We decided to travel stateside for the holidays and split time between our two families, flying into Atlanta to spend time with my brother/sister-in-law and their kids, then travel to Birmingham to meet up with my parents, followed by trip back to Atlanta, and ultimately a flight to visit Jim’s family out in Chicago. It was really great to spend some time catching up with family (Jim hadn’t seen my family since our wedding and I hadn’t seen them since late March), speaking English, and seeing lots of movies in theaters.
Our first leg of the trip took us to Atlanta to visit Michael, Michelle, Trey, and Lana. We arrived around 7pm or so at the ATL International Terminal. We’d decided to take MARTA to the suburbs and be picked up there. Let this be a word of wisdom for anyone reading this and planning to do the same at the Atlanta airport, as we were surprised to find it is not as easy as it sounds. You see, like most airports, the International terminal in Atlanta is a separate building. Once you’ve exited customs, you’re outside, ready to be picked up. Unfortunately, the MARTA stops are only at the domestic terminal. So, you need to take a shuttle from international to domestic (unfortunately you can only take the underground train IF you have a connecting flight). This shuttle takes about 40 minutes and makes the terminals seem like they’re miles away from one another. It’s wild.
Anyway, we finally made our way to the domestic terminal and on to MARTA, ultimately arriving at our stop where Michael picked us up. Michelle and the kids greeted us at the door. Trey (he’s 4) immediately grabbed my hand and showed me his new Ghostbusters Lego set while Lana (she’s 1.5) danced around. They’re adorable. Michelle made us pho, and it was amazing and delicious and the perfect dinner after a long flight (and being awake for almost 24 hours). Soon after we had an amazing sleep.
The next morning Michelle took the kids to preschool/mother’s morning out, and we got to leisurely wake up (around 8 or 9am, which was great) and start our day. We had big plans to take Trey and Lana over to Build a Bear where each were going to pick out a bear for Christmas from us. Now, I wasn’t entirely familiar with Build a Bear, but it’s pretty cute. You pick out the “skins/pelts” in these bins and then they stuff the bears on site and you even get to add a heart for the bear. Lana most definitely looked like a kid in a candy store. I’ll bet she picked up every single bear before deciding on her Pink Princess bear. Trey, however, zeroed in on his bear: the Ghostbusters bear with the coveralls and proton pack. When it came time to do the stuffing and adding the hearts, Trey was all about it, but Lana was afraid of the machine. The woman stuffing the bears was fantastic with children and so cute with Lana. If you’ve never been to one of these and have kids, I think it’d be a worthwhile experience. There are even hearts and buttons you can add with your voice recorded.
After our Build a Bear experience, Michael and Jim drove the kids halfway to Birmingham to meet up with Michelle’s parents to “trade” the kids for Tony (Michelle’s brother) in order to allow for an adult night out. Michael suggested we all check out some places in Decatur Square. I’d never been around this area of Atlanta, and I have to say it was super cute/quaint and probably where I’d want to live if we lived in Atlanta. The area has tons of bars/restaurants as well as stores/boutiques. We got drinks at the Brick Store Pub, had dinner at the Iberian Pig, and dessert at Jeni’s Ice Cream. The Brick Store Pub has an amazing beer selection (Jim got a stout, I got a sour ale) and super tasty food (pierogis & pretzels). I 100 percent recommend checking out this spot if you’re around, I bet it’s amazing for dinner, too. The Iberian Pig was also pretty fantastic. I’ll start by saying we all ordered an old-fashioned (except for Michelle, who had wine), and it was one of the best old-fashioneds I’ve had in a LONG time. If you like them, order it there and thank me later. We chowed on a number of different tapas – all were delicious. On our way into the Iberian Pig I spied the Jeni’s Ice Cream. I had seen this place on the Food Network many moons ago, bought pints of their ice cream at Haight Street Market in San Francisco, and eaten at my first one in Chicago years before. It’s outstanding ice-cream, and it seems they’re expanding across the US. If you live near one, check it out. I had some sort of mexican chocolate (not the name) and chocolate peppermint. It made my day in deliciousness. It was like old times, and it was wonderful.
The next morning we started our drive to Birmingham to visit with my parents. I am tickled to report, when we arrived my mom was busy making her famous lasagna (aka my favorite meal of all-time) and my father was out celebrating his last day of work with some coworkers (he retired!). The next couple of days were lots of the same – eating delicious food (my dad makes the best french toast and sandwiches), drinking festive beer (hello, Cranberry-Ginger Shandy), playing with the kids, and catching up with the entire family. It was relaxation at its finest.
Christmas started as it always does, with a large, southern breakfast before opening presents. I have to say, Christmas with little kids is a lot more fun. Trey, Michael, and Jim (and Lana) all played Santa and delivered the presents to recipients. Trey was so excited whether he got a truck, socks, underwear, or an ornament. Lana, too. We got Trey a Ghostbusters Lego set, too, and Trey desperately wanted to put it together and asked Uncle Jim if he’d help to which Jim replied, “Of course. I excel at putting together legos.” So, Michael, Jim, and Trey set out with bowls and legos and after 2 or 2.5 hours they had put together the Ecto 1 car. It was very cute.
We also saw our fair share of movies while we were home. The day after Christmas we went to see the new Denzel movie, Fences. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s quite good albeit a bit heavy/intense. I didn’t realize (until after) Denzel directed it and he and Viola Davis also played their characters on Broadway. A few days later Jim and Michael went to see Rogue One (Jim’s second viewing) while Michelle and I opted for Manchester by the Sea. I very much enjoyed Manchester, and I’m not surprised Casey Affleck won a gold globe for his acting. It’s a wonderfully sad flick. I’d say if you go see it, maybe take a box of tissues, you’re going to need them. I almost lost it during Casey and Michelle’s last conversation in the film.
Then we drove back to Atlanta to make it easier to catch our flight to Chicago. My father was a ramblin’ wreck from GA Tech and my parents lived in Atlanta the first year or so they were married. As such, my Dad was happy to supply Jim with a tour of the campus and dinner at the famed The Varsity restaurant. If you’ve never been to The Varsity, I recommend a visit. It is classic hotdogs, hamburgers, fries, and shakes/freezes. It’s also probably the largest burger joint restaurant I’ve ever seen (I mean, they do have their own parking garage, after all).
Following our dinner, we went to the Atlanta Botanical Gardens for their Christmas lights with Michael, Michelle, and the kids. The weather was pretty mild, so it was nice to go for a stroll and see all the lights. A fun surprise was a fire pit where they were also selling s’mores packs. Both kids roasted their first marshmallows and indulged in their first s’mores. We were surprised to find Lana didn’t really like it (“too messy”), but Trey gave them an enthusiastic thumbs up.
The next morning, we were off to Chicago!
All in all, I’m not sure I could’ve asked for much more – this first leg of our trip ticked all the boxes.