Last Saturday, Erin had to go to Towson to take her riding instructor exam. I dropped her off at Goucher College and headed to REI, only to find that they didn’t open for another hour, so I drove down the road to Borders, looked at books I couldn’t afford, and played on the reliable fast internet for a while. It’s funny, when I went into the the store at 9:30, there were barely any cars in the parking lot. When I left at 11:00, the lot was full. I did make it back to REI to play with gear, but Erin called to say she was finished early, so I drove back to the college and picked her up.

We returned to REI so I could exchange my shoes, which had blown out way before their time, and get a new pair. Then, with the whole afternoon ahead of us, we drove into Baltimore. Against my better judgment, we decided to go to the Aquarium. I’ve been wanting to go back ever since I discovered the new addition with the Australia exhibit. It turns out a lot has changed since my last visit in high school. They no longer have Beluga whales, only dolphins. The baby sharks in the old Beluga pool have grown up to be bigger sharks. The deep-sea tanks have become night reef exhibits. The jellyfish have moved to the dolphin pavilion for their own “Invasion of the Jellies” exhibit. The touch tank has been removed altogether. And, of course, the new Australia, which was awesome.

If you’ve never been to the aquarium in Baltimore, it’s worth a visit. Once you enter the aquarium, you’re brought to a big pool, pictured above. Long ago, this used to be where the Belugas lived and performed their shows. But that was a loooong time ago. Since they moved to the bigger amphitheater across the pier, this pool has been used to house small sharks, rays, sea turtles, and open-water fish. It’s kinda sterile, though. I wish they’d add some decoration to make it look more habitat-like. I think it’d make a great Chesapeake Bay exhibit.

From there, you move upstairs for three floors of small-tank exhibits surrounding the big tank. From each floor, you can always look down on the sharks and rays, but you’re mostly too busy enjoying the other fish. From the 4th floor, you rise one more level into the glass pyramid of the Amazon rainforest. This is my favorite part of the entire aquarium. In truth, rainforest exhibits are my favorite part of any zoo or aquarium. They generally exhibit live plants, free-flight birds, other animals, like primates and turtles, a flowing stream with a glass edge to look in, smaller tropical animals in their own habitats (frogs, snakes, lizards, small mammals…). But the birds are what make it. I love the warm, humid atmosphere with all the sunlight and the sounds of the birds.

Coming down from the rainforest, you are perched atop the giant reef tank. The reef is an oval, 15-20 feet deep, and you walk down the middle. Under the reef are the sharks, and under the sharks is the under water viewing area for the big tank we saw at the very beginning. You can see the window in the photo above. From there, an escalator brings you back up to the main level to the gift shop and exit.

But now, before exiting, you can go to the new Australia exhibit, which is very similar to the rainforest. A huge glass enclosure contains a stream with waterfalls and several underwater exhibits. There are also some snakes in tanks and lots of birds in free-flight. I was expecting a multi-level exhibit, but it was only one small path. Still, the open exhibit with all the birds was very nice.

After touring the Aquarium, we drove around the city looking for a place to eat. We were in the mood for Thai, so we found the decent neighborhoods. Unfortunately, it was a Saturday night, so parking was nowhere to be found. So we started driving home and found a place off of Route 40 near Ellicott City. Actually, the entire strip mall turned out to be an asian shopping center. There was a huge asian food market and several asian restaurants of various ethnicities. The entire parking lot was full, but we managed to find a space. That’s usually a good sign, and we chose wisely. The food was great. It was a nice end to a nice day.