Sarah and I decided on a whim to spend New Year’s Eve in New Orleans, at the Gulf of Mexico. Milestones along the way would be to visit the biggest aquarium in the Western Hemisphere, admire the “lucky” USS Alabama in Mobile, and watch fireworks and College Football in New Orleans. Writing this blog post I really can’t believe how much we did in only a few days!
We started driving on the day of Christmas Eve. We drove down from Washington, D.C. to Sarah’s family near Richmond, VA. Sarah’s parents had put up their Christmas tree, beautifully decorated with ornaments that had been collected over the past decades. We added our presents to the pile under the tree.
When the sun had set, we took the car out for the Tacky Lights Tour for which Richmond is famous. A lot of families spend a lot of time and money on squeezing as many lights and decorations as possible in their yards and on their house. We drove around the neighborhoods to see the craziest ones. And how crazy they were! Some of them had light displays that were synchronized with a local radio station. If you would look at a yard you could see a lot of lights seemingly randomly turning on and off, and changing colors, but if you tuned in to the radio station, you noticed it was synchronized to the music! Pretty neat. Still, I’m not sure what it says about you if your yard looks like some of the below for 10% of the year.
Christmas with Sarah’s family
On Christmas Day, we unpacked the presents under the tree and headed over to Sarah’s family. We had a huge and delicious Christmas meal there, which included a big ham, sweet potatoes, mac-and-cheese, and a lot of other very American things.
The day after, we drove down to North Carolina, where we would visit an uncle and aunt in their retirement community. Retirement community – it really sounds like a place where you stick old people so they don’t bother you anymore – but how wrong could that perception be! Sarah’s uncle and aunt have pretty impressive backgrounds themselves, but gosh, so do the other residents. Most of them were former professors from nearby Duke University and the University of North Carolina, but others include radiologists, lawyers that played a leading role in segregation lawsuits, and even Auschwitz survivors.
Sarah and I spent a lovely afternoon listening to the life stories of some of these people. For privacy reasons I won’t reiterate them, nor will I post any of the pictures I took – but trust me when I say that it really was quite a humbling experience.
The rest of the day we spent driving to Atlanta, where we checked into our hotel. The other day we left early for the Coca Cola World, a museum showcasing the history of the Coca-Cola Company and brand. Our favorite parts were watching decades old commercials, observing an automated assembly line, and tasting samples from Coca Cola brands from all over the world. All in all, though, we thought they could have done so much more given Coca Cola’s long and rich history.
After the Coca Cola World, we crossed the street and headed over to the Georgia Aquarium, the largest aquarium in the western hemisphere. I am a sucker for aquariums, so I had been looking forward to this for quite a while.
Sadly, the hallways were overcrowded with dozens of ill-behaved kids. Once, I was elbowed away by a little girl, who gave me a nasty stare – how dare I be in her way?!
The absolute highlights of the aquarium are the whale sharks. It is really difficult to appreciate how big these guys are until they float right over your head. We were there at exactly the right moment: feeding time! A small part of me objected as the tank they were in, as massive as it was, seemed a little small for 4 of these giants.
Mobile and the USS Alabama
We decided to cut our visit to Atlanta short. We decided to drive to Mobile, at the Gulf of Mexico, to visit the USS Alabama. On the way we came through some pretty nasty weather. Visibility was reduced to sometimes less than 50 yards. When our phones buzzed with a tornado alarm we even grew a little nervous.
After a quick visit to the town center of Mobile and a great sandwich at one of their local bars, we climbed on board of the ship. The USS Alabama is a huge battleship that survived an unusual high number of battles during WWII, earning the nickname “Lucky A”. After its decommission it has been docked in Mobile and turned into a museum.
Let’s start with the conclusion: WHAT AN AMAZING MUSEUM. It is the best museum I have ever visited. The best part is that they have opened up this floating city almost entirely. Not the usual cordoned off sections accessible to the public – you can wander around the ship as it pleases you, to investigate almost every little room and crevice.
When I think of a battleship, I always think of, indeed, a battleship – guns, ammunition, soldiers. Touring the ship you really find out that it is, of course, so much more than that. It is a floating city, and a city needs more than guns and ammo to survive months at sea.
I tested one of many sleep bunks, admired the dentist and doctor’s office, walked through radar and command rooms, looked at a bakery, post office, accounting office, several types of sleeping chambers, the engine room – and so much more. Just fabulous – see the pictures below for yourself.
Included with the $15 entrance fee is a visit to the submarine that is docked in the same harbor. We had however spent too much time at the USS Alabama already, so we will have to do that another time. Afterwards, we drove on to our southernmost destination: bustling New Orleans.