Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Latest Informal Class - England, the North Country

I'm catching up on my blogging this morning.  It's such a lovely, quiet day!

Maybe you think that with all this traveling to the Ozarks, I'd forgotten about England.  LOL Oh ye of little faith!

No, I'm diligently gearing things up for my trip in May.  I have the structure around what I want to do, but not too many details.  I'm doing my best to keep things as open as possible to allowing me to spontaneously visit places, hike, visit friends, or whatever!

But, that doesn't mean I don't *think* about the UK.  A lot.  Yes, the grass may always be greener, but when you live in a place where one-legged men stand in front of the convenience store dropping their trousers or sirens wail every fifteen minutes... you honestly need something to daydream about.

My mom thinks I can find prettier sights here in the US and doesn't know why I want to travel so far to see what I see and do what I do.  All I can respond is that ... I have the bug.

And, one of my greatest joys is to share that bug with others!  I have lived and traveled in the UK a lot over the years.  Thanks to my friend Sharon Williams , I finally overcame my fear and pushed myself to sign on with University of Texas Informal Classes.  October 27th was my third class on the North of England.

Mom came along (thanks for schlepping some of the course material, mom!) and we spent a good three hours talking with the few folks who showed up on a Saturday morning for the course.

My classes are a mixture of history, cultural anomalies, travel destinations and tips, logistics, and a breathtaking look at the North of England through David Dimbeby's "A Picture of Britain" BBC tv series as well as a personal compilation video from some of my trips.

The best part of the class, to me, is to hear what the attendees have to say.  The questions they ask, or the tips they give me that I may not have thought of before!

I mentioned to this class that no one knows all there is to know about Austin.  How much less can I know about Great Britain?  What I *can* tell you is that I lived there, I travel there as frequently as possible, and that I will research and respond to any questions they might have.

There was a person in one class who wanted to know how big the Lake District National Park was!  I didn't have that on the tip of my tongue. I now know it's 900 square miles and the largest national park in England and Wales.  See?

Another student told me that the Venn diagram I was using wasn't correct and that India was not a commonwealth nation.  Someone in the class pointed out that India *was* in the Commonwealth of Nations.  Just not the Commonwealth Realm.

So, yes, I learn as I go.  And maybe someday, I'll know *everything* there is to know about 1 square foot of England... but that, my friends, will take me a lifetime!

To the Ozarks... and Beyond

I just returned from a whirlwind vacation to Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  And what a lovely visit it was!  I thought I’d share it here so you can get an idea of what’s available to you if you take the (relatively) short sprint up to Arkansas’ Northwest corner.

Friday, October 12 – My birthday!

I got up fairly early (even for me!) and was on the road by 5:30 A.M.  The plan was to drop the pups off at their kennel and then hit the open road.  Covered Wagon Kennels is located in Hutto, TX.  I’ve been recommending them for years and they’re, really, the only folks I trust with my dogs.  The kennels are large and are indoor/outdoor, and the Repass’ are some of the best folks I ever met!

Anyway, with doggies dropped off, I headed north on I-35.

I’ve only been this route once before and that was about four years ago, so I was seeing things again for the first time!

I stopped at the Czech stop in West, Texas to pick up world-famous kolaches for Crystal (who has never heard of kolaches!).

The biggest thrill was arriving at the Oklahoma border and being overwhelmed with everything Native American.  Though… it looks like the Native Americans have a pretty healthy gambling habit!

The rest of the drive through the state was pretty uneventful (read that as boring).  No interesting scenery to speak of.  No cool stuff visible from the road (other than the huge lake at Eufaula). 

Crossing into Arkansas was not much better.  The drive on 40E to Fort Smith is pretty much a snoozer.  It’s when you arrive at I540 and begin heading north of Fort Smith that you begin to realize what a beautiful state this really is.

The road is magnificent – especially the closer you get to Fayetteville and Bentonville.  Bentonville, as you may know, is the headquarters of Wal-Mart.  But, to me, that’s not the high point of the area.  It’s the rolling hills, the beautiful foliage… and the fresh produce stands!

At Rogers (just outside Bentonville), you take a right at Highway 62 and on to Eureka Springs!  I was very lucky to have some good friends who live just outside of town and spent my weekend in a lovely guest house that overlooks the White River.

I arrived around 4:30 pm and was greeted by my friends Doc and Crystal and their sweet puppies, Foxy and Wolfie.  

After a lovely meal that couldn’t be beat… as well as a homemade German Chocolate birthday cake a’ la Crystal…I hit the bed and fell into a coma.

Saturday, October 13

Today was Diane’s birthday, so I called her and sang the birthday song.  Yes, with flourishes and many sour notes – but my heart was in it. J

Crystal had made homemade pumpkin pancakes and fresh fruit for breakfast (which was yummy beyond belief).  We then headed out for a local scenic spot known as the Blue Spring Heritage Center.  The good news was that the spring was still there.  The bad news was that all the lovely garden flowers had mostly gone over (it was the end of the season).  They also had a problem with the water feeding the spring, and were in the process of digging up much of the area.  It was muddy (that’s the gist of it).

But, the highlight was the beautiful leaf show and the gift shop.  Avoid the money grubbing coke machine at all costs!

Let’s go home for lunch! Oh yes… J  Crystal always cooks fresh and good.  We had some fresh tomato and cheese sandwiches with fresh fruit. 

And then… let the shopping begin! 

Downtown Eureka Springs is very quaint.  The town is built on some steep hills.  Old buildings dot the streets and the Amphitheater marks the center of town where musicians, card readers, and artists gather to play, sell, and create some of the magic that IS Eureka Springs. 

We shopped at all the stores.  Jewelry stores, clothing stores, candy stores… you name it, we were there!  Eureka Springs is known for its local artists.  I must say, I rarely spend money on jewelry, but I got two very beautiful unique sets of earrings that were only about $30 apiece!

There were sock stores and quilt stores… and restaurants all over the place!

I was smitten by the onslaught of creativity and genius and changing leaves.  And a little bit by the insidious idea that somewhere, there were autistic twins playing banjo and laying in wait.

After our long day in town, we returned home to rest up for dinner.  I was taking us out to a place called Local Flavor which had a nice array of fresh foods and a table located (after a brief talk with the hostess) in a nice corner at one side of the establishment.

Food and service were good, and I was very happy to have come so far to see old friends and enjoy new surroundings.

October 14, Sunday

Woke up early, but Doc and Crystal were nowhere to be seen.  Foxy was howling in the garage, so I rapped on the front door and got everyone stirring.  Poor Foxy was just ready to get fed and roam! 

I made some eggs and toast (my regular breakfast) before heading to Pea Ridge Military History museum.  Doc and Crystal weren’t very keen on going, so I popped into the car and headed on my way.

Pea Ridge was one of the first battles of the civil war.  It seems each side had a vested interest in wanting to take Missouri for their side. This was the decisive battle.  The south outnumbered the north by quite a bit, and should have won.  But, they had a brash young leader who (and I can’t believe ANY commander would do this)… sent his men behind company lines with no supplies and no backup ammo.

You can guess the rest.

At various points, the different sides took over the Elk Horn tavern (the only building in the area) to use as a base and makeshift medical hospital.  

There was also a little memorial area with three statues.  It seemed pretty southern-oriented in its memorialization, but I found the statues very interesting.

The museum itself was very well done.  Bits and bobs from the war.  A wonderful 30-minute movie introduction.  Nice gift shop.  But, what I really enjoyed most was the driving tour.  The tour takes you along part of the Cherokee Trail of Tears, through important battle sites, and through some of the most beautiful scenery I’d seen to date.

I was sorry Doc and Crystal hadn’t come, but glad I got to experience this awesome site and highly recommend it to area visitors.

Returning home, we had some lunch before Crystal and I made it into town once again. 

I had decided I wanted to get my cards read by the person with a table at the town’s amphitheater.  Now, there are some readers who are very good and insightful.  I know one in Austin.  A good reader is more of a good counselor than anything else… someone intuitive and someone who (many times) will give you more of a straight answer than a professional counselor.  But then, there are the others.  This was one of those…

His name was Robert and he wreaked of alcohol.  I had to ask him to put out the cigarette he was smoking before we started (I had TONS of misgivings at this point).  Five minutes into the reading, I just wanted to leave.  He boasted about being a “pagan priest”… and then began using a book to help him read the cards.  He rambled as if I had the entire day to spend with him, and I finally had to cut him off and tell him I had to go.  He got very upset with me… but that’s ok.  He got 15 dollars and I learned not to get my cards read in Eureka Springs!

Eureka Springs, like Austin, is full of characters and charm.

Crystal and I shopped at several great stores and enjoyed another lovely afternoon of doing nothing in particular. J  I got a Lilliputian sized "pot belly" Henry VIII at one store (to go with the one I had of Elizabeth I).

 Picked up some fudge for my co-workers (who are extremely chocolate obsessed) from "The Two Dumb Dames" fudge store, and then we made our way back home to dinner and one last slice of German Chocolate birthday cake!

I told Luis and Crystal I’d be leaving very early the next morning, so we said our goodbyes and went to bed.

October 15, Monday

5:30 AM, I got up and swept through the house – packing, cleaning and picking up, loading the car… I had a long day’s drive, and I wanted plenty of lead time.

I picked up an egg biscuit from McDonald’s in Rogers (since I couldn’t find the taco place Crystal and Doc had mentioned), and onward I went.  Unfortunately for me, I passed through the most scenic areas before sunrise.  I had hoped to get some fabulous pictures like I’d done the past trip I’d made there.  But, so it goes.  I pushed onward toward Durant, OK where I was supposed to have lunch with an old high school band mate, Rita Rains.  On the way, I stopped at an Amish shoppe which featured homemade Amish jams, jellies, and (of course) fudge!  I picked some up for Rita and a little for myself.

What a lovely time Rita and I had catching up on things.  We share a deep love of dogs and, I think, a love of life and people.  It’s been a hard life, but good and the lunch was so much fun.  Rita is friends with many of my old friends from high school like Lyle Tompkins, Glenda Pittman, and others.  You know, I never really ran with any crowds (other than the band crowds) in high school, but I always enjoy seeing the people from back then and learning how their lives have turned out.  Rita works for her brother (a doctor) in the area.  I missed meeting her babies because one of them is a bit picky about meeting new people and we didn’t have time to acclimate me with her.  But, maybe next time. J

I headed out and planned to stop by the Peanut Shoppe before crossing the Texas border.  I loved the shop last time I’d stopped by on my trip, and this time I did as well.  Peanuts, pecans, and other nuts prepared about any way you’d like them (and I always like them in the most fattening ways!).  I picked up a bag of toffee peanuts and had to throw out the last of it before I ate myself into a peanut-induced stupor!

The rest of the trip was uneventful with one stop on the way to change into cooler clothes (it was heating up FAST!).  Picked up the pups from Geri and Jim’s kennels, and headed home.

All-in-all, for a quick trip – you can’t beat the Ozarks in the Fall.  There’s a lot more to do than I did, and I’d hoped to do more hiking (it rained much of the time I was there).  But, then, there’s ALWAYS next time. J