Friday, December 9, 2011

Atlanta -- Day One

Up at 5 a.m. and at the airport by 7 a.m. Left the car at Park Shuttle & Fly again (as always) and had a Starbucks breakfast…hey it’s vacation.

Flight on Delta took off at 8:30 a.m. and we had a headwind most of the way so landed at 11:25. I killed the flight watching Real Housewives of NY on the iPod and reading magazines. The trip was completely uneventful and smooth.

I sat next to a guy who was apparently from the south and I said “huh?” or “excuse me?” when he spoke more than I ever have in any foreign country I’ve been to. What language are they speaking anyway?

It was a fairly easy but long walk to pick up luggage and then jump on the MARTA to downtown, which took about 20 minutes. I got off at Peachtree Center and it was not even a 3 minute walk to the Marriott Marquis, a massive tower in the middle of downtown. So far, so convenient. At check-in I agreed to a high floor and a $10 upgrade which will get me a city view. I ended up on the 43rd floor and am not disappointed. This is not the New York City skyline, but it’s still pretty darn nice. The room is large and the bed is huge and comfy. After a vertigo-inducing ride up in a glass elevator (yes, glass all the way up!) I find myself at the end of the hall, so this should be really quiet!

I grabbed a quick chicken salad sandwich in the deli in the lobby and ate by 1 and headed right out for Zoo Atlanta. I had to walk about 4 blocks to the Civic Center MARTA stop where I caught a bus to the zoo. For $2.50 (I bought a reloadable Breezecard for transit fares), it took about a half hour to get out to the zoo, but the bus dropped me right in front. I arrived just about 2:00 and ran to the ticket window. I bought a CityPass, which will get me into 5 sights in Atlanta for $69, but I planned to come back for most of the day Monday, so I paid to get into the zoo today too.

Of course, I ran directly to the pandas. The first enclosure had one male; it was just a matter of figuring out who it was, since I knew it was either older brother Xi Lan or dad Yang Yang. I watched him for a bit as he walked around the enclosure. The next enclosure had a sleeping panda on the play structure (who I quickly figured out was mom Lun Lun) and the 13 month old cub Po sound asleep down in the moat on the drain grate. I was so deflated. I waited so long to see him and he and his mom Lun Lun were asleep? I moved to the inside enclosure and found Yang Yang (known for the white patch on his back left paw) doing somersaults in his enclosure, which was really funny. So that meant if I was watching Yang Yang do somersaults, then the first guy I saw was Xi Lan. I went back and found him lounging against a rock like an old man in a recliner. He really responded to doting and attention. He reminded me so much of Lu Lu in China! After spending some time and taking some photos of the pandas who were awake, I went off to explore more of the zoo.

I found the tiger enclosure pretty nearby and saw the two tiger cubs born this summer. They were the size of small dogs but loaded with energy. Neither would sit still for long and they spent time chasing and pouncing on each other, climbing trees, running all around. They were just non-stop action. I also found one red panda (sleeping) and a male lion lounging on a rock. Since I plan to go back on Monday, I really focused on what was important to me now, which was the pandas and the tiger cubs.

The zoo is nice, really well landscaped and laid out. They have a nice assortment of animals and lots of snack bars and two big gift shops. But mid-day on a Friday in winter, I was nearly alone there. In fact, when I went back to the pandas, I was alone.

I finally got back to the pandas to find Po just having woken up. I couldn’t believe I was seeing my little rock star! Po and Lun were moved to their indoor enclosure, with the hammock that I see so often every day on panda cam. I sat on the floor right next to the glass and watched them both eat the bamboo and biscuits that the keepers had just left out for them. It was just amazing to be there watching them that close!

I decided to head back to downtown at 4:45. The bus came by 4:50 and I was back downtown at 5:25. I checked photos and email quickly before dinner and then headed to Sweet Georgia’s Juke Joint for dinner. At first I didn’t think I’d like the atmosphere because there was live music (Duh, it is a juke joint) but I ended up enjoying having something to watch while I ate. I had fried green tomatoes for appetizer, shrimp and grits for dinner and apple cinnamon bread pudding for dessert. I also had a Texas marga-tini for a drink. It was all really good. I could eat buttery grits all day, I think.

Exhausted, I hit bed early and dozed as I wrote this…Up early tomorrow for the aquarium.

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