Las Vegas, 2007

We had pre booked a room in Las Vegas at The Stratosphere for $30 a night on a mid-week deal. It seemed like a ridiculously low price to me, but my husband-to-be (HTB) explained that the idea is to get you in and gambling- which is where the hotels make their real money.

The Stratosphere, located at one end of the strip, is one of the older casino’s that was recently revamped with the inclusion of 3 big scary rides- Big shot which shoots you up the tip of the tall tower, XScream which dangles you over the edge and Insanity which twirls you around while hanging over the edge.

I personally wasn’t insane enough to try any of them, but I did enjoy the view of wedding chapel road from the top and the planes whizzing by at eye level past our room. They also have a good cheap all you can eat buffet and an fantastic American diner called Roxy’s.

My HTB and I took a stroll along The Strip, which was deceptively far from one end to the other as the casinos appear larger than life.

We passed the demolition site that used to be the Frontier and the new Wynn complete with waterfall. The Sahara rollercoaster screamed past us as we walked by the tent of Circus, Circus.

Treasure Island had a big pirate ship out the front and we went inside Flamingo’s to see the real life flamingos. We continued past Bally’s and stopped to take pictures with the tiger and dolphin statues at the Mirage.

The Rialto Bridge at the Venetian looked fairly authentic, as did the Victory of Samothe statue and Trevi Fountain at Cesar’s Palace. The replica Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe at Paris looked just like the real thing, only smaller; and it was bizarre to see the Empire State Building right next to the Statue of Liberty at New York, New York.

It was definitely awesome to be able to revisit so many of my favourite monuments from other parts of the world in one place.

The fountain show at the Bellagio was everything it promised to be and more and I couldn’t believe that they had live lions inside the MGM Grand casino which was flanked by a huge golden lion out the front.

We passed the Planet Hollywood, Monte Carlo and the horse and cart outside Excalibur, concluding our tour at the Luxor sphinx.

Walking back, we were intrigued by Margaritaville and the life size dressed up M & M’s. I also stopped at the shops at Cesar’s Palace for my Zara fix.

Suitably exhausted, I headed back up to our hotel room, while my HTB stopped at the Black Jack tables downstairs. The next morning he informed me that he had broken even.

Related posts: USA Road trip, 2007, Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

A Day Out for the Boys- Old Warden and other things, Part 2

This week’s guest post is from my cousin Sean Mendis.

The story will unfold in three parts- here is the second part.

Our first stop was the RFC camp and field dressing station where everyone had dressed up in their army fatigues, and hobnail boots just for the weekend. Fearsome infantry weapons were on display causing my fevered imagination to go into overdrive. “Sir! Your helmet and entrenching tool are enormous!” “Never mind your ankle puttees Graves, just feel the width of my bayonet.”  “Would you like a Satsuma sir, before I drop down and give you twenty?”

Then there was the re-enactment of a WW1 dogfight and the exchange between an RFC pilot and his rear gunner.

“Did you get the Kraut?

“Yes saar”.

“Did you see him smoke”?

“Yes saar, and some flames too”.

“Good show Douglas, very well done, so we’ve bagged a flamer after all”!

Further up the field, pleasure flights in vintage aircraft were on offer. This was an opportunity not to be missed and very soon we were shoe-horned on board the tiny cabin of a De Haviland Dragon Rapide biplane. The pilot was a chunky untidy chap who wore an eight o’clock shadow.  I felt he needed a touch of the cold steel and the badger.  He fired up the Dragon Rapide’s ancient Gypsy Major engines, which popped and crackled, before bursting into life and then settling into a heavy, steady thrum.  The whole airframe shuddered in sympathy and I hoped like hell that the glue holding the tiny two by one cross members making up most of the cabin structure would hold.  The pilot had to wait for a landing Tiger Moth before he had the all clear.  I had a good vantage point just behind and to the right of the pilot.  He gently eased the throttle forward and the elevators back.  It took a while for the tail to lift and soon the aircraft was on rotation point waiting for a bump or a slight gust to make the step from ground to air.  At this point the pilot gave quite a hefty tug on the control yoke and we eased upward.  It felt and looked like he was driving an old Route Master bus.  After a gentle climb out towards the South, the pilot levelled out at about 2000 feet and throttled back to 1900RPM.  It must have been the cruising speed and I could now see the silvery shadow of the whirring props.  My seat was directly in line with them and I found this slightly unsettling. It was probably the memory of a detached propeller slicing through the cabin, in the re-make of ‘The flight of the Phoenix’, that came to mind.  I could see the headlines: Degenerate civil servant dies in a freak prop accident.

Stay tuned next week for part three…

Related posts: A Day Out for the Boys- Old Warden and other things

USA Road trip, 2007

Who doesn’t love a road trip?

As my husband-to- be (HTB) and I rolled out of Anaheim in our hire car, we were about to embark on my favourite road trip to date.

We coasted along the Californian highway beside flat plains with white windmills surrounded by mountains.

Our aim for today was to visit Joshua Tree National Park. We stopped at a small information centre along the way to make sure we were going the right way. They were very friendly and helpful and we were able to find the entry gates to the park very easily after that.

At Key’s View it was actually snowing and we rugged up as we took in the sight of the Coachella Valley. We saw Pinto Mountain, Cap Rock and Skull Rock, which actually looked like a skull. There were also some very brave rock climbers in Hidden Valley.

There were many Joshua Trees of course and lots of varieties of cactus in the Cholla Cactus Garden, where we also spotted a coyote with her cubs.

Near sunset, we made it to Indian Cove and the fading light produced pretty colours on the surrounding rocks.

We stayed the night in a motel at Twenty Nine Palms. For dinner, we went to the local BBQ restaurant where I had the biggest jacket potato I have seen in my life and my HTB ordered half a rack of ribs which sure looked like half a cow. We couldn’t believe it when a man from a new army base came in and ordered two racks just for himself.

The next day we hit the famous Route 66 heading to Las Vegas. We were very excited to be on such an iconic road. This part was basically just two straight roads in the middle of nowhere with no petrol stations, so we were very surprised to see a man walking along the road with two shopping bags about halfway through the journey. Where did he shop when there were no shops to be seen? And where was he going?

We passed Bristol Dry Lake, Amboy Crater and crossed the Nevada Border.

Next stop Vegas Baby!

Related posts: Disneyland, 2007, Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990

A Day Out for the Boys- Old Warden and other things, Part 1

This week’s guest post is from my cousin Sean Mendis.

The story will unfold in three parts- here is the first part.

We had planned this trip for a while now with little success due to a variety of reasons; lack of time, bad weather, a nasty outbreak of swine flu and matrimonial quibbles.  Well, quibbles is a euphemism really, just like saying the Holocaust was due to a minor gas leak.

July the 5th was a beautiful Sunday and everything coalesced to make it happen.  Michael arrived at 11am in his beautiful ’67 Karman Ghia, resplendent in its recent bare metal re-spray in pearl white.

I had gone to Halfords to buy a quart of oil and also to check out a young Ishmaeli girl at the sales counter who was particularly un-phased by the sledge-hammer wit and charm that I was busily doling out.  Still, it saved me from a night out, five pints of Stella and a dollop of Chlamydia!

After packing a small picnic we left Wembley at 12:30pm.  We dusted the covers off the ageing but eager BMW 730, and despite the inconsequential oil leak, headed up the A1 in the direction of  Biggleswade and Old Warden.  I had remembered to pack a can or two of amber nectar and a very nice bottle of fermented grape juice. Nothing goes down better than a day out in the sun with pickled senses and raddled flesh I thought, as I imagined stretching out on the grass with the eager anticipation of an early liquid lunch and the sound of supercharged Merlins overhead.

Soon we were out in the open country and things started to fly by as we let loose the Bavarian beast  and beat up the A1. We weren’t going to let the price of petrol and a maniacal control freak spoil a good weekend.  I was already buoyed up by the news that our ancient Triumph 5T motorcycle had passed its MOT. The old boy who was overseeing this (over seventy now and still going strong) was a delightful chap called Bill Cosby who had been in the motorcycle trade ever since its inception, or so it seemed. One of the nice things to look forward to during a visit to his ‘Alladin’s cave’ was a freebie coffee, whilst he ragaled us with stories of building race bikes, founding the London Motorcycle museum, and general deeds of derring-do.  It’s a shame he was long on the stories and short on the maintenance.  However, it was turning out to be a good weekend for the boys. Things were starting to happen at last.

We arrived at Old Warden aerodrome at 1PM, an hour before the air-show was due to begin. It was already a hive of activity. I expected the car park to be full of crusty old codgers in their equally crusty old classic cars.  There seemed to be a lack of it this time.  Just a smattering of Bentleys, the odd Jag E-Type and an immaculate Vincent Black Shadow – restored to within an inch of its life.  It was truly in concourse condition. Maybe the credit crunch had taken its toll and the old Bristol or Healy had been moth balled for less parsimonious times.

Stay tuned next week for part two…

Disneyland, 2007

My jetlag woke me at 3am and Opera next door was just closing. I was privy to a car park conversation between a guy and girl exiting the nightclub, which turned into a much accounted travel story.

“What’s your name?” he said.

“Destiny,” she said.

“Destiny! I f-ing LOVE that name!,” he said.

“What’s your name?” she said.

“John,” he said.

Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, but this tickled me no end and I tried to contain my laughter on the top bunk so as not to wake my husband-to-be (HTB) on the bottom bunk. Unbeknownst to me, he was also awake, had heard the whole conversation.

Later that morning we were woken by a knock on the door which heralded our bus ride to the airport to pick up our hire car. No more walking for us! With no time to wash, we quickly chucked our stuff into our backpacks and headed downstairs.

After picking up some other passengers at the famous Chateau Marmont on the other side of Hollywood Boulevard, we hit the freeway. After obtaining our car we headed to Anaheim and Disneyland.

My HTB had never been to Disneyland before and I couldn’t wait to share my memories of the happiest place on earth with him. We took the obligatory photos in front of the Mickey and Minnie Mouse made out of flowers at the entry and then walked down Main Street.

First stop was Adventureland. We went on the Jungle Cruise, which hadn’t changed much and climbed the new to me Tarzan’s House. The Indiana Jones adventure was the highlight- it really seemed like that rock was going to roll on top of us.

In Frontierland we saw the Rivers of America, Tom Sawyer Island and the Mark Twain Riverboat. We had a bite to eat in New Orleans Square and then went on the classic Pirates of the Caribbean ride. The new Haunted Mansion had clever use of holograms and was themed to match a kid’s movie that I hadn’t seen. The best ride was the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roller coaster.

Next we headed to Critter Country and my all time favourite ride- Splash Mountain. It was just as good as I had remembered it and this time we didn’t have to line up for as long.

We passed the iconic Enchanted Castle in Fantasyland, had a ride on the Storybookland canal boats and a spin in the Mad Tea Party cups. I indulged a little nostalgia with a trip on the Matterhorn bobsleds and a journey into It’s a Small World. The song was just as annoying as I remembered it, but they had updated a few areas, like the 2008 New Year’s Eve in Paris.

Mickey’s Toontown was a completely new area to me. The rides were more for big kids, but we still went on Roger Rabbits Cartoon spin and Go Gadget’s Go Coaster.

Tomorrowland was my HTB’s favourite- probably mostly due to the Star Tours area which was very well fitted out. After a spin in Autopia, we had run out of time, so started our walk back to our cheap Anaheim motel passing the Enchanted Castle lit up for night on the way. As we neared our motel we saw the closing fireworks over the park.

Ah, Disneyland, the original, and still a joy.

Related posts: Los Angeles, 2007, USA, 1990, Travel rememberings, All things Disney

It’s a Sri Lankan Thing

It’s the people, it’s the place.

Welcoming faces.

Tasty tropical mangosteens.

Unrivaled hospitality.

Old colonial leftover hotels with kamikaze cocktails.

The locals love for children.

The lethargic heat.

Respect for the ferocity of the sea.

Whitewashed walls and stupa’s.

Joy and jubilation mixed with enthusiasm.

Busy bustling markets.

An easy going attitude.

Short eats and orange Kandos chocolate.

The way that everyone wants to do something for you.

The cool breeze and beautiful clear blue water of the Indian ocean.

The acceptance of the foreigner.

A peaceful temple oasis in the busy city.

Where the locals go.

Their willingness to go above and beyond.

Members only clubs.

The genuine wish to make your trip better.

Homemade margarita’s and little girls dresses.

Their sense of humour and camaraderie after years gone by.

A fortress by the sea.

Polite service staff.

Fancy restaurants in renovated dutch hospitals.

Their persistence and patience.

Orderly school children walking in a line.

Dining on the beach with the added danger of the strong swirling currents of high tide rising.

A Rastafarian brothers greeting.

Listening to the crashing waves as you drift off to sleep.

Early morning exercisers and sunset surfers.

Palm trees aplenty.

The familiar tune of green sleeves as the bread seller passes by.

Friendly tuk tuk drivers.

The largest roti in the world made while you wait.

The elephant on the side of the road and the monkey on your balcony.

Crashing waterfalls.

Dogs with a death wish daring elaborately decorated trucks.

Windy climbing roads.

Their craziness about cricket.

Hillsides of tea above rocky rivers.

Tranquility, peace and quiet.

Flower sellers following you up and down mountains for a sale.

Showing me what is not in the guide book.

Speciality hand rolled white tea.

Cooling afternoon rains

Egg hoppers and fresh coconut sambol.

A private tea taste testing.

That Singaporean couple we bumped into 3 times before we finally exchanged details.

Stone crafted to look like wood.

Drinking out of coconuts.

Dizzy display of Kandian dancing.

150 Buddha’s in a cave.

Feeding an elephant and then watching the herd bathe.

Seafood platters and long island ice teas.

It’s all this and more.

Thanks to all my family in Sri Lanka for making my family trip a delight. Hope to see you all again sooner rather than later.

Related posts: Sri Lanka, 1998, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, 1994 , What’s your obsession