Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Trip to Atlanta

Now that Anurag got his drivers license and we made the small trip a couple of weeks ago, we felt ready for a longer trip. We decided on Atlanta and quickly booked a hotel and bought the Citypass online. Citypass is a good way to get tickets to all the attractions in a city in a single booklet at an affordable price, atleast for Atlanta.
We had decided to leave by 4 in the afternoon on Friday but we were finally able to get going at nearly 6. Being, summer, the day lasts till atleast 8:30 which was good for us. As we neared Atlanta, we moved into severe weather of thunder, lightening and heavy rain. But it was the last part of the journey and we finally made it by 10:30 to the hotel. Somehow, I was not able to sleep that night. At 6 in the morning, it was a great surprise to be awake. At home, I never feel awake before 8:30.
We were out and about by 8 and headed to the georgia aquaruim. There we exchanged our Citypass e-ticket for the booklet. On summer Saturdays, the aquarium works extended hours (8 am to 8 pm) to accomodate the larger crowds. We were among the first few to reach there which is a good thing as the crowds grow larger later in the morning.
We started with the Ocean Voyager exhibit. It is a huge tank with more than 6 million gallons of salt water. It contains fascinating animals like the largest fish - whale shark and hammerhead shark, sandbar shark and many other sting rays and fish. And the beautiful and the only manta ray in US aqariums.
After that we went to the 3-D show. It was good for children and gave a message that our small actions can pollute the rivers and oceans and harm the ocean life.
After that we went to the Tropical diver exhibit. It was an amazing collection of a whole lot of colorful fish in a huge tank. It was kind of like watching a rainbow come alive! We saw some beautiful jelly fish too in there. By this time, the aquarium had gotten really crowded.
After a quick look around the River Scout exhibit, we were just in time for the Quick dip tour. The quick dip tour guide takes us to the top of the Ocean Voyager and River Scout tanks. It is great to see the huge whale sharks from the top of the pool. The Ocean Voyager pool itself is the size of a football stadium.
After a better look around the River Scout exhibit at the pirhanas, the tree boa and the otters, and then looking at the touch pools, we were just in time for the Titanic Aquatic exhibit which is a temporary exhibit till Sept. It contains artifacts recovered from the Titanic and stories about the passengers on the fated ship.
The Coldwater Quest was the last exhibit at the aquarium. We spent a long time looking at the beluga whales there. They are giant animals with very graceful movements. It was beautiful watching them. The other animals included the spider crabs, sea dragons.
It was already past 2:15 by the time we finished seeing everything at the aquarium. And hunger hit us and I could feel the first signs of migraine coming up. The cafe at the aquarium had only roasted vegetable pizza as the vegetarian option apart from desserts. We took the pizza and the keylime tart. The pizza was good but the tart was way too heavy. We had to finally leave out the cream and eat only the crust.

The next stop was 'The World of Coca-Cola' which was just next door the aquarium. There we found out that the Coca-Cola company is more than 100 years old, saw coca-cola artifacts from all over the world, watched how the machines used in coca-cola factories, watched a 4-D show and tasted coca-cola products from around the world. Some of them were downright bad and others were good. But nothing beats the coca-cola original. Everyone gets a bottle of fresh coca-cola at the end. We sat down for a while near the lawns. My migraine had picked up intensity by then. We checked the GPS to find a subway nearby. It was right down the street next to Centennial Olympic Park. We decided to walk down there. We were thinking of spending some time at the park but we were still really tired after eating the subway and I could see the migraine coming full on. So, off we went to the hotel. After some tablets and some rest, I was better by night.

The next day we checked out of the hotel around 9:30 and headed towards the Swaminarayan temple. It is a beautiful temple with the carved stones sent in from India and assembled here. The other highlight there was the sweets and snack shop in the temple complex. We filled up the trunk of the car with khakras, chundo, sweets. And also had a nice lunch there.

After lunch, around 1, we headed out to Fernbank Museum of Natural History.

The highlight there were the dinosaur fossil skeletons. The other interesting part for me was the 'Reflections of culture' exhibit. It had traditional clothing, jewelery and accessories from around the world. We also caught the 'Dinosaurs Alive' IMAX movie.

We left around 5 from the museum towards home. After pulling over to a rest area and enjoying papdi and jalebis picked up earlier at the temple, we were back on the interstate around 7:30. After a few missed turns, we were home by 10 at night. Its times like these when the frozen parathas come to the rescue. After a good fill of aloo parathas, it was good to be sleeping on my own bed :)

Thursday, June 4, 2009

weekend trip

Last week Anurag finally got his driver's license here. So we decided to rent a car for the weekend. I should write about the fun and food before it gets too late. On Saturday evening, we went to the temple at Charlotte. It was only recently we found out that there is a temple here.
It might just have been the first centrally airconditioned temple I have been to :) Next to the temple was another small building. We saw many people going there. So we thought of checking out what it was. It turned out to be a dining hall and people were having dinner. We were not sure if it was for everyone so we started to go back. But a person called us and asked us to have dinner and go. And dinner we had!! I still remember the vaghareli khichadi and bateka nu shaak and the cooling chaas (that is khichadi, potato curry and buttermilk). Yummy! And also got to eat sukhadi as prasad. It was pretty nice to go to a temple after a long time and meet some friendly desi folks. Because otherwise, the desi folks just see through you while the Americans stop to say hi.

The next day was Sunday. After a late start to the day, we ran some errands for grocery shopping and after lunch, headed out to Lazy 5 ranch It is quite an amazing place for a privately owned, no federal funding setup. And it doesn't burn a hole in the pocket. We reached the place after an hour long drive. At the gate, we paid the entry fee and bought the feed buckets. No sooner did we enter the safari drive, we were surrounded by ostrich. I asked Anurag to feed him from his hand. It was not such a good idea! The ranch recommends feeding only from the feed buckets. And we hadn't read that. Well, Anurag's fingers are still intact. But the ostrich was still hungry and he saw the feed bucket in the car and was trying to get in to reach it. There was some screaming in the car, it was mostly me! But Anurag managed to move the car forward a bit and the ostrich thankfully didn't try to follow. The windows were quickly closed and noone tried to feed any more ostriches!! :)
There are around 750 animals at the ranch including the lama, different types of deer, rhino, giraffe, zebra, bison, cows, bulls and birds. We had a fun time getting them to eat. Be prepared for dusty roads and dirty cars because the animals spill their food on the car if you don't keep the bucket completely outside the car. And as you must have guessed, I am speaking from experience :)

This was our first time driving experience in the US and for that matter, in a car. And we did nearly 100 miles that day. Even though I was not the one who was driving, I was thinking from the front seat, wow, this is difficult! Although the absence of clutch and gears makes it a bit easier, there needs to be a lot of multitasking. Checking the speed limits, the GPS, changing lanes and all that stuff. It was a good driving trip. Hope we have more soon.