We had to visit Atlanta. For quite a while Geoff had this idea in his head, that he’d love to see one of the biggest and most famous aquariums in the world – the one in Atlanta. So we planned to stay for a few days and see what else was worth a visit. As it turned out – quite a lot. Getting a City Pass was the cheapest option and allowed us a choice of a few, different attractions around the city. We chose to explore the inside of CNN’s global headquarter, see the vault holding the most desired recipe for a drink at World of Coca-Cola and made friends with a panda in the city zoo. How exciting!
We decided to kick off with the zoo, but apparently it was too cold for the primates and we were advised to come back another day. So instead we went to Fernbank Natural History Museum, which quite frankly, compared with the one in London, which I love, and the rest of attractions in Atlanta, wasn’t all that good. We watched a show in their IMAX (neither of us remembers what it was, although we both remember that we didn’t watch the butterfly movie!), had some fun creating massive bubbles and concluded the visit with me becoming a weather lady for the news at Fernbank.
In the evening we went to our couchsurfing home. Our hosts – Adam and Kacy were out, but gave us instructions how to find their house and how to get in, in their absence. They turned out to be amazing hosts and we had really great fun with them. They introduced us to ‘smores’ (short for some more for those who didn’t know) – Americans’ camping favourite: roasted marshmallow sandwiched between two crackers with a piece of melting chocolate added to the mix. Yum. Our ‘camp’ was happening in front of the TV, and our marshmallows were roasted over fireplace. On the last morning, Adam has prepared for us a typical Southern breakfast: sausage gravy and biscuits. Now the biscuit isn’t a cookie as English speaking people (as opposed to American speaking) might think, while making horrified faces. In fact it’s a savoury leavened bread resembling English scone, so it went really well with this thick sausage sauce (that took well over an hour to cook!). It was delicious despite what it might sound like, but we definitely wouldn’t have it everyday –it was very filling and high in calories, not to mention cholesterol.
Second morning in Atlanta welcomed us with some miserable drizzle. So instead of heading straight for the panda meeting we went to CNN instead. The guided tour through corridors of global headquarters of this leading news station was a really interesting experience. You start in the lobby from where the longest free-standing escalator in the world takes you up where CNN offices are. You get to see the control room full of monitors showing what’s currently on and what will be on in a few minutes. Then passing over the newsroom (huge open plan office where all the news are being researched) you get to appreciate just how many people it takes to deliver all those breaking news straight to your telly. In a smaller recording studio 7E a volunteer from the group can try their luck at reading the news from the teleprompter before you finally get to see the real action – CNN live from Studio 7 (while we were there Christine Romans was hosting Your Money program). It really was great fun, even for those who aren’t news junkies.
After our CNN tour we headed to the zoo. The sun didn’t come out but the drizzle eased up a bit so it wasn’t too bad, yet still kept the crowds away. It wasn’t the greatest zoo, but it was pretty good and it had pandas – which not that many zoos can be proud of. Apparently in the summer, to see those cute bears, you have to queue in line for over two hours! And we had two pandas almost exclusively for ourselves – another plus of travelling off-season. We were also quite lucky to see and hear active lions: they roared, chased each other around their enclosure and in the end posed for the pictures. I must admit that lion’s roar really sent a shiver up my spine, especially as I didn’t find the fences to be high enough…
Georgia Aquarium was truly amazing: there was the underwater corridor, so you could ‘dry dive’ and watch the Gentle Giants up close; there were dancing dolphins and in interactive pools you could touch stingrays, starfish and even small sharks! It really is a huge aquarium – covering over 51,000 square metres and holding 30,000 m3 of water in its tanks it still is one of the largest in the world (the land had been donated by Coca – Cola). And it is home to massive whale sharks and beluga whales. Astonishing!
Last but definitely not least, we went to the World of Coca -Cola. We may not be Coke addicts – occasionally we’d have the zero option (although I’m more of a Pepsi MAX person myself), but we loved this place. It’s quite amazing to witness how much influence this company and its logo has. Naturally it is very red all around and the place is full of collectibles (we especially liked the pants covered in Coca – Cola logo) and artwork (3 original pieces by Norman Rockwell as well as some by Andy Warhol).
There is also a 4D cinema (nothing exciting), a Perfect Pauses Theatre that plays the best of Coca-Cola TV ads over the years and across the globe and of course the massive vault, in which you can first learn about the history of the product and the various conspiracy theories related to it, before you get to the real vault, guarding one of the most wanted secret formula in the world. At the end the long-awaited moment: tasting of over 100 different Coca-Cola beverages from around the planet. One massive hall holds several drink fountains – separate for each continent, with a choice of unique flavours from different places: very sweet flavours of Fanta from Africa, well known to us crazy yellow Inca Cola from Peru, my personal favourite – sour green apples Fanta from Asia, the infamous Beverly from Italy (it tasted like tonic, so I’m guessing its disrepute must result from insufficient amounts of sugar), and many others that we no longer remember. And this still wasn’t it – after all that you’re faced with Coca – Cola Freestyle fountain – with more than 120 flavours (Coke Zero alone has 8! For the curious ones, you can find the full list here). Such fountains are located in almost every Burger King and when we first saw it we had to pick up our jaws up off the floor. At the very end you get a bottle of Coke straight of the bottling line whizzing over visitors heads. Of course all this is one massive product advert, but certainly one that gives a lot of fun , and if you manage to sample all drink flavours (and it really is quite a challenge), you’ll be leaving not only satisfied but also rather bloated 😉 .
Our time in the south eastern states was slowly coming to an end, so we had to start heading back to Orlando. We set our return rout through Charleston in South Carolina, Savannah in Georgia, and Jacksonville back in Florida.
Both Charleston, and Savannah are very old (by American standards anyway) and charming cities. It’s really worthwhile to stop in them even if just for a short bit to experience a slightly different America – much slower and more relaxed. Take a walk through the old streets and admire the beautiful architecture and gorgeous Spanish Moss hanging off the ancient trees. Make sure to sample some delicacies too; there are some tempting options with pretty much every step you take: nuts of all kinds in amazing array of flavours (free tasting too!), chocolates and fudge, frozen yogurt (you can chose and serve your own toppings from big dispensers, and pay for the total weight – great idea) and another speciality – taffy candy (chewy sweets which we didn’t find that great). In Charleston there’s also an old market, founded in 1807 full of original souvenirs and famous, Gullah sweetgrass baskets, hand – woven on site. Not very far from the city grows an Angel Oak – 20m tall but with the branch span of nearly triple that (almost 56m) it produces shade that covers 1,600 m2. Quite a tree.
In Savannah we met another strange personality of the CouchSurfing community. He seemed to lack any social skills, and to pass the time we had to watch some very bloody scenes from the anime, preceded by more than an hour long lecture from YouTube on the 5th Amendment rights and why you should never talk to the police officer (I don’t think same laws apply to other countries, and I can’t imagine the situation where I’d just ignore policemen questions with total silence…). Well, the exception does prove the rule, because our next hosts in Jacksonville yet again were super nice and very friendly.
Jacksonville is the largest city in the United States. Really – in terms of area it beats even the mighty Los Angeles! But not a whole lot is happening over there, so after a nice, short walk along the river and seeing yet another big tree – Favourite Oak this time, our tour of the city was completed. All that was left was to get back to Orlando (quite a stressful drive since we took an option to return our rental car with an empty tank and Geoff was making sure we didn’t leave any fuel in!), drop the car off at the rental parking and spend the rest of the night at the airport, awaiting our morning flight to Los Angeles. And thus our adventure in the eastern states ends, and a new stage begins, on the west coast.