Saturday morning, 6:50 am. My phone bleeps. The assistant manager at work: Could you possibly come in today for a few hours? It's really busy.
7:10 am, after some deliberation: Yes, if I have to, but I'll be on overtime. Is that OK?
7:12 am: Ohhh... better check with the store manager.
Small delay, during which Graham and I, being both well awake by this time, cook and eat a pancake breakfast.
7:55 am: Never mind about today. And you're not working tomorrow either.
7:57 am: What time do I come in on Monday?
8:04 am: You're off on Monday too.
8:05 am: Graham rushes to computer to research places to go for a weekend trip. By 11:30 am we're hitting the I-30 on our way to Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Lake Ouachita (that's WASH-it-ah, not wah-CHEET-ah) at sunset
Thus began one of the most impromptu weekends away I've ever done, going from expecting to work most of the weekend to being on holiday in a few short hours. By evening we had arrived at Lake Ouachita State Park and found our campsite. This featured a nice flat tarmac driveway for the car, a nice flat concrete slab for the picnic table - and a stony slope for the tent! Having no other option, we pitched and prepared to make the best of it, and spent the night sliding down the hill in our slippery nylon sleeping bags. The next day we picked up the tent bodily and moved it to a flatter spot on another site. The following morning we were woken by a guy cruising round in a golf cart to ask us why we were occupying a site we hadn't paid for. This despite the fact that we were the only people on the entire campground!
Hot Springs itself has some resemblance to a British seaside resort in its air of crumbling grandeur. In the early 20th century the city was a hotspot (pun intended) for those wishing to bathe in the healing waters of the 60C natural springs. Imposing spa buildings and grand hotels lined Bathhouse Row, and thousands took advantage of their facilities. With the invention of antibiotics and the rise of the motor car, fewer and fewer people were content to spend their vacation sitting in a warm pond, and the inevitable decline occurred. Today the place is pleasant in a backwaterish kind of a way, but you are constantly reminded that it is a shadow of what it once was.
Actual hot springs
There are only two of the original bath houses open for business, although many of the buildings still stand and are being restored for other purposes. We spent a pleasant couple of hours splashing around in the Quapaw Baths. The four pools range from warm to very hot, and we shared them only with a scattering of retirees.
Quapaw Baths - the name inspired by Native Americans, the architecture by Arabs
Feeling very relaxed and clean, we headed over the road to BubbaLu's Bodacious Burgers for a spot of lunch. As well as great food, this place deserves a mention for its staff, who not only remembered how Graham likes his coffee, but - well, listen to this. We'd parked the car on the street. We came out of BubbaLu's. We walked towards the car. We looked at each other. Said, "This is where we left it, isn't it?" Looked at a sign. The sign said, "Reserved for tour vehicles only". We thought, "oh no!". Went dashing back into BubbaLu's. "What do we do if our car has been towed?" Very nice lady called up the city council for us and asked about it. No one knew a thing. We thought, "It's been stolen!" She asks, "Are you sure that's where you left it?" We say, "Yes.... No!" Martha dashes a few yards down the street. The car is sitting smugly just where we parked it - in the opposite direction to where we looked. We feel like a pair of idiots. Very nice lady says, "I'm just glad it's there for you". We are eternally indebted to her and need another spell in the baths to recover from the shock.
It's our car!
Fortunately the calm lakes and tree-covered hills in the area are not conducive to mental tension for long. We enjoyed swimming in the former and walking in the latter in the warm autumn sunshine and felt our spirits soothed and uplifted by the beautiful surroundings.