April 20th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
Las Vegas is not an obvious vacation choice for me. Don’t gamble. Don’t adore adult contemporary music. Certainly don’t relish baking in the desert sun. Yet, I had agreed to spend 4 days on the Vegas strip with my friends Marilee and Tim. What was I thinking?
As it turns out, there are things to do in Vegas besides feeding dollars into slot machines. Not that I didn’t end up gambling. How could I not? Slot machines greeted me at the airport and in every hotel lobby. It’s a wonder they weren’t in the bathrooms!
Besides parting with a few dollars at the casinos, I browsed in a lot of shopping malls. You name it. I could buy it on Las Vegas Boulevard. Reproduction furniture from the Victorian era. Crystal goblets. Diamond bracelets. Clothes for any occasion. The only things that I didn’t find were book and cookware shops, which are, of course, my favorite kinds of stores.
On my third day in Vegas Tim, who now lives there, provided some respite from the rampant consumerism with a trip to Red Rock Canyon. Located 17 miles west of the strip, Red Rock Canyon offered visitors 195,819 pristine acres deep within the Mojave Desert. It also provided a refreshing and much needed taste of nature in an otherwise highly unnatural environment.
Gracious guide that he was, Tim also took Marilee and me to the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Vegas. Premiering in 1995, Fremont Street boasted a 90-foot high and 1, 400-foot – or roughly 4 block — long LED canopy on which nightly light shows were displayed. Pretty flashy!
Back on the strip Marilee and I hit the nightly pirate fight and fireworks at Treasure Island and the outdoor fountain show at the Bellagio. We also saw the lion habitat at MGM Grand as well as the Canadian circus troupe Cirque du Soleil and its water-based show ”O,” also at the Bellagio. “O” was utterly enchanting and a definite winner with me.
The three of us also dined out at an array of celebrity chef-owned restaurants. Wolfgang Puck’s Spago. Thomas Keller’s Bouchon. Todd English’s Olives. Emeril Lagasse’s Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House. We even squeezed in a lavish buffet dinner at the Wynn. Meals as good as these didn’t come cheap but most were worth it.
The best activity in Las Vegas? Without a doubt it had to be simply hanging out with friends.
April 19th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
In the days leading up to my flight to Las Vegas I thought incessantly of two songs — Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” and Mojo Nixon’s ”Elvis is Everywhere.” For me Vegas was the land of Elvis or, more accurately, Elvis impersonators. Imagine my disappointment when I didn’t see a single pompadoured, glittery jumpsuit-wearing, middle-aged man anywhere.
Where were the Elvis wannabes? Where was the campy Vegas that I had imagined? Twelve years ago, on my first and only other trip there, I hadn’t seen any signs of him then, either. Had Mr. Presley left the city? And, if so, who or what had replaced him?
Temples of consumption. That’s what has usurped the King. Immense, themed hotels filled not only with gaming tables but also with toney restaurants, high end stores, and extremely pricey shows. Anyone who has picked up a magazine or newspaper or turned on his TV in the past 10 years knows of Vegas’s amazing rebirth. And, yet, I still expected to see some hint of the old, cheesy fun.
The Imperial Palace was the closest that I got to this. It was, however, more tacky than fun. I stayed there with my friend Marilee, who was attending a conference and having her college pay for lodging. Hence the choice or lack thereof.
Located on the strip, this particular college-approved hotel featured a rusted light fixture in the bathroom and mold in the bathtub. For $50 per night we couldn’t demand boxes of truffles on our pillows but I had hoped for a toilet lid.
I should have been thankful. Online reviews of the Imperial Palace spoke of bedbug bites, horrible smells, non-working plumbing, filth and literally gut-wrenching food. Beyond the thin sheets, worn towels, dated furniture, and absence of a coffee pot (or toilet lid), our room was okay.
Things got slightly more interesting once we fled the room. In the casino croupiers dressed as Alice Cooper, Pink and Billy Idol dealt cards and periodically broke into song. ’With a rebel yell she cried more, more, more.’ More cards? More money? In our case it would have been more free wine and beer. Anything to numb our senses to the music legends.
So, while I didn’t encounter the King, I did experience a bit of kitsch at the Imperial Palace. Thankfully, that was all that I found there!
April 18th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
When friends visit New York, they often complain about high food prices. Two dollars for a cup of coffee? Six dollars for an omelette, toast, hash browns and juice? Eight to ten bucks for a glass of wine?!
May they never travel to Las Vegas.
At first glance prices in Vegas don’t seem out of proportion. Martinis and mojitos at the Venetian Resort with my friend Tim cost around $12 apiece, roughly what I’d spend on a cocktail in New York or Philadelphia. Factor in the live music and that we were in a fancy hotel in the heart of Las Vegas and the amount appeared realistic.
Even the first night’s dinner at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon didn’t seem particularly outrageous. My trout almondine entree was $27 while my friend Marilee’s scallop special was $46. Okay, $46 was quite steep but this was THE Thomas Keller. What truly surprised me was not the cost but the quality. Good but not astonishing. Plus, the haricot vert that topped my trout were limp and lukewarm. When you’re favorite part of the meal was the complimentary bread, well . . ..
The shock came the next morning at Starbucks. At home my usual tall coffee is $1.90. In Vegas it’s $2.91. A plain, untoasted bagel? $2.50 plus tax. I passed on the $1.50 banana and the $4.25 bottle of orange juice. Too much for my breakfast budget.
Things only got more expensive from there. Casual dining at the Wynn buffet was $36.70 plus drinks and tip. The atmosphere was elegant, though, and the food plentiful and creative. Tim dined on octopus and sauteed mushrooms while Marilee indulged in fried chicken, pizza, candied apples and scones. Unfortunately, the two beers that I had drunk before dinner quashed my appetite. Yet, I did manage to sample the mashed potatoes, asparagus salad, gazpacho soup, smoked trout and a smattering of desserts.
Expense aside, I did eat some wonderful meals while in Vegas. From the lime-chili seared ahi tuna sliders and banana cream pie at Emeril’s New Orleans Fish House to the sun-dried tomato, basil and goat cheese scramblers with hash browns, biscuits and fresh fruit at Hash House A Go-Go, the fare was fresh and flavorful. Just don’t talk to me about the price!
April 12th, 2008 § Comments Off § permalink
One of these days I am going to travel naked. Either that or with only the clothes on my back. Each trip I swear that the next time I will pack less. Each next journey I take less clothing and still I complain. ’My bag is too heavy. It’s making my arms/back ache. Why did I have to bring along so much stuff?!’
What I have packed at home usually does not make it to the plane. In the airport parking lot I frantically rummage through my suitcase, tossing a skirt, scarf or spare T-shirt into the car’s backseat. No way am I lugging that extra ounce of clothing onto a city bus, cross-country train or up a staircase.
The longer I’m away, the more things get left behind. An old, stained T-shirt here. Moth-eaten wool socks there. Periodically these abandoned clothes find their way back to my suitcase. In the Romanian town of Suceava a hotel clerk raced out of the building, waving my faded, torn and zipperless jeans in the air. Great. Now what would I do with those pitiful jeans?
On a recent trip to Ireland I took three sweaters, two pairs of pants and an extra pair of shoes. The extra sweaters and pants were to break up the monotony of my standard black sweater - blue jeans uniform. The Mary Janes were in case my beloved biker boots riddled my feet with blisters and sores.
In retrospect I could have gotten away with one sweater and the boots. It wasn’t as though you could see my stunning wardrobe through my black, wool coat. And, no, the boots didn’t rub so the MJ’s stayed in the rental car for the bulk of the trip.
Now I’m pondering what to take to Las Vegas. It’s close to 90 degrees in Vegas while here on the East Coast temps will hover around 55. Thus I must wear one thing on the plane — sweater, climate-appropriate footwear – and another at my destination. Plus, I’m meeting my friend Marilee and also visiting another friend, Tim, there. How does this affect what I take? Well, I shouldn’t subject them to the same ratty jeans and T-shirt for 5 days.
After much traveling and some deliberation, I have come up with lists of what, and what not, to pack. In spite of these guidelines I still anticipate pulling out a shirt or two before boarding the plane.
Hot weather destinations – 7 to 17 days — does not included rugged locations involving hiking, camping and daily baths in insect repellant: one pair of sandals; two skirts; two pairs of lightweight, quick drying pants that can be washed in the hotel shower or sink; 1 to 2 black, short-sleeved T-shirts, 2 white, S/S T-shirts, 1 red, green or pick-your-favorite-color T-shirt; 1 long, L/S black dress (Muslim countries); 1 sleeveless white, button-down shirt (non-Muslim countries); enough underwear — preferrably old underwear that can be left behind — to last the trip; 1 pair PJs; sunglasses; sunscreen; toiletries; international plug adapter; mini hairdryer; camera; travel journal; pens; gum; Altoids; granola bars.
Cold weather destination – 7 to 17 days – This does not include Russia, Iceland or Greenalnd in winter or the Antarctic: sensible, lugged sole boots; 2 pairs of jeans; 1 pair of pants (cords or wool); 2 or 3 wool sweaters in varying thicknesses (one heavy, loose-fitting cardigan is advisable for it can be worn over the others for extra warmth); 3 L/S t-shirts; 2 LL Bean ”Cool Max,” sweat wicking/quick drying T-shirts (to be placed under other shirts); wool socks; 1 hat; 1 scarf; 1 pair of fleece mittens; See above list for underwear and other necessities.