Tara here again – posting in my own right

Hello again,

although billed as our blog, this has very much been Andrew’s blog. My using his log in on day 2 was almost grounds for divorce.

I did poo poo the idea of a blog for a TWELVE day trip but I have been impressed that Andrew has kept at it; I am more of a Facebook person and don’t really see the point of super long posts.

Anyway I digress. I feel that on our last evening  is a good time to give my feedback on our trip.

1. The car – our convertible Mustang

My darling husband had this romantic idea of hiring a convertible. Does he view us a Thelma and Louise sort of a partnership? we did get called Mrs & Mrs Arwas in Morton’s last night. So yes perhaps.

Anyway I think it is significant that at no point during this trip did I see any other convertibles with the roof down. It is too flipping hot. Only mad English people go around in the heat with roof down. In spite of wearing SPF 50 we both got burnt necks.

2. The Grand Canyon

Yes, it is worth a visit but I felt it was bit like New York. You have seen so many pictures/ films that you feel like you know it already so I certainly didn’t get the Wow moment I was expecting.

The El Tovar hotel was a bit “bof” which I will translate as meh. Yes, it was built in 1905 which in American terms is very old and makes it historic but this is NOT a reason to keep it as it was back then. It is all dark timber and moose heads (fortunately not in our bedroom) and it smelled peculiar. I think it would benefit from a Ralph Lauren Navajo style makeover.

PS: if I had to vote between NYC and anywhere else in the world I would always vote for New York. I know that I have no soul.

3. Monument Valley

I don’t know what to say that will do it justice. I thought it was so amazing that looking out at the view just made me want to cry. Even typing this is making me tearful.

The fact that Andrew and I were up willingly at 6 in the morning says a lot about the place.

4. Zion 

Also awesome. And a lovely vibe about it. Lots of families and people of all ages. Quite a few French people too bizarrely (unless they were Canadians in disguise but they sounded French to me).

I did feel uncomfortable to start off as it was full of weird outdoorsy types – hiking boots, fleece wearing types who enjoy camping. I felt like an extra in an episode of Yogi Bear. This was not helped that our suite was all browns and khaki.

Will post more later as DH is calling me for dinner.


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Day 11 – the last full day

Our time in Scottsdale is proving to be as empty and relaxed as our time in Vegas was busy. Nothing but lie-ins, drifting around and (today) a quick dip in the pool. 

Today, we headed to a local shopping mall to grab some lunch and have a shmy around. We ate at The Cheesecake Factory. I understand a branch of The Cheesecake Factory is going to open up on Fulham Broadway in the coming year. I cant see it working in the UK.

What you get here is big premises, loads of serving staff, and huge menu (about 20 pages of food and drink), in enormous portions and basically low prices. All of it delivered with that classic American style from students looking to earn their 18% tip.

I just can’t see which parts of this experience will successfully translate to the UK. The premises are not big, food in London is never cheap, and portions are … well, OK, here sensible portion sizes would be a good thing. But most particularly, when did you last go into a restaurant and see over 20 serving staff (not kitchen staff or table clearers, but actual waiters and waitresses). 

I fear the UK version of The Cheesecake Factory will be too small, too expensive, a narrower menu, all delivered by too few serving staff, with the customary mood of patronising indifference. That’s what we seem to get in most of our restaurants. Of course the exceptions exist, and I’m sure they are the ones we all frequent. But I’d be surprised if you don’t recognise the depressing picture I’m painting.

On the other hand, if you are planning to come to the UK for the Olympics, ignore what I just said. Come over and experience the warm British welcome!

Anyway, tonight we can’t even be bothered to go out. We are going to sit in the bar of our hotel, drink and eat all night, and pack tomorrow.

No sunset pictures tonight. I may take some but they’ll be much the same as the last two nights.

So, TTFN

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Evening 10 – meat: another tradition

I may have mentioned that Tara and I (probably especially me) are creatures of habit. Over the last few years, every time we go to the States, Tara and I find an evening to go to Morton’s Steakhouse. For those not familiar, it’s a chain or steak restaurants across the States, and we have been to their restaurants in Georgetown, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Chicago and (now) Scottsdale.

Every time we go, we have the same thing: for starters Tuna Tartare and Smoked Salmon; for main course, rare filet steak, peppercorn sauce, fries and asparagus; for dessert a chocolate souffle; and the wine is a Trapiche Malbec. OK, I can already hear you laughing at us. Fair enough. Why do we do this? Because, without fail and without question, this is the best steak either of us have ever eaten … anywhere. Great quality meat, ‘cooked’ truly rare – if you look in some of these pictures, it almost looks as if it’s still beating:

   

Another thing we love about Morton’s is the service. I had mentioned on booking that we were celebrating our anniversary, and when we arrived, not only did the Maitre D’ wish us a Happy Anniversary, but they had decorated our table for us, and prepared personalised menus. OK, they mis-typed and accidentally outed us as a lesbian couple, but the thought was there.

   

Vegetarians reading this are probably retching over their laptops. For everyone else, we recommend it.

We finished our evening and headed back. Tomorrow is our last full day, and we aim to do even less.

TTFN

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Day 10 – as promised, nothing doing

I did warn you. The purpose of this final leg of our holiday is to fully relax. Sight-seeing is finished, driving is finished. And so, today involved a lie in, breakfast on our balcony, a quick trip to buy some sleeping tablets for the flight home, and Tara went for a spa treatment. She’ll have to write a post to tell you about that.

The only item worth mentioning was this lollipop that we found in Walgreens (similar to Boots). It has a scorpion in it. I didn’t buy one to taste, so I’m not sure whether, once you have licked off the lollipop, is there a ‘loose’ scorpion flopping about in your mouth. I have no desire to find out, either!

After that, I spent the afternoon editing a video of our helicopter flight over the Las Vegas Strip. It’s posted ion my facebook page for the moment, though without the musical soundtrack – which facebook identified as copyright! Too clever by half. I’ll have to find a way round that.

Tara reminded me about Magic Hour this evening and I managed to grab a few moe shots of sunset – this time including the sun:

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Even the swimming pool had come out in colour this evening:

      

I love doing nothing.

TTFN

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Evening 9 – the Sanctuary and the Mission

The Sanctuary Hotel and Spa, on Camelback mountain, was chosen to be our last stop on this tour. It was chosen to be a chance to unwind and relax after 9 days of driving, sightseeing and ‘doing things’. Our plan for Scottsdale is to avoid doing too much at all.

The hotel has made a great first impression. Our suite – though not as enormous as that in Vegas, and with ONLY 1 BATHROOM – is just as pictured on the website. It is big, comfortable and well furnished, with a wonderful balcony with our own sun-loungers.

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The staff were really friendly when we arrived, and after we got to our suite, someone turned up with a bottle of bubbly and chocolate dipped strawberries. They had made a note from when I booked that this trip was for our anniversary and they were sending us a congratulatory treat. I love it when hotels get this kind of stuff so right.

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Oh, and I nearly forgot … Magic Hour. In fact, I very nearly missed it. At 7:15 this evening, I was updating the blog and I looked up and realised thew sun was setting behind the mountains. I dashed off in search of my camera, completely failing to notice it in the bedroom. I even ran back to the car (and obviously it wasn’t there). It turns out that sunset here is really quick and by the time I had got my camera, the sun had already gone below the mountains and I was just left with the orange glow on the horizon. Not too shabby, though:

   

   

I’ll try remember Magic Hour in future and see what else I can capture.

The concierge recommended a Mexican restaurant for our dinner – The Mission. Again, she got this spot on. It was lively, a great setting (we ate outdoors) and the food and drink were both excellent. Far and away the best meal we have had this holiday.

So, our first evening on Camelback mountain has been a real success. Tomorrow’s forecast is ‘cloudy, with a high of 94 degrees’. Tara has a spa treatment booked. I have no plans other than to check out the pool. Chillin’ in the heat.

TTFN

 

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Day 9 – Leaving Las Vegas

Actually, I never saw that film. Supposed to be good.

Anyway, today we left the fantasy world that is Las Vegas. We said goodbye to our enormous suite, with its 2.5 bathrooms. We said goodbye to the Casino – I had already kissed my money goodbye, of course. We said goodbye to the fountains and volcanoes and gondolas and pyramids and people jumping off tall buildings. In short, back to some semblance of normality.

Just one ore stop on our Vegas itinerary – the famous ‘Welcome to Las Vegas’ sign, which is just a couple of miles south of the Bellagio, down the Strip. I worried about where we’d park, as it’s a sign in the middle of the road. Fortunately, it’s enough of a tourist attraction in its own right to have its own car park.

And so, first on the in-bound side, and then on the outbound, we paid our homage to Las Vegas.

   

And then we headed off for Scottsdale. Already a 300 mile, 6 hour journey, we decided against adding an extra 180 miles and 2.5 hours to see the Barringer Crater, which is East of Flagstaff. That will have to wait for another trip. Generally, there wasn’t much to see on the trip, except that we drove by the Hoover Dam again, this time on the ‘bypass bridge’. The eagle-eyed will have spotted this in photos yesterday, but for those who don’t remember, here it is again:

Not being a great lover of driving over high bridges, I’m pleased to say it has reasonably high sides which prevent any accidental views. They didn’t prevent some fairly stiff sidewinds though.

It was a hot day and we drove for 4 straight hours with the roof down. We stopped in ‘historic Wickenburg’ for a ‘historic Big Mac’ and to take on fluids in large cups. Then, we hit the road again and reached our destination – the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain – around 5:30pm. But that deserves a post of its own.

TTFN

 

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Evening 8 – Viva Las Vegas!

Last evening in Vegas and we had decided to go for another classic nigtht’s entertainment.

First, we were collected by limo and taken down to the airport for a helicopter flight over the Strip. Now, we are both seasoned pros at the helicopter tour so had none of the same nerves of last week. This would be a much shorter trip as well – just 12 minutes in the air, about 5 miles each way

The flight was great. I think I have some great footage and (again) when I work out how to post it on here I will. The Strip is awash with coloured lights and fantastical buildings, and helicopter is a fantastic way to see it – with Elvis in the headphones!

Just comparing the tour companies, I have to say that today’s company – Sundance Helicopters – didn’t quite excel in the service stakes as Maverick had at the Canyon. While they did offer pick up and drop off by limo, we found their ground crew and pilots far less chatty or willing to oblige. We asked for a quick picture after the flight and it was a really reluctant ‘yes’ that we got in return. Having just looked at the picture he took, I’m not going to post it here. You can’t even see the helicopter, plus my lips (which have been very sore and cracked for the last week) look like a transvestite who has overdone the colagen.

After the flight, our limo dropped us outside the Bellagio for one last chance to see the fountains. Again, video to come.

Then we grabbed a cab and headed to the Venetian, where we had booked dinner at Postrio – one fo Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants. We were a little early arriving and so had the chance to wonder around this hotel – possibly THE best example of 1990’s Vegas. It’s not just themed on Venice – it recreates (Vegas versions of) San Marco Square, the Doges Palace, the Rialto Bridge, canals, gondolas and even singing gondoliers. Authentic enough to sing ‘O Solo Mio’ rather than ‘Just One Cornetto’ (one for the oldies, there). It’s kitsch on an epic style, and wonderful for that.

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Dinner itself – nice cocktails, but too much of the menu was ‘disallowable’ – pork, ham, bacon, shrimp, etc. My salad and pizza were both nicely done, as was Tara’s tuna tartare. I think she was a little unsure about the steak frites, though, even if it was cooked nice and rare.

Again, a flight over the Strip, the Bellagio fountains and the fake streets of Venice. Vegas in a nutshell.

Tomorrow we leave Vegas for the more relaxing moods of Scottsdale.

TTFN

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Day 8 – the Hoover Dam

Today we were a little earlier getting up, added to it not being the weekend, so we got into The Buffet – which is exactly what it sounds like – a massive ‘all you can eat’ extravaganza. We were on the cusp between breakfast and lunch so a little (or a lot) of both was available.

Having eaten our fill, we headed out for Hoover Dam. I went many years ago and remember it being an interesting tour of the inside of the Dam and the power plant. Tara was skeptical.

Unfortunately, the lifts down to the power plant were offline for maintenance today so there was just a film, a slide show and some general exhibits.

More entertaining, though, was the ongoing debate among some of the visitors about how hot it was. There were two acceptable answers in my view: ‘hot as hell’ or ‘dam hot’ (see what I did there!) One of the tour guides announced that it was 120 degrees out in the sun (our car said 95 in the shade, so I could easily believe that). This instigated the most pathetic round of attempts to convert this into centigrade. Most Brits are reasonably adept at switching between the two – we haven’t frankly decided as a nation whether to use the pretty illogical Fahrenheit system, or join the French in adopting Celsius. However, many people know that 16 converts to 61, and 28 converts to 82, and body temp is 98.6 or 37.2. Americans, it would seem, are less comfortable with the ‘math’ and none of their ‘conversions’ of 120F came out above 30C – almost 20 degrees too low.

As I said, hotter than hell.

Whatever the shortcomings of the tour, the Dam is still an impressive piece of civil engineering. Here are a few snaps:

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After we’d seen what there was to see, and in a bid to escape the heat (did I mention it was really hot), we headed home, via a compulsory stop at the Premium Outlets, ready for an evening’s entertainment.

TTFN

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Day 7 – Oh! O! and Oh No!

I have a firmly held view that Vegas is not a city for getting up early. It is very clearly designed for the night, and there is probably a by-law (or there should be) that visitors should lie in until mid morning at least.

Well, that suited us fine, having been out late drinking and seeing the sights. The downside, though, is that the queue for the All You Can Eat Buffet is pretty long at noon on a Sunday! So, we ate at the Case Bellagio instead, set in a bright, airy section of the hotel.

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After that, we set out to walk up the Strip to the Fashion Mall. It’s probably only a mile up the road, but there’s something about walking in Vegas that is intrinsically hard. Maybe it was the 100 degree heat. Maybe it’s all the detours that you have to take around the fronts of each casino. Whatever it is, we got as far as Caesars Palace (the next casino along!) and decided to pop in to the Forum Shops instead of heading any further.

Really, we were just killing time. This evening, we had booked dinner and a show at the hotel, all kicking off at 6pm.

We ate at Yellowtail – a modern Japanese restaurant with a view over the lake and the fountains. It was a set, pre-theatre menu, which kind of confirmed by view that eating at Japanese restaurants is more like a series of tastes than a meal. That’s not a comment on the portion sizes or the quality of the food (which was really good). Maybe I’m just very traditional and western in how I eat and like to have three or four different foods on the plate at once. The cocktails, were excellent with subtle flavours of sake, ginger, honey, lychee etc.

After a brisk meal, we headed to the main event – ‘O’ by Cirque du Soleil. I’m not going to even attempt to describe what it’s about. Suffice to say the songs are sung in an invented language, but with a distinctly Moorish influence. The costumes looked like a cross between Alice in Wonderland, a Peter Greenaway film and a masked ball in Venice. Essentially it’s acrobatics in and over water. And, if that all doesn’t give you an idea, don’t blame me. It was excellent, and that’s all that needs saying. In the true spirit of Vegas, don’t think about it, just consume it and experience it and enjoy it.

After the show, and a quick change into more casual clothes, I headed down to the casino to gamble. My game of choice is Craps and my previous experience has been a fairly even split between doubling / tripling my money, and losing it all in 45 minutes. Unfortunately, today was much more in the latter camp. After an encouraging first 30 minutes, where I probably got about $100 up, the table then went cold and within an hour I was flipping my last $5 chip to the stickman wishing him better luck than I’d had. My original plan had been to gamble twice, but having spent a fair bit on the room upgrade, chasing a loss with another potential loss tonight seems a bad plan. I’ll keep my money in my pocket – which ironically puts me $200 up against my budget for gambling!

A mixed day then but a very Vegas day – sleep late, shop, dinner, a show, lose in the casino. Throw in Elvis and it’s a movie!

TTFN

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Night 6 – Vegas by night

Resisting the temptation to spend the evening in our super suite, Tara and I headed out to Level 107 – a bar at the top of the Stratosphere, at the north end of the Strip. We had nice food and cocktails, listening to live music (Elton John seems very big in Vegas currently). Disconcertingly, every 10 minutes or so we were aware that someone fell past the window … of our 107th floor view! Not the suicide capital of the southwest (as far as I know), this is what passes for entertainment in this city. The SkyJump allows you to jump off the 108th floor of the Stratosphere and descend all the way to the ground in about 8 seconds. On a wire, obviously. We went upstairs and saw one cocky girl become distinctly less cocky as the moment approached, and eventually could not bring herself to jump off facing forward. So, she jumped backwards. Personally, I’m not sure I see how that’s better, but then you wouldn’t see me even thinking about trying this. I’m sure I’m too heavy anyway!

After drinks in the Stratosphere, we went to the other principal landmark of ‘old’ downtown Las Vegas – Fremont Street. Part of this area has been covered with a roof on which there is a ‘sound and light show’ every hour. If I can work out a way to post videos, I’ll post one, but for the moment, just a couple of pictures:

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While the view from the Stratosphere was good, it’s actually so far north along the Strip that you lose something of the detail. In truth, the view from our bedroom window is much better. Some of these include the dancing fountains which take place outside the Bellagio every 15 minutes each evening.

Enjoy.

TTFN

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