Little Rock

We had a nice morning at the Clinton Presidential Library. 42nd’s compares favorably with 41’s which we visited in College Station a few years back. And sadly they have begun construction of Bill and Hillary’s final resting place, which interestingly appears to have a circular design much like George and Barbara’s.

The building is built on the former train yard at the east end of Little Rock on the Arkansas River. It is adjacent to an old train bridge which is now pedestrian and is part of the Arkansas River Trail. The building was intended to read as a bridge harking back to Clinton’s campaign theme of building a bridge to the 21st century.

The building’s interior design was also influenced by Trinity College Library in Edinburgh.

The exhibits were as expected, exploring the high and low points of Clinton’s presidency but I have to say the morning made me yearn for a president again who I believe really cared about all the citizens of our country. Of course the booming economy during Bill’s 8 years would be nice too! There were full scale replicas of the Cabinet Room and the Oval Office and displays of the various gifts, letters and daily schedules. And of course the Presidential Limo.

After leaving the Library, we swung by the Arkansas capitol building and then headed towards Jackson.

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Eureka Springs.

We made it to Eureka Springs just before dark yesterday. After checking into our motel (yes motel-think 1964 Howard Johnson without the clam roll) and went into the historic area. It is very interesting. Because it is in the hilly Ozarks, “downtown” is a series of meandering hilly streets filled with artsy shops-98% of which were closed for the season. From what we can gather, this part of the Ozarks is a popular summer resort area. We wondered if it wasn’t to Razorbacks what the Catskills was to New York Jewish folks.

Throughout the town, there are grottos at each of the springs for which the town is named. They are decorated for Christmas like much of the rest of town.

We stopped in the Crescent Hotel which dates from the 1800s. In addition to its decorations they were hosting a charity Christmas Tree contest.

We also drove through the Christmas Light display at “The Great Passion Play” grounds. Though hard to see in the picture below of one side of the drive, the Christmas tree display was pretty amazing-the entire parking lot was filled with trees 300? 400? A billion?

The driveway ended at Arkansas’ attempt to be Rio with the Christ of the Ozarks.

We had dinner at the #2 Trip Advisor recommended restaurant, Ermillio’s. #1 was closed on Wednesday. Our meal was great! They welcomed us with a bowl of roasted garlic, butter and delicious bread. We shared an appetizer of sautéed artichoke hearts and then we halfed and halfed lasagna and eggplant Parmesan. So so good!

This morning we visited the reason for our trip here, Thorncrown Chapel-the title picture of this post. This chapel was built in 1980 and I was lucky enough to host the Architect, E Fay Jones when we lectured at Clemson. The chapel was designed to minimally impact the environment with all the construction materials being able to be handcarried by two people. Mr Jones described it as Ozark Gothic. Mike remarked that it is the perfect church-simple, stately, part of nature yet separate from it. I have wanted to see it in person since the first time I saw photos of it. The chapel was the 1980’s addition to the most important American buildings. I was shocked when the phrase I used as one (of what I presume were many) who nominated it for this honor was used as the opening paragraph in the AIA journal announcing the addition. I said it was “the only complete architectural thought of the last ten years”. I was so glad to find out that this statement holds true and perhaps for more than just that decade!

St. Louis

We had an uneventful trip to St. Louis and arrived about 3 pm CST and checked into the Hampton Inn about three blocks from the Gateway Arch, the reason we wanted to come to St. Louis.

The arch is built between the river and downtown. This part of town was the original settlement but during a fire that started on a river boat and spread to the riverside buildings, the area was destroyed-some of it as a fire block to the rest of town.

The arch was designed by Eero Saarinen as a monument to the western expansion of the United States and was completed in 1968. It is the world’s tallest arch. At 630 feet high (and wide) and made of shiny stainless steel it is visible from far away-we first saw it when we were 10 or 12 miles away.

The National Park around the arch is beautiful and appears to be well used by St. Louisians(?) even on a cold day like today. We enjoyed our walk through the new plaza that crosses over the now buried interstate to reach the below grade entrance to the arch. After checking out the sample cart that one rides to the top, we decided that they weren’t built for big boys. The idea of the two of us sharing it with three others did make us laugh though!

Mike who doesn’t like heights was happy with this decision and after being cooped up in the car the last two days, we enjoyed our walk around the beautiful park and along the mighty Mississippi. Of course the arch remained the focus.

The shapes of the arch make for some interesting abstract photos.

We left the park at the north and walked through the older part of St. Louis which was brick warehouses now lofts and an entertainment district. I had originally identified a Trip Advisor recommended BBQ restaurant but after our big lunch we decided we wouldn’t enjoy it. So instead we stopped in a brewery and had a beer apiece and split two appetizers-pretzels with incredible beer cheese and a delicious crab cake. We didn’t have high hopes for it but was really tasty. Best of all everything was half price for happy hour!

Tomorrow we are headed to Eureka Springs but as it’s only 5 hours away and we don’t have any plans there until Thursday morning we are looking forward to having s lazy day and being able to stop along the way as we want.

Sagrada Familia.

Mike and I visited Barcelona in the 1990s as part of a whirlwind 10 day trip that included Madrid. At that time, Sagrada Familia only had Nativity and Passion entrances, and the towers associated with them. There was no roof over and hardly any columns in the nave. We had intended to visit the interior when we were in Barcelona last May with Mike’s brother and his family. However, I apparently failed to hit the purchase button to buy the tickets so we wandered the outside while they toured inside.

Thankfully we had a second chance and we really enjoyed our morning inside the basilica. I rarely get emotional over architecture but that wasn’t the case here. It is an incredible building. On a macro scale it is powerful but the details are really striking. No matter where you look, you see something new, innovative and inspiring. Unfortunately the pictures can’t give you the full impression. If you have the opportunity, please go. I know we hope to be around to make it back after they complete it (only 10 more towers to go!) in 2026…of course I think when we visited 25-30 years ago they hoped to have it done by 2010 or something…so we will see how it goes.

Below are pictures of the altar, the nave including the incredible effect of the stained glass windows.

We also visited the sacristy, the space used to store the priests supplies and vestments and where they prepare for mass. As a former altar boy, where we used a closet for a similar purpose, I hope you will trust me when I say Gaudi created the most beautiful space I’ve ever seen-he also designed the storage units.

As some readers may recall, when we were in Barcelona previously we had a wonder tapas experience at a little restaurant near our hotel and the Triumphal Arc, Elsa y Fred. Six other couples from the larger Cruise Critic that rode the metro together from the port to the church joined us to walk to the restaurant for lunch. While delicious, Mike and I agreed we wished we had of just ordered tapas rather than the meal of the day. Each of the three courses had two offerings so we had all six dishes and just halfed and halfed then between us. Of course we had to have their delicious octopus..and it was just as good as we remembered!

Appetizers were a delicious pea soup and a salad.

The main dishes were risotto with seafood and a really tasty sausage plate. Unfortunately no pictures of dessert.

After lunch we headed through the Gothic Quarter towards La Rambla, the pedestrian street that runs for many blocks. Along the way we happened upon a beautiful performance palace. I would like to go back and tour it’s interior. We also happened upon an ancient church which was the polar opposite (by just as impressive in its simplicity) to Sagrada Familia.

After getting to La Rambla, we wandered it back towards the port. All in all a wonderful day and a good walk-5.9 miles!

While I used the port terminals WiFi to post some overdue blogs, Mike went aboard and learned we wouldn’t be leaving as scheduled due to the weather predictions at Funchal. I’m writing this a week later in the middle of the Atlantic and the ship is still full of rumors as to whether it was the weather or the repairs that delayed us. Who knows and frankly I don’t really care.

We discussed using the extra day in Barcelona to explore some more of the city but that long walk the day before took it out of us and after not waking until almost 10 am, we elected to treat it as a sea day and do what we now do best. Nada!

Edinburgh.

Yes, I know this post is at least two weeks late. Sorry about that but I’m retired ya know and can’t be but so bothered by deadlines. LOL

After saying goodbye to our wonderful hosts Jenny and Bryan as they started their drive back to Aberdeen and a short train ride from Glasgow, we arrived in Edinburgh. After a “short” walk (mostly uphill 😢) we arrived at our hotel. Jenny turned me onto a U.K. based travel consolidator called, Secret Escapes https://www.secretescapes.com/current-sales which we used to book the 10 Hill Place Hotel at the Surgeons Quarters. https://www.tenhillplace.com/ This hotel is adjacent to Edinburgh University and from what we could gather was originally part of the Medical School. It is now a series of buildings that have been combined into a very nice hotel. The deal was 20-30% under their going room rate and added afternoon tea. Our room was very nice and the shower was incredible! Highly recommend to anyone looking for a moderately priced hotel in Edinburgh especially if you are attending anything at the Festival Theatre as it’s literally at the end of the street.

After checking in we walked through the University (founded in 1582) towards Edinburgh Castle which is at the top of “The Royal Mile”.

The mile-ish long street (actually a series of streets as it changes names several times) ends at Holyrood Castle which is the Queen’s place in Scotland.

The views from and of the castle were beautiful.

We then headed down the Royal Mile which has become tourist central. I can’t tell you how many tartan stores, kilt stores, and whisky shops there must be.

But if you look beyond the storefront or venture down in if the wynds (alleys) and into the courts behind the buildings you can imagine how it must of been 300, 400, or 500 years ago.

About a third of the way down the Mile we reached, St. Giles cathedral of the Chur h of Scotland. This is considered the mother church of Presbyterianism. It’s steeple is based on the crown of Scotland-that’s it at the top of this blog post. Interior photos weren’t allowed but below is one I found on line.

It was getting close to our tea time so we headed back to the hotel. While the tea wasn’t as wonderful as that at the Willows in Glasgow, we enjoyed it on the chilly overcast day.

It had been a long day so we ended up being lazy that evening (hmm, this appears to become a pattern) and stayed in and enjoyed our room and the bucket of ice we requested from the bar with a Diet Pepsi and some chips for a snack. After the afternoon teas we didn’t need supper. The simple things. LOL

After the huge Scottish breakfast buffet (haggis AND black pudding along with delicious scrambled eggs- no powder here!) included with our room we headed out to finish “the Mile”.

The bottom half of the mile wasn’t as touristy as the top portion just lots of beautiful buildings!

The last building before Holyrood Palace is the new Scottish Parliament building. We had hoped to go in but alas it was closed to visitors the day we were there. The architect says that he was trying to reference Scotland’s natural geography with the unusual windows which relate to the rocky outcroppings and the sunscreens which harken to the forests.

Directly across the street is Holyrood Palace. Since we had just had tea with Her Majesty at her main trailer we elected to not go inside to see her second ( thirty-third?) home but instead just walked around outside the gates.

But wait, we didn’t completely give up on seeing the Queen while in Scotland. We next headed to her former floating palace the Royal Yacht Britannia which is now docked at Leith. Similar to the Docklands in London, this part of Edinburgh is becoming the site of new and contemporary offices, hotels and residences.

The yacht is accessed through a large shopping mall which like those in the US seems to be dying. But Britannia was very popular and given the amount of space given over ashore to hold crowds I was very glad we were here off season.

The yacht is beautiful and gives you an idea of what Royal life at sea must of been like in the 50s and 60s.

I was impressed by the specially designed storage areas aboard-they even had room for the car!

While not as fancy as the Royal rooms the officers and crew aboard had it pretty good. Their bunk rooms were tight and not private but there were several bars and dining rooms aboard for them. We took a selfie at the crew bar with the fake beer Nd fake corgi and Mike tried on several of the crew’s caps.

The exhibit also includes the Royal Barge which was used to render ashore (hmm, maybe the cruise lines could learn a lesson?) and the Royals’s racing yachts. The barge was refurbished by a few of Britannia’s now retired crew for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2011. That’s a picture found on Google of Liz and Phil leading the 1000 boat flotilla down the Thames.

After saying good bye and thanking HRM, we walked around the quays in Leith in search of a late lunch.

Our friends Peggy and Lowell had HIGHLY recommended that we have a pot of mussels at Mussell Inn but unfortunately it was 30 minutes away and was going to be closed so we ended up having our pot of mussels, bowls of Cullen Skink and a local libation at a pub on the Quay while sitting outside in the glorious sunshine. Quite the change from the dreary day before.

After our great late (very) lunch we headed back towards the hotel and called it another lazy evening. Mike went out at one point and bought us some meat pies for a little snack while I packed us up. Tomorrow (well ok we went the next day but who knows when I’ll get around to blogging about it) it’s Dublin and our first visit to Ireland. I sure hope this won’t be our last to Scotland.

Dundee

We rode the train to Dundee this morning to visit the new Victoria & Albert Museum there. It is dedicated to design and just opened two weeks ago.

The ride along the coast was spectacular- cliffs, cows, sheep, golf courses and the beautiful ocean.

The museum was the result of a design completion and is the centerpiece of a 1 billion pound waterfront redevelopment.

It was very interesting as were the exhibits and VERY popular. It was packed and it was a cool chilly Tuesday.

The permanent exhibit is of Scottish designs from the beginning of time all the way through to today. Learned that “Grand Thief Auto” was designed here. In addition to fashion, furniture, ceramics, silver, glass and fabrics the exhibit also includes a restoration of one of Charles Rennie Macintosh’s tea rooms and models of architecture including Frank Gehry’s Cancer Care Center located in Dundee

The temporary exhibit (through February) is all about ocean liners so we thought it was karma that we had to go since we are here with or cruise friends.

All of us had an enjoyable day, we are currently on the train headed back towards Aberdeen. We are planning on having Indian takeaway for supper. Yum!

Update:

Made it back and are having an Indian takeaway feast!

Helsinki

Our stay in Helsinki was relatively short-8 am arrival and all aboard at 3:30 pm. We elected to do the HoHo bus for ease of seeing as much of the city as possible in the time available.

We rode to the center of the city to the esplanade and the daily market where we had a hot chocolate as it was windy and chilly. Even though we thought it was cold, there were a number of people swimming in the floating pools-even the unheated one!

We then climbed up the hill to the Russian church because why not!

We then reboarded the HoHo and rode back around (past the ship) to the Rock Church. This relatively new space was drilled and blasted into solid rock. Its roof is a combination of metal and glass.

The time to get back to the ship was getting close so all the HoHo buses were quite full. I ended up riding back sitting on the stairs!

Helsinki was a beautiful city and I was most impressed by the variety of architecture-historic and contemporary. I hope we can get back sometime to really explore it.