Visiting Vegas!

Well, hopefully my quick trip to Vegas with my sister-in-law for the last two Decembers will become a holiday tradition.  We have such a good time in the action packed two days.  Too bad Katie ended her trip with a long 18 hour travel day home!  Thankfully, Southwest came through for me, and I only had a bumpy flight home.  The icing on the cake in Vegas this year was being able to see my sister Liz.  We didn’t know we were going at the same time!


Katie and I arrived Wednesday, checked into Bellagio, admired it’s conservatory beautifully decorated for Christmas before we found a place for a late lunch.  Luckily, Katie is more in tune to the cooking channel than I am, and we tried a new hot spot, Giada.  While the dining room was closed, the bar still offered a full menu until 2:30.  We were seated just in time. Given I was ready to gnaw off my arm, we ordered the Pecorino cheese with apricot preserves as we expected the plate to come out quickly.  With our expectations granted, we dove right in and were not disapointed!  Our salads, which were a healthy size, came next and our empty bellies quickly expanded.  I can see how the restaurant would be popular, especially in the evening with a view of the Bellagio fountains.

The rest of the afternoon included browsing the shops in Ceasar’s mall and taking a circuitous route off the strip to Treasure Island to pick up our show tickets to Mystere.  We purchased tickets in advance, but let the show assign us seats.  This provided a big savings online, and better yet, gave us 2nd row seats just to the left center of the stage!  We could see the cirque performers shaking during their strength routines and adjusting with all their jumps.  It was quite fun to get such a close up view and definitely made up for the mediocre dinner at Fix which was a slight disappointment, but still fun to meet Katie’s friend Beth.

While Katie attended the Expedia conference, I crossed the street to enjoy breakfast with Liz and Ron at Mon Ami Gabi.  Liz’s mushroom brie omelet was tasty!  We moved on to try our hand at Blackjack.  Ellis Island is just a few blocks off the strip and offers $5 hands and pays 3:2 on blackjack.  The only problem was the cards didn’t go our way, but at $5 a hand we got to play for a while.  Ron bid us farewell while we went on to Tableau at the Wynn for lunch.  Of course, the Wynn was basically at the opposite end from where Liz was staying so we spent the next hour or more walking all the way to the MGM Grand while taking detours through the Venetian and a few other places to enjoy the decorations and browse the shops.

As the sky turned dark (by 5 pm), Liz reunited with Ron, and I returned to the Bellagio to meetup with Katie for a final dinner.  Katie picked the best restaurant I’ve been to in Vegas I think. Perhaps it helps to go without expectations. Yellowtail is a sushi restaurant in the Bellagio with a small patio that offers a spectacular view of the fountains.  We arrived at the restaurant early (around 6) and got a premium table on the patio under the heat lamps.  During our relaxing, dining experience we enjoyed about six fountain shows!  And as much as I absolutely love the fountains, I think the food may have topped everything.  The albacore pizza drizzled with truffle oil was true ecstasy.

Our night continued in the sports book where we caught the end of the football game and then we tried our luck at the poker slots.  I won half the money back that I lost at Blackjack…not bad to go home with a pocket book only $25 lighter!  We managed to stay up a bit later while enjoying a nightcap in the bar just near the guest elevators to the spa tower before we finally called it night to catch our morning flights.  ETB


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Adventures in Vegas!

I was fortunate to go on an unplanned jaunt to Vegas with my sister-in-law Katie who was attending an Expedia conference.  She mentioned she was going about a month ago, and I decided, what the heck…I could handle a few days in Vegas…who couldn’t?

We landed on Wednesday morning, checked in to Ceasar’s, though a room wouldn’t be available until 4pm…we had a good six hours to kill.  The most entertaining part of check in was to hear the spiel on up-charges.  I think it took the woman at the counter longer to tell us about the early check in, internet per device, and minibar fees than to confirm our reservation…we both started laughing.  So much for the $99 room!

After check in, we grabbed a fantastic breakfast at Serendipity with one of Katie’s co-workers, Stacy.  The portion sizes were huge…I highly recommend splitting. After filling our bellies, we walked the calories off while enjoying the Christmas decorations at all the hotels and shops.  We began at Ceasar’s and wandered through the Forum shops to the Bellagio.  I think we covered several miles just to go next door!  We rode the rail to the City Center, checked out Aria and backtracked to the Cosmopolitan before ending at Olive’s at Bellagio to enjoy the fountain show!  The amount of poinsettias at Ceasar’s and Bellagio were insane…I can’t imagine the cost.  Having stayed in Vegas multiple times, never at the same hotel twice, Katie and I decided we liked Bellagio the best.  The decorations, the Chihully, the fountains, and the central location are just perfect!  After resting our legs at Olive’s, we crossed the street to visit the Venetian and its shops before finally ending at the Mirage, the sponsor hotel for the National Finals Rodeo.  I’ll say, there were lots of Cowboys sporting Wrangler’s and BIG buckles.

Our hours of strolling called for a room, and we waited in line with the masses to finally find out our room number.  Katie, Stacy, and Casey headed to an Expedia event while I opted for the Terry Fator show.  A ventriloquist, Terry, sounded exactly like countless famous singers while singing with his mouth closed in his Christmas special.  He was quite good and funny!  I met Katie back at Ceasar’s, and we tested our luck at video slots…shockingly, I broke even.  Generally, I give my money away :-).  It was a nice way to end the night!

On Thursday, I had the day to kill while the rest of the group which now included Tammie attended educational sessions.  Honestly, there was no way I could spend the whole day gambling…it’s not my thing, so I rented a car and visited the Hoover Dam and the Ethel M chocolate factory.

The last time I visited the Hoover Dam, I was with my dog during my travels around the USA, and I wasn’t allowed to park in the parking garage, so I couldn’t take a tour, as I didn’t want to leave him in the sun, despite being in a camper with the shades down, windows open, fan on, and it being a cool day.  So I was very excited to take the tour of the dam and power plant as I had heard so many good things about it.

The Hoover dam was originally constructed to control the flow of the Colorado River which flooded crop lands or dried up depending on the snow melt from the Rockies.  California couldn’t afford to take on a project to protect its farmland (what’s new?), so the Federal Government along with seven other states formed the Colorado River Compact in 1922.  The river was divided into an upper and lower half, and the states decided the apportionment of each basin.  In 1928, Congress authorized the construction of the Hoover Dam.

Construction began in 1931.  First, the river had to be diverted from its river banks.  It took four pipes 60 feet wide and 3/4 of a mile long to divert the river.  In addition, rubble was dropped in the river bed on either side of the planned dam site to create a lower and upper coffer dam.  Concrete in the amount found in a cement mixer was lowered into multiple forms for four years!  The dam was built in a “lego” fashion.  The statistic that fascinated me the most, however, it the dam wasn’t connected to the sides of the canyon.  They planned for the force of the water to flex the concrete into the sides.  If I were the chief engineer, I’d hate to miss my calculation by a millimeter!

Somewhere between 96 and 102 people died during the construction of the dam, for which there is a memorial on site.  I believe 96 workers died on site, while other workers died of unrelated problems off-site.  It is rumored that bodies are buried in the 660 feet thick concrete structure, however, this is not true.  When the concrete was poured in the 25 ft by 25 ft up to 25 ft by 60 ft forms, it only rose a 2 to 6 inches, thus it was easy to find anyone who had fallen in.  Further, this type of concrete structure would not function properly with a body buried in it, as it is different from other dams like Montana’s Fork Peck Dam where 6 bodies are buried which don’t threaten the structure of the dam due to the way it is constructed.

IMG_1095 memorial

The first generator in the power plant wings of the dam began operation in October of 1936.  These generators were the largest of their kind at the time and have yet to be replaced.  They are operated to produce hydro-electric power, and the revenues produced from selling power has paid off the dam in full plus interest.  Now the power production covers all the operating costs of the dam, thus it could stay open during the government shut down, as it is self-sufficient.  The power is sold at cost because the government is not allowed to make money…perhaps they should change that policy and help reduce the Federal Budget!!!

IMG_1084 generators

In addition to controlling the floods and irrigating crop lands down river and producing power, the dam also provides water to 20 million people in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Tucson and other southwestern cities with the creation of Lake Mead, America’s largest man-made reservoir that took two years to fill.  The lake stores 9.2 trillion gallons of water when filled to capacity, though it is preferred to keep the lake below capacity so that the spillways are not forced to be used.  In it’s existence, the spillways have only been used twice, once for testing and once for real.  Fortunately they worked!

After my visit to the dam, I ventured to the Ethel M chocolate factory.  Aside from the fantastic dark chocolate cover salted caramel as well as toffee, this visit was a bit disappointing to me.  I have been through a few factory tours, and this one was small and not too busy.  I only saw about two of the seven workers actually doing something!  I did get a quick view of the boilers, conveyor belts, and the candy being packaged before I tasted a piece of chocolate in the gift shop and then strolled through one of the world’s largest cactus gardens.  I suspect the gardens would have been spectacular at night as just about every cactus was wrapped in lights…I’m thankful that wasn’t my job…I’m sure a few fingers were pricked.

Upon return to Vegas, I dropped off my not-so-good car from Hertz which is another entertaining story itself.  I booked the car on Priceline while standing at the Hertz counter as they would not honor the rate otherwise, and then the woman proceeds to tell me they don’t have that type car.  She was going to call around to different locations because I selected 8:30 am, and it was 8:15…really?!?  I picked 8:30 because I anticipated paper work.  Perhaps I should have chosen 8:16!  Don’t offer a car if you don’t have it or provide an upgrade.  Eventually, she offered me an upgrade.  They could use some work on their customer service and their cars!

The Broncos played Thursday night, so Katie and I plopped ourselves down in the Ceasar’s playbook lounge and cheered on Denver.  The area was somewhat split between Bronco’s and Charger’s fans, and it was fun!  A friend of mine from Houston, David, happened to be in Vegas so he joined us as the rest of the girls slowly filtered in.  We didn’t make it down to the playbook by game-time, so we had to wait until half-time to place any bets.  Unfortunately, the Broncos weren’t very good to us.  We didn’t have to suffer through the whole game though, as us girls went for dinner at Mesa, a Bobby Flay restaurant.  I must say the Queso Fundido and the Banana Cream Pie were mouth watering good.  I ordered the lambchops for my entree, and they were cooked to perfection, however, I’ve learned chipotle sauce is not my most favorite. I think I’m happiest with simply garlic pepper on the chops.  Having said that, the mint chimichurri sauce was tasty, and the overall dinner was great!

From dinner, which was in Ceasar’s, we went to our show, Absinthe, located in a tent in front of the hotel.  The best way to describe this show is an extremely crude, erotic Cirque du Soleil.  According to others, it is one of the hottest, best shows in Vegas.  I have to say, I was a little grossed out when the emcee licked the top of a bald patron’s head!  I’m glad I wasn’t in the front row.  The show was funny and engaging.  I always find myself holding my breath for those acrobats!

From the show, we tried our luck in the casino once more.  Tammie was a big winner on $20.  She pocketed $250.  I once again broke even, and Katie, well her luck wasn’t the greatest, but she was using her Christmas money from last year, so it lasted a while…almost a whole year!  That’s about all I can say about Vegas, as we were back on the plane Friday morning…just a quick jaunt of fun! ETB


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