A New Year – A New Name! Welcome to Practical Nomads & Arizona Adventures – Installment 1

Greetings from Phoenix, AZ!  It’s been some time since our last post, and this one will catch you all up on some of the highlights!
First, as you can see we finally got rid of ‘vrbo’ in our web site title (though we still own the url.)  Dave and I generated at least 100 possible names and decided to pick Practical Nomads as it reflects both the practicality and frivolity of our experience!

This post focuses on our Jan and Feb activities (through Valentine’s weekend) in Scottsdale and elsewhere!  Upcoming posts include Manhattan Beach, Tucson, a brief visit back to Chicago (weekend of 3/11), and Santa Barbara wine country (3/15-3/18)!

We arrived on the 1st to fairly chilly temperatures and quite a bit of rain thanks to El Nino!  Chilly temps = sweater, not a winter coat 🙂  While Dave was skiing in Salt Lake I enjoyed a night out on the town with some Chicago friends Jeannie and Joe (who moved to Scottsdale 6 years ago) who gave me some great tips on areas to check out, restaurants to visit, etc.!  They also shared some incredible 1997 Von Strasser cab!  I joined a very nice gym across the street with excellent muscle conditioning and spin classes.  The people are super nice and I’m enjoying the breaks from working (which I continue to do much of – more than I would if I were back in Chicago I think)!

MLK weekend – 1/16-18:  Vegas!

We got a great deal at our favorite hotel The Venetian and enjoyed a few nights in Vegas.  Unfortunately we did not win big, but we had fun at dinner at Giada’s new restaurant at the Cromwell (the old Bill’s Gambling Hall, one of the last casinos where you can find a $5 table 😦  Dinner was excellent, and we also went to Absinthe, a very unique, anti-Cirque show that was very funny and entertaining.  No trip to Vegas would be complete without a visit to Lavo, an Italian restaurant at Palazzo that has the best meatballs you’ve ever had in your life – hands down!  And their lobster benedict wasn’t bad either!

Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) – Stradivarius exhibit (Fri, 1/29) – #1 rated activity on Tripadvisor!
Antonio Stradivari is the most widely-imitated maker of violins, known for tight and closely-spaced wood grains, and different proportions in the length and width, slope of the arched face and back, and shape and position of the sound holes (f-shaped carvings) result in the unique ‘Strad’ sound so widely treasured and revered across the globe.  He started making violins around the age of 22, his early work was modeled after Nicolo Amati (Andrea’s grandson), and then he dedicated most of his life to refining and perfecting his own sound and style. He lived to the age of 93, and worked most of his life. Paradoxically, while Stradivari strove to set quality standards in his violin-making, each ‘Strad’ is known to have its own personality, look, and sound.  Cremona, Italy is the ‘home of the violin’ and the Museo del Violino – today more than 160 workshops are active and the luthiers (violin makers) must utilize the time-tested crafting techniques.

We only had time to the Strad exibit – we will be back to tour the entire museum!

Carefree – Sat 1/30
Spent the afternoon here visiting an art show, native American dance performance, and checking out the quaint village.  Nearby Cave Creek is a touristy throw-back to Arizona’s wild west days!

Café Monarch – Sat 1/30
Our favorite restaurant experience to-date.  Fabulous service, excellent food, and a more down-to-earth gourmet experience without the attitude, reminded us of Gary Danko’s, another favorite, in San Francisco!

Barrett Jackson – Sun 1/31
We enjoyed a great afternoon at Barrett Jackson with a long-time skiing friend of Dave’s, Bob, and  his wife Susie.  Barrett Jackson is a behemoth of a classic and modern car exhibit and auction, along with auto memorabilia, planes, shopping, food, drinks, etc. etc.!  The auctioneers were pretty entertaining – and we are pretty sure we were on TV as a bidder won directly in front of us!  We only looked, we did not buy!

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Prescott – weekend of 2/6
Cute mountain town about 2 hours north of Phoenix – we had a brief return to winter with a little snow on the ground and cooler temps!  We stayed at the Grand Highland Hotel, which was a great choice – right in the middle of town, a vintage hotel with a B&B air (not to be confused with Airbnb – ha ha!), each room had its own design theme  (ours was mid century modern!) and the bathroom had a vintage style, but with brand new fixtures, clawfoot tub, etc.  Very nice!

Unfortunately Dave and I both weren’t feeling totally up to par and Dave spent most of Sat in bed while I ventured out to lunch at Prescott Brewing Company, the Sharlot Hall Museum, and explored the town, including the local Prescott Winery (which was quite tasty!  the wines were smooth and delicious, especially the ones with CA-sourced grapes!)

The Sharlot Hall Museum was started by Sharlot Hall in 1928 with a goal of preserving the Territorial Governor’s Mansion and now includes 9 structures on the property including a transportation museum, the former home of John Fremont (5th territorial governor of AZ),  museum galleries including a Stone Age history display, history of law enforcement in Prescott (colorful facts including how the police used to signal a warning prior to inspecting ‘Whiskey Row’ during Prohibition), as well as a large variety of other artifacts that Hall was responsible for gathering.

Heard Museum – Fri 2/12

American Indian Art & history museum

The overall mission of the Heard Museum is to educate the public about the heritage and the living cultures and arts of Native peoples, with emphasis on the peoples of the Southwest. The Heard Museum is not a history museum. It is a living museum featuring both artifacts and contemporary art of Native cultures. The main Phoenix location of the Heard Museum has been designated as a Phoenix Point of Pride.

Enjoyed an escorted tour of their signature HOME: Native People in the Southwest exhibit and saw/learned about the following:

  • Tammy Garcia pottery – Dave and I now recognize the unique style of this Santa Clara artist as we travel through the Southwest!
  • Nearly 2,000 treasures including jewelry, cultural items, pottery, baskets, textiles, beadwork and more
  • a Navajo Hogan/house, made of cedar and adobe
  • 500 Hopi katsina dolls on display from the Goldwater and Fred Harvey Company collections.
  • There is no word for ‘art’ in Native American language.  Cross symbols are not religious but symbolize ‘directions’.  Circles signify journeys
  • Native American jewelry styles include: Zuni – fine stone work polishing (my favorite), Navajo – large chunky pieces/not as fine silversmithing, Hopi – more simple silverwork, with relief designs
  • Piestewa – the old Squaw Peak mountain has been named after her.  She was the first Native American to die in a US war (Iraq).  It rained on the mesa the day she died and snowed when she was buried.

Piestewa Peak hike – Sat 2/13

  • We enjoyed a pretty strenuous hike with Bob, taking pics and grabbing shade along the way!  We were rewarded with drinks at the Phoenician resort after!
  • Piestewa Peak is relatively young, formed roughly 14 million years ago. However, it is composed of much older rock, primarily schist
  • More on the peak: As the term “squaw” is considered derogatory by some, numerous efforts to change the name of the mountain were made through the years. She was ½ Hopi, half mexican american – first native american woman to die serving the US.
  • Over 1200 feet in 1.2 miles
  • Many hikers don’t reach the top as it is more difficult than it looks (we agree and we made it 2/3 of the way – hey it was  noon and sunny when we started)
  • We saw a few chipmunks and squirrels, luckily no rattlers!


Out and about over Valentine’s weekend

Our condo
Our place suits us fine – definitely not the luxury pad we had in Palm Springs, but it has most everything you need for a short stay – our needs are unique, as you know, in that we are living for an extended period of time in these places – so we’ve come to expect and manage around some of the inconveniences we experience regularly – in this case, limited kitchenware (how about 3 dinner forks?), 6 hangers (there are never enough hangers in our rentals!), and no nightstands (Dave’s large pottery cardboard boxes and a Target lamp to the rescue!) and more recently, our cable channels have been slashed as a ‘promotional period’ has just expired.  Unfortunately our owner has not responded to our offer to pay the incremental cost to bring back normal channels like TBS, CNBC, ABC Family, Fox Business, and HGTV…oh well!  It’s the price we pay for the lifestyle.  The condo is in a good location for Scottsdale, with multiple grocery stores (one of which is similar to Mariano’s with a great wine bar and serves up quality wines cheap by the glass), a brewpub, and a few good restaurants within walking distance, though the area by no means is pedestrian-friendly.  In fact I take my life in my hands every day crossing the street to get to the gym!  The complex is nice and quiet and has a heated pool hot tub, and a small gym.

For an extended stay in this area I’d recommend securing a place closer to Old Town/downtown Scottsdale (difficult to do), perhaps rent an unfurnished place and rent from a company such as Cort. In fact Dave just rented a very nice unfurnished place in downtown Scottsdale for when he comes back for work!  I’d also recommend Tempe as it’s very walkable with lots of shops and restaurants, though being around so many college kids may not be so great!

Hope your winter is treating you well (it’s March 9 and in the 60s in Chicago – looking forward to the weekend visit!) and look forward to seeing you soon in our travels!

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