Day 1: Fish heads, fish heads, roly-poly fish heads...
What to say about Chattanooga? It's a place I've always wanted to go, in part due to the buzz it has generated with a downtown renaissance that has garnered national attention. Living here, you always hear about their aquarium and their Civil War history, not to mention the ubiquitous "See Rock City" signs that used to proliferate across the South. I've read about Chattanooga in newsmagazines describing their downtown revival and perhaps most tellingly, in Neil Gaiman's American Gods
, the climactic final battle between all the gods and goddesses of antiquity occurs in Chattanooga -- and if a place can catch Neil Gaiman's eye, there has to be something to it.
And as it turned out, there was. Granted, downtown didn't impress me as much as I thought it would. It was nice to be sure, but kind of workaday. There were an awful lot of parking lots and parking deck holes punched in the urban fabric, and a good bit of downtown was given over to chain retail and chain restaurants. I dunno... maybe I was expecting a bona fide tourist town like Asheville with its passionate -- and sometimes literally violent (such as the times that people have set fire to the Starbucks in Biltmore Village) -- devotion to any and all things local. However, Chattanooga is still definitely worth a visit and what it does right, it does spectacularly so. The aquarium, for instance, was by far the most superior tourist experience I've ever had. It seemed to go on forever.
In fact, let's start there, shall we?
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As it turned out, the Riverbend Festival was going on. We didn't go, although we did often get to hear the bands playing while we were out walking around, and we also stood outside our hotel on Saturday night and watched the fireworks show that closed the festivities.
The Tennessee Aquarium has a lot more than just fish.
After viewing the butterfly garden, we circled back by the freshwater stingray tank and found that this interesting fellow had oozed/slithered/swum into view.
The penguins weren't in the mood to be photographed, and refused to show off their best side.
Hundreds of upside-down jellies all a'wigglin'.
Dozens and dozens of these art tiles adorn the outside of the two aquarium buildings. One building showcases sea life, while the other focuses on river creatures.
Our first supper, at the Genghis Grill. Ironically, this turned out to be our lousiest meal of the trip. We were far more impressed by the City Diner and Thai Smile.
This place was awesome. We ate there for dinner our last night in town.
The fountain outside the Doubletree (which makes a mean
cookie), where we stayed.
The Doubletree lobby. Very posh.
Day 2: See Rock City... with several hundred Asian tourists!
The next morning we got up and trekked over to City Diner for breakfast... and lunch. If you can finish the portions they serve at City Diner in a single sitting, you're a better -- and fatter -- man than I. There was enough to take back to our hotel for lunch later on. We went back again at 2AM Saturday night when we got a hankering for something sweet. I polished off a piece of Reese's Peanut Butter Cup cheesecake the size of a brick. If you go to Chattanooga, I highly recommend popping in there for some dessert; their selection is incredible.
The big plan for the second day was to see Ruby Falls and Rock City and such. And so we did... alongside several hundred Asian tourists. Chattanooga seems to attract a lot of Asian tourists for some reason. We had seen dozens and dozens of them at the aquarium the previous day as well, and would see a lot more strolling downtown taking pictures later this day. While walking around, I recognized Japanese, Chinese, and Korean all being spoken by various groups striking various poses in front of various scenic vistas.
Maggie the gigantic fiberglass cow welcomes you to Lookout Mountain. Moo.
Lots of interesting rock formations inside the cave you travel through to reach the waterfall inside the mountain.
When you get done visiting the inside of the mountain, you end up atop the viewing tower of the Ruby Falls castle. From the top, you have a panoramic view of...
...not to mention the entire valley with the Tennessee River twisting its way through the city.
Meanwhile at Rock City you may view incredible rock formations, gardens, fallow deer, caverns, and a plethora of garden gnomes in the company of Asian tourists.
Inside a cave, the light that shows the way also allows moss to grow.
See the Starbucks at Rock City!
After enjoying Lookout Mountain we headed back to town to eat our leftovers from breakfast, then set out to see downtown.
Not surprisingly, Chattanooga used to be Cherokee territory. That is the Cherokee alphabet you see at the top, then the phonetic pronunciation, then English.
Statues representing the four seasons stood near the bridge. This is Spring.
A sculpture garden lies en route to the Hunter Museum of American Art.
The Walnut Street Bridge. Once a vital link to the north shore of the Tennessee River, now one of the world's longest pedestrian bridges and a popular tourist attraction. Placards along the length of the bridge will tell you a nice, safe version of Chattanooga's history. As we learned the next day though, sometimes Chattanooga's history is anything but nice. Two black men have been lynched from this bridge, one in 1893 and another in 1906.
We didn't know that at the time though, and just enjoyed the walk and the view along with hundreds of other bicyclists and people just strolling along.
The Hunter Museum of American Art, part of which is housed in a mansion dating from 1905, and part in two new additions that go out of their way to clash with the original mansion. I remember James Howard Kunstler pitching an absolute fit over this architectural cacophony, but I loved the juxtaposition, personally. It was actually quite stimulating.
The modern side of the Hunter Museum.
Chattanoogans at play.
The Hunter Museum is located atop a river bluff. These people were swimming and climbing on the cliff directly beneath the museum.
Something was going on in the park across the river from downtown. Say what you will, but Chattanooga knows how to appreciate its river better than most any other place.
A touch-football game. Lots of picnics were going on nearby.
By the time we started heading back across the bridge to downtown, dancers had joined the marching band.
Time for some culture.
Inside the museum.
This is by far my most favorite title for a painting, ever.
The aforementioned muffins.
A candid shot of my boyfriend.
Fittingly, the oldest art is housed in the original mansion at the heart of the museum complex.
This painting dates from the 1850's and shows a wealthy family sitting on the terrace of their home on Lookout Mountain. That little village you see to the right of the gentleman is Chattanooga.
Back in the lobby, a concert had begun.
A disembodied hand. From time to time, the fingers would waggle and tap to the beat of the string quartet that followed the singers.
There were a few of these bike repair stations scattered around downtown, along with bikeshare stations.
A very thought-provoking memorial to fallen police officers stands next to the building that houses the sheriff's offices.
A little art deco across the street.
And that's it from Chattanooga. The Riverbend Festival bids you goodbye.