Georgia (Part Two)
The first part of our trip to America can be read here.
That evening we drove across north Atlanta through leafy suburban streets to the Emory University campus. We met Leslie’s Uncle Rick and his partner Jenny at Marlow’s Tavern, part of the Emory Point development, situated across the road from the Centre for Disease Control. The atmosphere inside the place was great as the USA took a victory over Germany in the semi-final of the Women’s World Cup. We had a delicious meal (tilapia fish tacos for me, a steak salad for Leslie) and a good chat with them before heading our separate ways at the end of an excellent evening.
The next morning I had a wander through the local neighbourhood, taking in Buckhead Baseball and the neighbouring Frankie Allen Park where I saw my first American woodpecker.
I wandered back to the hotel via some of the quiet suburban streets off Pharr Road but never quite found the grand view that certain street names promised.
Later we drove south into the centre of Atlanta. We parked in the Georgia Aquarium parking lot with views over to the skyscrapers of downtown and had a wander around Pemberton Place where the aquarium is situated alongside the World of Coke, the Centre for Civil and Human Rights and Centennial Park, built for the Olympic games in 1996. This latter place was closed as it seemed like the preparations for the upcoming 4th July celebrations were already beginning.
We had some time to spare before our slot at the aquarium so we headed just off Pemberton Place to a bar called Stats where a hearty Cobb Salad and Chicken Sandwich with Sweet Potato Fries were washed down with a nice crisp bottle of Big Creek from Jekyll brewing.
Outside the Aquarium we met up with Leslie’s sister Jill and her youngest son Jared and ventured into the busy world of underwater adventure (no fishing poles allowed). We let Jared dictate which order we visited each area and first on the list was the cold water zone. The star attractions here were the three Beluga whales, swimming slowly around their large tank. The sea otters and African Penguins proved very lively as we wandered around the rest of the area.
Next up was Ocean Voyage where a huge marine environment was filled with shoals of fish and the enormous, impressive whale sharks and manta rays which glided serenely overhead as we walked through the long tunnel that formed the centrepiece of this part of the aquarium.
Tropical Diver was a very cool area with colourful fish, recreated reef environments (complete with wave action) and the most incredible collection of jelly fish swimming in their own magical starscapes.
We spent some time being entertained by Asian small-clawed otters and got up close to piranha in the River Scout area before heading out to get some refreshments. Unfortunately we were too late to get into the final dolphin show of the day but it had been a very fun visit nonetheless.
Outside we spent a last few minutes sitting near the grass of Pemberton Place before Jill and Jared had to head off for home.
We then headed back to the hotel ourselves, driving north as the sky started to darken towards the expected evening storm. We got back to the hotel just as it started raining and this time it didn't let up for several hours.
Later in the evening we ventured across the road through the rain to Pricci, a very nice Italian restaurant where a delicious meal was accompanied with an excellent bottle of Chianti. We had a long, lazy meal and were amongst the last diners to leave, almost being handed the keys to a Lexus by the valet parking guy!
After a nice breakfast in the hotel we checked out and packed the car up for a short drive across Atlanta to Fernbank, the city's museum of natural history.
Set amongst peaceful wooded surroundings on the east side of Atlanta, Fernbank is a wonderful place. After wandering around the dinosaur sculptures outside we headed in to purchase our tickets so we could get into the incredible main hall. Here sunlight floods in through the glass ceiling onto two giant dinosaur skeletons, a Argentinosaurus being pursued by a Giganotosaurus. Above them a flock of Pterodaustros flick their wings through the air.
We then went around the Georgia Through Time exhibit which explores Georgia's Natural History through different habitats within the state, stretching from the mountains of the north to the barrier islands of the east coast.
Each area was filled with typical native creatures, plants and trees and there was a lot of information to digest as we wandered from a mountain pass down to the Okefenokee Swamp.
We then had a look around a small exhibition exploring Native Americans and their clay workings on the barrier island of St Catherines followed by stepping into the amazing planetarium room where the roof resembles the night sky and the light changes from dusk to night and back to dawn in a slow, relaxing cycle.
Finally we went through the hands on/science room where there were lots of fun practical experiments to do demonstrating various phenomena around vision, hearing and more. It was a lot of fun.
After a very enjoyable morning at Fernbank we now bid farewell to Atlanta and headed out with the 4th July weekend on the next stage of our journey.
We headed down the interstate a short distance south of Atlanta to Jonesboro, the town where Leslie spent her early childhood. Our first stop was lunch: a Hot Brown[^1] at the Jonesboro Dwarf House
Leslie gave me a quick driving tour of Jonesboro, driving through her old neighbourhoods and seeing some of the houses she had lived in, as well as those of her grandparents. We visited her family ceremony, a quiet plot in the midst of a suburban neighbourhood.
On the way out of town we drove past Stately Oaks, the old plantation house, and then Leslie's elementary school.
Our next stop was the Denny's diner at Tanger Outlets in the delightfully named city of Locust Grove. Here we were meeting up with Leslie's oldest nephew who we were spending the afternoon with.
After a bit of a drive around we spent an entertaining afternoon at the [Henry County Fun Bowl] just outside Macdonagh (http://www.myfunbowl.com/HenryCounty.html) where we played arcade games, ten-pin bowling and lazer tag. We rounded off the visit at Mesquite, a bustling Mexican restaurant in nearby Jackson.
With the nephew dropped off it was then a drive down the interstate to Macon in central Georgia where we were staying overnight in an effort to beat the worst of the 4th July traffic. We got to the hotel just in time for the pool to be closing so instead had to content ourselves with iced drinks up in our room. It had been a long, hot but very enjoyable day.
The next morning we had a very light breakfast at the hotel before packing up the car and heading across town to find the S&S Cafeteria, one of Leslie's favourite stopping places on the drive from Atlanta to the coast. At first we found the wrong one and so the satnav was consulted and fifteen minutes later we were outside the right one. The cafeteria consists of a huge line taking you all the way from starters through to dessert. We filled up on some of the favourites including Salisbury Steak, fried okra, macaroni cheese, collared greens, cornbread and watermelon then sat down with our sweet teas to tuck into this massive late morning feast.
Our next stop in the Macon area was the Indian Mounds located just outside the city at Ocmulgee. An important site for Native Americans, it had been inhabited for several thousand years with the Mississippian peoples constructing huge ceremonial and funerary mounds from around 900 AD.
The site is extensive and we planned a pleasant walk around, first visiting the earth lodge where the original clay floor, carbon dated to 1015 AD, is still in place.
We then wandered around some of the earth fortifications and finally across the railway line to where the colonial trading post remains offer a wide view over to the large funeral and ceremonial mounds closer to the river.
As we were heading towards the largest of the mounds we noticed that the sunshine had been replaced by rapidly darkening skies that were being funneled through on a warm, strong wind. It looked very dramatic as we cautiously climbed up to the top of the mound where there were grand views across the line of the Ocmulgee river to the city of Macon. We didn't spend long up there though, soon retreating to safer, lower ground as the storm advanced towards us.
We took a slightly circuitous route back, passing a further mound on the east of the site and then following a trail that wound its way through dense woodland. A pitter-patter of rain started up but we were mostly sheltered. Eventually we crossed under the railroad via a brick bridge and then followed a final stretch of trail back to the car park. We headed into the visitor centre and had a wander around their exhibits before returning to the car to start out drive to the coast.
Whilst it is possible to get to the coast quicker, we chose to take the older route, known as the Golden Isles Highway[^2], enjoying the leisurely drive as it passed through a series of quiet towns. We noticed the trio of rural Georgia: a water tower, a Dairy Queen and a Dollar General which came around like clockwork each time we entered a city limit.
In Macrae we stopped at Waylon's Family Restaurant for giant drinks (frozen coke for Leslie and unsweet iced tea for me) before heading on. As we got closer to the coast the country lost any semblance of elevation change and the trees started looking distinctly sub-tropical[^3]. It was sandy and the long roads stretched on in a straight line for miles at a time.
We refueled at the final major town before hitting the coast and after four hours on the road finally came to the outskirts of Brunswick. We had grown so used to a lack of input from the satnav that we missed our turn and ended up doing a quick drive through the historic part of this port city. Soon though we were out and following signs to St Simons Island.
We headed across the F.J. Torras causeway, crossing the salt marshes[^4] with a huge horizon stretching out in either direction. The island itself was a low lying band of greenery on the horizon that drew nearer as we crossed a series of channels and rivers (including the Intracoastal Waterway) which thread their way through the marsh.
Soon we rolled past the marina and onto Saint Simons Island itself. Our long drive from Atlanta to the Atlantic was done.
[^1]This is a pretty unbelievable combination of bite-sized fried chicken, cream sauce, bacon and cheese with slices of toast ready to dunk! It's kind of like a breakfast lasagna that we ate at lunchtime.
[^2]Check out this blog post for more photos of the Golden Isles Parkway, including of the city of Scotland
[^3]In fact they reminded me a lot of the trees that appear in the sub-tropical climate in Transport Tycoon Deluxe
[^4]Also known as the Marshes of Glynn for a poem by Sidney Lanier