Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Things To Do Around Las Vegas When You Want To Venture Off The Strip


My mom's favorite pastime was playing slot machines and her favorite place to play was Las Vegas. We celebrated her 90th birthday there, 6 years ago, with about 40 of her family and friends coming from NY, Florida, Arizona and California to join us.  We were planning one last vacation for her in Vegas this past February but sadly she passed away a couple of months before the trip.  My sister, Sandie, and I, and a few others, decided since we had our reservations already that we would not cancel them.  We thought that Mom would want us to go.  Because my mom was such a fan of Vegas, we have been there many times.  She was happy to sit in front of the slot machines all day but we needed to find other things to do and it was always very easy to find lots of things to do.  There are so many things to do on the Vegas Strip including the Vegas shows, the aquarium at Mandalay Bay         and thrill rides like the roller coaster at New York-New York.  There are also so many things to do that are free or cost very little.  (Look for that post next week!)   And there are very good deals on hotel rooms or packages that include flight and hotel which makes Las Vegas affordable on a retirement budget.  And if you want to venture off the strip, you can find some very fun things to do in the area. 

This year Sandie and her husband, Mini, rented a car and we drove about 25 minutes to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.  At the entrance, we were given a map with a detailed list of the different trails running through the canyon.  The terrain was different and the level of difficulty differed with each trail. They were rated from being easy, with the trail being wheel chair accessible, to challenging and not accessible unless you had an off road/4 X 4 vehicle to maneuver around in.  




We hiked the easy to moderately strenuous trails.  The most challenging for us was the trail that led to a waterfall.  There were huge boulders to climb over and a stream to cross over.  Trying to select the flattest and least slippery rock to balance and stay on, without hiking boots, made this a bit of a treacherous adventure but gave us a sense of accomplishment, and relief, when we navigated across it without falling into the water!  We were treated to a beautiful sight once we made our way past all the obstacles.


We had so much fun exploring all the trails and took lots of pictures.


Yes!  That's Sandie posing for a photo after she wedged herself into the rock!


I would highly recommend a visit to Red Rock Canyon if you are ever in this area but make sure you bring your hiking boots!

If you have an entire day that you can spend off the strip, I highly, highly recommend finding a bus tour to take you to the Grand Canyon.  We took the tour the year we celebrated Mom's birthday and had a great time spending the day with many of the party guests.  For $75.00 per person, which includes the entrance fee, you can have a bus pick you up and drop you off at your hotel, give you snacks and water, take you to a buffet lunch and do all the driving as you nap on your way to and from one of the most breathtaking places on this earth.  I had seen many photos of the Grand Canyon before I actually went and even the most professional shots don't do it justice.  It was much more incredible than I ever imagined!  



I found a gorgeous spot to sit in front of that I thought would capture the awesomeness of the canyon but this shot doesn't come close at all.  The Grand Canyon definitely needs to be seen in person.

Another popular tour to take from the strip, or a short ride if you rent a car, is Hoover Dam.  We rented a car with our good friends Susan and Frank when we vacationed in Las Vegas, with Mom of course, almost 20 years ago.  




Soko, Frank and Susan paid $15.00 ($12.00 for seniors 62 and over) each to take the 30 minute Power Plant tour and that fee included entrance into the Visitor Center.  I paid $10.00 to enter the Visitor Center but took a pass on going into the Power Plant which is not recommended for people with claustrophobia!   They decided on not taking the hour tour that cost $30.00 and included a tour of the dam passageways because they didn't want to leave me that long.  I heard from the three of them that they had a good time on the tour and that it was very interesting and informative.  I am taking their word for it!

Speaking of fees, the entrance fee for the Grand Canyon is $12.00 per person for a day pass and $7.00 per vehicle or $3.00 per person if you are walking or bicycling into Red Rock Canyon. Something to consider if you are planning a trip to see both of these sites, is purchasing an America the Beautiful - National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass - Annual which costs $80.00 but admits the vehicle of the pass holder and their passengers into parks that have vehicle entry fees and/or admits the pass holder and 3 adults into per person fee areas.

Important note to all seniors 62 and older:   Seniors can purchase a lifetime pass for a one time fee. It works the same as the annual pass described above.  If you act very quickly you can purchase a lifetime pass at the rate of only $10.00 (plus a $10.00 processing fee).  The cost of this lifetime pass is being raised to $80.00 starting August 28, 2017.  I won't be turning 62 in time.  I can't believe I'm actually annoyed that I'm not older than I am!


I couldn't end this post without a picture of Mom in her favorite place.  In front of a slot machine. She sat down at the first machine she saw at the airport when we landed in Vegas.  "Let's get this party started" was what she was thinking for sure!!  


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Why We Need Plastic Bags When Traveling (And Three Ways To Fold Them)


Do you have a ton of plastic bags shoved into a plastic bag?   I did too and then I bought a fancy plastic bag holder.  I was supposed to be able to put plastic bags in it, then pull one out of the bottom when I needed but it never worked.  It was probably me doing something wrong, but anyway, I still store plastic bags in it but I found a way that works better for me.  I fold my bags instead of just throwing them in.  This is how I fold them.  I call it a "Knotted Bag".


How To Fold A Knotted Bag

1.  Grasp plastic bag at bottom with one hand while sliding other had up the plastic bag to get air out of the bag and to create a tightly squeezed bag.

2.  Twist the bag around two fingers until you only have about 2" of the handles untwisted.

3.  Tuck the last 2" of the bag inside the opening made by your two fingers.

4.  Give your knotted bag a gentle squeeze to secure the knot.


This is the easiest way of the three ways I fold plastic bags.  It takes about 3 seconds.  I can fit a lot more bags in this holder if I knot the bags and it gives a more neater appearance.  This method works for storing but is not secure enough when I need to pack a few for traveling.  They will definitely unravel if tossed around.  So for a more secure bag,  I use a folded "Triangle Bag".


How To Fold A Triangle Bag

1.  Flatten plastic bag on a table.

2.  Fold in half lengthwise.

3.  Fold in half lengthwise again.

4.  Fold handle end down over bag.  You will have a long rectangle.

5.  Take the corner of the rectangle, by the handle you just folded, and bring it to the opposite edge of the rectangle so that it forms a triangle.

6.  Take triangle and fold over and upwards towards the end of the rectangle.   Keep folding until you are left with about 2" of  the bag remaining at the top of your rectangle.

7.  Tuck the 2" end of the bag into the triangle and press down on the triangle to secure.


This is a perfect way to fold plastic bags when I want to throw them in my suitcase.   I always have a couple of them with me when I am traveling for my dirty clothes, my shoes and my wet bathing suit.   They have come in handy when I have filled the small hotel garbage pail and still have more garbage to get rid of and for extra things I have accumulated on my travels that I can't fit in my suitcase.   The Triangle Bag is too bulky, though, for my glove compartment.   I call the folded plastic bag that I need for road trips a "Flat Bag". 


How To Fold A Flat Bag

1.  Flatten plastic bag on a table.

2.  Fold bag in half lengthwise and fold handles down.

3.  Fold bag in half lengthwise again.

4.  Fold 1/3 of the bag up and then up a second time.

5.  Press on bag to flatten.


This is the way I fold plastic bags to fit into an "envelope" I made to organize our glove compartment (read about it here).  I make sure I have a supply of Flat Bags in our car when we go on a road trip for the mess we make after eating and drinking for hours in the car.  I also like to put Flat Bags in the bottoms of the small trash cans I have in my house so that when I take out a filled bag I have another to line my pail.  These bags do need to be contained somehow because they will not stay folded otherwise.


You can fit at least a dozen perfectly in a ziploc sandwich bag.  

Do you fold your plastic bags?   How do you reuse yours?   We'd love to hear your ideas!



Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Pizzeria Paradiso Inspired Egg Pizza

Did you ever get back from a vacation still talking about something delicious you ate?  This just happened to us.  We went on a short weekend vacation to Washington, DC (read all about it here) where we met up with our son, Joe and daughter-in-law, Nicole.  While we were there we ate some delicious pizza at Pizzeria Paradiso.  When Joe and Nicole came to NC to visit us we started talking about the good time we had in DC and about how we were all still thinking about the pizza we had there.  Well one thing led to the other and before we knew it we were piling into the car to pick up ingredients to make the egg pizza we enjoyed so much.  We were not trying to replicate the pizza because it was beyond anything we could do, but we took inspiration from it and came up with this recipe.  The egg pizza we had at Pizzeria Paradiso was called Bottarga and the ingredients listed for it were Paradiso tomato sauce, minced garlic, parsley, grana padano (a cheese similar to parmigiano reggiano, egg and bottarga (salted, cured fish roe).

  

We substituted grana podano with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and the bottarga with chopped anchovy.  We used store bought pizza dough as a substitute for their fresh made.

PIZZERIA PARADISO INSPIRED EGG PIZZA

Ingredients

3/4 cup Rita's Wooden Spoon marinara sauce
1/2 lb. sliced mozzerella 
1/2 cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano
4 garlic cloves minced
1 2oz. can anchovy chopped
2 tbs. fresh parsley 
6 eggs
pizza dough

Directions

Heat outdoor grill to 400 degrees.
After pizza dough reaches room temperature stretch until it gets to your desired thickness.  Top with sauce, garlic, anchovy, mozzerella and parmigiano reggiano.  Bake in outdoor grill until the cheese is almost melted.  Top pizza with eggs and return to grill and bake until cheese is completely melted. Eggs will be runny.  If you like a more cooked egg you can top your pizza with them sooner.  Sprinkle cooked pizza with fresh parsley.
(If you are cooking your pizza in your oven, bake your shaped pizza dough about 8 minutes before topping it.)

Enjoy!








Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Vacationing At An All-Inclusive In Mexico


Our all-inclusive vacation in Riviera Maya, Mexico marked the beginning of our retirement adventure.   It was a vacation we dreamed of but never had the chance to experience.  But thanks to our daughter, Lisa, and son-in-law, Pete, who so generously gave this vacation to us as a retirement gift, our dream came true last October. 

Our first all-inclusive was even more wonderful than we had imagined it would be.   It started with a shuttle bus waiting outside the airport to take us and a few other vacationers to our destinations.   It was fun to see the other resorts as the other tourists were dropped off and it made us curious to see how ours would compare.  When we arrived at Valentin Imperial Maya, we couldn't immediately see the resort from the entrance off the highway.  It was secluded about a mile behind a tropical forest.   I thought we would never get there but when we finally did we were met by a very friendly porter who grabbed our bags, after we introduced ourselves, and directed us to where we would need to go next. We were pointed in the direction of a grand lobby. The first thing I noticed was a large table in the middle of the room with a vase full of stunning flowers.


As soon as we walked in, the concierge waved to us to come over to have a seat at his desk.  We were stopped, on our way over, by someone carrying a glass of champagne for each of us.   While our concierge was checking us in and giving us information about what we could expect to enjoy during our 4 day stay, we were asked what we would like to drink by a very nice waiter who stopped by.   Soko asked for beer and a minute later had an ice cold one in his hands.  "This was going to be an amazing vacation" was all we could think!


A shuttle cart brought us and our luggage to our room.   I couldn't believe the size of the room.  Lisa and Pete offered to get us an upgraded room but we told them the room we reserved would be fine.  It was our frugal selves as always trying to save money, even if it's not our own.  The room was definitely fine with the comfortable seating area situated in front of two queen beds, a balcony with chairs and a small table for a perfect place to relax, beautiful and spotless bathroom and complimentary stocked fridge.  We booked this vacation to coincide with our anniversary/birthday week (Oct. 14-18) and were greeted with a towel cake on the bed and a real (and delicious) piece of cake on the table.  


The first thing we needed to do after we got settled into our room was look for lunch.  Although the Valentin had ten restaurants only two were open for lunch and both were buffets.  Mar y Tierra was an open air restaurant situated near the beach and pool and Le Marche was in an air conditioned building which was wonderful when we needed a little break from the heat.  Both restaurants had lots of delicious choices but I would say anything Mexican from either restaurant was the most delicious choice.  I loved that I could get a freshly made crepe at Le Marche for breakfast so that was where we ate every morning.  



After our scrumptious lunch, it was time to get our bathing suits on and relax in the sun. We headed to the beach.  The water was amazing and so clean.   There was not one bit of seaweed.  The water was so clear that we were able to see right down to our toes.  On one of our days at the beach, a school of giant-sized angelfish swam by to join us in the water.  We had never experienced anything like that before.  It was incredible!  I wish I would have tried to take a picture of the fish but I was afraid I would lose my phone in the ocean.  I did get a nice photo of Soko relaxing  though and I took a shot of the very interesting bush behind him.  It looked like an ordinary bush of some sort but when I looked closer it looked like little starfish were clinging to it.  



We could have relaxed at the beach for another couple of hours but it was time to get ready for dinner.  There were nine restaurants to choose from as Le Marche only served lunch and breakfast. One of the remaining nine was not included in the all-inclusive so that got us down to a choice of eight restaurants.  We were only staying four nights so it was not easy to decide which four of the eight would make the cut!  For our first night we finally chose to go to L'Alsace to try their French cuisine.  L'Alsace turned out to be my favorite of all the restaurants.  A close second was Ginger where we had amazing sushi.  We sat at the sushi bar where the chef asked a few questions then proceeded to prepare a platter of sushi he thought we would enjoy.  We did enjoy his selections.  The restaurant we chose to eat at on our third night was L'Olivio where we enjoyed the talents of a violinist as we ate a delicious Italian meal.  On our fourth night we chose to eat at the El Palenque Theater & Bar as there was so much hype during the day and so many people stopping us to invite us to the special show and buffet that would be happening that evening.  It turned out to be a lot of fun and gave us a chance to mingle with some of the other guests at the resort.  El Palenque Theater had a show every night with the headliner show being a Michael Jackson impersonator.  Although the guy didn't sing, it was still a great show because the dancing, especially the moon walk, was pretty amazing. Besides for a show every evening at El Palenque Theater for entertainment, there were live bands every evening at La Plaza Espana & Bar.   La Plaza was an outdoor venue where we relaxed for awhile every night before calling it a day.

L'Alsace

Ginger

The next morning we got up early to check out the pool.  The pool was really fun!  The atmosphere was what you would hope for if you were looking to have a great time.  There was music playing, water games if you wanted to participate, (but very entertaining if you were just a bystander) floats to relax on and the bars you swam up to just put this pool over the top in our book!



We only had time to venture out on one excursion.  We had been in this area once before on a cruise and didn't have time to see the Mayan Ruins so we decided to see it this time.  We booked the tour with Book It which we used to plan this vacation.  We showed up to the spot that we were dropped off at two days before to meet the tour bus.  When we got to the meeting place of the tour we were met by someone who gave us water and snacks and directed us to where we had to wait for our tour guide.  We entered a smaller bus and we were off to the ruins.  The tour was very informative.  It was fun learning about the Mayan's culture.   It was amazing to see all the stone buildings and wonder how they were built when they didn't have the equipment back then that we have now.

  


The tour included some time to walk around the souvenir shops and we were invited to taste a variety of tequila before boarding the bus that would take us back to the resort.




Back at the resort, we drank some more drinks, ate some more food and were entertained by talented singers and dancers.  We couldn't have asked for a more satisfying vacation!  


Have you ever vacationed at an all-inclusive?  Where did you go?  We definitely would like to go on another one.  Which one would you recommend?