I See Georgia: Rome

“He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” – Ernest Hemingway

We could sympathize with Hemingway’s old man. We weren’t fishing in a skiff, we were in a car, stuck in traffic gridlock. Still, the ordeal that accompanied circumnavigating Atlanta nearly derailed our trip to the second stop on our tour of Georgia cities and towns. But as the old saying goes, the show (or tour) must go on! So it was that, a mere three hours after leaving home, we finally crossed the last of the 126 miles separating us from the object of our quest.

We finally entered the city limits of Rome, a town of 36,000 souls nestled in Floyd County, at just past 1:00pm. While one member of the Bear Team had previously visited, we still failed to take into account how long it would take to get there. Rome is far, far away; far further than mileage can attest; way, way, way over in Northwest Georgia. But at last, we’d made it.

Our first stop was Harvest Moon Café, a place we’d read about online. The café, located in a historic building on Broad Street, began as a bread market before expanding into a full restaurant, offering meat and three options, as well as salads, specialties like shrimp and grits, and burgers.

Hungry from the long drive, we ordered a vegetable platter which included broccoli salad, collards and sweet potato soufflé, and a Wicked Pimina burger, featuring Half Moon’s famous pimento cheese. Business was booming, so our order took quite a while to prepare. But when our plates were set before us, the wait would prove to be more than worth it.

The burger was the highlight, with a juicy half-pound patty and the previously mentioned cheese, which was spicy and delicious. The veggies were similarly impressive, and would have been right at home on any families’ Sunday dinner table.

Full and happy, we ventured onto the streets. Built on seven hills, with the Etowah, Oostanaula and Coosa Rivers running between, the city was named in honor of the longtime Italian capital by European settlers. We walked along Broad Street, 3rd Avenue and 1st Street, marveling at how similar the downtown area was to Athens.

After walking off our lunch, we headed for the Labyrinth of Rome, built on the site of a former amphitheater, and consisting of more than 5000 bricks.

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For those of you (until recently including both members of the Bear Team!) who don’t know what a labyrinth actually is, we now offer the following explanation from the Greater Rome Convention and Visitors Bureau:

Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only one path and the intention is not to confuse, but rather to help one focus. The path into the center is a search for your true self as the stresses and concerns of the world slip away from your consciousness.

Cool. Davie Bowie would be proud!

Of course, the temperature was not exactly cool, so after half an hour of navigating the labyrinth, we were ready for something a little less strenuous. So it was that we found ourselves at City Creamery on Broad Street.

We at the Bear Team love frozen yogurt, coffee and games. At City Creamery, we got all three! We sat at a table, enjoying our drinks/treats and playing chess as the early afternoon crawled by. Best of all, it was cool! As you can already tell, the temperature will be a repeating character in our story, and on this day it was quite warm outside. God bless air conditioning!

When we’d finished our game, it was time to head to Berry College, an NAIA school with the largest contiguous campus in the world. Let me say that again. Berry College has the largest campus of any college in the world! Imagine, an institute of higher learning in Georgia boasting such a claim. We would have been inclined to dismiss the idea of a 27,000-acre campus as hyperbole, had we not spent the better part of two hours attempting to navigate it.

The campus is beautiful, featuring miles and miles of wilderness broken by the occasional building or hiking trail. We’d heard that there was an old mill somewhere, but our attempts to find it bordered on the comical. We drove around at random, hoping to stumble across it accidently, before finally giving up and heading for the highway.

Well, we wanted to head for the highway. Unfortunately, we had no idea in which direction the highway lay. We circled the campus, growing increasingly agitated. We tried the GPS, but we might as well have handed Superman a big chunk of kryptonite. Just as we were about to do the unthinkable and actually stop and ask directions, a sign materialized out of nowhere pointing to the mill.

A few minutes later we pulled to a stop at a dirt road guarded by a chain. We parked the car and continued on foot. We were just far enough away from the car to negate the possibility of going back when the first bolt of thunder rolled across the sky. We hurried on, determined to reach our destination or be drenched while trying.

Eventually we rounded one last curve and came upon the mill. The stone structure stood at the edge of a still pond; the massive water wheel perpetually frozen in mid turn. We walked around, taking in the peaceful scene, until a massive rolling boom indicated to us that it was time to return to the car.

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We made our way back downtown, searching for somewhere to grab some dinner. We ended up at Rome City Brewing Company mostly due to proximity, but by the time we left, we were glad we’d stopped in.

While we perused the menu, we decided to sample some local brews. We ordered a Downtown Brown and a Big Mama Peach. There is something about draft beer that sets it apart from bottled or canned, especially when tasting it in its natural habitat. Both were very good.

Since we’d gorged on lunch, we elected to go with lighter fare for dinner. We both ordered salads, one with shrimp and the other with fried chicken strips. The shrimp were especially good, grilled to blackened perfection. We ate while listening to a band soundcheck in advance of a performance later that night. A little loud, but all in all, our experience was a good one.

After dinner, we took a walk along a bridge which spanned one of the rivers near the restaurant. For whatever reason, hundreds of padlocks were secured along the railing of the bridge. It was an unusual, but unique art project, diminished only by the woman that approached us, asking for money and/or a ride.

We dodged the panhandler and headed back the way we’d come. Back at the car, we sat for a moment, thinking about all we’d seen. It had been a good day, but it seemed that something was missing. Fortunately, there was time for one last stop; one that we would be very glad we’d made.

Myrtle Hill Cemetery, founded in 1857, sits on a hill overlooking the city. We parked at the base of the hill and worked our way up the stone steps, stopping along the way to check out 150-year-old tombstones. The cemetery is situated on a series of terraces, making it one of the more unusual we’d ever seen.  We reached the top just before sunset and stood, taking in a beautiful view of downtown Rome as the color drained out of the sky. Not a bad end to the day!

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We made our way back to the car and headed back along highway 411, making good time until crossing into Cartersville. For some reason, Cartersville had the same effect on our GPS as Berry College, leading Siri to offer the following instructions:

“Continue on Georgia 20 for ten miles…turn left…t-t-t-t-t-t-t-turn left…make a U-turn….continue on Georgia 20 for ten miles.”

Eventually, we found our way to I-75 and were on our way. With a little luck, we’d be home in less than 90 minutes. We cruised along, listening to music and talking over our visit to Rome. Even though we hadn’t had time to visit Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens, located in nearby Summerville (definitely in our future plans!), we’d had a good time.

We settled in, looking forward to an easy ride back to Athens… until we remembered one thing:

We’d have to get around Atlanta again. Damn!

That’s all for now. As always, thanks for reading. We here at the Bear Team always appreciate it. For more information about Rome, visit the city’s official website here: http://romegeorgia.org/. Until later…

Next time: We’ll head South in an attempt to discover the real town behind the myth. It’s a Saturday in Milledgeville!

-By Keith and Dena Maxwell

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