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Reality check in Rap City | Atlanta, GA

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When people meet know Dani and I, they are often surprised to find out that we are both huge fans of rap music. But I can remember way back in 1993, being 13 and rapping to Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle CD in the mirror with my best friend. At that time, suburban white girls were probably not who Snoop had imagined his demographic would be, but he hooked us and millions of people just like us around the globe onto rap- including Dani, all the way over in Germany.

So when the two of us put our heads together on places we wanted to see on the southern part of our NYC2NOLA road trip this year, we were thinking as much about the Dirty South as we were about Southern Charm and Georgia Peaches.Atlanta skylineFor us, Atlanta is a music Mecca: smooth R&B artists like Usher, Monica, Keri Hilson and TLC and some of our favorite rappers like T.I., Ludacris, Ciara, Soulja Boy and above all, Outkast. As we planned our trip, however, we just couldn’t figure out to make the Atlanta music a tangible part of our trip. I am still not entirely sure what we expected, but there seems to be no way for an average visitor to interact with the music scene in the way that is possible in New York with its made-for-tourists hip hop music tours or the ease of hanging out in the blues bars of Chicago, country bars in Nashville and the live indie rock scene in Austin. Instead, we opted to hope for the best and find it when we got there.

After all, music wasn’t the only reason we wanted to visit Atlanta – in fact one things we love about Atlanta’s main attractions is that they are truly unique to the city: the Behind the Studio tour at the CNN center, the World of Coca Cola and the Olympic Park area. We accomplished all of these only-in-Altanta attractions and fit in a visit to the famous aquarium and Mary Mac’s Tea Room, which you can read about here.

Dani and I looked high and low, but found no signs of a visitor-friendly connection with the city’s music scene. There are hip-hop and R&B concerts, but none on the days we were in town (during the week in early September). When we were recommended Lov’n It Live, a raw vegan restaurant in East Point, an alarm sounded in my mind. East Point? Andre 3000 from OutKast is from East Point – let’s go! (Rap is not an omnivore-only thing – vegetarians and vegans love rap too!)

east pointAfter a half hour drive from downtown Atlanta, it turned out that Lov’n It Live was closed and East Point is a pretty bleak, lower-income yet ‘up-and-coming’ area similar to where we lived in Deptford, London. What did I imagine? Rappers on every corner or that OutKast would be holding a free concert in the park? Of course not…but still…

We discussed our rap city reality check on our last night in town with a friend who really wanted to help. Very much a Southern Belle, however, she could only reveal that Usher used to live on the same road as the governor’s mansion. At first light, before heading out of town for the long drive to New Orleans, we attempted to find Usher’s mansion and though we didn’t know exactly which on it was, the size of these incredible southern homes could only confirm that Usher has done very well for himself since his ’97 hit ‘You Make Me Wanna’.

Ah well, the road trip must go on. We left Usher’s ritzy Buckhead area of the city, rolled down our windows, blasted a mix of OutKast, T.I. and Ludacris and rapped our way right out of Atlanta. We were headed west to New Orleans, our final stop on the NYC2NOLA 2011 road trip, and home to the most authentic (and easy to find) music scene in all of America.

great american summer.

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Great American Road Trip – Feelin’ peachy in Atlanta

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We left Savannah’s 90 degree heat and drove over 248 miles to arrive in a chilly, rainy Atlanta – our second to last stop on the NYC2NOLA road trip.

The dark cloud that loomed over us threatened more rain than it actually produced, but luckily we each had Atlanta CityPasses, which gave us the freedom to explore the best (indoor) attractions in Atlanta.

Atlanta skyscrapers

The CNN tour at the CNN building offers a fascinating look behind the scenes at one of the world’s largest TV stations. We saw studios, the newsroom, and learned why, despite being able to choose their own outfits, anchormen and women should never wear green.

CNN Jess

Next we headed over to the World of Coca Cola. At first, the experience is like jumping inside your TV into a Coca Cola commercial, but we’re glad we stuck it out til the end. The last room is a tasting center, where you can sample 64 different colas from around the world and tried out a hi-tech vending machine with every flavor of Coke you can imagine, including rare ‘Zero’ options like Pibb and Cherry Vanilla Zero. We gave up drinking soda a year ago for the most part, but this was like traveling around the world in 64 flavors: Inca Kola from Peru, a Melon soda from Thailand, and other drinks from as far as Africa or Germany (much to Dani’s delight!).

World of coke tasting room

Our City Passes also included Atlanta’s aquarium, which is conveniently located right next to the World of Coke and which is the largest aquarium in the world! We saw massive manta rays that reminded us of snorkeling in Belize, and 18 foot long whale sharks that made us wish we had made the trip to swim with them in their natural habitat in Holbox while we were in the Yucatan in Mexico.

atlanta aquarium whale shark

The most exciting part was the Behind the Scenes tour we went on which comes as standard for holders of the CityPass! The tour allows views of the exhibits from above. Here, above the giant tank with Mantas and Whale Sharks (can you spot him in the picture below?), we spotted six snorkelers! It turns out that for $275 you can snorkel in the tank, for $350 you can dive.

Atlanta Aquarium behind the scenes with whale shark

We got a good feeling of the city while walking around, from the downtown financial district to chic Buckhead, and from the charming area of Vinings to the up-and-coming East Point, where many of our favorite rappers come from. There was no stalking…though we may have also driven by Usher’s house. Maybe.

Atlanta building with muralAnother highlight was dinner at Mary Mac’s Tea Room, an Atlanta dining institution, where our good friend Nicole introduced us to classic Southern cuisine and desserts. We stuffed our bellies with ‘vegetable’ options like home-made fried green tomatoes, mac’n’cheese and vegetable soufflés (ah, the South!) and melt-in-your-mouth desserts like banana pudding, bread pudding and Georgia peach cobbler.Sure, we might each out on fifteen pounds from this road trip, but we’re loving every minute of it!

Mary Macs Tea Room Atlanta

Thanks to the Atlanta Visitors Bureau for the great suggestions and helping us maximize our  short time in the city by providing us with a pair of CityPasses.

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