It’s hot in Atlanta, but not if you go underground where it’s cool and you can do everything and have a great time.
Do you know Marta? Atlantans do and they take Marta everywhere. It is the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and it is one of the most wonderful underground systems in the world. One of its wonders is that you can go anywhere for $1.75. If you fly into Atlanta, you go down the escalator below the terminal building and it whisks you downtown in minutes. But the special feature of Atlanta is that you can stay underground for as long as you want – and not just at downtown. But it is really not quite accurate to talk about one downtown, because Atlanta is made up of many downtowns – Buckhead, Midtown and more – and they all have subterranean mini-cities.
At the height of summer, when the temperature can be 90 F in the middle of the day, many visitors from cooler climes spend half a day or more in air-conditioned comfort, without ever emerging above ground. All the underground centers have shops, restaurants, pubs and clubs and often live entertainment during the day.
The most remarkable is Underground Atlanta, at Alabama Street, which you can reach (needless to say) by underground at Marta’s Five Point station. Level three is actually partly above ground and until April 2007 had, among many other things, the World of Coca-Cola, which has now migrated a bit further out. Level 2 is shops and restaurants and is the place where, some years ago, I first experienced a Christmas store, which operated 365 days a year – offering Christmas trees with artificial snow, fairy lights and Santa in June.
Level 1 has Kenny’s Alley. Underground Atlanta has had several incarnations since it was first opened in 1969, but there are still a few features from 100 years earlier including decorative brickwork, marble and gas lamps, and some of these are seen in Kenny’s Alley. It is the entertainment level and has a jazz café, cabaret, Irish pub and more watering holes where, the brochure says, you can go ‘from place to place with drink in hand’ – till 4am.
Other MARTA Attractions
The NEW World of Coca-Cola is now at Baker Street, a few minute’s walk from CNN Center station on Marta. Atlanta is the home of Mr Asa Candler’s soft drink, which his successor, Robert Woodruff said he would put ‘within an arm’s reach of desire everywhere on earth’. He did, and it would be hard to find an aboriginal village so remote that Coca Cola would not be available. The story is told in the World of Coca Cola in sound, in pictures and exhibits, and in movies and you can taste to your heart’s content.
While you are there it is worth a visit to the CNN Center itself. CNN is a more recent offspring of Atlanta but, like Coke, it would be difficult to find a corner of the earth where it was not available. The Center has its own station on Marta, predictably named the ‘CNN Center and visitors to the building can get a first-hand look at news in the making on the CNN studio tour.
Also reachable from CNN Center is the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the world
Part of Atlanta also exists overground and on the surface, there are even more acres of shopping malls in its multiple centers. The city is a shopper’s paradise, but the only downside is that it is almost impossible to distinguish one mall or even one district from another. The city’s promoters like to emphasize its up-to-date, cutting edge image as the ‘New South’. This is entirely appropriate because, in all honesty, very little remains of the Old South. For Atlantans today, history only goes back to President Jimmy Carter (and there is a Carter Presidential Center two miles east of Downtown), or to Martin Luther King in the nineteen sixties. The Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he and his father preached, has become the center of the memorial to him at the Martin Luther King Center. The Marta station is ‘King Memorial’.
History: A Tribute to Margaret Mitchell
Or one can connect with older history vicariously through the link with Margaret Mitchell. She is another daughter of Atlanta and, at the Margaret Mitchell House at Peachtree Street in Midtown, her home has been preserved as it was in1936 when she wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gone With the Wind, and that connects with an older Atlanta and an older Georgia. Alongside is a museum and visitor center which is devoted to the history of the 1939 film, based on the book, the most famous film in the English language.
Atlanta has amazing sporting venues and one can see top-class sport all year round, from Braves baseball at Turner Field, to Falcons football, Thrashers ice hockey and Hawks basketball at Philips Arena. Although these are all completely overground, one can always get the underground back into town.