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!
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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?