My aunt, uncle and cousin moved to Atlanta when I was around 10, and although I’d been to visit a few times before, the last time was when I was 16 (12 years ago!) My cousin got married in October though so it was time to take another trip across the Atlantic. We started our holiday with a week by the beach in Florida, and finished up with a long weekend in Atlanta.
The bridal couple had block booked rooms at the Loews and Four Seasons hotels in Midtown, which were a little pricier than James and I had in mind, so after a little look at alternatives we found an amazing apartment on AirBnB, which was right across the street and was a fraction of the cost. I couldn’t believe my luck and told practically everyone I knew about it, so of course karma bit me in the behind – I received a message from our host about six weeks before our stay, saying that there had been a shooting in the building (!) and that the building managers were tightening up on security and had told him he wasn’t allowed to take AirBnB guests any more. He was really apologetic and we were fully refunded, but by that stage, our options were pretty limited on accommodation nearby – we discovered once we got there that along with our family wedding (the most important event of course), a Taylor Swift concert, a college football game, and the Red Bull Soapbox Race were also being held in town that weekend!
On the Friday, after returning our hire car to the airport, we stayed at the Hilton Doubletree Atlanta Airport. It was pretty dated and not really up to the high standard I’d expect from the brand, but was clean and comfortable and fine for one night, and I’ve seen on Tripadvisor that they’re carrying out a refurbishment this Spring so hopefully it’ll be up to scratch again soon. My biggest grievance was that the curtains only covered half the window, and there was an enormous, brightly lit billboard outside, which kept me awake until 3am, when we finally found the secret full-length curtain, cunningly concealed behind both the stupid half-curtain and a net curtain. Gah. “At least check out isn’t until 12,” I thought, “so I can sleep in…” – until 9am, when housekeeping rapped loudly several times on every door in the corridor, yelling “HOUSEKEEPING” at the top of her lungs each time.
Thankfully though, it was all worth it in the end, as we had booked the beautiful Georgian Terrace for the remainder of our stay. It’s used as home base for actors starring in stage shows at the Fox Theatre across the street, and it’s easy to see why. The architecture is stunning, with two traditional brick buildings connected by a glass and steel foyer, the rooms are stylish, comfortable and spacious, and the staff are friendly and helpful. Admittedly, this hotel also has the stupid curtain set-up, but thankfully we’d already learned that lesson!
Friday evening was spent at a family get together at my new cousin-in-law’s apartment, with great food and even better company. I had met the bride before but it was good to meet her extended family, and it’s always lovely to spend time with my own extended family too. The wedding was held at the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, which was gorgeous especially with all the autumn leaves. The ceremony was held outside and then we went indoors for a buffet (yum) and a night of traditional Scottish and Romanian dancing! Oh and a little trivia for you – Coldplay’s current single Adventure of a Lifetime was recorded here.
On Sunday James and I went to see the Georgia Aquarium. Admission is around $40 per person, which seemed a little pricy at first glance, but it’s definitely worth it, especially as there’s a fantastic dolphin show included in the general admission. The main aquarium is split into several sections, each one centred around a different ecosystem – freshwater, Arctic, etc. It was a nice way to break up the huge volume of exhibits, and each one felt individual while still containing a range of different creatures.
The tanks are spotlessly clean and very large, which allows plenty of viewing windows but also hidden areas where the animals can be without a human audience. As well as a huge variety of fish and other smaller sea creatures, they have river and sea otters (my favourites), whale sharks, rays, beluga whales, dolphins and penguins. The penguin enclosure has a little tunnel underneath where you can crawl in and poke your head up amongst the penguins… it was quite surreal to see human heads, in perspex tubes, amongst a little flock of penguins! Hard to explain, but hopefully this photo illustrates it a bit better:
As well as being visually stunning, Georgia Aquarium is really informative and interactive. The above picture is of a Q&A that one of the staff members was holding with a volunteer diver in the tank, there are info panels throughout the exhibits, and as I mentioned briefly above, there are a few teams of dolphins who you can see performing and training, which I really enjoyed and also learned plenty from. The one thing that was a bit jarring was how very corporate the exhibits were. I’m all for corporate / charity partnerships where companies gain advertising in exchange for funding research, conservation, etc. The dolphin show, for example, is called the AT&T Splash 101 (and they must have said the name about 101 times), and the actual plot of land the aquarium sits on was donated by Coca Cola, so there’s a lot of Coke branding around. All that’s fair enough in my book, but I felt some of the “info” panels around the exhibits were a step too far – they were literally as bad as “beluga whales don’t use plates, but if they did, they’d choose these blue ones from Target”.
We spent a couple of hours exploring the aquarium late morning, and decided to stick around for the next dolphin show, which was at 2pm. While we waited we popped out to Centennial Park and picked up a delicious hot dog from a street vendor for lunch. Afterwards, we strolled back to our hotel along Peachtree Street, which had been closed for the day for Atlanta Streets Alive – there were loads of people out on bikes, plus a fabulous stilt walker in gold-sequined trousers 😀
We finished up with dinner at Mary Mac’s, a traditional Southern dining room. I loved the unique ordering system of filling out a little slip, the casual, relaxed, community feel of the place, the home made lemonade, and the food – oh my God, the food was heaven. No frills, just a good, hearty, home cooked feed.
And then it was back to normal life! I hope you enjoyed my huge, photo-heavy post, and make sure to check out part 1 if you haven’t already.