Each year we make this trip, we always wonder what we’ll see and who we’ll meet. The trip never disappoints. This year though, I didn’t take as many photos because the weather was, well, CRAPPY! It seemed to be cold and cloudy everywhere we went. I don’t really mind cold if there is sun, but it was just miserable. The people we met along the way though, they were the sunshine:-) We started off our trip with a quick stop in Nashville, Tennessee. I found the Hotel Preston on Hotels.com and it did not disappoint. Great hotel, great price and close to the airport as we noticed lots of airline crews were checking in.
We asked for recommendations on places to eat and lots of folks mentioned the Loveless Cafe for breakfast. It was amazing. This little roadside cafe has turned into a major player in the Nashville area drawing thousands of visitors every year along with the locals. The food is definitely worth the wait. We got lucky and showed up at 9:00 am for breakfast and were seated right away. Just wonderful southern cooking:-) After leaving Nashville our first long drive was to Hot Springs, Arkansas. Now I have to admit that the only reason this was a stop on our trip was that it sat between Nashville and Dallas. I knew zero about the area, the town, or what we might see there. It wasn’t until we were about an hour outside of Hot Springs that I was googling info and I read this on Wikipedia:
The city is located deep within the Ouachita Mountains among the U.S. Interior Highlands, and is set among several natural hot springs for which the city is named. The center of Hot Springs is the oldest federal reserve in the United States, today preserved as Hot Springs National Park. The hot spring water has been popularly believed for centuries to possess medicinal properties, and was a subject of legend among several Native American tribes. Following federal protection in 1832, the city developed into a successful spa town. Incorporated in January 10, 1851, the city has been home to Major League Baseball spring training, illegal gambling, speakeasies and gangsters such as Al Capone, horse racing at Oaklawn Park, the Army and Navy Hospital, and 42nd President Bill Clinton.
Alrighty….so we have hot springs and bath houses, illegal gambling and Al Capone, horse racing and Bill Clinton hails from this town. It’s getting more interesting!
While planning our trip we booked a couple of stays through Airbnb. There are quite a few wonderful advantages booking through Airbnb. What I liked most is when renting a room in a home, you get to see that person’s life for what it is.
In Hot Springs we were the guest of Isabelle. A very sweet, outgoing lady who we fell in love with. She had wonderful information about the area and great food recommendations that we’ll get to later. As it usually happens on our trips, something gets said and within minutes we are old friends. Geri had noticed a tartan plaid in Isabelle’s house and asked it she was Scottish. Within minutes our hostess was telling us all about her family and we shared our heritage and love for all things Scottish. We loved every bit of our stay with Isabelle and we know if we are ever back in Hot Springs she’ll be on our list of visits.
Isabelle was sweet enough to take a photo of Geri and me. I really need to rethink the hairdo and the ENORMOUS cowlick. Isn’t your best friend suppose to warn you about those things??? 🙂Isabelle had given us food recommendations for Hot Springs and we decided to try a pizzeria that she said was really good. Now I have to preface this with a bit of snotty New Jersey prejudice. When you are from New Jersey or New York, and you are in Hot Springs, Arkansas, the idea of finding “great pizza” seems very unlikely. Even with a name like DeLuca Pizzeria, I was a tad bit skeptical. When we found the pizzeria right on the main road leading into downtown, it seemed as though the restaurant was hopping. We took a seat in the main dining area and could see some guy throwing pizza in the back. I like when I can see who is throwing the dough, at least I know who to blame if it sucks. Which it didn’t:-)
Geri and I decided on a fresh greens salad titled an Arkansas Natural Spring Mix Salad. How could it possibly be so wonderful?? Well, maybe its the water….I mean they are surrounded by tons of hot springs…but this salad was so basic but one of the most delicious salads I have ever consumed. The dressing was light and perfect. So DeLuca’s got a thumbs up for the salad, but really, it’s all about the pie.
We ordered a pie with mushrooms and prosciutto. We waited a generous amount of time for that bad boy to cook, but we didn’t notice as we were still finishing the salad. And then the pizza came. First off, it was gorgeous. Exactly the way my pizza should look….crust done with a few bubbles, cheese bubbling a bit and settling down, prosciutto charred a bit on the edges to add to the aroma. We loved that pizza. It was incredible….and in Arkansas no less. Go figure!
As we were finishing up the pizza thrower dude came out to say hello and he ended up being the owner, Anthony Valinoti. We told him how much we loved the pizza and he seemed genuinely happy and so appreciative of the compliments. We chatted briefly about how he ended up in Hot Springs, Arkansas from Brooklyn, New York and great conversation followed. Because he was busy that evening, I wasn’t able to take a photo of him until the following morning. We again chatted as only old friends do, and gave hugs and kisses all around as we headed on our way. If you are in Hot Springs, Arkansas and want amazing real Neapolitan pizza, this is the place. Thanks Anthony! (It wasn’t until after we left and become FB buddies that I realized that Anthony and I share a birthday. No wonder I liked him!)
We toured around Hot Springs a bit….you can see how cold it was…ice was forming on the fountain, but that didn’t stop the locals from coming from all over to get spring fed water. It really is very yummy. We did learn that out of the ground that water spouts at 143 degrees fahrenheit….62 degrees celsius for our European followers:-) The Bath Houses are spectacular and remind us of a by gone era……The main hotel on the strip is The Arlington. It must have been amazing in the 1920’s and 30’s back in it’s heyday. It’s still very beautifully on the inside, however the exterior is in need of a facelift. Leaving Hot Springs we headed for Dallas, Texas. The rain started on our trip there and never really stopped until we hit Arizona. So we opted for a few indoor activities. We head to the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University. We had lunch at Cafe 43 while we waited for the museum to open.
It was such a wonderful way to spend the afternoon. The museum exhibits were fascinating and beautifully presented in a 360 degree exhibit. We arrived on the last day of the White House Christmas exhibit which had artifacts from numerous presidents and their families. And as we left the Christmas exhibit a painting of a bird on a holly bush was the last item. This painting, by President Bush, was their Christmas card this year. Well done, George!
He looks as though he’s sweating:-) Just the rain!Our last stop before hitting Arizona was another Airbnb in Las Cruces, NM. We had a great nights sleep…or at least one of us did…on Padma’s farm. The owner of the property rents out her bunkhouse which is nestled in southern New Mexico. The bunkhouse itself was actually a prefabricated trailer, but it was beautifully decorated and was a great find for the night. The owner is a local real estate agent and was helpful guiding us to good food and shopping. Tons of pecan orchards just waiting for the frost to end and the next season to get started. In the adjacent town of Mesilla, you will find the smaller southern New Mexico version of Sante Fe. A beautiful little town that was part of the Gadsden Treaty of 1853 which consisted of portions of what is now southern New Mexico and southern Arizona. The land was purchased to allow the continuation of a transcontinental railroad. The town of Mesilla now boasts 50 unique stores, filled with art, jewelry, books, and clothing. The town was empty due to the freeze snap that was going on. We visited the Basilica of San Albino which dates back to 1850. Beautiful basilica and worth a look if you are in Mesilla.
I had Geri stand for this random photo. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind there is a photo that I remember. I thought it was a photo of Frida Kahlo standing in the street looking in the distance. She is wearing a long dress and white top…a traditional mexican outfit. I just can’t find the photo I’m thinking of. I’ve even posted the photo of Geri in B&W in case it triggers someone else’s memory. One night, in the distant future, I’ll wake up at 3 am and know EXACTLY what photo it is. Until then, if you know what I’m talking about, let me know.
Of course we shopped a bit in Mesilla. Meet Jorge, he owns a wonderful shop of beautiful silver jewelry called Silver Studio 925. He is a delight to chat with and we each picked out a variety of beautiful pieces. Great prices too! The other stop was the Nambe Foundry Outlet for gorgeous silver pieces for my home. The little town of Mesilla was a wonderful surprise and I would love to go back there when it isn’t so chilly and when more of the shops are open. We finally headed to destination of Gilbert, Arizona and for a good portion of the trip we were neck and neck with this passenger train:-) After arriving we had a fun day out at the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior, AZ. Great afternoon with my hubby, Geri and Geri’s childhood friend, Eva. After two years now, I’m just going to claim Eva as my own friend:-)
Such a great place to hang out, check out the desert plant life and have an easy hike around the grounds. While we were there I grabbed a few photos of my sister from another mother:-) I hope she knows that even though the weather was crappy this year, the adventure was so wonderful because I spent it with her! You truly are one of two favorite traveling companions! That goofy guy is the other one! Until next time:-)