Circa 2004, I was sitting in an interview for the job that would eventually move me from Utah to Las Vegas. The interviewer asked me “why would you want to move and make your career in Las Vegas rather than near your family in Utah?” I thought for a moment, and gave him the truest answer my baby
But Wait! That’s Not All! Bill Clinton grew up in Hot Springs, where I just spent a long weekend. He’s popular around his home town (he wasn’t born there, but he lived there most of his childhood and youth.) This is not a political post, but I thought that, as a public service, I might warn off those who may wish to be so warned off. That is all.
Hot Springs was surprising in a lot of ways. We went there because we each want to visit all 50 states, and we both needed to drop in on Arkansas. I like the South, I have relatives there, including an uncle from South Alabama, so the “southern” aspects of the place didn’t surprise me. Here’s what Hot Springs, Arkansas is:
Along the side of a mountain above the town, extending right down into the town, are a large number of places where hot water spews out with absolutely no effort on anyone’s part. A lot of hot water. Only one of these vents is still uncapped; it is in town, in a park that is a part of Hot Springs National Park, which is what the Postal Service and bus lines call the entire area. It’s easy enough to get in or out of the National Park: you need only wait for the pedestrian “WALK” signal and cross the street. On the National Park side of the street is what is known as “Bathhouse Row,” which has, for almost two centuries, been the site of an ever less ramshackle collection of places where one can immerse oneself in those same hot waters for a modest, or not in some cases, fee. Of course, the National Park is a lot bigger than a row of bathhouses, and it includes hiking trails, an observation tower, and a lot of trees. Such a lot of trees, says the guy who lives in the Mojave desert.
Back before the Chicago mob decided to move into Las Vegas, they hung out in Hot Springs whenever the law made things a tad uncomfortable in Chicago. Benjamin Siegal, for instance, used to hang out in one or another of the illegal gambling halls along Center Avenue. The Ohio Club is still open, and the food is quite good, but unless you’ve bought a lottery scratch ticket, you can’t really do any gambling there. The illegal business screeched to a halt when the State Police busted an owner and discovered a stash of gambling devices which they had given to the Mayor for him to destroy. The governor took over and made sure that they were destroyed properly, too bad for his (dis)honor.
The movie at Park Headquarters and Museum dramatizes a drummer for a “Doctor Adams” prior to the bathhouse business being cleaned up by the Park Service. The drummer convinced a fellow passenger on the train that “Doctor Adams really knows his livers!” You go, Doctor Adams. Adams was busted later. Not sure my liver(s?) is any heathier, but we did take the waters a bit.
We went first to the Buckstaff Bathhouse, which still does the old-fashioned, Pre-WWII, traditional bathing experience. After 20 minutes in a tub, I spent some time in a sitz bath (good for the lower back,) in a steam cabinet (yes, there still are such things, but I barely fit into one,) a shower that hit me from every direction, and a bench with hot towels draped over me. I don’t know if it helped me get healthy, but I surely got tired. The next day we went down the row to the Quapaw Bathhouse, which is modern, with pools of various temperatures, and we got massages. The massage was nice, but Quapaw charges a lot more than does Buckstaff.
We saw a listing of the mineral content of the water. It’s water. Even somebody from SoCal who is paranoid about tap water would drink it. Not sure it heals any better than anybody else’s water, but I did feel a part of something historic. That counts for something, I’m sure.
If you go, take a good appetite, as there are dozens of good restaurants in the actual hot springs area (near the bathhouses.) I was going to get some good stuff at Granny’s Kitchen, but when we got there we could see a fresh trench clear across the dining room. Guess our old neighborhood in Vegas isn’t the only place with drain issues. I’m afraid that the picture above is the only one I took, but the area is lovely. You’ll just have to trust me on that.
We visited the National Gallery on our first day. It is, in fact, next door to the Prime Minister’s office (see earlier post Into the Tame Yonder.) Oddly, it was okay to photograph most of the artworks, but we had to go all “back alley” to get this pic. Hope that isn’t Mr. Norton’s idea, because we are fans of his programme on the BBC. He is, as you might have guessed, Irish.
After the bus ride I more or less ran back to the hotel to drop off our packages of souvenirs, then walked back to the Savoy to rejoin Tami. We bought tickets to the Avengers movie later that evening, then went a few doors down to Murray’s, a bar and grill a few doors away from the Savoy Theatre where the movie was showing. As Murray’s says on their website, they feature Good Craic on Dublin’s O’Connell Street. Craic is pronounced like “crack,” and it means fun. Now you know as much Gaelic as I do. Hope it helps somehow. We ate light, for one thing we’d had lunch in mid-afternoon, for another, it was a movie and popcorn is almost mandatory.
The Savoy is a multiplex in an older building, so there are stairs. Lots of them. It’s up three to the ticket office/concession area, then up about twenty or more to the floor where the Avengers movie was playing, and then up some more steps to get into the theatre, and of course, up to the back, where we like to sit. Then Tami sent me down for some Popcorn and Coke. I ended up eating about half of the corn, and none of the Coke. And we watched Avengers: Infinity War. At this time, nothing to say. Either you’ve seen it, or you probably never will. And, yes, a rather abrupt ending.
The next morning after breakfast we went to the Dublin Writers’ Museum, which was only about half a block (2/5 of a metric block, I’m sure) up the street. They don’t seem to have a website of their own, so the link takes you to one of several Dublin tourism sites. There are, in case you didn’t know, a plethora of famous, and very talented, Irish writers in print. In the museum you learn of their personal lives, see some of their personal possessions, and maybe, if you’re like me, decide you’ll download a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses, after reading the description of the work on display. Haven’t started it yet, but it’s in the lineup, waiting it’s turn. After seeing the museum, we walked back to our hotel, packed, and met our car to the airport just before noon.
As for the trip, well, the food was a bit better on the return flight, we were ready to kill each other in LAX, then there were only 57 people on the 48 minute Southwest flight to Vegas, and we were home before 9:30 pm. Can’t just drop off to sleep at a time like that, so by the time I got to bed, I’d been up for 23 hours straight. (Got up at 11PM Friday evening PDT.) Whew!
And there’s my extended report on our recent trip to Ireland and Portugal. Oh, yes, we were also checking out places to retire. Verdicts? Nothing solid. Either country would be an excellent base for seeing Europe. Ireland, of course, is English Speaking by nature, which does give it a leg up. Of course, they drive on the left side of the road, but then, nobody’s perfect.
Goodbye, and Adeus!
This is the day we saw Avengers: Infinity War, but before that, we did this. The evening before we stopped in a storefront close by the Savoy Theatre and bought tickets from Wild Rover Tours for a bus to take us to Kilkenny, Wicklow, and Glendalough. We were to meet the bus at 08:00 in front of a hotel not far from our own, and also close by the Savoy, for what that’s worth. It was threatening rain. Our tour guide, one Peter, explained that it rains 270 days a year in Ireland, so that was no big deal. It’s cloudy 65 days a year in Las Vegas, so I get what he’s saying. It had been sunny for our entire visit to Ireland up to now, but reality was setting in. Fair enough. The bus took off promptly at 08:20. On the way out of Dublin, Tami was able to photograph a few curiosities. (Curiosities for an American, at any rate.)
The rain was relentless all that morning as we made our way along a motorway (think freeway) to Kilkenny. (Or Cill Chainnigh in Gaelic) The photo at the top of yesterday’s post was taken as we pulled into Kilkenny. We had a set amount of time there, about 2.5 hours as I recall, which Tami and I used to tour Kilkenny Castle, and to shop for souvenirs. The castle looks eminently un-defensible, but that is due to the nineteenth century wings added on to it.
Inside the castle is mostly décor and other remains of nineteenth century English occupation. Of course, it was always English, but originally much older. The tour includes a section of the oldest portion where you can see what remains of the very first construction, done many centuries ago.
Some photographs in (and through the windows of) Kilkenny Castle:
But Wait! There’s More!
Sure, seeing an old castle is fun and all, and walking through rain is more enjoyable to a Las Vegas desert rat than you might imagine. But, the tour went on. Back in the bus and off to Wicklow Gap. Ireland is called the “Emerald Isle.” Here are some pictures to show you why.
I took those three pix on the way to Kilkenny. Not exactly random, but not specially chosen, either. I tell you, the place is green as green can be!
But, on to Wicklow Gap. If you saw Braveheart, you saw Wicklow Gap. Scotland? I think not! It is pretty up there. And, when we were there, cold and rainy, too!
All three of these photos are of Wicklow Gap. The middle one, looking far over the mountains, is my favorite. The top pic is of some interesting rocks, and the bottom is of a tarn. (You can look that up if you’re not familiar with the term.)
So, Mel Gibson was here and his cast of thousands. The road is full of switchbacks, and my seat in the back of the bus was the subject of much reconsideration until we got down to the village of Wicklow. Wicklow has an abandoned monastery, a round tower, two lakes, a waterfall, and a restaurant/gift shop. Also, people live there.
It is where I photographed my lunch, as seen above. We took so long at lunch that we made it only to within sight of the first lake, never mind the waterfall or second lake. We didn’t even have time to visit the ruins of the monastery, but Tami did take some pictures of it.
No idea what that tower was used for by the monks. Keeping watch for marauding Norsemen, maybe. We were disappointed that lunch took so long, but the next leg of the trip was the best part, amazingly enough.
So good, in fact, that I’m saving a separate post for the sheep dog trials we got to witness. Great dogs, and Tami got to hold a little lamb!
After a late lunch in Porto we drove back down the A1, using ticketed tolls (yay!) to Lisbon. We parked the car in the underground garage beneath our hotel, walked out to dinner basically across the street (paella, available with chicken, ham, seafood, and maybe other stuff; we ate seafood) and got to bed in time to make an early start on our last day in Lisbon. We were booked on a redeye to Dublin, leaving at 10:30 (22:30) that evening, so we’d have a whole day to explore further. After breakfast, we packed, loaded up the car (which was down to about 15 litres of gas,) checked out, and walked out into Lisbon one last time.
As I mentioned last time, Lisbon feels oddly not foreign. It is, of course. There are no blue tile walls on the churches and office buildings of Las Vegas, that’s for sure. But we had no trouble this time refilling our subway/bus/tram cards and setting off into the wilds of Lisbon. We had pretty much already bought what we needed or wanted to; keychains, shirts for me, socks for Tami, and we’d been to the Castle. But there are funiculars in LIsbon, which is not the least bit level, which we’d never ridden. So, first thing we took a train to a stop near a funicular going up, up, up!
On the way to the top, or almost to the top, curious people were taking our picture.
And at the top? Views!
At the top of the funicular we kept walking up the same street for a while. We stopped in a couple of stores (Tami was hoping to find tea towels with owls on them for her mom) and saw an Irish restaurant.
As we were literally bound for Ireland later that day, we skipped this one. At the top we veered down a side street and found a nice park where we could warm a bench for a while and rest. In that park was a statue of a man who founded a newspaper. Nice to see the press respected for once. Note the newsboy distributing the papers.
As it happens, there is another funicular going down just on the lower end of this plaza. Here’s our car coming to get us.
On the way down we passed a no doubt traditional Portuguese eatery.
When we got down we were once again not far from a Metro stop. We also wanted lunch. As it happens, there is a lunch restaurant in the big aquarium down by the waterfront in Lisbon. It is called the Oceanarium. The linked page is in English. It’s a big enough place that I’m giving it its own post. You can get there quickly by clicking the link below.
Pronounce the title of this post in Portuguese and it rhymes. There. That’s a thing you know now. (Anybody else getting tired of that meme?) We spent one evening in Porto, plus the afternoon the next day. We drove in from our very nice hotel both days. Porto is an older city than Lisbon, and it looks it. There is what looks like a medieval church that was built in the nineteenth century. But it’s attached to a much older church that is closer to being authentic. The first thing I wanted to see was the Harry Potter bookstore, actually named Liveria Lello. Not the original name, but as you can see above, it works well in a movie about a magical library. Since it was a highlight, I’ll post a few more shots below. If you go, you must buy tickets next door, but they’ll credit your ticket price to what you purchase.
Porto is not all about Liveria Lello. It is a very old city. The Romans called it Calus, sometimes simply Portus, which taken together mean tranquil port, or peaceful port, quiet port, that sort of thing. The Portuguese call it “Portu,” never mind the spelling. The region is called Oporto, which is essentially “The Port” in Portuguese. So, Porto has lots of narrow streets, cobblestoned walkways, confusing street names, and some really high bridges across the Douro river. Across the river is Gaia, another classical name. If you say “Portu” and “Gaia” quickly one after the other, you’ll hear the origin of the name of the country. How ’bout ‘dat?
Porto features the most impressive façade of any McDonalds I’ve ever seen. Tami calls it the “Imperial” McDonalds. I don’t know the history of the place. Sorry.
Europeans seem to love Route66. (Search for Route66 on this blog for more about that highway.) Here is a pic from a store in Porto, close by the Harry Potter bookstore. Route 66 all over. We’ve found similar signs in other European countries as well. Have a look.
It’s an odd store. Some antique toys, some current items. Nice tops. We had a nice lunch around mid-afternoon, and then it was time to head back to Lisbon. The highway was all ticketed tolls, so that was a relief. *** As it happens, I got through to the website today and it was working. We owe nothing. You tell me why that is, but it’s good.*** We had one more day in Lisbon, as our plane didn’t leave until 10:30 at night. But, that’s a topic for another post.
That’s “Portoo,” to a native, by the way. Never said that language was easy. The next morning after breakfast we fired up our rental car, and our gps, and took off for Porto, which is roughly 300 km north of Lisbon. But wait! There’s More! We did not drive straight up the A1 to Porto, as one might be tempted to do if one consulted a map. Other places beckoned. Like Coimbra, for example.
Coimbra is a small city with a university, but they have a big old mall, and in that mall there is a food court, and in that food court we ate lunch. But, on the way there, we had to use toll roads. Now, that A1 I mentioned above is a toll road. You take a ticket on one end, put the ticket into the machine when you get off, and pay with cash or card. easy peasy. If only all toll roads were that way. In fact, we turned off on a different toll road, one that uses strictly electronic tolls. That’s easy: your account is debited when you pass through the toll point. Heck, there are a mess of such things in this country, too. Trouble is, our rental car came without a toll transponder. What to do?
About dos torres. You know Spanish, you got this sussed, right. Wrong-o, muchacho. Dos torres is the towers. Could be a hundred of them. The name refers to a castle up the road a ways.
What you do is go to any post office, give them your license number, and pay what you owe. You just have to wait 48 hours. Simple, right?
48 hours later was a national holiday, a celebration of the Carnation Revolution of 1974, and it is quite worth celebrating. The rebels asked the army to switch sides, and the army did! Since then, Portugal has been a democratic nation with freedom and personal rights. So, yeah, Carnation Revolution! Except that we couldn’t go to the post office. And that’s the night that we left the country. There is a web site where one can pay (couldn’t find it whilst still in country) but it isn’t working all that well right now. Oh, well, if you hear of us being hauled off to Portuguese jail for non-payment of tolls, you’ll know why.
After running up another toll or two (we probably owe 15 or 20 Euros) we arrived at our home for the night, near a town called Espinho, on the very coast. (I’m afraid I have brain farted away the name of the place, but it has a casino.) It is a lovely hotel, with beach access and a couple of nice swimming pools. You have to wear a swim cap to swim in the indoor pool. At €5 a pop, I imagine that they make a lot of money off of hair not getting to their filters. But, anyway, outside the door is this:
Our room looked out over that ocean. It’s the Atlantic, if you’re wondering. Portugal looks Mediterranean, but it isn’t. We walked down to the beach. Here’s Tami enjoying the waves.
That evening, we went into town. We returned the next day after checking out of our hotel. The only negative was that we had them do our laundry, which wasn’t done until noon. We lost half a day sitting in a hotel room. The breakfast was good, though. I will cover Porto all in one post, which will be the next one in line, I promise.
Sintra is a sort of glorified village not far outside of Lisbon. It is where we got what Tami called the best meal we ate on this trip (it was good.) Sintra is s lovely town, with two, count ’em, two castles! One is a Moorish castle that is in ruin, and in the process of being partially restored. The other is Pena castle, built by King Consort Ferdinand in the 19th century. We visited the latter one. That sleeping goose above lives there, on one of dos lagos (the lakes.)
A short aside on the Portuguese language. It is not Spanish. For instance, while there are two lakes, that is not what the “dos” in “dos lagos” means. The number two is “dois,” “dos” is the plural masculine article. Also note that the castle is named “Pena.” There is no “ñ” in Portuguese. If they wanted to indicate what sounds like Paynyah, they’d spell it “Penha.”
We parked across the road from the place where you buy tickets to the castle. The walk is about 640 meters, per the signs. Of course, the signs don’t mention that 600 meters is at a 20 or more degree slope upwards.
You could say that it took us a while to get there. But, there were diversions. The geese and ducks, for instance. A faux mosque like structure. A hothouse. And a moss green couch made of stone.
There is a train up and down, but not from where we parked. If you’re ever in Sintra, go to the upper parking lot and take the train. Eventually, we did reach Pena Castle, in all it’s glory. The story is that the King Consort was bored, as his job was if anything less important than our own Vice President’s. He amused himself by designing and building this playhouse of a castle. Once inside, up on the ramparts, you can get a decent view of the real, Moorish, castle across a valley.
That Moorish castle features genuine arrow slits, spiral staircases, all that good medieval defense stuff. Pena, not so much, but by golly he made it look nice, he did! Here are some highlights, including a view from the top.
Eventually, we walked back down. It’s an interesting place to visit, and lovely views make it even nicer.
When we arrived in Sintra there were what looked like about a gazillion scouts (girls and boys) in uniforms with the neckerchiefs and patches and scout leaders and all, clogging a place where we’d thought maybe we could park. (Just after that we saw a sign for the castle.) When we drove back down we had to drive around what now looked like a couple of zillion scouts on their way back to wherever they came from. Looked like what we used to call a Jamboree, back in Troop 471. Whatever it was, it was impressive to watch. And now, with the scouts no longer blocking the way, we could get to downtown Sintra. It wasn’t the easiest thing to find parking, but we found it, in a park full of art.
Then we ate what Tami says is the best meal we had on this trip. I had spaghetti, she had risotto. Both were excellent. We also drank Sangria. Italian and Spanish food in Portugal. Well, why not? I leave you now with a picture of this, our yummiest meal.
The picture above was taken a few meters short of the Westernmost Point on the European Continent, an official designation for, uh, that. I took the picture because it could easily be somewhere in California. A West Coast thing, maybe? Look nearby on this blog and you’ll see postings about the trip my wife and I recently took to Ireland and Portugal. The scene above is in Portugal, the place is called Cabo da Roca (Cape of the Rock) and it really is as far west at Europe goes. Hey, maybe an adventure starring Vasco da Gama as a ten-year-old boy standing here, gazing out at the Atlantic Ocean, wondering what adventure awaited out there? I doubt that he ever did that, but you know, he might’ve, right?
Everywhere I’ve travelled I have come across inspiration either for stories directly, or inspiration to follow themes (go Vasco, go!) that may lead to stories. Travel, they say (all of them, trust me) is broadening. I learned some fascinating (and broadening) history of both Portugal and Ireland on this trip. (More details are available in other posts.) You don’t necessarily need to go to Portugal to be inspired, but getting the heck out of your daily routine is a good way to start looking for inspiration. The real Vasco da Gama didn’t stay home, after all. He sailed beyond the known world in small wooden ships, and made himself and Portugal a fortune in the process. He was inspired to find new lands. I’m inspired to develop newer and better lies with which to entertain people. It works, both ways.
Good old Vasco; Vasco and me, we’re as tight as this!
On our first afternoon in Dubllin, we walked out from our hotel to check out the surroundings. A couple of first impressions follow. First, Dublin is not a tall city. London has those pointy things a thousand feet (more or less, I think) in the air. New York is famous for height. Even Las Vegas, where we live, has some damned tall buildings. Not Dublin.
The Liffey runs through the heart of Dublin. It appears to be estuarial by this point. If this were the Chicago River, you’d see some of the world’s tallest buildings along it. This is Dublin, and that tower next to the sun may be the tallest structure in town, for all I know. It’s about as tall as things get, at any rate.
Second, if London were a reasonable place to exist, it would be Dublin. An extremely comfortable feeling World Capital.
The riverfront is, no surprise, a trendy area with lovely views and many attractions. One of the views that is also a bit of an attraction is the Samuel Beckett bridge. As a friend told me, don’t wait for Godot there, he won’t show. The cables holding it together form the shape of an Irish harp. It does not produce sounds in a wind, however, unlike Celtic harps of yore.
Whilst walking, we found a bistro bar called Foley’s. Foley’s serves many dishes, including cheeseburgers. It is on Baggot Street at Merrion Row, not far from the Gaelic sign posted in my last post. You’d think Irish cheeseburgers maybe weren’t up to fine American standards, but you’d be wrong. I have, all my life, been testing cheeseburgers in various locations. My best, and I’m sticking with this, (I guess I should call it my favorite ’cause I don’t make it) is at Annie’s Parlor in Minneapolis. My second-favorite is at Foley’s. Irish beef, it turns out, is just as famed as Nebraska beef, and it really does make for an excellent cheeseburger. The toppings they use, of course, contribute as well.
We continued our walk, but didn’t stop in anywhere else. The first day eight time zones east isn’t the best time to buy souvenirs. We did see the EPIC museum of the Irish diaspora, but didn’t go in. Tami and I both have Irish connections in our family histories. Me, I go back to a certain Mister McDaniel. I’ll have more about that fact, and the EPIC experience later. After an evening tiring ourselves out, we walked back to our quaint room and treated ourselves to a good night’s sleep.