The Grand Trip To West Coast USA – Part 3

This is a continuation of The Grand Trip To West Coast USA – Part 2

Drive to Las Vegas

Before you know it, it was already time to move on to head towards Las Vegas. It was supposed to be a 3.5 hours drive, but we had to take a slight detour to allow wifey to do a bit of shopping at Desert Hill Premium Outlet. Any shopping that wifey does, I needed to realise that I should plan for a day rather than 2 hours. This one ended up being the best one, but she just didn’t have enough time to see all the shops. Like other Premium outlets we’ve been to so far, it was quite open and spread out. It didn’t help that it was a bit cold that morning, and me & baby pretty much just sat in the car most of the time just to avoid getting sick again!

Around lunch time, that was when the desert scene started to appear as we entered Nevada, and the surroundings started to look a little sparse. All I could see were long stretches of straight road, empty land and post boxes once in a while.

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We stopped at this Mexican fast food join for a break, and thought the food there was pretty decent for the money. It’s definitely cheaper out here! Scenery wise, it’s probably not what a typical city dweller will see all too often, like this train here transporting what looks like army vehicles somewhere..

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By the evening, and out of nowhere, you suddenly see what looked like a lake in the distance. When we got close, we realised it was a solar farm! (Ivanpah Solar farm). A little further down, we saw this patch of land filled buildings in the distance, and you knew you aren’t far from Las Vegas. It is quite surreal what they’ve done here. It really is a city built on a desert! Our first stop is our hotel for a 2 nights – the apparently famous Bellagio with its grand fountains at the front of the hotel.  We did get a room with a view of the fountain, so that was pretty cool seeing the fountain do its thing every 10 minutes.

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Yes, we figured if we don’t stay here this trip, we probably never will. It didn’t help that it’s super expensive as CES (Consumer Electronics Show) was on in a couple of days.

I did have to get used to the fact that, to get to our room, we have to walk through the casino gambling floor. How many places in the world where they allow anyone, including minors to just walk through the casino? hmmmm..

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Most parents would probably cringe at us for bringing our little 2.5 years old here. It’s not exactly kid-friendly and Las Vegas strip is probably the least kid friendly place on earth! For the record though, we did not contribute a cent to the gambling machines the entire time we were here. Quite a feat given we popped by at least 5 different casinos!

The Grand Canyon Trip That was Not Meant To Be

One of the reason why we came to Las Vegas, was to use it as a stop for a trip to Grand Canyon. I thought I was going to absolutely do it in style and booked this fancy 1 day “Grand Canyon Air and Land Tour” with Maverick Helicopter. It was definitely fancy in that it included a private jet flight closer to the south rim, followed by helicopter flight around to see the canyon itself. Except, it was not meant to be, with the windy weather spoiling our scheduled trip. It was cancelled in the end. Instead we had to linger around, figuring out what to do during the day. We did ended up taking a picture at the famous “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign!

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Not knowing what to do after that, we eventually settled on an alternative, which involved a helicopter flight into west rim which was closer and wasn’t affected by bad weather. It’s not the Grand Canyon I wanted to see, but we do get see Hoover Dam and flying in a cool Eurocopter! So, we signed up, all paid up ready to go. We even took a picture with the pilot.

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EXCEPT.. it was not meant to be.. AGAIN for the second time. As we sat in the helicopter, Ethan decided he just didn’t want to put on his seat belts And he was damn persistent about it, crying and insisting that full harness seat belt just ain’t getting anywhere near him. Without a seat belt, we had to abort again. That’s a rather expensive lesson for me, realising that helicopters and 2.5 years old probably just will never mix. Maverick Helicopter didn’t give me the full refund either, so I decided to go alone. Instead of the south rim, I settled for west rim, which is a lot closer, requiring only the helicopter flight only.

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Now I must admit, I did enjoy the helicopter flight, as I am a casual aviation enthusiast and am well aware of these famous Eurocopter EC130s! It’s the first time I’ve sat in one and the real thing definitely looked even more impressive when I climbed into it. Probably enjoyed the heli ride more than the actual scenery! Having said that, it was pretty cool that we could land in the canyon itself and have a little picnic and a quick photo shoot..

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The canyon itself isn’t that impressive, at least in my mind, given I was already hyped up about how grand the south rim offers. Nevertheless, we had a pretty cool pilot. The heli ride was suppose to take 5 of us, but because there’s just 3, it’s a little light thus faster to get home. I found out the other 2 x passenger (man and woman) with me were CES attendees. We did get a glimpse of the famous Las Vegas strip before the sun sets, which was pretty nice.

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What more can I say, if I had a second chance at life, I would definitely pursue aviation career!

Anyway, we checked into the second slightly more affordable hotel called “Tahiti Village Resort & Spa” for the remainder of our stay in Las Vegas. It’s definitely a lot more family friendly, with a rather cool river pool. We had our fun in it, although everyone must have thought we were crazy going swimming in it in the cold morning. The pool is heated though!

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One of the big attraction we missed out on, was watching one of the seemingly hundreds of shows available. We figure Ethan was just not going to be patient enough to sit through it, so didn’t end up buying tickets to go to one. We settled with something a little different and did a self-guided ‘CSI – The Experience’ tour/show, which was really wifey’s thing. We did came out with this rather cool photo in the end…

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Oh.. and the other most memorable bit about Las Vegas was definitely CES (Consumer Electronics Show)! I absolutely did not come here for it, but given it happened to be on, I definitely went to check it out anyway. I  did not expect the absolute scale of the show though. I probably only covered like a quarter of the exhibition given it’s spread out over multiple venues and each venue is just enormous! It’s one thing to read about the ‘future’ compared to seeing so many products/showcases of the future. The theme is definitely along the lines of improved self-driving cars, digital assistants, very very smart AIs (Artifical Intelligence), specialised drones etc etc. Absolutely felt like a kid in a candy store!

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And yes, I was absolutely a proud man wearing that CES badge..

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Given I work in the IT industry, I am absolutely convinced that I need to come here every year! Good excuse to come back here again!

Off to Reno

And then it was time to head off to Reno for the last week of our trip where I was going to go skiing at one of the resorts at Lake Tahoe. I picked the only direct flight option from Las Vegas to Reno with a small airline called Allegiant Air. Admittedly, I was a bit nervous taking the flight because doing a little research on the side before the trip, they have REALLY REALLY old Mcdonnell Douglas MD-80 planes that are all over 20 years old! In the end, the flight itself was actually quite pleasant with the only issue being they took off at least 2 hours late! That’s what you get for being cheap! But hey, I can say I’ve sat in a MD-80 plane before!

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Anyway, we picked up our Hertz rental car (this time a Toyota RAV4) without much of an issue once we arrived and checked into Nugget Casino hotel. Reno itself very much feels and smells like a small version of Las Vegas. So, here’s yet another place where Ethan (being 2.5 years old) get to roam around freely around slot machines! And yeap, there’s even slot machines at the airport!

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Given I came here to ski, I wasted no time heading up the next day to Mt. Rose myself to go skiing. The weather was definitely right for skiing!

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Ethan and wifey slept in. This is suppose to be my ‘warm up’ day, getting ready for the bigger mountain at Heavenly Resorts. I probably only did like 6 runs before calling it quits. It was good skiing all morning, until the wind started to get pretty heavy by noon.

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I probably came back by about 2pm to meet up with Ethan and wifey who went shopping at Sparks outlet already. Little did I know, it was to be the ONLY skiing I get to do for the remaining days in Lake Tahoe. For the next few days, we stayed at Marriott Timber Lodge at the base of Heavenly Mountains. We knew something didn’t smell right when arrived early and saw that the gondola wasn’t running. Once we checked in to our room, and turned on the TV, it was apparent that we just came straight to the middle of the California storm which meant it snowed way too heavily and wind blowing too strong for the lifts to operate.

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Out of the 3 nights we were there, Heavenly Resort only opened on the last day, and it only opened for half a day! Just as well, we picked an accommodation with a nice kids playroom and a hot spa. Because that is pretty much all we ended up doing!

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Playing Xbox, Nintendo Wii and hanging out at kid’s playroom

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Toboggans…

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And just plain eating out at nice restaurants like Kalani, and Jalisco’s (Mexican).

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Ethan even spent a day up at the rather expensive day care at California Lodge. We were meant to go skiing while he spends a day there. Since we booked it already, we just took him there anyway, while me and wifey gets to spend some time alone. He absolutely loved it there and didn’t even want to leave when we came to pick him up in the afternoon.

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The carers told us he even agreed to wear his snow suit to go out for a walk in the snow, except he didn’t last very long. Apparently, he loved to eat corn dogs. We’ve never given him corn dogs before, and I can assure you he’s one of the pickiest eaters out there! He must have really really trusted and liked the place and the carers  to eat something new!

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On the very last day, the weather didn’t really improve that much which meant getting out of the mountain area to head back to San Francisco turned into a rather ‘slippery’ adventure in my Toyota RAV4. We were lucky that highway route 50 was open, given it was shut the previous day. As it snowed pretty heavily the previous night, I pretty much spent a couple of hours driving at about 20-25 miles/hour at most. It was a SLOWwwww drive…

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Nice view though. Did have a few scary moments, when I went just a little too fast for the brakes to stop. That sinking feeling you get when you apply the brakes and it just keeps going… NOT a good feeling! Fortunately we all made it through.

It was more shopping at one of the outlets, before we arrived at Napa for a quickie 1-nighter at Best Western Elm House Inn. There was a rather modern/chic Japanese restaurant called Miminashi in town which I thought was worth mentioning. It was the only Japanese restaurant we have found for the entire trip where you can get chawanmushi!

Napa is suppose to be famous for wine and given the rather short stay, we didn’t get to visit at wineries at all. We just bought some cheap Napa wines at the closest grocery store, and left!

Back in San Francisco

For the last couple of days in US, we were back in San Francisco staying at Omni hotel right in the financial district. Somehow I spent enough with the GHA alliance hotel group that they upgraded my membership to Platinum. It meant that I got a pretty decent upgrade at the hotel. It’s definitely BIG. And you know what? It’s the ONLY hotel that we could get a kettle to boil hot water, and even came with toothbrushes without us asking! So, yes.. it seems you do need to pay a hefty premium for something that I took for granted in any average hotel in Asia/Australia!

As it was ‘wind down’ time, it was more shopping time for wifey as we took one of the day out to one of the San Francisco Premium Outlet about 1 hour away near Livermore. It was quite a lot of ‘alone time’ with Ethan, which meant he gets to have a lot more snacks and ice creams though (I know… I’m a terrible dad).

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We did get to drive through the Oakland Bay Bridge which was a pretty cool experience on its own (being double storey). Oh.. and there’s Japan town, which looked rather old and needed some decent updates. We went to a restaurant there that wasn’t actually run by Japanese.. the food didn’t turn out so good. But it was something to do. And just to remind ourselves in the future, always order one single meal to share between two. It didn’t take us long to realise that the portion of food here is generally at least twice or probably three times the size of what we are used to, like this dish we ordered at the Bob’s Steak & Chop House in our hotel which we had no chance of finishing given we ordered a mains each!

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Sad that San Francisco was our last stop. Three weeks went by so quickly, and I swear it felt more like a 1 week holiday despite it being our longest holiday for a while! Overall, the whole trip was a mixed bag really. On the negative side, I missed out on the real canyon that I wanted to see, nor did I get the drive highway 1.. AND didn’t get the ski Heavenly resort at all. It was a LOT of bad luck! On the positive side, USA being the Mecca of IT/Electronics, I can really see myself living here (If only I was younger). I say that about a lot of places I visit, so that probably doesn’t mean much. Like China, this country is just so damn big that I need to come back here yet again to visit parts I haven’t been! Until then.. good bye America!

 

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