Atlanta–so much more than a baseball townA year ago, I learned that the annual tourism outlook forum would be held in Atlanta, home of my beloved Braves. As a fan of 56 years (but, who’s counting?), I had visions of World Series tickets dancing in my head. Things looked good until September, when the Braves forgot two main goals of baseball: 1) score runs, and 2) win games. Thus deprived of my pipe dream, I headed to Atlanta this past Sunday. My rating of Atlanta follows.
Many travelers get their first impression of a large city at the airport. No airport of significance offers a much worse impression than Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson. While some of us were sleeping, Hartsfield-Jackson became the world’s busiest airport (2000). I’d been told to avoid it at all costs on a Sunday or Friday; so, naturally, my arrival was on Sunday. Despite the comparatively late hour (8pm), the place was an absolute zoo. Masses of people streamed along, shoulder to shoulder and heel to toe. After walking approximately a half mile, I arrived at a sign pointing to the escalator that would take me to baggage claim. A smile of victory briefly crossed my face, only to be replaced by an “oh-no” expression. The escalator had taken me to a line of people awaiting the terminal train. Of course, my particular terminal was at one end of Hartsfield, while my suitcase awaited at the other. An automated voice kept telling the mob to “get away from the closing door.” After two minutes of this at every one of the five stops, I arrived at baggage claim a beaten man. Naturally, despite the crowded journey that took more than fifteen minutes, suitcases did not begin to arrive until an additional ten had passed. Once I reclaimed my bag, I had a choice of three carriers to my hotel: the MARTA system, a remnant of the 1996 Olympic Games, an airport shuttle van, or a yellow taxi cab. Feeling mentally fatigued, I elected to pay the fixed fare of $33.50 to be cabbed to the Loews Midtown.
My driver was fast and efficient, breaking only a handful of traffic laws along the way. To his credit, he made just the right amount of conversation to guarantee a substantial tip. Atlanta’s urbanscape proved to be dynamic, colorful, and extremely well maintained. I saw buildings whose architecture rivaled that of Chicago. One building was so gorgeous, I decided to break the wonderful silence to ask my driver its name. Unfortunately, he was in the middle of a narrative about a driver who had refused to allow him to pass . . . about three years previously (remember, this is the South). I received a quick reminder of the world’s realities as we sped past the Emory Medical Center. My hotel and the surrounding neighborhood proved to be a very pleasant surprise. Of course, none of this matters if the guest room fails to measure up to standards. I’m happy to report that the room was magnificent, especially the bathroom. The shower was tiled on two sides, with glass on two others. I had a brief scare while I was showering. Discovering that an old, grotesque man was watching me, you can imagine my relief when it turned out to be my reflection, visible through the glass wall of the shower stall.
The Braves not withstanding, Atlanta proved to be an excellent host. An evening reception at the city’s aquarium was thrilling. As we stood drinking wine and eating hors d’ouevres, two massive whale sharks swam above us, accompanied by groupers the size of college football linemen. The neighborhood surrounding the Loews Midtown proved to be safe and absolutely teeming with wonderful restaurants. At one, South City Kitchen, I feasted on southern fried chicken and collared greens (okay, I hated the collared greens). However, it was at the Cafe Intermezzo where I met my match: a delicious piece of chocolate raspberry cake topped with real whipped cream. The next morning, at breakfast, I learned that Intermezzo has another claim to fame: it serves more than one hundred varieties of delicious coffees from all over the globe.
All and all, I’d rate Atlanta four and one-half stars (Hartsfield mustn’t be ignored). The Braves may not have played, but I had a ball. PS, the conference was excellent, too.