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27 July 2011

Exploring Atlanta

This time last week, I was sightseeing around Atlanta with my awesome husband as a native guide.


-The public transportation system in Atlanta is pretty cool. I grew up in Houston, where Metro was a maybe-kind-of-decent way to get to events and such, if you were okay with possibly getting mugged, stabbed, or gagged by some drunk's smell. It was really wasn't an efficient means of transit for most people on a day-to-day basis and certainly not something I would have thought to recommend to a tourist for sightseeing. MARTA, by contrast, is efficient, convenient, and was overall a pleasant experience.

- Speaking of MARTA, it includes Peachtree Center Station, which is a pretty impressive architectural feet. The station is 120 feet below ground level (I'm unsure if that's measured at the floor or at the ceiling), reachable by what claims to be the longest escalator in the southeastern United States. It is a 900-foot-long tunnel carved out of solid rock; the walls are still bare stone, which is really fantastic from a visual standpoint. During the phases of the constrution process before the support structure was fully in place, air pressurized to 2 atmospheres was used to support the walls and ceiling; construction workers actually had to undergo half an hour of decompression at the end of each shift. Two atmospheres doesn't sound like much pressure by SCUBA standards, but I'm pretty sure that eight hours of it is probably pusing the limits of most dive tables, so the decompression stop makes sense.

- If you happen to be in Atlanta and riding the MARTA train, when you get off at the Georgia Dome Station, turn around and look behind you as you're leaving the station; you can see the giant concrete columns supporting the city above. Apparently a lot of downtown Atlanta is supported that way, and there are open spaces under the city besides what is properly known as Underground Atlanta. My father-in-law told us that he remembers a time when, if you snuck into those parts of the city, there were remnants of antebellum buildings where you could still see the scorch marks on the bricks left by Sherman's fire.

- One of the first landmarks we actually saw in any great detail was Centennial Olympic Park, which was built for the 1996 Olympics. Its walkways are paved with bricks, most of which are engraved with names and hometowns of people who paid for a personalized paving brick when the park was being built. Apparently there weren't many restrictions on what a person's brick could have engraved on it, because one fellow from New York has a brick in the park advertising himself as "31 and Single." One end of the park is adjacent to the Georgia Aquarium and the World of Coke, so a stroll through Centennial Olympic Park was actually a really pleasant way to get to the Georgia Aquarium, where we spent most of the middle of the day.

- We spent a lot of the afternoon wandering around Atlanta trying to find the Vortex for a late lunch (which turned into an early dinner, but it was well worth the wait and all the walking). Despite being sort of inadvertant, it was a really nice way to see a lot of downtown, including Five Points (a somewhat complicated-looking intersection which only reinforced my determination to make Greg do the driving when we're visiting), which is apparently the proper geographical center of Atlanta; the historically famous Peachtree Street (which was lined with lots of trees, none of which seemed to be peach); and Peachtree Center Station, as well as lots of interesting artwork and monuments here and there. Most of the streetcorners featured directory maps of the major artistic and historical displays around the city, with brief explanations of their importance; Atlanta is a city very in tune with and very proud of its history.

- We did eventually make it to Little Five Points for the best hamburger I have ever eaten, at the Vortex. The lesson for the day, however, was that if the bar feels the need to offer a reward for drinking something, you probably shouldn't. Greg finished his. I did not finish mine.

- On Thursday, we returned to Atlanta with Greg's dad. The first stop was Lenox Mall, just so Greg could prove to me that not everything is bigger in Texas. Seriously, the place is three or four stories high, depending on where you're measuring. It used to be an outdoor shopping district, but was enclosed and made into an indoor mall. That seems odd to me given the recent trend of building outdoor malls.

- The Fox Theatre wasn't actually open, so we didn't get to see the inside of it, but we took a walk around the outside, admiring the ornate architecture and peeking in the windows (what we could glimps of the stairway to just the offices was more elaborately decorated than the lobbies of most hotels) while Greg and his dad explained the theatre's origins and history. The Shriners originally built it as their planned headquarters, but when they ran out of funding for the project, it was leased to a movie theater magnate. Rumors claim that the building was consecrated as shrine during its construction and never properly deconsecrated when it changed hands. Hmm...

- I am also now the proud owner of a goofy hat from The Varsity. In addition to having really good chili dogs, even better peach fried pies, and absolutely amazing frosted orange shakes (sounds a little odd, sure, but they're fantastic, I swear), the Varsity is a really cool success story. Its founder followed his exasperated professor's "advice" back in the 1920s when he was told to leave Georgia Tech and go open a hot-dog stand. Apparently it worked out!

We barely even scratched the surface of things to do in Atlanta and the surrounding area; there's no way we could have in just a week even if we woke up at daylight every morning and spent every moment frantically sightseeing. That, of course, necessitates a return trip; I am lobbying enthusiastically for Christmas.

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