June 29th, 2009

get critical

Greetings from Union City

We spent Sunday in downtown Atlanta, which had some very entertaining aspects and some disappointing aspects. I readily admit that we have been spoiled when it comes to aquariums -- we've seen the best, in some cases behind the scenes, in both the U.S. and the U.K. -- but many people and tour books both had said that the Georgia Aquarium was a can't-miss attraction, so we had rather high expectations. We were very disappointed to learn that the penguins are completely off display unless one pays $50+ a person for a behind-the-scenes tour -- outside our budget, given that the aquarium has an entrance fee (and they nickel-and-dime you inside for everything from the Titanic touring exhibit, which is fair enough, to the short Disney-ripoff looking movie, which we skipped, to plastic bags for lunch leftovers which...don't get me started, and they yelled at me for taking a photo of the "Hairy Otter" t-shirt display in the gift shop, possibly because they stole the logo from the Maryland Zoo). We didn't find much Southern hospitality there.

So while the Georgia Aquarium is a must-see for anyone obsessed with sharks, given that it has enormous whale sharks in a fantastic ocean tank that also has many other species of sharks, rays and fish, and there are several touch tanks terrific for kids, I don't think the aquarium comes close to the Cincinnati Aquarium in overall impact, and I prefer the more low-key style of the Baltimore, Boston and Chicago aquariums (I haven't been to the latter in many years, so perhaps it has changed, but I don't remember huge advertising billboards, prominently placed gift shops, or crowds so thick that it was impossible to see most of the smaller tanks up close without waiting a long time). I find it ironic that World of Coca-Cola, which is an entirely commercial enterprise with all the tourist-trap insanity implied -- a steampunkish Coke "happiness" film, a 4-D presentation about Coke around the world, a room running Coke advertisements over the years -- feels lower-key and less hyped than the aquarium in some ways.

Our plan for the evening was to have dinner somewhere downtown, hopefully with krabapple, but she has a sinus infection so we didn't get to meet up with her, and when we arrived at the Atlanta Underground after a quick stop at the Georgia State House, we discovered that it closed an hour earlier than we thought, so we went through quickly on the main level which is most of what survives of pre-Civil War Atlanta -- the city was founded as a railroad crossroads, and a depot (the one from Gone With the Wind) once stood where the Underground is now, created during the 1920's when viaducts elevated the streets and left the old storefronts below the surface. So we went back to the hotel, took the kids swimming, and cooked Indian food in the microwave in our room to save money for dining in New Orleans!

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Monday we will leave Georgia, visit historical stuff in Mobile, then head to the beach near Pensacola!