Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 7 – movie marathon

It was supposed to rain on our last day of our trip to South Carolina. Our plan was to spend the day inside playing games and watching movies. It took us all day, but we managed to finish all of the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which is close to 12 hours of content.

We also got everything packed up so we could make an early start the next day. With some careful planning, we were able to make it from Pickens, SC to Tampa with just two stops to charge the car and were home in the early evening. This was a delightful trip. We’ll definitely consider doing something like it again.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 6 – Table Rock

We saved our longest hike for last. Perhaps the most well-known and scenic hike in the area near our cabin is Table Rock Trail. This leads to the top of a mountain and then, just past the summit, to a beautiful overlook. Despite the trail being well-worn and marked with red blazes, we actually lost the trail twice on the way up and had to backtrack a little bit each time to find the main trail (marked in the map below). The hike is a good one with some pretty rugged, steep terrain at times.

The view from the overlook is quite impressive:

Per my watch, the hike was 6.79 miles round trip with 2,439 feet of elevation gain. With a stop at the overlook of about 30 minutes to eat some fruit and snacks, it took us just under 4 hours.

Toren ended up doing an advert for Nature Valley on the overlook:

Here are a few videos from the hike:

This is one of the small waterfalls you pass early on the hike.
This is another small waterfall right at the beginning of the hike.

We headed back to the cabin and continued our movie marathon, finishing The Hobbit series and beginning The Lord of the Rings series, each of which is almost 4 hours long. We only got through part of the first one but were committed to finish them during our South Carolina trip.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 5 – Falls Creek Waterfalls

Our friends left early in the morning so it was just the three of us again. We opted for a hike to another waterfall – Falls Creek Waterfalls. It’s not the best name, but the waterfalls were, again, quite beautiful. Some of the trip reports for this hike suggested the trail was quite steep and challenging. That is an accurate portrayal of parts of the trail. If you’re not in good shape and willing to traverse some rugged and steep terrain, you shouldn’t attempt this trail. Even so, most of the trail was of an easy grade.

Here’s the route:

The round trip distance was 2.46 miles with 1,114 feet of elevation gain.

Here is a video of the upper falls:

Here’s a photosphere of the upper falls:

And here’s a photosphere of the lower falls:

Even though this hike was a decent workout, the hike was relatively short. We decided as a result to stop by a roadside hike on our way back to the cabin, the Wildcat Wayside Nature Trail. Meh. Probably a mistake. There is a cute little waterfall right by the side of the road maybe 50 feet from where you park. There were kids playing here as there is a nice, shallow pool below the waterfall. But this was the most scenic element of the hike. We ended up following the roughly 1-mile nature trail. It was fine. It eventually reaches a cliff face that had a trickle of water coming down it. Perhaps during a rainstorm there would be a decent volume of water coming down the cliff face making another waterfall. But it really was a trickle dripping down into a small puddle and about half a dozen young kids were playing in that puddle. The trail is pretty level and not at all rugged except for one spot where you have to work your way over some roots. So, if you’re looking for a nice, easy trail, this is the one for you.

After our hike, we headed back to the cabin, cleaned up, had a nice lunch, then began what would turn into a fairly epic movie marathon. We watched the first two movies in The Hobbit series. I have extended versions of all of these, so each movie is at least three hours long. We got through two of them the first day we started it, with a good game in between them.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 4 – Rainbow Falls

Following the same pattern, we got up fairly early to do another hike – Rainbow Falls. This one was in the Jones Gap State Park, which does require a $6 parking fee per person (kids and seniors are less). The hike was to Rainbow Falls. Here’s the route:

Per my watch, the route was 5.01 miles round trip with just under 2,000 feet of elevation gain. It’s a fairly rugged trail at times but quite a pleasant hike and the waterfalls at the top were very pretty. Here is a photosphere showing the falls:

We didn’t stay very long because the forecast called for rain in the early afternoon. We got a little sprinkle on our way down but it was quite light.

Here are a couple videos of the falls:

These are the upper falls at Rainbow Falls.
One of the lower falls at Rainbow Falls in Jones Gap State Park.

The bottom part of the trail is the main trail in Jones Gap State Park, which follows a very scenic river:

After the hike, we headed back to the cabin, cleaned up, and then followed your daily routine – eat, play games, and relax. We ended the night with Deadpool 2!

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 3 – Twin Falls Trail

With our friends from North Carolina joining us, we headed out for our second hike – Twin Falls Trail on Reedy Cove Creek. This one was a little weird as it isn’t part of a state park, so the parking for the beginning of the trail was really just a pull out on the side of a road with room for about 3 cars is all.

The trail was pretty well-maintained and included some nice elevation gain, which was great coming from Florida where the only elevation gain we have involves stairs and buildings! The trail ends at the upper falls of a two-stage set of waterfalls. The upper falls aren’t very large but they are elongated and quite beautiful. Here are some videos of the upper falls:

The upper falls on Twin Falls Trail
The upper falls in slow motion

Just below these is the main waterfall, which is probably 70 to 100 feet tall. We were able to very careful work our way to the top and sit there and enjoy the view while we had a snack. Getting to the top of the falls where we were is a bit treacherous and I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who isn’t sure-footed. A small slip and you’d be in trouble quickly there.

While we were at the top of the falls we saw people at the bottom who were swimming in the pool. We thought it might be nice to see the falls from the bottom and even tried a side trail off the one we had followed but it didn’t lead to the bottom of the falls. I marked that on the map. I spent some time bushwacking off that side trail to see if I could connect to the other trail but ran into two creeks and actually fell into one. It wasn’t easy hiking and I didn’t want to make everyone else have to work their way through brush, so we ended up just heading out. Here’s the hike:

The hike was about 3 miles and took us about 2 hours, but with a solid 30 minutes or so enjoying the views at the top (and another 20 minutes wandering off the trail). The total elevation gain was about 1,000 feet.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing and playing games. Just before bed, we decided to watch a movie. The choice we came to was Deadpool, which is always fun!

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 2 – Raven Rock Loop Trail

The plan was to do a hike every morning while it was cooler, then head back to the cabin and relax, playing games, watching movies, cooking, and chatting. We also had some friends who live in North Carolina who were going to visit for a couple of days.

Our first hike was the Raven Rock Loop Trail, which is a nice ~4 mile hike that extends the Keowee-Toxaway Natural Bridge trail to Lake Keowee. There are some small waterfalls on the Natural Bridge trail. Past that, it’s a nice hike up and down some hills and down to the lake, but no additional waterfalls. Here’s our route:

Here is a short clip of the waterfall:

And another short clip of the bubbling little brook:

Our total distance on the hike was 4.53 miles and it took us just over 2 hours.

After the hike, we headed back to the cabin, got cleaned up, then made a list of food. I headed into the nearest town to buy the food while Debi and Toren got everything ready for our friend and her kids. I arrived back at the cabin just before they did. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening chatting, playing games, and cooking.

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Pickens, SC – Hiking Trip – Day 1

Since March 2020, we have been cooped up pretty consistently thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have gone out to shop and exercise, but that’s about it. After nearly 5 months of hardly leaving the house, we were getting a little antsy. We eventually came up with a trip that we thought would work well given the current situation and the emphasis on physical distancing – a road trip to the mountainous region of South Carolina where we could go hiking and still stay physically distanced from people.

We found an amazing cabin (really a home) in Pickens that wasn’t all that expensive to rent for a week on AirBnB and I spent a few days looking at hikes in the nearby area. We also spent some time thinking about what we wanted to eat, what else we were going to do, and the trip itself.

August 7th

We left Tampa fairly early on the 7th. Since we drove my Tesla, we had to map out superchargers to make it to the cabin but it worked out well. We traveled from Tampa to Jacksonville and hugged the coast to avoid Atlanta, which has the worst traffic. We ended up stopping three times to charge, though we could have made it with just two stops. We had lunch during one of the stops. We arrived around 6:30 pm and brought enough food that we were able to get settled in the cabin and make dinner, then go to bed.

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Europe Trip – Marseilles (Day 5)

The second stop on our cruise was in Marseilles, France. Given that it was France, I was expecting a very nice city, like Paris. I was a little disappointed.

Our excursion was called “Scenic Marseilles” and basically involved riding in a bus around the city with two stops. We stopped once to take some pictures of Château d’If, a relatively famous fort on an island just off the coast of Marseilles that has featured in a number of stories and movies.

Château d'If
Château d’If

The second stop was at the Palais Longchamp where we had about 20 minutes to run up and look at the architecture but didn’t have time to do much else.

Palais Longchamp
Palais Longchamp

The tour ended a couple of blocks from the old port. The guide said we could return to the bus at a certain time and they would take us back to the cruise ship. Alternatively, we could catch the Royal Caribbean shuttle at a specific location, which she showed us.

A few of us opted to explore Marseilles for a few hours. We first stopped at a bakery. After getting medialunas in Argentina, which kind of look like croissants but are way better, I have been itching to try a croissant in France to see if I’m not making a fair comparison between the two breads. The croissants we had in the bakery were good, but we’re all still partial to Argentinean medialunas. However, the pizza they had in the bakery was both cheap and delicious (perhaps the best we had on the trip).

Enjoying a French croissant.

From there, we caught a bus up to see the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, which stands atop a prominent hill in Marseilles. It’s a beautiful Byzantine church.

We spent a good hour walking around and through it.

Here’s a short video clip of the music that was being sung while we were inside:

After the church, we headed back down through Marseilles and caught the shuttle back to the cruise ship.

That evening, we saw a show (or two) on the ship. I think we actually saw one of these the night before, but the time stamps on my photos indicate that they were both this night. We saw a magic show with Hector is Magic, a Spanish magician. His sleight of hand tricks with cards were good. The other tricks were pretty easy to figure out. (Side note, while Hector is a decent magician, he’s not much of a rock climber. The next day, while in Cinque Terre, we ran into Hector while hopping on rocks in one of the small towns, Vernazza. Hector lost his sunglasses while trying to get a photo and didn’t notice. Toren saw the sunglasses fall, climbed down to find them, and returned them to him. You’re welcome, Hector!)

We also saw a diving show. The Oasis of the Seas is big enough that it has a water theater at the back of the ship where they stage diving shows. The shows were pretty good and included divers, synchronized swimmers, and slackliners.

The water theater at the back of the ship.

(Brief reflection on Marseilles. If I’m being honest, this was probably the least interesting shore excursion. I’m sure a long stay in Marseilles might prove otherwise, but it didn’t seem like there was a lot to do here. Additionally, the city seemed a bit dirty and was covered in graffiti. I kind of sound like a crotchety old man telling kids to get off my lawn with my criticism here, but I think it was the contrast between Paris and Marseilles that left me feeling like Marseilles wasn’t what I was expecting.)

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Europe Trip – Barcelona (Day 2)

It was the birthday of one of my nephew’s and he really wanted to go kayaking. So, we went kayaking. I think we all were hopeful that sea kayaking in Barcelona would give us a lot to see, kind of like when we went sea kayaking in Alaska. We were also under the impression that, like Alaska, we were not going to get wet. Both of those assumptions were wrong.

We ended up renting the sea kayaks from Centre Municipal de Vela de Barcelona, which is located really close to the Olympic Park in Barcelona. What we didn’t realize is that the kayaks had holes in them so water could drain out, but that also meant that sea water could come in. We also weren’t allowed to go to the nearby beach because people were swimming there, which meant we were relegated to paddling out around a concrete barrier and then coming back. We basically got to see the concrete barrier, some buoys, some big ships in the ocean, and each other. Additionally, the water was freezing and there were really big waves on the ocean. Collectively, what this meant is that we got really wet, really cold, and didn’t get to see much. But it was good exercise. The sea kayaking took up most of the morning. We found a nice restaurant for lunch where that same nephew ordered squid (which he didn’t eat, so the uncles finished it off).

After that, we got on the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus and got to see quite a bit of Barcelona. I was so impressed with the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the fountains in front of it that I suggested we get off there. We did and spent a good hour enjoying the views and taking photos. Here’s a photosphere in front of the Museu:

The Museu really is an amazing sight with views of most of Barcelona and fabulous fountains:

I enjoyed the view enough I shot some footage of the waterfall just to keep as a loop.

A view of the museum below one of the waterfalls.
The view of the fountains from the museum.

We even managed to get a group photo:

Family photo in front of the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

We then got back on the sightseeing bus and returned to our hotel. After a quick chance to drop off some stuff and refresh ourselves, we headed out to a nice, small Italian restaurant for dinner.

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Europe Trip – Barcelona (Day 1)

My in-laws took the whole family on a trip to Europe again (see the previous trip). This time, we flew into Barcelona, spent two days there, then embarked on a 7 day Royal Caribbean cruise with 5 ports of call: Mallorca, Marseilles, La Spezia, Rome, and Naples.

The trip started off with some “excitement.” Most of us were supposed to meet at JFK airport in NYC (on the evening of the 13th) and fly to Barcelona together. However, due to weather issues, there were big delays into and out of JFK. The family flying in from SLC weren’t sure if they were going to make the Barcelona flight, so they got re-routed through Paris. We ended up meeting Steve (Debi’s brother) in NYC and we all flew together to Barcelona, landing around 10:30 am the next day. We arrived just a little before another part of the family, so we waited for them in the baggage claim. Once they arrived, Rosemary (Debi’s mom) had arranged for a transfer to our hotel. Those who got re-routed, unfortunately, ended up getting really delayed in Paris and didn’t get in until about 10:00 pm that night (almost 12 hours later).

After we got settled in the hotel, we went for a walk. Our hotel was just a few blocks from Placa de Catalunya, so we stopped there first. Here’s a photosphere I took there:

We were all pretty hungry, so we found a nearby restaurant and tried the famed Spanish paella. It was, meh.

Spanish paella in Barcelona
Spanish paella for three. It was fine, but I wouldn’t move to Spain to have it regularly!

From there, we headed for a walk down La Rambla, which was quite nice. We stopped for some treats along the way, walking all the way down to the Christopher Columbus statue and the port. We took a different route back, heading through Barri Gotic (the Gothic neighborhood) to our hotel. Given the limited sleep most had gotten on the plane, pretty much everyone was keen to get to bed early. Toren, Steve, and I went out for food, finding a nice little Italian place that was cheap but had good pizza.

A couple of quick reflections on Barcelona…

Perhaps it was the areas we were in, but we didn’t see a lot of parks and places for kids to play. There are plazas in front of churches, but most were paved and did not have areas for kids to play.

The wide, clean streets and fascinating architecture made walking in Barcelona quite pleasant.

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