Meghan and I are in sunny, beautiful Florida. Yesterday was a gorgeous day- sunny and mid-70s. We are basking in the sun and warmth. Today is supposed to be more of the same! We've had bad internet connection the entire trip so I haven't written many emails, updated this blog or facebook and haven't been able to upload any photos. I'll probably have to wait until we get home. If this blog entry publishes I'll be shocked.
We left Peoria at 4:30am on Friday and arrived at Nashville Zoo at 11:30. We stopped in Metropolis, Illinois for gas and got our pictures taken with their "famous" giant Superman statue. It was an easy drive with no traffic. Meghan dropped me off at the zoo and I had lunch with Julie while Meghan had lunch with family in town. We met back up later and Julie toured us around the zoo with behind the scenes tours of giraffe barn, anteaters, education animals and their herp/aquatic area where we got to see their frog and crayfish breeding programs and go on exhibit to pet rhinoceros iguanas. I was allowed to traipse around the anteater barn, getting licked by a dozen giant anteaters. No babies yet, but we did get up close to their new baby giraffe and get a tour of the amazing giraffe barn. Julie is in the education department so we got to go see all their education program animals. We played with a kinkajou, prehensile-tailed porcupine and several birds and reptiles before going in with their New Guinea singing dog and the grand finale (and possible highlight of my entire trip)- a young lynx that Julie helped hand raise. The lynx was adorable! And so soft! It was rubbing all over us and then started headbutting us like a housecat. We could have played forever, but he started getting too excited and rough so we had to get out. He was purring loudly and loving the attention. Adorable!
We stayed with Julie Friday night. I went home with her after work and Meghan went to dinner with some of her former coworkers and friends from town. It was great to have some time to catch up with Julie and see her beautiful new house. We sat in her hot tub for a while and while I wasn't originally thrilled with the thought, it was really relaxing and great for my feet. I might consider getting my own if it wasn't for the whole getting out part. It was around 40F and getting out was pretty horrible. I can't even imagine doing this when it is below freezing! Brrrrrrrrrr.
We left Nashville for Atlanta around 8 Saturday morning and with the time change arrived at the aquarium at 1pm. We waited in line 40 minutes for tickets with an entry time of 3pm. We immediately got in another line for restrooms, another line for food and by the time we got our food ate it in yet another line to get in to the aquarium. The aquarium was everything I hoped it would be! The whale sharks and manta rays were impressive! The exhibits were so well lit you could actually see everything. We loved the belugas and otters and penguins! We didn't love the crowds. It was like being at Disney World on a busy afternoon. The place was amazing, but I don't think I'll take Gene and the kids back anytime too soon. Ugh.
We drove out of Atlanta and south through Georgia, stopping for dinner and eventually for the night in (I think) Ashburn. I was tired and slap happy and didn't realize I accidentally turned on my iPod that was in my purse. It was so loud I could barely hear the front desk girl. I was thinking how incredibly rude she was for not turning down her music! Suddenly I realized it was MY music and I couldn't stop laughing. I probably embarrassed Meghan, but she's a big girl and can take it :)
We still had a ~3 hour drive to Jacksonville and arrived at the zoo around 11am. We toured on our own until Lisa got off work at 1pm. Then Lisa toured us around the rest of the zoo and took us behind the scenes of her area and the surrounding areas. She works with giraffes and has two adorable babies. We also got to see elephants, bongos, okapi and the newborn Grevy's zebra close up, as well as the rest of the Africa area. Jacksonville Zoo is gorgeous and has some amazing animals. I got to see my first giant otters! They are indeed huge! However, with all of the zoo animals, Meghan and I were most impressed by the wild native birds. We spent forever watching dozens of wood storks nest in the zoo trees. We saw several types of herons, ibis, cool little warblers we couldn't identify... We were thrilled to see little lizards zipping around and mostly happy to just bask in the sun. It was so completely awesome to be surrounded by green and flowers and warmth. Sunday evening, Lisa took us to the beach. We took a long walk and then went to dinner and talked and caught up. It was really enjoyable.
Today (Monday) is supposed to be sunny and warm again. We spent the night in St. Augustine and are meeting up with Lisa again and heading to the Alligator Farm. We may start our trip home tonight. We'll probably stop at one more zoo in either Atlanta or Chattanooga. We'll see. It's been a really fun trip! I wish it wasn't flying by.