Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Chattanooga Choo Choo

A Stop in the Past

"Pardon me boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?
Track twenty nine, boy you can gimme a shine
I can afford to board a Chattanooga Choo Choo
I've got my fare and just a trifle to spare

You leave the Pennsylvania station 'bout a quarter to four
Read a magazine and then you're in Baltimore
Dinner in the diner, nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham 'n' eggs in Carolina

When you hear the whistle blowin' eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far
Shovel all the coal in, gotta keep it rollin'
Woo, woo, Chattanooga, there you are

There's gonna be a certain party at the station
Satin and lace, I used to call funny face
She's gonna cry until I tell her that I'll never roam"
I'm sure everyone has heard snippets of that song from long ago.  If not, then surely everyone has head of the Chattanooga Choo Choo.  I thought the Choo Choo, like that song from long ago, was in the past, but the Chattanooga Choo is alive and well and roaring into the modern ages as a themed hotel in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Chattanooga is the perfect blend of old-world charm and modern amenities, with first-class museums, quaint restaurants, and everything else a visitor could want.  No matter the age or inclination, you're guaranteed to find it here.

Where To Stay:

  • I am sure there are plenty of nice hotels and beds and breakfasts in the area, and these are bound to be more luxurious than my recommendation.  But, really, what can compete with the Chattanooga Choo Choo?  The old railroad yard and rail cars have been turned into a unique hotel, the most interesting and delightful place I've ever rested my head.  It is listed in the prestigious Historic Hotels list, but the Victorian train cars and gorgeous grounds should enough to convince you to stay.  I have never slept aboard a train car before and didn't know what to expect, but the opulence truly blew me away.  We had one half of a train car all to ourselves, with a huge luxusious bed, a period quaint bathroom, and all the ambiance one would expect.  If I'd never left the room the entire trip, I would still have called this the best getaway ever.  The Terminal is still amazing to look at and don't pass up the chance to eat in the restaurant. Sitting in the Gardens Restaurant where yesterday's travelers rushed to catch a train, while staring at the legendary Chattanooga Choo Choo was "bucket list" worthy.  The terminal has been remade into a charming restaurant with cast-iron chairs and tables overlooking the tracks and that famous Engine 29 with 1930s music playing in the background.   I highly recommend a skillet--full of your choices of toppings and covered with eggs and cheese--as well as the pecan waffle.  For more information, see the Chattanooga Choo Choo website. 
Things to See and Do:
  • No visit to Chattanooga is complete without a trip up Lookout Mountain.  It's hard to decide how best to get to the top.  One form of transportation is the Incline Railway, "The World's Steepest Passenger Railway".  Grab your tickets at St. Elmo's Station and get ready for a hair-raising ride.   Unbelievably, the Railway has been in operation since 1895 and the gift shop has pictures to prove it, along with some fascinating historic pictures of the entire area.  The ride takes about 15 minutes and it about one mile long.  From the top, you can take a short walk to look at the million dollar homes in the area and a few short blocks away is Point Park, a National Park and site of the "Battle of the Clouds", an 1863 Civil War battle.  The Chickamauge and Chattanoog Military Park, also known as Point Park, does have an entry fee but it is well worth the price to walk those historic footsteps and to look over the entire valley below.  The adjacent museum will give visitors a great insight into why this area was so important and so famous.  For more information, visit Incline Railway Up Lookout Mountain.
  • While you're on the mountain, there's plenty to see.  Next up is geographic and botanical wonder, as stated on their brochure.  You've probably seen the signs--the red barns along endless Southern backways painted with "See Rock City".  Ever wondered where it was and what the big deal is?  Wonder no longer, your trip is finally at an end!  Rock City began as one avid gardener's backyard dream.  When her adoring husband entered into the mix, the backyard plan turned into an entire city made of rocks and plants with an overlook that scans seven states.  Rock City truly has to be seen to be believed.  Each meandering path will have you gasping with astonishment, no matter the season. For more information, see the website at Rock City.
  • No trip to the mountain is complete without looking underneath all that dirt.  Ruby Falls is another testament of love from an adoring husband to his wife.  When cave enthusiast Leo Lambert uncovered the amazing cave in the 1920s, he named it for his wife Ruby.  The "falls" is for the waterfall deep inside the cave.  I have been to dozens of caves (having written a book on caves), and can honestly say this one is my favorite.  The beauty, the history, the amazing tour, the location--it all combines for an amazing attraction.  For more information, see the website Ruby Falls.
  • It's a short trip from the top of the mountains to the bottom of the seas!  Next, be sure to travel to downtown Chattanooga.  Nestled right on the banks of the Tennessee River is the nicest aquarium I've ever been to, the Tennessee Aquarium.  That's saying a lot--I have been to aquariums all across the country and this one was amazing.  It's as much an art exhibit as it is a giant fish tank.  There are two different buildings to explore--the River Journey and the Ocean Journey.  I really expected to like the Ocean Journey better, sure that it would be full of wondrous things this Kentucky native could only marvel at.  Yet, the River Journey was the one that blew me away.  I saw animals and read about plant life I had no idea existed that was just as exotic as any sea creature could be.  The River Journey building is actually like  a river itself, winding through various ecosystems and creatures that were just dazzling. My favorite exhibit had to be the sea dragons, those tiny fragile seahorses that seem too delicate to be alive.  It felt a bit like I was in a fantasy, walking through and watching them swim and cavort.   With over 12,000 creatures to see, it took an entire afternoon to look at them all and we only left because the place was closing!  The aquarium also links to an IMAX 3D, so be sure to take advantage of the cheaper ticket price when visiting both.  For more information, visit Tennessee Aquarium.
Places To Eat:
  • No Southern food for this Kentucky girl!  Instead, we traveled to the Brewhaus Brew Pub, a German-American gastro pub with an extensive ale and beer menu.  The vibe was so fun and laid-back with a big indoor bar area and large outdoor patio area.  We started with the Kraut Balls-bratwurst, cheese and sauerkraut all fried to a golden perfection and served with strong ale mustard.  Next up was the Southern Style Obatzada--pimento cheese with sourdough and pickled beets.  Honestly, the food was so good and we were so full we could have stopped there and called it a fine meal.  But, I can't resist schnitzel and order it whenever and wherever I find it.  This was not a disappointment.  The Jager Schnitzer Weiner Art--a port schnitzel thin-fried and served with creamy mushroom gravy--was so good and was served with amazing German potato salad and a vinegar slaw.  Just as much care went into the preparation of the side dishes as the main dish and everything was finger-licking good.  For good measure, we had  dessert of a flame-grilled brat and a Laughing Skull beer.  Can't wait to return!  For more information, visit Brewhaus Beer Pub.
  • The Terminal Brewhouse in downtown Chattanooga is more than just an ordinary pub.  While they do have a healthy selection of brews and flights, their food is more in line with an eclectic gourmet restaurant.  The Brewhouse Pot Roast Nachos were so unique--comprised of succulent pot roast meat and onions, all smothered in queso.  The Fru Fru sandwich was also a delight--chicken and apple slices with Brie with a green bean casserole sidedish.  No greasy pub food here!  They also have some fun beer cocktails and the beer and Belgian mimosa was delicious.  For more information, visit the website at Terminal Brewhouse.