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Archive for the ‘Las Vegas’ Category

It was a three-day weekend in these parts, and amazingly enough, no other activities to interrupt it – no serving scheduled, no scouts, no piano recital, and no huge school project due (although both had homework over the 3-day weekend. Stop.) – so we hit the road.

We had been to New Orleans a couple of times, but not for perhaps four years or so. The first time was probably seven years ago when my daughter visited Tulane, and I honestly can’t remember the reason for the next visit. I suppose it was to just..go…and I definitely recall some of our activities: we took a tour specifically geared to children, we went to the New Orleans Museum of Art and I left my camera there…but other than that…I’m drawing a blank. I cannot for the life of me even remember where we stayed.

Anyway, enough dwelling on the (distant) past!

I had wanted to leave Friday evening, but there was a @%^& high school football game and since both of them really enjoy that ritual (I usually don’t go…just drop them off)…Saturday morning it was. And I mean Saturday morning.  We pulled out of here at 6:20 AM, both of them fell back to sleep immediately, I drove in peace for most of the time, and we arrived in New Orleans a bit after 11. I don’t stop, in case you’re wondering. I mean… I don’t stop. 

I had obtained the hotel room via Hotwire, and although it was well before check-in time, I wanted to ease my mind and get the proper kind of room – the Hotwire reservation just gave me one with one King. So we pulled up to the Hilton Garden Inn ($70/night), I took care of that, we parked in the garage across the street, and we were off.

We walked up to the French Quarter, and their memories of it slowly started returning. I had no real plan for the weekend, but had tossed around some ideas. The afternoon was really just wandering, with an unfortunate beginning – an absolutely wretched experience at the Decatur Street Cafe du Monde.

We had been before, and knew the drill – I was ready with cash, we were prepared to be dusty with powdered sugar. The line was sort of long, but it moved quickly, and we were seated within about five minutes.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited. The short version is: we waited at one table for about fifteen minutes  – not one of the servers stopped. Two guys who had been ahead img_20161008_124836.jpgof us in line were seated at a table next to us. They were served, ate, got up and left. We scooted to their table. Waited ten more minutes. Finally, a woman took our order…and we waited probably twenty more minutes. For two orders of beignets, a cafe au lait and a milk. What it looked like to me was that there were about three tables in a row that were having problems – when we finally were able to order, it was the same woman who worked all three tables.  I can get irritated at restaurants, but this was the worst.

But, ah well..shake it and the powdered sugar off and move on, right?

As I said, we wandered, poked in shops, nibbled on praline samples, listened to street performers.  I had thought we’d go into the Ursuline Convent museum, but it’s closed at the moment.  We ended up returning to the hotel around 4 for a rest, while I researched dinner. I kept thinking as I did so, “Oh that’s too far to walk..” and “Hmmm…we could take the streetcar there..” and then I kept remembering you have a car, idiot. 

So we ended up at the Parkway Bakery for Po Boys – which were excellent. I had beef because honestly, the idea of battered fried stuff piled on bread is pretty unappealing to me, but I did taste the shrimp and it was a revelation. I guess that’s what really fresh shrimp tastes like?

We then drove down toward Audubon Park and discovered a few homes with pretty crazy Halloween decorations – I guess it is a tradition of sorts in the Garden District, and as the weeks pass, even more homes will go all out. This place was a prime destination:

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Evening: Swimming, then I went out and walked around by myself for a while – on very safe routes, never fear.

Sunday:

9:30 Mass at St. Patrick’s, which was just a few blocks from the hotel. We had been to Mass there last time, and I remembered it as a very normal, lovely experience of the Extraordinary Form, and I wanted to see if my recollections were correct – they were.

 

From an outsider’s perspective, it’s a model. It’s just a regular parish, the celebration of Mass was reverent, but not fussy, the music was lovely, the preaching solid and not boring, and the congregation was diverse, as one finds at any urban parish. A good number of women in veils, but more not, women wearing dresses of all lengths, and many in slacks, many men in suits, others in the southern-shorts-and-polo uniform and one fellow in a football jersey. Didn’t see any of the famed cold-EF-goer judging happening, but did see lots of squealing babies and many welcoming smiles.

(As for the first item in that list – I kid. I hate to have to interrupt the flow by pointing that out, but if I don’t..well.)

Then a walk over to get beignets at the Cafe du Monde at the Riverwalk Mall across the road – a much better experience than we’d had downtown. Bought socks for someone who’d forgotten to pack any. Then we headed to the Audubon Zoo, which we had visited before, but Someone really wanted to see again. So why not? Then out to the Honey Island Swamp for a 4:30 Swamp Tour – it was..okay. It was interesting to poke around in the swamp and to speed down the river, but the wildlife was not bountiful. A few small gators, some racoons, a couple of pileated woodpeckers, which I’d never seen, and a kingfisher, same.

My dream for tours like this is that companies would offer two options: WITH LAME JOKES and WITHOUT LAME JOKES.  Boy, I can barely tolerate the Joking Tour Guide. Cave tours, boat tours, whatever, it is always so awkward. I blame Disney, as I do for many things. My theory is that it all started with the Jungle Cruise, which is actually okay and not stupid because it’s an entertainment experience in which you’re immersed, and the Joking Guide is an actual actor who can, well, act. But when I go on a tour of an actual place that exists and has a character and history I want to hear about that  – and I’ve spent good money to hear all about it and not sit as joke after joke told by a well-meaning employee about how that stalagmite over there looks like Elvis, doesn’t it or look at those fashionable vacation condos (fishing shacks) are met with awkward silence.dscn0846

Very…exciting.

It did, however, provide a good lesson for the boys in How Your Loud Conversations in the Midst of a Group are Super Irritating and Rude and Really,  No One Cares About Your Life That Much. I mean, we learned all about  the employment woes and wedding plans of the two twenty-somethings also on the tour, and we were, surprisingly, not interested in a bit of it.

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The most gorgeous sky on the way back to New Orleans. 

Dinner was at the Redfish Grill. If I had planned better we would have done something different – maybe Mr. B’s Bistro – but at that point, I wanted something sort of/almost/fancy, and there was plenty of room there, it was 8pm, and it was just time to eat. It was fine, and a good experience, but we could have done better elsewhere.

It is at the very edge of Bourbon Street – and before we got there I was explaining to them that Bourbon Street is really famous, but we’re not going to walk down it, and they were sort of asking why, I was hemming and hawing, but really, just walking a few feet in – past two cops on horses – they picked up the vibe immediately, my younger son said, “This reminds me of Las Vegas,” and they got it.

This morning, we packed up. I had presented on option – to go back via I-10 along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and check out Biloxi and environs – I have never been. But after beignets (here), and checking out the cathedral and going to the St. Roch Cemetery (which was locked up) another thought occurred to me: “Why don’t we just go to City Park, rent bikes, ride for a while, and then call it a weekend?”

That was met with approval.

Two more points on the morning – first, J was intent on going to the Cathedral – we were going anyway, but he had another reason. He had remembered that Servant of God Henriette DeLille might – just might be a distant relation  – one of her grandmothers was a Dubreuil (what’s a couple of flipped vowels?) –  and he wanted to revisit the small shrine in her honor that’s in the baptistry. It’s pretty amazing that he remembered that.

Secondly, I had wanted to visit the St. Roch Cemetery because of its ex voto chapel, but alas, despite the sign saying it was open at 8:30, it was locked up tight at 11.

On to the park. A good, 90 minute ride, all around the huge park, with just a few stops, including the Sculpture Garden of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Lunch at Cafe Navarre – red beans and rice to finish off the weekend – and back home by 7.

 

And now back to work on all fronts. I had one observation at the Cathedral that fits nicely into a ranty post I’ve been tooling with for a couple of months now. Perhaps this will give me the push I need to finish it up. But I do have an article due on Friday that takes precedence, so we will see….

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Seven Quick Takes

— 1 —

Super quick. I just gave myself 30 minutes to do a Homeschool Takeaway Blog post – and I’m going to give myself 20 to knock of this one. GO.

First – today is St. John Eudes. Here’s a post from last year, highlighting what B16 had to say:

Today is the liturgical Memorial of St John Eudes, a tireless apostle of the devotion to the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who lived in France in the 17th century that was marked by opposing religious phenomena and serious political problems. It was the time of the Thirty Years’ War, which devastated not only a large part of Central Europe but also souls. While contempt for the Christian faith was being spread by certain currents of thought which then prevailed, the Holy Spirit was inspiring a spiritual renewal full of fervour with important figures such as de Bérulle, St Vincent de Paul, St Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort and St John Eudes. This great “French school” of holiness also included St John Mary Vianney. Through a mysterious design of Providence, my venerable Predecessor Pius XI canonized John Eudes and the Curé d’Ars together, on 31 May 1925, holding up to the whole world two extraordinary examples of priestly holiness.

 

— 2 —

I love reading history, but can’t always have a book going – or finish one. So I try to read academic journal articles – even if I read one a day, that’s a heap of learning. There aren’t many freely available online, and I don’t have access to a university library account, so I hunt around and take what I can get. Last week, I discovered that via JSTOR, you can access three academic journal articles…every two weeks. It’s kind of complicated, but you register, and you have a “shelf” and you can have up to three articles on that shelf at any time, and you “check out” an article for two weeks. Better than nothing.

— 3 —

This week’s reads:

The Science of Salvation: French Diocesan Catechisms and Catholic Reform (1650-1800)  Nothing earth-shaking, but a helpful overview of how clergy viewed the laity’s responsibilities to learn and understand the Faith.

The Naughty Canon of Catalonia and the Sack Friars: The Dynamics of “Passage” from Monk to Mendicant  First, engaging writing – unusual in an academic paper – and really interesting information both on the source of the information of the event and the event itself.

That led me to want to know more about the non-Franciscan and Dominican orders – I did not know almost all of them were suppressed after the Second Council of Lyon. This article, in addition to some other research, explained much of the period.  

 — 4 —

Perhaps the details of late Medieval history are not your thing – they probably aren’t – but honestly, if you want to understand – and perhaps be able to deal with – current Church controversies and questions, having a grasp of history is so very helpful.

— 5 

This is cute. Several months ago , a young British woman made a little mistake: 

Heekin made headlines earlier this year when she mistakenly booked a holiday to Las Vegas departing from Birmingham, Alabama, rather than Birmingham, England. The trip was a 30th birthday present to her boyfriend, Ben Marlow, and the two only realized the mistake when they showed up at the Birmingham, England, airport for their flight.

After the story went viral, many people stepped forward to turn the couple’s lemons into lemonade, to include Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic (who funded their trip to Las Vegas) and famed Birmingham (Alabama) problem-solver Tom Cosby, who insisted the couple come to the Magic City to see what they were missing.

And so they were here for a couple of days this week, following an absolutely exhausting itinerary – see some photos here.

They came after Las Vegas, so I’m sure it was….okay.

6–

On my list for weekend reading: Alan Jacobs’ essay on Christian intellectuals in Harpers. There’s been a lot of blowback on this one, much of it from those who see the phrase as an oxymoron, and don’t hesitate to say so in the most tolerant, liberal way.

— 7 —

Almost out of time! Well, I’ll finish with some self-promotion. If you know anyone involved in school, parish or diocesan ministry who might be interested in an Advent devotional (no, it’s not too early!), you could point them to the one I wrote for Liguori, available in October. 

Follow on Instagram and Snapchat (amywelborn2)  – not much excitement this week, but there you go.

"amy welborn"

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Well, here we are.  It’s Friday, May 29, and it’s time to go back to Las Vegas, and then the next day, home.

As I mentioned in the earlier post, we got up early to try to see some things in Death Valley before it got too hot – so it was at this point we went to the Devil’s Golf Course and found the spot where my son posed in the steps of R2Ds, and then, on the way out, the Harmony Borax Works and Zabriskie Point.

Back in Las Vegas I stopped at a car wash.  See, I had this little incident..at the Grand Canyon…

It happened on that drive along Cape Royal Road, when we had parked and hiked a bit. We got in the car to continue on, I backed up and BAM.  Panicked that I’d hit another car, and I was very relieved to see that it was only a very skinny tree that had snuck up into a blind spot. About a two inch irregular patch of paint had come off, and of course there was a good bit of tar on the bumper.  I had gotten a lot of the tar off with some stuff I’d purchased earlier, but I still wanted to spiff the whole machine up before I turned it in and walked away, whistling, No, no problems, everything’s fine! 

As it was, there were already some scratch on that back bumper, although my damage did stand out a bit, even  in that context.  So I washed the car, just to be safe. I guess. I don’t know. It probably all stood out even more on a clean car.  But no matter.  The guy inspecting the car when I turned it in didn’t blink twice at anything, and no one’s demanded damages.  Honestly, I imagine that the volume of cars rented in Las Vegas is so great, with a good many of them taken out into the desert and to the parks, the loss of two inches of a paint job is probably nothing.

Okay. So, car washed, one more In n’ Out lunch consumed, and then to the Strip to the hotel.

This would be our last night, so I’d thought, well…might as well stay on the Strip. Let’s have that experience…

Preface that: Las Vegas has always been one of those places – one of the few places – I’ve had no interest in visiting.  Sure, I’ve been curious…what is it like??? But I could have died, fully content, without ever having been to Vegas.

But here we were.  We stayed at Excalibur – the castle-themed hotel, across from New York, New York and the MGM and near Luxor, the Egyptian themed hotel.  I figured it would have the most interest for the boys, Because Knights,  plus it was one of the cheapest.  Now, let me add that it wasn’t super cheap  because it was a Friday.  If we’d stayed during the week, I could have gotten a room there for under fifty bucks, but, of course, this was the weekend, so it was more.  Not exorbitant, but not cheap, either.

But since we got to Vegas before check-in time, we made a stop:

The Pinball Hall of Fame.  I had misunderstood what I’d read about it, and went into it thinking that all the games were just a quarter, but not so. The games that were originally a quarter were still that, but everything else was what you’d expect to pay for pinball and a few vintage video games.  It was a decent way to spend an hour. Nostalgic, for sure.

DSCN4942But this was the game that they played the most…..

Then to check in.  Oh, I don’t want to give an hour-by-hour account.  Because you all want to know why I’m so judgy about Vegas, right?

Here’s the thing. Well, here are the things.

  • I’m not a prude or puritanical.  I’m super protective of my kids – more so, in fact, than some parents I know who are more personally prudish than I am.  Weird. But in terms of myself, it takes a lot to offend me or upset my equilibrium.  I tend to view life from a human interest perspective, not as someone who think she’s ( or would like to be) the Deity on the Judgment Seat.
  • I had told the boys before we got to Vegas, “In Las Vegas, you are probably going to see adults at their worst.”  Wasting time, wasting money, drunk, hooking up (in so many words), just Randomly Satisfying Hungers. Prepped. Ready. Realistic.
  • I was curious about the Strip – the architecture, the themed casinos, and so on.  And although I’ve been to NYC, Paris & Venice for real, and we’ve stayed in an actual castle, I was determined not to be snobby about all of that.  I was interested to see how the experience would be compressed for the Vegas clientele. Like Epcot, right? Even though I don’t like Epcot either. But still! Have fun! Look at the cool things creative and inventive humans do!

Ooooh, boy.

The plan was to check in, the walk up the Strip.  I wanted us to see the various casinos, and then end up at the Bellagio fountains, and see all that.

Here’s what happened:

We checked in, then walked down to the Luxor, saw that.  Walked back up to New York, New York.  Saw that. There’s a roller coaster that goes in and out of the casino, and inside the shops and restaurants are arranged in faux NYC neighborhoods.

I was so weirded out, this was the only exterior photo we took.

Walked across the street, went to the M & M Store. Got back out on the street. Walked half a block north toward the rest of the stuff…I paused. We paused.

My ten-year old looked up at me. He said, “I don’t like this. It’s creepy.”

Exactly.

Back to the room. Screw the Bellagio fountains. Get ready to go back home.

What was it? A combination of things.

  • The general depression that results any time you’re one of thousands of people milling around  noisy, brightly colored structures built solely for the purpose of manipulating you into spending mo money.
  • The slot machines, everywhere, powered by slouching humans in turn fueled by cigs and drinks.
  • Energy fueled by consumption of lots of cheap booze being consumed everywhere, sitting, standing, lying down.  It’s a different, distinct kind of energy.
  • Folks chugging in the middle of the M & M store.
  • Young women strolling down the strip in string bikinis. Young women in micro-minis with tops falling open to expose almost everything.
  • Bros in packs. Enough said.

And then there were the porn slappers. I had heard about the porn slappers, and stressed about the porn slappers, and posted questions about the porn slappers on a travel discussion board that I frequent. This was of great concern to me.

“Porn slapper” is a term for people who stand on the trip with small cards advertising escort services. They hold the stack of cards and slap them against their skin, making a bit of noise, getting attention.  I had wondered how pervasive this was, how obvious the message of the cards were.  I got lots of answers which clarified nothing and led me to believe either that these escort service cards would constantly rain upon our heads or that it was an overblown problem and not an issue, and your kids see Victoria’s Secret in the mall, right? No difference.

The reality was somewhere in between.

The “porn slappers” were definitely out and about.  And since I was obviously not a potential client, when we approached, they held the cards still and looked another way.  But…here’s the thing…the cards littered the ground.  Everywhere.

And here’s what really made me sad.  These “porn slappers?”  All, without exception, middle-aged Latino men and women of indigenous stock.  Shorter than I am, stocky, Spanish speaking.  Probably illegal immigrants.  I was probably making a lot of assumptions here, but all I could think when I saw them was, “Okay, Catholic Church, defender of the immigrant…where are you? Do something to find these people are truly dignified means of work…somewhere.”

Oh, the whole scene was just so weird. It was such an odd vibe of wandering, waste and loss. It made me want to pull everyone together, close, and talk about what we all really yearn for, and if I couldn’t do that, to run away and shake it off, hard.

Vegas was terrible. But in that revelation, maybe Vegas was not so bad.

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Insert Metaphor Here.

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You can read Part I – an overview of our itinerary – here. 

If I had not been hamstrung by some uncertainty regarding dates, the way out and back would have been clear: Southwest from Birmingham, direct. We probably could have done it for around 200 bucks a ticket.  However, that uncertainty meant that by the time I could commit to dates, the cheapest tickets on Southwest were no longer available.  Darn.  Then none of the timing for the other Birmingham-based flights were good (You know how it goes – the decent outgoing flight is never paired with doable return flights.), so I turned to Atlanta.

(The Atlanta airport is about a 2-hour drive away from here. It seems as if, with fairly good air connections from Birmingham, you wouldn’t even consider Atlanta anymore, but believe me, it has its attractions  When we came back from Germany last year, the complications and delays on the connecting flight from Atlanta to Birmingham meant that we would actually have gotten home sooner if our flight had ended in Atlanta, and we’d been able to simply hop in the car and drive 2 hours home, rather than waiting around, re-checking our luggage after it went through customs, waiting for a delayed flight to Birmingham…)

Again, because of scheduling (since we were flying out of Atlanta, I didn’t want a super early flight out, nor a terribly late flight back), I ended up booking two 1-ways on 2 different airlines – total cost around $200 a ticket.

The first airline was Spirit – a super budget airline that sells itself based on the “bare fare.”  The fare is for your seat and then everything else – even carryons and water on the flight – is extra.

Which is fine, because they are up front about it.  We had two carryons that I paid for ahead of time..

(Oh, another thing.  What did we take?  For a ten day trip, each of us had a backpack kind of thing, plus we took two suitcases.  If we hadn’t had to pack jackets for chillier temps at the Grand Canyon – we would be there from May 24-26, and the North Rim had only opened on May 15, and it had snowed that first day – we could have gotten away with just one, I think.  I planned on doing laundry (which I did, twice), and none of us are averse to wearing the same thing two days in a row.)

….and we didn’t pay $3.00 for Cokes or what have you on board, so it worked for us.  Yes, the seat pitch was the smallest I’ve ever experienced, but none of us are big people, so it was okay, if weird.

The couple heading for a two-week hiking/camping vacation in Zion  sitting behind us, however, wasn’t as accepting.  Apparently they hadn’t read the fine print, which is actually in big bold font all over the Spirit website, and were totally shocked by the extra costs – didn’t know they were going to have to pay for carry-ons, drinks, etc, and were prepping for Big Protests.

Eh.

Anyway, our flight left Atlanta at 9:30pm – I parked in one of those off-airport parking lots, and the service was amazingly prompt – the van to take us to the airport pulled up even before we could get ourselves fully out of the car.  As I said, the quarters were tight, but it was mostly fine, except for the loud, continual complaining from behind us.

Got to Vegas on time – around 11, despite some delays on the ground in Atlanta.

Caught a taxi to the hotel, which was this one – the McCarran Best Western – super cheap at $50/night, and a very good value. It was clean, close to the airport, had free breakfast.  They also have a free shuttle to and from the airport, but it only runs until 11, so we couldn’t catch it when we arrived.  I did, however, use it the next morning, when I got the rental car.

I knew I wouldn’t want to bother with getting the car right when we arrived so late at night.  Hauling the kids with the luggage onto the shuttle that takes you several miles away to the off-airport car rental facility, dealing with the inevitable high pressure from the counter agent, and then driving through a strange city back to the hotel at midnight didn’t seem like a fantastic end to that first travel day. So instead, I booked the car for Wednesday morning, got up early, got the free hotel shuttle to the airport, found the shuttle to the car rental facility, walked right up to the counter (no line at 7am), got the car (Nissan Rogue SUV, Hotwire rate, less than $300 for ten days), drove back on largely empty streets, and was back by 7:45. With Me Time inhe car as an extra bonus. Hey, I take what I can get

"amy welborn"

.

Next…off to Hoover Dam!

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