January 31, 2008

Atlanta Zoo

Day 2 in Atlanta we went to the zoo. Not just that we love animals, but Atlanta zoo is quite famous. It is not a zoo where no matter how much you try, you barely see half the exhibits. We were able to cover the entire place in about 4 hours, with ample time watching the critters.

After watching the meerkats taking turns, looking out for things flying in the sky, we were thrilled to see the silver back gorillas relaxing and the otters playing.

The next stop was the main attraction of the zoo - the Giant Panda. The Atlanta Zoo has three of them, a mother (below) and a baby (on top) that is the first one to be born in captivity in the US, and an adult male.

However, all of them were sleeping when we were there. We were walking around seeing all the other exhibits when someone mentioned that it was feeding time at 2 pm and all the sleepy ones will be awake. We doubled back and were lucky to see the adults up and eating. This is the male and the female only showed her back to us for the most part. And the baby - missed the meal.

January 29, 2008

Atlanta - Day 1

We reached Atlanta around 9.30 pm on Christmas Eve and stayed with my childhood friend KKB and his wife. She had made a wonderful South Indian dinner of pearl onion 'sambhar' and potato fry. This is the first homemade meal for us in 4 days and it was splendid.

On Christmas day, we had a late start, had another home made meal of Indian rice cakes - Idlis, with chutney, then headed for the Temple.
The day was cloudy with a little bit of rain. Most places are closed today, with the exception of places of worship and ethnic restaurants / movie theaters. First, we picked up Shankar's cousin Ram, then went to the Hindu Temple of Atlanta. Shankar and I haven't been to a temple since we came back from India last July and this was a good opportunity.

The temple also has a kitchen and we had Tamarind Rice and Yogurt Rice for lunch. They are food items we grew up with and part of our comfort food list.

We went to a movie theater in the mall next for National Treasures - 2. I was not impressed with the second one as I was with the first. It was good time pass before dinner. Atlanta has one of the famous restaurants from Madras (Chennai), called Saravana Bhavan. This is a classic restaurant at home and we were excited to be able to go to one in the States. This branch had opened very recently and one of our other friends Goutham also joined us for dinner. We had food items that are hard to make at home, and it was a lot of fun to meet up with friends and family on Christmas day :)

January 25, 2008

Ruby Falls

Our next stop from the Rock City was the Ruby Falls, located inside the Lookout Mountain. This is the largest indoor waterfalls open to the public and we had to walk through a cavern to get to the actual falls. The geologic formations were pretty interesting en route to the falls. There is no natural opening to the cave (there was one, but it was closed) and so no bats inside.

We had to walk almost half a mile to get to the falls. The falls itself is 145 feet high and was quite a sight. Since it was Christmas Eve the falls was lit up with colorful lights choreographed to music. However, we could have only 5 minutes there and it was the disappointing part - didn't think we would be brought back so soon after paying so much.
Once we were out, we headed straight for out next stop - Atlanta!

January 19, 2008

Rock City

Rock city on the lookout mountain is a splendid place - it is what the name says, though just one man's garden and home than a city. The Garden was the best part and features a lot of native plant species. You have to walk through the Rock City to actually see the seven states.

Grand Corridor
As you walk through the trail, there are both natural rock formations and man-made arrangements. There is a 'needle's eye', and a rock in the shape of a mushroom. They also have some deer on the way in a small park, including the white fallow deer. There is a swing along bridge that takes you to the end of the trail. Lover's leap is the end, from which you can see the seven states. This place so named because, as you can guess, a couple of lovers jumped off of it, has a wonderful view, to the city below and there is a waterfall below it too.

As you walk back, the trail leads through a cavern, and there are display cases on both sides of the trail, with scenes from fairy tales. The caverns are dark, and only the gnomes are lit, so pictures are not that good inside. As you are about to exit, there is a huge display of almost all the tales from Mother Goose Rhymes. It was a little too dark in there, with the dolls lit with UV lighting and could be a little creepy.

Overall for us, it turned out to be a good hike, about 1.5 miles and was a cheerful hour.

January 17, 2008

Chattanooga - Lookout Mountain

The drive from Nashville to Chattanooga was a beautiful one and the day was pleasant.

We hit the city first, wanting to get some lunch. Given the day is December 24, most of the restaurants downtown were closed. We went to Genghis Grill, one of the Mongolian barbecue places, where you can pick out the ingredients you want and they grill them on a huge slab for you and you can watch them do it. Genghis Grill is different from the other such grills we have been to, in that they had like 9 different varieties of spices and more sauces. The serving size is pretty big and Shankar and I were full even with sharing a bowl.

Then we headed to the Lookout Mountain, the popular tourist place in town. It is actually located in Georgia. The Lookout Mountain has three attractions - Rock City, Ruby Falls and the Incline Railway. From the Lookout Mountain, you can also "see" seven states. We were really excited about this when we went there, but discovered that you cannot actually 'see' all the seven states. See picture below - how far can you see, even with really good binoculars / spotting scopes?

We did not have enough time to go to all the attractions, but went to Rock City and the Ruby Falls. The Incline Railway, is a train that takes you up the Lookout Mountain, and is the world's steepest railway. May be we will go to Chattanooga again to go on the Incline Railway :)

January 13, 2008

Nashville Parthenon

On the third day of our Road trip to the South, We started nice and early, with Pastries for breakfast from La Provence, a bakery near Vanderbilt, and their coffee was really good. We headed to the Parthenon, located in the Centennial Park. It is a full scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.

We were unable to go inside and see the 42 feet statue of Athena, as the Parthenon is closed from Dec 22-25. Though we were a little disappointed, we were glad we at least got to see the building and hang around there.
Apart from taking a load of pictures, we played with Amy for a while and she was the happiest dog that morning! For more on what Amy did on our vacation, visit our pet blog - One Dog and Two Birds.

Our next stop is - Chattanooga, Tennessee.

January 10, 2008

Dinner @ Nashville

One word to describe Nashville, as we got there around 8 pm is - Festive! We had reservations at Sunset Grill, near Vanderbilt University. Dinner was wonderful and they had an excellent wine list. I had a glass of Kris Pinot Grigio (2006) from Italy - a full bodied wine with a clean finish and Shankar had a glass of the Yazoo Dos Perros, a local brew. We Started off with Polenta fries, and our main dish was a special of the day - Baked acorn squash, stuffed with apple, sweet potatoes and walnuts, with spinach on the side and a pesto based sauce. We also shared a Creme Brulee, which was a little disappointing, as the caramelized sugar was kind of burnt. Overall, we had a satisfying, romantic dinner.

Though we couldn't make it to any bars for some country music, we drove around downtown for a while, before calling it a day.

January 9, 2008

Land Between the Lakes

As we entered Kentucky, our plan was to take the scenic highway, and drive through the 'Land Between the Lakes' - the lakes being Lake Kentucky and Lake Barkley. The goal was to enter it before sunset, and we were so close. We took Highway 453, from I-24, and even in the winter, it is a beautiful drive. We only wish we had a little bit more time. We didn't go the entire course, but took Highway 68 back to I-24 after it got dark, but not before we had the opportunity to get shutter-happy :)

Amy and I on Lake KentuckyShankar
The woods are lovely...
One of my best shots

January 7, 2008

Through Illinois, into Kentucky

After a big hearty breakfast at 'Uncle Tom's Pancake House' in Bloomington, we hit the road again, stopping briefly at Effingham for coffee, and at Dix for gas, and later at Mt. Vernon for lunch. Only the regular fast food places were around and we went to Kieger's Sports Grill and watched the Packers lose.

We entered Kentucky around 4 pm and stopped at the Whitehaven, a 1860's visitor center - which is also on the National Registry of Historic Places. Whitehaven is such an unusual place for a welcome center and rest stop, it is a must-see if you are on I-24 near Paducah, KY.
Entering Kentucky - the Derby State
Whitehaven Historic Landmark and Welcome Center

January 6, 2008

Hitting the road

We left Owen around 1 pm on the 22nd, made a quick lunch stop at the Pizza Hut in Abbotsford (Home of the Christmas Parade) and hit the road. The cold front for one of the big snow storms was moving in and we were anxious to get a head start. Though we were initially glad we escaped the snow, it got pretty foggy and visibility was really bad. At times we had to go like 45 mph on a 65 speed limit.

We stopped at Rockford for an early dinner, but the Thai restaurant we went to, was a big flop. The tofu was not fresh and for vegetable fried rice, they gave us steamed veggies with boiled rice, with not even salt in it :(, giving us no choice than to leave.

As we crossed into Illinois, it also started raining and we decided to spend the night in Bloomington. We stopped at an Indian restaurant (Puran) and finally got some good food for the day! We had gotten a Magellan GPS during Thanksgiving and today was the first time we used it extensively - to find restaurants and our motel and not get lost the very first day of the trip.

January 5, 2008

On the Road

This break, Shankar, Amy and I went on a long trip heading South, mostly to get away from the cold & snow. We traveled for two weeks, for more than 3500 miles. We also met with a lot of our friends and had loads of fun. In the next few days we will be writing more about our trip - places we went, foods we feasted on, friends we met with, etc...

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