Arkansas - Little Rock

Mill view, breathtaking


Little Rock, Arkansas, at Thanksgiving time is as quiet as a politician on the prairie when his running mate has disappeared with his bandwagon. More simply put, it was DAMN quiet!

We tied our horses up outside the Capital hotel and sauntered in. It was exceedingly nice, it’s the kind of place you see well heeled older southern gents, dickie bows in place, sipping on their whiskeys as they stare out at the Old State House. Commander General, and 18th President of the United States, Ulysses Grant stayed there, I’ve impressed you enough -granted he was no Kardashian ;)

Riverside Market, sans market

It’s a very short walk to the Riverside Market which describes itself as the centrepoint of Little Rock. Alas, thanks to Thanksgiving the market had the cheek to close. However, there was some life kicking about and you could get a sense of how it might feel in full flow - throngs of people sniffing through the cornucopia of farmers healthy treats, cafes and diners bustling with customers, hippies and hobnobs drifting in and out of the galleries, riverside concerts kicking off lasting into the evening. It sounded very appealing, but Thanksgiving and the city (country) shutdown was upon us, we needed to find something else to entertain us.

Le roche...C'est incroyable!

That entertainment came in the form of a pebble, Le Petite Roche, to give it it’s name. It was the original rock that gave the town its’ origin. I touched it, looked at it, touched it again, took a photo. The entertainment was endless. It would sort of remind you of Plymouth Rock in Cape Cod that I once made my brother drive to many years ago, assuming it was a rock of titanic proportions that once glimpsed would send me into shockwaves rippling through America’s history. In reality, Plymouth rock is more of a slab than a rock. So instead of surfing the shockwaves of history, I paddleboarded through the currents of the recent past.

Beside Le Petite Roche, and a sight bigger, is Junction Bridge, it is the longest pedestrian-only bridge in the world. To be honest, it doesn't look particularly long and has elevators at certain points which add to its peculiarness!

Between the bridge and the rock I wasn’t sure if I could handle much more excitement but when I heard there was an old mill nearby… the bridge, the rock AND the mill, this day of explosive entertainment was about to reach fever pitch.

A short drive to North Little Rock (don’t you dare confuse it with Little Rock proper) brought us to the Old Mill. To its credit it was very picturesque and beautiful, it featured in the movie Gone With the Wind, great kudos, however, this is my ‘only in America’ moment… it isn’t really an “old” mill, it is a reconstruction of an old mill, yet the government saw fit to put a preservation order on it…?!

Old or semi-old it is a bit of fun, it’s the kind of place I would have loved as a kid. To get to the mill you have to cross over gnarly bridges made from an elaborate combination of stone and tree. The mill building itself is out of a fairytale, you can tear up and down the stairway, half expecting to brush past Hansel and Gretel, and stare down as the massive wheel on the side of the house churns the water.

When I finished running about the mill house, I ran into the garden at full speed like a six year old, climbing up winding paths that led to more fantastically crazy bridges framing the serene river. I stared in admiration at the private jetties that protruded into the river. I love jetties; someday I’ll have a house on a lake with a private jetty all of my own (this is the house with the whiskey and trophy rooms - man, this road trip was shaping up some expensive dreams in my head!).

Back in Little Rock proper, we swung by the Governor's mansion. I was hoping to go inside and then realized it was an official residence, ohh, so by Governor's mansion, you meant the actual Governors’ actual mansion, gotcha. However, the Gov’s manor, my street speak for the neighbourhood, is worth a stroll around.

It's in the Quapaw Quarter an area that has preserved its antebellum architecture given it was relatively untouched during the civil war. The homes are truly stunning, as well as your standard American Craftsman, you'll see colonial revival, Greek revival, etc. I love walking around neighbourhoods, walking from the Governor's Mansion to MacArthur Park gives you a real flavour of the quarter.

We took a drive down ‘Historic Main St’, I was very excited and sat back waiting to be hit by a wave of nostalgia. Unfortunately, it was like any modern high street. It was also under construction which is always attractive to look at.

Man of the street

I’ll be honest, the first (and possibly the last time) I had ever heard of Little Rock Arkansas was when a certain Bill Clinton, then Governor of Arkansas, ran for office. Little Rock has named a street after him, they have a library devoted to him, you can’t come to Little Rock and not get exposed to a bit of Bill.

The President Clinton Library is worth the visit. You’ll find yourself draped over the replica of the cabinet room, banging your fist and shouting things like “You can’t handle the truth” (okay, I’m mixing Hollywood with Capitol Hill). Even as a replica it is very impressive, you feel like decisions were made at this very table that changed lives. The only decision I made at that table was that I needed to change someone’s diaper (Dom hangs his head in shame).

There are corridors of shelves with reams of books that list off Clinton’s daily agenda for every day he was in office. They even note when he had his ‘down time’ (make up your own jokes).

The internet explosion also helped...a little

I was digging the replicas, so I was delighted to come across a replica of how the oval office looked when Clinton was in power. He kept a piece of moon rock on his desk. When he had meetings and people would get stressed he would say “Don’t worry, this here piece of moon rock is millions of years old, us, why we’re just passing through”.

Eerily similar to my desk at work

I know Bill Clinton had some obvious failings, but all in all I kinda like the guy. He is incredibly intelligent (a Rhodes Scholar), an accomplished negotiator and peace broker (he did a lot for Northern Ireland), and as smooth as all hell. I think he's an example of how you can lead successfully without aggression. He was a mild mannered southern gent who got stuff done. I feel like today both sexes are advocating in-yer-face alpha qualities as the way forward. Personally, I think a smile and a please & thank you make for a more popular leader.

As we left the Clinton library we walked 100 yards to the Heifer International Green building. The Heifer group's aim is to end global poverty and hunger through teaching self sustainability. This place was remarkable. The work they do to get people in developing countries back on their feet is inspiring.

A smiley volunteer gave us a tour of the building explaining the tremendous work they do helping communities while showing us how tricked-out their building is to maximize environmental cost effectiveness.

They position their heat grills beside windows as this heats the cold air as it enters the room. As opposed to having the heat in the center of the room which needs to chase the cold air from the centre out.

Sensors are positioned around the office that emit a white noise buzz. This counteracts any echos or indeed any deafening silence and absorbs loud noise. Apparently our ears prefer a little somethin-somethin than absolute silence. I’m not sure my primary school teacher got that memo from her ears...“CUINAS” (Irish way of saying “Please be quiet class” or direct translation “SILENCE”). Róisín, however, was a big fan of the Heifer building’s white noise machine and promptly went straight to sleep.

The guide pointed out a fact of nature that sunlight can flood a building up to 32 feet. For this reason the Heifer building is exactly 64 feet wide with floor to ceiling windows on each side maximising natural light.

We dropped our heads to examine the floor as we were told it was made from bamboo wood. Bamboo is the fastest growing wood (plant) in the world. Within 5 years it is mature, it’s a logical easily renewable resource.

Driving back to our hotel my head full of eco facts and presidential replicas we drove by Little Rock High School. It was here in the 1960s the National Guard were called in to stop 9 black teenagers from attending the "white" high school they had enrolled in. When the President found out he sent in the army to stop the national guard from preventing the students walking into the school. It seems everywhere you go in the deep south it is touched by the civil rights movement.

At the hotel we settled into a Thanksgiving turkey dinner. At this point we were well used to the people of the south being so friendly. We were also well used to Róisín being a big hit everywhere we went (if you were 8 months old, as cute as a button and had the ability to smile and giggle all day long, you'd be a big hit too).

Cute as a button

I think we got as far as ordering when there was a squeal from a passerby, “Well, if it isn’t the Gerber baby!”. Gerber is a US baby brand that has a drawing of a smiling baby as their logo. Yes, I guess it does look a bit like Róisín. The lady pulled up a chair, why not, it’s the South, the more the merrier, and we got chatting. Turns out she was the curator of a museum, had travelled the world, had lived in Europe and gave us all sorts of tips on the South. She discreetly left as our food arrived.

What a lovely lady, that kind of thing just doesn’t happen in big cities. If a stranger sits at your table in a big city, they probably have a gun under the table! (I’m so cynical).

On our last morning we settled into a final breakfast at the hotel. I noticed the young couple beside us were holding hands and saying grace before they ate. You don’t get more southern than that.

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