, and the two places I definitely wanted to hit were Crate and Barrel and Ikea. The Crate and Barrel in Atlanta (3393 Peachtree Rd. NE) has an awesome showroom with a lot of their furniture and settings. It was inspiring just to look at all of the gorgeous things. We did a little clothes shopping at Anthropologie for me and Macy's for Joe. The sales tax is also slightly lower in Atlanta, so we didn't feel too guilty.

For dinner, we headed to Emory Village for some dinner. I had chosen Doc Chey's Noodle House (1556 N Decatur Rd.), an Asian-themed menu that looked like it would hit the spot. This location was bustling with students, parents with children, and young professional couples looking to grab a quick bite. We were seated at long communal tables, though the hostess thoughtfully had left at least a seat between different parties so we weren't all jammed together. We split the fresh Vietnamese basil rolls and a pot of white peach tea. The basil flavor was a little faint, but the shrimp were firm and juicy. For dinner, I ordered the Spicy Thai Basil noodles with fried tofu, and Joe picked Chinese Black Bean noodles. They came out blazing hot, and we had to wait a few minutes to be able to eat it. The noodles were so delicious that we kept eating even after we were full and our noses were running from the spiciness. I noticed on the door that the restaurant was Zagat rated and wasn't surprised. Everything was fresh, colorful, and the flavors were balanced beautifully. When the bill came, it was accompanied by both fresh orange slices and fortune cookies.

We quickly headed over to Ikea to do some shopping before they closed, but we only had an hour and got stuck trying to pick out a duvet cover. We bought a few things but decided to go back Saturday morning before we left. After returning to the hotel, we made our plans for the next day and got a good night's sleep before our big tourist day in Atlanta.

Our first stop Friday morning was Dunkin' Donuts because the hotel's continental breakfast had been taken over by the Mizzou debate team. With our goals and GPS in hand, we ventured out to our first top: The World of Coca-Cola Museum.

At $15 for an adult ticket, this isn't necessarily a cheap attraction, but it sure was fun and entertaining. We got to meet the Coca-Cola Polar Bear, see the bottling process, and tour rooms of Coke memorabilia. The museum itself is very interactive and would be good for older kids. I was hoping for a little more of the history of Coke, and Joe mentioned that the old museum had a bit more of that. I felt that there was a little too much Coke propaganda (High-fructose corn syrup isn't bad for you!), but I enjoyed it nonetheless. One of my favorite parts was watching Coca-Cola product commercials from all over the world and noting some of the cultural differences. The final stop is the tasting room where you can taste Coca-Cola products from all over the world. Our favorite station was the Latin America station which included a apple-tasting soda. One of the sodas from Italy was incredibly bitter, and I found all the ones from Africa way too sweet. Again, it was neat to see things like black currant used in a common soda.

Centennial Olympic Park Plaza

We were full from all of the carbonation and sweet beverages, so we went on a little walk across the way to the Centennial Olympic Plaza. Having watched the 1996 games with some ferocity, it was thrilling to see it. The park offers a great open space, and because it was a nice day, there were many kids outside and people playing frisbee with dogs. Then we took a stroll up to CNN Center and visited the building that houses CNN. We're saving the tour for another time, but it was amazing to see all of the headlines scrolling around the perimeter of the lobby/food court.

By this time, we had burned off some of the carbonation and decided it was time for lunch at The Varsity (61 North Ave.). The Varsity is an Atlanta institution and is located right across the highway from the Georgia Tech stadium. It's also the world's largest drive-in and was originally established in 1928. It's a pretty standard fast-food menu, and I had to forego my Lenten pescatarianism for a hamburger and onion rings with a chocolate shake. The portions are relatively small, so I didn't feel overwhelmed by the amount of food, which is nice. Joe got two slaw dogs (hot dogs with coleslaw on top), onion rings, and a Frosted Orange, a kind of creamy slushee that tastes like a Dreamsicle.

After relaxing for a bit, it was off to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, a park run by the National Park Service that contains MLK's birth home, Ebenezer Baptist Church where he pastored, and his grave, as well as a small museum. Not only is this a great and interesting place to visit, but it's free (donations accepted)! We watched a 30-minute video on the life of Dr. King and toured the museum, which included many photos of the Civil Rights movement. There was also a children's portion and a spot where you could write your response to the museum and to Dr. King's life. With a map in hand, we ventured outside a few blocks away to see Dr. King's birthplace.

Birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

To get to Dr. King's birthplace, we also passed Atlanta's oldest fire station, which as a museum that we didn't see. The street also features several row houses in the style of 1920s workers' housing. The house, as you can see from the picture, is quite nice. I would love to have a house like that for my rectory! We saw a park ranger leading a tour group in but didn't join them. We turned back towards the museum to visit Dr. King's grave, which is centered in the middle of a long reflecting pond with fountains at one end. There is also a chapel for all faiths located close by and an eternal flame in front of Dr. King's grave. It was very powerful to visit.

Likewise, standing in front of historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King pastored was an incredible experience. Unfortunately for us, they're currently renovating the inside so that it looks like it did when Dr. King served there so we didn't get to see inside.

From there, you can walk the 1.5 mile trail to the Carter center and look at the monuments along the way, or you can get back in the car and drive there if you're a little short on time and physical energy. My friends who know me know that I am a history geek at heart and have a soft spot for Southern, American, and Caribbean history. Even though Jimmy Carter was not president during my lifetime, I was interested in seeing the museum, and I am very impressed by all the philanthropic work he has done since his presidency, particularly with Habitat for Humanity.

The reproduction of Carter's Oval Office

We only had an hour to tour the museum since they close at 4:45, so we didn't get to see anything. With our student IDs, admission was $6 per person. They are closing the museum in April in order to renovate and update it for Carter's birthday in October, and it sounds like they have a lot of neat things planned. I would like to go back and see it after the renovations. As it is, the museum pays homage to the multiple aspects of Carter's presidency: his election race, relationship with China, Iran hostage crisis, Camp David peace talks, and the energy crisis. There are fun videos of former-President Carter speaking retrospectively about his presidency, which was really neat. Even though Joe wasn't initially excited about this, he enjoyed himself. After the museum closed, we walked around the Japanese gardens behind the Carter center, which are quite lovely.

For dinner, I wanted to take advantage of the cheap ethnic food that I have missed since leaving Houston and selected an Ethiopian restaurant in the Druid Hills/Emory neighborhood using one of my favorite restaurant sites, UrbanSpoon: Desta (3086 Briarcliff Rd NE). All of the reviews were extremely favorable, and we were a little surprised to pass at least 5 other Ethiopian places that we saw in a few blocks! The dining room was cozy and lowly lit. We sampled a few Ethiopian beers, and ordered the Shiro Fit Fit for an appetizer (chickpeas mixed with sauce and injera). The injera arrived beautifully wrapped like napkins on a rectangular platter. I ordered the vegetarian combo because I never can select just one thing. Joe ordered the Fish Tibs (marinated and cubed tilapia which was sauteed with other vegetables). Joe was very stingy with the bite he gave me because he knew I would want more: it was absolutely delicious and so well-flavored. I loved mine as well and nearly licked the plate clean. Our check came with two orange slices.

Joe drove me through Buckhead, and we were looking for a place to grab a drink, when I spied Trader Joe's. One of our missions was to get wine at Trader Joe's since Tennessee grocery stores can't sell wine or liquor. Instead of going out for a drink, we ended up buying 21 bottles of wine at Trader Joe's, all but one for less than $5. Because the alcohol taxes in Tennessee are so high, we can rarely find a drinkable bottle for less than $7. After our tiring tourist day, we skipped the drink out and watched a movie in our hotel room instead.

The next morning we ate breakfast at Ikea (<$4 for the two of us!) and finished our shopping there and head back home. I really enjoyed Atlanta and could see myself living there some day. For now, I'm already planning our next visit. Joe and I both loved Robert Spano, the conductor/music director at the Atlanta Symphony, when we saw him conduct in Houston, and would like to see him conduct again. Atlanta has a lot of the amenities of a big city that I miss from Houston but seems to be prettier, have less pollution, and be better planned. I look forward to visiting Atlanta again, especially since it isn't very far away!