Observations Along the Road

Theatre Writeups, Musings on the News, Rants and Roadkill Along the Information Superhighway

Category Archive: 'travel'

Champagne Dreams and Sparking Wine Realities

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri Aug 30, 2013 @ 6:38 am PDT

userpic=travelHere’s an important reality every business today should take to heart: Every one of your customers may be writing up a review of your business and posting it on the Internet. As Internet reviews are often critical to future business, you need to treat every customer the best, and provide them the best possible experience.

I mention this because — as you’ve probably figured out by now — we’re just finishing a vacation in Escondido, CA. We’ve been staying at the Lawrence Welk Resort San Diego, having exchanged a week three years ago with Interval International (and thus we needed to use it before it expired). This is my write-up of my experiences here. In short: I’d come back, but I challenge them to do even better, because I know that they can. In Yelp ratings, call it ★★★★.

The resort, which looks to have been started in the late 1980s, consists of a number of small communities each connected to a recreation center: Melody Hill, Harmony Hill, Broadway Hill, Villa on the Greens, and their newest community, Mountain Villas. All of the communities are on golf courses that appear to be well maintained. There is a central plaza that provides a full theatre (with live theatre productions), resort shop, Pizza Hut Express, convenience store, spa, and restaurant. The recreation centers are mostly family-oriented with playgrounds, pools, spas, water-play areas, some water-slides, and recreation rooms. One (Melody Hills) is over-18 with a kid-less pool, dry sauna, fitness center, and weight room. Some of the recreation centers have board games, but nothing I would consider a good board game :-). The pool areas look very nice, although we really didn’t use them. The resort has a large variety of activities that are well publicized and that would serve families quite well.

The rooms themselves have a wide variety — as one expects in a timeshare — with full kitchens, beds, sleeper sofas, washer/driers, etc. Ours had a jacuzzi tub large enough for two! Our was reasonably clean and we’ve enjoyed our stay here quite a bit, although we haven’t partaken in any of the activities (other than their Farmer’s Market). There are barbeques everywhere for people to use. I’ll note that they do try to promote a resort tour in exchange for discounts for local attractions, their evening shows, or in the restaurant.  Translation: they are trying to get people to buy into the new Mountain Villas development. We’re not interested as we already have a timeshare, but I could see it being appealing to families.

I also want to know that the Customer Service people we dealt with were, for the most part, attentive. Maintenance was a little slower, but then again, we didn’t make our maintenance problem a priority issue. So I’ll give them a very good on customer service.

With all of this, why the ★★★★ rating? Attention to detail. Although they have a fitness room, the machines are older and look it (but they work). Handrails could use paint. I noticed the occasional cigarette butt on the ground (that remained over 24 hours). The drain on our Jacuzzi tubs didn’t pop up; we needed to resort to a kitchen knife to pry it up. We had a light on the porch hanging by its conduit (which they fixed when we brought it to their attention). The grounds-crew is not attentive to the noise of their equipment (I understand the need to maintain the course, but there’s a difference between a lawn mower and using those obnoxious string trimmers or leaf blowers).

[Karen adds: I found a few annoyances - burned out light bulbs (2 in our unit), not really enough light for puzzling, comfortable reading or needlework, and this is the first timeshare I've done that didn't have a mid-week light cleaning, sundries replacement,  linen change-out and trash emptying...Other maintenance items showed that they aren't paying close attention - a nasty burning smell emanating from the dishwasher when we used it, the flange on the shower arm was floating loose, and the very nice magnifying make-up mirror in the bath has an intermittent short in its power supply or cord  - sometimes the on-board light worked, sometimes it didn't ... Also, unlike some of the other places I've been, very few activities were targeted to adults...enough that if I hadn't brought my own projects, i would have been bored stiff...]

Additionally, the plugs near the desk are full, so there’s no place to plug in a laptop… and they have limited Internet speeds.Further, during this visit, the Internet went down — c’mon, how can you have a vacation with no Internet, furgodsakes — and it took them over 12 hours to realize that they needed to raise a ticket with their ISP (e.g., the problem was off-premises). I ended up going off-premises to a Starbucks 10 miles away to take care of conference email Thursday morning. That’s a grrrrr in my book. Once they raised the issue, it was fixed in a few hours (i.e., it was about around 930am, so it was down from 1p-930a). Now that my arm is complete again, there is calm in the world. Funny how that works.

In any case, these are the little things that distinguish a top rating (which I see in the reports from our home resort, The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach, which is ★★★★½ on Trip Advisor… and they work hard to maintain it). None of these are make it or break it items; none go to the level of sanitary problems or major safety issues. They all fall into the category of temporary light annoyances. Still, to my eye, to reach the excellent level there should be no annoyances.

Will we be back? Quite likely. When we do an exchange, we like locations in driving distance from home. My wife did Sedona once. We did Palm Springs last August, Las Vegas in May, and this August is Escondido. The location is great. San Diego is an easy drive. The facility encourages walking and exercise (I’ve walked or exercised for an hour each day – go me!). The pools and greens are beautiful. The customer service has been very good.

Lastly, when I mentioned we were at a Welk resort, people were going — but that’s for old folks. I’ll note that we’re seeing a large number of families here, and the facilities seem very family-oriented. Although Welk himself was known to an older demographic, his show was always family oriented and his resorts appear to be oriented that way. If you are looking for a place without a lot of kids, this probably isn’t the place. There are some of those in Palm Springs or Vegas. (Oh, and if you want Lawrence Welk music, visit the SVDP Thrift Shop in Escondido. They had loads of Welk LPs)

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Historic Roads and Exotic Cuisines

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue Aug 27, 2013 @ 9:53 pm PDT

userpic=travelAs I noted in my last post, we’re down in Escondido on vacation. Today was a day of historic highways, exploration, and exotic foods, all driven by a need to drive into San Diego proper to visit our niece. We had a delightful visit (albeit short — she’s a very busy young lady), and enjoyed talking to her and catching up on what is going on. But on to the stuff you probably care about.

Historic Roads. As we’re in Escondido, and we were visiting San Diego (in particular, the Hillcrest area), this gave us the opportunity to drive on a number of incarnations of US 395 and US 80 — in particular, sections in Escondido (City Center, Escondido Blvd, Grand) and in San Diego (CA 15, CA 163, El Cajon Blvd, Washington). We also got to visit a number of hipster districts, explore some thrift shops and some used record shops. In my opinion, the used record shops up on Adams — one with a large collection of folk, blues, and bluegrass music, the other with an astounding collection of original cast albums — had great selections but were overpriced for many of their LPs, starting on the order of $7-$9. If the record is rare the price might be OK, but when I can find the music on CD for the same (if not better) price, I’m not going the LP route (especially when it is over 90°F outside). I did pick up some records — four for $1 each at an Assistance League Thrift Shop. The thrift stores were much better (Erin, if you read this, we have a lovely Calphalon pan we got for $4.5 and a nice knife for you).

Exotic Cuisine. While driving along El Cajon Blvd, we saw an interesting restaurant: “Flavors of East Africa“.  Located at El Cajon and Texas, they have wonderful Kenyan cuisine. We had keema beef, tilapia, collards and cabbage, a wonderful stew of hominy, kidney beans, potatoes and carrots cooked in olive oil with garlic, tomatoes and onions, mashed plaintains, and rice. Driving home, the spices from the keema beef  hit back a little, and so we found another wonderful place: “Tropicana Delite“. This is a Mexican paleteria y neveria, family owned, with hand-made ice cream and popsicles. They had flavors there I have never seen before in ice creme: queso rompope, mango/chile, elote, guayaba, nuez… on top of traditional flavors. Plus, they were making something I’ve never seen before: “Tostilocos”, which is a Tijuana street food. Here’s a description:

You begin by opening a bag of Tostitos, usually the salsa verde-flavored kind, and you layer on ingredients. If you can imagine an assembler of this dish in Tijuana, Mexico, ripping open the bag of Tostitos and then taking the ingredients from three shelves in a bodega and dumping all of those in. Those ingredients include: shaved jicama; pickled pigskins; stumpy, little, sweet, sour tamarind candy; sweet coated peanuts; and chopped cucumbers. Then they pull out two liquids: fresh-squeezed key limes and chamoy — that magenta-colored, vinegary, puckery, pickled fruit in brine. It’s sauce that you see often when someone is buying chips in a store — even when they are not buying Tostilocos. You’re handed a bottle of chamoy with which you garnish chips.

All that goes in the bag. The bag kind of bulges under that payload. Often the bag, when filled with all those ingredients, the sides slip and you just start dripping this Rorschach pattern on the pavement as you eat and walk.

So, as I said, a day of historic roads and exotic foods.

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Saturday News Chum: Poor Wandering Subject

Written By: cahwyguy - Sat Aug 24, 2013 @ 7:19 am PDT

Observation StewAh, the weekend. Time to rest, relax, and recharge… while gorging yourself on this collection of interesting links that didn’t quite fit into a theme:

 

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Some Vegas and “Along The Road” Reviews

Written By: cahwyguy - Tue May 07, 2013 @ 10:28 pm PDT

userpic=las-vegasWe made it back home from Las Vegas a few hours ago, and so I thought I’d post some reviews of things Vegas or along the way. I would have posted some of these this morning, but the Internet at our hotel was out (in fact, it was out for the entire nearby area — at least at McDs and Dunkin):

  • Tahiti Village Resort. This is where we stayed — we had an interval from Interval International expiring, and so we exchange it from here. It was a very nice resort, with a lovely pool (with a sand area), a lazy river (which we didn’t try), and reasonably good service. The on-site restaurants had a so-so reputation, so we didn’t try them. It was located right next to LAS, which made it very convenient for strip access without being on the strip. Drawbacks: The elevators when we went to checkout were slow, and the Internet went out this morning (neither of which were really the resort’s fault).
  • Re-Pete Bar and Grill. Last night, not wanting to go back to the strip, yet not wanting to try the resort’s restaurant, we went down the street to Re-Petes. We were glad we did, for the food was excellent. I had their house chicken, which was two chicken breasts in a pan glaze with chopped sausage over lyonnaise potatoes with fresh vegetables. It was just perfect.
  • Wynn Buffet. Breakfast today was the buffet at The Wynn, which was head and shoulders over the mediocre buffet at the Riviera or at the Fremont. I just can’t describe all the lovely little delicacies that the Wynn had out, but I really felt I got my $20 worth with the variety. This wasn’t just bacon and eggs, folks.
  • Jerky Outlet. During this trip, we saw lots of Jerky places, from the Beef Jerky Store in downtown Vegas  to Alien Fresh Jerky in Baker. These places had lots of different jerkys, but most had soy sauce in them (which is not gluten-free). As we were leaving, we tried the Jerky Outlet just S of the Premium Outlets.  They had jerky without soy sauce, both in a soft (refrigerated) and non-soft variety. A bit pricy, so we didn’t try the exotic meats, but still worth going back to.  They have both a website and a facebook page.
  • Charlie Brown Farms. As we were driving back along Route 138, we ran across Charlie Brown Farms. This is a place that seems to go on and on with all sorts of stuff — kitsch, dolls, dried fruits, fudge, candies, BBQ, walking sticks, teas. A wide variety of stuff split over a number of buildings. Given that it isn’t that far from Palmdale, we may go back one day for a longer look.

 

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A Tale of Three Chocolates

Written By: cahwyguy - Mon May 06, 2013 @ 4:55 pm PDT

userpic=cookingIf you follow my blog at all, you know I like to do things in threes. So today, as we’re still in Las Vegas, I bring you the story of three chocolates:

  • Vosges Haut Chocolate. We hit this store on the way to the Elton John concert. They had lots of tasty samples, but alas they didn’t have any of their bacon+chocolate out to try. We did, however, pick up a blood orange caramel chocolate bar. Yummy.
  • Max Brenner. This was a chocolate store plus restaurant that we hit after the concert for dessert. We ended up getting “The Spectacular Melting Chocolate S’Mores Sundae, which consisted of milk chocolate ice cream, pure vanilla creme, milk chocolate fondue, chocolate chunks, marshmallow fluff, and whipped cream, garnished with toasted marshmallow fluff and served with a white chocolate ganache, with two chocolate-covered graham cracker cookies on the side.
  • Ethel M. The third chocolate in our story is Ethel M, which we visited this afternoon for the store and the factory tour. There we picked up a 16-pc box with goodies for all: dark and milk chocolate sea-salt caramels, dark and milk chocolate raspberry satin cremes, dark chocolate lemon satin cremes, orange liqueur dark chocolates, amaretto liqueur milk chocolates, Irish cream liqueur chocolates, milk chocolate truffles, dark chocolate truffles, and cinammon truffles…. plus some pecan brittle. Oh, and Ethel Mars looks a lot like Mary See. Coincidence?

P.S.: The peppermint oil did a wonderful job of calming down my sunburn.

P.P.S.: Today we hit the Riviera Buffet for lunch. The old girl (the hotel opened in 1955) is getting sad. The food was only average (although the price was low), the buffet was empty with no line, and you had to go in the back because the escalator was under repair. Further, the casino was very quiet. It is one of the few 1950s hotels with the original building still standing (i.e., the 9-story hotel wings — the only other are the two-story wings at the Tropicana). After lunch we went across the street to Circus Circus, and it was equally quite (although with more kids thanks to the Midway). In general, the North End of the Strip is currently dead. It is being dragged down by the empty lot that was the Frontier, the partial development that was the Stardust and was to be the Echelon and will be the Resort World Las Vegas, the unfinished hulk that was the Thunderbird (oops) Silverbird (oops) El Rancho (oops) was to be the Fontainbleau, the land from the El Rancho Vegas that has never been redeveloped yet, and the closed Sahara that is transforming into the SLS Vegas. Here’s hoping that the North Strip can come back as strong as the Mid- and South Strip.

Music: Zumanity (Cirque Du Soleil): “Entree”

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Doing a Stupid

Written By: cahwyguy - Sun May 05, 2013 @ 7:31 am PDT

userpic=las-vegasFriday I did a couple of stupids that I’m still paying for. Perhaps it comes with the territory — after all, I am in Las Vegas, a city known for adults doing stupid things. But usually those stupid things involve alcohol and end up with embarrassing pictures being posted on Facebook… and what I did is not in that category of stupid things.

So what did I do? Well, first I trimmed my toenails. Usually not a problem; we all do it. However, I had a sharp corner on my big toe, and in some way insulted and inflamed the cuticle. It is still mad at mad, and I’m treating it with Neosporin and Epsom Salts, and when I get home I’ll try some steroidal creme. Combine that with my usual blisters from walking too much and a cracked heel from sandals, and I have a foot that is none to happy.

The other stupid I did was going out by the pool. Without sunblock. Although I did time how long I was out there (2 hrs) and rotated regularly (max 30 minutes per side at a time), I still ended up with a hella-sunburn. It’s periodically painful. Not much I can do about it, except Aloe Vera gel and time.

At least other stuff I’m doing is fun. More on that in the next post…

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A Circus of Sex

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 03, 2013 @ 11:36 pm PDT

zumanityuserpic=las-vegasTonight we did the “Vegas Thing”, and went to see a show. Specifically, we saw Zumanity at New York New York, one of seven Cirque shows currently running in Vegas. How would I describe the show? Modern Dance, Athleticism, a touch of comedy, audience participation, combined with lots of sex. It was a beautiful show — I don’t know how typical it was of Cirque shows — and one that I enjoyed. But it wasn’t a show in the theatre sense — there was no plot or through line. I was about to write that it was like Bob Fosse’s Dancin’ (in other words, no plot, just dancing), but then I realized that although there wasn’t a through line, there was a point — to embrace your sensuality, to enjoy love and sex, and to experiment. So let’s look at each of the characteristics of Zumanity in turn.

First, the dance. Almost all of the numbers in Zumanity were dances of some form of another, or dances combined with gymnastics and aerobatics. All were excellent. I particularly enjoyed the waterbowl, where a number of female dancers, topless, used a large waterbowl to express movement and feeling (Ulziibayar Chimed, Bolormaa Zorigtkhuyag/FB, Estefania Laurino and Gyulnara Karaeva). Also great was the Roue Cyr, where a male actor (Jonas Woolverton) was in a large hoop, and would spin and rotate around.

Most of the numbers had remarkable athleticism. Numbers of particular note were the hand balancing number, where a male performer essentially did a pole dance holding himself perpendicular to the pole (Dima Shine (FB)). Also great was the hoops number, where a female actor (Julia Kolosova) was using hoops and aerobatics to do remarkable moves. My wife was very impressed with the tissues number, where remarkable arobatics were performed using just a hanging ribbon (Alan Jones Silva, Anna O’Keefe).

The comedy numbers were performed by a different set of actors from the main troupe. All were good, and most involved audience participation. The main perpetrators were Dick and Izzy (Shannan Calcutt (FB), Nicky Dewhurst (FB)) who were great with audience repartee, although Edie the Mistress of Sensuality (Christopher Kenney/FB, Edie/FB) did a pretty good job in the Orgy number. Our show was particularly funny because they brought up an elementary school teacher from Oregon, who was so out of her element that her reactions were priceless.

Now for the sex part. I should note that the sex is geared towards the Las Vegas audience. In other words, what might shock a midwesterner (“look, Gladys, bare breasts!”) would hardly phase an Angeleno. The cast does a great job of trying to get a rise out of the audience, and tries to be extremely playful and risque. That’s why it is over 18 only, folks! If any number truly captured sex, however, it was the straps number (Jill Crook (FB)), which went to the edge of voyeristic auto-asphyxiation. I should note that it was nice that the show did not give in to the tendency to have artificially enhanced actresses. It is important to embrace the natural beauty in all.

What problems did I have with the show? Well, other than the audience (which had no idea how to dress for a show, but that’s Vegas!), I only had two. First, there were two large actresses in the cast (Licemar and Luciene Medeiros) — large, buxom, and beautiful. They were used only for comedy numbers, and the one quasi-sexy comedy number that they had, they did in body-suits.  If the show truly wants to reach today’s American audience, then show that these large actresses can be sexy. Show that large women (and large men) can be beautiful, act, and be athletic. Don’t give in to the stereotype that large is only the butt of a joke.

My second complaint has to do with the program they handed out. It had one page for each different Cirque show. What it didn’t do was tell me about the cast and the crew. You can get that information only if you pay for a full size program. Even the Las Vegas Sun review didn’t list all the actors. It isn’t even on the website. The cast members I’ve listed here were developed by looking through numerous websites. This show had talented actors, talented musicians, and a talented technical team. Tell me about them — their experience and their talent and training. This not only informs the audience, but is important for your actors and their careers. Don’t shortchange them; they are too good.

[ETA] After doing some research, I was able to uncover the actors listed above. Other actors in the show (at least the ones I could find) included: Ekaterina Bazarova/FB (“hand-to-hand”), Ed Bohlen (“midnight bath”), Felix Cane (“dance on TV”), Vanessa Convery (“midnight bath”), Gabriel Corbin (“two men”), Wassa Coulibaly (“wassa”), Arslan Gusengadzhiev (“dislocation”), William Hulett/FB (“rose boy”), LJ Jellison (“two men”), Candi Kirtz (dancer), Marcela de la Vega Luna (“wind”), Renee Pugh (dancer), Paris Red (singer),  Agnes Roux (dancer), Valeriy Simonenko (FB) (“hand-to-hand”), and Corinne Zarzou (FB) (singer).

[ETA] Zumanity was written and directed by Dominic Champagne and René Richard Cyr. Costumes were by Thierry Mugler. Set design was by Stéphane Roy. Music by Simon Carpentier. Choreography was by Debra Brown and Marguerite Derricks. Lighting design by Luc Lafortune. Sound design by Jonathan Deans. Clown act creator: Cahal McCrystal. Projection designer: Natacha Merritt. Makeup designer: Nathalie Gagné. Acrobatic equipment and rigging designer: Jacque Paquin. Prop designer: Normand Blais. Artistic guide: Guy Laliberté.

Upcoming Theatre and Concerts:   Tomorrow night brings a different sort of Vegas show — Elton John in concert at Caesers Palace. May also brings “Falling for Make Believe” at The Colony Theatre and “To Kill a Mockingbird” at REP East. Lastly, continuing the look ahead, June will bring (tenative) “The Scottsboro Boys” at the Ahmanson Theatre, “Priscilla – Queen of the Desert” at the Pantages, and (tentative) Sweet Charity at DOMA. July is currently more open, with “9 to 5 – The Musical” at REP East in the middle of the month, and “Legally Blonde – The Musical” at Cabrillo at the end of the month. August is currently completely open due to vacation planning and the potential Nottingham Faire. I’m also keeping my eyes open as the various theatres start making their 2013 season announcements. Lastly, what few dates we do have open may be filled by productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411, or discussed in the various LA Stage Blogs I read (I particularly recommend Musicals in LA and LA Stage Times).

Music: Zumanity (Cirque Du Soleil): “Wind”

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Vegas Doesn’t Win Over A Fire in Malibu

Written By: cahwyguy - Fri May 03, 2013 @ 4:18 pm PDT

userpic=campAlthough we’ve been in Las Vegas today, it’s been a down day after all the museums yesterday. More importantly, since last night, my thoughts have been elsewhere — they’ve been at camp. You see, the Wilshire Blvd Temple Camps are just N of the county line off PCH. Specifically, they are at PCH and Yerba Buena Road, which is where the fire was heading last night. So I’ve been monitoring the Camp’s Facebook page and the twitter feed about the fire to find out what was happening at camp. It’s gotten close; the campers there were evacuated last night, and there was real risk had the fire continued S from Deer Creek Road. It was certainly burning further E near Boney Ridge and Circle X. Right now, it looks to have continued N into Hidden Valley. As for camp, according to the Jewish Journal:

The flames did not reach the 200-acre property shared by Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp in Little Sycamore Canyon, situated between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The blaze reached land adjacent to the property, on the other side of a ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains, according to Howard Kaplan, executive director of WBT, which owns and operates the camps.

No camp property was damaged, and the flames nearby were put out by Ventura County Fire Department firefighters, Kaplan said.

“Right now we’re fine, but we’re on standby because we have to be,” Kaplan told the Journal on Friday afternoon.

As long as this fire is burning, the camps are in danger, so keep thinking those good thoughts, folks.

So what did we do today? Relaxed. I monitored the fire situation and sat out by the pool. Tonight is a show at New York New York, and then picking up our daughter at the airport. Tomorrow…. Elton John!

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