You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
– Italian Proverb
My Dad’s family was born and raised in various places in the United States. My grandfather was a travelling salesman of sorts, and so was required to pick up and move from time to time. This is how my family has connections to Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, and Georgia. Half of my family says they’re from Illinois and the other half says they’re from Georgia, depending on their age and time spent in those states. Regardless of where they’re from and god forbid the midwesterners to admit they’re southerners, Georgia has been the home of all my dad’s family for more than a decade (and for generations, their whole lives) and therefore there’s no denying it… they got Southern strands in their veins. I’ve been visiting my extended family in Georgia since I was born, and each time was always because of a celebration, whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas, or the start of the summer holidays. The last time I had been to Georgia was in 2012. And so, 10 years later, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend my cousin’s wedding back in good ol’ Georgia.
My mother picked my partner and me up from the Atlanta airport as she had arrived via car the day before. As we drove around the city of Atlanta and out to the suburbs, I felt that strange twinge of nostalgia. Everything was so familiar, and yet so far removed from my life today. We pulled up to the house that used to be considered so grand and luxurious back in the 90s, but now was a charming, yet dated, family home. Nonetheless, it brought back warm, happy memories. We were staying with my Dad’s brother and his wife, the aunt and uncle I was really close with as a child. It was so wonderful to see them after all this time – nothing had changed, but everything had changed.
We did spend a few days exploring Atlanta, but we also spent plenty of time getting to know small-town Georgia.
First up, on our way back from a day out exploring Atlanta, we visited the town of Decatur. It has that small-college-town feel that makes it all the more charming. We stopped to explore the little main street and try some places, like Dancing Goats for coffee! This is an American chain that first opened in Olympia, Washington in 1988. They’ve obviously expanded quite widely, but they’ve maintained some really great practices. They’re the first 100% green-powered roastery in the US. They also have near-zero landfill waste and put power back into the grid.
We then went to Twain’s Brewpub & Billiards, a microbrewery that has a lot of fun packed in it like pool, darts and shuffleboard.
Stone Mountain Park
Another day we ventured to Stone Mountain Park, named for its massive quartz monzonite rock. The park is the most visited tourist site in the state of Georgia. As for that rock, it’s particularly famous because it has a mural carved into it. It’s the largest bas-relief sculpture in the world, depicting three Confederate leaders of the American Civil War: President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
The sculpture is pretty controversial for lots of reasons, the main two being the glorification of Confederate leaders that supported slavery and then the fact that this sculpture is an act of defacing a beautiful natural wonder. The first reason has been deeply troubling especially as Stone Mountain was a sacred site to members of the second and third national Ku Klux Klans. Nowadays, I like to think that most visitors visit simply because it’s a point of interest. I certainly was also disappointed as the rock is so beautiful, why ruin it with man’s desire to conquer nature?
Within the Park is Historic Square, a collection of original buildings from around the State of Georgia, built between 1793 and 1875. This was the most interesting part of the whole Park as it was really neat to see examples of this kind of architecture and also understand a large piece of American history.
There’s a visitor centre where you buy an entry ticket and you’re given a map of a pathway circling the area to visit various different buildings. The first stop is the Allen House. It was built in 1845 as the manor house of the Bryan Allen family on their plantation about six miles from Kingston, Georgia.
Built in 1790, the Thornton House was our second stop. It’s not only the oldest house in the Historic Square but also the oldest restored house in Georgia. This was my favourite building in the Square as it was really beautifully set in nature — gorgeous house colour too!
The Historic Square has two clapboard slave cabins that were moved from the Graves Plantation near Covington, Georgia. They were built between 1825 and 1840. As you might imagine, they are rather simple and sparse. I have visited other plantations where the slave quarters were simple too, but much bigger simply because there were so many more people working on the property. These slave cabins were likely much more common, so I felt it was really important to see and take in.
Further along the circuit, there is a barn from Calhoun, Georgia. It was built in the early 1800s. On display are a Daniel Pratt cotton gin and many other farm tools. You may not be aware, but at one point Daniel Pratt Cotton Gin Manufactory was the largest cotton gin machinery factory in the world and supplied cotton gins to all cotton-producing countries.
Across from the barn is the Coach House, which was built here using antique timbers and handmade bricks. Both the Coach House and the barn feature several antique carriages.
Our final stop was the Davis House, formerly known as the Dickey House. It acts as the manor house of this makeshift plantation in Historic Square. The two-story house was built in the 1840s at Dickey, Georgia, on a one-thousand-acre plantation. The descendants of the original builder occupied its sixteen rooms until the house’s relocation to Stone Mountain in 1961.
And so ended our tour around a makeshift Georgian plantation from the 1800s. I didn’t grow up in the South, so I never saw these kinds of historic buildings and houses. Needless to say, it was really interesting to get some insight into another era, another world.
On the way back from Stone Mountain Park, we stopped in an area that my cousin had been really recommending to us all week, Buford Highway. The area is celebrated for its ethnic diversity and, consequently, the fantastic and diverse food options here. The more than 1,000 immigrant-owned businesses are owned by and patronised by a wide variety of ethnic groups, notably Korean, Mexican, Chinese, and Vietnamese, but also Indian, Bangladeshi, Central American, Somali, and Ethiopian.
So, needless to say, it was really difficult to pick a place for lunch! We landed at a Vietnamese place called Quoc Huong Banh Mi Fast Food. We shared a few dishes, including some banh mi sandwiches and a noodle bowl. Everything was delicious and so comforting!
For dessert, we stopped at a Chinese bakery, Sweet Hut. I love that Chinese bakeries pop up all over the world and never stray too far from the original model. We bought lots of treats and shared them as we drove on to our next destination. I really can see why Buford Highway is special and also lots of fun. If I lived here I would definitely make a point of trying every restaurant!
The day before my cousin’s wedding, we drove out with my Aunt Nancy to visit a town that is quite special to that side of the family, Athens, Georgia. It’s a college town, located a bit less than two hours east of Atlanta. A few members of my family and their extended family have gone to university here and worked here.
Athens is not just any college town, it’s one with a vibrant music scene. Major music acts associated with Athens include numerous alternative rock bands such as R.E.M., the B-52’s, Widespread Panic, Drive-By Truckers, of Montreal, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Harvey Milk.
I also was finally able to visit a pub that’s very important to my extended family called The Globe. It’s an Irish-style pub with British/Irish fare and drinks. It first opened in 1989, and upon visiting it’s clear that patrons truly love this place. It was named one of the Best Bars in America by Esquire magazine, in October 2007, so it’s not random that this bar is special!
The Globe has even been featured at the cinema. It’s heavily featured in a romantic scene between Adams and Timberlake’s characters in the film, “Trouble with the Curve”. The scene shows many of the bar’s employees, as well as friends, like some of my family members! We had lunch and met my family’s cousins (on the other side) and it was a lot of fun to learn about this wonderful place.
And then finally, the wedding day arrived! It was so lovely to see almost all my extended family all dressed up and celebrating a wonderful life event. The wedding was hosted in a lovely farmhouse-style venue with lovely gardens. We ate (and drank!) well, and partied well too. And of course, I’m very happy for my cousin and her family.
The next day, it was time for Victor and me to say goodbye to my family and get ourselves to the airport to get back home to London. I’m so grateful that Victor could come with me and meet my family, and spend a week getting to know the place I spent so many summers. People often joke about Southern hospitality and sweetness, but my family has taught me that it is always more effective to be polite and flattering than to be hostile or demanding. Indeed, you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
Have you visited the state of Georgia before? What do you think about this part of the USA?