Tag Archives: zoo

Atlanta Road Trip

Seeing as how I wrote a post about bucket list activities, Hubby and I decided to start crossing a few more things off our list. We normally go on a 7-8 day trip in the beginning of May but this year scheduling conflicts only allowed for a 4 day trip in June. We went to Jamaica for 4 days, which really wasn’t long enough because 2 of those days were travel days, so it didn’t actually feel like we had a vacation.  When we got back we started planning another trip for the end of summer, when Hubby was between summer courses and the fall course.  We had the hardest time deciding where to go! Back to Jamaica? Back to  the Florida Keys, or maybe just Key West?  I know, I know…Talk about a Champagne Problem…But still, it took some serious discussion. Then we decided to do something we had never done, and something we had always wanted to do. Go diving in the aquarium in Atlanta. The Georgia Aquarium is amazing. It’s #1 in the US, and it’s the largest aquarium in the world. The main attraction? WHALE SHARKS.

Two of the Four giants together
Two of the Four giants together

They have 4 whale sharks in a 6.3 million gallon aquarium, along with 2 Manta Rays and about 5,994 other fish, rays, and sharks. The whale sharks were originally rescued from sale to the fish market in Thailand. They had been trapped in a net ready to be sold, when the Georgia Aquarium showed up and purchased the sharks, loaded them up, and literally shipped them via UPS to Georgia. Seriously.

Anyway, we didn’t want to spend the whole time in the car, so we spent the first night in New Orleans. What was supposed to be a 5 hour drive turned into about a 9 hour drive. So much for not spending the whole time in the car. But it was due to unforeseen circumstances. As soon as we got into Louisiana my low tire pressure light came on. And that was bad news, seeing as how I had new tires put on 2 days before. Luckily we were able to find a shop that was open past 5 pm (what a concept!) and he was able to patch the tire. Of course, this was backwoods Louisiana, so the mechanic had never seen a Prius before! He didn’t know how to turn the car on, or put it into park. Hubby had to talk his through it. Then once he got it onto the lift he climbed out of the car and said to his buddies, “this car ain’t got no engine! It runs on battery!”

Once he patched the tire and we were off, we ended up in construction traffic for HOURS. They really have no idea what they are doing in Louisiana. The drivers feel like they have to drive 20 MPH when there is a closed off lane, and the construction crews set up MILES of cones and close off the lane when they aren’t doing anything even remotely close to the area. We ran into this type of traffic probably 3 times. It was awful. We finally got to our hotel at midnight and didn’t even have the energy to leave our room. We ate a quick dinner of sandwiches in our room, had a couple beers that we brought with us, (we travel on the cheap) and went to bed.

Comparing beignets at different cafes in New Orleans
Comparing beignets at different cafes in New Orleans

The next morning we headed to Pensacola, Florida. The idea had been to possibly find a dive shop in Pensacola, but we didn’t really have the time and the weather wasn’t great while we were there either, so we didn’t do much. I took some photos on the beach that night, we did some shopping, and we went for a run the next morning before heading to Atlanta.

Crab and Shrimp Mac-n'-cheese in Pensacola
Crab and Shrimp Mac-n’-cheese in Pensacola
Future Crafting ideas - Pelican made out of driftwood
Future Crafting ideas – Pelican made out of driftwood
Future Crafting ideas - Crab made out of driftwood
Future Crafting ideas – Crab made out of driftwood
Sunset in Pensacola
Sunset in Pensacola
Pier at night in Pensacola
Pier at night in Pensacola

I didn’t get a picture of it, but our hotel in Atlanta was literally next door to Turner Field, where the Atlanta Braves play. I don’t really care about baseball, so that’s probably why I didn’t get a picture, but it was pretty neat, nonetheless. We walked around the stadium, watched a drunk guy stumbling down the sidewalk as he left the game that had just ended, and then headed to the restaurant next door to get some Georgia BBQ. It was good, but of course, it wasn’t nearly as good as The Salt Lick. Texas BBQ always wins.

The next morning we got to the aquarium when they opened and pretty much had the place to ourselves. The first thing we did was head to the giant tank where we would be diving, and we watched as divers fed the whale sharks.

Divers feed the whale sharks krill from a squeeze bottle for training purposes
Divers feed the whale sharks krill from a squeeze bottle for training purposes

It was so neat to watch!

I took SO MANY PICTURES. It’s unreal. But everything was amazing to see, and I wanted to capture it all. Here are a few more shots I took in the aquarium…

We weren’t allowed to bring cameras into the aquarium on the dive, but you can imagine that it was pretty F-ing spectacular. We were able to swim up to the glass and play patty-cake and paper-scissors-rock-lizard-Spock with the people standing on the other side, and get up close to several different species of sharks, rays, and (other) fish. I wanted to pet them SO BAD. One of my favorite things to do is feed the sting rays at various aquariums that offer that, where you can pet the sting rays as long as they allow it. It took all my strength to NOT pet the rays and sharks in the tank, but that was the only rule they had for us on the dive, and I was not about to break the rule and get kicked out of the dive. I was so determined to NOT be the one to end the dive early, that I was trying my hardest to not even breathe while I was down there, for fear of running out of air and causing the dive to be over! For those of you that aren’t divers, when you are diving with a group, you dive until either a certain amount of time has passed, or until the first person is low on air. Once someone signals that they are low on air, EVERYONE in the group has to end the dive, as a safety precaution so that no one gets left behind.

After the dive we headed back to the hotel. We were pooped from being at the aquarium all day. The next morning we got up and headed to Zoo Atlanta. We were some of the first people in the door (again) and headed straight for the panda exhibit! We don’t have pandas in Texas, so we watched the two 2-year-old sisters wrestle in true WWF fashion.

They have a HUGE gorilla exhibit and we got to watch the infant gorillas climb and play while the adults lounged in the grass.

Baby hanging out with Mom.
Baby hanging out with Mom.

We were done at the zoo in the late morning, so then we headed back down to New Orleans for our last night on the road. This time we were spending a night in a super old hotel with a balcony, just a couple blocks from the French Market, in a perfect location.

We went out onto Bourbon Street for a little bit, but honestly, that street stresses me out way too much to enjoy it, so we didn’t spend a lot of time there. We had a drink at the Carousel Bar, then went to Cafe du Monde to get beignets and coffee before heading back to our hotel that night.

Finally, on the last day of our trip, we got up and went to Belle’s Diner for breakfast and hit the French Market for some Christmas and “Thanks-for-watching-our-house” gifts. And we saw Andrew Zimmern filming a new episode of his show!

Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizzare Foods, filming a new episode
Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizzare Foods, filming a new episode
Andrew Zimmern, filming in front of the famous St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans
Andrew Zimmern, filming in front of the famous St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans

All in all, it was a great trip. I was ready to be home and sleep in my own bed and play with my dogs, but I would have been just as happy staying on the road forever. It was so relaxing.

St. Louis Cathedral
St. Louis Cathedral

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Birthdays in New Orleans

Hubby and I are exactly 365 days apart and this year he turned 30 so he wanted to do something more than just go out for dinner and drinks with friends. He had never been to Nola before so that’s what he decided to do. I had gone a few times but only with work people during the week so it was VERY different. The benefit though, was that I knew my way around the French Quarter pretty well, which took a lot of stress off of planning.

We got free flights through Southwest Airlines so the trip was relatively cheap, but it was also REALLY quick because the only free flights we could do were Saturday morning and Sunday night. Not much time to spend exploring a new place. We also went during the first weekend of Mardi Gras, so it was much more crowded than I had ever seen, and made the hotels much more expensive. Our solution was to get a hotel outside of the French Quarter, near Lake Pontchartrain. MUCH CHEAPER. For Christmas, a friend of ours bought us what is basically a City Pass. It’s an entrance ticket for the Audubon Zoo, the Aquarium, and the Insectarium, because he knows how much of nerds we are that we basically plan our trips around that kind of thing. However, since our trip was so short, those three things took up A LOT of our time, so we are already planning on going back to see the historical stuff, and do a little more of the French Quarter than we got to do.

We landed in New Orleans at 8 am, and we were walking around the French Quarter by 9. It was really nice because no one was out on the streets yet (well, almost no one. The only people we saw were stumbling home from the night before-yikes). We had the streets to ourselves for actually appreciating the architecture, getting lost looking for Jean Lafitte’s, and find a bistro for some breakfast.

Bubbles show you where the party's at
Bubbles show you where the party’s at – even at 9 am.

Artists line the fence of Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral
Artists line the fence of Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral

We didn’t get to eat at Cafe Du Monde because there was a CRAZY line from all the tourists that were in town for Mardi Gras. Luckily we found another beignet cafe across the street with no line so we were still able to eat beignets while over looking the Mississippi River.

Cafe Du Monde - famous beignets
Cafe Du Monde – famous beignets – Crazy crowded

The zoo was great – they even had a climbing tree!

Beautiful Coastal Oaks make great climbing trees!
Beautiful Coastal Oaks make great climbing trees! But please do not go beyond the sign 🙂

We spent a good chunk of the day at the zoo, planning on hitting Bourbon Street in the late afternoon/evening, so I was able to spend a long time with the Amur Leopards, who were surprisingly active while we were there. I took a ton of photos, but this was my best one.

Tranquil Amur Leopard
Tranquil Amur Leopard

I plan on editing out the chain link fence…one day….

The zoo was great, but it was definitely obvious that we were in Louisiana…

What kind of zoo tells you how to eat the animals here?!
What kind of zoo tells you how to eat the animals here?!
And gives recipes for them???
And gives recipes for them???

And they say Texas is like a whole other country…

Since our flight home was on Sunday night, we spent the rest of the day enjoying the French Quarter and Lake Pontchartrain. Sunday we went to the Aquarium and Insectarium which were both pretty dang cool.

Huge shark tank
Huge shark tank

In this giant shark tank we saw a huge pile of Nurse sharks sleeping on a rock together. We counted 9 sharks! Who knew they were so social.

Dog pile of Nurse sharks....Shark Pile?
Dog pile of Nurse sharks….Shark Pile?
Sea anemone
Sea anemone

Also at the aquarium, they have a huge aviary where you can buy food for the Parakeets. They fly all over you, land in your hair, and try to sneak out by climbing into your purse. Because Parakeets are cavity nesters, there is a sign when you leave to make sure you check your jacket hoods, purses, and backpacks for any stowaways.

Getting attacked by adorableness
Getting attacked by adorableness

At the insectarium there were tons of displays of beautiful beetles and butterflies from all over the world.

Beautiful insect displays at the Insectarium
Beautiful insect displays at the Insectarium

The insectarium is a federal building, so make sure you don’t bring anything in that you can’t bring past airport security, essentially.  It was a great trip and Hubby and I already looking forward to exploring Nola more.

Zoo Lights!

Every year, the Houston Zoo puts on the event known as Zoo Lights. It’s a lot of fun – you go to the zoo at light and the whole place* is lit up with millions of Christmas lights!

(*Not all areas of the zoo are lit up or accessible at the time of zoo lights. Mainly it’s just the large open areas of the zoo, in order to not disturb the animals too much.)

Hubby and I went last year and we had a great time, so we definitely wanted to do it again. And since my photography skills have gotten a lot better in the past year, I definitely wanted to try out some new techniques!

This year however, we made a big mistake. We went on the busiest night of the year for Zoo Lights! We went on the Saturday before Christmas. Holy geebus. It was packed. We didn’t even think about that being the busiest night to go. Parking was a nightmare, and I already hate driving around in that part of the city anyway, so the addition of super heavy traffic was really stressful. Luckily we found the “additional parking” lot pretty easily, and were able to park without a hitch, once we go out of the traffic. Of course, that means that we had a bit of a walk to make to the actual Zoo, but it was totally worth it, instead of trying to get into a crowded parking lot, and then circling for hours to find a spot. I would probably still be there if I had tried that.

I took a ton of photos of the lights and we ordered some wine and kettle cooked popcorn.  It was really expensive for popcorn, but I had LITERALLY never done that before, so it was worth it. Actually, come to think of it, I think it was still cheaper than movie theater popcorn, so if you are used to those prices, you will be in for a treat. I’m just WAY too cheap frugal for that.

When we were ready to leave, we headed for the front of the zoo. The Zoo Lights shuts down at 10pm, but we saw a line that practically wrapped around the zoo for people who hadn’t bought tickets yet! It was 9:50, and there were hundreds of people still in line. We were thinking about it, and knew that the zoo would never turn THAT MUCH MONEY away (it was about 200 people in like, at $15 each = $3,000!) If a zoo can afford to turn down $3,000, they have too much money! So we asked an employee what was going to happen, and they said that they were planning on letting people in until 11pm. It made me want to stick around and count all the people that made it into the zoo after 10pm, just to see how much more money they made.

There is a park around the Zoo that we had to walk through to get back to our car, so we slowly made our way through the park, while I took pictures of stuff. Lights on the steps, the cityscape, and even some Nutria that were feeding on grass roots on the bank of the pond. They were super cute and didn’t mind us at all, so I took a bunch of pictures of them. Of course, they were in terrible lighting so the pictures didn’t come out great, but it gave me some practice in my new Photoshop program, so….silver lining, right?

We had a nice time, and we definitely plan on going again next year, but maybe not the weekend before Christmas…live and learn!

Zoo Lights!
Zoo Lights!
Mysterious Wonderland
Mysterious Wonderland
Lighted Steps
Lighted Steps
Reflections
Reflections
Reflecting Pond
Reflecting Pond
The lights in the trees dance to music
The lights in the trees dance to music
My favorite statue in the zoo - a lioness taking down a gazel
My favorite statue in the zoo – a lioness taking down a gazelle (and trying out some Photoshop lettering)
This car is known as "Holly Berry"
This car is known as “Holly Berry”
Glowing Light Balls in the Cypress Trees
Glowing Light Balls in the Cypress Trees
Blue Elephant
Blue Elephant
Giant Agaves
Giant Agaves
The Crowd stretched from the beginning of the parking lot
The Crowd stretched from the beginning of the parking lot
all the way across!
all the way across!