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Sunday, June 4, 2017


Where to go over Memorial Day weekend was a subject we had been discussing for a few months.  Perhaps Carlsbad, New Mexico, to see the caves?  Perhaps the train ride we had seen on the television show, 'Aerial America', which travels through New Hampshire?  Then Dana suggested, "Maybe we should go and visit my mom".  I agreed.  However, all the places we tried to book were 'out' of rental cars.  Going to see Dana's mum would not necessarily require a rental car, as we could have perhaps persuaded his sister to pick us up from the airport, but there were no available flights! It was starting to look like we were going to stay in Austin.

I receive regular emails from a travel company, to which I must have inadvertently subscribed at sometime.  'Ten National Parks you must visit', was the title.  After scanning through and dismissing seven, the eighth was strangely appealing.  'Death Valley' was not somewhere that I would have actually thought of visiting, but it was over to the west, and possibly a location where we could leave on Friday night after work, rather than Saturday morning, thus giving us a whole weekend away.  I looked up the nearest airport and found it to be, non other than, Las Vegas.  They had rental cars.  They had flights, and they had room in hotels.  In fact the choice was abundant!  

Dana and I discussed the different hotel options.  The travel site we used gave us quite a few options, and although many looked quite nice, there was one that was a cut above the rest.  Now, it is possible that I may come in for some criticism, sarcasm, or loss of readership, but so be it.  The hotel that we chose was non other than that belonging to the current President!  The price was the same as the other hotels in the vicinity, but the amenities were better, and the rooms offered were 'DeLuxe'!  Flights were at 7:30p.m., on Friday, and we would return on Monday at a reasonable hour.  

By the time I had arrived in the office on Thursday morning, Dana had called the hotel to request as high a floor as possible, and was looking for options for either a Hoover Dam tour, which incorporated a lunch cruise along Lake Mead, or a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon.  This trip was going to take in more than I had expected, as both sites had been on my 'bucket list', but when researching for previous 'getaway' breaks, I had not considered Las Vegas as a starting point! Lunch on the Lake as not particularly appealing.  I had been on two boats during trips with Samantha, and while one was far worse than the other, they both had me feeling rather nauseous.  I understood that the Lake was not particularly turbulent, but I was not willing to take a chance.  That left the helicopter ride.  With travel sickness wrist bands, and a healthy portion of Dramamine, I should be fine! We were going on the trip of a lifetime!

Closing the office at four was the plan, but of course very few people took notice of the note at the end of each email Dana sent out, advising of our early departure.  However, we were on the busy road by 4:45pm, and at the airport and through security by five thirty.  We were upgraded from Austin to Houston, which was rather pleasant, and I took advantage of the situation by ordered a Bacardi and coke! I was given the small bottle with my glass of soda, and poured half, leaving the other half for another time.  It was enough for me!  The second flight was not as luxurious as the first, but we had a nice extra leg room seat.  Our flights were on time and we arrived at to the 'ching, ching' sound of one armed bandits as we exited the jet way, despite the time approaching eleven! 

The line for the bus to take us to the car rental facility was very long. However, the efficiency of the system made the wait shorter than expected, and we were fourth in line at our particular rental company.  "We don't have the car you asked for, but for $20 a day, we can upgrade you to a....".  I stopped him right there.  "We are not going to pay extra because you do not have what we were promised", I said, in my best English accent.  I was tired, and whilst maintaining cordiality, I was not going to be hoodwinked.  "If you do not have the car we ordered, the onus is on you to provide one at no extra cost".  We were offered a Jeep.  "Too big", I said.  "It's a smaller mid size vehicle", came the reply.  "It's a bus!" I said, quite sharply, as tiredness overcame cordiality. "Do you have a Rogue, or similar?" All the while, Dana was playing 'head tennis', looking from one to the other, wondering when we would stop, and he would receive the keys to his vehicle. "I can give you a Ford Edge", was the next offer.  "No extra charge?"  I responded.  "No extra charge?" he sighed.  "Done!" I chimed!  

Another appealing aspect of the hotel where we were to be guests, (albeit paying,) was that their valet parking was gratis.  We drove to the plush front entrance, after driving down 'The Strip' and taking in the sites, and were greeted by staff, who opened our doors, helped us out with our luggage, and then guided us into the hotel, before bustling off to help the next person, without the usual pause to see if they were going to receive a tip.  It was rather refreshing.  The reception area was busy, and although there were several desks manned, the queue was quite long.  It appeared we were not the only people to choose this hotel.  

The fifty fourth floor was definitely high enough! Our room was a beautiful suite, with a 'straight line' view of 'The Strip'.  The bathroom was as big as some of the rooms in which we have stayed, and the toiletries were two inch square, brown and gold bottles, which I quickly took as mementoes.  As the time approached one, I called my mum, as she was now eight hours ahead of us, and told her that we were settled into our beautiful temporary home.

An early morning was not the hardship I had anticipated, as we were still on Texas time.  Breakfast was taken in the restaurant, as we splurged on smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, and yoghurt parfait, with fruit and muffins.  It was all very civilised. The hotel is one of two in the area that does not have a casino, and this was also quite refreshing!  The restaurant was as elegant as the rest of the hotel.  

The bus picked us up outside the hotel at 9:40 am, and drove us to the small airport that housed several helicopters and a couple of planes.  We queued to 'check in', and as we stood by the desk, I realised that I was on a scale!  Each person was weighed to determine the seating arrangement inside the chopper!  We watched a few tours take off, and then we were called, along with two other couples; one from New York, and one from The Netherlands.  The Dutchman stood a full head taller than my husband, which was quite amusing.  "I am six foot nine, and I too am not used to looking up to people.  But it happens", he said, when Dana said he was used to being the tallest in a group. We were seated, given a quick safety talk, (having received a full briefing inside the 'terminal' and given a sticker to show we had attended; mine fell off almost immediately, and I had to quickly scramble to find it to prove I had been in attendance,) and then boarded the aircraft ready for take off.  

Turbulence in a helicopter is, thankfully, less obnoxious than that in a plane, or at least to my sensitive being!  The wrist bands and Dramamine did their job, or at least I assume they did, as both were applied, and we headed out across the divide to Arizona.  The views were, indeed, spectacular, and the drop over each hilltop was deeper than the last.  We circled the Hoover Dam, and then continued on.  I must admit, I was not as 'wowed' as I thought I would be, as I think my trip a couple of years ago in the propeller plane over the Rockies was just as spectacular, and a good view of Greenland, from thirty eight thousand feet, is also rather striking, but it was an arresting experience, and certainly one I am glad I saw!  We landed on the corner of a rock, and deplaned.  4000 feet down into the Canyon, we looked up and around.  The steep cliffs were certainly quite astounding, and the thought of those first explorers, Francisco Vasquez de Cornado, and John Wesley Powell, attempting to travel along this amazing place, was quite exhilarating. Powell had decided to go along the river, and there really was no safe haven!  I could imagine the Havasupa tribesmen atop the crags, watching our every move.  

Lunch was rather fun!  We sat on benches, under a canopy, eating sandwiches, crisps and fruit, and drinking champagne.  We were also provided with plenty of water for good measure!  The highlight of the trip for Dana was to hand feed a chip monk, with a 'Pringle', as the little animal would not consider a piece of apple! The ravens were not hand fed.  We considered that our hand may be the feed should this be attempted!  

We took off again and headed back to the airport.  A different way gave us a different view, just as spectacular as the outbound journey. As we entered the terminal, we were told that the bus was just about to leave and we headed out of the door and onto the large vehicle, just before the doors closed.  

Once back at the hotel, we were able to fully appreciate the days events.  It had been quite an amazing experience, and I was glad to have been able to tick it off the list.  We headed down to the pool area to have a couple of hours rest and relaxation, before dinner!  

"Two in the shade?" was the offer from one of the attendants, as I asked if there were certain areas that should not sit, such as the cabanas, or larger sofa chairs.  He said he had just noticed a couple of people leaving, and set us up a tier behind the front row, and under an umbrella.  It was perfect.  I swam and then joined my husband in a brief, but welcoming afternoon snooze!  "Cocktail?" asked another pool attendant, who was offering a sample of a signature drink they were promoting.  It would be rude to refuse! I have never been a lover of gin, but mixed with Prosecco, bitters and a drop of honey, this was rather delicious.  Atop the champagne coupled with the heat, however, this was lethal.  I started to giggle. Dana found this to be highly amusing, and took pictures to send to Samantha.  "Your mother is drunk again", he said in jest.  

Once back in the room, I noticed that all of the toiletries had been replaced!  I opted for a pre-dinner Jacuzzi, which was pure joy! I had to sit in the corner of the bath, as it was much longer than me, and I almost slipped under as I lay back the first time!  We have stayed in some very nice hotels, as well as some that were ghastly, but this was, for a high rise, perhaps one of the finest I had encountered.  

The Wynn Buffet was quite exotic.  The variety of food was prolific, and we ate far more than we should!  However, call me blaze, but a buffet is a buffet, and no matter the quality, it is still a trough.  There appears to be no appreciation for the food itself, just the quantity that is available.  I chose judiciously.  I wanted to savour and sample each bite.  From the pickled vegetables to the roasted duck.  I was not disappointed with the food, but thought that a more traditional restaurant setting would have been a better choice.  However, we enjoyed what we had, and our table was in a secluded area.  

We wandered around the hotel, which was very exotic, and ostentatious, as would be expected in Las Vegas.  The casino was smokey and very much alive.  It seemed to go on forever!

We had planned to take the shuttle to Caesars Palace and walk along 'The Strip', but Dana was feeling the pressure of wearing closed in shoes all day, and his feet were somewhat sore.  I did not press the issue, and we returned to our gold tower to watch a movie.  After all, we had not come to  Las Vegas to 'do Vegas'.

The next morning was another early start. I had an early morning swim at 7, and was rather surprised to see that the cabanas and large sofa bed loungers were already occupied.  Breakfast was not on the menu.  We both felt as if we had eaten too much the night before, and opted for a croissant and a cup of coffee to take on the road.  

Our destination was over the border into California.  The sign to say we had entered the Golden State was non existent on the road upon which we traveled.  The topography, however, changed drastically, and the red rock and granite hills turned into sandy peaks and pastel rainbow striations.  The temperature started to rise as we entered what was known as Death Valley.  We parked the car and walked about a hundred yards up a winding slope to see the view of what was once (so we were told) a lake of some sort.  Now it was just sand.  Miles and miles of sand.  Surrounded by dunes, we took pictures and drank in the view.  I had taken a sleeveless shirt to put on over my dress, and decided to lift it up to cover my shoulders, but it was too late.  In the two or so minutes that I had failed to cover my skin, my shoulders had become victim to a very subtle, but still noticeable, sunburn.  

We continued to the visitors centre, where we received a rebate for the three tickets we had inadvertently purchased!  Upon entering the park, there are pay stations.  It is obligatory to purchase a pass, but there are no enforcements, such as 'checkpoints', and many go through without donating. However, Dana had pressed the button three times before realising that the ticket had been produced, thus charging his card triple dollars.  At the visitors centre he challenged the three purchases and found out that the ticket machines were going to be removed, as the employees spent most of their time refunding money!  He did not feel quite as foolish!

It was 115 degrees at the centre, and the air conditioned facility was very welcome, despite the walk from the car being very short.  By the time we were back up to 'Sea Level', the temperature had dropped fifteen degrees and we were heading for cooler climes as we drove past the sign welcoming us to Nevada.  

After eating too much the previous night, we opted for a lighter dinner.  The hotel restaurant offered a 'chef's seasonal sampler', which we though would be nice to try, before heading out for our 'Strip' tour.  We 'dressed up', and were led to a table.  The waiter gave us the menu, and we saw what was on offer.  Gazpacho soup with avocado mousse,  a seven ounce New York strip, with potatoes and vegetables, and a slice of cheesecake.  "I must warn you, the portions are smaller", advised the waiter.  I was unsure as to what was small about a seven ounce steak, and the soup would be considered a 'bowl' in most restaurants around the Austin area.  The cheesecake was a regular size in my opinion!  However, the 'regular' prices would dictate a heftier portion!

Dinner was delicious, and after we left the restaurant, we made our way outside to catch the shuttle.  Caesar's Palace was in the realm of 'typical' for most Las Vegas Hotels. We could not avoid the casino, as we walked through to try and find the exit.  Once outside, we found the footbridge to the Bellagio, and walked through its casino to the 'chocolate' shop, where the cakes and chocolate statues were being studied in awe by those who were around us.  It was just as I remembered.  The botanical gardens and conservatory were decked with oriental designs.  I remembered the first time I had visited and there were butterflies everywhere.  It was quite decorative.  We decided to walk a bit further down, but contemplated crossing the road to go into the Paris and Venetian hotels.  As we walked along the promenade, the Bellagio water and music show stated.  The fountains danced to music and mesmerised the crowd watching.  By the time the show was over, Dana and I had decided that the crowds were a little too much to bear and we headed back to find the shuttle.  Had we planned a trip to Las Vegas to 'do Vegas', we probably would not have minded the densely populated hotels and pavements, but our trip had been about something else and we did not want to have to fight our way along the streets to see on the ground what we could view from our room. We had both 'done Vegas' before. 

Monday morning arrived all too soon.  We packed up our belongings, and waited for our car to be brought out from wherever it had been housed.  We checked out, and were asked how we had enjoyed our stay.  We commented on the aspect of having no casino, and the receptionist said it had proven to be a big draw!  I mentioned that I had seen some air crew members the night before, and that they had been completely 'wowed' by the entrance, and the walk to the elevators.  The receptionist was quite delighted with my comments. Nothing had been too much for the staff, and everyone appeared to be happy to be working in the hotel.

The drive to the car rental facility was quick, and the bus was waiting for us when we exited.  We went through security without a hitch, and found somewhere to have breakfast.  We had been upgraded on both our flights back to Austin, and sat in comfort. Dana started to watch a film on the first flight, and finished watching it on my phone during the second, as there were no televisions in the seats!  "Gin and tonic please", I asked, having found  new appreciation for the spirit.  I am not sure how many small bottles she added to the drop of tonic, but it was a little too strong for me.  I asked for more tonic, and she was rather amused. "Sorry, was it too strong?" she asked, smiling.  I told her that a sniff is usually enough and I should have told her previously!  I was then presented with a basket of goodies, and told that I could take as much as I pleased.  A bag of crisps and a banana was perfect. A little later I asked if I could have a cup of coffee and if she had any cookies in the basket of goodies  She presented me with my beverage and a couple of Orio's!  I was quite happy, and crocheted whilst watching Dana watch his movie!

We landed in Austin and drove home.  I went to the pool for a couple of hours, and Dana went to the office.  We then met Samantha and Edward for dinner, where they wanted to know all the details of our trip, or at least what the hotel was like and what we actually did whilst in the downtown area.  It is their favourite destination, and they could not fathom that we chose not to embrace the madness!

Considering a couple of weeks ago, we had no idea where to go, and had almost given up hope of a trip out of town at all, without having to drive for hours, this turned out to be quite the trip of a lifetime!  From the spectacular tours to the spectacular hotel, and the spectacular views, it was the most amazing weekend.  It seemed such a shame to spoil it by having to go back to work, but I imagine that is what made it all the more spectacular; a diverse contrast!

The week that followed had its moments, as did the weekend, but I will not embark on anymore for the time being.  Enough is as good as a feast is my motto, and anything else can be held over for ...... another story!

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