New Echota State Historic Site – Calhoun, GA

Do you remember the Trail of Tears?

Sadly, the only thing I could tell you was it had to do with Native American Indians being forced to move out West. It seems my history classes focused more on the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War than anything else.

Did you also know that the Cherokee Indians tried to get along with the white man by adopting many of their styles in clothing? They adopted a government similar to ours with three branches? They also had a written language and a weekly newspaper. In fact, the Cherokee Indians were about 90% literate.

The print shop where the weekly Cherokee Phoenix newspaper was printed.

My lack of knowledge was apparent when we visited the New Echota State Historic Park. Until then, my perception of Native American Indians was from TV Westerns. In my mind, they were savage groups of people who viciously attacked settlers moving out West. They wore warpaint, little clothing and were completely uncivilized. That may have been the case at some point, but not by the 1800’s in Georgia.

During the 17-minute film at the visitor center, I learned many new things. First of all, the area was named New Echota after the original Echota in Tennessee. New Echota was developed around 1825 and served as the capital of the Cherokee Nation until the late 1830’s when the Trail of Tears forced the tribe to Oklahoma.

The Cherokee didn’t sleep in tepees, but rather had farms in this well laid out town complete with a tavern, print shop and silversmith.

Interior of a Cherokee farmhouse

They also had three branches of government set up similar to the United States. Also on display were the recreated Council House and Supreme Court building.

The Council House


Inside the Council House

The Reverend Samuel Worcester resided here with his Cherokee wife and six children at the edge of the town. It is the only surviving building from the 1830’s.

The only original building belonged to Rev. Worcester


Dining room inside Rev. Worcester’s house

What happened to this peaceful town? Gold — or rather the discovery of gold at nearby Dahlonega caused efforts to remove the Native American Indians to quickly ramp up. Rev. Worcester sued the state of Georgia in 1831 and the case went to the Supreme Court. Although the highest court ruled in favor of the Cherokee Nation, President Andrew Jackson ignored it. Additionally, three prominent leaders  – Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot (owner of the newspaper) signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835 without the consensus of Chief John Ross and the majority of the Cherokee. Because of this betrayal, the three men were later assassinated. But the damage was done, in 1838 the Cherokee were forced to move into stockades and ultimately westward.

It is a sad chapter in U.S. history, but thankfully the park was begun in 1962. Today, a volunteer explained the workings of the printing press and how much work went into getting the weekly newspaper printed. Did you know they stored all the type (individual letters to form words) in cabinet drawers. The Capital letters were in the top drawer and the rest in lower drawers. Hence the term uppercase and lowercase letters!

After spending a few days putting the type together in columns, print shop workers would ink the press, lay the paper down and press with the large lever. Then, they had to hang up the paper to allow the ink to dry before printing the other side.

Our volunteer demonstrates the printing process

The entire site was a fascinating look at history. The site was opened in the 1962 after archaeologists excavated the area in the 1950’s. Today, it is open Wednesdays through Saturdays. For more information, click here.

The Rock Garden – Calhoun, GA


My hairdresser told me she and her boyfriend did a weekend in Calhoun, GA. Located in the northwestern corner of Georgia, this community gets overlooked by many Atlantans. Since it’s only about an hour away, it’s too far to be a suburb, but too close to be a destination like Chattanooga.

We needed to get driving practice in for our teenagers and since it was Labor Day weekend, we were itching to get out of the city and do something different. We took Hannah’s advice and went to see the Rock Garden in Calhoun.

When I think of rock gardens, I think of front-yard landscaping in Arizona houses – brown and ugly. This is totally different. It’s more like whimsical castles and bridges made out of rock pebbles. And it’s totally free!

The gardens are located behind the Calhoun 7th Day Adventist Church, who also owns the land. The garden was started by Dewitt Boyd, aka “Old Dog” in 2007. He and other volunteers have spent years working on the different formations. The first one we came to was dedicated to one of the ministers of the church and had names of people in the rocks that contributed. As part of the building, there was a large rock wall that made a secluded outdoor living space to sit and reflect.

On of the first structures and leads to outdoor room

As we walked around more of these structures, we were amazed to see the detail work involved – arches in the windows, climbing staircases around towers, even a few mini-figures placed inside some of the rooms. But what’s even more neat is that the area is a true garden. Impatiens, hostas and ferns flank many of the rock castles. Sometimes, the turrets and walls serve as planters. A small pond is situated along the back side and there’s even a castle that drapes over the lake.

This castle built over the water serves as a planter for ferns.

It’s a relaxing place and you can walk among the buildings.  However, plenty of seating areas dot the garden for quiet reflection including a wooden gazebo.

The area has plenty of seating

The buildings aren’t always made out of pebbles. Sometime, the artists use marbles, seashells, broken glass and other items that have significance to them. One of my favorites is the replica of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, which uses stained glass for the windows.

The replica of Notre Dame

For more information about The Rock Garden, directions and hours of admission, click here.

Touring a Castle – Gorizia, Italy

Gorizia Castle

For those who’ve never heard of Gorizia, this small Italian town lies near the border of Slovenia. At various times, it has been ruled by the Venetians, French and Austrians. At the beginning of WWI, it was under Austrian rule until being conquered by the Italians in 1916 and again in 1918. To make matters more confusing, the boundary was also disputed after WWII when outlying areas of the town went to Yugoslavia in 1947.

It’s no wonder that a WWI museum is located here. But you wouldn’t know today that so many battles were fought here. Instead, the red-tiled town (which was mainly rebuilt in the 1920s due to significant damage in WWI) seems peaceful and definitely not touristy.

My other daughter quickly vetoed the plan to see a war museum. Thankfully, Gorizia Castle is located next door and we went to visit it while my husband and other daughter went to the trenches.

Between the two landmarks lies a stone church with a postage-size front yard. We chose to meet here 90 minutes later.

Climbing up the large steps, we entered a stone gate. With the castle to our right and the outer wall to our left, we ascended up the hill. Soon, an ivy-covered turret area appeared and we climbed the wall to see a birds-eye view of the town.


At the top, we paid the admission price, which was only 3 or 4 Euros and entered the venerable 11th century structure. What surprised me the most was seeing furniture in each of the rooms. Usually with structures this old, you pass by a room and a placard might say it was the dining room. In this case, the dining room had actual dining room furniture.

The dining room

Due to damage throughout the centuries, the city undertook a massive restoration campaign from 1935-1937 to restore the castle to its original splendor. We noticed that all the rooms came off of a large courtyard which we later learned is called the Court of the Lanzi. I always wondered how they had light inside the structure and this explained light coming from the outer wall and the courtyard.

Court of the Lanzi serves as the hub of the castle

Upstairs, we went into a music room that had a display case of various instruments as well as several halls that served as meeting and reception rooms.

We also passed by the prison which was exhibiting a WWI exhibit. We saw many different military uniforms and learned about the different fronts and battle that occurred in the area.


Lastly, we walked up another flight of stairs to the chapel and nursery areas.

The chapel inside the castle

We walked through a large room that was covered but open to the outside (this room was directly above a large diplomatic room below). From here we saw amazing views of Gorizia and we could walk all the way around the castle on this walk.

A model of the castle

Walkway around the top of the castle


View from the top of the castle

For more information about Castello di Gorizia, click here.


A Magical Day: Portschache, Austria and Lake Bled, Slovenia

A magical place – Lake Bled

It’s 1985 and I have just finished my junior year of high school. My parents and I embark on a three-week trip to Europe, but I’d much rather be at home with my friends.

We spend three harrowing days in Vienna. Why do I say harrowing? Because I blew out my contact lens cleaning machine when I forgot to use the correct electrical adapter. I’m forced to wearing my glasses for an entire evening until we purchase a new machine.

Then, my parents have the brilliant idea of hiring a guide to take us to Budapest for the day. Back then, Hungary was still a communist country and I really didn’t want to be stuck behind the Iron Curtain and miss my senior year of high school. The day trip turned out fine, but I had written postcards to my friends telling them if I didn’t come home at the end of June, my family and I were being held prisoner in Hungary.

Now that we leave Vienna and head towards Venice, where we’ll get on a cruise ship, I relax a bit. We drive through Austria and spend the night near Klagenfurt at a resort called Portschach. It is beautiful! Lake Worthersee, sailboats and plenty of outdoor activities manage to turn my sour disposition around. The next day, we go through Lake Bled in Yugoslavia. It’s another warm-weather town with a lake. Although we don’t spend much time there, I vow to return.

Portschach am Worthersee, Austria

Fast forward several decades.  After finalizing a cruise departing Venice, I know where I want to take my family first. You guessed it – Portschach, Austria and Lake Bled, Slovenia.

We arrive at the ParkHotel where I stayed with my folks back in the mid-80’s. Large plate-glass windows frame Lake Worthersee as we enter the hotel. Yes – this is the place. Walking outside, the lake seems much bigger. Multiple hotels dot the promenade area. It may have always been there, but I only remember the Park Hotel. Back in 1985, we arrived in time for dinner by the large windows and left shortly after breakfast. This time, I’m the adult and can set the schedule!

Lunch spots and hotels line the lake

We stop for lunch at the Restaurant Pruller in the Strand Hotel. Fortunately, tourists haven’t arrived as it’s late May and a weekday so I feel we have the place to ourselves. We walk along the Johannes Brahms Promenade back to the ParkHotel.

Now we head to Lake Bled just an hour away. On the 1985 trip, Lake Bled was part of Yugoslavia. As we cross into Slovenia, we see the old Communist style checkpoint from long ago.

Soon we arrive in Bled – a city nestled in the hills around a glacial lake. In the middle of the lake is a tiny island with a church and bell tower. As we drive around the lake, we pass a beach area and a castle. Getting back to the main area of town, we park at the visitor center to get a map and our bearings.

View of Bled from the castle

The docent tells us to walk towards the water where we’ll find “pletna” boats to take us to the island – the only island in Slovenia. As we’re walking down, a young man has a partially filled wooden boat and asks if we want to ride. For $14 Euros each, we agree to take the 90-minute trip. On the pletna boat, the captain has to row all of us (about 20 people) by himself. There is no engine, motor or sail to assist him.

The Pletna Boat

We learn from the couple sitting next to us that we just missed a huge rainstorm. As we get further from the town, we pass large mansions. Another passenger explains that one of these is owned by a wealthy Russian.

One of the many mansions on Lake Bled

Soon we arrive at the island where we hear bells tolling from the bell tower.

The Church of the Assumption on Lake Bled


We walk around the island in a clockwise path. At the far end, we see a lot of stairs – 99 to be exact – leading to the Church of the Assumption. This also seems to be the main docking point for the electric boats depositing loads of tourists. At the top, scaffolding covers the church building. Since we’re short on time, we decide not to climb the bell tower.

The Bell Tower was struck by lightning in 1688

Instead, we dip our toes into the cold water while watching more boats arrive.

On the boat ride back, another passenger tells us to try the Bled cream cake the region is famous for. We stop at an open air restaurant and try it. It is delicious.

Bled Cream Cake

As we head out of town, we drive up to Bled Castle.

Bled Castle

On the way back to our hotel in Klagenfurt, I reflected on our day’s adventure. It was everything I remembered and even better. Portschache and Bled aren’t the first towns to jump in people’s minds when you book a trip to Europe so I’m glad we could see these off-the-beaten path treasures!

For more info about Portschach, click her and about Lake Bled, click here.