Saturday, February 26, 2011

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wild and Crazy Vegas baby!

Mum and Dad have been staying in Florida for the past month, so Michael and I decided to take advantage of their generous offer to babysit and take an early 40th birthday trip for me! I'd never been to Vegas before and Mike had only spent one night there so we decided to fly out on the Thursday after Valentine's Day for a long weekend. I signed us up for a desert run while we were there which seemed like a good idea at the time...

Las Vegas was originally submerged by a massive lake and the earliest signs of people date back about 11,000 years ago. Eventually the lake dried up and later the Paiute tribe occupied the area for several centuries. It wasn't until 1829 that Las Vegas ("the meadows") was given it's name by explorers on the Spanish trail. Mormon settlers, gold prosepctors and railroad builders occupied the area at the beginning of the turn of the century, but it wasn't until 1931 (when Nevada legalized gambling to drive tax revenues) and 1935 (when construction of the nearby Hoover Dam started) that "Sin City" really started to grow and earn it's reputation.

The airport is right alongside the famous strip and I filled up when I saw my first recognizable Vegas landmark - the Luxor pyramid. The beacon at the top shoots a beam of light 10 miles into the sky making it the biggest in the world! On our first night Mike won $1,900 playing Black Jack. We didn't realize that you have to pay tax on anything over $1,200 but who cares - we were winners!

The Excalibur Hotel was the biggest hotel in the world when it opened in 2000...


The MGM Grand is still the world's second largest hotel. It was originally 'Wizard of Oz'-themed (hence the Emerald City colored exterior) and their famous "Leo" lion structure later replaced the open-mouthed lion that was a part of the hotel's original entrance. This was removed due to the fact that some Chinese gamblers were avoiding the casino due to the feng shui belief that entering the mouth of the lion was "bad luck" :). They have real lions inside the hotel so we took some photos for Maddy to add to her Big Cat Blog...Maddy's take on the MGM lions!


The New York New York hotel and casino has replicas of many of the city's landmarks as they appeared in 1940 and a roller coaster that goes through the casino. There is now a 911 memorial out front since so many people left flowers and tributes there after the 2001 tragedy. Many of the hotels are heavily scented and this one smells of vanilla! The Statue of Liberty replica is a third of the size of the actual statue.


We stayed at the gorgeous and luxurious Aria hotel which has been open for just over a year. It is part of the $11 Billion CityCenter Las Vegas project - a massive urban upscale development on 76 acres of the South strip. This project is the biggest privately financed construction project in the history of the United States.


The view of the strip from our hotel...


And from the room you could admire the Veer 'twin tower' condominiums that are built at a mesmarizing angle to each other...


We spent the whole of the first day walking the strip and checking out the hotels. The Bellagio holds the prize for the world's most expensive hotel at the time it opened. Here's Mike in the gorgeous Bellagio with their famous glass-decorated lobby ceiling.


And across the strip from 'Paris' with it's half-scale Eiffel tower replica...


And outside Caesars Palace where the movie, 'The Hangover' was filmed...


You can buy anything on the streets of Vegas...sound activated T-shirts maybe???


Or photos with Elvis?? Come on - he looks exactly like him...


As the South strip becomes the North strip, with the exception of a few gorgeous hotels, things get a little seedier. The Trump condo-hotel (with it's windows gilded in actual 24-carat gold) looks a little out of place behind the wasteland area out front. The mountains are such a beautiful backdrop whichever way you look though...


Circus Circus towards the top of the North strip is really tired and dated and a little scary to be honest...


They were selling bikinis made of candy and alcohol-infused whipped cream in the Circus Circus store...


You are not allowed to use cameras in the casinos so I took this one really quickly. You could win the car playing slots and evidently the biggest win on slots in Vegas history went to a waitress who won over $32M!!


On the way back we saw the Flamingo Hotel, on the site of the orginal casino opened by famous mobster, "Bugsy" Siegel and the Riviera, the home of Crazy Girls, the longest running topless show in Vegas...


The Venetian was one of my favorite hotels...


Mike won another $500 dollars that night in the casino, after we enjoyed a gorgeous dinner with his client and her husband at the award-winning Julian Serrano's tapas restaurant. We couldn't resist a nighttime trip up to the Bellagio to see their spectacular musical water-show :)

video

The next morning we rented a car and drove out of the city to Nelson, an old ghost town just before Boulder City. It was a bit rainy so the mountains looked particularly amazing...


We spent ages exploring the old mine shafts that have been ravaged by vandals...


There were bullet casings everywhere...


But the ruins were so amazing...


A photographer was doing a location shoot while we were there...


There is such a limited amount of wildlife but we did see a jack rabbit run by..


The movie, '3000 Miles from Graceland' starring Kevin Kostner was filmed here and they left behind a crashed plane 'prop' from the movie...


For lunch we drove out to the beautiful Lake Mead, America's largest artificially-created lake. It was formed from the Colorado river backwash that was created by the construction of the Hoover Dam...


Bighorn sheep are one of Michael's favorite animals so he was thrilled we spotted these guys - there are about a thousand of them living in the Lake Mead recreational area. :)


The Hoover Dam is just amazing...


We ended the day in Bootleg Canyon for our Moonlight Madness Desert Dash 5K run. Not exactly a run but more a hike in the dark. It was a bit of a disaster and I got lost in the mountains for an hour and a half. Mike was frantic. All the gory details are on the running blog (Click Here!) but the main thing is that we got out safely and have really cool scorpion race medals to show for it!


On our last day we played roulette and won another couple of hundred dollars which meant that we had paid for the entire trip!! We finished up looking around the few hotels that we hadn't already seen. I was so tired and suffering from post-Vegas hangover that I was happy to get a healthy drink at the airport. Not sure I could have made it another day - I'm starting to feel too old for this...:)

Sunday, February 06, 2011

My first (and Mike's second) Triathlon!

On the back of our fabulous Chili victory the previous day, we got up at the break of dawn on Superbowl Sunday (!) to do a triathlon. For those of you who are interested in all of the gory details, Click here for more Tri-stuff. For those of you who can't be bothered/don't have time, just know that it was really hard and we are officially rockstars :).

Saturday, February 05, 2011

2011 Chili Cook Off!

There were a ton of family and friends at the Villages Chili Cook Off this year to support Rita with her famous Yankees chili! It was great to catch up with Aunt Pat and Uncle Joe, the Langes, the Simards and the Badgers :)


Here are the boys: Dad, Mike, Rich and Dave helping with the cooking...


Matt and Declan...


Jen, Declan, Eileen and Liz...


Eileen, Rita and Madison...


My Mum and Dad were able to come for the first time too!


The kids had their faces painted. Here's Mya looking pretty as a princess...

 
And Maddy with a Big Cat of course:)


And my very own Superhero...
 

And the verdict?? Out of 61 teams of contestents in two separate towns, Rita Early was officially awarded first place - the Grand Master Champion trophy and $650 in prize money!


Here's Rita getting interviewed by the press!! How exciting!


And here's the article they published...Click here!

CONGRATULATIONS RITA!!!