Saturday, December 10, 2011

Atlanta -- Day Two

I slept like a rock last night. I think the long weeks at work, the early wake up yesterday and all the activity outside yesterday ran me down. I woke at 7:45 and had my free breakfast downstairs in the hotel restaurant Sear. Let’s call it Carb-Fest 2011. It consisted of a cheese blintz, a sticky pecan roll, a buttermilk biscuit, oatmeal with maple syrup, one “high protein turkey sausage” and a bowl of strawberries and red grapefruit. I had two glasses of OJ and a cup of coffee. I didn’t think all the carbs would stick with me but I would manage to make it from 8:30 to 1:00 without feeling hungry at all!

I walked about 10 minutes from the hotel to Georgia Aquarium. I was looking forward to this but I had no idea that I would enjoy it as much as I did. The aquarium opened in 2007 (I think) and is really well laid out and executed. There are 5 areas you can visit: Ocean Explorer, River Scout, Cold Water Quest, Georgia Explorer and Tropical Diver. There is also a dolphin gallery where visitors can walk up to the side of a large tank to see a pair of dolphins swimming at eye level. This is in the same gallery as the Dolphin Tales show. Since I bought the City Pass, I got a free Quick Dip tour and access to the 4-D movie (which I skipped) and I paid extra for the Dolphin Tales show.

I started in River Scout, which was interesting with its albino alligators, piranha and otters but also because there was a running river overhead for most of the exhibit with river-dwelling fish, which was cool. I then went to the next gallery which was the Cold Water Quest and there I saw four beluga whales. I think I’d seen some at Mystic before but these were just exceptional. I love to be able to walk up to the side of the tanks and the animals are just swimming right by me. Or in this case the belugas were hanging out (literally) right in front of me. The volunteer guide there was really nice and we talked about the beluga. He said one female was pregnant for the first time, due in the spring. I found them just so zen to watch, the way they move so slowly, deliberately, like one large muscle contracting its way with the flow of the water. I came back to the beluga at least three times, I was that fascinated by them. In the same cold water exhibit were penguins and sea otters. The penguins were pretty cute, as they are.

The Quick Dip tour was worth it if only to get to the top of the Ocean Explorer tank and see how it works, how it’s filtered and how the giant whale sharks are fed. It was just fascinating. It also took us atop of River Scout, so we saw how the overhead river was designed and maintained.

Walking through the Ocean Explorer is really cool. The whale sharks are up to 24 feet long and just massive. They are so big that they cannot be taken out of the water because they rely on the buoyancy of the water to keep their body weight from crushing itself. Sort of freaky. I timed it to be there for the feeding of the whale sharks, during which the feeders get into rubber rafts with colored buckets on the end of poles. The whale sharks know “their” boat and the color of their bucket so they start flocking to them, as do hundreds of little fish. Believe it or not, an animal as big as the whale shark has a throat only the width of a quarter, so the feeders pour crill (really fine plankton, shrimp and chopped sardines) into its mouth, where the whale shark filters the water out and swallows the crill material. It is sort of a non-sequitur that an animal that big can’t eat anything bigger. I was really impressed.

The Tropical Diver exhibit had a large coral exhibit with fish, but to keep the coral alive, they had to simulate a wave crashing over it by forcing 6000 gallons of water across the reef every 2 minutes, so as to deliver much needed oxygen to the coral. It was extremely interesting to see the lengths the aquarium went to to simulate reality.

The Dolphin Tale show was really cheesy (with singing and over-acting characters) but it was neat to see what they could make the 11 dolphins do as tricks.

I finally left the aquarium at 12:30, over 3 hours after I arrived. I really had to restrain myself from a $250 “swim with belugas” experience. Being so mesmerized by then, it would have been cool, but I thought it rather impulsive. I could have probably taken another couple passes through my favorite exhibits, but I had two more stops I wanted to make today. I picked up a quick burrito at Baja Fresh and went to CNN. This was also on the City Pass. The Studio Tour was about an hour and took the group through the newsroom and showed us how some of the technical things work, like teleprompter, green screen and how the director cues up shots and segments for live tv. A lot of the CNN personalities I’m aware of don’t actually broadcast out of Atlanta, so no Anderson Cooper sightings, but Nancy Grace and Sanjay Gupta do work there, but not on Saturdays. It was pretty cool to see the studios and get behind the scenes though.

I passed through Centennial Olympic Park, which lies in the middle of all of these attractions. There are national flags of countries in the games and the Olympic fountain. As it was pretty darn cold out there today, not a lot of people were dabbling in the fountain. That was the area that had the bombing during the 1996 Olympics. Also on the way out to the zoo yesterday, the bus passed Turner Field, which was built for the games too. I think the torch for the flame is out that way as well.

My last stop of the day was World of Coca Cola. I hadn’t planned on visiting this but it was in the neighborhood and I still had time before dinner. It was hugely cheesy, as you might expect. The tour starts with an animated movie that has some sort of non-Coke related social message that already escapes me. Then visitors are let loose into the rest of the museum, which has exhibits on bottling, Coke paraphernalia (like old vending machines and merchandise from around the world), the polar bear (man in costume that was creepily realistic). Most of this was easily skippable since I am not terribly interested in Coke, but I did enjoy the theater that ran Coca Cola commercials through the years, many of which I remember, and ads from around the world. The fun part though was the tasting gallery, which had 64 Coke products from around the world to sample. They range from vile to sicky sweet to jealously delicious. I really liked the pineapple Fanta from Greece and the candy pine nut “Bibo” from South Africa. However, trying dozens of carbonated, full-sugared flavors in a relatively short period of time left me gassy and stuck in a sugar induced orbit. Yikes.

Dinner tonight was at Fandangles at the Sheraton Hotel. I will admit that the reason I chose it when researching restaurants on Open Table was for the appetizer. Frickles and Frings was a fried pickle, fried onion string, banana pepper basket that was quite simply to die for. I had a peach martini with them which was just wonderful. My main course was chicken and dumplings in a sage butter sauce. The dumplings were sweet potato gnocchi. Really very tasty. I was too full for dessert (as much as I wanted the peach cobbler) so I had a double chocolate martini (Godiva Chocolate Vodka and Godiva Chocolate Liqueur).

Overall I am enjoying Atlanta. I am finding the downtown area where I am staying to be really empty. I’m sure some of it has to do with it being the weekend and the off-season, but there are not a lot of people around here. The people I’ve talked to are very friendly and kind. The hostess and the waiter at the restaurant tonight called me Miss Amy. I think it’s funny. One thing though is that a lot of people are very slow paced and I am not. I find it hard to slow down. Surprise.

Early to bed tonight…not sure how or when to start the day tomorrow…High Museum of Art doesn’t open until noon.

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