Hot Chocolate in the Desert

On December 30 we boarded the plane leaving behind mild winter temperatures in our otherwise usually frigid mid Atlantic region to enter similar, if not cooler at times, temperatures in the Arizona desert. This certainly was not we paid inflated airfare prices for but we were happy to arrive with sunny skies.

I was led to believe that our room at The Phoenician  would be ready for an early arrival. It was not and it was hardly warm enough to stay at the resort and swim. (However the pool was filled for unbeknownst to us this would be the warmest it would get.) We decided to explore offsite and have lunch.

We  drove to St Francis – a place I had wanted to visit  and enjoyed a delightful meal sitting outside under heat lamps trying to pretend in our mind as we stared at the sand and cactus landscape eating unique southwestern dishes like flatbread with chilis, honey and almonds that it was indeed very warm outside. Heat Lamps can lead one to such a belief.

We returned and walked the beautiful resort property until our room was ready. Unfortunately our misfortune would continue by being given a room that did not match the category description. The hotel did correct the issue and put us in a Grande Deluxe Room – and it was very grande!

Of all the beautiful features at the Phoenician, one of our favorites was the Cactus Garden. It was lit up with Christmas lights.  We layered on clothes that we thought would remain in the closet during our stay.  With scarves and hats and coats on we ventured through winding and colorfully lit up trail.  Cactus with Christmas lights in the desert when it is 30 degrees. Juxtaposition indeed (and a reoccurring theme during our stay).

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GOODBYE RVA… But not just yet…

Although our plan was to get up early and begin our drive to our vacation destination, we decided we could not miss two final stops in RVA to tour by car. Our helpful guide at the Visitor Center mapped out the best way see them and get to them.  First stop was to follow the blue loop road around Hollywood Cemetery passing Historic Grave Sites – including two presidents.  (Next visit we will definitely take one of the walking tours) Just wish we had known about this great map –   to identify what we were seeing.  HollyWoodNext we did a drive through of Memorial Drive – quick for by that time we were starving!  We decided to once again venture into one of the neighborhoods for food.  Clearly this is where the life is in RVA. – We headed into Carytown and quickly found an incredible lunch experience.. Can Can Brasserie – very well themed (I just love that), with delicious food and great service.   Excellent! Good selection of Beer on tap and in bottles too… I passed for it was too early for me.  However I left with a huge loaf of French Bread!  Yum!   We hit the road, sad to leave for there was so much more to do. I will be back to this city… but would pick another place to stay.  Parking is abundant and so no worries if staying outside of the city and driving in to the see the sites (many of them will pay for your parking!)

It turned out working well for there was not much see to along the way.  We had planned to stop in Wilmington NC  to see where they film the Dome but the traffic was bad and Matilda (our GPS) diverted us another way down a lonely rode through the countryside.  With little to see but crop after crop of tobacco (at the time we had no idea what it was) —   Our one stop was for our first batch of Boiled Peanuts along with some local produce.

RVA Here We Are!

What a long drive! Did not arrive until close to midnight so we slept in this morning…  This was easy to do even in a second floor room – we were amazed just how quiet the city streets were on a Friday. After leaving the hotel, we quickly realized we were in a bit of a dead zone – no government building, no office building, only one other hotel, and very few buildings that contained some sort of business.  It was impossible to find a cup of coffee and a bakery item.  There are so many neat neighborhoods that I learned about from a cousin who lives in the area… but the hotel is not in one of them!  We stopped at my usual first and favorite stop – The Visitors Center – for a map.  Amazing help in planning out our short time.  We decided to follow the Liberty Trail – something they are just starting and it is really neat.  Check it out here: http://www.visitrichmondva.com/things-to-do/local-tours/liberty-trail/

We diverted off the trail to go up to the Observation Deck in City Hall (thanks to the tip from our helpful Visitor Center guide)!  It was really neat to get a bird’s eye view of the city. (Picture is taken from up there.)

One of our historical stops was a visit to the Museum and White House of the Confederacy.  This included a guided tour of the house by a great tour guide.  He really knew his stuff!  Museum had a lot of neat stuff – we liked the downstairs full of oddities – like this doll that

was use2014-08-15 13.50.42d to smuggle medicine.   We then followed the trail to the Virginia State Capital and Executive Mansion.  We were amazed to be the only people wandering around!

After a day of history, we decided to finish by wandering down the huge hill all the way to the Canal.  Shockhoe Slip neighborhood is super neat with lots of shops, people, and places to eat, and try out the local beer.    Southern Railway Taphouse was the just the right spot — Relaxed environment – not yet crowded so we were able to sit at a high top with our daughter.  Great deals on lunch and beer for it was happy hour! (Service not so great but that did not matter for did not mind the wait)

Not much to do around the hotel so we enjoyed an evening swim. There was one neat spot – Pasture – had some good local beers and food (boiled peanut hummus – yum!) to eat!

Next Stop on Route 7: Otter Creek!

Otter Creek BrewingI’ve been a long time fan of Wolaver’s Wildflower Wheat – for me the perfect summer session beer in the middle of a humid afternoon – and so seeing where it is produced was a must stop on our Brewery tour. The Otter Creek Brewing Company is a great brew pub serving all three of their beers with big windows where you can look out at all the shiny tanks producing beer. Although we are familiar with both Otter Creek and Wolaver’s we had not had The Shed, a small Vermont Brewery acquired by Otter Creek. The Shed Mountain Ale was good. Also tried the Wolaver’s Brown Ale and jumped ahead to the fall season and had a Wolaver’s Pumpkin.
Sometime they even offer special test batch one day of the week (not the day we were there). Regardless – this is a great stop to enjoy a few beers low in ABV, have a nice chat with bartenders who know beer, and enjoy some good local food — but get there early. They shut down in the early evening so that the local bars get the spotlight and can make the money selling their beers.

The Journey

The destination, no matter how great, or how long one is staying, can only be reached through a journey.  I love finding wonderful places to explore along the way.  Today’s journey is to the Green Mountains.  Sculptures and stores to see, pastries to taste, and rivers to cross are just some of the possibilities along the way.  Who knows where today’s journey will take us!