Saturday, 26 November 2016

Around The World on The Las Vegas Strip

From Paris to Rome via New York and Egypt

Las Vegas is famous (or infamous, rather) for its nightlife. However, you don't need to be shut away in a casino, throwing your life savings into a slot machine, or gambling your kids' college money away on red or black, to have fun. It is perfectly acceptable to go to Las Vegas and NOT gamble. I've done it many a time and enjoy the atmosphere and lights outside more than being inside. he exception to this is when there'a a cocktail bar nearby, obviously.

I have no objection to gambling, you understand, I'm just not that interested in doing it. I like to get outside and, well, wander. And, although you may not think it, Las Vegas is an excellent place to do this when the sun begins to go down.  


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The MGM's fantastic golden lion, gleaming in the fading sun
The Strip is always busy, so there's always a pleasant atmosphere and there are lights and amazing structures, quite literally, around every single corner. In fact, quite often you end up twisting and turning, working out where to focus your attention first.

Another excellent thing about Las Vegas (although I daresay it gets a bit riotous at times) is that you can take your drink outside with you. So, like me, if you pick up a frozen cocktail at one casino and then decide to hit The Strip, you don't have to finish up your drink before you head out. It's perfectly legal to drink in the streets. This has a lot of advantages and you can conduct your own frozen slushie tour around the city. Who could ask for more? It's like taking a world tour on foot. You can visit Egypt, Paris, Rome, Venice, New York and a whole host more in the space of an hour. AND you can get legit exercise at the same time.

Starting at the North end of Las Vegas Boulevard, you'll find the Luxor hotel, with its massive glass pyramid and fabulous Sphinx, obelisks and wonderful hieroglyphics. If you love taking selfies as much as my husband, you've come to the right place. Seriously - there was a queue of people waiting to snap themselves in the middle of the desert, kissing the Spinx or touching the top of the Pyramid.

We didn't do that. Mainly because I didn't want to risk spilling my blueberry cocktail. I have my priorities.  
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Just like the real Pyramids, it's in the desert and it's really hot. The similarities end there, though.

Not far from the Luxor is New York, New York Hotel and Casino, which has a series of buildings outside which represent the classes BY skyline.  This includes the iconic Chrysler Building, Empire State and Grand Central Terminal, amongst others.  

The casino is impressive inside, but I do love the outside more.  It loos fantastic at night, but also with the setting sun glinting off the rear views of the facades.  

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The hotel that never sleeps?
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Not a bad replica at all, is it? 
As the sun begins to fade on another day and the lights begin to illuminate The Strip, Las Vegas completely transforms. It's hardly sleepy in daylight hours, but it comes alive even more (if that's at all possible) at nightfall, when groups, couples and individual spill on to the street to see what the evening brings.  


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The sun fades and the lights come up... 
Generally, evening equals madness in Las Vegas, but you can rein this in or go full whack; it's entirely up to you. Me? I just love walking around the city when it's transitioning between day and night. There's always, always a sense of the unknown and it's undoubtedly at its best (in my opinion) when the crowds have gone home to get changed and are just starting to emerge for another crazy night.


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Planet Hollywood getting ready for the action

If you continue to walk down The Strip you will, without a doubt, spot the Eiffel Tower. This structure, attached to the Paris Hotel and Casino, is exactly half the size of the real thing and is lit up just as impressively as the original. The tower looks good during the day, but that's nothing compared to watching it twinkle in the dark.


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Ooh la la!
Once you've marvelled at this little engineering gem, you can continue south towards the Roman themed Caesar's Palace. Aside from the hotel and its romanesque pillars, it also has a fantastic double of the Trevi Fountain, which is incredibly detailed and seems quite peaceful, despite its city centre location. Much like the real one. Caesar's also has an impressive range of other fountains in its complex.

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a bit of Roman class in the desert

If the sights of ancient Rome aren't enough to wear out your camera, continue walking towards the south of the boulevard until you reach the Venetian. This might be my favourite of all the themed hotels on The Strip as it really does go the extra mile. The Venetian boasts a gorgeous copy of the Rialto Bridge from the watery Italian city. And if that wasn't enough, it comes complete with canals. I'm not even kidding. You can actually hop a gondola (if you're a resident) and glide on down to the bar (hopefully) with your very own stereotypically dressed gondolier.  

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I want to go on this to everywhere

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This is right in the middle of the desert, people
Once you've finished that frozen cocktail you purchased way back up near The Luxor (remember that?), grab yourself another one and finish off your walk with the piece de resistance of lights, water and magic on the Las Vegas Strip by stopping off by The Bellagio, leaning against the railings and taking in the fabulous fountain show. I first saw this at the end of Ocean's Eleven, which is my barometer for everything I want to see in LV, and it made me want to rob casinos so badly. I jest, of course, I just wanted to watch the fountains in the company of George Clooney. That's not too much to ask, is it?  

Apparently, it is, so I watched with my handsome hubby instead.


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The perfect spot to relax after emptying casino vaults, allegedly

Suzanne x

Saturday, 19 November 2016

The Little Chilli Shop, Beaumaris

Blow Your Mind at The Little Chilli Shop
On the Isle of Anglesey at the north West tip of Wales lies the beautiful seaside town of Beaumaris. It has a fabulous castle, a jail, a pier, walks, runs, galleries, cafes and shopping (to name a few), but, if you're that way inclined, it also has a location where you can go get your face melted off. And who doesn't want to do that on a crisp Saturday morning in October? No one, that's who.

Sitting, unassuming, on Church Street, with its pretty pastel pink fa├žade and it's very friendly (and not at all fierce looking) cuddly dragon guarding the door, The Little Chilli Shop quietly entices innocent passers-by into its spicy realms with the promise deadly heat. Not literally deadly, you understand, but figuratively speaking. No harm will actually come to you by visiting the premises. Or will it...?

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Don't be fooled by the exterior...
This gorgeous little emporium is stacked from floor to ceiling with an eye-popping array of chilli from around the world and also has homegrown beauties Welsh beauties, which blew my own kitchen garden attempts right out of the water. And mine were pretty hot.

The shop is the brainchild of owners, Tim and Suzanne, who obviously quite like spicy food and want to share this love with the good people of North Wales and beyond.

Walking into the store was my idea of Heaven. I am the woman who orders vindaloo curry and always, ALWAYS gets a bit of side eye from the waiter who wants to check if I really know what I'm doing. Finding a shop that stocks so much chilli that it makes vindaloo look like vanilla ice cream is clearly somewhere I need to be.

There are dozens of jars and tubs across the shelves, reminiscent of an old curiosity shop and, as well as selling the raw ingredients, the guys also produce their own range of award winning products. These are all packed in eye catching jars with fiery red writing and some of the best names I've ever seen. 


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It's like a retro sweet shop for spices

The couple even go as far as to tag some of their brands under the label 'hot stuff' - like it's not ALL quite spicy. This stuff is clearly not for the casual chilli eater...this is for those with a constitution of steel and a passion for watering eyes and running noses. In other words: me.

A chilli sauce called 'Bad Boy' informs you that it'll heat you up, whilst 'The Beast' chilli sauce is potent from across the room, and will almost certainly separate the experienced from the, quite frankly, weak. These people are commonly, in my household, known as 'Husband". I very much like to think of myself as someone who could handle The Beast, so to speak.

As well as sauces, the shop does a range of chilli jams (I'm going to stop mentioning chilli now because I think you probably have the gist of the main ingredients...), ketchup, mustard, a range of pickles and chutneys (including a fabulous beetroot pickle). Basically, if you can put chilli in it; they've got it.


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Beware....

What the owners also have is a lovely tasting plate. This lets you (if you're brave enough) try the produce before you buy. Some of them are mild and others are...well, the furthest thing away from mild that you can possibly think of. While I was in the shop, I was standing behind a Scottish tourist who had just tried a tiny amount of something that should, evidently, have come with a warning, as she could hardly respond to me when I asked her if it was hot. In the end, she just nodded her head and went outside, presumably, to drink large volumes of water from the Irish Sea which is helpfully situated just a street away.

As I left shortly afterwards, I bumped into one of the owners, who was coming back from town with a tray of chilli chocolate, which looked amazing. I thought it rude to mug him in the street, so I left him be. I'll be back, though.

If you love all things hot and spicy, this little treasure is well worth a trip across the bridge for. 
 
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every combination you can possibly imagine is here 

Suzanne x

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Sedona: Mountain Town

This Is City Life, But Not As You Know It...
In between the major cities of Flagstaff and Phoenix in Arizona is a beautiful little city, nestled in the mountains, called Sedona. 

Sedona was suggested to us as a stop on our roadtrip by our Airbnb owner in Phoenix, after he mentioned its quaint beauty and how dramatic its red rock backdrop was. And he wasn't wrong. Sedona is a desert town, with massive red rock buttes surrounding it and a year round climate that makes Wales look like the Arctic.


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the back drop is outstanding

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Sedona isn't what I would class as a classic 'small town' city (American cities can be tiny) but rather a uniquely different city, which is very much geared towards attracting tourists, which it was doing, in droves. It has a lovely arty feel to it and has a ton of galleries and art stores. 
Sedona boasts rows of pretty independent and new age boutiques, gift and souvenir stores, quality restaurants and fast food stops, bars and various helicopter and pink jeep booths to sign you up for a bit of off road adventure, should you be that way inclined.  
The city looks like a quiet retreat from the much bigger cities it sits between and it did provide an atmospheric and peaceful pit stop on the way to the bright lights of Phoenix. It very much has a restorative feel to it and is regarded by Native Americans as sacred. 

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I'm just going to pop in here for a quick sec...
and probably here, too... 
Sedona is surrounded by almost 2 millions acres of forest and had a population of a little more than 10,000 people. Two of its former residents happen to be Senator John McCain and singer/songwriter Michelle Branch, so it clearly punches above its weight in more ways than one.

Given the city's dedication to the arts, it's no surprise that it is home to many festivals throughout the calendar year. These include an International Film Festival, Jazz Festival, Marathon (I'm tired just thinking about running one mile in that heat!), and an International Yoga Festival, which sounds like something for people who are way more bendy than me. 

It really is a wonderful city and I'm so glad we had the chance to visit. You can't beat a personal recommendation from an Arizona native.



Thursday, 3 November 2016

Caffi Castell, Harlech

Coffee and Cakes in Cardigan Bay 
Perched upon a hill at the top of the town of Harlech, looking out across Cardigan Bay, sits the beautiful Harlech Castle. Within this Cadw managed site lies Caffi Castell (Welsh for Cafe Castle)

Caffi Castell opened in 2015, along with the new visitor centre for the castle and is managed by Llew Glas Deli, which sits just along the Main Street from the castle itself.

Llew Glas are known for their delicious bakes and amazing scones and the gorgeous little coffee shop is always busy, so it can be very hard to find a seat during the main tourist season. With the opening of a second location in the town, it's now much easier to find yourself a cosy spot off season and sit back and enjoy the best views in Harlech.

The new cafe boasts floor to ceiling windows and looks directly on to the castle bridge and entrance. To the right and left, you can see the Cambrian Coast and the rolling hills of North Wales. It's one of my favourite places to be on a chilly Sunday morning. You can sit in the warmth of the inside seating or grab one of their woolly blankets and take yourself out on the deck to grab your caffeine fix.
 

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You can't beat the view
Caffi Castell is known for its use of local, Welsh produce and has a varied, seasonal menu. At this time of year (October) you can find hearty stews, Welsh rarebit (obviously) as well as a range of lighter options, such as sandwiches. The ladies at the Caffi are also famous for their cakes, which are amazing. I don't even like cake, but I always make my husband have a piece so that I can steal some frosting. I'm quite mean like that.  

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decisions, decisions...
On this visit, I convinced* my husband to go for a slice of blueberry lemon cake, which looked like it would give him a sugar rush big enough to last into the following week, and we ordered our usual pot of tea and cappuccino. The cafe is one of those places where you can go once and it feels like home. The staff is fantastically friendly and seem to know all the regulars by name.

Even at the end of October and after the main visitor season has been and gone, CC still manages to be busy with a mixture of locals and tourists who are either visiting the castle, or just doing what we do and brightening up a dull Sunday morning, getting ready for the week ahead. 
Just the thing to perk you up on a Sunday morning

As well as operating as a cafe year round, Caffi Castell opened up a tapas restaurant in 2016, which operates from Thursday - Saturday nights. It offers up a fantastic range of classic Spanish dishes with a Welsh twist and the view of the Harlech Castle are just as stunning when lit up against the Autumn darkness. 

*forced

 http://www.weekendnotes.co.uk/caffi-castell-harlech/