New Posting Order Policy

Posts in this blog generally fall into one of two categories: festival report or trip report. In the past, I've keep each category in chronological order, for instance holding up a festival report until I've posted reports for all festivals I attended before that one. I haven't previously cared about the relative order of trip reports and festival reports. For example, I posted about my fall 2006 trip to Montreal in the middle of posts about festivals I went to in the summer of 2007.

I'm now trying a new policy: I won't even post trip reports in chronological order. For instance, I'm about to post my entries from a September 2007 trip to Massachusetts despite not having finished writing about my June trip to Washington D.C. In short, I'm tired of having to postpone posting certain trip reports simply because I haven't gotten around to finishing trip reports from earlier trips.

For now, I'll continue posting festival reports in chronological order.

I welcome feedback on the new policy. Feel free to use the comments section on this post.

Chicago Rest

After Atlanta, I stopped by Chicago for a day (March 30 to 31, 2007) to visit my parents and one set of grandparents. I don't have much to report; I didn't do any touristy things. I simply had a few quiet meals and conversations. It's nice to see relatives I don't visit often.

Atlanta Day 7: Something the Lord Made and Thumbs Up Diner

Although scheduled to fly out of Atlanta in early afternoon, I didn't have anything remaining on my list of places in Atlanta that was itching to see. Hence, I decided to have a lackadaisical morning.

While getting up, I happened to turn on the television to the movie Something the Lord Made, probably a third of way into it. It caught my attention and I ended up watching it to the end. Something about the movie struck me as quite Southern. Perhaps it's simply the topic of discrimination. Here's my reaction.

After the movie ended, I went to brunch at Thumbs Up Diner. Here's my review. The only pictures I took this day are of this diner.

After brunch, all I had remaining to do was return the rental car and get to my flight. As I did so, it started drizzling. This was the first rain I saw anytime during the trip, a fact that's a testament to the good weather I enjoyed throughout my trip. Still, the person driving the shuttle from the rental car place to the airport had the same comments as the radio personalities I'd heard earlier the morning: they were all happy about the rain; it would knock pollen out of the air, thereby helping people with allergies and saving cars from changing color.

They also said I was leaving just in time to miss two major tourist events: the NCAA finals and the Masters golf tour.

Atlanta Day 6: Atlanta History Center, Botanical Garden, and Piedmont Park

These photos document the day's sights, especially the botanical garden.

Thursday morning I decided to grab breakfast at my budget hotel. I wasn't expecting much. And I was not surprised. They had a selection of packaged bagels and mini-muffin, all clearly store bought, and juice from concentrate provided by a machine. I selected a blueberry bagel, toasted it, and spread it with butter. It sufficed.

Fueled, I attempted to go to the Atlanta History Center. My lack of a good map of the area around my hotel in Smyrna, northwest of Atlanta, led me to get lost for roughly eighty minutes! This part of Atlanta, far from any area I've commented on previously, is fairly nice as well, though has some cookie-cutter houses. The Defoors, Northside, Moores Mill Rd, and West Paces Ferry are all quite nice areas. The latter is as nice as Ponce de Leon, which I previously wrote about and photographed.

Eventually, I made it to the History Center. Its exhibits covered:

  • the olympics. The message seemed to be "look at us; we hosted the olympics; we're great."
  • the civil war. A respectable, detailed history of the war. One sign stuck out, asking, "could people in one region dictate to all Americans what their rights would be?"
  • folk and agrarian arts, including farming, pottery, cooking, woodworking, textiles, and music.
  • Bobby Jones and golf. (Echoes of the guy I talked to at the cemetery the previous day. Atlanta's proud of Bobby Jones.)
  • quilts. Some nice designs.
  • the history of Atlanta and its sprawl. Interestingly, the part on the KKK was next to something on Gone With The Wind.
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. This special exhibit had countless drafts of sermons. I'm not sure how I'd feel if, say, drafts of my old college essays were displayed in a museum. The exhibit also had his report card: mostly Bs. This must've been before grade inflation as, nonetheless, he was still the top in his class. In addition, the exhibit showed what books he had on his bookshelf. It's amazing how much one can learn about people and judge people by the books they own.
In the middle of exploring the History Center, I left to grab lunch. I selected Souper Jenny, a nearby funky joint with a very Californian feel. Here's my review.

After the History Center, I swung by Buckhead to give it another attempt at finding the cool part. I instead discovered a nice shopping district, but one that isn't made for people on foot.

The Atlanta Botanical Garden was my next destination. It's pretty. There was a special exhibit of glass flowers by Fräbel. These were amazing; I took a ton of pictures of them! There's also a frog pond and exhibit, warm tropical and southern hemisphere greenhouses, and a display of orchids. Other than those attractions, there's nothing too exciting.

After the garden, I went to the adjacent Piedmont Park. It's Atlanta's version of Central Park but is not quite so central. (Still, it isn't a bad park.) In getting to the park, I had to parallel park on the left side of a street--it was one way-- in an unfamiliar car. This was easier than I'd have thought.

For dinner, I drove aways north to get barbecue at Swallow At The Hollow. It was a unique place and quite an experience. Here's my review.

Atlanta Day 5: Sweet Auburn, Oakland Cemetery, Paper Museum, Underground Atlanta, and more

I was all over the place on Wednesday. Given how my day was filled with driving, exploring for an hour or two, driving, exploring, driving, exploring, ..., I didn't attempt to make a map of my route for the day. I do, however, have pictures.

To begin my day, I grabbed a quick, functional breakfast in my hotel. Of the fairly wide selection, I picked a satisfying raisin bran, a fine cinnamon swirl, a not yet ripe banana, and some orange juice, clearly from concentrate.

Sweet Auburn
First, I went to Sweet Auburn to explore the Martin Luther King, Jr. Historic Site and its nearby historic buildings. The center played recordings of some of his speeches; Dr. King was quite a speaker. Also, it's stunning to think these events and the segregation that preceded them only happened forty years ago.

I took a tour of King's church. The tour guide was great. One thing he described was how the church will look when it's finished being restored.

After touring King's house and the neighborhood, I tried to stick my head in a museum, the African American Panoramic Experience. The door was locked. Although there was a sign about ringing the bell to get the door opened, I took it as an omen and continued on.

For lunch, I headed to Six Feet Under, a casual seafood joint. At first I went into the wrong building. When I read the menu, I realized I was in the wrong place, left a buck or two to make up for the glasses of water and utensils they'll have to wash, and left. Once in the correct building (next door), I ate. Here's my review.

Oakland Cemetery
After lunch, I drove a few blocks to the main entrance of the Oakland Cemetery. The cemetery is actually across the street from the restaurant (but behind a wall). There I met an old guy who knows a lot of history. I ended up talking and walking with him for a while. Our speed in both of these activities reminded me life in Georgia is slow. He thought I might be in the cemetery to visit the grave of golfer Bobby Jones. I said no, but didn't have the heart to tell him I didn't know who Bobby Jones was. The guy was very much a local history buff and clearly proud of his town and state. I didn't want to disappoint him.

Incidentally, the cemetery, with all its criss-crossing paths and symbols on graves, would be a good site for a Game clue.

Paper Museum
Then I went to Georgia Tech's Paper Museum. It's small, cool museum. I especially liked the exhibit about how watermarks are made.

Georgia Tech
I glanced around Georgia Tech, noticing many brick buildings. I was also amused to see some Greek houses actually have Greek architecture (columns, etc.). Nevertheless, some of these Greek-architecture houses are made of brick.

Underground Atlanta
Since I had still more time, I decided to return downtown to visit a site I never made it to but wanted to see: Underground Atlanta. Underground Atlanta consists of several blocks of Atlanta over which wide bridges were built to improve traffic flow. Shops moved to the upper level. Several decades ago, the lower level was revived. From reading many guide books, I observed that the more recently a book was published, the more explicitly the book mentions that the area has gone downhill, becoming both shady and gentrified. It now has many cheap chain stores.

I took a short, enjoyable, historic walking tour of the underground.

Underground Atlanta could've been cool, plaques and all. But it simply didn't feel right. I found it hard to put my finger on why. It might be because of the stores selling schlock. It might be the way the plaques are put to the side, as if trying to hide the interesting history of the place. It might be simply that it needs better lighting. (As it was, despite bright sunlight outside and lit lanterns and lamps underground, it felt dreary.)

The Coca-Cola Museum, located (when I visited) next to Underground Atlanta, is moving/has moved. That means Underground Atlanta will have even fewer visitors in the future.

Because Underground Atlanta is adjacent to the central/main MARTA (subway) station, I decided to peek inside it. It seems like a station in any other subway system -- nothing distinctive. I'm a bit sad (but not too sad) I didn't have an excuse to ride it this trip; it would've been good to experience.

I headed to the Virginia-Highland district for dinner. It's another nice, yuppie district with houses, trees, and cute stores. Although the retail portion is only on one not very long street, I nevertheless liked the neighborhood. It has character from many pubs, coffeeshops, hairdressers (yes, it has a surprising number), and more. I was amused to see one coffeeshop was the SF Roasting Company.

For dinner, I ate at Surin, a Thai restaurant. Here's my review.

Just south of this area is the neighborhood Little Five Points. It's a bohemian, funky area that looks much like SF's Haight (though for some reason felt slightly safer, not that the Haight is really unsafe). I spotted the type of stores one would expect: small, independent music stores, offbeat pizza places, and bars.

Incidentally, I thought about going to the Center for Puppetry Arts today. I was too busy to visit at a time when it had a performance I wanted to see. (I'm told it's not worth visiting at other times.)

Atlanta Day 4: High Museum of Art and Midtown

Tuesday morning began with more Dekalb leftovers: a ham and cheese croissant (which survived the night well), a tomato, a nectarine, more leftover yogurts, and a dried-fruit cake.

I took a goodly number of pictures this day.

After breakfast, we headed to the Atlanta State Farmers Market. I wanted to see what it looked like when it was actually open (see pictures). There were plant, tree, and sod dealers, and sellers of fruits galore.

After dropping Di Yin at the airport, I headed to Midtown. In Midtown, I walked this route as I explored.

My main Midtown destination was the High Museum of Art. The High turned out to be a respectable but not notable museum, mostly containing modern art. I appreciated that many pieces of art had signs with stories. The museum was very paranoid about visitors: not only did I have to sign a contract to allow me to bring in my camera, it prohibited pens (and hence I had to take notes in pencil), and it (as many museums are wont to do) forced me to check my bag.

A special exhibit on loan from the Louvre included instances of decorative arts such as busts, chairs, candlesticks, tables, and rugs. There were also a few paintings from artists such as Rembrandt; most were none too exciting. One exciting one was a painting by Morse (yes, the guy who invented Morse code wanted to be an artist): Gallery of the Louvre. The painting includes images of many other paintings. What a game great Game clue it'd make!

As for the High, its collection spanned a wide range. One neat exhibit displayed photographs of things in motion: pendulums, bullets, dynamite caps, safety glass cracking, two balls colliding, etc., some with multiple exposures overlaid. Other exhibits covered folk art (including face masks), statues, glasswork, furniture, sketches by Matisse & Picasso, and American Art from the late 1800s. In terms of paintings, I spotted a Mondrian rip-off by Diller and a number of paintings, including some Monet Houses of Parliament (these are everywhere) and a Pissarro. I definitely liked the impressionist paintings (in particular Hudson River paintings, which I knew I like) and the landscape paintings done by the Barbizon school. (I wasn't aware of this inclination. I'd never even heard the word previously.)

After I left the High, I walked a bit more (as documented in the photos). Midtown seems to have very few pedestrians. Eventually I found myself at the Atlanta Federal Reserve, another place that prohibits cameras.

The Fed was pretty darn cool, one of the coolest places I visited in Atlanta. In addition to having general, interesting, detailed exhibits on the history of money, monetary systems, U.S. monetary policy, it had four things I want to point out. One, in the back of the building, behind a glass wall, was a hallway in which machines moved. These machines looked like black filing cabinets the size of refrigerators. These machines, I read, carried cases of money. No one was allowed in the hallway. The robots moved automatically. Doors opened and closed for them when necessary. Interlocks prevented two doors from being open at the same time. Only when a machine was in the correct room with the door closed did its cabinet unlock, allowing employees to get and process whatever was inside. This is how the Fed safely shipped money within its building. I wish I could've seen more of how the system worked and what each group of employees did.

The Fed also displayed 10k and 100k notes. Although not in general circulation, they're used to transfer money between government agencies.

Near this exhibit was an interactive one that asked visitors to identify counterfeit bills. Even the supposedly easy ones were pretty hard for me. The hardest ones were well nigh impossible.

In addition, the Fed had a neat map of the U.S. in which each state was made of its special issue quarter. No, I don't mean a map of the U.S. in which each state had a spot for the state's quarter; I mean a map where each state's geographical area was represented by a bunch of the state's quarters in the appropriate shape.

Finally, I returned to my car, drove a slight bit south, and walked this short route to see the few remaining sights I wanted to see in Midtown.

For dinner, found myself at Mezza, a Lebanese restaurant in a nicely forested district. Here's my review.

Atlanta Day 3: Cyclorama, World of Coca Cola, CNN Center, and Downtown in General

These pictures accompany the day's narrative.

We started the day eating a breakfast of Dekalb Market leftovers in our hotel room. We had: focaccia, a chocolate-coconut macaroon, a cheese danish, tiramisu, an almond date cake, and some grapes. Everything we had yesterday tasted the same as I described yesterday; the only notable difference was the focaccia, which smelled strongly yet still tasted the same. The almond date cake was new: it was sticky and had a fun liveliness like a slab of dried fruit formed into a bar, then with added nuts.

Grant Park & Cyclorama
After breakfast, we headed to Grant Park. Along the way, we passed through another area of nice houses. Once in Grant Park, we walked this route to the Civil War Museum and its cyclorama, the centerpiece of the museum. A cyclorama is a large cylindrical painting. (The paint is on the inside; people stand in the middle.)

Due to a recent change of policy, the museum wasn't supposed to be open on Mondays. However, the museum staff specially opened the museum for a class field trip. Even though the students never showed (!), the staff decided to be nice and keep the museum open for us few tourists who happened to be around.

Before seeing the cyclorama, we examined the tiny museum, filled with photographs, diagrams of battle plans (Grant Park was a battlefield!), and the train from the great locomotive chase (the actual event, not the movie).

Then we entered the platform in the center of the cyclorama.

Seeing the cyclorama, The Battle of Atlanta, was quite a theatrical experience. The room began entirely dark. As a narrator (actually James Earl Jones) told the story of the history of the cyclorama, parts of the painting were lit up. The audio used surround sound well: for instance, in discussing a battle portrayed in the painting, I could hear the sounds of horses and gunshots from behind us.

I learned some interesting facts about the painting:

  • It's a big oil painting on linen, standing 42' high and 356' around the circumference. It's supposedly the world's largest painting.
  • Although a fad in the nineteenth century, only three cycloramas survive in the country. There's only twenty left in the world. I was in Quebec last year. It turns out one of the few remaining cycloramas, the Cyclorama of Jerusalem, in North America was nearby.
  • It appears 3-d because of a 30' deep diorama in front of the painting, including model figures, dirt, and railroads. The diorama blends well with the painting. The diorama used to be made of dirt, tree stumps, and so on, but they had problems with rodents and insects so it was redone with fiberglass.
  • The cyclorama was commissioned by a military officer who participated in the battle as part of his political campaign. It portrays how Atlanta burned in the Civil War ("War Between The States") during Sherman's March to the Sea. He wanted to show the role he played in the battle.
  • Since it's a circular painting, an entrance was needed to get the public inside and out. To solve this problem, the painters painted a wagon door in one segment of the painting and cut out the canvas from inside the door. We, however, didn't get to enter through the door; rather, we walked beneath the painting and climbed some stairs up into the center.
  • The landscape, horses, and people were all done by separate artists. Perhaps this division of labor--in which each person does only and exactly what he or she is good at--should be tried with modern pieces of art, whether large or small. It might improve the quality (not that I'm claiming art not done in this way is bad quality). We might live in a too individualistic time, however, for artists to be willing to share the task of producing art.
We then drove downtown and strolled, walking this route. Sometime while walking we spotted a piece of art made in the pointillist style using fragments of newsprint. Neat. This might've been in the lobby of the Atlanta Insurance building: it displayed some artwork.

We walked through the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, a historic district. Although it had some plaques, I was generally disappointed with it. In general it doesn't look very historic--in fact, it looks pretty shoddy. The old Cocoa Cola old plant, seemingly located in a house, wasn't worth photographing. Later I learned the important, historic, pleasant section of Sweet Auburn was further east. I visited it on day five.

Our walking took us to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market in time for a late lunch. It's a little market with some freshly cooked and some prepared foods. It's certainly no Dekalb, but it's still decent.

We gathered food from a variety of stalls.
  • Roasted chicken: very good, moist.
  • Collard greens: very good. Puts the ones from last night's visit to Colonnade to shame.
  • Cabbage: fine. Di Yin likes.
  • Flattened corn bread (johnny cake) - more like a corn muffin.
  • Crab cake: good, though a bit fatty.
  • Berry smoothie.
We passed up on the Afro-Cuban stall serving oxtail and goat stews. The weather was too hot for such heavy food.

We walked past the Capitol, but didn't have time to explore the museum inside.

In front of the capitol was a solitary man wearing a noose and shackles. It wasn't obvious to me what statement he was making. Later in the week, I saw the local news interview him. Apparently Georgia legislators are considering a bill to apologize for slavery. He was lobbying in favor of the bill.

Coca-Cola Museum
The Coca-Cola Museum was neat: a comprehensive history of the evolution of the drink, the company, the brand, the advertising strategy, and more. I particularly enjoyed the exhibits showing how the brand's colors and advertising artwork have changed over time. Supplementing this exhibit was a theater showing television ads. It's interesting to see how Coke advertises itself differently in different countries, and how those ads have changed over the previous several decades.

They had various tasting rooms. One room included many of the drinks the Coca-Cola company sells all over the world: dozens upon dozens of these specialized drinks for particular tastes. I had no conception of the sheer number of such products. Some I spotted and decided to write down: ginger beer, krest ginger ale, fanta tropical, smart watermelon (sold in China) (I tried), fanta passion fruit (I tried), smart apple (sold in China) (I tried: good, not too sweet; wish I could get it around here), and lift apple (sold in Mexico) (I tried: more cidery than China's version).

Sometimes it's interesting to see the sorts of objects for sale in a museum shop. This museum's offerings included sprite, tab, and hi-c t-shirts (all reasonable product ideas, though I've never seen anybody wearing one), and coca-cola shot glasses (huh).

From the Coca-Cola Museum, we walked through a sketchy area with people hawking electronics (this is an adjunct to Atlanta Underground, which I'd formally visit later in the week), passed the Atlanta Journal-Constitution building (wholly unremarkable), passed the State Bar of Georgia building (with an unusual monument out front--what does it signify?), and arrived at the CNN Center. Next to the CNN Center was a restaurant, Golden Buddha, which advertised Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and Sushi. I guess people in Atlanta aren't usually any more specific when they go out to eat than simply saying they want Asian food. I'd be surprised if this place were any good.

CNN Center
The CNN Center, world headquarters of CNN, offered tours. Cameras weren't allowed. After going through a metal detector and bag inspection, we got to see one news room (usually used for weather reports) with a green screen. I learned that the teleprompter displays 150-175 words per minute, with only three or four words per line in order to minimize eye movement. The prompts are read via a mirror so the telecaster's face isn't directly lit by the teleprompter. The teleprompter uses symbols to direct the telecaster to make dramatic gestures. For instance, a circle means push, as in push the clouds away for a weather forecaster.

We were shown the newsroom. It's a big room with no walls. Everyone works there: producers, directors, affiliate processors (i.e., they read the newswire), writers, copy editors, main desk, weather. Normally there's 75-100 people in the room. During major breaking news, the number can grow to three times that.

During the tour, we walked by a memento from Saddam's Airport. (I think it was the "M" from the airport sign.) It felt somehow wrong for a news organization to collect pieces of the news (i.e., items owned by a foreign, fallen government).

Something else on the tour also made me think: the televisions showing competitors' channels. While it's good to keep track of the competition, the guide said the monitoring is partially to "keep the news in line", which I take to mean both in line with what stories they're choosing to report and in line with the facts they're reporting. It feels almost like implicit convergence/consolidation of the media.

Turner Broadcasting owns not only the large CNN family such as CNN Espanol (whose newsroom we saw), CNN Money, and CNN International, but also channels I never associated with it such as the Cartoon Network and Court TV.

Some questions answered during the tour were clearly dodges, such as the third frequently asked anchor question. Also, I found it interesting to hear about the jargon that's evolved in the control room.

This time, the attached gift shop had shirts with important messages worth remembering: "find the facts" and "hold people in power accountable."

Leaving the CNN Center, we walked through Centennial Olympic Square/Park. There were many strange numbers embedded in the ground; I wonder what they mean. Regardless, the site would make a good Game clue.

In the evening, we returned to one pleasant district, Ponce de Leon, to go running among all the unique houses. We jogged this route.

For dinner, we revisited the Dekalb market for supplies. We then headed to our new hotel room in the Best Western in College Park and ended up eating:
  • tomato basil soup: thick, with whole leaves of basil
  • pasta and artichoke salad: standard)
  • woodstock water buffalo vermont black currant yogurt: weird; solid like cake frosting though not as sweet
  • redwood hill farm cranberry orange goat milk yogurt: quite good
  • tomatoes
  • nectarines
  • seaweed salad
  • smoked turkey leg: fine
  • focaccia: still the same leftovers
We had chocolate mandarin orange peels that Di Yin had brought from Cambridge for dessert.

Our new hotel had a microwave and living room, yet was cheaper than our previous one. If only we had known about the microwave, we would've bought different food.

Atlanta Day 2: Stone Mountain and Georgia Aquarium

These pictures and movies record the day's adventures. They include at least as many observations as this blog entry.

We decided to begin our visit to Atlanta with a stop by a farmers market followed by a picnic in a famous park. It was a simple plan, but events didn't go simply. Our guide books didn't have great maps so we had a little trouble getting to the highway and figuring out which highways we needed to take. Then we ran into worse trouble: a marathon closed many roads. We tried dodging this way and that. In the process, Di Yin noticed many swings on porches. Eventually we got out and walked around a bit, partially to release some frustration from running into the marathon repeatedly, partially to enjoy the perfect weather.

Back in the car, we eventually made our way around the marathon and soon drove down a lovely street, Ponce de Leon, with interesting houses and pretty "new green" trees. At some point, Di Yin commented on the radio station we happened to have chosen. "Are we really listening to Christian reggae?"

Your Dekalb Farmers Market
Once at the Your Dekalb Farmers Market, we explored, and bought a huge amount of food. It's not a farmers market in the traditional sense because all the stalls are owned by same company. Rather, it's more, as one person described it, an "atmospheric grocery store," a bit like Berkeley Bowl but bigger. It's definitely impressive; I wish we had a store like it in California. NPR's All Things Considered produced a cute profile of the market.

The market seems to be run by black muslims, judging by the quantity of middle eastern foods and spices at the market and the relatively little amount of pork. Di Yin observed many employees appeared to speak French with a Haitian accent. Perhaps this is related to the observation that nearby parts of town seem to have more Caribbean restaurants than one would otherwise expect.

I observed one fact that made me happy: this market doesn't mislabel pasilla peppers, as most markets in California do.

We also observed one consequence of being in a conservative Southern state. No alcohol is sold on Sunday.

Stone Mountain Park
We drove to Stone Mountain Park and drove around it, discovering how pretty it is, while looking for a place to picnic. We found a pleasant one where birds were chirping. We ate:

  • ham and cheese croissant - good. sharp cheddar makes a difference.
  • lamb chile - remarkably good and meaty. Also has beans and three types of peppers.
  • marinated mushrooms - I'm definitely a fan.
  • lamb samosa - oily fried skin. all meat interior. simply unpleasantly overwhelming.
  • focaccia - a little oily.
  • cheese danish - soft, sweet cheese. I think we liked it.
  • tiramisu - "wow." "wow." It was all rum and expresso, no cream.
We mainly went to the park to see its huge granite mound and bas relief carving. We walked from our picnic spot and saw them, then decided we'd seen enough of the park and didn't need to take the skylift to the top nor take the scenic railroad around the base of the mound. We also didn't feel the urge see the park's other features, such as the oldest restored home in the state, golf and miniature golf courses, boating, hiking, etc. The park holds a laser show in the evenings in front the carving but it was the wrong day of the week--neither of us would be in town for it during this trip.

Georgia Aquarium
After a short walk in the park (sneezy for some, as everything was in bloom), we got in the car and headed downtown. Once again, we drove through Decateur, one particularly nice area of Atlanta. After debating about where we should actually go when we arrived downtown and fighting a bit of traffic, we ended up at the Georgia Aquarium.

Originally, I was planning to skip the aquarium, just as I planned to skip Six Flags (which the tourist books also make a big deal about). Aquariums are usually the same everywhere--just fish--and rarely excite me. I'm glad I was traveling with Di Yin, because she convinced me to go to the aquarium. And I'm really thankful I did. Built two years ago, it's the world largest. And boy is it impressive. I realized I could make an awesome Game here, not only because of the "can you spot these fish" handouts it provided when we entered.

The pictures and movies capture most of my experience at the aquarium. Everyone was nice (nicer than in many other cities) about getting in the way of pictures -- if they did, they apologized and quickly moved on. The most awe-inspiring exhibit was the transparent tunnel under a huge tank filled with giant groupers, hammerheads, sting rays, and whale sharks. I have videos of it. Part of the awe comes from the reaction of the other visitors; when we returned to the tunnel later and it was less crowded, it didn't seem as impressive and moving.

There's many aquatic creatures I didn't photograph, including senorita, halfmoon, horn shark, rainbow seaperch, seat otters, octopus, longnose gar, and razorfish.

I'd guess the clear material the aquarium uses as walls for its tanks is six inches thick. At first I thought it was glass, but learned it's actually acrylic. When I was reading about the material, I finally realized why we had to pass through metal detectors on the way into the aquarium: so people don't bring in a weapon and break a tank open--that could be disastrous.

There's an exhibit describing how the fish get from the other side of the world to the aquarium: UPS. UPS uses uses a 747. (UPS is based in Atlanta so I guess it's natural they provide the shipping.)

One exhibit allowed visitors to touch an anemone. Another allowed touching of a cownose ray. One of these had limited times (fifteen minutes every hour); the aquarium didn't want the creatures to get stressed.

To kill some time before dinner, we headed to Buckhead. Buckhead supposedly is Atlanta's hip, trendy neighborhood, full of fancy shopping boutiques and cutting edge restaurants. The cool part of it is reportedly so crowded, so much like Mardi Gras, with so many people on the streets, that's it's difficult to drive.

We couldn't find this part of Buckhead. We found the intersection of Peachtree Road NE and Wieuca Road, which had three shopping malls on the corner facing one another. Perhaps the cool section was in the little streets by the malls?

In any case, we gave up and headed for the nearby outlet of Chapter 11 books, a small, local, supposedly good chain bookstore. We couldn't find it! We had the address, but it wasn't there. I even booted up my laptop to check the address online. It was correct. I guess that outpost of Chapter 11 Books filed for chapter 11...

Bookless, we headed to Colonnade Restaurant for our first meal in Atlanta of true Southern cooking. Here's my review. After dinner, we had a tasty dessert back at the hotel of chocolate covered crystallized ginger. Mmmm.

Atlanta Day 1: Arrival

Getting to San Francisco airport on Saturday was a piece of cake. I'd normally take the CalTrain-BART-AirTrain connection, which is actually much more efficient than it sounds. Instead, however, I remembered getting a card in the mail announcing SamTrans had started a new express bus line that runs past my apartment, connected to other CalTrain stations, BART, the airport, and San Francisco. Since the announcement came with a free ticket and the schedule looked slightly nicer than my series of trains, I decided to take it. It worked great. The bus was on time to the minute and went, effectively, directly to the airport. And I saved about four dollars. :) (My series of trains cost four dollars; SamTrans would normally cost just under two, but I rode free.)

My flight, direct to Atlanta, was equally nice. In fact, I couldn't ask for a better seat -- I sat in the window seat of an exit row (and hence had lots of leg room) and had an empty middle seat next to me.

The flight’s stewardpeople spoke with a slight Southern twang. They also said “yes sir” quite often. It was a pleasant feature which helped me get into the mood for this trip.

On the flight, I ate a turkey, cheddar, asparagus, and sun-dried tomato wrap. It was fine.

Atlanta’s airport is bland. I knew it was one of the world’s busiest airports and therefore I’d hoped that would mean someone spent the time to make it interesting. I was wrong. Also, it didn't seem busy to me, though that could be simply because I landed on a Saturday evening.

After landing, I picked up my rental car, briefly explored the Atlanta State Farmer's Market (at which I took two pictures), and returned to the airport to pick up Di Yin, the friend who’d explore some of Atlanta with me. The farmers market was supposedly open twenty-four hours but, as you can tell from the pictures, it really wasn't.

We headed to our hotel, a Marriott Courtyard. When we found it, we were told there wasn't a reservation for us, and that perhaps we had intended to go to the other Courtyard another two miles up the road!

After checking in to the correct hotel, we went out for dinner, ending up at a Waffle House. Here's my review.

Atlanta Impressions Summary

I took a vacation in Atlanta, Georgia from March 24th to March 30th 2007. A friend and former apartment-mate of mine, Di Yin, came for part of the week; the rest of the time I was left to explore on my own.

Here's a summary of my overall impressions of Atlanta.

People in Atlanta are friendly. On day three, Di Yin asked, "Are people here friendly, or do they just like you?" And I think people here are simply friendly. Their body language and expressions are more open than in other parts of the country. They're more willing to have conversations. And the effect is contagious. By the end of my trip, I found myself more willing to start and continue conversations with people I didn't know.

Although it wasn't obvious to me whether any particular person I met was very religious or extremely socially conservative, it was obvious the preponderance of the media was. Many television stations that my various hotel rooms received broadcast preachers. Multiple billboards advertised radio or television stations that were "safe for the whole family." And the AM band was filled with conservative talk shows. (Of course, this might not be uncommon; I never listened to AM radio in other states.) But even on one such a show, I was still surprised to hear the extreme positions I did. One host encouraged people to "breed" in order to "fight Islamo-Naziism" (or "traditional Muslims in general"). That's pretty extreme. (It might have even been extreme for the host, as he got and took lots of calls disagreeing with him.) Another host advocated for denying bank accounts to illegal immigrants. In addition, one morning I woke up to a (Christian) television show explaining why embryonic stem cells shouldn't be used for experimentation, and interviewing scientists making progress doing research with other types of stem cells. It's possible all these conservative perspectives are to serve the communities outside Atlanta, as about half the people I talked to within Atlanta had moved there from somewhere far away that's not known for having similar social attitudes (Seattle, Los Angeles, Phoenix, etc.).

In a possibly related note, I found I could only get limited reception of Atlanta's NPR station. In some parts of the city, I couldn't receive the signal well enough to comfortably listen.

On day two, we drove through the east side of Atlanta on Ponce de Leon. We were struck by how pretty everything was. Mile after mile had mansions, ordinary single family homes, and rolling green parks. Every house was architecturally distinctive. We presumed this area must be special. However, as I drove around the city throughout the rest of the trip, I realized most of Atlanta is filled with equally beautiful houses, all appearing unique. Many were in the style of neoclassical antebellum houses. I never saw any neighborhoods made predominately of cookie-cutter houses like one sees often on the outskirts of cities in California.

Getting Around / Is Sprawl Bad?
Atlanta surprised me with the size of its interstates. Some has six lanes in each direction. In fact, I think the interstates are on average larger than those in Los Angeles, but with one important distinction: many interstates, even the ones that travel through Atlanta proper, are well forested. As such, they're very pleasant places to drive. (Yes, they become slow during rush hour and that makes them less pleasant at those times.) I can easily see why people are willing to live far out of town and commute to work (i.e., why there is sprawl). Indeed, it makes even more sense when one considers that the house one goes home to is not the typical image of a sprawl house (i.e., cookie cuter) but rather is distinctive and individual.

Judging from where I went, public transit appears of very limited use. Many people seem to drive. That said, I didn't use public transit, so maybe I missed the secrets.

I was amused to find many roads with Peachtree in the name. It's a popular and prestigious address, and apparently multiple times businesspeople have asked, successfully, that the local government change the name of a street to Peachtree so that their business has a better address. In other street naming oddities, I found a road simply named Boulevard.

I'm might as well drop this remark here, as it doesn't seem to go with any particular day: the rental car I used began beeping the instant I opened a door, and started the car alarm if I didn't get the keys into the ignition soon after. Only when I'd really hurried did I make it before the alarm triggered. When I failed and it went off a few times, I received some inquisitive looks.

Atlanta doesn't have the quantity of cultural attractions of truly metropolitan cities like Montreal, San Francisco, and New York. Nevertheless, I had enough stuff to see to fill up the five full days plus change I was there.

An International City?
Near the end of Di Yin's visit, we discussed whether Atlanta was "an international city." She observed that it tries to be. (Case in point: see the series of pictures of flags on day three.) It needs more diversity (besides whites and African-Americans) to be truly an international city.

Atlanta has a growing food scene. You can find what you want if you look for it. Usually you do have to look. I was surprised and a bit disappointed to find myself agreeing with Frommer's complaint that, with the increasing incursion of international food into Atlanta, traditional Southern cooking is becoming harder and harder to find. Perhaps the diminishment of Southern cooking (which usually involves lots of frying) is a recent event or is limited to the restaurant scene (as opposed to home cooking)--people in Atlanta run on the large size. Di Yin observed at one point that big can be beautiful and that, in fact, some of these women wouldn't look good small/thin.

One guide book described a restaurant as "spicy but good." The little things, such as the choice of a conjunction, can reveal much about the attitude and expectations of the writer (and perhaps Atlantans in general) toward food. (When spicy food is edible and tasty, it's surprising?)

Peach cobbler was the only item on my list of dishes to eat in Atlanta that I did not get to experience. Georgia (and Southern Carolina, but that's another story and interesting battle) is famous for its peaches. Nevertheless, I couldn't find peaches or cobbler anywhere. I guess the season wasn't yet right.

During my visit, it was unseasonably warm, but not uncomfortably so. Usually the highs this time of year are in the upper 60s; this week was more like low 80s. In fact, the weather supposedly went directly from winter to summer, making spring come at all once and causing everything to bloom simultaneously, which was pretty stunning. Pollen hit record levels. It made the local and even some national news. Surprisingly, it didn't bother me. Di Yin, on the other hand, sneezed quite a bit. In another weather anomaly, it didn't rain any of the six or so days I was in town. Thus, pollen remained in the air, irritating lungs and settling on cars, sometimes so much so as to change some car's (like mine's) color.

The first sentence of one guidebook's section on Atlanta is, "A warm embrace greets visitors to Atlanta." As I stepped out of the airport, I realized how true it was. (And, as I mentioned in the friendliness section, it's figuratively true as well.)

Neat Historical Facts:
Guide books often have neat tidbits that I wasn't aware of:

  • Georgia borders North Carolina, not just South Carolina.
  • Georgia was expelled from the United States in 1869. (Obviously, it rejoined later.)
  • Slavery was banned in Georgia until 1750. The guide books claim the ban was primarily lifted for economic reasons.
  • Georgia's been invaded by kudzu, a hardy Japanese vine. (Yet, I looked for it during my trip and didn't spot any.)
  • The Appalachian Trail was made in the 1920s and 1930s. (I thought it was much earlier.)

Google Culinary Internship

"Hot! Behind! Hot Behind!"

One of the first things I learned on my day (September 20, 2007) helping out in the kitchen of Google's Cafe 7 was not to step back when someone's yelling this. Not that I did, but I was warned almost immediately after starting that "behind" meant someone was walking behind you, "hot" meant someone was carrying something hot, "heavy" meant someone was carrying something heavy, and "corner" meant someone was coming around a corner and anyone on the other side should be careful. It's a cozy, compact kitchen and these warnings came in handy. Perhaps the reason one finds few overweight people in food service is because working together in a tight kitchen is difficult, and head chefs hire people who are easier to get around and work with.

I learned a lot during my internship. For instance, I learned that having the right tools makes everything easy. When I made and wrapped sandwiches, the plastic wrap had a fancy slicer to make cutting it much easier than the usual struggle it is at home using a serrated metal blade. Similarly, spreading peanut butter and jelly with a huge spatula that fits inside the containers is effortless. I also learned the handiness of having extra utensils everywhere. If you drop one or need a different one, just grab it. Don't stop to wash and reuse the old one. In short, everything in the kitchen is about efficiency so food can be prepared quickly and at scale--much like Google, I have to say.

I also got lots of practice putting on latex gloves. It's not as easy as I thought. Although the kitchen didn't require gloves, some people wore them. I certainly felt more comfortable assembling messy dishes when I didn't have to worry about the uncomfortable feeling of gooey stuff stuck to my hands. I actually needed to swap gloves a number of times: e.g., I didn't want to get jelly in a ham and cheese croissant, nor did I want to leave chocolate fingerprints as I plated bon bons.

During my internship, I helped out in three main areas of the kitchen: the deli section, the pastry/dessert section, and the food serving line. At each, I chatted with the cook-mentor as I did my best to help.

  • Deli Section. Here, I helped Tony M. Google is his first job after graduating culinary school in this area. (It was an externship which turned into a job offer.) He loves the bay area, despite the high cost of living. When he started, he was mostly filling in at other stations; thus, he knew a lot about how things worked and was happy to share. He was very friendly, helping alleviate my nervousness as his station was my first of the morning. We chatted while I helped make ham and cheese croissants, make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cleaned and marinated portobello mushrooms, and cut bread for make-your-own sandwiches. I was impressed that he made peanut butter and jelly from scratch, including roasting peanuts and even knowing how to fix it when the peanut butter consistency looked a little wrong. Kudos to Google for making peanut butter in-house. Also, kudos for using Acme Bread.
  • Pastry Section. Here, I helped Elizabeth K. Basically, she did all the hard work. I added fruit compote (macerated berries) (which she made) to slices of a rosemary olive oil cake (which she made) and plated or boxed the results. I also dipped bon bons, which took a lot of practice and, even with practice, didn't look as perfectly symmetrical as hers. While I assisted, we chatted. She came to work at Google from a fancy restaurant, Viognier in San Mateo, following Scott G, the executive chef, when he left to join Google. She told me most culinary professionals switch jobs every year to get a variety of experiences and acquire knowledge; she's similar, holding six jobs in the six years it's been since she graduated culinary school. She's worked at Google for a bit more than a year, saying, almost apologetically in explaining her longer presence, that she likes this job the best of all the ones she's had. Cooking since she was a kid, she wants to open her own pastry shop eventually. Right now, she's still living in San Mateo, commuting to Google, and becoming a vegetarian. We spent a while chatting about restaurants in San Mateo, and how she's become snobby about food when going out to eat.
  • Serving line. I and the other culinary intern at Cafe 7 helped serve googlers entrees and vegetables. It was a lot more fun than I expected. I was worried I'd be awkward and uneasy interacting with all those people I didn't know. Instead, I enjoyed knowing my role and being helpful. A few coworkers who didn't know I was interning happened to come to Cafe 7. They did double-takes. The best comment I heard was, "thinking about another career?"
Because I helped in the front of the kitchen, I didn't see all the people in the back (like the dishwashers) who make everything really work.

The lunch crew arrives early (6am?). Because I was only assisting and because I guess they didn't want to scare us off, they asked me to arrive at 8:30am.

When I arrived I changed into the special non-slip shoes Google bought us. Apparently some kitchens have slick floors, and people wearing regular shoes have had difficulties (accidents?) in the past.

I also changed into the white chef's coat Google bought me. It even has my name emblazoned! This has got to be the best piece of Google schwag I ever received. I'll show it off when cooking at home with friends. In the cafe, however, it made me feel a little uncomfortable--although all other workers had similar coats, mine was one of only a few that had its wearer's name emblazoned, making me feel a bit uncomfortably privileged. (Nevertheless, I certainly wouldn't trade my coat for a nameless one.)

I asked how the cafe plans its menus and orders its food. They always run out of food, often simply by putting leftovers out on snack trays in mid-afternoon. Meals are scheduled a few weeks in advance. According to the pastry chef, generally pastry is the only station that can and does things occasionally at the last minute due to surprise offerings from suppliers of fresh ingredients (e.g., peaches). Often the sous chef plans the entire (non-pastry) menu. For instance, although the person running deli makes the sandwiches, he only gets to give some input into the sandwich selection, not making the final decisions himself.

Addendum: I'm told, "The majority of kitchen staff do not have their name on a coat because the logistics of washing monogrammed coats and returning them to the right person are too complicated. With plain -- unnamed -- coats, the laundry is much simpler to do."