For those (all three of you) who have been breathlessly waiting for the photos from our recent vacation in Belgium and Ireland, they’re now online! And for those seeking extra punishment, also posted is a vacation video, broken into 5 parts because Smugmug limits videos to 10 minutes. It seems like a lot of video, but it condenses two weeks’ worth of sightseeing and other crap down into under an hour. Belgium was kinda “meh” but Ireland was fantastic! I typed out a lot of travel notes along the way, maybe I’ll post those later. They’re probably only interesting to Critter and I, but what the hell.
Enjoy if you dare!
In our travels we’ve discovered that those little plastic tampon disposal bags in hotel rooms make handy little snack totes.
I’ve been digging out some Irish music that I haven’t heard in a while, getting into the groove for our trip in just over a week. This came on last night as I was cooking…I had forgotten what a brilliant (and bitchy in its own way) song it is. Here are the lyrics to Paul Brady’s version, which many consider to be the best! Look it up and play it if you can (maybe on iTunes?), it’s a lovely song considering the lyrics. I do have to admit that I had to look up the word “spalpeen”, though…
Arthur McBride and the Sergeant
Trad arranged and adapted Paul Brady
Oh, me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride
As we went a-walking down by the seaside
Now, mark what followed and what did betide
For it being on Christmas morning…
Out for recreation, we went on a tramp
And we met Sergeant Napper and Corporal Vamp
And a little wee drummer, intending to camp
For the day being pleasant and charming
“Good morning ! Good morning!” the sergeant did cry
“And the same to you gentlemen! ” we did reply,
Intending no harm but meant to pass by
For it being on Christmas morning
But says he, “My fine fellows if you will enlist,
It’s ten guineas in gold I will slip in your fist
And a crown in the bargain for to kick up the dust
And drink the King’s health in the morning.
For a soldier he leads a very fine life
And he always is blessed with a charming young wife
And he pays all his debts without sorrow or strife
And always lives pleasant and charming…
And a soldier he always is decent and clean
In the finest of clothing he’s constantly seen
While other poor fellows go dirty and mean
And sup on thin gruel in the morning.”
“But”, says Arthur, “I wouldn’t be proud of your clothes
For you’ve only the lend of them as I suppose
And you dare not change them one night, for you know
If you do you’ll be flogged in the morning.
And although that we are single and free
we take great delight in our own company
And we have no desire strange faces to see
Although that your offers are charming
And we have no desire to take your advance
All hazards and dangers we barter on chance
For you would have no scruples for to send us to France
Where we would get shot without warning.”
“Oh now!”, says the sergeant “I’ll have no such chat
And I neither will take it from spalpeen or brat
For if you insult me with one other word
I’ll cut off your heads in the morning.”
And then Arthur and I we soon drew our hods
And we scarce gave them time for to draw their own blades
When a trusty shillelagh came over their heads
And bade them take that as fair warning
And their old rusty rapiers that hung by their side
We flung them as far as we could in the tide
“Now take them out, Divils!”, cried Arthur McBride
“And temper their edge in the morning.”
And the little wee drummer we flattened his pow
And we made a football of his rowdy-dow-dow
Threw it in the tide for to rock and to row
And bade it a tedious returning
And we having no money, paid them off in cracks
And we paid no respect to their two bloody backs
For we lathered them there like a pair of wet sacks
And left them for dead in the morning
And so to conclude and to finish disputes
We obligingly asked if they wanted recruits
For we were the lads who would give them hard clouts
And bid them look sharp in the morning
Oh me and my cousin, one Arthur McBride
As we went a walkin’ down by the seaside,
Now mark what followed and what did betide
For it being on Christmas morning
(From the traditional, adapted by Paul Brady/ Copyright control)
While doing a little reading about Irish pub etiquette (brushing up before our trip so I don’t do anything to irritate the locals), I was horrified to learn that many clueless Americans try to order an “Irish car bomb” when visiting Ireland. Sigh.
Wow, what a packed couple of weeks. First we spent a weekend in Portland with a couple of friends, goofing off and seeing Robyn perform. We’ve been to Portland before, but this time we learned a few new things:
- Avoid the restaurant Afrique at all costs. The service sucks and the food is subpar. (The only thing worth ordering are the drinks. Try the Chai martini thing, it’s amazing. Then get the fuck outta there.)
- Do go to the BBQ joint down the street from Afrique. Excellent service, and food is actually served to you. Brilliant!
- People in Portland go absolutely apeshit for Voodoo Doughnut. We stood in line for over an hour in the freezing wind for some. They were pretty good as donuts go, not sure if the wait was worth it but you can be sure I scarfed them down after the Robyn show. Ya can’t beat flavors like Bacon Maple and Triple Chocolate Penetration.
- Portland has a really large, funky outdoor market on the weekends. It kinda puts Seattle’s Fremont market to shame.
- People there (at least the ones we ran into) are more friendly and chatty towards strangers than Seattle folks. But everyone knows that!
One other thing that happened: our train ride back to Seattle was stopped just south of Tukwila. Apparently someone was killed on the tracks by an outbound train from Seattle, so they had to stop ALL trains on all tracks while they investigated. So for THREE HOURS we sat on our asses, bored to death (though we made use of the iPad and other gadgets). Every once in a while some guy would get on the intercom and say in a thick Russian accent things like “There is nothing we can do. The person on the tracks is…beyond help. Thank you for your patience. This kind of thing happens a lot, it can happen anywhere, even in a car. The crew on the other train has been replaced and we will keep you updated.” Ohhhhhkayyyy….
The following week (and all weekend) was spent downtown in a hotel room during Critter’s family reunion/Thanksgiving gathering. Not much time for blogging, just eating and shmoozing. We had a great time, though. His family are a fun and interesting lot.
Anyway, I’ve uploaded a video montage from the Robyn show to YouTube. You can watch it in HD and full-screen by going to the video page and clicking the appropriate settings. I also took some photos if you wanna see more… It was a fantastic show–the crowd was really into it and she had great energy, so we had a blast.
A couple of years ago we decided never to stay on the Strip in Las Vegas again. There are several reasons for this, one of being that the place is completely overrun with douchebags wearing their douchey outfits acting like Grade-A douchebags. It’s simply America’s most popular douchebag destination and we can only take so much douche in one weekend. (Since then we’ve been staying off the Strip on Fremont St., where the douche levels are much lower.) So during our last stay in that hellhole, I started coming up with nicknames for the Vegas Strip. That eventually led to potential douchey restaurants, which I think are even funnier.
- The Doucheiverse
(Or possible a.k.a. names for Hooters and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and crap like that)
- The Douchery
- Chez Douche
- Paddy O’Douche’s
- Douchey McDoucherson’s
- Le Doosh
- Douche Towers
- The Doucheplex
- Cirque du Douche
- The Douche Barn
(Simply because “Chase” and “Cameron” are two of the Douchey Names of the Apocalypse)
- Crazy Chase’s Douche Emporium
- Cameron’s House of Tacos ‘n’ Twats
Our first visit to Reno was…interesting. It started off with a promising flight on Horizon Air, which happens to serve free beer and wine. Tragedy struck when Critter spilled an entire cup of red wine (a nasty, gasoline-tasting Syrah) onto both of us, drenching my shorts and his pants. It was kind of funny, though, because we both reeked like a couple of winos by the end of the flight. Of course we didn’t have time to change our pants before the hotel shuttle came, so that meant we also reeked like winos while riding the shuttle to the airport, during check-in, etc. Nice way to start a weekend of boozing and gambling!
Next, we discovered that everything the visitor reviews (on those travel sites) said was true: Reno hotels love to confirm you for one thing and then switch you to another for the same price, hoping you won’t notice. Many, many reviews said this, so the day before our trip Critter called our hotel (the Eldorado) to verify that yes, we did indeed have a Luxury room reserved on the 17th floor. However, when we reached the counter, the girl gave us a Deluxe room instead. It also should have been cheaper, but she quoted the same price as the Luxury. Aha! Hesitantly we accepted, because we were so tired and wine-stinky that we didn’t want to make a fuss just yet–we thought we’d check out the room first. It was just odd, you see, because earlier he overheard the desk attendant next to us tell another couple that there were “no more Deluxe rooms left”, so she gave them a Luxury room. Um, what did we just get, then? (Answer: screwed over.) The room was all right, but eventually our stubbornness kicked in and we went back down and asked for the room they had originally confirmed for us, just on principle. And we got it. The view from our new room was quite nice, being on the 23rd floor vs. the 10th floor of the other room. We could see the mountains in the daytime, so we were OK with that. Reno does have a lot of beautiful mountains around it.
Anyway, once settled in our room we noticed a small black platform sitting on the corner of the main cabinet. It had a dozen bottles of drinks and other snacks lined up on it, and a sign on the front said “ITEMS REMOVED ARE INSTANTLY CHARGED TO YOUR GUEST FOLIO.” You mean they’ll know if we move one of these bottles from the platform? Sure enough, we saw the platform was plugged into the wall, so it definitely had sensors on it. Wow, that’s kind of…draconian, don’t you think? What if you bumped the platform on accident and knocked something over…how hard would it be to get that removed from your bill? We were careful not to have to find out. The mini bar was the same way: rigged to charge items to your room bill if anything was touched. Jesus.
We spent Friday wandering around, seeing what that little area of Reno was like. Basically it was depressing! The area was virtually empty, a ghost town. One entire block was made up of a high-rise of condos, which looked brand-new and completely emty. Across the street from that: empty, decaying buildings, some of them former hotels and/or casinos. Who would buy an expensive condo there? A very nice 12-screen theater complex was located nearby, though, so we took the opportunity to catch “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World” (which was excellent) that afternoon. But otherwise, we just wandered around, played slots, ate, drank. Even the casinos were mostly lifeless.
Granted, we only saw the “casino district” of Reno and a few blocks of the area around it, but what we saw had a empty, desolate feeling—like the place was ready and waiting for throngs of people who just never showed up. One bright spot was the 5 Star Saloon, which is Reno’s oldest gay bar. It’s very laid-back and friendly, with nice bartenders and good music. The crowd was mixed and the drinks were strong, so we had a great time there.
Another thing we noticed is that casinos there are overrun with security people. You can barely turn around without bumping into a guard or other official-looking type with a badge and a radio. Even the elevators to the rooms are guarded closely by badged minions who won’t let you into an elevator without seeing your room key. This isn’t unusual actually, as we’ve seen them do this in Vegas, but was unusual was how aggressive they were at micromanaging every step of the whole pushing button/entering elevator/closing door process. We weren’t even allowed to press Up button ourselves! Also, when roaming the area around the casinos (even several blocks away) we saw signs everywhere telling us we were on security cameras. And sure enough, a quick glance around shows that the entire area is blanketed by CCTV. Does Reno have a huge crime problem or something? On one hand we felt pretty safe wherever we went, but on the other hand it made us feel a little paranoid about even crossing the street.
Friday night we decided to try out a fancy-shmancy Italian restaurant (La Strada) that all the reviewers were gassing about, supposedly an award-winning place to eat. Well, we weren’t impressed! First off, the hostess led us to the very back of the building, past many empty tables in the quieter front part of the restaurant. She seated us right next to two tables of horrifically loud and obnoxious old folks who were tipsy on wine and shouting/cackling at each other. Lovely, how romantic!
I noticed on the way in that the few people seated up front were dressed nicely, while we were dressed down (t-shirts and shorts). Could that have been it? A bit later they tried to do the same thing to another straight couple, and the woman was having none of it and made the hostess seat them up front. Next time I’ll do the same.
Our entrees took ages to arrive, despite the place being mostly empty. My salmon was unexceptional, served atop vegetables which were swimming in nearly half an inch of oil. Sorry, but I don’t think this is “traditional northern Italian cooking.” $25 for that! Critter had the lamb chops, which were good but also drenched in oil, as were all the veggies on his plate. Can’t remember the cost of that but I’m sure it was close to $30. Why all the oil?? We’ve been to many highly-rated Italian restaurants and none of them were as oil-happy as this. The food wasn’t terrible, just…unimpressive. Maybe we should have tried the pasta instead.
On Saturday we noticed that there were a lot more people milling about, so maybe Reno really comes to life on the weekends. We decided to take the free bus up to the University of Nevada to visit the planetarium and watch a short film about Saturn in the dome-shaped theater there. It was interesting, but not mind-blowing. After that we just farted around until 8pm when we went to see Cyndi Lauper do her blues concert, which was pretty damn good. This was the whole point of our trip, actually, and it made all the other stuff worth it!
After the show we fixed some cheapo drinks in our room (trying to save some money at this point) and headed back to the 5 Star Saloon. We drank and danced for a couple of hours, it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately Critter shook his booty a little too hard and ripped the front of his shorts!
Sunday morning we left our bags at the front desk and basically just walked around and gambled for five hours until our airport shuttle showed up at 5pm. Critter won $500 and I won $125, both playing the Wheel of Fortune penny slots, so that basically paid for our room and covered what we had already spent on gambling, so it pretty much evened out. Nice! If there’s one thing you can do a lot of in Reno, it’s gambling.
We did have one last fiasco before leaving. We saw an internet kiosk that said “Surf the web! Print your boarding pass! Blah-blah-blah!” So we decided to give the boarding pass thing a try, since it was $1 for 3 minutes or something like that. The first sign of trouble was when we tried to print our passes and a Windows “add printer” box popped up, asking us to install a printer. Uh-oh. So after about 10 minutes on the phone with their customer service, we found out that the damn kiosk didn’t even have a printer in it! They said we can only print boarding passes in the Business Center, even though the kiosk has big loud signs saying to print them there. Jesus. How many other people have put their money into this thing and been misled? So we found the Business Center and ended up pumping dollar after dollar into the goddamn thing because it claimed we hadn’t put in enough money to print all the pages, and of course the passes are accompanied by full-page ads which added to the page count… It was a nightmare. By the end I was yelling four-letter names at the PC but we finally got our passes printed and got the hell out of there. It was a fitting end to a somewhat frustrating trip.
So, the verdict on Reno? I don’t think we’ll ever go back. I know I can’t judge it fairly based on one weekend in the casino district, but that’s all I have to go on, and frankly that’s where most visitors end up going, right? The area was just empty, in more ways than one. Look at Fremont Street in Las Vegas–it’s rich with history and character and cheesiness. Reno had none of that, it was more like “Look! You can gamble here! Look, restaurants! Look! Spend your money! Hey, over here!” It just didn’t seem to have its own spirit or whatever. Along with the police-state atmosphere, the shady room-swapping, and the ripoff kiosks, we left feeling glad to leave without looking back. If we ever do go back to Reno, it will be to move on to Lake Tahoe and see what’s over there…
After all that, I do have to say that everyone there was friendly and helpful. We didn’t run into one snotty waiter or attendant, not one asshole bartender or security person. Even the gal who drove the shuttle to the hotel that first night was friendly and chatty, giving us lots of useful info about what to do and where to eat, etc. She was great, and it’s not something you’d ever experience here in Seattle! We did notice, though, that both she and the bartender talked about wanting to move away from Reno, to Portland or somewhere else in the Pacific Northwest. I wonder how many other people would like to get out of that place.
The New York Times has a mind-boggling–yet completely unsurprising–article about vacationing idiots and their gadgets. It used to be that people would just dangle themselves over the edge of the Grand Canyon (sometimes falling in) or lean up against a cage of raging baboons to get that “special” photo. But now that everyone’s armed with digicams, smartphones, and GPS units, there’s a whole new world of bad behavior to explore.
The national parks’ history is full of examples of misguided visitors feeding bears, putting children on buffalos for photos and dipping into geysers despite signs warning of scalding temperatures.
But today, as an ever more wired and interconnected public visits the parks in rising numbers — July was a record month for visitors at Yellowstone — rangers say that technology often figures into such mishaps.
People with cellphones call rangers from mountaintops to request refreshments or a guide; in Jackson Hole, Wyo., one lost hiker even asked for hot chocolate.
Goddamn, people are stupid!