Sunday, August 23, 2015

Atlanta -- Georgia Aquarium & Centennial Olympic Park


Georgia Aquarium

In our determination to find more to do in Atlanta, we decided to check out the Georgia Aquarium.  Our friends, Tim & Denise, and Denise’s Mom and Step-Dad went with us.  The Georgia Aquarium is advertised as being the largest indoor aquarium in the US, and it certainly appeared large and overwhelming as we walked through the entrance.

Overwhelming at first sight

The large central area is home to the Gift Shop (a.k.a. the Exit, in Disney-style) and the Food Court/Restaurant area, as well as several Customer Service Counters . . . where you can get a map and figure out how to tackle all of the exhibits. 

We decided to start in the Cold Water Quest, home to the Beluga Whales, Penguins and other cold water creatures.

The Beluga Whales were so cute, and probably my favorite of the day.

Beluga Whales

Beluga Whale -- posing for the crowd











This one really liked the little kids, and kept coming right up to the glass to look at them!

Belugas and Kids

We dragged ourselves away from the belugas and continued on to the penguins, who were also very cute,


and then the seahorses and giant crabs.

Giant Crab


Tom was wondering how many crabcakes he could get out of that guy!!


By the time we exited the Cold Water Quest, it was almost noon and our plan was to get our packed lunch out of the car and go over to Centennial Olympic Park to watch the Fountain of Rings Show at 12:30 and eat our lunch, and then be back in time for the Dolphin Tales Show at 1:30pm.  The others didn’t want to make the walk over to the park, so it was just the 3 of us.

Downtown Atlanta

We walked past the World of Coke, heading towards Olympic Centennial Park.

Centennial Olympic Park

It’s a beautiful park,

Centennial Olympic Park


with lawns and gardens, sculptures,


and the remnants of the 1996 Olympics at the far end.

Downtown Atlanta

Olympic Torches











Statue from the 1996 Olympics


The 5 Olympic Torches encircled the Fountain of Rings, along with the flags of all the countries that participated in the 1996 Olympics.

There are benches all around the Fountains, so we sat and ate our lunch while we waited for the 12:30 show. 

The fountains run all the time, and kids run around in the water, but several times each day, the area is closed and the fountains are choreographed to music.



Fountain Rings Music Show

Dancing Fountains











Water Squiggles

The water show was really good, and only 15 minutes long so we easily made it back to the Aquarium in time for the Dolphin Show at 1:30.


We found the others when we got back inside, and managed to get seats together in the auditorium.  We had to sit pretty high up, but we were right in the center, so the view was pretty good.


dolphin tales/tails

The “storyline” was a little hokey, but the dolphin performers were really amazing!  We weren’t allowed to use a flash, and with the low lighting and quick movements of the dolphins, it was difficult to catch many good pictures.  I got a couple marginal ones.

Dolphin Show

Dolphin Show










Watching the performance

We all really enjoyed the show, and it’s definitely not to be missed . . . and they only offer it once per day.

After the show, we walked through the other exhibits.  First was the River Exploration, with lots of colorful fresh and saltwater fish from around the world.

Colorful fish












There were also otters,


alligators (which we couldn’t see very well through the crowd, but we’ve seen enough of them in Florida!), and the ever-popular Piranha.


They really look harmless!

Next up was the Tropical Reef, where we saw more colorful fish,


and even more colorful coral.

Coral Reef

Our last stop was the Ocean Voyager Exhibit, which is the largest tank in the world.  It’s 3 football fields long, and I can’t remember how many gallons of water it holds, but it’s a LOT.

Whale Sharks and Manta Rays

They have 4 whale sharks in this tank, which are the largest fish in the ocean.  These guys are still juveniles, too – they are not anywhere near full grown yet!

There are also several giant manta rays, and they were really interesting to watch – so graceful as they just glide along in the water.

Giant Manta Ray overhead

There was one that kept doing somersaults in front of the glass – it was pretty cool!

The other fish in the tank just follow along behind the big whale sharks . . . apparently they are not threatened at all.

Whale Shark

Goliath Grouper 











I could have sat and watched these guys all afternoon. 

Manta Ray and Whale Shark


We were just in time to watch the whale sharks get fed, and if they hadn’t had somebody there talking about it, we almost wouldn’t have noticed.  There were people in rafts on the surface dropping scoops of food into the water for each of the 4 whale sharks.  They swam along behind the raft with their mouth open, sucking in the food and water.  They are called filter feeders, because the filter the food out of the water and then blow the water back out through their gills.  It was pretty cool to watch!


Whale Shark eating


Bryce was getting hungry then, too, so we decided to get an early dinner of burgers and shakes at Johnny Rockets across the street.

Johnny Rockets

Shakes and Floats










It was a pretty good day spent playing tourist in Atlanta!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield


I was having National Park withdrawals, so when I read about Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield on facebook, and realized it was just a few minutes away from us, I decided that we would go on a field trip.  Our National Park pass has expired, and we haven’t picked up a new one yet because our path (or lack of path!) hasn’t taken us around many parks.  We lucked out that this park is free.  On the weekends, they have a shuttle that takes you to the top of Kennesaw Mountain for $3 per person, but on weekdays you can drive yourself.

We packed a lunch and drove over to the park. 

Kennesaw Mountain

I looked like the park is a popular location for runners and bikers.  There were lots of people around in running clothes and the parking lot was packed . . . but the Visitor Center was almost empty.

Confederate Cannon

The movie was just getting started when we arrived, so we went right into the auditorium to watch – by ourselves.

Kennesaw Mountain was the last barrier standing in the Union Army’s path to Atlanta.  The Confederacy entrenched themselves along the ridge of Kennesaw Mountain, Little Kennesaw and Pigeon Hill, and waited for the Union Army to approach.

Confederate Cannons on Kennesaw Mountain

Sherman attempted a direct attack, and according to the movie, it was a disaster.  The Confederacy lost 800 soldiers, but the Union lost almost 3x that many. 

Union Leaders

The one thing that really struck me from the movie was that after so many were killed, the remaining Union and Confederate troops remained in a standoff for several days . . . until the smell the of the decaying bodies drove them to call a temporary truce.  The Confederacy initiated it, because the wind was blowing in their direction.

Confederate Leaders










The two sides came together to bury the dead, then they proceeded to eat a meal together, play cards, and just hang out.  When the designated time was up, they each went back behind their respective lines and started firing at each other again.

That just blew my mind!  How could they go back to killing each other?


The South eventually withdrew because some of Sherman’s troops found a way to get around the the side of the mountain . . . and the resulting fall of Atlanta was inevitable.

We enjoyed the movie and the Visitor Center, and then took a drive up the mountain.

From the top, we could barely see the high-rises of Atlanta through the haze,

Atlanta in the distance












and we found a bench at the summit where we could have our lunch.  From the overlook, we continued up a path past several old cannons.


It was a nice little park, and an interesting perspective on Civil War history.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Stone Mountain Laser Show

Skyride over the mountain

When we arrived in Atlanta, we thought we would be here a week at the most . . . but there was one complication after another, and our stay stretched out.  We kept busy at first, taking care of details like finding an english course for Bryce this year, ordering his books for the upcoming year, and completing his MSU application.

We eventually ran out of business that needed to be taken care of, though, and when I finally had to break down and cancel all of our Michigan reservations for August, I declared that we were going to find some things to do in Atlanta.

I looked up Stone Mountain, and even though most of the “touristy” stuff didn’t appeal to us, we heard that the Laser Show was pretty good.  So Saturday after dinner, we headed over there.

The Laser Show was at 9:30, and we arrived around 7:45, giving us enough time to take a drive around the perimeter of the park.

We only stopped in one spot – across a covered bridge to a little island where there were a picnic area and some hiking trails.

Another view of the bridge


The bridge crossed over a narrow section of a small lake, and it was a beautiful spot.     The covered bridge without Tom









My first attempt at taking a picture of the bridge . . .


There was an older couple sitting at the edge of the water feeding some ducks, so we stopped to talk to them for a few minutes.

Mama and babies

I took some pictures of the lake while we stood there.

Overlooking the lake

Ducks on the lake











It was a beautiful evening.

Peaceful evening

After talking for awhile, we told them that we were headed to the Laser Show, and they gave us some tips on a good spot to park, and which path to take to the lawn where everybody sits for the show.  We said good-bye and headed out.

We parked in the nearly-empty lot that they recommended, and walked down the side road to the lawn seating area.

As we walked, the Skyride passed overhead.

Stone Mountain Skyride


After a short walk, we arrived at the lawn – it was already pretty packed.

Lawn seating for the Laser Spectacular

We found a spot to spread out our blanket, and settled in to wait for the show to start.

Waiting for the laser show

The face of the mountain has a carving of the Confederate Generals on it.  Just last week, there was a protest here because some groups want the carving removed.  Crazy!  The Civil War is part of our American history, and we can’t just wipe out all reminders of it.

Under the lights, the carving really stands out.

Close-up of the carving after dark

The beginning of the laser show had quite a bit of advertising and little bit of a “tourism video” feel to it, but then it got more interesting and truly was pretty spectacular.  There were laser lights, music, fireworks, and burst of fire so hot that we could feel it way back where we were sitting!

We enjoyed it and were glad we came!