A Quick Trip to the Peach State
I was welcomed by a soothing breeze as I left the airport. The scattered cottony clouds and the deep blue sky complimented each other. I felt satisfied with choosing Georgia, the Peach State, as my vacation spot.
Scattered with mountains, lakes and rivers, Atlanta is located in the foothills of the southern Appalachians in north–central Georgia. Our first stop was Stone Mountain Park, a granite mountain located in a suburb of Atlanta. It is the world’s largest exposed piece of granite and one of the three largest monoliths in the world. On the face of this mountain are three carved patriotic American figures: Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. The park offers a variety of family adventures. My favorite was the cable car ride; it takes you to the very top of the mountain offering a full view of Atlanta. As the evening approached, I was not able to avoid the grandeur of Stone Mountain and joined the people who had already started making their way toward the open field that lay in front of the mountain. At this point, there was no room to move about and people were everywhere. A single firework flared up into the night sky illuminating the darkness. At the same time, the music and laser show commenced. Streaks of lasers, synchronized to each beat of the music, were projected onto the mountain’s carved figures. In the end, I was left craving more of what Atlanta has to offer.
During your vacation in this culturally and historically rich state, it is hard to avoid a visit to the Fernbank Museum of Natural History. Filled with programs for all ages, the museum provides the opportunity to explore the world of science; prehistoric creatures and ancient fossils, including the largest dinosaurs; cultural exhibitions; and the IMAX all under one roof. The feature that appealed to me the most was Chocolate: The Exhibition. I couldn’t resist the urge of indulging in this special treat. This exhibition is on display from February 11 to August 13 and provides an informative presentation of the history of chocolate from the discovery of the cacao plant found in the tropical rain forest to present day chocolate. It also reveals several amazing facts about the cacao seed used by Mayans as a frothy beverage in their royal and religious ceremonies around 600 BCE. Though the drink was reserved only for the elite, it became really popular in other cultures. Soon, it was discovered by Europeans who used forced labor to meet its demand in the market. My tour ended conveniently in the exhibit’s souvenir shop, which was filled with a variety of chocolate candies and cookies and books about chocolate. Even after viewing the exhibit, a sweet tooth’s paradise, I was still eager to purchase some chocolate for myself. (Pictures provided by Fernbank Museum.)
Next, I visited The Georgia Aquarium, a strange looking building, which, from the outside, gives the impression of a ship breaking through a wave. The aquarium, considered the world’s largest and divided into five main galleries, includes a 4-D theater, the Café Aquaria, and the Oceans Ballroom. There are 8 million gallons of fresh and salt water and more than 100,000 animals representing 500 species from around the globe. As I entered the main hall, a large gathering of people caught my attention. I quickly made my way toward the group and saw a large pond filled with beautiful stingrays. Parents and children of all ages were anxiously waiting to touch the mysterious looking silky discs.
Another exhibit highlights the enormous and magnificent Beluga whales. The mammals dipped in and out of the water so elegantly and swam close to the window, staring right back at the people. Even though the whales were away from their natural habitat, it seemed as though they were quite comfortable in their new home.
The Cold Water Quest provided an opportunity to view and learn about cold salt- water fishes and marine mammals, including the Australian leafy sea dragons, California sea lions, sea otters, African black-footed penguins, giant Pacific octopus, Garibaldi damselfish, and Japanese spider crabs that hung among the rocky ledges. Another section, Georgia Explorer, was full of horseshoe crabs, sea stars, stingrays, and shrimp, and also features Georgia sea turtles and the fishes of Gray’s Reef. An informative video presentation about right whales, which are one of the most endangered mammals on the planet, was also shown in the same gallery.
A walk through an acrylic tunnel of the Ocean Voyager segment gives the visitor an overhead view of the mesmerizing whale sharks, toothy cubarra snappers, schools of predatory trevally jacks, squadrons of small and large stingrays, an enormous goliath grouper, and hammerhead sharks. Nearly 100,000 fishes swim behind the second largest viewing window in the world at 23 feet tall by 61 feet wide and 2 feet thick.
The world’s largest freshwater fish, the arapaima; the piranha, and a wide variety of freshwater creatures found in the rivers of Africa, South America, Asia, and North America can be seen in the River Scout section, which emphasizes the necessity of protecting our freshwater environments. In contrast to the freshwater exhibit, the saltwater Tropical Diver portion provides an overhead view of thousands of beautifully colored reef fishes, squid, seahorses, fairy basslets, yellowhead jawfish, and jellyfish.
The fun and excitement was never ending in Atlanta. For lunch, we chose Lake Sidney Lanier as our picnic spot. Situated in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the north of Atlanta, the lake is well known for a variety of recreational activities and spectacular scenery. Deer grazing on the lush foliage around the lake was enough to justify the area’s 7.5 million visitors a year.
A trip to Atlanta would not be complete if you did not visit Coca Cola Plaza. Created in Atlanta 200 years ago, Coca Cola is now the most popular soft drink in over 200 countries. A big three dimensional Coca Cola globe at the main entrance welcomes you to the world of Coca-Cola Atlanta. This three story plaza includes an atrium filled with flags representing the countries where this drink is often enjoyed. For those who always wanted to know how it all started, how Coke is manufactured as well as its entire history, this is the place to visit. Last, for all the Coke devotees, you can always drop by and admire the 16 foot Coke fountain and have a complimentary tall pitcher of Coke.
To satisfy my hunger, I visited the recommended Café Istanbul located in Decatur, Georgia. Be sure to go on Saturday night but get there early as this little hot spot gets filled up pretty quickly. On the outside, you may not even notice the restaurant or think anything of it, however, that all changes as you enter and are greeted with the aroma of exotic spices and freshly lit hookahs. Diners can choose between tables and chairs for the less adventurous and a traditional Turkish styled room filled with floor cushions and low-set coffee tables. The walls and ceilings of this darkly lit restaurant are covered in Middle Eastern art and are illuminated by candles providing a romantic atmosphere. As the speakers blared mystical Turkish music, friendly waiters briskly maneuvered their way in and around the tables taking orders.
I recommend the lamb and eggplant, though there are many more offerings, and everything is Halal. I requested the waiter bring out the most popular dishes and started with the mezze plate, an appetizer selection that includes hummus and tabouli served with unlimited stone-baked flat bread. The choban kavurma, a mouth watering plate of lamb sizzling in olive oil and accompanied by onions, tomatoes, mushrooms, and peppers covered in special Mediterranean herbs and the imam banildi, eggplant stuffed with chopped tomatoes, onion, parsley, garlic, and almonds compliment each other. Be sure to finish off your meal with the restaurant’s traditional tea while enjoying the unique dining experience.
If you bring your children, you may not want to get there too late. Since this place does get overcrowded, some children may feel overwhelmed with the music, hookahs and belly dancers!
After experiencing the beauty of Georgia, I was eager to explore more of Atlanta; however, my vacation soon came to an end. Surely, I have returned with great memories and some great photos.
For More Information:
Chocolate, The Exhibition
Stone Mountain Park
Lake Sidney Lanier
Coca Cola Plaza