Tag Archives: Atlanta

To Memphis & Nashville

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Little Rock, Arkansas to Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, and Atlanta, Georgia: 606 miles, 9 hours, 13 minutes

Great route for breathing in American political and musical history. An alternative – and a loop to boot – would be Atlanta, Montgomery, Birmingham, Memphis and back for your full immersion Martin Luther King and civil rights tour.

 

 

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Atlanta to New Orleans

Atlanta, Georgia – Montgomery, Alabama – New Orleans, Louisiana.  From the Bible bashing belt to Sodom & Gomorrah: 473 miles.

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Atlanta local

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Atlanta’s neighbourhoods are slow weekend cool. With a couple of days in the city, you can dip into war and politics (civil and racial), go visit some pandas, and then settle back with a bagel and the papers and let warm sun and the sound of slide guitar wash over you and pretend you live in one of those big houses with porches and pumpkins, oak trees and cicadas. Best of the in-town neighbourhoods for walking tourists are Virginia Highland or ‘the Highlands’ and Little Five Points, and both are within easy strolling distance of each other, divided by one of the city’s big green spaces just east of Midtown (and close to Driving Miss Daisy territory).

Little Five Points is like the best corner of Camden Lock but on a mini-scale (which is weird because everything else around these parts from roads to servings is on a maxi-scale) and without 95% of the people. It’s a curious mix of vintage clothing stores, seedy bars, small designer boutiques, vinyl shops, new age mullarkey, well-heeled liberals and pierced, dreadlocked, deferential grunge students hanging out in a quasi-alternative way. Allow a good hour to root through the Clothing Warehouse if 70’s Americana is your thing. Dave now looks like Hunter S Thompson.

Mostly what’s on sale in the Highlands ‘hood is cupcakes, bikes, bagels, dog grooming and Aveda products, but happy afternoons can be spent at the huge warm wood tables in the cool deli, Belly, before migrating a few doors up the leafy street to Atkins Park – Atlanta’s oldest licensed tavern – for dinner (boiled peanuts & sea salt followed by cornbread-crusted North Georgia trout with Bourbon brown butter apples and mash), and then Blind Willie’s for blues. Among Bill Sheffield’s finger picking, mournful, thigh-slapping tunes was a rendition of Rainy Night in Georgia, which was pretty appropriate given that it was indeed a rainy night.  On Thursdays you can head a bit further to the Diesel Filling Station – yes, a converted filling station, for the Dirty South Trivia quiz – but it wasn’t Thursday. Anyway, this is mid-priced dining heaven, and for budget dining heaven there is the Majestic Diner (on the Highland-Poncey intersection) dating back to 1929, surely unchanged since the 50s and a lovely thing indeed with its chrome and red counter stools and booths and flashing neon. Lovers of retro will also be dazzled by the art deco Plaza Theatre, an artsy cinema in the same strip.

This isn’t core tourist zone and accommodation is limited, but I found by accident and stayed at the quirky, wonky-floored, friendly and sweetly-priced, Highland Inn. A couple of bearded hipsters were discussing bands and a wedding party (red satin strapless, and suits and Converse trainers) was pushing its way through reception with their master of ceremonies when we arrived, and all greeted us cheerily as they went outside to smoke and glug beer before lining up with their partners to enter the ballroom lounge. This is a good sign. Prices seem to vary widely. I booked online for around $50 a night, then booked an extra night over the phone for a ‘discounted’ $90. But still. The Highland Inn is on 644 North Highland Avenue Northeast  Atlanta, Tel 404-874-5756.

It’s quite hard describing exactly where these neighbourhoods are so my best recommendation would be to Google them. Incidentally, the affable Jennifer Alice Acker, who works at the Clothing Warehouse recommended The Goat Farm, a venue that’s risen phoenix-like from the ruins of an old industrial site, where grass grows in the buildings and events are staged in the ruins with seating on rope swings from girders, Atlanta’s modern skyline as a backdrop. Hoping there is a performance happening when I return.

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What is Atlanta?

Martin Luther King and Margaret Mitchell were both born here (although they would have had somewhat different takes on the state capital of racially-segregated Georgia). And so was Coca Cola. Strictly speaking it was concocted in Columbus, Georgia, but prohibition era production started here, and Atlanta remains the global HQ. Atlanta also has a zoo with pandas in it, the world’s busiest airport, and hosted the Olympics in 1996 but the city still feels weirdly local. Possibly because, aside from Downtown (conference centres, major hotel chains, venues) and Midtown (with upmarket shopping, galleries, malls, smaller hotel chains, as well as some seedier strip malls, ‘checks cashed’ loans offices, tattoo parlours and Taco Bells and whatnots in pockets that haven’t yet had their makeovers) Atlanta comprises ‘intown’ neighbourhoods which roll along fairly autonomously and have their own character and charm – like Little Five Points and Virginia Highlands. I didn’t find Uptown. Everything is loosely connected by MARTA a transport system that’s utterly unfathomable. I saw a bus stop once (as in stop for people to get on and off) but only once. Tickets can be bought at train stations, and I never found one of those. (I asked the night receptionist for directions to a MARTA station and she said, and I have to say, somewhat witheringly, that she had never used public transport to get here in her life.

I tend to ignore these, but Top Visitor Attractions include the not-to-be-missed 23-acre Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site: the house he grew up in, Ebenezer Church he preached in, papers and documents relating to his life and the wider civil rights movement at the King Center established by Coretta Scott King. His grave is here in the middle of the reflecting pool, with its extraordinarily poignant epitaph ‘Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last’. Apologies for grammar but I’m in a rush to check out of the Highland Inn and head to Alabama. Anyway if you’re not all churned up and teary here, your heart is stone and your politics suspect. For the record, Margaret Mitchell’s house over on 10th street, pilgrimage destination for ladies of a certain age, is pretty awful and has net curtains. I’m not surprised she sat there and escaped into the flight of fantasy and old south history mix that is Gone With the Wind. To be fair, she, herself, called it ‘the Dump’.

Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, 450 Auburn Avenue, N.E. Atlanta, Tel 404-331-5190. Info on The King Center. Also Margaret Mitchell House & Museum, 990 Peachtree St, Atlanta, 404- 249-7015, and World of Coca-Cola (which I am genuinely sorry to have missed) 121 Baker Street Northwest  Atlanta, Tel 404-676-5151. See also somewhereville’s ATLANTA LOCAL for info on shopping, eating, sleeping in the oft-overlooked in-town neighbourhoods.

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Atlanta’s guilty pleasures

I’ve been out to Atlanta airport to drop off the car and wave off Dave who’s flown to London for a couple of days because the band he manages is playing. Took a few rides on the driverless train (mainly because I left a bit of kit in the Chevy). My new friend Soleil told me Atlanta was the heartland of the ‘dirty South’. She’s got friends with tattoos on their faces who could show me a good time. Attractive though this is, I do need to do my laundry and fancy the guilty pleasures of watching trash and eating junk food, just for one night.

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