Sunday, June 29, 2014

Chattanooga, Tennessee

Days 12 and 13, Sunday and Monday, May 11th and 12th:  We continued our adventures in and near Chattanooga.  On Sunday afternoon, we drove to the small town of Etowah, TN where we had reservations to ride the scenic Hiwassee River rail adventure.  This 3 and 1/2 hour excursion, called the "Hiwassee Loop," parallels much of the scenic Hiwassee River offering views of the lower gorge.  At the Loop, the tracks corkscrew over themselves as we climbed the mountain near Farner, TN.  We saw some beautiful scenery.  CLICK HERE for more info about the Loop.

We rode in the first car behind the engine.
 A view of the beautiful Hiwassee River.  

This is part of the loop where the tracks cross over themselves to get the train up the mountain. These were built in the 1890's and are maintained and used in the present time.


When we drove into Tennessee on May 4, we immediately began seeing barn roofs that were painted with signs that said, "SEE ROCK CITY." Those ads were everywhere!!  So, on Monday, May 12, we drove up to the top of Lookout Mountain where Rock City is located.  It is a geological and botanical wonder!  Read about it HERE.  The website that I have linked here tells the history of this beautiful place.

After seeing Rock City and visiting their gift shop, we drove a short distance over to what is called, "America's Most Amazing Mile," which is the Incline Railway. We rode down the incline and then returned to the top of Lookout Mountain!  HERE is the history and some interesting facts about what we experienced.  This website tells everything that would take me forever to share.

The rail car in which we made the trip.

We were not there in the busy season!                                               Dorothy and Esther ready to ride!

The view from the top!

After returning to the top of Lookout Mountain, we got in our car and started the trip back down to Chattanooga.  The streets and roads wind back and forth down the mountain.  In the 1800's, it took four hours in a wagon to go up or down the mountain.  That's why the Incline Railway was built and opened in 1895.  Driving it today is much faster, but you do have to go really slow, because you never know what is around the next curve in the way of oncoming traffic!  Let's just say that it's a lot different driving there than it is in South Texas!!

It was a great day!  The weather there in May is really nice--not hot, not cold, but just right!  Before returning to our hotel, we found a Cheddar's Cafe and had dinner there.  Then we returned to our hotel for an early evening since we were going to travel to Pigeon Forge the next day.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Bell Buckle, Tennessee

Day 11, Saturday, May 10, 2014: We left Nashville and started south on our way to Chattanooga. I had called the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel a couple of days earlier to make 7:00 dinner reservations at one of the restaurants for May 10.  We felt that we could make it to Chattanooga in plenty of time to check into our hotel (TownePlace Suites by Marriott), take our luggage inside, and then get to the hotel.

Our cousin, Mickey, had told us about a little town called Bell Buckle off the interstate about halfway between Nashville and Chattanooga. She loved it when she visited there and told us that if we were anywhere near it, we had to experience it!

So, we exited Interstate 24 between Murfreesboro and Manchester and drove to this quaint little town.  It is VERY small!

As you can see from the picture, it was rainy, but it never rained on us! We parked our car right in front of one of the stores and went in.  It was an antique store owned and operated by two brothers.  The store was loaded with antiques!  The pictures below show some of the merchandise on the shelves; however, the items way up high on the walls was not for sale.

Can you see the track on the ceiling?  The ladder is attached to the track and can be pushed along to make it possible to reach the things on the high shelves. This very clever contraption along with the shelving is all part of the original 1890's dry good store fixtures.

We talked with the brothers for quite a while.  They told us that back in the 1970's their parents had decided to buy the old building that had been a dry goods store. The people who owned it wanted to get rid of it and sold the building, the fixtures, shelving, and all the old merchandise in it for $750.00! (Yes, that decimal is in the right place!) The new owners found out that the entire block of old buildings was scheduled for demolition so something new could be built!  They had a better idea and managed to get their building designated as an historic site. Since each building on the block has a common wall with the building next door, it meant that NONE of the buildings could be demolished--they were all historic sites now!!  What a blessing for this little town.  Other people opened specialty stores and restaurants in the other buildings.  People flock there to shop in the stores and eat in the restaurants that resulted from the foresight of two people who saw what the future could hold. 

The items up on the high walls and the top of the cabinets are all items that were included in the sale of the building.  The family decided not to sell these very old items that were left as part of the original inventory of the dry goods store and displayed them instead.  

They had some really neat antique holiday merchandise, and we bought a little Santa Claus and a reindeer.

The two brothers told us that their parents had bought another building at the same time and they opened a turn-of-the-century ice cream parlor and homemade pie shop there. The parents still operate that ice cream parlor and also sell antiques there.  We made a stop there, too, and Dorothy had some ice cream.  (No, Esther and I did not have any!)  The picture below shows Dorothy eating her ice cream.

Learn more about the town at this website.

We hated to leave Bell Buckle, as we could have gone in every store had time allowed.  But, we had that reservation at the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel restaurant that night at 7:00 and needed to get back to the interstate.  No sooner had we gotten on the interstate than we saw a highway sign that said we were entering the eastern time zone!  Uh, oh!!  We had suddenly and quite unexpectedly lost an entire hour.  That meant we didn't have nearly the time we thought we had to get to the restaurant!  We did not exceed the speed limit, but we didn't waste any time either!!

As we neared Chattanooga, there were four southbound lanes. we came to a Y where the highway divided with two lanes going straight ahead and two taking off to the right. We were in the correct lane to go toward Chattanooga.  An 18 wheeler was in the lane next next to us on the right.  Just as we got to the Y, he decided that he was in the wrong lane!  He pulled in right next to us just as we got to the dividing fence.  He had no where to go except on the narrow shoulder between us and the fence.  The shoulder was not as wide as his truck, so he was VERY close to our vehicle!  I couldn't pull over to the left lane, because there were cars in that lane right next to us and I would have hit them.  I couldn't slam on the brakes, because there were cars right behind us.  Our angels were really watching over us, because somehow that truck didn't side-swipe us.  Dorothy could have reached out and touched the side of the truck!  All of this happened as traffic was going 65-70 mph, and dust and gravel were flying through the air.  The cars around us swerved and must have been scared to death as were we!  I managed to slow down a little, and the truck barreled past us and pulled into our lane right in front of us!  We have no idea how he missed us.  We just praise God that He protected us.  Had the truck hit us, it would have annihilated us and probably some of the people in the other cars around us!  God is so good!

We continued on to our hotel, checked in, put our stuff in the room, and put the address of the Choo Choo into Google Maps and took off again.  We made it about 15 minutes late, but as it turned out there was a 20 minute wait because they were so busy.  We sat outside, and were finally called into the Station House Restaurant.  The only table they had was right by the live music, and you've never heard anything in your life that was so loud!  It was not the type of music that we enjoy, either.  We told the hostess that we just couldn't take that and had decided to leave.  We never even sat down!  We left this restaurant and went to the other hotel restaurant where they were serving a buffet and playing great music!  We enjoyed that very much.

I never did get any pictures, but you can read about this hotel at  There are additional links at the bottom of the web page.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Nashville, TN

Days 8 - 10, Wednesday through Friday, May 7 - 9, 2014:  We spent the next three days in Nashville.

The first day there (Wednesday), we went to the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center to pick up some tickets that I had ordered. We wanted to visit this huge hotel, because pictures we had seen were very impressive!  (We were staying across the street at the Gaylord Inn at Opryland.)  Google Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center to see it.

We were impressed, but we were also glad that we weren't staying there.  Not only is it VERY expensive, but once you check in, the rooms are quite a walk from the lobby.  We were very happy at the Inn!
This is The Gaylord Inn at Opryland (a Marriott property) where we stayed. 

Just a very small portion of the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center--this place covers acres and acres!


Our first evening there, we took the dinner and show cruise on the General Jackson Showboat. The 3 and 1/2 hour cruise is up the Cumberland River and then back to the dock. We boarded the boat at 6:15 and the cruise started at 7:00.

The sun was setting on the other side of the trees (to the left) when I took this picture of the Cumberland River.

We were seated at the "Captain's Table" so we were allowed to board the showboat first!  We were seated at a reserved table on the upper deck for complimentary "drinks" (Diet Coke for us!!!) and a pre-dinner show.  Then, our waiter asked us to follow him, and we were taken down one deck to the dining room/theater and seated.  If you look closely at the picture below, you will see Esther standing by our table.  No, the captain did not eat dinner with us.  They do this cruise every night and he has to "run" the boat; however, he did come to our table to welcome us and talk to us.  I forgot to take a picture!!! The really great thing about this table was the location.  We had perfect seats for the show! The food was very good when you consider how many people they were serving.  It wasn't cold, and we thought that was amazing!  At the end of the evening, our waiter brought us a complimentary General Jackson Showboat t-shirt. (Everyone is wondering how we were able to have all these perks!  Well, when I made the reservations online several weeks in advance, there was an option to pay a little extra and enjoy the evening in this manner.  So, that's what I did!!)

Every show we saw in Nashville and later on in Pigeon Forge included a segment of Gospel songs and Patriotic music.  They always ask Veterans to stand and everyone honors them! What could be better than God and Country?

Since we were on vacation, we never got up at the crack of dawn unless we had plans for something early in the day. Our second full day in Nashville (Thursday), we went to Opry Mills in the afternoon.  This is a huge shopping center by the Gaylord Resort and The Grand Ol' Opry Theater. The General Jackson Showboat is right by it, too, as the property is bordered by the Cumberland River. We looked around there, and then had dinner at 

The Aquarium Restaurant.

We had tickets to attend a show at the Ryman Auditorium after dinner. This is the original home of The Grand Ol' Opry back in the days of Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff, and many other country stars. This bronze figure of Roy and Minnie Pearl graces the lobby of the auditorium.  Notice that Minnie Pearl's hat has the legendary price tag hanging from it!

Since 1974, the Grand Ol' Opry has been held in a brand new state of the art theater over near The Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center.  We preferred to attend a show at the historic theater rather than the new one!

 Click this to read about the history of this building.

It was originally built to be a church.  Click on the link above to read some of the interesting history of this building.
Windows from the outside

Windows from the inside

The show we saw was hosted by Larry Gatlin of The Gatlin Brothers. We were seated in the part of the auditorium called the "Inner Circle."  These are the seats at the front out from under the balcony.  We were in the center and had great views of the stage.


Our last day in Nashville was on Friday, the 9th of May.  We had decided to visit Andrew and Rachel Jackson's home, The Hermitage, on this day.  Esther had read an advertisement for The Hermitage House Smorgasbord that was located on the way to The Hermitage, so that's where we decided to have lunch.  We enjoyed the food, which was good and plentiful, and the service, which was efficient and friendly!  The atmosphere was like a home (with large rooms).  

This is The Hermitage House Smorgasbord and the van in which we traveled parked in front of it.

After lunch, we drove the short distance to The Hermitage, which was the plantation and home of Andrew Jackson, the 7th President of the United States.

Click here to see more about The Hermitage.  We spent several hours here seeing the house and grounds. During the tour, we saw every room in the house, but they do not allow photographs. I did find this website that shows pictures of the interior of the house.  Click here to view the website.

The path leading from the visitor center to the mansion. 

Rachel and Andrew Jackson are buried together in the far corner of the garden that she loved.  Other family members are buried there, too.  The garden is beautiful with trees and flowers blooming everywhere.

These orange flowers are nasturtiums.  Our mother always had some growing in our flower beds, so these brought back great memories!
 More of the garden where Andrew and Rachel Jackson are buried.

The flowers that I thought were most beautiful were the peonies.
The weather on the day we visited The Hermitage was perfect--cool and cloudy.  We spent more time outside than we did inside, so that was good!
When we completed our tour of the mansion and the grounds, we returned to the visitor's center where we spent some time in the gift shop.  One of the things we purchased was a book written in 1951, The President's Lady. This is the story of Andrew and Rachel Jackson and their love, which was one of the greatest love stories in the history of our country.  The novel, by Irving Stone, was made into a movie in 1953 and starred Charlton Heston and Susan Hayward.  We've read the book now and wish we could find a video of the movie!