Friday, 4 August 2017

Vacation Blog VIII, Part IX, the long voyage home begins....

7:30 AM - Well I guess we have to face reality, it's over. The vacation is over. Oh, the humanity.

No matter how good a vacation is, it's always nice to get home, isn't it?

The BEING home is nice. The TRAVELING home, notsomuch. Anyway, we are still flying First Class and as of right now the flight is on time.

Here is a first: It is actually forecasted to be HOTTER IN SEATTLE today than it is here in Vegas. Bizarre. I guess that will be a nice change of pace. Usually we get off the plane to cold and rain.

Good thing we are going to get a nice lunch on the plane as we don't have a ton of food left to eat this morning. Toast, toast, and toast. MMMM toast.

11:55 AM - Our plane takes off on time, or thereabouts. We might have the most adorable flight attendant ever taking care of our section.

We are about to have one of the worst travel days in our life. So given that I'm mentioning this while talking about our flight, you would think it has something to do with the flight, right?

Wrong. As usual, Alaska Airlines is nearly perfect. Friendly service, a fantastic meal (Chicken and Brie sandwich with a raspberry sauce - so good!), and an uneventful flight that landed on time. We get our bags in just minutes and are in our car and on our way home.

3:00 PM - I had originally suggested to Tracey that I thought we would be on the road by around 3 o'clock. I nailed it EXACTLY. I rule.

She and I had a disagreement about how long it would take us to get home. I said (without looking it up) that it should take us about 2 hours and 40 minutes to get home (not accounting for stops, or traffic, of course). Just now, I looked it up to see if I was crazy:

  1. Route #1
  2. Route #2
via I-5 S
2hr 51min 

OK so I was off by 11 minutes.

Tracey insisted it would take us WAY longer than that. One of us was about to be reallllly wrong. And it was me.

6:00 PM - We are now about 15 miles SOUTH OF BELLINGHAM.

From SeaTac to Everett....yes, all the say through Seattle to Everett.....we got up to about 10 mph. That is not a typo. THREE HOURS from SeaTac to the North end of Everett.

At that point, it was almost as if the Red Seas had parted and we started to drive close to the normal speed. But the damage was more than done by that point. I know it was rush hour on a Friday afternoon, but that is fucking insane.

We stop at Fred Meyer for a few groceries, then have a very quick chat with an agent at the border, and we are on our way.

What a horrible drive. But eventually, we arrived home after another terrific trip. I miss Vegas already! Where is my huge soaker tub? Where is my frozen Pina Colada? Where are the buffets?!?!?

Oh well, I guess I'll have to go back to work on Tuesday in order to earn enough money to go back next year. That shit's expensive!

Thanks for reading, hope you had a chuckle or two. Until next time, I am...

the Dean.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Vacation Blog VIII, Part VIII, our last day in Vegas, better make it a good one!

8:30 AM - Not bad, but it took me forever to get to sleep last night. Not nearly as rested as yesterday. Sleepy bear still in full hibernation mode so I'm not sure what time our day will begin, but we have no morning plans so it doesn't really matter.

Pretty glad I just confirmed tomorrow's flight time. Thought our flight was for 2:30, but that is actually the time we LAND in Seattle. We leave at Noon. That is a pretty important piece of information which will affect our plans for tomorrow morning.

10:05 AM - Hibernation is over and breakfast is in full swing. I'm using up the rest of the turkey bacon and eggs, trying to leave here tomorrow morning with virtually no leftover food to toss out. I don't think we will 100% accomplish that goal, but we will be pretty close. We are heading out for lunch today but will be back here in time for dinner, which will consist of whatever the heck we have left in the fridge. It's looking like chips and salsa might be the main course.

Gotta have a shower before we go out, in order to rid my hair of the rest of the debris from our ill-fated drive up the strip last night.

12:30 PM - We arrive at Mandalay Bay and head up to the Shark Reef exhibition to see some sharks and other stuff. Living near the ocean my entire life, I feel like I take this sort of thing for granted. Some of these animals are truly breathtaking. Oh, and a tub of piranhas.

After the sharks we head to the buffet for lunch, cashing in another one of our 2-for-1 MyVegas rewards. This buffet is a couple levels below the Wynn and Bellagio, but it's also about 15% cheaper so for those of you who are budget conscious, that's a good option. The food is perfectly good, but where they fall down is in the labeling. Not one single item is labeled gluten-free (let's face it, most of it probably WASN'T gluten-free so maybe it's more than a labeling issue).

No question that Bellagio wins the "Buffet-bowl", not only the best food but also a fantastic selection of WELL MARKED gluten-free options (not to mention the World's Greatest Invention!!). The Wynn was a close second.

4:45 PM - After running a couple quick errands, I'm planning on heading down to the pool where Tracey is already residing, but then I realize it is ONLY FIFTEEN MINUTES TO FOOTBALL SEASON!! WOOOOOOOOOO!!! I know it's only the Hall of Fame Game and no starters are going to play, but it's the signal of the best season of the year: NFL season. I only watch the first few minutes before heading down to the pool where Contended Bear is blissfully enjoying the pool.

They have a frozen Pina Colada outfit here and I am dying for one, but I am suffering from a case of "Buffet Belly" and I don't think it's a good idea to pump a bunch of frozen alcohol on top of it, so I'm going to have to leave my PC count at a pathetic 3. I am a little embarrassed.

6:30 PM - We are done with the pool for this trip, and head upstairs to watch a little more football and start to pack. We are on our way to the airport in the morning. While we pack, we open up the Provence Rosé and pair it with our gourmet dinner of chips and salsa. It actually goes pretty well.

Pretty much packed and ready to go tomorrow. Can't believe we are leaving already, we just got here! This trip was the best trip ever, it was the greatest trip in the history of mankind, and I just got a call from Steve Wynn who told me we were the best guests in this history of their resort. He offered us a suite for free for the next month but we have to get back to work. Sad!

BTW, I just wanted to mention that Donald Trump is the worst human being on the planet, and I hope that the Grand Jury that Robert Mueller convened today nails him and his entire family to the wall. Lock them UNDER the fucking jail.

Political rant over.

Until tomorrow.....

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Vacation Blog VIII, Part this what it feels like to actually sleep in???

9:59 AM - Oh boy. If this is what sleeping in feels like, I like it.

That is the most consecutive hours I've slept since the Nixon administration. Unreal.

I think I've just used up all my excuses for not being able to "go-go-go" and have a ton of fun today. Tracey gets up just minutes after I do, so we should be good to go today. Today's plan is going to be a little exploration, and then hit the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art, and dinner at the Bellagio buffet.

Going to relax at the resort for a couple hours and since we still have a few bottles of wine to drink before we go, time to crack open our remaining Chardonnay.

1:00 PM - Off to Bellagio to park and then we are walking over to the Linq to peruse the pomenade and get some lunch. They opened up an In-N-Out burger there and nothing will stand between my wife and In-N-Out.

The promenade at the Linq (which used to be the disgusting Imperial Palace for any of you who haven't been to Vegas in a while) is really quite nice, and although it was fully open when we were here a year ago, several places have changed. That includes the aforementioned In-N-Out burger, but it also includes a Gordon Ramsay Fish N Chips place, and since I don't like crappy hamburgers, I stop there to grab lunch. I have shrimp n chips, and upgrade the chips with some bacon and parmesan. It's really quite delicious, and quite a bit of food for $20ish too.

Gordon Ramsay is taking over this city. He already had Gordon Ramsay Pub N Grill (Caesar's Palace), Gordon Ramsay Steak (Paris), Gordon Ramsay Burger (Planet Hollywood) and now this Fish N Chips place...and he's not done yet! Coming soon, Hell's Kitchen!!! It will be located outside Caesar's Palace, in the spot that used to be Serendipity 3 and Stripburger. The construction has already begun, scheduled to open this winter. I can hear it already: "You can't even cook risotto, you fucking DONKEY!!!!!". Ah, good times.

Tracey gets her In-N-Out (after a pretty long wait) and she enjoys it. They don't have gluten-free buns, of course, so she just takes her chances. It's a treat for her. Even she admits their fries are pretty crappy. Talk about an overrated establishment.

Right after lunch, I hit up another new location at the Linq, a frozen daiquiri bar and am pleased and proud to announce that my Pina Colada count has hit three. I am NOT LEAVING THIS CITY until it gets to at least four. Oh, the pressure.

It is cooler today. I think it only hit 103.

Seriously, the heat has been debilitating this trip. so much so that in the future I don't think we will come here in July, we may move our yearly trips to earlier in the spring. It is just overwhelming to walk in this heat.

By the time we get to Bellagio (which is not a long walk from the Linq), we are spent. Tracey has to go into the washroom just to splash some water on her face and cool off a bit. My legs are close to cramping up. It's insane. Thank God I got a lot of sleep last night, because I can only imagine how tired I'd be if I were fighting this heat AND fatigue.

Off to the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. The current exhibit is a retrospective on the life of Muhammad Ali. Photos, quotes and memorabilia from this most interesting man. I'm a bit too young to remember Ali in his heyday, but this exhibit brought some of his early triumphs, and problems, to life. It was really impressive.

We've seen a four wildly different exhibits here. The first one we saw was a Monet exhibit, which was incredibly cool. We own a Monet print, and it was a bit surreal to be standing there in front of the original. The next exhibit I saw was without the wife, it was an Andy Warhol exhibit. Just a little bit different from Monet. That guy was just kooky. Last year they were hosting an exhibit of photographs from world renowned shutterbug Yousuf Karsh called "Icons of the 20th Century" (you can read a bit about it here, if you like). And now the Ali tribute. Great stuff.

4:45 PM - Next up is dinner at the Bellagio buffet, which is not yet lined up. We are just starting to get hungry, so we could wait another half hour or so, but I suggest it's better for us to go in and get seated as it is going to be busy. No law against sitting in the buffet and picking at some salad or small appetizers until Hungry Bear arrives!

4:46 PM - Hungry Bear arrives.

No, that's not totally true, but it's funny anyway.

Since we were here last, they have done some minor renovations, adding get-it-yourself beverage centres. It used to be that the wait staff would get you all your drinks, now they just get you anything from the bar and you have to get your pop, juice or water yourself. If that sounds like a negative, it is not. Why is it not? This is why.

I have dubbed this the World's Greatest Invention (sorry, fire and the wheel). For those of you who may be unfamiliar with these little miracles, they serve you pretty much any kind of pop you can imagine. Feel like Peach Sprite? No problem. Cherry Vanilla Coke? Vanilla Root Beer? Strawberry Dasani Water? Check, check. Caffeine Free Diet Coke with Lemon? Oh yeah, baby. Caffeine Free Diet Coke with ORANGE?? That's right, bitches, I said ORANGE. (Full disclaimer, the orange wasn't as good as the lemon). They also had options for lime, raspberry, vanilla, cherry and I think even strawberry. I need to know how to get one of these for my house. Seriously, if anyone is looking for a good Xmas idea for me......

This is not the first time I've seen one of these machines; they actually have one at the Scotiabank Theatre in Vancouver, and a couple of years ago when we were down here we noticed they had just installed one at the Mirage Buffet. At that point I kind of assumed we would see them EVERYWHERE by now, but no, this is the first one we've seen this trip. Basically any kind of drink made by the Coca-Cola company is available in this machine, with different flavors to augment it. Awesome.

For those of you who enjoy mutated donkey urine, Pepsi also makes these machines.

After dinner I am enticed to sit down at a "Deal or No Deal" machine, which works kind of like the old game show. We pop in only $10 and spin the wheel which determines if we get to see the cases or if we just lose our bet ($5), and on my first spin I hit the best option, I get to see the cases and the values are doubled! The top value case is about $575 so I stand a chance to win a lot of money for my $10 investment. I pick my case (lucky number 13!!) and then I have to open up 5 cases. Four of the 5 are very small, one was in the middle, so I did really well on my first try and the bank offer was just over $70!! I took it, of course. My case had $30 in it. I played a few more spins but wasn't able to get back to the cases, but I cashed out about $55, enough to pay for dinner (we had a 2-for-1 pass) and parking. Oh yeah, let's talk about parking. It's not free anymore. Not even close. Valet at the Bellagio is $25 for over 4 hours. It's comparable everywhere. I don't know how much self-park is, but I know it's not free either. That sucks.

6:30 PM - On our way home from Bellagio, with the convertible top down, and we actually have to put it up during the drive as it is so windy we are being pelted by debris!! And I mean pelted. I think I forgot to mention in yesterday's entry that the winds at the pool were really intense to the point that it kept blowing cups and napkins into the pool. It wasn't windy when we left this afternoon, but the wind gusts are back with a vengeance tonight. I don't recall ever seeing wind like this in Vegas.

As I'm typing up this blog I am fishing debris out of my hair. Seriously.

7:30 PM - Back in the room and we debate about going to the pool but Contented Bear makes an appearance and in seconds she's in the tub. As much as she loves the pool, I believe that Contented Bear's happy place is a huge soaker tub. I can't blame her, this tub is remarkable. I'll be in there about 17 seconds after she vacates the premises.

While typing up the blog entry, we crack open the last bottle of white wine we had bought, a nice Chenin Blanc/Viognier blend that we've had many times. We have three bottles left in the fridge: two reds that are definitely going home with us in our luggage (we have travel bags that have worked before, so they should be fine) and a bottle of Provence Rosé which we may drink tomorrow, but if not, it can go home with us too. We have three bags.

One of the reds is a Syrah we have never tasted that was given this review from world-renowned wine critic Robert Parker:

The same can be said for the 2013 Syrah Relentless, which might end up being the finest one they’ve ever made. The berries were the smallest they’ve encountered, and they were not the only winery to say that about the 2013 red varietals. A blend of 97% Syrah and 3% Petite Sirah, the wine is opaque black/purple with an incredible nose of subtle wood, charcoal embers, blackberry, blueberry and black raspberry fruit, baking spices, and again, a roasted meatiness with some bouquet garni thrown in the background. The complex aromatics were already starting to roar from the glass, and the wine, enormously endowed, is full-bodied and flawlessly constructed. This is a killer effort that should drink well for 40+ years. 
Barrel Sample: 98-100 Points

So, yeah, really hoping that one gets home in one piece. Just sayin'.

If you are interested in reading my reviews of all the wine we have enjoyed on this trip, you are in luck, because I just posted them here.

8:30 PM - Contented Bear is still in the bath. I may have to fight her for it, or lure her out with some nuts or something.

9:00 PM - I yell "SQUIRREL" and Contented Bear hops out of the bath and runs down the hallway. I now become King of the Tub. And in case you don't believe me.....

Yes, that is a table in the tub, to support my wine, almonds, and iPad. With this development, I have officially won the vacation.

9:45 PM - Ran out of wine, so out of the tub and I guess it's time to wind down for bed. Hoping to have another good sleep so we can enjoy our last full day in Vegas.

Pina Colada count sits at 3, which is how many I had last year. All you can do it strive to get better every day, right? So I can't go home with that same pathetic number. Onward and upwards!

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Vacation Blog VIII, Part VI, last night we saw turtles, tonight it's going to be Ducks!

10:30 AM - I am awake, feeling more rested than the 6 hours of sleep I got would normally entail. Tracey has been up for an hour or so and is making breakfast. The smell of bacon is probably what jolted me out of bed. It has that effect on me.

No plans for us today until 4:30, when we are heading to the Eiffel Tower Restaurant for a special event, a tasting of Duckhorn wines accompanied by some small plates. Dinner buffet plans after that, and then back here to an evening at the pool. For now, we relax!

3:45 PM - In the car on the way to the Eiffel Tower for our wine tasting event. We are appropriately dressed for the restaurant (and horribly INAPPROPRIATELY dressed for the heat!!!). The event is really good; samples of four of their wines, but not surprisingly none of their really high-end single-vineyard wines are available. Hey, we paid only $40 for this event, which comes with wine and some very delicious small bites, so we can't complain that they didn't bring the really exclusive stuff. The wines we get to try are universally excellent, and as a bonus they are all readily available at our stores back home.

5:30 PM - After the event we walk across to street to the Crystals mall to do a little more very expensive window shopping and then go to Aria for dinner. We have a 2-for-1 buffet reward that we are planning to take advantage of, until we see the lineup is about an hour long. I do NOT wait in line an hour for a freaking buffet. Maybe we'll try again tomorrow at a more reasonable time. Epic fail of planning by me. I feel shame.

Oh, and before dinner we hopped on the tram to go to Monte Carlo as they have one of those frozen beverage places and I'm jonesing for another Pina Colada. But there must be some sort of universal conspiracy against me as the place is gone! In fact, due to some major construction, ALL the shops in that section of the resort are gone. Sad!

7:45 PM - Back to the resort after our ill-fated attempt at dinner. We are just going to head down to the pool and get something there, they have a pretty full menu. I end up with fish tacos and Tracey orders a Big Salad. It should be called the gigantic salad, as she ends up eating about half of it, and brings the rest upstairs to finish. Both meals were excellent, far above the quality you might expect from a poolside grill.

After dinner we pool. We hot tub. We pool and hot tub. And then it's time to head back upstairs. My lack of sleep last night has finally caught up with me and I expect (hope) to be asleep in the near future.

Feels like we just got here and yet we have only two more full days before we leave! Better pack a lot of merriment into those two days.

Almost unbelievably, the Pina Colada count is still at 2.

Vacation Blog VIII, Part V, and I think today is going to be a much better day

7:00 AM - MUCH better. I wake up feeling pretty refreshed and rarin' to go. Of course, Sleepy Bear will still be asleep for hours, so I "rare to go" down to the gym to get in a nice little workout. It's a very nice fitness room here, but it's also very busy.

8:30 AM - Back up into the room and I'll just hang out until hibernation ends. Watching the NFL Network training camp reports. It's so exciting that football is almost back!

9:00 AM - Tracey's up, breakfast is underway, and then we will be out the door on the way to the Mirage to pick our tickets for tonight's show and redeem a bunch of our MyVegas rewards.

But first, I'm going to have a short bath.

Oh boy, now I think I understand why Tracey loves this bathtub so much.

Gotta get out of this bathtub before it becomes a part of me and I will never want to leave. Out the door to the Mirage, first stop to Rhumbar for a frozen Pina Colada!!

CLOSED?!?!?!?! Those Mother Fuck**g Pieces of S**T how DARE they deny me my tasty frozen goodness?????

Well, OK, we'll go get out tickets and surely by the time we are done, they'll be open.

11:40 AM - They are still not open. And don't call me Shirley.

Screw it, I'm not waiting around until Noon. Off to the Forum shops to peruse their goods and we just happen to wander into a Louis Vuitton (you know, the way Trump happens to fire people in his administration) and I make the mistake of trying on a pair of their running shoes; yes, running shoes at LV. And they are without a doubt the most comfortable shoes I have ever had on in my entire life. But seriously, if I'm going to shell out around a grand (CAD) for a pair of casual running shoes, I'm going to want to wear them on semi-special occasions, and I can't remember the last special occasion I had that called for bright red L.V. shoes. So, regretfully, I decline to purchase them. But I'll tell you, if I win any money playing poker this trip, I may just reconsider.

We have lunch at Trevi, one of our favorite spots here, and it is fantastic as always. I have the Meatzza Pizza, same thing I had last time, and Tracey has a gluten-free pasta dish (nice selection of gluten free pastas here) which she loves. We both eat about half of our meal, and the rest came home with us for dinner tonight. Two huge entreés and 2 pop for under $50, even better considering it is also going to double as dinner.

2:15 PM - Back at the resort for a few hours before Terry Fator tonight. Popped open a bottle of wine and we may nap, we may hit the pool, we may do both, or neither....we'll just see....

2:17 PM - Well, Tracey chose "nap".

6:10 PM - After eating our leftovers from Trevi for dinner, we are off to the Mirage for the Terry Fator show. I have seen him once before, but this is Tracey's maiden voyage. First, however, I am finally able to double my Pina Colada count at Rhumbar. MMMMMMM delicious.

7:30 PM - The show starts right on time, and Fator starts it off by singing Dean Martin's classic, "Ain't That a Kick in the Head". From there, he spends the next 2 hours entertaining us with a couple of his own songs and even a little audience participation, but this show is really all about the puppets. If you aren't familiar with Fator, he was the winner of Season 2 of "America's Got Talent". I remember it well; I remember thinking "Oh a ventriloquist. Wonderful. If he is the greatest ventriloquist on the face of the Earth, he still doesn't have a chance to win this show". Boy was I wrong.

I remember one review I read of this performance: "I never thought I'd hear a voice like Roy Orbison's again. Tonight I heard it from a turtle".

What a fabulous show. He is very funny, not to mention that all of his impressions are good and most of them are absolutely spot on. Highly recommend this show the next time you are in Vegas.

After the show, Tracey heads back to the resort while I stick around to play a little poker. The Mirage spreads a $65 tournament at 10 pm. Unfortunately it only draws 14 entrants so it's hardly worth even entering, but it's been over a year since I played so I sit down anyway. I'd love to post a bunch of interesting hands for you poker fans out there but I can really only think of one.

I'm chip leader at this point, 10 players left, 6 players limp into the pot and I am in the SB with AQo. I consider raising but I decide it might be worth it to play it sneaky, try to catch a flop and get all the money in. Not to mention that there is exactly zero poker talent at this table. I mean, hardly a surprise for a $65 buy-in tourney, but even by those modest standards, these guys really suck. One of the players in this hand is a girl in her early 20's playing in her first-ever tournament (I know this because I heard her and her father discussing it with the floor before the tourney).

The flop comes Q72 rainbow which is obviously huge for my hand. I bet $1500, about 3/4 of the pot, everyone folds along to said girl in late position who shoves all-in for $2200. More folds around to the guy on the button who calls the $2200 (and has about $4K left, I have him covered). Because her raise was so small it does not open up the action to me, I cannot re-raise, I have no option but to call. The turn card is irrelevant and I put the button all-in, he calls, and he tables AA!!!!! I though *I* was being sneaky! LOL. She had QT so I had her crushed but all the chips go to the button and I am left with about 15 big blinds which I am not able to turn into anything and I am later eliminated in 8th.

So I decided to hop into a 1/2 cash game, where I struggled to hit any flops (I mean, like, ZERO flops) but I do get dealt some premium pairs and they hold up, so despite all the lousy flops I am only losing about $100 when I get dealt Kh9d in the big blind, unraised pot. Finally I nail a flop of Ks9s2d, but my lone opponent has As3s and you can imagine where this is going. After all the money goes in on the flop, he turns his flush and I am done for the night, $400 poorer but it was nice to play cards again at least.

4:00 AM - Jesus I am starting to get used to 4 AM. I manage to get into bed and not wake Tracey up, which was what I was hoping for....what I was not hoping for was about 15 minutes later when she flails her arm into my mid-section, not knowing that I was there. :)

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Vacation Blog VIII, Part IV....and what the Hell am I doing up at this hour???

3:45 AM - Um. What????????

Aye Carumba. This could put a kink or two into our plans today.

7:22 AM - After hours of tossing and turning I finally am giving up. Might as well get up and have some breakfast. I'm sure there will be a nap in my not-too-distant-future.

9:00 AM - Tracey is up, and I'm already on "second breakfast". She didn't sleep well either, waking up shortly after I did and not sleeping much after that. I'm not sure what time the crash is going to come today, but it's gonna come hard.

We have our day planned out so we are going to keep the morning part of it, and we have dinner and after-dinner plans that we will want to keep, so hopefully we are going to be able to get some sleep in the early afternoon.

1:00 PM -  Back in the room after completing one of our main tasks for the day: getting Tracey's iPhone fixed. Finally. I Googled "iPhone repair Las Vegas" and a Groupon came up, so we ended up getting her a new screen for way less than half what it would have cost back home. Of course, we took care of those savings pretty quickly......since it was going to be an hour and a half until it was ready, we went to a place called Total Wine.

You can imagine how much money we could spend in such a place. This place makes the Everything Wine stores back home look like kiddy playpens. Holy shit. We spent an hour in there just looking at the wine they had for sale, and that was only half of the store! The other half is comprised completely of spirits and other alcohol. If I lived here I'd have to just sign my paycheque over to them every two weeks. It's amazing.

We were actually quite disciplined and only picked up 3 bottles; mostly because we can't possibly get any more home on the plane, and then over the border. We could have bought 3 cases without even thinking hard.

Now....we nap!!

4:06 PM - Well, we are awake. Sort of. I'm not sure either of us managed a world-class nap, but there was some snoozing at least. Time to get back to our plans for the day.

Off to the Wynn, where we hit the buffet and we hit it hard. If this isn't the best Buffet in Vegas, it's in the top 3. I make the Prime Rib station my personal bitch.

After dinner, off to do a little shopping in the Wynn's high-end district and then over to the Canal shops in the Venetian/Palazzo. We are very disciplined and don't buy anything, and believe me it was not easy. There was a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes that would have definitely come home with us had they had Tracey's size.

After the shopping we head to our favorite wine bar, La Cave, only to find that it's packed and they won't be able to get us in until about 9:15. Considering that they close at 10, that's not much good to us, so instead we head to Parasol Down where I have a middling glass of Chardonnay and Tracey has a cocktail. We don't stay that long, due to the fact that we are getting tired AND are surrounded by smokers.....cigarettes and cigars all over the place. Yuck.

9:45 PM - Back to the room and I am going to finish up tonight's blog entry, take a sleeping pill and hopefully be unconscious until around Noon tomorrow. Tracey is going to have a bath, which might also end around Noon.

Tomorrow we are going to head to the Mirage to redeem all of our "My Vegas" rewards vouchers, and pick up our tickets for tomorrow night's show: Terry Fator! Between then and the 7:30 show time, we will just see where the day takes us. As long as we both get some sleep, it will be a much more productive day.

Pina Colada count stays at a pathetic 1, but tomorrow will change that at the Mirage. Still have not wagered a dime.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Vacation Blog VIII, Part III, let the vacation REALLLLLLY begin

I mean, it's already been terrific, but it's time to kick it up a notch..

7:30 AM - OK, I suppose that's a respectable time to get up. Better than yesterday at least.

9:00 AM - Hibernation ends at a pretty reasonable hour, again. Yay for Good Morning Bear!!!

9:30 AM - Down to the Paris buffet for some sustenance. Food is pretty good, as usual. This is a decent buffet, not up to the standards of the great Vegas buffets, but it's perfectly tasty. The highlight is made-to-order crepes...well, that's not much of a highlight for Tracey, of course, but it's pretty good for me. What is NOT good for me, though, is that the lineup for that station is 17 people deep. No exaggeration. I don't need a crepe that bad.

10:45 AM - We are done, and packed, and ready to get our car from the Valet. We are going to do some shopping today (I realllllly need new shoes, since the ones I brought down fell apart (literally) at Sea-Tac, and I've been walking around on 1.5 shoes since we got here. First we are going to stop at our resort, and I'm sure it's too early to check in, but at least we can leave our bags there while we shop.

11:15 AM - We arrive at our resort, the Hilton something-or-other (it has changed names since we last stayed here 4-5 years ago and I really can't remember the name off the top of my head). It's at the North end of the Strip, almost as far as the Stratosphere, so maybe a bit less convenient than the one we stayed at last year, but it's beautiful. Upon entering the property, we are pleasantly greeted, asked our name, and whisked off to a desk away from the normal check in desk. I'm expecting this is so they can really nail us with the timeshare pitch, but no, they are just checking us in. As RCI members, they are taking extra special care of us. This is the opposite from the norm; generally since we are what is known as "exchangers" (ie this is not our home resort, and we exchanged our weeks at our home resort, through RCI, to get this one), we get the vibe that we are just a little less welcome than the guests who own timeshares at this resort. This is NOT the case today however, as they check us in quickly and they even have our room ready for us, more than 4 hours before actual check-in time. I believe that is a first.

The very lovely lady helping us out does give us the usual spiel about the property and resort and offers us a bunch of stuff to spend 60-90 minutes in a presentation, but when we decline she is pleasant and doesn't push. No pressure at all.

Oh, if this resort is so awesome, why haven't we stayed here in 4-5 years? Well, this is where being an "exchanger" is a problem; in order to keep lots of availability for their owners, they don't allow exchangers to come back to the property time and time again. It's called the "1-in-X" rule, where X is the number of years between the time you are allowed to return. This one has a 1-in-4 rule, so we can't come back here for 4 years. This is very common in the timeshare industry, and that is why we bounce around so much. The resort we stayed in last year has the same rule, so if we want to come back to Vegas for a week next year, we will have to find another resort or stay in a hotel.

12:00 PM - Up to the Outlet Mall where it is so incredibly hot that people are going up to cops, begging them to shoot them. 200 points to the first one who correctly identifies the movie that is from.....

We hit the Nike store, Calvin Klein, and a bunch of other stores, and are done in about an hour. And I mean done. Like D-O-N-E.

Back to the resort where we drop off our treasures and then head out to Target to pick up our supplies for the week. We get just enough stuff to ensure we'll be able to eat a few meals (most breakfasts) in the room. Given how much time we expect to spend at the resort pool, it just makes sense to eat here a little bit. Of course, there will be lots of great food consumed at buffets and restaurants as well.

This resort has a much better pool than the resort we stayed at last year. This one has one huge pool (opposed to 5-6 little pools), a restaurant/bar, and scantily clad waitress service. OK I don't really remember what they wear here, I'm just being optimistic....but there are definitely waitresses.

3:30 PM - Back with our groceries and we are unpacked, a half hour before we expected to even be able to check in. We hit the jackpot with this room too, as we happened to get one of the few suites with an in-suite laundry set. Nice bonus. If we are smart, we'll go home with mostly clean clothes, removing the need to do a bunch of laundry as soon as we get home.

Oh, and there is this thing.....

Tracey hopped in there a few minutes ago, and said "see you in a couple days". She's barely exaggerating. Bears really do love Jacuzzi tubs!! Our first appearance of "Giddy Bear" this trip.

4:45 PM - We never bothered to eat lunch so I'm now hungry, and I heat up some butterfly shrimp that we bought at Target. Tracey has a nice gluten free casserole awaiting her once the bath ends. IF the bath ends.

While Giddy Bear enjoys her bath and I am typing up this blog entry, we are enjoying a nice bottle of Gray Monk Kerner which came down in our luggage with us. I figured it would be the perfect bottle of wine for just this occasion, and getting a bottle on the plane is never an issue with the travel wine bag we bought. It really works. We also picked up 3-4 decent bottles at Target...they don't have great wine, but they have some pretty good cheap stuff. One of the bottles was $9! Dean bought $9 wine!! Inconceivable. To be honest, though, we bought the same bottle last year and it's terrific for the price. It is always listed as a "best buy" in various wine magazines. I've seen it receive scores of 88 or 89 points from various reputable wine critics. It's a steal.

5:15 PM - Tracey has been in the bathtub for 40 minutes and the tub is about 1/10th filled. The water pressure is so low there must be something wrong. Time to call the front desk.

5:35 PM - Problem solved. Technician came up, removed something, and the water came rushing out. Excellent service and Giddy Bear is happy again! No word of a lie, she is actually chuckling from the tub as I type this :)

Into bottle #2 tonight, a terrific Chardonnay from Hartford Family Winery. This is actually the wine that made us notice this winery, and we love them. In fact, we love them so much that on Friday, the day we were on our way to Las Vegas, we placed an order with them for a case of their wine to be shipped to our package receiving place in Sumas to come back across the border with us. We were in Bellagio the other day and what did we see? This Chardonnay, which would I describe it....sort of their generic wine? It's listed as "Russian River Valley" and you can't even buy it from the winery, this is one that they ship to restaurants and retail stores....but the wine is terrific. It's a far cry below the quality of the stuff we are picking up on the way home, but still of a very high quality. This is one of our favorite wineries and we actually just joined their wine club the other day. Fantastic.

8:00 PM - After a long bath and some food, we head down to the pool to relax a bit, and relax we did. It was so magnificent, in fact, that we now have to rearrange our entire schedule to ensure that we have time to spend at this pool in the evening as much as possible. It was the perfect temperature. Sure, a few more kids than we expected at this time of night, but whatever. I guess they are on vacation too. Vacation from what, I wonder? Vacation from their everyday stressful lives of doing nothing and sucking off the government teet?? Oh well, they weren't overly intrusive, and we thoroughly enjoyed our evening. Oh, and they do have an "adults only" section with some chairs to relax on and a fantastic, huge hot tub. Wonderful.

9:29 PM - Back in the room to watch a little telly and wind down for the evening. It has been such a great day and we have 5 more of them ahead of us before we fly home on Friday.

Pina Colada count still sits at 1, but that will at least double tomorrow, I guarantee it. Still have not wagered a dollar. That probably will change at some point this trip, but not likely tomorrow.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Vacation Blog VIII, Part II, as we attempt to do almost nothing in an entire day.

5:51 AM - Aw seriously? I'M ON FUCKING VACATION!! I can't even sleep until 6 AM??? Really? REALLY?

6:10 AM - Really.

6:15 AM - Well as long as I'm awake, I might as well get out of bed and go sit in the bathtub or something.....I know better than to turn on the computer or anything that might wake the wife at this time of the morning on vacation. That would bring on a version of Grumpy Bear that I just cannot handle today.

8:00 AM - I am enjoying a perfectly nice bath, reading some fine magazines, when I hear stirring in the wilderness. This is early for hibernation to end, but it's true! The wife is awake and is going to stay awake, so we can go for an early breakfast. This might be the earliest non-forced breakfast we have ever had.

9:15 AM - Across the street in the Bellagio Café, where we order basically the exact same thing we have every time we come here; I have the Café Benedict, Tracey has the Applewood Smoked Bacon Omelette, and we leave with our bellies very full and very satisfied. Best casual breakfast spot in this city, for sure.

10:05 AM - We are in our Cabana for our pool day, and the first frosty beverages have been ordered. The Pina Colada count has begun.

10:15 AM - Jesus, it's hot.

10:30 AM - Our day takes on an interesting pattern.

Into the pool. Wow, it's beautiful in here.

Out of the pool, into the sun. Wow, it's beautiful here.
(2 minutes later) Wow, it's getting warm
(2 minutes later) Holy SHIT it's hot out here

Into the pool. Wow, it's beautiful in here.

Repeat, about 15 times.

By the time it gets to around Noon, I am already done. It is 104 degrees today.

I brought my workout gear with me so I'm going to leave the pool and hit the (air conditioned) gym for a little workout.

Not so fast, by the time I get from the cabana to the door, I am exhausted, so I decide to go up for a little nappy-poo.

1:30 PM - As naps go, that was pretty unimpressive. Still, hopefully it will give me a jolt of energy to go back to the pool and continue enjoying our day.

There are two areas where Las Vegas really seems to be lagging behind the rest of the civilized world. One is gluten-free menu options; I'm sure we will talk about that a lot during this trip. The other one?


Jesus Christ, people are allowed TO SMOKE IN THE FUCKING POOL in this city. IN THE POOL.

Tracey is in the pool, sitting in a little nook, reading a book, when some carcinogenic whore comes and starts puffing her death stick just about 5 feet away from her, chasing her out of her comfortable spot. And later, the cabana next to us fills up with a bunch of these people who think it's just fine to smoke anywhere they fucking please, including right beside us. Seriously, this fucking city needs to get a clue and send these people back into their cars and their homes, which is the ONLY place smoking should be allowed anywhere in the world.

Anyhoo, back to our day. We order a nice little lunch from the pool café, and Tracey orders another drink. I am honestly too hot and dehydrated to have another drink now, so I actually have a Gatorade, which helps. We spend the next couple hours relaxing, mostly in the pool, and then we call it a day.

5:00 PM - Up to the room and Sleepy Bear lays down for a rest. It's already been a big day, and we have dinner plans at one of our favorite spots, Mon Ami Gabi!

6:00 PM - After a short appearance by Discombobulated Bear (after her alarm wakes her up), we are up and ready to go to dinner. We are not in a huge rush and are expecting a wait for the outdoor seating at Mon Ami Gabi so we walk around the shops between Paris and Bally's to see what's new. GAME CHANGED. The frozen daiquiri bar near Bally's NOW HAS PINA COLADAS!! They never used to have them. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

But not right now, we are on our way to dinner.

6:20 PM - We arrive at the restaurant and are delighted to find out they have one open table, saved just for us, of course. Dinner is just fantastic as it always is here, and they have a terrific gluten-free menu! A big plus. This is our first time to Vegas since Tracey has been trying to eat gluten-free so we are not sure what we are in for.

Before the meal, we always get a complimentary baguette.

It's good, but I mean, it's just a baguette, and it's no good to Tracey.

But they have thought of that too!

Anyone who asks can have warmed gluten free bread, served with a little bowl of olives (HEY! I didn't get any freaking olives!!!). Nice touch, and a sure sign that they are taking gluten-free seriously.

After perusing the wine menu, and deciding what we are going to have for dinner, we decide on a 2012 Sancerre.

Not a wine I was familiar with, but I figured the crisp flavors of this Sauvignon Blanc would go well with everything we were going to eat. I believe I may have broken my arm patting myself on the back during the meal, because I freaking nailed it.

Tracey starts off her meal with a bowl of cold cucumber soup, followed by a beautiful chicken dish served on a bed of ratatouille. I start with the always-fresh shrimp cocktail and follow that up with their special, grilled sea bass with polenta, corn and bacon. Freaking incredible, from start to finish.

Oh, and did I mention it went well with the wine???

After dinner we take a little walk down to Planet Hollywood to cruise their Miracle Mile shops. We walk into an art gallery and immediately see a painting we both fell in love with. The price tag, $3000, was just a touch out of our price range....had she said "$1K", I think we would have had a new piece of art.

9:00 PM - Back to the room to unwind a bit and get a good night's sleep. This is our last night in Paris (WHAT? We just got here???), as tomorrow we move to our timeshare resort. Tracey calls down to the desk to find out details on late checkout, and they tell her that they can't actually tell us that until after midnight. OK, that is just weird. I guess we'll call in the morning.

Great day one!!

Pina Colada count: 1 (but Tracey says it counts extra because it was at 10 AM!)
Money gambled: $0

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Vacation Blog VIII, Part we go!!!

Prologue. Last night:

Holy shit. Our passports expired in May.

Oops. And we board a plane for Vegas in about 28 hours.

After a few moments of panic, we realize that we have previously traveled in the US without our passports; and most of them time when we have our passports, we don't need them anyway.

And, I've been across the border to pick up stuff at our US postal box many times since the passports expired, with no issues.

THANK CHRIST for Nexus is I all can say about that.

11:00 AM - Across the border in just a few minutes; no problems, no questions about the passports at all. One hurdle down. Very friendly border guard. Hey, they have a fucking tough job, no question about it, but it's nice when they can be efficient AND friendly.

2:15 PM - Hurdle two is easily defeated, as with our Nexus cards and TSAPreChek, we breeze through airport security. Didn't even get a full body pat-down, which is disappointing, but maybe I'll get lucky on the way home.

2:30 PM - After a quick bite at Burger King (seriously, Whoppers are SO GOOD....for the first half hour or so, until my body realizes what I just ate), off to the Alaska Air lounge to relax for a couple hours until our flight. Comfortable lounge, friendly staff, free booze (if that is your thing) and snacks. I will always fly First Class just for this perk. And power for my electronics...SO MANY OUTLETS. I currently have three devices charging and there is room for more.

3:30 PM - Well, I am going to have to leave the lounge for a few minutes to find some Band-Aids for my lovely wife, who I must now anoint "Ridiculous Bear", as she decided, while in Winners yesterday, that the day before a trip where she will be doing a tremendous amount of walking was a good time to buy a new pair of shoes. And, wait for it........she has blisters. I know, shocking.

She wanted me to point out that these shoes are INCREDIBLY comfortable everywhere except for the place that they have made her bleed her own blood. So there's that.

3:45 PM - Ridiculous Bear , sitting next to me while I am typing this, asks me if I am going to be doing a vacation blog this trip. So now, let me introduce you to "Unobservant Bear". I am definitely going to have a wild animal problem on this trip.

As a friend of mine once said, "It doesn't cost any more to pay attention". :)

5:30 PM - Comfortably in our seats as the plane takes off. Assuming no problems en route, we are scheduled to land about 15 minutes earlier than originally indicated.

We could have used some of the excess outlets from the lounge, though, as we are on a pretty old plane and there are no power outlets. Ah, who cares? It's a 2 hour-ish flight. Nothing is going to run out of power on this flight.

The meals we get on Alaska are always top-notch; this is probably my least favorite of all of the, but there isn't really anything wrong with it, it's just not to my taste. It consists of a perfectly tasty chicken breast, but it is served on a bed of cold couscous (ick), so that goes over to the wife. It also comes with a very nice bun and excellent salad so really, it's still a very good meal. I should probably stop my f'n whining. I'm in First Class on the way to Sin City!

8:00 PM - I am finally watching Slumdog Millionaire but I don't quite get finished before we land. Very uneventful flight, which of course is exactly the kind of flight you want.

9:00 PM - Dropping off our rental car at the valet and headed to Paris to check-in. They actually have advanced check-in now, which I took advantage of....BUT, it requires you to scan your ID at a kiosk (US DL or Passport) and since I can't produce either of those, we have to go stand in a pretty long line to check in. It is efficient, however, and we are up in the room in short order.

The view from our room isn't half bad.

10:00 PM - Contended Bear is already deep into the bathtub.

Time to wind down and hit the sack. Hopefully, a nice, restful evening.

Tomorrow: we POOL!!

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

NHL Playoffs, Round 1

As always, people, I implore wagering.

Chicago over Nashville in 5
St. Louis over Minnesota in 6
Anaheim over Calgary in 7
San Jose over Edmonton in 6

NY Rangers over Montreal in 6
Boston over Ottawa in 6
Washington over Toronto in 4
Columbus over Pittsburgh in 6

Stanley Cup: Chicago over Columbus

Monday, 27 February 2017

Oscars 2017 - a recap of the show we'll never forget

Normally I do a blog with my Oscar picks and predictions, but I wasn't feeling very well before the show so I thought I'd wait this year and do a recap entry; and boy am I ever glad I did.

It's impossible to not start at the top, with the debacle surrounding the announcement of Best Picture. If you have been living under a rock for the last 16 hours, you missed quite an event.

Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty were the presenters, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of their huge film, Bonnie and Clyde. After the announcement of the nominees, Beatty opened up the envelope and looked genuinely bewildered. Moments passed while everyone awaited the announcement, but he seemed to be looking in the envelope for another card (at the time I thought maybe he was looking for a second card because the first one indicated a TIE!). He then showed the card to Faye Dunaway, who announced the winner as "La La Land".

Oops. Beatty had been given the wrong envelope (still shots of the envelope before he opened it clearly show the envelope said "ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE"). It read "Emma Stone, La La Land", and when Beatty showed the card to Dunaway, she obviously just saw "La La Land" and blurted out the 'winner'.

Oops. Since Emma Stone says she NEVER put down the envelope containing her name, there was obviously a duplicate, unopened, Best Actress envelope which mistakenly ended up in Beatty's hand. You can argue that Beatty should have just said something when he noticed the card just didn't make any sense, but in the moment, I guess confusion took over.

So La La Land, the producers, actors and crew, storm the stage to accept their award. There is no confusion at first; let's face it, this was the favorite to win the category anyway so there was no reason to be surprised. After a couple of speeches, we noticed producers in headsets mulling around, looking for envelopes. At this point, the correct envelope gets into the hands of La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz who, with uncanny poise and professionalism, walked to the microphone and announced that the actual Best Picture winner was Moonlight. He showed the card to the camera.

Unreal. Warren Beatty asked for the microphone to explain what had happened, that he wasn't trying to be funny, that he had been given the wrong envelope (which was later confirmed by several sources) La La Land left the stage, Moonlight came on to accept the Oscar. Host Jimmy Kimmel took the blame, although it's impossible that he had anything to do with it. The next morning, a statement from PWC was posted:

"We sincerely apologize to MoonlightLa La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. [sic] We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred.
We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation."

Oops. So there are two sets of envelopes, one set with one of the PWC Accountants on one side of the stage, one side on the other of the stage, and somehow both Best Actress envelopes ended up being used; one correctly announcing Stone as the winner, and then the second one minutes later incorrectly for Best Picture. What an incredible moment.

So Moonlight is our Best Picture. Did the Academy get it right?

IMO, no, they actually had it right the first time. I have seen all the Best Picture nominees except for Hacksaw Ridge (which I will watch soon) and I can unequivocally say that La La Land was by far my favorite film of the year and was deserving of the Best Picture prize. Moonlight, which I enjoyed, didn't even crack my Top 10, in fact. The Academy voters cast their ballot for the more important film, the more important story; and although I disagree with the choice, I can respect it. 

Let's look at the other major awards and see how they did.

Best Actress - Emma Stone, "La La Land".

She really was terrific, and was deserving, but my pick would have been Ruth Negga in "Loving". Negga's performance was emotional yet understated, controlled yet passionate, and it was my favorite performance of the nominees.

The ACTUAL winner should have been Amy Adams for Nocturnal Animals (or, hell, even for Arrival), but I think she paid the price of having given two exemplary performances in the same year; her votes were split.

**note, I didn't see Isabelle Huppert in "Elle"

Best Actor - Casey Affleck, "Manchester By the Sea"

This was one of the great performances in recent movie history, and a deserving winner. It could have also gone to Denzel, and I wouldn't have been too disappointed, but Casey was my pick.

Best Director - Damien Chazelle, "La La Land"

A slam dunk, to me, and at the tender age of 32, Chazelle becomes the youngest Best Director winner in Oscar history.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Mahershala Ali, "Moonlight"

He gave a great performance, no question, but I would have given the award to, well, ANYONE else. Ali was in the movie for such little time, his impact to the film wasn't anywhere near what the others were. Think of it this way: Take him out of the film, replace him with a lesser actor who did just a decent job in that role, does the film suffer much? I don't think so.

You could argue that Lucas Hedges wasn't as central to his film either, so let's eliminate him (although he was very good).

Now do the same with Dev Patel in Lion. He gives a Lead Actor performance in half of the film.
Do it with Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals.
Do it with Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water.

Those three performances are CRITICAL to the film. Lesser actors would drag those films right down with them.

My pick, if I had to make just one, would have been Jeff Bridges. Hell or High Water was a brilliant film, my #2 pick of the year, and his performance was one of the main reasons behind it.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role - Viola Davis, "Fences"

This might have been the runaway of the night. All the nominated performances were great, but this one carried the film. She was perfect. 
Best Original Screenplay - Kenneth Lonergan, "Manchester By the Sea"

Interesting to see La La Land lose here, perhaps this should have been a sign that it might not win Best Picture. My choice would have been Hell or High Water or La La Land but this was also a well-conceived screenplay. Hard to argue.

Best Adapted Screenplay - Tarell Alvin McCraney and Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"

Some controversy here as this qualified in the "Original Screenplay" categories at some other awards shows, due to (I believe) the fact that the play it was based on was never completed or produced. Arrival would have been my pick here.

Best Animated Feature Film - Zootopia
A total no-brainer here, with all due respect to the terrific "Moana". Zootopia was the #1 film on my list for most of the year, and it is probably the best animated film since "Up". It should have been nominated for Best Picture, but that hasn't happened since they created this category.
Best Original Score - Justin Herwitz, "La La Land"

Best Original Song - City of Stars, "La La Land"

This is one of those songs that gets stuck in your head. It's catchy, it's terrific, and it fit the story. No issues here, but if I had to pick, I would have gone with How Far I'll Go from Moana.

So that wraps up the major awards. Host Jimmy Kimmel did a great job, keeping the show going with lots of fun bits including a running gag with Matt Damon and a terrific bit where they brought in a tour group that thought they were going to see an exhibit of Oscar gowns; and ended up right in the middle of the action! Talk about a story they have for the rest of their lives.

Here is my list of the top 10 films of 2016, with some honorable mentions below. Two of the films that only made the 'honorable mentions' were given 4.5/5 stars, which is quite an achievement. A great year for movies!!

10. The Edge of Seventeen
9. The Jungle Book
8. Fences
7. Captain Fantastic
6. Manchester By The Sea
5. Arrival
4. Nocturnal Animals
3. Zootopia
2. Hell or High Water

Honourable mention (in alphabetical order):
Captain America: Civil War
Dr. Strange
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Finding Dory
Hidden Figures
Star Wars: Rogue One