Photo of the Day – La Concha

la concha

Taken from the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, NV.

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Book Review – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

fear-and-loathing

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has been on my reading bucket list for quite a while. I remember seeing the advertisements for the movie as a kid, but I never bothered to find out what it was about. It came up here and there, especially when I was looking for some “road trip” book to mention in a post on my previous blog, Bites of Wanderlust. In fact, it wasn’t until then that I started researching the contents of the book, and the man that wrote the cult classic. By the time I was done reading it, I came to the conclusion that Fear and Loathing is a trip, literally and figuratively, in more ways than one.

Hunter S. Thompson lived the kind of life I think most guys dream about (minus the drugs…maybe). He rode motorcycles, chased women, drank beer ; the only thing missing in his life was a permanent, on-call caterer (he may have had that, I don’t know). The story goes that the plot of Fear and Loathing is based on a real-life trip he and his attorney took to cover the Mint 400 in Las Vegas. The trip is fueled by drugs and alcohol, and the search for the “American Dream”. I don’t know if Mr. Thompson came to Las Vegas actually looking for the American Dream, but I wouldn’t doubt that the entire book was true (except for the names).

I think the most appealing thing about the man and the legend that is Hunter S. Thompson is that he, like his Dr. Gonzo and Raoul, threw caution to the wind. They ran into problem after problem, and honestly – they should have been arrested halfway through the novel, but that’s neither here nor there. Everyone may not fantasize on going on a drug binge, but I think everyone can relate to the idea to be free of responsibilities or taking a break from normal life, even if only for a little while.

 

A lot of people speculate on what is true and what isn’t in Fear and Loathing, but for me, none of that really matters. When I go on vacation, I’m in search of adventure. I’m looking for entertainment, and to experience something new. If I can get the same thing from reading a book, I don’t care if it’s fact or fiction..

 

Goodbye Free Parking. Thanks for nothing, MGM

vegas

As I mentioned in my first post, MGM has decided that this year, they are going to start charging their patrons for the use of their parking facilities. This announcement has met with a huge backlash, enough to the point where MGM is “taken aback”. I am among one of the many opposed to this change, to the point where I’ll park at a Caesar’s property and walk before wherever I may need to go.

This may sound like a non-issue to those who don’t live in Las Vegas, and I admit the proposed parking fees are much lower than in other cities. The only thing I can say is that there are some things you just don’t mess with. In a city that has changed its skyline at least once every decade in the last sixty years, free parking is one of the few things we’ve been able to hold onto, just like the local’s discount and penny slots.

Some might argue this isn’t an entirely new concept; in the last couple years, downtown Las Vegas has started to do away with its free parking amenities. However, I would have to point out that 1. those hotels usually comp their guests at the very least and 2. You can still get your parking comp’d if you know where to go.

The MGM executives that addressed the issue cite issues like profit losses, the need for funds for revamped parking structures, and the fact that, well, “everyone else is doing it”. These reasons, while acceptable on their face, don’t really hold any weight. Just because they aren’t making money in a particular area doesn’t really count as “profit losses”, and while some of the garages could use a face lift, I doubt they would have to start laying people off if they just went ahead and paid for them. Finally, I say…just because everyone else does it, doesn’t make it a good idea.

It just seems like MGM wants to nickel and dime their customers, both domestic and foreign. Since my days of working on the Strip I couldn’t fathom how or why a person would pay up to four dollars for a bottle of tiny bottle of Dasani, but overpriced drinks are nothing new. Overpriced drinks are even to be expected. I even witnessed my own manager raise prices over 50% on floral arrangements during Valentine’s Day “just because she could”. However, until MGM made this announcement I had no idea that there was such a thing as a “resort fee”, which is a non-refundable charge for use of all the amenities at the resort, regardless if you use them or not. Now with these proposed parking fees, it seems like they want their hands in your pockets from the minute you step foot on their property.

We’ve lost some historic properties and buildings over the years in the name of progress, and for the most part we don’t complain about it. Being adaptable is a critical part of survival, and Las Vegas has managed to survive as a major worldwide tourist destination because of its willingness to keep up with the times (and well, basically offering people whatever they want). These parking fees are a slap in the face to the people that keep this city running.

Moral of the story: stay at Caesar’s! 🙂

 

 

 

Revised (Domestic) Bucket List 2016

So I like to make lists. I am one of those people. I also like to keep a bucket list, with things I’d like to do, places I’d like to see, and things I’d like to accomplish in my lifetime. I thought I would share my bucket lists, separated into domestic and foreign destinations. I managed to make a few that were originally on this list last year, so I get to add the rest of them (in addition to being a list maniac, I’m also a maniac about the length of said lists 🙂 ). I’ll save the foreign list for a later post.

  1. New Orleans
  2. Chicago
  3. Boston
  4. Virginia
  5. Nashville
  6. Jerome, Arizona
  7. Santa Fe
  8. New York City
  9. Myrtle Beach
  10. Washington, D.C.

Tell me about some of the places you’ve been, or some of the places that you’d like to go.

Six Ways to Budget for Vacation

My travel bucket list is big. I’m sure there are plenty of people with longer lists than mine, but I’ve got some pretty obscure and faraway places I’d like to see, so I’ve got to plan and save for maybe a little bit longer than some of my domestic destinations. Yet any time I try to save money, it doesn’t seem to work out. One year I wanted to go to Hawaii to see my friend, and my transmission ended up breaking. All of my savings went to the new car I had to buy, and I never got to see her before she moved back to Las Vegas. Another time I wanted to go to New Orleans, and I ended up needing to move that year instead. I would like to change this. I decided to outline some of my own ideas for saving, and then I will monitor my own progress with monthly updates.

Budget-Vacations

  1. Don’t use credit cards if you can avoid it. Using credit cards to pay for major travel expenses (like air fare and hotel) means that, eventually, you’ll end up paying more for your vacation than necessary. This may not always be the case, especially when your credit card offers travel miles – but I haven’t had one of those yet, so I don’t know much about how they work.
  2. Find little expenses to cut down on. For me, the one area where I can save on is food. I usually eat out for lunch during the week, and that adds up. On a good week I could spend fifty dollars or less on food, but when you think about it – that is fifty extra dollars toward a vacation I’m wasting. So now I’m down to eating out 0-2 times a week, depending on circumstances. I’m trying to get closer to zero times a week, but I’ve noticed a difference in spending already just cutting down what I have.
  3. Keep a travel-only piggy bank. I have a box that I keep in my bedroom, where all my spare change and dollar bills go into. Anytime I pay for something with cash, I try to put the change in the box. When I got money for Christmas from one of my attorneys, I put a portion of it in the box. I also don’t touch the box when I need a few dollars here and there.
  4. Empty your wallet, purse and pockets at least once a week. This goes along with the previous tip, but it’s important to keep your pockets and whatnot empty so you’re not tempted to spend the money here and there. I try to not fall victim to impulse buying, and when I have less cash and change burning holes in my pockets, the less often I indulge.
  5. Check out plane flights at different times of the week. Buying plane tickets is almost like an art form. If you check flight times and dates well in advance, you have a better chance of getting a good deal on a flight. If you just buy the first ticket/tickets you see, you may end up spending more than necessary. That’s not to say you should sacrifice the quality of the flight (ahem, Spirit Airlines) but you want to make your money stretch as far as possible.
  6. Work on an itinerary ahead of time. Food and entertainment is perhaps the one place where people tend to go over on their budgets. If you spend a couple hours mapping out some things you’d like to do and see before your trip, you can factor this into how much you need to save. If you wait until you get to your destination to decide on these things, you’ll end up spending far more than you intended.

What are the ways you save when you’re planning for a vacation? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Photo via griswoldfamilyvacations.com

 

Food Review: Ketchup Burger Bar inside Planet Hollywood

I’ve wanted to write about the Ketchup Premium Burger Bar for a while now, ever since my first trip into the artisan burger palace. Located inside Planet Hollywood Miracle Mile Shops, this little burger joint gives its patrons a different spin on a classic American dish.

Ketchup Premium Burger Bar Signage

I like to keep it simple with the Ketchup Classic, but there’s a much wider variety for you to choose from.  There’s a veggie burger for my non-meat consuming brethren, a hot dog/hamburger combo burger, mushroom burgers, cheeseburgers. A popular menu item is the Hot Mess, a burger covered in chili and jalapeno and topped with pepper jack cheese (but I’m a little too chicken to try it ;)). Hot dogs are also on the menu, which I’ve never tried, but the other draw to this little spot (besides the burgers) is the spiked milkshakes. I wouldn’t recommend ordering more than one, especially if you’re the throwing up type of drunk, but they’re fun to try. I personally recommend the Tipsy Gorilla, which is like an alcohol-soaked banana split.

So if you find yourself wandering around Planet Hollywood the next time you’re here, stop into the Ketchup Burger Bar. But don’t drink too many spiked milkshakes – too much alcohol and too much milk don’t make for a fun night, I promise you.

J

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What to Do When You Need a Vacation (But Life Won’t Allow it)

So for about the last month and a half, I seem to be on a bit of a bad luck streak. I got into a car accident (not my fault), and I’ve had to get a new phone. The accident wouldn’t be so bad if there wasn’t a struggle between insurance companies about payment, but that’s neither here nor there. The important part of this is that, I’ve found myself in a bit of a funk recently. The perfect answer would be a vacation, but with my car still in the shop I am literally and figuratively grounded until it’s done and I get the money back from the insurance company. So in the meantime, instead of wallowing in my own misfortune, I’ve been trying to find little ways to escape from my day to day motions. I figure I might as well fake it until I make it.

  1. I find myself wanting to run away to the beach a lot during this time of misfortune; I guess it’s because the ocean has a way of centering a person’s soul, and reminding you of the things that keep your head from spinning off its axis. Since the beach seems to be my happy place, I try to meditate to sounds and images of the ocean. It’s no substitute for the real thing, of course, but I search for that feeling that I get, sitting on a sandy beach just before sunset, listening to the waves crash into the shore.
  2. Music from your chosen destination. When I want to transport myself to a tropical oasis, I try to find music that reminds me of such locales, like the Beach Boys or Jack Johnson.
  3. Scented candles reminiscent of your destination. Scent has a powerful way of mentally transporting us to certain people, places, and times in our lives. When I want to remember what the beach feels like and smell like, I go for floral, fruity or sandalwood scents. If I want to imagine walking through the streets of Paris, I go for things like baked bread or fresh laundry. If I want to go camping in the mountains of Big Sur, I look for rustic, pine or wooden scents.
  4. Reading is the easiest way for me to get out of my own head and have an “adventure” of sorts. The last book I read was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which happens to take place in my hometown. Since the book didn’t mentally transport me anywhere different, it fell a little bit short of my expectations but the adventures of the guys telling the story were more than enough to distract me for a bit.
  5. Dream boards. I have a list of all the places I’d like to visit, and when it looks like there’s going to be a stretch of time between my next adventure, I look at the dream board. Sometimes I make additions, sometimes I make revisions, but nothing else feels quite as delightful as crossing something off the list. When life is getting in the way more than it needs to, I find a lot of comfort in that dream board. It reminds me what I’m working toward, and that every step I take toward crossing another thing off that list is a little act of love for myself. That’s probably the most helpful part about the whole thing, and the one fact that makes these times of misfortune a little more bearable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bodies Exhibit at Luxor

After MGM announced earlier this year it was going to start charging for parking, I decided that I needed to get a number of “tourist” things that were on my to-do list out of the way before these “changes” went into effect. My list has included:

  1. The Bodies Exhibit at Luxor
  2. Bellagio Fine Art Museum
  3. The Secret Garden at the Mirage
  4. MJ One at Mandalay Bay
  5. Titanic Exhibit

The Bodies Exhibit has been something I’ve not always wanted to see, but my interest in human anatomy eventually forced me into the Luxor and buying a ticket to one of the coolest exhibits I’ve ever seen. Something about seeing dead bodies on display like that seemed barbaric to me at one time, like it was nothing but a place only people with homicidal tendencies might be interested in. Once I stepped inside I was completely enthralled. Photography isn’t allowed inside the exhibit, so I wasn’t able to get any physical evidence of its appeal, but I can tell you – if they used examples like that in school, kids would definitely pay attention.

The first room you walk into covers the spine, and all of its components. Examples of each vertebra are held in glass cases, and there’s a live cadaver on display, with its spine exposed to show you these bones in their natural form. I’ve been reading through Gray’s Anatomy (don’t judge me!) and studying the drawings of the small bones, like the atlas, and the axis. But for as many times as I read through it, the information didn’t truly click until I could see how these pieces fit together in the back of the cadaver’s skull.

I spent the most time in this room, because I find them to be one of the most fascinating constructs of our bodies. I moved through each room though, studying each cadaver and section of cadaver with equal parts interest and horror. There is a room where an entire cadaver was cross-sectioned, and it reminded me of a rather horrific scene in The Cell (the movie with Vince Vaughn and Jennifer Lopez). The room that displays embryos in various stages of development was fascinating for me, but it came with a warning and a diverted route to continue on to the rest of the exhibit. The comparisons of smoker’s and non-smoker’s lungs was enough to make you toss your cigarettes (they offered a clear bin in which to toss any packs away by this display), but my favorite room out of all of them had to be the artery and vein displays.

Lit up in fluorescent shades of blue and red, you get an exact roadmap of how our blood runs through different parts of our bodies. It’s amazing to see just how small these blood vessels are, and at the same time to know how efficiently these things function without our knowledge gives you a greater understanding of just how remarkable the human body is.

Another display I found intriguing was the cadaver with various prostheses attached to their bodies. A piece of the skull had been replace with metal, and the wrist and pins in it. With this cadaver, you get a clear picture of just how far medical science has come over time, and how they improve the quality of life for those that need them.

 

The next time you’re in Vegas, go visit the Bodies Exhibit at the Luxor. It’s not something you’d want to take kids to – you can take them to Shark Reef next door – but it is definitely worth the money. And carpool if you can – who knows what is going to happen with this parking fee situation. But more on that another time.