Saturday, July 4 - Happy Birthday, America!

This is our last full day in Hot Springs, and it started out cool and damp following some overnight precipitation.  All the Manor’s guests again found their ways to the porch for the morning repast, and we enjoyed conversations with some of them before all of us dispersed on our respective excursions.  There is an adventuresome couple (also from North Texas) here on their two beautiful Harley Davidsons, and it was fun to chat with them about our shared biking interests.  We noticed a large gaggle of bikers passing by the Hilltop during breakfast, so they are sure to encounter lots of other riding enthusiasts with whom to cruise the scenic local roads today!

After hearing all week about the spectacular botanical gardens in the southern part of the city, we had earmarked this morning as our time to experience them.  The route to Garvan Gardens took us past and through some lovely newer neighborhoods (including the Hot Springs Country Club) that we made plans to explore on our way back into town.  







The Gardens are owned and maintained by the University of Arkansas after having been established by a remarkable businesswoman and her second husband.  Over 5 miles of paths for both walking and golf cart travel lead visitors through luxuriant plantings co-mingled with native forest; whimsical offerings to captivate children of all ages give way to arboreal settings that can be transformed to host outdoor events on a grand scale.  We opted for a guided golf cart tour and were soon off with our delightful and knowledgeable guide Barbara, who regaled us with the sequence of events that led to the creation of the Gardens.

Here we encountered yet another indicator of the smallness of our world: The Head Gardener for these Gardens (Bob Byers [sp?]) has recently been appointed to an analogous position overseeing the Fort Worth Botanical Gardens!  Barbara was bemoaning the loss of this Master Gardener, who was back in Hot Springs this weekend, as he still has a home here.  Even though we did not have the chance to make his acquaintance today, perhaps we will be able to introduce ourselves back home.  The magnificence of these Gardens is a testament to his talent, and Hot Springs’ loss is definitely Fort Worth’s gain!

After taking our leave of Barbara back at the Visitor Center, we hiked a short distance to one of the marvels of this sylvan spot: the jewel-like Anthony Chapel, the second most popular wedding venue in the entire country.  The Chapel is constructed entirely of wood beams and glass, and gives the impression of having been chiseled from some giant crystal before being nestled into its verdant surroundings.  It is paired with an all-wood-beam campanile, whose chimes mark the passing of the hours with familiar hymn tunes.

We only covered about 1.7 miles of the trails; even so, there was a great deal of interest in what we passed and photographed.  For example, there is the one portion of the numerous paths that is paved entirely with antique bricks from one of Mrs. Garvan’s factories that was destroyed by a fire.  Adjoining the Visitor Center is a G-gauge model train set-up representative of the various industries that underwrote our benefactress’s fortune, and the trail past a charming Fairy Garden leads one to the greenery-covered Mother “Gourd” House.  Many of the children we encountered with their parents were happily engaged in a map-driven Treasure Hunt, but even that merry activity did not detract from the serenity of our surroundings.  Indeed, the Garvan Gardens themselves are a treasure and we the lucky hunters who can revel in their splendor!

Re-tracing our route back downtown we took a few side jaunts on surprisingly long and meticulously manicured roads that led to some secluded upscale communities bordering on Lake Hamilton: out of our price range, but pleasant to amble through nonetheless.  These neighborhoods are bounded and separated by forest, out of which popped two seemingly unafraid fauns onto the street in front of us as we were completing our circuit - what an enchanting moment!  Then it was back to Central Avenue and lunch at the Copper Penny Pub after visiting an excellent antique store that hadn’t been open during last evening’s Art Walk. 

We were still discussing the possibility of going to Lake Hamilton for the fireworks display when a nap attack occurred, so that topic was tabled until such time as we regained consciousness…

At about 7:30 we got in the car and made for the location that had been identified in one of the local newspapers as possessing the best view of the pyrotechnics, but when we got there it was already teeming with humanity, most of whom appeared to have been camped out there for the better part of the day.  I would love to view the statistics on the amount of alcohol (beer in particular) that was consumed before and during the display in just this one location – Holy Schlitz!


Deciding that discretion was the better part of valor (and knowing that we could watch A Capitol Fourth on PBS in the mosquito-free comfort of our room), it was time to stop at Kilwin’s for a final ice cream extravagance.  While waiting there to be served and viewing the aftermath of their wildly busy day (they were out of waffle cones – waaah!), we realized that there was one last touristy item that hadn’t been crossed off our list.  So we hied ourselves and our ice cream across Central Avenue to a small corner park that is home to one of the National Park’s uncovered free-flowing hot springs, although neither of us was able to summon the gumption to actually plunge our feet into the small rock-rimmed pool where the water collects at the base of the mountain – that water was HOT!  (Duh…)

As the evening shades settled in, it was time to return to the Manor to begin packing for tomorrow morning’s departure.  We have had a relaxing time here, met a lot of terrific folks, taken in some gorgeous vistas and, hopefully, made some inroads into deciding about a viable retirement locale.  Hot Springs will absolutely be on the list of contenders; in fact, it would gratifying to us if we could be active participants in this landmark city’s much-needed rehabilitation, so that even more Americans could enjoy the quaint, easy-going charms that it offers and that are in such short supply in our hectic lives.  We’ll be back – don’t say we didn’t warn you!



Thanks for joining us for this year’s journey!  Now it’s time to begin planning the next one…

Hot Springs Arkansas...Friday, July 3 – The Heavens Open…

All I can say is this – When it rains in Hot Springs, it POURS!  We had been hearing the thunder and the raindrops pummeling the Oriental-inspired metal roof throughout the night, but that really didn’t prepare us for the deluge that provided our breakfast backdrop.  All of the Manor’s 11 guests had elected to dine on the front porch; we provided a small but select captive audience for a symphony of showers with accents of lightning strikes and resultant accompanying tympanic thunderclaps, some of which were proximate enough to (literally) coax a standing ovation out of us!

Given that we had minimal plans for the day, we followed our slothful inclinations and hung out at the Manor.  I spent most of my morning on the porch with the computer, grateful that someone had recommended that I bring at least one pair of long pants with me.  The temperatures under the low-hanging cloud cover lingered in the low 70’s, and intermittent bursts of rainfall punctuated the calm aftermath of the substantial storm that had buffeted us earlier.  Eventually I completed the first draft of Thursday’s post and carried the electronics back to our room for Gary to peruse prior to the actual blogging.

The remainder of the mid-day hours were truly indolent, even though I had to descend the stairs to the porch several times in search of an adequate Wi-Fi signal to accomplish some editing.  Weary of my inactivity (is that an oxymoron?), I decided to walk the perimeter of the substantial property that accrues to the Manor, and managed to startle an adorable chipmunk, a very industrious squirrel and a large brown thrasher out of their complacency in the underbrush.   All too soon, however, the persistent grayness of the day compelled me to return to the Rose Room and take a nap (not that I had done anything to earn it; it just seemed like the thing to do…).

Later in the afternoon the sun finally triumphed over the rainclouds, so we headed back downtown to grab our usual late lunch before embarking on the Art Walk that is a feature of the first Friday evening of every month in Hot Springs.  The galleries are clustered toward the southern end of the Historic District, and spotlight the talents of local artists, artisans and explorers.  We saw some gorgeous creations, and were fortunate enough to converse at some length with one artist whose brilliant paintings were the high point of our evening.  Other offerings included pottery (both ceramic and porcelain), sculpture, jewelry (always one of my preferred art forms!), American-landscape focused photography, African masks, and some fascinating mixed media objects.  An amalgam of styles was represented, and the Walk also provided the perfect opportunity for people-watching, as the art (and artsy) aficionados promenaded up and down Central Avenue.
 
One recurring and jarring theme of our time in this lovely area is the decrepit state of so many once-proud edifices in the Historic District.  There are so many of these interesting buildings that could and should be rehabilitated; they would make spectacular places to live and/or to house businesses that would add even more depth to the existing commerce.  From our various discussions with locals we understand that currently it is a matter of politics and corruption that prevents such revitalization, and one can only hope that hoped-for changes in that regard will put Hot Springs back on the road to a fresh renaissance.

The day was winding down (as were we), but it wouldn’t have been complete without a sweet treat of some sort, so our path led us back to Kilwin’s for the requisite delicious dip of ice cream in a waffle cone.  Heaven!

More tomorrow!

Hot Springs Arkansas...Thursday, July 2 – A Little Farther Afield

We arose somewhat earlier this morning so as not to be tardy for our spa date (and, quite frankly, to allow ourselves ample time to linger over whatever delights Jennifer was providing for us to break our fast; priorities must be observed, after all…).
 
Back downtown we betook ourselves to the Quapaw, got checked in and supplied with robes, towels and shoes (for me; Gary had his new sandals from yesterday’s shopping), then were ushered back to the locker rooms to prepare for our Swedish massage.  After ascending to the second floor by elevator and stairs (I’ll let you decide who chose which method) where the massage therapists hold court, we met April (who looked enough like our Connecticut friend Becky to be her sister!) and Rachel, whose task it was to make us forget that the rest of the world existed.   I don’t know about Gary, but I could have happily stayed collapsed and motionless on that massage table for the rest of the day and considered it time well spent!  But we had plans to take a dip in the indoor pools (and I’m sure that April and Rachel had other clients in need of their healing magic), so we pulled our limp selves together and found our ways back to the dressing rooms.

The water in the indoor pools is maintained at approximately 104 degrees Fahrenheit, and makes for the quintessential follow-up to the miraculous massage.  The three shallow lounge pools, with underwater benches and jets along the perimeters, foster intimate exchanges as well the more casual variety with new acquaintances.  Each pool boasts a wide-mouth fountain continuously replenishing its contents, under which bathers take turns sitting with the water (and relaxed, contented grins) playing over their faces.  There is also a lap pool up above the soak pools, where someone with more initiative and energy than I had could actually swim or get some water-walking in.

All too soon we were dried off and back out in the real world (sigh) and off to investigate some other residential portions of Hot Springs.  Prospect Avenue was the most consistently agreeable neighborhood we had seen thus far, and Gary made notes of quite a few homes that would be added to the wish list we had sent Chris earlier in the week.  After heading back to the Manor to quickly finish up some chores (like posting to this blog – hello!), our next destination was lunch at the Higdon Place Cafe.  A smidgen off the beaten track for tourists, the Cafe had come highly recommended by our Duck driver Kevin, who lauded not only the food but the prices as well.  We pretty much had the place to ourselves, arriving as we did well after the conclusion of the lunch rush, and thus had time to engage in entertaining dialogue with our server, another native Hot Springer.  It’s always fascinating to get an inside peek at the political workings and machinations in other parts of the country, and we got the proverbial earful about local shenanigans during this conversation. 

From Higdon Square it was off to a totally different part of the Hot Springs area, Hot Springs Village, an enormous (12 miles long) gated community to the north (via some circuitous routes) of Hot Springs.  This was to be the last excursion of the day, and again devoted to the search for an amenable place to retire in this gorgeous hunk of country.  We stopped into the ReMax Office located just inside the Village’s eastern gate and were lucky enough to be able to visit with Modine, who has lived here since the 1980s; she supplied us with information about the community along with a large detailed map.  We then worked our way back to the western end of the Village, taking the occasional side road to survey some of the waterfront homes on Lakes Balboa and Coronado.  This is what I have been looking for!  The lakes (and there are more than just the two we skirted) allow boats but not jet skis, and there are several kayaking clubs, along with nine exquisitely manicured golf courses.  All the roads in the Village feature bicycle lanes; given the endlessly rolling hills we encountered on our drive, these would provide an excellent way to stay in shape!

By the time we ended our Village outing it was well after 5:00, so we set our sights back on Hilltop Manor (and the much-anticipated treat that appears every afternoon at 4:00 on the sideboard in the Manor’s lobby!).  Stopping at the entrance to the National Park campgrounds just a short jog past the Manor’s driveway, Gary was able to photograph a Sherman tank that lives there, maintained by the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.  Then it was back to the cozy ambience of our room in the Manor – home at last!  (I do SO love the freedom of a travel adventure; one never needs to feel guilty about taking time to do absolutely nothing…)

More tomorrow!

Hot Springs Arkansas...Wednesday, July 1 - Laid Back Exploring


First things first – if you ever visit Hot Springs you simply HAVE to stay for at least one night at Hilltop Manor if only to experience one small facet of the lavish hospitality that is the standard here – Breakfast!  I know it’s the most important meal of the day, but the Manor takes it to a whole new level.  I don’t know how I’m going to be able to start my days once we return to Arlington without the delightful routine that we have already established in our brief sojourn here – this is the perfect beginning to a vacation, or any other type of, day!

Click the logo below to download Receipe Booklet PDF
http://graysondesign.com/pdf/HilltopManorReceipes.pdf

Our initial order of business in town was to make spa reservations at the Quapaw Bathhouse.  While we had hoped for something today, the Quapaw’s schedule dictated otherwise, so we will basically commence our Thursday activities with a couples’ Swedish massage followed by a soak in the Bathhouse’s indoor thermal pools.  

 

With the most important task completed, we set out to simply wander and investigate the various shops and emporia that line Central Avenue opposite Bathhouse Row.  We had popped into several of these upon our arrival in town, but now was the time to explore all the nooks and crannies that their proprietors have crammed with myriad offerings designed to coax the dollars out of tourists’ wallets.   Gary was in particular need of a pair of sandals that wouldn’t call for socks so as not to be the perpetrator of any fashion faux pas, so that item was firmly at the top of the list.

The variety of wares in the quaint 100+ year-old storefronts is what one would reasonably expect in a municipality whose very existence is underwritten by the tourist trade, so no real surprises there.  However, our ambling pace in and out of the various shops was exactly the sort of relaxing, impromptu approach that had brought us to this idyllic spot in the first place.  This plan-less day truly did work to expand our sense of stretching time.

During our ramblings we checked out the once-grandiose Arlington Hotel and Spa, which still appears to be very much the place for corporate types to meet and conduct business.  But I have to admit that the towering lobby comes across as a bit dilapidated and shabby, even with its Rousseau-esque murals on the opposing walls.  Quite the fall from grace, given the Hotel’s former glory as the jewel in the Hot Springs crown…

When it became time for our lunch/dinner, we made tracks for another culinary diamond in the rough: Rolando’s Nuevo Latino Restaurante.  This is one of those seeming holes-in-the-wall that has the Christmas lights outlining the windows year-round, and whose unprepossessing interior in no way prepares one for the tantalizing Ecuadorian-inspired Latin fusion cuisine. (On a more prosaic note, this establishment serves Pepsi products, which immediately won this Pepsi-junkie’s heart!)  Our server Suzanne, born and bred in Hot Springs, took our orders for the Enchiladas de la Casa and Popeye’s Burrito (did you know Popeye had a burrito?!?!) and returned with the most scrumptious take on these traditional Tex-Mex favorites to date.  They don’t do re-fried beans here, so their side dish is a happy amalgamation of black beans, peppers, white rice and pickled cucumbers – quite unexpected and delicioso! 

It’s probably safe to say that our tushes have made their respective presences felt on the majority of the park benches that line Central Avenue.  Each one proffers a slightly different viewpoint from which to observe the comings and goings of pedestrians and vehicles and, of course, is the perfect location to indulge in an ice cream cone from Kilwins.  Headquartered in Michigan, this little slice of chocolate-lover’s heaven makes 5-6 kinds of fudge (including Peanut Butter) on location, as well as delectable waffle cones and the deliciousness to suitably fill them.  My choice (and it was a tough one!) was Mackinac Island Fudge, while Gary was more than happy to dig into a cone of Chocolate Caramel Cashew.  Let’s just say that conversation came to an abrupt halt while we were applying ourselves to these goodies, replaced by intermittent moans of pleasure.  (Tomorrow’s massage is going to have a hard act to follow, to say the least!)

We wrapped up the afternoon by driving through another of Hot Springs’ residential districts in search of Craftsman dwellings, but kept returning to the same conclusion: we really need to talk Chris out of his beautiful pine-green home, perched high on an outlook over Park Lane.  (After all, he did make the mistake of telling us he owns two other Hot Springs houses, so surely he can part with this one!)  Even without seeing the interior, we are certain that this would be the perfect place for us, especially since Hilltop Manor is not for sale.

Upon our arrival back at the Manor we responded to our bed’s incessant calls for us to return to its welcoming embrace for a siesta.  Okay, I know we hadn’t done all that much, but this IS a vacation, and I am always in favor of recharging my batteries with a nap.  (Naps, like youth, are wasted on the young…)  Post-unwind time, Gary descended to the alcove that houses the Manor’s substantial movie DVD collection and brought back the sublime and the ridiculous: Dallas Buyers’ Club and Ted.  Blithely unaware of the former’s intense subject matter, we inserted it and then embarked on what can only be described as an exercise in technology challenge.  Who would have thought that two relatively intelligent and educated adults would spend 30 minutes attempting to navigate the intricacies of a simple one-function DVD player and its companion flat-screen? 

After the movie (yes, we did figure out the electronics and, if you haven’t seen it, Matthew McConaughey gives a compelling, heartbreaking performance), we stumbled onto a quirky Denzel Washington film entitled Déjà Vu.  Suffice it to say that this movie does make one wonder just what sorts of secret research our government does have going on; ‘nuff said?


More tomorrow!

Hot Springs Arkansas...Tuesday, June 30 – Getting Acquainted

After a fabulous two-course breakfast with the soothing burble of the Manor’s rock fountain in the background, and an opportunity to visit with Jennifer’s dad Steve (a Hot Springs lawyer and title company owner), we were once again ready to head into the charming downtown area.  As we headed toward the centrally located free parking garage we actually passed the office of the realtor whom Steve had recommended for our search for retirement properties here, so we stopped in to start the process.

Chris Rix has a small two-story office tucked away on Exchange Street, and he has left the early-1900's space very evocative of the time of its construction.  After our ascent of the steep staircase to his office, the mutual brain-picking began: his of us to determine the budget, type of property and likes/dislikes that would play into our decision-making, and ours of him to ascertain where we could do a little sleuthing on our own for just the right neighborhood feel that we are looking for. 

Hot Springs is an eclectic jumble of architectural styles, ranging from high Victorian elegance to sadly abandoned Art Deco to the turn of the 19th century grandeur of Bathhouse Row.  All of the bathhouses save two have been re-purposed from their original salutary functions to such establishments as a brew pub/restaurant (the gelato alone is worth going in!) and the headquarters/Information Center of the local National Park Service. (Gary fell in love with the rocking chairs dispersed around the Center’s indoor lobby, to the point where I wasn’t sure I would be able to get him up and moving again!)  

Oddly enough, Central Avenue through downtown actually divides the Hot Springs National Park, so one has to be extremely careful about which side of the street one wants to commit mayhem on.  If you choose the west side it may only constitute a misdemeanor, but acting out on the east side could land one in the federal slammer!


We did the self-tour of the Information Center, which has preserved the bathhouse fixtures throughout.  I have to admit, some of the devices intended to improve one’s health present the aspect of medieval instruments of torture!  But I suppose that, back in the day, if one had exhausted all the remedies that the medical arts could afford for one’s ailments, you would agree to be subjected to just about anything in the hope of regaining your strength and well-being.

Our next objective was the Observation Tower perched atop the mountain in the east portion of the Park, so we began the drive up the tortuous series of switchbacks that comprise the road to the summit.  The views from the various turnouts were by turns impressive and lush, but the vista when we finally achieved the upper level of Tower was enormous.  I was tickled to hear a little girl who had ridden up the elevator with us tell her mother that she could see their house (in Louisiana!) from there.
 

Wending our way back down to town, we elected to head back south in order to scope out the environs of the thoroughbred race track as Chris had suggested.   Again we were met by the dichotomy in style and quality of housing that we had noted earlier, changing literally from one street to the next.  Returning to the downtown area we tooled around the area to the west of downtown where some of the Arts and Crafts style homes we love can be found.  We made notes using the map that Chris had provided; he is going to be one busy young man when he gets the email with all our discoveries for his investigation!

By this time we were ready for some down time, so it was back to Central Avenue for a tasty lunch in the Superior Bathhouse and Brewery -  remember the gelato reference?  This is where we indulged in our favorite flavor, which offered a rich chocolate base with an overlay of cinnamon and a  finish of cayenne (really!) - Amazing!

We had been observing some odd vehicles called “Ducks” that were transporting us tourist types around and, after a conversation with, and advice from, a nice young lady at the storefront where tickets could be purchased, we opted for joining the last ride of the day on one of these rolling oddities at 7:30.  We had been clued in to ask for a certain driver by a young mom while on the deck of the Observation Tower, but even after asking while obtaining tickets, we weren’t sure that we would be on his Duck; it was the luck of the draw…

A brief respite back at the Manor had us refreshed and ready for our Duck adventure, so we dutifully reported at 7:20 and climbed aboard the waiting open-air vehicle to await the rest of our fellow passengers and, more importantly, the driver of this beast.  Once all were accounted for, we began our graceless but steady progress southward through town toward Lake Hamilton.  The driver was a raucously witty raconteur of local history, with a 90-to-nothing spiel that flowed effortlessly from his lips over the primitive PA system in the Duck.  As we learned more about him, we found that we had indeed "lucked" into riding with the exact driver we had been advised to look for!  

Kevin had been, in various adult incarnations, a war correspondent for the AP, a high school history teacher in Hot Springs, a Coast Guard Captain and most recently a Duck Driver.   All of these careers had made him uniquely qualified to trundle tourists around the Hot Springs area, as the Duck is not only a land conveyance, but a sea- (or at least lake-) going vessel as well. 

The name DUKW comes from the model naming terminology used by GMC, the creators of these hybrid behemoths:
  •      "D", designed in 1942]
  •      "U", "utility"
  •      "K", all-wheel drive 
  •      "W", dual rear axles
One more note about the Duck itself: Since they were designed and manufactured during WWII for use in both the European and Pacific theaters, all the Ducks (some 22,000+) were put together by women – you go, girls!  Sadly, only about 700 of these ungainly creatures remain and, of those, only about 200 are still in any kind of use.  The remainder were sunk off the coasts of England and the Philippines after the cessation of hostilities.

Kevin bought us all back safe and sound to the debarkation site across from the iconic Arlington Hotel, after we had been out into Lake Hamilton where we “oohed” and “aahed” over the various celebrity homes that line its shore, and had many a good belly laugh along the way.  While some may think it a little bit cheesy, the Duck Tour was a hugely entertaining way to end our first full day in America’s first National Reservation (established in 1843). 

We drove back to our lovely pied-a-terre at the Manor with an enormous yellow moon to light our way; another relaxing, yet productive day.


More later!

Road trip to Hot Springs Arkansas...Monday, June 29, 2015 - And They're Off...

Wow – it’s been a while since we did a road trip, and even though it’s not as fatiguing as spending lots of hours in an airport and/or an airplane, it can still take a bit of a toll on the body and the brain.  However, it was refreshing (once we were able to get clear of the DFW Metroplex – more on that little hiccup shortly!) to get into East Texas, make the brief jaunt through southeastern Oklahoma, and ultimately cross over into Arkansas. 

Okay, here was the fly in the automobiling ointment, courtesy (we assumed) of TexDOT putting our tax dollars to work: We were tooling along nicely on I30 heading out of Big D when we lumbered into a parking lot of eighteen-wheelers and assorted other fellow travelers just prior to the bridge over Lake Ray Hubbard – ROAD WORK!  With the two left lanes closed (and the aforementioned road work nowhere in sight), crawling became the order of the moment as we inched our way toward the sweet release of the (once again) open road.  Fortunately, we only had to endure this for about 30 minutes before being turned loose to resume breakneck speeds out of our stomping grounds toward our more laid-back destination.

I wish I had a dollar for every logging truck that we encountered on and around State Highway 70; neither of us had any idea of the paper manufacturing that makes its home in this part of the country.  Once we made the connection, it was easy to discern and understand the impact that this industry has on the landscape, as we drove through miles of alternating clear-cut, new growth and mature growth forest.  The height of the trees (as compared with what we experience in Texas) reminded both of us of our home states (Maryland and Oregon), neither of which have to endure the blistering summers which keep Texas tree growth somewhat closer to the ground water.

We had decided that, rather than take the super-highway approach to arriving in Hot Springs, that we would enjoy the ambiance that less-traveled roads would afford; this turned out to be a happy choice, even though we sometimes found ourselves behind an individual who wanted to be a tad more leisurely in his back-roads wheeling than we were.  But the roads themselves are comfortable and comforting to drive on; often a slight jog to the left or right would open up onto a fleeting glimpse of mountain and valley, only for us to find ourselves again enveloped by the lush landscape that crowded itself seemingly to the edges of the tarmac. The small (and tiny) towns through which we drove provided a peek into a calmer way of life whose charms are often forgotten in the tumultuous lives we take for granted.  THIS is what we're searching for this week!

After a gourmet lunch of pulled chicken sandwiches eaten out of the cooler in the rear parking lot of a McDonald’s, we were on the home stretch of our journey to Hot Springs.  We had been gaining elevation throughout the first part of the day, but now we began a descent that culminated in our first breathtaking view of Lake Ouachita and the spectacular homes that share its shores.  We had made it to Hot Springs thanks to our AAA TripTik; now it was time for the GPS in the iPhone to take over for the fine-tuned navigation to the Hilltop Manor B&B where we had our reservations for the week.  (My parents [who pretty much wrote the book for me on road trips] would have been scandalized at this profligate use of technology to get where one wanted to go – the very idea!  It takes all the challenge and discovery [not to mention the aggravation] out of exploring the USA by car…  Sorry, Mom!)


Hilltop Manor – the pictures on its web site do not even BEGIN to do it justice!  We were met at the door by Jennifer, one of the owners, a wonderfully personable and accommodating 30-ish young lady who gave us a tour of this magnificent 7,000 square foot craftsman, built in 1910 on the east side of Hot Springs.  Much of the house is original (hardwood floors, interesting plate racks throughout the ground floor, roof), but the capacious rooms upstairs have been furbished with all the modern amenities.  We are pleasantly ensconced in the Rose Room, which occupies the entire southeast corner of the second floor, and whose interior is bathed in lovely outdoor light for the better part of the day. 

After getting ALL the stuff out of the car (another benefit of road trips over air travel!) and doing a little unpacking, we retreated to the large and inviting living/dining room on the first for floor with its impressive river-rock fireplace for some unwinding and FABs (festive adult beverages to you uninitiated types) courtesy of our hostess.  Jennifer had written out a list of must-do activities and places for us that dovetailed nicely with the list provided me by my awesome WW member Lauren (who is also a Hot Springs aficionado – thank you, Lauren!)


At Jennifer’s suggestion we went to the Ohio Club (built in 1905) in downtown Hot Springs for burgers and a preliminary look at the historic Bathhouses that line the town’s main drag.  The burgers were delicious as advertised, and the Club hosted a soulful young blues singer who serenaded us with what sounded like original compositions while accompanying himself on the guitar.  Afterwards we took a leisurely stroll up and down, with stops here and there for photos (to be seen here in the near future) of the picturesque structures and minute parks that vied for our attention.


Then it was back to the Hilltop for planning Tuesday’s expedition and an early bedtime, dreaming of breakfast with the hummingbirds on the Manor’s sprawling front porch!