Moment of Zen: Travel Edition

I rarely go on vacations, mostly because I can’t afford them or the time off from work. But for a week after Christmas I traveled by car with my mother and son to Alabama, to visit my grandfather, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years. I also hadn’t been to his house in about seven years, nor seen my brother and his family, so it was very overdue. Let me just say first off that I will never spend 25 hrs in the car with anyone again, as it was way too exhausting, especially as we were spending 13-14 hrs in the car per day. Discovered a few things about the states in the process, for example my thoughts on West Texas (as we drove through pretty much the whole bottom half of the state) were a ton of dead skunks on the road – which smelled horrible, bad natural gas smell from all the refineries, and a whole lot of nothing for miles and miles (which doesn’t change in the daytime). Whereas Louisiana had miles and miles of bridges b/c it is all swampy, including the longest one, a five-mile causeway across Lake Pontchartrain (see satellite image below). Most of my happy moments involved food. 

lake-pontchartrain-causeway-66

Tues Dec 27: I found this cool visual map for my son to keep track of the states we were visiting during the course of our journey, as we were going through Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. That way he was involved with our progress and learned something about each state. It was very popular and he really got into it. 

Wed Dec 28: Got to have Cajun food in Louisiana. My mom had Crawfish Etouffee and I had a Crawfish Po-Boy. 

Thurs Dec 29: Got to have Zaxby’s for the first time since we left South Carolina (about 5-1/2 yrs before). Not sure what they use on their chicken or in their Zax sauce, but it is damn tasty and hard to replicate. 

Fri Dec 30:  Got to see my brother and his family for the first time in seven years, and meet his daughter Kayleigh, who I’ve never actually met before. It was nice catching up with them. 

Sat Dec 31: Had boiled peanuts today and next day – the one Southern food I actually miss and can’t get over here. They were pretty good for being from a gas station. 

sunset-in-new-mexico

Mon Jan 2: Prettiest sunset of the trip driving through New Mexico. It doesn’t quite capture it in the picture, but it was gorgeous with all the orangey-reds, pinks and purples reflected off the fleecy clouds. 

Viva Las Vegas

Las Vegas Sign

My hubby and I recently celebrated our 10th Wedding Anniversary at the end of January and decided to take a trip to Vegas. It was the first time I had been there since I had taken a Spring Break vacation there with my family when I was fifteen. My husband had never been and was always curious. To say was very different than I remembered it as a teenager is a bit of an understatement. I’m sure to an extent I was seeing it a bit through rose-colored glasses as my parents were making pretty good money back in the day and we could afford to do things. I remember it as a lot of fun, flashy and exciting. Though they have made great strides to making it more kid-friendly than it was in the late 1990s, it is still not a place I would take children. They had these creepy people in costume in front of several hotels, such as the Bellagio, so the kids could take pictures with them (Mickey and Minnie, the Minions etc). It just made me wonder if they needed a permit for that and/or did background checks or they just let anyone with a costume do it. For one it is way too bright and the decibel level is crazy on any night, not even counting the weekends. We were there from Fri-Wed so we got a good glimpse of what it was like over a span of time. The crowds were insane! I have been to and lived in some huge metropolitan areas, such as Washington DC, NYC, London and Amsterdam, and the volume of people here was unlike anywhere else. I’m sure the kids would get super excited by all the noise and lights, and it would be so easy to get separated, especially if you have a small child. Plus the Strip itself was so intimidating to a pedestrian and in a car, with its eight lanes of traffic and no crosswalks on the street (only overhead at certain points). There were parents with their young under-five-years-old children in strollers at 10pm and the kids were nearly always passed out. For goodness sake people, take your children home! Surely you could take them out during the day, especially if you are visiting from out of town.

The Strip from behind water fountains at Bellagio

It is excessive not in just terms of people, light and noise, but also in shopping. I never thought of it as a shopping mecca, but apparently it is the place to be if you like and/or can afford luxury brands such as Dolce & Gabbana, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Stella McCartney, Christian Dior, Cartier, and Tiffany & Co. I was excited to see they had an Emilio Pucci store, not that I’ve ever shopped there as you have to be stick-thin and quite wealthy to do so, but I always loved walking by the Pucci store in Florence when I was studying abroad there. They have such fun, flirty, psychedelic style.

Emilio Pucci dress

I was wanting to go to Vegas because I heard it was a foodie’s paradise. And it is, if you have the budget for it. Everything is so damned expensive there. Even for a basic buffet it was about $26 a person. We had a half-decent burger at Gordon Ramsay’s Burgr and I gotta

I was all excited to go to Vegas because they used to have great shows. They still probably do but because we were going in off-season, there wasn’t as many choices. Last time I was there I saw Cirque de Soleil Mystere and the Excalibur Hotel’s Tournament of Kings (which they are still showing there), and Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Starlight Express (which is not). I had wanted to see Jersey Boys, but the tickets were really quite expensive and couldn’t really justify it when I know my hubby wasn’t keen to see it anyways. So we ended up seeing Tournament of Kings because my hubby was interested and it was a fun show, though a bit predictable. I would imagine though if you were a kid between 5-13 years, it would be pretty impressive. You do get a bit lost in the spectacle as there are cute men riding horses pretending to be knights and each section of the show gets to cheer for it’s own hero, and there are very loud pyrotechnics. Of course, we were sitting in the bad guy section but it was still a lot of fun to cheer for him.

Timeshares

I will have to make a small comment on the solicitations forced on us at all times. We had been warned, funnily enough, by a nice gentleman at the resort we were staying at who was trying to sell us a timeshare (we demurred), that there were going to be other men trying to do the same on the Strip. He wasn’t kidding. After awhile, you could breeze pass them and not stop and they had this oily snake-like appearance so they were pretty easy to find. Even if they offer you free tickets to shows, there is always a catch. There are people trying to get you to come into the casino, and of course, the smut peddlers. Surprisingly, prostitution is not legal in Clark County, Nevada (where Las Vegas is located), but is in other parts of the state. That’s not to say they don’t try to push it in your face at every possible opportunity while in Las Vegas, because they do. Pretty much all the female casino employees (you would be hard pressed to avoid casinos entirely even if you’re not interested in gambling because they are literally in every hotel and gas station in the city), or at least the ones at the tables and serving drinks amongst the slot machines are scantily clad. There are pictures of half-dressed female celebrities, who are performing at the various casinos, all over the strip. And then there are the smut peddlers who stand on the corner trying to get to you to accept “Orgasm Clinic” flyers or female escort service numbers. They don’t call it Sin City for nothing.