Birthdays are typically a good time, especially when it is your own birthday. All your friends come together, you eat some cake, but most importantly, you get gifts! Megan decided to go all out for my birthday and give me an ENTIRE STATE. Not literally of course, but she did plan an awesome trip to one of the largest metropolitan areas in the south, Atlanta!
The British originally established the colony of Georgia as a place of resettlement for those serving prison time for owing debts (the British were experiencing problems with overcrowding in the prisons and too many poor people in the streets, so they just shipped them off to new colonies). Not many prisoners made their way to Georgia, as a much more convenient form of indentured labor was borrowed from their neighboring colony to the north—slavery. The second reason Georgia was established as a colony was to provide a buffer to South Carolina from the Spanish colony of Florida to the south and to the French controlled territory to the west. The early Georgian colony had a strong religious influence, primarily populated with Protestants looking for a little freedom from the Anglican church of England. The early Georgians were not very friendly to other religious backgrounds, resisting the Catholic influence from the Spanish and French (they did not allow Catholics to own land), and pushing out Moravians and Jews. Eventually the more wealthy South Carolinians began taking over Georgia to set up plantations.
As I mentioned, Georgia was one of the original 13 colonies, but it was arguably the least significant of the colonies. Georgia had only been established a few decades before the Revolution, and most of its citizens were still pretty loyal to the crown. Georgia did not have a formal militia, so it could not contribute soldiers to the American armies. However, 1/3 of the slaves joined the ranks of the British in exchange for freedom. Savannah (the main city in Georgia) was captured early in the war, and remained in British control throughout most of the war. Georgia didn't fare much better in the Civil War. Sherman burned Georgia to the ground as he marched westward to the sea (as was seen in the movie Gone With the Wind).
One more paragraph of history and that's it, I promise. After the Civil War, Atlanta was rebuilt. Atlanta has easy access to fresh water from the Chattahoochee River, a refreshingly cooler climate due to its higher elevation (compared to the lowlands along the coast), and was a major hub for the railroads extending to the south and to the west. The capital was moved to Atlanta, and in the 1960s Atlanta served as the organizing center for the civil rights movement. And truly showing how much the city the flourished since being burned to the ground, it hosted the Olympic Games in 1996 and is the home of the busiest airport in the world.
After sharing much of this same information with Megan on the drive to Atlanta, she got really excited at our first glimpse of the city (she could finally get out of the car and not have to listen to me anymore).
It was a beautiful day, so we parked the car and walked to our first stop, the Coke Factory!
After listening to a short spiel from our tour guide about the greatness of coke (it was just a way to keep us occupied while they let the previous group disperse from the entrance), we were let loose in the World of Coca-Cola. The first exhibit we entered showed the history of coke, starting with getting served by the inventor of coke himself at the local pharmacy when coke was mixed by hand.
In the glass case of the pharmacy, some of the original ads for coke were displayed. Reading those ads you would think coke was the magical drug that cured everything. "Lose Weight With Coke!", "Got Headaches? Drink a Coke!", "Exhaustion? Try Coca-Cola!", "Got Cancer? Coke Cures It!"; these were along the themes of the original ads. Check out this ad that describes Coca-Cola as "The Brain Tonic":
They didn't just have ads from the 1880s. They had ads from the last 130 years and from all over the world. Some of them were just plain weird. Apparently a child with white hair and a giant bottle cap stuck to his head appeals to some part of the world, where in others (apparently Afghanistan) coke appeals to those who are constipated.
They also had loads of coke memorabilia and cool artifacts from around the world. Since Coca-Cola sponsors the Olympics (it is a well known fact that coke is a key component to every successful Olympic athlete), they had the torches from all the recent Summer and Winter Olympic Games.
They also had a 4-D experience movie (the 3-D movie where they spray you with water and poke you in the back). The premise was that you went around the world looking for what makes coke great. It was incredibly corny, but still entertaining. You can watch the whole 10 minute movie on YouTube, but I don't know if it would be that same without the 4-D mosquito attack or the cool glasses.
Right next to the 4-D movie, they had a room where you could watch all the old Coke TV commercials. It was cool seeing how coke was advertised in other countries. It was a little bit of nostalgia every time an ad from the US was played, apparently coke was able to successfully reach me through their TV advertising. Go ahead and try to not sing along with this ad from 15 years ago:
I'm sure there is some type of subliminal advertising in that commercial (do they flash pictures of fruits and veggies in that flurry at the end?).
We saved the best room for last, the tasting room! After looking at coke advertisement for the past 2 hours, I really want to drink one. I visited the Coke Factory around 15 years ago, and I remember it being a blast (give any 12 year-old access to as much coke as he can drink and there is no way he won't have a blast). I remember jets of water being shot over our heads as we walked into the sampling room where you could taste the different cokes from around the world. I was looking forward to comparing the taste of coke in China versus the coke from Mexico again, but the entire theme of the World of Coca-Cola was "Unforgettable Taste, Uniform Quality, Universal Availability" which steered away from the idea that coke in China was different from coke in Mexico. I did get to drink Inca-Cola from Peru again, as well as try the minty coke from Africa. After a couple of other exotic tastings, I realized that I prefer the original coke.
We left the Coke Factory and took the long 100 yard stroll over to the largest aquarium in the world, the Georgia Aquarium (after Megan posed for a picture in front of the Coke Factory).
Needless to say, the aquarium was humongous. Every fish tank was larger than my house. They even had tanks large enough for whales! They had giant jelly fish that you couldn't help but watch float in the tank (the tank is about 25 feet wide and 12 feet tall so you can get an idea of how big the jelly fish were), whale sharks that would swim directly above you, a coral reef tank exhibiting brightly colored coral, and another tank that had to be at least 40 feet tall with exotic fish constantly swimming past.
The children's section of the aquarium was also very cool. The had a tank where you could pet stingrays and sharks as they swim by (and these were decent size sharks and stingrays). Personally, I was a little weary about having my hand bitten or stung, but I convinced myself that if the 10 year-old next to me was brave enough to do it, I could muster up enough courage to do the same (plus the shark would probably go after his little hand before my hand). They also had another tank where you could pet anemones and other lethargic sea creatures. I thought anemones stung, but once again following the lead of the 10 year-old, I ran my hand over the various creatures.
We got to see the penguins get fed, and then stared eye to eye with some very cool looking creatures of the deep.
The final tank we saw was the one that held the whales. We climbed the steps to the second level to fully appreciate how big these guys really were.
Having our fill of looking at fish, we decided it was time to grab a late lunch. We left the aquarium and took a detour through the Olympic Park. I quickly pointed out to Megan when I saw the Olympic Torch.
We walked through the park to get closer, and that when I realized that it wasn't actually the Olympic Torch (unless Atlanta had made 20 different torches). Instead I had spotted one of the park lights creatively designed to look olympic-ish.
We walked down to Grindhouse Burgers, a burger joint squeezed in along a wall in a market (right behind where they were cutting up whole pigs using a band saw). Apparently this place was labeled the best burger in town, despite its location. While we waited, we watched a Kung-Fu movie being silently projected on a wall and sipped ice cold cokes (drinking anything else seemed wrong). When our burgers finally arrived, they were absolutely fantastic.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around downtown Atlanta. Later that evening we headed out to an area of town called Little Five Points to check out the Porter Beer Bar. This bar sounded appealing because they recommend a beer to go along with every food item on their menu, and it all sounded delicious. The beer list was 12 pages long, and Megan and I had a great time making our way through some new (and typically local) beers.
We left the bar and walked around Little Five Point to soak in the atmosphere (it's a bar district with lots of outdoor seating). Walking past one of the windows, we saw a display that made the foreign coke ads almost look normal. What appeared to be a demon baby was pulling down the blouse on a mannequin. Definitely weird.
The next morning we headed out early to Sweetwater Creek State Park to do some hiking. The first several miles followed the Sweetwater Creek and offered a pretty backdrop to the hike.
The path eventually took us down close to an abandoned, 5-story textile mill. This mill existed before the civil war and was burned as part of Sherman's march to the sea. It is not often you can see buildings destroyed by war here at home in the US, so it really hit home that our country was split in war 150 years ago.
We took a trail that curved away from the water and through the hills leading into the woods. The woods felt familiar to the trails in North Carolina, although I'm sure my forestry friends are shaking their heads that I couldn't distinguish the Georgian Southern Pine from the Carolina Southern Pine.
At the furthest point on the trail we encountered a sign that made Megan want to immediately turn around.
I was a little confused as to why this sign was posted in the middle of the woods so far from the trail access points. It seems that you would warn of snakes at the beginning of the trail, not at the point furthest away from civilization. Instead of a warning sign, it felt more like a map you find in the mall that says YOU ARE HERE [IN DEADLY SNAKE COUNTRY]. We continued along the trail, but we had hardly gone 100 feet before we ran into our first snake.
The snake posed no harm, but Megan tore off down the trail anyways. She absolutely refused to crouch down near the snake for a picture, so I had her take the picture instead. The rest of our hike was snake-free, and we eventually made our way back to the car to start the long drive back home. As we passed back through Atlanta on the way home, we finally did catch a glimpse of the real Olympic Torch near Turner Field.