Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: American Double 2014

A choo-choo, a funicular and an Underground!

ABOVE: Arrival at the railroad museum

After taking breakfast in the extraordinarily busy in-house branch of Starbucks, we set out at 9:30 for the eight-mile drive to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. On a beautifully sunny (albeit chilly) morning, it was a pleasant experience having a look at the various static exhibits of rolling stock prior to boarding the 10:40 'Missionary Ridge Local' preserved train. The one-hour return trip took us, at low speed, along the original railway lines in Chattanooga, passing through the pre-Civil War (1858) tunnel at Missionary Ridge. The stop at the end of the line in East Chattanooga, which was already masquerading as 'North Pole'  for the forthcoming festive season, allowed passengers to take a short tour of the museum's main restoration shop. We were also able to view operation of the locomotive turntable.

ABOVE: Viewing the static exhibits while we wait for our train
LEFT: Our train arrives
RIGHT and BELOW: End of the line, already set up for the festive season

In a town made famous by a song about a train, it seemed only reasonable that our next move took us to to our second railway adventure of the day. A 12-mile drive south-westwards brought us to the city's St Elmo district, where we easily found the base station for the Lookout Mountain Incline Railway. Trains were leaving regularly to ascend the 73% (maximum) gradient to the top of Lookout Mountain, making this one of the steepest passenger railways in the world. It’s also one of the oldest in North America, having faithfully ferried people up the mountain since 1895. You could say that at this point, the Chattanooga Choo Choo had given way to the Neapolitan favourite Funiculì, Funiculà.

Our car contained a party of boisterous kids, but this didn't detract from the thrill of making such a startlingly steep climb. Having planned to spend around half an hour at the summit, we decided that we'd had enough of the icy conditions after a mere five minutes and came back down to St Elmo on the same train.

LEFT: Hold tight ... going up!
RIGHT and BELOW: At the summit and getting ready for the descent

Having safely returned to street level, our lunch stop was literally just a few steps away: we had decided to go Mexican, with a visit to highly regarded local chain Mojo Burrito. A beer and a burrito later, we were ready to drive the short distance to what was originally intended to be our final stop of the day, Ruby Falls. Here, we took the one-mile, 90-minute tour through the underground caverns to the falls themselves. Much of the tour was a little kitschy in nature, but it was worth enduring the groans (not to mention the occasional bending double and constantly minding my head) for the main attraction: the illuminated, 145-foot high underground cascade itself.

Driving back to the centre of town and with sunset still probably an hour away, we realised that it would be a shame to leave town early the next day without having done the downtown walk that had originally been intended to take place immediately upon arrival on Thursday. We parked briefly on each side of the Tennessee River and managed to have a quick look at the Tennessee Aquarium, the restored Walnut Street Bridge and the Hunter Museum of American Art.

Later, we had pre-dinner cocktails at the hotel and then caught the free downtown shuttle bus back to the Aquarium for dinner at 212 Market which, not surprisingly, was to be found at 212 Market Street. We happened to mention our intended venue to our server at the Read House, who promptly asked whether we were part of the wedding party. Bruce said "Oh, is there a wedding?", to which she responded "I believe there are two". Yikes!

In the event the venue was very busy, but we benefitted from being in a partially segregated section. I was staggered when Bruce said that this was a (double-) wedding rehearsal, although this certainly explained the casual dress code. I had only ever previously heard of the ceremony itself requiring a prior run-through. There seemed to be dozens of speeches, nearly all mercifully short; it was as though everybody attending had to be given their say.

This little lesson on cultural differences certainly provided an unexpected twist to our final Tennessee dinner, and indeed our final joint evening meal of the trip.

Friday 14 Nov

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