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Posts Tagged ‘Las Vegas’


Our first day in Music City USA…….and my birthday!

I won’t reveal my age but it is not unrelated to the number of the most famous highway in the United States.

In the previous piece I remarked upon missing some of the home comforts we were used to when staying in American properties at this bungalow. Perhaps the most alarming – for me at least – was that, despite boasting every streaming service imaginable, there were no live regular channels on the television. No CNN, no MSNBC, or even Dr Phil!

In one sense that was an irrelevance – if we did want to watch something on Netflix and Amazon, the batteries in the remote control had decided to greet our arrival by playing dead. A brief message to our neighbours (and landlord/lady) should resolve that by the time we returned later this evening (which it did).

Anyway, this was trivial in comparison to the fact that……..it was my birthday!

Have I mentioned that before?

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We called an Uber which deposited us at the tours ticket booth at 201 Broadway.

We had three full days in Nashville, so we decided to pace ourselves, not least because it was already hot. Today we would acclimatise ourselves with the city rather than dash from one country music related venue to another. Let’s get our bearings first, and take in as much live music as we can on Broadway.

So we stood in line at the ticket booth and paid for the hop on hop off trolley for the day. The tour would last for around an hour and three quarters.

Whilst we waited for our trolley to arrive, we looked around for the first time.

Two buildings in particular caught our attention: the imposing Nissan Stadium on the riverfront, home to the Tennessee Titans NFL team and where Ed Sheeran was performing that evening, and the extraordinary AT & T building, affectionally referred to by locals – I can’t think why (sic) – as the  “Batman Building”.

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It was an excellent tour, and we managed to resist the temptation to jump off at every alternate stop, such as Music Row. The only drawback to that was that we did not find time to explore some places, for example Bicentennial Park, with the Tennessee Capitol building, pictured below, and the Parthenon, a full scale replica of the original in Athens, before we left town.

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But it did give us an insight into the scale and appeal of the city. It appeared clean, spacious and civilised. As recent converts to the TV series of the same name, we were aware that Nashville had grown significantly in recent years. But we were not prepared for just how busy it was going to be downtown.

But, perhaps we should not have been so surprised.  It was Saturday, the sun was shining, and there were two major events in town that evening – comedian Kevin Hart was playing the 20,000 seater Bridgestone Arena in addition to the aforementioned Ed Sheeran concert.

Even as we took the trolley tour at a little before midday it became instantly apparent just how much of a party town it had become (I wonder what some of the old timers think about the modern Nashville scene).

Whilst the sidewalks were busy with shoppers and music fans searching for the best live bands, the streets were swamped with a phenomenon we had not even witnessed on the Las Vegas Strip – tours in motorised vehicles called Honky Tonk or party bikes as in the case of the Pedal Tavern, comprising mostly women whooping and hollering to loud music as they cruised the streets. Alcohol was evidently in plentiful supply on board.

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A brief respite for the staff before the next bachelorette party descended upon them!

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I might claim that I was already beginning to feel my age but I never felt like doing anything like that forty years ago, let alone now.

There were more sedate tours on offer for the more romantically minded visitor.

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Our preference was for a beer, sandwich and our first live music experience in the huge Nashville Underground bar. Any other followers of the Nashville TV show might find some resemblance in the picture below to a certain trio on the programme.

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I had declared publicly a month or so before the trip that it was my intention to purchase a new pair of cowboy boots whilst in town for my birthday. I may not have worded that properly – what I meant was for Janet to buy them (sic).

As I had been advised by several people back home, there were plenty of boot and hat emporia on Broadway, many with an amazing  buy one pair get two pairs free offer.

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I was not, however, going to rush into any decision today. There was plenty of time to view and ponder.

Another development in recent years on Broadway has been the emergence of bars owned by major country music stars – Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton all offer comfort food, drink and live music.

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But it was to Alan Jackson’s place that we retired for our next live music treat. Janet in particular is a fan of Jackson, and I find his more traditional style to be more to my taste than some of the heavily rock influenced country music of younger singers.

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Indeed, the band playing this afternoon, despite the three guitars, drums and pedal steel, offered a more gentle, nostalgic trip through country music history, for example Travis Tritt, Buck Owens and Charley Pride. Indeed, the pedal steel player had worked with the late, great George Jones for forty years!

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A visit to this part of the trip is not complete without a gander through the extensive bluegrass collection in the Ernest Tubb Record Shop.

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An exhibition to the great Loretta Lynn was an added attraction.

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We must have spent an hour and a half in AJ’s Good Time Bar, and as the band were completing their seat, we made our excuses and moved on.

Late afternoon and the party – on sidewalk, in bars and on the growing number of bikes and tour wagons – was in full swing. Moreover, Ed Sheeran fans were swarming into the area from all directions.

We took refuge in our third and last bar of the afternoon – the Famous Saloon – where a female duo provided some superb renditions of country classics.

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There was now the issue of the “birthday meal” to contend with. I had planned to book somewhere in advance in the expectation that failing to make a reservation might prove problematic, especially on a busy, hot Saturday night.

Which it did.

We roamed both Broadway and the outlying streets, only to be told that there would be at least an hour and a half wait for a table. In the end, we just had to bite (not eat) the bullet and accept a promise of an hour’s wait at Joe’s Crab Shack. As it happened, and this is often the case, we only had to sit and cuddle our gin and tonics near the bar for about twenty five minutes before we were called to our table.

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After a pleasant seafood meal, we decided to call it a night and take an Uber ride back to our bunglaow in the suburbs.

It had been a thoroughly enjoyable birthday and an eye-opening experience. We found the Broadway scene crazier in many ways than even Bourbon Street in New Orleans or Beale Street in Memphis. In fact, we both remarked that it was at least on a par with Vegas.

And we hadn’t quite expected that.

So, after our first day in town, we were not quite convinced that we liked Nashville as much as we had been expecting to. Although we love a drink and a live band (we would not be on this trip if we didn’t), the degree of drunkenness and boorish behaviour – and the night was still young – was a turn off.

But tomorrow we would be exploring the country music heritage of the city in a big way with visits to the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Johnny Cash Museum.

And it was Sunday, so it would be quieter wouldn’t it?

Spoiler – NO!

But we were equally sure we would have a less jaundiced view by the end of the second day.

Another spoiler – YES WE DID!

 

 

 

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The idea for this trip came thirteen years ago when I bought the book entitled The Blues Highway: A Travel and Music Book by Richard Knight.

But then, as we were on the point of booking the trip, Hurricane Katrina battered New Orleans, the planned starting point for the trip. We resolved then that we would wait to do it when life in the city had returned to some semblance of normality.

In 2012, we did finally embark on a road trip, but in a very different part of the country – the National Parks of the South West, covering the states of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.

Setting off from Las Vegas, our expedition took in Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon, Lake Powell, Monument Valley, Arches National Park and the Grand Canyon, followed by a sizeable detour through New Mexico, visiting Santa Fe, Albuquerque and iconic locations on Route 66 such as Winslow, Arizona (“Standin’ on a Corner”) and Gallup, New Mexico before returning to Vegas.

Numerous trips to San Francisco, Tahoe, Vegas as well as the North East (of the U.S, not England!) followed, as the Southern states, other than Florida, failed to seduce us sufficiently into venturing in their direction. Maybe their racist past (and present), Christian fundamentalism and gun culture all have had something to do with it. Moreover, the scene from Easy Rider where the main protagonists get short shrift in a southern diner still haunts me, and the song by Folkestone band, the Transients, entitled They Don’t Like Hippies in Baton Rouge, only serves to exacerbate the anxiety.

But now, with mid-term elections looming and the divisions in America widening, we have chosen this moment to plunge ourselves into the belly of Trumpsylvania, though a Californian friend’s recent assertion that we were essentially visiting “blue cities in red states” is a comforting and far from innacurate one.

So what is the attraction of this particular itinerary that has stubbornly refused to disappear from our vacation radar?

The Blues Highway, essentially Highway 61, runs, for the most part alongside the mighty Mississippi, from New Orleans  to Chicago and traces the migration of many African Americans from the Deep South to the Northern cities following the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Equally, it charts (sic) the development of the major music genres for which we are so much indebted to the United States for, principally the blues and gospel (Mississippi delta, Memphis, St Louis and Chicago), but also jazz (New Orleans), cajun and zydeco (Lafayette), country (Nashville) and soul (Memphis again, and not forgetting Elvis!).

After an initial overnight stay in Newark, New Jersey (flights from the UK being so much cheaper), we fly to the “Big Easy” for four nights before hitting the road with single overnight stays in Lafayette, Vicksburg and Clarksdale. A three night residence in Memphis follows before we head east to Nashville for four nights, arriving on the eve of my birthday.

From “Music City” we cross country back to the main road for three nights in St Louis, followed by a night in Peoria before arriving in the “Windy City” for another four nights, when we are hoping to be joined for a couple of nights by friends from San Francisco. Two nights in New York City conclude the trip before we catch our return flight from Newark.

The trip has the added bonus of introducing us to seven new states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Missouri and Illinois with brief detours through Kentucky and Arkansas. The prospect of experiencing new cultures, historic tours and spectacular scenery is, of course, exciting, but it is the music that is the driving force of the trip. Clubs, bars, museums and street musicians will, therefore, be the major focus of the next three weeks.

And we must not forget the other star of the show – the road itself.

Little thrills the blood more than the thought of exploring this amazing country by car with the radio blaring out the music style that reflects the landscape you are travelling through at the time. I am sure it will reveal some entertaining adventures as this blog grows over the coming weeks.

So let’s get on with the show!

See y’all later!

 

 

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Born in October 1952 on the day tea rationing ended in Britain (good timing that, given my mother’s obsession – and subsequently mine – with the brew) and, as an only child, I enjoyed a happy childhood, revolving mainly around football and cricket.  I had the good fortune of growing up during the sixties, the music of which provided a thrilling soundtrack to my that period.

I attained a BA (Honours) in English and European Literature at Essex University, writing my dissertation on the novel At Swim-Two-Birds by Irish novelist and journalist Flann O’Brien.  This was followed by studying towards an MA in Anglo-Irish Literature at Leeds, majoring on James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and W.B.Yeats, including writing a treatise on the novels of Patrick Kavanagh (The Green Fool and Tarry Flynn).

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Eventually, I exchanged academia – via portering in a major department store and “making” sultana cookies and other exotic (for the time) biscuits – for the last refuge of the modern scoundrel and joined the UK civil service in March 1980.  I subsequently spent 29 years in the Department for Work and Pensions and its many antecedents, latterly in human resources and diversity before poaching early retirement in March 2009.

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My interest in the subject led me to undertake a Level 3 BTEC Advanced Certificate in Travel and Tourism via home learning.  I completed the course in December 2010, achieving a Distinction in all three elements – understanding the travel and tourism industry, tourist destinations and tour operations.  My ambition now is to concentrate on writing and, hopefully, to publish on a regular basis.  I have been focusing principally on my passions of San Francisco, cricket and travel, though I am not able to resist on pontificating on life in general from time to time.

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This blog has now been active for nearly two and a half years. But I want to do more than that. At present, I am in the final throes of co-writing a book on the centenary of Kent County Cricket Club’s fourth County Championship title in eight years, and future writing projects include a series of short stories based in San Francisco and an expansion of our U.S. road trip diary of September / October last year.

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Aside from the above topics, my other serious interests are walking, skiing, baseball (a fan from afar of the San Francisco Giants), association football (a life long fan of Gillingham), music (principally folk, blues, country and West Coast rock borne of the original Summer of Love in 1967), going to the theatre and eating out.

I feel extremely grateful to have the health and energy to pursue all of those interests, as I am also for the support and encouragement of my wonderful wife Janet whom I married in Vegas on Halloween 2009 after 27 years together (that makes it 31 now!).

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Please allow me to introduce myself – no, I’m not a “man of wealth and taste” but Blog – and I have been “around for a long, long year”. To be precise, I am one year and 100 posts old today. To celebrate this momentous event, the guy who usually drones on at you has finally seen sense and handed it over to me to share my thoughts on how well those 12 months have gone (or not as the case may be). 

You may have gathered if you read his last post that he’s feeling quite pleased with himself. Being naturally indolent, even he didn’t think he would ever reach this point. But, with my staunch, cheery support, he has, so I won’t begrudge him some credit for that.

Our relationship has been tense, sometimes tetchy, but we’ve muddled through. My main gripe is that he’s not consistent enough in the frequency with which he puts me to work. After a steady, manageable start he then launched into 24 days straight posting on his spring vacation. That might have been fun for him, swanning around Tahoe, Vegas and San Francisco, but it wore me out I can tell you. It was difficult enough acclimatising to an 11 hour flight and 8 hour time change, but then expecting me to work beyond midnight over an extended period was adding insult to injury. A trip to the blog tribunal was on the cards at that point.

But then he followed it with a very leisurely timetable – only 18 posts in 5 months during the summer. Admittedly, some of the articles were much longer, especially those on his beloved cricket (I really don’t understand the fascination at all myself), but it did leave me with a lot of time on my hands. Mind you, every cloud as they say, I was able to freelance on the off days, though don’t tell him – he places a lot of store by loyalty.

And then there’s the language he uses. Personally, I find it a trifle flowery, even pompous on occasions. But with a grammar school education and 30 years in the civil service behind him, he dosen’t stand much chance does he? He thinks he’s funny too – gimme a break! He really needs to work this year on getting the balance right between being informative, interesting and entertaining.  

I must admit I prefer his factual posts, y’know those about San Franciscan characters, to his ruminations on life and cricket (he seems to think the last two are the same thing!). I sometimes find the latter more embarassing than enlightening with their wistful, elegiac tone (he told me to use those particular words, God knows what they mean). 

I just hope he’ll revert to the San Francisco stuff more in the future. He’s promised to do so, so let’s hope he lives up to that – though once the cricket season raises its coy head in April, I doubt he’ll be able to contain his dewy-eyed sentimentality, and start blathering on again about the rhythm of the day’s play and the strategic importance of the tea interval and other such drivel.

Something else that bugs me – these writers continually bang on about the “block”, and how they suffer from it from time to time. I just don’t geddit  -what IS their problem?  Despite what I said earlier, I’m ready to perform 24/7 so why can’t they be?  

I believe he’s announced to you that he plans to alter my design and layout.  Now, I’m a simple chap, so I just hope he doesn’t try to turn me into a look-alike of those appalling Grateful Dead tie-dye shirts he is so beloved of.  I’m quite comfortable in my current skin, thank you.

He’s not that hot actually on the technical aspects, as you may have noticed by his use of photographs at times. But I have bitten my lip in the expectation that the penny will drop soon (I really don’t understand why he doesn’t take my advice on including more clichés in his articles).

He doesn’t read enough either and if he has pretensions to being a serious writer, he needs to step up his game on this.  I don’t hold out much hope, therefore, that he’ll bother to look at this post, let alone take on board my concerns (he’s never asked my opinion before now). Perhaps, dear reader, you could be my advocate and tell him in your comments on individual articles. But treat him gently – he’s a sensitive soul beneath the wisecracking exterior.

So what does the future hold? Well, for all that he frustrates and irritates me at times, I’m prepared to stick around for another year. After all, it’s “the nature of my game”.

I think I’ve probably upset him enough already, and abused the privilege of this audience with you, so I had better give it a rest now.  Besides, I don’t want him dumping me for a younger, fresher model – times are hard and “better the devil you know” has always been my motto. And I do quite fancy another spring break out west, not to mention a trip around the national parks in October, if he can get his act together and organise them.

I don’t suppose that I’ll get the chance to talk to you again in the near future, unless you place a comment at the bottom of the page (that’s a hint, right?), so I’ll sign off with a Happy New Year!

Ooh, who, who!

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I am writing this, my 99th post, on the day before the first anniversary of my blog. Around 65,000 words have soiled the screen since New Year’s Eve 2010 when I embarked, belatedly and anxiously, on this expedition (a word I prefer to that ubiquitous “journey” that every reality TV contestant and sportsperson seem to be on nowadays).

The birthday and century will be rung up tomorrow, fittingly, whilst I reside in the northern English town of Lancaster where it all started, though the blog has been half way around the world in that time – well, Barcelona, Northern France, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Lake Tahoe and the length and breadth of the UK.

I thought I should take the opportunity here to reflect upon the success or otherwise of my efforts over the past 12 months.  Although you’re burdened with my voice today, I have arranged for a guest writer to offer their own unique insights in tomorrow’s centenary post – of which more later.

In only my second post – This Writing Lark – I stated my aim was to produce “worthwhile written work that others might enjoy”.  I hope that I have succeeded in this, at least some of the time (“you can’t please all of the people…..”), and the comments, such as they have been, have certainly been positive. But I need to engage with my readers more if I am to build a significant platform for my work.  I have plans to ensure that this happens, courtesy of the advice from Kristen Lamb, Anne R. Allen and other luminaries on the blogging scene. 

As I indicated in my recent posts entitled Blogging versus Writing and Yes!!!! I AM a Writer it is only now that I am beginning to feel like a writer.  Ideas for posts present themselves more readily than before, especially than in the summer months when, to be fair, the distractions were greater. I now need rather then just want to write.

So what will the New Year bring? I will blog at least twice a week, essentially on the same subjects that have filled it this year, including the resurrection of the San Francisco themed features, and engage in much more comment and discussion with other bloggers than I have managed before.  Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Facebook, will complete my social networking activity.

But 2012 will be different – as I had always planned – in that I now intend to focus on other forms of writing than the blog.  In addition to submitting work to relevant publications I will also be dipping my toe in the competition waters.  Finally, and by no means least, I will be working on more substantial, long term projects, once I have clarified to my own satisfaction which of those should take precedence (or whether they should be tackled concurrently). 

One palpable change that I intend to make is in the design of the blog.  The current theme has served me well, and whilst it does fulfill the basic requirements – clear and well organised – it is a little dull.  I think a funkier image is necessary, so I will be researching the increasing range of WordPress themes to find the one that fits best.  I won’t rush into this, and it is possible my conclusion might still be to retain the current one, but, equally, don’t be surprised if you receive a more colourful greeting when you visit in the New Year.   

Before I sign off, I’d like to thank WordPress for making the task of designing and writing on the blog much less onerous than I had feared, as well as my friend Pete who recommended the platform in the first place – that was inspired advice. 

I will now leave you in the less predictable hands of my guest writer for the centenary blog, namely “Blog” himself (at least I think it’s a he), who will be offering his own idiosyncratic opinions on the past 12 months. 

I’ll see you again in the first post of 2012. Happy New Year!

Now, how do I get rid of that falling snow over the Golden Gate Bridge!

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For the second day running I feel I need to preface my account of the day with a statement.  A number of people have expressed sympathy and regret about the disappointing nature of both the Tahoe, and particularly Vegas, legs of our trip.  I am grateful for that, but they really should not worry.  I hope that by the tone of my reports, they detect a certain measure of irony and gallows humour, and, after all, this blog would have been very boring if everything went smoothly wouldn’t it? And, on occasions, I have exaggerated a little for dramatic effect, which I think is defensible.

As my “fellow Californians” would say – it’s all good.

We met Janet’s parents for breakfast in the hotel before bidding them adieu and heading off to McCarran Airport for our 1.05 Virgin America flight to San Francisco.

After checking in at around 11.30am, and paying $25 each for our two large cases, we proceeded to security (Janet had to endure the screening booth whilst I breezed through the traditional barrier!) to the gate.  There were a handful of delays, though all – bar one – did quote an estimated time.  Yes, the one exception was ours, “possible weather delay”, later described by the captain as “one small cloud in the Bay Area”.  It was rather like waiting for a Southeastern train back home –  no information whatsoever until an announcement to say we were boarding.  Anyway, we left exactly an hour late, around a quarter of which we recouped on the journey.  

Although, as regulars on Virgin Atlantic, we were disappointed with the pre-flight service of its American cousin, the in-flight service was better than that we had experienced with Southwest (though there was not a lot wrong with that) between Reno Tahoe and Vegas.  The flight was a little more relaxed with seating that was more comfortable.  Furthermore, there was a decent,mini version of the Virgin in-flight  entertainment system. 

A day couldn’t pass at present, howver, without some minoir catastrophe befalling one of us.  On arriving at SFO we were directed to bagage claim number 9 which appeared to be nothing more than a locked cupboard.  After around a quarter of an hour a Virgin representative breathlessly rushed onto the scene, profusely apologising for the delay, and opening the cupboard to reveal a small baggage claim area.  In the excitement, and seeing our bags about to escape my grasp and begin yet another lap of the carousel, I lunged for them only to slam my shin against a solid metal block sticking out of the conveyor belt.  Whilst it was very painful at the time, and exposed a bloody gash, I thought no more of it until I was changing my trousers at the apartment a couple of hours later, when I discovered that it was not only badly bruised but had blown up to the size of an adam’s apple.  Fortunately, as I write this, virtually 24 hours later, antiseptic cream, plasters and rest have reduced the swelling dramatically, and I experience only mild discomfort rather than any pain.

I am trying to keep my rants to a minimum today, but collecting the hire car we had booked and already paid for was the usual battle to hold on to our money against a concerted attack to prise it from us.  Every time we travel to Tahoe we are urged to upgrade to a four wheel drive because an alleged storm is on its way, even when the forecast, in the past, has been for fine weather.  Today, we were pressed to upgrade the compact car, despite explaining that we had purposely booked a small vehicle because the garage space at the apartment could accommodate nothing bigger.  Equally, it was suggested that we buy personal items and passenger insurances, despite the fact we had already had them.

We found the apartment easily enough at 5.30pm and had no difficulties gaining entry and parking the car.  We had expected, from both the written details and photographs, a spacious and fully equipped home, but it immediately surpassed even those expectations.  I will write much more in subsequent days about its features and facilities, but surpass to say that we are already thrilled.  By the time we had gone to bed I had carried out our first shopping expedition to the local Lucky supermarket, which I was also pleasantly surprised by, completed the previous day’s blog on the PC supplied by the owners and “cooked” our dinner of lobster ravioli with roasted garlic sauce (plus two bottles of wine, of course).  Janet had done all the washing that had acccumulated in Tahoe and Vegas (we could be clean once again!), and we had watched three episodes of Celebrity Apprentice on the 40 inch digital TV.  

The rants are / may / should (delete as applicacble) be over – San Francisco has opened up its Golden Gate and returned our hearts!  And after a wet weekend, the sunshine is going to arrive with a vengeance!

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Before I start today’s diary I feel I need to apologise in advance to any of my American readers who might be offended by comments I make in it.  I have great affection and respect for the American people but this was just one of those days where everything that annoys me about the country happened, fittingly when the “word of the day”, as you will discover was “dam” (without the “n”).

Our second and final full day in Vegas was largely taken up with an organised tour of the Hoover Dam and luxury cruise on Lake Mead.  We boarded the feeder bus from our hotel at 8.30am and proceeded to the Grand Canyon Airport in Boulder City where, before we were let off the bus, a tour guide tried to sell us a cut-price helicopter flight over the Grand Canyon as an add-on to our pre-booked activities.  Only in America can someone try to sell you something else before you have even started to take advantage of the thin for which you have already paid.  Admittedly, it was a good price though we declined as we had done it before.

Check-in was efficient and friendly, but it was a full forty minutes before the tour finally began, not least because we were directed to the gift shop first (another brazen money making ploy).  Have you noticed also how every ride in an American theme park ends in the gift shop?  And I shouldn’t forget the obligatory group photo, yet another opportunity to rip you off.  To be fair, we have occasionally bought the photo package (usually an assortment of different size prints and key rings), but we resisted it twice today – at the airport and Lake Mead – as well as at the shows on the previous evenings.

Eventually, two hours after we had boarded the first coach, we were on the way to the Hoover Dam, each passenger proudly displaying a coloured  (blue, red or yellow) sticker on their chest denoting which tour they were on and, therefore, how much they had paid.  Our driver for the day was extremely knowledgable, a cynic might say a know all, but his constant use of the word “dam”, witty at first, grated after the fiftieth time.  We had 2 hours 20 minutes at the Dam, most of which was taken up with an escorted group tour which I for one, not being remotely engineeringly minded, found rather tedious if undeniably awe inspiring.  The highlight of our stay came when we were set free to wander around with our cameras taking photos of the Dam and the highest road bridge in the United States.    

The coachload was then separated into its respective coloured groupings for lunch.  Whilst the majority were treated to casino fare, we began our “luxury” cruise on Lake Mead with a sumptuous repast of ham or turkey roll, chips or potato salad and an apple or orange, washed down by a non-alcoholic drink.  It only seemed appropriate in the circumstances that I should decide to pay an extra six dollars for a pre-prepared pina colada (which was actually quite refreshing). 

The cruise, which lasted an hour and a half and took us as close as we were permitted to the Hoover Dam, was very relaxing, though the biting wind rendered trips up on deck to take photos short and challenging.  Disappointingly, the position of the sun at the time also scuppered shots of the Dam itself.  Nonetheless, it was generally enjoyable, though I still can’t get the picture of the mother on the table next to us checking her young son’s hair for nits whilst we were partaking of our banquet, or of the young girl who devoured two enormous burgers, out of my mind.   

The final part of the tour was a brief visit to Ethel M’s Chocolate Factory and tour of the adjacent cactus garden.  We returned to our hotel at 6pm.

Ever since we first visited it in March 2008 we have made Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill in Harrah’s Las Vegas is one of our essential things to do in Vegas, irrespective of the length of our stay.  Good, wholesome southern style food is served in the restaurant and the adjacent bar is lively and good natured.  The house DJ plays the latest country tunes during the breaks in the performance of the nightly live bands, and numerous TV screens showing country music videos, many by Keith himself, are located throughout the establishment. 

After a 45 minute wait for our table the meal was as enjoyable as ever (Janet had chicken and I had catfish), the Whisky Girl cocktails which seem to contain around half a dozen measures of Jack Daniel’s, were equally typically potent and delicious, and the service by the “hottie” waitress was excellent.

But apart from that, the atmosphere was very different to what we had enjoyed on our previous visits.  The DJ played very few recognisably country tunes (Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl?), the periodic free shots dispensing interludes were accompanied by what sounded like a rap version of The Birdie Song rather than I Love This Bar, the band played competent southern, country tinged, rock and the TV screens, rather than celebfrating the country theme, were showing wall to wall college basketball – like thousands of others around town!

And finally, revellers who were only drinking were continually sitting at restaurant tables whilst others, including ourselves, were expected to wait for those same tables.  And some of those were asked to leave whilst others weren’t.  A very depressing experience, and one that convinced me finally that it was time to have a rest from Vegas for a few years (though that’s not to deny that we enjoyed the vast majority of our stay).

The irritations of the day didn’t end there.  On returning to our hotel at midnight my  room key wouldn’t work! This necessitated our traipsing down to reception where we were lectured by a female robot at reception that we shouldn’t keep the close next to  credit cards and mobile phones (which we hadn’t) before being given a replacement.  And, to cap the evening’s entertainment, as I walked away she droned “have a great day”!!!!!!

And, believe it or not, I will be so glad to get away from those damn slot machines and return to civilisation (California Here I Come)!!!!!

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