Thursday, 25 July 2013

The BeltLine

21st November 2012
There weren't too many people staying in Atlanta for Thanksgiving however Sunbear and I were having a Thanksgiving dinner with a host family. But more on that later. By this stage, the start of Thanksgiving break had already started and I had wanted to explore more of Atlanta.

When googling for things to visit, the Beltline was one of the 'attractions' that attracted my attention. 

The BeltLine is a former railway corridor around the core of Atlanta, Georgia which is under development in stages as a multi-use trail. Some portions are already complete, while others are still in a rough state but hikeable. Using existing rail track easements, it aims to improve not only transportation, but to add green space and promote redevelopment. There are longer term visions for streetcar or light rail lines along all or part of the corridor.
We started the Beltline on the west side with plans to finish on the east and head up north to Piedmont Park. The west side was a little dodgy especially compared to Decatur where we were staying. Decatur is one of the richer areas of Atlanta (and technically its own city) and the typical two storey type mansions were plentiful. Out on the western side, these were considerably smaller dwellings and there is something unsettling when a house needs visible double bolts and sometimes bars around the patio, also with it's own double lock door.
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A homeless man's bed underneath the bridge. Impressive although a little scary too.

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  This was basically the entire area of the west side. I believe we also walked past some correctional services of some sort too. The Caucasian and the Asian walking around, an odd sight I am sure.

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This convenience store had bars on every single window and at the cashier desk, there was a whole window of, what I imagine to be, bullet proof glass.

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We headed to the east side (Old Fourth Ward) and the area was vastly different. The houses were a lot prettier and we stumbled upon a home with a puppy! It was originally lying on the patio however it quickly ran down to the gate and we petted it for a while. The puppy was so adorable and so hyper.

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The BeltLine is a work in progress, with the east side being predominately a walking trail through cleared bushland. The east side however is completed with bicycle and walkpaths.

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One of my favourite shots.

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Atlanta doesn't have a Chinatown. However very close to the outskirts of Atlanta in the north, there is a 'Chinatown' which is basically a small shopping area with Asian supermarkets and authentic Asian food places, almost like the food court at Dixon Street in Sydney. There were a lot of Asian-fusion chains such as Tin Drum, however, you can't help but raise your eyebrow when the pad thai has jalape├▒o on top. Hmm.

We ordered two spicy Szechuan dishes. After a while, I couldn't quite feel my lips anymore, it was a continual burning sensation. However, Sunbear loved it and loved spicy food. Although all the Asians were in total disbelief when we arrived back at Highland Lake.

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Overall, it was an interesting day. It was lovely to explore more of Atlanta and to see the 'darker' side of Atlanta. From what I gathered, the wealthier you are, the further north you would live. Conversely, the further south you head, heading to the airport, the more dodgy the areas became.
Wednesday, 24 July 2013

North Georgia/ South Tennessee

19th December 2012
We wanted one last road trip in Georgia, a farewell to the state that had become our second home. We (by we, I mean Sunbear) drove up to the country city of Dahlonega after my economics final. Georgia is quite pretty; in the south, there are the heartlands, on the east, there are the beaches and the coastline and north, there are the mountains and the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

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Dahlonega is the epitome of a typical country town (though technically a city). Sunbear had an alleged allergy to chocolate; apparently it gave him a headache. Although I didn't really believe him and I nagged him until he tried chocolate and lo behold, no headache! Ever since this discovery, we consumed chocolate constantly. This strawberry dipped in chocolate was his second taste of chocolate in over 10 years.

We drove off in search of the gold mines, though we couldn't find it. Instead, we stumbled upon a lake.

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In the end, we gave up searching for the gold mine, and truth be told, I wasn't particularly keen either. We started part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, driving through the Chattahoochee National Forest.

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Love.
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It was gorgeous. The roads wound up and down through the mountains and the view was breathtaking. However, after a while it became a little awkward since we weren't entirely sure where we were. Were we in Georgia, Tennessee or South Carolina?! The road was continuous and there weren't any signs or places to turn off onto any highway.

In the end, we managed to find the highway and Sunbear suggested that we drive up to Tennessee to visit Ducktown, a supposed quaint town. I believe it was 4 blocks wide and then the town ended and that was that.

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Finally managed to take a photo of the sign. Although, probably the oldest sign in existence; the colours of the peach had completed faded.

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GA / TN state line.
An estimate. No idea what happened once we got to the Chattahoochee National Forest.
We ended the night with a romantic dinner in the car eating Maccas. Wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

My Overall Thoughts
It was a lovely final road trip with Sunbear in the US of A. It was really sad though as we had met in Georgia and we were leaving the place that we had grown to love. It didn't help that we played "Georgia on My Mind" by Willie Nelson continuously, a very bittersweet song. It wasn't just the fact that the song was about Georgia, but that Sunbear had driven 14 hours listening to the song on repeat - almost continuously- back to Atlanta from Virginia after a major fight that we had . Looking back, I barely understand the argument; I don't even know why I was so upset. As said previously, we had so many movie worthy moments, but the moment when he arrived back at our apartment was definitely a movie moment. Ah memories.

Would I re-visit?
The towns we visited, no.

On a personal side note, it is a little sad that this will be the last 'travel' post for the actual exchange period. I thought blogging and reliving the days would be enjoyable, but in fact, it just makes me nostalgic and not necessarily in a good way. It is extremely odd to think that almost 12 months ago, I was about to embark on such a wonderful journey. The next few posts will be about Atlanta and the actual university that I attended. I didn't spend every waking moment travelling (although I wish that I did) despite the impression that may be gathered. 
Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Columbus & Alabama

18th December 2012

Columbus, Georgia is located in the 'Heartland' area of Georgia and on the border of Alabama. It is a 2 hour drive from Atlanta (2.5 hours from Decatur).

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On the way down, we stopped at Waffle House. Waffle House is a restaurant chain located predominately in the southern part of the US (and is headquartered in Georgia along with everything else). It sells, you guessed it, waffles but burgers and basically everything. There are so many in the south and next to the interstate; it is actually quite ridiculous. In fact, there were more Waffle Houses than McDonalds. During my entire stay, I visited Waffle House 3 times and on all three occasions the wait staff were incredibly rude. I would have much rather visisted IHOP for infinitely better customer service.

When I received our coffee, the woman held both coffees in one hand and subsequently spilt one all over the table. I worked in hospitality for 6 years and I believe I am quite understanding. But this woman didn't even apologise and when she came to 'wipe' the mess up, she used a serviette that became saturated with coffee instantly and then left, leaving behind 99% of the mess still on the table.

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Granted that it was a weekday, Columbus was a ghost town. The Chattahoochee River was really pretty and the current was a lot stronger than I imagined it to be. But it was another sunny and warm day. I didn't find it too odd, but Sunbear (who is from the Netherlands) found it absolutely amazing that it was still so warm and sunny despite approach winter. Even now, I do 'whine' about the 14 degree weather in Sydney and how cold it is. Ah relativity. On a related side note, I never realised that the seasons didn't start on the same day as in the southern hemisphere. Here, the seasons start at the first day of the corresponding month. However, in the northern hemisphere it starts on the 21st/22nd of the month,  linked to the solstice. Can't find the reasoning online, though it appears just to have been formed from convention. Although there are "reasons", yet they don't carry much weight considering they are all random American commentators who believe that they are at the centre of the universe and their way is the right way (disregarding the fact that the entire northern hemisphere follows the same convention). It reminds me of the issue with applicator tampons, though I will leave that for another post.

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We walked the bridge across the river into Alabama and visited Piggly Wiggly supermarket, a supermarket chain with the best name ever. It reminded me more of IGA (independent grocers) than the two major supermarkets in Australia. Every cashier had a name badge with a little sticker relating to something that was personal. The woman who served us was Violet and her little sticker said, "ask me about my grandchildren" whereas the gentleman behind her had, "ask me about my books". Of course, her accent was absolutely amazing.

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I love homebrand Coke names.

When we had visited the Information Centre, a driving tour was recommended and so off we went. Though it wasn't great. The first few houses, I thought, "wow they are so pretty". But after while it became a little dull; seen one pretty house, seen them all. The only thing i can really say is that they seemed so American, well, at least what I recognise from TV and movies.

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We decided to drive over to Alabama and just wonder around without much of a plan. This was my last proper road trip with Sunbear and I was very much indifferent to where we went. We passed through many small towns.

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Because one church just isn't enough. I used to laugh at the fact that there were so many churches in the US/ the south until I went over to Europe.

In country songs, singers are always singing about red pick up trucks, and honestly, I couldn't believe that they were everywhere. We passed by many interesting homes as well. The one that comes to mind is the home we stumbled upon when we went down a no through road. As the car rolled past, all 6 guard dogs stared at the car and watched us from the front lawn. In the middle of the lawn, there was a yellow school bus with green plants growing inside. Hmm. Interesting.

We quickly visited Opelika in Alabama which was just another small town before driving aimlessly again. Sunbear found this road and it was an area with red clay.

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We got out of the car and wandered on to the land, trespassing although there weren't any signs of civilisation there. Except for one lone hut in the middle of the deserted area. Originally we joked that there was a serial killer living there with his victims, but more logically, it was probably a hunter's cabin. There were quite a few rifle shells on the ground which I did take photos of.

Grr. I lost nearly half of my photos from that day because my photos didn't transfer properly from my camera to my laptop and I didn't realise until 3 weeks later and by that stage it was beyond recovery since I had already stored new photos onto the SD card. And it still frustrates me to this day since it was an amazing day and there were so many photos and videos that I would have liked. Oh well.

After exploring someone else's land we eventually found our way back from the state highways and onto the interstate and headed towards Auburn. We had dinner at a wings place and it was absolutely amazing. We shared a burger and hot wings and the whole experience was just lovely, especially the waiter who was super lovely and I gave a decent tip. The sunset was pretty, which I don't have photos of anymore. Grr.


My Overall Thoughts
I didn't expect Columbus, GA to be spectacular. It was just another city in Georgia, and by this stage, I had already gained a general feel for the towns/ cities in Georgia. So it was what I expected. Driving through Alabama was exciting since I had always wanted to visit Alabama, not necessarily the major cities though. I had previously looked at Birmingham and Montgomery, but neither really seemed to be very interesting, just another city. But I can't really explain why Alabama intrigued me. I still remember when I told someone from my hometown that I was so excited to go to Alabama, and they responded with, "why? There is nothing there. Just rednecks". I don't know, but I think Alabama has beauty to it, that I can't quite describe.

Would I re-visit?
Columbus, no. But I would love to explore more of Alabama and other small towns. Although I have a feeling that they might be quite similar to the towns that we did visit that day.