Category Archives: Travel

I’m not cut out for Vegas (aka a travel guide for someone who hates gambling)

My husband and I recently returned from a trip to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. It was my first visit back to the Strip since I was freshly 21 – so nearly 9 years ago. Let’s just say, it will probably be at least another 9 years for me to forget yet again why I am not cut out for Vegas and decide to make a return trip. That’s the schedule me and Sin City have. We reconnect every 6-9 years, realize it isn’t going to work out, and go our separate ways.

My first trip was when I was about 15. Our family was on a cross-country trek in an RV that was going to last most of the summer. I think it was around 2002 or 2003, and my main concern was making my parents as aware as possible that I was extremely upset they were forcing me on a tour of the US when all I wanted was to spend the summer with my boyfriend. Ah, the stupidity of youth. What I wouldn’t give to go on that trip now that I actually realize how awesome it was to see the Grand Canyon, the California sequoias, Yellowstone, and numerous other national treasures.  One stop on our tour was Vegas, and our first date was a good one. I wandered the Strip, taking in the amazing decadence of each casino and spending my parent’s money at the shops at Caesar’s. We visited Circus Circus and rode the indoor rides. Between the lights, the shopping and the coasters, I was enamored. I couldn’t wait to go back when I was old enough to drink and gamble. It was a typical first date. We were both on our best behavior.

My second date with Vegas was a few months after my 21st birthday. My mom and my three aunts and I decided to take a girls’ weekend. We had high hopes of winning big and living large. My mom won a few hundred bucks on a slot machine. Me – I lost my modest budget of $300. I’d never seen money vanish so fast. And that’s when I learned that I hate gambling. That, and that you really shouldn’t gamble if you aren’t emotionally stable enough to lose. As a poor college student working two jobs, I worked too darn hard for my money. There is nothing worse for my competitive and logic-based brain, and my anxiety-laden psyche, then trying to figure out how to find some semblance of skill and strategy in games of pure and random chance. I did, however, enjoy the shows. We saw Bette Midler and she was absolutely fabulous. We all took a trip up the Eiffel Tower. Nonetheless, Bette & faux Paris weren’t enough for me to continue a love affair with Vegas. When our flight was cancelled and we were forced to spend an unplanned night in a crappy motel room off the Strip, I was cursing Vegas and vowed never to return.

Nine years had passed, and now that I was a fairly successful adult with disposable income and a wonderful husband as a travelling companion, the faults I found with Vegas in the past seemed just a matter of circumstance. I thought that this time I’d be able to set a budget and be okay if I lost the money set aside for gambling. I was wrong. By the time I’d saw my final chip lost to the roulette table, I was near tears. Why, for the love of all that is good, could I not win once?! Slots – lost. Roulette- lost. Blackjack – lost $300 in a blink. I mean, come on! I was losing my money so fast I wasn’t even able to have any fun with it. Finally, after our third date, I learned that Vegas and I just aren’t compatible. I am not one of those types who likes the thrill of trying to win big. I’d rather just keep my money. Should Vegas and I attempt to reconnect again, I’ll stick to dining, shopping and shows. The casinos and I just aren’t meant to be.

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It wasn’t all bad. I scored a cute pair of black booties at a steal. I ate the most delicious Spanish tapas in the gorgeous Aria. We laughed (and cringed a bit) during a variety vaudeville and Burlesque act called Absinthe. We got a dose of political satire and incredible slight-of-hand from Penn & Teller. When the soul-sucking casino games drew our final dollar from us, we retreated to our room and paid way too much for a pay-per-view movie, but there is nothing better than curling up with my honey. After all, $20 for nearly two hours of entertainment is quite the bargain in Vegas. Alone and away from it all, Brian and I got a chance to really connect and have a few deep conversations – one while we gazed over a panoramic view of the Strip while dining on Alaskan king crab legs and filet. Oh, and we saw Britney, bitch.

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Maybe I’ll give that crafty vixen one more try after all…

If you are looking for a non-gambling centered visit to Vegas, full of food and entertainment, here are my recommendations:

Day 1

  • If you are travelling from the East Coast, reminder that Las Vegas is on virtually the opposite side of the country. It is waaay closer to California than I remembered. We still managed to tough it out and fit in a great dinner and show. To get you in the Vegas mood, and help motivate you through the three hour time difference, do yourself a favor and check out Julian Serrano at Aria for Spanish tapas. The rioja was delicious (I only was able to have a sip because I’m preggers, but it was amazing!), the braised oxtail was the best thing on the menu, the pan con manchego was scrumptious, and there were a number of other dishes I wish I could have fit in. We made reservations, but it wasn’t too crowded on a Friday in January.
  • Next, keep yourself entertained with the fast-pace and raunchy humor of Absinthe at Caesar’s Palace. Be prepared for graphic descriptions you wish you could be unheard, but some of the most incredible acrobatics you will ever see. Not suitable for children.

Day 2

  • Do yourself a favor and contact The Massage Couple for a wonderful in-room massage. They offer a 90-minute massage and take the stress out of reading through a million spa reviews. Prices are much more reasonable than the hotel spas (most of which aren’t that well-rated). If you prefer a spa environment, and price isn’t a concern, then there are a number of great places to check out. Either way – take some time to relax.
  • After a relaxation session, head to Mon Ami Gabi at the Paris casino for a terrific French brunch. The ambiance is really great, and the food was amazing. We recommend the baked goat cheese and mussels. The fresh French baguettes are addicting, and the chocolate mousse is superb. Reservations are a must!
  • For the evening, pick one of the many concerts. We saw Britney, but there are a ton of others to choose from. A Vegas concert is more intimate than you’ll find other places. The Axis at Planet Hollywood, for example, only seats 4,600. Because they are shows with long runs, the stage and props are always spectacular.

Day 3

  • For breakfast, pick a buffet. They are all fairly comparable. We hit up the Spice Market at Planet Hollywood because that’s where we were staying. It was pretty decent and had a range of cuisines. (We don’t recommend the PH as a place to stay, however. Rooms were nicely sized, but our floor reeked of cigarettes, housekeeping was lousy, and they were stingy with towels. There are much nicer places to stay.)
  • Instead of gambling, shop the Miracle Mile shops at Planet Hollywood. There are tons of sales, and your $500 will go much farther! Just be sure you have room to take all your loot home.
  • For your last evening, catch a magic show. We saw Penn & Teller at the Rio. Be prepared for some political comedy and impressive slight-of-hand. If you are more into vanishing airplanes or gimmicks, then there are several other magicians to choose from. If you do wind up at The Rio, which is a little off the strip, then The Voodoo Steakhouse offers a good meal (although a little pricey). The view is pretty impressive and gives you a panoramic of the Strip. We split the Land & Sea so Brian could have his steak and I could have some delicious crab legs. There are certainly better meals- and at better value –  so don’t make the trip unless it’s convenient.

 

 

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Wanderlust Wednesday: Buenos Aires

This is a short post. Not because the lack of things to write, but more for the opposite. There are so many ideas in my head I have to reach into the swarming buzz of thoughts and snatch one out quickly before it zips away. The slowest thought in the swarm? My amazing trip to BA for my best friend’s wedding. I’ll do a breakdown of events in more detail, but here is my current favorite shot from the trip. This was taken in the famous Recoleta Cemetery. She reminds me of a Tim Burton movie.

Reminds me of a Tim Burton movie

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Interruptions

Interruptions are a fact of life. Sometimes life interrupts your plans. Sometimes a fire alarm interrupts your bubble bath. After a 5 month interruption, I’m writing from a hotel in Boston. This has been a lengthy interruption indeed.

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I go back and forth over whether I should bother to catch you up on the events of the past several months, or just pretend like I didn’t leave a gap of silence where my wit used to be. Truth is, maybe I’m just a little reluctant to summarize  because when penned my feats don’t seem particularly exceptional. Here goes —

– Quit my job

– Got a new job

– Started a side business

– Did lots of yoga

– Drank lots of tea

– Read. A lot

– Fostered four puppies

– Went on a business trip to Boston

– Didn’t write.

Just because you’re interrupted doesn’t mean you fail to continue doing what you love – or – that you don’t go back to your hotel room and finish shaving your legs. So here I am, back to writing because it’s just what I have to do.

This week I’ve been in Boston and in residence at the longest-operating hotel in the United States. It’s remarkable for such a proud and thriving city how small and familiar it can feel in just a matter of days. My first evening I managed to wander back to Charles Street and the quiet, cozy little Italian trattoria I discovered on my only other trip to Boston. It was a complete accident, but amazingly comforting to wander into the familiar when far from home. The weather has been bitterly cold, putting a damper on my curiosity. But, I’ve found when forced to be content with the same 4 block radius I hurriedly maneuver during my walk to the office, I can still manage to find something beautiful every day. Like the charming clock tower nestled between 1970s style skyscrapers casting a warm yellow glow across the cobblestone streets as I follow my colleagues to a dive bar down Milk street. Or, the small but ornate brick building which due to it’s historical significance has caused traffic to diverge in a pentagon all around it – a pattern which would make no sense and for which a lesser building would have been demolished long ago. But, no, this small building with it’s golden lion and golden unicorn facing off over the spread wings of a golden eagle — it remains. And traffic – it is interrupted. Today, in the absence of snow and freezing rain from the early part of the week, I was able to finally look up and study in detail the buildings along State Street. I noticed pink stars standing out amongst blue concrete next to red brick. I took in carved faces among ornate filigree, I read plaques about men long dead who made an unremarkable patch of street significant simply because they lived nearby. It made me start thinking about legacies… but that’s a topic for another night. Let’s not get too carried away on my first day back.

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Although enjoying the architecture, I came to Boston for an immersion program with my new firm. It was informative and uplifting. I’m on the company Kool-aid. Mission accomplished. After the noise of the week and being what I think of as “on” 24/7 — by “on” I mean actively combatting my tendency for Resting Bitchy Face (RBF) and my naturally introverted nature in the attempt to make some friendly collegial relationships — I was doing pretty well up until this evening. Right now I should probably be indulging in adult beverages in the time-honored act of camaraderie when you come through the other side of an intense experience with a group of people, but I was just so. damn. tired. I decided tonight was a night of aloneness. I slipped into my white, comfy hotel robe. I ran a hot bath, broke out my Kindle, and queued up for an hour or so diving further into Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. After no more than about 20-30 minutes this piercing noise comes from the other room — from my hotel phone it sounds like. Then, the calmest female voice I’ve ever heard emits from the phone suggesting I leave my room and head towards the nearest emergency exit. I debate a moment on whether I should run down in my robe, water still beaded on my skin – but as I said, it seemed more a suggestion than a true emergency. I towel off, throw on pants and a sweatshirt, grab my phone, my Michael Kors watch and the necklace my father gave me on my 21st birthday and head down 8 flights of stairs to the lobby. I catch sight of one of my colleagues, and head to the hotel bar to see if anyone has a clue what’s going on. There is a mock UN conference taking place in the hotel and the place is crawling with what I assume are middle schoolers. I’m also assuming one dumb kid pulled the fire alarm, as within 5 minutes we are permitted to return to our rooms. Kids are assholes.

Now – at this point I do have another thought – is the Universe trying to force me to be social? I mean, really, you had to interrupt me mid bubble bath, shove me out of my room and just plop a social situation right down smack in the middle of my alone time? Well screw you Universe. I’m stubborn, and so here I am blogging alone in my hotel room instead. In hindsight, I probably should have taken the hint. Sometimes interruptions happen for a reason. Sometimes they are just an annoyance. Sometimes you need to put aside what you want to do and take the opportunity presented by said interruption. Other times you need to accept that your heart wants you to write, and so you just get started (again.)

 

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Friday Before Last I Turned 26

I wrote this last week, but was too lazy to post…

On Friday I turned 26. Apparently 26 is the year where I give up starving myself for three weeks to squeeze into a skin-tight black dress and hit up a club so I can give myself the gift of an ego boost via appreciative ogling. Or at least, what I think is ogling but could be everyone else developing the same tendency to squint and overactively blink when their contacts dry out due to dehydration caused by a mix of blasting AC  and too many vodka sodas. Or at least I assume everyone develops the squints. I do.

Instead of the aforementioned excitement, I’ve spent the last week stuffing my face full of delicious food and tossing down scrumptious cocktails which will leave me bloated and in need of some double-duty yoga sessions for oh… the-rest-of-my-life. It’s been awesome.

I may finally give up and admit that I love food too much to ever return to my high school weight. I’m getting used to my pot belly. I believe a gorgeous French girl once mentioned while lying in bed next to Bruce Willis in one of my favorite movies ever (if you don’t know the movie you should stop reading my blog now and never return) that she wanted a ‘pot.’ Well bitch, I got one. Be jealous.

As a matter of fact, all yall should be jealous. You know what goes into making a pot? A whole lot of time and money. I mean, you can’t sample one of everything on a menu without it – and that’s what I’ve basically been doing.

On my birthday proper we went to my favorite summer spot for patio dining. I also worked there during the space “in-between” college and real life – so I’m a bit biased. Sitting outside under the loving shade of an umbrella, sampling savory tapas and sipping red wine sangria made for pretty much the best birthday ever (except for last year when I spent it with my favorite Mexicans who showered me with chocolate, and cupcakes, and actual cakes.) It’s a tie.

Saturday was spent in Asheville. It was less a food day (which is strange because Asheville may be my favorite place in NC to eat) but I still managed to find several tasty brews to fill my belly.

And then there was Sunday. And Boston. And three marathon days of eating. I’ll leave that for my next post. 

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Greetings from Hawaii! (almost)

Greetings from Hawaii! I really, really want to say ‘Aloha,’ but I’m resisting the urge. I mean, how much more clichéd can you get than ‘Aloha’ from Hawaii? As a college freshman sitting attentively in Journalism 101 several principles were drilled into my head. Number one was to avoid clichés.

Number two was strict avoidance of the word very. Very adds nothing. It is very redundant, very bland, and very lazy. A wealth of other adjectives can be used in its place, i.e., extremely, abundantly, extraordinarily, ferociously, inarguably, etc., etc., etc.

And this one I may have made up, but I hold it to be just as true. Number three is to be concise. Too much verbiage clouds your message. Precise wording creates impact. After you have a final draft, reduce your word count by about 25%. Your message will still be there; trust me. (A related rule is to remove superfluous words such as ‘that’ – you’d be surprised what little difference it makes.)

As I’m typing this, we’re experiencing horrible turbulence. It’s quite unnerving. I lied when I said ‘Greetings from Hawaii’ – I’m actually several thousand miles up en route to Phoenix, and about ten hours from the islands. Maybe I’ll break out ‘Aloha’ once I arrive and am seized by an island spirit which will overrule my writer’s code.

A more appropriate title of this post would have been ‘Greetings from First Class!’ as my extremely generous father gave me his front row seat. This is my first time sitting amongst the hot shots, and it’s everything I hoped it would be. They gave me real silverware and a lady keeps refilling my water glass. Actual glass. Thanks Dad, I hope you weren’t too cramped back there in coach!

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Greenville, SC: The New Charleston

This weekend a girlfriend and I decided we needed a mini-getaway. We initially planned to make use of her family’s condo in Myrtle Beach, but a forecast of rain put a literal ‘damper’ on our plans. Rather than have our girls’ weekend thwarted, we started to brainstorm other ideas. We tossed out Savannah, somewhere in Tennessee — and then there was a faint tug on my brain; something about a not-too-distant town that sat on a river and offered fantastic dining, picturesque scenery and great local shopping. ‘Aha!’ I thought to myself — why not check out Greenville, SC?

We were not disappointed.

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Friday evening took us to the river front and a highly recommended restaurant called The Lazy Goat. I pride myself on my love of a variety of cuisines, but this was a new spin. We were treated to a menu of Mediterranean tapas with global inspiration. Our libation of choice was a white wine sangria garnished with lime and strawberry. First course were lovely little bites of fried goat cheese with vanilla dusting and pistachio – we were greeted with a scent reminiscent of freshly-fried mini donuts — the inside was a delicious creaminess. I’m pretty sure we both let out an audible moan after the first bite. For our second course we enjoyed mussels with chorizo, garlic and pancetta (yum!) and a Cuban pizza with rosemary roasted pork, pickle slivers and provolone. Last but not least was a braised veal shank with broccollini and lyonnaise potatoes floating happily in a tomato and Gorgonzola cream sauce. It. Was. Amazing.

On our walk to grab an after-dinner drink, we started to notice familiar restaurant names. High Cotton from Charleston, Camille’s, Dixie’s and Connolly’s from Charlotte. We suspect they have the same owners, and that we aren’t the only ones who found this charming town to be a perfect substitute for a weekend in the South’s pet city of Charleston. Prices were cheaper, food was nearly as good, and the parking — well let’s just say you didn’t need to hike a few miles from your car to the city center. I even preferred the shopping. Greenville hasn’t yet been consumed with designer labels that push out anything local, hand-crafted and artsy. I picked up some gorgeous hand-crafted wood kitchen stuffs.

Below is the view from The Lazy Goat’s terrace. We didn’t get to attend the jazz festival — but we certainly enjoyed the view.

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The rest of the weekend brought more edible indulgences (creamy grits with chipotle cream — all you can eat too! lobster risotto, dutch apple and goat cheese nestled inside a flaky pastry, spinach and cheddar scones, the list goes on..) as well as some indulgences of the soul. We enjoyed spa services at our hotel accompanied by my favorite form of therapy – white wine.

It was a solid 36 hours, but we will definitely be making a return trip. I look forward to biking along the river and meandering through the zoo. I regrettably left some shops unvisited and delicacies untasted. We also have to stop in for a refill.

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Codename: Angelena

Codename: Angelena

I spent four hours on Wednesday hiding from the cold in the International Spy Museum. Fantastic time. I’ve adopted the persona of Milano-born Angelena Falcone. Just your average travel agent moonlighting as an espionage ninja. No big deal. Full recap on my trip coming soon!

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