Tuesday, May 31, 2011

My Fear & Loathing Vegas Bender

So many times I've gone to Vegas with a plan, and it has ended up - inevitably - getting screwed up. Obviously I eventually stopped making Vegas "plans".
But this time around, it was Steve's birthday. So we at least made it our "goal" to stay up all night. Honestly, I didn't really think it was possible.

But it happened.

And here's the story.

We touched down in Vegas just before 3 PM on May 28th. Memorial Day weekend. Now, I love Steve dearly but he picked a bad day to be born. This was my sixth trip to Vegas, and I've never seen it so crowded. Longest wait ever for a cab (okay, still only 5 minutes or so), traffic on the way to the hotel (at least the cabbie drove somewhat aggressively)...I could go on.

There was a dumb screen thing outside our window, but hello suite floor!
After checking in and receiving a pretty suite room upgrade (misspelling/pun intended - I need to be in Vegas on MY birthday someday, seriously!) our first order of business was the liquor store. A six pack of Pacifico, pint bottles of gin and bourbon, and a couple mixers ran me nearly $60, but honestly...we would have spent three times that in drinks otherwise. We stopped back in our room to mix up some walking cocktails and hoofed it to Circus Circus. We had stopped there in 2009 but thankfully this was different - we knew what we were looking for and even though the Carousel Bar only sells snack food nowadays, we chatted up the waitress about Fear & Loathing and it was worth the stop.
Please excuse the slight blurriness - despite numerous takes, this is the only halfway decent picture of that darn Carousel Bar. Which obviously looks nothing like it does in the movie ;)

Fast forward 30 minutes and we're in downtown Vegas - Fremont Street. Steve had never been, so I figured it was a must. I kept my $50 and won an additional $45 playing Blackjack at Binion's, formerly The Mint, where Hunter S. Thompson stayed for part of his Vegas trip back in 1971. We ate at Golden Nugget's Carson Street Cafe - nothing amazing, but the prices were right.

After dinner it was time for a real night out. Our names were on the list at Jet, but a friend of mine also had a table and bottle service at Gold at the Aria. We stopped in at Jet just long enough for me to realize that it wasn't any better than I remembered from my 2008 Vegas trip, and headed over to the Aria to close down Gold.
Mallory and I at Gold
Steve and his pimp beer bucket
 We also apparently creeped out some pour souls when we were trying to get rid of our prepaid alcohol. Seriously, why the hell do they have to open the bottles for you upon delivery? We had like 3 or 4 beers left and with the cost of a beer at one of these clubs, didn't want them to go to waste. That said, do I really look like the type of person who needs to roofie someone? For real? In the end a couple of guys took at least two of the beers, though, so I guess it wasn't a total loss. I think they felt better about the fact that we weren't planning on or trying to hang out with them - we literally just wanted to get rid of the drinks and leave. Geez.

Anyway, at this point we took a cab to the Flamingo - our next Fear & Loathing stop and the only one that actually still exists as per the story.
Proof that we stopped at the Flamingo! Blurry picture tells the tale of how late it was. And how we felt...haha
 One drink there and it was still too early for bed (or maybe too late? it was at least 3 AM at this point), so after chatting with some random couple from Brooklyn we all walked over to Rokhouse at Imperial Palace. At this point I lost track of myself - which will happen when you've been drinking for nearly 12 hours, I suppose. I guess we were there until the club closed, and when we walked outside it was broad daylight! A quick Google search on my part determined that sunrise in Vegas on Sunday, May 29th was 5:26 AM. Yeah.
Holy crap, it's daylight! :D
At this point I knew it was one way or the other - crash for a few hours or not at all - but my hopped up self sincerely believed that we still had to visit at least one more Fear & Loathing haunt, and I chose the Bellagio, nee the Dunes. But first we made a pit stop in the room to fuel up on beer, and on our way back out fell into a random conversation with a group of guys drinking in the Mirage casino.
New friends at the Mirage! ;)
Eventually I was able to drag Steve away, knowing that we needed to eat something soon - but unfortunately, the next hour and a half or so is a pointless blur. It was cold outside - really cold - and after rushing through the Bellagio we stopped at the Paris for breakfast.
Stumbling from the Bellagio to the Paris...where are we? What time is it? WTF?
We were too early for the full champagne brunch (not that we needed to drink anymore), but on top of that I just wasn't impressed with the food. The scrambled eggs were good (light, fluffy, actually fully cooked) but the Eggs Benedict and chocolate croissants were disappointing. We didn't end up eating much, that's for sure, and in the end we made our way back to the room, packed our things, stopped in the casino for a bit more gambling and eventually headed to the airport a good two hours before our flight was supposed to leave. Mainly because there was just nothing else to do.
Doing my best to keep Steve awake - I want to say this was taken around 9:30 AM?
And now here I am, having survived nearly 30 sleepless hours (much of that spent in Las Vegas) and with no clue at all how I did it. Or for that matter, why I did it.

I will say this much though - it's an experience I'm glad I had and I'll surely be talking about for quite some time ;)
10 AM-ish. 25 hours awake at this point. I tip my hat off to...well, I'll keep that to myself. ;)

Friday, May 27, 2011

An Airport Restaurant Tale

Please note that the following was actually written on May 25th, 2011 - the day it took place. I just haven't had time to post it until now.

I just had the strangest, most slightly negative yet also somehow positive experience at an airport restaurant. Specifically, the Sweetwater Bar & Grille in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson International.

We arrived in Atlanta around 7 PM – prime time for dinner, unfortunately. But I was starving, and with a nearly three hour layover all I could think of was sitting down at a real restaurant. Our choices in the B terminal were a TGI Friday’s and a Sweetwater Grille. The latter appeared to possibly have a shorter wait, so we dutifully lined up behind our fellow travelers and waited about ten or fifteen minutes to be seated.

One thing I noted while waiting is that despite there being numerous people traveling by themselves and despite the fact that the line was consistently a half dozen or more people deep, the hostess wouldn’t even ask if single passengers would sit together! Again, it’s not like we waited long but it all just seemed a bit silly that people couldn’t be coupled at tables together.

Our waitress approached the table within five minutes of us sitting down and very bluntly asked if we wanted something to drink. “Can I get an ice water and—“

But before I could order my gin and tonic, she abruptly turned away from me and said, “And you?” to my husband. He had been perusing the drink menu, but her demeanor pretty much said “order it now or not at all”, so he asked for a Stella. “I need to see your ID,” she stated – but before he could pull it out, she was gone!

We were both obviously a bit stunned; the ladies at the table next to us laughed and sarcastically noted that our waitress was “quite a sweetheart”. Dually noted, as when she came back to take our food order (and thankfully, my gin and tonic order as well) she was just as abrupt and again asked for my ID and then turned away to assist someone else.

Also, my sandwich apparently came with a side, but I don’t know if she thought she heard me say I wanted potato salad or simply didn’t feel like giving me a choice, because she read back our order to us, tacked on a “potato salad” to my sandwich when doing so, and was long gone before I could even open my mouth to protest.

The food itself came quickly and was, as almost all airport food, average at best. The hummus was too mealy (which says a lot; I’m a bit hummus nut) and although the aioli was good on the hummus platter, there was randomly some sort of pico de gallo included but nothing to really dip in it. Steve’s turkey sandwich had far too much bread and my Philly steak sandwich was a bit dry. All in all…still better than fast food, I suppose.

And as, well, something-just-short-of-rude as our waitress was, she got our order right. And she was quick about it. So I suppose it could have been worse.

I think mostly this is one of those “had to be there” stories. Because had you been there and seen the looks on our faces when she first spoke to us…this would probably be as amusing to you as it was to us.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Guidebook Review of The Showgirl Next Door: Holly Madison's Las Vegas

This book is, first and foremost, a great alternative guide to Vegas. I've been to Sin City five times and have never seen or heard of many of the restaurants and sights that Holly lists! The chapters on a road trip from LA to Vegas, the history of Vegas and its showgirls, and the Fremont Street/downtown Vegas area are especially interesting. I also think that Holly did a great job with her restaurant recommendations--from the pricey to the budget, the fancy to the "if you just want a good burger or hot dog", she really listed something for everyone.

The only slightly negative thing about this book is that I really hoped for a good solid chapter on Vegas nightlife. I've been to over half a dozen of the clubs in Vegas and was really hoping for some insight/recommendations on where to go when, or at least where to go/avoid PERIOD. Other than a brief (maybe half a page) blurb, there was basically no nightlife information in this book and that was seriously disappointing.

Again, there is every reason in the world for this book to be called "Holly Madison's Las Vegas". She gives you insight that no one else can give you (i.e. the look at Peepshow) and having watched both The Girls Next Door and Holly's World, her personality and the things she enjoys really shine in this guide.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Hotel Review: Camelot by the Sea in Myrtle Beach

This is the third hotel I stayed at in Myrtle Beach and was by far the best. Yes, it is a bit pricey for what you get, but that's what happens when you stay in a beachfront hotel in Myrtle Beach during peak season.

We had a one-bedroom suite and the room was a good size as well as clean. When you entered there was a bedroom with two double/queen beds - and yes, I did find it a bit weird that you entered into the sleeping area, but that's not really a huge issue. As you walked deeper into the room there was a bathroom on your right, followed by a kitchenette with a full-size fridge on your left and a sitting area with a pull-out couch on the right just after the bathroom.

Being oceanfront and having a balcony was awesome, parking was convenient (a garage attached to the hotel), the restaurant/bar Bummz is right next to the hotel, and I really have no complaints. I would definitely suggest this over the Best Western Carolinian, which is in the same price range and absolutely disgusting.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Blast from the Past: North Fork Ranch in Colorado

I visited North Fork Ranch in Colorado many many moons ago (seriously, I was in high school)...therefore, before writing about it I made sure to skim through their recent reviews on Trip Advisor. Not surprisingly, every review was stellar and based on my own experiences, I feel more than comfortable recommending North Fork for anyone out there who is a horseback riding, fishing, or hiking enthusiast. And if you're none of the above, rest assured that if you want a quiet vacation in a beautiful setting with gracious hosts and amazing food, this is a perfect place to look!

North Fork offers numerous activities...cook outs, square dances, hikes, trail rides for both the adventurous and not-so-adventurous. They also have excursions to other places in Colorado - when I was there we went white water rafting one day, and to Breckenridge for some shopping another day!

Some of the best activities were the rides that included picnics. One morning there was a trail ride combined with a brunch; another day they combined a trail ride with lunch in a beautiful field full of Colorado wildflowers.

North Fork's prices aren't exactly budget, but they include lodgings in their beautiful cabins, outstanding service and again...amazing food. Even my picky high school self loved their meals, and trust me when I say that says a lot :)

If you want to get away and experience one of the most beautiful places in our country as it's meant to be experienced, North Fork Ranch is truly your place.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Music Weekend in Music City: Part 1

My third trip to Nashville, which took place just last month, unwittingly became all about music.

Well, okay, there were a couple other activities in there, but considering I'd been to Nashville twice before and never been to any sort of concert there, it was about time that I had a "Music Weekend in Music City"!

Unfortunately...I have a real job. And even with gaining on hour on the five and a half hour drive to Nashville, we didn't arrive until nearly 11 PM on a Friday night. A quick change of clothes and we were on our way downtown to see a friend of a friend play sax in a band at BB King's. And this is where it's great to know the right people - no cover charge! (Though a double Beam and Coke cost nearly $20 ::gulp::)
Katherine and I at BB King's (she's my friend who knew the sax player, and also who we stayed with for our Nashville weekend!)
Not surprisingly (this was Music City, after all) the band was awesome! My only issues with BB King's lay in the price of the drinks (seriously, nearly $20 for a tall Beam and Coke???) and the fact that nearly half of the restaurant has no sight lines to the stage. Simple poor design.

We left not long after the band finished playing, but for some silly reason did not call it an early night. Try 5 AM. Oops. At least that was spent hanging out back at our friends' place...far less expensive to drink, that way ;o)

Somehow I woke up fairly early the next morning, but we still got a slow start and decided that first things first, we needed to check out the Parthenon. Despite having been to Nashville twice, I'd never seen the darn thing! It was really cool to wander around and see how they restored it and all, and I agree that if you have the time it's a must-see...but I think once is plenty.
I know this is supposed to be a pretty good replica of what Athena would have looked like in the real Parthenon, but it kinda creeps me out. The eyes...the eyes...
The disappointing thing about the Parthenon is the fact that it's basically impossible to get a picture of the entire thing without buildings in the background or cars in the foreground. So I'm sparing you all of the crappy pictures I took. You can thank me later.

Honestly, both Steve and I were having the worst allergy attack all weekend and all I could think about on our first full day was when I would get to go to bed. But first, it was time for a truly Nashville experience - Tin Pan South. This nearly week-long "festival" (for lack of a better word) is used by songwriters to showcase their work. Most of them are small-time, but there are always a few surprises. We didn't get a surprise famous singer/songwriter, but it was still an amazing experience!
Left to Right: Lisa McCallum, Michelle Wright, Michael Logen, JP Williams, Patricia Conroy
We saw the early show at the Commodore Grille. Granted, the restaurant left a lot to be desired (the food was average at best) but we got to listen to five songwriters showcase five each of their songs. Of course some were better than others; our personal favorite was Michael Logen (he definitely had the best lyrics and music), though Lisa McCallum had some good songs (and a beautiful voice!) as well.

This particular Tin Pan South show lasted over two hours, and due to our late night the night before we were more than ready for rest when it was over. We decided to call it a night (but don't worry, this was after returning to our friends' house and playing guitar for a little while, to round out the evening), but rest assured that our biggest Nashville music day was yet to come! Stay tuned for Part 2 of our Music Weekend :)