Since the boys were gone last week and Billy had Good Friday off work, we decided to take a quick trip to Hot Springs, AR. We left Thursday afternoon and made it there about 4 1/2 hours later.
I highly recommend staying at a Holiday Inn Express. Our room was clean, spacious, and came with a mini-fridge and free wireless internet. The free hot breakfast is pretty good, too! The first morning I ate a biscuit with sausage and gravy - a little heavier than normal since we were going to be hiking on Hot Springs Mountain. The second morning I went lighter - a toasted English muffin with butter and seedless blackberry jam. Yum! Other offerings included fried eggs (Friday morning), scrambled eggs (Saturday morning), cinnamon rolls, bagels, toast, yogurt, cereal, bananas, boiled eggs, and applesauce. Drink choices included water, milk, coffee, and apple, orange, and cranberry juices.
We had planned to pick up a burger or something from a nearby fast food restaurant when we got into town because we wanted to be sure we were in our room to watch LOST. But as we pulled in to the hotel parking lot, we saw a Bennigan's located right in front of the hotel. After checking in, we walked over to place our order. We figured it would be ready to pick up by the time we had unloaded our luggage. The lady who took our order said they deliver to our hotel and the one on the other side of the restaurant, so we took her up on it. We ordered our burgers and fries, went back to our room, and enjoyed watching some of Miss Guided while we waited for our addiction to begin. After half an hour, Billy called the restaurant to see why our order was taking so long. Whoever he talked with said, "She's going out the door right now." A few minutes later, our food arrived.
We left the hotel before 8:00 a.m., headed to Wal-Mart to buy a few gallons of drinking water so we could fill up our hydration bladders in our backpacks. We wandered around the store a while since it was still a little early, then finally headed to the checkout. Not long after that, we were pulling into the parking garage in downtown Hot Springs. Thinking parking was still free, we didn't carry any quarters with us, but as we pulled into the building, we saw a notice that it was now paid parking. We rummaged around and found a few quarters to feed the meter while we walked around downtown trying to find somewhere that was open and would give us change. We ended up in the lobby of the Arlington Hotel, where we bought a roll of quarters. We walked back to the garage, gathered all our gear for our hike, and fed our meter enough quarters to last until 5:00 p.m.
We stopped off at the visitor's center to get trail maps, then headed toward Arlington Lawn and the trailhead. I thought I was going to do okay starting off. I mean I walked a mile in 17 minutes just a few days before. I wasn't taking into consideration the incline, whereas the track I walk on every week is f.l.a.t. I was huffing and puffing halfway up the incline, and this was just the first five minutes! Thankfully the whole hike wasn't that steep! From Peak Trail (our starting point), we connected with Hot Springs Mountain Trail. After a while, we found a bench and sat down to have a snack. I had noticed that my jeans felt a little heavy, like they were sliding down, but I couldn't imagine why. When I stood up from the bench and started to put my backpack back on, I realized my hydration bladder was leaking. This was the first time it had been used, so I was disappointed, thinking it had a leak. Billy took it out of the pack and found that the hose on the bottom wasn't screwed on tight. He fixed it quickly, and I walked around with a wet rear the rest of the hike.
We had intended to hike all the way around Hot Springs Mountain Trail, then come back down Peak and back into downtown. Instead we found Gulpha Gorge Trail, which was pretty strenuous and led in a different direction. Then we veered off onto Dead Chief Trail, which was even more strenuous. The last bit was a steep downhill trail that wreaked havoc on my knees. After 3 hours and 3 miles of trails, we rejoined the civilization of the downtown area.
Most of the trees along the trail were just beginning to bud, and a few had some white flowers on them, but I wasn't sure what they were. I saw one tree that bent at an awkward angle and had ferns growing along the bend. We saw one tree that had split, then peeled in half all the way to the ground. Along Dead Chief Trail, we started seeing small magnolia trees growing here and there among among hickory, pine, and other sorts. The shiny, bright green leaves were a stark contrast the the browns of dead leaves and the deep shades of the evergreens. We also came upon several small streams that crossed the trails. It was nice to stop at them and listen to the trickle of the water.
Bath House Row
After we finished our hike, we strolled back to the van to unload our gear. By that time, my jeans were almost dry. We first headed over to tour one of the old bath houses that also serves as a visitor center. I can't imagine what it would've been like to be a patron there. Some of the showers (I guess for the "needle showers") looked like gas chambers from WWII. The massage therapy rooms and equipment looked like torture devices. It was very interesting to see.
Buckstaff Bath House is still in operation there, and has been continuously since 1912, Quapaw Bath House is currently undergoing renovations. I don't know if that's to make it ready for tours or as another working bath house. The other bath houses are closed to the public. I really can't see myself using a public bath house like that. I'm sure there are all sorts of regulations on cleanliness, but I still don't think I could bring myself to use one.
We went in several shops, but the only thing we bought was ice cream... We wandered into a candy store that had all sorts of chocolate treasures. Along the back half of the counter, was a freezer with several flavors of ice cream. Of course I got chocolate peanut butter! It was sooooo good; I wished I had gotten two scoops instead of one, but I didn't need that much...
PoMonkey had mentioned an art shop that sold paintings of monkeys in Victorian clothing (a story she needs to share) and wondered if it was still there. It is! It's called Tara's Affordable Art (or something similar). We saw several Victorian monkeys on all sizes of canvas. I thought about taking a picture of one, but I figured the store owner wouldn't appreciate it at all... Don't worry, there were other paintings, too.
One store we went into sold strands of natural stone beads. The only type different from what I can get around here was dinosaur bone beads. I'm not sure how authentic they are... I spent quite a while looking at all the different beads, but nothing really caught my eye.
The last store we went into had something I'd never heard of before: Crystal Singing Bowls. While Billy and I were standing there looking at them and wondering what they were, one of the store clerks came up and started playing them and telling us about them. Each bowl is a different size, and when struck with a suede-covered stick, plays a different musical note. When you rub the stick around the outside edge of the bowl, the tone gets louder and more haunting. It was beautiful. Very New Age. And very expensive. The smallest one was $120, I believe. Billy and I took turns playing with them for a few minutes, then finally worked up the strength to walk on our sore feet back to the parking garage.
We were really looking forward to going out to eat at one of our favorite Italian restaurants in Hot Springs: Facci's. I had first been there nearly 30 years ago (yes, 30!) when my grandparents took my cousin Eric and me on a trip there. We went again on another trip, then Memaw, Aunt Sue, and Leigh Ann and I went another time. Every year it was good. When Billy and I honeymooned in Hot Springs, we ate there, and again on a return trip a few years later. The last time we were in Hot Springs together, we saw the restaurant had burned down. You can't imagine my disappointment. Facci's was tradition! I thought to check before this trip and found they had opened again, right next door to their old location. I was thrilled!
After we sat down and ordered our lasagna, salad (for me), soup (for Billy), and drinks, they brought out some wonderfully delicious - and piping hot - focaccia bread with some olive oil and balsamic vinegar for dipping. It was heavenly. Our salad and soup came, and they were really good. Shortly our main dish was brought to the table. The dinner plates were completely covered with lasagna and sauce, with two huge meatballs perched on top. I eagerly took my first bite. Ehhh. Not so good. It was edible, but it wasn't anything like I had remembered. Still, I ate. I was starving. When I was finally getting full, I tasted each thing on my plate separately. The lasagna was full of too much ricotta cheese and the noodles were overcooked. It was all the same taste and texture. The sauce had the slightest hint of garlic, and I could see a little seasoning in it, but it tasted mostly like tomato sauce. The meatballs, when eaten in the same bite with lasagna and sauce, weren't bad. But when eaten alone, there was not much taste other than salt. Should we ever make it to Hot Springs again, I don't think we'll be going back to Facci's.
After another free hot breakfast at the hotel, we headed toward Shreveport to meet Billy's parents and pick up the boys. We met for lunch at Country Tavern, hoping it would be as good as we remembered. (I don't think we'd been there in about 5 1/2 years.) It was. And when our waitress brought out our hot washcloths for our hands, Jacob decided he needs one every night...
We made it home by 4:00 p.m. and were all feeling pretty worn from our time away from home. I got the boys into bed later than I wanted to, then Billy and I stayed up a little longer to watch an episode or two of The Office and wind down. Then I crashed. Hard.
It was a really fast trip, but it was good. It was physically tiring for Billy, which he needed. He gets mentally tired after working and going to class during the day and studying for a few hours each night. He thinks he hasn't been sleeping well because he hasn't been physically active. Maybe now that he and Caleb have new bikes, they can start riding a few times a week to get some fresh air and exercise together. (Once Jacob learns to ride, I'll get a bike and we can all ride as a family. I'm looking forward to that!)