Atlanta is simply awesone
ATLANTA has the busiest airport in the States, and while many people just drop in to get connections to go elsewhere in America, it’s a city that’s more than worthy of a visit.
That point should be emphasised to the friendly lady manning a US Immigration desk at Dublin Airport.
When asked what the reason for going to Atlanta was, I replied: “Holiday”. She looked incredulous - “no one goes to Atlanta on vacation”, she snorted.
Atlanta is a cool city.
It boasts some of the most iconic brands - Coca Cola, The Georgia Peach, CNN - and has many impressive nicknames.
It’s known as The Big Peach in the Peach State because, you guessed it, Georgia grows the best peaches in the United States.
Another moniker for Atlanta is The City too Busy to Hate, and The Black Mecca; it was one of the first southern cities that, during Civil Rights struggle, gave equal rights to African Americans who went to live there, knowing they would have more opportunities to be treated equally.
But my favourite is The A. Simple, to the point...doesn’t need any explaining. It’s the only city easily identified by just one letter.
The capital of the state of Georgia, has many places of interest, including the headquarters of CNN, a Coca Cola museum (this is the town the most famous drink in the world was first made) and a wonderful centre devoted to local boy, Martin Luther King Centre.
Many Irish people will be familiar with Atlanta hosting the Olympic Games in 1996, when Michelle Smith controversially won three gold medals.
The Olympic stadium is now used by the city’s local baseball team, the Atlanta Braves.
In 1837, the Western and Atlantic Railroad was being built, heading eastwards, and Georgia decided to build a railroad to the Midwest.
The area where the two lines intersected was chosen to be the terminus.
And quickly, in post-Civil War America, this ‘terminus’ grew, expanded and boomed into the city of Atlanta.
The city centre area is quite small and easy to get around - an efficient tram runs through its central area, and there’s also a busy underground metro system.
For a good tour of the city, take the Peachtree Trolley.
This costs €25 and lasts 90 minutes, taking in most of the main attractions with a hop on/hop off allowance. It leaves from near Centennial Olympic Park, one of the lasting legacies of the Olympic Games.
The 21-acre park features the Fountain of Rings and has become the impetus for widespread efforts to revitalise residential and commercial development in Atlanta.
With eight-and-a-half million gallons of water, the Georgia Aquarium is the largest in world, home to all sorts of exotic mammals and fish.
The World of Coca Cola offers an informative, multi-sensory 4-D theatre, a gallery dedicated to Coke and pop culture, and a seven-foot Coca-Cola polar bear.
As you’d expect, you can buy lots of Coca-Cola products.
CNN (Cable News Network) was launched on June 1, 1980 as the world’s first 24-hour news network. Headquartered in Atlanta, it was initially available in fewer than two million U. S. homes.
Today, CNN is seen in more than 89 million US homes, and 160 million internationally.
An hour-long tour there allows you to peek into the bustling newsroom, and view studios in which broadcasts are made.
If you’re lucky, you may even to bump into Fionnuala Sweeney, the former RTE star who hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in Millstreet, Co. Cork, in 1993.
She is now an anchor based in Atlanta.
The King Center in the heart of the National Historic Site includes the birth home of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the crypt of Dr and Mrs King, and exhibits at Freedom Hall.
Dr King was born in Atlanta in 1929 and led the civil rights movement from the city until he was assassinated in Memphis in 1968.
His last resting place is set beautifully in the middle of a long water feature. You can also visit King’s home, now a preserved museum located on the same street.
Also located near Centennial park is the Center for Civil and Human Rights, where theatrical and high-tech
exhibits use motion, sights and sounds to immerse visitors in the American civil rights movement.
Touch-screen video panels bring visitors face-to-face with human rights activists from around the world
Atlanta is also famous at the setting for much of Gone With The Wind.
The novel, written by Margaret Mitchell and first published in 1936, depicts the struggles of young Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner.
Mitchell was killed in 1949 when she was hit by a drunk driver while on her way to see a movie. Her home is now a historic museum and visitor centre, and a portion of the building is devoted to the making of the film.
The trolley tour also passes the Georgia State capital - its dome is made up of actual gold. It was built in 1889 and designed to resemble the US Capitol Building to serve as a sign of Atlanta’s new nationalism.
Georgia was reaffirming its loyalties to the nation and called Atlanta the Capital of the New South.
In case you’re wondering why it’s called the Peachtree Trolley Tour, it’s because Georgia is known as the Peachtree State. So proud of the superior-quality peaches that are grown there, back in 1995 Georgia designated the peach as the official state fruit.
There are lots of happening hot spots and pubs on Peachtree Street, including Meehan’s Irish bar. There are several hotels located around the Peachtree area, a great central base for visitors.
Americans LOVE their breakfasts, so brunch at the West Egg Café (at 1100 Howell Mill) is a must.
There are queues out the door, so grab a coffee and sit in the sunshine while you wait - it’ll be worth it. Southern Living magazine awarded The West Egg Café the honourable title of Best Breakfast in Georgia - and it’s well deserved.
Try the Georgia Benedict; turkey sausage patties, two eggs and turkey sausage gravy over a split biscuit. And mashed potato.
When night falls, head for dinner at the Vortex bar and grill (438 Moreland Ave. NE, a 10-minute taxi ride from the city centre).
It is the self-proclaimed Godfather of Atlanta Burger Joints and offers four meaty whoppers: Vortex Burgers, Signature Burgers, Bypass Burgers and OMFG Burgers.
If you’re up for a food challenge, Hell’s Fury, Fat Elvis or the Triple Coronary Bypass will have you busting a gut.
And it wouldn’t be an American city without Hooters - on Peachtree Street, Atlanta’s is fabulously tacky and serves up finger-lickin’ good chicken wings.
If you can move after all the gorging on super-sized American fare, you’ve got to get in some shopping.
There is a small mall on Peachtree Street, but Atlanta’s main shopping is located at giant outlet centres on the outskirts of town, which are easily accessible on the MARTA metro system.
I hopped on for a 10-minute ride to Lennox Square. Alongside faves including Banana Republic, Foot Locker, GAP, A&F, American Eagle Outfitters and Armani Exchange, there are also giant department stores such as Bloomindales and Macy’s.
Macy’s offers a 10 per cent discount for international travellers, but at the till you’ll generally get a 20per cent discount. AND there’s a Cheesecake Factory there.
So if you’re transiting through Atlanta, the city is well worth a visit, with lots of fun things to do and see - and the friendly locals would love you to drop in. :
Bargain beach life
You can relax on the best beach in the States after a hectic time in Orlando with a visit to St. Pete/Clearwateri, which also holds the Guinness World Record title for the longest consecutive run of sunshine days.
Situated on a sun-drenched peninsula in Florida’s Gulf of Mexico, Clearwater Beach was TripAdvisor’s number one beach in the USA, and St Pete Beach is ranked at number four of the best beaches in the USA for 2016.
American Holidays has five nights at Rosen Inn at International, Orlando and five nights at the Barefoot Beachfront Hotel, Maderia St Pete/Clearwater from €829pp in August.
Price includes flights and four days car hire. See americanholidays.com.
Return flights to Atlanta start from around €550. Given it’s America’s busiest airport, it’s surprising there are no direct links to Ireland yet, but there are good connections. I flew with American airlines from Dublin via Philadelphia.
American Airlines flies from Dublin to Atlanta via Charlotte, Chicago–O’Hare, New York JFK or Philadelphia from €565.74 return pp. (inc. taxes). See www.aa.com/intl/ie or call 0818 710 299
The MARTA metro system goes direct to and from Atlanta airport into the city centre, while a taxi fare for the same trip costs around €20.
I stayed in the Ellis Street/Peachtree area, where there are several large hotels, all offering good seasonal rates. For best offers check out Trivago, Expedia or Hotels.ie.
The Atlanta City pass costs around €65 and allows passes into most of the major attractions, such as CNN, the Coca Cola Museum, the Georgia Aquarium and Atlanta Zoo. See www.citypass.com.