Brasstown Bald is the highest peak in Georgia. There’s a short 0.5 mile hike from the parking lot to the summit which we have done more times than I can count. It has really nice views in the fall.
Fall is the best season to go camping and hiking. And I love the fall colors you can see in the mountains. So once again we headed to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park a couple of weeks ago for some camping, riding, hiking and driving.
We had three black bear sightings in the smokies this time.
Here’s the trail to Laurel Falls.
Here’s the trail to the observation tower at the top of Clingman’s Dome which gives a nice view around.
The hike from Clingman’s Dome to Andrews Bald was great and the views from a bald are always the best.
Over the Christmas break, a friend was visiting and we decided to head to our usual haunts in North Georgia. We hiked part of the Appalachian trail from Woody Gap.
In addition, we wanted to do our usual scenic drive through the Blue Ridge there. However, we realized that a good description of what Jim Baker named Snake Run is not available on the web any more (except in the wayback machine here.) So here is a description I salvaged as written by Jim Baker:
A scenic and challenging 250 mile day trip that crosses Blue Ridge four times.
One of the problems with communicating about various fun drives is that a road rarely offers the same challenges for very long. A road may have ten miles of totally insane turns, but be otherwise tame and boring. When a fair amount of time is required to get there to begin with, there needs to be more driving time to make it worthwhile. So a good run recommendation should tie several different roads together to stay in the twisties.
This run was mapped out by CSR from Miata.net, and I’ve run it twice, once as a performance run with other Miatas, and again the following weekend with his wife as a leaf-run. It’s called the “Snake Run” for a ten-mile portion of the run for want of a better collective name.
GA 60 from Dahlonega to Suches, GA 180 from Suches to US 19/129, US 129 South to Alt 75, Alt 75 North to GA 348 (Richard Russell Scenic Highway), GA 348 to GA 180, GA 180 to GA 180 Spur (Brasstown Bald), GA 180 from Brasstown Bald to GA 17/75, GA 17/75 South to Helen.
About 250 miles round-trip from Atlanta, depending on how you get to and from the run. About 90-100 of it is the actual run, and the run itself takes two-three hours to complete, depending on traffic and how much you care about your car. The entire trip can be done in just half a day.
From Atlanta, Dahlonega is most easily reached via GA 400/US 19. Take 400 north from Atlanta, and turn left at the intersection with GA 60. There are several gas stations here and more (plus various food) in Dahlonega just 5 miles further north on 60.
Take the opportunity to gas up in Dahlonega. There is only one gas station on the run, and it’s only 16 miles further up the road. There are three places to stop for snacks on the way, so that isn’t as important.
From Dahlonega, take 60 north to Suches. Two pitfalls: 60 takes a right-hand turn in downtown Dahlonega, and it splits off unmarked from US 19 about 8 miles north of there. Don’t turn until you see a sign for GA 180 on the right. And look for the sign, not a town, because Suches is essentially just a single convenience store.
GA 60 is a great run in its own right, all the way up to Copperhill, TN. This run only takes in about 16 miles of it, however, as it climbs the southern face of Blue Ridge, crosses it, and comes down into Suches. The first really nice twisties are here, but can be spoiled by traffic. 60 is actually a main corridor for local traffic in this area, so it’s pretty well traveled, even though it’s only two lanes.
GA 180 skirts along the northern slope of Blue Ridge and runs for about 30 miles in two sections. The next section of the route takes in the first 10 miles or so and is nicknamed “the Snake”. This road has some very tight twisties, including several hairpins, more esses than you can count, and one genuinely terrifying steep downhill off-camber turn. Take this road cautiously until you are familiar with it. A lot of these turns have zero visibility, and a choice between running into a cliff or falling off of one if you screw up.
Because it’s so impractical, there isn’t much local traffic that doesn’t actually live somewhere along this road. There will be a number of sports cars and motorcycles on any decent day, but these tend to to stay out of your way. The real problem is sightseers; especially during leaf season, this is a very scenic road. Watch out for brake fires and other comedy from people with ordinary cars and no clue what they are doing.
One scenic stop on 180: there is some almost unmarked park about halfway in with a fairly scenic pond that is glass-smooth if the wind is calm. Good photo-op, but otherwise not very exciting. There’s a parking fee of $3, so it may not be worth it to take a break only 20 miles into the run.
GA 180 runs into US 19/129. For those who are into this, Vogel State Park is at right by this intersection. Take a right at this intersection and prepare to stretch your legs. US 19/129 South climbs back up Blue Ridge from the north, and then crosses the ridge and heads down towards Turner’s Corner. Several of the uphill portions of this stretch have a passing lane, which is nice for working out frustrations if you got caught on 180 behind a minivan. There are some nice esses with visible banking transitions here and a few long sweepers that beg to hang the tail out, and visibility is much improved over 180. A decently handling car can go much faster than posted limits here. However, again, this is a fairly major corridor and there’s a lot of slow traffic on it. Be prepared for people who come to almost complete stops right in the middle of turns.
Turner’s Corner, like Suches, basically consists of a single store. I haven’t stopped here but it looks to be of the quaint/folk art/Cracker Barrel-without-the-restaurant school of country stores. It’s a decent place to stop for a Coke.
Continuing on south on 129 (19 splits off at Turner’s Corner) is the most boring part of the route. It will be fairly straight two-lane highway for the next 15 or so miles. Look for GA 75 Alternate on the left about six or seven miles south of Turner’s Corner, and take this turn. Again, fairly smooth, higher-speed roads, nice scenery, but not challenging. Continue on 75 Alternate until you reach GA 348, the Richard B. Russell Scenic Highway. Those familiar with the area will recognize that we are now only about two miles from Helen, the end of the run, but we have about 30 miles still to go.
348 is a left turn off 75 Alternate. It will pass north over Blue Ridge again, and for driving challenge, it’s on par with the Snake, very low-visibility turns, major elevation changes, and a lot of variety in the type and severity of the corners. 348 also has easily half a dozen pull-offs for photo-ops. There is some kind of lodge at the ridge gap, but I’ve never stopped there. 348 terminates back on the second leg of GA 180. Take a right turn onto 180.
Unlike the Snake, this portion of 180 is much tamer. It’s more challenging than the portions of 129 and 75 Alt you just left, but it’s higher-speed sweepers rather than tight esses. The major attraction of this leg is 180 Spur, which comes up after about 6 miles on the left and which takes you to the highest point in Georgia that you can reach with a car. The peak of Brasstown Bald is 4,784 feet above sea level, and the parking lot at the foot of the trail is about 400 feet below that. The approach up the spur is steep and insanely twisted. It’s so steep, in fact, that coupled with the elevation, we’ve experienced RPM dropoff in gears higher than second. At the summit there is a small store and a coke machine, if you feel like stopping. Parking is, again, $3, but if you don’t stop you needn’t pay the fee.
Going back down the spur is easily the most dangerous part of this run. It’s very tough on the brakes, even with compression braking, and tight turns, gravity and terrified tourists from Vero Beach all conspire against you. Beware.
At the bottom of the spur, a left turn back onto 180 will put you off into a leisurely drive that lets your brakes cool off and your jaw unclench. The next turn is at the end of 180, where it runs into GA 17/75. Take a right turn here, and you are on the last leg of the run.
17/75 South is very much like US 19/129; it crosses Blue Ridge for the fourth and final time of this run, and features uphill passing lanes, higher speed turns and better visibility. 17/75 runs all the way into Helen, the end of our run.
Helen is a nice stop at the end of the run for good sit-down food. There are a lot of restaurants there, mostly German. Alt Heidelberg is particularly good, but get the wurst sampler and avoid the weiner schnitzel. Sometimes, especially during leaf season/Octoberfest, traffic into Helen can look like 5 o’clock rush hour. But if you’ve never seen Helen, you owe it to yourself to see it at least once; imagine if Walt Disney had gotten halfway through making a replica German village, then developed a heroin addiction and died in despair. It’s a tourist trap from hell, with decent German food. The homemade candy shops are also excellent, but, apart from that, unless you are looking for a $500 cuckoo clock or collectible crystal figurines, it’s garbage. The fire hydrants are painted like little people. Helen is over the top, no kidding.
If traffic is too terrible going into Helen, you can take a turn on to 75 Alternate just north of Helen and backtrack your route down that road. A couple of miles down on the left is a country cooking restaurant called, really, The Goofy Rooster. The chicken wings are good.
Whatever you decide, both 75 through Helen and 75 Alternate north of it eventually get back to US 129 north of Cleveland. In Cleveland, you can either continue on 129 to Gainesville and return to Atlanta on 985, or take GA 115 back to your starting point in Dahlonega, and backtrack down 400 from there.
And here is a Google map I created for the drive.
Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our last days in Italy, when we returned from Venice to Rome and then back home.
We woke up early in the morning and, after breakfast, headed to the Santa Lucia train station to go back to Rome.
The Italian train system has some strange seat numbering. When making reservations, I had asked for seats together and the numbers were consecutive. But the seats were not really together. There were four seats, two on each side of the aisle, facing four other seats. Instead of having three seats together on one side of the aisle, however, we had three seats that were diagonal from each other. So two two diagonal seats on one side of the aisle and one seat on the other side. That was odd, but there was a nice South African couple there who were also split on both sides of the aisle and we switched seats.
In about four and a half hours, we were in Rome. We went to Hotel Amalfi and checked in. After lunch, we decided to do some sightseeing. We took the metro to Spagna and walked to Ara Pacis Augustae. The ticketperson there was really surprised that we wanted three audio sets, but Michelle did want her own.
It was a hot day, the hottest during our trip and Michelle wanted to get into the water fountain just outside Ara Pacis when we went back outside. After she had cooled down in the water, we walked around looking at the Mausoleum of Augustus, which is not open to tourists. We also looked at every church in the neighborhood.
As we stood in the long line at the popular pizza restaurant, Da Baffetto, we realized a mistake: We were almost out of cash and the restaurant didn’t accept credit cards. Instead of looking for an ATM, we decided to go to Da Sergio instead. Their pasta was good, but the waiter didn’t know any English, so communication was a bit difficult.
The next day, we took the train to the airport. There we realized that our flight was not from Terminal C, the main terminal for international flights, but from Terminal 2, for which we had to take a bus in front of Terminal C as it wasn’t within walking distance. That terminal looked like it was for all US-bound flights. At first, we had to go through security counters and then check in at the airline counters. Finally, after checking in, we realized that our gate at Terminal 2 didn’t have any aircraft. Instead, we got on a bus and went to the plane which was parked next to Terminal C. It was an odd situation and reminded me of Pakistan and other strange places.
Ten hours later, we were back in Atlanta and home.
Michelle has been saying since we returned that she wants to go back to Italy when she’s 10 years old. Sometimes, she even wants to go live in Italy and eat gelato every day.
Photographs from Venice and Rome are below the fold on Google Maps.
Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our sixth day in Italy which we spent around St Mark’s Square.
Our second full day in Venice we focused on what tourists do immediately on reaching Venice: Piazza San Marco or St Mark’s Square. Part of the square was closed off with chairs in that area due to an event later. There was also some work going on to prevent flooding of Piazza San Marco.
We got in the line for St Mark’s Basilica. It is a great church with mosaics and decorations on the facade. Inside the church is full of mosaics depicting St Mark’s life as well as Virgin Mary and other subjects. Pala d’Oro is dazzling and we liked the Treasury too.
Going upstairs to the Galleria and the Museo di San Marco was of course required for us museum lovers, but it also gives a good view of the church interior and you can go outside for a nice look at the square. The four horses that you see outside on the Basilica in the photograph below are of course replicas and the originals are inside in the museum.
Since we were getting hungry, we decided to have a light lunch at Caffè Quadri.
Doge’s Palace or Palazzo Ducale is where the Venetian rulers lived and of course it’s worth visiting (I could even live there, especially with artwork from such luminaries in every room).
Museo Correr has some Venetian art and history, though its collection isn’t great.
Then it was time to go up to the top of the Campanile. Fortunately an elevator takes you up to where the bells are housed. It provides a good view of Venice, the lagoon and the mainland. You can see the photographs I took from there at the end on the map.
We went for dinner at Osteria al Garanghelo which had decent food and was not expensive.
Lots of photographs on Google Maps follow under the fold below.
Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our fifth day in Italy which we spent wandering around Venice.
Venice is a strange city. It seemed like a ghost town to me. There were lots and lots of tourists but where were the locals? May be they live away from the center or go away during the tourist season. Also, in Rome, tourists are spread out all over the city at all kinds of sights, but in Venice, it looked like there are only a couple of places a majority of tourists were interested in. There was a large crowd at Rialto bridge and St Mark’s Square was of course packed, but otherwise one could lose oneself in the alleys of Venice without encountering too many people.
Venice is also where I realized how useful bringing my GPSr loaded with maps (covered by a Wired article now. The narrow streets and alleys didn’t seem to have a pattern and there were lots of dead ends and branch canals blocking your way.
We started the day by going to the Rialto bridge. At the market, Michelle bought a face mask which you can see in the photographs below.
After wandering about there for a while, we decided to go for a gondola, a traditional Venetian row boat, ride. Of course, all tourists want a ride and these are expensive costing 100 euros for about 35-40 minutes. The gondolier took us on the Grand Canal and then some side canals, pointing out different landmarks.
Then we wandered about in the San Marco district carefully avoiding Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Sqaure). Since we are museum geeks, we went to Gallerie dell’Accademia which has some really nice Venetian art. Unfortunately they have a “no photography” rule.
Later we walked about looking at different squares and buildings and eating gelato.
To see the Grand Canal we decided to ride the ferry (vaporetto). First we rode it to San Zaccari and then back towards the train station but we got off at Ca’ d’Oro, a Venetian Gothic palace. We took the traghetto, a gandola ferry, across the Grand Canal from Cannaregio district to San Polo and Santa Croce.
We had gelato at Gelateria San Stae and then went to see the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. Around the corner from there was Scuola Grande di San Rocco. There was a very nice chocolate shop there, but unfortunately it was closed on the weekend.
Crossing the bridge into Dorsoduro district, we visited Ca’ Rezzonico, a palace that now houses a museum. I have a couple of photos from their courtyard.
It was time for dinner for us, but Italians eat late. So we wandered aimlessly, enjoying the narrow streets and narrower canals. Finally we got to Vecio Fritolin where we had a nice dinner outside and also a good conversation with a French couple.
Photographs are below (click “Continue Reading” if you are on the main page) on the map.
Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our fourth day in Rome when we took a tour bus around the city and our train trip and first night in Venice.
Don’t worry, English readers, just scroll down past the Urdu since it’s a bilingual article.
چوتھے دن صبح اٹھے تو عنبر کا کہنا تھا کہ ایک ٹوئر بس پر روم کا چکر لگاتے ہیں تاکہ مجھے چلنا نہ پڑے اور میرا ٹخنہ کچھ بہتر ہو جائے۔ دوسری وجہ یہ بھی تھی کہ دوپہر کو ہمیں ٹرین پر وینس جانا تھا۔ لہذا ہم نے ہوٹل سے ناشتے کے بعد چیک آوٹ کیا اور اپنا سامان انہی کے پاس چھوڑا۔ پاس ہی چرچ کے ساتھ ٹوئر بسیں آتی تھیں وہاں سے ایک ٹوئر بس کی اوپری بغیر چھت کی منزل پر بیٹھے اور روم کا چکر لگایا۔ ان میں سے بہت سی جگہیں ہم دیکھ چکے تھے مگر بس سے چھت سے منظر کچھ مختلف ہوتا ہے اور کچھ نئے علاقے بھی دیکھنے کو ملے جہاں جانے کا ہمیں وقت نہیں ملا تھا۔
اڑھائ تین گھنٹے کے بعد بس نے ہمیں واپس اتار دیا۔ ہم نے پہلے لنچ کرنا مناسب سمجھا اور پھر ہوٹل سے اپنا سامان لیا۔ سامان کے ساتھ ہم روم کے ٹرمینی سٹیشن پیدل روانہ ہوئے۔ وینس کے لے تیزرفتار ٹرین کے ٹکٹ ہم پہلے ہی خرید چکے تھے۔ اب ٹرین کا انتظار تھا۔ وہ کوئ آدھ گھنٹہ لیٹ تھی۔ لگتا ہے اطالوی ٹرین سسٹم کو واقعی وقت پر کام کرنے کے لئے مسولینی کی ضرورت تھی۔ خیر ٹرین آئ اور ہم اپنی سیٹیں تلاش کر کے اس میں بیٹھ گئے۔ ٹرین روم سے نکلی تو ارد گرد کا خوبصورت منظر، کھیت، پہاڑیاں وغیرہ دیکھ کر دل خوش ہوا اور سوچا کہ اگلی بار روم سے باہر بھی نکلنا ہے۔ کچھ دیر بعد ہم ڈائننگ کار میں گئ جہاں سے میں نے کافی اور میشل نے چاکلیٹ بسکٹ لئے۔
کوئ ساڑھے چار گھنٹے میں ہم وینس پہنچ گئے۔ وہاں ٹرین سٹیشن سے نکلے تو سامنے بڑی نہر تھی۔ ہوٹل پہنچنے کے لئے ہمیں کشتی یعنی فیری میں جانا تھا جسے وہاں ویپوریتو کہتے ہیں۔ فیری لوگوں کو لے کر نہر پر روانہ ہوئ۔ کچھ سٹاپ گزرنے کے بعد مجھے شک ہوا کہ ہمارا سٹاپ کدھر گیا۔ کنڈکٹر سے پوچھا تو معلوم ہوا کہ وہ سٹاپ تو بند ہے اور پیچھے رہ گیا۔ اب ہمیں اگلے سٹاپ پر اتر کر واپس جانا ہو گا اور ایک اور سٹاپ پر اترنا ہو گا۔ یہ خیال رکھنا ضروری ہے کہ ہم نہر کے صحیح طرف اتریں کہ نہر پار کرنے کے لئے ایک دو ہی پل ہیں۔ اس کے علاوہ نہر پار کرنے کے لئے کچھ خاص تراگیٹو سٹاپ پر گنڈولا کشتی بھی استعمال کی جاتی ہے۔
نئے سٹاپ پر اترے تو جیپیایس نکالا تاکہ ہوٹل تک پہنچا جا سکے۔ ہوٹل کی گلی کے نزدیک ریستوران کے پاس ایک آدمی ہماری طرف دوڑا آیا۔ معلوم ہوا کہ وہ ہوٹل کا مینجر ہے اور ہماری انتظار میں تھا کہ وہ شام کو ہوٹل بند کر کے گھر چلا جاتا ہے۔ ہوٹل کے شاید 9 کمرے تھے۔ اس نے ہمیں کمرے کی چابی کے ساتھ باہر کی چابی بھی دی کہ گیٹ اکثر رات کو لاک ہوتا ہے۔
ہوٹل کے بالکل قریب ہی ایک ریستوران میں ہم نے کھانا کھایا۔ میں نے پیزا آرڈر کیا جبکہ معلوم نہیں کیوں عنبر کا دل باسمتی چاول اور چکن کڑی پر آ گیا۔
Since my ankle was swollen, Amber suggested that we not walk that day and instead take a tour bus around Rome. Also, we only had half a day in Rome since we were leaving for Venice early afternoon.
We checked out of our hotel after breakfast and asked them to keep our bags while we got on a tour bus near the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. It was a two-story bus with an uncovered upper level, which was great for sightseeing. We had seen a lot of the places the bus took us around but the vantage point of the upper level was good for photography and it did take us to areas we hadn’t found the time to visit. The photographs are at the end of this article on a map.
The tour took almost three hours and then we were back in the neighborhood of our hotel. We decided to have some lunch first and then got our bags from the hotel. It was almost time to walk to the Termini station for the train to Venice. We had already bought the tickets a couple of days ago at Termini after being unsuccessful in buying them online before the trip (The Tren Italia website declined our credit card every time). Our train was about half an hour late. We finally got on and found our seats.
As the train left Rome and passed through the rolling hills of the countryside, we felt we had to visit Italy again and drive in the area.
It took us some four and a half hours to reach Venice. Coming out of the train station, there was the Grand Canal. We then took a vaporetto or waterbus on the Grand Canal to go to our hotel. After a while on the vaporetto, I was confused about why it was taking so long. I asked the conductor about the San Silvestre stop. He told me that San Silvestre was closed for a few days and was behind us now. So we had to get off the vaporetto at the next stop and go back. We got off at the San Toma’ stop since that was on the same side of the Grand Canal and walked to our hotel.
As we got to Campo San Polo, a man came towards us asking me my name. It turned out he was the hotel manager. He took us to Hotel Acca in a narrow alley. The hotel had 9 rooms. The outside gate and main door were generally locked in the evening, so the manager gave us keys for both.
After checking in and putting our bags in our room, we went for dinner at the restaurant Birraria La Corte which was just outside the hotel alley. It was crowded and it took us a while to get a table. I ordered a pizza while Amber went crazy by eating Basmati rice with chicken curry.
The photos of the Rome bus tour appear below (under the fold) on a map.
Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our third day in Rome when we covered the ancient parts of Rome, visiting the Colosseum, Capitoline Hill, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
Our third day in Rome was what we consider to be the best. It focused on Ancient Rome.
We started the day early with a visit to the Colosseum which was good because the Colosseum got really crowded later. It was amazing to imagine the Colosseum in its glory days.
Then we headed to the Roman Forum and wandered about the ruins. From there, we went up the Palatine Hill. This is where I sprained my ankle which I am still nursing. Strangely it didn’t hurt much, but it was quite swollen by night. Of course, I decided against curtailing my walking since that would have taken all the fun out of the vacation.
Back to the Colosseum, we decided to go to dinner at Ai Tre Scalini Restaurant nearby where no one spoke English but the food was good and cheap.
Most of the day’s photographs are on the map below under the fold.
Travelogue of our trip to Italy. This covers our second day in Rome when we visited the Vatican and wandered about Rome.
On the second day, we got up a little late due to jetlag and lack of sleep on the plane. After breakfast, we took the bus to Vatican City. When we got to Saint Peter’s Square, we saw a really long line get into Saint Peter’s Basilica.
There were a number of tourist guides there and we decided to become part of one group tour of the Vatican. Usually we don’t like being part of a group tour since we like to do things at our own pace. We do often get the audio guides at museums. However, here we saved some time waiting in line. Also, if we had gone to the Vatican Museums by ourselves, we might have spent the whole day in there while the guide spent almost three hours with us in the museums. Did I mention that our tour guide was American?
First, we walked around Vatican City to go to the Vatican museums. At the end of the museum tour, we went into the Sistine Chapel. There, the security people were trying to get the tourists not to take pictures or talk loudly. Also, one had to have shoulders and knees covered. Since photography was not allowed, I did not take any photos of the Sistine Chapel frescoes by Michelangelo. After that, we went into Saint Peter’s Basilica.
Here are some photographs in Vatican City. More photos are on the map in the end.
Then we went back to Rome to see the Pantheon. There was of course some delicious gelato near the Pantheon that we ate.
Our next stop was Piazza Navona, a city square with some beautiful fountains and architecture.
On our way back, Michelle wanted to play with the pigeons around the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. After some running after and watching pigeons, we had dinner at Trattoria Monti which had some great game food for very reasonable prices.
More photographs are on the map below under the fold.