Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Encore! Encore! - Las Vegas

Encore. . .the newest addition to Steve Wynn's high-end luxury diggs on the Vegas Strip is where the High Plains Drifters headed on Sunday.  Encore, only a couple years old, is a mirrored image of Wynn which is celebrating its 5th anniversary this year.  It seemed the perfect place to celebrate our anniversary. 

We took advantage of an email offer for rooms at $109 a night which got us a small suite:  living room area with couch, desk and windows that offer a panoramic view across the Great Basin and The Strip, a large bedroom and bath are to the back of the room.  The deal came with a $50 resort credit (those types of offers do help cut the cost of travel).

      Northwest view from our room
The High Plains Drifters, aka Hula Babe and Beach Boy, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and Joel and Jackie to readers of this blog, family and friends, decided to celebrate the passing of another decade at a restaurant so perfectly themed for us that nothing else would do:  Sinatra's.

Joel made the reservations and when asked, said we were celebrating our anniversary.  When we were seated they put two cards on the table, one envelope read "Happy Anniversary" and the other "Happy Birthday".  Hmmmm. . . .

           Tirsmisu and Pannecotte
The waiter explained their new computer had been having problems and they couldn't tell what it was that we were celebrating, so they erred on the side of presenting us too many good wishes verse not giving us the right wish.  Better more than not enough I always say.  And once they nailed it, they did a great job. . .yes, that number is correct.
So, with a toast to the roads we've traveled together and another to those left to explore we say, "Encore!"

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Weekend in Mesquite

The High Plains Drifters reached Mesquite, Nevada, in the early afternoon when thermometers read 106-degrees and the odometer told us we have traveled just over 1,000 miles.  We'd had two and a half days in the car on our road trip through the western United States.  It was hot in this Great Basin area of eastern Nevada, but that's what we had been seeking when we set out.

We'd left our home in Washington State's Puget Sound because our continuing cloudy, rainy, not-yet-reaching-75-degree weather had driven us to seek sun. We were en route to Las Vegas and chose to spend the weekend in this small town 85 miles away because it looked charming and weekend hotel rates were far better than Vegas' rates.   

So here we were in Mesquite, settled in at the town's Casablanca Resort with its palm-tree shaded lush pool area (home of Saturday afternoon limbo contests), 18-hole golf course (one of 9 in town) and European-style spa.  We'd nabbed a room on Expedia for $65 a night.  Meals in its Purple Fez cafe were some of the best food we've eaten and our dinner prices hovered at $16 - $19 for two.

Exploring beyond our plush resort, we found that Mesquite sadly reflects the economic downturn in our country. One of the four sprawling casino resorts that anchor the entrances to this city from I-15 was shuttered and scheduled for demolition according to the local newspaper.  Empty store fronts dotted the many strip malls that lined Mesquite Avenue, the town's main drag.  Homes -- beautiful, recently built, gated-community, overlooking lush golf courses -- are on the market at reduced prices; foreclosures and 'bank-owned' properties fill real estate listings.

The locals we chatted with seemed interested in knowing where we were from, what had brought us to town and offered suggestions of nearby places we needed to visit including St. George, Utah only 30-minutes away from Mesquite on I-15. The drive there, they said, was through beautiful canyon country, a teaser I guess for nearby Zion National Park.  But the heat had slowed our pace, we put that on our 'next time' list and headed back to the pool.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

On the Extraterrestrial Highway

Day 3:  High Plains Drifters headed out for Mesquite, Nevada where we will spend three nights almost astraddle the Arizona/Nevada border.   Mesquite is about 85 miles outside Las Vegas. And to get there we had another half day of road time ahead of us.

Roads in this part of the country are sparsely traveled, long straight, stretches of highway. Some are far more interesting than others. Such as the one pictured below.  It is S.R. 375, but more commonly known as The Extraterrestrial Highway.

ET Highway
According to the Automobile Club of America it got its name because of its proximity to the Air Force's top-secret Area 51 and, well, because of the many UFO sightings reported from people traveling the road.  An official highway sign, riddled with bullet holes stated we were on The Extraterrestrial Highway (either folks use it for target practice or there were more sightings here than I could have imagined).

Like other stretches of highway it provided spectacular scenery but nothing to indicate there was any UFO activity. That is until we saw this in the distance:

              Alien Research Center
When I said I had to take a photo and we turned into the parking lot, we saw the sign "Alien Research Center."   Hummm, no sign of life around it, although the sign says it has a museum and gift shop now open.  I later Googled it so that I could give you a website but found nothing more than an address:  100 Extraterrestrial Highway, Hiko, Nevada, (775)725-3825 and several sites that include it in their listings.

Go ahead, let your imaginations run wild. . .have a laugh. . .and please add a comment if you have information about the Alien Research Center.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tonopah, Nevada - a gem of a mining town

Tonopah, Nevada
The High Plains Drifters spent our second night of the road trip in Tonopah, Nevada, an old silver-mining town in the central part of the state that got its start when in 1900, a prospector by the name of Jim Butler took shelter from a thunderstorm under a ledge. . .yup, he whittled away at that ledge and sure enough struck silver. (Need I say there's a hotel in town that carries his name as do festivals?)

The town's prosperity peaked in 1913 when mining had netted some $9.5 million.  These days the mining still continues.  Turquoise jewelry sold in one of two gift shops in town was mined from the nearby hills, we were told.  In fact Nevada is the fourth-largest gold producer in the world and is responsible for 80 percent of all gold produced in the United States.

Tonopah is but a wide spot on the vast Nevada countryside offering a half dozen hotels (and two shells of what were once vibrant multi-storied hotels), a few watering holes and eateries.  But it is a charming wide spot - we planned this trip so we could spend a night here, having spent a night several years ago at the Best Western.  This time we stayed at Tonopah Station, the Ramada Inn, with an over-the-top Wild West decor. At this hotel you roll dice to see if your room is free -- it is Nevada, afterall -- and they told us that usually twice a day people win their rooms; sigh, we didn't.

                      Cabin at the Mining Park
And the hotel's parking lot lights were so bright I never did do any stargazing.  We may have to go back just for the purpose of Star Gazing now that we have a map of the areas best star gazing trails.  We also plan to visit the sprawling Tonopah Historic Mining Park where we can take a self-guided walking tour of Jim Butler's original discovery sites.  The "Burro Tunnel Underground Adventure," opened in 2004, takes you into the original mine and at the end, you can step into a steel viewing cage, suspended over a 500-foot mine slope.  Maybe we will do that part. . .

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

High Plains Drifters

Columbia River at Maryhill
We are on the road again; this time en route to Las Vegas from our Kirkland home. We are ambling and rambling our way through Washington, Oregon and Nevada.  After securing the homefront and the usual flurry of 'final things' we were on the road heading for Oregon after crossing the Columbia River at Maryhill, WA and Biggs Junction, Ore.

Wind Machines
We are eating picnic lunches along the way (cost and time saver) and we had a great first meal along side an Oregon wheat field that had a view back at Washinton and the wind machines that grow out of the hillsides near Goldendale, just above the Columbia.  While I find Greek windmills enchanting, I find the slow creaking of these gigantic monsters almost unnerving; especially as we drove past them.

Heading to Lakeview, Oregon
While we didn't have a set destination for our first day, we'd been thinking that La Pines, south of the better-known Bend, Oregon sounded like a good stopping place.  Sometimes what you think about a place before you get there and what you find once there are two very different things.  We voted to keep going. . .only in these wide open spaces there are miles and miles between outposts (I feel for those pioneers who came west).  So two hours later we bedded down for the night in Lakeview, Oregon near the Nevada border.

We'd seen cowboys, cattle, critters and plenty of wide open spaces. Dramatic landscapes, towns so small they were but a service station, cafe and perhaps tavern at an intersection.

We traveled 537 miles in 10 hours - about the same amount of time it takes for us to fly from Seattle to London. We'd seen some beautiful scenery in Oregon and after resting up we'd be ready for day two: destination Tonopah, Nevada.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Perfect Pub - and Grub

There seems to be a pub on every corner in London. . .but after stepping inside any number of them, we decided they weren't what we wanted.  We wanted character - the step-back-in-time sort of place that made you feel you were in Jolly ol' England.  Some were quite modern on the inside and one - to my horror - looked like a designer for a US-based burger chain had designed its interior. So we kept searching for our 'perfect pub'. 

We were ready to admit defeat when we recalled the recommendation from one of the hotel staff - he'd suggested The Ship Tavern at 12 Gate Street (within a block of our hotel) and just off High Holborn.

As we approached we saw that it was so jam-packed with the local after-work crowd that they stood on the street outside its entry - that's one of their heads in the photo.  Good sign. Noting that it had served 'quaffable ales and fine fayre' since it's beginning in 1549, we figured it had the history. (And what history! Click on the link and read about some of the things that happened here).

When we saw the wood paneled, candle-lit upstairs dining room, we knew it had the character. We had arrived at our perfect pub.

And then eating one of the best - and biggest - plates of fish and chips and smushy, minty green peas, we confirmed the grub was great.  So overcome with food and atmosphere, we couldn't resist eating even more and tried English pudding at its finest for dessert.  That white stuff is cream, pure cream from the pitcher. . .need I oink more?

Friday, June 18, 2010

London's "Novel Destinations"- Footloose Part II

As tempting as were the double-decker buses, we set off on foot to continue our one-day tour of London, this time heading to Russell Square and into the lobby area of the stately Hotel Russell .

We made a stop at the British Museum (free admission; donations suggested) en route to the Soho District. and back. Although we spent a good bit of time at the Museum, it will require a much longer stop on a future trip.

Readers of  this blog know of our quest for novel destinations  those places we are drawn to because of novels that are set in them - and destinations that lead us to books.  So the most memorable stop of the afternoon for me was at a bookstore located only a few minutes walk from Covent Gardens Piazza.

Imagine entering a bookstore that actually had an entire wall of ceiling high shelves of books labeled "Novel Destinations". On the opposite side of the room were similarly high shelves of travel guides - written by folks from all over the world. . .many of which we'd not seen on US bookshelves. Filling the space between the towering shelves were Another wall held shelves of journals just waiting to be filled with travel tales.

Stanfords Maps and Books, is a must for those who have a passion for travel and books - real books on real paper that is.  As it was, I broke my vow of 'buying nothing more' and found a way to stuff three new books (they were 3 for the price of 2) into our small suitcase.  I would return to London if for no other reason than to visit this store again but the good news is: they have a web site and ship anywhere in the world.

We were then off in search of the perfect pub. . .and that story makes up the next post.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Footloose in London - Part I

Just walking down a London street provides a free sightseeing feast to our way of thinking:  the old buildings snuggled in between the new, the hustle and bustle of pedestrians, the scurrying waves of black cabs and mountainous double-decker buses. 

There are also an enormous number of tourist sights to be seen for free, so armed with our city map and with our walking shoes on, we set out to see as much as possible:

             Covent Garden
Setting out on a route that took us past The Royal Opera House, we first visted The Piazza and Central Square at Covent Garden  in the early morning as vendors were just greeting the day. Our mid-day return was to a far more lively place - the square had filled with those eating and those entertaining - both were fun and free to watch.

Continuing on to Trafalgar Square we passed on the National Portrait Gallery but made a whirlwind trip through the National Gallery, where admission is free and donations are suggested. Note:  You would need days - if not weeks - to properly explore and absorb the more than 2,000 art pieces on display.

Then on to Whitehall where we watched the Changing of the Horse Guards - another free sidewalk show.

Our morning explorations ended underground in Churchill's War Rooms and Museum. This absolutely spell-binding time capsule provides a goose-bump look at of the realities of World War II in London gives you more than your money's worth (this one does cost). We spent two hours exploring the maze of Winston's underground command center and could have stayed longer but tired feet dictated a short break.

Our afternoon and evening freebie finds will come in the next post. . .

Friday, June 11, 2010

London in 48 Hours. . .or less

Flight connections from Greece required a one-night stay in London so instead of heading to an airport hotel,  we cashed in some Marriott points and gave ourselves a two-night, and almost-one-full-day mini-stay downtown. Within hours of our arrival we were wishing we'd allowed ourselves more time here.
Having arrived at Victoria Station aboard the Gatwick Express train, we climbed into one of the famous, ubiquitous black cabs, for a twisty, turny - rather pricey - trip through London's t rush hour traffic as we made our way to the  Renaissance Chancery Court in London's Holborn district.

Renaissance Chancery Court
This Edwardian High Baroque-style building, built over the two-year period,1912 - 1914, was the home to the Pearl Assurance Company until 1990.  In 1998 the building was transformed into its present-day marble-pillared hotel.


High Holborn, Gerkin in background
Our location on High Holborn, put us in an interesting historic area of the city; one known as being home to the legal and journalism professions (a perfect fit for the two of us).  The road itself is believed to follow the path of the Roman road from Londinium which was founded in the AD 50 - 100 time frame. We were walking distance to Covent Garden and the theatre district, just a few blocks beyond. Walking the opposite direction we would have been in The City, as it was, we had a view of its famous Gerkin Building.

We had enough time to get a basic introduction to the area that first evening, so we were ready to go exploring the next day. We packed a lot into that single day and the next post will tell you how we did it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Yamas! A Toast to Greece

"Yamas!"  they say in Greece when they serve your drink. "Yamas!" you say as you clink your glasses together in toast. "Yamas!. . .(Cheers!)" ~ a wish for well-being.

New friends in Rhodes
And so as our travels through Greece come to a close, it seems only fitting to raise a glass and say, "Yamas!" to the many, many Greeks who welcomed us to their stunning islands with such warmth that a return is firmly cemented into our future travel plans.

"Yamas!" to the sensory-numbing beauty of the islands;

"Yamas!" to those we stopped to ask directions of; especially those who ended up escorting us toward the destination we couldn't quite find no matter which way we turned the map, and to those who provided insider tips for dining and sightseeing;

"Yamas!" to the remains of ancient civilizations;

The images of Greece - Athens, in particular - that made media headlines around the world during the time we were traveling there were of a country in turmoil and filled with unrest.  That wasn't our experience at all. Island life was tranquil, the country side a treasure chest of picturesque villages, and our experience enhanced by the warm, wonderful -- and welcoming -- people we met along the way.

We had far too many tales and tips and far too little time to post them all. . .there's more to come on Greece. But its time to tell you a bit about London and our two nights there. I've also compiled some tips on how we saved major travel bucks, those will be posted soon.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Adriana's" Symi

"Adriana's Symi" - that's how I had begun referring to the island that lies off the coast of Rhodes, so close to Turkey you can see its southern peninsula with the naked eye.  I felt as if I had spent a year on Symi, and I had in a manner of speaking, without ever leaving my Kirkland home; thanks to nano-second travel via the blogosphere.  And, thanks to Adriana Schum, a transplant to Symi, whose blog I found early in 2009 while researching accommodations for our trip to Greece that fall.

We didn't make it to Symi though on that trip, so we contented ourselves by continuing to visit via Adriana's blog: we knew which seasonal fruit was being delivered, what preparations the shop keepers were taking both for ending last year's season and preparing for this year's. We watched winter turn to spring and somewhat felt a part of the island's day-to-day life.  More recently we followed the impact of the Iceland volcano on the small island which seemed so far away, but not distant enough to avoid the drop in visitors who were unable to get flights.
Adriana Schum
This spring we did arrive in Symi, and once there, it wasn't difficult to find the harbor front office of Symi Visitor where we were able to finally thank Adriana for her introduction to this wonderful place.  We continue to read her blog with even more enthusiasm for the people and places she writes about than we did before our visit. It is a good armchair trip which you can also take by simply clicking the link to Adriana's Symi on our  Blog Log (right-hand side of the home page).


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