Friday, March 26, 2021

INTERVIEW: Marykay, Decatur Alpaca Cottage

Atlanta has many fabulous places where out-of-town guests — or staycationers — can opt to stay, but Decatur Alpaca Cottage is among the most unique and utterly adorable! Guests consistently say that their experience was "above our expectations".

Marykay, the owner and awesome hostess, gifted me an interview. Her story is quite fascinating and I'm certain that this is just the tip of the iceberg. Enjoy...

Marykay at Decatur Alpaca Cottage |  | Photo: Sarah Vitel Photography
Marykay at Decatur Alpaca Cottage |  | Photo: Sarah Vitel Photography

wanderlust ATLANTA: Thank you for talking with me, Marykay. Please tell us a little about you. Where are you from? How did you come to live in Decatur?

Marykay: I was born in Ohio and we moved to the South when I was a preteen. I've lived in South Carolina, North Carolina, Kentucky, Hawaii, and of course Georgia. Atlanta is "home". I love Atlanta and I love Georgia. My family moved to an urban farm about 16 years ago. Before that we lived in Tucker. I've been in the area for about 30 years. So, that's where I'm from, but you asked about me. 

When I was a kid, I loved playing with my "dollhouse" — this Cottage is the grown-up version of that. As an adult, I've been called innovative and interesting (and sometimes even quirky), and a lot of my guests admire my attention to detail. In addition to caring for the alpacas, the farm, and the cottage, I also have a day job in global executive benefit that I love. I'm also a writer. I've completed about nine chapters for my book, so far and hope to finish it this year.

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

wanderlust ATLANTA: Why and how do you have a herd of Alpacas and Llamas in Metro Atlanta? What a delightful surprise!

Marykay: Decades ago, I had wanted to become a veterinarian and was even accepted to vet school, but instead I opted to have kids because the years were passing quickly Instead, I fulfilled my love of animals by having quite a few pets and even doing wildlife rescue back in the day. Some years ago, I was visiting with friends in North Georgia who had a herd of alpacas and was asked "Would you want to take on a herd of rescue alpaca?" With little hesitation, I enthusiastically said “Yes!” and set about learning how to care for them including renovating an existing outbuilding on my farm to serve as their barn. Our first herd was four older males.

Typically, alpacas who need to be rescued is because circumstances have changed, health issues, changes in a financial situation, or even an owner passing away. In the case of this herd, the owner’s husband had died and the herd was too much for her to care for. The life span of an alpaca averages between 15 and 20 years, so having a good plan in place for a herd is important. I actually have a plan for mine included in my Will as well as some financial support to facilitate any transition that might need to take place. In short, a commitment to alpacas and llamas is a long-term commitment.

In addition to the original four alpacas, I have adopted and rescued others over the years. "Skyboy Blue" — yes, they have their own names — is from Florida. He has blue eyes which is unusual. Two are from Kentucky. I currently have four alpacas, one miniature Himalayan llama ("Beau"), and one huarizo ("Mr. Bingley"). A huarizo is a cross between a llama and an alpaca and huarizos tend to be much smaller than llamas given that they are half alpaca. I also work closely with the nonprofit Southeast Llama Rescue as a volunteer to help raise funds.

wanderlust ATLANTA: Okay, we have to talk about the chickens. What's their story?

Marykay: That’s a fun story! One day when my son was 8 years old, he said, "Momma, we need chickens." Of course, I asked, "Why?" His response, "Momma, because they're healthy and the cholesterol in a backyard chicken’s egg is way healthier than a grocery store egg! It's 'green' and we can use our kitchen scraps for compost AND feed the chickens. And they’re educational!! Do you know how much I'm going to learn from having chickens?"

At that point, he’d convinced me, if only because he was so clever in his "chicken sales’ pitch," so I agreed with the caveat that he meet three requirements...
  • They have to fit into the budget I set;
  • We would take great care of them, first and foremost as pets; and
  • They would have to lay pretty eggs (I wanted blue, brown, etc.).
We got the chickens and they each have their own name. We have "Peck-a-rino" and a rooster named "Irma" because it was born when Hurricane Irma came through. We still have chickens today and have fresh eggs every day!

I usually sell our organic eggs to friends, family, and neighbors, but last Spring, as we all went into quarantine, I told my neighbors I would gift our eggs to the neighborhood for as long as I could. In the end, I gifted more than 123 dozen eggs during the first four months of the pandemic. That eggs were also in short supply at the grocery stores made it all the easier to choose to gift the eggs and it was something my family could do for others during a difficult time.

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

wanderlust ATLANTA: Okay, the reason we're all here...tell us about the cottage!

Marykay: If we start at the very beginning, although my house was built in the mid-1950’s, based on architectural clues, we think the cottage was built in the 1940s. When I was in the market to buy a home, Cherie King, of Atlanta Intown Dwellings, took me to this property. It was a 50s brick ranch, the front yard was nondescript, and there was not a lot of curb appeal.

Already in my mind I knew I wanted a more cottage-like home and suggested we skip this one and move on to the next house. Instead, Cherie put her hand on my knee, and said, "Marykay, these people have left their home so you can look at it. Get your ass out of the car and let's go." So I laughed and got out of the car! I kid you not, two steps into the kitchen of the main house, I knew it was "home"...it had everything we needed.

Cherie then said, "Let's go see the rest of it!" Mind you, I had NO idea there was anything other than the main house. As we toured the acre and a half that comprises our urban farm, I saw the cottage, a workshop, several outbuildings, and a large field that was a part of the original dairy farm long ago. My grandparents had a dairy farm in Ohio so it seemed a really amazing symmetry moment! I was very excited, thinking “How many people have an opportunity to live on a legacy farm?

In no time, I crunched some numbers and bought it! That was 16 years ago! I actually have stayed in touch with the former owners' children. The oldest son came and stayed in the cottage a couple years ago and before he left, I shared some starts and plants from my garden that his parents had planted. So part of my garden is now in his garden in Tennessee. With tears in my eyes, he said, "This means so much to me." There is something really beautiful about the gifting and sharing of plants with others. It adds to the story of a garden and keeps the legacy living, so to speak.

When his family lived here, his grandmother lived in the cottage until she moved to a retirement community. At that time, the prior owner turned it into a long-term rental. When I bought the house and moved in, the same renter had been in the cottage for 15 years! When I bought the house I was more than happy to let her stay and she stayed another five years until she decided to buy her own home. After that, I had two more long-term renters and when it was empty again, I thought I would turn it into a writer’s retreat for myself so I started fixing it up.

Remember, I loved playing with my dollhouse as a kid, so this was a FUN project! I then reconsidered because my kids were growing and I would soon be an empty nester, so I started thinking about other uses for the cottage. I knew I didn’t want it to be a long-term rental again. About that time Airbnb was becoming a "thing" so I gave it a try. Now in our fifth year, the Decatur Alpaca Cottage is one of the top wish-listed Airbnb’s in the South!

I'm currently considering a second a "tiny home" Airbnb for my urban farm. Depending on how the rest of the year goes, it may be a really fun project for 2022!

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

wanderlust ATLANTA: When is Decatur Alpaca Cottage available for bookings?

Marykay: We are open year-round. Weekends definitely fill up first throughout the year. Weekends tend to book 4 to 8 weeks in advance. I also recommend booking further in advance if there is a specific weekend guests want. Weekdays are typically easier to book with less notice and also have a lower rate than weekends. The Decatur Alpaca Cottage has a a two-night minimum and our pricing varies, like hotels, based on season, events, and day of the week.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I closed voluntarily for 3 months and, before we reopened, I expanded our already-robust cleaning approach with an even more rigorous cleaning and social distancing protocol to ensure our guests’ and my family’s safety. I've known my cleaning team for 25 years and that’s really helpful to know that the protocol I’ve laid out will be adhered to every single time. I have an incredible team of helpers who help me keep up with the demands of running a side business and keeping up with our urban farm.

When I made the tough decision to close the cottage in the first months of the pandemic, I continued paying my team. Their loyalty and diligence are important to me and I didn’t want to create a hardship for them if I could possibly avoid it. Not only were they appreciative, but it further solidified the long-standing relationships we have in partnership to make the cottage an amazing experience for my guests! In my opinion, kindness is rarely a mistake and, although it was a terrible situation, the pandemic created lots of opportunities for kindness, in big and small ways.

Before COVID, 60% of our guests were locals. Our farthest guest came all the way from Singapore! Since the pandemic, 90% of our guests have been locals. I expect that this ratio will fluctuate a bit as travel restrictions ease, but it is wonderful to have a safe haven to offer Atlantans and surrounding communities during this time!

We only do bookings on Airbnb. There are two parking spaces next to the cottage and it sleeps four in a cozy 600 square feet.

We're also available for weddings, birthday parties, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and other special events on a limited basis. During the pandemic, however, we are only hosting micro-events with no more than 15 guests. Although we've hosted events with up to 50 guests, the niche for our venue is smaller, more intimate events. The brand is about beauty and peace and intimate gatherings are more in alignment with that.

From time to time, I get requests to host pets. As much as I love animals (and I do!) we are unable to host fur babies. Alpacas see strange dogs as predators and it’s just not worth the stress on the herd. Our guests are very understanding and respectful about the need to prioritize the health of the herd and I appreciate that!

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

wanderlust ATLANTA: What are the most common questions you receive?

MarykayOver the years there have been many questions, a few bizarre, but all respectful. The most frequently asked questions are:

#1 Don't they (alpaca) spit? 

Answer: Yes, they do, but there’s always a reason when this happens. It's not a random occurrence. Usually, there's competition involved. It's usually to do with food, breeding, or space, or neglect. I've only been spit on once, on purpose, and I totally deserved it. I was being somewhat clumsy with one of the monthly injections the herd gets and Loverboy (one of our alpacas) let me have it. Rest assured that spitting on people is the exception, not the rule. If you hear a warning gurgle, they might be getting ready to spit, but it's probably at each other.

#2 What's the difference between an alpaca and llama?

Answer: They're cousins and they get along well. There is a pecking order in a herd, always an Alpha of the herd. Both are Camelids, the same family as camels. Llamas tend to be more independent and have longer banana-shaped ears, and alpaca have short ears. All need to be in a herd of at least 3 and preferably 5 alpacas/llamas to be healthy and safe. No matter how cute it is, solo alpacas living with a family are not healthy and are apt to have behavior issues down the road. I’m a big advocate of responsible alpaca/llama ownership and pretty cut and dry about this aspect of alpacas, particularly as alpacas and llamas have become more popular.

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

wanderlust ATLANTA: This is how sweet Marykay is...she added my new book, "111 Places in Atlanta That You Must Not Miss" — some of the places are in Decatur and DeKalb County — to the small collection of books in the cottage for guests to enjoy and the response has been excellent! Thank you, Marykay!

wanderlust ATLANTA: What can guests expect upon arrival at Decatur Alpaca Cottage?

Marykay: I host from a place of generosity. I truly enjoy going the extra mile and our guest reviews reflect this. Upon arrival guests are treated to a bottle of wine and special, custom cookies from a local bakery (Cookies by Kacie). One of my favorite special touches is a piece of art that I commissioned with Tiny Doors ATL. It is a copy of the cottage door in miniature and is absolutely adorable. It’s a wonderful feature next to the front door of the cottage.

The cottage is just a few steps away from the field gate. I'm meticulous about keeping the field clean to ensure the health of the animals and manage any odor. That said, alpacas are incredibly clean so it is very manageable. Many guest have commented that there's no odor and it’s important to me that they notice that! Guests can interact with herd from outside the field gate any time during their visit. I also give guests a bag of carrots with an instructional note of how to feed them. Our guests LOVE treating the herd with carrots and the herd loves it as well (of course!). After the pandemic, we hope to start up a "Meet & Greet" with the alpacas again, but won’t be able to offer those for the foreseeable future.

We are an ideal option for a staycation. We're near downtown Decatur and we're close to Atlanta, but far enough away to enjoy a respite from the hustle and bustle of city life.

# # #

Decatur Alpaca Cottage
Decatur Alpaca Cottage

Doesn't Decatur Alpaca Cottage sounds like a marvelous getaway? Be sure to follow Decatur Alpaca Cottage on their social media channels: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. And Marykay has a newsletter, too!

A big "Thank you!" to Marykay for the interview and for giving Metro Atlanta a delightfully unique experience!

(NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, all photos are courtesy of Decatur Alpaca Cottage.)

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Daffodil Days at Oakland

Happening now at Historic Oakland Cemetery, Daffodil Days is absolutely beautiful and it's a vibrant signal that spring is well on its way to Atlanta!

Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

This year's Daffodil Days runs from February 20 to March 15, but don't worry if you don't make it by the 15th. There are still a number of daffodils in bloom and yet-to-bloom, so you have a little extra time, but not much. Don't wait too long and totally miss this celebration of the daffodil.

When you enter the main gate, look for a sign that has a QR Code to a map that shows the largest concentrations of daffodils. Some smartphone cameras are automatically QR Code readers, but if you have to download one you can do so for free. The map is also available on Oakland's website.

Oakland is 48-acres, but a map isn't absolutely necessary, unless you're here to see the daffodils and only the daffodils. My visits to Oakland are never for just one thing. Personally, I love exploring for fascinating architecture, interesting grave-marker designs, and read the epitaphs which are sometimes humorous...on purpose. I love reading the names, too. And let's certainly not forget the gorgeous stained-glass windows in some of the mausoleums.  

Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

If you can, and you're wanting make photographs, come by during the Golden Hour, which is about an hour before sunset (or an hour before sunrise). I find this time and date website an accurate resource. If you're seeking out that fabulous Golden Hour light, you might want to plan multiple trips...this particular light, as beautiful as it is, is fleeting.

Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

There are approximately 70 varieties of daffodils planted here! Look for as many as you can possibly find. They come in a variety of whites, oranges, and yellows, not to mention the vast array of shapes they proudly show off.

Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Not only is Oakland historic, so are many of its daffodils. Look on the map I mentioned earlier. Daffodil blooms mark where you'll find signage that shares the some of the history behind some of Oakland's beautiful yellow and white daffodils. You've heard of rescue dogs and rescue cats. Well, Oakland has rescue daffodils!

Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Be sure to check out the Cemetery's blog where you'll learn more about daffodils as well as an incredibly wide array of topics relative Oakland. It's truly fascinating!

Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Did you know that Historic Oakland Cemetery is one of the few historic cemeteries that has a giftshop (currently open only online). It's in the Bell Tower which also serves as the Welcome Center for cemetery visitors.

Don't let that weird you out. In fact, cemeteries were basically the first public parks in the United States. While today we have many beautiful parks across Atlanta, Oakland has continued to be a place of gathering, many of its events being fundraisers that bring in funds to help care for and restore the cemetery grounds, and many of the events are also educational.

Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

If you'd like to do a little celebrity-spotting while you're here, check out the Famous Residents page on Oakland's website. There are dozens of former Atlanta Mayors, former governors, civic leaders, famous golfer Bobby Jones, and Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, to name a few.

Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

There's a lot more in bloom here than just daffodils, including other bulbs, other flowers, and flowering plants and trees! Of practically every color! It's truly a beautiful time to visit Oakland. I'll include more of the other flowers in bloom on the wanderlust ATLANTA Facebook Page.

Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

There are benches on some of the gravesites for families of the deceased to use when visiting, but there are additional ones on pathways and gardens for general public use, including this one gifted to Oakland by the Piedmont Garden Club, which was founded in 1931...90 years ago!

You'll see a lot of rosemary throughout the garden, also in bloom right now. While many of us use rosemary in our cooking, it's also a symbol of remembrance, thus the reason you'll see it in so many cemeteries.

Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Daffodil Days at Oakland Cemetery | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

If you'd like to learn more about the harbingers of spring, the beautiful daffodil, please visit the Georgia Daffodil Society's website. Founded in 1954, this is an excellent daffodil resource for our growing region.

Make your way to Historic Oakland Cemetery soon so you don't miss this year's Daffodil Days. As always, this event is self-guided and free, as is (limited) nearby parking. See you there!


Sunday, March 7, 2021

Hero Doughnuts & Buns

Yes, yes, I ate all the individual doughnuts in this post. No, no, it was not in a single sitting, but it easily could have been … they're delicious! #Yum #Yum #Yum #Nom #Nom #Nom You can tell I don't do selfies all that often … you can't even see my eye through the doughnut hole! But that's alright because this post is about deliciousness, a huge patio, and excellent service

The new Hero Doughnuts & Buns on Georgia Avenue in Summerhill is outstanding! And it's a lot more than just a doughnut shop.

Travis at Hero Doughnuts & Buns | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Travis at Hero Doughnuts & Buns | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Pictured above is their Cereal Milk doughnut—absolutely delicious! It's reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons and lifting your cereal bowl to drink in the cereal flavored milk, not wanting to miss out on every sweet drop. I think on my next visit I'll try the Strawberry doughnut and the Pistachio doughnut. Their mouthwatering selections are quite varied.

Hero Doughnuts & Buns is located at 33 Georgia Avenue SE, in the Summerhill neighborhood where the 1996 Olympic Games were hosted, and it's serving doughnuts, sandwiches, burgers, custard, and more in their 1,872-square-foot space with an awesome 1,664-square-foot patio.

Nick Pihakis, co-founder of Jim N’ Nick’s Bar-B-Q, Wil Drake, and Jeremy and Tammy Chambers, the Atlanta operators of the Alabama-based Hero chain, are the business partners behind bringing Hot Dog Pete’s and Hero Doughnuts to Atlanta.

Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Spring is upon us and we Atlantans love a great patio, and I think you're going to love this one. It's shared with neighbor and sister restaurant Hot Dog Pete's, which I visited for the first time in January. The restaurant group that owns these two knows what it's doing!

The two-tier all-weather patio has an open area with umbrellas and a covered area, both of which offer some views of Atlanta's downtown skyline, including the sparkling gold dome of the Georgia Capitol Building and the 1996 Olympic Cauldron. Georgia Avenue has become quite the bustling place with more and more businesses opening all the time. In fact, renderings of some of the plans for Summerhill depict exactly what you'd expect in a futuristic, international metropolis.

Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Fresh is the order of the day here … every day! Hero's doughnuts are made in-house, including the creamy filling in their Boston Cream doughnut, pictured above just before it met my belly. Both of my visits were later in the day, but the doughnuts were still fresh. 

I'm generally a giving person, but I'm not going to share my doughnuts with just anyone. Doughnuts are the treat of all treats! If it has chocolate on or in it, all the better. Just kidding, sort of. I'd share of course, especially when they're this good … it'd just be wrong to keep this kind of taste sensation to ones self.

Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Okay, it's not brand new, but this was my first (and second) time there. After reading about its imminent opening for months, it lives up to every expectation I had and then some!

The menu, as the shop's name suggests, includes buns, aka burgers! And a lot more...part of their mission is to bring joy. It's "a restaurant that continues to evolve with fun, satisfying sandwiches, salads and treats."

Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I was a doughnut fan long before Homer Simpson came onto the scene, but after the iconic Randy's Donuts became internationally famous. I should say inter-planetarily famous. Remember the extra-terrestrial visitor making "the international sign of the doughnut" in Mars Attacks!? So, am I a doughnut connoisseur? No, but I've probably had as many as have many doughnut connoisseurs. I wonder if one can actually become a certified doughnut connoisseur? I'll have to conduct more research, just in case.

These doughnuts are totally a treat, so when I find one that's this good, it becomes my go-to. I still have a few more varieties to get through before I've sampled Hero's entire doughnut menu, but I'm totally excited about doing just that!  

Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

On this visit I enjoyed a fresh, hot cup of coffee. On my first visit I had a beer. Their beverage menu has something for everyone, from the soda fan to the libation lover.

Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I've seen some people call Summerhill a "new" neighborhood, while in fact it's one of Atlanta's oldest neighborhoods. “Before World War II, Georgia Avenue was lined with grocery markets and restaurants, shoe repair shops and convenience stores, butchers and bakers and ice cream makers, even a movie theater,” reported Marni Davis in Curbed.

Hero Doughnuts & Buns is part of a resurgence of Summerhill, making it not only a strong community, but a destination, one that will be fun and delicious for all Atlantans and those who visit her.

Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Merch! 

Hero Doughnuts' merchandise game is a fun one. From Hero t-shirts to Hero beanies, Hero stickers to Hero coffee mugs, their merch game is strong.

Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hero Doughnuts & Buns, Summerhill | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The next time you're craving a sweet treat, head to Hero Doughnuts & Buns and enjoy one, or a few, of their delicious doughnuts, and try it for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, too!

Monday, January 25, 2021

INTERVIEW: Janet Montgomery - From My Big Eyes

When you meet an Atlanta blogger, you can pretty much bet that you will hear some interesting stories. Keep in mind that not all bloggers are reporters, but all bloggers are indeed storytellers. And each blogger is passionate about their chosen niche. It's made for some fascinating reading since the cultural phenomenon of blogging first came about in the late 1990s.

Especially in the last 10 years, since I launched wanderlust ATLANTA in August 2010, I've had the great honor of meeting quite a few Atlanta bloggers, one of those being Janet L. Montgomery, author of From My Big Eyes.

From My Big Eyes | Janet's ensemble inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama
From My Big Eyes | Janet's ensemble inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama

I first met Janet when I worked for a company that was promoting private events at the Fox Theatre. I hosted a group of bloggers for a behind-the-scenes tour and Janet was one of the guests, and a highly enthusiastic and engaging guest at that! We've followed each other on social media over the years and I'm happy to now share an interview that she so graciously granted me recently.

wanderlust ATLANTA: Please tell us a little about you. Where are you from? What bought you to Atlanta? What’s your profession? 

Janet: I am from the small country town known as Newville, Alabama, which has a population of only about 500. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science I left historic Tuskegee University and moved to Los Angeles for job opportunities. The Aerospace industry was booming in California and I wanted to experience and gain exposure to the big city life. I earned a Master of Management Info Systems (MMIS) from West Coast University while there. 

My parents weren’t big fans of flying to California to visit me. After 10 years, I decided I wanted to be closer to my family, so I headed back South, to Atlanta, Georgia. Professionally, I'm an IT certified Project Manager with more than 30 years of IT experience.

I'm also a freelance writer. My first nationally distributed published article was in Upscale Magazine. “The Godfather Quincy Jones: The Life and Legacy of a Music Giant". I'm also a content creator, working with campaign managers to promote various Georgia brands and businesses. 

Janet attending an Atlanta Tuskegee University Alumni scholarship event
Janet attending an Atlanta Tuskegee University Alumni scholarship event

wanderlust ATLANTAWhy did you start blogging?

JanetI needed a platform to share information and things that I wanted others to know about — to inspire, inform, and influence. Blogging is a passion. It started out as a hobby, but now, it’s turned into a small business used to help fund my son’s college educational needs. I am a single mother and he’s my WHY! 

Janet on the red carpet
Janet on the red carpet

wanderlust ATLANTATell us about “From My Big Eyes”, please.

Janet: I launched the blog on May 15, 2016. It was my birthday, so it's a date I can easily remember. It's a lifestyle blog with the tagline "Sightings of People, Places, & Things". You'll find posts about celebrities, places, products, home, money, fashion, beauty, travel, and entertainment! And even more! My website just underwent a redesign to include additional topics. Please let me know what you think!

Janet meets actor Tony Cox
Janet meets actor Tony Cox

wanderlust ATLANTAYour logo is fabulous! Tell us about that? 

JanetMy logo was created from my own eyes — they're "my" eyes! I wanted something unique, different, and original. I wanted something that could help people easily remember me and my brand. I worked with a graphic designer and that's where the blog gets its name, From My Big Eyes. I write from my perspective and about my life experiences. 

From My Big Eyes | Logo

wanderlust ATLANTAWhat have been some of your favorite blogger experiences?

JanetShortly after I started blogging, in 2016 I went to New York City and was in the audience of Good Morning America (GMA). Meeting Robin Roberts, Michael Strahan, and the GMA team was absolutely incredible. Experiencing all the behind the scenes was unforgettable. 

Janet on the set of Good Morning America
Janet on the set of Good Morning America

Janet: Also, opportunities to attend amazing red carpet events in Atlanta and opportunities to meet and interview A-List celebrities, movie writers, producers from Tyler Perry, to iconic and legendary Civil Rights leader John Lewis, Hollywood actor Mark Wahlberg, sports figures like Shaquille O’Neal and Michael Strahan, and R&B singer Kelly Price, and so many more.

Janet with Congressman John Lewis
Janet with Congressman John Lewis

wanderlust ATLANTAYou shared with me one of your bucket list items – to be an actress! Tell us about that experience.

JanetI decided I wanted to work on the set of a television production here in Atlanta. It happened! I was an extra for two episodes of Saints & Sinners on Bounce TV and I also worked as an extra (clip) on the tv show American Soul.

Janet meets actor Mark Wahlberg
Janet meets actor Mark Wahlberg

wanderlust ATLANTAWhat’s one person, place, or thing that Atlantans must not miss? 

Janet: The Sun Dial Restaurant, Bar & View! The view is the perfect place to really capture 360° of Atlanta, and also the Jackson Street Bridge for Atlanta’s picturesque Skyline.

wanderlust ATLANTA: Immediately after my book was published, "111 Places in Atlanta That You Must Not Miss", Janet and I partnered on a giveaway of a copy of my book and one of her "From My Big Eyes" t-shirts, which come in at least 26 colors!

Janet on Jackson Street Bridge | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Janet on Jackson Street Bridge | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

wanderlust ATLANTAWhat pearl of wisdom would you share with someone considering starting a blog? 

JanetConsistency is key, so show up everyday. Brand yourself.

Janet on the red carpet
Janet on the red carpet

wanderlust ATLANTAWhen you have spare time, what’s your favorite Atlanta tourist destination and why? 

JanetThe National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Such a great place filled with history that every American needs to visit just to see how far we have progressed and also to help understand how much work there is still to be done in terms of Civil Rights in America. 

Janet on the red carpet
Janet on the red carpet

wanderlust ATLANTAWhat’s something I’ve not asked that you would like to share? Something Atlantans don’t know about you.

JanetIn my early twenties, I attended the John Robert Powers Acting and Modeling School in Pasadena, California. My dream was to become a fashion model one day. Now, I model outfits at home using my driveway as the runway for fun and to showcase fashionable styles.

Janet Montgomery - From My Big Eyes
Janet Montgomery - From My Big Eyes

Janet Montgomery has big eyes and big dreams. She treats life as an adventure, enjoying so much of what life has to offer, and then shares her experiences with us! Check out her blog, From My Big Eyes, and like and follow her social channels as her adventures continue...


Monday, January 18, 2021

Hot Dog Pete's

The BEST hot dog in Atlanta is at Hot Dog Pete's in the increasingly bustling Summerhill neighborhood. This is not your childhood hot dog experience! Actually, I can't tell you the last time I had a hot dog that wasn't at a cookout or a baseball game, but that has officially changed for me. I'm now on a mission to make my way through Hot Dog Pete's menu, which means numerous returns to this awesome spot on Georgia Avenue, which boasts not only delicious dogs, it also offers beautiful views of Atlanta's downtown skyline.

Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Hot Dog Pete's is owned by Nick Pihakis, of Jim N’ Nick’s Bar-B-Q (also amazing!). Nick named Hot Dog Pete’s for his business partner, and co-owner, Pete Graphos. Pete is the mastermind behind the Alabama-based chain Sneaky Pete’s Hotdogs, founded in 1966, and sold by Pete in 1986. The Atlanta shop pays homage to Sneaky Pete’s 50-year hot dog legacy in Alabama.

If you can't tell by the last names, Hot Dog Pete's has decades of Greek-American food culture behind it. If you know me, you know that I lived in Greece for more than two years and absolutely loved (and still love) the food and the people. Of course I had to dine here!

Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I'm thrilled to see Summerhill coming to life again. It's one of the oldest neighborhoods in Atlanta, formed in 1865. It gained lots of attention as home base of the 1996 Centennial Olympics and the Olympic Stadium, which was immediately reconfigured as a baseball stadium for the Atlanta Braves. Unfortunately, the expected development in the neighborhood did not happen after the Olympics. It wasn't until the Braves left for Cobb County that Summerhill began experiencing a resurgence. 

I was upset when the Braves left downtown, but now that I see Summerhill growing into a popular destination, with numerous restaurants, shops, and a brewery, it's become obvious that the Braves' departure was a good thing for the neighborhood. Win-win!

Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

On this particular visit, my first time here, I enjoyed Pete's Special Dog. This one has Pete's original meat sauce, diced onions, and mustard. Sounds pretty basic, but it takes hot dogs not only to the next level, but a few levels beyond that. 

The wieners are custom blended by Fritz’s Smoked Meats and Superior Sausage–Kansas City’s oldest smokehouse, founded in 1927. Those wieners (and sausages) are cooked over charcoal, totally creating a sense of hot dog nostalgia. Also in the present, there's a vegan dog offering, too. 

The buns are brioche buns that are are baked fresh at Atlanta's own Alon’s Bakery and Market, founded in 1992. Alon's is also where I get my birthday cake and cakes for other special occasions when celebrating at home. The best! 

Check out the menu and I think you'll find Hot Dog Pete's on your must-visit list.

Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

You can get fresh Waffle Fries, but why do that when you can get Loaded Fries! We're talking waffle fries, Pete's famous meat sauce, cheddar, pico, and mustard! Yes, I had the Loaded Fries on my first visit and I'm not sure I can go back to regular. 

I've had loaded fries before, but nothing quite like Hot Dog Pete's Loaded Fries. I'm one of those people who usually drown my fries in ketchup, but Hot Dog Pete's drowns theirs in hot dog toppings! Seriously...look at those! There are waffle fries under that glorious mound of hot dog toppings. And they're not just topped with toppings, there are toppings mixed throughout the fries, so you get toppings with every single bite. I even had some left to scoop up after the fries were gone.

Some of the other sides are chili, onion straws, collard green slaw, cucumber and feta salad, and more. Portions are generous, so if you leave here hungry, it's your own fault.

Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The patios — one covered and one with umbrellas and bistro lights — are spacious and nicely appointed with comfortable seating.

Beverage-wise, they have soft drinks and iced tea AND milkshakes and ice cream floats! Next time I'll have a strawberry milkshake, but this time I opted for a beer. They have several local beers — Yay! — and some domestic selections, too.

Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

If you enjoyed your Hot Dog Pete's experience and want to tell you friends, why not tell everyone by sporting a hat or t-shirt

In case you didn't know, that's a Georgia State University Panthers helmet on top of the merch shelf. Hot Dog Pete's is supporting their local team — Center Parc Stadium next-door (the former Olympic Stadium turned Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves before they moved to Cobb County) is home of the GSU Panthers football team.

Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Hot Dog Pete's has its own free parking lot behind the restaurant, accessible from the front, and there's additional free parking nearby. This is the awesome view from the parking lot (Olympic Cauldron, Georgia State Capitol Building, Westin Peachtree Plaza, Georgia-Pacific Center, and 191 Peachtree Tower) and you also see the skyline from the street level patio seating. Quite the view, right?

If you have room for dessert when you're done here, pop in next door to Hero Doughnuts and Buns. I'm hoping to blog about Hero soon! Hero and Pete's are both part of Pihakis Restaurant Gruop.

Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Hot Dog Pete's | Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Did you notice that "Pete's" is spelled with hot dogs? Clever, right? You'll notice that everything here, every detail is done with thoughtfulness and for the purpose of creating a unique, totally fun experience for the customer. The service is awesome, too.

I can think of 100 reasons to go to Hot Dog Pete's just off the top of my head. In their own words, this is the perfect reason to visit: "Hot Dog Pete’s is a celebration of flavor, history and people—a delicious story told through an iconic food." Hope to see you there soon!

(This post is NOT sponsored. The opinions expressed here are my own and not influenced by anyone else.)


Thursday, December 31, 2020

wanderlust ATLANTA's 2020 Photo Review

This is my favorite annual blog post because I'm reminded of all the wonderful things that happened over the last year and yes, even as horrible as 2020 was there were a number of happy happenings, which is what I'll focus on. This is a photographic look back at wanderlust ATLANTA throughout 2020.

Travis Swann Taylor during an Instagram Takeover of @111Places
Travis Swann Taylor during an Instagram Takeover of @111Places

Have I ever told you that I'm allergic to the cold? It's not really an allergy, but I'm not a fan of cold weather, however I'm gregarious and extroverted enough that I don't let weather, of any kind, slow me down. The photo above was such a fun day but quite chilly! My book editor, Karen Seiger, gifted me the opportunity of hosting an Instagram Takeover of the @111Places channel to help promote my book.

For more than 10 hours on November 17, I was out and about in Atlanta — on a sunny but face-contorting cold day — visiting 10 places in my book posting videos and photos of those places. There's a special guest appearance by Lawson Wright of My Parents' Basement Comic Book Bar! Not intentional, but totally fun, there were a couple of bloopers during the day. Enjoy!

Here's a quick summary of some of the awesome things that happened in 2020 and then I'll get on with the photo review...

  • Officially became an author when my first book, 111 Places in Atlanta That You Must Not Miss hit shelves on August 10, 2020! 
  • Did a number of book interviews, all of them fun! Some of them are linked below (look for my book cover image).
  • Completed my first hardcover wedding book! One of my best friend's sister was married in Jekyll Island, Georgia, and I got to be their photographer and make the 200-plus pages keepsake book.
  • Created a photo website for a friend in Mississippi who lives on a huge rural estate, using photography that I'd made over two visits. The second visit was my only travel this year, and included a day in New Orleans!

Now, let's have a look back. These are in chronological order and this year, in addition to blog photographs, I'm including some photos from wanderlust ATLANTA's and 111 Places Atlanta's social media channels.

Fashioning Art from Paper - SCAD FASH - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Fashioning Art from Paper - SCAD FASH - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Fashioning Art from Paper was my first SCAD FASH exhibition. The museum had been on my list for some time — and I'd been to art exhibits at SCAD prior to the museum opening...I should have been going from the beginning. This museum is a must-visit! 

Liberty Plaza at the Georgia Capitol - Photo by Travis Swann Taylor
Liberty Plaza at the Georgia Capitol - Photo by Travis Swann Taylor

All the years I've lived here and I never knew we had a replica of the Liberty Bell. It's in Liberty Plaza directly behind the Georgia Capitol Building, definitely worth seeing.

#DidYouKnow The real Liberty Bell traveled to Atlanta and was on display during the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition. On "Liberty Bell Day", which was October 9, the Bell drew 30,000 visitors to the Expo!

Red Phone Booth - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Red Phone Booth - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

For my birthday this year I went out on the town for a whirlwind dining and libations experience! My friend Barry and I started at Lumen Bar inside the Ritz-Carlton in downtown. I stop in here from time to time for a diversion and martini. We got downtown a little early so it was the perfect spot to start an evening-long blowout birthday celebration.

From there, we headed to Red Phone Booth, a wholly unique speakeasy experience in downtown Atlanta. This place is magnificent and you actually enter through a red phone booth, the kind that you've seen in London. We had the BEST bartender ever! The cocktail program and experience here is phenomenal. A must-do! Then...

Amalfi Pizza - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Amalfi Pizza - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

...we went upstairs to Almafi Pizza for dinner. With the same owners as Red Phone Booth, this dining experience did not disappoint! We had wine, calamari, pizza, meatballs, and dessert was the creamiest tiramisu and perfect cannoli...and champagne! 

To cap the night off we went to one of my favorites, 5Church Atlanta! The owner, Ayman, with his wife Valerie (both are dear friends), treated us to a birthday champagne toast with Roman candle-sized sparklers! It was the perfect way to finish a birthday and a great start to 2020.

Orchid Daze - Atlanta Botanical Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Orchid Daze - Atlanta Botanical Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Orchid Daze is one of my favorite wintertime excursions! The Atlanta Botanical Garden is beautiful year-round and their Orchid Daze exhibition is one of their most spectacular annual exhibits! In addition to the largest orchid collection in the Southeast they bring in thousands more orchid blossoms for a magnificent display.

Orchid Daze 2020 - Atlanta Botanical Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Orchid Daze 2020 - Atlanta Botanical Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Another absolutely spectacular annual exhibition at the Atlanta Botanical Garden is Atlanta Blooms! which is a grand welcoming of spring in Atlanta. This year was a little different. I'd visited and made photos just before the COVID-19 lockdown in mid-March. I did the post a couple of days later and then went into isolation. I didn't blog again until May.

Providence Canyon - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Providence Canyon - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

When I started blogging again, I was still isolating so I pulled from a visit to Providence Canyon State Park — to see Georgia's Little Grand Canyon — which I'd visited the year before, but had not yet blogged about. This post is the one that got me outside again. It started fostering a strong desire to be outdoors again and it worked!

Alice's Wonderland Reimagined - Atlanta Botanical Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Alice's Wonderland Reimagined - Atlanta Botanical Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The Atlanta Botanical Garden continued its summer exhibition for a third year, but this year it was updated as Alice's Wonderland Reimagined...so much fun! These larger-than-life living sculptures are by a Canadian company in Montreal, Mosaiculture.

Atlanta Botanical Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Atlanta Botanical Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

With extended hours and limited visitor numbers the Atlanta Botanical Garden had re-opened in late spring. It was fantastic to see the beauty of this place once again, having practically been a recluse for so many months. Most visitors were great about masking up and observing social distancing and as the months wore on they got even better. We were/are living in history and a strange time it has been. Grateful for respites of beauty like the Atlanta Botanical Garden.

Silk & Stitch - DeKalb History Center - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Silk & Stitch - DeKalb History Center - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I'd visited the DeKalb History Center's museum before the lockdown, to do some photographs for my book, and got to see this magnificent exhibition. Silk & Stitch celebrated fashion from the 1860s to 1960s through the lens of fashion embellishments

The exhibition was up for much of 2020, but eventually had to make room for the next exhibition. Hopefully it may return one day so that more can see what an excellent exhibition it was. The DeKalb History Center is currently open by appointment only.

New Echota - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
New Echota - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Still hesitant to go out and about very much, especially anywhere indoors, I again reached into my  collection of photos of places visited but not yet blogged about. This post was about my visit to New Echota State Historic Site, former home of the Cherokee Nation capital, where the Cherokee written language was created, and where the Trail of Tears began.

Frank Smith Rhododendron Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Frank Smith Rhododendron Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor 

One of the summer's projects that really got me out of the house and some much needed exercise was a series of blog posts covering each of the nine individual gardens within the Atlanta History Center's Goizueta Gardens. I learned a LOT of fascinating history in the process. This post was about the Frank A. Smith Memorial Rhododendron Garden.

Arabia Mountain - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Arabia Mountain - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

July was my busiest blogging month and the most exercise I've had in years...it felt great to be outside again! 

I started seeking out parks, state parks, and other hiking trails, and I found a lot! Some of them had been on my list for some time (I always have a list!) and others I found in Hiking Atlanta's Hidden Forests by Jonah McDonald.

This particular post was about Arabia Mountain! I climbed to the top and explored the base...for hours. Could have walked/hiked all day!

Swan Woods - Atlanta History Center - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Swan Woods - Atlanta History Center - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Continuing my coverage of the gardens at the Atlanta History Center, I trekked Swan Woods, adjacent to Swan House. My Goizueta Gardens series afforded me a wonderful research opportunity. I did a deep dive and learned more than I expected. For example, I knew that the elephant in this garden was named Ambrose, but wow, what a story behind it! 

A Bamboo Forest on the Chattahoochee - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
A Bamboo Forest on the Chattahoochee - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I'd been on the West Palisade Trail the year before and finally made it to the East Palisades Trail. This was a 4-plus mile round trip, but worth every single step! 

The sizable grove of bamboo on this trail, along the Chattahoochee River, is magical! The fallen bamboo leaves are so thick it feels like you're walking on pillows. At the far end of the loop is a highly-perched river overlook. It seems a lot of Atlantans found this trail this summer...I saw a LOT of social media posts about it. I highly recommend this trail to any and all lovers of the outdoors.

Sims Asian Garden - Atlanta History Center - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Sims Asian Garden - Atlanta History Center - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I'd visited the Sims Asian Garden at the Atlanta History Center many, many times, but I never knew the history behind the large turtle sculpture. The "Turtle Tent" was mass produced in the 1950s and 1960s, but few have survived into the 21st century. And just wait until you learn how it's connected with Tyler Perry!

Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden at the Atlanta History Center might be one of the least visited (based on personal observation), but one that is highly deserving of experiencing, especially for all of its "hidden" treasures.

Yellow River Park - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Yellow River Park - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

By time I discovered and explored Yellow River Park, it was disheartening how COVID-19 had affected the upkeep of our parks and trails — the worst of it being litter being left behind by visitors seeking a respite from isolation. It took me back to the Crying Indian commercial by the Keep America Beautiful campaign of the 1970s. 

Our parks were having a difficult time keeping up with the exponentially increased number of visitors and the same or fewer number of staff. This park's saving grace was their lovely river vistas and friendly Park Forman, Danny. There are miles and miles of trails...exercise galore!

Smith Family Farm - Atlanta History Center - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Smith Family Farm - Atlanta History Center - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I've visited the 1840s Smith Family Farm many, many times, as a tourist and as a special event guest. There's a lot to see here and the farm animals are a special treat, especially the Angora goats!

Panola Mountain State Park - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Panola Mountain State Park - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Panola Mountain State Park, with its more than 1,600 acres, majestic trees, and vistas of Stone Mountain, is an exhilarating adventure. Unlike its neighbors, Panola Mountain has never been quarried, so its a pristine example of Georgia nature.

Dogwood Bench by Martin Dawe - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Dogwood Bench by Martin Dawe - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I've done a number of interviews over the years, but this year, with fewer places to visit in-person, gave me the opportunity to conduct more interviews than usual. 

This photo is from my interview with Martin Dawe, whose work is in my book. This one is Dogwood Bench in Piedmont Park, a gift to Atlanta on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. Here are the interviews I did this year...

I have some others lined up for early 2021, so stay tuned!

Swan House Gardens - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Swan House Gardens - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I've heard it said that the 1928 Swan House at the Atlanta History Center is the most photographed home in the city, which is easy to believe given its beauty and grandeur. If that's the case, just imagine how many photographs there are of the Swan House Gardens! They're splendid and even magical! If you saw the elaborate party scene in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, you've seen part of the Swan House Gardens.

South Peachtree Creek Trail - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
South Peachtree Creek Trail - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

In my research for hiking and walking trails, I was super excited to find South Peachtree Creek Trail...it's only minutes from my house and I never knew! It's now one of my favorite in the city, but not just because it's convenient, it's also varied and beautiful.

Three Creeks Trail - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Three Creeks Trail - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

A trail within a trail, Three Creeks Trail is an offshoot within South Peachtree Creek Trail. It's also the site of the historic Decatur Waterworks and a favorite spot for graffiti artists. Oh, and yes, there are three creeks on this modest-length trail.

Olguita's Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Olguita's Garden - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The second newest garden at the Atlanta History Center, Olguita's Garden, named for Olguita Gouizeta — the namesake for the collective nine gardens at the Center. The Gouizeta family is among Atlanta's most generous philanthropic families, through The Goizueta Foundation. Olguita's Garden is a formal yet comfortable garden, perfect for a small wedding or other intimate special event.

Thomas Wilson Talbot - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Thomas Wilson Talbot - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

This is one of those hidden-in-plain-sight treasures that you've seen a bazillion times, but never knew what it was. This bronze bust of Thomas Wilson Talbot has been in Grant Park since 1948! Talbot was the founder of what is today the International Association of Machinists (AIM). The bust was placed on the 60th anniversary of AIM, one of the first union organizations formed in the United States and one of the few formed in the South.

111 Places in Atlanta That You Must Not Miss, by Travis Swann Taylor
111 Places in Atlanta That You Must Not Miss, by Travis Swann Taylor

On Monday, August 10, 2020, my first book — as author and photographer — was officially published. I'm the author of 111 Places in Atlanta That You Must Not Miss! Part of a global series, 111 Places Atlanta is written first for locals — so it's places that even locals might not know about — and then for seasoned tourists. It was a lot of work, but oh so much fun! And I'll always treasure the new friendships gained while working on the book.

Here are some of the interviews and articles I'd had the pleasure of being a part of since my book was published...

Veterans Park - Atlanta History Center - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Veterans Park - Atlanta History Center - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The cast eagle in Veterans Park is a gift from Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker, who were also instrumental in supporting the move of the Battle of Atlanta cyclorama painting from Grant Park to the Atlanta History Center. The round structure behind the eagle bears their names.

Monastery of the Holy Spirit - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Monastery of the Holy Spirit - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Also on my list for a long time, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit is splendid! Although the Abbey Church, welcome center, gift shop, and other buildings are currently closed to the public (due to the pandemic), the expansive grounds are open and all are welcome to explore. My personal favorite spot here is the Magnolia Lane Meditative Walk.

Atlanta History Center's Entrance Gardens - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Atlanta History Center's Entrance Gardens - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I completed my 9-part series of the Atlanta History Center's Goizueta Gardens with its newest garden, their Entrance Gardens. The gem of this garden is a 60-foot-long "Tree Table". It was made from a white oak tree, which sprouted around 1880 — when Atlanta was barely more than 30 years old — but had to be taken down because of a decline in health. It's a beautiful example of thoughtful, meaningful repurposing. It's a piece of art!

East Point Historical Society Museum - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
East Point Historical Society Museum - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

One of my few indoor museum visits this year was my first time to the East Point Historical Society Museum. When I went, I was the only visitor there so certainly a safe visit. This museum is fascinating! I especially enjoyed learning about East Point because I lived there for a year in the early 1990s. There's also a locomotive on the property. Go visit!

Jimmy Carter Statue - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Jimmy Carter Statue - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

The only U.S. president from the State of Georgia, Jimmy Carter is immortalized in bronze on the grounds of the Georgia Capitol. The rendering is quite remarkable and designed with purpose. Enjoy the read about the Jimmy Carter Statue.

Neil Armstrong Spacesuit - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Neil Armstrong Spacesuit - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

I'm a total space geek and even worked in aerospace for a number of years. When I made this photo of Neil Armstrong's Spacesuit at Fernbank Science Center, I didn't realize the significance of it. Turns out, it's one of only a few in the world. It's an exact replica of the suit that Neil Armstrong was wearing when he became the first human to step onto the Moon.

Louis Armstrong - The Breman Museum - Photo: Herb Snitzer
Louis Armstrong - The Breman Museum - Photo: Herb Snitzer

Virtual programming was the order of the day in 2020 and The Breman Museum doesn't disappoint. On the contrary, their current special exhibition, "A Jazz Memoir", is one of if not the best virtual art exhibitions I've seen. Extended through Wednesday, March 31, 2021, the exhibition features Herb Snitzer’s photography documenting America’s jazz scene. I'm grateful to The Breman for allowing wanderlust ATLANTA to see this phenomenal exhibition in-person.

Miller Union Takeout - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
Miller Union Takeout - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

Takeout was also a reality in 2020, and what I've had has been delicious, especially when I and a few friends enjoyed a socially distanced, outdoor Miller Union takeout dinner! This photo isn't their typical presentation — I composed it with the ingredients they'd packed up. It was the best chocolate tart I've had in years! Can hardly wait to go to the restaurant in-person again.

The Phoenix in Woodruff Park - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor
The Phoenix in Woodruff Park - Photo: Travis Swann Taylor

2020 had us see our Olympic Cauldron lit for the first time since 1996 during the 2020 Olympic Running Trials. We saw the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds perform a flyover of Atlanta, a salute to first responders. And it showed us a way of life that we'd not seen since the 1918 pandemic, resulting in countless random acts of kindness.

I leave you with a photograph I recently made of The Phoenix in Woodruff Park. The phoenix is the unofficial symbol of Atlanta and the statue's actual name is Atlanta from the Ashes. I'm feeling hopeful, even excited that we/Atlanta will rise from the ashes of 2020 and make 2021 one of the best years ever. Happy New Year!