From the depths of the big blue to the dizzy heights of the western hemisphere’s tallest hotel, Catherine Chetwynd enjoys the architectural and cultural heritage of Georgia’s capital city.
1. The Westin Peachtree and Georgia Aquarium For superb views of Atlanta, take the lift to the top of the tallest hotel in the western hemisphere, the Westin Peachtree Plaza, where the Sun Dial Restaurant Bar and View gives a 360-degree panorama of Atlanta’s skyline. It’s open seven days a week from 10am to 10pm (11pm Friday and Saturday, 11.30pm Sunday). Admission is US$5 for a quick peek at the view, but it’s free for guests dining at the restaurant, and on Wednesdays and Thursdays there is live jazz. Nearby (at ground level) is the world’s largest aquarium, where eight million gallons of fresh water and brine host an enormous variety of underwater creatures. Residents include fish, sharks and whales from all the oceans, but particularly worth looking out for is the tasselled wobbegong, a near-invisible predator which catches its prey by ambushing it (native to coastal reefs off Australia, New Guinea and Japan), the longsnout seahorse (from the Atlantic), and the beluga whale (the name “beluga” comes from the Russian word for white, belukha). Visitors also get the opportunity to swim with the largest fish in the world, the whale shark (US$190). Visit westin.com, georgiaaquarium.org.
2. CNN Studio TourThis behind-the-scenes tour of broadcasting empire CNN – the first dedicated 24-hour cable news channel – shows what it takes to bring the news to two billion people worldwide, and was the brainchild of CNN’s founder Ted Turner. Appropriately for such a global giant, the tour starts with a trip up the world’s largest free-standing escalator – it’s attached to the ground and eighth floors only, and the ride to the top takes two minutes. Once there, you enter a 50-foot globe, where you can browse through 25 years of news coverage. Tracking real-time action are screens in a theatre control room, which reveal what is happening in the actual control room, showing stories which may be aired later, plus items which are currently being broadcast. Visitors have the chance to practise being a newscaster, by holding a script and following a teleprompter. There is also a bird’s-eye view of the news room, which allows guests to see what happens to stories as they come in and as they make their way across the news floor to the screen. In addition, a video shows news anchors talking about the stories which have most influenced their careers. Tours are available daily 9am-5pm, and depart every 10 minutes. Visit edition.cnn.com/tour/atlanta.
3. The Olympic StadiumCombine sporting history with a quintessential American experience by attending an Atlanta Braves All-American Major League baseball game at the stadium built for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. You can still visit the tower where the Olympic flame burned throughout the 16-day event and, even if the Braves don’t break world and Olympic records, there’s still a great atmosphere. The stadium has an interesting history – Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, which the Braves had played at since 1966, was becoming obsolete and, with an eye to the main chance, the Braves and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games combined their efforts to build another multi-purpose stadium opposite the original. Eight months after the Games, it had been converted to the purpose and four months after that, Atlanta-Fulton was demolished in 1,200 detonations of 1,600lb of explosives. Visit stadiumsofnfl.com for more details.
4. Breakfast at the Four Seasons hotelFour Seasons was the first hotel in mid-town Atlanta, in the days when there was not a lot else. Nowadays, this is a thriving area with plenty to see – however, tackling anything on an empty stomach is a bad idea, so for some serious ballast, make your way to Park 75 at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta for a hearty brunch. The open-plan dining room overlooks the reception, so there are some elegant people-watching opportunities to while away the time and the menu runs the gamut of tempting breakfast eating. The eggs benedict are probably the best I’ve ever tasted, and for non-purists there’s a smoked salmon option. Otherwise, eggs feature in a number of styles, including southern biscuit and sausage gravy, a local variant, and blue crab cakes benedict. All these are served with hash browns, home fries or – wait for it – grits. Further indulgence appears in the form of pancakes and waffles or, if you’re worried about your waistline, there’s an excellent selection of fruit, berries and fat-free yoghurt – which sounds to me like chocolate without cocoa beans. For more information visit fourseasons.com/atlanta.
5. Auburn AvenueTake a walking podcast tour of the Sweet Auburn District with former Atlanta mayor, UN ambassador and civil rights leader Andrew Young, as he shares his personal experiences of the Civil Rights Movement while retelling some of the rich history of Auburn Avenue. The road was once labelled the richest black street in America – more financial institutions, professionals, educators, entertainers and politicians were to be found on this one-mile stretch than on any other African-American street in the South. Despite the restrictive Jim Crow laws, the street flourished from the 1920s to the 1940s. Ironically, it was desegregation in the 1960s which caused the greatest exodus from the area. The avenue started life as Wheat Street and is now Jesse Hill Street, but black people used to refer to it as Auburn and, in 1893, white residents petitioned the city council to change it to Auburn Avenue because they thought it sounded more stylish. Political and civil leader, and unofficial mayor of Sweet Auburn Avenue, John Wesley Dobbs, said money made the avenue sweet and so he began to call it Sweet Auburn Avenue in honour of the Oliver Goldsmith epic poem, The Deserted Village, which begins: “Sweet Auburn! Loveliest village of the plain…” Download the podcast free at cchrpartnership.org or itunes.com.