Sunday, April 29, 2012

Las Vegas / Palm Desert

Today we leave on our trip to Las Vegas and Palm Desert.  It's a short trip, but it will be good to get away.  We always like to get away early on our trips to Las Vegas and spend the night in Tehachapi.  It's only a 2-1/2 to 3 hour trip to Tehachapi, but it leaves only a five hour drive to Las Vegas the next day.

We usually stay at Harrah's in Las Vegas because of it's good location and we get comped rooms.  The rooms are pretty ordinary and the hotel is certainly not one of the nicer ones, but it suits us just fine.  We don't have any plans for this trip other than eating at some of the many nice restaurants in Las Vegas and perhaps trying to get some last minute tickets to Elton John at Caesars Palace.

After Las Vegas it will be on to Palm Desert where we will meet our friends Doug and Ev for the weekend at their condo they have there.  I don't know whether Doug and Ev have anything planned for the weekend, but we do have tickets to the Palm Springs Follies which is a musical show put on entirely by people in their 70's and 80's.  It's supposed to be very good.

I'm not sure how often I'll be able to post on this trip as we will have limited Internet connections, but I'll try.  It should be a short but fun trip.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Train to Denver Trip: Final Day - Home and Reflections

This was the last day of our trip and there is not much to say about it.  We left Davis around 10 AM and after an easy drive down I-5, we were home by 2:30.  It was good to be home, but a little sad to have the trip over.  The good thing, I don't have to go back to work Monday!  This is a first for me and I must say, I like it.

Reflections -
This trip turned out to be much more than expected.  The train rides through the Rockies and Sierras were wonderful with all of the beautiful scenery.  The whole train ride was great; the leisurely pace, the ever changing scenery, the interesting people you meet, even the food was pretty good, a great way to travel if you have the time.  Denver was a surprise with a very vibrant and interesting downtown and Val's choice of the Magnolia Hotel in the heart of the downtown was perfect.  We also had a great time seeing our friends John and Greg and having a fun evening with them.  Reno turned out to be full of surprises with a comped suite and then a big win in the casino.  All in all, a great trip.  Thank you Val for all of your planning and making my "surprise" retirement trip a memorable and special time.

The Blog -
As I have said before, this is my first attempt at a Blog.  I don't really consider myself a writer, but I usually keep a journal on our trips and this seemed like a nice extension of that with the ability to add pictures and for others to view it.  If anyone is actually reading this, I hope you found it enjoyable to read and will continue to follow us in our travels.  It took a lot more time than I thought it would, but it has been fun to be able to preserve our memories so I plan to keep at it.

What's Next?
Our next trip will be at the beginning of May with a visit to Las Vegas and then meeting our friends Doug and Eveline for a few days at their condo they have in Palm Desert, CA.  After returning home for a few days, it's off to Moab, Utah where we'll meet several friends and take on the White Rim Road for a 4-wheel drive adventure in Canyonlands National Park.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Train to Denver Trip: Day 10 - California Zephyr to Davis

Once again it was an early morning as we got ready to catch the train to Davis, the final train leg of our trip.  We checked our bags at the station and then walked back to Harrah's for a quick breakfast and then it was train time.  The California Zephyr arrived right on time and we were on our way.  We opted for a roomette on this leg of the trip as we wouldn't be sleeping on the train so we didn't need a full bedroom.  We chose the roomette over a coach seats because it allowed both of us to sit by a window for the trip over the Sierras.

It had snowed during the night so there was fresh snow on the ground and the trees were covered, making for beautiful scenery as we rode through the mountains.  Here are some pictures Val took through the train window on our journey.  The trains windows were extremely dirty which you can see in the pictures.
Donner Lake

The pictures tell it all for this day, a beautiful ride through the mountains.  

We had lunch on the train and as usual, had an interesting conversation with a couple of fellow travelers.  We have met the nicest people on the train, I guess it may be because nobody's in a hurry or they wouldn't have taken the train and everyone is more relaxed.  I usually don't enjoy talking to strangers very much, but the train has certainly changed that for me.

The day seemed to go by quickly and we were soon pulling into Davis, completing our train journey.  The train arrived an hour early so we had a free afternoon ahead of us.  We walked across the street to our hotel and checked in.  The first thing we did was check the car and it was still there just as we had left it.  After cleaning up a bit we found there was a Bank of America close by, so we walked over to deposit our big check from Reno which of course we enjoyed.  :-)  

The train station and hotel are very close to UC Davis, so the area really caters to students.  Walking around we felt ancient as everyone seemed to be in their late teens or early twenties.  It did mean there was a wide variety of places to eat so we didn't have any trouble finding a spot to have dinner.  We spent the evening relaxing in the hotel room (no night life for us) and got ready for our drive home the next morning.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Train to Denver Trip: Days 8 and 9 - Reno

Monday -
After a good night's sleep, we were up early to get ready for our arrival in Reno.  We arrived on time and by 8:30 AM we had our luggage and were on our way to Harrah's Hotel, which is right next to the train station.  Since we arrived so early, we expected to have to wait until afternoon to get into our room, but much to our surprise, our room was ready.  When we got our room we had our next big surprise, we had a one bedroom suite on the 21st floor with a great view of Reno.

Val had called our Harrah's host, Gordon, to set up our reservations for our stay in Reno and told him this was a surprise trip for my retirement.  He really came through and surprised us both with the nice suite accommodation.  And best of all, it was all comped, no cost to us.  Can't beat that.

We spent the day relaxing and walking around Reno.  That evening we spent some time gambling with little success, but did enjoy ourselves.

Tuesday -
Tuesday morning we enjoyed being able to sleep in after several days of having to get up early.  We decided to go down to the casino and do some more gambling as there was a promotion where you could earn Chevron gift cards depending on how much you gambled.  We were having a pretty good morning, actually winning a little, when we saw one of those big slot machines with a seat made for two people and we decided to pool some money and give it a try.  It was a dollar machine costing $5 a spin.  We each put in $20 and started to play not really expecting much, but with only $10 left we did our second to last spin  of the wheel and a miracle happened.  The first reel came up a "Double" symbol, then the second reel came up a "Double" symbol.  The final reel was still spinning and we were hoping for it to land on any symbol giving us a nice win, but what came up stunned us and we looked at each other in disbelief - the third "Double" symbol came up which meant we had won the progressive jackpot of $12,061!!!  We couldn't believe it actually happened and we just sat there looking at each other.  Soon, two attendants came up and verified the win and it finally sunk in that we really had won the big jackpot.  It took about a half hour for them to generate a check for us, but we didn't really care.  Here are some pictures of our big win.
Val enjoying our big win.
Val and I enjoying the moment.  By the time this photo was taken the jackpot had already been reset by the casino attendant back to it's $10,000 starting point for the next lucky winner.  Since this is a progressive machine it starts at $10,000 and slowly adds pennies to the jackpot amount until someone wins it again.
Just in case anyone thinks we are telling a tall tale, here is the actual check.  If you look closely you can see it's made out for $12,000 and is issued by Harrah's.
Quite a day - for the rest of the day we just kept looking at each other and shaking our heads in disbelief.  The remainder of the day was somewhat anti-climatic, but we did continue to gamble a little and actually got one of the gas gift cards.  It was an early night again as we had to get up early to catch the train and complete the final leg of our train trip.

This trip has been unbelievable, the great time on the train, our wonderful hotel rooms, the fun we had in Denver and now a huge jackpot win for us.  Val is going to have a hard time topping this, but she is always full of surprises.

Val speaking here...  Yep, it was a pretty incredible moment when we saw the final "Double" symbol fall into place.  It's hard to describe how fast my mind was going at that point.  At first I thought we had won $2,000 because the sign at the top of the machine showed three Double symbols and then $2,000.  However, the small print on top of that said if it was on the 5th line, you win the big progressive jackpot.  Dave said, "We won the big jackpot!", and I thought, no, that can't be.  I kept looking to see if I could find something to prove to him that we hadn't won "the big one", but in looking at the top of the machine my mind finally had to admit that we had in fact won a huge jackpot. This all happened in a matter of one or two seconds.  What a mind rush!

One of the best parts of the whole experience was that the machine we were playing on was built to accommodate two people sitting together, and the fact we had both contributed $20 meant that it was truly a combined effort and didn't belong to either of us, but to both of us.  Makes it all the better.  A-MAZ-ING!

Train to Denver Trip: Day 7 - California Zephyr

I finally have an Internet connection and some time so I'll see if I can get caught up.

Sunday morning we were up early to get ready for our departure from Denver.  The hotel had a cab waiting and we were at the train station by 7AM to catch the California Zephyr to Reno, Nevada.  We checked our bags and after a short wait we were on our way.  Here are some pictures of our bedroom compartment I took as we were leaving.

Looking in from doorway

Sink area next to door
Single seat and couch seat
Couch area that folds into lower bed
Combination toilet and shower (efficient, if not unusual, use of space)
The compartment is a little tight at times, but it beats trying to sleep sitting in a chair.

We spent the first part of the day going through the Rockies.  All the pictures are taken through the train windows, which are not the cleanest and are scratched, but the scenery is often spectacular and it's better than no pictures at all.

We followed Interstate 70 through much of the way on the west side of the Rockies.  The engineering to build I-70 was truly amazing as you see how they had too build it on the sheer canyon walls.  Here are a couple of pictures of I-70 through Glenwood Canyon where they were mandated to disturb the canyon walls as little as possible to preserve the beauty.
I-70, Glenwood, Canyon

I-70, Glenwood, Canyon
 We came out of the Rockies and passed through Grand Junction, Colorado and then into Utah.  Around Sphinx, Utah there were many interesting rock formations including this one.
Rock formation near Sphinx, Utah
 As we neared Helper, Utah, the day turned to evening and it started to snow.  Here is a blurry, but somewhat artistic picture taken at dusk of the snowy terrain.  It was very beautiful in the twilight.
Snow evening near Helper, Utah
 We had a late dinner and then it was off to bed to prepare for our early arrival in Reno the next morning.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Train to Denver Trip: Day 6 - Denver, Sat. Evening

It was really good to see our friends John and Greg again who came up from Colorado Springs to share our last evening in Denver with us.  They met us at our hotel where we had a chance to catch up on things before we went to dinner.  They also gave me a Tony Hillerman book (one of my favorite authors) as a retirement gift.  We then went to the Rodizio Grill, a Brazilian steak house where John and Greg treated us to a great dinner and a really good time.  The food was great and the company even better.  What a great evening.  Unfortunately we had to end the night realitivley early as Val and I had to be up at 6:00 AM to catch the train.  Thanks so much John and Greg for my retirement gift, a great dinner and a fun evening.  We'll see you next September.
Greg and John

Hi, It's Val again... The dinner was fantastic and seeing our long-time friends was the icing on the cake.  We were able to take the 16th Street shuttle to the restaurant and because it was another balmy evening it was great to be out and walking in the nice warm evening air.  The weather couldn't have been better while we were in Denver -- in the mid 70's to low 80's.  However, today they are expecting snow in Denver, just one day after we left.  Go figure.