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Atlanta 2018: Georgia Aquarium

Day 2, Monday, January 22, 2018

Monday afternoon I went to the Georgia Aquarium, where I was going to swim with Whale Sharks!  To say I was excited was an understatement!  I have wanted to do this for several years, and I decided this would be my Christmas gift to myself.  The Georgia Aquarium has the largest aquarium tank in the world, and is home to four whale sharks and four manta rays.  They purchased their whale sharks from the Taiwanese fishing trade, where they would have ended up in the fish market – Taiwan at the time had quotas on whale shark fishing, so they wouldn’t have been able to just catch more after selling their sharks to the aquarium.  But I digress.

Before my swim in the late afternoon, I had a chance to see all of the exhibits.  They had a really cool tropical reef exhibit, complete with wave action. I enjoyed watching that one for awhile.  They also have a bunch of penguins and puffins, doing penguin and puffin stuff, seahorses, sea dragons, and otters.  The otters moved constantly, so it was impossible to get a non-blurry photo of them.  The dolphin exhibit was closed when I was there, but I wasn’t too disappointed since I had the opportunity to swim with wild dolphins in Hawaii last year!  As a complete aside, did you know there is a Chocolate Chip Sea Star!??

The aquarium has a couple beluga whales, and two albino alligators!  Pirahnas, longcomb sawfish, Black Reeftip sharks, sea turtles, green sea turtles, cownose rays, and all sorts of other fish. The Ocean Voyager exhibit alone has an astonishing number of fish; the tank contains 6 million gallons of seawater!  You can see all the different animals in the Ocean Voyager tank.   It is a nice aquarium.

I checked in for my swim at about 4 pm; we were going behind the scenes at 4:30.  I was so excited!  There were 8 of us total, and we were paired up into buddy pairs.  We were led back into the back area to check out the tank – it was interesting to see the tank from above!  Did you know they have machines that agitate the water and spotlights at the surface so you can’t see what’s going on up there when you are looking at the fish from below?

We were fitted with our wet suits, gloves, booties and snorkels, and then headed into the dressing room to get changed.  Those suckers are really hard to wiggle into, just so you know.  Once we were dressed, we went back out to the surface of the tank, and they explained all the details.  We were to swim very slowly, mostly just occasionally paddling with our hands, to move in a lazy figure 8 around the tank.  The whale sharks stay near the surface, and they tend to swim close to the walls of the tank, so that’s where we would be.  We were told that we shouldn’t touch them, but we didn’t have to move away if they brushed up against us!

We got into the water and headed out, being wrangled by a lead diver and another bringing up the rear, in case we went astray.  A third diver was in the water getting video of the fish, and all of us.  The water is 76 degrees, which gets cold after a bit!

This was an amazing experience.  The whale sharks are so big and so gentle!  Being in the water with them was like one big, long WOW!  I literally said “WOW!” over and over again through my mouthpiece.  The manta rays move more quickly and come right up underneath you!  During the swim, one whale shark swam right underneath me and brushed my abdomen with her back and dorsal fin (I think they are all females).  None of the manta rays touched me, but they did brush against a few of the others in the group.

 

The water is really clear, so you can see all the way to the bottom, and can see the other fish swimming.  The Cow Nose rays, the Longcomb Sawfish, the Blacktip Reef Sharks, and countless other types of sharks and fish were all just moving below you constantly.  It was so cool to see from this vantage point!  The aquarium has a tunnel through the tank where the other swimmers’ family and friends could watch – it was interesting to see them standing down there under the water!

It is absolutely one of my favorite experiences so far in my life – I had so much fun doing this!

An added bonus was the fact that my swim coincided with an evening where they were switching over the computer software for the cash registers.  Since the registers were shut down for this, they gave each of us a video of our swim for free!  Normally you have to pay – it was an unexpected treat!

 

After the swim, I walked back to the hotel (in the only pouring rain of the trip), and brushed out my wet hair.  I was hungry, so I headed right back down the block to Ted’s Montana Grill.  Ted’s is a chain, founded by Ted Turner (of CNN fame) and specializes in bison with a Western Saloon theme.  I had a delicious mushroom Swiss bison burger, with pickled cucumbers, and tomatoes drizzled with bleu cheese and balsamic.  It was sooooo gooooood…  I also had some Bison Ridge Merlot wine, which I believe is another Turner project – it was a great wine!  The meal wrapped up a fantastic day!

Cost: $45.95 for general admission during peak hours (there are significant discounts for online pre-purchase, early or late arrival, groups, etc, and it is included on the CityPass).  Swimming with the Whale Sharks (called the Journey with Gentle Giants) was $233.95 and included aquarium admission, the swim, a t-shirt, and a sticker.  There is also a dive option for certified SCUBA divers.

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Trader Joe’s Reserve North Coast Brut Rosé

Sparkling wines are some of my favorite things.  Anytime – even any ordinary Monday…  I love this one – but I had a long day, so I’m going to poach the description from the Trader’s Joe’s flyer.  I went with the sparkling rosé, for a pinker, more berryful Brut, as they say.

Trader Joe’s Reserve North Coast Brut is a classic Brut. Which is to say, it’s dry in style—having had a smaller amount of sugar added during the dosage (doe-SAZJ) stage of the wine making process. It’s an excellent addition to your holiday wine list, a wine that so well exemplifies the characteristics of its origins, we were compelled to bestow upon it our Reserve designation. The grapes – Chardonnay from the banks of the Russian River in southern Mendocino County, and Pinot Noir from Carneros in Sonoma County – deliver green apple and pink grapefruit aromas, with crisp, clean flavors of Granny Smiths and raspberries. The fruit flavors arrive with a creamy mouth-feel, resulting from 12 months of aging “on the lees” in the bottle. (Lees are the remnants of the yeast added at bottling to activate a second fermentation.) Incidentally, this in-bottle fermentation is also what creates the sparkle. Trader Joe’s Reserve North Coast Brut Sparkling Wine is ready to exhibit its dry, ebullient sparkle at your next holiday gathering. Its sibling, Rosé, is also available for those desiring a pinker, more berryful Brut. 750ml bottles of each are $9.99*

 

Happy Monday – 4 days to go.

 

Vet’s Day Weekend 2017: Annapolis

Day 1, Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Last fall, I decided I needed to take some time away, so I booked a long weekend to the East Coast.  Flying cross country is always tough; for this trip I had to be on my airport shuttle at 4:10 am, which means getting my taxi at 3:40 am!  I never get to bed before about 10 pm on nights when I am flying out the next morning, so you can imagine the sleep deprivation.  It is so worth it when I get to board that plane though!

My flight was direct – and absolutely uneventful.  I got my car, and made my way to Annapolis; it was only about a 25-minute drive there from the airport.  I stayed at the State House Inn, a historic hotel that was originally a house.  There are only 7 rooms, so it is really more an inn than a hotel – without breakfast though.  They do have an agreement for room service from the Italian restaurant below.  The State House Inn is over 200 years old, and perhaps as old as 300 years; however, there aren’t existing records that show when the house was built.

The State House Inn

The upper stories are home/inn, and the first floor is commercial space (this floor is only visible from the back side of the house).  It has undergone a variety of restorations, with the the most recent addition to the building in 1900. You can see the bones of the original building from Chancery Lane, which they say is the most photographed site in Annapolis because of the view of the illuminated dome of Maryland’s State House (you know I had to see that for myself).  The alley was supposedly used by George Washington returning to Mount Vernon on December 23, 1783, after resigning his commission in the State House (there are stairs, so he must not have gotten on his horse yet).

MD State House, from Chancery Lane

Their website indicates that it is owned and operated by Naval Academy graduate Lieutenant Commander Marc Lucas, but I talked with the manager during my stay and she had indicated that there were new owners, so it is likely that the website is outdated.

For dinner, I headed across the street to the Red Red Wine Bar for a flight of wine and a charcuterie plate.  The wine flights and meats and cheeses were delicious!  They have a huge selection of  wines by the glass and the bottle, and also have an extensive selection of whiskys, for my whisky drinker readers.  The atmosphere was very nice, and the server was excellent, explaining all the flavors on the cheeses and meats so I could choose what I wanted.  After my light dinner, I spent a little time wandering the quiet streets of Annapolis, looking in the shop windows, before heading back to the Inn for bed.  Overall, it was a quiet evening, considering that most of the day was spent traveling.  I was excited to see the sights the next day!

I chose an international red wine flight

 

My flight, with wine details

La Granja 360 – Cava Brut

A quick shop at Trader Joe’s revealed this sparkling wine in the chilled section – it was almost dinner time so chilled won me over.  Plus that label, with the flustered goose!

Light delicate bubbles and a light yellow color, this wine has creamy flavors of yeast and pear.  I picked up a floral nose, but that largely went away after the first glass.  The bubbles were mostly gone on the second day, but the flavor was still solid.

La Granja 360 Cava Brut

The price point – $6.99 is perfect for no-fuss, everyday drinking.  I paired it with the scent of green grass on my clothes after mowing the lawn…  It is a wine I would certainly buy again!

2018 Wine Walk

My life isn’t all vacations and rainbows – believe it or not, mostly it isn’t.  As such, even though it doesn’t always appear in the pages of this blog, I spend a fair bit of time around home.  Work, yard work, chores, and of course, planning and saving for the next vacation.

I missed the Wine Walk last year because I was in Hawaii (yea, yea, I know you don’t feel bad for me…) – so I was excited to go this year!

Me – Pre-Walk

The event is put on by our Downtown Partnership, who coordinate all the participating shops and wineries – they do a fantastic job.  I met Shelley downtown and we had a blast!  You get your little tasting cup and tickets, and wander all over downtown for wine and snacks at the various participating shops.  There were several other friends wandering around, so we stopped to chat here and there when we ran into people we knew.

Shelley and me with the town flag

(Note: Yes, our town has its own flag.  I think it is a hippie thing.  Or is it a hipster thing?  Either way – it seems weird, but why not do flag selfies!?)

Several Washington wineries participate and get big exposure in a few short hours!  Our local co-op grocery store did an awesome spread of healthy snacks, including veggies with hummus, Greek olives and dolmathes.  As it turned out, Shelley had never had dolmathes.  I said, “Just put it in your mouth.  Trust me – you won’t regret it.”  She didn’t regret it!

All the little shops had their pretties for sale, but I was good and didn’t buy anything, except one bottle of white wine.  I was tempted, but I am trying to save money…  We stopped in at the Cajun restaurant for a late snack, before heading home.

My favorite wine was the Rosé by Eternal Wines in Walla Walla – it was so delicious and perfect for summer!  So, even at home, I try to have some fun!

 

2015 Sleight of Hand The Magician Riesling

Yesterday, a day after getting home from a fabulous spring break road trip down to California on Sunday, I pulled a bottle out of the wine fridge.  It felt like summer in California, even if it doesn’t feel like summer here at home, so I wanted a summer sweet Riesling!

My friends and I visited Sleight of Hand Cellars when we were in Walla Walla last Memorial Day.  It was a great visit, and they had wonderful wines!

The 2015 The Magician Riesling is sourced from Evergreen Vineyard, which located high on the cliffs above the Columbia River in Central Washington. 2015 was a warm year in Washington for wines, but Evergreen Vineyard is a cooler site, which allowed for extra hang time for the grapes.  It has a delicious balanced acidity, with green apple and pear flavors, crisp minerality, and plenty of citrus.

2015 Sleight of Hand Riesling

It is sold out at the winery, but I think it cost about $18.  If you have tried it, let me know what you thought!

 

Analemma Blanc de Noir

In astronomy, an analemma is a diagram showing the variation of the position of the Sun in the sky over the course of a year, as viewed at a fixed time of day and from a fixed location on the Earth.  It can be a diagram, or a composite photograph.

In wine, Analemma is a winery in Eastern Oregon that produces a variety of wines, including sparkling wines.

I was introduced to Analemma Wines at the BubblesFest Sparkling Wine festival hosted by Anne Amie Winery in the Willamette Valley.  It was the first time I had ever seen Analemma wines or this wine, a 2011 Blanc de Noir.  I purchased this bottle at the last BubblesFest I went to in 2016 – I need to get back there again!

Analemma Blanc de Noir

The 2011 Blanc de Noir is 100% Pinot Noir grown in the Columbia Gorge AVA; the wines are some of the oldest in the state’s wine industry, over 40 years old.  The wine is produced in the Methode Champenoise, and aged sur lie for 42 months. The color is a golden yellow, with flavors of creamy yeast and butter.  It was so smooth, and was easily the best sparkling wine I have had in a while…  I drank it over three days. Although the bubbles didn’t last until the third day, the wine was still delicious!

If you have had their wine, please let me know what you thought!