Counting Down the Rollercoasters!

Sunday, June 27, 2010



Chapter 1: Smoky Bear Says ‘Hi’ and Simon Checks Out on the Way to Atlanta
Looking out for Smoky Bear!
Time to leave Pigeon Forge and also Tennessee on our way south to Atlanta – we will miss Tennessee as both Justyn and I had such awesome and memorable experiences whilst in the Volunteer State. Staying in our cabin Angel Haven was ‘interesting’ with our hot-tub loving next door neighbours, Cinnabon cereal and unfortunately for Justyn, some bugs that took a liking to him and attacked him in the night! We had been warned about the lady bugs that are used as a pest control and can sometimes swarm into your cabin, but we don’t think it was something as genteel as a lady bug that bit him! Before taking the scenic route down the Appalachian Highway through the Smoky Mountains, Justyn wanted to visit a Walmart – a quintessential American experience that he wanted to tick-off his list of ‘to-do’s’ in the US of A! So today, Thursday, 17 June, Big Red, Simon and I helped Justyn find a Walmart and off we went – which was probably a good thing as we needed to buy some lotion for Justyn’s bites! Once Justyn had sated his Walmart longing, we re-programmed Simon for Atlanta and turned Big Red off the interstate. We skirted to town of Gaitlinburg and it was such a pretty town – our advice to anyone going through Tennessee would be to give Sevierville and Pigeon Forge a miss and head straight to Gaitlinburg. Just a lovely mountain town that looked lovely even from above as we headed up the gentle slopes of the Smoky Mountain ranges. Big Red, Justyn and I really enjoyed the drive – around each bend was another panoramic postcard picture opportunity and we took most of them! We spotted deer, burbling brooks, and eagles – all very Smoky Bear! While we were enjoying ourselves, Simon must have felt a tad unloved and he fell silent (or the GPS lost the satellite while we were in the forests of the Smoky Mountains) and we found ourselves driving blind for a while. We kept hoping he would start chatting to us again, but for the time being we were on our own. So we aimed for the town of Cherokee which we figured would have signs pointing to Atlanta and we would just find our way the old fashioned way! It turned out that Cherokee was in North Carolina (we didn’t realise we were going to go through North Carolina!) and it was an Indian reservation where they lived a traditional lifestyle, which was obviously good for the tourist dollar as tourism is its main industry. Driving through the streets, we saw people dressed up in the stereotypical Indian garb with headdresses and beads with plenty of tourist queuing to pay for a photo with them. All very strange and in also a little sad to see. We were not long in Cherokee as we thought we found a signpost to Atlanta – Simon was still giving us the silent treatment – and we continued on our way. A few more miles down the track we thought we should pull in for some directions and at a McDonalds, a very helpful UPS delivery man told us we were on the right track, out of the Smoky Mountains and only 160 miles from Atlanta.

Chapter 2: The Infamous Atlanta Traffic and a Haven in the City
Now that we knew we were on the right road to Atlanta, Simon finally decided to talk to us again which was a good thing as we were a little concerned about finding our way to our hotel without a map! Down the interstate, we passed the cute little town of Dilsboro, North Carolina, chucked a u-y and headed in for a bite to eat. Billed as the ‘Historic Town of Dilsboro’ it was very quaint and boasted a Whistle Stop Cafe which is where we decided to eat a late lunch. Obviously we were very late as the Whistle Stop Cafe was closed and we had to amuse ourselves browsing in the air conditioned shops looking for a magnet to acknowledge our visit to North Carolina. Magnet located and purchased – tick. Lunch – no tick. Oh well, it was less than 100 miles to Atlanta and we were sure to pass a Cracker Barrel along the way! (We did!) The closer we drove towards Atlanta, the busier and wider the roads got. Soon we were driving on roads that were eight lanes wide – just on our side of the road! We slowed to a crawl and relied on Simon to let us know when to exit. Which we missed. Fortunately Simon didn’t get cranky with us, he just replanned and let us take out time moving across the lanes towards the next exit. We were booked into the Ellis Hotel in downtown Atlanta for which we booked valet parking for the duration of our stay which turned out to be a blessing in disguise because of all the roadwork and one way streets, we would never have found alternative car parks! And with the valet parking, we just called down for whenever we wanted the car! The Ellis Hotel was very boutique and ‘green’ – their keycards were made out of corn and were biodegradable – just keep them away from all electronic devices or they would be de-programmed! After dropping our bags off, we decided to go for a wander to see what was around where we were staying and grab some dinner. We ended up at Max Lager’s American Grill and Brewery which was well known for its microbrews and pizzas as well as being Georgia’s oldest independent brewery. A great meal, a couple of beers and drinks under our belts and we were ready for a quiet night in watching the basketball final between the LA Lakers and Boston Celtics – LA won for the second year in a row, defeating Boston 4 games to 3 in the seven game series final. 

Chapter 3: More Rollercoasters at Six Flags Over Georgia and Happiness Is a Coke
Atlanta was on our itinerary as there was a Six Flags themepark with more coasters to be ridden to add to the birthday tally. Justyn and I bought season passes to the Six Flag parks so we headed off in Big Red to see what coasters we could find to challenge us. Located only 15 minutes outside of Atlanta, we still managed to get a little lost, even with Simon directing us, but with the coasters soaring over the interstate, we turned Simon off and headed straight for them. Today, Friday 18th June was the 13th day of temperatures in the 90’s (mid to high 30 C’s) in Georgia so riding coasters was going to be hot business! The first ride was Goliath and my 31st rollercoaster. A pretty cool ride, it reaches a height of 200 feet (61m) and a top speed of 70 mph (110 kph) and crosses through another rollercoaster! Ride 32 was the Ninja and it was a rough and tough steel coaster and #33 was Superman Ultimate Flight for which J joined me! This is a steel flying coaster and there are actually three of these coasters around Six Flags in the US. Similar to the Firehawk, you sit in the coaster and then the back of the chair is dragged up and locked in so you are facing the ground. With loops and corkscrews and dips and plunges, you have the sensation of flying for the two minutes the ride takes to go around its course. We loved it!  Ride 34 was the Georgia Scorcher which is a standing coaster – the first one for J. Not the tallest or fastest standing coaster we’ve been on, but it had its fair share of inversions and loops to warrant a number of giggles and gasps from both of us.

Because of the heat of the day, the park was not particularly busy and we were able to ride all the rides we wanted by mid afternoon so we thought that we would head back to our hotel and then walk around to the World of Coca Cola – mecca for me! Between us all, we had consumed litres and litres of coke so far on our expedition and it was time to pay homage to the home of the drink of the gods (in my opinion anyway!) Atlanta is the home of CNN, the 1996 Olympics, Delta Airlines and of course Coca Cola. Invented in the late 19th century, Coke was originally sold as a tonic and cure-all before gaining popularity and through brilliant marketing, becoming an international drink. The World of Coca Cola is a trip through the history of Coke, memorabilia from around the world, its role in pop culture, movies, television etc, even viewing its own little bottling plant where they bottle little 8 ounce (the only place in the world where they bottle this size). A highlight is a tasting room where they have Coke dispensers dishing out over 60 different Coke varieties from around the world – not the original Coke flavour, but the other products distributed by the bottlers like Fanta and Sprite. There were some very interesting flavours eg Beverly from Italy (disgusting!). The tour finished up in a huge merchandising store where you could buy anything and everything labelled with Coca Cola – literally including the kitchen sink! After visiting the World of Coca Cola, we wandered through Pemberton and Centennial Park with a lovely fountain that commemorates the 1996 Olympics and then headed back to our hotel for some respite from the late afternoon heat of the day to do some blogging and have a bit of a rest. Much later in the evening we walked up the street to the Hard Rock Cafe for dinner before turning in for the night.

Chapter 4: Stone the Crows! Its Stone Mountain!
Deciding what to do for our last full day in the South (and the 14th day of 90 plus degree heat), we had the options to do the standard walking tours around the city, however we decided to take Big Red out again and drive to Stone Mountain, a nature reserve around the worlds largest exposed granite rock (a bit like Uluru in the middle of a city). On the side of this huge hunk of rock is a carving that is the largest in the world – bigger than Mount Rushmore – of the three key figures in the American Civil War for the Confederates atop their horses – Jefferson Davis, ‘Stonewall’ Jackson and Robert E Lee. You could describe this place as an amusement park – they have putt putt, a train that travels around the base of the mountain, a SkyRide which is a cable car that goes up to the top of the granite mountain, a night time laser light show, an Antebellum Farm – and it was the site of the archery and the velodrome during the 1996 summer Olympics (these last two areas have now been converted into a bird sanctuary). It was also the place that I experienced my first peanut butter and jelly sandwich – cut into a circle with no crusts. Okay okay, it was probably meant for kids, but I was hungry and it seemed like a good idea at the time!

Chapter 5: Fine Dining in the South, Tea Rooms and Wood Grills.
Around mid afternoon we left Stone Mountain and headed into Mary Mac’s Tea Room as I had been on the hunt for Peach Cobbler. Mary Mac’s has been around since 1945, opened after WWII by some enterprising women in search of a living. Famous for traditional southern cooking, their peach cobbler was regularly listed as the best in Atlanta. Upon sitting down, we were served a complimentary cup of pot likker and cornbread as it was our first visit to Mary Mac’s. We also had a basket of bread delivered to the table which had cinnamon rolls, cornbread and yeast rolls, all handmade that day. On the table is an order form with pencils and you fill out what you would like to eat, so Justyn ordered the chicken and dumplings with their famous mac n cheese and whipped potato as sides and I had the country fried steak and gravy with sweet potato soufflé and coleslaw as my sides. Deee-licious! All washed down with sweetened iced tea. Then dessert, the peach cobbler! Exactly what I wanted! Lived up to all my expectations and then some! We were very glad to have the traditional southern cooking experience at one of the best in Atlanta.

Fortunately for us after our huge meal, we had at least six hours until our dinner reservation at Woodfire Grill. Woodfire Grill is owned and operated by Kevin Gillespie who was a contestant on Top Chef and faced up in the finals against the Voltaggio brothers (for those who watch Top Chef!) One of the reasons we were excited to be going there was that of all the restaurant experiences, this one had the potential to actually have the chef in the kitchen while we were there! Arriving at the restaurant, we had a cocktail while waiting for our table. Taking us through to our table, we passed the woodfire grill that the restaurant takes its name from and you can see the cooks working away preparing meals. A choice awaited us with the menu according to Matthew our waiter – go from the a la carte or select the five course ‘blind’ degustation. As long as some form of pork was included in the degustation, we went with Matthew’s recommendation of the ‘blind’ meal. Cherries were in season and the amuse-bouche was made with cherries but J is allergic to them, so they had to whip up a different one just for us which was freeze-dried compressed cantelope (rockmelon) and chilli with a ginger lime foam. We noticed that we were not the only ones taking photos of our meal as there was a lone diner making notes and taking piccies just like us. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a setting on the camera that could take a decent photo of our meal without blinding half the diners with the double flash, so unfortunately for us, we do not have many photos of our meal. Course one was porcini mushrooms on a dry corn sauce with white vinegar topped with thai basil and asparagus, followed by my favourite of the evening which was rainbow trout dusted in cornflour and flash fried in canola oil served with sugar snap pea and avocado puree and sweet and sour mango and tomato chutney with a smidge of curry powder. It was sweet and moist and oh so tasty! The refreshing mid course shot was tomato water with basil oil and compressed cantaloupe and a buffalo mozzarella bomb. Moving into the proteins was the one we were looking for, pork two ways. One piece was hickory smoked pork belly and the other was a green chilli pork sausage, both served on fried green tomatoes and a pork jus – tender and full of flavour. Second last course came with lamb sitting on slices of roasted potato, turnip and radish with a base of taro breadcrumbs and coffee and cream paste and parmesan fricassee and for dessert, I was pleasantly surprised to be having coca-cola cake with a chocolate cola glaze, Georgia roasted pecans and a root beer float. The cake tasted of Coca Cola and had that sticky sweetness that you just know is coke. To accompany our dessert, J had a delicious dessert wine and I had a ‘taster’ which was a splash of three different dessert wines. What an awesome meal! And to top it off, our waiter managed to get our menus signed by the sous chef EJ Hodgkinson as Kevin had already left. EJ also came out to meet and chat with us about the meal and the inspiration behind their recipes as apparently they change their ‘blind’ degustation depending on the fresh and local ingredients that they can get on the day. Another awesome dining experience that was topped off by meeting the chef – how much better does it get??

Atlanta has been such a great experience – rollercoasters, awesome dining, city highlights and big rocks, even a college ‘Greek’ night where all the fraternities were out on the streets chanting and cheering on their houses in the lead up to their college ball games. All added up to an sensational time in Georgia. We will be back!

1 comment:

  1. I think the giant mosquitoes followed me from Cedar Point and attacked me in Pigeon Forge!