Sunday, July 25, 2004

Friday, July16, 2004
Day 1: Car trip from Vienna to Greenville, South Carolina

At twelve fifteen we left home in a fully packed van. Leah and Katja sat on the rear bench, the other two kids in the center and Rick behind the wheel. He drove until just past Fredericksburg to get us out of the busy traffic around Washington and then we stopped for lunch at Subway.

After lunch I took over the driving until we reached Charlotte, North Carolina, 300 miles ahead and about 6 hours driving total. The scenery on the way was quite monotone, forests on both sides of the road. Beautiful nature, of course, but I prefer to see more variety. I’m forever amazed at how long it always takes to leave Virginia! About a third of the whole trip to Atlanta is still in Virginia!

We first took I-95 South, busy with truck traffic as always, I detest that road! At Petersburg, Virginia we veered to the Southwest on I-85. The next large city was Durham, North Carolina, home of Duke University. The part we drove through was very busy and downright ugly!

After Durham I got 4 lanes and the driving became more relaxed. Unfortunately a woman in front of me got too relaxed and almost steered into the truck next to her. When she tried to correct she must have lost control of her car and got into a 360 degree spin right in front of us! The skidded across all 4 lanes and across the (thankfully wide) median into the left lane of the oncoming traffic. By some miracle, she didn’t hit anyone (thank God, as we would have been very likely candidates in her path) and came to a stop in the median! Talk about having a guardian angel watching over you!

To say that my adrenaline was pumping would be an understatement! We very narrowly escaped a terrible crash! The kids didn’t even realize anything happened. The other drivers did slow down after that adventure, though!

The kids watched 3 movies along the way; it must be nice to be a passenger!

In Charlotte we stopped at a Texas Roadhouse restaurant for dinner and had a great meal with a super nice and attentive waitress, real Southern hospitality!

After dinner we drove another hour and a half to Greenville, South Carolina, about 150 miles from Atlanta. Rick drove this part and I enjoyed the beautiful sunset. One of the towns on the way had a water tower shaped like a giant peach, showing the major crop of the area. In Greenville we stayed at the Best Western, where our room was just large enough for the six of us!

Saturday, July 17, 2004
Day 2: Coke Museum and Underground Atlanta

At 8:30 this morning we got up after a rather restless night, it was too warm in the room. Within a half an hour we were all packed and ready to go! I found that quite a feat with such a group!

After a quick stop at Burger King for breakfast (blech! Only fatty menu items there, I didn’t like any of them) for everyone but me and getting gas at the BP (where I got myself a breakfast bar) we drove the remaining 150 miles to Atlanta.

Around noon we entered the city and parked near the Coca Cola museum. There we joined the long line of people waiting to get in. It seemed like it would be a while, but the line moved fast and about fifteen minutes later we were inside. A good thing as it had just started to rain!

The entire museum is filled with commercials and ads, some even in Dutch and art made specifically for Coca Cola. We watched a movie about Coca Cola in other countries, one big commercial really, but still fun to see.

At the end of the exhibit you can try every flavor of soda sold by Coca Cola all over the world. Most of them were good, but too sweet for me! I’m a diet soda drinker. I don’t like the syrupy sweetness of regular sodas. One of the drinks, I forget the name, was very bitter. I think it was sold in Italy. Funny how different countries have different tastes as I’m assuming the drink does well there, why else would Coca Cola sell it.

Once outside again we searched for a restaurant in the Underground mall to eat lunch. We noticed lots of black people there with “Family Reunion” t-shirts, all different families. Apparently this was the weekend to have a Family Reunion in Atlanta!

Another observation was how many heavy people there were, children too! It’s so different here from where we are. It must be the Southern cooking as this really is the South despite Atlanta being a metropolis. Everyone addresses us here with “Y’all”.

We found a fun little restaurant, Jamaica Jamaica, which served authentic Jamaican cuisine. Almost all of us ordered the curry chicken, but Kai wanted to try the jerk chicken. He lived to regret that! It was so spicy, the waitress couldn’t bring him enough water after he tried just a few bites!

After lunch we went to check in at the hotel. The kids and I are staying at the Hyatt Regency, which gave us a very good rate despite the invasion of Microsoft employees. The Hyatt Regency is located in the center of downtown Atlanta. Rick is staying at the Omni hotel, next to the CNN Center.

Tonight we ate a delicious Polynesian dinner at the Trader Vic’s in the Hilton hotel. We used to have a Trader Vic’s in the Hilton in Washington DC too, where we would frequently go to celebrate birthdays. It closed several years ago though. Rick and I both miss that restaurant and we were thrilled to see Atlanta has one!

The kids are happily licking their Dairy Queen ice creams and Rick has gone to his hotel. Tomorrow we hope to do the CNN tour.

Sunday, July 18, 2004
Day 3: CNN and Natural History Museum

At 8 o’clock this morning I quietly left our room to go work out in the fitness center of the hotel. It was extremely crowded there! Only one treadmill was still open, the rest was taken by Rick’s colleagues. Looks like the city is inundated with Microsofters!

After working out and getting ready we went to Starbucks for breakfast and coffee. The muffins and coffee were delicious as usual.

Firstly we walked to the CNN Center where we paid to go on the tour at 11:20. We had about a half hour beforehand to look around the store, where we found some fun t-shirts.

The tour was interesting, though we had hoped to see a well known face at Headline News (which we watch every morning). But on the weekend everything gets recorded in advance and we didn’t know the anchor recording while we were there. This was a disappointment especially for Saskia, who watches in the mornings with Rick, but I told her that from now on she’d recognize this anchor too.

We were led through the areas where the producers and writers sit and saw the “regular” CNN newsroom, the Headline News newsrooms and the one for CNN International. Unfortunately for the kids Cartoon Network gets recorded elsewhere and there are no tours of that facility.

After an hour we were back outside and were hungry again. Ted Turner (CNN’s owner) has his own restaurant too, Ted’s Montana Grill. They serve especially buffalo meat burgers. I wanted to try those so we sat down for lunch there. The food was quite tasty and the service very friendly.

Before we continued I wanted to take the bag with CNN t-shirts back to the hotel. From there we took a taxi to the Fernbank Natural History Museum. There we checked out the enormous skeletons of unusual dinosaurs and the Georgian history exhibit. Besides that there was a large interactive area, where the kids were entertained for a while.

But the main reason we visited this museum was the IMAX film about Dolphins. This film was truly fantastic, as are most IMAX films. The kids enjoyed it thoroughly as well.

I called the same taxi cab driver, who had taken us to the museum, to ask him to pick us up again. I’ve found this works well when we visit places away from the typical taxi stands.

At 5:15 we were back at the hotel and decided to go have a drink in the revolving restaurant on the highest floor of the Hyatt. The kids got delicious frozen peach drinks there.

At 6:30 we had a reservation at the Sundial restaurant on the 73nd floor of the Westin hotel. This is also a revolving restaurant, so the kids got their fill as they love that kind of restaurant. The Westin claims to be the highest hotel in the Western Hemisphere and we had a beautiful view of the city and surrounding areas. The food was quite good as well (though you definitely pay extra for the ambiance!).

Coincidentally, Rick also had a dinner function at this restaurant, so we saw him come by regularly (we were revolving, he wasn’t).

So far our opinion is that Atlanta is quite a fun city!

Monday, July 19, 2004
Day 4: Stone Mountain and Krispy Kreme!!!

A repeat of yesterday morning: I got up and went to the Fitness Center (which was completely empty today) and the kids were awakened by the alarm at 9 am.
After the necessary showers and getting dressed, we decided to eat across the street at the Corner Bakery this time. Saskia is not too fond of sweet buns for breakfast and there they at least had a regular croissant for her.

Next we retrieved the car from the valet and drove off to Stone Mountain, about 20 miles away. This is a (according to the literature highest in the United States) granite monolith. You can go to the top by skilift, which was the first thing we did on arrival. From the top the view was gorgeous! Too bad it was too hazy to see the Atlanta skyline well.

The older kids really enjoyed themselves at the top, climbing the rocks, especially when they found some very colorful lizards to chase. Saskia on the other hand was afraid for the trip back down and sat in the shadow of a tree and waited till we had seen enough.

After about half an hour we went back down. It wasn’t nearly as scary for Saskia as she’d feared, thankfully. Besides the mountain, the park offers much more. We walked to the little 1870’s village and entered the large playground, where boys and girls challenged each other. All kids, including myself, had a great time climbing around the nets and sliding down the long slides. The weather was just perfect, not hot and humid as you’d expect in Atlanta.

After getting a drink at the “bakery” (and Katja and Leah getting soaked by some talking fountain) we drove to the covered bridge. This was really something to please me, as all the kids stayed in the car. But I loved driving over the bridge and taking pictures.

The final thing we did at Stone Mountain (we could have spent much more time, but we all wanted to swim at the hotel this afternoon) was going in the pedal boats. Every boot could have 2 people in it, so Kai got one for himself alone. We spent about half an hour on the lake, coming really close to ducks and Canadian geese. But it was quite warm, so after half an hour we were ready for a cold drink!

The kids were hungry and ordered a hot dog and Saskia a pretzel. I don’t care for those, so I saved my appetite for later.

I knew we would come by a Krispy Kreme restaurant on the way back and I promised myself to get some hot donuts if the neon sign was lit. It was off on the way out, but I was lucky, it was on this time! That means fresh, hot donuts and I’ve never forgotten how good those are!

I ordered half a dozen of hot glazed donuts and half a dozen of different kinds to eat tomorrow for breakfast (they never made it that long, of course). The kids told me they had no appetite left and didn’t want anything. However, the moment I opened the box and the smell wafted through the car and I bit in a supersoft, sweet, delicious donut, they suddenly wanted to have “a taste”. I quartered one of the donuts for them, but that of course only whet their appetite! Before I knew it all hot donuts were finished and I’d only had one and a half of them (just as well for my waistline!). But oh, how delicious those things are!

Back at the hotel we quickly got ready for the pool (the water was a little cold, surprisingly) and spent several hours there.

At 6:30 Rick met us at the Polaris restaurant, the revolving restaurant at our hotel. We had a delicious dinner and after some chatting and playing Pictionary we’re now ready to settle in for our last night in Atlanta.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Day 5:SciTrek museum and drive back

As the days wear on I’m getting less and less motivated to work out. I much prefer working out outside, but the city doesn’t lend itself well to that. I did a half hour workout with weights and helped myself to one of the free bottles of Propel Fitness Water in the fridge there. I think it’s very nice the hotel offers free drinks for the sporters!

Once back upstairs I told the kids to hurry up and help with the packing. We had a buffet breakfast in the lobby of the hotel, but the tv’s were on and one showed the Maury Povich show. The topic was severely obese people and the sight of the 851 pound man first discussed took away all our appetites!

I had asked the hotel for a late checkout and they gave us until 2pm. Very generous! Usually they reluctantly allow you to stay an extra hour.

We took advantage of the extra time by going swimming. Kai and I played for a long time throwing an American football and the others played other games.

After an hour or so we went back up to take showers and pack the rest of our stuff. At 1:30 pm we gave our luggage to the bellman to store for a few hours and went to eat lunch at the mall adjacent to the hotel. The kids had Buffalo chicken strips from Dairy Queen (!) and I a very good soup and half a sandwich from the Atlanta Bread Company.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the SciTrek museum, a science museum with lots of hands on experiments. The kids enjoyed it for a couple of hours and just as they were getting bored Rick called at 3:30 pm to say he was ready to go.

We walked back to the hotel and loaded the luggage into the car. Then we went to Rick’s hotel to pick him up and off we went. We again drove to Greenville, SC and are staying at the Residence Inn there in a two bedroom suite. We were received in such a friendly way, it was like coming home! And there is a card in the room with the words “Welcome home”. Tomorrow we’ll need to drive another 8 hours and then we’ll be back home!