Atlanta was the city that surprised me the most during our trip to the southern United States. I'm not a fan of The Walking Dead and did not expect much, or anything special, from this city I did not know. I only knew that I wouldn't be able to escape the many trees and mosquitoes - confirmed.
Unlike the plans for New Orleans and Miami, which were not really set, the itinerary for the state capital of Georgia (yes, we count how many US states we were in) was well defined. After all, with only three days to enjoy, there was no time to spare.
Day 1, introduction to the life and history of Martin Luther King
We arrived in Atlanta in the morning and were fortunate enough to get settled right away. This airbnb (you can register here for the platform and receive credit for a trip), within walking distance of the Martin Luther King Historic District, set the tone for our visits on the first day.
After a well-deserved rest - we had gotten out of bed at three in the morning! - we headed towards Martin Luther King Jr. National Park, dedicated to the life of the activist and the civil rights fight, closely tied to the history of the city. This was the first stop to explore the Historic District, in which several buildings of the neighborhood are integrated.
The most interesting ones are the house where Martin (whose original name is Michael ...) Luther King was born and the King Center, a set of interior and exterior spaces that invites to contemplation and introspection, and where the tomb of MLK is found.
The (free) tickets to visit the house are picked up in the Visitor Center, which should be the first stop for your exploration of the surroundings. Then, linger in the memorials and gardens and gather all the strength you can to deal with what you will see and hear about the civil movements in Atlanta and all over the southern United States.
If you are in the area and getting hungry, the Sweet Auburn Curb Market is a good choice - in addition to the traditional market with fresh produce, there are also several places to dine. The Grindhouse Killer Burgers received our seal of approval.
For those who want to see a spectacular view of Atlanta - but it's just to go there to have a spectacular panorama of the city and take a beautiful photo - or to the Walking Dead fans, who will surely recognize the skyline: if you still have the stamina to do it, go up two more streets to the Jackson Street Bridge and... come back. But it's worth it.
Day 2, from American (and global) consumerism to human rights
We had already decided that the second day would be devoted to museums. Those who know us know that we are picky about museums, but there are a few that blow us away. In Atlanta, we were going with three, and none of them disappointed us.
The first stop of the day was at the College Football Hall of Fame, a museum dedicated to the university version of American football. For me, it was just one more way that Rui had to squeeze in a little sport, and I expected nothing in particular. In fact, it's a building full of little surprises and stories - the skill zone, where you can try kicking the ball from 15 yards or making a quarterback-style pass, is just one of them.
The museum is designed to tell us the history of the game, the great rivalries, the most significant moments, the best players, and make us realize the importance of this sport in the United States. Forget an NBA game with more enthusiastic fans: College Football is where people lose their minds. Result? I left asking Rui which teams were playing in Boston on our next visit, hoping to get some live action.
After the Hall of Fame, we made a quick stop to eat at CNN's headquarter restoration area, before heading to the World of Coca-Cola. First of all, a disclaimer: I do not drink Coca-Cola. Neither does Rui, most of the time. It was not by any fanaticism for this drink that we decided that this museum was to be part of our visit.
The truth is that Coca-Cola is a key part of American and world pop culture, and there was no good reason why we did not know a little more about its history and presence. Created in a pharmacy in Atlanta, the drink we all know is the star in this "world", but it is well accompanied by other company drinks - present in a "tasting room" with flavors from around the world. Before that, there is space to know the history, the mascots, the most emblematic ads, a mini-chain of production (not working at the time of our visit due to the failure of a piece) and the safe where, they say, the secret formula is stored. Who knows.
The Center for Civil and Human Rights was the last stop of a well-filled day and, for me, the most striking. The two hours we had before the closing time of the museum were not nearly enough to take in everything we could.
In the first exhibit, dedicated to the American Civil Rights movement, with an obvious focus on the anti-segregation fights, we found the most moving exhibition. Mentions of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks are joined by stories of others who have also changed history. And the testimony of the segregationists is heard with a knot in the stomach. But it's later, in an experience designed to simulate what Afro-Americans had to endure in their restaurant protests, that we feel put to the test - a woman next to us could not stand it and left in tears.
The exhibit upstairs is dedicated to the global Human Rights movement and makes us think twice about our consumptions and our lifestyle. Despite the very Americanized view of some parts of the room, the overall perspective we get about what human rights are has an immense value. By coincidence, one of the "human rights heroes" present here is the newly awarded Nobel Peace Prize winner, Denis Mukwege (the trip was made before the announcement of the prize).
The Martin Luther King, Jr. exhibit, with many of your personal documents, becomes a bit secondary after your visit to the MLK Historic District, but it may be a good starting point if you have not yet had an introduction to the life and work of the activist.
Day 3 - Between cemeteries, parks and balls
The late afternoon and night of our last day in Atlanta were already reserved for the Braves game, but we still had to fill the rest of the time. The options were numerous: after all, the city is monstrous despite its compact center. A tour of Buckhead, a historic area but very far from downtown, was very appealing. Little Five Points, the new hip and trendy area, could also be an option. However, we decided to stay true to our roots and take a day out to stroll in parks and green areas.
The first destination of the day was the Oakland Cemetery. Founded in 1850, it is a mirror of the many faces of Atlanta, being the burial place of illustrious strangers and others, more famous, like the golfer Bobby Jones or the writer Margaret Mitchell. In the various alterations it suffered, one of the most drastic was the transfer of the mortal remains of slaves and Afro-Americans to a distinct area of the cemetery. It's just another expression of the reality of Atlanta.
The oaks that give the name to the cemetery also bring the wonderful squirrels that keep us company along the way. All it takes is more shade, on a scorching summer day, for the visit to be fantastic.
From there we headed to Ponce City Market, totally renovated and... totally hipster. The dining area is immense, but not crowded - even right at lunchtime - and allows us to replenish the calories lost in the sun. The market is also one of the entry points on the Eastside Trail, the first section of the Beltline (a project that aims to create a pedestrian and cycling path around the city) to be completed. That's where we headed - but not without first playing the colorful piano that is at our disposal. There is one more, further ahead, upon arrival at Piedmont Park.
Again, our biggest problem with the Eastside Trail is the lack of shadows. The distance From Ponce City to Piedmont Park is about 2 miles, but the heat makes it difficult to follow this old railroad. When we finally arrived, a shaded garden bench looks almost like an oasis.
Piedmont Park is one of the largest green spaces in Atlanta - a city with no lack of them - and looks like a prime location for events. Located in the Midtown area, it also has spectacular views of the city center. The problem? An unbearable smell that forced us to shorten the trip. Again, one advice: do not visit in September.
After a mini-exploration of the area, we proceed to Cumberland, where the Braves stadium is located. The bus ride takes about an hour and takes us through the middle of what looks like a bunch of forests with houses in the middle. It is a view of the typical Atlanta, where most people live, which we would not have otherwise.
The game of the Braves, that you'll be able to read about in another post, ended our days in Atlanta. And this time we could see a game outdoors without ending up with a badly sunburned nose. The only gift I got from Atlanta was two mosquito bites I will not want to relive.