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The challenge now is that after a decade’s absence, I suspected that my list was getting out of date and not worthy of posting, given the pace at which Las Vegas seems to reinvent itself and to update its attractions.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

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When a Colleague Has Food Allergies

A couple of months ago, I overheard a young lady and her colleague on the elevator, in a conversation that went something like this:

“Are you going to the pizza lunch?”

“Yes, I guess we have to. It’s mandatory.”

“Except for those people who asked for gluten-free.” She started shaking her head and continued, “Come on, it’s a free lunch.”

Ever since that conversation I still find myself shaking my head in disbelief that anyone could say something so unenlightened. Whether a person has an allergy, an intolerance, a medical condition, a dietary restriction or a preference, people’s food choices need to be respected. Period!

I suspect that the young lady in question probably does not have a family member with a food allergy or intolerance, for her to say that a lunch being free is a good reason to eat something that could pose an allergy risk.

In my case, wheat can turn my world completely upside down for about 24 hours. Imagine if you will, your absolute worst stomach flu, resulting in frequent, persistent, urgent and (please excuse the vulgarity) “explosive” trips to the washroom. Then add the sensation of something sharp painfully working its way through the digestive system. Continue reading

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Filed under food, Health and Wellness, Misc blogs

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

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Filed under Cats, Christmas

Enjoying the Holidays without Overcharging the Senses

When I wrote the blog post “How I Became an Early Christmas Shopper”, I suggested that the reason why I felt more inclined to shop earlier and avoid the mayhem of malls in December, was perhaps a question of becoming more sensitive.

One year later, after a series of discussions with a therapist, I realize it may not be a question of “becoming” more sensitive. In all likelihood, I always was.

Even though I stand right on the line between introvert and extrovert, with one foot well into extrovert territory, it is still easy for me to get overwhelmed. There is no shortage of events in the month of December to overcharge one’s senses:

– Faster pace: The office often gets busier with a surge of activity in trying to tie up loose ends on projects and produce the last status reports of the year, before everyone takes vacation time.

– More activity: The social calendar tends to fill with holiday parties and lunches with family, friends and co-workers.

– Sensory stimulation: Shopping malls with lights and decorations hanging from every nook and cranny, with the aroma of hundreds of perfumes hanging in the air, as music blares from shops like they are nightclubs, while kids scream from being hungry, too warm, too tired or all of the above.

– And on an empathetic level, as much as people romanticize it as being “the most wonderful time of the year”, there is no shortage of negative energy in the air to soak up through people’s rushing, their impatience, their aggressive driving and their temper tantrums in stores. Continue reading

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My Top 10 Worries Before Becoming a Cat Owner

Now that Miss Ivy has been with me a couple of years, I am amused when I think back to the things I worried about before I got her.
Becoming a first time pet owner was not a decision I took lightly, nor should it be taken lightly. Adopting a pet is a huge responsibility and I wanted to be absolutely certain I was doing the right thing, for her and for me.

As much as I worried (and obsessed) about it, I don’t think I could have imagined just exactly how much I would be getting out of this wonderful experience and how much joy she brought.

I would like to thank the friends and co-workers who took the time to walk me through their pet raising experiences to convince me that taking in a rescue cat was the right thing to do.

Here they are the top 10 things I worried about before I got the cat:

10- Objects not remaining where I left them
When hearing that cats can be pretty good at hiding things, especially items they may consider their favourite toys, I was worried about my belongings moving around the house. Fortunately Ivy lacks the dexterity or strength to move anything, but from time to time, I do see her own toys showing up unexpectedly in other rooms in the house.

A moving pile of laundry (notably a pile of towels) is a pretty common occurrence now. If I didn’t have a cat or a dog in the house, you better believe I would have jumped three feet off the floor at the sight of a pile of laundry walking away from the laundry centre.

9- Missing the litter box
When I moved into this house, the carpeting had a few nasty pet urine stains. On hot humid days, even with the air conditioning going full blast, it was as if those stains came back to life despite several professional cleanings.

Over the years, after spending several thousand dollars replacing the flooring and finally getting rid of that odour, I was very fearful of bringing in a pet. Miss Ivy put my fears to rest. With her litter box scooped every day or two, she always seems pretty content with her restroom facilities. Continue reading

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Filed under Cats, Humour, Top 10

What Surprises Me Most After Four Years as a Blogger

Last year, I posted a blog entitled “The Ups and Downs of Blogging Statistics” in which I admitted to checking out my blog statistics and keeping an eye on trends, but not obsessing about them, given that this was “rehearsal” time for me.

Blogging was a building block for me to refine my writing creative skills in preparation for my aspirations as a creative writer. My blogging was for the fun of it, and you were more than welcome to join me along the way.

But four years into the blogging journey, there is one aspect that often surprises me: the posts that keep getting viewed weeks, months or even years after I have originally posted them, and getting fairly consistent views over the long term.

As a blogger, I don’t sit down and think to myself, “This post will get a thousand views”, it doesn’t work that way. And even after posting the link on Google, Twitter, Facebook, Flipboard and sometimes Pinterest, we are sometimes at the mercy of the algorithms for how much prominence (and page views) a post might get.

I have read a good number of articles on blog promotion, and I have definitely taken experts’ advice to try to maximize clicks whether through a well-chosen title, a sharp picture to accompany it, adherence to a consistent posting schedule, as well as seeking lessons learned by the most viewed posts. Continue reading

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Filed under 50+, Cats, Humour, Inspiring, Running, Writing

How Index Cards Became My New Writing Tool

Throughout life, I have often considered myself a late bloomer, but never more so than now in discovering the joy of index cards. Yes, index cards!

With the little writer’s voice in my head constantly pitching ideas to me, the challenge has always been to find the means to capture those ideas IMMEDIATELY.

I can usually juggle a handful of random ideas for about half an hour until I can get to a screen or a piece of paper to jot them down. But beyond that, I run the same risk as the cartoon dog from the movie “Up!” because the moment I’m distracted by a “Squirrel!” the idea could be gone forever.

Sometimes an idea might just fizzle out on its own, or sometimes it might grow into a mighty oak in the form of a blog post, a screenplay or even a novel, but the key is to capture that idea in order to see what comes of it.

To do that, I do my best to capture them all. Figuring out the best vehicle to capture the ideas has been the tricky part. Continue reading

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Filed under How to, Humour, Misc blogs, Writing