Today was a good day. No offence intended to South America or anyone from there, but it was great to be back in a first world country where everyone speaks English (and my ‘awesome British accent’ is often complimented). Not only that but I felt completely safe with all my belongings, including being able to comfortably wear my camera around my neck again without having to keep an eye on everyone I walk past. There was also some great food, but more to come on that…
My plane from Rio landed in Atlanta at about 6.30am, and weary from just a few disjointed hours of sleep, I had to stand in a lengthy passport control queue before emerging to see my first sunrise since Machu Picchu. My first task for the day was to obtain a rental car so I could actually get around the city. This didn’t take long, and by 8am I had set my satnav and was out on the freeway cruise(control)ing with the window down and my music playing. Having been recommended the Coca-Cola museum (aka World of Coca-Cola) and the aquarium, I decided to head to downtown where they are both located on the same complex. I won’t go into the joys of being back on the American roads, since they can be read about on my USA blog.
On the way to downtown I noticed a sign for an IHOP (International House of Pancakes), which reminded me I was actually rather hungry and could do with some breakfast. I therefore pulled over and entered the restaurant. I was soon reminded that even first world countries can have dangerous areas too, as some of the clientele looked unsavoury to say the least. There were people in bandanas and ‘Bad Boys for Life’ jackets (who genuinely looked like they lived up to the slogan), as well as others greeting each other with what I can only assume were gang salutes. Despite this, the pancakes were delicious, and I exited safely after my own little introduction to the ‘Dirty South’.
When I reached downtown the car park annoyingly didn’t have any pricing, which always makes me a bit nervous (a somewhat reasonable $10 for the day I later found out), but I took a gamble and was soon waiting in line at the World of Coca Cola. From the entrance there were great views out over the skyscrapers of downtown, which looked more or less like every other secondary American city’s downtown. As for the museum, it was an interesting experience, if somewhat American and cheesy in parts. After a welcome talk from my tour group’s ‘Coca-Cola ambassador’, we were allowed to self-guide around the exhibits, with highlights including features on how Coca-Cola was invented right in Atlanta in 1886 by John Pemberton, and how it went on to achieve global success. It was essentially a combination of marketing brilliance and the fact the drink was truly unique and everyone seemed to love it. Unfortunately Mr Pemberton never got to reap the rewards since he sold the secret formula shortly before his death in 1888.
Other features at the museum included the actual vault where the only written copy of the secret formula is kept, a bottling plant where you can see the entire creation process from syrup to sealed glass bottle, and a tasting room where you could try over 100 Coca-Cola brand drinks from five different continents. There was also a room playing adverts from around the world, with highlights (for purely comedy reasons) including Russia, Nigeria and China. Every visitor also gets their own bottle from the museums bottling plant as a souvenir on the way out. One thing I found strange about the museum was there was absolutely no mention of coca leaves or cocaine, which were an important feature of early Coca-Cola, and are of course mentioned in its name to this day. Perhaps the museum are ashamed the drink they are so proud of used to contain these illicit substances, though it was a very long time ago so seems unnecessary.
After leaving the museum I investigated the aquarium’s pricing and found out it was a somewhat steep $40. Given I had already spent quite a lot of money on the car, and my love of driving, I instead decided to get out on the road, and drive upstate towards some outlets close to the Tennessee border. The road I ended up taking had a frustratingly low (given I had to slow down, queue and stop) 50c toll, and unfortunately the outlet mall wasn’t anything spectacular, mostly due to the prices not actually being very low. Not wanting to have wasted the 50 mile journey I stopped at a Panera for lunch to consider my next move. The food was as great as ever, and I took advantage of the free WIFI to speak to Leah from Atlanta who I was meeting for dinner later in the day. She suggested I check out a town in the Appalachian foothills called Dahlonega, so I grabbed a strawberry smoothy and some cookies for the road before setting off.
On the way to Dahlonega I passed a couple of lakes with some huge houses on the shores and locals riding their boats along them. It felt like I was truly in the deep south since I would pass a church every 5 minutes, and there were billboards all around saying things like ‘Down with Obama’. On reaching Dahlonega I had a quick look around the town centre, which was full of quaint old shops focused around the main church. Outside the church there was a group of people playing southern music (banjos included) while singing along. I then took a drive towards a nearby state park, which saw me get a bit lost and end up in a deserted area with some hillbilly truckers. Not wanting to find out whether the film Deliverance was based on fact, I quickly turned around and got back to the main road!
At this point I decided I should return to the city in good time rather than take any risks around rush hour. The drive back was pleasant, with no return toll surprisingly, and I soon arrived at the restaurant where I was meeting Leah for dinner. It was good to catch up about our time in Buenos Aires and what we had been up to since, and the meal was also delicious. I tried some locally brewed ale and also some friend pimento cheese and corn balls, which are only found locally apparently. When I told her about my trip to the IHOP this morning she remarked that I really shouldn’t have stopped anywhere near the airport – oh well! Unfortunately our time together was only short, as I soon had to leave for the airport. It was lucky I left when I did, since some traffic meant I only just made it to check-in on time.
Overall today was a great end to the trip, and it definitely made me want to get back to the States to do another road trip as soon as possible.
Photos of the day: the Atlanta skyline, the Coca-Cola vault, an early vending machine, my car for the day (I was a Texan apparently), and the Appalachian foothills.