Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Tale of Three Cities: Elemental Chattanooga

The morning of September 13th came early for us. My beloved and I decided to get on the road as soon as we could so we could be in Chattanooga by mid-afternoon, so it was a 4:00am wake-up call and we were out the door and on our way by 5:00am. 

Once we arrived in Chattanooga, it was about 3:30 and we were spent. So we took some time looking around the historic Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel. 

This hotel is one of the coolest properties I have ever seen, and I was thrilled to be able to spend the night there. Chattanooga was a very important rail hub in the history of the American railway, and was the first city that connected the North and the South after the Civil War, or "The War of Northern Aggression" if you prefer. The South narrowed the rails during the war so that no Northern train could enter without going off the tracks. "Southern hospitality" was a little different during those days, I figure. 

Anyway, the hotel is the actual Chattanooga main rail terminal! The tracks are still there, and so is the main terminal building, which is gorgeous. We took a ride on the country's oldest working streetcar--originally from New Orleans, which I had guessed just by its setup!--and just walked around. The platforms are still there, but there are beautiful gardens and fountains everywhere. But the energy--that hum of activity--was still there for me. Walking down the platform I could only imagine what getting on a train there back in the 40s or 50s was like. 

The whole property was headed for the wrecking ball in late 1970 when the last passenger train left Chattanooga; sadly, despite its amazing rail history, the city is not served by Amtrak today. But at least some investors got together and on the last day--literally one hour--before the deadline to purchase the property passed, it was saved. 

Our hotel "room" was on the tracks: A Victorian rail car that was formerly used by the ultra-rich to travel in style. It was truly amazing! It was like having your own condo. Even though it didn't go anywhere, it was cool to imagine what it would have been like 75 years ago to move around that way. Sure beat the pants of the 10 and a half hours we had spent in my Hyundai to get to Chattanooga!

Travel is definitely in the fiery realm, and for me, long-distance rail is part of the fire element. The further you are from a place, the more of the idea of discovery is present, and when travel is far away from home, to a foreign country, or lasts longer than about two weeks, it goes in the fire category. So in the station I definitely felt fire. Of course, no trains are moving around in the yard now, and the people move through the platforms taking pictures and eating ice cream without a true sense of urgency, but I could definitely sense the "fire" at the station. 

In the area, earth was also prominent, but I didn't experience it as much. One of the most important local landmarks is Lookout Mountain, which sadly we didn't get time to see on this trip. Certain people believe the name "Chattanooga" comes from the local Indian phrase meaning "the eagle's nest" because the trees at the top of the mountain, when seen from the city, looked like a bird's nest. Anyway, this mountain is an important part of local tourism and boasts an incline railway and a site known as "Rock City". 

Most of what I felt, however, was more personally directed earth energy; with all of the preparations for Jen's birthday and the early departure, I was exhausted arriving in Chattanooga. I was afraid to lay down before Jen's birthday dinner because I wouldn't have wanted to get back up. And I had fever/chills during the night as well, which made me a little nervous. I think I was just plain worn out; luckily a few Advil managed to take care of that problem. Thank the Lord and Lady for "earthy" medicine!

Air was the element that Chattanooga lacked for me. There didn't seem to me to be that energy of lots of people talking, or lots of creativity. Air didn't really resonate with me there for some reason, though I should have considered writing a blog in the rail car. 

For the record, local travel--transit that includes local buses, taxis, commuter rail trains, and other forms of public transportation--is considered air. Really, that local stuff is Mercury-ruled so I consider air to represent any local form of travel, and that includes our daily commute or other "repeated" trips. 

One area where Chattanooga really surprised me, and the one strong "breath of fresh air" was their downtown public transportation system. It's an electric shuttle that was paid for in part by government subsidies. It is totally FREE and runs every 5-15 minutes through the downtown. The bus terminus was at our hotel, so it was easy to stay out of our car during our evening in Chattanooga. And imagine: Since the bus is electric, it helps keep the environment, especially our AIR, clean. Hey, how about THAT for irony?

Water was probably the easiest one for this trip overall, and for Chattanooga. The Tennessee River goes right through Chattanooga, and one of the more picturesque views of the city is from the river looking at the Tennessee Aquarium, our main reason for visiting. Remember when cities were founded they needed fresh water? It's likely that without the river, no city would have ever taken hold here. 

The Aquarium was excellent and set up in a "campus" style; they had separate buildings for ticket sales, ocean, and river exhibits. And it was nice to finish one building, take a few minutes to just sit around outside, and then go into the next building at your leisure instead of the "forced march" that occurs in many other aquariums. 

Of course, I definitely felt the water element watching my beloved enjoy marine wildlife, which is one of her passions. :)

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