Sunday, July 15, 2012

Little Rock, AR

Little Rock is the home of The William J Clinton Presidential Center, the Clinton School of Public Service and the William J Clinton Foundation.  The Clinton's have an apartment on top of the Museum with a helicopter pad. Bill Clinton was staying there while we were in Little Rock; we hoped for a personally guided tour but had to make do with a wonderful guide also called Bill who told us that the former President does visit the museum from time to time.

On the advice of people we met in the swimming pool in Eureka Springs we stayed at an RV Park on the Arkansas River right across from the William J Clinton Presidential Center; which was very convenient as an old railway bridge had been pedestrianized as part of the development of the Presidential Center. Opened in 2004 the center is a striking modern building surrounded by a lovely parkland which (to scale) mirrors the topography of the State of Arkansas. From here a pathway links to a walking and biking trail that runs along both sides of the river; it is 17 miles long and much used. In the basement which has views of the river and trail there’s an unbelievable gourmet restaurant called “Forty Two” where we dined in great style with tablecloths and napkins; the food was simply excellent.
The center comprises of three floors, the entrance lobby where there’s a decommissioned Presidential automobile and an interesting historical exhibit of both Bill and Hilary’s Mothers with lots of family  photos…they were two very strong ladies. On the second floor a replica of the Oval Office that one can view but not enter and of the Cabinet Room where one can enter and, imagining being in the Cabinet sit at the table; Tom of course sat in the Presidents chair! Also on this floor there’s a chronological history of Bill Clinton's time in office, very interesting as it is recent history. Apart from the sterling work Bill and Hilary did to bring peace to Northern Ireland another interesting Irish connection is that the archive section of this floor is based on the design of the library at Trinity College in Dublin.   
On the third floor there was an exact replica of a White House table set for a formal dinner, Bill our guide told us when the center first opened people stole plates, glasses, silverware (cutlery) and even signs off the wall. Another exhibit was about getting the White House ready for Christmas - it takes a year to organize - maybe that’s why the President is sworn in in January! Along a wall was the family life of the Clinton's; Hilary's inaugural ball gown, another red velvet gown, a number of Bills saxophones and of course, lots of photos with foreign dignitaries. Bill was born William Blythe IV, sadly his father died three months before he was born. At age 4 his stepfather formally adopted him and so instead of another famous Blythe we have President William J Clinton. We enjoyed our day at the William J Clinton Presidential Center…it was well worth our while to visit Little Rock.

Next day we took an antique trolley tour around Little Rock that didn't take too long after which we visited the Historic Arkansas Museum which has a wonderful sculpture outside; inside it had some very nice historical art including lovely scenes of wide open country, an exhibition of cabinet work and a very good exhibition of Indian memorabilia. An officious museum guard ordered us to leave at 4.45pm (closing time was 5pm) so we didn't see it all. Adele wanted to tell him we had 15 more minutes but was prevailed upon to remain silent - we didn't want to be run out of town by the Sheriff. We crossed the road to the Peabody Hotel and were just in time to join a huge crowd to see the infamous Peabody Ducks performance. A porter (dressed as a Major Domo) announces the imminent departure of the ducks tells the story behind the tradition and places steps against the edge of the fountain from which the ducks waddle down and along a red carpet to the elevator around the corner. The elevator is made of glass so all can see the ducks as they head up to their nightly accommodations and food.
We had our dinner in a restaurant called The Flying Fish just a walk from the RV Park in a redeveloped part of town called The River Market District.

The following day we drove to Hot Springs, about 55 miles south of Little Rock. As the name implies this is where hot springs surface. The Hot Springs area has been under the protection of the National Parks Service for over one hundred years. The fear was that the springs and water would be destroyed through commercialism; so seven big beautiful spas (only one still operating) are on one side of the road with shops and hotels on the other side. There are fountains along the promenade where one can fill bottles with the spring water. We saw a man filling huge glass bottles so Adele filled a plastic drinking bottle and as the water was so hot couldn't hold it. There’s no notice to say it was hot but as our children would say “Mom it is called Hot Springs!” The water comes out of the ground at 140F, way too hot for a human, so they cooled it down in the beautiful Bath houses along Bathhouse Row. The Fordyce Bathhouse now houses the National Parks Office Visitor Center where one can take a self-guided tour of 23 restored rooms, cubicles for changing, baths, needle showers, hoses to wash one down, steam cabinets, massage rooms and on the top floor a lounge to relax. Oh yes one could sunbath nude on the roof! How is that for medicine? The men's accommodations were much more ornate and spacious than the women's hmm…? At the end of the lovely avenue which is lined with Magnolia trees there’s a hot spring waterfall.
We also learned that there was a lot of gambling in Hot Springs especially during Spring Training. Eventually the law intervened much to the annoyance of the citizens because gambling brought huge revenues to the town.

Weather wise it is still very hot in the Heartland, but we are getting used to it, thankfully it’s not too humid. In fact sometimes the air conditioning in buildings is so very cold that we are happy to go back out into the sun.

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