The Destination is…

I was so excited to get my weather forecast email from PUAG. It wasn’t a great forecast though. Showers and cloudy on Friday and Sunday,  partly cloudy on Saturday. Temps in the low to mid 70’s. The packing suggestions said pack walking shoes because it was a walkable destination, an empty stomach because it was a city with seriously good food, a camera for the making sites and museums. These seemed like pretty generic recommendations that other travelers had reported from trip reports I had found on the internet. The real hints were to pack a bathing suit because although it wasn’t a beach destination, the hotel had a great pool, and clothes for a night out because there was plenty of nite life and fun live music. Now those were hints that I could sink my teeth into.

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I posted the hints and the weather forecast on Facebook and invited my friends to make their best guess. People who “do not follow directions” guessed San Diego. That was actually a destination I would have been completely okay with. I was having fun with the guessing.

I took things a step further by looking at the destinations where PUAG has taken people, and looked at the weather forecast for the country. Some consider that cheating. I’m not above a little cheating when the situation calls for it.

I became completely convinced that it was going to be San Antonio. I even started researching it. I though San Antonio would be a pretty cool place to go. We also decided that it was about the adventure more than the destination.

I will admit I started to worry that I had chosen too high of a budget. When I chose a budget of $3000 for the two of us, I wanted to ensure a lot of options and a nice hotel. I also started to worry that the snow that we were getting might cause our flight to be delayed or cancelled. Lillian, my PUAG contact, reassured me that if needed we could reschedule or get a refund if  our flight was cancelled. I still didn’t know what would happen if there was a significant delay. We’d had hardly any snow this year. Why did it have to choose this week to make up for it? In the end, it was not as bad as the forecast. Wouldn’t you hate to be a meteorologist?

On Thursday I received an updated weather forecast and it was looking much warmer, higher 70’s to low 80’s. I was so tired of the cold and this sounded absolutely divine. However, the chance for rain was almost assured. I always say you can’t control the weather so there is no point in worrying about it.

When I checked the weather map for the country I decided it definitely was not going to be San Antonio and was probably New Orleans.

We also received our package with our destination and details about the destination. In the morning, at the same time we were supposed to arrive at the airport we would receive our boarding passes by email. This was really a method of travel that is made possible by the power of our technology.

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It was a sealed envelope.

We didn’t even consider opening it early. This is all about the surprise and adventure, right?

Alarm set for 5 and 5:15. Woke up at 4:45. Ready in plenty of time and hit the road. It was hazy and foggy. A car gets in our lane and would have hit us if Zung hadn’t been watching them. He had to drive over on the shoulder to avoid it. I thanked the universe for his awesome driving skills. I’d like to say this happened in the fog, but it was just because they weren’t paying attention.

My Facebook was blowing up with people wanting to know where we were going. I think some of them were more curious than even I was!

We finally arrive at the airport. We pass Lucifer with the evil red eyes. If you don’t know about the blue horse with the red eyes, it is a sculpture commissioned by the city when the airport was built. I think a Bronco was requested and a rather menacing one was created. However, tragically, it fell against the artist when he was creating it  and crushed him to death. The family insisted, legally, that the city honor the contract and unfortunately, that is what I think of every time I see that damn blue Broncos with the red eyes.

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We parked and I asked Zung if we were “at the airport” enough to open the envelope. He said yes and opened it. This was the first thing we took out , I guess as a reminder for those people who open their envelope early.

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After that paper came the destination.

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New Orleans! I was right. I was excited. We’ve been to NOLA before and love it and Zung has a couple of cousins who live there who we enjoy spending time with and we hadn’t seen them for a couple of years.

We headed into the airport and I checked my email and there was our  boarding information. Our flight out would be with United. We went through security at terminal A. No matter which terminal you’re going to, it’s faster. We hopped a train to B.

Let’s do this!

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Magical, Mystery Vacation

I first heard about the travel agency, Pack Up and Go, a few months before Christmas. I’m in a group conversation on Messenger with half a dozen other people. We talk about everything, but travel brought us together and we continue to talk about travel quite a bit. When talking to my hubs I refer to this group, or people from it as, “the conversation” with air quotes. It was someone in “the conversation” who read about PUAG and shared it with us.

I’m an admitted control freak. It shouldn’t be referred to in such a negative way. Control freaks get things done. We’re organized. Very, very organized. We’re on time. In fact, we prefer to be a little early. My family was able to maximize their time at Disneyland because of my carefully planned schedules. So don’t talk about us like it’s a bad thing.

However, I think one of the things I enjoy so much about my Grand vacations is that I don’t have to be organized. I can let go of my control issues. Although I will admit, I do like that they require dinner reservations. I don’t want my days to be completely unscheduled. Relaxed is one thing. Total chaos is another thing altogether. Other than the dinner reservations, I like the “go with the flow” vibe of those vacations. It might say a lot that I’ve done 25 of those vacations in ten years. But those are conversations with a therapist. Definitely not material for a travel blog.

For some reason, my control freak self was immediately intrigued with the idea of completely giving over the details of a vacation, even the destination, to someone else. I thought it would make an awesome Christmas gift to my husband.

He threw down the gauntlet for awesome Christmas gifts three years ago when he presented me with a key fob to the red Jaguar that was parked in our driveway. Unbeknownst to me, or our two adult children who were there that Christmas morning, It even had a big bow. Just like the commercials.

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The bow was just on loan We actually had to return it. Apparently those things are crazy expensive.

The very funny thing about that surprise was when one of those commercials came on TV that Christmas morning, before our gift exchange. I had turned to him and said, joking, “Is there something for me in the driveway with a big bow?” He looked at me, rather surprised. I remember thinking it was taking him a long time to respond. He finally said, “Do you know something that I don’t know.” I think we both exhaled at that moment. I laughed and went to brush my teeth.

But I digress. I have have a digressing habit. I wonder if there is a Digressers Anonymous?

PUAG offers a gifting option, but then he would have gotten an immediate email, and I wasn’t going to be able to time that just right. Instead, I gifted it to myself, so the email was sent to me. I printed that out and put it in a box. I wrapped the box in a map of the US. All PUAG trips are in the Continental US. I put that in another box and wrapped that in Christmas wrapping paper. This was all payback for the wrapping job of the Jaguar key fob.

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He opened the gift and was suitably impressed. We picked a weekend at the end of February. The trips are 2 nights, 3 days. You fill out a questionnaire that includes information that included where we had been recently. That included San Francisco, Las Vegas and Austin. Where we were going before our chosen PUAG weekend. That would be Napa.

I should say here that PUAG can schedule a trip on any two night period, so it doesn’t have to be a weekend.

They also ask if you want to go somewhere warm, or are okay with the cold. That was easy. I live in Colorado. It’s winter. SEND US SOMEWHERE WARM!!! They ask what kind of things you like, like fine dining, hole in the wall places, comedy clubs. Yes, no, yes. They ask about dietary restrictions. I didn’t mention anything. Mine is so weird, it’s easier to tell the actual restaurant. I can’t eat anything with cows milk or cream. I can, however, eat things made with butter and harder cheeses, like cheddar and mozzarella. Greek yogurt is okay. I know. Weird. Much easier to explain in person.

PUAG requires at least four weeks planning time. As we got closer and closer  we got more and more excited.

A week before our departure day I received the expected email with the weather forecast for our destination and packing suggestions. It was in my email box when I woke up at 6 am.

Let the guessing begin!

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Last Day of the Wing It Vacation

We had breakfast at MOzen, at the Mandarin Oriental.

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We packed up and checked out and left our bags with the bellboys. We took an Uber to the Fashion Show mall. When I look back at my credit card statement, it looks like I bought a couple long sleeved t-shirts at Calvin Klein, a couple pairs of jeans at Seven for All Mankind, a new blingy case for my phone, which meant I retired my old blingy case for my phone. There is also a charge for Neiman Marcus. I wonder what I bought there?

From my pictures, I can see there was also a purchase at Nordstrom. Love Nordstrom.

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We had a light lunch at Luke’s Lobster, which is a little counter place in the outside area. We had lobster rolls, which I remember being fairly decent. We went over to the Wynn, as you can see from the above pictures. Or at least we went as far as where the pictures were taken. We went back to the Mandarin and reclaimed out bags and went to the airport where we got some Ethel M chocolates and then boarded our plane and came home.

It was definitely not the trip we planned and had been looking forward to. I wish we had thought to go to Las Vegas before we booked that second night at the Hyatt. I actually wrote an email to them saying I thought it was price-gouging and they basically said, yes, that’s what we do when there is a high demand. They said we could always ask to talk to a manager, but I fail to see what good that would do. Their goal was to make a profit by taking advantage of people during a difficult time. Fortunately, there are other hotels in San Francisco, lots of other hotels to consider the next time we are there. I won’t say we absolutely wouldn’t stay there again, but I will say I will consider other hotels and not automatically book that one, the way I have so many times before.

End of rant.

It had been a nice vacation in the end. But it had still been left us missing Napa. So we decided to go there after New Year’s. All the wineries we get newsletters from, and clubs we belong to said that after the fires, they really needed people to come back. The wine tourism is an important part of what keeps it a thriving area. We were happy to oblige!

The next trip I will blog about will be our Mystery Vacation.

 

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Brunch With Friends

Chris used to be a Marine. That means he is always at least 15 minutes early. To life. We were going to be treated to a meat lovers brunch at their home. He was picking us up. I don’t know when. You don’t really expect me to remember that, do you? Whatever time it was, I told him not to come early.

He made it pretty close to not early. We arrived to his lovely home. It was indeed a meat lovers brunch. Chris loves him some meat.

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There were pancakes and Nita made Zung an omelette. They had some mimosas, but the champagne was kind of flat. Chris took Zung and jumped in his car and went to get new champagne. It made better mimosas.

Nita and I got a chance to talk about what women talk about. Shopping and shoes. And traveling without our husbands.

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They have a beautiful pool and deck and Zung chilled out there.

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Zung brought his trophy to show Chris. Photo op!

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There was apparently dancing at some point. At least that’s what this photographically evidence points to.

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We had a good visit.

When Chris took us back to the hotel we went shopping. I had not been planning on pool time and therefore had not brought any pool attire. The Mandarin Oriental has an awesome pool with awesome poolside service. I wasn’t about to let that go to waste.

I was able to quickly find something at Tommy Bahama. They had flippies to. They weren’t up to my usual blingy standards, but they had a pattern and a little gold shell. I didn’t have time to be picky. I took my purchases and we went back to the hotel and I made my way to the pool. Zung stayed in the room and did some work.

My pool time was awesome. I ordered drinks and a hot dog. You can dress it up, but hot dogs are still hot dogs. And who eats their hot dog with big ole onion rings?

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Dinner was at the Italian restaurant that Susie and I were too tired to enjoy last time. I was more alert and able to enjoy this dinner more.

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This was another good vacation day save.

 

 

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Las Vegas, Here We Come

We got up on Wednesday and had some breakfast. There are no pictures, so I can’t tell you if what we had or where we had it. We checked out of our overpriced, postage stamp sized room at the Hyattand went to the airport. We returned the car. Enterprise has a slick system. You drive up with your rental car. They check you in right there and you are done. No lines to wait in after returning the car.

We checked in with Southwest so we could drop our bags. Then we made our way to our gate and were on our way to Las Vegas. When we arrived we got our bags and called an Uber. It’s a quick drive to the Mandarin Oriental. I don’t like to stay in hotels where I have to go through or by a casino. I get way overstimulated and then I get cranky because of all the disgusting cigarette smoke. The Mandarin has awesome rooms and stellar service and such a calming atmosphere. It is expensive but worth it. What can I say? I am a hotel diva.

After checking in we took our bags to our room. We were starving. It’s possible that we only had coffee, tea and pastry for breakfast. We decided to have lunch at MOzen Bistro, one of the restaurants at the Mandarin. The capital O is not a typo. That is the way they spell it. It was quite a good lunch and great service to match.

I think I had some chicken. It was a pretty large serving for lunch.

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Zung had a Bento Box. And I see wine in this picture, which is no big surprise.

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I’m not sure what we did after lunch. I think we might have done some shopping. We came back to the hotel so Zung could get a nap before dinner.

The Mandarin has a Moët vending machine in the lobby. For $25 they will give you a special coin for the machine. They also give you a sipper attachment. I have always wanted to get some champagne from this vending machine because it is such a fun idea.

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We went up to our room where a surprise cupcake awaited us. When we had checked in they asked if we were celebrating anything and I said my birthday, which is in about a week. So I had bubbles and a cupcake. This trip was definitely looking up.

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Zung took a nap and I caught up on Facebook and took a nap also. The Mandarin has nice, comfortable beds and this encourages sleeping!

When we both were awake we got ready for dinner, which was going to be at a restaurant at the Crystal shopping mall nearby. It’s the one that has all the designer shops, which are fun to look at but out of my price range. Well, except for the shoes. But you know that.

We headed over for dinner. The restaurant was open to the shopping mall. I was way overdressed for it, but remember, I had planned to be dressing for Napa. I probably would have been overdressed for most restaurants in Napa too, but I don’t care. I dress to make myself happy and don’t care how other people are dressed. Within reason. I don’t want to be wearing an evening gown where everyone else is wearing jeans. Unless it’s Frasca because almost everyone wears jeans there. And it would be a toned down evening gown. Not one with a lot of beading or sequins. Maybe some sequins though.

But I digress. I have a digressing habit.

We weren’t wowed by the food at the restaurant, Mastro’s. It billed itself as a steak and seafood restaurant. Nothing was bad, and nothing was really good. In all fairness, last night’s dinner was so amazing, most meals would pale in comparison.

This was also one of those restaurants that tries to make up for quality with quantity.

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Travel days are always tiring, so we went back to our room to finish the wine and so I could soak in the awesom tub.

Tomorrow we were going to our friend’s, Chris and Nita, for breakfast. Chris and I went to high school together. However we get along better now than we did then. We always look forward to seeing them.

We reconnected on Facebook. Gotta love Facebook!

 

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