Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Sun Dial: Dialing Up the View

Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel
Westin Peachtree Plaza
Day and night, The Sundial Restaurant, Bar & View is one of the most spectacular ways to see Atlanta...a memorable experience any way you look at it.

The capstone of the Westin Peachtree Plaza Hotel, the tallest hotel in the western hemisphere, The Sundial sits 723 feet atop of John Portman’s cylindrical mirror masterpiece…a brilliant diversion from his better-known 1970s concrete Atlanta architecture.

Following the Atlanta Tornado in 2008, the Westin underwent a significant renovation (including the replacement of all 6,350 reflective windows of the building's exterior) and today is, as it had been, one of downtown's most visited luxury hotels.

Sun Dial Restaurant
Sun Dial Restaurant
The Restaurant
A couple of months after I moved to Atlanta in 1987, I took a date to the Sun Dial Restaurant followed by a horse-drawn carriage ride through downtown Atlanta. It was a romantic, truly delightful evening for two 20-something college sweethearts.

The Sun Dial has since been one of my favorite dining destinations in the city. Yes, I have several favorite Atlanta eateries, but I've actually dined at Sun Dial more times than I can remember, so that's saying something.

Come to think of it, I've been a couple of times since returning to Atlanta a few months ago and I even dined there when I lived in Washington, DC, while on business or pleasure travel to Atlanta.

It's great for a special occasion and it's the perfect place to bring visitors, especially if time is tight to show off the city.

Aside from the incredible views, the food is excellent. Not exactly what you would expect from a popular tourist destination, right? But, the Sun Dial's Executive Chef is a true culinary master.

Georgia Aquarium, as seen from The Sun Dial
Georgia Aquarium
as seen from The Sun Dial
My most recent visit was for Thanksgiving Dinner, I didn't have to cook and my out-of-town guest was entertained the whole day. My appetizer was the most delicious, tender, savory duck confit I've ever had…I wanted more of it for my entrĂ©e and dessert!

We both had a traditional turkey dinner entree, which I would venture to say probably rivals your grandmother's home-cooked bird.

Dessert was a trio of saliva-inducing flavors, the obligatory chocolate offering being one of them. The portions of every course were more than generous…no one left the table hungry.

The service, matching my memories, was superb. Minus the misplacement of a garnish on one of our pre-dinner cocktails, our server was attentive throughout the meal…we were not rushed, we were not annoyed, we were encouraged to relax and enjoy ourselves…it was the perfect holiday meal.

The restaurant seating areas, an outer and inner ring, revolve 360 degrees every hour. Given the fine dining nature of the restaurant, you'll definitely have time for a full revolution, maybe two.

View of Atlanta from The Sun Dial
View of Atlanta from
The Sun Dial
Personally, I recommend making your reservations for 45 minutes to an hour before sunset. That way you will see the city in daylight as well as its twinkling night lights all in a single visit.

The Bar

The Sun Dial Bar is the upper most level in the hotel and overlooks the observation deck and the Sun Dial Restaurant. It too revolves 360 degrees, once every 35 minutes, and has the same incredible views of Atlanta's skyline and neighboring areas.

On Wednesdays and Thursdays the Mose Davis Jazz Trio performs on the bar level, which adds to an already enjoyable experience for guests enjoying a libation in the bar, taking in the view from the observation deck, or dining below in the Sun Dial Restaurant.

The View

If you're not particularly hungry or are on a quest to find your favorite view of Atlanta's skyline, you can opt for the scenic ascent to The View, the observation deck at the top of the 73-story silver cylinder, situated just above the Sun Dial Restaurant and below the Sun Dial Bar.

To get there, take one of the two exterior elevators, illuminated with brilliant blue lights, for an 85-second, narrated trip to the top. If going for the view only, there is a nominal fee for the round-trip ride, but it's free if you're going to the bar or restaurant.

View from The Sun Dial
View from The Sun Dial
There are telescopes, free of charge, which you can use to zoom in on objects of interest. You can see the crowds in Turner Field; a sizable portion of Stone Mountain; that from above, the Georgia Aquarium looks like the Millennium Falcon; and you just might be able to see a few hotdog-eating diners at The Varsity, an Atlanta landmark that I'll blog about soon.

On a clear day, and there are a lot of those in Atlanta, you can see the homes, building, and parks where millions of Atlantans live, work and play.

Adorning the interior wall of The View is a "History Wall" with photos and displays that have lots of fun facts and tidbits of information about the city and the views from platforms on the observation deck.

If going to the Westin to go to The View, be sure to check their "upcoming events" page for a listing of early closures, which aren't frequent, to ensure you get to see it.

View from The Sun Dial
View from Sun Dial
The Return

Do I think I'll rise to the occasion of visiting The Sun Dial again? Absolutely, without a doubt, I will. It truly is a fun, relaxing, and unique way to see and show off Atlanta...and the food and service are excellent too.

I think I'll return each season throughout the coming year to see the city covered in velvety white snow, proudly showing its bright and colorful spring flowers, comforted in its lush green summer blanket of trees, and again showing off its vibrant fall foliage.

Visiting The Sun Dial Restaurant, Bar & View

Date toured: Thursday, November 25, 2010
Hours: varies by venue (different for restaurant, bar, and view)
Location: 210 Peachtree Street (directions and map)

Cost: Varies depending on meal, drinks, or view only.
Parking: Valet at the Spring Street entrance. Bring your valet ticket with you for validation in the restaurant. Self-parking is available.
Website: http://www.sundialrestaurant.com/


191 Peachtree Tower as seen from The Sun Dial
191 Peachtree Tower
as seen from The Sun Dial

Monday, November 29, 2010

Visitor Center: What to Do in Atlanta

Atlanta Visitor Center
Atlanta Visitor Center,
Mary Ann
The day I visited the Visitor Center in the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau turned out a lot better than it began.

My first-choice tour destination for this particular day, which I'd been meaning to visit for a couple of weeks, was not offering tours because they were filming. I wish I had asked what film. Actually, lots of Hollywood movies are filmed in the Atlanta area, including the Oscar-winning The Blind Side and Fried Green Tomatoes…and I'm a huge cinema enthusiast.

I tried a second destination, but it was too early to catch its lively hustle and bustle, so in fairness to that site, I decided that I'll return another time to garner the words to describe its festive nightlife.

While in the downtown area (and out of curiosity), I ventured into the Atlanta Visitor Center, part of the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau and found a treasure trove of future tour and event possibilities. I know Atlanta quite well, but this place is opening up a lot of new doors.

Serendipity at its finest, I was in the right place at the right time and received exactly what I was looking for—the best city tour I've been on in years. Fortunately for visitors, the same tour is regularly available via ATL-Cruzers.

The Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau is a mega-win for locals and tourists alike, as well as event planners, meeting planners, conventioneers…basically anyone who is looking for even a sliver of what Atlanta has to offer.

For this installment I'm going to focus on what's available for visitors, or I'll end up writing a record-length blog post…there's really that much!

The Visitor Center

Atlanta Visitor Center
Atlanta Visitor Center
I'd actually forgotten where the Visitor Center is, so when I happened upon it, I was excited to learn what it had to offer. When you're looking for it, keep an eye out for the purple awnings…when you see those, you're there.

As soon as I walked in the door, I was greeted with smile and handshake by Mary Ann. She very charmingly offered to assist me, but I returned an "I'm just looking around." After several minutes at one of the information stations and a handful of pamphlets later, I realized that there was a lot more to this place than most visitor centers.

I started talking with Mary Ann again, told her about my morning misfortune of a tour being preempted by a film crew. She very keenly picked up on the fact that I am indeed a tourism enthusiast and I also shared that I author "tourATLANTA."

Matching my excitement of the newly discovered fountain of information, Mary Ann toured me around the Visitor Center and introduced me to others who were working there, including the managers of the ATL-Cruzers (the city tour company) and AtlanTIX.

The City Tour

ATL-Cruzers, Stephen
ATL-Cruzers,
Stephen
Stephen, the manager of ATL-Cruzers, was quite pleasant upon introduction, as well as professional and enthusiastic. When he noticed that my tour with Mary Ann was near conclusion, he offered to take me on a city tour.

Anxious to explore, I graciously accepted the offer and in a matter of minutes we were off to see historic downtown and midtown Atlanta.

The tours are conducted in brand new, sleek, modern, eco-friendly electric cars that seat six people...the tour guide and five guests. They're much more intimate than the people-mover tour buses I've been on before.

The tour vehicles are quite comfortable. Although modern, they don't make you feel like George Jetson time-traveling through historic Atlanta. You actually feel like you're visiting a friend who just happens to be telling you about a magical land that rose from the ashes that has a rich history and exciting people.

My expectations were incredibly surpassed. The abbreviated version of the tour that I was treated to was super-packed with information and I learned a lot about my home town…the kind of information that I think a visitor would find quite fascinating.

The usual 10-mile, 1-hour and 15-minute tour takes visitors to sights throughout downtown and midtown, including:


  • Centennial Olympic Park
  • Georgia Aquarium
  • World of Coke
  • CNN Center
  • Piedmont Park
  • Underground Atlanta
  • Georgia Tech Football Stadium
  • Fox Theatre
  • Margaret Mitchell House
  • Woodruff Arts Center

When I have visitors in town that I can't cart around for whatever reason, I will definitely send them to ATL-Cruzers. Actually, I will likely do the same even if I do have time…the tour is that good.

The Same-day, Half-price Tickets

AtlanTIX
AtlanTIX
I've been to TKTS in Times Square in New York City and to the Ticket Place in Washington, D.C., but I had not yet discovered Atlanta's half-price ticket venue, AtlanTIX, which is part of Atlanta Performs.

I met Marc, the manager of AtlanTIX, who was very nice and explained how the same-day, half-price ticketing works and that tickets are available for a wide range of performances, attractions and events.

I actually returned the very next day to buy tickets to Synchronicity Theatre's production of "The Storytelling Ability of a Boy," which was performed at 7 Stages Theatre. The performance was heart-pounding and the venue is very much in tune with its neighborhood, Little Five Points.

The Exhibits

Delta Plane Cockpit
Delta Plane Cockpit
The Visitor Center is considerably larger than what I expected. Similar to an actual museum, the Center has an array of exhibits featuring Atlanta's most popular attractions (Stone Mountain Park, Georgia Aquarium, the Fox Theatre, and others). They even have a cockpit of a Delta airplane!

Additionally, there are photographs and artifacts that share tidbits about Atlanta's vibrant history…but not so much that it keeps you from wanting to immediately head out to explore the city—very well done, I think.

The Return

Will I return to the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau? I gave the answer away telling you about returning the next day to buy tickets to performance. This place is a cornucopia of tourist information, great ticket deals and the tours are the best! I'm looking forward to going back, with great anticipation, to see what's new.

Touring the Atlanta Visitor Center

Date toured: Thursday, November 19, 2010
Location: 65 Upper Alabama (near Underground Atlanta)
Cost: Free (see ATL-Cruzers for tour cost)
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 6 p.m.
Website: http://www.atlanta.net/


Atlanta Visitor Center, Peachtree Street Signs
Atlanta Visitor Center

Monday, November 22, 2010

Phipps Plaza: Diamonds, Champagne and a Brand New Ferrari

Phipps Plaza
Phipps Plaza
Diamonds, Champagne and a brand new Ferrari…sounds like quite the exquisite shopping list, right? Each item on this list can be found at the most posh shopping destination in Atlanta—Phipps Plaza.
This regal retail experience is, according to local lore, home of the best Santa Claus in town. But if you've not made an appointment to tell the jolly fellow what you’d like for the upcoming holiday, you'll have to wait until next year…he’s totally booked until liftoff on December 24.
You, of course, always have the option to drop a hint with that special someone in your life who also thinks you're special. Or even better, treat yourself to some of the bobbles (Tiffany), fashion (Jimmy Choo), or electronics (Bang & Olufsen) that, in Atlanta, you can only find at Phipps Plaza.
Phipps Plaza, Nordstrom
Phipps Plaza, Nordstrom
The Shopping
Phipps Plaza is home to more than 100 specialty stores anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, Belk, and Nordstrom. The anchor stores, while notorious for an exceptional shopping experience, do not outshine the other door-to-door options.
Some, such as Tiffany's, although they may offer an online shopping option, provide an in-person shopping experience that an impersonal exchange can't compete with. And participating in your own little fashion show (albeit in a personal fitting room) at Versace, Hugo Boss, or Giorgio Armani, just can’t be beat by other-mall shopping.
Shopping at the premier upscale mall in Atlanta is indeed an "experience." You will not find store attendants treating you like Julia Roberts (a Georgia native) on Rodeo Drive in Pretty Woman (at least that hasn't been my experience)…but they will absolutely ensure a positive experience, or your money back. Just kidding…I personally do not know all the stores' service policies, but I've been pleased throughout the years as a Phipps shopper.
Ferrari at Phipps
Ferrari at Phipps
The Cars
Ferrari, Maserati, Bentley, Jaguar, and Lotus are among the seemingly countless luxury cars currently on display in the mall. With the enthusiasm of a kid wanting to dive into FAO Schwartz, my face was plastered to the driver side window of the Ferrari sitting outside Saks Fifth Avenue. It was daydreaming at its finest!
Cars at Phipps are typically displayed in sitting areas, where, not surprisingly, humans of the male gender just happen to be relaxing (or waiting). The ones who were not relaxing, and were not so concerned with being obvious enthusiasts, were very much engaged, as I was, in luxury automobile worship, via not-so-obvious adoration.
Whether you arrive in your own brand new Ferrari or other horseless carriage, Phipps Plaza offers valet parking at its Peachtree Road entrance (for a nominal fee) or you can self-park in its ample free onsite parking.
The Movies
If you're looking for a not-so-retail experience, stop by the AMC Phipps Plaza 14 for tickets to an high-speed, alternate universe, or other-Century two-hour diversion.
Just in case you miss the signage, you buy tickets on the second floor and then venture to the third floor for your big screen viewing experience.
The Dining
Before or after one's cinematic or shopping adventure, or even just because, there are several dining options at Phipps in which to indulge.
For something quick, take a jaunt to the upper level food court. For a more happening scene, pop into the Peachtree Road level The Tavern at Phipps for a glass of champagne or a cocktail or dine at one of the several other table service restaurants.
Phipps Plaza
Phipps Plaza
The Santa
Phipps Plaza has long held the reputation of having the best Santa Claus in town. Based on the fact that all available reservations for photos with Santa at Phipps have been booked since October tells me that their reputation is intact.
For more than three decades Santa has helped Phipps Plaza celebrate the holiday season. The festive holiday setting, whether or not you can arrange a personal audience with Old Saint Nick, is worth a visit.
Returns or Return
One reason to frequent Phipps Plaza is its superb guest services desk, located on the second level at the Peachtree Road entrance. Anything from copies or faxes to special offerings, they can assist.
Is shopping at Phipps Plaza in my (time) budget? Whether drooling over a Ferrari, window shopping at Tiffany's, or catching the latest blockbuster at the AMC Phipps, I'll definitely be back.
Visiting Phipps Plaza
Date toured: Thursday, November 18, 2010
Location: 3500 Peachtree Road, NE (
directions and map)
Parking: Free. Valet parking available ($7) at Peachtree Street entrance.
Cost: Free to visit, but you'll have to negotiate for the Ferrari.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m. – 9 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Website:
http://www.simon.com/Mall/?id=210

Phipps Plaza
Phipps Plaza

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Georgia Capitol Building: Under the Gold Dome

Georgia Capitol Building
Georgia Capitol Building
The unmistakable gold dome of the Georgia Capitol Building shines like a beacon in the Atlanta skyline that marks the center of Georgia state government and the heart of "The New South." The Georgia Capitol's similarity to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., was intentional. It served as a message that post-Civil War Georgia government was reaffirming its ties and loyalties to the federal government.

The exterior of the dome was, however, not always gold. Sixty-nine years after it opened its doors in 1889, the people of Dahlonega, Georgia, donated 40 ounces of gold to guild the dome—a publicity move advertising that the first gold rush in the United states in fact took place in their community. The dome was immediately gilded, in 1958, and has since been re-gilded twice.
On the particular chilly morning I visited the Capitol, I had the pleasure of an individual guided tour of the Capitol Building.
Georgia Capitol Rotunda
Georgia Capitol Rotunda
The Rotunda
We started in the Rotunda where the dome's ceiling towered three stories above us; portraits and marble busts of famous Americans (some Georgians) surrounded us; and a Georgia marble and glass floor supported and illuminated us.
Standing in the center of the Rotunda, on the second floor, one can see all four sides of the building. Also on this level, in the east and west wings, are portraits of former Governors, including the only Georgian to ever be elected to the office of President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.
The one exception of the Governor-theme portrait exhibit on the second floor (portraits of other notable statesmen appear on other floors) is that of civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which was placed by then-Governor, Jimmy Carter, to symbolize the changing landscape of Georgia government.
The Legislative Chambers
The General Assembly chambers are located on the third floor of the Capitol Building. Photographs of the chambers are permitted when the General Assembly is not in session…a rare opportunity, I thought. Photography throughout the remainder of the Capitol Building is, again surprisingly, permitted.
Georgia Capitol House Chamber
Georgia Capitol House Chamber
The House of Representatives (180 members) chamber is on the west side of the building. Although the House was not in session when I visited, there were meetings taking place when we arrived. My tour guide took me inside the entryway of the chamber and pointed out that one of the two in-process meetings was likely an orientation for recently elected Representatives.
The Georgia State Senate (56 members) chamber is on the east side of the Capitol Building. An upstairs gallery, open to the public when the Senate is in session, was also a stop on my tour.
A school group was visiting the Senate chamber and their tour guide gave them the opportunity to sit in the "big chair" and make photographs—an excellent enticement to encourage youngsters to learn more about State Government, I think.
Georgia Capitol Museum
Georgia Capitol Museum, Two-headed Cow
Georgia Capitol Museum,
Two-headed Cow
Since soon after the Capitol Building opened, the position of State Geologist was created and tasked with obtaining and displaying geological specimens to promote Georgia's natural resources.
The ensuing museum, located on the Capitol's fourth floor, evolved over the years to include taxidermy, which eventually overcrowded the museum space.
Today, the Georgia Capitol Museum showcases the Capitol and Georgia government, but also contains many artifacts from the original collection, including some oddities such as a two-headed cow (popular with visitors) that was born in Georgia.
At the conclusion of the tour, an information-packed 30 minutes, my tour guide released me to explore the Capitol Building to my heart's content.
Capitol Hill
The Georgia Capitol grounds is adorned with statuary monuments, the first placed in 1907. Individuals whose likeness has been immortalized in bronze for visiting Georgians and visitors include John Brown Gordon (the first Georgia Governor to serve in Atlanta), Joseph E. Brown, Richard B. Russell, Eugene Talmadge, Herman Talmadge, Jimmy Carter, and Ellis Amall.
Towering Magnolia trees, the pinnacle botanical expression of the South, surround the Capitol on all sides.
Georgia Capitol
Other Notes
Scandalous at the time, the exterior of the Capitol Building is covered in sandstone from Indiana. Commendable, even today, the construction of the Capitol, featuring Georgia marble and other local materials, came in under budget—a remarkable feat for any government, right?
The Georgia Capitol Building was recently renovated to look as it did when its doors opened in 1889, including the wall colors and the light fixtures, which are exact replicas (other than their being electric instead of gas powered).
The Georgia Capitol Building became a National Historic Landmark in 1977. The National Park Service of the Department of the Interior recognized the Capitol Building as "an outstanding structure, both architecturally and historically."
As a veteran of the U.S. Navy, I think one very cool opportunity is the ability to acquire a commemorative flag, one that has flown over the Georgia Capitol Building, to be presented to members of the armed services or to other citizens in recognition of certain milestones. It's as easy as completing a form and contributing a nominal fee.
Surprisingly, the building is very open, in design and access, so much so that it's garnered the nickname "The People's House."
The building's north and south wings are available, free of charge (the space is free, catering and other services are available for charge) and relatively easy to reserve, for events such as a press conference, meeting, speech or ceremony.
Return or Revoke
Does my impression with the Georgia Capitol Building warrant a return visit? I will be more than happy to play tour guide for visiting friends and family (and may even soon return on my own). The Capitol is easy to get to, easy to tour, and provides an excellent opportunity to learn about Georgia and its government. Personally, I vote for a return visit.
Touring the Georgia Capitol Building
Date toured: Thursday, November 18, 2010
Location: 214 State Capitol (directions and map)
Parking: For a nominal fee - Steve Polk Plaza parking lot (next to the old World of Coca-Cola building) and the public lot at Underground Atlanta, located on Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive.
Cost: Free
Hours:
Self-guided tours Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Guided tours at 11:00 a.m. Monday through Friday
Check the website for blackout dates and times.
Closed weekends and holidays
Website: http://www.sos.ga.gov/archives/state_capitol/


Georgia Capitol
Georgia Capitol

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Herndon Home: A Beacon of Possibilities

Herndon Home
Herndon Home
Perched atop Diamond Hill near downtown Atlanta is Herndon Home, the 15-room mansion of Alonzo Franklin Herndon, Atlanta's first African-American millionaire and founder of Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Herndon Home today stands as a symbol of struggle and achievement.

Alonzo Herndon was born into slavery in 1958. He lived and labored on a plantation until he was 21 years old. He later founded a barber business that flourished. Soon thereafter, he entered the real estate business, purchasing and reselling homes and property in the Atlanta area.
His fortune of millions came when he founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, which today spans states throughout the South and Northeast.
The Home
Herndon Home
Herndon Home
The home itself was primarily designed by Herndon's first wife, Adrienne McNeil, who was a theatre performer and an elocution teacher at Atlanta University. The room design and decor varies throughout the house, ranging from renaissance revival to rococo.
Mrs. Herndon's love for the theatre prompted a flat roof on the house, which was where she would put on plays for visiting friends and family. Mrs. Herndon unfortunately passed away only three months after the completion of the home in 1910. Mr. Herndon remarried two years later. Jessie Gillespie was his wife for the remainder of his life.
Tours of Herndon Home are by appointment only, but given the Home's proximity to Georgia Dome and Georgia Aquarium, it's easy to add it to one's list of must-see destinations for a day of touring Atlanta.
The tour begins in the basement, accessible through the back door, which has been converted into exhibit rooms for displaying photographs, awards, books, articles and one of the original barber chairs from the Crystal Palace Barber Shop, founded by Mr. Herndon.
Herndon Home Portico
Herndon Home Portico
The main floor tour includes the Receiving Parlor, which is beautifully decorated and features a unique, ornately carved staircase. The Piano Room was designed to honor the life of Herndon’s mother and features rococo styling and furnishing...quite elegant.
The Living Room and Library is eloquently appointed and features an mural original to the house near the ceiling. The mural on one wall tells the story of Herndon's transition from slavery to success. The remainder of the murals feature depictions of what are presumed to be theatrical themes, denoting Adrienne's love of the stage.
The Formal Dining Room was reserved for guests and parties. Meals of a less formal nature were taken in the Breakfast Room, which is flooded with natural light and adjacent to the dining room and back porch.
The Butler's Pantry and Kitchen are also on the main floor and feature mostly original furnishings, including a state-of-the-art 1970s stove (the microwave, however, was added after the family released the home for historic preservation).
The upstairs portion of the tour takes you through the home's four bedrooms…very few for the size of the house, but it was designed for a small family (and grandeur, too).
Adrienne's bedroom, which would become Jessie's, is reminiscent of that belonging to a Hollywood legend, complete with a fireplace, hand-carved furnishings and a posh dressing room.
Mr. Herndon's bedroom is masculine, not nearly as elaborate as his wife's, but sufficiently large enough to denote wealth and comfort, without being pretentious.
Herndon Home Entry
Herndon Home Entry
Herndon's son Norris lived in the home until 1977. His room is appointed in the signature postmodernism style of the 1970s and includes the tube television and rotary dial telephone Norris used. In one corner is a rocking horse that belonged to Norris as a child, also seen in a photograph in the hallway.
Today, Herndon Home is managed by The Alonzo F. and Norris B. Herndon Foundation, part of Atlanta Life Insurance Company. Restoration efforts continue so that the Home will remain for many in the future a beacon of possibilities.
When planning your visit to Herndon Home, keep in mind that tours are by appointment only and photographs are not permitted inside the house…wonder and awe during the tour are encouraged.
Will history repeat itself with a return to Herndon Home? I'm keeping an eye out for special events at the Home. I hope the restoration efforts meet with success and if I can help by attending an event in such an elegant, beautiful home, then count me in.
Touring Herndon Home
Date toured: Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Location: 587 University Place, NW (directions)
Parking: Free, street parking:
On University Place - right side of street in designated areas
On Walnut Street - both sides of street in designated areas

Cost: $7 Adults, $5 Students
Tours: By appointment only
Website: http://www.herndonhome.org/


Herndon Home, National Historic Landmark
Herndon Home,
National Historic Landmark

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fernbank Observatory: Starstruck

Fernbank Observatory
Fernbank Observatory
The Jim Cherry Memorial Observatory, or Fernbank Observatory as called by locals, is home of the largest public telescope in the southeastern United States and one of the only instruments in the country dedicated solely to education. The telescope also is a source of starstruck excitement for all who peer through it.
The Observatory, part of the Fernbank Science Center, is open for public viewing at dark on Thursday and Friday nights when the skies are clear. Tickets are not required, reservations are not required, and the viewing is free.
When I recently went to the Observatory on a Friday evening, I had just finished a program at the Fernbank Planetarium, located in an adjacent building. The same astronomer who led the planetarium program also served as the host at the Observatory.
She had to close the planetarium projection system down before opening the Observatory so we started a few minutes after the scheduled 9:00 p.m. start time.
Most of the attendees of the planetarium program stayed for the Observatory viewing and dozens more came only for the viewing. There were at least 60 people there, including students, parents on a scientific discovery excursion with their kids, couples who were obviously on a date, and of course a few fun-seeking tourists.
As soon as the gate opened we climbed the steps of the base, built of blocks of granite from Stone Mountain, to the level upon which the 30-foot dome sits.
While we were waiting for our turn to see the stars, a tour guide pointed out constellations using the most powerful laser pointer I’ve ever seen. He later told us, at the prompting of an inquiring student visitor, that to carry that laser pointer requires a license. I believe him given its strength—enough to easily point out the stars he was discussing.
By pure chance, when the astronomer was pointing to a constellation directly overhead, those of us who were engaged in the celestial tour saw a meteor—a shooting star. I think my wish was for the line to move a little more quickly…the temperature had dropped.
Once inside the dome, the line went pretty quickly (wish granted). By then it was 9:30 but we had been so entertained by the second astronomer that we didn’t realize how much time actually had passed. I was thankful for having worn long sleeves though.
By time I got to the telescope viewing point, we’d figured out that the telescope was pointing toward Jupiter. The strength of the Cassegrain reflector telescope allowed us to see Jupiter's orange color and the familiar bands created by the planet’s swirling atmosphere. We also could see the largest four of its 60-plus moons: Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa…invisible to the naked eye, but all were shining brightly through the telescope.


(Video: courtesy ESA, depicts the orbits of Jupiter and its largest moons)

It was indeed an exciting moment…seeing so clearly our solar system’s largest planet, once a total mystery to mankind, still largely mysterious to most.
Will I return to Fernbank Observatory? I welcome any chance to gaze at the stars, and given that our planet is continually spinning on its axis, changing the night sky, there will always be something new to see.
Visiting Fernbank Observatory
Date toured: Friday, November 12, 2010
Location: 156 Heaton Park Drive (map and directions)
Parking: Free onsite parking
Cost: Free
Hours: 9:00 p.m. (or dark) – 10:30 p.m., weather permitting (hours change with the seasons)
Website: http://www.fernbank.edu/observatory.htm


Fernbank Observatory Dome
Fernbank Observatory Dome