Sunday, September 11, 2005

Fish heads, fish heads, roly-poly fish heads

I drove to New England on Thursday to cover the Raiders/Patriots game for, and on my way home Friday, I stopped at not one, but two aquariums.


I love aquariums. I'm fascinated by fish and undersea life, especially things like sharks and funny-looking fish and cool stuff like that.

My gold standard is the big aquarium at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. But I've been to plenty of others, including the one in Camden.

This particular trip, I stopped at the one in Mystic, where I haven't been in years, and then at the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, the one Connecticut Gov. John Rowland used to tout, at least until he went to jail.

I'd driven all the way through Connecticut to Rhode Island for the game, and was driving back pretty early in the morning on Friday, all the way back across. Mystic is at the end farthest from Jersey, while Norwalk isn't much beyond NYC.

Anyway, the Mystic aquarium is bigger and nicer and more fun, but the Norwalk one is usually somewhat disappointing; nonetheless, it has its good points.

I first stopped in Mystic, since it was closer. That was very cool. They have a beluga whale - it screeches and they feed it and you can pay extra to touch it, though I didn't. And what's cooler is the tank is on two levels, and you can go down a level and look through windows to see it underwater. The white whale (not THAT white whale) even can get about halfway out of the water.

And they had penguins. I love penguins. Like the hockey team. I want to see that penguins movie someday. But the cool thing was, it was warm and yet they were just waddling around - apparently these are South African penguins that can tolerate warmer temperatures - but not freezing ones.

Seals are nice (more on that later), though I'm generally in favor of clubbing. But the sea lions just lay there. Not that this is a bad life, laying out on a rock in the sun all day long.



Too late.

It didn't work the last time, either. But there were ducks.

And then there were some pretty cool fish and jellyfish and other stuff inside the main pavilion.

But the highlight was probably the undersea stuff, which included a wild ride on one of those chairs that rocks and shakes with the 3D movie you're watching. It was some kind of space coaster, and I almost lost my glasses a couple of times. I haven't been on one of those rides since Kings' Dominion in college.

Plus there were exhibits on PT-109, the Titanic and other Bob Ballard-related undersea discoveries. I really love that stuff.

And of course, as with all American tourist attractions, all roads lead to the gift shop. I was hoping to get a new frog-no-evil T-shirt, but they didn't have my size.

So it was back on the road.

I stopped at Norwalk with low standards - I missed the albino alligator they'd been advertising on the radio, and also missed their special exhibit, one of three highlights of the place.

I always hear ads for the Maritime Aquarium on the radio, and a few years ago, I drove all the way up, battling traffic on I-95, because they advertised the robot zoo. Now that sounded awesome, but was actually just kind of so-so and underwhelming. I guess nothing could live up to the idea of an aquarium with a ROBOT zoo!

But this smallish aquarium does have its good points. It has an IMAX theater - touted as the only one in Connecticut. I made it to the last show of the day, and was the only one there - I saw a documentary on the Nile, which wasn't the one I wanted to see (the one on the vikings), but it was the only show left.

And I got to see the seal feeding - which was the highlight the last time I was there, too. The people who do it are really funny and friendly, and the seals really have their own little personalities.

The fish exhibits are just OK, except they have a ton of sharks in this one tank and a very nice jellyfish tank.

But it's much closer than Mystic. Still, I think for an extra half-hour each way, next time I'll go to Baltimore, or even Camden, which wasn't that great the last time I was there, but I've heard has been completely redone.

Of course, they've got a dinosaur exhibit coming that'll probably sucker me in anyway.

And honestly, just about every aquarium probably has something that'll keep me staring at it, and make me feel like a little kid again. I love 'em.

The Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn.
The Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Conn.
The National Aquarium in Baltimore
Adventure Aquarium in Camden, N.J., where you can read my game coverage from the NFL 2005 season debut

I finally enjoyed a "Trading Spaces" again. A few weeks ago, they did a show where they played a joke on the designers (Doug and Hildi, the "gruesome twosome") and hired actors who just went nuts all through the weekend, before fessing up at the reveal. I laughed like mad then and tonight, when they showed the repeat. But I still think the show sucks without Paige Davis. Damn you, TLC, damn you!

And on a more somber note, today's the fourth anniversary of 9/11. God bless the survivors, and may the dead rest in peace.

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