Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An Arabian “Tail” ~ Arizona’s Moroccan Mirage

Mirages, caused by the intensity of the desert’s heat,  are those shimmering images of things that don’t really exist.

Los Cedros USA, (pronounced los said-rows) could be – for the unsuspecting anyway-- thought of as a mirage in the expansive Sonoran desert north of Scottsdale, Arizona between Cave Creek and Pinnacle Peak.

Up until June the word ‘Scottsdale’ conjured up images of  the Old West: blue jeans, checked shirts and tablecloths, boots, and cowboys and cowgirls and work horses, of course.

Those cowboys and cowgirls these days are most likely behind the wheel of a late-model over-sized pickup and as for those horses. . . let us tell you. . .

Scottsdale2013 041One heat-draped afternoon, during our Scottsdale stay we visited Los Cedros USA; a visit that felt as if we’d walked into one of Scheherazade’s stories from 1001 Arabian Nights.

As we stepped through the enormous intricately carved entry doorway we found ourselves in. . .well, a modern replica of some 2,500 year old  Moroccan citadel right there in Arizona USA.

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We’d sought out this Moroccan ‘mirage’ after seeing a cover photo of it on Experience Scottsdale’s tourist publication.  The small print “about the cover” told us it was open to the public – free of charge, in fact. Yet, we were  the only visitors on the week day we visited.

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The entryway led us to an enormous (15,000 square-foot ) courtyard.

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There wasn’t a sound to be heard as we continued our explorations, but it didn’t take long to realize that’s because the Los Cedros ‘residents’ were resting . . . they took little note of their visitors.

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Los Cedros USA is an elegant multi-purpose development,  first and foremost, a luxurious home for performance  horses. Those large open spaces when not being used by horses and their trainers, are cleaned up and used for  hosting human events that can range in size from 50 – 500 people. 

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We were winding down our self-guided tour of the horses (petting is allowed) and their ultra-luxe accommodations which include a modern spa-like shower room and therapy pool, (pictured to the right) when we went in search of someone who could tell us about the place.

Dawn M. Green, the general manager, upon learning that I planned to write about Los Cedros USA, said, “Well, then you need to see the Throne Room!” and led us down a hall, to this: 

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I couldn’t help but think as I wrote today’s post, just what Scheherazade could have done with this Arabian ‘tail’! 

That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday; check out Budget Travelers Sandbox for more photo journeys.  And thanks for your visit – we appreciate the time you spend with us and hope you’ll be regulars here!

Scottsdale2013 037If You Go:
Los Cedros USA, 8700 East Black Mountain Road, Scottsdale,

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Travel Tuesday: What’s New in Vegas?

We’d not been to Las Vegas in more than a year and half and part of the reason was that from McCarran Airport to The Strip, it was becoming a comfortable -- but an almost too predictable -- travel experience.

Not so, this trip! What a difference a bit of time makes. . .

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McCarran International Airport - Las Vegas, Nevada
We had a slightly disconcerting moment as we entered the concourse from the jet way; had it not been for the slot machines, we would have almost thought we’d arrived at the wrong place.  There was nothing familiar or predictable, about this airport!

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Vegas60Seattle 112The new wing in which we found ourselves opened a year ago in July 2012.  Its now wide, sleek hallway is interspersed with moving walkways, retail outlets andtempting eateries.

There are numerous easy access points to  the lower baggage claim area and ground transportation. (yea!).

And The Strip also had several surprises including:

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Where once stood the Imperial Palace Casino and Resort (across from Caesar’s Forum Shops), we found The Quad. From reviews on TripAdvisor it sounds as though the revamping of the old hotel is still a work in progress. For those of you who saw the Australian group, Human Nature, performing on stage there, don't despair. You can now see them at The Venetian.

To the side of The Quad, Caesars Entertainment is reshaping the the Vegas Strip with The LINQ, a 200,000 square-foot open-air retail, dining and entertainment district, anchored by what they claim to be the world's tallest observation wheel, known as the High Roller (that’s its beginning in the photo below).

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Construction begins on High Roller - Las Vegas
Developers say “the High Roller at 550 feet and measuring 520 feet in diameter, will eclipse both the London Eye and Singapore Flyer. Facing north and south (parallel to Las Vegas Boulevard), the wheel will feature 28 glass-enclosed cabins that will unveil broad views of the famed-resort city in the 30 minutes it takes to complete one full revolution. Each cabin will accommodate up to 40 people and will be available for individual or group experiences.”

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We even encountered this new centerpiece on display outside the Encore Theater, at Wynn/Encore, where we were staying. Some of you might recognize the piece by Jeff Koons, as the one that was previously on display outside Christie’s (Auction House) Gallery at Rockefeller Center, New York City.
The piece was made in five versions over a time period spanning 1995 – 2004 and is the culmination of Koons’ “Celebration Series”. Tulips, says the creator, are a symbol of spring, hope and fertility.

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As the story goes (in the in-house Wynn Magazine publication) the piece was auctioned last November 2012 and the highest bid was from a telephone bidder by the name of Steve Wynn (owner of the resort).

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The small print on the sign in the first photo above says, “Price available upon request.”  We were told  that if it doesn’t sell, it will be moved to the rotunda of Cotai, Wynn’s new resort/casino opening in Macau, China.

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If you are interested in buying the piece, I should tell you, that we were also told that Wynn wants a bit more for it than what he paid.

His purchase price was $33,682,500.  

By the way, if you do buy it, let him know that we sent you – it’s a gamble, but we might even get a free overnight stay (in Macau, we hope) as resultWinking smile!

That’s it for this Travel Tuesday – thanks for joining us today. Hope you'll be back Thursday and  that you'll recommend us to others as well!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

WAWeekend: On the Spirits and Ale Trail

A couple years ago I visited the Yakima Valley researching a Washington Ale Trail travel article for the Seattle Times and followed a customized ‘ale trail map’ I’d developed for myself. 

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That’s because the tourism folks in this cradle of Central Washington’s wide open spaces and agricultural lands didn’t have such a document. . .but, they promised, it was coming.

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They did have ‘wine road’ maps because those producers of the grapes and the makers of the vino are pretty much the headliners of the area – and have been for the past few decades. That wasn’t of much use because I was on the trail of ale. . .

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The hop – the basic ingredient of ales – has been grown in the Yakima Valley for decades. High school chums used to earn spending money by ‘stringing hops’; twirling those twisty little shoots around the strings that would lead the vine skyward as the summer continued. Hop kilns, those enormous bigger-than-barns wooden structures used to dry the hops at harvest time dotted the landscape.

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Hop Vineyards in the Yakima Valley
Here’s  the kicker: 78% of the hops grown in the United States are grown in the Yakima Valley!

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American Hop Museum - Toppenish, WA

International visitors make treks to the American Hop Museum in the small Lower Yakima Valley town of Toppenish but not a lot of folks on this side of the state or elsewhere, I suspect, even know of its existence. (It is well worth a visit if you’ve never been there!)

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Hop cluster

Back to those tourism folks and that map they promised. . .just this week I got a news release with a link to:

 The Yakima Valley Spirits and Hops Trail website which has that promised map, a list of upcoming events, ‘sip spots’ and ‘guzzle and grub’.

Kudos to those folks because it’s an amazing piece of work and will serve any visitor well! Click the link above and check it out.

Here’s a couple of the events you’ll find listed there:

Annual Apple Valley Kiwanis Wine Country Trek Sat.– Sun., September 28 - 29

A scenic two-day, 120-mile bike ride, round-trip from Yakima to Prosser, through vineyards, hop fields and orchards. Start time from Yakima on Saturday is 8:00 a.m. returning Sunday at 6 p.m. Registration is $135 per cyclist with all proceeds going to Kiwanis community and youth service projects. This event coincides with the Hot Air Balloon Festival and the Harvest Festival in Prosser. Registration includes our famous gourmet dinner, the balloon glow, overnight camping (indoor and outdoor) in Prosser, Sunday morning breakfast, baggage transportation and break stops. For information, visit

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Finished product: ales

Attendees at the 11th Annual Fresh Hop Ale Festival can enjoy selections from numerous participating breweries in addition to brewing demonstrations, a cigar tent, food from local restaurants, live music and street dancing. The Festival begins at 5 p.m. and will continue until 10 p.m. Ticket prices are $30 if purchased in advance and $35 at the gate. All proceeds benefit Allied Arts of Yakima Valley which coordinates art programs, classes and events for the community. Pre-sale ($30) tickets are on sale at local businesses around the Yakima Valley during regular business hours through noon on Friday October 4. Plenty of tickets will also be available for $35 at the gate. Ticket price includes a commemorative beer glass and $6 scrip (used instead of cash for beer and wine, but note that food is cash only and that the event is 21+ only. ID is required for entry. For more information, visit

If  You Go:

Map picture

There are daily flights from SeaTac (Seattle Tacoma International) to  Yakima. Driving time from Seattle is about three hours to the Lower Valley;  little more than two hours to Yakima.

That’s it for this weekend’s focus on Washington State.  As always thanks for the time you spend with us. Hope you’ll tell friends to come along on our journeys together.  They can sign up to receive the posts  by going to the home page,

And a request to our Facebook followers:  if you have a post that you particularly like, please ‘share’ it on your page – that what keeps the page in circulation!
Happy and Safe Travels~

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

‘Wind-blown’ Crete: And for 25-euros a night. . .

Some are uncomfortable with our ‘go where the winds blow us’ approach to travel.  They say that a reservation in hand gives them security and structure – they want to know where they will spend the next night and the direction they are headed when they set out on that long stretch of empty road. 

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We like to throw structure to the same winds that set our direction. We don’t want to know when we set out each morning what our destination will be, instead, wanting the option to stay at some enchanting place that we’ve happened upon along the way. That’s why our off-season travels work so well– availability is high, rates are low. 

One such day in Crete comes to mind. . .a day the winds blew us along a route that followed the island's southern coast. And at a point between the tiny villages of Mirthios and Mariou, both on a sweeping hillside above the larger coastal town of Plakias (pictured below) we found our destination.

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We’d stopped at a taverna to check the menu ‘for later’ just in case we stayed in the area and while there, asked about nearby accommodations. The employee didn’t miss a beat, saying, “Stay at my mom’s place just down the road.”  Off we went, brochure in hand, headed to one of the most delightful stays of our month-long trip. . .

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His mom’s place, Gallinas Apartments, sat like an iconic -- but lonesome, in this early spring season -- blue and white palace on a hillside, about five minutes from the villages, a few minutes  further from Plakias.

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Our room was spotless – and enormous! And it cost 25-euros or about $32USD a night.

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Sfakia2Amster2013 246The kitchen, had microwave, fridge, coffee pot (coffee, filters and sugar provided) as well as hot water pot and tea bags. Coffee mug, tea cups, cutlery, cookware and table settings – everything we could possibly need. And our hostess left a plate of cookies, another of candy, fresh flowers and a bottle of raki on the table to welcome us.

But it was the wraparound deck and the view that stretched from it out over the olive groves to the sea that had us fantasizing about staying for a month or more:

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But sadly we were at the end of our Greek travels so had but a night to spend at this fittingly, wind-swept hillside, location. We didn’t stay long enough to use that nicely appointed kitchen because . . .we ‘had’ to return to that restaurant we’d stopped at earlier.

It was the Taverna Panorama in Mirthios where we feasted on live music and good food (that’s a veggie meze plate to the left and apple slices drizzled with honey to the right). One of the best Greek tavernas we’ve visited – and one worth another visit one day.

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Once again those winds had set our direction and blown us straight into another great experience.

That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday. Head on over to Nancie’s Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travels today.

If You Go:

Map picture

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Travel Tuesday: A Vegas Room with a View. . .

After being somewhat regular ‘sun seekers’ to this Nevada hot spot (figuratively and literally) we’ve recently had so many other places on our ‘travel bucket list’ that we hadn’t made it back here for a year and a half.   Until last week. . . when we stayed at Encore, a resort on the northern end of the town’s famous, Strip. It is a sister resort to Wynn, which is pictured below.

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Our view from Encore’s 51st floor was nothing short of spectacular (and for those inquiring minds out there, we did pay an additional $30 a night over the standard room rate, for the room on a higher floor that provided us this view – but it was worth it in our estimation).  When the mercury topped out in the triple digits, we sat in air-conditioned comfort and gazed at this view.

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One morning we were amazed to watch these two workmen ease their scaffolding past our window, so very high up on this building that it made me nauseous just taking the photo.

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A few hours later, what went down earlier in the already hot morning, came back up again in the hotter afternoon.  These two and so many other unsung heroes of the hospitality industry do the work that keeps travelers like us wrapped in cozy, comfortable digs.

We are guilty of taking such work for granted until we witness such hair-raising scenes as this.  Today I wanted to take a moment to honor – and thank -- all those behind-the-scenes folks (we were told Wynn/Encore alone employs some 12,000 employees) who made our stay such a treat!

Have you had any similar sightings on your travels? Or moments that made you pause to think about all the behind-the-scenes folks? 

As always, thanks for your visit today; we hope to see you back again as regulars and definitely on Thursday for our weekly travel photo fest!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

WAWeekend: Seattle’s Summertime Blues

Flying in and out of Seatac International Airport this week provided us a cloudless (finally!) sky-high show of Seattle.  And because I so often sing the blues about the area’s clouds and rain,  it seemed only fair to show you some of the other Seattle blues – its sky and water - as well. 

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Seattle grew up on Elliott Bay pictured above.  In fact, much of its southern area – now home to major league sports stadiums (that portion in the mid right hand side of the photo) was once tidal flats that stretched even further south to the mouth of the Duwamish River.  The area was populated by the Duwamish people until the early settlers arrived in the 1850’s. (The lake to the top left is Lake Union and body of water stretching across the top of the photo is Lake Washington.)

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Those of us living on ‘the east side’ of Washington State’s King County must cross Lake Washington to get to Seattle (or take long looping routes around the north or south ends of the lake).  The photo above shows Interstate 90 as it passes a tip of Bellevue to the lower left, crosses Mercer Island  and continues across the lake into Seattle.

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Seattle has become a gateway for Alaska-bound cruises ships that ply the waters from spring until fall with weekly trips north.  So prolific is the cruise industry’s presence  -- Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Crystal among them -- that a new cruise terminal, Pier 91, in the area known as Magnolia, was opened a few years ago.  (It, and a nearby grain elevator are pictured above.)

Vegas60Seattle 004While some of the ships dock at Pier 91 others continue to sail from  the more centrally located Bell Street (Pier 66) terminal, pictured below.
Vegas60Seattle 015Cruise enthusiasts who want to read more about the cruise industry in Seattle  should check out this Port Authority’s link – which even provides a list of ships and their sailing dates:

One of Seattle’s favorite waterways – and a popular tourist attraction -- is the Hiram M. Chittenden Government Locks, aka ‘the Ballard locks’ (pictured below) the latter being the name of the area in which they are located. 
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The Ballard Locks are the link between Seattle’s fresh water Lake Union (and Lake Washington via what is called the Montlake Cut) and the salt-waters of Puget Sound. Ships traveling through the locks are raised or lowered to match the water level they are entering.

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So popular are these locks there is even a Facebook page that updates regularly with news and activities about the place:

That wraps up this WAWeekend – we are heading out to enjoy some of those blue skies!  Thanks for stopping by today. Hope you get a chance to explore some close-to-home destination where ever you are in the world and we’ll see you back here on Travel Tuesday!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

What Happens in Vegas. . .

. . .sometimes really shouldn’t stay in Vegas. Because this fantasy-land city – often referred to as America’s Adult Disneyland is, in a word, fun.

 The temperatures are a toasty three-digits in this mid-July and the town is alive with tourists. The only summer trip it seems we had time to take was to this metropolis in the Nevada desert.  It was here I chose to celebrate the new decade – my new decade, that is. Where else could I have a before dinner drink in Rome and then dine in Paris within an hour?

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We sipped a celebratory glass of Pinot Grigio while sitting at a bar near Rome’s Trevi Fountain (okay, so it was the Caesar’s Palace version, but still good).

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And then had ‘birthday dinner’ at Mon Ami Gaby, at the base of Paris’s Eiffel Tower (honestly, it was the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Casino). If you are wondering, we did have a meal then shared this dessert.

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“The Strip” as Las Vegas Blvd is known is lined with mega-resorts and casinos. As nighttime blanketed the area with cooler temperatures, the street had come to life while we dined. So our walk back to our hotel was a light show to remember. It also reminded us why we like walking The Strip in lieu of driving on it.
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The two buildings with blue lights are The Cosmopolitan Hotel towers which just opened a few years ago. The building on the right is The Bellagio, home of the famous free water fountain shows that take place regularly throughout the day and evenings.

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Our walk took us under and around the bright lights of Vegas icons, like the Flamingo Casino and Resort (where you’ll notice Donnie and Marie Osmond are the headline act);  The Strip never fails to entertain.  It’s been a year and a half since we’ve been here and this famous stretch of road is undergoing some major changes. We’ll tell you about those in a future post.

That’s it for today’s Travel Photo Thursday. Don’t forget to stop by Budget Travelers Sandbox for more armchair travels.


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