Quick trip to Atlanta

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Atlanta happened completely last minute. A friend’s little sister who I’ve known my whole life was running in the ACC Track Championships and he was heading down to watch. Since he was driving I tagged along for company and so I could explore Atlanta, a city I’d driven through many times but never really thought of as a destination I wanted to explore.

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We arrived in time to watch her run on Friday thanks in part to the exodus of cars out of Atlanta at the end of the day versus in. There was also a rain delay just as we arrived. We probably still would have made it in time but that ensured it. We were able to go inside the practice field at Georgia Tech where the athletes were doing their best to maintain their pre-competition routines despite the delay. I’d never been inside a practice field that like before so that was exciting and humbling. Watching these athletes who clearly spent their time in college working their tails off (unlike I had done). Their discipline and commitment to their sport was evident even as they stretched and warmed up, not yet knowing how long the delay would last.

After she competed in her event we went to dinner with her dining at Gio’s Chicken Amalfitano where I had the best salad of my life. I don’t care for salads but if I could replicate that one I’d eat it everyday. It was simple. To my untrained palate: romaine lettuce, thin slices of fresh parmesan cheese and some sort of dressing, perhaps olive oil and pepper. Wow! As any of my friends can attest that is the first time in my life I’ve ever raved about a salad. I even took a picture she texted my friend Amy whose healthy eating habits I long to emulate one day … if not for beer … and wine … and French fries … and pizza. I didn’t even order the salad, it came with my meal of Parmesan chicken, spaghetti and Italian bread.

As we were leaving we kept catching amazing smells wafting through the air from Antico Pizza Napoletana next door. (I would later read rave reviews of it an at Atlanta magazine.)

The next morning I woke up early. The hotel was in midtown and I took advantage of the hotel breakfast before setting off in search of a coffee chain I sometimes frequented. (I will refrain from naming the coffee place due to events occurring later.). I had planned to utilize Atlanta’s bike share service, Relay, but was dismayed to find that unlike every other city’s program I’ve ever used, they did not charge a flat rate for a 24-hour or longer period, instead charging $3.50 per half an hour. I once spent 3 days in Austin using their bikes for less than $18. I decided I didn’t want to deal with the hassle so set off walking instead.

This was a fantastic decision as I discovered that section of Atlanta to be quite walkable. I was heading south from the hotel taking pictures and video along the way. Eventually I saw a sign for Centennial Park and continued following the signs in hopes of reaching it. At TBEX, an annual conference for travel bloggers, the week before I had been lucky enough to hear a childhood idol Samantha Brown give a keynote speech. One of the things she recommended was just going for a walk the first morning after arriving in a new city. I consider that great affirmation as it’s something I’ve always done and look forward to. I never know what adventure I’ll embark upon or what discovery I’ll make. I usually leave this walk as unstructured as possible, no GPS, no destination, just coffee and intuition. Early mornings on weekends are my favorite in a new city as you get unrestricted access to the heart of the city with a peaceful quiet as many spend their mornings sleeping in.

Centennial park was completely closed off due to the Shaky Knees music festival taking place inside so I walked on and visited the CNN Center. Just past that the Stadium district beckoned with one enormous structure after another. The Atlanta Hawks, Falcons and Braves stadiums are all there. The newest, Mercedes-Benz Stadium for the Falcons is not yet completed but is a stunning structure of angles and I could stop taking pictures. In between, a grassy area is home to The Flair, a statue dedicated to the Olympic athletes and “all those who exemplify determination and dedication in the pursuit of excellence.” A man was there flying a drone at one point but a police officer had driven by and yelled something and must have told him that he wasn’t allowed to for after that he landed his drone and packed up leaving me with the area all to myself.

I moved on, down the steps next to the Braves arena and followed the side of the World Congress Center building, before turning right and continuing up and over a bridge back toward Centennial Park. I saw the College Football Hall of Fame as well as the Aquarium, the Civil Rights Museum and the World of Coca-Cola.

At this point my phone was quite near dying so I needed a place to charge it. I Googled nearby breweries and found that Torched Hop wasn’t far away. I figured I’d sit down and have a few pints while recharging. On the way, however, I passed a W Hotel, my absolute favorite hotel chain, one which I’ve been lucky enough to stay in once, however I frequent their lobby bars often when staying in a city that has one. I relaxed in the gorgeous lobby, grateful for the chance to get out of the heat, which was not bad considering it was May, but still hot enough. I spent about a half hour there charging my phone and reading an Atlanta magazine, in which I learned about Piedmont Park, Ponce City Market and the Belt Line Eastside Trail.

I continued on to Torched Hop brewing and had a flight there before my friend (finally awake and on the move) joined me around 1 p.m. coffee still in tow.

We spent a few hours there and then walked aimlessly … eventually finding ourselves meandering through Piedmont Park for awhile.

He headed back to get ready to see his sister run. I stopped off for a drink at Henry’s then met up with him in time to see her race. We all went to dinner again afterward, then dropped her back at the hotel for the night before wrapping up with drinks at NAME?

The next morning I got up, had breakfast and coffee at the hotel then spent a few hours in Piedmont park with a book, sitting on a hidden away swing next to the lake. I wondered to myself why I didn’t do that more often at home. There are plenty of parks … why is it so hard to declare peaceful “me” time in my own city?

Checkout was nearing so I went back to the hotel and we walked our things out to the car. We had initially been planning to stay for her race on Sunday but it wasn’t until 5 pm that evening and we both had to work the next day. We ended up walking around the Georgia Tech campus for about 20 minutes, happening upon a statue of Albert Einstein, and then resigning ourselves to the long car ride and heading out of town. I was pleasantly surprised by Atlanta’s walkability and the huge number of things to see and do and I hope to return for a longer stay soon.