Category Archives: U.S.

Las Vegas

May 2023

End of March is birthday time for my Love, and it was going to be hard to top the gifted trip to Italy I received. It’s not that I felt the I needed to compete, but after a long winter, impending remodel and a busy work season, I did want to do something that would bring a smile to his face and give us something to look forward to. Shortly before this my good friend’s had been sharing her amazing experience with seeing Adele at her residency in Las Vegas. This inspired me to check out what live music was happening in Vegas for a fun concert and getaway. Enter Garth Brooks…. It didn’t take long to discover that this icon of 90’s country was starting a limited series of shows in May and I that’s when I knew what we were going to do. I am not a huge country fan but I am a fan of dynamic performers and seeing my guy happy so it wasn’t hard to find some tickets and get excited for the surprise. It was a big hit and we then moved into plan phase for a getaway weekend in Las Vegas. Neither of us had visited for reasons outside of for stag parties, weddings and conferences (a guess there aren’t many other reasons though are there?), so it was fun to be able to schedule an agenda all of our own. We set our dates for the Wednesday-Sunday of Memorial Weekend giving us plenty of time to enjoy what Vegas has to offer and allow for a little recovery time upon return.

Getting there…

D took care of this part, as per usual, and used Kiwi travel website. It was Memorial Weekend in the US, so the flights were not super cheap. We decided on Delta to get there and Spirit for return, based on flight times and cost. We experienced no hang ups in travel in Seattle or Vegas airports either way. Getting a ride to and from the airport was easy with use of Uber and Lyft. Traffic around 5pm going downtown to the strip was messy and super busy but stress levels were low with someone else driving and we were able to take in the extreme buildings, crowds and billboards that decorated the path to the hotel…. there is a crazy amount of attorney billboards about, go figure! 😉

Upon coming home, the terminal that housed Spirit was less than desirable- I have been in developing country airports that were cleaner and I can’t say I have ever been somewhere with more hung-over struggling individuals. There was a Shake Shack though that we lunched at that didn’t get us sick, so that was a win, and our flight was on time. We heard the Alaska terminal was much better, but it wasn’t worth a few hundred dollars in exchange for a little extra comfort.

Where we stayed…

We booked our accommodations on Airbnb and were plenty of options to sift through. Priorities were being within walking distance of the concert at Ceasars Palace, have a nice pool. kitchenette, and I preferred not to be in a place with a casino. We landed on Hotel Vdara, which shares property with The Cosmopolitan and Aria hotel casinos. Our room was lovely, quiet and spacious. We had a corner suite that overlooked the pool. It had a pool on the rooftop of the 3rd floor, and nice fitness center and spa. It felt like a getaway retreat from the bustling of the city just below. I don’t have anything negative to say about Vdara and would for sure stay there again if I find myself in Vegas in the future.

What we ate….

Eating in Las Vegas is as over the top as the casinos and shows are. The number of restaurant and food options is mind boggling. We went with the sampler platter approach ranging from snacks in the room (yes, we did do peanut butter pretzels and juice for more than a few breakfasts) to a few high-end eateries with some late-night nachos in between. Many of the popular restaurants needed reservations for weekend nights. Since we don’t plan ahead like that, we were able to easily grab seats at the bar and enjoy the full menu and good service from the bartender. Service overall as a whole was very good. There is literally every type of cuisine you have ever thought of and many you haven’t. I tend to get a bit overwhelmed when faced with so many options, but I think we had a pretty good go during this trip. Here are some of the highlights-

  • Pampas– Ok, I’m not going to lie, I was skeptical of this place when D suggested it on our first night. It’s a Brazilian steakhouse with all you can eat & drink options, salad bar, deep discount coupons and is located in the Miracle Mile Shopping district. I was feeling a little snooty about going this way but had no other options to suggest, it was late and we were hungry. We went with the $29.99 Late Night Rodizio and all turned out well. The servers who cut meat off a huge skewer tableside were friendly and the salad bar was fresh. No one ended up sick, and we left full. Mission accomplished.
  • Amalfi– This location came highly recommended by the friend who saw Adele earlier in the year at the same venue that we were going to see Garth at. It was steps away from the concert and was known for high end Italian seafood and steak. We could not get reservations but walked straight into the bar and had a great experience. We shared plates including a shrimp appetizer, pasta “Rags” and filet mignon. Though dinner did not have enough weight to it to withstand the number of beverages I chose to consume that evening, the food was deliciously flavored and cooked impeccably. Definitely a must try.
  • Vitner’s Grill– We went way off strip for this one to meet some friends at their home in Summerlin. It was a pleasant change of pace from the bright lights and bustle of downtown. Vitner’s Grill is located unassumingly in a business park but once you enter you find an upscale bistro with a retro vibe and pretty outdoor gardens. Think white table clothes, wait staff in tuxedo coats and Sinatra playing in the background. We enjoyed appetizers of shrimp and salad with sea bass and halibut for our main courses. This fresh food coupled with some white wine and conversation with interesting friends were perfect after an afternoon of hiking at Red Rock Canyon.
  • Restaurants in The Cosmopolitan Boulevard Tower- We landed ourselves in this area for lunch a few days while picking up and dropping off our rental car. There were several options on the level above the casino floor along with a higher end food court. We tried out China Poblano (Mexican-Chinese?!?) and Holsteins with only a little wait. Both places had wildly creative menus and I was only disappointed once by my cold sweet potato fries at Holsteins, but it wasn’t enough to mar the experience and the busy waiter kindly took it off our bill. The entrance to the “Day Club” Marquee was nearby to both of these places, so there was plenty of look at while waiting for a table. People strutting around indoors in skimpy pool attire is always a sight to be seen.
  • Julian Serranos Tapas– Our last evening, we were in the mood for a lighter dinner and found this place in the Aria hotel. Now when I say “found it”, I mean on the google map. Finding it in real life was a bit of a quest, but with help of a variety of hostesses and bouncers from other places, we were able to locate it. It was colorful and lively. The bartender who served us was a bit intense, taking ownership of all things on the menu (“my” menu, “my” margarita, “my” tapas, etc). I’m fairly certain it wasn’t his restaurant nor him cooking all the items, but it made for an interesting interaction. The cocktails were tasty and spicy, and the food was good enough. The prices were twice the size of the portions so I can’t say I would need to go back to here.
  • Gonzalez y Gonzales– After Julian Serranos Tapas, we wandered over to NY NY. Since the tapas we had earlier, were more snack like than dinner proportions, I was in need of more food before we ventured home. We came across this place and it did the trick. They were transitioning into night club mode when we arrived, so the service took a bit to get started. Our server did end up being a sweet older woman named Mimi, the nachos came quickly, so all ended well.

What we did….

Vegas is literally an adult’s playground. There is everything to do and more. Our featured outing for this trip was obviously the Garth Brooks/Plus One show. This show did not disappoint, and the venue felt intimate. I had never seen him in concert before and he was as energetic and genuine as I had imagined. Trisha Yearwood as the “plus one” was not a huge surprise but definitely a bonus. It was worth the splurge and feeling the energy of a crowd full of super fans is something to experience.

We did our fair share of walking, as we usually do on our trips. We saw the fountains and gardens at the Bellagio, people watched everywhere we went, and I was surprised on the amount of supersized artwork that was throughout the strip. Being able to walk out in public with a beer or cocktail in hand does serve as an extra layer of entertainment in its own right. The number of people who indulged in those massive plastic tube drinks at all hours of the day was remarkable (FYI we were not one of those folks).

Pool lounging was high on my list of things to do and the pool at Vdara was great for that. They had plenty of umbrellas and the vibe was pretty chill. More kids than twenty-something clubber, but that was fine by me. Gone are the days of waiting in a line to pack into a DJ’d pool club party…. not that it was ever really my thing, but we have aged out of that for sure now.

We didn’t do a huge amount of bar hopping despite doing our fair share of enjoying drinks. We did find 2 fun unique places where we were able to watch live music, make guesses on whether or not people were professional athletes, and interacted with other interesting characters. First night D found The Barbershop, a speakeasy type bar in the Cosmopolitan. We were skeptical as we waited in the line outside to get in, thinking maybe it was just hype, but it turned out to be a lively, fun dark lounge with a country act playing. It was a Wednesday so it wasn’t too busy, which was nice as we could actually get a drink at the bar and not be all crowed up in other people’s business.

The other bar we hit up was on the last evening was Nine Fine Irishman in NY NY. We were looking to go to a piano bar, however the one we were shooting for was crazy busy and collecting an entry fee. We opted out and end up at this Irish pub. when we arrived there was an upbeat Irish band playing with an Irish dancer stomping it up on one of the tall bar tables. It died down shortly after we arrived, and we landed ourselves into a lively conversation with a “local” that insisted on buying our beers. He was a passionate Golden Knights fan and seemed to know everything about everything. He may or may not have been a bit of a pathological lair but he was good natured, and we did get a free beer.

We opted into getting off the strip to see some desert nature and enjoy some hiking. The weather was fantastic this spring and apparently with all the rain that happened this year is was “greener” than normal. Coming from Washington, it was hard to appreciate the greenery in comparison, but there were a noticeable amount of wildflowers mixed in the desert landscape. We ventured out to Red Rock Canyon, did the drive and stopped for a few short hikes along the way and drove out to Lake Mead the following day. Red Rock was beautiful and it’s neat to see the large mountains and brightly colored rocks only a short drive from the artificial, man- made Vegas strip. Lake Mead was less impressive, but it is still interesting to see water in the middle of such a desolate landscape. I had wanted to see the Valley of Fire Park, but we slept in and ran out of time to make it out that way. Both parks did have fees for entry and Red Rock required a reservation for the time slot you were wanting to visit.

Parting thoughts…

Vegas was a blast and I think we did a bang up job up taking in the variety there is to offer there. Spring was a perfect time, weather-wise, to actually enjoy being outside and exploring. There are few places on earth with the concentration of entertainment and eye candy. There is a freedom of being there that is a nice break from the normal daily life of suburban Washington, but 4 days is definitely enough to get your fill. We came back with fond memories of good music and sunshine, relatively relaxed and a bit dehydrated. It was worth it, and I think I would not mind going back again when in need of some warmth and good times.

-P.R.

Austin, Tx

February 2023

It had been a long winter already and there was a lot of work catch-up to do in January after the holiday.  We were craving some warmth by the end of the month and started racking our brains on where we could catch some sunshine and fun in February.  The weather (and plane tickets) in California were not that great and we didn’t have enough time to travel further to Mexico or maybe Hawaii.  We were browsing flight options on Alaska Airlines and there just so happened to be direct flights to Austin that were the same price as going to CA. I had never been and DZ hadn’t been there in 20+ years.  The flight times worked out perfect for our Thursday- Monday timeframe so it was decided.  I was really excited to experience this city after hearing people rave about it for years.  I was ready for some great food, music, drinks and exploring someplace new… all of my favorite things, with my favorite person. 

Getting there…

I’m not sure how long Alaska had been doing direct flights to Austin but the early morning option that was  available made it really doable to have full days on both ends of our trip. We were able to fly out at 7:45am both days and had no hiccups in either flight. Our Uber driver from Africa was friendly and appropriately chatty. We breezed through security, though we were directed to use the line near the international terminal so we got to use all of the shuttles available to get to the D gates on the complete opposite side of the airport. On the plane I had a window seat and was able to appreciate the landscape below.  Seeing the variety of mountains as you move across the country from above always makes me awestruck.  I was able to polish off another book during the flight and before I knew we were landing.  We used  to get to our hotel 

Where we stayed….

Since D was familiar with the layout of the city and we didn’t have a car, he found a great condo that was in downtown Austin but in a newer region in the east part of the city.  Natiivo Austin was a great stay, being new, super close to the trails by the river, and walkable to Rainey Street and 6th Ave.  It was quiet but lively still.  We were able to watch a beautiful sunset on the rooftop pool area our first night, but the weather didn’t cooperate enough to allow for any other enjoyment of the pool.  Other amenities that were available that we did not use were a gym, a bar/lounge area and apparently dog friendly everything.  Our main focus was to be out of the hotel, that was exactly what we did.  Natiivo was a lovely homebase though, despite its rather strong “signature” scent that greeted you every time you entered the lobby area. 

https://www.vacasa.com/usa/Natiivo-Austin/

What we ate….

Food in Austin was AMAZING!  There were endless options- from food trucks, southern BBQ to upscale dining and fancy tapas bars. Our main goal when it came to food was to find some authentic Tex Mex and Texas BBQ. It just so happened that a good friend was visiting her family in Austin the same weekend we were there and she hooked us up with perfect suggestions for both.

We visited Habanero Cafe (http://www.habanerocafe.com/) and it was legit. It was casual dining and had a friendly vibe for both locals and tourists.  As my friend said, you haven’t had authentic tex mex unless you’ve eaten it in uncomfortable chairs with bars on the windows. Haha!  I had a chili relleno that reminded me of the ones I used to get as a kid in Bakersfield and a huge unsweetened ice tea.  The other delicious platters that were sampled were mole chicken, fish tacos, and chips and salsa.  Portions were huge and the prices were good.  It was a great way to experience some local food and catch up with a friend I rarely get to spend face to face time with.

Terry Black’s BBQ was our destination for the “Real” Texas BBQ experience.  This place was nothing like I have ever been before.  The building was old looking and wooden with tons of patio and indoor seating. There is a separate smoking house next door with smoke pluming out the chimney to really set the scene. We arrived around noon and the line was already out the door. Apparently this is the norm for this well known BBQ institution, so they had their serving systems down. Once in line, there was a window to get cold drinks while you waited. You then wound your way into the building and were served up cafeteria style your sides then over to the meat carving station.  There was a chalk board with the meats available and the smiling employee wielding a huge carving knife served you up the meats of your choice, directly onto your paper covered tray.  This heaping serving was then weighed and you then paid by the pound at the neighboring cash register.  It’s an eye wide open experience when you know that you are about to take down 2+ pounds of meat once you sit down.  We shared ribs, brisket, coleslaw and beer.  It was the BEST meat I have ever tasted.  Seasoned, sauced and smoked to perfection.  We hit up this place on our day of long walking and thank god for that.  It was totally worth the stuffed belly. Home | Terry Black’s BBQ (terryblacksbbq.com)

Other noteworthy restaurants  we hit up were:

Salvation Pizza Kitchen-  this place was around the corner from our condo and we spent a bit of time here upon arriving to pass the time before check in.  I had my first Shiner Bock here along with a good salad and some BBQ sliders.  We ended up here again to watch some football later in the weekend too. It was a chill place with lots of TVs with a large selection of beers on tap, full bar and Italian/ bar food offerings.   https://salvationpizzaatx.com/

Emmer & Rye-  This place was next door to Salvation Pizza, so also a quick walk from the condo. We sat at the bar for late dinner here and enjoyed sharing several selections from their tapas style menu.  It had a cool vibe with an open concept dining-kitchen area, low lighting and nice ambient music.  The food was creative and artistic. It was a fun date night kind of place.  https://emmerandrye.com/

Eddie V’s- This was an upscale steak house with a live band, swanky bar and waiters with white tuxedos on. The whole shabang for a fancy night out.  It was a great energy with good service.   https://www.eddiev.com/home

Geraldine’s- Another upscale restaurant with live music on the top floor of Hotel Van Zandt. Great food and wine again.  The menu was creative and had sharing plates and main dishes of meats and fish.  The hostess was a drag and there was annoyingness about rushing to make you cash out at the bar before you get sat at your table, but overall it was a great experience. https://www.geraldinesaustin.com/

What we did….

Despite the less than ideal weather, we spent a ton of time outdoors exploring the city and the trails along the river (or is it lake??).  We checked out the 3 bridges and went substantial distances on both sides of the river.  It was busy with walkers, joggers and bikers everyday.  We checked out some of the larger parks and botanical gardens as well as Barton Springs. There are many varieties of birds, turtles, and plant life with informational signs around to tell you what was unique to the area.  I will mention that there were quite a few homeless people in Austin, around the parks and downtown and it wasn’t very clean.  However, I never felt unsafe during the day or night and it was by no means worse than Seattle. 

On our big walk day, we went by the Capitol building, appreciated the historic buildings, churches and statues and got to see the tail end of an Anti-abortion rally (bonus!) 

Outside of the food, our other main objective was to experience some live music.  I was amazed by the number of places that had live music or DJs every night we were there. The streets were packed with people and the atmosphere was lively and fun.  Rainey street was packed with different bars and clubs to sample.  6th Street is its own entity in the city and has every flavor of music, food and drink you could want.  It actually closes down to car traffic at night and the city allows people to just take over the street. https://6street.com/

Some of our favorite places we hit up with music 

– San Jac Saloon: Fantastic country bar where we drank beers and listened to the Tyler Brandon Duo… I actually was singing out loud with the crowd much to my partner’s surprise 🙂  https://www.sanjacsaloon.com/

– Banger’s Sausage House and Beer Garden- Huge patio with live music.  So many beers on tap at 2 different bars.  I had a delicious pretzel to complement the local hazy IPA I decided on  https://www.bangersaustin.com/

– Icenhauer’s-  Great craft cocktails and a cozy lounge feel.  We enjoyed a fantastic blues type band featuring a trumpet and  a saxophone player..   https://www.icenhauers.com/

Parting thoughts…

Austin was such a fun and lively experience that lived up to the hype.  The weather was not as great as we had hoped for, but it didn’t dampen the experience at all.  I really appreciated the walkability of the city and variety of both indoor and outdoor things to do.  I left wanting to come back in the spring or fall to feel some of that Texas sunshine while sitting on a patio listening to music with a drink or to be able to take a boat or kayak out on the river.  We had a blast and made it home a little hungover from food and drink but with smiles on our faces.  I’m looking forward to our next visit to Austin.

-P.R.