I have returned from my 2nd trip ever to Las Vegas, 15 years in between these 2 trips. Needless to say, I barely recognized the city but my first visit had only been an overnight stay. Excalibur, Treasure Island, MGM, Caesars and Luxor I definitely remember. The rest all new to me. Of course, all cannot be shared here but I will share that which is shareable
I went to LV this week for a wedding. The wedding was held at the Wynn – a fantastic setting! The wedding related events took me to the Hofbrauhaus, the 64th floor bar at THE Hotel (incredible view of the Strip from up there), the Gold Coast 70-lane (!) bowling alley and Maggiano‘s. We all had a great time carrying on celebrating our friends’ marriage each of the 4 days we were there. Even for my return flight (a “red eye” to Atlanta that lasted 3.5 hrs; shouldn’t red eyes be for a minimum of 5 hrs or something??) we had a portion of the wedding attendants flying together.
Wedding aside, I discovered why it is that people always go to Vegas. To me it had seemed casinos were the main draw, perhaps the shows too. But I had missed that many of the hotels are more set up as resorts and, in that way, Vegas is no different than many other places that offer resorts. Now to me these resorts are different (the lack of a beach perhaps being the main reason why I think that). However, I actually found Vegas a good destination to just lounge around, people-watch,dine, and play.
I stayed at Treasure Island. Before the trip I wasn’t sure if that was a good selection but it was across the wedding hotel (and a few $100 cheaper!) and next to the wedding reception location (key in our planning as we knew what to expect of the party!) so we went for it. After spending 4 nights there, I thought we got great value for the money. The rooms’ decor was pleasant, the pool area quite well laid out, and good choices for food and snacks within its walls (Starbucks, Ben and Jerry’s, Pho Cafe, Coffee Shop, etc.).
Among the non-wedding-related highlights of the trip was going to see Cirque du Soleil’s O at the Bellagio. It was my second Cirque show and I was expecting a lot of the types of acrobatics I had seen in my first one. Those acrobatics were more of the kind of “how did they pull that off?!” in that first show. O had that but more during the high dive which happened towards the end of the show so I had been waiting for most of the show for the impressive acrobatics. I did find this show more artistic and the use of water as part of the show more original. Regardless, it was money well spent (we found a 25% off offer on the website so we sat in row K). By the way the fountain show at the Bellagio is certainly one of the key things to not miss. At night, there is a different show every 10 or 15 minutes and they were all fascinating to watch. My favorite: the Pink Panther themed one.
Outside of wedding related events, we spent a lot of time walking around, seeing other hotels. Paris, The Venetian – Palazzo, New York New York, Wynn – Encore, etc. I think if money were no object, the Wynn may be it for me but The Venetian could be it too… I saw neither’s rooms so I base that opinion on just walking around the public areas. At the Wynn, I enjoyed drinks at the Parasol Bar and dinner at the Daniel Boulud Brasserie. At the former, I enjoyed some Lillet and, at the latter, a fantastic Caesar’s salad (had avocado) and a great NY DB burger stuffed with spare ribs!
So after the red eye back, I napped some more at home and now sit here typing still longing for a little more sleep. Perhaps in a couple of hours another nap to recover from my fun 4 days in Vegas!
So, I got very busy in Panama and didn’t have time to blog. Nice problem to have, right?
As usual, I leave Panama wanting to see more and stay longer though the heat is no laughing matter!
On Friday, we visited the house of the Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa’s order). My aunt volunteers there every day and she wanted to show us the place. Wow, these nuns do incredible work with those who have nothing and who are the worse-off of the poor and sick. Amazing. The nuns themselves come from all over the world and many actually come from India. It is neat to hear their Spanish with a very slight accent. On Sunday, we had drive over to the other side of Panama, to the town of Colon and visited the other house these Missionaries have in Panama. So in one weekend I covered all their houses in Panama! Anyway, impressive and selfless work.
Colon, on the Caribbean end of the Panama Canal (Panama City is on the Pacific end of the Canal), is most definitely a Caribbean town. The architecture, the people, and something in the air just made me feel I was in the Caribbean. Interesting how less than 50 miles distance can make such a big difference! I was told the road was really bad (the new highway is still being built but is close to being finished) but, actually, it didn’t seem that bad to me. Perhaps I was expecting rural Tanzania type of road conditions… Anyhow, the drive took an hour and a half and it will be very nice when this highway is finished as it should take an hour or less. The drive is scenic though my relatives said it wasn’t totally safe. Colon is the second largest trade free zone in the world (after Hong Kong) and it seems to be doing OK with that business. I wish I had more time to stay around and explore but we had to get back to PC as I was leaving the next morning.
I also got to visit Gamboa in the interior and next to Lake Gatun (which provides the water the Panama Canal needs to operate since water is a key tool in operating the gates or “esclusas” that control ships crossing the Canal). We visited the Gamboa Resort which had great views of the area. There are tours that take you to see monkeys and other wildlife as well as a canopy tram tour that allows a birds eye view over the area. Next time, I will try to take advantage of some of those tour opportunities for a change!
Finally, we went to a beach next to Coronado on the Pacific called Punto Barco where one of my cousins has a beach house. The beach may not be the best in the world but to have a house there would be a dream! My cousin outdid herself with great food (ceviche!!) and the family had a great time hanging out.
As usual, my visit ends and I long for more time there. My relatives there always manage to take great care of us and make us feel very welcome. I hope to go back and maybe this time not take 2 years in between trips!
Last night, I made it to Panama for my 5th visit. I have relatives here and have always enjoyed coming to see them and enjoy the country.
This time, I made my trip coincide with my mom also coming over to visit my aunt – but as a surprise to my mom! One of my cousins picked me up from the airport and took me to my aunt’s where the surprise took place. My mom’s reaction was priceless! Of course, every one of my Panama-based family members were in on the surprise and, though it was getting late in the evening, they could not leave until they saw “the moment”. Well worth it.
The Flight to Panama
Fortunately for me, there is a nice direct flight from Atlanta that takes 4 hours. The plane was close to full but I had exit row (score!) and the seat in exit row that has no seat in front of it so zero feeling of being in a sardine can – the usual feeling in most American airlines. The flight was smooth except that it it took between 10 and 15 minutes for a gate to be cleared for the plane to park. Then another 5 mins to open the plane door. Not sure why something so simple took so long. But perhaps I was just antsy for “the moment”…
Panama City – A City Changed
Today, my relatives took us around showing how much Panama City has changed. My parents hadn’t been here in about 10 years but I had been here 2 yrs ago. For them the change was much more dramatic as areas of the coast line in the city have radically changed. Instead of the waterfront small airport that used to take us and others to the Archipielago de las Perlas (Pearl Islands), now there is a massive -and nice- mall and construction between it and the water! The skyline is beginning to look more like Dubai’s than anything else with high rises everywhere both finished and under construction. Massive construction boom. Paitilla, a waterfront area where even Trump built a tower, was already growing back in the late 1970s but it has, seemingly, growth logarithmically!
Looking towards part of Paitilla district from the Casco Viejo
Our relatives tell us that most have sold but start of new buildings has slowed down a bit with the current economic environment. Many unit buyers are actually foreigners from Venezuela (escaping some lunatic there perhaps?), Colombia, and others. A new area called Costa del Este has been developed on the former city dump and in neighboring swampy areas. It took years to clear out and refill. Now, it teems with new construction – high rises and nice gated neighborhoods. Two of my cousins live in Costa del Este and I can’t blame them.
I had been taken on this same tour 2 yrs ago when I last visited but it was neat to see small changes, such as in the Casco Viejo (Old Town), the old part of town that reminds me so much of Old San Juan except the latter has been renovated extensively and kept up quite nicely. This time, I could tell there was more progress on the re-do of the old buildings, some which go back to the 1600s and 1700s. It is already beginning to shape up as a fantastic part of town and will be superb once the works are mostly done.
Around the Casco Viejo, typical street
Around the Casco Viejo
Around the Casco Viejo
You already have restaurants and some hotels (the Hotel Colombia is an impressive architectural piece).
Juxtaposition of old-and-older in the Casco Viejo
I got to enter the National Theater which I had never seen before and it was splendid. We also got to enter the courtyard of the Ministry of Foreign Relations where they have done a great job of semi-enclosing the courtyard to protect from rain but yet kept it somewhat open, especially towards the ocean. Talks and other events are held there and I can see why it would be a great setting.
Inside the National Theater
Courtyard at the Foreign Ministry. Notice the HUGE ceiling fan!
We also drove to Puerto Amador (Fort Amador, formally a key intelligence center and bunker of the US military and, after the Panama Canal turned over, of Gen. Noriega). Now it bustles with eateries, shops, some condos, etc. I had been there in my last visit at night and it is definitely a good place to go to at night. Nice conversion of a former military facility to a place for folks to enjoy.
We drove through the old city center where many great stores are located. I remember visiting Panama when I was younger and my aunt going there to buy things from this or that “ethnic” store. For example, the Indian stores had great linens. (Indian, as in descendants of people who came from India). There is also an area of Chinese run stores (ethnic Chinese but Panamanian). This area looks a bit more run down than I remember and I couldn’t get a sense of how safe it is… Especially after my relatives said that the street called “Sal si puedes” (“get out if you can”) is particularly dangerous. I suspect that it may be no worse than many inner cities in the U.S. and that an adventurous traveler (not traveling alone) can likely make it through and “get out”.
So, after a lot of driving around, I am back at my cousin’s house to shower and get ready for happy hour at my aunt’s before heading out for dinner. Not really sure what we are doing tomorrow but I am sure it will involve lots of driving around. We have all visited the Canal before (3 times for me) so I doubt we will be doing that this time. Looking forward to another day here and happy to be back in Panama!