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Oct. 17, 2019
4:26 pm


Vanderford's Travel Column

Fall is coming to Prague, the most beautiful city in Europe

​From the main railway station in Prague, the comfortable Mercedes taxi seemed to wind its way through a maze of tiny streets in a circular manner similar to a labyrinth. Though it couldn’t have been more than a couple of blocks from the train station, it took more than 20 minutes to arrive in the heart of Old Town. The trip was a quick lesson that the best way to navigate this ancient section of Prague is by walking.​
​Despite the many wars that Europe has endured throughout history, Prague is the only city that has avoided most of the destruction. It is the largest city in the Czech Republic and part of Bohemia, which runs the gamut architecturally of Roman, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance influences. Visitors marvel at the massive churches, cathedrals, castles, theaters, bridges over the Vltava River, and art or sculptures on or around every structure. The wonders of Prague’s diverse art and culture keep newcomers’ heads turning constantly as though they were on a swivel. It would take months to see even half of this picturesque city.
​From the historical Old Town area, it’s a short morning walk through narrow, colorful streets lined with tiny retail shops to the famous Charles Bridge, which is the best place to begin your walking tour of Prague. This pathway across the Vltava River from Old Town to New Town is almost six football fields in length and was first built of sandstone blocks in 1357. It was originally named the Stone Bridge or the Prague Bridge, but was officially christened the Charles Bridge in 1870.
​Because of the magnificent construction, the huge towers at both ends, the more than 70 sculptures and the breathtaking views of either side of the river, the Charles Bridge is probably the most visited site in Prague. To enjoy the beauty and serenity, early morning is the best time, but the evening can be a very romantic period to stroll the bridge. During the middle of the day, however, hundreds of street vendors, artists, musicians of all kinds and a few unsavory types show up to vie for your money.
​The most famous statue on the Charles Bridge is that of Saint John Nepomuk, who King Wenceslas IV had thrown from the bridge to his death in the river because he wouldn’t reveal a confession that the queen had given. Therefore, tradition implies that anyone who rubs the statue in the right place will be granted a wish or become lucky. The brass plaque on the statue has been polished to a bright shine by all the people who have touched it throughout the history of the Charles Bridge. Only touch the part depicting Saint John Nepomuk being thrown from the bridge – not the other one with the queen and the dog – that is bad luck!
​After the bridge and during the picturesque climb over cobblestone roads and up steep, stone stairways to the Prague Castle, many interesting shops, restaurants and drinking establishments are passed. Looking backward during this sojourn, unforgettable vistas of Prague and the Vltava River can be enjoyed.
​The Prague Castle has been in existence for more than 1,100 years, is the largest castle complex in the world, and with the St. Vitus Cathedral is the defining structure of the Czech Republic. Despite numerous fires, changes of rulers, invasions and even world wars, the area has remained a living history. 
​The castle was originally built by one the early Czech rulers around 870 AD using only dirt and timber. Since then, it was rebuilt in the Romanesque style during the 13th century, the Gothic style in the 15th century and after a horrific fire in 1541, it emerged with a Renaissance look. The last change to its modern Baroque style was accomplished during the 18th century. Also, since 1918, the Prague Castle has served as official home to the president of the country. 
​After returning from the castle and going back across the Charles Bridge, take a left turn and proceed to the Jewish Quarter. You can visit synagogues, the cemetery and the remnants of the Jewish Ghetto where many Jews died during World War II. This is a beautiful and historical section of Prague.
​Walk in an angle to the right after the Jewish Quarter and you will be in the heart of Old Town which dates back to 1091. All of this section revolves around Old Town Square, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, and the Town Hall with its Astronomical Clock and tower. Highlighted by colorful pastel buildings and historical statues, the square is always active with tourists browsing the many portable retail shops or tasting the food from vendors in the square or outdoor restaurants.
​Though parts of Prague are very modern, the true beauty of this magnificent city is the practically undisturbed history. Add to that a culture, language, cuisine and lifestyle that is totally unique to the Czech Republic, and you have a destination that should be on everyone’s “must see” list – especially during the natural beauty of the fall season!

Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, videography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. 
He can be reached at or at his web site:

September 2019 column

History, nature meet at Cades Cove

A spontaneous visit that I made into the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains more than 40 years ago involved a trek through the unforgettable Cades Cove, which has kept me dreaming about a return for all this time. Recently, I fulfilled those beautiful reveries and returned to the natural beauty and historical setting of one of the most picturesque places in America.
In the language of folks from the Smoky Mountains, a “cove” is basically a flat valley surrounded by mountains. Cades Cove is that description and so much more with the best opportunities for wildlife viewing in the Smoky Mountains including white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, coyote, ground hog, wild turkey, raccoon, skunk and other animals.
Artifacts from the past prove that for hundreds of years Cherokee Indians had hunted in the verdant valleys of what is now known as Cades Cove. Nevertheless, archeologists were never able to produce evidence of any major Indian settlements in the area. 
The first Europeans began settling in the cove sometime between 1818 and 1821, and by 1830 the population had grown to nearly 300. Because so much of this early history was preserved, Cades Cove now offers the widest variety of historic buildings in any part of the Smoky Mountains National Park.
The only way to really enjoy all of the natural beauty, history and wildlife is the Cades Cove Loop that winds for 11 miles through this special section of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It is a picturesque drive with a backdrop of the blue-tinted mountain peaks and lush, green countryside. When traveling the scenic loop road, take the time to get out and visit the restored buildings that include three churches, log homes, cantilevered barns and a working mill.
You can access the Cades Cove Loop from Laurel Creek Road, Parson Branch Road or Rich Mountain Road ... the latter two roads are closed during winter. The Loop is a one-way (one-lane) paved road that takes approximately two to four hours to traverse. Because it’s a single-lane road, be prepared to stop frequently because those in front might have encountered a bear or other local wildlife. This slow pace makes it easy for everyone to enjoy the amazing mountain landscapes, wildflower meadows and diverse wildlife.
The gently winding road offers many places to stop, park and stretch your legs while taking in the scenery. Halfway through the Loop, make a point to stop at the visitors center to take photos of many restored buildings.
From early May through late September, only bicycle and foot traffic are allowed on the Cades Cove Loop until 10 a.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Vehicles can enter on Wednesdays and Saturdays after 10 a.m.
Many problems caused by bad management during the early days of Cades Cove have now been rectified. Ditches are now being plugged and wetlands restored for all wild creatures. Native wildflowers and grasses have been re-established from nurseries built in Cades Cove to preserve the true character of this gem of nature.
Cades Cove is the perfect way to see a picturesque mountain setting complete with wildlife and history. There are some amazing locations to have a picnic lunch and just take in the views. This area of the Great Smoky Mountains should be a prime destination on every person’s travel plans! For more information visit

August 2019 column

A beautiful waterfall with a tragic history

From below the misty cascade of water free-falling 186 feet into a deep pool that empties into a tiny stream lined with colorful wild azaleas and rhododendron, one would never imagine the dark side of this picturesque natural wonder. Nevertheless, in the wee hours of a rainy night on November 6, 1977, an earthen dam at the top of this breathtaking waterfall gave way, and 176 million gallons of water plummeted into the tiny valley below that is home to Toccoa Falls College. Thirty-nine people were killed, another 60 injured. Most of the college campus was destroyed.
Compassionate people from all over the world, who had never heard of Toccoa or the tiny Christian college, responded immediately with their money and their hearts. More than $3 million in funds and hundreds of volunteer workers poured into the little valley to help.
Because of that tragedy, the dam and lake were never rebuilt, and every effort has been made to allow Toccoa Falls to return to its natural state. It is 29 feet higher than Niagara Falls and truly one of the most magnificent waterfalls in the “Peach State.” It certainly lives up to the name given by the Cherokee Indians, “Toccoah,” which means “beautiful.”
Toccoa Falls is within the city limits of Toccoa, Ga. and on the campus of Toccoa Falls College, which is a four-year, fully accredited Christian liberal arts college. It was originally founded in 1907 by Dr. Richard Forrest and his wife in Golden Valley, N.C., which was a remote area only reachable by horse and wagon. The Forrests soon realized that if the college was to grow, it needed to be located closer to major transportation lines. They searched and eventually found the perfect place near the booming town of Toccoa in a picturesque setting of the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.
In order to view the falls, visitors must pass through the Toccoa Falls Gift Shop en route to a path lined with colorful flowers, conversational benches, cool breezes and gorgeous natural surroundings that leads about 100 yards to the falls. This trek follows a babbling brook that continues flowing beyond the welcome center through the lower part of the wooded campus of the college.
Additionally, the Gate Cottage Restaurant overlooking Toccoa Creek is used for weddings, rehearsals and receptions. It also caters to many civic clubs, organizational meetings, business luncheons and other special events. For more information, call 706-886-6831.
The light passing through water that almost changes to an eerie mist before being consumed by the pool below has prism-like qualities that seem to hypnotize those who watch. Therefore, any visit to Toccoa or the almost 100 year-old college would be incomplete without spending a few memorable minutes gazing up at this miracle of nature called Toccoa Falls!

July 2019 column

Mountain beauty is synonyous with Sky Valley

Every sojourn into the blue hills of Northeast Georgia awakens feelings of my Cherokee ancestors’ spirits. The beauty of these sacred mountains and all the stories of the past easily flow through my mind and body which makes me forever embrace every return trip.
In my youth, my father and I would roam these hills and valleys seeking the wild, elusive native brook trout or track black bear to feed us through the winter. My return this time, however, was to chase a little white ball in one of the most picturesque places in Georgia: Sky Valley.
Though this area along the Georgia/North Carolina border was once part of the Cherokee Nation, white settlers have been scattered throughout these mountains for more than 200 years. Before Sky Valley became a resort town in 1978, it had been the Square D Cattle Ranch. It was later known as the original Kingwood Country Club, but was converted into a ski resort that had a comfortable lodge with floor-to-ceiling wood burning fireplace. Some of the ski slopes continued to operate until a change of ownership in 2004 closed them down completely.
The Sky Valley community continued to grow, but the largest change came when Atlanta-based golf architect, Bill Bergin, spent two years renovating the golf course. The final result is a golf venue with breathtaking views, challenging fairways and greens and the addition of tennis, swimming and many other activities.
After the financial crash in 2008, the Sky Valley homeowners banded together and bought the golf course to protect it for the future. Following their purchase, the owners decided to build the new clubhouse to enhance the course and provide a place to socialize and enjoy excellent food. Their investment in the golf and community has resulted in the Sky Valley Country Club being a successful and thriving place for the members and the public.
Today, Sky Valley Country Club is a semi-private facility. Memberships are available and required for most club social activities. The club hosts non-member golfers and group functions at these facilities. The golf course operates year round and has a golf learning center which includes a practice range and a large putting green. Instruction is available from PGA Professional and Golf Manager, Steve Heher, who can schedule individual play, group play and tournaments.
Sky Valley is the highest city in Georgia located between Clayton, Georgia, and Highlands, N.C, and surrounded by the Nantahala National Forest. This pristine mountain terrain features waterfalls, hiking trails and awesome vistas. Elevations range from 3,200 to 4,200 feet, but within a few miles are hundreds of shops, high-end restaurants, award-winning vineyards, spas, arts and antiques. Sky Valley is also becoming a very popular year-round vacation and destination wedding venue. The area is spectacular and the surrounding mountains and foothills are breathtaking. It is easy to understand why the Cherokee called these mountains, “The Great Blue Hills of God.”
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