Saturday, June 21, 2008

Back from Vacation!!

We have been away on vacation and the last two weeks of school were brutally busy with all the year-end activities like the 4th Grade picnic and Play Day. We left for Tennessee the day after D's school ended. We visited Nashville and Chattanooga. We may be the only family ever to go to Nashville and NOT see Opryland. We never made it to either the new Opryland or the old Ryman Auditorium. I thought it would be fun to see the Ryman Auditorium just for the historic value but D was absolutely NOT interested. He did agree to come with us to two historic homes (which surprised me very much). The first was Belle Meade Plantation. It is one of the oldest horse breeding plantations in Tennessee. Several of the Triple Crown winners came from Belle Meade.

The second historic home was called the Belmont Mansion. The Mansion is located on the campus of Belmont University. Funny, but the security people had no idea that the Mansion was visited by so many tourists. They told us that they have only two dedicated parking spots for it but when we took the tour there were literally dozens of people inside. It was a beautiful mansion that had been owned by one of the richest women in the late 1800's. I don't remember her name but I do remember that she died during a shopping trip to NYC. I guess she died doing what she enjoyed most! I can relate to that.

We enjoyed a rainy day at Opry Mills which is a very large shopping center directly across the parking lot from the new and improved Opryland. We spent the afternoon playing Glow Golf, watching The Incredible Hulk movie, eating at The Aquarium Restaurant (very cool) and visiting the touch pool they have called Stingray Reef. We took a "behind the scenes" tour of the Aquarium Restaurant. The tour was well worth the $5.00 each that they charge. The food at the Aquarium Restaurant was surprisingly good. The view from almost any table in the restaurant of all the fish is amazing.

We drove up to Kentucky for the day and toured the Lost River Caverns. These were pretty impressive. I got a bit claustrophobic in the boat when we all had to put our heads down to get into the caverns. Once we got into the caverns I was fine. It was interesting to learn that there had been a tavern of sorts on the premises back in the 1930's during prohibition. Apparently, if you drink too much while you are underground you don't feel it until you reach sea level. The people drank way too much and passed out on the steps of the cavern. That is said to be the reason the tavern didn't stay open very long. The drive to and from Kentucky from Nashville had great scenery and was well worth the price of gas.

We ate dinner at another really good restaurant. It is called Demos'. Demos' is located in downtown Nashville. They serve Italian food. I scarfed down a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs. B had a seafood dish and D had the kids meal of unlimited soup. One of their specialties is baked chicken rice soup. It is really "out of this world". We each ordered and enjoyed a bowl of our own. Yummo!

Our drive to Chattanooga was uneventful. B was worried that we would hit traffic because the music festival known as "Bonnaroo" is in the area and had just ended. We didn't have any problems at all getting to Chattanooga. It was also a nice drive. Chattanooga is a small quaint town from my perspective (an ex-NYer). In Chattanooga, we ate dinner at two different chain barbecue restaurants. We ate at Smokey Bones and Sticky Fingers. I enjoyed both of them but I think Sticky Fingers is probably my favorite of the two. We bought and brought home a bottle of their barbecue sauce.

One of the most fun thing we did in Chattanooga was see their aquarium. I think that the Baltimore Aquarium is great but I felt that the Chattanooga Aquarium was even better. They have a permanent showcase of jellyfish that was very impressive. I was also taken with their penguins and seahorses. The Baltimore Aquarium has had travelling jellyfish and seahorse exhibits pass through but nothing permanent. Nor do we have penguins. Baltimore Aquarium does have puffins and a fairly large frog exhibit.

They also have a natural wonder in nearby Georgia called Ruby Falls which is an underground waterfall. I couldn't believe how gorgeous the waterfall was. Yes, I know. You are probably asking yourselves how many caves or caverns can one family visit on a vacation. Well, we can visit quite a few. We think they are gorgeous and interesting. You have to admit that on a blistering hot day, a visit to an underground cavern that is between 50 and 60 degrees can't be too bad!

Another scenic touristy thing we did in Chattanooga was to ride the "Incline." The Incline is a railroad that goes up a mountain at a 72 degree angle. The trip takes 15 minutes each way up and down Lookout Mountain. At first, I wasn't sure that I could manage riding the Incline because I have a fear of heights (along with so many others). I just "bit the bullet" and got into the train. It really wasn't bad at all. I met another woman travelling with her family who is also afraid of heights. We chatted all the way down the mountain. We didn't even notice that we had arrived. The trip back up was not at all scary and I was able to enjoy the view.

I almost forgot to mention that we visited Rock City which is also located on Lookout Mountain. The picture of D was taken at "Lovers Leap" in Rock City. It is a very interesting place that was formed by boulders that fell off the mountain. The view is fantastic as you can see. They also have a few tight squeezes between the boulders and some lovely gardens.

Last but certainly not least, we drove up to Sweetwater and took another tour of a cave. The cave in Sweetwater is called The Lost Sea. It is an underground lake inside a cave. This time they stocked the lake with lake trout. The guides feed the trout and almost jump into your boat for a little excitement. This cave was cool and relaxing.

I am pretty sure that you probably haven't considered Tennessee for your next vacation unless you are a country music fan. Take it from me, you would definitely enjoy it. There is something for everyone. The restaurants are top notch. The prices are very reasonable, too.

The Creative Cook