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It would seem as though “girl trips” might be becoming tradition as a means of celebrating my daughter’s birthday. 

On Friday, we once again rounded up two of our favorite cousins and set out for Chatanooga, Tennessee.

I haven’t visited Chatanooga since I was a kid, and have only traveled through there a couple of times in the last 25 years. 

My memories of this historic little town is sketchy with a lot of blank spaces. I have seen pictures of me being there, but I don’t remember it. 

Although it’s just under a 6 hour drive, it seemed doable for a long weekend. A friend and her husband were gracious enough to extend some hotel points in my direction and I got 1 of my 2 nights for free. Score! 

Then my only problem with planning became the one that always plagues me whenever I travel: not having enough time. 

The temptation is to try and see as much as possible in as little time as possible and never slow down.

I’m afraid I gave into that a little bit too much because I am definitely paying for it this morning (pass the coffee. And repeat. And repeat. πŸ˜ͺ)

But there was a good time had by all. And I wouldn’t trade that for all the naps in the world. 

Day 1

On Friday morning we hit the road about 8:30ish. I knew we’d be losing an hour in the time zone switch and I was trying to get to our hotel before dark since I wasn’t entirely sure of where it was located. 

The Holiday Inn- Hamilton Place is a nice, quiet hotel and I had zero complaints about it whatsoever. In hindsight, however, because of the attractions we visited, I would have chosen a different hotel simply because this one is on the opposite side of the city. 

But, it did have it’s perks. The main one being that it was less than a mile to a Cracker Barrel and less than 3 miles to one of the most wonderful places we ended up visiting. 

But, more on that in a minute.

After a couple of pit stops and getting our fix of “Jesus chicken” at Chick-fil-a, we continued our trek into the mountains.

Friday evening, when we arrived, the girls posed for photos in the parking lot to celebrate our arrival:

The normal pose.

The “girl pose”.

Aaaaaand the “guy” pose.

I take no responsibility for these little smartasses and their stereotypes. Well, the one. The one in the middle. I take responsibility for her.

After we got settled, we ordered pizza, watched trash reality tv, and then played Taboo until late into the evening. 

Day 2

Our first order of business on Saturday was to fill our bellies. Cracker Barrel was just too dang convenient to pass up.

Our first intended stop after breakfast was Rock City

Now, I know that what I’m going to tell you about our travel experiences might sound a little “touristy”, but you have to remember, all of my traveling companions are under the age of 18. None of them had seen any of these attractions before and I myself didn’t remember much about them. I feel that, if you are from a certain region of the country, you should know as much as you can about that region. Even the touristy stuff. And hey, these sites are popular for a reason!

Before we headed up to Rock City, we stopped at Point Park

Actually, if I’m being honest, my GPS was telling me that Point Park was Rock City. They are both on Lookout Mountain, but they aren’t the same destination. Still, I’m glad we “accidentally” discovered this spot because I got some of my favorite photos here. And the view of the River was quite spectacular. 

FYI, when I put “See 7 States” in my GPS, it correctly routed us to Rock City.

Upon arriving at our intended destination, we took the daytime tour of Rock City, and explored more of the views that we drove 6 hours to see.

We enjoyed a light lunch while at Rock City and satiated our need for carbs and/or caffeine with a stop at the Starbucks across the street before heading downtown Chatanooga.

Tennessee Aquarium 

I have been to other nice aquariums, but I have to say, I think this is my new favorite.

The layout of these (there are two) aquariums are really nice and open. We visited the Ocean exhibit first, then the River Aquarium. Both were wonderfully fascinating and I loved that they didn’t feel geared toward only small children. 

I know these types of places are there for educational purposes, but I do appreciate it when not everything in the building looks like it was designed with a hyperactive 1st grader in mind. (No offense to any parents of hyper kids. Mine was one too, and she still has her moments.)

I ❀ butterfly gardens. I put out certain plants every spring just because I like to see the butterflies that they attract. 

There was no shortage of fascinating sea and river creatures to behold.

I love otters!!! So playful and fun!

I think I want the starfish to be my spirit animal. They’re so chill. And they get to just lay around.

Can you find the tiny seahorses in the photo below. Tiiiiiiny and oh, squee!!!!

The museum staff was very friendly and knowledgeable and it was absolutely lovely to listen to them talk about the animals that they so obviously love to care for and protect.

I also loved that many of their animals are rescues!

From the aquarium, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and then head to dinner before going back to Rock City for the “Enchanted Garden of Lights”.

Since it was actually Reagan’s birthday, we let her pick the restaurant and she chose an O’Charley’s that was within a stones throw of the Cracker Barrel where we ate breakfast. πŸ˜€

With our strength replenished, we made the drive back to Rock City, letting Claudia the GPS guide the way. 

All was well until we rounded one of the winding mountain roads and saw…..




And that’s the ONLY lights we saw for over an hour. 

The Rock City display was supposed to close at 9 p.m. Seeing as how we were still sitting on the side of the mountain at 8:45, we called to see about getting a refund. 

The little perky elf who answered the phone told us that they would be serving ALL of their visitors and would be staying open until everyone’s tickets had been honored. 

Lady readers, I want you to just take a moment and think about how a bathroom with only two stalls looked after hundreds and hundreds of people, who had been sitting in traffic for more than 45 minutes, finally made it to those bathrooms. I want you to think of the LINE for that bathroom. 

Dear Lord. It was, as one of my friends likes to say, “worse than terrible”!

Still, we survived. But, to be quite honest, I don’t really remember much about it. I think I was in shock. 

We had gone to the Bellingrath Christmas display last year in Mobile and it was so…..enjoyable. Not crowded at all! 

I guess I naively believed this experience would go the same way.

We didn’t get back to the hotel until after 11 p.m. I’m pretty sure I just passed out, as did the rest of my companions. It was both physically and mentally exhausting to be surrounded by so many people in such tight quarters while also feeling as though your bladder would rupture at any moment. 

I felt truly sorry for the employees that worked at this event Saturday evening. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt my Christmas cheer deplete what with all of the screaming, tired children and the masses of people swarming around. 

The redeeming part of the experience was the view from Lookout Mountain at night. It was exceptional, especially with the full moon that we had. I enjoyed this one part of the night more than any of the lights displays.

And we didn’t see Santa, but we did get a picture with this lovely lady:

Day 3

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

We went back to Cracker Barrel for breakfast and then made our way to what was one of the coolest stops on this trip:

McKay Book Store. 

I have never been so in awe of a book retailer in my life. I’ve been in some big book stores. I’ve been in some that had a great selection of titles as well as collectables, movies, games, music, etc. But I have never been in a USED bookstore like this…..ever.

We all got books, of course, but I got a grocery bag full of titles for less than 41 bucks. 

They had paperbacks for $1, $2, $3. Many hardbacks for that. 

To say we were in a book-nerd’s paradise would be the understatement of the year. 

We killed at least 2 hours in this temple of stories until I finally had to drag the girls away.

McKay also had this on the door in the ladies room and I don’t know why other people haven’t gotten on board with this idea. It being flu season, I almost squealed when I saw it. I mean, I still Purelled the hell outta my hands when I walked out, but it was nice to know that my hand sanitizer wasn’t having to do ALL the work. 

Finally, against my daughter’s will, but because I had already purchased tickets, I dragged the poor child and our traveling buddies to one last stop on our way out of town:

Ruby Falls.

I loved the tour. My back did not. But it was something I really wanted to do because I really have very little memory of my first trip to this Chatanooga landmark. 

Our tour guide, Katie, was hilarious. Anything touristy is always better if your tour guide is good at their job. And she is that. 

As much as critters like bats and such give me the creeps, and as scared as I am of the dark, I’ve always liked caves. We used to visit Alabaster Caverns on a pretty regular basis when my family and I lived in Oklahoma. I really enjoy learning about geology and the history of places like Ruby Falls. 

The trek underground did not disappoint. The waterfall is truly a beautiful sight and worth the long, rocky, and winding path.

Ruby Falls was our last stop and from there, we hit the road and got into our hometown about 8:30 p.m. 

Other than the traffic on Day 2, there was only one other aggravating experience on this trip, and it happened at Ruby Falls. I shall close this post with my thoughts about it.