Saturday, 27 August 2011

Back on two wheels

The Segway tour is now an integral part of staying with us.  Well, it is until our 1/2 price Yelp vouchers run out.  Today it was Mat and Alana's turn, back to Golden Gate Park which involves a few more off-road challenges than the centre of town one.  The weather was the usual, but we were treated to some nice flower displays at this time of year.  Next time we'll be signing up for the advanced tour.

Their steeds await.

Mat: tentative.

Alana goes for it.

An old pro.

Ready to go!

Down in front of the dahlias.

We celebrated no injuries with a trip to the rather strange Tonga Room.  This is Alana and me enjoying a Lava Bowl.  Hmmm.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Goodbye, old friend

I had a dream when I moved to this country.  It was a dream of bettering myself through hard work and determination and so improving my low position in society.  The dream also featured a pick-up truck, a firearm, and a La-Z-Boy.

So far, only one part of that dream has come true.  During my first few days in this new land I wandered into a charity shop with Amanda (having met her, for the second time ever, on a bus) and there it was: a genuine La-Z-Boy reclining love seat.  I knew I had to have it, especially when Amanda demonstrated the fully reclined extra comfy position.

I don't recall how we got it up to our third floor apartment, but it must have been a struggle as every time I've attempted to move it since it has required three of us.  Shauli claims he owns a significant share of it given how many times he's helped shift it.  It has been the much-loved centrepiece of each of our apartments but, sadly, shockingly, today I had to wave it goodbye.

No, it doesn't match any of our stuff that arrived from England, and it has been occupying a position right in front of our sliding doors onto the balcony, absorbing around 70% of all light that shines through.  Whenever I've mentioned its impending departure to friends and family they have reacted with disbelief and disgust.  I can't argue!  It is possibly the most comfortable thing ever created.

But all is not lost!  Rather than donating La-Z back to a thrift store, or setting it on fire Viking-style, or simply dropping it into the swimming pool, it was moved to...Walnut Hill Apartment's Club House!  Yes, any time I or any visitors are missing it we can take a short stroll across the complex and enjoy the superior sofa's warm and soft cheek-cushioning embrace.

Negotiations with Hannah are ongoing as to whether I'm now allowed to buy my truck now.

I think it blends in well, but...

Florin, our maintenance manager, kindly helped me shift it for one last time.

And here the 'Boy is in its new home!  And it matches the decor very nicely.

After all that hard work it was time for a rest.  How convenient!


Just how central has this seemingly unremarkable inanimate object been to our lives?  Well, if you will permit me to saunter down memory lane...

My entire relationship with Amanda is based on this one moment.

Dad approves of my purchase.

So does Mum, although she greedily takes up both seats!

It was the backdrop to many important celebrations.

Party central!

A safe, secure place to leave a child.

Not quite so safe and secure when four children are involved.

What more does a room need?  There's now a La-Z-Boy shaped hole in my heart.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Gambling with sanity

Las Vegas.  An interesting place.  This was my third visit, and I think I'll need a substantial break before heading back to the 105F heat, the million people, and the craziness of hotels built like ancient Rome, Venice, France, etc.

Mat had been on a conference here since Wednesday (theologians in Vegas!  Nice).  Hannah, Alana and I flew in on Friday night and headed straight to the Imperial Palace to check in.  It's a shabby, nicely-located place, with "Dealertainers" - croupiers dressed up as famous people.  For your entertainment.  There was a Michael Jackson, a Blues Brother, and a particularly ropy Marilyn Monroe.  Still, it was cheap, although Mat and Alana's Flamingo next door was far classier.

We had a nice open itinerary of wandering with plenty of stops for rest and a drink.  Following the age-old cheap approach, we signed up for the "slots club" in as many casinos as we could.  Most of them give you five or ten dollars free to put in the machines.  Pick a 1-cent one, sit there for ages, and pretty soon a waitress will arrive to offer you a free drink.  Thus we made our way around sin city, sinning but on other people's money.

On Saturday afternoon Dan popped down from Utah, where he was doing his geothermal thing.  He and Alana went big on the roulette table at Caesar's Palace ($10 minimum bet!) and each walked away with a healthy $30 profit. I was waiting for the pit boss to throw us out as we so obviously beat the bank.  After ten casinos in the day we rendezvoused at Paris in a "pavement" martini cafe.  It was, to my shock, quite pleasant as we people-watched away from the casino floor.  Well, ten feet away, which is about as far as you can manage in this town.

Sunday began with a fantastic brunch at the Dan-recommended Peppermill Diner on the North Strip.  Now this was authentic - pink neon, mirrored surfaces, indoor trees, huge portions, bottomless coffee...definitely the place to eat, even though I had my eye on the all-you-can-eat/drink Champagne breakfast at the Bellagio.

We drove further north to Downtown, home of the Golden Nugget and other old-time casino favourites, but my friends judged it too seedy to get out of the car.  Seedy?  In Vegas?!  Anyway, civilisation was regained in the high-end Fashion Show shopping mall and a trip to Wynn's.  This casino is genuinely posh, but also gives you $10 for joining their slot club.  We blagged some more comp drinks (although vodka and tonic at 11am on a Sunday isn't my usual), Dan made another $20, and even I came away with $15 winnings from a fruit machine that had something to do with fish.  I just pulled the handle and let the one-armed bandit do its work.

Dan drove back to his work site in the afternoon, and the four of us collapsed at the all-new Aria.  It's glitzy (surprise!)  The newer casinos don't go for themes but more a general high-end appeal.  It almost works, and I did find a delicious cup of Earl Grey in one of their cafes, so extra points there.

Our 8.30pm flight was massively delayed due to fog in SFO (yes, the foggiest city in the world does not have an air traffic control system that can deal with low clouds) and we arrived after the last BART had departed.  We crawled into bed at 1.30am, our $20 train fare having turned into a $160 taxi ride.  I'll just have to win that back on the next visit.

A popular destination on a Friday night.

Just landed, and the gambling begins.

Reteaming with Mat at the Imperial.

The Strip at night.  Hot and crowded.

The next morning, as we locate the Starbucks nearest to our hotel.

It's certainly less crowded first thing on a Saturday.  I wonder why.

Mat meets legend Donny Osmond, who's still plying his trade at the Flamingo.

Two more legends, sadly no longer with us.

Caesar's Palace, a short walk across the road from its Imperial sister, and a nicer place to indulge our vices.

Although inside it's still just a casino.

Hannah makes some money on her complimentary slot club stake!

I made a slight tactical error of putting my free $5 in a $5-a-play machine.  When you go, go large!  I lost everything immediately.

Alana managed to sweet-talk a security guard into letting us look around the pool area (normally $20 for non-guests).  And, as you'd expect, it was crazy.  They have blackjack tables in the pool that you can swim up to!

Alana gets trapped in one of the Forum Shops.

Our first show!  A rather unconvincing telling of the fall of Atlantis featuring animatronic (i.e. fake, rubbery) models.  Still, some nice fire.

Yep, there goes Atlantis.

We blend in among an outdoor fountain's statues.

Compare and contrast.

The flamingos at the Flamingo!

Hannah brings her MBA to bear on video poker.  They lost.

The Venetian, possibly more crazy than Caesar's.

The entrance lobby.

Meeting Dan, and starting with his favourite beer at Treasure Island.  The bar was, disappointingly, not pirate themed.

More free stuff!

Dan plays a machine you always win (and lose) at.

Mat doesn't know.

A free drink at the Mirage!

Back to Caesar's for a swift game of roulette.  Malcolm the dealer entertains.

Alana doubled her money on red!

The Bellagio - restrained.



The Cosmopolitan.  It's new and sparkly.

The lobby.  It's all massive video screens that change the decor every few minutes.  Fancy!

Some more fancy.

Finally relaxing in Paris.  Just like the real thing, but with fewer French people.

A shower before bed.

Next morning, fueling up at the Peppermill.

Inside it doesn't disappoint.

It also won me over with its fine offerings (a misspelling of Greek?)

Dan begins the day with a Bloody Mary.

I opt for the Maserati omelet.  It has Bolognese sauce on top!

Stepping up into the Wynn.

And signing up for the slot club (and $10).

My big Wynn.  Gambling is a serious business.

Classy ladies.

After all that, it was time to say goodbye.  Well, I thought it was.  This was before our three hour delay.