Tennessee – Days 1-5: From Hiking and Wandering to Donating Blood and Making Music

Brittany Swanson   February 3, 2016   Comments Off on Tennessee – Days 1-5: From Hiking and Wandering to Donating Blood and Making Music

My Tennessee adventure started in Chattanooga, a place I’d maybe vaguely heard of but never really knew anything about. Turns out Chattanooga is pretty sweet. It’s a lovely little city nestled in the mountains and its very quaint. Unfortunately my first day was kind of a bust because I either slept funny, pulled a muscle exercising, or all the driving (sitting in the same position) or something tweaked my back. I got in the car to go explore Chattanooga the first day and I was nearly in tears after the fifteen minute drive into downtown. It hurt that bad. I got out of the car to go on with my adventures anyway, but moving just made my back hurt worse. I decided to take a minute and just sit in the backseat – where the seat is straight, instead of weirdly curved like the driver seat. Not moving and being super straight up and down seemed to help so I pulled out Wild by Cheryl Strayed and started to read it.

After a while it started raining and though I’ve braved the rain before to explore other cities I just really wasn’t in the mood for it today, so I stayed in the car and continued to read my book. At some point I fell asleep and enjoyed a nice long nap. When I woke up it was getting dark so I decided to go find a place to work on the blog. Driving made my back hurt again but luckily I didn’t have to go very far.

Since I didn’t really get a chance to explore Chattanooga that first day and the thought of driving two hours to Knoxville and then four more to Nashville the next day sounded awful, I talked my Chattanooga host into letting me stay an extra night. I’m glad I did. The following day I wandered around the artsy district of Chattanooga and then went and sat by the river and journaled for a bit. Then my host texted me to see what I was up to and we met up and went for a hike along the Chickamauga Creek. Like Alabama, I was disappointed by how much litter there was everywhere. I guess I just took for granted that people usually pack in and pack out on hiking trails. Not in Chattanooga apparently. My host said he usually takes at least one bag of trash out every time he goes hiking. That’s a lot of trash because he goes hiking relatively frequently. Though I guess it’s nice that someone is doing something.

Despite the trash on the way up, the view from the top of the mountain was amazing and, as an added bonus, at the top there was an old abandoned coal mine, which was super cool. I wandered into it for a bit, but it was really dark and my phone flashlight wasn’t doing anything, so I turned around and went back out into the world.

View looking out from inside the abandoned coal mine along the Chickamauga Creek in Chattanooga, TN.

View looking out from inside the abandoned coal mine along the Chickamauga Creek in Chattanooga, TN.

After our hike we went to Signal Point on Signal Mountain to check out the overlook over the Tennessee River. Wow. Breathtaking. Really, really, cold, but breathtaking. It was so cold we didn’t stay long, but it was still awesome.

View from Signal Point on Signal Mountain overlooking the Tennessee River, Signal Mountain, TN.

View from Signal Point on Signal Mountain overlooking the Tennessee River, Signal Mountain, TN.

We then stopped by Mojo Burrito for dinner and then I was on my way to Nashville. My host in Nashville and I started the night at this bar called Foobar where there was live music. A friend of hers met up with us there, but wasn’t really feeling the place so we ventured off to find somewhere else. On our way my host stopped at a store called Hustle. It was a sex shop. No, I’m not kidding. She said she needed to stop there, that she’d been meaning to, and since we were driving by already…

I won’t lie to you I felt super awkward at first. Then I realized I had no reason to feel awkward. Sex is natural. It’s normal. People have sex all the time. Some people need/want toys and other things to help enhance their sex life so what’s it to me? I will say I did find the store interesting. I never thought about how many different kinds of vibrators and dildos in all sizes and colors and textures there are. Not to mention the number of things I’d never imagined and still am not entirely sure what they’re for… It was really quite fascinating.

Next we went to a bar called Hurry Back where we played a few rounds of Cards Against Humanity. My host was jonesing for something sweet so her friend suggested getting bushwhackers. I had no idea what a bushwhacker was, I was just along for the ride. We went somewhere, but the place we went was out of the ice cream they used for bushwhackers so we ended up at Soulshine Pizza Factory. There I tried my first bushwhacker. Basically, it’s like an alcoholic milkshake. Quite tasty, but dangerous because you don’t really taste the alcohol and that’s pretty much all it is. Since my host was driving I had mine and most of hers. Oy.

The next day it was so cold I finally had to break out the winter coat I’d bought way back in New Hampshire. I also busted out my fleece-lined leggings. It was a Sunday so parking was free in downtown Nashville, which was great. But it was a Sunday, so it also meant nothing was open until after noon. So I wandered. I walked down Broadway, where all the bars and touristy shops are, then I walked down the Music City Walk of Fame and saw all the stars there.

Music City Walk of Fame, Nashville, TN.

Music City Walk of Fame, Nashville, TN.

I found the Frist Center for Visual Arts and since it was free with my reciprocal museum pass, and because I was freezing, I decided to check it out. There was an interesting exhibit about humans, but I couldn’t take pictures, so I don’t remember anything specifically… I really liked the section where people could make their own art. I wasn’t sure if it was geared toward children or not. There were a lot of kids there, but there were also a few adults making art, so maybe it was for everyone? They had all different types of art. You could draw or paint or sculpt or make a movie or do an etching or do printmaking, it was really cool.

I decided to stop by the Tennessee State Museum and do a quick walk through since it was free and I didn’t know a whole lot about Tennessee. The museum was huge! I kept thinking I’d come to the end and then find out there was another whole floor. The museum had a lot of artifacts and a good deal of information, though most of it seemed sort of superfluous.

Next I drove to Centennial Park to see Nashville’s own replica of the Parthenon. Yes, that Parthenon. Apparently, it was originally created as a temporary structure to celebrate the city of Nashville’s 100th birthday, but everyone liked it so much they decided to rebuild it as a permanent structure. I’ll admit it’s pretty impressive. I also happened to get there right as the sun was setting which made it even more beautiful.

Parthenon replica at sunset in Centennial Park, Nashville, TN.

Parthenon replica at sunset in Centennial Park, Nashville, TN.

At the Parthenon I met up with Margunn, another Couchsurfer who was staying with my host, and her friend from a different Couchsurfing experience and that girl’s boyfriend. The friend, whose name is escaping me at the moment, took us to Germantown and explained a bit about the history of Nashville. Then we stopped in Tempered European Indulgence to have some hot chocolate.

I then headed back to my host’s house to have dinner with her, her son, and her boyfriend. We had a chill night in and while I worked on my blog we watched The Theory of Everything.

The next morning I woke up early to drive Margunn to the bus station. Then I drove to Memphis. I wanted to go to the National Civil Rights Museum, which seemed appropriate since it was MLK Jr. Day. I did not anticipate how many other people would also think this was a swell idea.

Line to get in to the National Civil Rights Museum on MLK Jr. Day - the entrance is behind the white tent in the upper right corner...Memphis, TN.

Line to get in to the National Civil Rights Museum on MLK Jr. Day – the entrance is behind the white tent in the upper right corner…Memphis, TN.

I spent probably forty minutes in line before the people in front of me decided to go donate blood so they could, a. get in for free, and b. skip the line. There were ten people in their group and one blood donation was good for four free admissions. Two of their group quickly volunteered and they were trying to coax someone else into going to give blood when I volunteered to go with them and let the rest of their family come in with me for free.

The two girls from their group giving blood were twins named Tiquila and Tikila. They were super nice and fun and awesome. I’d actually never given blood before, despite trying on a few different occasions. Once when I was in college they wouldn’t let me donate without a parent signature because I was seventeen, despite the fact that I was in college and living in a different state from my mother, so I didn’t get to give blood then. Then another time in college I went to the blood bank to give blood but I didn’t have enough iron or something, so they wouldn’t let me donate then either. I think after that I just sort of assumed that there’d always be something and the opportunity never really presented itself again.

Anyway, so here I was about to give blood, finally, I hoped. When we got in the bus I got really worried and was like, how embarrassing would it be if my iron or whatever wasn’t up to par again and I couldn’t actually donate blood and get the rest of the twins’ family in for free?! Fortunately, I need not have worried. I answered all the questions and the test of my blood came back fine so I was all set to donate. I had no problems throughout the donation and it was over before I knew it.

Donating blood like a champ. Memphis, TN.

Donating blood like a champ. Memphis, TN.

Once I was done the nurse had me hold pressure on the spot where the needle had been with my arm over my head. I kinda zoned out for a minute and wasn’t holding pressure very well so all of a sudden there was blood spewing out of my arm. And I do mean spewing. It was like a scene from a really terrible horror film where the blood is just pumping out of a wound. That’s what it looked like, except it was squirting out of my arm over my head and getting everywhere. Blood got on my shirt and I remember thinking, well crap, now I’m going to have to do laundry before I can wear this shirt again…I guess at least it’s winter so I can cover it with a coat for the rest of the day…

I was a little light headed so I didn’t fully register what was happening and how much blood was gushing out of my arm. Especially considering the amount of blood I’d just voluntarily given away. I just sort of went, “Umm..I’m bleeding…?” and a nurse rushed over to take care of it. Whoops. I still felt a little light headed so the nurses made me drink some soda and eat a snack and watched me for a bit to make sure I was ok. Tiquila had finished donating by that point too, but Tikila had been sent to a different bus so Tiquila left me with my snack and went to check on her sister. They both came back to get me and then the three of us went to find the rest of their family.

Once we got in the museum I really had to pee. I told Tikila I was hopping off to the bathroom and when I got out she was waiting for me, saying everyone else had to go as well. As we waited for everyone else to finish Tikila pulled out and handed me two hundred dollar bills. I took it, realized what it was and was like, “What’re you doing?!” She replied that she liked me, and was inspired by me (I’d talked about my trip while giving blood and Tiquila had filled her in when she went to get her from the other bus.) I was like, “I cannot accept this,” and she just shrugged and smiled at me and said, “you have to.” I nearly cried. I’d literally known this woman for like maybe an hour and a half and here she was giving me two hundred dollars. Two. Hundred. Dollars. To a nearly complete stranger! What is life?! Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers its nearly impossible for me to understand how we live in a world so torn apart by war and fueled by fear and hate, because if we just chose to love each other instead everything could be so wonderful.

Anyway, Tikila, Tiquila, and I went through the museum together, with someone else from their group. We got separated from the rest of their group at some point, but our smaller group was nice. That museum is amazing. I’d been once before, with Meghan last year for my birthday weekend and we didn’t make it through the whole thing, so it was great to get a second chance and see what I missed the previous time.

After finishing the main museum the twins and their family were heading home so we hugged and said our goodbyes having already exchanged numbers so we could stay in touch. I wasn’t quite ready to head to my hosts’ house yet and there was still another museum building to check out. Meghan and I hadn’t made it to the second museum building at all on our previous visit, so I headed across the street to learn more about MLK’s assassination and see the artifacts on display there. The second side of the museum also had a bunch of conspiracy theories laid out but they were complicated and it’d been a long day so I only skimmed them.

I called Meghan to freak out about the craziness that was this day and then headed to my hosts’ house. The following day my hosts said they had a surprise for me and gave me an address to go to. They told me not to Google it, but just go and find out what it was for myself. I was kind of excited. What could the surprise be?!

I ended up in the neighborhood of the surprise and when I realized it I immediately decided to go there first. 933 Cooper St. Memphis, TN. It’s the House of Mews. According to a sign in the window it’s “The oldest cathouse in America”. It wasn’t open so I couldn’t go in, but from the outside it looked like a place with a lot of cats and cat toys and things. I was a little confused. Was this really the surprise? I’m not that into cats. I mean, we get along fine, but I definitely prefer dogs. Needless to say, I was a little disappointed that this was the big surprise. Especially since it wasn’t even open so I couldn’t really see what it was all about. Upon further investigation, it appears that the House of Mews is a rescue center and adoption agency for cats, which is awesome, but just not what I was expecting.

I continued walking along Cooper St. for a few blocks but it was really cold and I quickly decided I wasn’t going to walk to the rest of the destinations like I had planned. I turned around, got back in the car, and drove to Overton Square. I kept driving because it just looked like little shops and things and while it was cute I’ve seen many areas like that before and since I had no intention of shopping, I really didn’t care. Instead I went to Overton Park.

Overton Park has a cool playground. I’d say it’s right up there with the one in Charlotte. There was this cool metal sculpture thing that you could put rocks in and then when you turned the bucket the rocks would ping off the metal and make music. I played around with it for at least twenty minutes and made a couple videos. It was really fun. Click on the picture below if you want to watch one of the videos I made.

Making music on the playground at Overton Park, Memphis, TN

Making music on the playground at Overton Park, Memphis, TN

There was also a rope web you could climb and a tight rope you could walk. I got really excited because they had a tire swing and I used to love tire swings. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a real tire swing. Instead it was bright red and made out of hard plastic. I still swung on it a little, but it wasn’t as fun as real tire swings. I decided to make some more videos of me playing at the park. I made a few videos of me sliding down the slides and swinging on the swings. It was silly and goofy, but I had a lot of fun. Probably because I was doing it just for me, because I wanted to. I love when art is for the artist and not for someone else.

My next stop was the Elmwood Cemetery. It’s funny because at the beginning of the trip I thought cemeteries were creepy and avoided them and now I think they’re pretty cool and seek them out. It was still super cold so I decided to just drive around and look around from the warmth of the car. The older sections were pretty cool. I did get out of the car to read the sign and get a better look at the monument for Confederate soldiers since I’m from Minnesota and that’s not something we have there.

Entrance to Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, TN.

Entrance to Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, TN.

I finished the day at Republic Coffee House to get some work done. I had the Allentown breakfast for dinner which was an omelette with spinach, mushrooms, and tomatoes and cheese grits. I’d only had grits one other time in my life and wasn’t a huge fan. These cheese grits were pretty good though. So huzzah for trying new things more than once!