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If you follow our itinerary, you'll need lodging in two locations : Chattanooga Thursday night and Atlanta Friday, Saturday and hopefully Sunday nights. We recommend splurging for your one night in Chattanooga and playing it conservative for your two or three nights in Atlanta. This allows you to stay at the fabulous Chattanooga Choo Choo the first night, then establish The Highlands Inn as your headquarters in Atlanta.

We like the Choo Choo because it immerses you in history. You learn about the railroad itself and its role in the Civil War. You get to sample firsthand what it would have been like to travel and sleep on the trains, eat in the restaurants and even ride the trolley cars of that long gone era. And the Choo Choo is central to the inclined railway, Lookout Mountain, Rock City, Ruby Falls, the river and the aquarium, all must see sites.

To access the Choo Choo, turn off I-75 onto I-24, take Exit 178, follow Market Street north six blocks and look for the hotel on your right. 1400 Market Street.

In Atlanta, we like the Highlands Inn because it's a historic, small, intimate, well run classic inn in a great neigthborhood of restaurants and shops just up the hill ("the highlands") from the city center. Its rates are much more reasonable than the big downtown mega hotels, and the leafy highlands are a quiet break from the glass and steel intensity a few miles away. To access The Highlands, turn off I-75 in the heart of downtown at the Carter Center / Freedom Parkway sign. As you crest the hill one mile up, and the signs begin saying turn left to Carter Center, stay to the right at the fork, curve around, veer right at Junction 42, then turn left onto North Highland Avenue. The Highland Inn is two blocks on the left. Parking is adjacent. 644 North Highland Avenue.

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel is a mini resort. It used to be one of the nation's very finest passenger stations, and as the oil runs out and we return to passenger trains, it may well be again. The main Norfolk & Southern rails pass right behind the station, the sidings into its loading plaza currently fenced off, but they could easily be returned to action, and the building and grounds are in meticulous condition. The restaurants and shops in the old station are still busy, the famous HO gauge model railroad version of the old Cincinnati & Southern RR is still impressive, and for now the web of loading tracks is occupied by parked vintage passenger cars in which guests sleep (see photos top left and right). There are three excellent restaurants within the station, plus ice cream and sandwich counters. Out back, there's a beautiful heated pool and jacuzzi. The famous dome (above right) is kept polished, looking down on the grand entrance. There's a great gift shop with several hundred items of railroad memorabilia for sale. You can ride the 1890 trolley on a three block cruise out and back. A Civil War era steam locomotive is parked in the plaza for guests to walk around, step into or take pictures of. It's not The General, famous for its role in The Great Locomotive Chase, but it's a sister model that looks exactly like it. 423-266-5000.

The Highland Inn is two miles north of downtown, a 30 minute walk or short drive. As you can see in the photo at right, it's a two story building with columned porch. This is not a modern luxury hotel. It is a classic 1927 inn. The rooms are small, as seen below, with window air conditioners and steam heat. But everything is clean and quiet and the $80 a night rates beat anything downtown. There is a great restaurant, Eclipse Di Sol, nestled right along the front porch, and five more good ones down the block. Continental breakfast is served daily from 7 - 10. There is wireless hifi internet. One big advantage is the free parking adjacent to the building. At the downtown hotels, you may spend $20 a day to park, which on a three day trip adds up. And the Highlands neighborhood is a destination all to itself. There is over a mile of shops, boutiques, restaurants, and people watching. This is like a college neighborhood, with a steady stream of bikes, dogs, bookbags, artists and photographers. Unlike the big hotels, local phone calls here are free. Once you've driven or walked it a few times, the route to and from downtown is quite direct. 644 North Highland. 800-311-4307.

The Highlands, however, is a popular stop. Businessmen, families, veteran travelers, sports fans and students have stayed here for years as an alternative to overpriced downtown lodging. It fills up very frequently. Therefore, you need to make reservations very early, ideally a month but at least two weeks, and for big weekends, like music festivals, sporting events or holidays, it should be six weeks.

One reason many long timers stay here is the music. Along North Highland Avenue, there are 20 establishments offering live bands, especially Friday and Saturday nights. You can hear every kind of music, from jazz to classic rock to country. Being able to walk half a block or a block to a good meal with music as a backdrop is an advantage the downtown area does not offer.

The area between The Highlands Inn and The Carter Center has historic significance, too. This is where the Confederate forces were camped during the Siege of Atlanta that is portrayed in Cyclorama. Where the Carter Center fountain is now is where the point of view of Cyclorama is located; the "camera" is theoretically stationed there.

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