US Trip ’07: Atlanta to New York

May 27, 2007. It was Memorial Day weekend. My aunt and her family brought us and saw us off from Hartfield Jackson Airport in the morning, a few hours before noon. At the security check, our boarding passes were marked with special markers, and we were brought into these special glass cubicles. It’s “SOP,” I suppose, for suspicious-looking people like us, however subjective their standards are. I don’t know. For certain, most of the other domestic passengers didn’t go through all that hassle.

Anyway. By this time, I’ve come to particularly enjoy loitering around airports while waiting for boarding time. There’s this certain leisure in watching other passengers and looking through the shops.

leaving Atlanta

Our Delta Airlines flight to New York took around five hours. New York and Atlanta are on the same time zone, so there’s no additional jet lag, though I did get to catch a few hours of sleep on the plane.

We arrived at Terminal 3 of the JFK Airport at a few hours past noon. We were stalled for a moment at the baggage claim area apparently because one of our luggages was forcibly opened and inspected. Admittedly, the particular luggage was frozen because it contained boxes and boxes of cold hopia from Binondo in Manila. None of them were missing, thankfully–though, the forced inspection of the luggage deemed it unusable. It was wrapped in meters of packaging tape when we got it.

We were picked up by a transport service that brought us from the airport to our hotel. We passed through Queensborough then across Queens Bridge to Manhattan. We arrived at Edison Hotel, just a few steps from Times Square, after some minutes of traffic through Manhattan’s streets.

After unpacking a bit, we immediately left our hotel and walked to Times Square to look for a place to have lunch. We eventually settled for something familiar, big servings of Italian fast food at Sbarro’s.

US Trip ’07: Stone Mountain, Georgia

May 26, 2007. After our Rock City stop, we decided to pass by Ruby Falls, which was also on Lookout Mountain. By the time we got there, however, the lines were unbelievably long. It was Memorial Day, so it wasn’t very surprising. We decided against falling in line and just posed for some pictures then headed back to Metro Atlanta.

We were thinking of passing by CNN, at last, but again, we didn’t make it to the last 5 PM tour. To make most of the day, we just went to Stone Mountain Park in the outskirts of Atlanta.

Stone Mountain Park, Atlanta

Stone Mountain is a theme park that’s home to this large natural protrusion of granite rock called, well, Stone Mountain. At one side of Stone Mountain is a large carving of three American historical figures on horses. This sculpture is touted by some as the “eighth wonder of the world.” Until then, I always believed the Banaue Rice Terraces was really the eighth wonder of the world, then I realized that the label is a common term used to glorify various magnificent structures around the world.

Inside the park, we checked out the various attractions. Foremost, is of course, the granite mountain itself. To get there, we had to ride this skyride cable car to the top, where there was a station. It really was a large piece of white rock. It was quite amusing and breathtaking at the top. And because it was the beginning of summer, it was surprisingly warm too, even though it was also windy.

We also checked out the 3D theater, walked around the (American) South-inspired theme park, and rode this old locomotive that traversed a track around the mountain.

At the end of the day, we sat down with hundreds of Americans in the big lawn in front of the mountain to watch a laser light show and a fireworks display commemorating America’s “brave heroes.” Hm, well, it was Memorial Day, so what did I expect? It turned out to be a large pep rally glorifying America’s military strength and bravery. We left the venue halfway through the beautiful fireworks display. Well, not because we couldn’t stomach the rabid nationalism that made us feel a little isolated (pero p’wede rin), but because we wanted to avoid the traffic out of the park.

Stone Mountain Park, Atlanta

US Trip ’07: Rock City and Lookout Mountain

May 26, 2007. It was a sunny Saturday. We left Loganville, Georgia with my aunt, her husband and their kids (my second cousins) at past nine in the morning. It took us a long four and a half hour drive north of Georgia to its border with Tennessee. It was our first long drive in the US.

Rock City is a private theme park of sorts on top of Lookout Mountain–a garden of sorts with many boulders and rocks, hence its name. The space between these boulders and rocks served as the park’s intertwining paths and walkways. The park is divided into various attractions, which children might enjoy more. The walkways in between large rocks are cool, literally, and passing through them is a brief but welcome relief from the heat of American summer. After walking around the park, we met our relatives outside and had lunch at the park’s pubic picnic area near the parking lot.

US Trip ’07: Consumer in America

Atlanta, Georgia

May 25, 2007. After visiting World of Coca-Cola, we walked all the way back to where we parked the car, across Pemberton Place and the Centennial Olympic Park.

Since my body clock hasn’t adjusted fully, I slept immediately after taking my seat in the car. By the time I woke up, we were in the middle of a large parking lot. We were at a Tanger outlet store in Locust Grove, Georgia. Outlet stores are well, where manufacturers, mostly of clothing apparels, sell their merchandise at lower costs than in malls, or in other countries, apparently for the reason that they sell it themselves, in their own turfs. And indeed, though clothes can still be quite pricey, designer labels can be bought cheaper in outlet stores than in malls, say, in the Philippines (though some of the clothes did have a “made in the Philippines” tag). This turned out to be just the first outlet store visit we made. By the end of our almost-three-week US trip, we would’ve gone through a handful of other outlet stores for the “bargain”. Shopping in outlet stores can be quite tiring, and initially fulfilling, until you realize how you have just been a victim of rampant advertising and consumerism.

After the outlet store visit, we drove off a few miles from Locust Grove to a Golden Corral restaurant in McDonough, Georgia. I wasn’t prepared for how big servings are in America. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant with all sorts of typical American fare, from burgers to pizzas to juicy steaks. As early as our second dinner in the US, I knew I was going to make myself, helplessly, as fat as the average American. I know I should stop when I’m full but there’s always this guilt in not finishing your food too. Food in America is not inexpensive, so there’s always this thought in me that I have to eat as much as I can to make most of what we pay. Wow. I’ve always imagined Americans to be so wasteful of food, an effect of watching so many game shows on kid networks such as Nickelodeon where they throw and swim around in food all the time. They do that in movies too. And from how I saw it, or from how little I saw of America, it rings true. The illusion of prosperity is so strong.

Dinner at Golden Corral

US Trip ’07: World of Coca-Cola

World of Coca-Cola

May 25, 2007. After going through a brief tour of Georgia Aquarium, we were supposed to drop off CNN for the CNN studio tour a couple of bocks away. Unfortunately, it was past 5PM already, and the last studio tour was at 5PM. Instead of trying our luck, we just walked a few meters across a large pond with eccentric street performers to the World of Coca-Cola. At first I thought that was it and was surprised at how many people were there. It turned out to be World of Coke’s opening week, which explained the crowd. Even my aunt was surprised that there was a “new world”.

World of Coca-Cola

One doesn’t need to go to a World of Coke to realize how such a powerful brand Coca-Cola is. It’s one of the most-recognized brands in the world. Imagine building a memorial and multi-media museum for a product, that people have been lured into consuming for decades. If this is a manifestation of what phenomenon, what do you think it is?

Anyhow, the highlight of the World of Coke tour is of course the room filled with tens of soda dispensers of all the various Coca-Cola sodas around the world. At the entrance, you get these cups which you can use to taste everything. It’s all the Coke you can drink! Too bad I didn’t see that coming. I would’ve built up a good thirst before getting there, to make most of the entrance fee.

US Trip ’07: Georgia Aquarium, Atlanta

May 25, 2007. After having lunch with my aunt’s family in Loganville (which was another hearty Filipino meal of lumpiang shanghai and left-over kare-kare), we headed off to downtown Atlanta.

Our first stop was the Georgia Aquarium at Pemberton Place. We parked quite a distance from the aquarium park so we had to walk through the the Centennial Olympic Park, a wide landscaped park in downtown Atlanta built for the centennial Summer Olympic Games in 1996. Pictures from the Centennial Park will be for another blog entry. By this time my body clock hasn’t adjusted quite well. It was well past noon, the sun was shining brightly and yet I felt so tired and sleepy.

Georgia Aquarium viewing theater Georgia Aquarium is claimed to be the largest aquarium park in the world. Indeed, the place was quite huge and the individual aquarium exhibits were humongous. As photographed above, the largest one holds hundreds of small fishes and a whale shark. It was quite a serene spectacle.

Georgia Aquarium

The indoor aquarium exhibits are classified into different themes depending on the various aquatic ecosystems in the world. There are also various ponds where visitors can touch the animals. I had the chance to touch some live corals and manta rays (or whatever ‘rays’ those were), and that was quite amusing.

Unfortunately, we were on a rush to catch the last tour in CNN a few blocks away so we didn’t stay quite long to appreciate Georgia Aquarium better. After an hour of exploring the aquarium, we passed by the souvenir shops and headed for the exit.

View all the full-sized pictures here.

US Trip ’07: Atlanta Cyclorama

Atlanta Cyclorama May 25, 2007. The first place we went to was the Atlanta Cyclorama in Grant Park, Atlanta. A cyclorama, as the name suggests, is a cylindrical piece of art or backdrop. The Atlanta Cyclorama is, apparently claimed by some as the “world’s largest painting,” and is indeed a very huge piece of art wrapped in a cylindrical chamber. In the middle of this cylindrical chamber is a rotating audience area, which rotates around the cyclorama while a taped narrator discusses the history behind the painting and the various trivia regarding the items depicted in the painting.

Honestly, this one was really boring. Our family barely know anything about the American Civil War, and I couldn’t care less about all the intricacies and side stories of the various people involved in the Battle of Atlanta.

Though the museum and the ‘show’ was largely historical in focus, and largely irrelevant for Filipino tourists, we still of course appreciate my aunt bringing us there. Entrance fee is at $7. Just right next to the Atlanta Cyclorama is the Atlanta Zoo. We didn’t go there, as we weren’t interested. We simply went back to Loganville and had lunch with Tita Nene’s family.

After lunch, we went to downtown Atlanta to visit the Georgia Aquarium and the newly-opened World of Coke.

US Trip ’07: Tita Nene’s at Loganville, GA

May 24, 2007. From the airport, we were picked up by Tita Nene, my dad’s cousin, whose family has migrated to America, to Loganville, Georgia to be exact.

They were our hosts for the duration of our stay in Georgia. We actually got stalled at the airport for a while because one of our luggage got lost in the airport. We were able to retrieve it, thankfully, after half an our of searching the entire baggage claim area.

From the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, we drove off to my aunt’s home in Loganville, which is a little more than an hour away from Atlanta. The house they live in, where we stayed for the few days we were in Georgia, was in a well-paved and landscaped subdivision in the middle of what felt like a very rural area of Georgia, with rolling meadows, white picket fences, small barns and cows grazing on green grass, and a handful of Baptist churches here and there.

We didn’t do much on our first day in the US. We just stayed at my aunt’s home, slept and had dinner with them. Ironically, the first meal we had in the US is kare-kare, and the first TV show we were able to watch was Wowowee. Hehe. The next day, we start our tour of Atlanta. That’s for the next blog entry.