Friday, March 28, 2008

THANX JC for Ramos Gin Fizz

Back home after a delayed flight. Transportation was not so good over the past two days, but nowhere near the irritation of our Vegas travel delays. Both rides from/to the airport were harried, butt-clenching adventures, and on the way home tonight, I was cut off by a crappy van with the vanity plates: THANX JC. Not very Christian-like!

But, otherwise, all else was well. Bought an adorable Spring suit (on sale!) at Barami in five minutes flat on the way to a meeting this morning. Barami´s selection is trendy and reasonably priced. I bought another suit from there a few years ago, and it´s held up well. Best part of this find is that it will coordinate perfectly with my ballet kitten heels from London!

Had lunch with my favorite travel reporter at Grayz, which is housed in a swanky brownstone in Midtown. When he first suggested it, I googled the restaurant, and this line made me laugh out loud: "All walks of New York business and society gather at Grayz for important moments of their lives..." But, our meal didn´t disappoint, and Jerry introduced me to a Ramos Gin Fizz cocktail, which is like an adult, lime version of an Orange Julius. I guess it´s pretty famous in New Orleans. Very yummy. I also had good luck again with soup. This one was potato and tortellini.

Jerry just got back from a trip to Argentina to visit a winery that grows its grapes 10,000 feet above sea level. His story ran today and makes me want to visit South America. We chatted about his trips and my Europe and Vegas adventures, and he shared that his proudest moment as a journalist was when he was able to convince his editor long ago to front him $300 so he could go to Vegas and gamble and then report about it. Turns out he got up to $500 at the craps table with the help of a gaming expert and then lost it all when left to his own devices. Typical American scenario, I would venture.

I´m scheduled for a girls´ weekend in Charlotte in a couple weeks. Can´t wait!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

2 French friends + 2 French meals = a good start in NYC

I'm fortunate enough to travel to NYC every couple months, but it's been nearly four since my last visit. So, it's good to be back, even for just a quick overnight. (Sorry that the photos suck. I just got a new laptop from work and didn't realize that photo-editing software was overlooked.)

I like to stay in the Bryant Park area (Garment District) in midtown Manhattan, and my hotel is sandwiched between a three-story BCBG (sigh) and a nail salon. What more can a girl want? (Yes, Phil, I left BCBG with my wallet unscathed...for now.)

My visit overlapped with a trip planned by my French girlfriend from work, Caroline, and we were fortunate enough to catch up over lunch at The Modern at MoMA because we've been too busy to do so in Cleveland.

The Modern has two dining sections: the Dining Room (prix fixe menu) and the Bar Room (tapas) and obviously is of contemporary decor. It's so "modern" that I couldn't figure out how to turn off the sink in the unisex bathroom. Apparently, I'm more of a small-town country girl than I'd like to own up to.

Caroline and I ate in the Bar Room. Before arriving, she left me a VM to say she was running late, and I swore she said she was bringing her dad (who lives in Paris, so it seemed a little strange), so I asked the server to seat us for three. Turns out she was bringing her bag (as in luggage) since she was headed to the airport afterward. Damn French accent.

I started with a fantastic wild mushroom soup with toasted chorizo ravioli wontons, and we each ordered the spice-crusted lamb with cheese gratin and pomegranate. Wonderful! We shared an apple streudel that was so good, I completely lost my train of thought during our conversation once I tasted it.

We parted ways, and I headed to meetings with reporters at Family Circle and Dow Jones. At Family Circle, I showed off a DIY cookbook I made for my Grams that's comprised of our Italian family recipes and photos. You design the album online and then Creative Memories (a client) binds and prints the book for you. I had a hard time prying our family Easter bread recipe from my grandma for her surprise gift. I believe her direct quote was, "Honey, you're not ready for it." Ouch. It does make 12 loaves, though...

The Dow Jones reporter I met with recently by-lined a story that appeared Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal and quoted one of my clients. Hooray! Turns out he's dating a fellow PRer. He confessed that she's inspired him to return e-mails more often. :) I was glad he returned mine because we had a nice cup of coffee.

By the end of the day, I was dragging, so I stopped for a quickie mani next to my hotel before heading to dinner to meet up with my new French friend, Jeremy, whom I met on the Eurostar from London to Paris.

Jeremy suggested a dive in SoHo, Cafe Noir, and we shared French-Moroccan inspired tapas. My favorite was a creamy spinach and shrimp dish. He promised to host me next time at their home in the upper west side. This time, I didn't miss the last train back to my hotel.

Go Louisville!

This dude's sign: "Tell me off for a $1"

Monday, March 10, 2008

Home at last

Fourth flight rescheduling was a charm, so we are finally home. I will say that enduring a red-eye flight, battling jetlag and a daylight savings conversion and only having one functional shovel isn't the best combination for efficiently digging out a driveway of three feet of packed snow. But we prevailed and even made a game of seeing who could fling snow the highest on our neighbor's smurf blue house (I lost).

I barely slept on the red-eye because of my coughing, sneezing seatmate (not Phil), but the Charlotte to Cleveland flight was better, and I enjoyed serving as concierge for the business travelers sitting nearby who asked about dining suggestions. I'm enough of a geek to have Lola and Dante on my speed dial.

My reunion with Ava was just like the movies: I burst in the house calling her name and she ran down the steps meowing in return and jumped in my arms.

Picked up Zip in Hudson this evening (my, what a tail wagger) and stopped at my brother's in Twinsburg to visit my nephew, GP3, who's walking up a storm. He was very excited to see us and gave us bunches of hugs. GP3 sports a hilarious hairdo: business in the front and party in the back with his wild curls.

My sister-in-law is due April 16 and is ready to pop. I gave her a onesie I bought for my niece-to-be at David & Goliath in the Venetian -- "Does this diaper make my butt look fat?"

Back to life as usual tomorrow. Here are my lessons learned from this trip:

1. Spread the love with spare keys to family and friends nearby for emergencies

2. Travel agents rule and are well worth the extra fee when you're in dire need

3. Sign up for a snow plow contract

4. Never play Blackjack

Three extra days in Vegas is way too many

I'm happy to report that Phil and I are actually sitting at gate A18 at the airport hoping that our fourth try at a flight home actually will get us there. We're both on a red-eye to Charlotte that connects to Cleveland in the morning. Phil has a guaranteed seat on the second leg of our flight, but I'm on stand-by (but first in line). If we both make it in, we should be home around 11 a.m.

We got up this morning and immediately checked online for info about our flights that were to depart this afternoon. Phil's flight was canceled, so I got on the horn with Continental and headed out the door. We ended up being on hold for more than 1.5 hours and never did get an agent on the line.

We went to the Continental check-in first and ended up with the same lady as yesterday. Her face fell when she saw us because she realized that our plans fell through (nice to have some empathy), but she told us that since Continental transferred our tickets to U.S. Airways for our flights, we needed to go to that counter.

Thankfully, the line wasn't too long. But, when we got an agent, she told us that Phil was rerouted to an earlier flight to Philly that was leaving right then. We were baffled because we never got notification online or otherwise and had arrived at the airport a few hours before his flight.

The agent disappeared for 30 minutes and we were trying not to panic. We just wanted to go home (even if to a driveway of four feet of snow)! Phil had checked possible re-routing options at the hotel before we left, so we started running those options by her. It's crazy because seats were disappearing by the minute. It was a constant process of: "Oh, here's a flight with a seat. Oh sorry, someone grabbed it. Here's one! Whoops, that's gone too." Argggggggggggggh! And then she got us on the red-eye to Charlotte and gave us actual boarding passes. Hooray!

We found some seats and sat down to regroup because we had nearly 12 hours before our plane was to depart. Then we decided to grab a cab back to MGM since it was a pretty cheap fare, check our bags (again) and tool around until the evening.

Back at MGM, a bellman welcomed us to Vegas, and we both started laughing. Oh well. I decided that I needed some poolside R&R since it was a lovely 70 degrees, and Phil opted to shame himself at the tables once again and catch some games at the sports book.

I chilled for a few hours by the pool, painted my nails and read my Glamour (the December issue since I have a serious problem of not reading my magazine subscriptions unless I'm traveling. I'm constantly annoying Phil with my backlog). A couple girls next to me said they had been out late clubbing and ran into Paris Hilton. I didn't mention that Phil and I have completely ignored the club scene since we've been here and went to bed early last night like nerds. Hey, that's how we roll.

I caught up with Phil around 4 p.m. and we decided that we needed to do everything in our power to satisfy the Vegas gods so they would finally let us leave, which meant trekking it to Harrah's to see Big Elvis. We got there just after 5 p.m. and saw the sign that said he only performed M-F. Pretty much par for the course. I took a picture of Phil by the sign as an offering because Phil hates taking photos and despises actually being in them...that certainly had to count for something.

Walked back to MGM and sat down in chairs at the slot machines to take a load off. We stared at each other because we were completely out of ideas for entertaining ourselves. So, we decided to try our luck at the Wheel of Gold and won $100! We cashed out immediately and went to the roulette table (our second offering to the Vegas gods because we always leave Vegas after a round or two (or five) at roulette).

Phil won $70 for his $2 bet on red seven and I won $10 for betting on red! Hooray again! We played for a little while longer and left the table with more than we came with, a new trend for the week. Before I could stop him, Phil went to a slot machine and after two spins, won $20. It appears as though our offerings were being accepted by the Vegas gods...finally!

Grabbed dinner at Wolfgang Puck and headed back to the airport for the second time today. And now, we wait.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

2nd canceled flight = (guilty) Vegas bonus day #2

Best news of the day: Ava is safe and not starving, albeit pissed that she's been left alone this long.

Worst news of the day: Our flight was canceled when we arrived at the airport, and we were told we couldn't fly home until Tuesday.

Another day of ups and downs. We got up early to check our flight status and Cleveland weather, and thought we might be safe since I received a trip alert confirmation on the way to the airport. Then, I tried to check my bag with my boarding pass and the kiosk told me to see an agent. Uh oh. Jerkface agent took a little too much delight in telling us that our flight was canceled five minutes ago and there would be no flights to Cleveland until Tuesday. You' Phil was extra disappointed since the news crushed his dream of a first-class seat. Our situation reminded me of a t-shirt I considered buying at David & Goliath that said, "When life hands you lemons, squirt them in someone's eye." I wanted to squirt a lemon (or three) into that agent's face.

We got in the horrendous line to re-book, and I simultaneously called the travel agent. After a 30-minute wait, she found us a reasonable room at MGM Grand. Then we spoke with a Continental agent who diligently searched for flights on alternative carriers at our request (Rosemary Bachelor at Continental is the best!), and after a half hour or so, she was able to book Phil on a flight tomorrow that connects through Phoenix and me on one that connects through Charlotte. Phil's phone was dying and he didn't bring his charger, so it was scary to think about what could happen if each of us got stuck after the first leg of our flight. I have my girlfriend Jen in Charlotte, but Phil doesn't know a soul in Phoenix. But, each of us got the last seat on each of our flights. And, if we actually make it home tomorrow, we'll be thrilled. We're past ready to go back to Cleveland.

Once we got to our new hotel, we were starving since we hadn't eaten breakfast. I was happy we were staying at MGM since it was new scenery and offered the opportunity to see things at the opposite end of the strip than where we stayed earlier this week. And, it reminded me of my dad because he brought me back a hideous T-shirt when I was a teenager that I never wore, but couldn't bear to get rid of.

Neither of us were in the mood for ANOTHER buffet, but for lunch, they're usually the most economical since a sandwich and a water will still cost you $20 anyway. Silliness. Then I saw short ribs AND mini corn dogs and was in heaven. I heard Phil shout, "They have everything! This is awesome!" and we were yet again on our way to stuffing ourselves. I will spare you another list of my food choices, but I will say that I had one plate entirely devoted to carbs.

At our table, we called our families to give them travel updates and tried reaching my uncle and Pat about the pets. At this point, I knew Ava would be really low or out of food and I started feeling more nervous, so I left a message for my Uncle Rob about checking in on her. And, I felt extra guilty to have to ask Pat to watch Zip yet another day. We moped for a little while because it sucks feeling like you're taking advantage of people and we felt like huge pains in the asses. And, we couldn't believe how much snow everyone was dealing with at home. Neither of our families could get out of their driveways, much less down the street. We reminisced about each of our crazy blizzard driving stories (like when my younger brother "crashed" my first car in slow motion into my teacher's landscaping after begging me to teach him to drive during a snow day). Then we had a pep talk and decided what could we do but make the best of things.

It was starting to get really warm and we were both pretty much out of fresh clothes, so we went on a hunt to find the cheapest, most ridiculous shirts we could (OK, it was only me who wanted to do this), and I also was dying for flip favorite symbol of warm weather. Phil vetoed my initial shirt selections for us (me: hideous orange Las Vegas County jail inmate shirt, Phil: "Tell your boobs to stop looking at my eyes" shirt). So we ended up with normal-looking (aka boring) t-shirts for a total of $8, and I got fun red plastic flip flops that ended up hurting like hell but let my toes breathe. We also found a cell phone charger for Phil.

We started feeling superstitious about what it would take to get us home. For example, I hypothesized that Vegas did not want me to leave before enjoying a ridiculous Eiffel Tower frozen strawberry margarita, and Phil insisted that we wouldn't be able to get a flight out until we saw Fat Elvis at Harrah's.

So, to please the Vegas gods (and more importantly: me), we walked to Paris so I could finally enjoy my drink (so delicious). Then we wandered through casinos back toward MGM (miraculously, without playing anything) and saw a lady win $1,000 (dammit, that should have been our win for Kim!) on a Wheel of Fortune slot machine.

The weather was still gorgeous, but the winds starting getting gusty and it reminded me of when I ran a half-marathon here five years ago. Vegas is supposed to be one of the easiest courses for beginners, but my race was plagued by 58-mph winds that resulted in Port-a-Potties barreling down the streets and sand in my eyes, ears and socks. I was able to finish, but it was a crazy race.

On our walk back to MGM, I heard from Pat that she lost power and had no heat, and I wasn't sure what to do since she said she and the kids were considering going somewhere else. I knew it would be tough to fit her, three teenagers and two dogs in her car, so we started brainstorming about what to do to make things easier for her. Phil suggested calling my brother to see if he had power and could take Zippy for a night (he has a 16-month old, a wife who's eight months pregnant and a crazy Jack Russell, which is why we didn't ask him to watch Zip in the first place). He offered to help out and then we heard from Pat that her power was back on, which was a relief. But I still felt really guilty about her burden of watching (and cleaning up after) our dog since she's been far from her best behavior this week.

When we got back to our hotel, we went to see the lions. They made me think of my poor kitty. I thought it was cool to learn that lion cubs weigh 1.5 lbs. when they're born and grow to 390 (female) to 500 lbs. (male). The MGM has something like 38 lions on its ranch.

We were still stuffed from brunch, so we headed to the tables (addicts, I tell you) and tried blackjack for the first time, which we sucked at. Oh well. At least we tried something new. Then we grabbed sandwiches for dinner and headed back to our room to catch the rest of the UNC vs. Duke game and crash.

Thankfully, my uncle called to say that he was able to dig out his driveway after shoveling all day (he had four feet of snow) and made it across town (he's a saint) to our house to check on Ava. Apparently our driveway was in even worse shape than his and he couldn't even pull onto our street because it hadn't been plowed. But, our kitty is fine, has fresh food, water and litter, and I feel so much better.

So, we're 0 for 2 with flights home. Third time's a charm, right? My fingers are crossed that Phil I don't end up in different states tomorrow night.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Stranded in Vegas...not a bad problem to have

Definitely picked a good week to not be in Cleveland. The manic ice storm that shut down tons of flights started on Tuesday and we just squeaked by to make a flight out here. Then a major water main busted on Thursday in Public Square, right outside where I work, interrupting the water supply and adding to even more downtown construction. Today, another crazy storm hit, and our afternoon flight was canceled and rescheduled for the morning. Geez oh man.

After my conference ended, we checked out, and Phil realized before I did that our boarding passes the concierge printed for us were for a morning flight. I panicked for a second thinking that somehow I had confused our flight time to be later than it actually was. I tried calling the office and kept getting VM for everyone, so I checked my e-mail and saw that the firm closed down because of Mother Nature's rage. Then we realized that our flight was re-booked for tomorrow, and I called the travel agent for assistance with booking a room.

Every single hotel room in Vegas was booked, which I think excited Phil because his dream of gambling through the entire night could actually become a reality. I asked the agent to check and see if there was any way the Wynn would give us another night since we had been guests, and she was able to work it out for a rate slightly higher than the conference rate. Whew!

Then I noticed our seat assignments. Phil, who flies once every year or so, was listed as elite and seated in first class, and I, the almost monthly flier, was in 28D, the row before the shitter. WTF?! I was able to move up to an aisle seat in an exit row, which is fine, and Phil has his fingers crossed that we make it out of here on the morning flight so he can enjoy his first-class status.

We called the 'rents and Aunt Pat (our pet sitter) to give our travel update right after we "consoled" ourselves with the Wynn's delish lunch buffet. I enjoyed quite the diverse cuisine pairings, and as Phil teased me, I started making a list, mainly for the shock value (consult Phil or Chuck for other examples):

American: cup of chicken noodle soup, mini roast beef sandwich, soft pretzel, candy apple

Italian: white pizza, kobe meatball, coffee gelato

Japanese: California roll

Chinese: spring roll, orange chicken

Thai: stir fry udon noodles

Mexican: guacamole

P.S. Sorry Grams, but we absolved ourselves of observing Lent today since Vegas has its own rules. I only tasted a little of each item, but yes, my belly was full.

So, "forced" to enjoy another night in Vegas, we headed back to Treasure Island to meet up with Brent, who has turned into quite the Pai Gow addict. We found him at a table around 2:30 p.m. and he shared that he was obsessed and hadn't eaten yet or ventured anywhere outside of TI (where he stayed) or the Wynn, despite it being his first visit to Sin City. We played for a while and then parted ways after warning him about condo and nudie girl solicitors so he could see the sites before his flight (he was headed out West, so his flight wasn't affected). He texted to say that Vegas is like Disney World for adults and was so overstimulated, he wasn't sure what to do. Good times.

Phil and I didn't lose money after playing for a while, so we were happy. The Pai Gow gods smiled down on our table because the guy next to us hit two straight flushes with a $25 chip on the bonus slot, which earned him $1,250 each time. Holy moly. When we decided to head out, I went to the bathroom and returned to find Phil feeding money to a slot machine. He put in a $20, did three spins worth $2 each and then won $100! I made him cash out so we could leave on a high note, Costanza style. Woo hoo!

We stopped in the Venetian Grand Canal shops, and as Phil was watching the opera singers and gondoliers, I sneaked a shirt dress purchase from BCBG (yesssssss). Headed back to the Wynn to re-check in and then grabbed a sandwich from an ala cart shop and parted ways: Phil to unload the rest of the money burning a hole in his pocket and me to relax, blog and achieve an early bedtime (aka lame-o).

So here we are. I'm ready to go home and see my babies. I know Zippy is in good hands, but I've been worried about my kitty since this is the longest she's been home alone. I keep having dreams about her. We called Phil's friend who helped us with some carpentry during our kitchen renovation last year to see if he could check in on her since he still has our key, but turns out that he lost it. Phil assures me that Ava is fine, but I miss my baby kitty and hope she's OK.

Wish us luck getting out of here tomorrow a.m. so we're not stuck at the airport playing the crappy-odds slots.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Vegas may not sleep, but I need to

So, I'm learning that Vegas is not conducive to blogging, at least for me. By the time I get back to my hotel room at night, I pretty much ache for instant slumber and once my head hits the pillow, I'm out like a light (doesn't mean though that I'm still not waking up wide awake at 4:30 a.m.). So, here's a quickie recap of the past two days:

1. Ideas for clients are swirling around in my brain from my conference sessions, and I feel very inspired.

2. I tried pole-aerobics and have a giant bruise on my leg. I think I'll take Zone's advice and try old lady Jazzercise because it won't physically harm me. :)

3. Made a man out of my new Swagelok friend Brent by forcing him to play Pai Gow with us (Brent's flight was delayed in Cleveland for several hours and then canceled. Because the Rapid was shut down from the ice storm, he had to take the bus home Tuesday night. The guy needed to cash in on some karma).

4.Tonight Phil and I enjoyed the most delectable (and expensive) dinner ever at Picasso in Bellagio.

You can check out the menu at Picasso via the link, but I must mention the ambiance was almost as great as the meal. We had amazing eye candy: authentic Picassos on the wall, front-row seats to the fountain show on the lake and gorgeous, fragrant flowers blooming throughout the restaurant. As for my meal, I tried two firsts -- caviar and a quail egg, sampled the best soup ever (Phil's succulent squash soup that was poured over homemade marshmallows) and savored what will go down as my most beloved dessert: warm chocolate fondant cake with espresso ice cream and toffee bits. Friends, this was even better than the Crying Chocolate dessert I fa wn over (and make co-workers sample) at Buddakhan in NYC.

This meal showed me why each ingredient in a dish has a purpose: bitter paired with sweet, rich with salty. I felt like I could taste each layer of flavoring. Magnificent.

Oh, and after three nights of gambling, I haven't lost my shirt yet. All is well.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Day 1 in Vegas: Wheel of Misfortune

So, a momentous day in current events, but an uneventful one for the most part for Philstina (yes, my husband and I have a celebrity moniker). Hillary won Ohio, Brett Favre retired and we returned to our hotel room tonight with lighter wallets. Ahh, the joys and seductions of Vegas!

I cast my absentee ballot last week, but Phil headed to our poll site this morning before our flight while I tackled some loose ends for work. We were worried we'd face a big flight delay with the wintry mix Mother Nature served up this morning, but we only suffered a minor setback. We weren't able to avoid the de-icer (never, ever a good sign...once on a biz trip with a friend/colleague, we waited in line for an hour for our plane to be de-iced only for the de-icer to run out of de-icing fluid...grrr), but ended up arriving less than 30 minutes later than our planned arrival. And, when you're greeted with 70-degree sunshine, how can one complain?

We had a friendly, informative cab driver who pointed out all of the new construction sites since our last visit to Sin City two years ago. Amy, you'll be pleased to know that he said the Stardust implosion was the best he'd ever seen (he's lived in Vegas since the 50's and has made a point of attending casino demolitions). There's a new hotel/casino in between the Venetian and the Wynn called Palazzo that looks amazing. Hopefully, we can check it out this week. Also, the City Center is a project slated for completion in 2010 that sports a price tag to the tune of $8.7 billion according to our cabbie.

We checked in at the Wynn, unpacked and then I wrapped up some work. Headed out around 5 p.m. to Bally's/Paris (two of our fav spots to play Pai Gow poker) and fooled ourselves with how long of a walk it would be. It's amazing how you can see a casino "right in front of you" and yet it takes 30 minutes to walk there since their size is ginormous and misleading. I lusted after a ridiculously tall drink in a hideous Eiffel Tower glass with a straw (oh, I will have one by week's end), a green BCBG dress and ruched cowboy boots, but Phil kept me on track and we found a Pai Gow table with a low minimum ($10) at Bally's and gambled away.

One of the reasons we love Pai Gow is because you have a good chance of at least pushing (or tying the dealer), so it feels like your money lasts longer. Didn't quite work out that way tonight. Phil started out strong while I kept getting bad hands (this is pretty typical. My favorite part of gambling with Phil is when I run out of chips and he lets me skim off his pile). Then I started getting a few pushes and wins and things looked up as Phil almost doubled his money. Long story short, we played until we were both famished (we hadn't eaten for about 8 hours at this point) and walked away with a combined total of $6.75. No, I didn't leave out any decimal points or digits. Ouch.

Phil and I had a love/hate relationship with our dealer, Lee, tonight and we still remember and reference our favorite (Dolly, Bally's) and detested (Jan, Treasure Island, and Mavin, Paris) dealers from previous visits. We also fondly remember folks we've met at tables (we once played with some guys who kept making $3K bets on my dealt hands, which freaked me out) and the weirdos that are commonplace at the casinos...tonight we met a little person leprechaun outside of O'Shea's.

After our pride-swallowing loss, we hungrily staggered over to Caesars Palace to try its buffet, Lago. Phil looooves buffets. This one was OK, but won't go down as one of our favorites. After we refueled, we convinced ourselves that our luck would change by gambling someone else's money (Kim's), and so we played the Wheel of Fortune slots at Harrah's with the lucky $20 bill she gave us to win her big money with hopes of repeating her $200 win from her last visit. Sorry, Kim, you're a loser, just like us. Hilariously, the only time we won credits was when we scored three lines straight across (basically nothing x 3). That about sums up our luck for the night.

My social media conference starts tomorrow, and I am psyched! I start off with a hands-on podcasting seminar first thing. Wish us better luck (and fortune) for tomorrow evening.