Monday, July 22, 2013

Across the Border to Albany

Ray Charles Plaza, Albany. Photo © by Debi Lander.
We crossed the border into Georgia on I-10 Monday morning and were this close to O.D'ing on billboards - especially the "Strippers - Need we say more? Truck parking" sort -  when we turned off at Tifton and headed west into billboard-free farmland.
Children playing in the pop-up fountain. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Albany couldn't come soon enough and when it did it was a breath of fresh air. Parents and children walking and biking along the Flint River, stopping to watch the bronze homage to Albany native Ray Charles pivot slowly around around its plaza as his recorded music played in the background. A few heading into the air-conditioned bliss of the Flint Riverquarium and a downtown deep in renewal.

Our canoe trip down the Flint has been cancelled - the river is too high and fast - as was our jaunt out to Radium Springs, one of Georgia's seven wonders, for the same reason: Too much rain.

Never mind. What we saw was in a very bearable high 80 degrees without the usual mid-summer mugginess. A fair trade in anyone's book, as we told our hosts with Visit Albany.


"The Pond," Flint Riverquarium. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Judy watches fish in the "blue hole." Photo © by Debi Lander.
The Flint Riverquarium was cool - and not just because of the air-conditioning. Centerpiece is the "pond," at 23' deep and 175,000 gallons one of the largest open-air tanks in the country. Turtles sunned, fish - bass, carp, golden sturgeon, flat-head catfish - swam and we watched.

Gulf toadfish. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Smaller tanks housed denizens from the world's rivers - Gulf Toadfish, spotted Wobbegong sharks, batfish and cichlids from the Rift Valley, Africa's version of Darwin's finches, among the more exotic examples. There's even Moonshine, an albino alligator. There's also an aviary.

Fried chicken, squash casserole, collards and peach cobbler at Carter's. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Miss Lucy Phelps and her squash casserole. Photo © by Debi Lander.
After a caloric break for soul food at Carter's, where Miss Lucy Phelps' squash casserole is a work of sublime art, we continued in the wildlife vein with a trip to Chehaw, a park with a BMX course, disc golf, canoe and kayak launching facilities, primative and RV camping and TV zoo man Jim Fowler's vision of what an exotic animal park should be.

Eland. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Zebra. Photo © Debi Lander.
Sam Houston, a black rhino. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Meercat on watch. Photo © by Judy Wells.
On a veldt drive we met zebras, elands, impalas, gnus and ostrich, after which we were mesmerized by meercats, Sam Houston the black rhino, emus, bashful bears and a female kangaroo whose pouch was overflowing with a lazy joey. You'd never know a city was just down the road.

A quick swing through a science museum and its planetarium and it was off to Merry Acres Inn, a true full-service motor inn, with a genial pub, breakfast room, a shuttle that takes you to locally-owned area restaurants (the Good
Grouper at Catch. Photo © by Debi Lander.
Girls are still happily burping from our fish dinners at Catch)  and real southern hospitality.

Judy, who lived in Albany from 1st through 3rd grades, also learned that you can go home again. Most of it will have been replaced, but some remnants will still be recognizable. Memories you didn't know you had will start flooding back and coincidences pop up like tree frogs after a rain.

Recognizing that Merry Acres
1) stood atop what had once been a plantation with the horse stable that
2) had been turned into apartments in the post-World War II housing crunch that
3) had been her family's first home in Albany and is today owned by
4) the nephew of one of her family's good friends and his sons
 left a maximum of one-degree of separation between past and present.

Well worth a tedious trek on an interstate lined with boring and unsightly billboards.

The Good Girls in the Badlands invasion of Georgia has begun.  Join us for the rest of the ride. We'll try not to burn anything down.

- Post by Judy Wells

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