Vegas Do’s and Don’ts

You all know I love to give my opinions, so, without further ado, insert obligatory girls-weekend in Vegas post! BUT, everything that happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, right? I won’t tell-all, but here are some tips if you’re headed to Sin City.

Do:

  • Bring your own booze for pre-gaming. While women can easily come by free drinks in some situations, dinner is not one of them, nor is the pool or the hour and a half it takes 4 women sharing one bathroom to get ready.
  • Research where you’d like to go beforehand. Read reviews. There are so many options it can be overwhelming.
  • Ask your concierge for outing suggestions. Even if you have a game plan, they have the scoop and will know something you don’t!
  • Take some time to get away from the strip. Red Rock Canyon State Park is about a half hour away, and
  • Eat brunch at Hash House A Go Go. I don’t even need words for this, see drool-worthy picture below.
  • Feel free to wander around with open containers. It’s legal! And weird.
  • Bring your own blow-up tube for the pool – many resorts have lazy rivers, but the catch is that they charge crazy expensive rates to rent a floatie.
  • Hydrate and wear sunscreen.

Don’t:

  • Pay money to get into a nightclub — if you are a lady, that is. If you walk down the strip sightseeing during the day, club promoters will approach you to ask if you want to go to X tonight, such-and-such is DJing, etc. Once you are on a VIP list, it’s free to get in!
  • Buy a giant slushie in a souvenir cup. And especially, get extra shots in it, just because it’s “only a dollar and it’s Vegas, woooo!”
  • Assume that the strip is easily walkable. It is a fun walk in the daytime if you’re well-fed and hydrated and not in a hurry, but since the hotels are so huge, everything is much farther away than it appears.
  • Be afraid to go with the flow! You know the saying, right? 😉
  • Try to exit a huge casino, drunk, in heels, without asking for directions. The third time you approach the same escalator to nowhere and it’s coming up on 4 am, you will be sad.
  • Fly hungover…enough said.

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Virginia Wine: Mediterranean Cellars and Marterella Winery

In case you haven’t noticed, I like to drink wine. Here is the latest in my quest to taste them all…

Mediterranean Cellars

Hours: 11-6 daily.

Tasting: $5 for a flight of 8-10 wines.

Location: Warrenton, VA

Atmosphere: 7

Wait times: n/a*

Wine: 7

Food: 6

Price: 6

Overall experience: 7

Mediterranean Cellars could use a little landscaping outside the tasting room, but inside there is plenty of room to sit and enjoy your wine amidst the Greek décor. The winery is owned by a Greek family that opened the business decades ago, and the place possesses a family-run feel. While less sleek polished than some wineries, the service-oriented staff made up the difference. Visitors are welcome to bring their own snacks inside, but the cheese boats (cheesy bread) are also delicious.

The owner’s wife took over the end of our tasting, and offered us their port, which is not on the tasting list. She added a personal touch to the experience.

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Marterella Winery

Hours: Hours vary by month. Check their website for updated information.

Tasting: You can choose a white or red flight for $10 each, or $15 for both. Each tasting has 5 or 6 wines.

Location: Warrenton, VA

Atmosphere: 6

Wait times: n/a*

Wine: 6

Food: n/a

Price: 4

Overall experience: 5

After lounging at Mediterranean Cellars, we decided it would be silly to pass up visiting Marterella, which is literally across the street. Inside, the winery couldn’t be more different – the tasting room updated and sleek, and the tasting counter encircles a small kitchen. A couple of friendly dogs roamed around the winery unattended (presumably the owners). The website states that customers are welcome to bring dogs, if they are kept outside. Outside food is not permitted.

Nothing was necessarily wrong with Marterella, but I wasn’t in love. A few of their wines have won Virginia Cup awards in the past couple years, but the wine wasn’t quite to my taste, and the prices seemed overly steep. I probably wouldn’t go back, but that isn’t to say that someone else wouldn’t enjoy the wine or the atmosphere.

*Note: I’ve left off wait times for these reviews, because late-February (post-Valentines and pre-Spring) is not exactly prime time for winery patrons. My group of 4 had no wait time at either winery, but I would expect a summer afternoon to be more crowded. Though Mediterranean Cellars has ample seating, the tasting counter is very small. Marterella’s counter is also relatively small, and they have less indoor seating.

King Family & Veritas Vineyards

When it comes to wine, timing is everything.

This summer we visited the King Family Vineyards, which hosts Polo matches on a field behind their property. We sat under a tent at an alumni event having a fabulous time watching the game, eating picnic food, and tailgating with wine bought from a circling golf cart. However, we didn’t actually enter the winery proper or taste anything but the one bottle we purchased (a Viogner). Further investigation was called for.

In the late fall, we made sour stop at Veritas Vineyard & Winery with too little time allotted for their apparently very popular tastings. Who knew 50 minutes was not enough time to procure a simple tasting? When we arrived, the tasting counters were “full” and we were greeted by a woman who put our names on a waiting list. We were first on the list, so waiting a few minutes seemed like no big deal. Oh, how wrong we were. A line piled up behind us, and in the 35 minutes we waited (becoming increasingly angrier), not a single couple walked away from the tasting counters. How long does it take to sample 8-10 wines?! We finally cut our losses because we had matinee tickets to a play a 25 minute drive away. Should we have left earlier if we wanted to partake of both the wine tasting and the play? Yes, without a doubt – but it still seemed absurd that those customers were given a standard wine tasting that lasted 35+ minutes.

We recently returned to both wineries to see how they fared with an empty winter afternoon.

My conclusion? A visit to a winery is always subjective, and experiences even at the same venue can vary widely, depending on personal preference, time of day, time of year, your own schedule and mood, special events, pourers, etc. Unless the wine is truly terrible, I’ll always be up for a second visit.

King Family Vineyards

Atmosphere – 7

Wait times – 8

Wine – 6

Food – n/a

Price – 6

Overall experience – 8 for first visit, 6 for second visit

The wine was decent, if slightly overpriced, and the tasting area was cozy. But without the excitement of a Polo match, it was a pretty standard winery experience. We had a fun afternoon, but the winery is not particularly noteworthy. It sits on a beautiful property, and there is plenty of seating inside. Would I go back again? Sure, but probably on a Polo Sunday.

Added bonus: They had the best gift store section I had ever seen in a winery. I actually wanted to buy the stuff for once.

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Veritas Winery

Atmosphere – 9

Wait times – 2

Wine – 9

Food – 9

Price – 7

Overall experience – 1 for first visit, 9 for second visit

If you get there as soon as they open (or have no problem waiting), you will have a fabulous time and drink delicious wine. Veritas is a popular place to be on a weekend afternoon, and they aren’t great at accommodating big crowds.

The second time around we showed up about 15 minutes after the winery opened. There was no a crowd yet, so we had the first half of our tasting with just us and the pourer. It was a longer tasting than most, but was still probably under a half hour. The wine was delicious, and the pourer knowledgeable.

The wine was a little pricey, but worth it. The food was a steal – I bought a cheese plate that came with 3 large cheese wedges, a fruit spread, olives, berries, and 3 fresh baguettes (A hint from our pourer: Ask for an extra baguette.). The price? $15. I don’t I’ve ever gotten that much bang for my buck at a winery.

Space is at a premium, and even though it was a chilly winter day, the room filled quickly, and shared our nook with a couple other parties.

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Death by Yoga?

Groupon can entice you to do a lot of things. They’re so cheap! You’re getting a steal! How could you not take advantage?

So its easy to justify trying things like Hot Yoga, when you get 5 classes for the price of 2. What a deal, right?

It certainly seemed like an irresistible deal to get a pack of 5 $5 classes when a single class costs $18 (or $15, if you got a 5-class pack outside of Groupon). The savings were huge! But if I went to one class and then broke into a sweat at the thought of going back, I would actually have spent $7 more than I would have paid to try it once.

For the record, I went twice, and therefore still saved $3, even if I didn’t use the full value of the promotion. Had I gotten the 5-class pack outside of Groupon, I probably could have gathered up the inner strength needed to go at least 4 times. But as things stood, I cut my losses and skipped out on a 3rd, 4th, or 5th round of torture.

I’m not telling anyone to definitely never ever try hot yoga (Bikram yoga, in the proper terms). I’m just putting out a comical warning. If you aren’t an experienced yogi, or into self-torture, maybe consider a few things.

Like the fact that it’s really hard to grab your leg and get it into position for a pose if both your hands and your leg are so slick you can’t get a decent grip. And how are you supposed call an activity “exercise” if you’re shaking so badly can’t even do simple stretches?

In case you’re still thinking, ‘gee Emily, hot yoga sounds really fun, why all the negativity?’, here’s a little sneak preview of what you could experience:

9:40 – My brother’s girlfriend and I enter the studio. It’s quiet and peaceful, with trickling water and soft music, the kind they play during a massage. I consider that I should have gotten a nice relaxing massage instead.

9:45 – Decide to use the bathroom first. Open the door to the women’s changing area/bathrooms to a lovely view of middle-aged boob. Decide I’ll sweat it all out anyways and quickly retreat to the cubbies.

9:50 – As I join the flow of students into the heated studio, I’m hit by a solid wall of hot, heavy air. It feels like a sauna, which isn’t actually that bad. But I don’t usually work out in the sauna. Or stay in for more than 10 minutes…

9:53 – I’ve followed the example set by other people and am lying on my mat on the floor, with a towel on top of the mat (won’t the towel be a hindrance to my balance later?). Its actually kind of relaxing. This isn’t so bad, right?

9:58 – By the time the room is full, the temperature must have gone up 10 degrees. Sweat is soaking into the back of my shirt.

10:00 – The instructor comes in and as I stand with the class I nearly fall back down. I was breathing fine on the floor, but once vertical, I’m already feeling light-headed. 90 minutes to go? The instructor calls out the beginners in the class (we were the only ones) and tells us to try not to drink water for the next 30ish mins, or until our bodies adjust to the heat. He also tells us that our goal as first-timers is to simply not leave the room, and that if we need to, just sit or lay down on our mats until we feel like we can rejoin the poses. I’m like, I’ve done yoga before, dude. I’m sure I’m capable of beginner level poses without have to flake out into child’s pose.

10:01 – He shuts the door and I instantly feel what little movement of air the room had dissipate. Crap.

10:03 – I’m instructed to do this weird duck-armed breathing exercise that largely involves throaty, panty exhales over and over and over…..How is it possible someone can already have eaten onions this morning? And why is this making me dizzy?

10:15 – We’re two easy poses in and my vision starts to fade into black patches and bright spots. I plop down hard onto my mat and wait for the ringing in my ears to subside and for my vision to come back. It takes 100% of my energy to keep breathing in and out, because I can’t get enough air with any of my inhalations.

10:16 – How much longer do I have to stay in this room?

10:18 – I’m up again, and things seem to be going okay. My body is not just sweaty – I’m slippery. I try to grab my ankle to hold it up high against my other thigh, but I can’t even get grip it without my hands slipping off. What kind of yoga is this?

10:19 – I’ve fumbled with the other leg when I feel faint again and hit the floor. No one else seems to be having the same problem, which is a mystery to me. Are they bionic? Do they have invisible oxygen tanks with them? If so, can they be less selfish and share with me already?

10:25 I rejoin the class in a standing position (feeling the head rush when my head gets up past waist level). Take 3?

10:29 – We’re bending over into my all-time favorite stretch — triangle pose — and I nearly topple over face first into the butt of the girl in front of me as I start to pass out again. I land safely without toppling our whole row like dominoes, but it was a close one. I watch the other people in their happy triangle poses enviously. How is this even exercise? I can’t do anything without going into a swoon. I’m like goddamn Scarlet O’Hara!

10:31 – Maybe I’ll just stay here on the floor for a bit. I’m clearly not ready to have the training wheels removed. I watch beads of sweat drip off my brother’s girlfriend’s elbow onto the floor. She’s never really done yoga, but somehow she’s still standing. I consider trying to get back on my feet, but my previous 3 plops back onto the floo stop me. That, and the lack of oxygen in the room.

10:35 – The instructor tells everyone to sit down. We’re graciously informed that we can now drink water, and I try not to gulp it. After all, I’ll just sweat it all back out.

10:38 – We’ve moved into seated poses, thank god. The air is less thick at and below waist level. I’ve realized why we lay the towels on the mats – its because we pool up so much sweat that without them, we could’ve lined them all up and played slip’n’slide 30 mins into the class.

10:50 – I’ve suddenly become not so bad at this hot yoga thing. I’m successfully doing basic exercises like sitting up and stretching forward over my leg without passing out.

11:04 – A stretch that involves reaching around and twisting my spine is literally making my arms shake with the effort. Somehow, I hold the post. Success! I can really see how this class will improve my athletic abilities.

11:23 – Somehow, the instructor is telling us to lay flat on our backs. I don’t know how, but somehow I made it through the class without dying. I feel the whoosh of air flowing back into the room when the door is opened. Bliss.

11:27 – The lavender ice-water towels we’re handed feels like an angel kissing my face.

11:30 – The instructor tells us we can lay still for as long we need before getting up. I only take as long as I needed to be sure I wouldn’t fall over if I stood up.

11:33 – Out in the fresh air, I feel exhilarated. That was fantastic! So refreshing!

11:45 – Still feeling wonderful. What was I thinking during the first half of the class? Those fainting spells must’ve been a fluke.

1:30 – I’ve cooled off, showered, and eaten, and and starting to feel relatively normal again. When should I go to class again? My gut sinks. Now that the high has worn off, I remember the heat, the dizziness, the lack of any real exercise during the class. It was a torture chamber. And I have to do it again?

1:31 – What was I thinking?!?

~

Gouponers, beware! You can’t say I didn’t warn you!

Virginia Travels: An afternoon in Purcellville

This summer I’ve spent some time exploring what Virginia has to offer outside of the suburban sameness of NoVa. I recently added another lovely journey to the list – Purcellville, VA. Just over an hour from DC/NoVa and perched on a hill overlooking the countryside, Bluemont Vineyard looks a world away from the city.

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(A view from the patio)

I went with a friend and her family, and we didn’t do a tasting, so I can’t review all of their wine, but what I did try was delicious: a Meritage and Vidal Blanc (I think? May have been Viognier…). To top it off, on Saturdays they BBQ ribs on the roof. Does it get any better than that?

According to google, the tasting fee is $7, so very reasonable for the quality of the wine. My advice: grab some ribs, open a bottle, and sit out in the shade of their patio. You couldn’t ask for a better afternoon!

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(The winery, from the side.)

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(Me, in the vines.)

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(The view from the yard, a large area with seating and room for games. I saw one group playing cornhole.)

If you’re looking to soak up the wine with some dinner afterwards, head over to Magnolias at the Mill, a restaurant 15 minutes away in Purcellville proper. It has a cozy feel with homemade quilts hanging from the wooden walls, and the menu has something for everyone (seafood, salads, sandwiches).

Surprise bonus: If you go to dinner at Magnolias, you may be in for the added bonus of a celebrity sighting. We spotted Robert Duvall at dinner, who apparently lives nearby and frequents businesses around town. We may or may not have taken a couple extra walk-bys. (And, I may or may not have had to google image search him. I’m bad with actors’ names! If you’re also struggling with placing him, think back to classics like True Grit and The Godfather).

Can you pass a citizenship test?

Immigration is a hot topic these days. In a slightly related topic, I found an interesting article online, which asked a question that made me wonder—could I pass a citizenship test? How hard is it? Here’s what the Christian Science Monitor has to say on the subject, and about the citizenship test:

“In order to become a US citizen, immigrants must pass the Naturalization Test. American citizenship bestows the right to vote, improves the likelihood of family members living in other countries to come and live in the US, gives eligibility for federal jobs, and can be a way to demonstrate loyalty to the US. Applicants must get 6 answers out of 10 in an oral exam to pass the test. According to US Citizenship and Immigration services, 92 percent of applicants pass this test.

You must get 58 or more of these test questions correct in order to pass.”

When I read this, it immediately caught my interest—what kind of score would I get on the test? While unprepared, I’m certainly well-educated. Needless to say, I solidly passed.

Some hilariously easy questions from the test:

Why does the flag have 50 stars?

Which ocean is on the east coast of the United States?

Who can vote in the US?

But, I did get a few wrong – while many questions would be shameful for anyone raised in the USA to miss, some of the questions were actually tricky.

Give it a try and let me know how you did! With our fascination with Buzzfeed quizzes and the like these days, it was refreshing to take a quiz on something more substantive than “Which character in X are you?”

The Comedians, by Graham Greene

Some background info on the novel:

  • Published in 1966, and set in a politically charged Haiti with warring factions, a cruel secret police force, curfews, and an economy going to the dogs
  • Basic storyline: Brown (the lonely owner of a hotel in Haiti), Smith (a vegetarian idealist who once ran for the US presidency), and Jones (a shady British former soldier, in some unclear trouble with the law) meet on a ship to Haiti, and all observe Haiti gradually sink into degeneration and despair. Kind of goes against the title, right?
  • Greene did not fictionalize the antagonistic government of Haiti at the time – Duvalier (or “Papa Doc”) was an actual person, and served as president from 1957 until his death in 1971. Papa Doc’s platform was black nationalism and voodoo, and he ruled with the aid of a militia known as the “Tonton Macoute”, which helped the repressive regime to kill and exile thousands of Haitians. When The Comedians was published, Duvalier banned Greene from Haiti for life and bashed him in the media.

 

My thoughts:

In high school I once picked a summer reading book for history class that discussed King Leopold’s rape of the Congo. At the time, I remember thinking, “how have I never heard about this, when millions of people died?” While this book’s crimes were not on the same scale, I can’t help but feel the same way – how much happens in the world that the Western, educated, first-world doesn’t even have a clue about? Something to consider.

 

Who would I recommend this book to?

I would recommend The Comedians to a thoughtful reader of literature looking for a suggestion for what to read next.