Tag Archives: ideas

A Bucket List Trip to Las Vegas

A busy evening on Las Vegas Blvd.

When it comes to Las Vegas, I am definitely no stranger. Despite the distance from Ottawa, I have been there enough times over the years that I seem to have lost count.

It’s not that I consider myself a big gambler. It’s quite the contrary. There are so many things to see and do, whether you like entertainment, food, shopping, sightseeing or just the dry warm weather, Las Vegas can appeal on so many levels.

Back in the early 2000’s I wrote a “Vegas Top 10” email that I kept in my drafts folder for whenever friends and colleagues asked what they should see on their visit. I guess you could consider that my first travel blog entry, before blogs became popular.

The challenge now is that after a decade’s absence, I suspected that my list was getting out of date and not worthy of posting, given the pace at which Las Vegas seems to reinvent itself and to update its attractions.

The opportunity to visit Las Vegas, and to potentially validate my Top 10 list, presented itself last fall as my partner and I decided to treat ourselves and to celebrate our birthdays with tickets to see Cher and Céline Dion in their residency shows.

We were fortunate that our late November travel dates are not considered high tourist season. We believe that this played in our favour as we got pretty good deals on the points required to fly, as well as for our “once-in-a-lifetime” bucket list stay at the Bellagio Hotel.

My new discovery when comparison shopping for hotels in Vegas, was something that I don’t recall from my last visits, an item called “Resort Fees”. Even though they offer a range of additional services to the hotel stay, they vary from one property to another, making an exact comparison a bit more challenging. By paying attention to the fine print of the resort fees in our shortlist of hotel options, I am convinced that we made a well-informed decision.

After a long travel day and a refreshing night’s sleep, we were greeted with open arms at our first breakfast at Café Bellagio by an outgoing server named Heidi. She made us laugh, she made us feel at home, and she made me feel like my gluten intolerance was no problem whatsoever for the serving staff nor for the kitchen staff. The service she provided was worthy of the name Bellagio. In my feedback to the hotel, I made the point that Heidi was the reason we ended up returning each morning.

A colourful fall display at the Conservatory in the Bellagio Hotel.

With our tummies very full from the hearty breakfast, our first day of sightseeing consisted of walking around the hotels south of the Bellagio, an area that had developed considerably in my ten year absence. We enjoyed a browse through the Cosmopolitan Hotel and we did some window shopping through The Shops at Crystals. We ran into some cheery fellow Canadians at the CVS pharmacy, who told us they loved Céline’s show despite her feeling a little under the weather.

We continued our stroll through the Monte Carlo to locate the venue for Cher’s concert later in the week, then stopped for refreshments at the Shake Shack as it was starting to get warm. We continued on to New York New York then zipped across the street to check out the MGM Grand and the Hard Rock, picking up some snacks to tide us over until dinner.

It was an incredible stroke of luck that we happened to be there in the middle of a heat wave. Where the average temperatures would have been typically in the low 60s (Fahrenheit), the afternoon highs reached the 80s each day, which made hanging out by the Bellagio pool so inviting, offering us one last taste of summery weather before heading into a cold and snowy Canadian winter.

We returned to Café Bellagio to check out their dinner offerings. While I am not usually one to pull out my phone at the table, when I finished my meal I did take a quick glance at my email. Maybe it was the Canadians we met at CVS that sparked my intuition, combined with a recent run of bad luck of concert cancellations due to illness. Then the bad news came: Céline had cancelled her show that night due to back issues… the day of John’s birthday. He was crushed! I was crushed because I had never seen Céline in concert yet (another bucket list item!)

The beautiful fountains in front of the Mirage Hotel.

Given that we have both dealt with back issues, we understood… reluctantly… but we understood. So we paid the bill, dusted ourselves off and dashed to a ticket booth to see what other shows were available as a last minute substitute to try to salvage the spirit of this milestone birthday.

He chose Cirque Du Soleil’s “O”. What a great choice! As my first Cirque du Soleil show, what an amazing introduction. “O” opened my eyes to the idea that Cirque du Soleil is not like the circuses that came to town when I was a kid. It’s theatre, it’s great music, it’s art, it’s dance, it’s acrobatics, it’s comedy and it’s mind blowing. I even admit to shedding a couple of tears from the sheer beauty of the entire experience. I was instantly transformed from someone with an aversion to circuses to a Cirque du Soleil goodwill ambassador.

Following another generous breakfast at Café Bellagio, our second day focused on Centre strip, as we explored the sights around Caesar’s Palace, Mirage, Treasure Island and the Venetian at a leisurely pace. In the afternoon we took another dip in the pool to cool off.

What we hadn’t anticipated was that because it was Thanksgiving, several of the sights on our list, like the Neon museum, were closed. When does Vegas ever close? But we made the best of it.

For John’s special birthday dinner, we enjoyed a delicious meal at the Gordon Ramsay Pub and Grill in Caesar’s Palace. We followed it up by taking back to our room some scrumptious selections from the Cheesecake Factory, also conveniently located in Caesar’s Palace.

Our third day started with another huge breakfast at Café Bellagio and the indecision as to whether a visit to the Fashion Show Mall on Black Friday was a good idea. We decided to check it out anyway with the agreement to a “safe word” which meant it was time to leave. Strategically, it worked out nicely to be there soon after it opened and to not spend more than a couple of hours as it did indeed get quite busy. Nonetheless, we each found a few items to challenge our packing skills for the return trip home.

Cher making a big entrance at her concert.

It was a bittersweet moment to take our last dip in the pool that afternoon, knowing that this was the last warm weather we’d see for six months. We savoured every last moment, to the point of almost needing a crowbar to pry me away from the railing around the pool area, but I knew what awaited later.

We enjoyed a most delightful prix-fixe dinner at Wolfgang Puck’s Cucina in The Shops at Crystals. We agreed that the serving staff was top notch, striking a perfect balance between professional and perfectly choreographed, while still allowing a relaxed vibe to prevail. We would recommend Cucina in a heartbeat!

For our last evening, we were back at the Monte Carlo to see Cher’s show. Even though we had both seen Cher in concert before, we just can’t get enough. A Cher concert is the real deal offering wonderful music spanning 6 decades, beautiful costumes, great dancers, a stunning set that’s ever changing, and a bona fide living legend in the centre of it all. We loved every second. We will be seeing her again, I’m certain of it, whether in Vegas or on her next farewell tour.

In a few short days, it seemed that we crammed in a lot of activity, yet we were still able to enjoy it at a fairly leisurely pace and see so many different things.

In previous visits, I have seen hilarious comedy shows, amazing live music, the best lounge acts, and beloved Broadway shows. I’ve been in a parade float, I’ve been to the top of the Stratosphere, I’ve gone up the Eiffel Tower and I’ve shopped ‘til I dropped.

And that’s the beauty of Las Vegas. You can visit several times and still come up with different itineraries each and every time.

I’ll be back!

A winning combination at the slot machines!

Did you enjoy this post? Please check out the rest of my blog at andrebegin.blog. From there, you can click on the “Follow” button to receive future posts directly in your inbox.
Also, don’t be shy, feel free to tell a friend or to share the link.
Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Travel

My Lifelong Envy of Artists and Their Sketch Pads

Regular readers of my blog might remember a couple of posts in which I talk about how other artists inspire me as a writer, even when their works of art come from other creative disciplines.

Musicians who can pick up an instrument, anytime, anywhere, and start playing beautiful music are mind-blowing to me. I am also in awe of singers who can not only carry a tune, but bring such depth and complexity to a song by smartly using their “instrument”. It is also a joy to behold when an actor can take a script and breathe such life into a role that I am able to completely suspend judgement and believe in a fictional character.

I especially envy visual artists who can take a pencil and a sheet of paper and produce picture-perfect images worthy of a gallery showing.

In high school, while certain teachers droned on in that Charlie Brown teacher’s voice, I remember looking over at my artist friends during class, pencils blazing over whatever piece of paper (or flat surface) was at their disposal. Blank pages were magically transformed into masterpieces with images of eyes, faces or pets from different angles, and all from the perspective of their mind’s eye.

There was seemingly no struggle to their process. They did not stare at a blank page, think hard about it, draw, erase, draw, erase and start over. It just seemed to flow out of them like they were on auto-pilot. They made it look effortless. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Inspiring, Writing

Keeping the Christmas Tree Vertical (in the Presence of a Curious Cat)

The first Christmas after Ivy the Wonder Cat joined me, the same jitters that I felt before her adoption were back with a vengeance. This time, I was worried about how she would behave around the artificial Christmas tree.

Five months into our relationship, I already knew she was a good little kitty who didn’t have any predispositions to destructive behaviour. Nonetheless, she still had a strong curious streak which could make the tradition of keeping a Christmas tree upright a challenge. I had heard enough horror stories and seen enough videos to know just exactly what cats are capable of, in the presence of a bright, shiny “play structure” in the middle of the living room.

I turned to my panel of experts at the office who all offered fabulous, practical tips to keeping the tree and the cat safe (thanks again, everyone!) Plus, with experience, I added a few of my own ideas upon realizing that my cat was not only smart but fearless when it came to climbing the tree.

Here are some of the strategies I use to keep my Christmas tree vertical throughout the holiday season:

– For the first Christmas with Ivy, I kept my most cherished (and breakable) ornaments in a box, safely tucked away until I knew how she would behave. This took some of the fear and apprehension out of the experience.

– When I install the tree lights, I try to avoid the branches at the very bottom, within the reach of her paws. By avoiding those branches, not only is it safer for Ivy and the tree, I find that at human eye-level, the overall appearance of the tree is enhanced given the greater concentration of lights higher up. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Cats, Christmas

Ten Things to Do With the Extra Hour

If I had to pick a favourite between the “Spring Forward” and “Fall Back” time change, the winner has to be “Fall Back”. Not only do we regain the hour that we lost in the spring, but in the days that follow, in feeling sleepier at bedtime and falling asleep faster, it seems to make for a more restful night’s sleep.

The downside is that we are thrown back into darkness earlier in the afternoon. Losing that hour of natural light late in the day seems to make those winter months feel like they drag on and on, thus invoking the urge to curl up on the couch with a pillow, a blanket and the remote… or is that just me?

But on the upside, that extra hour holds so many possibilities for things to do. Here are ten ideas:

10. Catch up on the things that weren’t completed when the hour was taken away last spring

In our time-starved, busy lives, it can be pretty amazing how much we can miss that hour in the spring. At a time when we are itching to shed our winter parkas and fling the windows wide open to welcome the new season with open arms, deducting an hour from the spring cleaning, gardening or outdoor sports training agenda seems counterintuitive when there is so much to do.

9. Adjusting the clocks

Thankfully, many of the clocks in the house take care of themselves now and reset automatically. But for the ones that are not connected to computers and that need a little manual intervention (and sometimes require a refresher from its user manual), it seems that a good 15 minutes can be gobbled up just on clock detail.

8. Debating the merits of the time change

Between the recent reports on regions looking to remain on Standard Time year-round, to the articles weighing the pros and cons or speculating on the actual savings of Daylight Savings Time, a reader could easily use up that extra hour just reading up on the extra hour. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Humour, Misc blogs, Top 10

My Top 10 Favourite Halloween Costumes

Over the years, I haven’t been one to shy away from dressing up for Halloween (… or any other day of the year, when the occasion called for it). I have always found it to be a lot of fun to step out of character for a day and take on another persona for the pure fun it.

Over the course of a half-century, I have had plenty of opportunities to try on different costumes. What surprises me is that the ones that seem to be the most memorable were not necessarily the store-bought ones, but the ones that involved an injection of creativity to complete the look.

Here are a few of my favourites:

10. Bugs Bunny

The most memorable store-bought costume had to be my favourite cartoon character, Bugs Bunny. Because I wasn’t in growth spurts around that time, I am pretty sure I wore it for (at least) two consecutive Halloweens.

It was pretty simple really, a grey polyester jumpsuit with a white chest and belly that I could hop in and out of in seconds, and a plastic mask with a little elastic in the back that needed a little reinforcing for the second year.

Add a carrot, fresh from our garden, with the stems still on and I was as happy as a clam. It really was a simple pleasure.

9. Groucho Marx

Inspired from an episode of “All in the Family” where Mike and Gloria were dressed up as Groucho and Harpo Marx, Mom helped me make a home-made Groucho Marx outfit. For the costume, she raided my parents’ closet for a white shirt, jacket and pants that would appear baggy on me, and then drew on a moustache and bushy eyebrows. Combined with plastic glasses and a plastic cigar from my toy box, and a repertoire of horrible jokes, it was an easy yet effective home-made costume that was a lot of fun. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under 50+, Humour, Top 10, TV

Would I Volunteer When I Retire?

Ever since I turned 50, not a day passes that I don’t consider what I might want to do in retirement.

It is kind of funny because for the first half of my career, it was all about mentally preparing for the next work assignment and the next career step, hoping to strike to right balance between something I can be good at, something lucrative and sustainable, and something that will keep me happy.

At this stage in life, the hunt is still on, but not so much about the next career step as it is for activities I may be interested in pursuing in my next chapter.

Of course, there is no rush. As I suggested in my post about my retirement “gap year”, sleeping, recharging my batteries and writing for the fun of it will be my top activities in that first year. But at the same time, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with taking note of the activities that make me happy and which hold particular meaning to me.

Volunteering is one of those activities.

Much like with one’s career, I think it is very important to pitch in not only where the need exists but also to volunteer for causes that are close to one’s heart. In doing so, the time spent volunteering should be more fun and energizing rather than draining.

This is what I tried to explain to my dad many moons ago, when he objected to my volunteering just as I was launching my career. In retrospect, I certainly understand his point of view in that it was important to focus my full energy to my burgeoning career. But early on, there were days that I felt that my job was not tapping into my full potential, especially from a creative perspective.
That is why I was looking for other outlets. Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under 50+, Cats, Inspiring

How Creating a Character’s Family Tree is Like Sudoku

It’s midnight and I’m not sure whether it’s every writer’s dream or every writer’s nightmare, but the little writer’s voice is babbling details about the family tree for the characters in my screenplay.

On one hand, I am a little annoyed because it is a “school night” and I have a busy work day planned for tomorrow. On the other hand, with the heartbreak of writer’s block going on around the world, I really can’t complain when my own writer’s voice is in overdrive with ideas.

I grab a pen and a pad (tucked neatly in my nightstand for just such a literary emergency) and I start sketching out the ideas as they come to me.

Given that this is my first screenplay, this is all new to me, but if it’s anything like my process for writing blog posts, this probably won’t be a linear process from start to end.

The main characters start identifying themselves to me. Then, the main sources of tension between the characters form a neatly bulleted list. The resulting struggles are identified and even the desired end result becomes crystal clear to me.

Now… how do we get from “once upon a time” to “and they lived happily ever after”, while hitting all those marks along the way? Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Humour, Misc blogs, Writing