Raving about Lago

I was in Las Vegas  two weeks ago for a quick couples’ getaway and I want to tell you, briefly, about one of the best meals I’ve had in recent memory.

It was our wedding anniversary and I wanted to eat at Lago (restaurant) at Bellagio (hotel).   As I love to research and to know what I’m getting into before I set foot in a restaurant,  I looked at the menu online and also read the Trip Advisor reviews.

In doing the research I estimated a dinner bill of about $300-$400US for what we would likely choose.  That being out of the budget I went ahead and made a lunch reservation instead. (This is definitely your take away tip from this blog post.  “Don’t skip the restaurant, just have lunch instead of dinner.”)  By the way, this restaurant has a wine list where bottles range between $75 and $3500.

At lunchtime this particular restaurant even offers a “prefix menu.”  Basically it is a modified menu where you choose an item from each course offered and pay one price. In this case, Lago offers a 3 course lunch menu at $28 per person. Example: choose one of 4 appetizer options,  choose one of 4 entrées and then dessert.

First, let me say that the ambiance was amazing! The view was amazing! The service was amazing! And the menu choices were amazing! Do you get the picture? Simply amazing!  Long before the food was even served I was loving Lago.

I started with a fancy gin cocktail.  So fancy that it had little flavoured blood-orange beads and an orchid in it. Fancy!!

For entrées I had Seabass and my husband had lasagna.  They were each very well crafted. Delicious! Really outstanding  flavours, perfectly cooked.

The dessert was chef’s choice and I have to say absolutely outstanding! They tasted even better than they looked,  if that was even possible. I can only describe the tiny cake as a cheesecake hugged by cherries and chocolate, glazed with more chocolate and  garnished with chocolate. And I do like chocolate!

I finished the meal with a cappuccino and lingered over the view a little while longer.

Definitely the best meal I’ve had in a long time, likely top three lifetime.

I’m very glad we went for the lunch option rather than bypassing the restaurant all together.

Our bill was just over $100, plus a generous gratuity. Excellent value, in my opinion. I would highly recommend Lago.

 

 

 

 

It was a sign

It was clear, detailed and pointed us in the right direction. It was just a simple sign, but it did its job.

As a tourist,  looking for the historic waterfront in downtown Shelburne, Nova Scotia (pop 1800) I got the information I needed.

I took a photo of the sign to use as an example of how to be tourist-friendly.  And while I acknowledge most people will have access to GPS or a Google map, that’s not how everyone travels. GPS can often be unreliable and while it is excellent for highways and major attractions, it doesn’t understand concepts like ‘waterfront’ or ‘arts/culture.’

As host cities we would be making a grave mistake if we left it up to GPS systems to tell our potential tourists where to go. Let me be clear, like the sign, we need to help people in every way possible. It’s impossible to dazzle them with hospitality if they can’t make it to their destination.

Travel is a regenerative escape. Suicide is not.

This outpouring of social grief over the suicides of two celebrities last week, has left me thinking… Is this social outcry, the same white noise that contributed to Kate Spade (Fashion Designer, 55) and Anthony Bourdain (Traveller/Writer/Chef, 61) taking their own lives?

The millions of people turning to social media to express sadness, and feelings of pain and loss, for people that they did not have meaningful two-way relationships with is interesting. How is it that thru media alone, can one person (celebrity) can have an impact which causes emotional, and even physical pain, to strangers? Is this genuine?

What if, in life, that celebrity felt the enormous internal pain inflicted by of a whole world of people who thought they knew him? Millions of “people” aka social accounts that wanted his attention, or a piece of his fame? What if the noise of social celebrity was absolutely deafening? What if you couldn’t get that noise out of your head? What if you felt like every hour of every day people wanted a piece of you? How would you even survive?

Is this what musician and celebrity suicides have in common?

Rather that a state of depressiveness, is suicide the ultimate “flight” choice? Meaning that when your most basic instincts are “fight” or “flight” is this what it comes down to? To fight would be to regain your privacy and find your one true inner voice. But what if that seems impossible? What if though you try, you can NEVER quiet the madness? Is this when select musicians and celebrities choose “flight?”

I can only speak to my own experience, but I have definitely been overwhelmed with demands. (I think most of us can relate.) Have you ever wanted to run away or quit work because it felt too chaotic or absolutely overwhelming? I definitely have. So that’s when I would travel. On the hard days, I would desperately cling to the anticipation of my next vacation. Escaping or getting away from my regular life was always the reprieve I wanted and needed. The chance to go exploring and mix among strangers was wonderful. I love the freeing feeling of anonymity.

Travel was my escape from reality when I owned a busy restaurant. At work I would typically be in the kitchen filling orders on a busy busy night (multitasking to finish multiple dishes simultaneously) and at the same time staff were asking questions and guests were wanting to visit/socialize have my ear. It was always chaos. At times I wanted to race out the backdoor and hide from all people and responsibilities. I would fight through it and divide my attention every way possible, but it was an awful feeling, like you’re never enough. There’s never enough time of “you” to go around. That’s just me, and on such a small scale, but I absolutely believe teachers and nurses and politicians and business owners also feel similar internal strife. And if this is our every-day lives with 30 people nagging at us for attention, imagine it on a celebrity scale. No thanks. I wouldn’t last.

So what if, the same social madness that reaches out in grief, is the same social madness that caused the tragedy? Is the only way to rest in peace, to stop the noise?

Road tripping with my mom

I can’t say I remember any trips with my mom, except the one epic road trip to Texas. I still smirk when I think about it. Back then, the movie Thelma and Louise was popular and road trips were the “in thing.” Girl trips and open roads were glamorous and frankly, you were making a bold statement on female independence by doing it. So, why wouldn’t we? A couple of bold, independent single girls like us, should definitely have adventure.

My mom’s friend Karen had moved to Texas and they’d often chat long distance on the telephone. Sometimes they’d rack up a bill, chatting half the evening. (Remember, long distance calls were a luxury and at 38 cents a minute, things added up pretty quick back then.) I would tell her that she could drive there for about the same amount of cash. Finally, one night, my mom figured my idea had merit.

I was about 18 at the time.  Mom, was more than twice my age, but if she were alive today, she’d tell you that back then “we definitely looked like sisters.”

She had a brand new car, so we were absolutely equipped for this, anytime. (She always had a brand new car, my grandparents owned a General Motors dealership.) I convinced her to take a couple days off and make it a 5-day weekend. We’d drive all night and get to Texas in 24 hours. As our plan developed, I really thought I had her convinced. She seemed enthusiastic in our chats, but at the last minute, she chickened out. She came home from work, was tired and decided all she wanted to do was to rest and do things around the house for her days off.

I’d seen this “cold feet” act of hers before. So while she was distracted, I packed the car anyways. If I remember correctly it was about 11pm when I convinced her to “just go for a drive and get some coffee” with me.  One loop through the neighbourhood and I headed for I-75. I told her we could stop for coffee in Grand Forks, North Dakota  which was about 3 hours away.

In hind sight, she could have probably made a case for kidnapping. Except, who would believe her? After all, SHE was the one to pick up maps from CAA earlier in the week! Ha ha!

I don’t remember everything about the trip, but I do have strong memories of the highlights. She would tell you about waking up to see me speeding on an Interstate highway and watching a State Trooper pull over 4 cars at once, but not us. She would also tell you to avoid Oklahoma City at rush hour when you really don’t know where you’re going. And I bet she would say that 5 days definitely wasn’t long enough. I tend to agree.

My favourite part of the adventure was seeing her hug Karen when we arrived (Those two were thrilled to be reunited for an in-person visit!) and seeing the Kansas City Royals play baseball.

The baseball game was a completely spontaneous decision. We were relaxed and driving home when she tuned in a local radio station. They were broadcasting a pre-game show of the Kansas City Royals baseball team. She commented that she’d “always wanted to go to a MLB game.”

I said, “let’s do it! Let’s go, right now.” And we did.

She found the stadium on a map. I got us there. At the parking gate I asked the attendant where to get tickets. He said “but the game’s sold out! Don’t you know, the famous chicken’s here?!!”

I didn’t really know what he meant, but opted to pay for parking and take my chances at the box office anyway. My mom wanted to turn back. I pushed forward again, and before we even cleared the parking lot, we were approached by a scalper. I swapped him $20 for upper deck tickets and we were in! She always thought that was “pretty balsy” and that I was a heck of a street-smart gal. Very Thelma-ish.

I remember how absolutely satisfied she was sitting in the cheap seats, sipping a lemonade and snacking on a hot dog and a bag of peanuts. That was a good day. The Royals have (or had) a beautiful stadium with a waterfall in the outfield. They also had fireworks out there post game. It was a really nice evening. We picked a motel by the edge of town for the night and finished the trip in the morning. I know in her later years she would still tell the story of the scalper, and the funny San Diego Chicken at the baseball game.

What that trip taught me was, that you can ALWAYS get tickets to a big game. You don’t have to have a big plan, or a big budget to travel and have a great time. And, I  also believe that I would absolutely take a road trip with my teens if I was invited. After all, it could very well be, a once-in-a lifetime invitation.


PS: The photo is NOT from this trip. But it’s simply a photo of my spunky young mom, back in the day. We did NOT take a gas guzzling Impala on this trip. It was infact a SkyHawk.

Instantly disappointed in paradise

Hard to believe I’m even writing about this, but it’s true. The tourist beaches of Hawaii were littered with disappointed people, looking sullen and staring into their phones.

It was UNBELIEVABLE the number of people that we had to walk around, dodge, or avoid on Waikiki Beach, because they were solely engaged with their phones. These tourists were taking selfies and trying to CRAFT happy vacation photos but letting their phones get in the way of actually enjoying themselves. And they themselves were oblivious to the other tourists trying to walk around or actually enjoy the beach.

Sunset was the worst time of the day. 

These people couldn’t even be bothered to look up between taking and viewing their own snaps. This wasn’t exclusively on the beach either, it was a hazard on the street and even hiking paths too.

There were girlfriends barking at their boyfriends. “Do it again.” “Take another.” “That’s awful! Delete it.”

And girls scowling at people for walking through “their shot” on a crowded public beach or on the narrow hiking path. I saw their non-stop scowling between forced selfie smiles….I’m sure that has to be exhausting.

I saw bathing suits chosen for photos, not for swimming. Hair done for Instagram, not for a day in the water. Makeup done for a party, not a mountaintop. Posing everywhere. What I didn’t see was participation.

I’m writing this because it bothered me to see hoards of people, instantly disappointed in their photos, and thus their own vacations, when they could be having the time of their lives.

They were standing like pylons in the road, glaring into & tapping at their phones, everywhere, in paradise! They had looks of sadness, disappointment, anger and frustration on their faces. While they stood there, toes in the sand, in paradise they had….. in that very moment ….. EVERY opportunity to turn things around and be happy but instead they choose to delete & try to rewrite a perfect lie with another photo. Over and over and over.

I feel bad for them. What are they disappointed in? How they look? (That in itself is tragic) The lousy time they are having? (They have the power to change that.) Disappointing likes per minute? Are they just photo blind to the real world? Why not be happy with yourself and do things that are fulfilling! Run into the ocean. Build a sandcastle. Get your hands wet, and sandy. Splash your friend. Chase your kids. Go surfing. Enjoy Hawaii!

I’m assuming they worked hard (and paid) for their vacation. I wish they understood the value of ‘vacation’ to their mental health. Now, and into the future, memories can really keep you going when you hit the (genuinely) bad days. It’s not what someone said in the moment, right? It’s how it made you FEEL. We’re human. Feelings matter. You should really enjoy vacationing. It feels good! Photos are only good to capture that FEELING and hold on to it. Spontaneous photos that don’t stop the action, but just capture a genuine moment in time, those are great photos.

So, frankly, I think they should be disappointed not in their crafted photos but in the (lack of) participation in their own lives. There. I said it. That’s my point. I think you suck at participating in real life when you stand like a pylon in the middle of the beach making and deleting fake smiles and yelling at your loved ones for not taking good enough photos. Are you making genuine vacation memories or merely crafting photos? Do you understand the difference?

Do you know who’s NOT disappointed in paradise? Little children and old folks. The little kids are screaming, splashing, swimming, running, and giggling with not a care in the world! And seniors… whether they were walking hand in hand with a spouse, or sitting and chatting it up with friends. They are smiling, talking, looking around and taking it all in. They looked like they were genuinely enjoying their holidays.

Think I’m exaggerating? No, I’m not. Next time you are at a concert or fireworks event, look around to see who is enjoying the music or wide-eyed by the colours exploding in the sky. And then look who’s just holding up their phone, posturing for the best angle.

Little kids and old folks. Seems to me, they’re the ones winning at life right now. Why? Because they are participating in it.

Breaking up with your bad hotel

Book with the hotel…

So you can cut & run if you need to.

Here’s what I mean. We booked a modestly priced hotel, with excellent Trip Advisor ratings, in Honolulu. (No… not the cheapest hotel out there. Not by a long shot. Don’t think I’m using “modest” as a polite way of saying cheap!) Everything about Honolulu is quite expensive, so we wanted to get as much value as we could from our accommodations. It was an honest mistake.

Here were the deciding factors in the reviews that made us book.

Free breakfast: people said things like “more than just a continental breakfast.” “Fresh eggs and waffles.”

Off the beach, but close: “just 3 blocks to Waikiki Beach, but half the beach hotel price!” “Hotel offers free towel & chair rentals for the beach.”

View of the city and the canal. “Great views and they give you free ear plugs for the noise if it bothers you.”

Here were the deciding factors that made us leave:

Wow. That noise was ridiculous. Nothing like the view of a 4 lane highway to enhance your “beach vacation.” We actually heard (from the 10th floor) a screeching near accident, which resulted in 8 seconds of car horn and another 20 seconds of angry screaming profanity. We could do nothing but laugh. And BTW, we had the window closed at the time.

3 blocks from the beach? Are you kidding? It’s more like 2 kilometres!! And you want me to carry a free (folding metal) beach chair…. like the ones from grandma’s house in the 80’s? Pass.

Now, think about that 2km walk from the beach with a tired, hot, cranky child who’s hungry. Or think about being 2 hot cranky kilometres from a life saving cocktail.  #momlife  You’ll agree saving $30 a night is NOT worth the walk.

There was a pool. A cess pool. The size of a big hot tub. Hard pass on that. I’d rather eat the stale, sticky Fruit Loops off the floor in the breakfast room.

That’s how our 7 night booking turned into a 1 night “experience.”

How did I get out of it, without losing all my money? I had booked directly with the hotel. Not Hotwire, not a discounted or non-refundable offer. Booking with the hotel is exactly what got me out of the hotel without a massive financial kick in the face. All we did was ask to change the check out date.

How did I get out of it gracefully at the front desk? Standard breakup conversation. “It’s not you, it’s me. You’re amazing. I’m just not right for you. It’s me, I should leave.”

In this case…. I literally said, “I’m just overwhelmed by the big city & tall building. It’s all making me so anxious, I need to find someplace quiet. You have a beautiful hotel, I just can’t handle the city life. I have to move on, ASAP.”

They moved my checkout date to the next morning & politely processed the bill.

We headed 2kms, or “3 blocks” towards the beach and checked into the Hilton. Re-started the vacation. Chain hotels are like ex-boyfriends. They might not be new or exciting, but they are consistent, comfortable and quite willing to take you in when you call sounding lost and desperate.

So, I blame the rosy people of Trip Advisor for failing to hook me up with a great hotel. I also blame myself thinking I could compromise location for price, because of the extra benefits. Smarten up Cathie! You KNOW location is key!

I’m also proud of myself for quickly shifting to Plan B and salvaging 6 days of precious vacation time. (I’ll make up the $30 by skipping souvenirs and lattes.)

Like life, each day on vacation counts. Be happy or move on.

Better view. Ahhh