Tag Archives: shopping

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The challenge now is that after a decade’s absence, I suspected that my list was getting out of date and not worthy of posting, given the pace at which Las Vegas seems to reinvent itself and to update its attractions.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

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Sincere thanks for reading!
Have a great day,
André

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Jeans and the Generation Gap

A couple of years ago, I wrote about my love-hate relationship with my iron in a tribute to my Dad and his crisp office shirts.

In that same train of thought, when growing up in the 1970’s, while in school in the 1980’s, and when launching my career in the 1990’s, the expectation was to have clean, neat and crisp clothes anytime I set foot outside the house, because “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. Even if we look back at pictures from that era and question the wisdom of some of our fashion choices, neat and tidy clothing were a common denominator.

My parents’ suit-and-tie generation set the bar pretty high, even for a child. Clothes were meant to be worn gently, and maintained carefully to keep looking new as long as possible. The rotation generally went like this: every September, we got me new school clothes and the previous year’s school clothes (if I hadn’t outgrown them yet) became the “play clothes”, for wearing as soon as I got home from school. When a new batch of school clothes came in, a batch of gently-used play clothes would go to charity.

Along the way, a little nick in clothing meant taking out the needle and thread and try to make an invisible repair to restore it to its original beauty. And if invisible mending wasn’t successful, it went into the donation box.

That’s just the way I was brainwashed… I mean, brought up. It wasn’t just my parents’ generation that instilled this way of thinking, but it was my grandparents’ generation too who declared open war on wrinkles and holes long before I was born. And just think of the staff on Downtown Abbey and how many items they’ve darned and mended through their six seasons.

About 10 years ago, I let myself get talked into buying a distressed pair of brand name jeans with a few strategically-placed pulled threads. I can’t tell you what a struggle it was each time to convince myself to wear them and that I supposedly looked like a cool, edgy, fashion-forward 40 year old. I may have looked it, but I certainly didn’t feel it. Continue reading

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My Writer’s Uniform

For as long as I can remember, spring and fall were usually times to head back to the malls and hunt for a few new items of clothing to refresh the wardrobe.

I would assume that the timing has its origins back to childhood when fall meant “back to school” and spring meant replacing the t-shirts and shorts I outgrew from the previous season. Even though I haven’t set foot in a classroom in years and “outgrowing” holds a different meaning today, the traditions of shopping for spring and fall fashion stuck with me.

But the paradigm of seasonal shopping is starting to shift. With retirement just a few years away, my clothing needs are changing.

I would like to think that until now, for my work life and my social life, I had cultivated a look that struck the right balance between the office dress code, what allowed me to feel comfortable and confident and what pleased me personally.

I developed a uniform of separates I truly loved, that fit me the way I wanted. Through carefully selected long sleeved shirts, sweaters, blazers, dress pants, cotton pants, jeans, shoes, and socks of all colours, it was very easy to mix and match the pieces to achieve a multitude of looks, appropriate for the weather, the occasion, and how I felt on a given day.

I also had on hand the obligatory suits for interviews, weddings and funerals.

Similarly, I knew exactly which pieces traveled better than others, which took the guesswork out of packing for a trip. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Humour, Misc blogs, Writing

Christmas Traditions, Past and Present

What is it about the holiday season that has us so deeply entrenched in tradition?

Is it the reminder of the eager anticipation we felt on Christmas morning, waking up to see what Santa brought? Is it the feast for the senses throughout the month of December? Is it the reminder of a simpler, gentler time?

Or is the totality of the experience, combining the recreation of old familiar traditions with the new experiences that get woven in as the fabric of our lives changes?

Here are ten such traditions that have formed an important part of the holidays for me over the years:

10. Shopping
I recently blogged about how shopping in December is so much fun, I now shop in November. But in all seriousness, I do have very fond memories of being a store clerk in my high school and university years and how much I enjoyed helping last minute shoppers find the perfect holiday gifts. In those last days leading up to the big day, there was magic and electricity in the air that made time fly, helping customer after customer ring through with their purchases and hurry out the door to their family, friends and festivities. I enjoyed that role of a sort of Christmas Elf so much, things may come full circle as something I might reconsider in my retirement years.

9. Christmas cards
Ever since I was a child, I enjoyed sending and receiving Christmas cards through the mail. As I got older I realized that it was impossible to see everyone over the holidays unless I had my own magic sleigh, 8 reindeer and unlimited time. Sending cards is that opportunity to tell someone that I am thinking of them, even if we don’t see each other that often, as well as the chance to convey my best wishes for the new year. True enough, electronic cards, email and texts can still convey the message so much more efficiently, but I still like the ritual of the mailbox and the “Aww!” moment of opening a card, reading a nice greeting and the joy of the ongoing connection with the sender. Plus, when I find a perfect card that captures an inside joke, makes someone laugh, or strikes the right chord in one way or another, it can be a beautiful thing.

8. Baking
Is there anything that helps to stir up the memories of Christmas past than the sweet smell of baking favourite holiday treats? In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I do find myself puttering in the kitchen more than usual, reviving old favourites to bring to potlucks, parties or to give as gifts. When that sweet smell gently fills the house, it really does whisper “Christmas is coming”. Date squares, pecan squares, butter cookies and rum balls, are just some of the traditional indulgences that I revive annually. Continue reading

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How I Became an Early Christmas Shopper

A couple of years ago, in the blog post “The Christmas Trees of August”, I poked fun at the retail sector and how stores seem to be putting out seasonal merchandise earlier and earlier each year.

It is funny how times change.

Here we are, two short years later, and I am finding myself seriously venturing out to Christmas shop earlier and earlier with each passing year.

At the best of times throughout the year, I rarely shop on Saturday afternoons. But in the last weeks approaching Christmas, I also avoid shopping on Saturday mornings as the stores and parking lots get far too busy for me. Then a week later, I will drop Sunday as a possible shopping day. Then a week later, Friday evenings are off the list. A week after that, Thursday evenings are eliminated.

When I only have Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings to get my shopping done, there are only so many hours to accomplish that.

Then add to the mix the wildcard of snowstorms or freezing rain that can strike at any moment. If they do, some of those prime shopping days can unexpectedly disappear.

What does one do in light of this weird Christmas shopping algorithm?… I started shopping earlier.

Why?

I seem to have a romantic notion of Christmas shopping being a fun activity. Continue reading

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The Rewards of Vending Machines

vending-machinesOn a recent visit to the mall, I noticed a little girl was carefully perusing the contents of the row of gum ball and toy vending machines, with the same intensity I demonstrated when I was shopping for new appliances. She was contorting herself around the machines, checking out all of the contents and trying to predict which items were to come out next.

I understood that this was a major purchase and she was looking for the best value for her hard earned allowance money. That was me 40+ years ago!

After much scrutiny and analysis, she pointed to a machine, put in her coin, turned the crank, opened the plastic bubble and voilà! Pure joy and a huge smile! I could only assume that she got what she was looking for as she was visibly delighted with her prize.

I was reminded of my own childhood and my borderline addiction to those machines. I remember my sock drawer was proudly filled with little gum-ball-machine toys I had collected from trips to the grocery store or the department store.

I don’t think my experience was all that unusual though. With those machines at eye level for a kid, it was so easy to beg parents and relatives for coins, to get something I “positively need, and promise I won’t ask for anything again”… until the next visit.

But what is it about those machines that ignites our curiosity? If common sense prevails, one would think that being able to hold, feel and inspect a product up close to make an informed decision would the more balanced way to go. However the separation of human and product by a plastic window seems to appeal to our sense of adventure.

Or is it because we have become the product of our own life-long Pavlovian experiment since a very young age: put in a coin, get a treat? Continue reading

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With This Many Loyalty Cards, How Loyal Can You Be?

Reward CardsDo you remember the episode of the TV sitcom “Seinfeld” when George Costanza’s wallet explodes from the multitude of items he had filed away in it? Some days, I feel that could be me just from the quantity of reward and loyalty cards I have accumulated over the years.

Just this past week, I was in a rush to leave the house to go see a movie and found myself deep diving through the kitchen counter pile of flyers, lists, receipts and other miscellaneous orphaned items, to look for my movie loyalty card. Fortunately I found it in time, despite the needle in the haystack factor.

I have loyalty cards for airlines, hotels, department stores, grocery stores and pharmacies. I have cards to earn me free coffee, free pet food and free dry cleaning, to name a few.

As you can see by the stack of cards in the picture, I am a member of a multitude of loyalty programs, but frankly I am not as loyal to them as they may think. I confess, I have been seeing other stores behind their back.

Out of all of those cards, only two of them are always in my wallet. Maybe five get rotated in and out of the wallet regularly (…when I remember to). The rest, I try to keep as organized as possible by placing them all in a business card keeper (…when I remember to).

Talk about a house of cards, Continue reading

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