Friday, August 12, 2016

The end of an epic journey

Not epic in terms of scale, but rather in terms of major events in my life.

Day 7 of my first trip to the US (hopefully the first of many) started slowly, with a lie-in and a continental breakfast. Since I only needed to be at the airport late in the afternoon, I decided to explore this new city.

But with less than a day in Atlanta, how best to see as much as possible without blowing my constrained budget? I wanted to see as much as I could of the city and the answer was the electric car tour run by ATL-Cruzers. Advertised as a one and a half hour overview of Atlanta's attractions, I figured I could see a large swathe of the city without missing my plane.

I took an Uber into town (the only way to travel in Atlanta if, like me, you're too intimidated to drive on the wrong side of the road) and arrived early enough to stroll around the downtown area, taking in the Olympic Centennial park, Peachtree Centre and a Starbucks frappuccino before the tour.

Olympic Centennial Park

The electric car tour was great fun, and the tour guide very informative. I really felt as if I got a glimpse of the city, which is smaller than I'd originally thought, with a population about one eighth the size of my home town of Johannesburg, and a land size of about one fifth that of Jo'burg's.

In an hour and a half we toured the downtown area, Martin Luther King Jr. historical district, The Old Fourth Ward, Inman Park, Midtown, the university campus part of town, and finally back to Centennial Park.

Martin Luther King Jr's final resting place

Martin Luther King Jr's childhood home

Shotgun houses in the Old Fourth Ward (Martin Luther King Jr Historical District)

Inman Park historical trolley barn

Delta Park Lock Box:
keeping miscreants in holding from 1890 to 1905

Leafy suburban streets

Candler Mansion

Beath-Dickey House

A carriage mounting block from the good ol' days

The house in which Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind
while recovering from a broken ankle

When the tour was done, I had one more thing on my To Do list: taste some traditional Georgia food and the famous sweet iced tea of the South. A Google search led me to Mary Mac's Tearoom, an elegant restaurant en route back to my hotel, where I not only sampled sweet iced tea, but also Southern fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, cheese grits and fried okra.

By now the clock was ticking loudly so I hurried back to my hotel for a quick shower and change, packed up my bags and headed to the airport. The Uber arrived not a moment too soon. No sooner had I got under cover, then the heavens opened in the kind of downpour we usually have here at home - the kind of downpour I had written into my Georgia-set novel When September Ends (which is still trying to find a home!)

A few things I learned during my single day in Atlanta:
  • almost everyone in Atlanta is from somewhere else
  • most of the traditional Southern foods appear to be brown and battered
  • Their sweet ice tea is a vast improvement on the Californian concept of iced tea, but still nowhere near as nice as South African ice tea
  • Cars only have license plates at the back of the car, which makes it difficult to recognise your Uber when it arrives to pick you up.

I really hope I get the chance to return to Atlanta some day. Not so much to see more of the city (I'm not that keen on visiting the CNN Center, World of Coca Cola or Turner Field) but I have friends there I didn't manage to see, and I'd love the chance to explore further afield, not least of all to visit the town of Madison where my novel When September Ends is set.

But for now it's Adieu USA. Until we meet again...

The plane that brought me home

Friday, August 5, 2016

Goodbye San Diego, Hello Atlanta!

As much as I wish the RWA conference could carry on and on and on, the sad reality is that eventually we have to pack away our glad rags and go back to yoga pants. Besides, most writers are introverts at heart. I think we'd implode if we sustained that level of excitement, enthusiasm and sociability for too long!

I woke on Sunday morning with a terribly deflated feeling, which would have been worse if I didn't have something to look forward to: Atlanta.

But first, breakfast with my lovely fellow HarperImpulse author, Lynn Montagano. This time I was even able to hold up my end of the conversation. And thank heavens Lynn has mastered the art of the selfie because I'm useless at it!

Lynn's selfie of us

At last it was time to pack my bags, shop for presents to take home, and head for the airport. Continuing the theme of meeting people in queues and elevators, it was while waiting in the queue for a cab outside the front of the hotel that I got chatting to Mills & Boon editor Kat Cheshire, who is as lovely as every other M&B editor I've ever met.

Farewell Marriott Marquis & Marina San Diego

Just in case it had already escaped me, the curb-side check in at the airport in San Diego reminded me why I find the USA so impressive - it's organised! That level of organisation and convenience really appeals to my OCD side!

Then it was "Goodbye San Diego..."

View from the plane during take-off

And "Hello Atlanta."

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Travelling across the States in daylight is an amazing experience. Seeing the country from the air not only reinforces how large the country is, but also how varied. From the arid browns of California and Texas to the surprising green of Oklahoma City and the forests of Georgia, it really is colourful.  (Through from the air all rivers look brown!)
Georgia is especially attractive - so many trees, with pockets of humanity carved out of the extensive woodlands.

It was evening but still light in Atlanta, so I was able to soak in the sights on the Uber trip from the airport to my suburban hotel. From the first, I loved this city. It's as muggy and humid as Durban, the town I grew up in - and just as green. Its streets and highways have the same sprawl as my current hometown of Johannesburg. But the architecture and atmosphere are so different from anything we have back home in South Africa that it feels exotic as well as familiar.

I stayed at the The Highland Inn, as different from the Marriott in San Diego as night from day. It's an old building, with uneven floors and a sense of being lost in the past, but it was a clean and comfortable place to sleep for the night.

The Highland Inn courtesy of Trip Advisor

The Highland Inn courtesy of Trip Advisor

For dinner I decided to treat myself to a quintessential American experience: a burger and fries in a real diner. Within a block of my hotel was The Majestic, a local landmark that could have stepped straight off a movie screen. And the burger and fries were quite possibly the best I've ever tasted!

Sadly, I didn't have my camera or cell phone with me (everything was charging back at the hotel!) so I'll have to rely on these Google images:

To walk off my meal, I went for a long stroll along Ponce de Leon Avenue, enjoying the sultry evening air and the relatively safe feeling of being able to explore the neighbourhood after dark. (Though I did see quite a few homeless people sleeping on the streets in Atlanta, something I hadn't noticed in San Diego).

Still too buzzed from the conference and the excitement of a new place (not to mention the time zone changes) I returned to the welcome air conditioning of my hotel room and the first book in Robyn Carr's Virgin River series, inspired to read it by her Lifetime Achievement Award acceptance speech the evening before.