Monday, February 28, 2011

Anniversary Detour!

We are celebrating 19 years of marriage today!  Technically, it's NOT our anniversary because we were married on Leap Day in 1992.  So, we will have an anniversary next year and you know what that means...

Save the Date
Wednesday, February 29, 2012

These are just a few photos of our "Sweet Sixteen" anniversary party in 2008.  You will not want to miss our 2012 event because...

The OLYMPICS are coming back to ATLANTA!

Five Olympic rings each representing 4 years of marriage will equal a SCORE.

Mark your calendars and start training for your event today!

As for this year, Happy Anniversary, Guy...
you are my one true love!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

...Didn't Stay in Vegas

Our second day in Nevada, State # 28, we rented a car and drove to Hoover Dam.  Fascinating drive...this is desert terrain totally foreign to me.  "It might as well be Mars!"

When you visit this dam, I hope you have a beautiful day, like we did.  It is best to go the day goes on, the crowds grow.  When we left, the cars on the 2-lane road leading to Hoover Dam were bumper-to-bumper inching their way along to this attraction...same thing on the Arizona, State # 3, side.  (The bridge is now was in a Super Bowl commercial!)

Of course, we took the tour down into the dam.  Our guide was, "Eeyore," I've changed his name to protect his family, but this guy was so negative it was comical.  He pointed out every crack and leak along the way and talked about budget cutbacks stalling maintenance on the elevators. "OH, BOTHER!"

Speaking of negative, we had planned on using our rental car to drive into Arizona and see the Skyway Bridge over the Grand Canyon.  The shuttle driver to the airport told us, "Do NOT tell the agent where you're taking the car, because he won't give it to you."  Apparently, cars that travel onto the reservation to the bridge never one piece!

We took his advice and spoke nothing of our plans.  We set out for the dam determined to go on to the Skyway Bridge.  An hour later, we stopped at the park ranger station for the Lake Mead Recreation Area, where we saw a SUV smoking and leaking oil onto the parking lot.  Inside we chatted with "Ranger Rebecca" and she informed us "off the record," that we should NOT go to the bridge...the reasons why included -
  • the smoking car in the parking lot had just been there;
  • it is NOT actually over the Grand Canyon;
  • you will pay $25 to access the reservation;
  • then you will pay $25 to use their road (dirt path) to the bridge;
  • you will pay $15 (now $29.95 ) each to walk out onto the bridge for 15 minutes, ONLY;
  • then you will pay $25 to have your picture taken on the bridge (cameras strictly prohibited);
  • and if you need to be towed off the reservation that will be another $50.
We scrapped our plans to visit the Skyway Bridge (saved $105) and decided to drive around Lake Mead to the Valley of Fire State Park before returning to Las Vegas.

NOTE:  Check out their website and you may be able to see the digitally enhanced presentation.  It is what sold me on the idea. 

As it turned out, we had a great time exploring this strange and beautiful land.

Our drive back into Vegas took us through the parts of town where "CSI" is filmed...we hurried along and were relieved to be back on The Strip.

Obviously, most visitors to this city are here to gamble.  I should tell you that we did try our hand at the tables and I am glad to report that we came out $33 ahead!  And in case you are interested, the Bellagio had the nicest casino floor, when we were there.  (The ARIA, right next door, has since opened.) 

WARNING:  The stench of tobacco smoke is awful in these casinos; that was the main reason we did not spend much time in them.

Other tourists, like us, are here for the incredible shows.  We saw 4 and yes, one was a topless revue!

  On our first night, we saw O, an aquatic masterpiece of surrealism and theatrical romance from Cirque du Soleil.

At the time, the late show was half-price!  We had front row seats and only got splashed a little in the finale, when the entire cast was on stage.

As far as we are concerned, this is a MUST see.  Guy was amazed by the stage that turned from puddle, to pool, to pond, to lake right before your eyes!  We are big fans of Cirque du Soleil, but after this we won't be going to the Big Blue Tent anymore.  Theatres specifically built for these performances are a large part of the show.  The cast was do they do that stuff?  And where else would Olympic divers get a job?

Be sure to arrive early to see the art of Richard McDonald.  Gorgeous sculptures of the Cirque du Soleil performers are on display and you can buy one, if you like.

On our last evening in Las Vegas, we saw at the MGM Grand.

, the unprecedented, gravity-defying production by Cirque du Soleil  takes adventure to an all new level.  is a heroic journey of love and conflict, set within a dynamic theatrical landscape, as an entire empire appears on KÀ's colossal stage and a captivating display of acrobatics envelops the audience.

You will not believe your eyes, as the battle scene goes vertical with the stage, but you will feel the heat!  Keep your head down because those warriors are shooting real arrows!  This was Guy's favorite of the 2 Cirque du Soleil shows we experienced.  Unlike other Cirque shows (22 in all)  has a plot and a moving storyline.  Definitely add this to your Las Vegas itinerary.

On a related note, when you visit the MGM Grand, stop by CBS Television City.  This is an ongoing focus group facility for CBS and Universal.  The day we visited, we were paid to watch an episode of the "Rachael Ray Show" and answer questions about the advertisements.


Inside Bally's Las Vegas, we attended our one and only ever, topless musical revue entitled...
We experienced the most glitter inside of Las Vegas, from million dollar sets to costumes by Bob Mackie and obviously, bare-breasted girls!   (No one mentions the gorgeously fit male dancers wearing thongs!)

 Jubilee's lavish stage spectacular has been entertaining Las Vegas audiences for two decades. 
Their vignettes include the sinking of the Titanic and the spectacular destruction of the Temple of Sampson and Delilah.  And of course, there are the world famous Las Vegas Jubilee dancers who have been voted "Best Showgirls" by the Las Vegas Review Journal's "Best of Las Vegas" reader's poll.

Two things you should know about this show...first, two nights of the week this show is done fully costumed, meaning no bare breasts.  And second...these beautiful people are athletes, I doubt there was any girl on stage as large as a C-cup.  This is not a strip will see actual talent here.  Besides, go for the finale and see the aerodynamically impossible feathered and bejeweled costumes with spectacular headpieces!

 We also enjoyed the most intelligent show in Vegas, as these two - magicians (?), illusionists (?), truth tellers (?), geniuses(?) - put on 90 minutes of magic and juggling using acerbic comedy to debunk some major magic tricks while demonstrating the art of illusion.  Saying anymore might spoil the show, so just let me say...

Go see this show, inside the RIO, it will not disappoint.  And afterwards, they are both very generous and genuinely funny gentlemen, talking with the audience in the lobby.  We have an autographed program!

Before I end my final post from Nevada, I would like to tell you "Lady Luck" was certainly with us on our journey and to say "Viva Las Vegas" and thank you to a few special people:
  • Andrew - for all your travel advice...Enjoy your visit next month!
  • Anita & Stephen - for telling us all about Jean-Philippe Patisserie...and watching our home.
  • Claci & Jeff - for "insisting" we see O!
  • Thompson Framing - for making our menu collection...delectable!
The photos from the 4 shows were borrowed from their official websites, all other photos were taken with our camera.

And I feel sure you can hardly wait to read about State # 27...Nebraska!  So next time...

Our mutual view of Omaha's Wild Kingdom

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Happened in Vegas...

April 2009 - State # 28 - Nevada

When it came time to visit this state, our son Andy, family expert on all things Vegas, was consulted and he informed us, "Mom, there is only one hotel for you...the BELLAGIO."  What can I say, he is my first borne and he knows his mother.

We flew Delta into Las Vegas on Guy's birthday.  And a hotel limo met us in baggage claim.  Let me explain...before Nevada, we had NEVER used a limousine in our travels.  You may recall that in April, 2009 the economy had tanked and Vegas was suffering a 40% drop in tourism.  Hotels, restaurants, shows, taxi and limo services were offering really low prices to entice tourists to Vegas to gamble.  And I must tell you, it was a hoot to see our names on a placard from the BELLAGIO being held by a chauffeur!

I mentioned in my New Hampshire post that we sometimes enjoy a room with a view.  Our room at the Bellagio had quite a different view from the Green Mountains...

The Fountains of Bellagio are the best thing to see for FREE in Las Vegas.  And in your room the synchronized music is provided on the hotel TV channel. 

If you stay at the Bellagio you should have a room with a view of the fountains and the Paris hotel across the strip.  This is the only city in America that gets brighter when the sun goes down!

The view inside the Bellagio is spectacular as well.  All floral displays are 100% fresh flowers and plants.

We were there the week of Easter and the Bellagio was all dressed up for the holiday!

Walking a "few blocks" in Las Vegas is nothing like any other city.  A city block here is huge, as it has to encompass an enormous hotel, retail and casino property.  We walked The Strip, officially Las Vegas Boulevard, from the Wynn to Mandalay Bay...fortunately there are plenty of places to stop and sit (in front of slot machines) and have a cool drink. 

During our walking tour of The Strip, we briefly visited the other hotels and discovered one thing to be true...

Andrew was right!

The Bellagio was the only hotel for us.  The Wynn, Encore, Venetian and Palazzo were all nice hotels, but much to my dismay the flowers and plants were artificial!  HORRORS!  (Of those 4, I would choose the Venetian.)

Among the images that come to mind when people think of Las Vegas are the bargain BUFFETS.  As you may know, "feeding at the public trough" is not my idea of a good time.  On the other hand, Guy loves a buffet and we do try to immerse ourselves in the local, I sucked it up and we went to 2 buffets.  Of course, these were the best of Vegas Buffets, according to Frommer's.

Our first night we had dinner(?) at the Bellagio Buffet.  The array of food here is unbelievable with unexpected ethnic cuisine from every corner of the world.  The Seafood Line was the big draw...when the Alaskan King Crab was brought out from the Fish Kitchen it was like a wave at Turner Field!  My husband enjoyed the melee of food and diners.  I watched the people...oh my word!

The next morning we headed across The Strip to the Paris hotel for Frommer's Best Breakfast Buffet,
Le Village Buffet
And it was a lovely village setting with separate stations inside Disneyesque Paris shops, divided according to the regions of France.  I did enjoy this breakfast, mainly because I had only those things prepared fresh-to-order while I watched.  I did not eat those items that had been sitting out, for others to touch, at all.  And so I survived the Vegas Buffet...twice!

In our opinion, Las Vegas can hold its head up alongside other big cities as a legitimate foodie destination.

This is probably due to the influx of celebrity chefs creating outposts of their famous restaurants inside these massive hotels.

When we visit each state we try to have at least one remarkable dining experience.  In Las Vegas we had 3 extraordinary and 2 fabulous meals. 

Let me start with the 2 fabulous meals...

inside the Bellagio

Border Grill
inside Mandalay Bay

After returning from Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, we were ready for a nice meal.  Luckily right inside our hotel, a branch of Todd English's original Boston-based restaurant, Olives, had a reservation in our name.  If there were an Olives in Atlanta, we would eat there often.  This was delicious and the least expensive meal we had in Vegas.  Complimentary focaccia bread, olives and tapenade are served and then we split a flatbread.  EXCELLENT!

The day we walked The Strip, we found ourselves inside Mandalay Bay in time for a late lunch.  The Border Grill was just what we needed...a branch of the much-lauded L.A. restaurant, conceived and run by the Food Network's "Two Hot Tamales,"  Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger.  The chiles rellenos and chilaquiles were delicious.  Be sure to save room for the dense but fluffy Mexican chocolate-cream pie with a meringue crust.  MARVELOUS!

Before I tell you about our 3 remarkable meals, I would like to mention two other dining options inside the BellagioThe Bellagio Cafe, open 24 hours at the time, served an excellent breakfast in a beautiful setting.  (It is right beside the "botanical" gardens.)

This is Pedro, one of the Bellagio's horticulturalists. On Good Friday morning, while having an early breakfast, we watched him glue fresh cherry blossoms onto a cherry tree. 

He explained, "This indoor tree dropped it's blossoms two weeks ago, and we are expecting 2000 guests on Sunday for Easter Brunch."

If you are awake around 7:00 in the morning, wander around the Bellagio, towards the Wedding Chapel.  You will have the opportunity to meet members of the floral design team.  This unique arrangement, with tiny glass vases, was just installed by Alice and Rhoda.  It was just outside the Art Museum.

The other dining option I would like to mention is,  Jean-Philippe Patisserie,  with the world's largest chocolate fountain.

It is the home of World Pastry Champion, Jean-Philippe Maury.   (Yes, there are gold medals for pastry.)  And while there for breakfast one morning, we met him!  This place will make you swoon, both visually and gastronomically.  We had perfect croissants with housemade butter and strawberry preserves.  The handmade chocolates were divine, but I believe my favorite was a beautiful, miniature lemon meringue pie.  (See it in the photo below!)

Now for the 3 truly remarkable dining destinations...

inside Caesar's Palace

at the top of The Palms Casino Resort 

Alizé at the Top of the Palms

inside the Bellagio

BOA is a perfect steakhouse in a simple contemporary setting.  A welcome respite from the visual onslaught that is Las Vegas.  No matter what piece of BEEF you order here, it will be outstanding.  Be prepared to choose a sauce, a rub or a crust for your steak.  You will have some very interesting choices for accompaniments...try the Truffle Mac & Cheese and Garlic Cauliflower with Sauce Mornay!  Again, we have to thank Andy for this recommendation.

As you can see in the photo of the Alizé dining room, this restaurant has a spectacular view of Las Vegas.  When you go, make your reservations early, like 5:30!  (There is NOT an early bird special.)  But there will be quite a show as the sun sets, the lights come up and the helicopters return from the Hoover Dam tours. 

Unlike other great restaurants in Vegas, the chef/owner is here carefully overseeing this magnificent 
culinary operation.  We decided to indulge in the Chef's Tasting courses of the chef's choosing. Trust us, you will not be disappointed!  This was ridiculously delicious, and one of our top 5 dining experiences...EVER!

Alaskan King Crab Salad
Lotus Root, Fava Beans, Avocado and Wasabi Puree
Black Truffle and Spinach Salad
Warm Duck Confit, Toasted Brioche and Sunnyside Quail Egg
Pan Seared Foie Gras
Sour Plum Caramel, Pistachio Mousse, Hybiscus Froth and Fresh Sorrel
Caper Crusted Alaskan Halibut
Asparagus Salad, Purple Yams and Truffle Egg Emulsion
Grilled Rib Eye
Chayote Squash, Baby Cauliflower, Fingerling Potato Hash and Juniper Beef Jus
Westfield Farms Classic Blue Goat Cheese
Black Grape Preserve and Candied Macadamia Nut Baked Puff Pastry
Dessert Tasting
Carrot Cake with Ginger Brulee
Hazelnut Marquis and Chocolate Custard
Pineapple Fritter with Macadamia Caramel Ice Cream

Finally, on our last evening in Las Vegas we had dinner at Picasso.  We were seated at the best table in the house, a table for two on a balcony overlooking the fountains.  Wonderful, until we finished our cocktails and the fountain show began.  A nice desert breeze coupled with the spray meant we were going to be drenched!  Fortunately, we still had our giant menus, we used those as umbrellas while the servers quickly moved us inside to a window table. 

Now this was the best table in the house...30 million dollars worth of Picasso paintings and sculpture look over your shoulder while you dine!  Not to mention the fabulous fresh flower arrangements vying for your attention.  Julian Serrano, the chef, was persuaded to move here from San Francisco and Las Vegas should thank him regularly!

Some of you may know that I collect menus.  Many of these menus are framed and hanging in our dining room (and spilling into the kitchen.)  Picasso's menu (above) is part of the framed collection.  This one has no signature from the chef because NO ONE disturbs the chef while he is creating.

And on that note, I will end this first post from Nevada.  Next time...

Hoover Dam and the Shows

NOTE:  We took all of these photos except the photo of the Alizé dining room and the collage photo of the food at Border Grill.  (Those 2 are from each restaurant's website.)