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Nicky is a regular traveller with us and Ambassador Club member - this summer, she headed to Atlanta to meet up with her son and explore a little of the 'Deep South' - here is her travel blog!
Atlanta, Georgia, is not rated as a top tourist destination city in the USA, and my only experience of the city was spending two hours in transit at the airport! However, Atlanta entered my radar as a holiday spot on account of wishing to help my son celebrate his 30th birthday who was travelling through on holiday.
My expectations were low but I found a vibrant city which had built upon its heritage as a major railway hub and cotton processing centre. The tracks along the former rail routes have been ripped up in favour of a green route for cycling, jogging, skateboarding or just plain walking - The “Beltline”, which joins several neighbourhoods in and around the city.
Derelict factories have been turned into chic apartments while retaining their industrial architectural shells. Street art abounds and gentrified neighbourhoods from Inman Park to quirky Cabbagetown boast independent shops and eateries. While we plumped for the ‘wow factor’ of the revolving rooftop restaurant, Polaris, to celebrate my son’s birthday, there was better food to be had in the neighbourhood restaurants, such as the Agave next to Oakland Cemetery, or even the buzzing Krog City Market.
As the ‘cradle of the Civil Rights Movement’ in the 1960s, no visit to Atlanta would be complete without visiting the highly informative Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Park including the original Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK preached, his birth home, neighbourhood and final resting place.
While road trips to the southern states tend to take in musical shrines such as Nashville and Memphis, not being a music buff, I was more interested in heading east to the coast to see the old seaport of Savannah with its preserved 18/19th century historic district of cobbled streets and no less than 22 leafy squares. Savannah boasts many fine specimens of the live oak tree typical of the Deep South, dripping with Spanish moss (that actually isn’t moss!).
The most breath taking vista was the hundreds of live oak trees lining the drive of the Wormsloe Plantation and in the spookily atmospheric Bonadventure Cemetery just outside the city. Not immediately obvious when surrounded by its elegant architecture, but Savannah is currently the fourth largest port in the US!
Heading west involved an overnight stop in Tallahasee, a university town and the state capital of Florida. What Tallahasee lacked in old world splendour, it made up for in its neat and modern government buildings and immaculately tended green community areas … like a mini Washington DC. Here was modern America, far removed from the country I had read about in Mitchell’s ‘Gone with the Wind’ or Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’ images of which had been evoked in Savannah. Life in Tallahassee seemed good – clean, functional and orderly – and finding a really great restaurant in the Kool Beanz Café, a short walk from the hotel, cemented the “feel good factor”.
Next stop was Mobile Alabama and we decided to leave the main highway for the coastal road that took us along the north Floridian coastline. With my previous impressions of Florida based upon Orlando, Disney World and Daytona Beach, the miles and miles of white sand and turquoise sea from Destin to Pensacola Beach were really stunning and worthy of its title as the Emerald Coast – it certainly was an unexpected gem.
Two nights in Mobile were a low key affair; again, the city is a busy seaport, home of the Mardi Gras, with a small historic district (nothing like the scale of Savannah) but pleasant enough and as the hotel had good sized rooftop pool, a very welcome afternoon spent poolside was a welcome break from sightseeing.
And then to New Orleans! Areas of snapped off trees and torn up road signs en route were a reminder of the devastation caused by hurricanes that regularly haunt this region. Before dropping the hire car off, we visited Whitney Plantation which is located on the banks of the Mississippi River, a former sugar plantation but one which did not attempt to “sugar coat” the plight of the enslaved Africans who toiled in the Confederate states up to the abolition of slavery in 1865. The Plantation has preserved slave quarters, a kitchen, outbuildings, the plantation house and slave memorials, which are all accessible to visitors, and also a very well presented and informative museum, including oral histories of former slaves and the cruelties they endured.
Against this sobering backdrop, the French Quarter in New Orleans was an assault on the senses! This is 24/7 party town, rather like a hot and humid Piccadilly Circus, but with every imaginable hedonistic interest catered for. The (in)famous Bourbon Street is best avoided at night in favour of Frenchmen Street with its string of live music clubs and bars and an even more eclectic mix of people, from the dispossessed and down-and-outs to well-heeled and curious tourists. As someone who really does not enjoy live bands, even I got into the groove of the Frenchmen Street music vibes! The French Quarter boasted some good restaurants, such as Mr B’s and The Pelican Club, or Peche Seafood Grill a little further out.
The World War II Museum was recommended to us and turned into the highlight of the New Orleans leg of the trip, so interesting was it that we returned for a second day to cover what we missed. As a European, I had not fully grasped the monumental, all-encompassing war machine that ground into operation once the US had joined the war or the fierceness of campaigns waged in the Pacific. The museum is allegedly one of the top best tourist attractions in the US and I can see why.
Our visit on the second day was interrupted by flash flooding and people hollering to the driver of a submerged car that immediately brought my focus back to the present and I wondered fearfully were we going to be able to get to the airport for the flight home! After paddling through the streets, the rain stopped and the city levees kicked in, clearing the streets of floodwater. Another reminder of the meteorological challenges often faced in this city.
Having whistled through five States in nine days I can say that the Deep South is a great place to visit with its own unique culture and history, as distinct as other regions in the US. Learning about its dark past with regard to first slavery and later racism and segregation (even during the dark days of WWII) was thought provoking, particularly given the racial tensions that remain in contemporary America. These shadowy undertones were an integral part of the overall experience.
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