….a few days after.
The older brother was on an overnight school trip earlier in the week, so the ten-year old and I took the opportunity to go up to the 4th largest city in Tennesse to revisit the Aquarium (he’d been 2 or 3 years ago, but was ready for a return and his brother wouldn’t mind being excluded) and see the zoo, the children’s museum and whatever else we could fit into about 24 hours. (We couldn’t leave until after his piano lesson on Monday)
Having lived in Knoville during my teen and college years, I have random associations with Chattanooga:
- One of my best friends from college was from Chattanooga and taught me all about the prep/boarding school/High Episcopal culture of the city.
- When I was in high school in Knoxville, our newspaper staff attended a high school journalism convention in Knoxville. Something I wrote won me an autographed paperback copy of a book by Barbara Walters. No, I don’t still have it.
- On that same trip, some of the senior girls went out after curfew to some bar. (They may have even been 18, so it might have even been okay…remember that was the drinking age then. Wiser times.) One of the girls met a guy there – a guy in his twenties – and Chemistry Happened. She was giddy about it when she got back to the hotel room. We lowly, gawky sophomores and juniors were in awe. They made plans. He’d come up to Knoxville in a few weeks and they would go to the Dan Fogleburg concert together.
(And of course)
She waited and waited at the Civic Center…
He didn’t show up.
No such drama or awards this time. Just animal-crazy kid-centered fun.
First thing about Chattanooga: the city is a model of tourism development and marketing. It’s the smallest of the Big Four cities in Tennessee, and probably has the least attention-grabbing cachet. No blues/Elvis/Mississippi River, no country music capitol, no Smokey Mountains gateway. But it’s taken what it has – the natural attraction and history of Lookout Mountain and the Tennessee River, as well as its location as the city through which a good chunk of the Florida-bound traffic must pass – and built on it.
There’s a degree of artificiality about it, but at the same time, this downtown area of Chattanooga, on both sides of the river, is clearly also for residents, and it shows.
We couldn’t leave until after the Monday piano lesson, but even so, since the Aquarium doesn’t close until 7:30, we had plenty of time to explore.
There are two wings, one devoted to oceans and one to rivers. The latter is the original, appropriately themed, since it sits right on the lovely Tennessee River. There is not a whole lot in the ocean wing, but there were penguins and some great rays.
The river wing is well designed: you ride the escalator up to the top, then wind your way down on mezzanine ramps that branch out into exhibit halls on the sides. My son’s favorite is the paddle fish – he says it looks prehistoric to him and it does.
I like the Tennessee Aquarium more than I do the Atlanta aquarium, which always seems like such a mob scene to me. It’s expensive, but then all aquariums are – they are expensive to operate – but it’s worth it.
Then some walking:
The Bluff View area directly east of downtown is lovely, and here’s another great feature of Chattanooga planning: public art. It’s a priority for the city, and the placement of all of this statuary adds ongoing interest to an already eye-catching walk up and down hills and over a pedestrian bridge.
The Walnut Street Bridge – threatened with demolition until a little over twenty years ago, the community joined together to restore and revive it as a pedestrian bridge.
Tuesday morning, we took a ten-minute drive to the zoo. It’s small, and half-priced with our Birmingham Zoo membership, I paid a little over seven bucks for us to get in. It was us with scores of school groups, but most of the time we managed to stay ahead of them and enjoy the animals without too much ecstatic squealing in the background.
My ten-year old is a zoo afficianado, with one of the great regrets of his life being that he was only four when he went to the San Diego Zoo, and he doesn’t remember it. His favorite so far is the New Orleans Zoo, but he approved of this one, too, comparing it in size and scope to the Montgomery Zoo and he’s right.
So, no big animals here, which is fine – the biggest cats were jaguars, and supposedly there were chimps but we never saw them. The highlights for us were the Fennec foxes, which are new and very cute, and the sloth
I’ve seen sloths in zoos before (Birmingham has one), but I’ve never seen one do anything but sleep. We had been through this exhibit once earlier, had some extra time, so we decided to go back to it once more before we left, and it was great that we did: the sloth, previously curled up and asleep was seriously on the move:
Their Edward Scissorhands hook paws are pretty weird.
It was a good couple of hours and walking around, looking at animals, and listening to my ten-year old tell me all about them.
Then back to town, where we spent some time at the Children’s Discovery Museum. I was unsure if it might be a little young for Michael, and he was right on the edge, and we wouldn’t return, but the music and art rooms were particularly good and provided him some interesting ways to spend his time.
Then, this happened:
You can’t miss the High Point Climbing and Fitness. The outdoor climbing walls loom high over the riverside area. We took a brief walk around Monday night, and I told Michael that yes, he could do it on Tuesday…and so he did. For two hours. Indoors and out. Arms sore at the end, heels blistered from the shoes, but very, very happy.
And he was pretty excited to learn that they are opening their second facility in 2016….in Birmingham.
And then back home to pick up brother at 11:30 pm at school from his trip.
We’ll go back to Chattanooga for a couple of days sometime this summer to do Lookout Mountain/Ruby Falls/Rock City (which my older son said was really kitschy and actually kind of weird) and Chickamagua. My big goal of this summer, locally, is to get to Cloudland Canyon State Park, which is just a little south of Chattanooga – it looks amazing.
Had a nice chat with Matt Swain on Thursday morning about the two B16 picture books, available here, of course:
And for Mother’s Day:
For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!