Accommodations, Architecture, ART, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Getting Into a Groove

Travel There – Caesar’s Forum and a Luxor Lunch

It’s hard to believe this guy is smiling at me. So far it’s been as if someone should have done more than give us a free trip to Vegas. They should have paid us for our time, trouble and trauma. Seriously! We’re starting our third day in Vegas and the most fun we’ve had so far was getting our id cards and tickets for public transportation.

We headed out to McDonald’s. I was dying for one of those famous breakfast buffets, but Bill just couldn’t face that much food so early in the morning. He was being very patient with this disaster of a vacation, so I wasn’t going to make him go anywhere he didn’t want to. We waited a bit for the Deuce, but decided to walk when it didn’t come immediately. It was too chilly just standing there.

Along the way we came to the Flamingo and decided to step inside and see the Wild Life Habitat. It was a pleasant little garden, but honestly, not worth a mention in the guidebooks. Then onto Mickey D’s. We were becoming regulars.

Fun at the Forum

I’ve got to be honest with you. Things had been so bad on this vacation I was regretting we’d won it. The day before, the Grand Canal Shops at the Venetian had not been very entertaining, so I felt a bit of trepidation about heading to the Forum, but what the heck else were we going to do with ourselves – gamble? We’d rather stand and throw our money in the Bellagio Fountain!

Though I can’t exactly tell you exactly why, we enjoyed the Forum a lot more than we did the Grand Canal. Perhaps it was because it was fairly quiet that morning and the Grand Canal was bustling. Maybe we like classic Roman architecture better than Renaissance Italian. Maybe I was finally feeling better. Maybe it was the softer lighting and higher ceilings of the Forum. I don’t know. We just had fun.

One of the things that really helped us enjoy the Forum was a marvelous curator at one of the art galleries. Bill asked her a few questions and suddenly he had a new best friend. We were there for a long, long time.

Then there was the big grandiose fountains in the Forum. The Venetian had fountains, too, but they more like waterfalls and the fountains in the Forum made you feel as if you actually were in one of those faraway places I love so much.

Of course, like all things since Covid, we were supposed to wear masks and the stores would only let in a certain amount of people at a time. So places like Versace and Louis Vuitton had a roped off area in front of the store with patrons waiting to get in. Without the ropes we might have strolled in, but we weren’t going to wait. No loss to them I guess, because I’ve been carrying the same old Coach bag for years now and will probably be buried with it!

The worst part of being there during Covid was that they’d changed the schedule for The Fall of Atlantis attraction – instead of hourly every day, it was only on certain days at certain times. Wednesday wasn’t one of them!

Buffet Lunch at Luxor

It was awful! That’s all you really need to know. Here’s a serving of beef brisket from the carving station. Yuck!!

So, I knew breakfast was your best bet and I also knew there were better choices than the Luxor. I shared my information with my traveling companion, but we had My Vegas Slots rewards at the Luxor and Bill was interested in seeing it.

Now I stayed at Luxor a number of years ago and it was a wonderful experience. I also enjoyed a couple of different buffets, one in the lobby and a bigger one downstairs – but that was pre-Covid.

The last buffet standing was the one downstairs and I had remembered it as a bright bustling place full of eager tourists, busy employees and delicious food. That was no longer the case. We were almost alone in the establishment. The employees were begrudgingly shoving food onto the buffet tables and the food was nothing to write home about, unless it was to complain.

I tried to make the best of it. We were going bogo – right? Only it really was awful and for Bill, the brisket was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He actually went and found a manager to complain to – who gave us a coupon for a free meal on our next visit. Are you kidding us? I think Bill had hoped for a refund, but we wouldn’t be coming back to this place EVER!!

It was time to take another Deuce bus to Paris and get ready for our really big evening! Jane and Bill are going to stay out late in Vegas. come back next week and stay up late with us.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

The Big Bus Bombed Out

Travel There – Warning Tourist Trap

Now I am no stranger to Hop On/Hop Off tours. I’ve enjoyed them in other towns. I know it’s a little touristy, but the concept has worked for me many times. This time it did not. In fact, it was the biggest mistake I made on this vacation. It wasted my time, it wasted my money and it used up good will with my husband. Three strikes and you are out!!

Perhaps I look perky in the photo, because I was asleep by 9:45 the night before and stayed in bed until 8 AM. That’s not my usual routine, but I wasn’t quite over a nasty cold. The early wake-up call in the wee hours of the morning resulted in early to-bed. We had a Mickey D’s breakfast and were waiting at the stop at the appointed time.

Someone else was at the stop, too and who gave us a glimpse at the dark side of Sin City. A very drunk lady perched herself at the Big Bus stop and began to inventory the empty bottles in her shopping bag. The Big Bus attendant, there to collect our tickets, gently suggested she had to go elsewhere. She put her bottles back in her bag and careened down the sidewalk. Though we didn’t realize it at the time, about a block away, she had fallen in a heap. As our bus arrived we noticed a flurry of activity up the street as an ambulance pulled up. Driving by on the bus, we realized it was the lady with all the empty bottles in her bag.

Touring at Its Worst

I like the Hop On/Hop Off concept, because you get both a form of transportation and a guided tour in one purchase. I had visions of riding up top with scads of excited tourists, taking in the sights of the Strip while a well-informed guide filled me in on all the secrets. Not exactly what happened.

Looking at the sunny picture above, you’d think it was a perfect day for a double decker bus tour, but there’s a reason I have on so much gear. It was cold! As we waited for the bus to arrive, the sun went behind some clouds and was not seen again that day. Before we’d gotten to the next stop, the weather had deteriorated further and it began to sprinkle.

As I said, it was damned cold, there was precipitation and we were the only people on the bus, but our idiot guide insisted that we would be making the most of our travel investment by riding in the open air. Nope, that’s wasn’t going to happen.

The scintillating secrets shared by our guide sounded something like this, “Ok, there’s Harrah’s and across the street is The Mirage. Now we’re coming up on the Venetian with the Palazzo Towers. Over there is Treasure Island and now we’re coming up on the Wynn…” And no it didn’t get any better.

At the Convention Center we picked up a lady, but I’m convinced she was the bus driver’s wife. She rode for a few stops and then got off at one of the hotels, where I think she worked. She had on a uniform and she certainly wasn’t a tourist.

We passed the Strat and the Bonneville Transit Center. So far we hadn’t seen or learned anything new. Up around Fremont a few people got on, but they were soon getting off again. It continued to be me, Bill, the bus driver and the guide. I was beginning to believe the guide was operating in an altered state and I don’t think it was alcohol.

As we made the loop near Fremont and headed back toward the Strip, we started to get the same dialog he’d given us before, but in reverse, “The tall building on the side of the bus is the Strat. Now we’re coming up to the Sahara and over there is Circus, Circus…”

We Escape the Big Bus Tour

At Treasure Island, Bill had reached his limit. We got off and attempted a walking tour led by ourselves. I’ve got to hand it to my husband. Bill really was trying to be cooperative, but I was just pissed off, damp and hungry. We wandered around the Grand Canal and visited galleries and shops – a few of which I’ve included for your viewing pleasure.

We were both hungry, but nothing we saw looked the least bit interesting. So ,we went into the Venetian and ate at The Grand Lux – a restaurant we have in Dallas. I opted for Chicken Alfredo and drowned my sorrows in one of my favorite comfort foods.

Waiting for the Deuce

Refreshed we went over to the bus stop at the Mirage to return to our part of the Strip. The Deuce was obviously not on schedule, but once we boarded the bus we got a taste of just how off schedule it was. We could have easily gotten to Paris faster if we’d walked, but the rain was pouring outside. Eventually, we discovered a car had turned over in front of the Bellagio and the entire Strip was in chaos.

It was still early evening with all of Las Vegas waiting for us. I’d planned for us to take the nighttime Big Bus, a part of the package we’d purchased and supposedly a real neon treat, but you could not have paid either of us enough money to get back on a bus, especially not a Big Bus. We went back to the room and I went directly to bed – again. I found out the next morning Bill did a little exploring on his own while I slept, but none of it sounded very exciting. There’s a reason Vegas was not at the top of my vacation wish list.

Day 3 was a lot better, so it’s safe to come back and check in with me next week!

Accommodations, Architecture, Attractions, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

The Aria & Lemongrass

Travel There – The Cool Kids

Given the opportunity to do this whole trip again, instead of suggesting we stay at Paris, I would have suggested one of the newer, cooler places, like Aria. Like Paris, it’s right in the middle of The Strip, but unlike Paris it has a hip, edgy feel. Had Paris had the romantic Montmartre vibe it had when visited before, I would have been happier, instead it had become a sort of warehouse for slot machines with little to no atmosphere whatsoever in the lobby or our room for that matter.

Aria, Vdara and other newer hotels were where the cool kids were staying, but I’ve got to tell you, even there, where Rolex watches and flashy diamonds were the moda, everybody was still so casual I wanted to scream. I get it if you don’t want to be required to wear haute couture gowns every time you walk out of the room, but I’d like it if you’d look like you were out of your room on purpose, instead of being caught out in your pajamas, lingerie or jeans you were about to give to Goodwill.

Even though Las Vegas ain’t what it used to be, I refused to succumb to the general atmosphere of uber-dressing-down. It was as if the worse you looked the more points you got. Keep your points. While I wore jeans during the day, at night I dressed up and I had more fun that way. I’ll be so glad when sloppy becomes so yesterday.

Going Through the M Life Motions

All we really had to do to get to Aria is cross the street. The signs took us through the Crystals Shopping Opportunity, which was OK with us, because we wanted to see everything. This was our first real encounter with a plethora of exclusive high end designer shops, but by the end of the trip, they didn’t feel quite so exclusive, because they are virtually everywhere you look in Vegas. However, the high end prices remained the same.

Once inside Aria we were as awestruck as the next guy. They have got some amazing architectural touches throughout the public areas. We walked around with our mouths opened as we searched around for the M Life desk. The Aria M-Life personnel were ever so much more accommodating than the surly bunch down at The Mirage. I was allowed to feel more like the smart traveler I thought I was, instead of being the cheapskate the other guys’ behavior suggested.

Lemongrass – The Hidden Restaurant

There used to be a comedy routine about “the booth in the back in the corner in the dark.” That might be a good way to describe Lemongrass, except it wasn’t dark. You had to wander around a bit to find it, but once you did, it was a very attractive space, perhaps a bit crowded, but otherwise quite nice. The waitresses were dressed in Asian-flavored uniforms, which matched their ethnicity. While the menu was big, it was somewhat limited in this American’s opinion.

Along with being required to make a reservation, you were instructed to inform them you were using an M-Life award. Then when you arrived, you were required to remind the hostess about your M-Life status. I really think they should just stamp something across your forehead. That might be less humiliating than some of the hurdles they throw up. Just think, some guy sits in an office somewhere and it’s his job to make using the My Vegas Slots award so inconvenient and humiliating that people won’t use them. Perhaps his title is Discourager in Chief.

I never know what to order in a Thai restaurant. People rave about Thai food and how spicy it is, but every time I go to one I end up with something resembling milk-toast. I did a little better this time, but in truth, it was more like Kung Pao chicken than the spicy dish I hoped for. I think Bill felt much the same way, but at least the bogo meals didn’t break the bank.

And Now for the Really Big Shew

For all my efforts to see and do everything, sometimes the best things are serendipitous. After our meal we wandered around the hotels in the area for a while longer and then headed back to our hotel. Suddenly, people were running across our path and weaving in between cars. The Bellagio Fountain show was just beginning and we got to enjoy every bit of it. We hadn’t planned it that way. It was just the way things worked out.

Except for our thwarted coffee break and the run in with the kiosk, we’d booked a pretty good first day in Vegas. We arranged for reduced fare transportation throughout our stay, gotten our M-Life cards and enjoyed My Vegas Slots awards for lunch, a drink and dinner. So far, so good.

Day two was not quite as successful. Come back next week and find out why.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Lunch & Drinks at The Mirage

Travel There – My Vegas Slots Starts to Pay Out

In the days rolling up to our Vegas vacation, I was so devoted to earning awards on the My Vegas Slots app that I was skating on thin ice. I figured out the rhythm of the whole thing – how long you needed to wait for free chips, how long you could play a game until it got cold, how all the bonus games worked, even how long you could put it on auto-play without losing all your chips. Bill said he didn’t care how much I was winning. He just wanted to see his wife without her being distracted by her phone.

However, as we started to use my awards, my devotion to the games started to make more sense. After tackling the Bonneville Transit Station kiosk, we got on a bus headed back down the Strip and Bill began to freak out just a little bit. He was hungry and wanted to eat, but he was still in shock over his coffee experience.

I said, “I have a bogo deal at the Mirage. We buy a sandwich and get a free beer. I think we could share that and it would hold us over until dinner.”

“Well, what are we doing for dinner?” he asked.

We can make reservations at Lemongrass over at the Aria. I have a bogo deal there, too.”

“What kind of food do they have?”

“Thai.”

“What’s Thai food?”

“Remember the place we went to for Stone’s birthday. It was Thai and you liked that.”

About that time The Deuce pulled up to the Mirage and we hopped out. As we got off the bus, Bill allowed that he had liked the food at that Thai restaurant, so my plan was a good one.

Using My Vegas Slots Awards

Here’s the thing about the My Vegas Slots Awards. You can’t just walk up to the place you have the award for and show them your phone or a coupon. First, you have to go to an M Life Desk, located in the various lobbies where the coupons are good and get an M Life Card.

And here’s the reason the MGM is perfectly happy to give you these awards. It’s at this point that most people think it’s too much of a hassle and never redeem their awards.

Not me. Bill and I marched into The Mirage, found the M Life desk and endured the obvious irritation of the clerk who apparently had more important things to do than issue M Life cards. But that’s just the first thing you have to do.

Once you have your M Life card, you have to redeem your reward. I had visions of redeeming all the rewards at once and using them as I had a need for them. Au Contrare! That’s not how this works. You can only redeem one award at a time and you have a limited period in which to use it. If we thought the lady was irritated about issuing the cards, that was nothing to her near dismay at being forced to give us a bogo coupon for their snack bar.

Scoring Goodies at The Mirage

The clever name of the snack bar at The Mirage is SNACKS. The burger we split was delicious and while it wasn’t free, there was more than enough to share. Washing it down with free beer certainly didn’t hurt. Bill’s liking my awards better all the time.

“What do we do now,” he wondered after we’d had our burger and enjoyed the huge Aquarium behind the registration desk – the Mirage’s free attraction. I pulled out a free drink award for The Still, a whiskey bar that had just opened for the day. I would give you a review of the Aquarium, but while we were in Vegas, they announced the Mirage was going to be torn down, so you couldn’t go see it anyway.

We went back to the M-Life desk, renewed our award for a coupon and headed over to The Still. Going through that rigmarole for every redemption was truly a hassle, but if they wanted to waste their personnel’s time on it, we could play that game with them.

We went to The Still, turned in our coupon for another beer, since our other option was whiskey and began to enjoy our vacation.

Back to Paris

After our free drink, we found the Deuce bus stop and caught the next one that came by. In minutes we were back at our hotel. I made the necessary reservations for Lemongrass. That’s another of the award tricks you have to watch. Some of the awards have very specific instructions about making reservations, including how far in advance you have to make the reservations. Those specifics kept us from ever using the awards for the Wolfgang Bar & Grill over at the MGM, but otherwise we were able to juggle the instructions and our patience with the hassle.

Come back next week and we’ll have some Thai food.

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

Our $22.50 Coffee Break

Photo by Quang Anh Ha Nguyen on Pexels.com

Travel There – Let the Las Vegas Sticker Shock Begin

Coffee is a very important substance in Bill’s life. I’ve found there are two kinds of coffee drinkers – the ones who just want coffee whatever form it comes in and then there are coffee drinkers like Bill. Of course, there is a particular strength of coffee he prefers and it must be hot, very, very, very hot. At home he actually heats his coffee in the microwave halfway through the cup to keep it hot.

But there’s more. He wants to purchase his coffee with minimal hassle, he wants a good pastry selection, he wants access to a variety of coffee accoutrements to doctor it to his flavor and there should be somewhere nice to sit and enjoy the coffee once he’s got it just like he wanted. Oh and by the way, the coffee should not cost an arm and a leg.

I’ve mentioned the predominance of slot machines and gaming tables in the lobby. There’s a lovely lobby bar, a full service restaurant, a pretty no-frills coffee shop and a stand-up coffee bar. And that’s it. No cozy sofas or easy chairs. No café tables. In fact, unless you want to play the slots, there is nowhere to just sit down and people watch.

Now Bill’s plan was pretty good. He’d scoped out both the coffee shop and the stand-up coffee bar and ascertained that both pastry choices and coffee beans were better at the stand-up option. His plan was to get his coffee and enjoy it in the Lobby Bar. What his plan did not take into consideration was the chains across the entry to the bar with the notice that only bar patrons were welcome there.

Now, I tried to point this out to Bill as we stood in line for our coffee, hot chocolate and brioche, but he wasn’t feeling very chatty. I got it. He’d been up and on the run since 5:30. He deserved to be left alone to enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee without his wife blabbering away about the attractions she wanted to see. Only I wasn’t trying to talk about what’s next. I was trying to keep him from making a tactical mistake.

So, when he got to the bar and encountered the chain across the entrance, he was not happy. Then, depending on his charm to get him what he wants, the way it usually does, he was irate at being turned away. He ended up drinking his very expensive coffee in the very boring coffee shop whose lights were too bright and whose décor was virtually non-existent – just white everything and no reprieve.

That he had paid $22.50 and the coffee was only mediocre didn’t help one bit. To be honest, the brioche wasn’t much either. The hot chocolate was fine, but in truth I would have preferred to have a Diet Dr Pepper. That wasn’t anymore of a choice to me than a seat in the lobby bar was to Bill.

So, trying to make the best of things, we did a little exploring. We found the spa and Bill discovered he could get free bottles of water there, which was the brightest spot we’d had in this vacation, so far. We found the very elegant wedding chapel, with multiple wedding venues. And we discovered the CLOSED pool area. There wasn’t even a hot tub we could access. I wasn’t feeling very good about our Vegas vacation at this point.

Back in our room we had business calls to field. Entrepreneurship has it’s drawbacks. Once everything was settled, I went about unpacking and getting us moved into the room. Bill took a nap. We’d been in Vegas for 3.5 hours when I sat down with my travel journal to record my impressions up to that point, then I took out one of the books I’d brought with me and waited for Bill to wake up.

Come back next week and enjoy the adventure we got into next!

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

Vegas, Here We Come

Travel There – Getting There Is Not Half the Fun

There was a time when flying Southwest was a blast, but that was a long time ago. They’ve “improved” things since then. By flying Southwest you were doing a very Dallas thing and you were rooting for the underdog, both of which I loved. Now, it’s just another airline and the whole “no assigned seat” thing, which used to be sort of fun, has morphed into an absolute pain in the neck. The only thing Southwest has going for it, as far as we’re concerned, is that Love Field is a lot closer to Heath than DFW.

Thankfully, this was an easy trip. Early, but somehow they all seem to be. We sort of miscalculated the time, but it worked out ok, because we were able to walk from the car onto the plane with virtually no stops. At the Las Vegas end, the package we won included transfers, so with minimal hassle we were dropped off at the Paris resort to begin our vacation.

Welcome to Paris!

Though we were not guaranteed to have any particular resort in Vegas, they said it would be on The Strip and they asked where we’d like to say. I said Paris, because I always thought that would be a cool place to stay.

I’d been to Vegas before, but never for pleasure. Once, when Bill and I were on the way to California, he stopped in for some stock traders event at the Flamingo and we stayed off The Strip. Another time we stayed in the Sahara, also for a stock trader’s event. That was a bad choice. Cheap and convenient, but way past it’s days of glory. The only other time I was there, Bill had been in Iraq and I went to a convention with my sister-in-law. We somehow managed to stay at the Luxor and that was very nice.

I’d visited the Paris on one of those trips and for some reason had been impressed by it. I also liked the picture of the rooms I looked at after I knew that’s where we had been booked. Arriving for our stay, I couldn’t imagine why I’d been so impressed with the Paris in my previous visit. In my memory, the lobby had been grander and not stuffed in every corner with slot machines and gaming tables. I guess they had “improved” it at some point. At least the registration area held on to its grandeur.

It probably didn’t help that our van dropped us off at some ignominious back door, instead of the glitzy art nouveau main entrance. We had to drag our luggage all the way across the casino to find registration. That did not jive exactly with the entry into our glamourous Las Vegas vacation I had imagined.

It was still morning when we arrived and let’s face it, unless you’re up for a buffet, there’s not much to do. Bill was not up for a buffet, so we paid $56 for early check-in and my disappointment continued. Shabby chic was once a decorating trend, but these sad, worn out furnishings didn’t qualify and the trend has passed. Our rooms was sort of like a furnished apartment in a college town, but the furnishing had happened decades before and since then everything in the room had been abused. Even the carpet looked as if it should have been replaced several years ago.

However, it was clean, so we counted our blessings and reminded ourselves it was free. Had it not been, we would have probably demanded a refund and moved over to the Bellagio. We also had what must be the worst view in the hotel. We could only see the roof of the casino and all the equipment on it. We closed the curtains and went in search of some coffee.

Come back next week and have coffee with us in the Paris lobby.

Accommodations, Attractions, DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning, United States

My Vegas Slots

Travel There – and Get It for Free

Shortly after I won the trip to Vegas I was getting my hair done and Loree, the goddess of hair, who also happens to be my friend, told me she would also be heading to Vegas soon. So we compared notes.

Her travel secret is Facebook Groups. She travels a lot and wherever she’s going, she finds a FB group or two to follow. I confess to being a FB dinosaur. If doesn’t happen on my Newsfeed, then as far as I’m concerned, it didn’t happen at all.

It’s not that I haven’t tried out groups before, it’s that there was entirely too much useless chatter and I don’t know these people! I don’t know their priorities or their taste or their budget. Why would I follow their advice?

In fact, I don’t pay much attention to all that recommendation/review noise on the internet. Even if I know you, you’re not going to be able to influence me much. For instance a relative told me not to stay at the Mena House in Giza or go to Alexandria. This is someone who has been to Egypt many, many times. They should know right?

Was she ever wrong! My stay at the Mena House was one of my favorites – ever. And Alexandria? She was right that it is past its former glory, but it was still a fascinating place to visit and we had a blast. The Royal Jewelry Museum there is one of best I’ve seen and it’s in a beautiful old mansion. So, rather than take folks’ recommendation, I do a lot of my own research, but chances are I won’t be reading your online review.

However, Loree didn’t give me any reviews, she told me about an app – My Vegas Slots. I shouldn’t get started on apps, but we’re there. You can keep your apps. Give me a good old guide book with maps any day.

Every time I allow myself to depend on an app, it lets me down. I don’t even trust a GPS. Too many times a GPS has sent me in the wrong direction or just flaked out at critical moment or took me to a place that moved or closed. And that’s just the GPS. Almost every time I try to use a travel app to get around a destination, it’s a disaster. I don’t know if that’s the app’s fault or mine, but it doesn’t work for me.

However, the app Loree was talking about wasn’t really a travel app. It was a game that paid out in free Las Vegas stuff. We downloaded it while I was in the chair and I had hundreds of thousands of points before I left her shop.

A New Obsession

The next morning I sat at my desk and took inventory of the free stuff I could supposedly win on the app. It was good stuff! Free meals, free drinks and even rides on the monorail.

The next trick was redeeming my points. While you can start playing My Vegas Slots without giving them any information, if you want to redeem anything, you have to give them all the usual stuff that helps hackers get into your life. The app is sponsored by MGM Resorts and all you’re actually doing is signing up for their Rewards Program and you do it on their site, so I did it.

I redeemed some of my points and I was hooked. Because I am me, I went through the entire catalog of prizes and listed them on a sheet paper, in order of my interest in them along with the number of points they’d take. After that, every free moment of my time my face was glued to my phone, playing the stupid slots games.

And when I got to Vegas, I used the coupons I earned. A free drink here, a bogo buffet there and a free gelato at the Bellagio. Yes, My Vegas Slots is legit and if you get serious about collecting and using them, you can certainly be a winner in Las Vegas without even going to the tables.

Come back next week and lets head out!

Accommodations, Restaurants & Bars, TRAVEL, United States

Terra & Vine – A Sad Tale

Travel There – Evanston, Illinois

So, I sat down the other day to tell you all about this great restaurant in Evanston, which was just down the street from our hotel. I decided to google it, just to do a little fact checking and make sure my memory matched the experience you would have if you went there. That’s when I found out the restaurant had just recently closed. This was heart-breaking news.

I wanted to tell you about the warm neighborhood feel the restaurant had and about the great patio where we ate our meal. The food was great. The service was great. We were treated like we were one of the valuable locals who frequented the place, even though we weren’t. We hoped we’d be able to come back some day, but we didn’t get back in time.

A Small Town Feel

Now we had just driven through Chicago’s rush hour traffic. As a matter of fact, we got caught in some crazy detour that sent us around and around. All of that was just a few blocks away, but somehow we’d ended up in what felt like a small town.

After our delicious meal at Terra & Vine, we decided to take a stroll. Among the things we found was a Le Peep, a restaurant we loved but had not made it in the Dallas market. We made note for our breakfast plans and continued our very pleasant stroll.

It was really amazing. People would smile, nod their head, even say hello. Even the younger ones, which attended college in nearby buildings, interspersed with residential and business establishments.

Too Much Suitcase Time

When we returned to the hotel, Bill decided to check out the amenities and I took on the job of getting our luggage ready for the next leg of our journey. He came back to the room and decided to take a shower. Then he approached the suitcases and the straw that broke the camel’s back brought some friends.

Mr. Bill is a little bit spoiled. When we arrive at a destination, it is my habit to get us moved into our accommodations, by hanging his stuff in the closet, setting up his toiletries and arranging a drawer for his necessities – only on this trip, we didn’t stay anywhere long enough for that to happen and he’d been living out of our suitcases.

Apparently the biggest problem was that he couldn’t discern any differences in our packing cubes. His are green and black, while mine are solid black, but he’d never realized that. I kept finding my cubes laying open on the bed and wondered if I was losing my mind, but in hindsight we discovered that Bill had been frantically trying to figure out what was mine and what was his for the whole time. All that’s been resolved now, but that evening it was a storm in our teacup.

Come back next week and let’s see some of Chicago!

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, International, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, TRAVEL, Travel Planning

Intro to At the Whim of the Gods

TRAVEL THERE: SOMETHING FUNNY HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO A WEDDING

1994 was a big year for me.

I got married in May and our honeymoon was a Hawaiian cruise. That should be enough to make any year big, but it was just the beginning of our adventures.

I had six weeks to update my passport with my new name, because Bill’s best friend was getting married in Wiesenkirche Zu Soest and we were on the guest list. We weren’t only on the guest list for the wedding, though. We were also invited along for the honeymoon.

The Way the World Was

Today life is framed by smartphones and social media, but in 1994 we somehow managed to live without either one. There was an internet, but we called it the web and it was just a place for nerds to go.

A computer with Windows and a mouse was a novelty, because most systems ran DOS. Our monitors were CRTs. People owned copiers, not printers, because printers were these loud dot matrix things that produced voluminous reports we called print-outs. We sent faxes, not emails, because email was also a novelty and texts weren’t a thing. (Watch the movie You’ve Got Mail.)

Every home had a land line, with multiple phones around the house and depended on an answering machine to get their messages. There were cellular phones, but they were very limited, because you actually subscribed to a particular set of cell towers. You actually had to pay extra to get Dallas-Ft. Worth service, instead of Dallas or Ft. Worth. When you got out of your cell, then you went on roaming which was astronomically expensive, so you just didn’t use it. There was no camera, no texting, no wi-fi, no internet. You just made and received calls. For all these reasons, there were more people with beepers than there were with cellphones and when you weren’t working, you left your beeper at home. Believe me, it was lovely.

When you traveled you used maps, atlases and travel guides, because GPS was something for pilots and the military. If you needed to make a call, you used a pay phone or you waited until you got to your hotel. Getting away from it all could actually be accomplished.

It Should Have Been a Breeze

I’ve been fortunate in my life. My vacations with Bill have been one Trip of a Lifetime after another – the Caribbean, Egypt, the Danube, the Mediterranean, cruises, road trips, you name it and I hadn’t exactly been sitting around on my keester before I met him.

Still, the itinerary for Tammy and Ludger’s wedding trip was like something out of a movie. Tammy was a flight attendant for an international airline, so all of our flights were comped. Ludger’s company owned the gorgeous hotel where the wedding party stayed, so our five star accommodations were comped. Limos were supposed to pick us up at one airport and whisk us to another, where we’d party in one of those restricted lounges. There would be days of rustic folk celebrations in Ludger’s small German village and the wedding would be in a spectacular cathedral. And that was just the beginning, because then we’d set out on a road trip to see the wonders of Bavaria.

But you know me! If something is going to go awry, then I’m probably on that train. Before this trip was over I would live some of the most spectacular moments of my life. It was remarkable in every possible way, but most remarkable and most frequently recounted is the disaster of a commute we made from DFW to the small town of Dortmund in Germany.

At the Whim of the Gods was Born

I turned these adventures into a manuscript sometime in the early 2000’s. I wasn’t sure then what I’d do with it. I just had the inspiration and went with it. I still had hopes of being the next Victoria Holt back in those days. At first I wrote it like a play, inspired by the Greater TUNA plays by Jaston Williams, Joe Sears and Ed Howard, which were popular at the time. Then, someone in a writing group said it would be more fun as a narrative. That captured my imagination and I did a rewrite. I had actually forgotten the rewrite until I was looking back in my files to retrieve the play.

I didn’t actually think I was going to be the next Victoria Holt. I just wanted to be a published author. I’d written a comic novel about a retirement home romance, but somewhere after the 50th rejection letter I found myself embroiled in the drama of being the primary caregiver for three failing senior citizens and I lost my momentum. Life went on and while I did manage to get some poems published, I’ve moved on to other dreams.

Now, I’ll share At the Whim of the Gods with you. I decided the narrative version is the more interesting of the two, even though it was never actually finished. Who knows, maybe I’ll get inspired again? Maybe I’ll finish it up by sharing the end of the play.

One small warning – there won’t be many images. Bill had his camera bag, but remember, these were the days before we had smartphones and we didn’t break out the camera for the small moments, or our meals, or much of anything, except the sites.

I’ll break the narrative down into easily digestible chunks and so you can enjoy it serially.

The Blurb on the Cover

If this story was on Amazon, there would be a paragraph to introduce it. It would go something like this:

What if the huge pantheon of gods from the ancient world are still with us? Since we stopped worshipping them, perhaps they’ve gotten a little bored. Taking a cue from humans, the gods and demi-gods watch reality shows on their scrying bowls. The favorite show might be Jagged Journeys, where human contestants have no idea they’re just entertainment fodder for Mount Olympus. Bill and Jane Sadek are real people who went on a real vacation in 1994. All these things actually happened to them. Was it just bad luck or were they AT THE WHIM OF THE GODS!

I really do hope you enjoy it. Come back next week for the first excerpt!

Accommodations, DESTINATIONS, Restaurants & Bars, Road Trips, Shopping, TRAVEL, United States

Downtown Sedona

TRAVEL THERE: ROLLING UP THE SIDEWALKS

As we made our way from Oak Creek Canyon to Downtown Sedona, I have to confess that Google was not much help.  Perhaps they need me there to help them get on Google My Business or maybe they just don’t care.  Anyway, what was listed was either fast food or pizza.  In self-defense, we chose pizza.

Sedona Pizza and Pasta

It was only about 6 PM, but they really were rolling up the sidewalks.  There was one jewelry store that seemed to have some activity, so we strolled in.  Everything cost the world and the proprietor was an as er… a jerk.  We didn’t stay there long.

Across the street was a little plaza where there were a couple of restaurants open.  The sandwich shop had big plate glass windows featuring the view, but it was virtually empty and the light was fading fast, so the view wasn’t going to be visible in the next few minutes.

We opted for Sedona Pizza and Pasta.  The prices were more than we would have expected for a casual dinner, but we didn’t have a choice.  So, we ordered up and watched the guys behind the counter cooking up and serving meals.  When our pizza was delivered we were disappointed.  We already knew it was going to be a thin crust pizza, which is not our favorite, but we’d never seen a crust so thin.  We’re talking paper thin.  The service was good, it was clean and the staff was really nice, but we really can’t recommend a pizza place that virtually puts their pizza fixings on paper.

Back at the Adobe Village Inn

We stopped by a convenience store on the way to the Inn and picked up a bottle of wine.  Back at the inn we chose some free DVD’s to watch – a documentary about Sedona and High Crimes with Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd. 

We also took advantage of the Inn’s hot tub.  We’d let the manager know we were interested and he had it all cued up for us.  It really was quiet nice.

After the hot tubbing and a shower, we crawled into bed and watched our selections.  After all the activity we had in Scottsdale and Phoenix, it was nice to take it easy – and after all the challenging driving we’d done during the day, we were pooped.

Up and Out

Breakfast was served from 8-9, so Bill could not linger in bed.  The Adobe Village Inn’s website is very proud of their breakfast tradition.  As soon as we made our reservations, they emailed to ask about food preferences.  I confessed to my prejudice against eggs and that resulted in a breakfast that was way too sweet for both of us.  I mean, in small bits, all of it was delicious, but breakfast is an important meal and we needed something besides carbs, sugar and fruit.  I’m betting if you didn’t tell them no eggs, you could get something absolutely perfect.

Our target for the morning was Tlaquepaque, but we took a driving tour first.  Come back next week and join us!