Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Hibachi, Whale Sharks, and a Wedding: Labor Day Weekend in ATL


Did you all have a happy Labor Day? I don't even know how to begin to share about what we did the past few days, so I'll do what I always do and (try to) start from the beginning.

This weekend we had plans to witness the best man from our wedding tie the knot with his bride near Atlanta, Georgia. At nearly 800 miles away, Atlanta is hardly a day trip for us. Nor is it a trip we could easily drive in a weekend without exhausting ourselves (and frustrating our 12-month old son to no end, I'm sure)...so we booked tickets for flights awhile back and decided to make it sort of a mini-vacation (because when's the next time we'll have a reason to visit Atlanta?).

Thankfully, attending a vigil mass was the only thing on Saturday's to-do list, because delay after delay after delay (you'd imagine I mean with the flight, but that actually happened according schedule) tried to bring us down. We seriously almost missed our departing flight because the Philadelphia airport did nearly everything within their power to keep us from getting to Atlanta - but I won't dwell on all of that. Instead, I'll simply make a mental note to never ever park in the economy parking lot at the Philadelphia airport ever again. Once we arrived in Atlanta we encountered another unexpected sort of delay that came in the form of a rental car shortage. Had we waited for the company we booked with, we easily would have stood in line to pick up our vehicle for three hours; praise the Lord we were able to snag something from another rental car company at the last minute! Several people in line tried to do this with no success, so I have no qualms about saying this was probably a small miracle.

Once we got to our hotel north of the city, everything was beautiful. We made it just in time for the vigil mass at a nearby parish we had scoped out online - and wow, was that church massive. Not only was it unexpectedly huge, but it was gorgeous and the actual mass reminded us so much of our beloved parish back in Ann Arbor. Maybe it was the joyful relief of somewhat weary travelers finally getting a chance to just be...but that mass was one of the most rejuvenating experiences I've had at church in awhile (which is really saying something, because lately I have been overwhelmed with blessed experiences at our new parish)!

The photo I hurriedly snapped on my phone afterwards simply doesn't do it justice. The picture alone cannot properly convey the immense love, joy, and peace I experienced inside that church during that particular mass, but that's part of why I have a blog - so I can attempt to put it down in words. If you're ever in Roswell, Georgia make sure to stop by St. Peter Chanel.

After church we hit up a hibachi restaurant we saw near our hotel. It was Gabriel's very first hibachi experience which made it so much more fun! He absolutely loved it and had such a great time smiling at the family sharing our table and giggling and all the fancy tricks and happy rhythms as our food was cooked before our eyes.

Then came Sunday. Our friends' wedding was Sunday evening, which meant we had all day to check out the Georgia Aquarium! 

Before this weekend I had been to Atlanta twice (in '96 for the Olympics and in '05 for NCYC), so I had already been to the Coke Factory, CNN Center, Georgia Dome, and Centennial Olympic Park. I would have had to do some research to come up with something new for us to explore, but thankfully my husband already knew that the Georgia Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world. Additionally, it's the only aquarium in the entire Western hemisphere that has whale sharks - and they currently have 4! Michael was so eager to see the whale sharks, we both love aquariums, and I was grateful not to do any research for this vacation whatsoever - so the aquarium it was!

Ergo hip carry for the win.

Honestly we thought that it would take us all day to see everything, but that wasn't the case. Part of this is because we've spent a lot of time visiting aquariums, though, so we didn't need to spend hours reading all the signs. The Georgia Aquarium had a very nice, easy-to-follow layout and they win major bonus points in my book for having a ballroom with a view of the beluga whales! We didn't know this was a thing - but as we headed upstairs from the cafe in search of somewhere to eat our lunch, an employee told us, "Head straight through those doors to dine with the belugas." 

Dine with the belugas?! Yes, please. 

Before we get to that, though, let's back-up for a moment and talk about their dolphin show. Personally, I love dolphin shows. They are almost always my favorite part of zoos and aquariums alike. Had I not been a parent, I think I would have watched their AT&T sponsored "Dolphin Tales" show with glee - delighting in the fact that they were trying to create a Disney-like atmosphere with their show that featured an interactive, musical plot line. However, as a mother to an infant bordering on toddler-hood I had such a hard time with it. I'm amazed that Gabriel did not jump, whine, or scream his head off crying because their flashing lights, strobe light (yes, strobe light. What dolphin show has strobe lights?!), and fake ocean thunderstorm (featuring crashing waves, lightning, and booming thunder) probably would have terrified most young children. Miraculously, Gabriel sat through the entire show, fascinated by the water, lights, and dolphins. I made sure to hug him tight whenever things happened that he might find scary or startling, but he was fine. Overall, Michael and I agreed that we enjoyed seeing the dolphins but think that their show was way over-the-top and completely unnecessary. 

Now back to the belugas.


We quickly ate our lunch then spent some quality time in front of the viewing window - where I happened to capture some of my all-time favorite photos of the trip:

Yes, we were really this close!

Isn't that beluga whale so cute?! Because we spent so much time watching them up close after lunch, we were able to fly through that exhibit and head to the much-anticipated exhibit that we had saved for last. 

I am so glad we saved the Ocean Voyager exhibit until the end of our visit because it was hands down the best. Right when you enter you find yourself in a tunnel, completely surrounded by fish. We stared - mesmerized - for a couple of minutes before I realized that the tank we were standing under housed all the whale sharks and giant manta rays!

This Giant Manta Ray was swimming directly above my head...!

One of my favorite things about the exhibits at the Georgia Aquarium was that you often got to view certain tanks from multiple angles. As we walked through and looked at other things we could pass by the main tank again with the benefit of having another vantage point. After passing through the tunnel I didn't think we could possibly have such a great view again - but I was wrong. Towards the end, we walked into a massive room and saw this:

Despite the fact that Michael and I have been to multiple aquariums, this trip offered us some brand new, unique experiences. In addition, we had the joy of introducing our baby boy to his first big aquarium visit. I know he won't remember any of it, but 12.5 months was such a fun age to take him!

After our already fun-filled day at the aquarium we headed back to the hotel to rest and (thankfully!) Gabriel took a much-needed nap. Then we were off to watch our friends tie the knot in a quaint, local cottage!

Initially we were surprised at how few guests were in attendance, but the venue was perfect for such a cozy gathering and it only made us that much more grateful that we could be there. After all, it's pretty special that my husband had the privilege of being one of the the groom's only college friends to witness their marriage (in case you're curious, the groomsmen were the groom's 4 brothers and 1 future brother-in-law).

Some of the groom's former co-workers and Bloomington friends were there which also meant that one of Michael's groomsmen from our wedding (and his wife) were in attendance. We hadn't seen any of them since our own wedding, so I know Michael had a fun evening catching up with everybody. I definitely had fun, too, but feeding and tending to a very overly-tired little boy (who handled everything like a champ and shed zero tears, by the way) kept me pretty busy most of the night. 

The wedding ceremony itself was lovely as was the reception. I could tell that the bride had designed and (probably with the help of her family and girlfriends) created so many personal touches that - as a former bride - I definitely recognized and appreciated. Most importantly, though, our friends made sacred vows to one another before their family, friends, and the Lord and began the journey of a lifetime. We are so happy for them! 

Monday morning we headed back to Philadelphia and were blessed with basically the opposite experience we had traveling on Saturday. Everything went smoothly and we got a huge break when the 3rd person in our row of 3 never showed up. Having 3 seats all to ourselves was such an unexpected but very welcome turn of events and Gabriel probably had the most fun he's ever had on an airplane. 

Enjoying our plane ride!

You'd think the weekend stopped there, but we arrived home in the afternoon which left us with half a day to finish out our holiday. While Gabriel napped I was able to sneak out for a rare, solo(!) poolside experience before we all got dinner in the borough with a friend. We did a lot in only a couple of days and Gabriel needed to catch up on some precious Zs today, but there's no doubt that it was all worth it. 

I feel so blessed that we were able to journey so far to celebrate with our friends. I'm sure we would have had a quiet weekend at home if we hadn't made the trip to Georgia - but instead we had quite the adventure and made lots of great memories! I can only hope that all of you also had holiday weekends that were abundantly blessed!

“A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”
-John Steinbeck

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