Athens, GA Felix Wong

Athens is a youthful town of 100,000 60 miles east of Atlanta. The University of Georgia, one of the nation’s leading research institutions and one of the oldest state colleges in the nation, plays a prominent role in the economics and culture of the town as it makes up about 1/3rd of the jobs and most of the people traversing downtown are college students.

I drove over to Athens along with a gal I met in Atlanta who was both cute and friendly, and was also from the East Bay not too far from my home of Fremont. Being a photojournalism grad student at Cal, she was take photos of “life on roads named Martin Luther King Jr.” in various cities around the nation. She showed me a list of cities with roads named after the great reverend and I was quite astonished to see the number of cities easily ran into the hundreds if not thousands. Anyhow, while she was off shooting her photojournalism project I went around downtown, which I had heard so many great things about.

It did not disappoint. It, like the rest of the city, is amazingly clean with an eclectic mix of stately historical Southern buildings and modern shops. The atmosphere, much like Asheville, North Carolina, is very progressive. An occasional blue-haired young person would mix with a somewhat diverse (well, mostly white and black) populace, and signs on shop windows proudly proclaimed that liberals, gays, rednecks, democrats [etc.] were welcome. Cool.

A quick flip-through one of the free local activities guides showed that every night there was a lot going on, esp. in the realm of live music. Indeed, many famous rock groups from the late 80s originated from here, including REM, the B2s, and the Indigo Girls. Original cafes and diners were prominent downtown. I had lunch at an excellent all-vegetarian restaurant (how many of those do you see around the U.S.?), and there were plenty of cheap, but good-and-friendly burrito, giro, and pizza joints catering to college students.

The heart of the city is clearly downtown near the campus, but there are nice homes all around. The closer one gets to downtown, the more historic/traditional the homes are. Around the outskirts of the city are new homes that nevertheless seem to have more character than the cookie-cutter, garage-dominated tract homes of the west. Housing out here is really inexpensive, too. Three-bedroom homes with a two car garage seemed to go well for under $200k at the time of this writing. Mansions with lake-front were in the mid-$300s.

The area is flat/rolling, with some mountains to the far northwest. Savannah, GA—perhaps the closest city to reach the Atlantic Ocean—is 225 miles away, and big-city Atlanta is just 60. Then again, I liked Athens a lot more than Atlanta. It is one of those select smaller (population around 100,000) cities with 95% of the advantages—including culture, restaurants, and things to do—of a big city, but without the big-city problems like out-of-control crime and traffic. I felt not only welcome here, but safe and very comfortable. I could live here; I loved this town!

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There are many stately buildings in downtown Athens, Georgia.  There were also several convertibles on the roads when I was there because the weather was so nice!This storefront window welcomes "vegans, rednecks, bulldogs, freaks, etc. etc."  Another storefront windo welcomed "beer, Irish, geeks, hippies, gays, potheads, democrats".  I love this town!A view of downtown College Street.This is Broad St. downtown.  Admittedly I took this picture because of the topless Z3.Another view of downtown.  There were many great places to dine and virtually no chains (except for Starbucks, of course!)At the edge of downtown is the University of Georgia, one of the nation's top research institutions.My travel buddy to Athens was Keli of Oakland, CA, a Cal grad student whom I met at the Atlanta Hostel.  She was both smart and super cool.Oh, and cute too.  Here she is in front of Athena.  We had an amazing amount of things in common so we had plenty to talk about until she left on a bus to Savannah, Georgia to continue her photojournalism project.In front of City Hall is the world's only double-barrel cannon of this type.This is West Lake Rd. on the west side of town just a couple of miles from downtown.Homes ranged from the traditional...... to modern townhomes...... to well-kept ranch houses...... to modern Southern-styled homes...... to contemporary houses...... to large lake-front homes (this one going for $370,000).Speaking of residences, here is "the tree that owns itself" (actually, its "son") on Finley and Deery streets.  That's right, in the early 20th century someone bequeathed some land to this tree's "father" since he liked it so much!

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