Archive for the ‘road trip’ Category

Vegas, Part Deux

Friday, February 8th, 2008

So as I was saying, I got into Vegas at about 10:30 PM. I had stopped at a Starbucks on my way back from the winery to fire up the laptop and see where I might be able to get a hotel room. The good news is that it seems right now is a relatively slow time for Vegas (especially on Monday and Tuesday nights), so I was able to get a great rate on a room at the Hard Rock Hotel!

Even though this hotel isn’t on the strip, I quickly understood why it is a favorite to many. First of all, they actually play great rock and roll music all the time. If they were a radio station, it would probably be my favorite radio station. Even the worst songs they play don’t really bother me. It does a great job of setting the right mood. Second, the décor is awesome. They have memorabilia from all these cool bands covering all of the walls of the hotel and casino. Here’s an example – a shrine to Slash:

Slash

my favorite part is that front and center is an autographed Guitar Hero guitar. All in all, this hotel just has a great vibe. If/When I go back to Vegas, I would definitely like to stay there again.

My Room: I was really excited when I found out my room had a pool view. The Hard Rock is pretty famous for having some of the best looking stripper/slutty looking girls at their pool. It didn’t take me long for that bubble to burst though, as pool sluts aren’t in season in February (it was in the 30’s and 40’s in Vegas). So my room had a great view of an empty pool:

Vacant Pool

maybe next time…

Activities: I knew I was only going to be in Vegas for around 36 hours and I was going to have to get busy if I was going to make it worthwhile. After staying up until 4 AM gambling on Monday night, I actually got up early Tuesday morning and started planning the day.

Helicopter Tour of the Grand Canyon – I looked into this thinking it might be able to check the Grand Canyon off of my “to do” list for this road trip. Also, I had never been in a helicopter before. I could go on and on about this experience, but let me sum it up in one word: AWESOME!!! Holy crap it was fun. If you’ve never gone on a helicopter ride before, put it on your life’s to do list. Here are some pictures:

Pimp my ride:

Pimp My Ride

Our Shadow during takeoff:

Our Shadow during takeoff

View out the window

View out the window

Hoover Dam:

Hoover Dam

A distant view of the glass-bottomed skywalk at the west rim of the Grand Canyon:

Skywalk

Oh, did I mention we landed IN THE CANYON!?!?!

In The Canyon

Sunset on the ride home:

Sunset in Vegas

One last view of the strip before the ride was over:

The Strip at Sunset

I think the pictures almost do it justice, but it was simply awesome.

Dang, this blogging takes a lot of time. I’ve got a lot more to update you on – the cirque du soliel show, my drive to the south rim of the grand canyon, and my drive to where I am at this moment – Las Cruces, NM. But for now I have to get back on the road and head towards San Antonio. I’ll try to put together a big update this weekend.

 

Vegas Baby

Wednesday, February 6th, 2008

vegas skyline

Yeah, so when I said I was going to the Grand Canyon… I lied. I didn’t mean to, I just had a bit of a change of plans.

Monday morning – I woke up on Monday, and my plan was to join AAA, get my oil changed and head to the Grand Canyon. That plan unfolded like this: I spent some time on the computer, then ate breakfast, then got my oil changed, then joined AAA. While I was there and looking at the map of the states, it became clear to me that once I get East of Arizona, there isn’t all that much to see. Since I’m hoping to enjoy as much of this trip as possible, I figured I better soak in more of the Western united states.

Also, I had been thinking “I’ve been to Vegas before, I’ll go to Vegas again” and therefore there’s no need to stop there on this trip. The more I thought about it though, there were a couple of other points to factor in: 1) I like gambling, and usually when I’m in Vegas I’m with folks who don’t like gambling as much as me. 2) Sure, I will be back to Vegas, but there’s no telling how long it will be.

I has also hoped to visit a winery on the way down to LA, but decided I didn’t have time. Since I got nothing but time now, I might as well head back up there too. So that was the plan – Melville Winery in Lompoc, and then Vegas.

But First… Lunch: by the time I was done with all of those errands in the morning, it was a little after 11 AM. I had really only wanted to go to one place while I was in Vegas – a pub called Father’s Office, which is famous for it’s burgers. My friend Michael just went on and on about how brilliant their burger was, and how I just HAD to try it. Well, for whatever reason we just couldn’t make it happen during the weekend. I checked, and they only serve dinner, so lunch on Monday wasn’t an option. My host – Bobby – had told me he thought Father’s Office wasn’t as good as another LA burger joint – The Counter. The counter is a build-your-own burger establishment, and it turns out they ARE open for lunch.

The menu is a laundry list of checkboxes, and you just let your imagination run wild and choose whichever variables you want for your burger. You can check out the menu on the link above, but I’ll cut right to my creation:

  • 1/3 lb burger (this is the smallest size, and is the weight AFTER cooking)
  • Tillamook Cheddar Cheese
  • Roasted Chiles & Lettuce Blend
  • Honey Cured Bacon
  • FRIED EGG!!!
  • Roasted Garlic Aioli
  • on a hamburger bun (the alternative is an English muffin)

I also ordered a “side” of sweet potato fries, ’cause when they’re good they’re really good. And a Coke. Total: just over $17!! I got a number and sat at a table to wait for my creation. First out came the fries:

SP Fries

They look delicious and perfect, and they taste the same way. I don’t know what that dipping sauce is, but if I had to guess it probably has every delicious thing in the world that’s bad for you. Probably MSG, lard, and crack cocaine. It was gooooood, but the order was big enough for a meal. I couldn’t stop eating fries even though I knew I had to wait for my monster burger. Then the burger showed up:

Burger - Whole

Burger - cut

I’m not much of a Jimmy Buffet fan, but that is indeed a cheeseburger in paradise. The first few bites were heavenly. But come on – it’s just more food than a man needs. This on the heels of my breakfast (2 egg McMuffins for $3). I wasn’t even that hungry to start with, i just wanted this burger experience. Despite what a positive impression the experience was at The Counter, I left feeling disgustingly bloated. It was my own fault and I’d love to try it again sometime (preferably with someone else to share the fries). Now all I have to do is make a return trip to explore the great burger comparison with Father’s Office.

Back on the Road, Finally – So after lunch I got my late start on my travels. Heading to Melville took me up scenic highway 101 (which I hadn’t taken on my trip down from Modesto). The scenery was just what you would hope for in Souther California:

101 b

more 101

Melville Winery in Lompoc, CA was a little hard to find, but it was a quaint little winery with some good Pinots and great Syrahs. My boss had recommended it as a great place to stop on the way down to LA. I shipped some back to GA so I would have some “indie” wines when I get back home. Here’s the pictures from the Winery Trip:

vineyard

Melville

tasting sign

And on to Vegas – The one downside of my planning for the day is that getting from Lompoc to Vegas means I had to drive right back down the same stretch of 101 to LA and then head over to Vegas. I didn’t mind backtracking on the drive since it was beautiful, but I did have to go back through Vegas and hit some of their rush hour. I didn’t get to Vegas until around 10:30 PM. Luckily Vegas doesn’t care when you get there. It thought it would be cool to get a shot of the Vegas lights as I approached, but that idea wasn’t so easy to execute while driving:

approaching Vegas

I have had an action-packed 36 hours in Vegas, but I think it’s going to take another whole post to do it justice. For now, I’ll just say I stayed up until 4 AM on Monday night playing blackjack and 3-card poker… a great start to a Vegas visit.

more next time. Now I really think I am off to the Grand Canyon…

Weekend in LA

Tuesday, February 5th, 2008

LA Sign

I arrived in Santa Monica at around 3 PM, and had about 3 hours to kill before the friend I was staying with got home from work.

I had planned on camping out in a Starbucks and working on this here blog. My 5 year- old laptop has a built-in wireless capability, but apparently that doesn’t work anymore. So I was sitting in Starbucks with nothing to do but drink my tea. I resized some of these pictures and then wandered around main street in Santa Monica.

Santa Monica

It’s a really cool neighborhood, and even though it was slightly chilly it was still beautiful outside. I then was pointed to a computer store where I could buy a new wireless card, so that’s how I filled the rest of the afternoon.

Once my buddy got home, we went out to drinks for somebody’s birthday and then to a cool divey Japanese restaurant. I had some delicious preparation of lotus root (which I’ve never enjoyed before), and a fantastic grilled baby squid amongst other tasty small plates.

Saturday we went down to the Omelette Parlor for a delicious $13 omelette, and then walked all around town and down to Venice Beach. Here’s a shot of the outdoor basketball courts where “White Men Can’t Jump” was filmed…

B ball courts

Venice beach has a lot of tattoo parlors, t-shirt shops and sunglasses shops. We tried to go in a Pinkberry, which I’ve heard all about but never been to, but we were too early – it didn’t open until noon.

Hardcore LA Activities: I then went with my friend to a yoga class. I’ve done yoga before, but this was a serious LA yoga studio and I was curious to see how it compared. It turns out it was very similar to what I’ve done before. The instruction was a little better, the class was bigger, the weird people were weirder, but all the moves were about the same. They did break out 3 loud chants of “ooommm” at the end which took me by surprise.

We followed up yoga with a trip to a raw food restaurant called Rawvolution. I was curious to try it, but I wasn’t expecting to like it. We got a sampler platter of sorts and a coconut cracked open with a straw in it to drink. I was very pleasantly surprised by most of the food. There was an onion bread which was surprisingly tasty (especially considering I hate onion), and a bunch of salads that I think were made with imitation meat. I would actually be willing to go back, but I still couldn’t imagine trying to eat an all-raw diet. The people who worked there did look pretty healthy, but very very skinny.

Fight Night: My buddy then showed how good of a host he was by letting me order the UFC pay-per-view at his apartment. We watched the fights with his wife and another buddy of mine from college. It turned out to be a great night of fights, so I felt good that it wasn’t too much of an imposition. On a side note we ordered in Mexican food for dinner. i do NOT recommend following a meal of raw food with a meal of Mexican. Bad idea!! Afterwards we headed back down to Main street and hit a few bars before calling it a night.

Sunday: We checked out the Farmer’s market on Main on Sunday AM (in the rain). I tried a sample of something tasty and said I’d take one of those things for my breakfast. It turns out it had been a pecan pie, so that’s what I had for breakfast. It was a little weird having an unequivocal dessert for breakfast, but it was delicious. The maker has this website – the sweet spot. We then went to a tasty lunch with a big posse of his Sri Lankan friends – they teased me for being the token white guy. They were a friendly bunch, and the lunch was fantastic – it was at Chaya Brasserie as part of dine LA week.

Photo Exhibit: We then walked to this Photo Exhibit…

Photo Exhibit

There were a lot of cool photos, and best of all it was free. Here are some crappy photos-of-photos to give you an idea of the stuff that was there:

Dustin Hoffman circa Rainman

Dustin Hoffman

Angelina Jolie – equal parts crazy and hot

Angelina

That girl from Saved By The Bell in Showgirls (I’ll be curious to see if having a picture boobs will boost my page view).

Showgirls

But the real entertainment came when we stopped for coffee on our way back to the car. There was a dude across the street with a boom box who was just facing his reflection in a big store window and busting out dance moves the whole time we were at the cafe. Sure he had a very limited repertoire of dance moves, but he was still very entertaining. Check him out:

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Sunday night I got to hang out again with my college buddy, and this time I also saw his wife and kids. His youngest kid (2 1/2 years old) just loved my digital camera and kept asking me to take pictures of him. Here’s one of him showing off his “mean” face – pretty intimidating.
Mean Dean
We ordered take-out from a place called “Killer Shrimp.” They only have one thing on their menu, and not surprisingly it was great!

That’s a Wrap – That’s about all for my weekend in LA. There actually was some interesting action on Monday morning, but I’ll save that for my next post.