The Most Expensive Trip Ever!

Feb - April, 2015
By Jack Welsch

The winter of 2014-2015 was a hard one and we really needed to get out of it. The goal was simply to get away from the mass to something warm without spending a bundle since we'd taken three significant trips last year. We decided to drive rent a place in Arizona for a month and just relax in the sun. Since our friends, Hank & Sue, had moved to Sun City, just west of Phoenix, that seemed like a reasonable destination. In order to stretch the time away, see a bit of the country and avoid the hell that commercial air travel has become, we decided to wander out and back by car.

After a protracted search, we booked a town house via Airbnb for the month of March. The owner had made a bit of an error when booking the previous tenant and asked whether we could delay our arrival until March 2 and then add the days to the end. Given that we were driving, that was no problem for us at all.

Thursday, February 19 - Home to Roanoke, VA

We were off at 10:08, ran through the car wash in Wilkes-Barre to get rid of most of the muck that covers all cars here in the winter and proceeded South on 81.  The car was soon a mess again but at least a bit better than before.  Lunch was at Funck's Family Restaurant in Indiantown Gap.  The food as good and the service spectacular.

Our only commitment for the drive was dinner on Sunday night with our friends, Paul and Margaret, in Atlanta. Given that we had left early and made better time than expected, I called Paul and moved dinner from Sunday to Friday night and the venue from Atlanta to Norcross.

Stopped for the night at a Hampton at exit 146 off I-81 just north of Roanoke, VA.  It had been cold overnight and I guess their water lines are close to the surface because there were water main breaks all over the city.

Dinner was next door at El Rodeo.  The meal was good and the service spectacular; the waiter was friendly, funny and efficient.  I thought the Tres leche dessert was disappointingly dry but Linda found it to be OK.

Friday, February 20 - Roanoke, VA to Norcross, GA

Well, so much for warming up by heading south; it was -1F dry bulb temp here this morning!  Lin went to sleep at 8:00 so was awake at 5:30. Shortly thereafter we got up and moving.  While Lin was in the shower, I went to replace the ice in the cooler and what was there was still frozen solid!

We were on the road by 7:30 under beautiful skies.  The scenery was fantastic at least until well into NC.  Around Gastonia, traffic on I-85 came to a dead stop.  Eventually we saw a sign saying that all 4 or 5 lanes were blocked by an accident.  I figured the nearby highway would be jammed as well so we wandered around back roads,  After that it was mostly OK but traffic was still heavy and periodically slowed a lot.

Before my retirement, I had a number of engineers in an office in Norcross so I  dropped Lin at the Hampton at Peachtree Center and went to the office to see the guys. That was fun.  Paul picked us up at 6:00 and took us to their home for a bit of wine before we headed off to "The Crossing", a new restaurant in the train depot in historic Norcross.  We had a great dinner and wonderful conversation.  I was sorry when the evening came to an end.

I admit that we found it humorous that everyone was panicked by a prediction of an inch or so of snow. To us, that's now even worthy of mention. The other think we found a bit odd was the lack of an available car wash. The car was again looking pretty dirty so I asked Paul about a car wash. He said they are all closed until spring because it's too cold!  

Saturday, February 21 - Norcross, GA to Biloxi, MS

We were up at 8:15.  The "storm" that had everyone scared to death the night before had not developed here but it had hit further north where things were pretty messy given their inability to cope.

We were on the road at about 10 as usual and headed for the "BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir", a magnificent Hindu temple that I had visited with one of my engineers from India some years back.  The place is absolutely amazing and the volunteers there very helpful and friendly.  It was a wonderful experience.

The ride south via I85 and I65 was uneventful and for the most part the road was pretty open.  We had originally planned on stopping near Mobile, AL but ended up continuing to Biloxi.  We struck out getting a place on the beach and stayed at a very nice Marriott Courtyard in d' Iberville. For dinner the desk clerk suggested Mary Mahoney's Old French House Restaurant near the Gulf. It was perfect; a very nice old place with excellent food and service.  One issue for both of us was that almost every item had crab in it.  I am deathly allergic to crab and Linda doesn't eat shellfish at all.  We were guaranteed, though, that the crab could be omitted and there was no chance of contamination.  I had a special; blackened mahi-mahi over jambalaya and must admit that I forget what Lin had but both were excellent.  The rum bread pudding was to die for!
Back at the hotel, we scoped out the rest of the trip and agreed we had lots of time to wander and still arrive at the town house by the second of March.

Sunday, Feb. 22, 2015 - Biloxi, MS to Sulphur, LA

Given the change to Central time, we were up at 7 and on the road at about 9:00 after a breakfast at an IHOP next to the hotel.  Before getting back on I-10 we drove down to the Gulf coast to see it in the daytime.  Biloxi is really picturesque and worthy of another visit.

Though I'd forgotten to bring the along, I remembered that "The Most Scenic Drives in America" described a nice drive through the bayous along US 90 after leaving I-10 at New Orleans.  It was a welcome break from the interstate but, in truth, not as interesting as I'd hoped.  We did visit the Tabasco factory on Avery Island.  That was really interesting but, in retrospect, we should have stayed nearby overnight and visited the factory the next day when they were in production. 

We stayed at a Hampton in Sulphur, LA; not exactly a garden spot but I was sick of driving.  Because the better restaurants were closed for Sunday, we ate at Chili's.  It was jammed and understaffed so service, while friendly, was very slow.

Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 - Sulphur, LA to Kerrville, TX

We were up at 7:00. The temperatures Sulphur today will be in the 40's with wind chills in the 20's (Arctic weather by their standards) so SCHOOLS ARE CLOSED TODAY AND TOMORROW! The temp yesterday was 78 so it's really taken a dive.

We had planned on staying a couple of days in San Antonio to enjoy the Riverwalk but, given the temperatures and the fact that everything was booked, deleted that from the itinerary. Accordingly, before leaving the hotel we reserved rooms for tonight and tomorrow in Kerrville and El Paso, respectively and chose an Omni in Tucson for after that. 

We were on the road under cloudy skies at 9:20.  Houston was a zoo and the heavy rain did not help.  Traffic varied greatly during the day. 

Lunch was at Orlando's Pizza Buffet in Brookshire, TX.  It's a very interesting place, you pay as you enter. They have salad, pasta and a LOT of different pizzas.  The girl asked we wanted anything special. I asked about anchovies and pepperoni and they made one for the buffet! Certainly not fancy but I recommend it.

We stopped for the night at the Hampton in Kerrville and Lin did laundry before dinner. Dinner was at Mamacita's, only a few miles away.  The place is tacky but interesting; the inside of the building is made up like a Mexican plaza, complete with a dark ceiling with twinkling "stars."  In spite of the tackiness, it was a fun experience and food and service were both very good.

Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015 - Kerrville, TX to El Paso, TX

We were on the road at 9:20 headed west on I-10 yet again.  I had to scrape ice from our windshield and rear window before setting out and I topped off with gas even though I had 1/2 tank.  Out here you can't take chances! 

The road was mostly dry and they had put sand on the bridges.  The countryside, however, was coated with a thick but velvety ice.  It appeared that there must have been a light mist that froze on contact.  There must have also been a breeze as in many places one side of the vegetation was white and the other side green, black or whatever.  The sky was overcast and visibility was lousy which was a shame since the countryside was picturesque.  The towns here are small and very far apart.  The good news is that the traffic was light and the speed limit 80 MPH.

Lunch was at The Steakhouse Restaurant in Ft. Stockton,  an "interesting" local establishment in this uninteresting town.  Shortly after leaving Ft. Stockton, the elevation started to increase, the ice on the vegetation became a lot thicker and we ran into HEAVY fog.  I initially slowed to between 65 and 70 but some folks passed me so I grabbed onto their tail lights and was back up to 80.  As we descended, the fog suddenly ended and the sky was spectacularly blue.  We stopped at the first truck stop to rest.  Scenery was spectacular. A girl in the truck stop said the bad weather never comes out of the mountains!

Traffic in El Paso was pretty heavy but we arrived at the Hampton West at 3:35.  Dinner was at the Corralito Steakhouse, only a few miles away.  Service was great, perhaps because we were served by the manager, JJ.  We both ordered tornado filet.  When I asked for extra rare, he actually talked my out of it saying that it was really thick and would be very cold inside.  I reluctantly ordered rare and he was right; it was still a bit cold in the very center. The bad news was that my first steak was tough as hell; impossible to cut.  I asked JJ to cut it and he immediately replaced it.  The replacement was very good, though not the best I've ever had.  The flan was spectacular.

Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015 - El Paso, TX to Tucson, AZ

Due to another time change we were up a bit after 6:00 and I wrote while Lin loafed a bit.  We were on the road at about 8:20 and, finally escaping I-10 for a bit, headed to Alamogordo, NM on US 54.  It was a pretty drive out through the dessert.  Our first stop was at the New Mexico Museum of Space History.  The museum is small and some exhibits were a bit tacky but overall it was a good experience.  Quite interesting were the many plaques dedicated to individuals who participated in space history from the ancients to the modern.

Our second stop was at White Sands National Monument, a surreal landscape made up of gypsum dunes.  Our senior national park passes saved us the $3.00 pp admission which we put to good use towards lunch at McD's in Las Cruces!

It was a long day of driving but we did eventually get to the Omni Tucson National Resort at about 6:00.  We had a huge suite in a remote building.  The downside is that the hotel is 60's vintage; nice but a little dated.  There were two TVs, one in the living room and another in the bedroom but both were 25" CRT units.  There was a very nice gas fireplace but no safe.  There was supposedly a full kitchen but it was poorly furnished and the appliances were ancient.

Having driven all day, we agreed to dinner at the hotel and ate in their fine-dining restaurant, Bob's.  Being removed a bit from the main building, the hotel provides golf-cart pick up service so we  used it both ways.  I had a magnificent, very crispy 1/2 duck and Lin enjoyed her salmon.

Back in the room, we lit the fireplace and watched TV for a bit before bed.

Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015 - Tucson, AZ

I was up a but after 7 and Lin a  bit later.  We'd bought a breakfast package so ate at the hotel.  Calling their buffet breakfast a "virtual buffet", they print a list of available items and the server brings you whatever you want and as much as you want.  Given that there were not a lot of guests, it makes sense.

After breakfast, we stopped at the concierge desk where we met "Johnny" [sic].  She clearly enjoys her job and is a real kick.  Given that the rodeo is in town, I figured it would be fun to go but when Johnny said we could expect to find 150-200 thousand people there, we changed our minds.  At her suggestion we went first to DeGrazia Galley In the Sun, an amazing place.  Ed DeGrazia was a painter but a very interesting human being as well.  In 1976, he committed $250K worth of his own paintings to a bonfire rather than have his heirs taxed on them. The gallery is in a beautiful and extensive desert setting that is as spectacular as his art. We might have bought more than just a set of coasters but agreed we didn't have enough wall space at home. (A condition which you will see, we soon corrected.

At Johnny's suggestion, lunch was at the at Tohono Chul Garden Bistro.  There was a bit of a wait but we enjoyed the meal and ambience. 
The car had gotten filthy driving across Texas so we ran it through a car wash before stopping for some Via at Starbucks to replace the virtually undrinkable coffee provided in the room. Back at the resort, we walked to the small pool near our room to relax.  There was a very loud family there, though, so Lin headed back to the room.

Dinner was at Wildflower.  We had been there before but I had not remembered it as so loud.  I know that for some strange reason people like it that way these days but I just don't get it.  The meal was OK  but not great.  Since it was jammed, people obviously like it but I would not recommend it. 

Our dessert, however, was another story!  Johnny had recommended that we have our desert at Frost, a gelato shop a few steps from Wildflower and it was a home run.  Even the first impression was excellent; each of the many flavors was presented creatively such as with a half of a fresh coconut on top of the coconut gelato.  The place was packed but service was quick and friendly.  I had coconut and chocolate and both were spectacular.  We sat at a small table outside and a server periodically came around with cups of water.  All in all a wonderful experience.

We returned to the room just before 9:00 but could not figure out the timing of TV shows here.

Friday, Feb. 27, 2015 - Tucson, AZ

I was up just before 7:00 and lit the fire to take the chill off the room.  Breakfast was in the hotel again.  I had seen something on the Internet about a Friday farmer's market at Trail Dust Town so we decided to have a look.  I figured it would be a tacky tourist trap and it was but we nonetheless had a good, though short, visit before returning to the hotel pool where we had lunch and spent the afternoon. There was a bit of a breeze so it was cool in the shade but blazing in the sun so, like I often do at home, we shuttled between the two. 

Dinner was at the Grill at Hacienda del Sol and it was outstanding!  Johnny had made reservations for 6:15 so we could enjoy the sunset views and they were spectacular. The photo in the linked website was taken from just to the left of where Linda sat.  I had Mahi Mahi Etouffée and it was outstanding.  Lin had rack of lamb that she liked though I think what she makes is better.  Service was also spectacular so the overall experience,  though far from cheap, was the best we've had for a long time.

Nothing was worth watching on TV so we got to bed at about 10:00.

Saturday, Feb. 28, 2015 - Tucson & Tubac, AZ

I was up a little after 7:00 again and did a bit of writing. Breakfast was a "real" buffet today, perhaps because it is the weekend.

The principal activity of the day was a drive to the artist colony at Tubac, not far from the Mexican border.  We had been there in 2004 and enjoyed it so a return seemed a reasonable way to spend the day.  Again, we saw a lot of things we'd have liked to buy if only we had a place to put them. After walking around or an hour or so, we returned to Shelby's Bistro for lunch.  On the way back, we stopped for a brief visit to the Mission San Xavier del Bac, which was completed in 1797.

Back at the hotel, I read by the small pool for a while but was uncomfortably cold so retreated to the room to write.

Dinner was again at Bob's at the hotel.  Both of us had steak; Lin a filet and I a strip.  Linda was happy with hers; mine was OK but I've had better. Strange that I get better steaks in the Northeast.

Sunday, March 1, 2015 - Tucson, AZ

We awoke to a magnificent day and had the buffet breakfast in the terrace.  Today's omelet was, I thought, especially good.  The highlight of the day was the Eucharist at St. Philip's in the Hills Episcopal Church.  We had asked the concierge, Johnny about an Episcopal church and, being an Episcopalian herself, she sent us to her own church. It was an amazing experience, especially because music plays a huge part of the service on the first Sunday of the month.  At our home church, if you arrive 20 minutes early, you'll find the place almost deserted; most people show up in the last 5 or 10 minutes.  Because I miscalculated the drive time, we got there over 30 minutes early to find people already entering the church.  We joined them and found it was already about 1/2 full!  In the end, the place was absolutely packed. The choir, which I estimate was 40-50 people strong, was supplemented by a wonderful organ and orchestra!  All in all, it was among the most enjoyable things we've done on this trip.

Linda expressed curiosity about "downtown" Tucson so after church we drove down to have a look. It really seems nice; clean and modern.
We had lunch and spent much of the afternoon at the hotel's main pool.  Lin eventually got "antsy" so we returned to the room and I walked to the nearby small pool to enjoy a bit more of the great weather.

Since rain was promised for the morning, we decided to pack the car before dinner.  While we were doing so the couple across the way, with whom we had a nodding acquaintance,  asked about our plans and we ended up talking for a while.  They have been here since January and will be here until May.  He is ex-military and works for a private contractor training helicopter pilots and A&Ps.

Dinner was at Hifalutin, as recommended by Johnny.  I thought the name sounded familiar and after we sat there a while I realized we had been there in 2014.   The baby back ribs were allegedly a half rack but were huge and delicious.  Service was great as well.

Monday, March 2, 2015 - Tucson, AZ to Sun City & Phoenix, AZ

I awoke at 6:00 and loafed until 7:00.  Lin was up at 8:00.  As predicted, yesterday's blue skies had morphed into total cloud cover. After our buffet breakfast, we headed for I-10 and Sue and Hank's house in Sun City.  The drive was OK but it was terribly windy.  At one point a huge tumbleweed blew across the road and the car in front of us pulverized it!  As we approached Phoenix we ran into a wall of rain which, added to I-10 traffic, made for a pretty lousy drive.

Called hank & Sue and met them for lunch at Firebird's. Excellent meal, ambiance & service.  Went to their house for a look & a glass of wine. Their house is delightful and larger than it appeared from the photos. I can see why they moved here!

Sue rode with me and Hank & Lin followed to our rented townhouse. The place is delightful and was also stocked with some goodies.

After Hank & Sue left, we unpacked and went to Fry's to shop. After we put everything away, we drove to Hank & Sue's for dinner, then returned and it the rack early.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - Phoenix, AZ

Slept until 8, got my laptop hooked up and online and started on my Africa presentation for St. Mary's, where my dad lives, before making breakfast.

When we were in Ft. Lauderdale a year ago, I had my first experience at Total Wines and have not been the same since. The contrast between that and The PA state liquor stores is the same as between Disney Works and a traveling carnival. So, after Lin got a wash started, we headed for the Total Wines at Desert Ridge to stock up . After Lin did a bit of clothes shopping, we had a delightful lunch at the Yard House. I like wine better than bear but if my kids saw their beer selection they'd go nuts!

I really needed new moccasins and especially like Minnetonkas so, after striking out at the stores at Desert Ridge and making a few phone calls, we drove to Old Scottsdale for them. While there, Lin bought me a new Navajo ring for my birthday.

Back "home", Lin made dinner & we watched TV.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015 - Phoenix & Mesa, AZ

As chairman of Wilkes University's Industrial Advisory Board, I had a 10:00 appointment to visit their campus in Mesa.  Traffic on 101 didn't look great so I left at about 8:45 and headed west on E. Bell all the way to 101.  In the end, I had little trouble and was there at about 9:30. Arriving a tad early I sat in the parking lot reading for bit before entering.  I met with two folks from PA and was introduced to the director.  All three gave me a tour; the campus (really just a building) is fantastic.  It was originally the Mesa municipal building and the present labs were the forensic labs.  All they need now is students!

When I got back, Lin was still online paying bills but after she got ready, we went to Target to get a badly-needed desk lamp.  Afterwards, stopped at "Fresh and Easy" for some food we'd missed the first time around.  I worked for a while on my Kajo Keji slide show for St. Mary's until Hank & Sue arrived for dinner.

Thursday, March 5, 2015 - Sun City & Phoenix, AZ

After breakfast, we drove to Sun City where Hank & Sue showed us around.  Saw several of Sun City's rec centers and All Saints of the Desert Episcopal Church.  The rector saw us poking around and unlocked the church for us.  The church was absolutely magnificent. The rector made us really feel at home and we promised to return on Sunday morning. The rec centers are impressive and I fell in love with the pools at Bell Center!  There are so many clubs and other activities that it's almost overwhelming.  People were universally friendly.  We had been absolutely adamant that we would not follow Sue and Hank's lead in buying a place but after visiting several open houses "just for a look" and made an appointment with a realtor for the next day!

We visited the home of Sue and Hank's friends, Jim and Maria, who live in Clarks Summit.  Then they came to Sue and Hank's for drinks. Afterwards which we went to Dominic's Bistro for dinner,  Dinner was good and there was dancing to a combo.  It was fun!

Friday, March 6, 2015 - Sun City & Phoenix, AZ

In making the realtor appointment, I'd forgotten that I had made a commitment for a conference call with a client at noon our time.  Called the client at about 8:00 to see if it was possible to do it sooner and he soon put the call together. Afterwards, I called Martha, the realtor, then we got dressed and headed to Sun City.  She showed us 7 places. A few were nice but one was great and we asked her for help on determining an offer. 

After dinner at Hank & Sue's we headed for a dance at Sundial rec center.

Saturday, March 7, 2015 - Sun City & Phoenix, AZ

After breakfast we hung out while Martha put together the documentation for the sale. I even sat by the pool for a while.  When all was in readiness, we drove to the ReMax Desert Showcase office in Peoria and signed the docs to formalize the offer.  The process took forever. 

Dinner was with Hank & Sue at Haus Murphy's, a German restaurant in Glendale.  It was OK at best.  Noise level was high and food was pretty bland.

I realized that I'd left my computer at the ReMax office so e-mailed Martha about retrieving it.  In the meantime, she'd realized she was missing some initials on some docs so we arranged to meet in the morning after church.

Sunday, March 8, 2015 - Sun City & Phoenix, AZ

My smartphone was configured improperly so overnight it switched to daylight time while Arizona does not.  As a result, the alarm went off at 7:00 though I'd set it for 8:00.  Ugh!

As promised, we attended church at All Saints of the Desert in Sun City and it was a delight.  Father Bob recognized us and welcomed us back. People were incredibly friendly, especially for such a large church.  The service ran almost an hour and a half so we had to skip coffee hour to meet Martha.

She suggested we meet at the house.  We got there first and there was another couple and a realtor just getting out of their cars.  When they left, we went in, took another look around signed the remaining docs to finalize our offer.  I got more pics, of course.  As we were leaving, yet another couple and realtor showed up.  Looks like we have competition!

Lin prepared a nice dinner and we loafed the afternoon away with me at the pool for a bit.  Jesse, our landlord here at the townhouse, stopped by and we chatted with him for a bit.  Nice young guy.
Our friends Dick and Jean, who live most of the year in PA, invited us to their home for drinks and snacks and then to a dance at Bell Rec Center. Their home is lovely and the dance was great; smaller but nicer than Friday's dance at Sundial.

Monday, March 9, 2015 - Sun City & Phoenix, AZ

Since this was a morning when I could sleep, of course I awoke early.  When Lin awoke, she called our broker to discuss the moving of funds for the house purchase.

After breakfast, we drove to Sun City to look at several furniture stores, three of which featured "resale" furniture. The place we liked best was Jan and Dean's. We were told that if we found something we liked, they would hold it without charge for later delivery. They suggested we choose everything we might want before having anything delivered since the delivery fee was $40 whether for a lamp or a house full of furniture. Though we saw some things we really liked and realized they may well be gone later, we of course could not commit before our offer is accepted.  Our purpose in visiting, in any case, was to get a feel for the places and pricing.

By mid-afternoon we returned to the hotel where I sat by the pool.  Went in the water for a few minutes but it was cold, even by my standards.  That explains why it's deserted.

We were sitting down to dinner when Martha called to say the seller signed the acceptance so that's one hurdle down.  Inspection is set for Saturday at 9:30. By the time I went to bed, it became clear that I have a respiratory problem; maybe allergy, maybe a bug.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - Sun City & Phoenix, AZ

I slept poorly and at one point my throat hurt so badly I could hardly swallow.  It was a bit better by the time I got up at 7:45.   We headed for a furniture store in Tempe called the Dump but when we were almost there, Sue called to say it was open only on Friday through Sunday so we turned around and headed to their house.  After lunch together we stopped by another furniture store on the way to see "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."  Dinner was once again at Sue and Hank's.  By the time we got "home" Martha had e-mailed the signed acceptance documents for the house!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015 - Sun City & Phoenix, AZ

Whether it’s a cold or allergies I don't know but I put in a horrible night; chest congestion and cough. Worked on the Kajo Keji presentation for a while, then headed for Surprise to take a look at Estate Retail, a furniture store. Stopped for pizza at Oregano's Pizza Bistro in Glendale.  They had suspended from the ceiling a hydroplane like mine!

The furniture store was WAY out and had nothing of interest.  I felt lousy so we returned to the townhouse for dinner and the evening.

Thursday, March 12, 2015 - Peoria & Phoenix, AZ

Since I felt so lousy, I slept in the back bedroom so at least Linda had a good night's sleep.  I went back to bed after breakfast and took another brief nap mid-afternoon.  In the meantime, though, I got everything set up and tested for a major client teleconference on 3/20.

We met Hank & Sue for a bite at Wildflower Bread prior to a wine tasting at Total Wines.  The tasting was based on wines from Spain and Portugal and was very well done.  Of course, we bought a lot of wine!

Friday, March 13, 2015 - Phoenix, AZ

I slept poorly again and awoke with a head full of water.

For an escape day, we picked up Hank & Sue and headed north to Montezuma's Castle National Monument and then on to Sedona. Montezuma's Castle is an Anasazi (now politically correctly called Ancestral Puebloan) site cut into the side of a hill. It is an amazing site and if it was the first we'd ever seen would have blown us away. In fact, it was not quite as impressive as that at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico but still very much worth the trip.

Leaving there, we continued North to Sedona. The scenery there is awesome; absolutely beyond words. Of course, it's become very touristy and traffic was horrible.  Our first stop was at Tlaquepaque Arts and Craft village where we found a lot of things that would look great in the new house once it's ours and we have some extra dinero.  Lunch was at El Rincon in the village.  On te way back out of town, we made a stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross, an absolutely stunning chapel with even more stunning views of the area.
Well, folks, here we come to a break in the program. Between being incredibly busy and not being in "vacation mode" I simply stopped making journal entries.

Saturday, March 14, 2015 - Sun City, AZ

In spite of the notice above, the entry for this date is firmly embedded in my mind. The event of the say was the home inspection. We met Martha and the inspector at the house and basically stayed out of the way while the inspector did his job. When he was finished, we did a walk-through as he explained his findings. Near the end, all four of us were in front of the house when we hear a loud crash. I asked, "What the hell was THAT?" and Martha responded, "That guy hit your car!" At that point a white Buick was slowly driving away. I ran after him, yelling and taking photos of the back of his car. Eventually the guy stopped but absolutely refused to admit he's hit me. This in spite of Martha's having seen him and the damage to the side of his car! While I was arguing with him, Martha called 911 and Deputy Sheriff soon arrived. By that time, I'd convinced the driver to come back. If course, it was concluded that it was the other guy's fault but I was still faced with a mess. Fortunately, no one was hurt and the damage, while extensive, did not affect drivability so arrangements were made to do the repairs after our return home.

So, this next bit is a general description about what happened during the "journal-less" days. While we had a terribly frustrating time between transferring funds, getting everything needed for the title company from the trustees who were handling the sales of the house for the estate of deceased parents and who knows what all, we eventually closed on the house.
It's ours but no furniture yet.In the meantime, we'd stopped at Jan & Dean's many times, each time committing to a bit more furniture. Before we were finished we had almost completely furnished the house. The closing process is incredibly different in Arizona from what it is in PA but we hot the keys on Wednesday, March 25. I immediately called Jan & Dean's and they delivered and set up the furniture the next day. The day after that, Friday, we moved out of the townhouse and into our new place! The photo above was taken right after we got the keys when our only furniture was 2 camp chairs. The one below was a day later at our first party. Our old friends, Sue, Hank, Jean, and Dick were there as were our new friends and "roofmates", Pat and John.
Our first party!The week went by as a blur and it was only on the two days before we left that I got around to swimming at Bell. Suffice it to say it was a great week and we are tickled silly to have the place!

Friday, April 3 - Sun City, AZ to Santa Rosa, NM

OK, back to the journal... We were up at 7:00, did the last few things to prep the house for our absence and left the house at 7:45.  After a gourmet breakfast at McD's, we were on the road at 8:30.  Rather than take I-17 to Flagstaff, I chose the more scenic route via Payson, getting on I-40 at Holbrook.   We both love Zuni jewelry but when we were visiting pueblos in 2006 we deemed Zuni too far to drive from our hotel in Albuquerque. Since we'd be passing by this time, though, we made the slight detour to Zuni pueblo. Sadly, probably because it was Good Friday, most shops were closed. However, we found Turquoise Village open and were able to get a pot that will be perfect for our new dining room table. We most definitely must spend more time at Zuni next time!

After lunch in Zuni, we drove straight through to the Hampton at Santa Rosa, NM, arriving at 8:00.  "Dinner" was at the Silver Moon, a diner that dates to the Route 66 era.  It was Interesting but not great and I think Route 66 was still going strong when they last did any maintenance!

Saturday, April 4 - Santa Rosa, NM to Van Buren, AR

We were awakened before 5:00 by all kinds of noise from the room above.  There were a zillion teens in the hotel so I suspect it was a team of some sort and that they were the culprits. I put in earplugs and was able to sleep to 7:00.  Breakfast was a disaster; VERY little food on the buffet and what was there was not replenished.  No breakfast meat at all, skim milk only, only 2 muffins in the tray; only one dried out egg-covered bagel.  The attendant, in the meantime, seemed to have no interest in it at all.

Got on the road at 8:40.  This strip of I-40 is pretty deserted.  We eventually stopped at a McD's between Amarillo and the OK border. 

I was surprised that OK really was OK.  It was a beautiful day and we really enjoyed the scenery. All the way from Arizona we'd been running with lots of cars with license plates from the upper Midwest; all snowbirds, I assume. As I'd expected from a look at the map, we lost most of them In Oklahoma City as they peeled off to the north.

We stopped for the night at Hampton near Ft. Smith, AR and had dinner at "Big Jake's nearby.  The place was not bad, the live music was nice and the service was very friendly. Once again, though, the steak was pretty tough.

Easter Sunday, April 5 - Van Buren,  AR to Knoxville, TN

Breakfast at the Hampton in Van Buren was in sharp contrast to the one a day earlier. The buffet was very well managed and the well-dressed woman who was obviously responsible for it made it a point of stopping at every table to make sure everyone was taken care of.

After breakfast, the day went down hill. Maybe it was because we missed church on Easter that it was a day from Hell.  We got on the road at 9:40 in the rain.  I thought from the radar map that we'd run out of it but it was with us almost all day.  It would seem to clear and then start up again; very frustrating.  Scenery through AR was nice but the traffic increased throughout the day.  In Eastern TN, the windy road combined with heavy traffic, rain and my fatigue to make it truly terrible.  We stopped for the night at a Hampton east of Knoxville.  and dinner at Aubrey's, right near the hotel, was a bit of a relief  The place was nice and service very good.  My peanut encrusted catfish was OK.

Monday, April 6 - Knoxville, TN to Holly Springs, NC

We slept until 8 and were on the road at about 9:30, again in light rain.  The first part of the ride was quite pleasant but as we got into NC, it got a lot more challenging. As it runs along Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I-40 dips an twists like crazy and, though it is an Interstate, the speed limit drops to 45 in some places.  Traffic at some points was fairly heavy so the whole thing was a stimulating experience.  Thankfully, once we got out of the gorge the highway straightened out a bit. 

We were headed to Holly Springs to visit our friends, Betty & Allen. Fortunately, when I touched base with Allen he recommended we take 421 from Winston-Salem, avoiding a lot of heavy traffic.  That part of the drive was delightful!  Arrived at the Hampton in Holly Springs just before 4:00 and called Allen to check in with him.

Allen and Betty picked us up at 6:15 for a delightful dinner at "Lucky 32" in Cary. The waitress, Natasha, was fantastic and the food was excellent (I had Jambalaya). Of course, the best part was spending the time with our very good friends.  Once back at the hotel, we sat together in the lounge until almost10.

Tuesday, April 7 - Holly Springs, NC to Chesapeake, VA

Allen and Betty picked us up at 10:30, then picked up Allen's mother, Romaine, before driving to Apex for a nice lunch at Mrs. Lacy's Magnolia House,  After lunch we drove past the house Romaine is still trying to sell, before arriving back at the hotel just after 2:00. 

The reason we'd left Arizona so early when we could have stayed a bit later in the season was that our granddaughter, Madie, who lived with her mother in Minnesota, was going to be visiting her father, our son Eric, in Norfolk, VA. We of course, wanted to grab the opportunity of seeing her. So, now it was off to see Madie...

Of course, it started raining just as we got to our car!  The rain wasn't too bad, however, and the ride to the Hampton in Chesapeake wasn't too bad.  Eric and the girls were at the hotel when we got there and, after hanging around the room for a while, we had dinner at Texas Roadhouse nearby.

Wednesday, April 8 - Chesapeake, VA

It was rainy once again so the kids came over to swim in the hotel pool.  Eric's girlfriend, Becka, was supposed to work until 4:30 but just as we ordered our drinks at Buffalo Wild Wings, she called to say she'd been sent home as their place was dead.  She bummed a ride from Va. Beach and joined us for lunch. 

After a brief time in our suite, the gang headed home and we met again for a very authentic Mexican experience at Taqueria de Jesse, not far from the kids' apartment.  

Thursday, April 9 - Chesapeake, VA to Home

We were up at 7:00 and on the road by about 8:30 driving via the Eastern Shore.  The first 3 or 4 hours are slow going as the speed limit varies frequently between 55 and 44 as route 13 passes through innumerable small towns with a cop behind every billboard.  Stopped at a McD's just past Conshohocken and got home just after 4:00. 

Total mileage 7975. Whew!

So, what was intended as a relaxing and inexpensive vacation was neither. However, it not only got us out of this winter's snow, it'll get us out of a lot more!