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Category: "Travel" - Thoughts

Category: "Travel"

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Sea World Orlando

April 19th, 2011

Shamu Show

Full set is here.

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The Portland Headlight

February 25th, 2011


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Christmas in NYC

February 14th, 2011


Full set is here.

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Stone Mountain

November 8th, 2007


Ok, so there is an enormous piece of granite 30 minutes outside Atlanta that has three men carved into its side. It is for all intents and purposes the "Confederate Mt. Rushmore" because it bears the likeness of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson. largest low relief sculpture in the world, the Confederate Memorial Carving, depicts three Confederate heroes of the Civil War, President Jefferson Davis and Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. The entire carved surface measures three acres, larger than a football field. The carving of the three men towers 400 feet above the ground, measures 90 by 190 feet, and is recessed 42 feet into the mountain. The deepest point of the carving is at Lee's elbow, which is 12 feet to the mountain's surface.

In 1958 the state of Georgia purchased the mountain and the surrounding land. The Georgia General Assembly created the Stone Mountain Memorial Association. In 1960 the Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial Advisory Committee was composed of six internationally known figures in the world of art. A competition was held, and nine world-renowned sculptors submitted designs for a new sculpture. In 1963, based upon recommendations by the Advisory Committee, the Stone Mountain Memorial Association chose Walker Kirkland Hancock of Gloucester, Massachusetts to complete the carving. Work resumed in 1964, and a new technique utilizing thermo-jet torches was used to carve away the granite. Chief carver Roy Faulkner, a marine veteran with a talent for using the new thermo-jet torch, was able to remove tons of stone in one day. For over eight years Park guests could see and hear the workmen and their jet torches. The figures were completed with the detail of a fine painting. Eyebrows, fingers, buckles and even strands of hair were fine-carved with a small thermo-jet torch. The carving is actually much larger than it appears from Stone Mountain Park's attractions. Workers could easily stand on a horse's ear or inside a horse's mouth to escape a sudden rain shower. A dedication ceremony for the Confederate Memorial Carving was held on May 9, 1970. Finishing touches to the masterpiece were completed in 1972. -wikipedia

We went in late October, which I imagine isn't really peak season for the attraction, but it was still a great time. Stone Mountain Park is much more than the mountain itself, the park has miles of sidewalks for running/walking/biking that meander through the trees, there are private lakes, river boats, a theme-park city built at the base of the mountain, Duck Tours, cable cars that take you to the top of the mountain (if you don't feel like walking to the top), and more.

We paid $8 to park, which is reasonable. Adult tickets with access to each attraction are $25 during peak times, but we paid $15 for the limited selection that was available.

The park is beautiful and we got to see the entire thing courtesy of the Duck Tour. If you have never been on one of these you're missing out. I know they have them in most major cities (that have access to some water). The tour transport is an amphibious vehicle that holds 25-30 people. We drove around and saw the many picnic tables set up for anyone's (who has paid to park) use and then we drove directly into one of the private lakes and cruised around the water for awhile. The tour lasted about 45 minutes and it was (at least in part thanks to Captain Harrold) my favorite part of Stone Mountain Park.

We took the cable car to the top of Stone Mountain, which allowed a different point of view for the carving to see its immensity from up close. Once at the top of the mountain we climbed down a ways, hung out for a bit overlooking the greater Atlanta area and then hiked back to the top. Don't let the gradual decline fool you on the way down, getting back to the top is a chore.

It is hard to believe that a giant carving of the leaders of the Confederacy exists, and that it was commissioned during the Civil Rights Movement no less. But there it is, about 30 minutes outside Atlanta. We were able to wear ourselves out with just a few activities and spend only 4-5 hours at the mountain. There was more to do, or less, depending on your mood or energy level. I cannot say that I have visited many theme parks, but I had a great time at Stone Mountain Park.

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Neros - Las Vegas, NV

May 18th, 2007

This steakhouse is located within Caesar's Palace and is not contained in the Forum Shops. We have eaten many times in the Forum Shops and wanted to try something "local" to the casino.

I had obtained a reservation for 7:30pm through the toll-free number provided by Caesar's to reach any restaurant in the casino. After wasting time sitting at the bar we were finally taken to our table shortly after 8:15pm! We were basically ignored and had to constantly ask when our table would be ready. I can be as cool and care-free as the next guy, but this was a business dinner, so I thought the wait was excessive. (To be fair, they eventually did get the manager who came to us and offered to buy the round of drinks we had in front of us. This was a kind gesture, but we wished we had ordered cocktails instead of the round of Cokes. And to that, we would have just preferred our table.)

I would like to say that once we were seated our experience improved, but I cannot. I have been to nice restaurants when there is an understanding that it will be a long meal and you may as well get comfortable. Neros is not that type of a place, but our meal took forever. They may have been understaffed, but it was impossible to get ahold of our server.

I started my meal with a bowl of the Lobster Bisque, which was the only highlight of the night. To credit Neros, it might be the best Bisque I have had in Las Vegas and was certainly one of the best I have ever had.

I had my "go-to" bone-in ribeye for dinner. I was very glad that it was served with the house steak sauce because the steak was dry. That is the restaurant's fault. What is not necessarily its fault was the fact that my steak was just a bad cut. I happened to get a piece that was replete with "bad spots" that were too tough to cut through and certainly not edible. That happens and I may have said something if the service had been better or if that hadn't been futile once before in Las Vegas.

I spoke with a few other people who had eaten there and their feelings were better than mine but lukewarm overall. I cannot see any reason why this would not be my ONLY dinner at Neros. There are too many good restaurants in Las Vegas to go back to one where you have had a negative experience.

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Burger Bar - Las Vegas, NV

October 25th, 2006

I am sure you are all familiar with the traditional salad-bar concept. You walk up to a selection of ingredients and fix yourself a personalized salad. Burger Bar takes that idea and steals it on behalf of carnivores everywhere (but primarily in Las Vegas!). There is no need for a sneeze guard at Burger Bar since all of the available ingredients, or burger toppings if you will, are listed on the menu. They do offer pre-designed burgers that range from reasonable to not-so-reasonable price-wise, but the fun as far as I am concerned is in building my own burger.

For eaters more adventurous than I, which basically means everyone, Burger Bar is one of the few places in Las Vegas where I would suggest you go to frequently. With so many restaurants in Las Vegas it is hard to go someplace you have been before at the expense of trying somewhere new, but I try to apply that concept to dinner more than I do for lunch. Burger Bar, though a fantastic dinner spot, works well for lunch too. Each time you go, you can create a new burger blueprint like one you have never had before. There are enough options to keep you entertained visit after visit. And even though I basically get the same thing everytime, it hasn't gotten old yet.

Angus Beef + Sesame seed roll + Bacon + Cheddar cheese + Fried egg = Bliss. Add their Brown gravy and you'll wonder why anyone puts ketchup on a burger (and it's GREAT on their skinny fries).

When, not if, you go looking for Burger Bar, you'll find it in Mandalay Bay in the Mandalay Place.

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East Coast Road Trip Part IV - All Good Things Must Come To An End

October 3rd, 2006

Cont'd from East Coast Road Trip Part III - One for the Books "Down the Shore"

We woke up Sunday morning in Manasquan after little rest. While we began to lay out our day, we headed back to the beach for more boardwalk food. The chicken fingers were even better the second time around. The plan, when we left Michigan a few days before, was to leave the shore and head to our Nation's Capital. Defeated thoughts began to poison our minds. "Go home early," they said. "You've seen enough people and been to enough places already."

We had both taken Monday off work and to have that day at home to recuperate would have been a blessing. But wait. What's that I hear?

No good stories come from going home early.

As if a switch had been flipped, thoughts of home vanished. Thoughts of doing what we had set out to do energized us. Our time there would be short, but we would get to see some friends that we do not see at any regular intervals. We were going to D.C. And after stopping for a full tank of gas, two WaWa raspberry iced teas and a bag of Reese's Pieces we were on our way.

My friend Stephanie had planned our night. We were to head out for a drink and then to the restaurant for dinner. We missed the window of time she reserved to grab a drink by the water (someplace) but made it in time to put on big boy pants and head out to an incredible Italian dinner at Filomena Ristorante (located in Georgetown); the three of us and Josh's friend Brooke. The food and the company were great.

After dinner we said goodnight to the Brooke and Stephanie and met up with Josh's friend "Walt" and followed him back to his place where we would crash after staying up most of the night testing each other's affinity for movies.

Monday did not hold much excitement at the onset of our day. We grabbed some food with "Walt" and his brother before returning to the open road. Eight hours (I think was the drive time) ahead of us and no day to recover when we got home. We both had to be at work the next day. A feeling of impending doom spread over my car.

When we drove out of Michigan on Wednesday we had hopes and expectations of a great trip ahead. The return trip promised only heavy eyelids at work for the next few days. We needed something. We needed a beacon in the night. I don't remember which of us was responsible, so I'll give Josh the credit for making the suggestion. Half kidding he reminds me that we would pass right by Detroit on our way back home...more specifically we would pass Mexicantown. We shared a few laughs about going out with a bang and even our reservations with getting home that much later. But what's another hour at that point? And with that, we now had a late dinner at Xochimilco to make us excited to get back into Michigan.

This was the least exciting leg of our trip. I have no good stories to share from D.C., but I could not leave the trip recap unfinished. We had a lot of fun in D.C. as well as on the entire trip. It was a great time and I can't wait to do it again soon.

Number of consecutive days eating chicken fingers ends at: 5.

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East Coast Road Trip Part III - One for the Books "Down the Shore"

September 12th, 2006

Cont'd from East Coast Road Trip Part II - More Friends and Two Nights in NYC

Our last morning in NYC was not very eventful. We gathered our things, cabbed to my car and were on our way. (Not so) Surprisingly, the traffic from NYC to the Jersey Shore is quite horrible on a sunny Saturday late morning/early afternoon. There is a group of some 9 guys who rent a house on the beach every summer. I went to college with a handful of these shady characters. We headed to New Jersey to party with those guys.

We arrived in time to grab some boardwalk food as a snack before our Japanese Steakhouse dinner. The chicken fingers held me over well. The highlight of this small culinary endeavor was the incredible irony and superb timing when Will said he couldn't wait to get some "g*dd*mn cheese sticks" only for us to then all lift our gaze to meet two elderly NUNS coming off the beach. What are the odds!? These poor women came away from the sand in their full-length, blue beach habits and were hopefully out of earshot for Will's vocalization of his craving.

Dinner was great once the waitress conference ended. I have never been to a restaurant before where you have any trouble combining two items which are not listed as options under the "combinations." I have also never been to a Japanese Steakhouse that has questioned an order of a Lobster and Lobster combination. I guess this was a special place, since it was also my first B.Y.O.B. Japanese Steakhouse. The wonders of Manasquan, New Jersey! The three small Japanese women huddled over a menu and later came to me and said I could not have that as a combination, but rather I would have to have the Lobster (she pronounced it Lostibber) dinner and a side of Lobster.

This B.Y.O.B. establishment also happens to be a few doors down from a liquor store. The story goes that the guys typically go in and grab a bottle of wine (per) to enjoy over dinner. Except for Sean (who made a huge effort to come to Manasquan that night) who opted for a case of Miller Lite bottles. There is nothing classier than a guy who walks in to a restaurant in a group of ten people carrying his own case of beer. "Oh, is that for everyone?" "No, just for me. Thanks."

Once dinner was over, we headed back to the beach house so Will and I could give a brief clinic on how to play beer pong. We got through a solid seven games before being unseated. An executive decision was then made that it was time to go to the bar.

The line at the bar was manageable when we found a place only halfway back when joining. Good thing smooth-talking Josh decided to flirt with every bouncer who gave him a hard time for having an expired license. I guess that temporary, paper one they give you takes a lot of the fun out of it, right Josh? All I know is that on our way into the bar, the bouncer commented on the "unruly guys from Michigan" to another patron. I was a little surprised that there were other kids from Michigan in Manasquan that night...

Once inside the bar, which I like to call "Villanova reunion," things actually got pretty tame. The group split up some to canvas the place for fun. I probably bumped into more former classmates than I would have preferred, but I am sure I'll get over that in time. Really was hoping to not have to see Ryan Brown if at all possible, but luck was not on my side. I kid. (I thought I was a mess that night, ok I was a mess that night, but so were you, Ace.)

I lost one of my best friends after the bar. I do not know where he went. I probably should have been more concerned than I was, but over the years I have come to expect him to disappear. I just hope when and if he turns up, he has a good story for me. Besides, we were getting pizza, so I had other things to look forward to besides finding him. You'll all be happy to know that he made it back to the house no worse for the wear. His night ended up somewhat of the stuff of legend.

He managed to get separated from the girl he left the bar with only to be approached by two girls who were concerned if he was lost. They told him to come home with them and he told me something about having a one-on-one Yahtzee tournament with one of the two girls, or something like that. He then managed to make his way back to the house and found all of the beds were occupado. He claimed a couch in the name of the King and tried to sleep. Destiny had other plans. He was awakened a mere two hours later by another guy who brought home two girls. The four of them thought it would be an awesome idea to drink Jack and Coke at 6AM, which led directly to waking (the whole house) me up at about 7:30 with an ancient Incan ritual named something in the Native dialect that translates into "loud-as-hell, drunken 'let's-go-halves-on-a-baby' negotiation." Roughly.

I think he tried to cook her breakfast and simply didn't make enough food. At least that's what I took away from the story when I heard that the four of them went back to the girls' place and apparently he left her so...I believe "unsatisfied" was the word, that she had to go and play golf with the other two, or something like that. But he LOVES golf, I don't know why he would let them play as a threesome without him. Makes perfect sense to me. I'm sure you don't think I'm leaving anything out. (I love to play golf when I'm hungry, who doesn't?)

That just confirms everything you have ever suspected about New Jersey, doesn't it? And to think those guys do that every weekend in the summer.

...but living in Michigan is cool too ya know! (Not really)

Stay tuned for East Coast Road Trip Part IV - All Good Things Must Come To An End

Number of consecutive days eating chicken fingers: 4.

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East Coast Road Trip Part II - More Friends and Two Nights in NYC

August 24th, 2006

Cont'd from East Coast Road Trip Part I - A Day in the Car and a Night in Philadelphia.

Josh's friend Will was kind enough to host us for our two nights in "the city." He lives in a stereotypical New York City apartment in the Murray Hill area (so he said). Parking is not the easiest thing to do, but we found a place to leave my car and caught a cab to the apartment. A boring afternoon of sitting on the couch, watching ESPN and making then changing plans for the evening ensued.

If you were wondering, it is rather difficult to plan an evening out when coordinating 2+ groups of people. Even more so when one of the two groups is incredibly fickle. Once the non-committal UofM grads finally got their act together, I could fill the easy-going Villanova grads in on the plans.

The first bar, which I believe was called The Delancey, was horrible. It could have been fun had there been more space available on the roof, but each table was reserved. The downstairs/inside area was a) empty b) expensive c) no fun. Yes I understand that b) is to be expected in NYC, but it is only worth mentioning when a) and c) are present as well. The only highlight was when Matt, Doug and Andrew showed up. Once they met up with us, there was no need to stay there.

Croxley Ales (I think that's the name) was the next destination. We segregated somewhat at this bar, for me to catch up with my friends and Josh to catch up with his, before the two groups converged somewhere else later in the night. Croxley was the place where Doug and Andrew bid us goodnight and Scottie joined the fun. Rumor has it: Croxley Ales has a pretty mediocre order of chicken fingers.

To this point, the night has been fun, sure, but it was Josh's birthday so the stop at the next place needed to be only a brief one (for a few pitchers of sangria) before we moved on. Not including carry out from the diner by Will's apartment, our final destination was Chelsea Piers. Someone said that where we went may have been called the Frying Pan or something like that. It was a party barge hosted by a contingent of proud Italians where they played loud European techno. We would not have stood much of a chance getting into the party had one of Josh's friends not gone to bat for us with the bouncer. It was like watching a live take of Jim Carrey on the elevator with one particular woman in the movie Liar Liar...

I was not surprised to learn that it was not the first time that Matt had employed his tactic of walking up to random women, placing his index finger on their head and flat out ordering them to spin around like a ballerina. If I had to picture my sister-in-law coming up with two words for this method, I would guess "offensive" and "degrading." If I had to come up with two words of my own they would be "surprisingly" and "effective." Kudos, Matt.

Like a preoccupied parent in a busy department store, I lost Scottie at one point. There was no need to panic when I found him shortly thereafter standing behind the giant stage. The real show, he taught us, was not seeing the drunk people party from the front, it was watching, from behind, the two girls in short shorts at the back of the stage. Everything he does is gold; some things never change.


Friday held much of the same from a broad perspective. After I woke up at the crack of dawn (9:30am) and took the $9 cab ride to my car so I could move it for the street cleaners and did what felt like a walk of shame all the way back to Will's apartment, the day began.

We had an awesome lunch at Tao on 58th, which I will post about separately. After lunch we walked down 5th Ave, and through Times Square for a bit before finding ourselves back on Will's couch with a pair of 6-packs to watch (I can't believe I'm about to admit this) the Yankees game. We had plans to be at Matt's apartment by 8 to grab food before we went out, ultimately to go to a bar where Will was offered free shots whenever he comes by because the bouncer thought he and Josh were from Harlem. That's right. Josh. From Harlem. Be patient, I'll explain that in due time. There was a small set-back in our schedule however.

While we were starting to get ready for our night out, we had the radio on. At one point, we heard one terrible song and changed the station. It was on the next station, too. And the next. We could not figure out why a song with such simple (see: stupid) lyrics could be so popular as to be on so many stations on a Friday evening. Our good friends at Google, combined with the glory that is Youtube saved the day. One of the three of us may or may not have seen some kids on the BET show 106 and Park promoting that very same song and the dance craze that accompanies it. We easily killed an hour and a half watching some HILARIOUS videos on Youtube for the Chicken Noodle Soup Dance (and Nurse Kate).

Some favorites:
me, neno, an jc killen that chicken noodle soup dance
Me (Smilez) Bussin one of my moves for tha chicken noodle soup dance.
Dee & Dre killing the chicken noodle dance.

Will was actually letting it rain, as the song goes, outside of the bar when he was confronted by the bouncer. "Are you guys from Harlem?" The Chicken Noodle Soup Dance is sweeping through Harlem and before we got our hands on it, was known by very few (white) people outside of New York. We proclaimed Chicken Noodle Gospel to friends from all over on the rest of our trip. High comedy.

Also included in Friday night were two trips to the same bar, book ending the bar where Will now gets free shots. Tonic was an interesting place, but nothing special. The place was absolutely packed for what ended up being the longest baseball game in the history of the MLB. We could not stand the place while it was that crowded which led to our going next door. We went back when we thought the place would be more fun since the other place was basically empty.

Our return trip to Tonic meant good times. Let me start the story on a highlight, Will met a girl. From there, it is all downhill. When the writers of Wedding Crashers described the "stage 5 clinger" they had not met "Alicia." There is debate about whether he enlisted the correct man's help in getting rid of her by asking my brother's friend Josh (different Josh...who lives in NYC and was able to join us) to be mean to her. I didn't know he had asked Josh for help, so I came into the conversation late.

Alicia: Why would you say that? That is so rude.
Josh: ...
Me: Rude? Josh? No. Not possible. (Knowing it was not only possible, but probable.)
Alicia: He told me that he wished this pole would fall on my head.
Me: He would never say something like that.
Alicia: He just did!
Josh: No, she's right. I did say that.

Come on. That's funny. He said he wanted the pole to fall on her head! Wow. You have a warped sense of physical comedy. And not even that was enough to get this girl to leave poor Will alone. I love New York (enjoy that, I don't say it often).

I almost got an omelet from the diner that night, but I had an overwhelming urge for something...fried.

Stay tuned for East Coast Road Trip Part III - One for the Books "Down the Shore."

Number of consecutive days eating chicken fingers: 3.

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East Coast Road Trip Part I - A Day in the Car and a Night in Philadelphia

August 22nd, 2006

For as much time as we spent talking about our road trip, Josh and I really did not plan it in any detail. We knew what days we would be gone because other commitments and lack of vacation time set aside a block of days by the process of elimination. We knew what cities we wanted to visit and roughly who we hoped to see in each. Beyond that, we had no plans. We did not know how many nights we would spend in each city, nor what we would do while we were there.

There are always changes that can be made for the next trip, should it ever occur, but as the inaugural voyage it was perfect. I had an awesome time spending a few days outside of Michigan, seeing old friends, making new friends, eating way too much and doing it all in a span of 6 days and just over 1700 miles.

I do not vacation often, but I am at least familiar with the sense of elation that overpowers all semi-rational thinking once the trip is officially underway. Josh and I really had to temper our excitement to avoid a moment like the one in the movie Swingers when Trent and Mikey scream with excitement about their trip to Vegas only then to have to endure the majority of their long drive in an uncomfortable, anti-climactic silence.

Anyway, 14 of us set out on the roughly 600 mile stint from Detroit to Philadelphia: Josh, myself, and 12 crispy strips from KFC. Yes, they were all for me. He ate, so don't concern yourself with that detail. Excuse Explanation: It's just my road-trip snack. When I have a drive that will last that long, I don't like to stop for food...and I have a crazy fixation with chicken fingers (more on that later).

I loaded up my iPod with a few extra albums that definitely came in handy. Only once did we have to revert to an east coast/west coast showdown battling 2PAC and Biggie. I am sorry to report that, like the proverbial 100 coin flips, the battle still ended without decision. We had hoped to return home with the issue settled once and for all. Alas, the debate rages on...

Our first stop was actually in West Chester, PA and not Philly. My buddy Sean was kind enough to host us for the night, and he calls West Chester home. We stopped by his place to drop off our stuff and get him (and the other Sean) before we headed into Philly. We had serious business to attend to once in the city. I was a man on a mission. It had been two years since my last Pat's cheese steak. That streak must end before my night continued. And end it did (Wednesday saw one streak start and another come to an end) I had my "cheese witout" with my cheese fries and birch beer. There ain't nothin' finer.

The next stop for the night (after picking up Moyer) was Finnigan's Wake. Finnigan's is a bar I went to a few times when I lived in Philly that was closest to the atmosphere we were after. We just wanted something low key where we could hang out and catch up. Oh, it was also a chance for Sean Delaney AKA "The Verbal Assassin" AKA "Silk Spinner" AKA "I spit hot fire" to show Josh how my college friends bust my chops (let's hope he didn't pick up any pointers). It was karaoke night at the bar, which was an interesting backdrop for our night out and didn't actually come to the forefront until Josh thought it would be a good idea to tell the (rather unattractive) girls he was hitting on that I was going to sing my favorite song, which he reported correctly or incorrectly to them as It's Raining Men. Maybe he could have just gone with "Would you like a fish sandwich?" Perhaps if I were a better friend I would have helped the kid out and karaoked the song for him...

Unfortunately, Mark (joined the night by meeting up with us at Pat's) had to leave early because apparently some people work for a living. Shortly thereafter we headed out. We took Moyer home, allegedly because of the same lame excuse, before we headed back to... Pat's(!) for round two.

Cheese steak.
Cheese steak.

Life is good.

We talked briefly about seeing a few things in Philadelphia before moving on to the next road-trip destination, but ended up seeing nothing of the city on Thursday after we got up. In the end I think it was more beneficial for us to rest a little and hang out at Sean's since he had the day off rather than go downtown and try to drive around a bit. The excuse I used at the time was that Josh seemed to be chomping at the bit to get to our next destination (New York City) and since it was his birthday (more on that in Part II) I wanted to cater more to him. The excuse I use now is that it just means we have to do it all over again...

Stay tuned for East Coast Road Trip Part II - More Friends and Two Nights in NYC.

Number of consecutive days eating chicken fingers: 1.