Monday, June 13, 2011

Chattanooga Day 3: The Zoo, The Aquarium & A Cheeburger

It was Wednesday and we had a big day planned. To make sure we got off to a good start we had a protein drink for breakfast in our hotel room.

Although I wanted to spring it on her as a surprise, I decided to tell Paula about the spa appointment I'd made for her on Thursday afternoon so she'd be prepared for it. Now I don't know why but women have to be "ready" to go to a spa appointment but apparently they do. So I made sure she'd get the most out of her massage by allowing her to know she when she was going.

Once we were out and about it was off to the zoo. The Chattanooga Zoo is located in what appeared to be a relatively new or newly refurbished area north of the downtown area. It is by far the smallest zoo we've ever been to. It about the size of Kentucky Down Under; perhaps smaller.

Our visit got off to a fun start when we encountered a couple white parrots who talked to us. They said "hello" and whistled. One of them made a "burglar alarm" sound as well.

We saw a cougar, an owl, peacocks, deer, a male turkey, and monkeys.

The cutest creature we saw was a very playful snow leopard cub. While we were watching him he pounced on his mother trying to get her to play. He also came up to the viewing window to say "hello" (see picture above). He was so adorable and wanted to play with anyone who seemed willing. That's why he was so close to the window.

After about an hour we had seen everything the zoo offered. We were a little disappointed that there wasn't more see. On our way out we stopped to see it's carousel. The merry-go-round which I was kind of anxious to see wasn't very impressive. It had all types of animals on it but wasn't in very good shape. Although I had said I wanted to I decided not to ride it. I didn't even take any pictures.

Because all the places we planned to visit the rest of the day were within the downtown area, we decided to park the car in a parking garage and walk. It was the same garage where we parked on Monday night.

We visited the Chattanooga visitors center next to the garage. While in the men's room I met a young man who was a U.S Park Ranger. He was in his official park uniform but had a raccoon mascot costume with him. He was about to change into it. I had a short casual conversation with him. He was a nice young man. After about 10 minutes he came out into the visitor's center and started greeting people. It was rather unique to know who exactly was inside the suit.

It was around lunch time and we decided to get something to eat before we walked to the aquarium. I wasn't too sure the place I decided to go for lunch would be a place we could eat. Rather I should say a place where we could eat the way were supposed to eat.

The restaurant was called "Cheeburger Cheeburger" named after the fictional burger joint in the popular John Bulushi / Saturday Night Live sketch back in the 70's. It was relatively small  place with about 2 dozen tables. The theme was that of your typical neighborhood sweet shop from back in the 50's and 60's with a classic rock & roll themed decor.

The speciality of the house was, as the name infers, cheeseburgers. But even though it "majored" in freshly cooked to order burgers it "minored" in milkshakes. You could get a shake with almost any flavoring there is. The milkshake prep station was a cross between an old fashion ice cream parlor counter and a bar with the multitude of flavorings set up like bottles of "spirits." You can see it in the picture above.

Not only were the burgers delicious but the fries and onion rings cooked in peanut oil were excellent. We didn't eat everything on our plates but had our fill for sure. When we walked out back on to Market Street we talked about coming back again before we left town.

Our next destination was the Tennessee Aquarium. As we got closer to the place we discovered that this was not just a couple of buildings exhibiting aquatic life. It was more like a campus. It took up almost an entire city block. There was an enclosed  food court, which we would visit later, and a building with a souvenir shop and a place to buy tickets. The areas in between all of these buildings were filled with places to sit, tables to eat lunch, a couple of bridges and a small stream flowing through the property. It was designed for large groups of school children to enjoy themselves on a hot day. The stream had areas where kids could get in and wade around.

We bought our tickets and headed for the "River Journey" building.  Our tour started on the top floor of the building. We got there by riding up one of the longest escalators I've ever been on. It took us up the equivalent of 3 stories. The place is set up to take your on a winding and gradually descending path through the tanks and exhibits that feature animals and aquatic life that can be found in the rivers of the world. It's design was something I'd never seen before and made the most of the exhibit space.

The ramps give you different views (top, middle and bottom) of the several tanks. The one thing I noticed immediately was that there were turtles in almost every exhibit. I like turtles but I thought that was rather odd.  We saw alligators and several varieties of trout, and piranhas up close. The only thing  we saw that didn't belong in the "river" building were sea horses. They were on the bottom floor of the building. I guess because they were the special exhibit they were in a special area.

Of course the main reason I was excited to be in the river portion of the aquarium was because there were river otters. They were near midway point of the tour. When we got to their habitat (which was a waterfall and pool) they were taking their afternoon nap. We decided to go to the next building and come back to see them later.

A little tired and a bit hungry after the hour long walk through the River Journey we went to the food court and got something to drink and a cool snack to share.

Then it was off to the "Ocean Journey" building. This wasn't as interesting as the river building. There were a lot of fish and animals we've seen in other aquariums. The first exhibit was a pool where you could pet a small shark or a sting ray. Next we came to Paula's favorite thing in the building, a butterfly garden. It was a "vacuum sealed" room that had a special air system to make sure the winged insects don't get out when the doors opened. There were hundreds of very pretty butterflies.  

While it was on a larger scale the rest of the building was just like most of the aquariums we've been to before. We got through this tour in about 45 minutes. Once we were finished we headed back over to see the otters.

This time they were awake and swimming very energetically in pool "natural" pool. I stood in the viewing area that had a window where you could see under the water. I watched them for several minutes. I stayed until I got tired of listening to the looping narration that played over the speakers.

When we tried to leave we discovered that you couldn't get out of the building unless you walked through the entire tour again. I couldn't believe that the building was set up that way so I led us through a door that said "exit". Almost as soon as we entered the stairwell we realized that this looked more like a service stairway than one intended for patrons to use.

We walked down 3 floors worth of steps. When we got to the bottom the door to the 1st floor was locked. We went down another flight and were in the basement of the building. We went through the unlocked door and found ourselves in some kind of locker room. I had obviously taken us to somewhere we weren't supposed to be. We walked all the way back up to the 2nd floor and took an elevator down to get out. It was an interesting and strange experience.

Overall I'd say that the River Journey building is much better than the Ocean Journey building. If you ever go to the Tennessee Aquarium do the Ocean building first and save the better River building for last.

Before we headed to our car we went back to Market Street to get ourselves a treat. Chattanooga has a Rita's Italian Ice Shop. Its the only one I've ever seen outside of Pennsylvania. We bought ourselves a small sugar free green tea citrus flavored ice. It wasn't the flavor I wanted but it was good.

We decided to head to the Hamilton Place Mall to have dinner at a Red Robin restaurant. Paula had never eaten at one and she was curious. We took I-40 for about 20 minutes. There was a traffic back up because of a small accident. But once we got past it the traffic returned to normal.

The meal at Red Robin left a bit to be desired. I had a burger and soup. Paula had a grilled chicken salad. We had a young waitress who wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. The quality of the service we got is illustrated by the fact that two times she brought me tortilla soup when I ordered onion soup. The food wasn't bad but not very unique or memorable. So we weren't impressed with Red Robin at all.

After we ate we walked around the Hamilton Place mall for a while. Paula bought some new sun glasses and we stopped in the Thomas Kinkade gallery store. I talked with the store clerk about the Lion King wrap around print. We also walked the length of the bottom floor looking in a couple of sporting goods stores for a t-shirt with the Chattanooga minor league team's logo. We didn't find one I'd have to wait until the next night when we went to a Look Outs game.

After a while we got tired and headed back to the hotel for another evening of R & R. The next day we were going to see the Chattanooga Choo Choo hotel in the morning. Paula had an appointment for a massage in the afternoon. As I mentioned we were going to a minor league baseball game at night. However the unsettled mid south weather had a different idea.  

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