Chattanooga, Tennessee – C’mon Ride the Train

Itinerary: 

  • Thursday: Drive from Gainesville, GA to Chattanooga, TN
  • Friday: Rock City and drive to Nashville
  • Saturday: Touring Nashville
  • Sunday: Drive back to Gainesville, GA for work

Dates: May 5-8, 2016

Our Itinerary: 

For mine and Tim’s 6th anniversary this year, we
spent a weekend in Tennessee, exploring both Chattanooga and Nashville. Since
we both work in Gainesville, Georgia, this was a fairly easy drive after work
on Thursday evening for a long weekend away. And, as a bonus, the drive itself
was fantastic, taking us through two national forests (the Chattahoochee and
the Cherokee National Forests), meaning the scenery was top-notch, as well as a
few charming small towns in northern Georgia. One was particularly special – in
the town of Blairsville, they still have a video rental store advertising VHS
on their sign.


Scenes along our drive.

Little trees growing in the river we passed along our drive.

As you all know, with the advent of Netflix and on-demand
cable, video rentals have all but disappeared, and, moreover, DVDs have
replaced VHSs as the hard-copy of choice for video. Seeing this simple sign
evoked a feeling of seeing the remnants of a bygone era – like seeing the last
member of a species. With my father having recently passed away in February,
I’ve spent a lot of time reminiscing on the past, and some of my favorite
family outings as a child were the nights we went to the Movie Time or Blockbuster
store to rent videos – always stopping at Dairy Queen on the way home. When
DVDs came about and the stores started selling all their VHS tapes for $1, my
dad must have bought nearly 50. On my most recent visit to my mom’s house, we
were cleaning out some old items from a back room, and I saw a bookcase full of
these old videos. I asked my mom what she planned to do with them. She doesn’t
know yet.

VHS rental store in Blairsville, GA

And just as I digressed here, Tim and I made a point to
meander a bit during our drive. After all, it’s hard not to stop for photos
when the sun is beginning to set and its light is sparkling off the lake. Our
vacation hadn’t even truly begun and we were already delighted.

We spent that evening in Chattanooga, Tennessee’s comeback
kid. After declining economically for decades, and even being named the most
polluted city in the US, Chattanooga has now built a reputation for being a
great urban base for those wanting to explore outside in the surrounding hills.
The city itself has been dramatically cleaned up, and is considered a great
success story of urban revitalization.

 

 

Tim and a little train…statue? on the way to dinner.

Reviews on TripAdvisor led us to Terminal Brewhouse for
dinner. It was an easy 20 minute walk from our hotel and is well-rated for both
its food and its beer. Along the way we passed the TVA (where “Papa got a job”
in Alabama’s “Song of the South”) and the historic old train station, which is
now a hotel. The hotel is a fascinating stop in and of itself – when you walk
in, you can tell immediately it used to be a train station. In the next room
behind the lobby, the old switch board is on display, and just outside is a
gorgeous courtyard where train cars sit on tracks running right up to the
building. The most famous of these is the engine affectionately known as the
Chattanooga Choo Choo. The Choo Choo was built in the 1880s and last used in
the 1940s. It now sits at this hotel as an historical reminder of American
rail’s glory days.

The famous Chattanooga Choo Choo.

Old switchboard.

After exploring the grounds of the hotel, we headed right
next door for dinner. We each tried a local beer and got a great meal – a good
base for the evening ahead of us!

Choo Choo sign.

Our bartender at the brewhouse recommended we walk a few
blocks to the Flying Squirrel, a newer (2013) bar. The unique architecture and
open indoor-outdoor feel has won the establishment a few design awards and the food
and drink draw locals and tourists alike to their modern-meets-rustic casual
cool bar. Tim and enjoyed a few more drinks here before deciding to head back
to our hotel. We called an Uber and were surprised, confused, and delighted,
when we saw a cooler of beer in the back seat.

The Flying Squirrel

“Help yourselves to the beers!” he told us.

“Wait, really? What about open container laws?”

“It’s legal here to drink in the backseat- just needs to be
out of reach of the driver.”

Well okay then. Tim and I each popped open a Natty Lite (a
far cry from the delicious dark beers we had been enjoying at the Flying
Squirrel), and tapped cans. This is the only time I have ever handed my Uber
driver a cash tip in addition to the fare.

The next morning we got up to head out on an adventure to a
whimsical garden called Rock City. Rock City is a well-curated garden and
walking trail at the top of Lookout Mountain and is technically in Georgia (Chattanooga
sits right on the state line). When you enter, it feels like you’ve arrived at
an amusement park. There’s a Starbucks in the parking lot, a ticket booth,
turnstiles to go in, and tacky souvenir shops and overpriced snack bars leading
the way to the beginning of the “Enchanted Trail”.

The Enchanted Trail in Rock City

In the 1920s, Frieda and Granet Carter set out to develop a
community on top of the mountain, which would include a golf course. When they
hit development snags that delayed their timelines, Granet developed the nation’s
first miniature golf course. Meanwhile, his wife Frieda set out developing her
garden, allegedly taking a string and meandering around to mark what would
later be the trail. She brought in various flowers and imported gnome statues
from Germany and other whimsical fairytale characters, creating what we see now
as the Enchanted Trail at Rock City.

 

Just a gnome fishing in Rock City.

Along the trail we passed unique rock formations, narrow passages,
and many garden gnomes, all eventually leading up to a magnificent view point
overlooking a waterfall and 7 states – Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina,
North Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia and Alabama.

Seven states.

When you follow the path back down, the last attraction you
go through is “Fairyland Caverns” – a cave in which scenes from various
fairytales and nursing rhymes have been created from what looks like Styrofoam and
black light paints (though they were created in 1947). It’s honestly very odd,
a little creepy, and a lot of fun. The last room you go through is a large
nursery rhyme display, called Mother Goose Village, which was completed in
1964, which features a castle in the center surrounded by scenes from every
nursery rhyme I know. Again, odd, creepy, and fun.

Entrance to Fairyland Caverns

Jack and the Beanstalk

In a way, Rock City reminds me of Wisconsin’s House on the
Rock, about an hour outside of Madison. This quirky place also features lovely
gardens and scenery, and ends with a walk through some creepy collections (a
carousel made of dolls, a room with mannequins hanging from the ceiling, and
more red carpet than you thought existed). That said, I would consider Rock
City a “must-see” in Chattanooga- we certainly had a blast!

Mother Goose Village

Leaving Rock City we continued northwest to Nashville, our
main destination for the weekend and our home for the next two nights!

 And the cow jumped over the moon…

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