Viva (in a meh sort of way) Las Vegas

AGMA’s been busy.

Babysitting duty with the WG (wild grands) and climbing out of the winter doldrums has been keeping me on my toes.

And of course there was that 2nd COVID shot.

It went down easy, but I had a Moderna hangover the next day for about 9 hours. Nausea, the sweats, headache, chills, and total exhaustion. Holy crap – if that was just a very tiny taste of what a mild case of COVID is like, then OMG… I should have been triple masking and bathing in hand sanitizer this past year!

I am so very grateful I managed to keep it off my dance card.

And with the 2nd shot in my arm, AGMA did what AGMA does, but hasn’t done in a very long time.

I got in an airplane 3 days later. Destination – Vegas Baby!

Yes – I know I wasn’t full protected because my 2 weeks wasn’t up, but I had made the CHEAP airline and hotel reservations back in January as a birthday gift for Hubs. And I wasn’t about to cancel yet another trip now that we both had our 2 jabs.

Besides, I figured, how crowded could Vegas be? Everybody – except Florida and Texas – was still sort of hunkered down and only old farts were getting the vaccine, so at most, it would be a lot of blue hairs.

AGMA was pretty wrong about that.

It was WAAAAYYYY more crowded than anyplace should be while a pandemic is still raging.

And it wasn’t just blue hairs. The vast majority of folks were Millennials with some GenZers mixed in. And lots of these people brought their kids.

To Vegas. During a pandemic.

OMG.

The trip can best be described as fun with a large dose of weirdly surreal thrown in.

It was strange being in the airport, flying in the airplane, renting a car, checking into the hotel, going to casinos, and being on the strip…

It was clear everybody wanted everything to be back to normal. It just wasn’t.

We wanted the freedom to see some of the cool areas outside of Vegas, so I arranged to rent a car. When I booked it back in January, AGMA thought $50 a day was really steep for Vegas. Back in the day, you could rent a car for like $15 a day.

Turns out, we got a super bargain. People renting at the counter without a reservation were paying $120 a day.

Nope.

We stayed a the Hard (to like) Rock Hotel.

This was not one of AGMA’s best decisions. I was lured in by the low price (relatively) and large rooms. I think the room was $39 a night BUT now everybody gets charged a “resort fee” of around $40 a night. It’s for the pool (it was too chilly to swim) and the internet (you could only connect 2 devices before you have to shell out another $14.99) and other “resorty” stuff that I never figured out.

Our room was indeed big with a HUGE bathroom, but it was some what bland and soul-less.

The hotel parking garage was (and I kid you not!) 1/3rd of a mile walk from the hotel. We had to walk through a pretty big shopping mall to get there. And, if you could find the elevators in the casino to get to the lobby (which was a floor below – the signage was terrible) you could check in. We wandered with our luggage for about 10 minutes before we found the elevators.

If you were fortunate enough to actually find the lobby, you had to check yourself in via machines (like at the airport). Unfortunately, the machines didn’t work very well.

I don’t think I saw anybody who didn’t need the assistance of the single harried staff person assigned to the peons consigned to the machines for all their needs. Only VIPs (??) could actually check in with actual real live people. WTF?

And if you’re room wasn’t ready, there was no place to leave your luggage. You just had to walk around with it.

First impression – not impressive. At all.

Regarding gambling, clearly they didn’t know they were dealing with an AGMA who does nothing but lose my money when I gamble. I really wanted to give the hotel casino some of my $$, but it was a REALLY awful casino. It was like they made a casino for GenZers who’ve never gambled before and wouldn’t know any better. They put in the worst machines (OMG – you couldn’t understand how any of the payouts worked – which obviously was the point!) and high limit table games.

Nah baby nah.

And other than two sad display cases with Hollywood memorabilia in them, there was nothing Hard Rock about the place. It was more like Elevator Music Generic Hotel and Casino.

Soul-less.

It’s been more than 18 years since my last trip to Las Vegas. Things are very different from my last visit..

AGMA is one to embrace change…when it doesn’t interfere with my good time.

We did have fun at times, but we really had to work hard for it.

One day we made the nearly 3 hour drive to Zion National Park. It was breathtaking and is now on AGMA’s list of “must return to” places.

On the 3 hour drive back to Las Vegas, we stopped in Mesquite, NV at the Virgin River (a Virgin in Nevada – ha!) Hotel and Casino for their $13.99 prime rib special. It was us and the rest of Mesquite (where the median age has to be 60) in line for the coffee shop, the majority of whom (or is it who?) were not wearing masks with a good deal of smoking sprinkled in.

We turned around and left.

We ended up having dinner at the coffee shop in Jerry’s Nugget, an old Vegas style casino in north Las Vegas. There was a pawn shop across the street on one corner and a closed nude bar, the Palamino Club, on the other corner.

Perfect!

Jerry’s knows their cliental is more “mature”, and they were the only casino we went to that checked people’s temperatures at the entrance. Impressive!

Everybody was wearing masks, every other machine was turned off for social distancing, the drinks were cheap, AGMA won about $10 at video poker, and the prime rib special was delicious.

We liked Jerry’s Nugget!

The next day, we went to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and did the nature thing again. It was a beautiful day with blue skies and mild temps. Glorious!

Then we headed to the last remaining collection of old-style Las Vegas hotels and casinos…

Downtown Las Vegas.

We played video poker for a nickel a game sitting at one of the bars in Binion’s and got free drinks.

We scored yet another prime rib dinner (evidently we have been beef deprived at home.) This time is was the $8.99 early bird special at Tony Roma’s in the Fremont. Score!

We have no shame. But we had fun.

On the way back to the Elevator Music Hotel with the horrible casino that evening, we drove down Las Vegas Blvd and saw the iconic wedding chapels, and some scattered old school hotel casinos that haven’t been hit be the wrecking ball.

Yet.

I think I’d like to go back to Vegas again post-COVID to visit more of the “old” Las Vegas. The fun Las Vegas.

But first…Arizona…Sunday.

Grand Canyon, AGMA’s coming your way!

All aboard!

Thank you all so much for sending your good juju to us!  AGMA & Hubs did indeed survive the weekend alone with the 3 adorable Grands.

Their parents came home on Sunday afternoon, and all 3 kids were alive, hydrated, and fed, with only two band-aids used on microscopic “ouchies” the entire weekend.

I’d call that a screaming success.

Now we have moved on to another adventure.  

Ya’ll know I can’t sit still…

AGMA’s aways wanted to take a train trip to the Pacific Northwest part of the USA.  You know, a trip where you have a tiny room on the train and get to sleep in it.  And go to the dining car for meals.  And then go to the Panorama car for a 180 view of the spectacular vistas of Glacier National Park and environs.

Well, we’re not doing that exactly.  But it’s close.

Sort of.  Not really.

Taking advantage of an Amtrak sale on “roomettes”, I booked a train trip from Chicago to Washington DC. Then from DC to Pittsburgh, PA.  Then back to Chicago. 

No dining car.  No Panorama car with 180 views.  No Pacific Northwest.

But it’s probably as safe as travel can get these days (hopefully) and we get to see family we haven’t seen for over a year.

And, best of all, we get to sleep on the train.

However, AGMA thinks sleep may be an overly generous term.  

A roomette is a small, private room that’s about 4.5 feet wide and nearly 7 feet long.  It has a sliding door that closes to keep all the virus yuckies in the hall and out of the room.  There are two wide seats in the roomette that face each other with a tray table that pulls out to eat or work on. It has a closet in it that is literally 6 inches wide. The seats magically convert into a lower bunk, and there is an upper bunk stored above the seats that folds down at night.

We do have to venture out of our cocoon to visit the water closet, but we have been assured by everybody at Amtrak that the attendant de-viruses it multiple times every hour.  

I brought loads of hand sanitizer with me just in case.

The meals are delivered to the roomette by the attendant.  And everybody has to wear a mask other than when they are in their little room.

So it feels kinda, sorta safe.

Now I have to interject for any European readers (maybe Candians as well?) that train travel in the US is a far cry from train travel in your country.  The infrastructure and trains cars are older, the trains are slow, it’s expensive unless you catch a sale, and, other than the Northeast US, the service network is not very extensive.

This makes AGMA sad because I love taking trains in Europe. They are, for the most part, fast, reliable, affordable and cover most places you want to go.  (Although I was on an Italian train once that was chaos, but that’s another post…)

Way back in the day, Americans used to travel by train quite often, but they’ve had a love affair with their automobiles ever since Henry Ford puttered down main street in a Model-T.  They abandon rail travel for the “road trip”.   Gas was cheap and with the brand new interstate highway system in the 1950’s, they never looked back.

I’m on the train right now.  It’ll take us a hour longer to get to Pittsburgh from DC on the train than if we had driven.  

But it’s so much more fun than driving…

Except maybe the sleeping.

AGMA had to take the top bunk on the trip to DC because of Hub’s mobility issue.  I didn’t mind.  To me, it was all fun and games….

Until I actually got up there.  

Beside being incredibly narrow, the bunk was so close to the ceiling that I couldn’t sit up in bed.  And I’m a touch claustrophobic. It felt a little like I was in a closed MRI machine.

Uh oh…  A mild panic started to rise up, but I did some deep breathing zen stuff and it went away.

Sort of.

And rather than the gentle rocking that would lull me to sleep I had imagined, it felt more like AGMA was in the first Conestoga wagon to travel on the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800’s. I was jostled back and forth with only these small canvas straps attached to the bunk going up to the ceiling to keep me from being flung out of bed into the depths of the roomette floor 15 feet below.

Okay, it was only 5 feet.  But it seemed a whole lot farther when you looked down.

I won’t even start to go into the machinations AGMA had to go through to get up to go to the toilet in the middle of the night.  

The next day, Hubs complained about the rough train ride during the night, and how he rocked back and forth too much.  While he was in his comfy bottom bunk. Poor baby.  

I just glared at him.

Strangely, my enthusiasm for riding the rails is not dimmed.  With our trip nearly 75% complete, AGMA’s thinking that I need to watch for the next Amtrak sale to book another trip.  Maybe one this winter going through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to California?

Not sure I can talk Hubs into it though because he really did not like of all of the “rocking back and forth”.  Poor baby.

So I might have to go solo and claim the bottom bunk as my own on the next trip.

“Distance makes the heart grow fonder”, as the old saying goes.

Hmmm…maybe yes.  Maybe no.

But I’m pretty sure I’ll sleep better.

(Note: I wrote this on the train a few days ago, but we are now safely back in Chicago. As predicted, AGMA’s eagerly planning my next Iron Horse adventure!)

My weekend in Istanbul – Part 1

Yes…AGMA is alive and kicking!

Well, maybe just alive, but these days that’s pretty much a win.

Given the state of the world, and the fact that my muse of a coffee shop is closed, I just haven’t been in mood to write.

Lord knows time isn’t an issue.  Anymore.

Nor will it be an issue in the foreseeable future…

The world has changed drastically in the 3 weeks since AGMA wrote my last post.  Changed more that I think any of us could have imagined.  In our wildest dreams.

Or nightmares.

When the coronavirus was first reported on in China, Hubs said, “This is going to be like one of those monkey movies.”  Pish posh – I thought he was being an alarmist.

Silly girl.

We are currently living in one of those contagion monkey movies.

I think I want my money back.

So AGMA made, in hindsight of course, the not so wise decision to go forward with a tour of Turkey with friends in the midst of a global pandemic that was moving across the globe like wildfire.

Boy, was I stupid.

“Let’s go to Turkey!” I said.  “Let’s fly in a day early to get our bearings!” I said. “It will be an adventure!” I said

I hate it when I’m right.

AGMA started feeling uncomfortable about going the week before we were supposed to leave.  Cases of COVID-19 were multiplying fast around the world.  But the US didn’t have very many cases and Turkey had zero.  And my friends were all still really gung ho about going.

Since AGMA was the one who talked them all into booking this trip, I put my discomfort aside and told myself, “This is going to be fun and it’s all going to turn out great!”

Humans have a great capacity of self-deception.

The day we left, March 11, coronavirus was declared a global pandemic by WHO. (And no – I’m not going to break out into a Abbot and Costello routine…)

Gulp.

My good friend and travel companion, C, and I met up with D & K in Amsterdam who flew in from Detroit.  While waiting for our flight to Istanbul, the news came across that the Orange Madman had decided to suspend flights coming into the US from 26 European countries.

Ah oh…our return flight home on March 24th was going to connect through Paris.

Double gulp.

We all kind of looked at each other and said, “We’ll sort it out when the time comes,” and boarded our flight to Istanbul.

Looking back, it was sorta cute in a naive kinda way that we thought we’d actually be in Turkey until March 24th.

After a loooonnnnggg travel day, we finally got to our hotel in Istanbul around 7 PM on March 12th.

But there is no rest for a wicked AGMA.  I had a dinner date with a woman Hubs and I met through EatWith when we were in Istanbul in November 2018.

C and I sort of wiped ourselves down, brushed our teeth and changed our clothes, and hurried off through the darken streets of Istanbul toward the Hamdi Restaurant.

And it was on those back streets that we got the news…

(Please recall that I said to my friends, “Let’s fly in a day early to get our bearings!”)

An urgent text from our tour company said, “Your trip is suspended.  Do not board flight.  Travel restrictions related to COVID-19.  Check email for further updates.”

There we were, 6000 miles away from home and no tour to join.

AGMA started to laugh.

I mean, you either laugh or cry right?

We ended up have a fantastic dinner with my Turkish friend.  The food was delicious (nothing like having a native ordering for you!), the setting was magnificent (3rd floor view over the Golden Horn on one side and the Süleymaniye Mosque on the other), and the company was delightful.  It was almost enough to make us forget we were “stuck” in Istanbul.

Almost.

D & K were able to talk to the our tour company while C and I were at dinner.  They were hoping that the tour company could recommend a private guide so that we could do an abbreviated tour of Turkey.  After all, that was a heck of a long way to come to turn around and go home….  The tour company said, “Nah baby nah, ya’ll better hurry on home now.”

Before tuning in for the night, we all agreed to work on Plan B at breakfast

The breakfast buffet at the Yasmak Sultan Hotel was wonderful!  Even with only a few hours sleep, a good breakfast and some strong coffee perked all of us up.  We all decided that we needed to get out of Dodge by the most direct route possible as soon as possible.

And as luck would have it, Turkish Airlines flies a direct route from Istanbul to Atlanta.  Well now, that seemed like a no brainer…

Since we were in a bit of a bother to get home, we all paid for our return flights on the 15th out of pocket.  We figured we’d take up the matter of the flights we had booked home on the 3/24 with our OTA when we got home.

We checked out of the Yasmak Sultan and into the Legacy Ottoman Hotel for our final 2 nights in Istanbul.  The tour company had prepaid for the rooms at the Legacy for 2 nights as part of our tour and the hotel said we were welcomed to use them.

Sweet!

At this point, on March 13th, Turkey had just reported it’s first case of COVID-19, so we felt pretty comfortable staying there for 2 more days.

We played tourists on the 13th and had a great day!  The weather was incredible and we enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Turkish people.

And I got to go to a Turkish Bath again.  Heaven on earth!

And the food.  The yummy for the tummy food.  The “OMG, this is amazing” food.

Did I mention how much I like the food is in Istanbul?

Part 2 coming as soon as AGMA loosens my belt…