A Weekend in Atlanta

One of my dear friends called me and said, “I have a crazy idea. You can totally say no.” She then asked my husband and me to come visit for the weekend to help out with a Latin club event on a Friday. Instead of saying no, we packed up the car, hauled along my husband’s student teacher, bribed our foster kiddo in the trip with the promise of visiting a horse show, and drove 13 hours to Atlanta. Yep, we drove 26 hours over the long President’s Day weekend and missed a day of work or classes each to help out with a Latin event and then sightsee in Atlanta. Totally crazy. Definitely nerds.

After that initial Friday’s Latin club activities, our sightseeing plan of attack included some traditional and not-so-traditional highlights in Atlanta. For example, we vetoed the repeated suggestion to visit World of Coke. My husband and I endured World of Coke once already last year, and I will never, ever live down the fact that I was the one who proposed we visit. Our kiddo was disappointed, but she readily agreed to visiting the zoo and the aquarium. Additionally, she discovered a monastery near Georgia International Horse Park—where we watched some jumping events—and we agreed to go.

The Monastery of the Holy Spirit was an unexpected gem for me. I would have never chosen to visit a monastery, but the grounds of the monastery were lovely. I can almost imagine how pretty the landscape would be in later spring when the trees are covered with foliage. In addition to a gift shop (where I bought two boxes of fudge), the monastery has a garden center whose focus is bonsai trees. Yes. A monastery with bonsai trees. We brought home our new bonsai tree and named him Abbot.

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The monastery has a small museum with exhibits that are informative and significantly more inclusive than I would have imagined: they used CE dating and referenced other religious traditions, such as Buddhist monks.  The 20-minute video in the museum details the history of the monastery as well as its environmental contributions to the area for preserving natural areas. The Monastery also offers a green-burial cemetery for the public regardless of religious affiliation. I found the environmental focus of the monastery to be charming. Bring your bikes if you’re interested in extending your visit; the monastery is adjacent to a lovely multiuse path that extends 30 miles through the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area.

While the Monastery was the unexpected gem of our trip, we still enjoyed the more traditional sightseeing activities:  Zoo Atlanta and the Georgia Aquarium. My husband is usually leery of zoos; the animals in confinement generally make him sad. He, however, enjoyed his trip to the zoo, and only one animal exhibit created the kind of pain he usually experiences (the Red Panda was walking in the same worn-down path in repeated circles). Most of the exhibits were interesting and the animals themselves delightful. I had the incredible experience of seeing a majestic lion atop a rock roaring—yes, roaring—as we watched on. We attended an informative and silly bird show, and the opportunity to see two twin panda babies was genuinely that once-in-a-lifetime chance. They were fuzzy balls of adorable fluff. Because we went in winter, a few animals were not on display. I do recommend going earlier in the morning; I believe animals are more active in the morning and the crowds thinner.

By the time we arrived at the Georgia Aquarium after lunch, the crowds had multiplied into a veritable swarm. Some of the exhibits were difficult to see due to the sheer number of visitors at the aquarium. You would have to wait your turn to squeeze in to look at the marine creatures on display. Since this was our second time to the aquarium, we usually held back to let our foster kiddo and my husband’s student teacher have the best views. The notable exception? We waited until people left to hog the octopus tank. After listening to the entirety of the Soul of an Octopus in the car, we wanted to see the Giant Pacific Octopus in the tank. She obliged—only just. A lone tentacle emerged from the octopus’s hiding point to wave at us before she pulled it back inside her hideaway.

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On this trip to the aquarium, the highlights (aside from the octopus greeting, of course) were the beluga whales and the dolphin show. The beluga whales were blowing rings in the water and playing with them. Sometimes they swam through them, and other times they would intentionally blow water at them to cause them to disperse. The sight was delightfully silly while also being ethereal against the blue light of the tank. While the belugas captured our imagination in a quiet, awestruck way, the dolphin show was a true spectacle. Watching the dolphins jump and swim and the trainers interact with them was in some ways indescribable. The dolphins can jump so high, and their intelligence and athleticism were indisputable.

We slogged through the 13-hour drive home on Monday, leaving early to beat the awful traffic in Atlanta. We listened to Quiet on the way home, and it was a solid book on the different skills introverts bring to the table in business or even the classroom. My husband has already utilized one of the strategies discussed in the book this week, so it was a solid “read” for us.

All in all, it was a good, albeit exhausting, weekend visit to Atlanta. When I heard our kiddo describe the trip as awesome to a friend, I smiled and couldn’t help but agree.

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