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ATL’s New Security Lanes: Pros and Cons

The new security system under construction. Passengers line up and can load their belongings onto the bins much faster. (Photo from the AJC)
The new security system under construction. Passengers line up and can load their belongings onto the bins much faster. (Photo from the AJC)

Security lines at Hartsfield-Jackson are stretching practically to Chattanooga. But the airport is making changes to speed up the process. One of these was unveiled this week.

The South Terminal checkpoint has been closed for three weeks while two security lanes were revamped with a new system designed to speed up the process of passengers unloading their items into the bins.

Because of its high volume, (hello, busiest airport in the world!) Atlanta is the first airport in the country chosen to test out this system, modeled after one at London’s Heathrow Airport. Delta put $1 million into implementing the new system.

Here’s how it works. Rather than grabbing a bin at the beginning of the lane yourself, loading it up, and waiting your turn to pass through, several people can line up at once and large bins roll up in front of them. They can all load their bins simultaneously, which then slide through on a conveyor belt.

I used these bins in Heathrow a few months ago and was delighted by them. Here are the pros and cons of the new system:

Bahamas Bound: Delta’s Non-Stop Flights from ATL

Delta is starting a twice-weekly non-stop flight from Atlanta to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas in December.
Delta is starting a twice-weekly non-stop flight from Atlanta to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas in December.

Scrape ice off your windshield in the morning, stir cubes of it in your Mojito on the beach in the Abaco Islands that afternoon. This enticing scenario can now be a reality with the introduction of non-stop flights from Atlanta to Marsh Harbour, on Great Abaco Island, one of the 120-mile-long chain of islands that covers 650 square miles.

The twice-weekly flights leave Atlanta at 11:15 on Tuesdays and Saturdays, arriving two hours later, just in time for fresh seafood lunch with an ocean view. The flights return at 2:05, leaving time for a last morning on the beach if you’re staying close by.

Known as the boating capital of the Bahamas, the Abacos draw tourists who enjoy its natural beauty and exploring the variety of islands. By boat, of course as that is the only means of transport between the many islands.

If you’re looking to stay close by, check out the Abaco Beach Resort, which has been welcoming visitors to Marsh Harbour since 1955. This 40-acre beachfront property is just 10 minutes from the airport and every one of its 72 rooms has a private terrace or balcony with a water view.

To welcome the new non-stop flight, the resort is offering an early booking discount for Delta passengers only. Book by October 31 for travel from December 19, 2015 to February 27, 2016 and receive a welcome amenity, round-trip airport transfers and a $250 airfare credit. Find out for yourself if it really is Better in the Bahamas.

Foodies on Foot: Atlanta Food Tours

We started the Atlanta Food Walks tour at Paschal's, birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and home to fantastic southern soul food. (Photo courtesy Atlanta Food Walks.)
We started the Atlanta Food Walks tour at Paschal’s, birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and home to fantastic southern soul food. (Photo courtesy Atlanta Food Walks.)

One of my favorite ways to learn about a city when I travel is with food tours. We walk, learn, eat and repeat. I get to sample several types of foods, learn about the city from a local and get a bit of exercise in.

Finally, my hometown has a few tours and I recently learned more about my own city. Two new Atlanta walking tours are leading the way to “the best burger in the world,” fried chicken, shrimp and grits, fried green tomatoes, chocolate cheesecake with a sprinkling of Atlanta history on top — and plenty of exercise to walk off (some) of the calories. Even locals are jumping at the chance to experience new restaurants and learn more about their hometown.

My first tour was with Akila McConnell, founder and chief eating officer of Atlanta Food Walks. Although Akila is relatively new to the food tour scene, her tour is professional and first-rate. Her marketing materials and map are well done and loaded with information.

We met at Paschal’s, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, for the Downtown Southern Food Walk. The tour stops at seven restaurants, including Sweet Auburn Seafood, where two women from Great Britain marveled at their first taste of shrimp and grits.

We got to select a dessert from this display of deliciousness at Cafe Intermezzo on the Classic Peachtree Food Tour.
We got to select a dessert from this display of deliciousness at Cafe Intermezzo on the Classic Peachtree Food Tour.

It wraps up at the incredible Sweet Auburn Curb Market, which houses 11 eateries. We had a taste of Miss D’s Pralines, and got a warm welcome and big hug from the adorable Miss D herself. I loved the market and marveled that I had visited similar markets around the world, but not one just a few miles from my house!

The second tour, the Peachtree Walking Food Tour, starts at the historic Fox Theatre, and follows a path around Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood. Our guide was the gregarious John Hannula, who recently founded Peachtree Food Tours.

While Akila supplied a map and information about each stop at the beginning of the tour, John’s style was a surprise-filled eating adventure. We followed him from stop to stop, enjoying the anticipation between each delicious bite. We were quickly won over by the burger served on a grilled doughnut, at Cypress Street Pint & Plate, which several people declared was indeed, the world’s best.

 

Shack Shake Opens in ATL

The Shackburger from Shake Shack. It's worth the extra calories. (Photo by Evan Sung.)
The Shackburger from Shake Shack. It’s worth the extra calories. (Photo by Evan Sung.)

I’m a Fitbit fanatic, a regular at the Y, eat salads every day and generally find most desserts are NWC – not worth the calories. A good chocolate chip cookie is the notable exception.

But sometimes you just gotta throw dietary constraints and concerns about huge calorie counts out the window and reach for a whopping burger, fries and a shake.

On those occasions, head to Shake Shack, that hamburger stand with the cult following.

Shake Shack just opened its first location in Atlanta, a two-story building in Buckhead Atlanta, fronting Peachtree Road across from the old Cheesecake Factory. (Long-time Atlantans will remember it as the former location of the Buckhead Men’s Shop.) The original opened in Madison Square Park in New York in 2004, and now has more than 50 locations.

We were lucky enough to attend a big opening event this past Tuesday, and while it was a challenge grabbing food as it was carried out on trays by the ever-smiling staff, it was worth the effort. My first taste was of the DogMeister, a 100 percent all-natural beef hot dog topped with cheddar cheese, American cheese sauce and crispy shallots. Pretty delicious, although I rarely eat hot dogs. Remember our theme is making exceptions.

I enjoyed the fries but they aren’t my favorite. Wow – that SmokeShack cheeseburger, though. Made with hormone-free Angus beef, it was perfectly cooked and slathered with ShackSauce, applewood bacon and chopped cherry pepper.

Homemade frozen custard ice cream at Shake Shack.

Other menu items include the ‘Shroom Burger, a portobello mushroom burger, and the Chicken Dog. Of course, Shake Shack is known for its milk shakes and they were creamy and delicious, made with real sugar and hormone-free milk. A nod to our city comes from the Peachtree, a caramel peach shake, and pecan pie from H&F Bread Company. Concretes are frozen custard treats that you can design yourself with your choice of mix-ins.

Soft drinks, iced tea and juices are available. And yes, there is alcohol, including ShackMeister  Ale, brewed for Shake Shack by Brooklyn Brewery. The wine list is as simple as it gets – either red or white wine, bottled by Frog’s Leap in Napa Valley.

I recommend hanging out on the spacious rooftop terrace, weather permitting. I loved looking over Peachtree Road, and the chance to do that is pretty rare, particularly in Buckhead. I’m predicting tables may be hard to come by here though — it’s bound to be a big hit in Atlanta.

Better Waze to Get There

I have a thing about Clairmont Road in Atlanta. Although I was born here and have logged zillions of miles driving around the city, whenever I see the sign for Clairmont Road I know I’m fixin’ to get lost. Last night I set out from my office at Travelgirl magazine to go to my friend’s house in Druid Hills. The route involved Clairmont Road.

But this time I was armed and ready. I had the reassuring voice from the app Waze gently guiding me through pretty side streets, places I’d never seen before and was a bit unsure were leading anywhere, but I made it there quickly and didn’t hit a lick of traffic.

EN_ReportMenu-1Waze, purchased by Google last year, is a crowdsourced navigation app, so you get real-time traffic and hazard reports from other Wazers nearby. There is a social media component if you’d like to get your friends to join you, and you can also participate as a map editor if you see discrepancies along your route. You can see reports on hazards on the road, police up ahead, cars pulled over on the side of the road and where the traffic is. You can also find the cheapest gas prices along the route.

I attended a media lunch with the Waze folks this week (best goody bag ever!) and they told us that traffic reporters are now using Waze because of its accuracy. They also mentioned plans to add celebrity voices and showed us a funny demo with Kevin Hart. If you’re going to spend time in the car why not make it fun, right?

Waze is available in more than 200 countries, so wherever you’re going you don’t have to get lost. Download it for free from the iTunes Store, and never be lost again. Not even on Clairmont.

 

 

 

 

Introducing The Atlanta 100

UnknownHe’s at it again, that husband of mine, Chris Schroder. In 1994, he started Atlanta 30306, which expanded to three newspapers and now is operating as Atlanta INtown. In 2002, he started Schroder PR, a small public relations firm. Then he worked with Maria Saporta on the creation of her journalism enewsletter, SaportaReport.

Now, he’s off and running with his new idea: The Atlanta 100. This weekly enewsletter contains articles, videos and slide shows that are, you guessed it, all 100 words or 100 seconds long. After batting about the right tagline for his new venture, he came up with “100-word articles, 100-second videos on topics of intrigue.” After spending several hours soliciting logos for his new venture, he narrowed it down to three. With input from his staff at Schroder PR and a few friends, he selected the one you see here. I hope you agree with me that the results are pretty awesome.

The topics will vary somewhat from issue to issue, depending mainly on who turns in their article. They will include music, real estate, travel, management, networking – all types of fun stuff. This week you can see a video of a player who was going to block the field goal in what was called the greatest upset in college football history (his teammate did). I have an article about Madison, Georgia where we spent a delightful weekend on a Ramble with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

Fans of the old Atlanta 30306 and Intown will recognize some names. Charles Driebe, the former music columnist, returns to cover music again. And Thomas Schroder, all grown up since he wrote a “kids” column as a child, is writing about the hot topic of Crowdfunding. You can also read about health care, management, legal matters and your brain.

Want to get in on the fun? You can subscribe here. We all have time to read 100 words, right? And remember, they are topics of intrigue.

Get Your Moonshine On at Stillhouse

A selection of the hand-crafted moonshine cocktails at Stillhouse, the latest addition to the East Andrews Entertainment District
A selection of the hand-crafted moonshine cocktails at Stillhouse, the latest addition to the East Andrews Entertainment District

William Faulkner once said, “Well, between Scotch and nothin’, I suppose I’d take Scotch. It’s the nearest thing to good moonshine I can find.”

He could find plenty of the good stuff at Stillhouse, the new Buckhead eatery specializing in craft burgers and moonshine. My husband had more discussion with our server, Gabe, over the varieties of moonshine available than he ever did with a sommelier about wine. Moonshine here is made into cocktails, infused with flavors and even smoked with fresh apple, cherry, pecan, and maple wood chips.

At a media dinner last night we started with the Thyme to Shine ($9) made with muddled blueberries, fresh thyme, honey, grapefruit juice and Troy & Son’s platinum; and the Carolina Mule ($9), make with fresh lime, mint, ginger beer with Carolina moonshine. Both were delicious.

For the next moonshine course, I tried blackberry flavored while after much consideration and more discussion, my husband chose the pumpkin flavored and declared the world better for it.

Unlike the legendary moonshine created up in them thar hills on homemade stills that was sold immediately for consumption, these moonshine infusions are aged in oak barrels for a month, then carefully crafted into cocktails. There is no need to set a small quantity on fire to look for a blue flame to ensure you won’t go blind from drinking it. A yellow flame spells trouble and yes, people still die from drinking the homemade stuff. But this hooch is safe.

Equal care goes into the food. Condiments are made in-house and creative ingredients are available for the burgers made from premium varieties of grass fed beef.

A slightly blurry (post-moonshine) photo of the Buckhead Burger. My husband asked for the duck confit on the side, not sure about it. He devoured every bit.
A slightly blurry (post-moonshine) photo of the Buckhead Burger. My husband asked for the duck confit on the side, not sure about it. He devoured every bit.

I could only handle about half of my huge Augusta Burger, which featured two beef patties, pimento cheese, bbq sauce, pickle, pulled pork and cole slaw. ($9) The initial challenge was how to even attack it, with its upside-down bun and height equal to the size of my head.

My husband did pretty well with the Buckhead Burger that also had two beef patties, duck confit, goat cheese, green tomato relish, pickle beets and fresh spinach ($10).

As soon as I heard Gabe mention bacon creamed corn I knew we’d be seeing it at our table. (4) A spoonful of the rich concoction was enough for me. Of course we had to try the thick-cut fries ($3) although my heart cringed a bit at dipping them in the North Carolina gouda sauce.

Stillhouse does serve a limited selection of  beer (14 choices)  and wine — four red and three white — with six selections of sparkling wine, including Cristal for $395.

Having declared it a Night of Gluttony, we opted for a taste of the chocolate marble cheesecake s’mores ($7), but could only handle one of the three cheesecakes on the plate.

Housed on the lower level of the entertainment complex at 56 East Andrews, Stillhouse is off of the enclosed courtyard in the atrium of the entertainment complex. It also has a charming side patio, a perfect place to hang at the bar and listen to the live music offered nightly.

The desserts at Stillhouse. The ketchup photobombed my shot.
The desserts at Stillhouse. The ketchup photobombed my shot.

I  loved the decor with the antique copper ceiling and black-and-white photos of moonshiners on the walls. Our whisky barrel table did pose a bit of a challenge — I didn’t know whether to sit at it sidesaddle style or straddle it in a decidedly unladylike fashion.

Stillhouse is a fun place to great place to hang out with friends or go on date night. Even thought moonshine is legal now, it still feels a bit naughty to drink some of the hard stuff.

Stillhouse is at 56 East Andrews Drive, (678) 244-3601, @StillhouseATL Open every day except Sunday.

Cirque’s Totem Enchants, Entertains

“I saw Allegria when I was a teenager, and decided that when I grew up I was going to join the circus,” our tour guide said as she was leading us backstage after a mesmerizing performance of Totem. “After university, much to my parents’ dismay, I did.”

The hilarious Pippo Crotti, who plays the Italian tourist in Totem.

We toured the artists’ tent, dodging the now jeans-clad artists as they rushed to catch the next shuttle back to the Georgian Terrace where they are staying, where we saw the shoe corner, the make-up area and dressing rooms.

I won’t be joining the circus any time soon — that no-talent, loving my own bathroom thing being just two of the many obstacles — but I will see every Cirque show that I can.

Including ones I’ve seen before. As soon as I sat down in the huge blue-and-yellow tent, the Grand Chapiteau, at Atlantic Station in Atlanta and saw the turtle carapace set, I had déjà vu all over again. I had indeed seen Totem before, on its closing night in Montreal in 2010.

But that didn’t diminish my sheer delight at the show, whose story is the journey of the human species from an amphibian to its desire to fly.

The set is so well done that you would swear there’s real water there, as waves and ripples are projected onto the raised center and at one point it looks like artists are swimming out onto the stage.

I’ve been hooked on Cirque since the very first show I saw and since then have seen several in Atlanta, Vegas and Montreal.

A highlight of my life was visiting the Cirque du Soleil headquarters in Montreal, where we were only allowed as a journalists’ group. (Hey, there have to be some special benefits to the job.)

We saw buffed-up artists everywhere, working out, practicing, or just having lunch. My favorite part, of course, was a visit to the costume shop, a gigantic area filled with thousands of costumes, shoes, headpieces and dozens of people working meticulously to craft the gorgeous outfits we see on stage.

But back to Totem. As is typical of Cirque, each amazing act was followed by yet another one where human bodies performed feats that were seemingly impossible.

Girlfriend Getaway: Atlanta, Georgia

Where: Atlanta, the South’s biggest city.

Why: The Peach State’s capital city continues to evolve and makes a terrific destination for any all-girl getaway to the South.

Take a Tour: A-list celebrity sightings are a daily occurrence in the ATL as more movies and TV shows are being filmed in the city than ever before.

The Optimist, recently named America’s best new restaurant by Esquire magazine.

Check out the sites seen in famous TV shows and movies such as “The Blind Side,” “Hall Pass” and “The Walking Dead” with the new Big Southern Hollywood Tour by Atlanta Movie Tours. Beer-lovers can enjoy behind the- scenes tours and samples from the city’s vibrant craft brew scene at breweries like Sweetwater Brewing Company with the new Atlanta Brews Cruise and Atlanta Beer Tours. Atlanta’s not just the home of Coca-Cola any more!

Tastes of the ATL: Seafood fans are flocking to the newly opened Optimist Fish Camp and Oyster Bar. “Top Chef All-Stars” fans will want to check out The Spence, the latest from winner Richard Blais. Stroll around the new Atlanta Food Truck Park, where you’ll have your pick of freshly made lamb burgers, fish and chips, chicken and waffles, gelato and whatever else is being served that day.

Relax on the patio or head out back for a picnic or game of bocce ball in the grass. Start or end your evening at Proof and Provision, a new community bar that features snacks such as deviled eggs, grilled cheese and pigs in a blanket along with handcrafted barrel-aged cocktails. For brunch you have to try Café Johah and The Magical Attic, where “Today Show” fav “Souper Jenny” Levison serves up fresh and yummy food along with free Mimosas at her pay-what-you-want Sunday brunch.

Fill Those Shopping Bags:

Atlanta has fabulous shopping: Head to Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza for those Jimmy Choos or a new Louis Vuitton handbag. For a more unique experience, travelgirls will want to explore the Westside. Just minutes from Downtown you’ll find trendy boutiques along with a few chains like Anthropologie and Calypso St. Barth in Westside Provisions District, a shopping and dining development created in the remnants of Atlanta’s meatpacking area. Shoppers flock from miles away for the one of-a-kind shops and outlets in the surrounding Westside Design District.

The outdoor relaxation area at the Spa at Mandarin Oriental Atlanta

Sounds Fishy to Me:

One of Atlanta’s gems is the world’s largest aquarium. Fish and other marine life swim, play and frolic in more than 10 million gallons of fresh and marine water at the Georgia Aquarium.

Where to Relax: Swim a few laps in the 60-foot indoor lap pool at the new luxurious 15,000-square-foot Spa at Mandarin Oriental or enjoy the terrace in the women’s relaxation area. Feeling more energetic? Take a core fusion cardio or maybe a music yoga flow class at Exhale Mind Body Spa at the Loews Atlanta Hotel.

Or take the three-step Turkish-style bath, starting with a sauna, then a cold shower and a rest on a marble slab.

Start Your Research: Check out www.atlanta.net for hotel packages, special offers, an events calendar and plenty more.

This article first appeared in the Summer 2012 issue of Travelgirl magazine.

 

 

 

Splendor in the Grass: Gibbs Gardens

A scene at the back of the home

“Please walk on the grass.” That’s what the signs read at Gibbs Gardens. And of all the joys I experienced during a recent day at these magnificent gardens, strolling through the cool, soft grass barefoot was one of my favorites.

These magnificent gardens, just an hour north of Atlanta, are the kind of place you want to spend all day strolling around, take a break for lunch under huge majestic trees, then spend the afternoon meandering around the many paths through the 16 gardens. And that’s exactly what we did.

Or if you’re like my passionately botanical sister-in-law Martiele, you stay until dusk falls, taking hundreds of photos and leaving only as the gardens close for the evening. The other ten of us left her behind, joking that we wouldn’t be surprised if she curled up under a tree somewhere and spent the night.

Whether your extent of gardening experience is once-a-year planting of something pretty and hoping it grows like me, or you know about every care and feeding of everything from hydrangeas to hibiscus Martiele, you’ll love your visit to Gibbs Gardens.

Water lilies in one of the three water features of the gardens

After driving through the wooded path to the parking lot and buying tickets at the Welcome Center, visitors exit through the back where you’ll often find owner Jim Gibbs, eager to share with you the beautiful gardens. He searched for six years for a site to realize his dream of constructing these world-class gardens, which just opened to the public in March. He and his wife live in the home on the 292-acre property, which is sprinkled throughout with statues of his grandchildren at play.

When a small group gathers, he holds up the colored map of the garden and points out the various areas, then informs you of the “specials of the day.” For our visit in June, our specials were the 1500 species of day lilies over three acres, and the 1400 hydrangeas. In addition to those, we wandered through the 220 acres of gardens, divided into 16 areas, included a gorgeous replica of Monet’s bridge at Giverny.

With 126 benches, there are plenty of places to rest and contemplate should you wish. The gardens are so vast, it’s worth the $5 tram ticket to take you around when you tire or just want to travel from one section to another.

One of the 2,087 photos my sister-in-law took after I left the camera with her. Good thing I brought an extra battery.

Be sure to spend lunchtime there at the Arbor Café where you can pick up a delicious sandwich from a local bakery and enjoy it in the shade of huge mature trees, a setting remniscent of the Tuilleries Gardens in Paris.

The website has a bloom calendar so you can see what the “specials” might be before you go. I’m putting March 1 to April 15 on my calendar for a return visit for daffodil season. More than three million daffodils have been planted here over the past 20 years and now cover 40 acres.

I can’t think of a better way to welcome spring. And to walk in the grass again of course.

Gibbs Gardens, 1998 Gibbs Drive, Ball Ground, GA 30107. Open Wednesday through Sunday.

 

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