The Great Swiss Outing, Day 3: It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Sleep was a little sketchy for me on the first night as my mind was dog tired, but my body still believed itself to be on U.S. time.  I awoke in the dead of night and wondered how long I slept.  Turns out I had only been asleep for two and a half hours, but it felt a great deal longer.  I watched TV until my eyes began to droop and managed to fall asleep again, though I had odd, jet lag dreams.  It was as if my wearied mind couldn’t put together a cogent story for a dream.

I was awoken from a deep sleep by the ringing of the telephone for my wake-up call.  It was a persistent little cuss as I had an auto call, a real person, and another auto call.  I organized my stuff, set my bag in the hall for the porter, and went downstairs for breakfast.

Breakfast was a buffet and I shared a table with Marty and Val as I enjoyed bacon, some incredible seasoned potatoes, smoked salmon, a bit of cheese, orange juice, milk, and a multivitamin drink that was actually pretty tasty.

We proved ourselves an organized bunch as all 43 of us were on the bus for us to leave at 8am on the tick.  First we would head to the Old Town of Zurich for a brief little tour.

Brane proved himself quite well versed in the history of Switzerland as he provided interesting tidbits of information.  We took a small walking tour of the town which was capped off with a visit to the Sprungli Confectionery.  They had assorted delights for a pretty penny.  FYI, Switzerland is the second most expensive country in Europe.  A bottle of pop costs 3.50 CHF (Swiss francs).  We were given a sample box of chocolate to nibble on at our leisure as we boarded a bus to visit the principality of Liechtenstein.

Liechtenstein is the smallest country on the planet and is ruled by a prince.  The royal palace sits high upon a hill and visitors are not permitted.  We stopped in the city of Vaduz which also doubled as our lunch break.

I wandered around the streets, marveling at the architecture.  I stopped at a convenience store for a Coke Zero.  Prices are much lower in Liechtenstein and I paid 1.60 Swiss francs for this beverage.  I walked back into the main part of town and stopped in at a Catholic church.

I’m not sure if this church actually has services as there was a bar in front of the altar with a sign saying, “Don’t approach.  Alarm in service.”  I did kneel and say a quick prayer that the tour would continue to go well before lighting a votive candle for my grandparents and my friend Kay.

I got back to the bus and we began driving up the mountain to the Julier Pass which has some spectacular views as it stands nearly 3,000 feet above sea level.  During the drive, Brane told us that the optional excursion of a buggy ride through the Roseg Valley was canceled due to inclement weather as it had started snowing hard.  We got a taste of the bad weather as the snow began to fall on us as well.  As Roseg Valley was another 4,000 feet above our current position, I can only imagine how much snow was pummeling them.

We took a brief stop at the top of the Pass for photos and restrooms, but only for a few minutes as the weather had turned mighty cold, mighty quick.  Then it was a speedy drive down to the spa town of St. Moritz.

St Moritz is known for a couple of things.  It has been the site of the Winter Olympics and it is split into 2 sections known as Bath and Dorf.  Bath is the resort/spa area of the town.  Dorf is the village area.  Specifically, it’s a village for the wealthy and I mean the very wealthy.

Tonight’s hotel was the Hotel Laudinella.  Since I would be getting a refund on the canceled carriage ride, I decided to reinvest the money into a massage.  If I’m at a spa hotel, I might as well get the full experience.  Right?

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Hotel Laudinella

I got the last appointment of the night at 9pm, then proceeded to take a long walk along Lake St. Moritz.  This gave me a great opportunity to test out my new camera as it can take panoramic shots and be adjusted for vista and night shots.

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I walked along the river as far as I was allowed, then turned back to the hotel.  At 6:15pm, we had dinner at Stuvi where I ate with Marty and Val and Mr. and Mrs. James Bond (not a joke).  Dinner was also buffet style and I had salad, water, turkey, shrimp cocktail, pork steak, rice & corn, potatoes, and a really ripping parfait for dessert.

Afterwards it was back to my room to get cleaned up and begin writing this article until it was time for my massage.

My therapist was the spa manager, Sonja Martocchi, who really worked the kinks out of my back, shoulders, hands, fingers, and especially a tight spot just below the back of my left knee.

I felt like a liquid when I was through and knew I would be guaranteed a good night’s sleep.

Tomorrow we get to sleep in for another 15 minutes before going through the drill for another 8am departure.  The road will be taking us through a bit of Italy before our final destination which will feature a cruise on Lake Lugano followed by dinner in a traditional grotto restaurant.

 

Cotton Patch Redux, Days 3 & 4: Cotton Patchless

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Thornton Inn

I imagine you saw the title and thought, “Huh?”  Unfortunately, it is true.  Have you ever had one of those days where fate seemed to conspire against you?  Well, I had that day on Friday and that conspiracy caused me to miss Cotton Patch Gospel. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The drive to Arlington was a shorter trip though somewhat marred by bumpy roads, construction, and heavy Friday traffic.  After weeding through the obstacles, I finally found myself in the town of Arlington where I would be staying at the Thornton Inn owned and operated by Sunny and Terry Graham.

Thornton Inn is quite unique in the sense that it is actually a renovated fraternity house.  The house is actually one of the oldest homes in Arlington being built in the early 1900s.  Eventually it became a frat house until a ruling by the University of Texas-Arlington decreed that all fraternity and sorority houses had to be located on campus.  The home was bought by the Grahams to be used as an office for Sunny’s real estate brokerage.  A suggestion that the home would make a good B & B inspired the Grahams to restore the house to its former scholarly glory and open it to guests in 2013.

Sunny and Terry are very kind hosts and great conversationalists.  Terry, in particular, is full of many incredible tales.  Terry led me to my room, the Remington, which housed a massive king bed which has been one of the most comfortable I have ever slept in and a beautiful modern bathroom with a shower that reminded me of the “Car Wash” in the now defunct Quill and Quilt of Cannon Falls, MN.

After settling in, Terry was kind enough to print out better directions for the Repertory Company Theatre.  After dressing for the play, I briefly toyed with the idea of arranging for a taxi to take me as I was tired after several days of driving.  In hindsight, I wish I had gone with the idea.

Under the best of circumstances, the drive from Thornton Inn to Repertory Company Theatre is about 40 minutes.  What I had to deal with was anything but the best of circumstances.

The journey must be experienced as it is very difficult to describe the roads used to travel from Arlington to Richardson.  One must use the LBJ Freeway and the George Bush Turnpike which consists of a maze of roads and exits which could easily baffle much better drivers than myself.

I was actually doing pretty well and wasn’t too far from my exit point when I saw an electronic sign flash the message that an accident had occurred right where I needed to exit and traffic ground to a halt.  I managed to get around the accident, breathing a sigh of relief that I had given myself 90 minutes just in case.  Then I faced my second problem.

My directions said one had to stay to the left in order to make the necessary turn.  Well, I followed those instructions to the letter. . .and it put me back on the freeway.  Not a problem, I got off at the next exit and got turned back around as precious minutes ticked away.

I found my road and thought I would make it in time to the show, but then I glanced at the road signs where, to my mounting horror, I suddenly saw I was somehow on a different street.  It turns out that the roads in Richardson are not unlike the roads in Flagstaff, AZ.  In Flagstaff if you turn left, the road is Apple Street.  But if you turn left, it’s Blueberry Street.  In Richardson, you need to be in just the right lane or you may find yourself on a road other than the one you want.

I desperately tried to find my road again, getting directions from a gas station.  I finally got back to my road and found the area where the theatre was located, but knew it was an exercise in futility as the show had already started.  I heaved a frustrated sigh and headed back to the inn.

I debated about whether or not I wanted to try again the next night, but there were problems with that.  I knew that each performance had less than 3 rows of seats still available before starting the trip so I wasn’t sure if I could still get a ticket.  You also cannot buy tickets online once it its 24 hours before showtime.  You can call the theatre for a ticket, but the box office doesn’t open until an hour before curtain.  Assuming I could still get a ticket, I still would have had the 40+ minute journey to re-endure.  It was too much of a gamble.  I wrote a letter to the theatre thanking them for Friday’s ticket and explaining why I was unable to make it.

The stress of the failed trip took a toll on my sleep as I woke up during the night with my body going through symptoms similar to a panic attack.  A few deep breaths brought my twitching body back under control and the comfort of the bed helped me fall back asleep.

Terry and Sunny were very sympathetic about my plight.  Terry felt guilty as he had printed out directions for me, but I assured him he could have done nothing more.  The bad luck was completely beyond his control.  But the delicious breakfast of breakfast tacos, fruit, bacon, and a hash brown helped perk me up.

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Breakfast tacos

Luckily I had a relaxing activity planned for the day.  I had arranged for a 90 minute massage at the Sanford House Bed and Breakfast and Spa.  Under Margo’s ministrations I felt my body loosen up and unwind and some cheese and water afterwards helped complete the treatment.  The Sanford Spa is definitely worth a visit if you want some pampering.

Afterwards, I headed to the Parks at Arlington mall where I wandered around briefly before returning to the inn where I watched some Elementary, finished a video game, and caught a nap.

I attended worship services at St Maria Goretti Catholic Church.  This was a beautiful church and the people were so welcoming.  It was a nice service with a good sermon from Father.

When worship had ended and under the suggestion from Sunny, I had dinner at Babe’s Chicken Dinner House.  Sunny had raved about their food and the crowd that met me certainly testified to the quality of the meal as it was packed to the rafters.  Even as the dynamic uno, I had to wait 30 minutes for a table.

But it was worth the wait.  Babe’s is better as a group as it is family style dining.  You get your choice of one of 5 meats and sides of corn, biscuits, salad, green beans, gravy, and mashed potatoes are brought on.  I opted for chicken fried steak which I managed to eat half of and helped myself to a little of each of the sides.  The mashed potatoes are the best I’ve ever tasted.  Price is about $15 per person, so it is very reasonable for the quality and quantity of food.

When dinner was done, I did a little work posting photos, but found myself uninspired to write.  I decided to go to bed.

The next morning I had a filling breakfast of French toast, fruit, bacon, and sausage to strengthen me for the drive home.

I truly did enjoy my time at Thornton Inn and you cannot find better hosts than Sunny and Terry.  If you find yourself in Arlington, do yourself a favor and book a room here.

Eureka, Ho!!, Day 3: The Faith Spelunker

After sipping my sherry, I made use of the Jacuzzi tub and enjoyed a long hot bath before turning in for the night.  It was one of the most comfortable sleeps I have ever enjoyed.  The mattress almost seemed to consist of memory foam and perhaps it did.  All I know is that the combination of comfy mattress and lull of my trusty fan put my lights out good and proper.

When I awoke the next morning, I did a quick news check to find out who won at the Omaha Playhouse’s Awards Night and did a brief write-up for the theatre news part of my website.  I had a shave and then went downstairs to breakfast.

A glass of water and a carafe of orange-cranberry juice waited on my table.  Zoie placed a small dish of grapes and cream in front of me along with my massage certificate and tickets for a few events I had paid for online.  After the fruit had been eaten, Zoie presented me with 3 sausage links nestled on a bed of Mexican eggs.  A little dash of hot sauce made this meal a delicious and zesty affair.

A dish of grapes and cream to start the day.

A dish of grapes and cream to start the day.

Sausage links on a bed of Mexican eggs.

Sausage links on a bed of Mexican eggs.

I went back to my room and finished my Cannon novel.  Then I grabbed my keys and headed to Focus Massage for a one hour massage at the hands of Mimi Vail who bore a strong resemblance to the actress, Linda Hunt.  Her ministrations brought full mobility to my shoulders and energized me for the rest of the day.

From there, I drove to Berryville, AR so I could experience the Cosmic Caverns.  I was part of a small tour group led by Griffin (a surprisingly mature looking 17 year old) who spent the better part of an hour showing us the myriad rock formations, pure natural onyx (he flashed a light through it to show the translucence), and the two bottomless lakes (no, not literally, they’re just very deep).

The OMG room.

The OMG room.

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Would you believe this guy is only 17?

Would you believe this guy is only 17?

On the drive back to Eureka Springs, I made a quick pullover to enjoy the view of a scenic outlook.  After snapping some quick photos I made my way to Thorncrown Chapel.

Scenic overlook

Scenic overlook

Called “one of the finest religious spaces of modern times” by critics and ranked fourth on the list of the top buildings of the twentieth century by the AIA, Thorncrown Chapel is a awe-inspiring structure of wood and glass.  So skillfully designed, you may, like I did, make the mistake of assuming that the clear space is merely “open” space.  In reality it is 6,000 feet of glass divided into 425 windows.

Thorncrown Chapel

Thorncrown Chapel

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Thorncrown Chapel’s construction also had an interesting story behind it.  In 1971, Jim Reed purchased the land where Thorncrown Chapel would eventually be built.  People often stopped by to admire the property and the view of the Ozark hills, so Jim decided to build a glass chapel so visitors would have a place to relax in an inspiring way.

On March 23, 1979, work began on the chapel.  But halfway through construction the money ran out and, despite his best efforts, Jim was unable to gain more funding.  One night, Jim took what he thought would be his last walk to look at his half-finished chapel and then had an experience.  As Jim said, “I am not proud of the fact, but the first time I ever got down on my knees was on the chapel floor.  I prayed more seriously than ever before.  All the trials and tribulations gave me the humility to get on my knees.”  A few days later, a miracle occurred when a generous woman from Illinois loaned Jim the money to complete construction.  On July 10, 1980, Thorncrown Chapel was open to the public.

Thorncrown Chapel is dedicated to Jesus’ words that all would be welcome at His Father’s table.  The chapel actually does hold 2 worship services on Sunday and stresses that all are invited to attend.  An attendant is present during visiting hours to pray with those who wish to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation.

Visiting this chapel had a profound effect on me.  My faith has always been an important part of my life and I can honestly say I felt the presence of God clearly as I sat in that chapel.  I just felt such a feeling of peace and warmth that tears began to fill my eyes.  If you’re in Eureka Springs, you must visit this chapel.  For those who believe, you’ll feel closer to the Lord.  For those who don’t or simply aren’t sure, well, you just might before your visit is over.

I returned to the inn for a few hours of relaxation and compiling my notes.  Then it was time for my big event of the evening:  watching The Great Passion Play.

Originally, I had intended to actually review the show.  However, I ended up deciding against it for two very important reasons:

  1. There was no program, so writing a proper review would have been very difficult.
  2. This wasn’t a typical play as its purpose was to tell the story of Jesus’ redeeming of humanity as opposed to being an ordinary play.

The play is held in an outdoor amphitheatre and the grounds also contain a Bible museum, a replica of the Holy Land, as well as the famous Christ of the Ozarks statue (the biggest in the United States).  The play is world famous having been seen by 7.8 million people since it began in 1968.

Christ of the Ozarks

Christ of the Ozarks

The set is the most impressive I have ever seen.  It really gives one the feeling of being in Jerusalem back in the time of Christ.  The costumes are also well suited to the show and there are some pretty nifty special and lighting effects to the production.  It features a cast of over 140 actors and a menagerie of live animals.

Set of The Great Passion Play

Set of The Great Passion Play

The dialogue for the show is pre-recorded so the performers pantomime over the dialogue and the mimed performances were quite good.  Putting on my critic’s hat for a moment, the interpretation of the dialogue was mediocre and sounded like the records I liked to listen to as a child.  Then again, this play was meant to share a message as opposed to being a proper production.

All in all, it was a memorable and moving show and I would highly recommend watching it if you find yourself in Eureka Springs.  As for myself, I was whipped after the day’s shenanigans and have returned wearily to the inn to climb into bed.

Until the next time. . .

Of Outlaws, Nature, and Elegance: Excelsior Springs & The Inn on Crescent Lake

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“The road is now calling and I must away.”—Billy Boyd

The presents were opened.  The cheer was shared.  And, once more, the road was calling me to a new destination.  So it was that I found myself heading southwards on a pleasant, but frosty, Sunday towards the spa town of Excelsior Springs in Missouri where I would visit the Inn on Crescent Lake.

Excelsior Springs was famed for its mineral waters once upon a time and people came from miles around to bathe and be cured of their myriad illnesses.  The town pays tribute to its past with its Hall of Water exhibition in the downtown area, but it is also known as a bit of a resort area thanks to the Inn on Crescent Lake and the Elms Hotel & Spa.

Excelsior Springs is also located near several historical towns such as Liberty and Kearney as well as being a suburb of Kansas City.  In short, it has all the elements for a nice little weekend away.

I arrived in town shortly after noon and immediately headed downtown to have a bit of lunch.  Unfortunately, my initial choice was not open on Sundays.  Luckily, I found the Mill Street Restaurant and proceeded to have an enjoyable meal.

The restaurant was bustling, but I managed to find a seat and perused the menu.  Opting for a patty melt and fries, I sat back and relaxed, reading my Christmas gift, The Last Confession of Sherlock Holmes.  Within a few minutes, a piping hot plate was set before me and I enjoyed a perfectly prepared melt as well as some crisp, crinkle cut French fries.

Once lunch was done, I made my way to the town of Kearney, MO so I could visit the Jesse James Farm & Museum.

The James farmhouse.

The James farmhouse.

Jesse James and his brother, Frank, were two of the most legendary, and notorious, outlaws of American history.  They planned the first daytime bank robbery in history and embarked on a 16 year crime spree before Jesse was shot in the back of his head by Robert Ford.  Frank had retired from crime to raise a family and ultimately surrendered himself to the Governor of Missouri after being promised a fair trial and protection.  Frank and Jesse had been bushwhackers, a term used to describe guerrilla Confederate troops who attacked in quick bursts and slipped away.  Bushwhackers were often mobbed and hung and were stripped of many citizen rights after the Civil War.  The James brothers were often lauded as heroes fighting the tyranny of the Union which contributed to their legend as Robin Hoods of the South.

The James Farm is a very interesting piece of history.  The original farmhouse still stands and carries many interesting tales as related by our tour guide.  The most notable tale was the story of the Pinkerton raid in which Pinkerton agents attempted to capture Frank and Jesse (who were not at the farm at the time of the attack).  The raid resulted in the bombing death of Frank and Jesse’s 8 year old half-brother, Archie Samuel, and the loss of the arm of the James matriarch, Zerelda.

Jesse was buried on the family farm, but the tombstone erected on site is not the original.  We were informed that it was the third replica of the original marker.  The first two had virtually been eradicated by souvenir hunters who had chipped the two into oblivion to gain a piece of Jesse James’ tombstone.  What is left of the original is housed in the museum.

The James’ family was nothing, if not entrepreneurial.  Zerelda gave tours of the farm until her death.  She sold the rocks covering Jesse’s graves as souvenirs for 25 cents apiece.  When she ran out of the original stones, Zerelda brought stones from the nearby creek and sold them as “originals”.  She also was known to protect the original tombstone by keeping a loaded shotgun by her bed which faced the tombstone so she could always discourage would be souvenir hunters.  At her death, Frank took over tours until his death.  Eventually the county bought the land from the James heirs to build the museum and continue the tours.

After my visit to the farm, I returned to Excelsior Springs to check into the Inn on Crescent Lake.

I admit that I was blown away when I laid eyes on the estate.  The Inn on Crescent Lake is the most beautiful and luxurious inn I have visited since I began this project.  The 100 year old (it still looks brand new) Georgian Colonial Mansion is seated on a 22 acre property encircled by two crescent shaped ponds known as Crescent Lake.  Aside from the mansion, there is also a swimming pool with a hot tub and pool house that holds a massage room and extra suite for guests.  The property also boasts a small walking trail.

I rang the doorbell, which was attached to an intercom.  It was answered by owner, Beverly Bohnert, who told me to enter the foyer where I would be greeted.  I was met by owner, Craig Bohnert, who gave me a quick tour of the place.

My jaw nearly dropped as I gazed at the beauty of the inn.  My personal favorite was the living room which had a Christmas tree and a beaut of a fireplace.  I still marvel at the fact that the house is 100 years old because it looks pristine and new both inside and out.

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Eventually, Craig led me to the McCleary room which would serve as my home for the next two days.  The room was massive with a king sized bed gracing the center of the room.  The soft blue of the walls began relaxing me from the moment I entered.  After giving me a list of restaurant recommendations, complete with directions, Craig left me to my own devices.  I settled into the room and began exploring the rest of the mansion.

The McCleary Room.

The McCleary Room.

The Solarium.  This also doubles as the breakfast room.

The Solarium. This also doubles as the breakfast room.

After exploring the inn (and enjoying a couple of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies, courtesy of Beverly), it was time for supper so I decided to try El Maguey for a bit of Mexican fare.  I had a delicious quesadilla fajita and continued reading my latest adventure of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.  My server forgot to tell me that I needed to head up front to pay the bill, so I spent a half hour wondering why he wasn’t picking up my check until I saw someone heading up front with their bill.  Well, at least, I got a lot of reading in.

I returned to Crescent Lake and enjoyed my whirlpool bathtub where I scraped off the beard I had been growing for the last few months and nearly took a nap in the hot, swirling waters.  Afterwards, I posted some pics while I watched an episode of A Touch of Frost.  When the show was over, I read myself to sleep on the nice firm mattress of my king sized bed.

The next morning I finished my novel and headed downstairs to the solarium for a hearty breakfast and I emphasize the word, hearty.  Craig presented me with a glass of orange juice and a meal fit for a king.  It consisted of two biscuits, a hash brown, two small sausage patties, a slice of orange, and a piece of casserole that contained sausage, egg, cheese, onions among other ingredients.  It was so tasty, but I ended up losing to the meal which bested me by a biscuit and an orange.  But, trust me, defeat never tasted so good.

After that wonderful meal, I hopped in my car and drove to Watson Mills State Park.  I had hoped to get a tour of the Watson House and the wool mill at the park, but found that those tours are only held during the weekend at this time of year.  It wasn’t a complete loss as I enjoyed a 4 mile hike around the lake which brought back memories of my walk through Azabu-Jaban in Tokyo several years prior.

With the completion of my constitutional, I returned to Crescent Lake where I began a new mystery novel featuring Frank Cannon and relaxed to the music of the night as I listened to Highlights from the Phantom of the Opera.

At 1pm, I headed down to the pool house for a 90 minute massage with LaVerne Gardiner.  If you stay at this inn, be certain to schedule some massage time with LaVerne.  It will be well worth your while.  This was one of the best massages I have ever received as I could feel muscles knots pop and dissolve under her ministrations.  I was loose, limber, and had full range of motion in my neck after that session.

I kicked back in my room for another couple of hours before taking another whirlpool bath and then went downtown for supper at Ventana’s Gourmet Grill, the personal favorite of Craig and Beverly.

As I went into the restaurant I was greeted by the smiling visage of a mannequin depicting a Victorian Santa Claus and another Christmas tree.  I entered the little eatery and sat down at a table.  The service was a little slow and a couple who entered after me had their orders taken before me.  But the quality of the meal made up for the misfires in the service.

I began my meal with an American salad with a slight drizzle of ranch dressing.  The vegetables were fresh and crisp.  For the main course I had the Garden Chicken plate which consisted of a lemon pepper chicken breast with grilled zucchini, mushrooms, and the fluffiest, tastiest mashed potatoes I had ever tasted.  I savored each delicious bite and polished off both my plate and my other novel.  From there, I returned to the inn, enjoying the Christmas decorations and lights along the way, to relax for a few hours before another blissful night of sleep.

The next morning, I was back in the solarium reading an old Reader’s Digest and enjoying another fabulous breakfast of honeydew and cantaloupe, bacon, and blueberry French toast.  I peered out over Crescent Lake and felt sorry that I would have to leave the inn.  I would definitely like to return to this inn, especially if they mount a mystery weekend which is something Craig and Beverly have been considering.

I give this place my highest recommendation for a visit.  If you want sweet seclusion, elegance, and fine dining then the Inn on Crescent Lake should be your lodging of choice if you find yourself in the city of Excelsior Springs.

AUTHOR’S NOTE:  I’ve compiled a large list of inns to visit for this project, but there are undoubtedly many, many more which I’ve yet to discover.  If there’s an inn that you think I absolutely must visit, feel free to comment on my B & B posts and I will add it to the visitation list.

The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 3, Day 1: Dope Springs Eternal

It started off as such a lovely day.

The birds were singing.  The sky was sunny.  And there was nary a cloud in the sky.  Yes, it truly was a good day for travel.

Once again I was flying to Arizona.  For my regular readers, you may recall that that the last time I traveled to Arizona, I was working on a deal with the SyFy Network to produce my script, Giraffealanche, as their latest original movie.  Regrettably, I was a bit sidetracked when I was reunited with an unwelcome acquaintance.

In the ensuing months since those escapades, I had ironed out a deal and was now returning to Arizona to watch a rough cut of the film.  This time, I felt certain I would not be bumping into certain individuals who shall remain nameless.

I arrived at the airport and hopped aboard my Southwest Airlines flight.  I found myself seated to a pleasant, elderly gent named John.  He was slightly below average height, had a short crew cut of gray hair, had a stocky build, and dressed very casually.  I found him to be a likable guy and we shot the breeze on many subjects.  I found that also was heading to Arizona to visit family and would be on the same connecting flight as I.

This was one of the smoothest flights I had taken in quite a while.  We left early and made it to Denver, CO in almost precisely an hour.  I had an hour layover between flights so I made a quick visit to Xpress Spa inside the Denver airport for a 20 minute neck and shoulder massage to relieve the tightness in my shoulders and right arm (the unfortunate curse of working at a keyboard all day).

Soon I was flying through the air on another smooth flight and arrived in Phoenix a little early.  As I grabbed my luggage from the carousel, John told me he had a car waiting for him and offered to give me a lift to my hotel.  I readily agreed and we stepped into a waiting limo.

I continued chatting with John as we rode down the interstate.  I happened to glance out the window and I noticed that we were passing Golfland in Mesa, AZ.  I then realized that this route seemed awfully familiar.

“John?” I asked.  “Where are we going?”

Suddenly the driver pressed a button on the dashboard and some distinctive music began to play.  To my mounting horror, John began to sing lyrics with the music.

“He’s Arizona!!  Arizona Mat!!  Arizona!!!  Arizona Mat!!”

The driver removed his hat and shades and turned to look at the both of us, an impish grin playing over his face.  I slowly turned my head to glare at John.  Suppressing my urge to throttle him, I buried my face in my hands and began to weep.  It was Arizona Mat.

For those of you new to this website, I refer you to the archives section for the stories entitled The Arizona Chronicles and The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 2 where I met a supposed explorer named Arizona Mat and his Neanderthal sidekick, Tall Square.  Arizona Mat was so full of himself that I’m surprised he didn’t refer to himself in the third person.  He had a strange love-hate relationship with his lackey, Tall Square.  By that I mean they loved to hate each other.  In fact, the last time I had seen the two of them, Tall Square was chasing Arizona Mat through the Sky Harbor airport.

“There, there,” said Arizona Mat.  “It’s nice to see you again, too.  No need to shed tears of joy.”

Resigning myself to the inevitable, I asked Arizona Mat how he managed to know that I was coming into town.  He explained that Johnny V, indicating John, was an old family friend based out of Omaha, NE.  He had Johnny V keep tabs on me until he knew I would be returning to Arizona.

“Why?” I asked.

“I’m about to make another epic discovery and I need my biographer to document my greatness,” replied Arizona Mat.

I rolled my eyes and asked what had happened to Tall Square.

“As you may recall, that Nordic gorilla was chasing me through the airport.  I tried to duck into a store to escape him, but plowed into some mannequins.  Applying my brilliant brain to the dilemma, I grabbed one of the mannequin arms and persuaded Tall Square to stop.  I told him that I knew he was only upset because he had lost the handshake duel.  I therefore offered him a rematch, but with the caveat that we both have our eyes closed because that allowed one to execute more force.  He agreed and I stuck the mannequin hand into his and made my daring escape.”

“Are you saying. . .” I began.

“Yep,” said Arizona Mat.  “As far as I know, that dummy is still trying to make a dummy submit.”

I rubbed my face and asked why he had “borrowed” me.

“Later, my Boswell.  Later.  Let’s enjoy ourselves for now,” said Arizona Mat.

After settling into his home, Arizona Mat, Johnny V, and myself walked the short distance to the Flaming Kebab for dinner.  I enjoyed a gyro sandwich with a cup of lentil soup and some water.  Arizona Mat feasted on Chicken Kafka, rice, Greek Salad, and iced tea.  Johnny V supped on a gyro platter with rice, Greek Salad, and raspberry tea.  Johnny V, a rather generous sort, paid for our meals.

After the meal we returned to Arizona Mat’s home where we sat around his new fire pit, drinking home brewed root beer, and listening to Arizona Mat regale us with some of his “legendary” adventures.  After finishing up the tale of his rescuing me from a homicidal ex-associate (read The Arizona Chronicles, Vol 2 to find out what really happened), Arizona Mat rubbed his hands with glee and announced it was time to get down to business.

“Have you ever heard of the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)?” asked Arizona Mat.

“What on earth is the Voodoo Blue Woo Woo?” I asked.

“I didn’t say the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!) Woo woo.  I said the Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)”

“You just did it again.  You keep making this high pitched sound after you say Voodoo Blue.”

“Woo woo!  I’m sorry.  It’s just that I get excited whenever I say or hear the words Voodoo Blue (Woo woo!)  It’s a rare blue diamond that was supposedly forged by a houngan (voodoo priest).  I’ve been researching its history and certain clues have led me to its discovery.  It’s somewhere in Las Vegas, NV.  On Friday, the three of us will drive over there, I’ll discover it, and your masterful writing will make me even more famous than I already am.”

“Have you ever read any of my articles about you?” I asked.

“No.  I’m modest in that way.  But you’re writing about wonderful me, so I’m sure they’re stunning pieces of work.”

“Yes they are,” I said.

So once more I would be joining Arizona Mat on an adventure.  I knew not what the future would bring, but I knew trouble and hilarity probably were not far behind.

Last Exit To Vegas (For Now), Day 3: Escape

I was ready for a break from the real world, so Thursday I got my workout gear together and made my way over to Caesar’s Palace where I could relax the day away at Qua Baths and Spa.

Upon entering the gymnasium, it appeared that everyone had decided this would be a good day for a workout.  It was packed!!  Qua had upgraded some of its equipment which I felt had been a bit overdue.  When I worked out there in October, I did battle with an exercise bike with an attitude problem.  In the last 5 minutes of my “ride”, the machine suddenly cranked itself to the maximum tension level and I felt like I was pedaling through glue.  However, I’m proud to say that I did win that battle of man vs. machine.

This time around there were no malfunctions and I did a much harder workout than normal to test my fitness and was quite pleased with how well I did.  I grabbed a banana and headed back into the spa to begin the long process of cooling down.  After utilizing the Roman Baths, I took a long rest on one of the heated chairs and actually began to feel a little philosophical.

I was composing ideas for a few future articles and then I began to reflect on this most recent journey.  While I was having fun, I realized that I was missing one key element and that was my friends.  This trip just wasn’t quite the same without the banter I normally shared with my traveling companions.  And that’s when I realized just how much I’ve changed over the years.

At one point in my life, I was kind of a loner.  At the time, I almost seemed to prefer it that way.  Once I entered college that slowly began to change.  I began to get more involved in things.  I joined an honor society and even served in all of the offices at one point or another.  It helped me to open up and blossom.

Theatre helped me still more.  I was able to meet more people, socialize more often, have an outlet for my creativity, and gained confidence as my abilities as a performer increased.  Without knowing it, I stopped being a loner somewhere along the line.  I’m more comfortable being me.  Heck, at one point I wouldn’t have dreamed of sharing my thoughts like this.  Now I relish it whenever I can sit at my keyboard and share a review with you, recount an amazing adventure, or even share a humorous misadventure.

Yes, I can still have fun my own.  But the addition of friends on the journey always makes the fun exponentially better.

At about that point, I came out of my philosophical meanderings and began enjoying the arctic room, inhalation room, and steam bath.

At 3pm, I was called in for my massage.  This time around I went back to basics and had a traditional Swedish massage and I think it was just what the doctor prescribed.  I enjoyed 90 minutes of peaceful bliss as Gayle Allen expertly worked out my kinks and soothed my sore muscles.  As always, I felt I could be squeegeed off the floor when the massage was completed.

I returned to the Rio and went to enjoy the Seafood Buffet.  As always the food was top notch.  Aside from their enjoying their amazing Seafood Gumbo, they were serving up a delicious blackened tilapia which you should try if you ever enjoy a meal there.  After walking my meal off, I headed back to my room for a quiet evening.

Short of any surprises, this brings an end to my Vegas tales.  Now I only need to figure out how to occupy myself today.  I had been hoping that my friend, Mat, would join me on this trip, so I booked a really late flight home to essentially squeeze an extra day out of this trip.  Since that didn’t happen, I now need to find a way to spend about 7 hours of time after I check out of the hotel at 11am.  I may explore the other end of the Strip, hang out at the pool for a while, or simply meander.

While I work out this dilemma, I bid you a fond farewell and look forward to when I write you again.

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 6: Odaiba & Gundam & Tricks & Onsen

So the whole gang was together again for a visit to Odaiba.  After breakfast, we caught the subway to Odaiba and made our way to the Diver City Mall.

We had actually seen Odaiba from the top of Tokyo Tower back during the sightseeing tour on the first day.  Specifically, we could see Odaiba’s Statue of Liberty and Rainbow Bridge (a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge).  Seeing them again up close was just as awe inspiring as seeing them from a distance.  After soaking up the scenery for a bit, we headed to the top of the Diver City Mall which housed the Gundam Museum.

The museum is dedicated to Gundam Wing, a very long running anime series in Japan.  I’m not overly familiar with the series, but it has the vein of humans piloting giant robots to fight off giant monsters.  It was a very intriguing exhibit which showed the history of the series and had innumerable toys, clothing, and various other swag available for purchase.

After wandering through the museum, we headed outdoors to see the famed 60 foot Gundam statue.  It was truly an awesome spectacle and the statue had a light show later at night that we would watch.  From there we went back inside the mall and headed to the Tokyo Trick Art Museum.

This was one of my favorite events of the trip.  This museum has all of its walls painted in such a way that it almost seems 3D and allows people to become part of the art for photos.  We got pictures of myself showing my death defying martial arts skills as I balanced on the tip of a sword wielded by my ninja opponent, Mat suffocating under glass, and Dave holding open the jaws of a hungry beast to keep from being devoured.

When we had finished our tour of the museum, we got to split up and go off on our own for a while.  Mat, Dave, and I searched out a place for lunch and ended up being persuaded to eat at a ramen joint when the owner promised us free rice.  Now that I think about it, none of us got any rice.

From there we found a classic arcade in the mall and all of us enjoyed a little blast from our past.  Pac-Man, Space Invaders, and Kung Fu Master (known as Kansu Master in Japan) were just some of the games from yesteryear that we played.  After funning ourselves out and a little more exploration, we met up with the group by the Rainbow Bridge to get ready for the second half of the day’s activities.

The group was given the choice of one of two activities:  going to the SEGA Joypolis amusement park or going to Tokyo Oedo Onsen Monogotari, a Japanese hot springs.  Now I love amusement parks, but I wanted to experience something indicative of the Japanese culture and had opted to go to the hot springs.  Dave was the only other person who opted to go to the onsen.  I suspect Mat would have preferred that activity, but he has a couple of tattoos and people with body art are not permitted in public hot springs.

So Dave and I were off to the onsen where we became part of the traditional Japanese culture.  For starters, we had to take off our shoes before entering the hot springs.  We were also required to wear a yukata, a Japanese robe, inside the onsen.  The inside of the onsen was set up as a medieval Japanese village and market place.   There were places to eat and games to play, but the hot springs is what it was all about.  They were so peaceful and relaxing.  After luxuriating in the hot water for a bit, I went and had a 40 minute massage and then went to the enjoy the outdoor hot spring.  Dave and I both agreed the outdoor spring was the best as a light rain had started to fall and the combination of that plus the hot water really induced relaxation.  I really wish we had a couple of more hours to spend there.

Before we knew it, our time was up and we headed back to Diver City and took in the spectacular Gundam Statue light show before heading for our hotel.  My relaxing time at the onsen plus all of the running around we had been doing for the past week finally caught up with me on the subway as I dozed off on my seat.  Yukie said I fit right in with the Japanese businessmen who often take catnaps on the train.  Dave gently shook my shoulder to awaken me right before our stop and it was back to our room to unwind and sleep before our last day in Japan.