Traveling Through Arizona
Just inside the door, we were greeted with a great mixture of old and new. To our right was the retro "Hive Salon" with old barber chairs and hairdryers. Above the shiny tile floors, the walls were covered with colorful, southwestern artwork added in the 1980's.
I loved the wooden phone booths (with working phones) near the front desk! When we checked in we were given real keys instead of little cards, which means I can find my key! And when we left the hotel a couple times, we had the fun (inconvenience to some) of having our keys held in their own little wooden slot behind the desk. I love old hotels.
Heading up Stairs
There were no elevators in this 3-story hotel, but we were getting used to lugging our bags up stairs, since most of our hotels so far did not have them. There was an interesting feel to the crowd, which can be pretty eclectic since the hotel's Club Congress is recognized as one of the top ten nightclubs in the country. I think the Mother's Day Holiday definitely tamed the crowds during our stay.
Quite the Table
We didn't conjure up any spirits, but if only I'd thought to bring along a pointer for this table, we could have had a little fun with Hotel Congress ghosts.
No Dillinger Ghosts Here
The ghost of John Dillinger wasn't floating around here. He was captured in the hotel in 1934, but he was eventually killed in Chicago after escaping from jail in Indiana.
I'm sure there are other ghosts, though. We have become aware that old hotels like to flaunt their ghost stories. I no longer pay much attention.
I actually loved out little room. The website had "warned" that some city slickers might feel slighted that the 40 guestrooms have no TVs. But hey, they had an old radio! It also reminded guests that earplugs were available and no refunds would be given for noise. We weren't too worried. We reserved one of the quieter rooms and it was a Sunday. But we were fully prepared for noise since the train tracks were nearby and the Club downstairs had nightly entertainment.
Room with a View
Back in our room's little alcove near the desk, we had a window with a heavy wood frame and frosted glass. I managed to open the clumsy thing and let in some of the wonderful weather that must have been delivered for Mother's Day. What a surprise to suddenly see a courtyard with a desert scene painted on the brick wall. I could even catch a glimpse of the iconic Hotel Congress sign. What a great little Urban Oasis right out our window...or around down the hall if we used the door.
darkened flowered carpet could have been a bit too much for some. But it was all clean and that's all I ask! Plus rooms start at $89. That's pretty good for a hotel that has history and entertainment!
This just shows a small corner of the festive old bar and the large stage and dance area. If we'd come another month we could have participated in the Whiskey Weekend or The Underwear Party! I'm sure I would have had bigger stories to tell.
The Tap Room
We were headed out for dinner soon, so we didn't have time to take in the Congress festivities. However we just had to check out the original hotel bar since 1919, The Tap room. This tiny bar with a few booths was cozy and festive, but it was definitely a local's hangout. That usually appeals to us, but these people didn't look too welcoming of tourists. I even spotted a guy with a holster and gun. Different laws in Arizona. However when we heard about "Tiger" we knew we would have to come back!
Tiger's Tap Room
The only way to meet Tiger was to come back after we checked out at 11 the next morning. Tiger has been running the bar since 1959 and he's too weary for the night crowd. He works and early shift. Tiger was a hoot with stories from long ago to his current life. While I sipped my orange juice, we swapped stories about our years both growing up in Iowa. He then pulled out photos of when the staff gave him surprise 80th birthday party and had "Tiger" added to the "Tap Room" neon sign. He pointed out the western artwork hanging near the ceiling and told us about the artist who contributed those in the '30's and '40's in exchange for drinks.
The man seated next to us, kindly took our photo behind the bar. Then the kind photographer mentioned, in an almost hushed, proper way, that a stranger had offered to buy him a drink the other day. He was feeling as though he should pay it forward and buy us a drink. It was before noon and I hardly wanted a drink, but we took him up on the offer and split a Bloody Mary. By the time we headed out we were feeling pretty pleased about our surprise people encounter. It was the perfect way to end our stay.
(Tucson felt like a baby Austin to me) But after spending an hour with Tiger and even our nice fellow at the bar, I felt different. It's always fun to have someone to say good-by to when you leave!
A Notable Visit near Julian, CA
Shadow Mountain Ranch
After getting a little lost, we finally found our B&B just outside the old mining town of Julian. We parked and wandered the property in search of our hosts. The office, within the family home had a closed sign. We began walking towards the back of the house and paused to take in this view of the pine and oak covered mountains. Then we heard voices.
The family on the patio below us seemed to be rushing to set up for some kind of event. A young man looked a bit panicked when he spotted us. He moved towards us with a rather frazzled looking woman who seemed to be in charge, but spoke little English.
I Want My Waterfall!
I had seen pictures of the waterfall shower and the rock sink. You can barely see the face on this internet photo, but the sink had one. I was even willing to put up with the impractical wooden swinging saloon doors that shield the toilet. What a hoot that the carved figures of Mr.and Mrs. Gnome have to cease their smooching when you pass through!
Cleaning the Gnome Home
We had a stressful 5 minute conversation with lots of translating by younger folk. The woman's face seemed very apologetic as she explained in broken English, that there had been a glitch of sorts. She said the owners were out of town and she hadn't expected guests. They were preparing for a family party that night, but they would honor our reservations. She shooed three of the young people to go clean the Gnome Home for our stay. They rushed off and returned with sheets and cleaning supplies, then stumbled towards our funny little 2-room getaway, dropping the vacuum twice. Our worried woman, who must have been the caretaker, apologized again and begged us to please let her know if their party got too loud that night.
Behind the Gnome Door
It suddenly seemed stupid to pay $150. for this experience. I rushed back and told the fretting woman that I was concerned, since our stay had included afternoon tea and full breakfast in the family home. She shook her head sadly to let us know there was no way that was happening. When we told her we had decided not to stay, she looked incredibly relieved.
Not a Notable Night
Long Beach, CA in May
A night on a cruise ship may not be worthy of a Notable Night entry, but sleeping on a floating hotel is different.
Our Floating Hotel
For 30 years this historic ship has been docked in Long Beach. You can pay for a ghost tour or dine in one of the restaurants, or you can bring your suitcases on board and stay the night!
It was a gorgeous Thursday afternoon when Don and I boarded the ship. We were on day 11 of our 4-week road trip, so we were a little worn. It was a treat not going through the security lines and passport checks.
After dropping luggage in our room it was time to explore, which is what I do when I get to any hotel. But hotels don't usually have decks with masts or smokestacks...
... or old red lifeboats!
The view across Long Beach Harbor was more impressive than I expected. We could gaze out at the pavilion and Ferris wheel for as long as we liked...since the ship wasn't going anywhere. I felt like I had to sort of remind myself that the scenery wasn't going to change. If we wanted a change we just had to keep ourselves moving.
There was an entertaining view on the portside as well. Hearing the bells and announcements coming from a nearby Carnival Cruise Ship made us feel like we were actually getting ready to set sail. And having a nice view of the curious geodesic dome that housed Howard Hughes' immense Spruce Goose, was an added perk. Evidently the dome is now used by Carnival to check passengers in and out...when it's not being used as a Roller Derby arena!
Exploring inside was extra entertaining since we seemed to have the ship practically to ourselves.
Rarely did we see another guest. Maybe people are too scared to stay on board. After all Time magazine named the ship in their list of "Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America".
Here I am lounging for about 3 seconds. The bed felt luxurious and I could have stayed forever, but we had more wandering to do.
Art Deco Decor
There are 346 first class staterooms that range from about $79. to $250. You pay more for one of the 9 suites. We paid a little more for a Deluxe so we could enjoy the original wood paneling and art deco built-ins. I loved it that we could open our portholes to let in the fresh air. We also had some funny vents that blew the air around. I'm not sure where that air was coming from.
To enter the bathroom we had to step over some kind of room divider. That was odd. The tub was a bonus that I didn't expect on a ship. The black and white tile and art deco light fixture looked original. But the most amusing feature (besides the funny push handle for flushing) was the set of 4 faucet handles. Hot sea water, cold sea water, hot fresh water, cold fresh water. Sadly, we didn't have the sea water option. No salt water soaks for me.
The grand looking shopping area made me feel like I was traveling first class, back in the day. I enjoyed a little browsing in a tiny book store until I began to think I was on Candid Camera. The soft spoken shopkeeper began a non-stop ramble the moment I entered. I kept looking around to see if she was talking to someone else because she never looked at me and I could barely understand what she was saying. She became a little bolder with her chatter and she seemed to have a lot she wanted to tell me about the merchandise. She wanted to demonstrate to me how the key chains won't break when you drop them. I broke free about 15 minutes later with a few postcards, feeling perplexed and somewhat tortured.
This 3-story ballroom just reeked of wealth and elegance. This was once the first class dining room. Now it's the largest of 14 salons that can be rented for events. Maybe when it's my turn to host Book Club, I'll have it here.
To me, the grandest part of the Grand Salon was the wood. On board the ship you can find over 50 different kinds of wood in the walls, floors and carvings. The QM has a lot of nicknames and "Ship of Woods" is one of them!
Art With Purpose!
You have to love a mural that tells you important things. Not only did this gigantic piece of art in the Grand Salon look impressive, it announced current information. The clock presented the time and the transcontinental map showed the ship's two routes. There used to be a crystal model of the Queen Mary that actually moved on the map, so you could follow the ship's progress.
Such Grand Doors!
Doors in Grand Salon
I would love to make a dramatic entrance through the polished brass doors beneath this festive hunting mural! It would take me a long time to decide what to wear for that entrance.
Door to the Telephone
I would love to step into this polished phone booth along with a martini, perhaps. I could sit and sip and chat with my dear friend while the ship sailed the Atlantic. That's such a crazy thought, because I never even felt like it was possible to make a phone call when I was on a Princess cruise, just a year ago!
I'm assuming this was a revolving door at one time. I do love a revolving door and I would have enjoyed a few revolutions in this oldie!
Curious Rooms of the Past
I enjoyed this display that offered a glimpse of what you might have found in the first class nursery. They had separate nurseries for second and third class passengers and it's a little sad to think those kids probably didn't have elephant chairs. Maybe they didn't have eerie artwork either...and that would be a good thing. There are so many rooms that are now gone that I wish I could have seen. I would love to have peeked into the dog kennels or looked at the squash courts. There was even a Jewish prayer room, a small hospital and a music studio.
Floors and Columns
There wasn't time to count floors, but I wonder how many different kinds they have. From old parquet, to big fat linoleum tiles, to carpet with floral or geometric patterns. If I'd been an employee back in the cruising days, I would have avoided the job of floor cleaner. When you see the columns with their railings, you're reminded of woozy travelers and upset stomachs. Don was happy to put on a sickly expression and demonstrate how to grasp hold. I guess the railings might still come in handy for "passengers" who have had one too many.
It's always fun staying in a hotel where celebrities have slept. The Queen Mary has carried some of the best from the old Hollywood days. I like to imagine that I was leaning up against the same railing that Spencer Tracy and his wife leaned on. Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin also cruised on the QM in the late 1930's, before World War II. By 1939 the ship no longer carried the rich and famous. After just 3 years of luxury cruising, the QM was transformed into a troopship.
Remembering the Ship in New York
I have the faintest memory of being 6 years old and seeing the Queen Mary, docked in the Hudson Bay. That was in 1963, just a few years before the ship departed on its final voyage. What I also remember is spotting a photo of the ship a month or so later in Life Magazine. The image was of 2 young girls peering out at the ship docked in Hudson Bay. I cut it out and kept it, since I wanted to believe the photo was of my sister and me.
A Different Image
But this photo of the QM in Hudson Bay is very different. She was stripped of her colors and nicknamed the "Grey Ghost", so she could transport troops across the Atlantic at record speeds during WWII. I was excited to read some of the history displays and take some photos for my friend Ken back in Texas. Ken served during WWII and he has shared stories with me about traveling with the troops on the QM. Seeing images of the Grey Ghost reminded me of Ken's description of seeing the Statue of Liberty when they returned home after the war... and spotting the Manhattan office building, where he knew his father was working that day.
Wining and Dining
Don and I worked up an appetite and thirst after absorbing over 70 years of history. Just before sunset we headed towards the bow of the boat for drinks in the Observation Bar. There were no bad seats. We could gaze out at the same Art Deco features that Leo DiCaprio enjoyed when they filming a scene from "The Aviator" here.
Or... we could stare out the window at the bow of the boat and the lowering sun.
Then we decided it was silly to be looking out the window when we could wander on deck to watch the sunset. It was nice not having to share the picturesque setting with other tourists. We could be as goofy or as romantic as we liked. I guess I'm showing my age, because I didn't once think about doing the Titanic Pose at the bow of the boat. I'm picturing that now and I've concluded that would have been goofy, not romantic.
There were 5 dining areas to choose from on the ship. We picked the Chelsea Chowder House, with the shiny tile floors, decorative tin ceiling and windows overlooking the harbor. If we'd brought some crayons we could have drawn colorful ship scenes, since there was butcher paper on top of the white table cloth. I guess that's a British Chowder House thing. I didn't order chowder, which is their specialty, but the scampi with fettuccini was excellent. Don's glazed salmon was mouthwatering and just the right amount of sweet!
I'm not sure what time we got back to the cabin, but we both slept well. There was no rocking to lull us to sleep, but there was a pleasant hum from those little air- circulation-vent-things. In the morning I did have visions of the movie Poseidon Adventure, when I stepped over the raised threshold into the bathroom. (Many of the movie scenes were filmed on QM) The bathroom floor appeared to be slightly flooded. It was more comical than annoying, so I won't go into that.
What is Noteworthy?
We only had about 8 waking hours on board the Queen Mary, but that was just about right. If we'd stayed longer I would have had time for a ghost tour or another good meal, but the day tourists were starting to board and I didn't want them to taint my memory. So I must say, the most memorable part of our stay was... exploring. The QM was once the grandest ocean liner in the world and we sort of had it to ourselves. I felt like Don and I were 2 little kids with big imaginations, just playing ship. As we wandered I imagined the passengers in their 1930's clothing and the scenery they viewed from the deck. But I didn't have to imagine all the colors and textures of the grand old ship because those things were still there. I'm just so grateful that Long Beach bought the ship in 1967 and numerous organizations and companies have taken on the leases and renovations over the years. It's an amazing historical landmark and I'm glad to be able to say I was a passenger.
Borrego Springs, California - May 2014
Don and I finally spotted the sign at the base of Indian Head Mountain, but where was the hotel?
Oasis with Curious History
We drove down a long dusty drive to get to the gravel parking lot. There we found our little oasis hotel, in all its modern glory. This classic mid-century hotel, with lots of steel and glass was built in 1958, to replace the 10 year old original hotel after it burned down.
The hotel was then called The Hoberg Resort. It was quite the retreat for Hollywood stars and socialites who wanted to escape the public spotlight.
We parked next to 2 Vespas in the nearly empty lot and headed inside to look around. We were greeted by this modern floating staircase that must have really been something in 1958. But there didn't seem to be a person in sight. We wandered the dimly lit space, enjoying some of the reminders of earlier days.
There was something almost eerie as we explored...like a modern version of The Shining. So many reminders of the past when the hotel was buzzing with guests...but no real people to greet us.
Almost 20 years ago, the current owners David and Cindy began restoring the property. The hotel and bungalows had been empty for years, but this couple embraced the history and took on the challenge. I had hoped to meet them...or anyone. Obviously someone was around, since there was a fresh pitcher of ice water with cut lemons.
We did see a few faces at least...on a painted brick wall. It was fun to see Bing and Marlon, Marilyn and Clark... and even the Wizard of Oz! These were a few of the celebrities who once escaped the stress of Hollywood by hopping on planes and landing on the hotel's private airstrip.
A Key and Towels
A woman finally appeared from the kitchen and for a moment she seemed perplexed to see us. Then she acknowledged our reservations and handed us a key and some pool towels. We headed up the floating staircase that took us to the outdoor walkway on the second floor. All 8 hotel rooms were upstairs, overlooking the pool and mountains. We kind of chuckled as we used our hotel key to open the sliding glass door. (Strange for a hotel) The door was a little feisty and reminded me of large and clumsy, sliding doors in my childhood. I hope renovations continue and the roof area becomes a terrace again. It was a little neglected and we stayed safely on the walkway, but it could be such a fun space for sitting out and enjoying the view.
Spacious and Comfy
We didn't have much of a greeting at the desk, but we did find a plate with fresh cookies waiting for us in the room. The cookies and water pitcher seemed to be reminding us that we were being welcomed...by someone. The closet was huge and there was a floor fan, in case the window unit didn't do its job. I liked having the comfy chairs and a large coffee table. We could have done a jigsaw puzzle, since there was a basket of games and books. And there was a flat screen TV, so we did have some modern conveniences.
The Palms Pool
The Olympic sized pool was a big deal in 1947 and it still is the star of the hotel, to me. The busy spring season was ending, so we had the pool to ourselves. (The extreme temps make summer the off season) The empty pool deck made it easier to imagine the ghosts of Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe lounging with their martinis nearby. The pool must have been just dazzling back in the day. I loved the way the shadow of the date palm was resting on the bottom of the pool, not far from the mosaic palms!
This photo reveals an underwater window in the deep end. On the deck above the window, there was a platform that once held the diving board. I can just imagine a few Hollywood gentlemen in the viewing room holding martinis and cigars, watching divers cut through the surface... with hopes of catching one of the ladies with a swimsuit malfunction.
Enjoying the Pool
Don made use of the lap lane, and I tried to figure out which chaise lounge had the best view. I liked this view with the mountains and that wonderful west coast modern building.
Hot Tub View
This was nice, too. There was a lot of bunny activity to watch in the surrounding gardens.
But I picked this spot with the two soft chairs, enclosed by a rounded brick wall.
After a swim, we wandered the grounds a bit more to explore some of the "ruins" from a different time in the hotel's history. The hotel once included 56 private bungalows and the remains are just down the road. After those glam years in the '40's and '50's, the property spent 20 years hosting other kinds of visitors besides Hollywood stars. It was a nudist retreat for some time and a detention facility for young boys. When the current owners bought the property, it had been vacant for 15 years. They turned their focus to the hotel and the two casitas by the pool and have been continuously renovating over the years. For some guests, this reminder of the past would be an unsettling eyesore. Why is this still here? But I loved snooping around and pondering the past.
Food and Drink
The hotel does have a cute little bar and a couple of dining areas which, were quiet but open! We had a drink in the colorful bar with bold artwork and curatins made of ribbons. There was one man sitting at the bar who appeared to be a regular and I was pretty excited to talk to him because he looked like he was old enough to actually remember The Hobert Hotel in its prime. But too bad. He had come to the area in the 1990s and although he knew the current owners he had very little inside scoop about those celebrity years.
For dinner we had a quiet meal in the Coyote Restaurant overlooking the pool. The food was amazingly good. It's hard to believe it's possible to have a good chef in such a small desert community!
In the morning we ate on the patio, which was heavenly. Our room included our choice of breakfast off the menu. Again, we were incredibly impressed by the choices and quality of food. (I had eggs benedict!) But a warning for travelers who come "off season" since the restaurant does not have regular hours in the summer.
Location, Location, Location!
For some, the desert location is not a plus. But the fact that we could slide open our glass door at 5:45 in the morning and walk to Anzo-Borrego State Park was an amazing plus. We hiked the shady Palm Canyon Trail for 1.5 hours (Spotting coyote and jack rabbits, but sadly no big horn sheep) until we arrived at the palm grove...just as light was hitting the top fronds!
I will remember our stay at The Palms as our Mystery Oasis Night. It did seem like something was missing. I guess the lack of hosts was odd. But I kind of liked the eerie empty feel to the place. I will always remember the giant pool, surrounded by blowing palms and miles of desert and distant mountains and how we seemed to own it. If we'd come to be pampered, we would have been disappointed, but we know how to pamper ourselves, just fine. I wish we could have stayed more than one night.
My Dream Hotel
I can't resist the idea of a 126 year old hotel on an island. I first saw the image of that spectacular cone-shaped roof years ago, in the movie "Some Like it Hot". I've wanted to visit this place for a long, long time.
When Don and I started planning our TX-CA road trip, I hoped we could stop by to see this iconic hotel, built in 1887. After a bit of pondering we decided to bite the bullet and pay for a night at this dream getaway. The Del Coronado was even grander than I expected.
I was giddy as we stepped into the lobby, once called the Rotunda! Ritzy chandelier and flowers... rich dark wood in the ceiling and gallery... and a golden, cage-like Otis elevator! Classic!
I didn't get to see the ballroom! That's the room that is beneath the red-turreted roof. I guess you have to plan a wedding or... a ball, to use the ballroom. But I was able to enjoy it from about every angle when I was outside. I could just stare at it and think about the famous people who have been inside that ballroom. Or I could imagine being famous, then I could ask to see the ballroom and they would probably let me peek in.
Or wait a minute, maybe I could have just asked. I didn't even ask to go in the ballroom!
Okay, I am not one of the famous people associated with The Del, but at least I have enough nerve to put my photo side-by-side with Marilyn. This is to show you the then and now view from the beach towards the red-turreted roof. Little has changed since "Some Like it Hot" was filmed here in 1958. During those Hollywood years, there was a constant flow of stars at the hotel. But there were also presidents and poets and other interesting people back before movie stars discovered the hotel. One of my favorite writers, L. Frank Baum, supposedly wrote 3 of his Oz books while staying at The Del. I'm sure plenty of celebrities still visit the hotel, but when I asked the bartender to name a few recent sightings he could only name sports figures.
I'm always up for a people encounter, famous or not. My friend Lorrie told me about a wonderful elevator operator, so I walked up a couple flights of stairs to insure at least a partial ride without a crowd. Andrew was indeed quite entertaining. When he heard Don and I were from Texas he admitted he hoped we weren't Texas A&M fans. When we laughed that our kids had gone to UT, Andrew softly began to sing The Eyes of Texas. Don and I chuckled to hear the song we'd often heard at UT events, suddenly being sung by this shy, uniformed man.
I must mention that there may be more than one interesting elevator operator at the hotel. After I emailed this photo to my friend, she admitted this was not the elevator man she remembered!
When I first saw this man holding a stick with a sort of brush attached, I thought he was washing windows. It turns out he was hired with his Harris hawks to keep the grounds free of annoying seagulls. We chatted for quite a while as his sweet hawk flew off and returned numerous times. It was obvious that his work with hawks was more than a job. He admitted that the commitment to his birds and their care made traveling and even relationships tricky.
Lots of Pretty Crowns!
The little kid in me wanted to go around and count crowns. They were everywhere. The adult in me wanted to dress up and eat in the Crown Room that looks like a capsized ship with lovely crown shaped lights hanging down. But the Crown Room is only open as a restaurant for Sunday Brunch and it was Tuesday. Of course if we'd stayed until Sunday and gone to brunch, I would have once again searched for the kid in me, with kid menu prices. The adult price for brunch is $85.
While wandering the hotel we stepped out onto a little porch with a great view of the courtyard, full of palms and bouganvillas and pathways. You could even see over the roof to the ocean where the sun was due to set in a few hours. Since our first floor room had no ocean view, we kept this spot in mind for the evening.
Our room was off the courtyard on the first floor. That meant no more rides with Andrew in the elevator. But it was an easy room to reach and we could peek out at the garden setting.
There's no such thing as a bargain room at The Del, but we took the cheapest they had for about $350. There was more of a classy, modern feel to our room than a quaint, historic feel. Which was fine. I'm all for squeaky floors and antique beds if the price is right. But if I'm paying for luxury, I want a nice bed and good shower. Now, if we'd arrived in 1888, we could have gotten a room, plus three meals for about $2.50. And that was with electricity, which was mighty impressive back then!
Don is fiddling with the Keurig coffee maker in this pic. To us, that's a big perk for a hotel room. In the other pic, I'm fiddling with the champagne that just arrived with some jumbo sized truffles. That was a perk we paid extra for. It's called the Celebration Package and it adds about $85. to your room bill. It makes you look like you're very Romantic or very Rich, but in truth it comes with a $100.oo dining credit, so you might as well buy one if you're planning on eating at the hotel. The other perk that comes with it, is the fun of having it delivered by the room service guy who was just adorable. He looked like he'd been working at Del Coronado for about 80 years and his little uniform with the cute round hat was just charming. I should have gotten a photo.
There wasn't time for everything, but we made time for the pool. In the late afternoon the pool had a few guests, but at 8 am the next day, we had the pool to ourselves. We wore our hotel robes and carried the newspaper. I read and Don did laps. Heaven!
In the evening we crossed the street to the marina with the original hotel boathouse. "1887 On The Bay" is a restaurant now, but we just sipped a couple drinks in the upstairs bar where the boathouse keeper once lived.
We headed back to have dinner at Sheerwater, the patio restaurant with an ocean view. We had reservations for 8:00, but stalled when we noticed the sun about to set.
The lowering sun was beautiful, but the people watching was equally entertaining. There were actually 2 bridal couples attracting attention. One of the couples we spotted posing in at least 10 different spots around the hotel during the evening. I might add they did not look a bit happy and their smiles were forced. The perfect Romantic setting does not make you a perfect couple!
By 8:30 we were seated under a heater and enjoying lump crab and lobster mac-n-cheese. Between the patio and the beach was a private lawn party that was a good source of entertainment. Folks mingled and dined and occasionally picked up a croquet mallet or bocce ball for some lawn fun. All the while a trio of musicians played on a small platform in the grass. A few times the trio played a jazzy little number that made think Jack Lemmon and his bass had just come back to life in a scene from "Some Like it Hot".
All was quiet on the beach at 7 am the next morning. I walked out to see the sandcastle that had been surrounded by a crowd the day before. It was a treat to have that huge beach to myself for a moment. I wasn't even close to the water when I took this photo, but I was finally far enough away to fit the whole building in the picture.
What's Notable about our stay?
I'll always remember grinning when we approached the hotel. It was bigger and better than I imagined. The nicest surprise was that there was no over the top snooty feel to the place. I don't think you can be 126 year old and put on airs. No coats of paint and fashion updating can completely hide the age or the stories or even the smell of this charming old hotel. I like that.
4th Stop on Road Trip
I didn't plan on including timeshare condos in my 90-Nights blog. But if there is something quirky or unusual about an overnight, I feel like I have to share it. We made reservations for the Welk Resort months in advance, but it wasn't until we were just about to arrive that I made the connection of the resort to the famed accordion playing, TV host and bandleader, Lawrence Welk.
Making the Connection
I grew up snickering at the corny Lawrence Welk Show... unless I was sitting beside my beloved grandmother as she sweetly complimented the barbershop quartet or polka dancers. Then, I would hold back my giggles. But in the passenger seat this past April, I squealed out loud as we headed down I-15 towards the mountains north of San Diego. I grinned at the map and announced to Don (who is as calm with the steering wheel as Lawrence is with his baton) "WHAT? We're gonna turn right onto Champagne Boulevard! Then we turn left on Lawrence Welk Street! Did you know this had something to do with Lawrence Welk!!"
A Nice Place
We were pleasantly surprised to find the condo modern and comfortable. Mr. Welk may have bought land and a motel here in the fifties, but our one bedroom condo was built recently. There were a couple of large flat screens and 2 fireplaces and a nice patio and bath. No complaints.
And the resort itself was lovely, although I actually dislike the term resort. It makes me think of boring people who need to be entertained. And resorts that are built around golf courses, with connections to Lawrence Welk, conjure up images of Bermuda shorts and cigars and very old people. But there were a lot of young families and the grounds were quite beautiful. We made use of 2 of the 8 pools. I got in some runs on the pathways connecting the different lodging areas, with their special names..."Melody Hill" and "Harmony Hill". You have to love a pathway with bronze musical notes embedded.
The Welk Connection
But I'm ashamed we did not make full use of the Welk possibilities. We somehow didn't find time for an evening at the Lawrence Welk Theatre, where they sometimes do a Lawrence Welk Nostalgia Show. We never hit the "museum" when it was open, therefore we did not see the largest champagne glass in the world, which is displayed on a red velvet covered pedestal. I didn't bump into Mr. Welk's grandson, either. He has evidently been running the resort since Welk's passing nearly 20 years ago. But we did enjoy seeing the bell shaped street lamps and the quarter note fountain, while a woman sat on a nearby patio bench and entertained us with her smooth as silk accordion playing.
For a moment I got to pretend I was Mr. Welk's Champagne Lady, as I snuggled up to his bronze arm. Good old Lawrence was quite the TV personality, but he was also a shrewd business man, back when he started his show and invested in real estate. (You can see the banner celebrating the resort's 50th anniversary) He knew what his mostly older, conservative audiences wanted, which is why he danced with his Champagne ladies now and then. He even held onto a slight German accent from his immigrant parents, because the people seemed to like it. As I posed for the photo I swear I could almost hear those well known Welkwords starting up the orchestra, "A-one, An-A-Two!"
The Welk Resort was not old and moldy. The atmosphere was comfortable and relaxing...which are words one might have used to describe the old TV show. Don and I did have a bottle of champagne while staying at the resort, in honor of LW and his music that became known as Champagne Music. I wish we'd had an old tape of the show to watch, with Lawrence and his orchestra on the bubble filled stage. Which suddenly reminds me... I actually had a bottle of bubbles in the car on that road trip. (don't ask me why) If I'd thought of it, I could have used those bubbles during my photo pose with the statue! Now that would have been, "Wunnerful! Wunnerful!"
The New Las Vegas
After one night experiencing vintage downtown Las Vegas at the retro El Cortez, it was time to step it up at The Venetian on the glitzy strip. I've been to the real Italian city, so I figured it might be hard to avoid rolling my eyes just a bit. It just seemed comical to attempt combining casinos with Venetian landmarks like St. Mark's Campalile. You can't take the Rialto bridge and put it over a street. I was pretty sure gondoliers and neon signs would clash.
But my last visit to Las Vegas was in 1980. I was in for a pretty big surprise when Don and I approached the recreated landmarks driving down the strip. I couldn't stop grinning and gasping.
"This is crazy! This is so fun!"
I still feel a little like I'm "playing grown-up" when valet parking. But when you want to play "rich grown-up" just come to The Venetian. If you want to be "cool" on top of being a rich grown-up, then don't bump into people while staring at the painted ceiling!
More Art for Staring
There was no way I could snobbishly critique the painted ceilings or the marble floors. This stuff was pretty grand. It didn't feel like a movie set or a carnival façade. I wanted to grab a European and say, "What do you think?" But in truth, most of the people rolling suitcases towards the reception desk appeared to be from somewhere like Nebraska.
To the Room!
Don and I were pretty excited to just hunt for our room. And that took a while, since there are 4,049 suites. I had to stop at smile at the sweet lion head, carved on the beam outside our door. When we opened our room, my grin grew larger as I took in the 650 square foot suite. Our twenty-dollar vintage suite at El Cortez was their lowest rate. Our luxury suite at The Venetian was the lowest promotional rate of $149. (not including tax and fees) We could have stayed a week at El Cortez for that, but we didn't have a sunken living room there. Or 3 TVs and a remote for the shades, or a scanner and printer.
Bed and Bath
The suite décor may not be "my style" but it had a fun and flashy feel that made me want to stay put. I was determined to try out every conceivable spot for luxury lounging. Even for a brief moment!
But it was beautiful outside, so we left our comfy suite to wander before dark. To me it was more fun watching the gondolas than riding in them. It's funny how many people look awkward in the seat facing the singing gondolier!
The rooftop pools looked very inviting, especially if you wanted to rent a cozy spot like this for lounging. The weather was perfect and I would have been happy to spend an hour or two with a book and pina colada, but there was so much to see!
There was more inside exploring to do. There were waterfalls with flowering trees. And there was shopping, under the fake glowing sky.
A Quick Margarita Stop
The fake skies at The Venetian made me lose total track of time. The late afternoon painted ceiling made us decide it was time for a margarita at one of the canal-side tables at Canonista. The echoing voices of passing gondoliers entertained us, but we had the added fun of watching the security guard (dressed in Italian police uniform) use a pool net to scoop up the cell phone for a nearby diner.
So we didn't gamble a penny. The Venetian is the only casino/hotel I can think of where you are allowed to ignore the gambling world. However, Don and I did stop for glass of wine in the casino Bellini Bar. With the game stuff behind us, we enjoyed a very fun chat with David the bartender. He gave us some very yummy nibbles of carmel -corn and spicy crackers while he shared about growing up in Las Vegas. We were thrilled to talk with someone from Vegas and I think he was pleased to chat at all. Everyone else at the bar was absorbed in electronic bar games.
St. Mark's Square
For dinner we made reservations at Canatello's, one of the restaurants in the recreated famous Venetian Plaza. Once again we were under a fake sky that allowed dusk to linger...forever, while musicians performed near sidewalk cafes. The whole thing felt a bit like a distorted dream... a fun dream.
Good Food and Drink
We sipped Chianti and feasted on great Caesar salad, minestrone and prosciutto pasta. Watching gondolas in the nearby canal, and people watching on the Piazza was the best part of dining "outside". But when I peeked inside at one point, I wasn't sure where the best table would be. The restaurant was huge and festive...and it's one of about 10 restaurants to choose from!
Before heading back to the room, Don and I stopped to rest the camera on the bridge railing for a photo with the timer. Luckily we didn't have to fish the camera out of the canal, or that would have been our most memorable experience.
What was most Notable?
The overwhelming size! My feet felt like they'd spent a day at Disneyland when I went to bed. But I think I will also remember being so pleasantly surprised at how much I could enjoy the reinvention of one of my favorite cities. Perfect weather outside (and in) didn't hurt!
My New Year's Resolution for 2014 was to start documenting some of the memorable overnights I've had in some very odd and curious motels and hotels. Like the adventures in my Dining Blog, I have learned to enjoy the surprises that happen when you step out of the comfort zone, far away from the well-known chains.
I began with a few entries recalling my very first home away from home memories from my youth. Then, I started sharing about some of the quirky and unforgettable motels, hotels and inns that my husband and I have discovered in recent years.
The best part about this challenge was making some lists with Don and getting on the road in search of new overnight adventures. I gave myself a 2-year goal to write up 90 stories and the goal was met. Now we just keep on adding!