Wednesday, December 22, 2010

And So It Ends...

...this year, that is. Another one is slowly coming to a close. It’s amazing how time flies. And it looks like this will be the last entry of this old year too. My vacation starts tomorrow and George and I will be rather busy doing a whole lot of different things in the coming days and next week. However, blogging, facebooking and such will not be so much on our agenda.

On this note, we would like to wish all of you out in the blogosphere a Happy Holiday Season and all the best for New Year 2011.

In the meantime, we’ll be using one of these... get to a place called the “fragrant harbour.”

See you all next year.

Monday, December 20, 2010

“It Never Rains in Southern California”

The news today said that the rain over Southern California were record shattering. Well, why not spent the weekend there then and be part of history. George and I were in Los Angeles over the weekend and rained. A lot! As in nonstop. It’s still raining there as we speak. And it has actually reached Las Vegas too in the meantime.

We left for L.A. around 1 p.m. and had a pretty good drive until Victorville. The first wave of rush hour was hitting but it was manageable. But we could already see the looming dark clouds that were building over the San Bernardino Mouintains. Behind those mountains most of Southern California was already being pummeled by torrential rains. As soon as we started to descent from the summit into the valley, the thick dark clouds and heavy fog were settling onto a very busy weekend traffic. I could barely see the brake lights of the car in the front of us. Traffic slowed down to crawl on the very steep section of the four-lane freeway cutting through El Cajon Pass. We were once stuck in a heavy snow storm driving up the pass many years ago. Let me just say it was not fun. At all!

Once we reached the foothills, the fog lifted somewhat and turned into misty rain. It would get harder as we got closer to the city but it wasn’t as bad we thought it would be. Traffic was normal traffic can be on those infamous Los Angeles freeways on a late Friday afternoon. We reached our hotel safe and sound and sooner than expected.

The Disneyland Resort was in walking distance, so we grabbed our umbrellas and headed on over to our destination of the evening, Downtown Disney. We had a wonderful dinner at Tortilla Jo’s, a very festive-looking Mexican restaurant. And since we also stuffed ourselves with scrumptious desserts we needed to walk off the extra ballast again. So we checked out the stores and the beautiful Grand Californian hotel. It’s always worth revisiting.

The next morning it was still raining. After a nice breakfast and with no particular plans for the day we just slowly made our way toward George’s old neighborhood in the Pasadena and Arcadia area. We checked out a couple of stores and stocked up on our Peet’s Coffee. Then it was time to drive up into the hills to visit Rover and some friends at the Green Man Lodge.

It was great seeing Rover again. We spent a nice cozy afternoon a Rover and Cal’s beautiful little paradise. Perfect for a dark and rainy day outside. Cal wasn’t yet home from his drive from Colorado and we didn’t expect to even see him before we had to leave. But he made it home just in time and it was good to see him as well. Even if it was ever so briefly.

Eventually it was time to leave our friends and make our way into Hollywood to see “West Side Story” at the Pantages. This was the English/Spanish version of the musical that made some headlines on Broadway. However, the Spanish bits were a little scarce and felt like they were randomly thrown into the story. It also didn’t enhance anything. That said, the performance and the dancing were still great. The dance routines were close to Jerome Robbin’s original interpretation and to the numbers in Robert Wise’ film version in the 1960s, with slight variation here and there. The song “America” was performed and sung entirely by women. And I have never seen this version of “Somewhere” before. In this case, it’s not sung by Tony and Maria but by Anybodys, the girl whom desperately wants to be one of the boys and part of the Jets gang. It’s set up as a dream sequence and eventually most of cast joins in at the end of this song. I don’t know if this version was in the original Broadway run or if it was altered specifically for the film version. But it was a very pleasant surprise.

George and I did not care much for the main characters, Tony and Maria. Their voices weren’t emotionally involved and at times it felt the two were competing who could sing the loudest. That, the Spanish bits, and the crude and unnecessarily vulgar “Gee, Officer Krupke” scene, were our only complaints. Everything else was absolutely fabulous. Well, I may be a little biased too. “West Side Story” is by far my most favorite musical.

The rain continued all night long into Sunday morning. And it rained harder. We checked out of our hotel and spent a little more time at Downtown Disney before we got ready to drive back home to Las Vegas. The drive along some freeways and up El Cajon pass was littered with car accidents. It was a very slow and trying drive up those San Bernardino Mountains. But once we’ve reached the high desert the rain cleared and traffic was flowing again. There were a few sprinkles along the way into Nevada but nothing too concerning.

Now we’re back at work for a short week. The rain has also reached Las Vegas in the meantime. But that’s okay. Our next little adventure is waiting for us just around the corner.

More about that “next year”...

Below some impressions from our weekend in Los Angeles.

The Pasadena Auditorium on Green Street.

The Pasadena City Hall.

I call this the maharaja’s palace. Some Eastern Indian palace-looking building I’ve seen so many times and always wondered it is. Even George couldn’t tell me and he’s from this area.

Colorado Boulevard in downtown Pasadena. The famous Rose Parade comes through here. On New Year’s Day it will be time again for spectacular floats parading down this street in front of tens of thousands of spectators, displaying scenes made of millions of flowers.

Disney’s California Adventure themepark is undergoing a $1 billion renovation, retheming and expansion. The gigantic tile murals that were at each side of this entrance to the park are already gone. Soon, these huge letters spelling out the word “California” will vanish as well.

George and I standing in front of the letters for the last time. We actually enjoyed the rain. It’s a treat for us. We desert rats are spoiled like that since it hardly ever rains in Las Vegas.

This whole entrance plaza will look completely different in 2012.

The rains didn’t stop, not even for the mouse of the house.

The main entrance to the “happiest place on earth,” the original Disneyland. I doubt too many people were all that happy with the rainy weather though.

George and I haven’t held an umbrella in our hands in over ten years. It just felt weird.

A small section of wonderful Downtown Disney, with an array of shops, restaurants, clubs and movie theaters.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Tale Of Sharks And Some Jets

George and I will drive to the City of Angels again tomorrow afternoon to spend another fun-filled weekend there.

Our primary reason to visit this time is to see this... this wonderful gem on Hollywood Boulevard. We’ve seen a lot of great theater at the Pantages lately.

Along the way we will most likely get a glimpse of this skyline....

...but more than likely not since the weather forecast predicts a rainy weekend. Because you know...”it never rains in Southern California.”

However, it doesn’t matter how the weather might turn out to be because we will still have a great time. In addition to the theater we will visit friends and enjoy fabulous food.

Then we will return to Las Vegas for a short work week due the upcoming holidays and finally...finally!...some much needed vacation.

And another big adventure...

Friday, December 10, 2010

More Of The Jimbo

It looks like Jimbo had a successful conference all week while being in our fair city. George and I met him again yesterday evening at the Bellagio. He had a light dinner and we enjoyed some gelato. Afterwards we wandered around the Bellagio, saw the new Christmas display at the resort’s garden conservatory, checked out some new glass art by Chihuly, and took in some of the dancing water fountain shows outside on the lake lining up the Strip.

Jimbo was leaving Las Vegas early this morning to fly back home to D.C. Safe travels! Below are some impressions from yesterday evening.

Actually, this was taken yesterday morning. Another beautiful sunrise in the desert.

Part of this years huge holiday display inside Bellagio’s garden conservatory.

The tall Christmas tree is circled by a moving miniature train.

Outside the Bellagio one can see the new Cosmopolitan resort and casino next door, which will have a soft opening next week and an official grand opening on New Year’s Eve.

This is me and Jimbo at the Bellagio lake, waiting for the next fountain show.

George and Jimbo in the presence of some mysterious orb hovering over the lake. Area 51 is just outside the city. Or it is just a speck on the lens. Nah, a secret government conspiracy sounds more exciting.

Monday, December 6, 2010


Jim, or Jimbo as he’s known to his friends and out in the blogosphere, is currently in the City of Sin to attend a conference all this week. We have heard about Jim many times before, mainly from our mutual friend Homer and other fellow bloggers, but yesterday was the first time that George and I met him in person. Jim is a genuinely nice and funny guy. We like him a lot.

Yesterday was his day off, so to speak, since the rest of his stay in Las Vegas seems to be rather busy. We picked him up at the Hard Rock Hotel and took him to Jamms, a small local restaurant, where we had a nice breakfast. Afterwards we drove westwards on Charleston Boulevard and right into the heart of our destination for the day, Red Rock Canyon.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t all that great. It was cloudy and a bit cool. But I was glad it didn’t rain like the forecast had predicted. That would eventually happen later that night. I was hoping for a little sun. This whole area around Red Rock Canyon looks so much more stunning when it is literally drenched in sunlight. That’s when the colors of the red and yellow sandstone will be most effective.

Jim told us that he used to be a park ranger and was quite impressed by how the newly remodeled and expanded visitors center has turned out. After looking at many of the exhibits and buying a small souvenir at the center’s gift store we were on our way to drive the 13-mile scenic loop drive.

We stopped at various outlook places to enjoy the vistas and to take some photographs before we parked the car at the head of the Pine Creek Canyon trail. It was surprisingly busy and the parking lot had already filled. We parked the car on the side of the road and made our way down towards the trail.

Jim is also an avid bird watcher and brought his book along to compare his bird sightings. There weren’t too many birds out but we could hear a few in the distance. He was happy to see at least one bird which was very indigenous to this area.

After the brisk hike we were getting hungry and we headed on over to nearby Bonnie Springs, which has a small-scale western town, complete with a motel, a cowboy stunt show, a miniature train, a petting zoo and a rustic country-style restaurant. George and I have not been to this place in over ten years and almost forgot about it. Along the way, we even saw a few of the famed wild burros that roam this area. There aren’t too many of them left anymore and the chances of seeing these animals out in the wild have become rare.

After we all had a nice and hearty dinner at the Bonnie Springs Restaurant we were getting ready to drive back into town as it had started to get dark anyway. Before dropping Jim off at his hotel we made a quick stop to have a drink at the Fun Hog Ranch, one of the local gay bars. There was suppose to be a beer bust but apparently we either had already missed it or we were too early as the bar wasn’t busy at all.

After finishing our drinks we returned Jim to his hotel. And so ended another terrific Sunday well spent. It was great to have finally met Jim and to have made another friend. Below are some photos from our day out at Red Rock Canyon.

George and Jim at Red Rock Canyon

Jimbo and Jim. I seriously think there are way too many Jims on this planet.

On our hike along the Pine Creek trail lots of photos were taken of beautiful vistas and interesting plants.

Trying to listen and identify a bird call in the distance.

Thousands of years of erosion carved interesting patterns into the rocks.

Just as the day was coming to a close the clouds were starting to break up and the last rays of the setting sun were illuminating the Red Rock mountains. This is the view from the Bonnie Springs Ranch.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thanksgiving in Pictures

The long Thanksgiving weekend was a welcoming change of pace. Even though we didn’t necessarily get much rest we did enjoy it immensely. We got a lot accomplished too, doing Thanksgiving-related things and not so Thanksgiving-related things. Like taking our car for its much needed service and tune-ups. Everyday life necessities do not stop just because there’s a long holiday weekend.

In any case, our Thanksgiving turkey dinner was a great success. The bird came out more than perfect. Eat your heart out, Martha Stewart. And it was absolutely delicious. All the trimmings, side dished, gravy and desserts were superbly delectable. All of our guests just gobbled it up and went for seconds. We haven’t had such a scrumptious turkey meal in a long time.

All in all, it was a wonderful long holiday weekend. We even ended up going to the Las Vegas Strip and checked out some stores at some of the casinos and the Fashion Show Mall. On Black Friday...of all days. But since we didn’t do any shopping we weren’t fazed by all the madness. The clientele at the Fashion Show is usually a bit more sophisticated anyway and so the mall wasn’t all-out crazy.

Are you ready for the next big holiday? I know I am. Not so much for the whole Christmas and New Years hoopla as we really don’t make a big fuzz about that stuff anyway. We don’t even decorate our home or anything. But I will have some vacation time and I’m really looking forward to that part. We are still hoping to get away for a few days. Don’t know where yet. Maybe we’ll find some last-minute travel deal to a nice warm place? Or we’ll spend a few days in California. Who knows? Even a staycation sounds fine to me. As long as I don’t have to come up with some brilliant design idea to make a concrete flood control channel looks pretty.

I will not even waste one single second thinking about work on my upcoming vacation. My European side of me will not allow that. My American side will just have to deal.

I know, what a predicament.

Below are some photos from our Thanksgiving weekend.

Thomas drove in from California to spend a few days with us. That's him and Mary, his and George's mother.

Yeah, yeah, enough with the picture taking already. When can we finally eat that darn bird?

Uh-oh, boys in the kitchen. George, Thomas and my silly self.

Mary and Alice enjoying a delicious turkey dinner.

Thomas and our “chick magnet.” Or so he says. Oh, those heterosexuals.

Inside the atrium of the Wynn Resort on the Las Vegas Strip. They were already heavily into the next holiday spirit.

The pool area at the Mirage, right next to Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden. One of the hotel towers of Caesars Palace is peeking out from behind.

Mirage’s tropical atrium, all decked out for the holidays. Are you ready for the next big one?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's Turkey Day Once Again...

I’m astonished how quickly time passes. Is it already this time of year again? In two days is Thanksgiving. A few more days later we’ll move into the month of December and before you know it the holiday season is upon us. Followed by a brand new year. What ever happened to this year? Weren’t George and I not just in Germany, celebrating a new year? This year just flew by.


On the other hand, I’m glad this is a short work week and a long weekend is coming up. We don’t have too many of those. George and I are staying home this time. The last few Thanksgiving weekends were celebrated in California, where we stayed with friends and enjoyed a wonderful meal and a great time at their wonderful home. Or having a couple of fun days at Disneyland. This time we decided to make it all traditional, with cooking at home, having family visiting us and the whole nine yards. Without the hoopla of all these football games though.

We got ourselves one big turkey. Over twenty pounds. And we got a great deal on it too. Just by accident did we see that one of the local markets had a one-day special where they sold brand name turkeys at incredible low prices. We literally saved up to 75% compared to all the other places. That may not have made that poor turkey’s day but it sure made ours.

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be cooking nonstop for two days. And we probably will be eating for the following two weeks. But we have family over to help us. George’s brother will drive in from California and stay with us for the weekend too. We all love turkey dinners with all the trimmings but it has been forever since we’ve actually cooked a big meal like that ourselves in our own kitchen. It’ll be a treat. Especially since George has the magical touch to turn everything into the most delicious meals.

It will be a fairly traditional fair. Since we are not your typical all-American family, traditional American foods are not a regular staple at our homes. We are far too adventurous for a culinary sense. So this meal will be a very special treat for all of us. A huge turkey with gravy, corn bread stuffing, cranberries, mashed cream cheese potatoes with sauteed onion bits and leek, corn and mixed vegetables. Some cakes, plus apple and pumpkin pies for dessert. Of course, tons of appetizers and snacks before, during and after the big meal. Is this American enough?

Like I said, we’ll be cooking for two days and eat for two weeks.

However, with all this feeding frenzy going on we will not forget to be grateful for everything we have. Isn’t that the point of Thanksgiving? To take some time to reflect and be thankful for what one has and has accomplished? We don’t need some special day to be reminded to be thankful though. We are fully aware of how lucky we are and we recognize this everyday and count our blessings.

But it happens to be Thanksgiving and it will bring us a nice long weekend. So we’re definitely not complaining and we’re trying to make the most of it. We hope you are too.

Happy Thanksgiving, ya’ll.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Ain't No Mountain High Enough

Another weekend came and went. Too quickly, I might add. But I’m not complaining since George and I spent a wonderful time.

It started right after work Friday afternoon. George was off that day, so I had the car and drove home to pick him up before heading to the Las Vegas Strip for our big event that evening. But first, we had some dinner of course. We went to this little gem of a restaurant inside Neiman Marcus at the Fashion Show Mall. One can easily miss the unassuming door to the NM Cafe. Once you walk through the door you’ll be surprised by its simple contemporary design with bright warm colors.

The Popovers are a Neiman Marcus tradition.

The menu list is short and slightly in the higher price range. But the quality of food and a comfy atmosphere makes up for it. We both ordered...drum roll, please...cheeseburgers with fries. We figured if they can turn something simple like burgers into a great tasting meal than everything else on the menu is a no-brainer. We were not disappointed. The angus meat patties were grilled to perfection and the french fries tasted divine. Nothing was soggy and had just the right crunch and amount of spices. As an appetizer, George also ordered a Pasta Fagioli soup which was extraordinarily tasty. As some kind of an Neiman Marcus staple, popovers are served before any meal. These light scone-like breads usually are served with either a chicken broth dip or strawberry butter. The strawberry butter is a treat in itself.

After our meal we wandered through the Neiman Marcus department store, marveling at their eclectic array of unusual Christmas decorations, Japanese wafers and certain art work being displayed throughout the store.

Then the event of the day was drawing ever so closer. And it was finally time to take our seats for the Diana Ross concert inside the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. The place was packed. Not one seat was empty. I didn’t know what to expect. She is now 66-years old and couldn’t possibly be the same whirlwind she was when I last saw her in the 1980s. Back then, I was still living in Munich and she performed at the Olympiahalle. It was one of most energetic concerts I’ve ever seen and Miss Ross blew the iconic tent-looking roof off the whole Olympic Stadium complex.

Well, I didn’t need to worry. She’s still got it. The stage production wasn’t elaborate at all, which was fine by us. A live band, backup singers, a few dancers and Diana Ross. What more does one need? We just wanted to hear her sing those amazing songs. And that she did. This lady can sing the blues. And the Motown hits. And the all the other hits that followed after that period of her career. One song after another she sang. One hit after another. The audience went wild. We’ve seen Cher, Celine Dion and Bette Midler in this venue. But never have we seen people jumping out of their seats and dancing in the rows and aisles in this place before. She was amazing. These so-called stars of today, all these little flavors of the moment, don’t even come close to the talent and professionalism that is Diana Ross. Now this is whom I call a true Superstar. And there’s still no mountain high enough for this diva...

Diana Ross, as she was performing one of many songs at Caesars Palace’s Colosseum on Friday, November 12th, 2010. (Photo taken from the Las Vegas Sun)

The rest of the weekend was spent very leisurely. For the first time in a long time we both actually slept in both on Saturday and Sunday. That rarely happens. Later on Saturday, we had one of George’s friend, who does landscaping work on the side, saw off the top half of our apple tree. It started dying off and we suspected some kind of fungus. We’ll see if that helps to rescue the bottom half of the tree which is still green and growing. We had some additional tree trimming, pruning, raking and cleaning up done.

We also did lots of walking in the park, some shopping and caught up watching recorded movies on television. Yesterday we got our flu shots. And a big turkey for Thanksgiving next Thursday, where we’ll have the family over for a big dinner at our house. There’s going to be a lot of cooking going on. And I can’t wait for the feast.

Gobble, gobble!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Marines, Sailors and Bears...Oh My!

We have officially changed back to standard time again on Sunday. Europe did that last weekend already. Wouldn’t it make more sense if the whole world changed the times all at once? Or is this just one of America’s many exceptionalism thingys? Who knows?

In any case, while most people were able to enjoy that extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning, George and I did the exact opposite. Of course! We got up an extra hour early. Not because we felt so exceptional but because we just couldn’t sleep anymore. Darnit! So much for sleeping in a little longer.

It didn’t matter however. We still enjoyed a wonderful weekend. For the first time in long while we didn’t have any specific plans or obligations. So we decided to take things easy for a change and to just enjoy the moment.

On Saturday we drove to the famous Las Vegas “Strip” late afternoon, looking for tickets to see “Sinatra - Dance With Me,” which will perform at the Wynn Resort & Casino. This Broadway show, with Frank Sinatra’s music set to the choreography by Twyla Tharp, will have a limited engagement at the Encore Theatre. We’ll have to take advantage of this opportunity since “The Great White Way” is just a tad out of reach for us at the moment.

It was quite bustling on the Strip. After we got our tickets we made our way through a sea of people towards the Venetian, where we planned to have a nice dinner. Along the way we ran into the cutest bear cub. He was a real friendly fella with a handsome face and nice beard. Although he was straight as an arrow he was still a feast for the eyes.

The rest of the evening was filled with more sightings of rather dashing men. For some reason there were literally hundreds of Marines and a few sailors in town. While we didn’t find out what the reason for this “invasion” was, it was eye candy heaven to see these handsome guys strut their stuff in these sharp-looking dress uniforms.

Cliché be damned. I love a man in uniform.

For dinner, George and I had scrumptious Crispy Caramel Chicken and Four Cheese Pizza at the Grand Lux. We love that place. Afterwards we strolled along the Strip to walk off the gained calories and to google-eye all these cute guys in uniform. We also admired this year’s very nice lineup of men’s fall clothing at Banana Republic. Beautiful color combos this year. Of course, one will press hard to find one man dressed like this in Las Vegas. First, it’s still too warm here in the desert for these types of clothing. Even in winter. And secondly,...well, this is Las Vegas...this is Casual Clothing Central.

All in all, another nice evening in the City of Sin. Next week we’ll be back in the neighborhood again to see Diana Ross at the Coliseum at Caesars.


Below are few snippets from our evening on the Strip on Saturday.

Bright lights along the Las Vegas Strip.

The lobby of the Palazzo Resort & Casino.
The Shoppes at the Palazzo.
Carpet inside the Shoppes at the Palazzo. Some of the carpets inside Las Vegas’ casinos are an attraction by themselves.

There's always a crowd at the Sushi Samba inside the Palazzo.

After enjoying some gelato at the “Fountain of the Gods.”

The porte-cochère of the famed Caesars Palace hotel and Casino.
More bright lights on the Strip.