Thursday, September 30, 2010

Rhodes Hall: The Dream on Peachtree

Rhodes Hall
Rhodes Hall
One of only a handful of mansions still standing on Atlanta’s "main street"—Peachtree Street—is the former home of Amos Giles Rhodes, founder of Rhodes Furniture. Today known by locals as "Rhodes Hall" or "The Castle on Peachtree," Mr. Rhodes himself dubbed his home "Le Reve," French for "The Dream."
I hadn’t decided until the night before that I would be touring Rhodes Hall on this particular day. After finishing some work I scurried to ready myself for departure. Camera, check. Phone, check. Keys, check.
I was ready, but alas, looking at the clock I knew I wouldn’t make the 11 a.m. tour. So, I ran a couple of errands and then headed to Midtown. I arrived at Rhodes Hall at approximately 11:35 a.m., snapped a few photos of the outside of the Castle (constructed of granite from Stone Mountain—it actually looks like a castle) and then proceeded inside to secure a ticket for the 12:00 o'clock tour.
There were people scurrying about the place (Rhodes Hall is also the headquarters of The Georgia Trust, an organization that provides preservations resources to individual and communities throughout Georgia). I was welcomed by a passing Georgia Trust employee. I advised him, "I'm here for the noon tour." He acknowledged and asked me to wait and then he promptly scurried to another part of the house.
The Parlor
The Parlor
I soon was greeted by Caley Ross, Director of Sales, who told me that the designated tour guide for the day was unable to make it to work that day. She offered to let me take the first floor self-guided tour and handed me a packet of information.
I must have been pouting because she continued to explain that the tour of the third and fourth floors was only available with a tour guide and that she was trying to leave around noon. I expressed that the upper floors were the ones I was interested in seeing, that I’d toured the first floor on a previous visit (although that was in the 1990s).
Without giving it a second thought Caley immediately switched to the role of gracious host and grand tour guide and off we went.
I remembered the splendor of the house was quite impressive, but it was obvious that there had been a significant amount of restoration done to the home since my last visit.
All the surfaces were shining or sparkling or painted to depict a time or event in Southern history. From the staircase bannister to the numerous chandeliers throughout the house, Caley pointed out the areas that contained furniture and fixtures that were original to the mansion.
Of spaces on the first floor I believe my favorite room is an equal tie between the Reception Hall (grand in scale and detail), the Parlor (elegant and well-lit), and the Dining Room (all of its contents original to the house, including: a collection of stemware and dishes and a brilliant chandelier, certainly the centerpiece of any dining occasion, only outshined by the home's hostess).
The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy
"The Rise and Fall of
the Confederacy"
The mahogany stairwell and its painted windows leading from the Reception Hall to the upstairs quarters is by far one of the most impressive sights I've seen in quite some time. Three panels of three windows each serve as a memorial entitled "The Rise and Fall of the Confederacy." The sun illuminates the first panel as it rises (depicting the beginning of the Civil War) and finally the third panel as it sets (depicting Robert E. Lee bidding farewell to his troops). Included in the mosaic of the memorial are state seals and portraits of confederacy heroes. Impressive by any standard, the artistry of these windows is truly unveiled when it is pointed out that they were created not for a museum or public display, but for a private residence.
We then headed to the second floor, which is now office space for The Georgia Trust. The rooms on the second floor include the bedrooms and dressing rooms for Mr. and Mrs. Rhodes. It was on this part of the tour that I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Mark McDonald, President & CEO of The Georgia Trust. At the end of my tour, he and I briefly discussed what it must have been like to live in "The Castle on Peachtree" in 1904. Mr. McDonald is indeed a gentleman—professional and charming.
The third floor contains a servant's room and a billiards room, both with sun lights. Adjacent to the billiards room was Mr. Rhodes's smoking room.
The fourth floor contained a room that is believed to have been used as a playroom for the Rhodes’s grandchildren.
Rhodes Hall coffer
Rhodes Hall coffer
Continuing the VIP treatment (I was already more than pleasantly astonished by the Southern hospitality demonstrated up to this point), after I asked about the stairs leading up from the fourth level, Caley offered to take me up to the roof. I of course accepted the offer! Caley collected the key for the roof access door and up we went. The rooftop may be modest in size but it is grand in view. Nestled between Midtown and Buckhead (an area today being called "Uptown"), I was able to see in great detail the craftsmanship that went into the construction of the Rhodes Hall rooftops and roof caps, as well as the magnificent Midtown skyline.
I can’t thank Caley enough for her generous gift of time and for taking me on a special tour of Rhodes Hall, one of Atlanta's not-so-hidden gems. It's a true treasure and I highly recommend adding "The Dream" to any list of must-see Atlanta landmarks.
Of particular interest, following Mr. Rhodes's death, he passed Rhodes Hall to his two children, Joseph and Louanna. They later deeded the house to the state with two conditions: it can never be sold and it must be used for state or historical purposes. That's music to the ears of preservationist and tourists who enjoy a flare of history in their visits to Atlanta.
Will I return to Rhodes Hall? I hope so. It would be great to attend as a guest at one of the many special events held at Rhodes Hall. In fact, I will return to Rhodes Hall, whether attending a special event or as a tourist who wants to relive the grandeur of what it was like in the early 20th Century to live on Peachtree Street.
Touring Rhodes Hall
Date toured: Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Location: 1516 Peachtree Street, NW (directions and map)
Parking: Free, behind Rhodes Hall
$7 – Behind-the-Scenes (all four floors)
$5 – Guided tour of the 1st Floor
$4 – Seniors, student and children (ages 6-12) – 1st Floor only
Free – Georgia Trust members and children under age 6
Tours begin every hour, on the hour. The last tour begins one hour before closing.
Tuesday-Friday – 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Saturday – 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Closed Sundays and Mondays

Rhodes Hall front door stained glass transum
Rhodes Hall, stained glass
front door transum

Monday, September 27, 2010

Fernbank Museum of Natural History: Our Planet, One Building

Dinosaur Family at the Fernbank entrance
Fernbank Museum Entry
The Fernbank Museum of Natural History is more than dinosaur bones (which the kids love with all the enthusiasm their little hearts can muster) and fossilized leaves. In Atlanta, it's a landmark destination for learning, as well as a one-of-a-kind venue for events and special occasions.
Upon arrival you know you're in for a quite an experience when you meander by the water garden featuring three bronze dinosaurs on your way into the Museum. Fernbank is an excellent destination rain or shine, but be mindful of the weather when you visit so that you know whether to make your photos of this little dinosaur family before or after your Museum visit. I visited on a rainy day, but took a few pictures before going in…the downpour was underway when I was finished touring a few hours later.
Touring Fernbank is self-guided, although the Museum does offer "hands-on, minds-on" field trips for K-12th grade classes. Be sure to pick up a Visitor Guide from the ticket agent or the ticket-taker at the beginning of your tour.
The Grand Hall
The Grand Hall
Historically speaking, I enjoy starting at the top and working my way down. That's what I did on this particular tour. The Museum's exhibits and other offerings are located on three floors: the upper level, the entry level and the lower level. The Grand Hall, around which these exhibits and offerings are located, is a soaring three stories high…or one story high if the building had been built 245-65 million years ago and you happen to be an Argentinosaurus—the largest dinosaur to ever walk the Earth.
The Upper Level should be called the Learning Level, I think. It's packed with opportunities to discover and acquire information about human life and geological development, just to start with.
Tornado Formation exhibit
Tornado Formation
One of the current exhibits on the Upper Level is "Reflections of Culture." This smaller, densely-packed exhibit teaches how people around the world demonstrate economic, social and political information. The colorful display includes native costumes, jewelry and photographs—you'll surely want to examine each section.
"Fun" is the best way to describe the "Sensing Nature" exhibit, also on the Upper Level. In this highly interactive exhibit, visitors learn about nature and science and have the opportunity to conduct their own television weather forecast. Be sure to look for the "coil" and truly test your senses.
The "Naturalist Center and Curators' Corner" is an area specifically designated for family-friendly activities every weekend, including an "animal encounter!"
The Museum is currently installing a new children's exhibit slated for debut in 2011. The mere mention of a multi-story tree fort makes me wish I was a kid again.
Deer in the A Walk Through Time in Georgia exhibit
A Walk Through Time in Georgia
On the entry level, be sure to explore "A Walk Through Time in Georgia." It takes you through the Okefenokee Swamp, an underwater habitat and you can literally walk around dinosaurs that lived in what would become Georgia. The exit to this gallery is subtle. Once you're through the coastal life section, there will be a sign on a door on the right that says: "this is the conclusion" of this exhibit, please exit here.
"Conveyed in Clay: Stories from St. Catherines Island" is an insightful exhibit that shows the cultural evolution of Native Americans through their pottery. It's a modest exhibit and worthy of a visit.
Also on the Entry Level are the Museum Store, which you’ll pass when you exit the Museum, and the entry to IMAX Theatre, which features various 45-minute films throughout the year. Fernbank is also home of "Martinis & IMAX" every Friday night (January through November). The evening features live music, an array of cuisine and specialty cocktails, all amidst the former rulers of the Earth.
Giant Clam
Giant Clam
On the can't-miss Lower Level, Giants of the Mesozoic feature dinosaurs that lived in Patagonia millions of years ago, including a flock of 21 Pterodaustro flying high over your head. Be sure to look for fossils on the floor. Much of the Museum’s underfoot is covered in limestone that contains mollusk fossils from 180 million years ago.
"The World of Shells" is a gallery featuring shells from Georgia and coastal areas around the world. The Giant Clam is the most impressive in size, but the exhibit is also wildly colorful and displays a collection of mind-puzzling shapes.
"The Star Gallery" is a special event venue at times, but during typical Museum hours, it’s an opportunity to learn about planetary evolution, celestial events and deep space activities—showing while I was there was the "Hubble Top 10" images.
The Star Gallery
The Star Gallery
Feeling a little hungry after seeing so much? Stop by the Fernbank Café for a snack and a beverage. In the summer you can also sit on the patio overlooking the Fernbank Forest and make a photo of your fellow tourists with a pair of topiary dinosaurs.
Will I return to Fernbank, you ask? Absolutely. The permanent exhibits are fascinating and there is always something new at Fernbank, whether a recently released IMAX movie, an exhibit debut or an enticing special event—and the parking is free!
Touring Fernbank Natural History Museum
Date toured: Sunday, September 26, 2010
Location: 767 Clifton Road NE (directions and map)
Parking: Free onsite parking
Adults - $15
Students and Seniors (62+) with ID - $14
Children (3-12) - $13
Monday-Saturday – 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday – Noon – 5 p.m.

Sensing Nature gallery
Sensing Nature Gallery

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fox Theatre: Fabulous at 80

Fox Theatre marquee
Fox Theatre
The Fox Theatre, or The Fabulous Fox as it's sometimes called, opened its doors on December 25, 1929, less than two months after the Stock Market crash that heralded the arrival of The Great Depression. Following a brief closing in 1932 and near demolition in the mid-1970s, the Fox today holds many local and world record distinctions and is listed on the National Historic Landmarks registry. A tour of the Fox is more than a walk down memory lane; it's a behind-the-scenes look at one of the most majestic, highly-attended, historically-rich theatres in the country.
The tour took us to numerous spaces within the Theatre that one usually would not encounter in a single visit. We ventured to the Egyptian Ballroom, the Grand Salon, the Grand Terrace, the Men's and Women's Lounges and Restrooms (not something that's on every tour!), the main theatre, and attended a private performance on the "Mighty Mo" organ by none other than Larry-Douglas Embury, the resident organist.
The kickoff of the tour indeed started on time, as advertised on the Fox’s website. Our tour began at the entrance arcade on Peachtree Street. Our tour guide, Ellen, was very personable and obviously finds great pleasure in sharing information about the Fabulous Fox, which included the 1970s "Save the Fox" campaign and details about its Moorish, Egyptian and other architectural styles.
Fox Theatre's Grand Terrace
Grand Terrace
After a briefing of historical tidbits, we were escorted to the Egyptian Ballroom, named for its Egyptian-inspired décor (a worldwide trend following the 1922 discovery of King Tut's tomb), which served as a public dance hall in the 1930s. Today, the Egyptian Ballroom is used for wedding receptions, proms, corporate events and special occasions.
Adjacent to the Egyptian Ballroom—also available for special occasions—is the Grand Terrace, which offers a degree of privacy for event-goers with just enough of skyscrapers peeking over the Terrace walls to remind one that they are not attending a Pharos' birthday bash, but are  indeed still in the heart of Atlanta.
Also adjacent to the Egyptian Ballroom, but with its own private entrance, is the Grand Salon, which features a remarkable and substantial stained glass ceiling. Much of the Fox's ballrooms were restored to their original grandeur during the "Fix the Fox" campaign in the 1980s.
Organ Pipe Housing
Organ Pipe Housing
A surprising detour that turned out to be a sight worthy of seeing was a visit to the Women's and Men's Lounges and bathrooms. Ellen described the various design elements in the rooms and shared a number of historical facts, including that women did not smoke in public during in the Fox's early years, but instead would venture out to a "smoking terrace" accessible from the Women's Lounge. Much of the furniture and other décor in the lavish and grand lounges are originals from the 1929 opening of the Theatre.
Before I discuss "Mighty Mo" and the main theatre I can tell you that our tour finished with a visit to the Spanish Room—originally the practice room for Fox Theatre musicians—which today houses many concessions windows and includes a modest size gift shop.
Now, let's get back to the main theatre and "Mighty Mo."
Might Mo Organ
"Might Mo" Organ
It just so happened that the day we were touring Larry-Douglas Embury, the Fox’s resident organist, was in attendance to play "Mighty Mo" for a group of 140 school children. We had the distinct and rare pleasure of joining Larry for a private performance.
Larry talked about the vast infrastructure of the organ and pointed out the illuminated organ pipe housings flanking the main stage. He was fantastic with the kids and conducted a question and answer session for the children after describing and playing quite a few numbers on "Mighty Mo." After completing his mini-concert, he lowered Might Mo from its lofty perch to eye-level so that the kids and my tour group could snap a few photos.
Fox Theatre, right of stage
Fox Theatre, right of stage
We were then off to the balcony of the main theatre so we could get a better glimpse of the Theatre's remarkable "night-time" ceiling. The lights are embedded in the ceiling and covered with crystals. The close-up view of the main stage, even that close, did not convey the size of the 8-foot lampposts or the 14-foot hanging pendants near the top of the Theatre, but fortunately our tour guide did. She also pointed out that the giant canopy that more than covers the balcony is constructed of plaster and steel beams—a perfect illusion.
Also worthy of mentioning for tourists on a budget who would like to attend a "show" at the Fox is the annual Coca-Cola Film Festival. Each summer, for less than the cost of a mainstream cinema movie, patrons can experience the grandeur of the Fox Theatre and see a classic or box office hit movie on the largest screen in Atlanta. The movie experience includes a sing-along, classic cartoon and the movie.
Will I take the Fox Theatre tour again? I definitely recommend taking this tour at least once. Personally, I know there is much to know about the Fox and I find it all fascinating, mostly because of my love for the building and its remarkable history. Their website is full of interesting factoids and historical recantings of events...and one can always find a book in the gift shop that provides considerably greater detail about the Fox Theatre.
Touring the Fox Theatre
Date toured: Thursday, September 23, 2010
Location: 660 Peachtree Street, Atlanta (at the intersection of Ponce de Leon Street) (
directions and map)
Parking: numerous nearby privately-owned, attended
parking lots
Cost: Adults - $10, children and seniors - $5
Monday – 10 a.m.
Wednesday – 10 a.m.
Thursday – 10 a.m.
Saturday – 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Fox Theatre roof
Fox Theatre Roof

Friday, September 24, 2010

Turner Field: Home of the Braves

Turner Field
Turner Field
Turner Field is home to Major League Baseball's Atlanta Braves, the longest existing baseball franchise in the world. Named for TBS mogul and former Braves owner, Ted Turner, Turner Field tours are available year-round, with few exceptions.
The structure is relatively new. The 1996 Olympic Stadium was converted to today’s baseball-only venue in only seven months following the conclusion of the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Only a portion of the then-existing stadium was rebuilt.
I’d been to quite a few Braves Games when I previously lived in Atlanta, at both Fulton County Stadium and Turner Field, and have been again (to see them win!) since returning to Atlanta. However, I had never taken advantage of the behind-the-scenes tour.
Big Baseball
Turner Field baseball
Immediately recognizing our tour guide’s broad baseball knowledge base and enthusiasm, the likes of which I've not seen on a tour in quite some time, I knew the experience would be quite informative and exciting. Rick's tour was sure to be a home run.
What was in store for us? We started with a self-guided visit of the Braves Museum & Hall of Fame and then Rick took us to Sky Field, the press box, the TV/radio booths, the Braves Clubhouse and locker room (they were on an away game), the Braves’ dugout, and then onto the playing field!
The Braves Museum & Hall of Fame serves as home to the Braves' 1995 World Series Championship trophy. Locker-shaped enclaves house memorabilia from the various pennants won by the Braves throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Time-traveling to the beginning of Braves history, displayed artifacts told the story of pre-1960s Braves incarnations. The largest artifact—bigger than the World Series trophy—is a rail car that the Braves used to travel to away games, decades ago.
Sky Field
Sky Field's panoramic views of Turner Field and downtown Atlanta are a sight to see. Anyone with a game day ticket can visit Sky Field.  This is where the giant, illuminated Coke bottle is nestled, where the giant Chik-fil-A cow does the tomahawk chop during games, and where you can sit in giant, red, Coke bottle-shaped Adirondack chairs and take in one of the best views of the Atlanta skyline.
The press box and TV/radio booths, directly above home plate, have an incredible birds-eye view of the playing field. I was amazed at the nominal amount of equipment used in the booths to cover the games.
The Braves Clubhouse and locker room are below ground level and not at all the lavish accommodations I expected. However, they do have their own chef who prepares meals before or after games and the fitness and medical facilities are impressive. The locker room is not part of the tour on days when the Braves have an afternoon game.
Braves Dugout
Braves Dugout
Sitting in the dugout was incredible, not only for the cool-factor of occupying the same space as Atlanta baseball greats such as Chipper Jones, Greg Maddux, and Coach Bobby Cox, but also for being as close to the home team as a fan without season tickets is likely to be.
Walking out onto the playing field was phenomenal. We were of course given the obligatory "do not walk on the grass" directive, but otherwise we were able to explore the area between home plate and first base. The seats in the stadium seemed a lot smaller than the players look on the field from the seats themselves. The stadium looks massive from the field. You immediately realize what a big deal it is to be a super star baseball player.
Touring Turner Field is truly an incredible experience and includes a lot more than I've shared here. It's also a great opportunity to pitch baseball stats back and forth with your tour guide—Rick was a real pro.
Will I take the tour of Turner Field again? With it being easy to get to, having free parking, and only an hour in duration, it's a great option to add to one's list of things-to-do when friends and family visit. I'm sure I'll do it again. In the meantime, I now have some ultra-cool behind-the-scenes insight for when I attend the next Braves home game.
Touring Turner Field
Date toured: Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Baseball Season (April – September)
Monday – Saturday – 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Sunday – 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.
Tours are not available on days when the Braves have afternoon home games
Off-Season (October – March)
Monday – Saturday – 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Closed on MLK Day, Thanksgiving Day and December 23-January 2
755 Hank Aaron Drive (map)
Cost: Adults - $12, Kids (3-13) and military - $7
Parking: Free – the Green Lot (nearest Turner Field) is free for Tour patrons

Braves fan, Mickey Mouse
Braves fan, Mickey Mouse

Livingston Restaurant: Perfect for Pre-theatre

Main Dining Room
(Courtesy of Livingston Restaurant)
Livingston Restaurant, exactly across from the Fox Theatre and also on Peachtree Street, is an elegant dining option immediately prior to attending a play, concert or musical at the Fox. Housed in one of Atlanta's few downtown historic buildings, the Georgian Terrace Hotel provides an elegant setting for Livingston's modern décor.
Looking for a place to have a nice meal, and to further my Atlanta dining experience (the restaurants in Atlanta are vast in number), I decided on Livingston because of its proximity to the Fox Theatre, its elegant interior, and it looked busy but not crowded.
I was greeted immediately upon arriving and seated in one of the best seats in the house (I've recently had very good luck in that regard). My seat was a sofa, not a bench mind you, it was indeed a sofa. I had a full view of the main dining room and through the windows on my right I could see early-arriving theatre-goers entering the Fox under the glow of its substantial marquee.
The server arrived promptly and first asked if I was attending the show at the Fox (so he could appropriately time the full order). I was indeed attending "RAIN: A Tribute to the Beatles" that evening. With that in mind, my server timed the pace of the meal so as to retain the elegant experience that meal was meant to be and get me to my seat in a timely manner.
The menu is easily described with one word—impressive! The listing of options is manageable as well as diverse enough to please all palettes. The "something-for-everyone" selections range from Kobe beef and fillet mignon to lobster fritters and pan roasted halibut to lamb chops and braised rabbit. I decided on the Bibb Lettuce Salad with pickled vegetables and avocado dressing, the Crispy Artichoke Risotto entrée, and a glass of sauvignon blanc that my server helped me select based on my personal preference.
Georgian Terrace Hotel
As I waited on my first course, a basket of breads and creamy butter were delivered to my table. Then, I soaked in the ambiance of the restaurant. I'd been inside the Georgian Terrace years before, in the exact room where I was sitting, for a wedding reception. The beautiful bride elegantly entered the reception from upstairs (additional dining tables surround the main dining room on an interior balcony) via a winding staircase to join her guests. The space is still today used for special events.
I and my 30-, 40- and 50-something year old fellow diners relaxed into dinner and conversation in a setting of diffused lighting and a moderate noise level. Others were enjoying the alfresco option on lively Peachtree Street. It wasn't until later that I realized that behind me was the kitchen, open to the main dining room.
The meal was delicious, the service friendly and professional, and the atmosphere perfect for pre-theatre dining.
Will I let Livingston tempt my palette again? When I’m looking for a special dinner before a show at the Fox, Livingston is definitely at the top of my list. I didn't have time for dessert on this particular visit and I'm craving the Ice Cream Sandwich with strawberry popcorn, pistachio cake and rhubarb.
Visiting Livingston Restaurant

Date toured: Saturday, September 18, 2010
: Breakfast – Daily - 6:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
Lunch - Monday – Friday – 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Brunch - Saturday & Sunday - 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Dinner - Sunday – Thursday – 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday & Saturday – 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

: 659 Peachtree Street, NE, intersecting Ponce de Leon Street, across from the Fox Theatre (map and directions)
: available at the Georgian Terrace Hotel or various other public parking lots within 1-3 blocks of the Livingston
: Open Table or call (404) 897-5000

Georgian Terrace


Friday, September 17, 2010

Georgia Aquarium: Water Wonders

Ocean Explorer exhibit
Ocean Explorer gallery

Georgia Aquarium, one of the must-see attractions in the city, was recently confirmed by Guinness World Records as "the largest aquarium in the world." During a visit you can find Nemo, pet Jaws and sing along with a 3,000-pound canary, a "sea canary," that is.
The massive building is easily identifiable by its ship-silhouette design and the G-shaped Georgia Aquarium logo near the "bow" of the structure. It’s conveniently located near downtown Atlanta, immediately adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park and has ample near-by parking, but arrive early during high season to avoid longish lines.
 An annual membership reduces or altogether eliminates having to wait in line and it pays for itself in only two visits…worth the investment, especially if you're a local.
Once inside, the Aquarium features five galleries that teach and display aquatic life ranging from oceans to rivers. There’s also a café for the hungry, gift shops for those in need of retail therapy and special exhibits to keep visits to the Aquarium new and exciting.
Before I get too much further into what to expect when you tour Georgia Aquarium, let me explain the Nemo, Jaws and canary remark in my introduction. The star of Finding Nemo, the 1995 Disney/Pixar movie, was a young Clown Fish named Nemo. Clown Fish are one of the more than fifty aquatic species found at the Georgia Aquarium.
Beluga Whale
Beluga Whale
The reference to being able to "pet Jaws" is not too much of an exaggeration. Probably the most popular exhibit in the main atrium of the Aquarium is a petting tank filled with sharks and rays. They’re perfectly harmless—the Aquarium would obviously not endanger visitors or its residents. I was amazed at the bravery of so many children and teenagers who reached in and pet the sharks…maybe they never heard the "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water" tagline from the Jaws 2. I jest, of course…it's a very cool experience to be able to pet creatures that would make many people at a beach swim away as fast as possible screaming at the top of their lungs.
What’s a "sea canary" you ask? In this instance, I'm talking about the two main stars of the Georgia Aquarium…Beluga Whales. Weighing in at as much as 3,000 pounds, Beluga Whales are also referred to as sea canaries because of their twitter. No, these whales are not posting 140-character status update using social media; the twitter I speak of is their whale song, the way they communicate. From time to time, the Aquarium will play their whale song so that visitors can hear what they sound like under water—maybe one day we'll know the words so we can actually sing along.
underwater tunnel
Underwater Tunnel
On this visit and previous visits, I headed directly for the 100-foot-long underwater acrylic tunnel to get an immediate sensation of sharing the ocean with thousands of fish who live at that Aquarium. Seeing the kids' eyes darting from one fish to the next totally augments my sense of awe and wonder and what an incredible spectacle provided from within the tunnel. You even have options for traversing the tunnel. You can stand on the moving sidewalk and feel as though you're floating through the ocean or walk on the other side at your own pace.
In addition to the shark and ray petting tank, there's another that houses brightly colored sea anemones. Aquarium staff members are present to explain what to expect when touching one of the creatures and also to ensure the anemone get an occasional break.
Shark and Ray Petting Tank
Petting Tank
While I was there, I passed by a kiosk with the red and white diver symbol. My curiosity got the best of me…I had to know more, even though I’m not a diver. As it turns out, the Aquarium offers dives and swims with their sharks and whales and multitude of other sea creatures—Journey with Gentle Giants. Professional divers participate to ensure the safety of visitors and the safety of the sea life. A friend recently told me that she and her daughter did the swim and thought it was an amazingly incredible experience and that they're thinking about going again. I can hardly wait…this is definitely a rare and unique opportunity!
The Aquarium is about more than just fish. They host special events including the currently running Antique Car Show. Most of the cars in the exhibit are housed in one of the ballrooms, which have large window looking into the immense tanks—an incredible space for special events. Next month is the 5th Annual Aqua Vino event featuring tastings of more than 200 wines and cuisine from 30 top Atlanta restaurants.
Georgia Aquarium's aquatic residents, architectural marvel and friendly staff fascinate and entertain millions of visitors every year and absolutely worth a visit! There are quite a few special events, behind the scenes tours and learning programs for kids of all ages…truly something for everyone.
Visiting Georgia Aquarium
Date toured: Sunday, September 12, 2010
Location: 225 Baker Street, N.W., Atlanta (
Parking: nearby privately owned, attended
parking lots
Varies (purchasing tickets online and bringing home-printed tickets can expedite entry into the Aquarium)
Hours: Open 365 day a year, with some exceptions hours are Sunday-Friday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.

Anemone Petting Tank
Petting Tank

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Centennial Olympic Park: Honoring Global Unity Through Sports

Gateway of Dreams statue
Gateway of Dreams
Centennial Olympic Park is a 21-acre expanse commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the modern Olympic Games. Located in the heart of many of the city's top tourist attractions, the Park offers a calming respite for office workers, as well as concerts, a spectacular 4th of July celebration, holiday lights at the end of the year and the Fountain of Rings—the Park's centerpiece.
Surrounding the Park are many popular tourist destinations including Georgia Aquarium, The World of Coca-Cola, CNN Studio Tours and Imagine It! The Children's Museum of Atlanta. With that said, there's a given amount of foot traffic through the Park on the way to these sites. However, the Park is indeed a destination itself.
Fountain of Rings
Fountain of Rings
On my approach to the Park, a 40-something year old couple—apparently on a romantic getaway—asked me to make a photograph of them at one of the many Park gates. That to me was a tell-tale sign that I'd made a wise choice in sites to see that day. During my visit, I eventually crisscrossed the Park realizing that I'd missed much of what it has to offer by taking a linear approach during my initial walk through.
There were dozens of children playing in the Fountain of Rings, people picnicking on the grassy lawns and others exploring the gardens, statuary and monuments within the Park. I myself ventured through the gardens on the west side of the Park to explore the various sculptured "quilts" honoring Olympians and the Games.
Paralympics Monument
Paralympics Monument
The Paralympic Games is hosted by the same city that hosts the Olympic Games and they're held in the same venues as the Olympic Games. In 1996, I had the pleasure of attending the Opening Ceremonies of those Games and seeing the late Christopher Reeve (Superman, Somewhere in Time), who was paralyzed following a horse riding accident, serve as the Master of Ceremonies. Vice President Al Gore officially opened the ceremony and Liza Minnelli was one of the many live entertainers.

Today, in honor of the 3,310 athletes who participated in the 1996 Paralympic Games, a monument stands in the northeast corner of Centennial Park, listing all the names of the participating athletes categorized by the sports in which they competed. The engraving on the monument reads:

"In honor of the individual and collective achievements—and in honor of the inspiration they have provided for all people with disabilities—the names of the 3310 athletes who participated in the 1996 Paralympic Games are enshrined here. For every obstacle they surmounted, for every second they devoted to their passion for sport, this wall stand as a tribute—a tribute that commemorates the glories they earned on the field of play."
Visit Centennial Park again, will I? Most definitely and I'll add it to any visit of the sourrounding tourist destinations…it's that nice of a park.
Visiting Centennial Olympic Park
Date toured: Sunday, September 12, 2010
Hours: Daily 7 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Location: Between Baker Street, Park Avenue West and Andrew Young International Blvd. (map)

Parking: surrounding public parking lots

Quilt of Nations
Quilt of Nations