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Las Vegas December 21, 2010

Posted by Dru in Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Las Vegas” complete with photos. http://wp.me/p2liAm-wL 

Sin City, Vegas, Disneyland for adults, these are all names and slogans that I have heard for Las Vegas before I ventured there this year.  I had a short vacation to visit Las Vegas for 3 nights in October.  For most tourists, Las Vegas consists of just the strip, with little side adventures on the side.  It’s a city that really never sleeps, and it’s a place where your senses will be overloaded.  My flight into Vegas was at night and I landed around 11pm.  It was a nice flight and I flew over the strip on the way in, providing me with a good view of the strip, albeit from an aisle seat.  My expectations of Las Vegas was a city that never sleeps, has lots of entertainment, and a place that will suck up all of my money as fast as possible.  It didn’t disappoint.

I didn’t get a chance to see all of Las Vegas as it was my first time, and I didn’t bother to rent a car.  I stayed at the Luxor hotel.  It’s a hotel that is connected to the Excalibur and Mandalay Bay, and part of the MGM group.  The Luxor is the hotel that is in the shape of a big black pyramid with a light on top.  The theme is Egyptian, and overall, I’d say it’s a small hotel.  The Mandalay Bay is a bigger and classier, while I found the Excalibur to be kitschy with its medieval theme.  When gambling, I found the Excalibur to be better as they had some cheap tables that I preferred, and the Luxor was good as the casino area was small, making it easy to find tables I liked.  Unlike some of the bigger casinos, the atmosphere was very different.  The service in the Luxor was good overall, but I was disappointed to see that many regular shops closed at night, and only the bars and clubs were open.  I wanted to be able to get a nice meal late at night, but I was surprised to see so many places closed around 10:30pm.  Like most hotels, the Luxor has its fair share of shows, but I won’t go into detail here.

The location of the Luxor, unfortunately, wasn’t good.  It was a great point for me to walk over to the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign, which was a good kilometre of so.  It is located across from the airport and all of the big hotels are located in the centre of the strip, about 30 minutes north of the Luxor, on foot.  The good thing was that being in the southern end of the strip it wasn’t too busy, unlike the portion between New York New York and the Bellagio.  If I had to choose another hotel next time, I’d probably stay somewhere more central so that I didn’t have to walk too much.  Walking is a great way to see the strip, but I can’t imagine doing it in the middle of summer where I hear temperatures reach 40C.  I would definitely recommend getting some lip balm as you are in the desert.  I had a tough time keeping hydrated and I damaged my lips pretty bad.  The walking didn’t help either.

One of the bigger annoyances on the strip was the peddlers.  In the day, you will see a bunch of people just standing with big chests of ice and water.  It’s essential and I’m sure they get a lot of money selling water between the hotels.  Their prices are very reasonable when comparing it to the hotel prices.  The other is the stripper peddlers.  Up and down the strip, particularly between the MGM Grand and Planet Hollywood, there are dozens of people trying to give you small cards with phone numbers and pictures of strippers.  If you are looking for that sort of thing, that’s fine, but if you aren’t, it can be a big annoyance as they never give up.  The constant flicking of the cards to get your attention is mind numbing.

If you plan to watch some shows, there are plenty of places to visit.  I’d recommend visiting Tix4Less, which has many shop locations along the strip.  I ended up paying for VIP service as I didn’t want to wait an hour for discount tickets and it was well worth it.  You don’t have to buy tickets in advance, and you don’t have to buy tickets at the box office either.  Often, you can get shows at a discount, at least $20 off, and up to 50%.  Some shows do sell out, so it’s best to be there early, say 9am when they open.  If you go there that early, you probably don’t even have to line up.  Just buy your vouchers at the discount shop and convert them into real tickets at the box office.  It takes a bit of time to do things that way, but the savings can be worth it.

One of the main things to enjoy on the strip is to visit the Bellagio hotel and watch the water show.  It was made famous by Ocean’s 11, and it’s still a very popular show.  When watching the show on Ocean’s 11, you can’t fully appreciate the power of the show itself.  The noise of the jets and the sound of music is amazing.  I would recommend watching it, especially on your first visit.  I also recommend heading into the Wynn as it was one of the most elegant hotels I visited on the strip.  Many, such as Paris/Bally’s were old and the theme was interesting, but depending on what you want to see and do, sometimes that’s not a good thing.

For those going to Las Vegas, you have to plan a little on what you want to do and what you want to see.  A few days are generally more than enough when you are there. I’d suggest wearing good shoes and prepare to party.  Going with the right group will make a huge difference.  A fat wallet also helps.  I highly recommend trying to stay somewhere between New York New York and the Wynn as everything else tends to be a bit far.  After a few days, I started to get sick of Las Vegas and needed to find a place to hide out.  It’s difficult to find a quiet sanctuary along the strip, and I’m sure that if you are out in the suburbs, it’s very different.  Even though I’m living in Tokyo, the strip is very different.  It’s closer to being in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho all the time, but without the “danger”.  There is such a thing as too much.  I’d love to visit Vegas again someday, but it definitely won’t be anytime soon.  Living in Tokyo, Vegas is too far to visit easily, and it’s too busy.  When travelling, I have come to enjoy getting out of the city and into the countryside.  Isolated areas where few people go are more interesting for me.  Maybe you’ll see that more often in my near future travels.

Las Vegas Information:

Las Vegas (Official Travel Site):  http://www.vegas.com/

Las Vegas (Simple, but useful site):  http://www.goingtovegas.com/

Tix 4 Tonight:  http://www.tix4tonight.com/index.html


Matsuyama July 14, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Matsuyama” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-cN

Matsuyama is a city located on the western side of Shikoku.  It is, by some standards, considered the largest city on Shikoku, but this is debated with the city of Takamatsu.  The city itself has a very small feel, yet has enough shops to keep city folk happy.  It is also an excellent place to see different things at a somewhat relaxed pace.  You’ll be able to see a castle, onsen, parks, and temples, all in one city.  If you don’t have a lot of time, Matsuyama is a great place to see everything in a couple of days.

The heart of Matsuyama has to be the castle.  Matsuyama-jo is located on Mount Katsuyama.  This is a relatively small mountain that provides a nice getaway from the city itself.  There are about four different routes to climb Katsuyama to reach Matsuyama-jo.  Heading to the east side of the mountain is by far the easiest way to get to the top.  You can ride the gondola, or take the chairlift.  Both take roughly the same amount of time to reach the top.  The chairlift is a single chair that slowly climbs the mountain.  It is a very Japanese style of moving people.  It is very peaceful, providing beautiful views of the city as you climb the side of the mountain.  Riding the gondola is better if you have many small children with you.  The gondola is usually packed, so the view depends on where you are inside the car.  At the top of the gondola station, you’ll be greeted by many shop keepers trying to entice you to buy one of the citrus fruit drinks and bring a bottle home with you.  It is a nice refreshing drink, especially if you decide to hike up the mountain, but a little expensive.  Depending on the day you visit the castle, you might also find a few activities in the outer courtyard.  On the day I visited, there were opportunities to dress up in period clothing, such as a samurai, or in an old style kimono.  The castle itself is a well preserved original.  As I mentioned before, Shikoku has many wonderful and original, castles, unlike Honshu, the main island.  This one is no exception.  Upon paying the entrance fee, you will have a great opportunity to have spectacular views of the city.  The inside of the castle is extremely busy.  You must remove your shoes and wear slippers as you walk through the castle.  Unlike Kochi-jo, there isn’t much to see or do in this castle.  It is too busy to place dioramas, so you can only enjoy the original architecture and views from inside the castle.  It was amazing to see the Japanese people lining up in a very orderly fashion to leave the main tower of the castle.  If you have the energy, I would also recommend hiking down the mountain and taking a look at a shrine located halfway up the gondola.  If you head to the south side of the mountain, you can also visit Bansuiso.  It is a French style villa that is now part of an art gallery.  Unfortunately, I didn’t visit this gallery, but if I do return to Matsuyama, I will.

Matsuyama has two stations named Matsuyama, JR Matsuyama and Matsuyama-shi.  When you travel to Matsuyama, it is important to know which one you are at.  JR Matsuyama is a nice station, but it is highly focused on travellers only.  There are very few things to do around the station itself.  Located a fair walk west of the station is Matsuyama Central Park.  It is a more secluded park that is probably used by locals rather than everyday tourists.  It does have its own “castle”, but it is modeled after European castle walls, rather than Japanese style castles.  Matsuyama-shi station is more interesting.  It is the start of Matsuyama’s long shopping arcade.  As I have said, countless times, shopping arcades in Japan tend to look and feel the same.  Matsuyama’s shopping arcade is no different.  It is definitely worth a visit as it is somewhat unique.  I would probably take a quick look through the arcade, but focus more on the area just below Matsuyma-jo.  Around the gondola, you will be able to enjoy a more touristy and local experience.  This is also the location of the Matsuyama Guesthouse.

Matsuyama Guesthouse was my home for one night.  As a tourist on a budget, hostels are a great way to save money.  Although the sign says it’s a guesthouse, you can also rent rooms for one night.  The day I arrived, the hostel filled up completely.  There were two long term guests.  One was a New Yorker who had lived in China for a couple years.  He was just starting out in Japan, and decided Matsuyama would be his base.  There were also a couple of American hikers who were hiking all around Shikoku, but had to stop and return to Tokyo as they needed to get back to work.  An older Australian couple also came by.  They shared their stories of travelling throughout Japan and how they were going to another country, maybe Korea, to visit their son.  I also got to meet a Dutch “kid” who just finished High School and wanted to spend his GAP year in Japan.  At night, they had a special party for either Kids Day or Green Day.  In May, Japan has Golden Week, 5 consecutive days off, including the weekend.  With so many new guests, I guess we had to party.  We had some homemade okonomiyaki, cold sake, and some umeshu.  It was a wonderful time, but unfortunately, I couldn’t stay more than one night.  They were fully booked the next night.  The host of the hostel is very friendly and very kind.  Her English may not be perfect, but she tries so hard and she is always smiling.

Overall, Matsuyama is a wonderful city that is a must visit if you go to Shikoku.  While in Matsuyama, I would also recommend heading over to Dogo.  It is a very short tram ride, and I’ll talk about that next week.

Please feel free to visit Guesthouse Matsuyama and read their blog.  Unfortunately, their blog is only in Japanese, but the pictures are always nice.

Website: http://www.sophia-club.net/guesthouse/
Blog: http://www.sophia-club.net/blog.php


Honolulu, Hawaii (Part II) December 30, 2008

Posted by Dru in Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Honolulu, Hawaii (Part II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-5e

This is Part II of a two part series.  Please see Part I for the beginning of this post.

The next day, I had to attend my friend’s wedding.  It was an all day affair.  I did wake up early and had a nice run along the beach.  Waikiki’s beach is very nice, but the path for runners is very short.  You are better to go elsewhere, but I wanted a beach that was close to my hotel.  The morning is also a nice time to visit as there aren’t too many people there.  By the afternoon, I’m sure it was busy.  The beach itself is also nice, but a little rocky compared to other natural beaches on Oahu.  I saw many people swimming and surfing in the area.  The wedding I attended was a beach wedding.  The wedding party was about 20 people and we all sat on the beach.  We went to Waimanalo Bay, which is about 1 hour from Waikiki.  It’s a wonderful place with very few people.  There were a few people who looked at us in envy, but it was generally our own private beach.  The women had a lot of problems as they wore heels.  Heels and sand do not mix.  Most of them changed to flip flops or just went barefoot.  The beach was beautiful with nearly white sand and a turquoise surf.  It wasn’t too windy either.  Just perfect.  We got lucky.  After the ceremony, we had a break time to relax before we had dinner.  Dinner that night was at Roy’s.  A very nice upscale restaurant, but not as good as Orchids.  The food wasn’t as good either, but there was a lot of choice.  We were all stuffed.

On my third day in Honolulu, I headed to the Premium Outlets.  It’s a major chain of outlet shops that has several outlets in Japan as well.  The only difference is that Honolulu’s Premium Outlets is very small, but they have better discounts.  Most shops had 20-50% off the lowest ticketed price.  Very good deals to be had.  I do recommend heading to this outlet shop if you have a car and the time.  For lunch, I headed to a famous Cheeseburger restaurant.  Cheeseburger in Paradise is relatively famous and they offer HUGE burgers.  They are so huge, that you don’t need fries.  However, who can eat a burger without fries?

The fourth, and essentially last, day in Honolulu, was not so fun.  I woke up to rain.  It was pouring out.  I cancelled my morning plans.  I was going to enjoy the beach, but obviously that was out of the question now.  Instead,  I headed to Wallmart with some friends and found some cheap things.  Nothing too special.  If you have time, it’s nice to go there.  After that, I headed to Ala Moana again for a final round of shopping.  Nothing bought, but I enjoyed browsing all of the shops.  After shopping, I headed back to the hotel to pack as I would have a very eventful evening.  After packing all of my things, I headed back to meet my friends for drinks.  We met up and started drinking in one of the rooms.  After, we headed out to a bar for more.  We ate and drank and had a great time.  By the end of it, we were kicked out as they place had closed and we moved the party to the beach.  In our drunken state, many people started to jump into the ocean for a night swim.  Nothing too dangerous.  Just up to the chest.  I might have gone in if asked, but I had no option.  My friends picked me up and tossed me into the ocean.  I was soaked from head to toe.  I jumped out of the water, stripped down to my jeans and jumped back in.  It was a fun night of swimming that lasted about an hour or so.  I couldn’t quite remember as I was quite drunk.

The next morning, I was awoken to the sound of a phone.  I had missed my first bus to the airport.  i had only 5 hours of sleep, my alarm was broken by the sea, and I had about 30 minutes to change, pack, and go.  I didn’t even have time to shower.  Thankfully, I finished packing the night before, so all I had to do was put a few things away and off I was to get picked up.  Needless to say, the flight back wasn’t so good, but I did make my flight and I did arrive in Tokyo as expected.  However, when rushing, it’s best to take a quick breather before heading through security.  I spent a lot of time there as I made mistake after mistake.


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