Thursday, September 4, 2014

Cold Midwesterner Seeks Heat and Humidity. A Perfect Match? Atlanta.

I love the South. I love it so much that I can barely stand it. I think in another life I was surely a southern belle, wearing hoop skirts, living on a plantation and fanning myself in the humidity. In this life I still enjoy heat, humidity, a cute dress, SEC football, sweet iced tea and bourbon. This is a combination of things that are not properly appreciated here in the Midwest. I think I might live in the wrong place.

At any rate we decided the best way to spend the last weekend of summer was to head to Atlanta, Georgia to see my West Virginia Mountaineers take on SEC/national powerhouse and number two ranked Alabama at the Georgia Dome. The game had a lot of nearly heart stopping moments (which I'll get to in a minute), but first let's talk Atlanta. And sweet tea.

We had a very early flight out of Lansing on Friday morning (also my 36th birthday), rolling into ATL before 10 am. We've all heard the horror stories of Atlanta traffic, and I was pleased to discover that Atlanta has a public transit system, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA). MARTA is one of the most accessible public transit systems I've ever used. I could not be more impressed. It's a lot smaller than systems in New York, Chicago or Washington, DC which probably helps, but regardless MARTA is awesome. We bought a 4-day pass, which is no longer an option in DC (unfortunately) for only $20. The MARTA station was only a quarter mile from our hotel, the Intercontinental in Buckhead. After exiting the train there were directory signs pointing riders to hotels and attractions. I've never noticed that in another transit system. It was very user friendly, and without MARTA the trip would've been considerably more logistically complex.

Representing my Mountaineers on a MARTA train
Thankfully we were able to check into our hotel early and then head out to explore Atlanta. First stop? The Capitol building. Obviously. We took the train to the nearest stop and walked a few blocks in the fabulously stifling Atlanta summer heat. The sun was so hot, and I'm quite sure it was the first time I've been REALLY warm all summer. I love visiting other Capitol Buildings to see how they differ from ours in Michigan. Georgia's Capitol is very wide and open with tons of natural light. All of the offices have glass windows (including the Governor's office) to maximize transparency.

The security guard suggested we pop into the Governor's office to sign the guest book. Signing the guest book turned into an impromptu tour of the Governor's office. We were given a tour of the office, shovel room (filled with shovels from various groundbreaking ceremonies) and given cold bottles of Coca-Cola and Georgia peanuts. Here in Michigan you can't even get into the Governor's office building without an escort (assuming you have an approved meeting), and the Capitol office is rarely open. It was certainly a more visitor friendly experience. Plus Coca-Cola is delicious.

My husband at the Governor's office.
We looked all around the Capitol and marveled at the differences. The Georgia legislature is in session from January to March/April unlike our year-round legislature. The building was preternaturally quiet, and it seemed like we had it to ourselves. We learned that the beautiful gold dome is made from gold found in the State of Georgia. We took my obligatory jumping in front of the Capitol picture, although I didn't realize how painful jumping still is until we got to it.

The Georgia Capitol Building

Obligatory jumping photo
After our tour we headed back toward our hotel for lunch. I'm sort of like a 2-year-old when I get hungry. There's very little warning, and then I'm starving and throwing a tantrum. Despite my desire to have some delicious southern food, we got to a point where I needed food. Immediately. Lunch was late at Fresh to Order, a southern chain without particularly southern food. It was passable though as I scarfed down a Bison burger, mac 'n cheese and my first of many glasses of sweet iced tea. 

We spent a few hours relaxing by the pool with cocktails, and we both fell asleep by the pool. That isn't something that happens to me - the early morning flight caught up with me. We were joined in Atlanta by my dad's two brothers and their spouses, plus one of my cousins and his fiance (my sister joined us on Saturday). We had a birthday dinner at Capital Grille about a mile from our hotel. It was one of the best steaks I've ever had, and lobster mac 'n cheese? Yes, please. For those of you keeping score, I DID have mac 'n cheese twice in one day.

Saturday was the best day of the entire year - the first Mountaineer football game! I will admit that I didn't have high hopes for the game. Alabama is an amazing team, and with only a four win Mountaineer season last year I didn't have great expectations. We met the family at Dantanna's in the CNN Center for food and drinks before the game. We got there early and ended up with a great vantage point to watch everyone coming and going. It wasn't traditional tailgating, but if I'm being honest it may have been better (although my husband points out not cheaper). 

Jones family tailgating at Dantanna's
The Georgia Dome was alive with college football excitement. I felt that familiar flutter of excitement watching the Mountaineer band before the game and seeing the team run out onto the field. My Mountaineers decided they would surprise everyone (particularly Alabama, I'd imagine) by keeping the game extremely close. After a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown we ended up down by only 3 at the half. We did ultimately end up losing 33-23, but it was much closer than the score indicated. I left the stadium feeling positive about the rest of the season. On the other hand if I were an Alabama fan, I would be stressed.

In the Georgia Dome before the game
Despite my insistence that I'm 100% recovered from all surgeries and related infections, I still find myself getting tired attempting my usual level of activity. We headed back to our hotel to eat at the hotel restaurant, Southern Art. Southern Art is an Art Smith restaurant, and Art Smith was Oprah's personal chef for a while. At our server's recommendation I had fried chicken and cheesy grits. Are you kidding me? I don't even love chicken, and it was phenomenal. It was southern and decadent and delicious. Operation Weight Gain (to gain back the weight I lost during my hospital stay in July) is finally starting to be a success. I thank the cheesy grits.

I never sleep in, and sometimes I think I've forgotten how. I must've worn myself out in Atlanta because every day I woke with a start between 8:30 and 9 am wondering how I had ever slept so long. On Sunday morning my husband and I went for a run near our hotel on the sidewalk abutting insanely busy Peachtree Road, the main artery that runs through the City. On part of the street near our hotel they created a boulevard with trees and flowers in the middle. It at least gave the appearance of a smaller street. Unfortunately the Buckhead area is a prime area for big box stores and large retailers. In some parts the big stores fronted the street, but around the corner from our hotel I had to walk through a parking lot to get to a Caribou Coffee. After reading (and being somewhat obsessed with) Jeff Speck's Walkable City I had plenty of negative comments to make about Atlanta's street design.

A gorgeous day in Downtown Atlanta
Later that morning my sister joined us, and we took MARTA to Downtown Atlanta. We'd heard that the World of Coca-Cola was a cool attraction, and we headed there. It was a neat museum with lots of Coca-Cola artifacts and history. We had our photo taken with the polar bear mascot and tasted enough soda to give me a sugar buzz. My absolute favorite part, however, was running into West Virginia University's President E. Gordon Gee. I behaved like a teenager at a One Direction concert, jumping out of line for the polar bear photo to get a photo with him and chat. He was so nice, and seemed genuinely interested in chatting with us. I was completely star struck which my husband found quite amusing. I'm a sucker for cute academics in bow ties.

With President Gee. He's adorable!
We took a jaunt through beautiful Centennial Olympic Park. The park was filled with people enjoying the beautiful, warm day. We headed downtown where DragonCon was happening, and the people watching was spectacular. As one not familiar with Cosplay (short for costume play) or comics in any way, it was...something. I'll try not to be too judgmental (actually I won't try that hard), but I must admit it seems very odd to have a group of grown humans dressing up as comic characters. Also it was hot, and there were some seriously legit costumes. My sister and I may have giggled a lot.

There are no words.
We took a break from gawking to pop in Alma Cocina for a delicious Mexican lunch. It was a chic spot with great Huevos Rancheros and sweet tea (of course). It was enough fuel for the mile walk to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthplace. On our walk to the historic Sweet Auburn neighborhood we walked along the new streetcar that should begin operating in the next 2-3 months. As a lover of neighborhoods and public transit I found something else to appreciate about Atlanta.

Visiting Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthplace was a stark and poignant reminder of the impact one person can have on history. Ebeneezer Baptist Church made me nostalgic for the Baptist churches I attended as a child, and the entire neighborhood creates an emotional homage to a great leader. There were various sites (the church, a firehouse, Dr. King's childhood home) that are all run by the National Park Service. It was an extraordinary place to visit, and I'd highly recommend it to anyone visiting Atlanta.

In front of Dr. King's birthplace

The final resting place of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Coretta Scott King

After walking back to the MARTA station we spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing at the hotel pool before heading out to dinner at Seven Lamps. I had an incredible tortellini in a cream sauce that was divine. It was a great final dinner in Atlanta.

Monday was another late sleeping day as we struggled to get up and go for a run. The humidity and heat in Atlanta is fantastic except while running. We struggled through three miles before heading out to Midtown to check out the Margaret Mitchell house. I love Gone with the Wind (it's my favorite book and movie), so I wanted to check that out. We then discovered that Midtown is a very cool neighborhood.

The actual door from Tara in Gone with the Wind

As we were walking down the street in Midtown I said, "I don't need any more running shirts". As soon as those words were uttered we realized we were standing in front of a Big Peach Running Company store, and I am now the proud owner of a Run ATL shirt. I think my running shirt addiction is out of control. Midtown was a very cool, walkable neighborhood with lots of restaurants and shops. Lunch was at The Vortex. I LOVED this place. It was naughty and all around awesome. I had a burger with bacon and pulled pork (see Operation Weight Gain above) and tator tots. You're required to be 18 to enter the restaurant always. No kids allowed. I love that there's a place that says no to kids and just doesn't give a crap. It's awesome.

Debauchery at The Vortex
Midtown was our last stop before leaving Atlanta. I honestly didn't know what I would think of Atlanta. I had heard horror stories about its design and traffic that made me wary. I think downtown felt a little lost, but the neighborhoods were lovely. The City of Atlanta has a good soul and seems to be making some smart decisions, and overall I really enjoyed it. Plus there's the awesome heat and humidity.

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