Ben and Gary decided it was high time we visited Chattanooga, Tennessee. Since John and Heather had just been here and had just passed through Chattanooga unharmed, it seemed like a good idea to go check it out. Of course, we had to stay in the Choo Choo:
It was cute and definitely a novel way to spend the night, but I wouldn't stay there again. Not when a shiny new Marriott and Hilton loomed over us a few blocks away. The hotel boasted that the train cars had been restored to their Victorian era splendor. That also appears to be the last time they were cleaned.
On our first evening in Chattanooga, Gary took us to Rock City, a local attraction with towering rock formations and stunning views of the Tennessee River Valley and Chattanooga. It was a beautiful sight and a gorgeous way to experience the sun setting over Chattanooga. It didn't start getting weird until we were exiting the park and they route you through a series of caverns where they've installed these creepy neon-painted statues depicting various fairytale scenes. Under black lights, they glow ominously in their frozen positions, mouths agape, almost as if in mid-scream. It was truly a bizarre end to a beautiful natural setting. Gary says it's much improved over what was there when he was a kid. I wonder if he brought us here to share this nightmare, like the victims in The Ring had to make other people watch the videotape in order to escape the curse. In that spirit, take a look a this:
When we finally left, we encountered a young man who had just proposed to his girlfriend during their tour of Rock City. I sincerely hope he did it during the scenic part and not during the neon cavern of horrors.
On Sunday, we headed downtown to the Tennessee Aquarium. I had never been to an aquarium before, so it was a valuable reminder that nature is best when it's organized and labeled. After the Aquarium, we stopped at Ross's Landing, a strangely sterile piece of waterfront property marking the beginning of the water route used to remove Native Americans from the East Coast and set them on the Trail of Tears. Part of the property was closed, though the signs didn't promise renovation. Hopefully, it will be reopened soon. Since some of the signs were in Cherokee, Gary asked if I had been making good on my promise to learn Cherokee this year. I informed him that I had indeed recently found my Cherokee language books and put them in a spot where I would be sure to see them every day. I think that's progress.
Driving back to Asheville from Chattanooga, we took a more scenic route. It's beautiful countryside, but I couldn't help feeling melancholy. Much like our drive across the country, we encountered a series of little ghost towns where better times and the highway had since passed them by. Then we spotted a group of cute, shirtless Christians with tattoos lugging rafts into the river, so that cheered me up. Braving the rapids for Jesus. I wish I had taken pictures.
We got back to the house in Asheville and collapsed. It was a lovely weekend and I'm glad we've started planning these little trips around the area since that was part of the grand scheme plan in moving here. America is a vast and diverse place, with a lot of beautiful, historic and kooky sites to see. In fact, beautiful, historic and kooky sums up a lot of what we've experienced in the South so far! So maybe I'll start providing pie charts illustrating each adventure and where it falls on the beautiful/historic/kooky scale.