Tuesday, October 17, 2017
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Why Georgia’s capital is fizzing

The vibrant and exciting city of Atlanta, Georgia is the home of Coca-Cola and CNN. ANDREA McVEIGH headed across the pond to find out more...

THE red and white symbol on the building was unmistakable - as an icon of America, the Coca-Cola logo is right up there with the American flag and the Statue of Liberty. But this wasn't just a logo, this was an entire tourist attraction devoted to the brand.

The World of Coca-Cola, in downtown Atlanta, is one of the city's biggest tourist attractions, and it was clear to see, as my teenage Atlantan friend Grady and I stood in the snaking entrance queue, that people come from all over the world to visit, such was the melange of accents we could hear.

As well as antique soda fountains and displays of advertising, branding and bottles throughout the decades, there's a cool 4D theatre showing a short promotional movie (the 4D part features moving seats!). But the big draw is at the end of the tour, when you can spend as long as you want, and drink as much as you want, sampling around 70 different Coke-brand beverages from around the world, even making up your own Coke cocktail if you want. Grady and I certainly made the most of it, trying the different flavours of drinks and checking out the massive souvenir shop at the end of the tour.

Vibrant, exciting Atlanta, the capital of Georgia, is the world HQ of The Coca-Cola Company, but it racks up a surprising number of other 'world-first' and 'world's biggest' facts too. Its airport, the Hartsfield–Jackson International Airport, is said to be the world's busiest and the city itself, which is home to CNN's HQ, is a business and commerce hub (you can even tour the CNN studio for behind-the-scenes views of broadcasting and news-making in action).

The Downtown area is also home to the world's largest indoor aquarium, just across from the World of Coca-Cola. This world of watery wonder features beluga whales, whale sharks and penguins, as well as other aquatic animals from around the world - tens of thousands of them in fact, in more than 8 million gallons of water. The bustling Downtown and Midtown areas are great places to hang out, with their numerous shops and restaurants, day spas and cocktail bars Indeed, the fragrant but feisty Scarlett O'Hara wouldn’t recognise the modern city. The heroine of Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel Gone with the Wind, as well as the later film of the same name, is one of Georgia's famous, albeit fictional, daughters. The book was set partly in Atlanta, and you can find out more about its author at the Margaret Mitchell House and Museum. Visitors can tour her apartment in the three-storey mansion in Midtown where Mitchell penned the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and see the movie museum, which showcases memorabilia from the film.

Another of the city's must-see attractions is the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Here, you can tour King's boyhood home on Auburn Avenue in the Sweet Auburn historical district, the thriving centre of Atlanta's black community from the 1890s until the 1940s; visit the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was pastor, and take in the King Centre, where his Nobel Peace Prize is displayed.

Standing in the memorial park, in front of the shallow pool which holds the marble crypt of Dr King and his wife Coretta, I was moved by its inscription: "Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, I'm free at last." I wasn't alone, as a steady stream of visitors, tourists and locals came to pay their respects too. Another famous Georgian is Jimmy Carter, who, like King, was also a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and who, before becoming America's 39th President, served two terms as a Georgia State Senator and one as Governor of Georgia. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum, east of Downtown, features an exact replica of the Oval Office, special exhibits and a time-line of Carter's life, from his 6th grade report card to the present day.

Georgia is quite remarkable in the role it played in the Civil Rights movement. As well as boasting Martin Luther King Jr, whose rousing "I Have a Dream" speech stirred a nation in its call for racial equality and an end to discrimination, there were other famous residents who brought about change and who are still revered today. One was Ralph Emerson McGill (1898 - 1969), an American Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the anti-segregationist editor and publisher of the Atlanta Constitution newspaper. A friend of JFK, the city's Ralph McGill Boulevard, a main thoroughfare, was named after him.

Mind you, most of the city's other streets seem, confusingly, to be named Peachtree. Atlanta is home to more than 100 'Peachtrees', including Peachtree Street, where, every Fourth of July, around 55,000 runners gather to take part in the world's largest 10k race, the Peachtree Road Race. You turn a corner from a Peachtree only to find yourself in yet another Peachtree it seems.

While Grady - a grandson of Ralph McGill - was my Coca-Cola tour guide, I had Grady's mum Mary to thank for showing me Little Five Points - Atlanta's bohemian hangout. Five Points is historically the intersection of the commercial district of Atlanta while Little Five Points is, by contrast, the hub of everything anti-commercial - from vintage stores to indie theatres, cool cafes and tattoo parlours and a general hip, alternative vibe.

My hotel, TWELVE Centennial Park, was the perfect base from which to enjoy Atlanta. In fact, it was almost too perfect - I hardly wanted to leave it to go sightseeing or shopping. Officially called the TWELVE Hotel and Residences, this upscale, luxury complex offers suites complete with luxury kitchens, designer furniture, a living room area, panoramic views and a balcony overlooking the outdoor pool. I could have moved in and lived there. Described as 'luxury simplified', it's a chic downtown destination in its own right, with a trendy restaurant, and a plush lobby/meeting area.

Situated in the Downtown district, it was handily close to shopping and dining options and just across the street from the Civic Center MARTA station - the MARTA being the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, which operates a network of bus and train routes. If you want to make full use of public transport, buy a MARTA pass. You can use it to get to the Atlanta History Centre in Buckhead, uptown Atlanta. A 32-acre complex with gardens, wildlife trails and woodland areas, it also features an 1840s farm and a fully-resorted 1928 mansion, as well as a museum featuring exhibitions on the American Civil War and African-American heritage.

Atlanta is easily the sort of place where you could spend a week and still not have time to see or do everything it has to offer. Even if you fill your days with a packed itinerary but don’t manage to get everything done that you want to do, don’t worry, there's always tomorrow. After all, as Scarlett O'Hara herself famously said, 'tomorrow is another day.'

Delta flies direct from Dublin to Atlanta daily, www.delta.com. For more information on Atlanta, visit the official website, www.atlanta.net. For details on TWELVE hotel, visit www.twelvehotels.com.

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