Thursday, September 29, 2011

Vacation Day 8–Whitewater Rafting and Vaudeville

For our very last day of vacation, we drove over to the Ocoee River for some awesome whitewater rafting! 


I had never been whitewater rafting before.  So you see where I am in the boat. Nice and comfy at the back.


Smartest decision ever.  Because when he hit the course that had been specifically designed for the 1996 summer Olympics, you see who stayed in the boat…


I will admit that Nathan stayed in too.  But only just barely.  The funniest part is only minutes before he had been sitting in the front, but then switched with the younger kid so that he could enjoy the front for a bit.


It was a seriously good time.  I loved it.  Even if it was overcast and cold for most of the day.  We were so pumped up on adrenaline most of the time, you didn’t even notice the cold!


Our guide was such a character.  You can kind of see that by what he is wearing.  He dressed up a little fancier that day because it was the last day that the upper portion of the river would be open for rafting.  Most of the water in the Ocoee is held behind a damn and is used to produce electricity.  But on Saturdays during the summer months they open up the damn to allow some white water rafting on the upper portion of the river.  So we were lucky to get to do both the upper and middle Ocoee.


Because during the week, the upper portion of the river has very little water in it, lots of animals find there way down into the river bed.  Especially things like snakes and lizards.  So when they filled up the river, the snakes and such were all floating up on the water.  One snake even found it’s way into one of the boats that we were with.  I’m so glad it wasn’t ours.  I would have DIED!!!!!!!!!


It was so fun and I’m so glad we went.  I can’t wait to do it again someday!

After our rafting we headed back to Chattanooga.  That evening we went downtown to find a fun local place to eat.  We came across this place called the Vaudeville Café.  Turns out it is a comedy murder mystery dinner theatre.  We didn’t have tickets, but the lady at the desk said we could hang around for a little while and see if any of their reservations didn’t show up.  Sure enough, a table was left open and we were able to get in. 


It was such a good time.  We laughed for 2 hours straight.  As the name of the café would imply, it was mostly silly slap stick humor, but we loved it.  We saw an Italian-Redneck Wedding murder mystery.  The girl that played the redneck bride was hilarious!  And the food was pretty good too.  It was a simple Italian buffet, and while not amazing or anything, it was better than some other buffets I’ve been to.  The tickets to get in were $26.50 a person, which I thought was very reasonable considering it was a two hour show and it included dinner.  So if you are ever in Chattanooga – I highly recommend it!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vacation Day 7–Chattanooga

After our fun at the Parthenon, we headed on down to Chattanooga.  And of course you can’t go to Chattanooga without seeing the Chattanooga Choo-Choo.


Well, you can.  And we would have – BUT – we still needed to buy a little gift for Layton and because he loves trains, we figured this was the perfect place for it :)

We also decide to go to a special memorial built to note the beginning of the Trail of Tears at Ross’s Landing.  So we headed down to the riverfront park that website said the memorial was located at.  We walked the entire length of the park and found nothing.  So, a little disappointed, we headed back to our car, only to find out the memorial is on the OTHER side of the road from the park.  Who knew. 

Regardless of how hard it was to find, I am very glad we found it.  The Trail of Tears is one of the most inhumane events in our nations history.  Here was a nation of Native Americans who were not only at peace with the people around them, but were even adopting customs of the Europeans who were sharing their land.  By the 1820s, many in the Cherokee nation had begun wearing clothing similar to their white neighbors, were building schools and setting up permanent townships.  But their European neighbors were greedy.  Rather than sharing the land, the State of Georgia decided to layout the Cherokee lands in lots of 160 acres and began selling them off for 4 dollars a lot to people who won a “land lottery”.  And even after representatives from the Cherokee nation took their case against this to the Supreme Court and WON – the local government would not uphold the Supreme Court’s ruling.  And so in a rather underhanded “treaty” deal, the Cherokee nation was forced to relocate to Oklahoma against their wishes.  Thousands were forcibly rounded up and herded into small holding forts in unsanitary conditions and with little food.  Then they were forced to march in the middle of winter to Oklahoma.  Some 4,000 Cherokees died during the relocation. 

The monument in Chattanooga has seven discs of artwork that represent the seven Cherokee clans.  Each disc had special meaning in Cherokee folklore.

The first is the Sun Circle.  It represents the sacred fire of the Cherokee that still burns today.  It is their belief that the Cherokee will continue to exist for as long as sacred fire is kept burning.


The second symbol is the Four Direction Journey and represents the different directions the Cherokee Nation had to travel to reach their final destination.


The third symbol is their Warrior Birds.


The fourth symbol represents connections – connections to family, connections to the earth, connections to their forefathers, and connections to the Great Spirit.


The fifth symbol represents their Strength of Life.


The sixth symbol is the Coiled Serpent.  The serpent is an animal that inspires both reverence and fear.


The seventh symbol is the Weeping Eye Mask.


The final piece of artwork is “Little Water Spider”.  It is this little spider that is believe to have first brought the sacred fire to the Cherokee nation.


The entire monument is fed by water pumped up from the river to run down the steps to represent the tears of those along the trail who wept to leave their homes and watch as so many of their family died.


I am very proud of my hodge podge melting pot ancestry.  I have so many different nationalities is my bloodline.  Including several different Native American tribes.

That evening, Nathan and I took a riverboat ride along the Tennessee River.


It was fun with lots of food and entertainment.


And some lovely views.


It made for a nice romantic end to our day :)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Vacation Day 6.5–Nashville

I’m so bummed that no one got my Percy Jackson reference yesterday.  Swearing on the River Styx??  Anyone???  Are there no other fellow geeks out there?

Everyone knows I love to read.  A lot.  Well, a lot might be an understatement.  I love all types of genres from the classics, to mysteries, to Christian novels, to science fiction, and even a good ole shootem’ up  Western.  But my most favorite category of books – young adult fantasy.  Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, Eragon, The Alchemyst, The Goose Girl, Dragon Slippers, The Gods of Manhattan, The Tapestry, Wild Magic, The Iron King, Fablehaven, Percy Jackson, and many more.  So what if they are written for teenage kids.  I don’t care.  I love them. 

So should it be a surprise to anyone that of all the places that we could have chosen to go in Nashville, I wanted to go to the replica of the Parthenon and look at the Greek Gods?  Of course not.


Because I mean, who doesn’t love a gigantic statue of Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom (aka Annabeth’s mom in case you were wondering).    She’s fierce!


Really though it boils down again to my love of history and since it is unlikely that I’ll ever get a chance to go to Greece, why not a enjoy a little piece of it here in good ole USA.


The pediments at each end of the Parthenon depict a scene from Greek Mythology.  The East Pediment shows the birth of Athena.  Apparently Zeus had a major headache and so he asked his son Hephaetus to hit his head with a hammer and his head split open and out jumped a fully grown Athena dressed to hilt in battle gear.  Rather interesting way to have a child, don’t you think?


They were of course surrounded by family and friends for the event.


The legends of all of the paganistic Greek gods are fascinating, but the history of the replica of the Parthenon itself is pretty interesting too.   It was originally built in Nashville for the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exhibition (essentially a state fair).  That must have been one amazing State Fair!  It was built of simple wood and plaster and was only meant to be a temporary building for the exhibition.  But the people of Nashville loved it so much, that in the 1930s they decided to make it a more permanent structure.   And so the Parthenon replica was born.


We had actually arrived in Nashville the evening before our little visit to the Parthenon.  While there, Nathan used his phone to look up on Yelp a good restaurant close to our hotel to try.  He found this random place called “Mediterranean Cuisine”.  Not exactly the most inspiring of names, but the reviews were good so we decided to try it out.  As a result, I have now discovered that I cannot live my life without falafel.  I’ve had falafel before, but nothing that tasted as good as it did at this place.  I fell so in love with it that I even tried to make some last Friday.  But…it was only average.  Good, but not amazing like that place.  So now I’m on the hunt for the perfect falafel recipe.  So if you have one – please share!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Vacation Day 6–Mammoth Caves, Kentucky

We started out the day with more hiking -


yep that’s right more hiking.  But at least it was outdoors!  The rest of our hiking that day would take place underground.  We hiked more than 6.5 miles underground and didn’t even scratch the surface of the vastness of this cave system.  The cave system is over 392 miles and they are discovering more of it every year.  It is the longest cave system in the world – by a lot – the second longest is only about 150 miles long. 

Upon entering the tunnel to start our first tour,


we were greeted by this little guy. Isn’t he cute?


Unlike many other caverns, Mammoth cave does not have a lot of the normal formations that you associate with caverns – you know stalactites and stalagmites.  Most of the formations are underground river beds.  Some of them are enormous. 


While some areas are tight slot canyons.


There is one are that we passed through that was so narrow that it was dubbed:


There are also lots of tight little wholes that they actually do a “wild” cave tour where you can do some true spelunking.  Not me though.  Some of those places looked like they would bring on a major case of claustrophobia. 

One of the highlights of the tour to me was eating our lunch underground.  They have an area called the Snowball Café.  Equipped with picnic tables and a lunch counter.  Fun, right?


They even have fully equipped restrooms down there.  And their restrooms often get little cave visitors like this guy:


There is pretty much only a couple of areas of the cave system that have traditional formations.  At the “vineyard” they have a whole wall of these little grape formations:


And then they have a formation know as Frozen Niagara Falls. 


The most impressive thing about the caves is just how incredibly large they were.  None of the pictures I took were really able to capture the vastness of these caves. 

But the most interesting thing about these caves to me is their history.  I told you I love history.  Mammoth caves were of course first discovered by Indians.  They braved the caves that they believed were haunted by evil spirits to mine the gypsum from the walls of the caves.


It is unclear exactly what the Indian used it for, all they know is there is evidence of them scraping it from the walls.  During the war of 1812, the caves became an instrumental part of providing gun powder to our armies.  Slaves were required to mine salt petre from the caves.  Salt petre in combination with charcoal and sulfur forms gun powder.


Salt petre was mined by digging up the cave soil (rich in nitrate from bat droppings, gross, no?) and then put in these log vats.  Water was poor over the top of it and then the nitre was leached out and collected and then boiled to make the salt petre.  The water needed for this process was piped into the caves using a series of hollowed out poplar trees.  Ingenious, I think.


The first true explorer into this vast cave system was a slave named Stephen Bishop.  His maps of the caves were so extraordinarily accurate that they were used to base much of the modern day cave exploration on.  Stephen Bishop began leading tours in the caverns sometime in the 1830s.  He would lead them in and for a tip, he would burn their names into the walls and ceilings of the caverns using a candle.  19th century graffiti.  Gotta love it!  IMG_3931

During his time he was considered the foremost expert of the cave system.  Pretty impressive for someone that was considered someone else’s property.  He love it there.  Even after the end of the civil war when he was free, he stayed on at the caves to continue his work as a guide. 

It was so interesting.  One day I would love to go back and do some of the other tours.  They even do a tour by lantern light to give you a feel for what it must have been like during the 1800s.  We had a great time.  I swear it on the River Styx.