When you travel a lot on business it can get jarring. You’re often flying in to a city that is not that exciting to begin with, you rarely get to stay anywhere cool and either you’re stuck in a hotel at the airport or near to an industrial hub of some sort. Even if you happen to have any time between checking in to your room and running off to meetings, you’re often just too tired to explore and enjoy your surroundings. That’s me at least, business travel is rarely inspiring and the best part for me is almost always seeing colleagues that are usually just a name on slack. Sometimes though, just sometimes, life gives a gift of a travel experience that you didn’t see coming at all.
I’m in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I’m visiting a furniture factory and to be honest expected that to be the most exciting part of my visit. Don’t get me wrong, I love factories! I think they are microcosmoses of smartness and hard work and a clean, efficiently running factory is always very impressive. I have heard good things about Chattanooga, mainly about how beautiful it is, how the downtown area, surrounding hills and the Tennessee River running through the town are simply gorgeous.
Chattanooga was founded by John Ross in 1815, named back then Rossville Landing. In 1838 it changed it’s name to Chattanooga which means “Rock coming to a point” or “Lookout Mountain” in Creek Indian. It’s located in Tennessee, bordering the state of Georgia, on both sides of the Tennessee River. It’s known for, according to the Internet, for it’s amazing nature, great hiking, kayaking and mountain biking possibilities. As much as I would love to spend several days exploring all of the above and although I don’t have any meetings today I still need to work and I need to restrict my exploration of this place to areas where there are plugs and Wi-Fi connections. I still need to be able to work but I’m confident I can kill two birds with one stone, enjoy the town and be productive.
I start with priority #1. Food. I need to find a place that serves decent vegan and gluten free food, or a steak house with impressive grilled veggie side dishes (!). I google vegetarian restaurants and Google tells me about a restaurant called “Cashew”. Quick glance and I can’t believe my luck.! Not only is this restaurant Vegan but they seem to have Gluten Free Doughnuts – hellz yeah! So off I go Ubering to the North Shore of Chattanooga.
Cashew is downstairs in a cute building with surrounding businesses selling often handmade local goods. I take a seat on the small patio and wanna cry from happiness. All is vegan and by far most dishes are gluten free. The menu has all kinds of dishes from vegan nachos to hamburgers and soups. I opt for Walnut-mushroom-quinoa “meat”balls on a garlic kale bed, topped with cashew cheese. It’s just heavenly, so simple and so good. I usually don’t eat desserts. I try to avoid the sugar and extra calories but when I find gem places like Cashew I usually enjoy the offering. This time I have a hard time deciding between the gluten free brownie, gluten free doughnuts, gluten free cookie or something called the Blondie, which apparently has macadamia and maple syrup on it. I’ve never had a dessert with macadamia or maple syrup that didn’t taste good so I opt for that. I also feel like the dessert is named after me so it’s practically a sign.
I take a bite of the blondie, and I swear, I feel like I’m having a palate orgasm. This is not only good, it’s hands off one of the best pieces of cake I’ve ever had.
After some lunch and working a bit I start to walk in the part on the North Shore. It’s warm, by the way. Really warm – I’m wearing jeans and tennis and it’s too much. I should be in shorts and sandals. It’s nice warm though, sunny and not too humid at all. The leaves are still light green but fully grown and everything smells wonderful. I walk down to the river and admire the view, right on the opposite shore I can see the Hunter Museum of American Art. The view is simply spectacular.
I decide to cross The Walnut Street Bridge, which is a cute walking bridge made of wood and medal that ends right next to the Hunter Museum on the South side. Once across I continue my walk just enjoying the look and feel of the city. It’s beautiful, clean, a mixture of old and modern, natural and urban all at the same time. As I’m walking I notice the town has several spots where you can rent a bike. I don’t get to ride a bike outside that often and I’m thrilled. You can rent a bike with 7 speeds up to three days, $8 / day. The system is pretty nice because while your rent period is valid, you can pick up a bike, return it and pick up another one as many times as you want. I adjust my seat, which miraculously extends to the height I need (I’m pretty tall) and off I go!
I head east on the South shore, pass the aquarium and up the hill through the an area with cute houses and condos. After a while I turn back and return the same way, the road goes right next to a luscious hill with oaks and flowers that smell like heaven. The experience is meditative and makes me smile to my core. I head back and decide to cross the same bridge back to the North Shore. There is a couple with a new born baby, dressed in blue outfits taking their first ever family pictures. The moment is very endearing, with the grandmother taking pictures slooooowly while the new mom trying to hurry her as she sees a group of people gathering behind the grandma waiting patiently to cross until the photos are taken.
On the North Shore I do few more laps in the Coolidge Park, enjoying the view of the river and the town. I’m getting tired though, it’s still really warm and I have now biked almost five miles. I return my bike next to the Outdoor Chattanooga center in the Park (if you’re looking for outside activities such as biking and kayaking in Chattanooga, this seems like a great place to start!). I’m thirsty, want to check my emails and need something to drink.
I walk a bit and notice a shop that sells products from local Noog businesses.
I love supporting local so I go in to get few souvenirs. This store sells art, crafts, local goodies such as chocolate and jelly. They have hand painted cards and hand made jewelry. Everything is quite cute.I do a bit of shopping and ask the shop assistant for advice for a good café near by.
She tells me about Milk & Honey that is down the street, about a block away, and a lady behind me says the place is really nice. I don’t need more reassurance and walk over to the café. It’s a cute little place, maybe a bit hard to spot from the road next to it but it’s there and I walk in. They have all kinds of nice things, from regular coffee and tea selection to pastries and ice cream. They also have a couple of gluten free options a muffin and what they claim to be “The best Gluten Free Cookie in the World”. I ordered an orange & ginger ice tea and the cookie, both delicious.
I’ve agreed to meet my colleagues for dinner as soon as they land to Chattanooga and get checked in to the hotel. It’s late afternoon now and I want to get some rest, take a quick shower and change my clothes before I head out again. The day in the sun, the 5 mile walk and the 5 mile bike ride have worn me out! I feel happy though, it has been nice for the first time in who knows how long to have a day to myself. I’m almost never alone, I’m always either at work or with kids, maybe with a friend, but never alone and as much as I feel guilty of admitting it I do miss my alone time. It gives me the opportunity to ground my thoughts and emotions, put everything into perspective, plan and dream for what’s next. Alone time is to my soul and mind what sleep is to my body, it’s the moment when all the hard work and (mental) exercise settles in and when I grow. It makes me a better person and it allows me to re-center my true self. I Uber to the hotel and on my way I hear my colleagues have already arrived and ready to head out for dinner sooner rather than later. I rush to my room, take a quick shower and change.
We have a table booked at the Stir, a loft look and feel kinda restaurant right behind the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Here you have fine dining but also a pretty nice bar. The staff is friendly and helpful accommodating my gluten free vegan diet. My colleagues order oysters with bacon to start. It sounds very unorthodox but the guys did seem to like them. Then again these guys would probably eat tiny rocks if they were served with bacon, so not saying much… I have a tuna bowl without the tuna and it’s pretty yummy. My colleagues also order scallops (they look really good), a steak (that was huge) and as a dessert apple pie that apparently is heavenly good – my gluten free self has to settle with the sweet smell.
I didn’t have a lot of expectations for Chattanooga, I was so pleasantly surprised and feel really blessed to have gotten to know this town that I would have never otherwise even noticed on a map! I would recommend this place if you want a quick weekend getaway with your family or you wand a date weekend with your partner. I didn’t get to explore all the hiking opportunities but I will make it my business to explore the trails the next time I’m back.