Sunday, November 9, 2014

A King's Birthplace

No trip to Atlanta would be complete without acknowledging the Civil Rights era's most prominent voice, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Having previously visited his monument in DC and the place of his assassination in Memphis, it seemed fitting that I visit the places he grew up and developed his earliest ideologies in. Enter my abbreviated visit to the MLK National Historic Site.

Tunicia and I visited here in between trying to hopefully find a dress for me to wear to a formal event I had coming up a few weeks later. While the sites themselves are free, for certain aspects, advance reservations are strongly encouraged as there are capacity limits. This was the case with Dr. King's childhood home, which we could only walk past and take photos of.

We walked very quickly through the visitor center. There you were given a very general glimpse of the way America operated in segregation and how this influenced a young King. Outside of the center was a statue of Gandhi, a major influence in the way King would approach leading others for change.

We got to go inside of the historic (and still used!) Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King attended and preached. They had one of his sermons playing in the sanctuary and visitors could go into the pews and listen.

I also got to see the tomb where Dr. King and his wife Coretta now rest. It was strange because I remember visiting when I was in high school (while Coretta was still alive) and it was a little sad to see it doubled in size. It was still a very beautiful way to honor these two American icons.

Well friends, only one or two more entries about my time (nearly two months ago) in Atlanta. I'm actually going to be back there in January so I'll be sure to visit a few more sites. In the meantime, I want to thank you for following me along on my journey, and as always, I'll see you on the next adventure.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What'll You Have? What'll You Have?

Hello readers! I've had a busy fall, so I am super duper behind on blogging about my time in Georgia.

When I first moved back to Pittsburgh, it was a huge adjustment. One of those adjustments was not having cable. No more HBO series, no more ratchet reality television. But I did get lots and lots of cooking shows and public television specials. One of shows was "A Hot Dog Program", and one of the locations featured was a place called The Varsity in Atlanta. Having previously lived in Atlanta and having tons of friends from there- yet never hearing of this place- made me intrigued to see it. This Labor Day trip made it possible.

The floor underneath the lines to the registers

I went to the first Varsity location with one of my best friends Tunicia. We pulled up to a huge diner-looking building with two parking decks packed with cars. Later I would find out that this location is actually the largest drive-thru in the world. We went inside and it seemed as if we had stepped back in time- but in a good way. We walked past small displays that covered the history of the restaurant, and an ice cream shop was to our right...while crowds lined up to several registers

The menu

Eagerly I approached the woman at the counter wearing a paper Varsity cap (that was no match for my huge afro...the only other people wearing them were Tunicia and a bunch of little kids who awaited their food) and was greeted with their famous "What'll ya have? What'll ya have?" welcome. I ordered two number ones for the us. Tunicia got an orange frosty looking thing, and recommended we each get one of their famous pies (they offer apple and peach- seeing as it's Georgia I opted out of my usual apple and ordered a peach one at her suggestion).

My Varsity cap-- before it fell apart on my afro
The food came relatively quickly, and tasted pretty good. I mean, there isn't but so delectable a hot dog and onion rings can be but the only other famous dog places I know are Ben's Chilli Bowl in DC and Original's here in Pittsburgh. I actually hate the taste of Ben's (greasy and flavorless in my opinion) and Original's is ok, but Varsity is the best for sure. (I'm sure many of you remember my trip to Chicago where I had a Chicago dog...but that's more of a regional thing, not a specific restaurant). I really enjoyed my food but more importantly, I enjoyed spending time with my friend in her hometown while we caught up on all of our girl talk stuff.

My hot dogs and orange drink
My peach pie
I WILL say that I loved the peach pie. Again, peach usually isn't my flavor of choice but this one was delicious. Not too sweet, not "fake" tasting. It was probably the best homemade but not in a house dessert I've had in a long time. I will probably cajole one of my Atlanta friends into taking me back for a round two the next time I'm in the city (which will be at the latest January 2015).

Tunicia and I with our Varsity caps

Well, now that life has started to slow down a bit, I can get the last of these Georgia blog posts out. It's starting to get cold though, so the snow is probably not far behind. It will most likely hinder my travels until the spring, but we shall see.

In the meantime, thank you for your patience and for following me on my journey! As always, I'll see you on the next adventure!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tours Go Better With Coke

Hello readers. I want to issue you an apology. I've been sitting on these Georgia posts for WEEKS and just have not had the energy or time to sit and get my experiences to you all. Is it weird I'm starting to get anxious about how many people know about the blog...and how far I have yet to go? I mean, in 2011, this was just a kooky idea I'd come up with, and now I have organizations and museums checking out my posts across America (even my JOB wants to use my post from those dreadful mansions in Rhode Island for a presentation to a NATIONAL museum organization). Even my friends try to help, forwarding me special event Groupons and trip suggestions for new states. While I'm happy about all of is a bit...different. I'm dedicated to seeing this through...even if it takes beyond 2016 (which I'm hoping it does not...I need some passport stamps!). ships don't stamp passports. Hence why mine is still super bare

Anyway, enough about my emo development as a travel blogger (is it safe to call myself that?). Let's talk about Atlanta. I used to live in Atlanta for a very brief period of time and yet the only "touristy" thing I ever did was visit the Underground...a bunch of generic stores with stuff I was never interested in purchasing that are literally, underground. Since I was coming down for Labor Day to see my god family and friends, I didn't want to make my schedule TOO jam packed (people tend to frown at rigid itineraries) but did want to get some sight seeing in. Enter the World of Coca-Cola.

This was the first thing I did when I came to Atlanta. I had my suitcase with me, and took the Marta train (which had vastly upgraded since my last ride on it ten years prior!) straight from the airport down to the area where pretty much everything major to do in Atlanta is situated. I walked a few blocks and eventually got to the tour building (it's pretty huge) and paid for a general admission.

The line to get IN...should've taken the hint but noooo...
Let me just go ahead and warn you now. There will be a LOT of people. You WILL stand in lines as if you are waiting for the newest roller coaster at your favorite amusement park. Once you get inside, a group of about 70-80 people are ushered into a small lobby with some jumbo-sized decorated Coke bottles...and one poor soul standing at the front trying to keep everyone interested by telling jokes and doing magic tricks. Now, if you know anything about me, I HATE not being able to hear what my tour guides are saying. And with people of all ages, races, and levels of quiet present, I pulled a young man to the side and pleadingly asked if there was a more exclusive, less crowded tour option. He and another of his co-workers brought me back out to the ticket booth, and upgraded me to a VIP tour for only $12 more. TRUST ME. IT'S WORTH EVERY DIME! Not only do you get priority access to EVERYTHING, you get discounts on pictures in the gift shop and other neat swag that the general public does not. You also get a dedicated tour guide and special earbuds so you can take an actual tour, not just aimlessly roam around and hope you can figure out what you're looking at.

Travelin' T, coming to you live from the VIP...tour
Now, you do a LOT on this tour, so I'll just give you brief descriptions of the different phases of the visit. First you enter a room full of Coke paraphernalia from all around the world. An employee warms up the crowd with jokes, encourages you to take pictures, and talks about highlights of artifacts in the room.

I was up front with my fellow VIPers
From there you enter a huge theater with a 10 minute movie that shows a bunch of different people celebrating random life occurrences (like a first grandchild, or a surprise birthday party) and how Coca-Cola is a part of all of that (you know, good times). We were specifically asked to not take photos or video in here, so I obliged. From there though, you go out into the actual museum (I think it's safe to call it that) where VIP folks had to put on our headphones. We had the chance to (cut the line) and take a picture with the biggest creepiest polar bear you can imagine though, which other than the hurt faces of the kids I got to cut in front of, was pretty hilarious to do.

Next we went into a mini production section (the slowest and smallest Coke bottling factory in the world!) where we learned about technological innovations in the making of Coke. The bottles we saw being made are special in that they make all the souvenir bottles you get at the end of your tour (but we aren't there yet...)

FIZZY-Bot making bottles of Coke
Next you go into the most museum-ish part of the building, the story of how Coke was invented, and how the company (and product) grew and expanded over the years. Here is where you'll appreciate that personal tour guide most, because it was SO crowded and there were SO few captions what without their explanations you'd miss a lot of cool information.

Probably the coolest part of this section was getting to hold an actual Olympic torch. Remember the 1996 Olympic Games were in Atlanta, and Coca-Cola was a huge sponsor.

Can't you just hear the Olympic theme now?
Next is a section I nicknamed the "hater and biter" section. It talks about how so many companies tried to mimic Coke and make fake versions of the drink or to somehow tarnish the Coke image. It's here that you will get to see the vault that contains the secret Coke recipe that for years was stashed in an old lock box at a Suntrust bank.

Nothing like the real thing indeed...
Guard in front of the vault
Now before I go is the only part of the tour I was ready to punch someone in the face. In this section you are CLEARLY TOLD to not cross a certain line because an alarm will sound. So what to these dummy parents let their kids do?? Cross the security line...which caused our earbuds to give a VERY loud screech and mechanical wail each time one of those little grubbers laughed and danced across it. I yelled at one woman to "get her kids together"- that REALLY hurt my ears!

From there you enter a room full of art inspired by or made from Coke and Coke materials. Tucked away in the bottom of a case was a bottle of the old "New Coke" that I'm sure most company reps would like to pretend never existed (this tickled me to see...I vaguely remember the huge brouhaha changing the formula caused).

From there we were taken to a 4D theater (and I was starting to wonder how much longer we would be on this tour). While you wait in line (again, much like a roller coaster set up) you watch a video of a woman that looks a LOT like Tracie Thoms ask a bunch of random people on the street what kind of flavors they like...or something like that. I wasn't paying much attention (or rather, didn't know I should have been paying attention). She runs off the screen saying she needs to find someone named Brigsby, and then you enter the theatre. No pics, you know, I was kind of in the moment. But you watch what seemed to be a 15 minute video of her and this Brigsby dude act goofy and discover more ways Coke is all over the world. It's 4D because the movie is in 3D (yes you get glasses) but your seats move and air and mist spray on you to coincide with the action on the screen as well. It was fun, if not a little corny.

Finally, after nearly 2 hours of tour guide led fun (thank you Deepak!) You are given an exclusive pin and dumped into the tasting room. Here you can sample Coke products from every continent (though really, if you are from America and you only stay at the North America're pretty lame). This was fun in a way...some very interesting flavors from Africa and Asia (it was getting close to the time I needed to meet my friend so the rest of the world had to wait) but MAN those floors were STICKY!!! I almost broke my flip flops TWICE because the soles stuck to the floor. They should really have someone there whose sole purpose is to run a damp mop over the floor to clean up spilled pop.

The tasting room
After that, you picked up your souvenir on-site made bottle of Coca Cola and headed into the gift shop where there was a TON of red and Coke themed merchandise. Inside tip, that polar bear pic I took earlier? I got 30% off the purchase of it because I was a VIP tour member.

Thank you FIZZY-Bot!
I had to leave mine in GA with a friend's not TSA carry-on friendly :-/
She's going to mail it to me though :-)

Overall, I had an amazing (if not exhausting!) time at the World of Coca Cola. They truly have set the standard for what a food or beverage factory tour should be (though to be fair, it wasn't a full fledged facility like other places). Please, if you can, buy the VIP ticket. It will really save part of your sanity. A special shout out should be given to the ENTIRE staff there. Not. One. Employee. was rude, unfriendly, or unhelpful. I was almost a little scary how nice they were. I was very impressed and pleased!

So. More on Georgia to come. I didn't do all the tours I wanted to do...but boy oh boy did I EAT a lot while I was there!

As always, thank you for following me on this journey and reading my blog. Even if it kinds freaks me out a little bit I appreciate your time taken to read it. See you on the next adventure!