2014 US Southwest — Las Vegas, NV

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It’s Vegas, Baby!

WHEN:  February 17 to February 20, 2014

It’s big!  It’s loud!  It’s over the top!   And what ever happens here, stays here in Las Vegas, NV!    But I will share with you anyway….

Although Las Vegas has the reputation of being “Sin City”, there really is not enough good things I can say about Las Vegas.   My first visit here was in the late 80’s when it was all about the gambling (free drinks as long as you were pulling the arm of a slot machine), you could get a breakfast buffet or a steak dinner for $6, the girly shows were plentiful and complementary (if you gambled enough), and a room off the strip for $26/night.   That Las Vegas is gone!  Now Las Vegas is a family vacation spot where the Broadway shows and amusement park-like attractions have squeezed out the girly shows (which are now rarely complementary), the slot machines are all digital (now you slam a button), and you have to pay for your drinks — always.  Rooms start at $80/night off the strip (in the low season), and the buffets are $25/person ($15 for a child).   Vegas was cheap entertainment for adults but now it is expensive family fun and kids are everywhere!   It could be debated whether or not this is progress. But when you are in the thick of Las Vegas — who cares?  Vegas is great!  During the day there is always something to see and do.  At night the city glows and vibrates with excitement and wonder.  Ya gotta go!  Ya just do!

For some people, the things that come to mind when you say “Las Vegas” are gambling, drinking, girly shows, gambling, and drinking.    Not for my DH and me.   We think architecture (a tour of Europe without the long plane ride), Broadway shows (without the rudeness of New York City), and great food (but I will have a cocktail or two, thank you very much).

Time for some facts —  Las Vegas is the most populous city in Nevada.  It is an internationally renowned major resort city known primarily for gambling, shopping, fine dining, and nightlife and is the leading financial and cultural center for Southern Nevada.  The city is famous for its consolidated casinohotels and associated entertainment and  is one of the top three leading destinations in the United States for conventions, business, and meetings.   FYI — my DH and I were married here in January 2003.  My DH-to-be and I wanted to be married somewhere warm and exciting to entice our families from Wisconsin and Massachusettes to attend the wedding.   Plus, I didn’t have the patience to plan a wedding, so I hired the Bellagio Hotel and Casino  to do it for me (all I had to do was bring my dress and the groom)!   The location was a hit for our family and friends and we were the attraction as our wedding party walked through the Bellagio casino on our wedding day!

Enough chatter — on to Las Vegaaaaaas!

Drive Time from Flagstaff, AZ to Las Vegas, NV:   262 miles (4 hours) via US-93 S and I-40 E.  Easy, easy drive with interesting rock formation along the way.   We opted not to go the Grand Canyon since we have both been there before and we figured that it had not changed much since.

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Driving to Las Vegas, NV from Flagstaff, AZ on a beautiful day!

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We had lunch at the Road Kill Cafe.

 Hotel:  New York New York Hotel and Casino (3790 Las Vegas Blvd, Las VegasNV 89109).   This is a fabulous hotel and we found a great deal on a room off the web!   It was super easy to find, just take the appropriate right exit off I-40 that dumps you right onto the Las Vegas Strip.  You can’t miss this hotel —  it looks like the New York City skyline with a rollercoaster wrapped around it!  There was a lot of construction going on during our visit so we had to do a u-turn a few blocks down Las Vegas Blvd, but once we were going in the right direction, parking in the hotel’s parking garage was a breeze!    So was check-in!   Our room was large and comfortable, but we really did not spend much time there.  No free breakfast here.   Actually, there is very little free about Las Vegas anymore <heavy sigh>…

Activities:   Once we checked into our room, we immediately left our room to check out the action along “The Strip”.   As I said, we were not interested in gambling — we invest in the stock market, is that not enough?  But, we did look for food and drink and for options to keep us entertained for the next three days.

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Our hotel, ain’t it cool?

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Across the street is the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino. It is a pretty darn big piece of architecture, no?  We went to see the show “Ka” here — it was fantastic! Go, go, GO!

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To our left, the Excalibur, the Luxor, and the Monte Carlo hotels and casinos.

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Walking north, we found the Las Vegas City Center — it is almost brand new to the Las Vegas Strip. Here there are hundreds of condos for sale and an impressive fashion mall.

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The new Aria and Cosmopolitan Hotels and Casinos are right next to the Las Vegas City Center. They look like they are going to fall over, but they don’t!

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Like two copper cuff-links, the Encore and Wynn Hotels and Casinos are at the end of our northward trek down the Las Vegas Strip. The designer mall is filled with expensive store where there is nothing I can afford to buy — but window shopping is free!

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Moving south on the strip, we find the Venetian Hotel and Casino — just magnificent! Ah Venice, how I have missed you…

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Las Vegas transforms at night into a world of glowing lights and energetic activity. It is also quite a bit cooler at night in Nevada and everything is open!

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I don’t remember there being so many neon signs when we were last here in 2008.  Hmmm….

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More neon.

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The Aria and Cosmopolitan Hotels at night. Those towers still look like they might fall!  But they don’t!

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Our hotel, the New York New York at night.

Food Memories:

There are no lack of dining options in Las Vegas.   You can go cheap or you can go expensive — your choice!   We have a couple of simple rules when eating on vacation — (1) we check Yelp or Trip Advisor first for reviews, and (2) if we can’t go casual, we don’t go at all.

Road Kill Cafe (502 W Hwy 66, SeligmanAZ 86337) — American Traditional:   According to Yelp, a lot of people going to the Grand Canyon stop here for one of many road kill specialties like “Smear of Deer”, “Ground Round of Hound”, “No Luck Buck”, “Too-Slow Doe” and other varmint vittles.  The interiors were very rustic with lots of stuffed animal heads mounted on the wall.   When we arrived in the early afternoon, the place was pretty empty and it took longer than expected for me to get my breakfast burrito which I shared with my DH.   The food was good and the water was cold — what more could you ask for, really?

Julian Serrano (Aria Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV) — Tapas:   For our first dinner in Las Vegas, we went to Julian Serrano because we loved the hotel and the restaurant was hopping!   Also, the paella main course looked amazing!     I ordered a glass of the Red Sangria (Mmmmm!) and my DH and I shared the Valenciana Paella with chicken, rabbit, spanish pork chorizo, and vegetables all nestled in a very yellow saffron rice.   The food was very good although more meat and less rice would have been appreciated considering the price.  Still, the restaurant was beautiful — modern with dim lights, small tables, and lots and lots of people!

Il Forniao Bakery (New York New York Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV) – Italian Bakery:  Unlike ALL the other hotels we stayed at during our trip through the Southwest, our Las Vegas hotel did not offer a free breakfast.  So as my DH slept in, I set out to see what dining options my hotel offered.   There was the classic Las Vegas buffet (lots of food costing lots of money) and a couple of little bakeries on the rim of the casino floor.  Most bakeries offered baked goods (like raised donuts the size of NFL footballs).   However, I chose the Il Forniao Bakery because it was the one place that offered a fruit salad.   This bakery was busy and the line at the counter was long.   But I saw that many people were either taking their coffee and flaky pastry to their rooms or to the casino.  Once in line, I was served my coffee and fruit salad fairly quickly.    I actually ate my breakfast here every morning during our stay in Las Vegas because the food was good, the atmosphere was very pleasant, and I was able to get a table by the window — almost every morning!    As I waited for my DH to wake-up and join me, I sat and chatted with all sorts of people from all sorts of places — it was great!

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Breakfast at the Il Forniao Bakery at the New York New York Hotel and Casino. The coffee was excellent, the fruit salad was fresh, but what is the brown fat-bomb you ask?

America Donuts (New York New York Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV) – Fat and Sugar Bombs:  When my DH finally woke up and called me, I told him I was at Il Forniao Bakery, by the window.   I don’t know how he was able to pass me by and walk the additional 20 steps to buy a Cronut at America Donuts, but he did.   When he landed that thing on my breakfast table, the smug look on my face for having found the perfect healthful breakfast in Las Vegas was deliciously wiped from my face!   Cronuts are the new culinary rage and apparently our hotel is the only place in Las Vegas where you can buy one, or two, or more!  It is (or should I say, they are) freaking good — even without the side of Nutella!  One bite and I how could I be mad? 

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Behold the Cronut! We held (and ate) at least three of these during our stay in Las Vegas.

Grimaldi’s (Palazzo/Venetian Hotel  in Las Vegas) — New York Style Pizza:  Me, I need no reason to eat poorly.  But my DH is normally a pretty disciplined guy when it comes to his diet.   He has always had a weakness for pizza and I am pretty sure that all the sugar surging through his system from our breakfast Cronut weakened his resolved to the point that we could not pass up pizza at Grimald’s!   Our logic, we spent all morning wandering aimlessly through the Encore and Wynn Hotels — we logged miles, right?  We ordered a thin crust pizza with mushrooms and sausage.  It was really, really, really good!

America (New York New York Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, NV) — American traditional:   My DH and I were just leaving the late “Ka” show at the MGM Grand Hotel when the munchies hit.   We wanted Cronuts — God save us!   When we arrived at America Donuts, it was closed.   As we lamented our disappointment, we discussed the best ways to combat Cronut cravings.   I don’t know if we ever really figured out the true answer to that problem, but when my DH turned around and saw the banner for a Prime Rib Dinner (with potato and veggies) for $12.99 at the America right next door, we thought we had nothing to lose by trying animal protein cooked to a nice medium rare!  At midnight, the restaurant was empty and we saw only one waiter on duty.   We were seated quickly, we ordered quickly, and the food arrived quickly.  For $12.99, it was a very, very good steak!

Blossom (Aria Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas) — Chinese:   It would be our last lunch in Las Vegas and we were eager for something a little fancy, a little different.   My DH’s research turned up an interesting pre-fixe menu at Blossom at the hotel we seemed to return to often because it is just that cool!  The interiors was striking with teak wood panels that allowed for maximum privacy — even though we were the only customers in the restaurant for a late lunch.   I ordered a fruity cocktail and I started to tell jokes, my DH ordered water.   I ordered a refreshing cucumber salad, my DH ordered a noodle dish.   For the main course, we each ordered a meat dish (chicken and fish) in a spicy bean sauce and veggies.  For dessert, cool fruit sorbets.   The food was good, and atmosphere was dark and serene.  We stayed in that calm environment for a long time.  We had every hope that this meal would last us until our wonderful Wynn breakfast buffet the next day!

Holsteins (Cosmopolitan Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas) — Burgers and Boozy Milkshakes:  This restaurant intrigued us since we first saw it.   It has a bright and colorful interior with big chairs and low tables (at least in the bar area).  There was also that large plastic cow.   After our late show of the “Jersey Boys” at the Paris hotel, we decided to wander over to the Cosmopolitan to see all the beautiful people going into the exclusive night club next door to Holsteins.   Unfortunately, the people we saw going into the club were not exceptionally beautiful, but they were loud.    Much to our surprise, we were dying for a burger!     We sat at the bar and shared a Red Velvet Cake Shake (consisting of Zing Red Velvet Vodka, Red Velvet Cake, Cream Cheese Mousse, Mini Whoopee Pie) and a  Fun-Ghi Burger (Beef Patty, Truffle Marinated Portabella Mushroom, Carmelized Onion, Gruyere, Mayonnaise, & Frisee).   Aw-geez!  It was all exceptionally good!   When we left was were re-evaluating our breakfast buffet plans.

Idle Spurs Steakhouse (690 Old Hwy 58, BarstowCA 92311) — Steakhouse:  Needless to say, we did not go to an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet before we left Las Vegas.  We were stuff!  I really believe that is was that Mini Whoopee Pie at Holsteins that did us in.  Around 1pm during our drive home, we felt a slight pain of hunger.   Consulting Yelp, we found this steakhouse in the middle of no where (it was so “no where” that our GPS had problems finding it). Considering the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, Idle Spurs was a visual let-down.   But our waitress was warm and inviting and we warmed up to the place in a hurry!   We shared the Prime Rib sandwich and the waitress talked us into enjoying a slice of Lemon Meringue Pie.   Way to go, Barstow!

Departing Thoughts

What can I say about Las Vegas that I have not already said except “We need to come here more often!”

Our trip through the US Southwest was a wild success!    We met lots of nice people, saw lots of amazing scenery, and ate way too much!     Still, we can’t wait to see our precious dog, Zoey again and to resume our normal life back home.   At least until our next trip, that is!

 

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Cronuts to go!

 

 

 

2014 US Southwest — Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ

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On the road to Flagstaff, AZ. Flagstaff is just a pit stop to our final (and most spectacular) city of our Southwest trip!

Dates:  February 17 to February 18 — one night stay each in Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ.

It is 632 miles (approximately 9 hours of driving time) from Santa Fe, NW to our last major stop of our Southwest trip.   Frankly, neither my DH nor I have the attention-span to drive that long.  Thus, we decided to throw in a day trip each to Albuquerque, NM and Flagstaff, AZ.   Both stays were so short that I decided to list them in the same blog entry — hope you don’t mind my laziness.

Drive Time from Santa Fe, NM to Albuquerque, NM:  62 miles (approximately one hour via I-25 South).

Albuquerque was so close to Santa Fe, how could we not take the opportunity to visit Albuquerque’s Old Town and pick-up a couple of souvenirs for our dog-sitters?  Plus, it gave us another chance to go to Chez Jean Pierre!

Albuquerque is the most populous city in New Mexico and the 53rd-largest United States metropolitan area.  In New Mexico, Albuquerque is the place to go since it is home to over 300 other visual arts, music, dance, literary, film, ethnic, and craft organizations, museums, festivals and associations.  It’s a happening place!   This is our second visit here.

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Interesting red rock formations can be seen on the road from Santa Fe to Albuquerque.

We stayed at Best Western Plus Rio Grande Inn (1015 Rio Grande Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, NM), an older but very comfortable hotel with a pool and an on-site restaurant (where the complimentary breakfast was served from a real kitchen).   But we did not spend a lot of time at the hotel.  We went straight to Old Town Albuquerque!

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The San Felipe Church is in the center of Old Town Albuquerque. It was a wonderful day — warm and sunny! We were able to have a great lunch and find all the gifts we needed for our dog sitters!

We enjoyed a nice lunch of fish tacos and pork burritos at Back Street Grill (1919 Old Town Rd).   Both dishes were yummy!  We sat outside at the high tables enjoying the warm, sunny day.  Our meal was light because we wanted to save our calories for another fabulous French meal at Chez Jean Pierre!

It is the day after Valentine’s Day so we decide to make reservations at Chez Jean Pierre — just in case the holiday is still being celebrated.   Good thing we did because their was only one opening for this evening — 8pm (apparently anyone who could not get a reservation on Valentine’s Day made a reservation for tonight).   As before, the food was gooood  good!  We also had the pleasure of getting to know the nice couple sitting next to us — two french citizens living in Albuquerque!   We talked and we talked and we talked…

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We started our dinner by sharing a bowl of French Onion Soup. The soup had a rich beef broth sweetened with caramelized onions. It was topped with a crusty bread and gooey cheese — yum!

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I ordered the saute fish served with a lemony caper sauce. The brininess of the capers really came through!

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My DH ordered the salmon in a light pesto sauce. The fish was cooked perfectly and the sauce was light and tasted of basil.

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Of course, we had to share an order of the chocolate mousse — again! This time there was less mousse but the two fat chocolate covered strawberries more than made up for the lack of mousse.

Drive Time from Albuquerque, NM to Flagstaff, AZ: 322 miles (approximately 5 hours via I-40 West).

Coming up on Flagstaff! The sky is wide and the clouds were sweeping across the plain!   On our way, we stopped off for lunch at the Railroad Cafe in Gallup, NM.   I love  roadside diners and according to Yelp, picking were slim on this highway.    I ordered the the pork chili.  My DH ordered a hamburger.   The chili was good and spicy with green chilies.  The hamburger was HUGE and prepared medium rare.   We ate the soup, some of the hamburger, and all of the fries.    We took the hamburger with us for dinner.

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The Railroad Cafe. a busy place — food must be good!

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After lunch, we are on the road again to Flagstaff.

For our one evening in Flagstaff, we stayed at the Highland Country Inn (223 S. Milton) — a nice basic motel on the boundary of the Northern Arizona University.

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Flagstaff is a small ski town. After we checked in at our hotel, we took the short walk to check out downtown. Flagstaff is small and charming! But since we arrived late, most of the stores were closed. Needless to say, we finished our chilly tour in about half an hour.  Just as well, we had to get back to the hotel to watch “Downton Abbey.”  We had to.

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For dinner, we stopped at the Natural Grocers for some fruit to go along with our leftover hamburger from lunch (it was right across the street from our hotel). What a nice store! They had great produce — and the cookie aisle was pretty awesome too! I liked the painting of the cow.

Departing Thoughts.    Albuquerque is a lovely place.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot going on there to justify a longer stay.   Flagstaff was lovely too — small and sleepy but still lovely!  But to be honest, we couldn’t wait to get to our last major stop on our trip — it was all we could talk about!

2014 Southwest Trip — Santa Fe, NM

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The evening light and the “Santa Fe Style” at the Palace of the Governors.

WHEN:   February 13 to February 14 via a one-night stay (February 12) in Las Cruces, NM.

I am willing to wager that when most people think of New Mexico, they think of Santa Fe.   And why not?   Santa Fe is not only the capital of New Mexico,  Santa Fe is also the oldest capital city in the United States.   It is also a major hangout for artists because of the purity and color of its natural light.  I really do not know how to describe Santa Fe’s light other than to say that nothing looks bad in Santa Fe!  However, NY Times travel writer Henry Shukman gets it exactly right…

The late sun doesn’t just gleam on the old adobe edifice. It’s deeper than that. The red and orange that lights up on the walls … seems to come from deep within them. The low light transforms the scene into a vision. There’s a moment like this almost every evening in Santa Fe, when the light suddenly transfigures the earthen buildings, the lush cottonwood trees, even the blacktop and cars. It all becomes luminous and dreamlike. It’s as if the light contains some special MSG of sight, and one can’t stop staring. Santa Fe must have offered this spectacle for the last four centuries, since the Palace of the Governors was built on the plaza by the Spanish.  That light — the cottonwood-filtered sunlight of the morning, the thick orange-juicy light of the evening; a light that matches other famed atmospheres, such as Venice’s gauzy haze or Provence‘s luminosity — is one reason why Santa Fe seems to exert such power over both the people who live there and the ones who return year after year. 

This is my third trip to Santa Fe, my DH’s fourth.   I love Santa Fe for it’s look — the famous “Santa Fe Style”  celebrates the  Spanish Territorial or Pueblo style of architecture with its timber beams holding up flat roofs on walls of earth (adobe) in the same earthy tones as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to the east.   Santa Fe also has a wealth of artist communities and galleries as seen by the Native Americans selling jewelry in the Palace of the Governors and painters/sculptors selling their works in the galleries on Canyon Road.    Santa Fe provides a lot of “eye candy” for a wanna-be artist like myself.  And of course, there is that “light”!

Travel Time from Tuscon, AZ to Santa Fe, NM:  509 miles.  7 hours and 11 minutes via I-10 E and I-25 N — thus our one night stay in Las Cruces, NM because we just did not want to drive that far for that long.

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Drive to Las Cruces, NM. Or maybe this is our drive to Santa Fe, NM. No matter — same state.

It took about 4 hours (274 miles) to drive from Tuscon to Las Cruces.   It was a pleasant and uneventful drive.   We arrived in Las Cruces late in the evening, just in time to see the city’s sea of lights bloom before our eyes as we drove in and down from the west.   Las Cruces is a big city — don’t know why I felt it would be smaller.  Frankly, all I know of Las Cruces is what I heard in the movie “National Lampoon Vacation”  — Carl Griswald’s Uncle lived there.

It took around 4 hours (284 miles) to drive from Las Cruces to Santa Fe the next day.

Hotel in Las Cruces, NM:   For one evening, we stayed at the Days Inn — Las Cruces (755 Avenida De Masilla).   It was easy to find using our GPS.   This was a nice and quiet hotel even though it was right next to some seriously major road construction.    We arrived late so once we checked-in, we stayed in.   We feasted on our leftover pasta from lunch in Tucson and a sleeve of cookies we found in the trunk.  We watched the news, checked email, and went to bed.   We left for Santa Fe by 11am the next day after enjoying a great free Continental Breakfast — more waffles!

Hotel in Santa Fe, NM:  For two nights, we stayed at the Comfort Suites Santa Fe (3348 Cerrillos Rd.).  Another nice hotel but difficult to find since it is located behind some fast food stores, and thus not visible from the main road.  Still, it was nice and quiet and they offer freshly baked chocolate chip cookies in the evenings — how can you not love that?   Unfortunately, this hotel was quite a drive from the city center of Santa Fe.  But is was Valentine’s Day weekend and the hotel picking were slim.

Activities:   You guessed it!   We hung out in Santa Fe!

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When in Santa Fe, one must go to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. One of the most significant artists of the 20th century, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) was devoted to creating imagery that expressed what she called “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.” O’Keeffe’s images include abstractions, large-scale depictions of flowers, leaves, rocks, shells, bones and other natural forms, and the unusual shapes and colors of architectural and landscape forms of northern New Mexico. This is one of her actual workbenches from her home near Santa Fe.

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I admit it — I am an art supply junkie! I like that her workbench includes inspirational pieces like stones and bones.

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I also love to look at other artist’s sketchbooks. I find it interesting that Georgia’s sketchbook was so neat and tidy — almost a complete work of art in its own right! Mine does not look like this…

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On our first couple of visits to Santa Fe, my DH and I did all the touristy stuff around the main square  next to the Palace of the Governors. There are many expensive stores selling art and western wear. There are many places where you can get a great dish of anything “Tex-Mex”. However, we had never entered the St. Francis Cathedral Basilica — now was the time!

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We are suckers for anything stained glass! I also like the colorful motifs that frame each window.

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The altar of St. Francis Cathedral Basilica. St. Francis of Assisi was the founder of the Franciscan Order. He is the Patron Saint of Santa Fe, NM as well as the saint of Animals and the Environment.

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Canyon Road is an art district, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with over a hundred art galleries and studios exhibiting Native American art and antiquities, traditional and modern Hispanic art, regional contemporary art, international folk art and international contemporary art. It’s a big deal when visiting Santa Fe.

This is one of the shops on Canyon Road that sells metal windmills for the garden. It is fun watching these things spin on a breezy day!

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There is that “light” again!

Food Memories:   It is unfortunate for my diet that travel provides so many temptations to indulge in.  We always had breakfast at the hotel since it was included in the price of the room.   The breakfast at the  Comfort Suites Santa Fe was very, very good with fresh fruit, juices/coffee/tea, cereals, bagels, eggs and bacon and more waffles!!!

Cafe Jean Pierre (4959 Pan American Fwy, Albuquerque, NM) — French.   My DH and I are suckers for french food too.  So when Cafe Jean Pierre appeared on my Yelp mobile app, we just had to stop and check it out for lunch!     After enjoying a healthy portion of broiled fish (cooked perfectly in the French tradition of butter and more butter), I guess we felt smug enough to share this dessert.   The only calorie-saving grace of this dish — the portion was big enough for two!

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A chocolate mousse served in a slab like a cake — but oh, so much better than cake!

Plaza Cafe (54 Lincoln Ave. Santa Fe, NM) — American (Traditional), Mexican, Breakfast & Brunch.   Our fabulous French lunch ruined us for our first dinner in Santa Fe.   After walking around the Palace of the Governors, I had the munchies for something small and light.  The Plaza Cafe is a happening place and we remembered the food being good here from our previous trips to Santa Fe.   I saw Mexican Mocha on the menu outside and I said “That would be perfect!”   Maybe it wasn’t perfect in that I didn’t notice much “Mexican” about it, but it was good and it was all I needed on a rather chilly evening.  The next day we opted to eat here again after wandering through the shops on the square.   We had a light lunch of tortilla soup and ceviche.  Both were good but we were looking more forward to dinner — it was Valentine’s Day after all!

Omira Bar and Grill (1005 S. St. Francis Dr., Santa Fe, NM) — Brazilian Steakhouse.   Interesting fact — my DH and I met on Valentine’s Day.   This is important to know because my DH knows that I would like to go somewhere “special” for dinner on such a day — I am a Princess like that!    Now, Santa Fe is LOADED with lots of excellent and trendy restaurants — we know this because we have eaten at ALL of them on previous trips.   However, by Valentine’s Day morning ALL of them were booked with other happy couples who probably did not meet on Valentine’s Day.  So what was my DH to do other than book us a table at the only restaurant in Santa Fe with an 8pm opening — a Brazilian Steakhouse where they serve flaming pieces of meat on large skewers.  Oh well, I guess that would be romance in someone’s book.  “That would be fine, Sweetie”,  I said not wanting him to feel worse than he already did.  “Let’s consider it an adventure!”

And it was — our GPS could not find it.   Just after our fifth lap around the block (by the railroad tracks) and just before my DH was ready to go back to the hotel, we decide to give Omira a call.   The receptionist said they were right next to the dive bar with the big neon sign.  We found the dive bar easy enough and if it were not for the obnoxious neon sign illuminating Omira’s parking lot, we probably would have just gone back to the hotel.

But, Omira Bar and Grill turned out to be a great experience!    The place was nice with white tablecloths on tables surrounding a large salad buffet.   When you turned on the cute little lamp on your table, you indicated that you were ready for some meat!    The waiter came by with their large skewers loaded with chucks of meat (beef, pork, chicken, and sausage) and dropped a chuck on your plate.   This went of all evening!   The salad bar was plentiful and fresh.  The meat was tender and flavorful.   The best part — chocolate covered strawberries as huge as my head!   And, we could have as many as we wanted!!!   After my fifth strawberry, all I could say was “It has been a great Valentine’s Day, Sweetie!”

Departing Thoughts:

As far as I am concerned, Santa Fe never disappoints!   I would go back there in a heartbeat!

 

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2014 US Southwest — Tucson, AZ

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Into the desert…

WHEN:  February 7 to February 12, 2014

After our visit to Phoenix, we drove to Tucson, AZ for no other reason than “why not Tucson?”   My DH had been to Tucson a number of years ago and was impressed by a fabulous garden he saw there.   For me, this would be my first visit and I was curious about this garden he kept yapping about.

Tucson is the second-largest populated city in Arizona behind Phoenix.   Just so you know…

So far on our trip, the weather had been cooperating nicely!    Our timing was perfect — just as it was getting hot in Phoenix, we were on our way to a cooler Tucson (due to its higher elevation).  Niiiiice!

Travel time from Phoenix, AZ to Tucson, AZ:    116 miles via I-10E  (approximately 1 hour and 47 minutes).  It was an easy drive.   So easy, I vaguely remember it.

Hotel:   We checked into the  Quality Inn & Suites ( 7411 N Oracle Rd, Tucson, AZ) around 3pm.    Once we got on Oracle Rd. (a massive main road lined with tons of shopping and restaurants in the shadow of the Santa Catalina Mountains), it was easy to find.   The hotel was nice and comfortable.  Our room had a view over the Tohono Chul Park.   We watched the sun set behind the peaks of the Saguaro National Park from our hotel window.   Sweeeeet!

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Sunset in Tucson, AZ.

Activities:  Mostly, we just hung out in Tucson like we did in Phoenix and Scottsdale.  We enjoyed the weather, the malls, and the restaurants.

We started our exploration of Tucson at the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures — a 15,560 square foot, state-of-the-art museum displaying an entertaining and interactive array of antique and contemporary miniatures as well as enchanting artifacts.  There are over 275 miniature houses here.   It took us a couple of hours to see them all!    Most of the pictures did not turn out since the rooms were dark and the glare of the glass protecting the miniatures kept ruining the image.

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The miniature houses were indeed wonderful!

But let me tell you about that garden….

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Our morning drive to the Saguaro National Park was breathtaking!

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Wow-wee!

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Entry to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum located in the Saguaro National Park.

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The giant saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. These majestic plants, found only in a small portion of the United States, are protected by Saguaro National Park, to the east and west by the modern city of Tucson.

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Cacti go as far as the eye can see!

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Lots of types of cacti are everywhere!

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We also found Joshua Trees here…

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…and Long Horn Sheep…

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…and birds of prey…

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…here comes a hawk now!

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Sunset in the desert is just as amazing as sunrise!

It is a given that if there is any attraction of a Hollywood nature nearby, I gotta go there!  The day after our visit to the  Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, we went to Tucson’s Hollywood offering — Old Tucson Studios.  Of course, this meant another drive through the Saguaro National Park — hate us if you must!

Old Tucson Studios is a movie studio and theme park.  It was built in 1939 for the movie Arizona, it has been used for the filming of several movies and television westerns since then, such as Gunfight at the O.K. Corral Little House on the Prairie, and my personal favorite — Young Guns 2. It was opened to the public in 1960, and historical tours are offered about the movies filmed there, along with live cast entertainment featuring stunt shows and shootouts.  It was a good time!  Interesting fact — we met quite a few snowbirds from Wisconsin during our visit here. 

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The Train Depot. Look familiar?

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The Saloon. Look familiar?

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Your basic desert backdrop. That is Monument Mountain on the right — a famous Arizona landmark that was used in numerous openings and closings of classic Western movies.

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The view of the famous desert backdrop. Admit it, if you are a fan of movie Westerns you have seen this thousands of times!

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At Old Tucson, there were lots of little skits and other entertainment to be seen.  We noticed that they recycle the same actors from one show to another.   These guys were pretty funny.

One last sight of interest was the San Xavier Mission del Bac.  We went on a lovely day that required yet another lovely drive through the Saguaro National Park — yeah, really!

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This mission is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.

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The entry to Mission San Xavier del Bac.

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The church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings.

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The dome of Mission San Xavier del Bac.

 

On our last morning in Tucson, we took a walk through the  Tohono Chul Park next to our hotel.

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It was our last look at the Arizona desert in the Tohono Chul Park .

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But we got to see an native hawk up close and personal.   What a magnificent animal!

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My DH says that this animal is pretty magnificent too!

Food Memories:    There was no lack of places to eat while in the Tucson area.   Here is a list of the places we enjoyed the most:

 Vero Amorie (Plaza Palomino, 2990 N Swan Rd, Tucson, AZ ) — Italian, Pizza.   This was our first stop when we reached Tucson because (1) we were hungry, and (2) it was close to the  Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures.   This was a nice lunch place with dark tables and white animal skulls on the walls.   Our waiter talked us into trying the Pizza with Salami, the Potato Mushroom Soup, and the Cherry Truffle Gelato!   All were excellent and he got a big fat tip for that!

 Saint House Rum Bar (256 E Congress St. Tucson, AZ 85701) — Caribbean.   There is not a lot to see in downtown Tucson.   The University of Arizona is located here and the downtown area is all about bars.   It had the worn look of a college town — lots of dark coffee shops, odd stores, and a few dance clubs with young students lined up outside.   However, this restaurant was modern and upscale — we figured this was where the parents ate when visiting their kid in school.   The place was packed and we decided to sit at the bar.   The bartender suggested a few appetizers so we agreed to try the Ceviche, the Jerk Chicken Wings, and the Cheese Roasted Ear of Corn.  The Ceviche was fresh and spicy and served with crisp tortilla chips.  The jerk chicken curled my toes — just as it should!  The Roasted Ear of Corn was fattening, messy, and soooo good!   Yeah, yeah, yeah — I had a Mojito too, it was fiiiiiine!

Wildflower (7037 N. Oracle Rd.  Casas Adobes Plaza, Tucson, AZ) — American.   Another upscale restaurant on a strip of road that turned out to be our “go-to place” for just about everything while in Tucson.   This place was noisy due to all the shiny surfaces but I really liked the chairs covered in a leopard-like print.   We shared the Scallops, Steak, and Sangria (actually I was the only one to drink the Sangria).   Overall, an excellent meal in a place just down the road from our hotel.

Giuseppe’s (6060 No. Oracle Rd, Casas Adobes, AZ) — Italian.   This place was right out of  “The Godfather” movie — except with cacti.    We were out all day and starving!  We stopped here for a late lunch and we were glad we did.   I ordered the Pork in a Cheese Sauce, my DH ordered the Meatballs and Pasta.   Both were yummy and huge!   Still, I saved room for the Vanilla Cake with Italian Cream and Chocolate — it was amazingly light and refreshing.    Actually, we liked this place so much that we came here again on our way out of Tucson. This time we tried the Stuffed Mushrooms and the Chicken Salad.    Another fine meal and we had enough leftovers for days!

Departing Thoughts:    I was expecting to find Tucson to be a smaller version of Phoenix.  But unlike Phoenix, I immediately liked the small town feel of the place!   During our stay, I found Tucson to be the old West I was searching for!  If you want to see the southwestern desert, Tucson is the place to go!    The Saguaro National Park is a “must see” attraction — even the drive in and out of the park was wonderful!

 

 

2014 US Southwest — Phoenix, AZ

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Arizona — the land of the Cactus.

WHEN:  February 1 to February 6, 2014

Our visit to Phoenix, AZ was our main reason for our road trip in the first place.   My DH visited Scottsdale, AZ (a suburb of Phoenix) and absolutely loved it!   “Let’s move there!” he said.   I figured I should check it out first before I made any commitments to the place.

Phoenix is the capital, and largest city, of the state of Arizona.  It is the most populous state capital in the entire United States (nice to know), as well as the sixth most populous city nationally, after  New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, and Philadelphia — impressive, no?   Residents of the city call themselves Phoenicians (very sweet).

Scottsdale is adjacent to the Greater Phoenix Area.  The New York Times described downtown Scottsdale as “a desert version of Miami’s South Beach” and as having “plenty of late night partying and a buzzing hotel scene”.  Its slogan is “The West’s Most Western Town”.  Well, we did see plenty of horses and stores that sell western clothing.    Scottsdale is also affectionately nicknamed “Snotsdale” due to its financially affluent white population.  Needless to say, Scottsdale is a clean and modern neighborhood with some fabulous malls and restaurants!

Travel time from Palm Springs, CA to Phoenix, AZ:  A 3 hour and 50 minutes drive via I-10 West for  268 miles.

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On the road from Palm Springs, CA to Phoenix, AZ. An easy drive through acres of cacti and sagebrush.

Hotel:   We stayed at Casa Mescal-Phoenix, AZ, a B&B run by Pat and Dave — two of the nicest guys you would ever meet!   Our room was nice with a private entrance and bath.   This room was nicely decorated in dramatic red and beige walls with a large comfy bed.   On our arrival, the tray on our bed held a nice bottle of Merlot and a small pumpkin bundt cake — how lovely!  After we settled in, we spent some time socializing with Pat and Dave (and their four dogs of various sizes) by the pool over cocktails — how civilized!

Dave was an amazing cook!   Every morning at 8:30am, he made us breakfast (my DH and I have rediscovered our love for blueberry muffins, french toasts, and all things carb).  While we enjoyed breakfast, Dave and Pat would answer all of our questions regarding our plans for the day.  The dogs had their tennis balls at the ready in the event we were willing to participate a game of catch (we were).   Yep, we would stay here again.

Activities:  Mostly, we just hung out in Phoenix and Scottsdale enjoying the weather, the malls, and the restaurants.   We also drove around the neighborhoods looking at houses through fences and gates.   However, we did do a couple of touristy things…

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The highlight of our trip to the Phoenix area was our visit to the Desert Botanical Garden. On this visit, they were featuring the glass work of Chihuly, strategically positioned among the cacti. Personally, I think the cacti doesn’t need any help to look interesting.

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Really, this garden is all about the cacti…

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… and some of the cacti are scary huge!

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The Musical Instrument Museum was a pleasant surprise — it was really interesting!   Each country has an exhibit of their musical heritage here.  There are also exhibits for each musical genres (like rock, country, jazz, and the symphony).  Above is just a small part of the guitar exhibit.

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Our visit to Taliesin West was interesting. We toured the house built by the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright and learned about the school he had here.  This house is all about triangles — as inspired by the winter icicles that would hang from the eaves of his home in Wisconsin.

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This is the view of Phoenix from Taliesin. When the power lines went up, Frank was furious! He threatened to tear down the house and to relocate the school elsewhere. But his wife said “No” — Frank did not have the money to be so impulsive.

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The desert make a great backdrop for some wonderful sunsets…

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…the heavy traffic gave us plenty of time to enjoy those sunsets.

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Our one cloudy day while in Phoenix — just in case you think our road trip is just too perfect.

Food Memories:    There was no lack of places to eat while in the greater Phoenix area.   Here is a list the places we enjoyed.   Also, just so you know — it only took me four days to finish off the Merlot and bundt cake!   I showed a great deal of restraint, I think!

Rebel BBQ (181 S Lovekin Blvd, Blythe, CA) — BBQ and Burgers.   On our way from Palm Springs to Phoenix, we stopped here for lunch.   MY DH had the Brisket Sandwich and I had the Pulled Pork BLT.   Both were fantastic!  The baked beans and the potato salad were tasty too!

Z’Tejas @ Fashion Square (7014 E Camelback Rd, Scottsdale, AZ) — Tex-Mex, American (Traditional).  When I visit the southwest, I always think of Tex-Mex food.  When I mentioned this to Dave, he suggested this restaurant for dinner.  According to Yelp, there are multiple locations of Z’Tejas in the area, but we decided to go to this location to check out the mall.  Scottsdale has some big malls and Fashion Square is one of its biggest.  Z’Tejas was upscale and noisy!  But the service and the food was surprisingly good for a chain.  My DH ordered the Roasted Trout in an attempt to eat healthfully.   I had the Pesto-Rub Chicken with the same thought in mind.  Both were flavorful dishes.  But, oh — the cornbread…

Spinato’s Pizza (1614 E. Bell Rd. Phoenix, AZ) — Pizza.  After our visit to the Desert Botanical Garden, pizza and a cold soda sounded good!   This place was hard to find.   Apparently they had just moved recently and their sign consisted of a piece of typing paper that said “Spinato’s Pizza” taped to a window under the shade of a tree.   In any case, we did find it and the Pepperoni and Mushroom Pizza was worth the effort!

Cafe Aleggro @ MIM (4725 E Mayo Blvd. Phoenix, AZ)  — American (New), Desserts, Pizza.  Normally, we have a policy never to eat at restaurants in museums because they are generally over-priced and the food is sub-standard (with the exception of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris where the Restaurant is over-priced but the decor and food are worth every penny).  However, on this day we were not prepared for how good the museum was or for how long we would be there.    We were starving by the time we emerged from the gallery!   My DH ordered the French Roasted Chicken and I ordered a bowl of the Black Bean Soup.   Both meals were affordable and excellent.    We even told the chef we enjoyed our meal — high praise indeed!

Citizen Public House (711 E. 5th Ave. Scottsdale, AZ) — Gastropub, American.   It always seemed to work out that by the time we got to the shopping mecca of Scottsdale on 5th Avenue, all the shops were closed.   Lucky for us, the restaurants were open.   Even though we are not into beer, we heard the food was good here.   My DH ordered the Lamb Burger and I ordered the Beef Belly BLT — EXCELLENT!    The dining room was dark and noisy even though it was not crowded — I thought I would just mention that.

George and Son’s Asian Cuisine (11291 E. Via Linda, Scottsdale, AZ) — Asian Buffet.   It appears that my DH cannot go very long without some sort of Thai or Asian food — he had been dropping hints for days!    So we decided to finally, finally, finally try an Asian buffet in the area after an afternoon of neighborhood cruising.    We arrived just a few minutes before 2pm as they were closing the buffet.   Fortunately, George took pity on us and let us finish off the buffet!   The Egg-Drop soup was very good!   They made up some more of the Broccoli Beef and Asian Noodles for us.   All the food was very good!   We were happy campers!

Pizzeria Bianco (4743 N. 20th St.  Phoenix, AZ) — Pizza, Italian.  This restaurant was written up in the Wall Street Journal.   As avid readers of the Wall Street Journal, we had to go here!    The restaurant interior was minimalist chic and we opted to eat at the bar because there was an hour wait for a table.  However,  there was nothing minimal about the pizza!  The Pizza with Cheese and Basil was tasty on its thin crispy crust!   We also ordered the Wide Noodles with Meat Sauce because the bartender talked us into it (and we were hungry).   That too was delicious!

Bootleggers BBQ Modern American Smokehouse (3375 E. Shea Blvd. Phoenix, AZ) — BBQ and Steaks.    Yep, this was my choice — the name had me at “BBQ”.     And this BBQ place did not disappoint!   First, the place looks very “Urban Cowboy” but without the spinning bull.   Second, the BBQ was smoky and tender just as it should be.   My DH and I shared a plate of brisket and pulled pork.  There was way too much protein for two little people like us — not that that stopped us from eating it all!

Departing Thoughts:    We enjoyed our time in Phoenix.   We enjoyed the newness and the abundance of Scottsdale.   But, the place is getting big!   Like, L.A. BIG!    Our conclusion is that the Phoenix area is a nice place to visit.

2014 US Southwest — Palm Springs, CA

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Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs, CA. The weather and the mountains — perfection!

WHEN:  January 29 to January 31, 2014

Palm Springs, CA was on the way to our next major city of our trip so we decided to stay there a couple of days and look around.   This is not our first visit to the city known as the “Hollywood Stars’ Getaway”.   We were here a couple of times before — once in 2005 and again in 2008 (if my memory serves me right, that is).   Anyway, we were both here once before, we liked it, and we thought it deserved another visit.

Palm Springs is a desert resort city in Riverside County, California, within the Coachella Valley. It is located 100 east of Los Angeles, CA — the maximum number of miles any contract movie star could be from Hollywood in the 30s, 40s, and 50s (so to be available to the studio in the event they were needed for a part in a movie).  Palm Springs also has some famous neighbors — Palm Desert (a popular retreat for “snowbirds” from colder climates), Cathedral City (because its rock formations in the area were reminiscent of a cathedral), and Indio (the “City of Festivals” because of all the special events held in town and home to the likes of Warren Buffett and Bill Gates).

Yep — Palm Springs is a niiiiice place!

Travel time from Los Angeles, CA to Palm Springs, CA:    Drive via I-10 W for 107 miles.   Without our rest stops or standing traffic, it would take us 1 hour and 40 minutes to get there.   Of course, we took rest stops but the traffic was rather light so we arrived in Palm Springs just in time for lunch.

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We saw windmills along the way from Los Angeles to Palm Springs — but few were spinning.

Did I tell you that so far on our trip the weather has been warm and sunny?   Well, it was!   Apologies to all my family in Wisconsin where it was 25 degrees below zero — with snow!

Hotel:  International Lodge (74-380 El Camino, Palm Desert, CA 92260).   This hotel used to be a set of studio apartments that have been converted into roomy hotel rooms — each with balconies, full kitchenettes, and huge bathrooms.   They even have screen doors that make that nostalgic metallic “BANG” when it slams shut (not that that is a bad thing).    It was nice to have a full size refrigerator to cool our bottles of juice and water.   The hotel was quiet and just off of HWY 111 (Palm Desert Drive) in Palm Desert.  It was a bit of a drive into Palm Springs but the view of the mountains made up for any inconvenience, I think.

Activities:  Besides enjoying the lovely weather, we did the following activities while we were in Palm Springs:

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We drove up and down Palm Canyon Drive numerous times. Each time was lovely!

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For our first evening in Palm Springs, we went to see “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” at the new IMAX Theater in Cathedral City — in 3D no less! It was an experience in a good way! Afterwards, we went to In and Out for burgers (it was the only place open that late at night).

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We took a walk through Indian Canyons State Park. The desert is striking…

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…the desert was hot.

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We also went to the Living Desert Zoo and Garden. The desert can be an eerie, yet beautiful, place…

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…with spooky trees…

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…and green trees…

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…and lazy camels…

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…and birds by the waterholes…

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…and shy little dogs the reminded me of Zoey…

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…and curious Meerkats that reminded me of Zoey…

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…and palm trees that stood like soldiers with afros…

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…and cacti that stood thin and tall…

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…and cacti that sat short and plumb…

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…and a toy train on steroids!

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On our last day in Palm Springs, we took the Captain Kirk’s Palm Springs Adventure Tour where we walked the streets of old Las Palmas to see the  distinctive architecture, celebrity estates, and to hear about the history (and scandals) of the rich and famous. This was Liberace‘s home.

Food Memories:  Palm Springs has no lack of great eateries!   Here is where we ate:

Ruben and Ozzy’s Oyster Bar and Grill (241 E Tahquitz Canyon Way, Palm Springs, CA 92262) — Seafood.   Our first meal in Palm Springs was a good one!  I had a salad with grilled salmon and my DH had the Luis Special Seafood Pasta.  Both dishes were huge!  Both dishes were good (although my salmon was a bit dry)!

Nina’s Traditional Greek Cuisine and Pizzeria (555 S Sunrise Way, Palm Springs, CA 92264) — Greek.   Click on the link and you will see that the portions are huge!   We shared the Gyro Platter and a bowl of the lemony Avgolemono soup.  Excellent food — we had to be rolled out to our car!

Great Shakes (160 S Palm Canyon Dr, Suite A, Palm Springs, CA 92262) — Ice cream.   Normally we do not indulge in milkshakes because there are just too many other desserts we prefer.   But my DH was intrigued by the reviews and the little donut that is impaled on the straw of each shake made — it was so cute!   Unfortunately, the little donut on the straw was the best part of the Toasted Marshmallow Chocolate Shake we shared.  It lacked the chocolatey substance we were expecting.   But that donut sure was cute!

Pacifica Seafood Restaurant (73505 El Paseo #2500, Gardens On El Paseo, Palm Desert, California 92260) — Seafood.  It was a bit surprising that there were so many seafood restaurants to be had in the middle of the desert!   My DH had the salmon (perfectly cooked) and I had the Braised Short Ribs (I couldn’t help myself — this is one of my favorite dishes and it was worth it).  We had the leftovers for breakfast the next day — both dishes were still good!

Departing Thoughts:   We love Palm Springs!  It is historic, it is swank, yet it still looks new and current!  I suspect that we will come back here again —  it is just so close to Las Vegas!

2014 US Southwest — Los Angeles, CA

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The famous LA Freeway.

WHEN:  January 26 – January 28, 2014

We started our trip early on Sunday, January 26.   Our first stop was Los Angeles, CA.   Initially we decided to go to LA for an evening to visit my DH’s cousin, Phil.  We decided to add on a couple of more days to see a few sights in the event that we would regret not doing so.  We had dinner all planned until Phil sent my DH an email saying that he had the flu.  Although Phil assured us that he was feeling better, we thought best not to risk fate and opted to keep our visit with Phil to a nice, long phone conversation.  It was the start of our trip as one can not be too careful about infectious illnesses.

Travel time from Santa Clara, CA to Los Angeles:  5 hours and 7 minutes via I-5 N for 345 mi.  Of course, we stopped for lunch along the way.  We also switched driving duties — it is only fair.

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View of the San Luis Reservoir a long Route 152 — lovely but way below proper levels for this time of year for Northern California.

Hotel:  BEST WESTERN PLUS Carriage Inn, 5525 Sepulveda Boulevard, Sherman Oaks, CA 91411-3438.   Lovely hotel!  Considering that it was next to the I-5 freeway, it was fairly quiet.  It wasn’t convenient to any sights, but the price was right and access to the highway allowed a painless escape route out of LA.  Yeah, that mattered.

Activities:   At the risk of sounding like a baby — I hate driving in LA.   So does my DH.   Taking a couple of guided tours of the area sounded very appealing, so that is what we did!   Here are some pictures of our days seeing the sights of LA:

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We booked Starline Tours #2A — Grand Tour of Los Angeles & Movie Stars’ Homes. They were the only tour company around that would pick us up at our hotel.

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We started our tour at the entrance to the Kodak Theatre where the Oscars are held every year.

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Our first view of the Hollywood Sign.  I told my DH that if we took a shot of vodka every time our tour guide said “And there is the Hollywood sign”, one of three things would happen; (1) we would have become the tour’s best entertainment, (2) become a major disruption and be thrown off the bus, or (3) get our own reality show.  What?  It could happen!

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The Chinese Theatre (with all the hand- and footprints in cement) was right down the street.

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We went up and down Sunset Blvd numerous times…

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…Beverly Hills too…

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…and Rodeo Drive…

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…twice (once to see the stores and once more to see the cars parked outside the stores).

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Time to go downtown! I wonder, does anyone ever go to downtown LA … willingly?

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Nah, I don’t think that anyone goes to downtown LA unless you are on a tour. Looks like Chicago.

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OMG — are they shooting a movie?  Is that John Stamos?

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In the heart of downtown LA is El Pueblo and Olvera Street, historical landmarks with lots of shopping opportunities!

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On the way back to the Kodak Theater to catch our second tour, we stop to take a peek at the La Brea Tar Pits.

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Our tour of the stars’ homes started at the top of Mulholland Drive — a road in the eastern Santa Monica Mountains. The road is featured in innumerable movies, songs, and novels. For this tour, my DH and I are crammed into an open-air jeep with six other tourists enduring the cold night air. Our tour guide gave us blankets and turned on the the floor heaters — they didn’t help…

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..still, we had a nice view of LA from here!

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According to the website, during the Movie Stars’ Homes Tour we may see the homes of such stars as Simon Cowell, Katy Perry, Tom Cruise, Ellen DeGeneres, Bruce Willis, and Jennifer Aniston. I am sure we did but mostly we saw high fences, bushes, and trees. I guess I would do anything to keep looky-loos like me from invading my privacy too. Still, I was disappointed because I was cold and didn’t bring a hat and gloves!  And my DH was very quiet — “that can’t be good” I thought.

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The Cloud House — one rich movie star’s attempt to piss-off the rich movie star next door. Still, an interesting home that is worth millions more than it should be worth because of that vindictive rich movie star — whose name  I forget.

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I’m cold and my DH is miserable! Still, you have to see sunset on Sunset Blvd at least once in your life!

On our last day in LA, we opted against going to the expensive, crowded, and possibly over-rated  Universal Studios.  We have both been there before and wanted a new studio experience.    This time, we took a tour of Paramount Studios.   It was fantastic!  Such history – I am a sucker for all the old movies made during the day when movie stars punched timecards just like any other working stiff!   This place felt personal, you know…

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Paramount Studios is a film and television production/distribution studio. It is consistently ranked as one of the largest (top-grossing) film studios in the world.  It was a thrill to be here and walk the same pathways walked by Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts, George Clooney…    Need I go on?

Food Memories:  Just for the record, we eat nowhere without first consulting Yelp.   That is just how we roll.

Apricot Tree Inn ( 46290 W Panoche Rd, Firebaugh, CA 93622) — American Diner.  Our first rest stop of our trip.   It was quaint with all lunch boxes of every type and shape in every nook and cranny of the place.   The service was good, the food was good, and the Apricot Muffins were to die for!

veStation (14435 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423) — Vegan, Asian-Fusion.   We were thinking of having something light and the spring rolls here hit the spot.   Parking was problem, we had to park in the strip mall across the street.

Crave Cafe (14504 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403)  — Creperies, Breakfast & Brunch, Coffee & Tea.  Just a short walk from veStation.   We shared the Strawberry Banana Nutella Crepe — it was huge and good!   I had the best Mocha Cafe of my life here!

Farmer’s Market @ the Grove (6333 W 3rd St, Los Angeles, CA 90036) — Lunch stop of StarLine tours.   OMG, the food options here are huge!    I had a hot dog.   My DH tried the Brazilian Steak.  Both were excellent!   We dined next to an advertising executive and his wife who told us all about LA — really nice people here!

Ramen Yamadaya (15030 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91403) — Japanese.  I could never turn down a good bowl of noodles!   This was a good bowl of noodles!   The broth was porky and the noodles were plentiful!   This was nearby veStation so we knew where to park this time.

California Chicken Cafe (6805 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038) — American.   Our tour of LA gave us a good idea of where things were.   So when we wanted a quick lunch before our tour of Paramount Studios, we had a pretty good idea of where this gem was (the GPS was helpful too).  We came here a bit before the lunch hour crunch and were able to get a seat — we are so smart some times!   We shared half a chicken and a side salad — it was excellent!

Napoli’s Pizza Kitchen (14831 Burbank Blvd, Van Nuys, CA 91411) — Pizza.   My DH feels the same way about pizza that I feel about noodles — we gotta have it!   This unpretentious pizza shop does more take-out than eat-in business — we were the only customers in the place!   The pizza was good and the Greek Salad was huge!

Departing Thoughts:  LA needs to be experienced over and over again because it is so large, so diverse, and so surprising!    If you can get beyond the inconvenience of the traffic (it is plentiful and fast) it can be a fun place to hang out for a few days.    A tourist is never allowed to forget that this place is “movie central” and that is what makes LA special in my book!

2014 US Southwest — ROAD TRIP!

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On the road again…

ROAD TRIP!!!!

My DH and I decided that it was time for a change of scenery.    But this time we are keeping it simple — we are taking a road trip through a couple of the Southwestern states in the US!

Just to recap — travel is a big thing for my DH and me.   We are still fairly young and in good health so why the heck not?  Yep, we will be wandering through the desert like Moses!   Except in a car with gobs of electric technology to make sure we don’t get lost for 40 years.

Our original thought for this trip was just to go somewhere warm and escape that rain of Northern California for a few weeks.   Little did we know when we started planning this trip in November of 2013 that California would be experiencing a drought.  We decided to go anyway.

We sent our lovely Zoey to Morgan Hill to spend at least three weeks with her BFF, Cody.   Cody’s parents are a young active couple and skiing in Tahoe is on their calendar for the next few weekends.  Zoey has never seen the snow.  We figured snow would be a good experience for her — and we were right!   Many “thanks” to Cody’s Mom for sending us the following picture!

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Run, Zoey! Run!

Although Zoey embraced the snow, we didn’t.  For weeks before our departure, we had been checking the weather in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada in an attempt to take full advantage of “good” weather whenever possible.   We packed up our car with enough clothes to take us through three different climates — low desert, high desert, and Southern California.     We made a couple of hotel reservations ahead of time but intended to just “wing it” most of the time.

I’m doing my travel blog differently this time.   Instead of the day-by-day format of the past, I am going to make city-by-city entries.   The new format will remove some of the pressure and obsession I have experienced in writing this blog in the past.   My hope is that without the worry of internet access (although one would assume that cities and hotels in the US would have the “wireless internet access thing” down cold) and the late nights pounding on the laptop (which kept both my DH and me from our beauty sleep) I would enjoy the travel experience as one should enjoy it — seeing new sights, eating good food, sleeping late, and snapping pictures like mad!

I am happy to report that I succeeded in my goal — the road trip was wonderful!   Now it is time to blog about it!