another vegas buffet

So we did 4 buffets in 24hrs. For lunch today, we went to another buffet, this time at the Cosmopolitan. We can see the hotel very clearly from the room, but walking there took 15mins, having to walk through the Bellagio then to a thankfully covered walkway.

The Cosmo is modern and very pretty. My friend J told me that they advertise themselves using the slogan the right amount of wrong, and there is that feel.

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What I liked about the buffet was the food was different from the buffetofbuffets one, because it didn’t come from the same group of companies. There was a kale salad, of course. Different varieties of cauliflower. A brussels sprout salad that was really good, so good that I had it with the main course. Roast was prime rib and a sirloin, both of which I enjoyed. Skipped the asian and italian food sections.

Dessert was also small bites which I sampled lightly. The highlight in terms of dessert was ice cream. I had berry frozen yoghurt, salted caramel peanut and thai tea. The salted caramel peanut was very good, salty enough for me and the peanut butter came through. The surprise delight was thai tea, or their version of the type of tea found in asia–strong black tea with sweet condensed milk. The creamy and sweet milk came first, then the tea afterwards.

Went back to the hotel after lunch and even though we had intentions to go to downtown, we ended up staying inside the hotel for the rest of the day. Helped a little bit with conference setup, mostly hung around the registration desk talking to people. Dinner with friends at the mexican place inside the hotel. Back to the room by 8pm and caught up with mkr videos.

really big, free and fat (running related)

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Was reading Christopher McDougall article in the NYT about trail running. Not just any old trail run or race, but Fat Ass races, which are trail races with:

no fees, no awards, no whining. Distances are typically 50 kilometers or 50 miles, but vary according to a race director’s whims or ability to borrow his buddy’s GPS device. There are no lotteries, no expos, no qualifying times, no triple-digit entry fees subsidizing multimillion-dollar “running clubs.” No one will urinate on you from the upper span of the Verrazano Bridge, and you won’t shiver for hours in a corral before the starting gun

Needless to say, these are relaxed races, where aid stations may consist of a volunteer pouring out water from a jug from home, or giving out candy from a large jar. Sounds quite attractive to me, especially the camaraderie, and evoking spirit of early racing. I’ve yet to do one trail run, but the movement seems to attract a lot of participants.

The other discovery this week is the really big free marathon that will be held November 2012 in Las Vegas. It’s both a full and half marathon, and there will be the usual medals, tech shirts and goodie bag. The organisers are working on the premise that the estimated $300,000 to put up a marathon will be borne solely by sponsors. So the trade-off for the zero registration fee is that racers will expect to have their personal information sold to sponsors and marketers. Ugh. There is a refundable $50 deposit, which is fine by me, but it’s the being the target of marketing that makes me uncomfortable. Plus, I may want to do London and Berlin (or Chicago round 3) next year, and I’m not sure I’m experienced enough for a third marathon. Anyway, registration opens March 24, I might just put my name down for the hell of it.

west coast day 5

Las Vegas – San Francisco

We checked out early and left our bags at the hotel. Breakfast was at Paris, right next doors. Original plan was to go to the buffet but it was way too crowded, so we settled for the café. Still good value, and I gotta laugh at how unFrench-like the breakfast items were. Not a continental breakfast in sight. We had French toast (and we all know that’s not French) with bacon / ham and shared a portion of pancakes (American style, ie what I know as hotcakes) between us. I was stuffed!

The Paris wanted very badly to be French, but was actually full of tourists. Some of their signs were in franglaise, like Le Car Rental. Pretty funny actually. After breakfast and the obligatory play at the penny slots we were off to Caesars Palace. Again, very crowded, but plenty of space for everyone to walk around. Waited for about 15 minutes at the fountain for the show, only to be disappointed that it consisted of a couple of mechanical statues with moving parts. Not impressed. The size of the hotel was impressive, though by this time I couldn’t tell one hotel-casino from another, they were all blurred. Before going back to the Aladdin we hung out a little at the Bellagio shop. Then it was time to leave.

Taxi to the airport was quick, and a little sad. Time to say good-bye to Las Vegas. I really enjoyed this first visit, it was nothing and everything like I imagined. Because I was here with my friend’s family, we did mainly family styled activities. Didn’t see any shows or gambled big (I wouldn’t have anyway) or had the time for an excursion or spa. Plenty to do for future visits, which is what I like about going to a new place — can never do everything first time. Oh, some pics of the various slot machines we took.

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Check-in and security queues were long, and we were glad we got there early. This was one of the airports with free wi-fi, so I was very happy! Was chatting with K, and all of a sudden we were boarding already! Guess I’m less used to flights not being delayed.

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So, the second part of my trip. San Francisco, a totally different city to Las Vegas in outlook, attitude and … everything. Met my hidden friend D, and it was good to finally meet in person. It was pretty late so we went to a neighbourhood café for a quick bite. I was buffeted out and only wanted something green and had no meat. Perfect place for something like that. It was one of those casual student type places that I remembered from Zurich (the one behind the Niederdorf) and Sydney (the one sherlock took me to) — worn wooden tables, mismatched chairs, relaxed atmosphere. Not a place one would find in Vegas.

Was quite late when we got to D’s apt, but we chatted for a while. I’m glad the trip got split into two, it would have been nice to be in one place, but now I got a variety of experiences.

west coast day 4

Wedding and beavers

The other vegas specialty is weddings. There was a chapel at the Aladdin, just outside the lifts, and seems like each hotel had one too. But north of the Stratosphere were the small chapels. Weddings are big business and the side of the road was lined full of them, with names like Viva Las Vegas, Candlelight and of course Graceland Wedding Chapel. The Wedding Wonderland offered drive-thru services so the happy couple don’t even need to get out of their car. We visited the Little Chapel of the Flowers, which was a traditional chapel with garden. Despite all the whiteness and flowers and lace, it wasn’t stuck in the middle ages. Friends and relatives who were unable to attend in person could watch the proceedings over the internet, live. Then later could purchase a copy of the ceremony. It’s all very slickly planned, packaged and commercial.

Car’s Mom and Gram visited with relatives so it was just the two of us for the rest of the day. From the chapel we took a taxi to the Hilton. It was off the Strip, but just as busy. One of its main attractions was the Star Trek Experience exhibition. One thing I found out though, was how not a trekkie I was — I didn’t have much clue about the characters and vessels on display there. To enter the exhibition was $38, and we decided we had far better things to do for that, since all I’d be doing is asking “what’s that?” throughout our visit. Did see this awesome (read: dorky) bowling shirt, but it was $60. Man, they were out to milk every dollar. Did spend a very nice half hour or so exploring the shop and outside displays. Must say the models of the Enterprise was very impressive.

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Stayed at the Hilton for a while, then took the monorail all the day to the end — MGM Grand. Nice trip for $5. The monorail ran parallel to the Strip but we could see all the hotels from the windows. Went back to the souvenir shop to get some more keychains and a couple of fridge magnets. Dinner was at the Zanzibar Café back at the Aladdin. I had guacamole hot dog (what the menu called the Ozzy Osbourne) and Car had an Extreme burrito. Both were very good, though I got teased for combining guacamole with hot dog. If we were in our usual online chat mode the reaction would have been ysick

The rest of the evening was spent at the penny slots, specifically the Lumberjack Beavers machine that was our favourite. It gave great value too, with just a small outlay we played for more than an hour. When we met up with her mom and gram, they had dinner at the Zanzibar too, while we just had dessert.

west coast day 3

North side of the Strip

Breakfast was at the Venetian. It wasn’t touted as a buffet, since they wanted to be posh. sniggers Sometimes Americans trying to be posh end up being pretentious. $13.95 wasn’t bad though. The “buffet-that-tried-to-pass-off-as-non-buffet” was basically bacon, sausages, hash browns, and a made-to-order omelette. I had ham and mushroom and mistakenly had cheese added too. Made it too heavy. But tasted very nice. Had some really great fruit too, was going to make birchermuseli but was too full, so I just stuck with skimmed milk with the cereal.

The Venetian was another impressive hotel. Yes, there was a replica of St Mark’s Square, the Bridge of Sighs and even canals. Gondolas and singing boatmen too. Made me laugh because the real ones in Venice don’t sing as much. Lots of shops and the family ended up spending time at a Lladró store. Hmm, I didn’t realise it was a favourite, must remember for future reference. The lighting inside the pretend Venice was surprisingly dim, even with the pretend blue skies overhead. Most of those indoor pics I had to photoshop.

From the Venetian we walked in the blazing sun to the Wynn. It’s the newest hotel on the strip and probably has the most stars. It truly deserved them, I really liked it. There was no specific theme, unless “unbridled luxury” was a theme. There was an understated, carefully designed feel to it, with the use of warm colours and natural light. Definitely not one for brash families with loud children, it had … class. From the garden to the water features to the general décor nothing was out of place. Man, a tiny part of me wished we could have booked that suite, but remembering the price difference (almost twice the Aladdin) was enough to make me feel like we made the right decision to go for the Aladdin.

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From the Wynn, we crossed the road to a completely different world — the Frontier. From the 1950s style signage in front, to the old, old, old one-arm bandits at the entrance, it was an embodiment of times past. We played the slots there, like we did at each casino we visited. Surprisingly, the Texas Tea machines were very fun to play and we even won a few odd dollars.

Time for a change, as we headed to the Fashion Show Mall for a spot of shopping. While Car’s Mom and Gram explored Baby Gap, we went off to look for a bookstore. Amazingly it was only a Borders Express (ie tiny) and didn’t have the book we were looking for. It was a good break from the casino hopping though I didn’t buy anything.

We took a free train back to Caesar’s Palace which saved on a lot of walking. Retired back to the room to rest. Watched the Food Network! How I’ve missed it. Dinner was an easy choice — Spice Market at the Aladdin. It was the #1 (not sure which survey) buffet in town. But may be it was the renovation that moved the restaurant, or something else, but we didn’t feel like it was a #1. Top 5 may be, but we were unanimous in saying the Bellagio was better. It wasn’t bad, by no means, just not #1. There were prawns, crab legs, Greek food, Chinese food, Indian (I think), fried food, a very nice lamb kebab and the usual roasts. I was suffering from overindulgence and decided on as many veg dishes as possible. Still, an enjoyable meal.

We stayed at the hotel. Went shopping and visited the casino, had a really good time with the penny slots again. Tried to set up the airport express but without much luck, so I organised photos while Car got the internet. It was relaxing, to be away from the online stuff for a change.

west coast day 2

South side of the Strip

Early start (well, for being on vacation). First stop was to go across the Strip to the Bellagio. It was one of my original hotel choices but it was too expensive. And wow! Impressive! First thing that caught our eye was the glass flower roof at the lobby, with all sorts of colours. Just a little way off reception was an awesome garden with fantastic light through skylights, and a banyan tree that had been rescued from (?)Florida(?). The Halloween theme could already be seen, with pumpkins and scarecrows heavily featured. (click on image to see larger version.)

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From the Bellagio we walked to the Monte Carlo. On the map, these two hotels are next to each other, but in reality it was a good 10-15 minute walk. Took us longer because: a) we had Gram’s wheelchair and b) we stopped off at a Walgreens to get Gram’s medicine and to do a little catch-up shopping. So when we got to the Monte Carlo we’d worked up a good appetite for brunch. Nice brunch it was too — mainly breakfast items of bacon, sausages, eggs, french toast and cereal. I was also introduced to the very interesting American breakfast item known as “biscuits and gravy”. It was not biscuits or gravy as I knew it. Basically it’s a large scone that was smothered by a white sauce that had bits of sausage in it. Tasted quite nice (as white sauce and scones would) but pretty stodgy. I also tried a blintz which was warm pancake stuffed with cottage cheese. That I did not like because the idea of warm cottage cheese was unstomachable for me. They didn’t have proper tea so I had iced tea (or rather, Car ordered ice tea for me since they didn’t have diet Coke).

Walked around the casino a little, took some pictures of the slot machines. This would become a theme for the trip — pics of strange slot machines. From the Monte Carlo we made our way to the New York New York. Dude, it was just like NY, with a Brooklyn Bridge at one side and the Statue of Liberty on the other. Inside was a rabbit warren of small alleys and NY-like cafés and shops. There was even a smell of apples (cos, well, big apple …). The rollercoaster outside wasn’t operating at first, but later on it was. I put $1 in a Star Wars Dark Side slot machine and played for a long time — was lucky enough to get bonuses and the like. It was a good $1 spent.

Next on our visit list was the MGM Grand. Now I started getting the feel of these hotel casinos. Each had a theme, lots of interesting things to see, a show or another, and then there was the casino. Many people walking around, made the place seem like a resort. The theme at the MGM Grand was lions, they had an enclosure where we could see 2 lions sleeping. Another area where they had cubs. For $200 one could enter the cub enclosure and have an “experience” with the cubs. Well, no.

From the MGM we visited the shops along the way. Bought a bunch of rainbow keychains, like my Chicago one. These were good souvenirs for the people at work. Also took in the M&M shop and passed by the Coke shop. Was pretty tired when we returned to the hotel. Originally the plan was to rest a while then go out exploring but we all ended up napping! Which wasn’t such a bad thing, we were all tired from the travelling.

Dinner was a the Bellagio buffet. $27 per person. It was GOOD! We got there early (before 6pm) so the queue was short. Alaskan king crabs, sushi, mussels, roast lamb, prime rib, turkey, ham, all sorts of hot dishes, pizza, polenta, paella … couldn’t try everything. Dessert was ice cream, profiteroles, crème brûlée and many others I couldn’t remember. Everything was done nicely and presented with the intention to tempt.

One of the other reason for going to the Bellagio was to watch the fountain display. They had a short display (one song) every 15 minutes and we stayed for 3 displays. It was a fabulous free show, I was impressed all over again. Got some decent pics too.

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Car and I explored the Aladdin casino and the Desert Passage shops further that night, we had a good time. Was quite late when we got back to the room, showered and retired. Unlike the night before, I fell asleep quickly. Great day.

west coast day 1

Las Vegas

The upstairs neighbours were redecorating and they started drilling round about 11am. I got sick of it and left for the airport at noon. I’ve checked in already so it was just a matter of getting my boarding pass and checking my luggage. Hung out at the lounge for hours, heehee. Ate so much! There was additional security of course, one section of the airport was set up specially for US flights. First there was a body check, then everyone lined up to have their bags checked by hand. Not too much hassle because they had something like 30 officers checking, so it moved quick. I was glad I have club membership so I could board at the business class gate.

Flight wasn’t full, the middle seat was empty so I could stretch my legs a little. Sat behind 2 babies and they were crying at the beginning of the flight though they quietened down later. Dinner was pasta with spinach and cheese. Didn’t feel like the meat or fish dishes. Watched The Sentinel which was pretty good. Slept sporadically, may be an hour at a time. Watched the second half of Da Vinci Code which was interesting because I picked the film up at the same point that I left the book. Now I know the ending, I’m even less inclined to finish the book.

Security at the domestic flight part was fine too. More checking than before, but most people know what to pack and what not to pack at this point, the queues were manageable. Instead of checking my bags, they swabbed and checked my crocs! Heehee. I had my caffeine injection and got settled for a little wait. I changed my watch as soon as I got on the plane, but all told probably only had 3-4 hrs of sleep.

SFO airport was okay, lots of places to eat and shop. I had a split pea soup and a diet coke for late lunch. Came to over $8 though, not cheap. Internet day pass was $9.99, which was acceptable to me. Of course I prefer free wifi, but can’t be picky — it’s either pay or sit around with nothing to do. The terminal was fairly quiet early on and I was able to easily find wall sockets. The battery coule probably last, but I wasn’t taking the chance. Available spots keep being used as the afternoon wore on as the place got busier.

Flight to LAS was delayed. Sigh. Originally it was supposed to leave at 7.30pm, and I signed off chat so I could get ready. Then I looked at the board and it said 9pm. As the evening wore on, it became clear that 9pm was optimistic. Apparently the plane coming in had a mechanical problem and was stuck in LAS. At almost nine they announced gleefully that it’d left LAS and will be readied for flying back out as soon as possible. The departure time shifted to 10.30pm at this point. It was all very disappointing and boring. I got a little hungry so I bought a roast beef and cheese sandwich, but not much of an appetite. I texted Car that I’d be late and called the hotel to let them know about the late arrival.

It was disconcerning watching other people board their planes; and still ours hadn’t arrived. A group of men started complaining loudly and though they had their point, I wished they could keep their voices down. Some officials came, huddled around the desk and made numerous calls on their cellphone. Everyone was watching them expectantly but they never made any announcement to reassure the passengers, which I thought wasn’t so nice. They came back later with police (!) and talked to the loud men. Shortly after, another group of police arrived on mountain bikes, and the long and short of it was that the loud men were led away. Wow, they were loud and slightly drunk but they were never threatening or anything. Kinda heavy handed in my opinion.

Finally, the plane arrived, we waited till the incoming passengers got off and not long after, we finally boarded. There was a cheer when the boarding announcement went up, it had been a long wait. Took off at just before 11pm, I was very tired, had a drink and then fell asleep. Flight was only 1.5 hrs, so it seemed like I’d just closed my eyes when the seatbelt sign came up. I could see the lights when we came in and it was exciting. The airport was virtually deserted, though I saw what Car meant when she said that there were slot machines as soon as I came out of the gate. There were! Anyway, despite there being hardly any other people at the airport, it was still a wait for the bags. At least mine wasn’t the last, and I got on the taxi really quick. $25 to the Aladdin, which was under renovation so it was a little trek through boarded corridors to the make-shfit reception area. I was so tired, I didn’t even hear Car call me, until she almost shouted in my ear that I’m deaf! Heehee.

The room was pretty good, Car’s Mom and Gram were already in ‘ready for bed’ mode (didn’t blame them it was past 1am). I unpacked a little, and then the two of us went downstairs to scout around the casino a little. It was BIG! Was a little too incoherent to take everything in, but saw the roulettes, poker, blackjack tables. Plus of course the rows and rows of slot machines. I never realised they had special “themes” — we put $1 in a Star Wars machine, it had the sound effects and we won a little, though promptly lost it all. Back to the room and I took a much needed shower. It’s been a long trek but it took me a while to actually fall asleep.