Sunday, April 29, 2012

anniversary weekend | the tennessee aquarium and hiking

This is where I admit that I almost forgot about our anniversary this year! In fact, Darren had to remind me in the midst of a planning session my family was having for my sister in law's birthday. One of the weekends that came up as a possible option for a party was this one, but Darren asked if we could go do something together instead.

We spent a few days bouncing ideas as to what to do back and forth- a weekend in Aruba? Ooops, my passport expired a week ago (how did I let that happen?). A weekend in Miami, then? Ooops, it was still apparently spring break season there, and flight prices were sky high. And then I got an email from the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga about a new 3D IMAX movie that was premiering the day before our anniversary, and tickets for members (that's us!!) were free.

We love the aquarium (and it's only an hour and a half from our house), so off we went!

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We had to park several blocks from the aquarium because of all the Earth Day hoopla that was going on, but I didn't mind at all since downtown Chattanooga is actually a nice place to walk. There are tons of cool shops, too, like the Moon Pie General Store.

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I didn't go inside, but I was sorely tempted by this Empire Strikes Back metal lunch box (I have the Williams Sonoma A New Hope version that Darren gave me for Christmas one year). In the end it did not come home with me, though. I'm starting to realize that our little casa is getting full, so the less stuff I bring in, the better!

Pictures don't take up any extra room, though. :) And bonus points for unintentional self-portraits, though now I'm waiting for May to say something snarky about me blogging an iPhone photo- not something I normally do. :-P

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We hustled over to the aquarium's member center as soon as we got there so we could snag movie tickets before they were gone (member services wasn't able to reserve them over the phone- I'd tried the week before), and then set off to get some lunch since we were both pretty hungry.

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The day we decided to make Chattanooga our destination, I signed up for the city's Groupon mailing list on the off chance that a great restaurant near the aquarium would pop up before we left. As luck would have it, Cheeburger Cheeburger was the special offer the very next day! It's actually where we ate last time we came here in December.

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There was a bit of a wait for a table, so we walked around downtown for another ten minutes or so since it was such a nice day.

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And then it was time for food!

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We finished lunch with about 45 minutes to go before the movie, but we walked over to the theater anyway since they have a really nice garden in the back courtyard.

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I didn't get any photos of it, but there's actually a really nice, huge stand of wisteria covering the gazebo here, too.

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The movie had great cinematography, but the music and narration annoyed us a bit. We both said we wished we could have turned them off and just watched the scenery!

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The movie + lunch were our real reasons for driving to Chattanooga, but of course we took a tour through the aquarium, too. When we were planning out our day, we both said we didn't mind an abbreviated trip to the aquarium. Funny thing is, Darren said he didn't mind missing the Ocean Journey side, and I said I didn't mind missing River Journey. So we ended up doing both, anyway. :)

But we started at Ocean Journey, where at the top of the building they have pools of stingrays...

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...macaws...

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...touch pools with cownose rays, stingrays, and even small sharks (which is what Darren is reaching up under the bridge to touch)...

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...and a butterfly garden.

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Then there's one of my favorite parts (well, besides getting to pet the cownose rays)- the penguin exhibit.

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I totally ::heart:: penguins.

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This chick? Has pretty much the best job in the whole world. :)

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And then it was on through the rest of the saltwater tanks.

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Clownfish!

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The octopus exhibit was closed last time we visited, but both octopi were definitely out and moving around this time- so cool!

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The jellyfish exhibit is a favorite for both of us- so many different kinds, and so pretty!

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And then it was time to head over to the second building housing the River Journey side of the aquarium.

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Interesting thing about River Journey- you can start out on the lower level with seahorses, of all things! Which is good by me- I can never see too many saltwater aquariums. :)

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Darren absolutely loves weedy and leafy sea dragons. Unfortunately the aquarium only has the weedy ones right now, but he was no less enthralled.

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The true River Journey exhibit starts on the very top level of the building, under a glass roof that lets in all kinds of awesome sunlight.

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Luckily the otters were out playing!

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I didn't take a ton of photos in River Journey- not even of the River Giants exhibit, which was surprisingly open! It was actually officially unveiled this weekend (we were there last week), but we knew better than to go on its opening day. Any big event like that is always a madhouse at the aquarium!

I did photograph this little guy, who is most definitely NOT a river giant. :)

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I had Darren take a photo of me in one of the wading pools outside. I need to find it, but I have a photo of me in the same pool that he took 12 years or so ago! It's hiding in some negatives that I haven't scanned in yet, though, so it may be a while before I can put the two together.

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The next day we went hiking at Stephen's Gap, which is halfway between our house and Chattanooga. We'd actually debated staying in Chattanooga overnight, but in the end decided that we'd really rather just be at home. :)

It turned out to be a good thing, because the temperature was fluctuating between warm and cool, and I wanted a pair of convertible pants just in case it got hot. We live just a few minutes from a great outdoors store, so I was able to pick up a pair right before we headed out to hike.

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There's a really big cave on the hike in, and there are two ways down- the easy way with a steep downhill rock scramble (which is the way we went)...

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...or the hard way through the top opening...

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...which requires rappelling. We stopped for a few minutes to watch this group work on their descents and ascents.

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And then went around to the big and small waterfalls.

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Along the way Darren spotted this little guy...wait, can you see him? Let me zoom in for you...

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...there he is! I would have totally missed him (and probably almost stepped on him) if Darren hadn't pointed him out!

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The big waterfall.

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This is one oddity of hiking in Vibram Five Fingers- you sometimes end up with "toe bouquets" when leaves get stuck between your toes. :)

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On the way out we stopped again at the top entrance to the big cave (we didn't go on the way in since we didn't want to disturb the climbers).

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And this is as close to the edge as I cared to get. I'm something of a weenie when it comes to heights!

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After the weekend was over, we realized that we ended up doing a lot of the same stuff we did when we were in college (read: inexpensive stuff). I think we ended up spending maybe $30 the whole weekend, between the free movie, already having an aquarium membership, and finding the Groupon for lunch. In fact, most of the cost was gas and parking! So glad that we can still enjoy the simple things in life- I hope we never outgrow that.