Travel | Las Vegas, Nevada

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Monday, October 1, 2018

"It's not the appearance, it's the essence. It's not the money, it's the education. It's not the clothes, it's the class."- Coco Chanel

At the end of July, I visited Las Vegas for the second time. Even though I do not drink, smoke, go clubbing, gamble, etc., I really love Las Vegas.

First of all, I'm a summer baby and am most comfortable in warm weather. The combination of the heat and no humidity in Las Vegas is very perfect for me.

Secondly, I love bright, colorful lights and architecture, and find Las Vegas really beautiful at night.

Third, the food.

Check out below for what I did, ate, and where I stayed.


Las Vegas Strip | The bright lights and ornate architecture make Las Vegas quite magical at night. The warm, non-humid weather is perfect for walking the strip at night. There are so many visually appealing buildings, fountains, escalators, and other pieces of architecture to see at every turn. My work colleague understands and appeases my love of the bright lights and walked to and from dinner with me both nights.


Cafe Belle Madeleine | When I'm traveling for work, the last thing I want to do is go on a scavenger hunt for breakfast every morning. Since I always travel with Larabars, I keep it really easy and simple by only needing fruit, coffee, and, of course, water, to supplement my morning meal. Luckily Paris Hotel (where we stayed) had a cute little bakery on the ground floor called Cafe Belle Madeleine. I really loved their fruit cup which, in addition to the standard watermelon and cantaloupe, also contained blackberries and blueberries. I found it very satisfying. However, on both mornings, I was unable to get a large coffee because they had run out of the large cups and instead had to get a medium. On the first morning, in my half asleep haze when I was told, "We're only serving medium sized coffee," I responded with, "I don't know what that means." 


Sushi Samba | I have been looking forward to going back to Sushi Samba ever since my colleague and I went last year. The sushi at this place is incredible. I love the low lighting and ambiance. Even the bathroom is super dark, which is a little disconcerting, but it works.

For my appetizer, I ordered the steamed edamame, which is a staple for me anytime I go to a Japanese restaurant. It's difficult to mess up edamame and, truth be told, tastes the same no matter where it is ordered. The green tea, however, is definitely noteworthy. It is frothy, super green, and delicious. For my main course, I ordered an avocado roll and two Amazonia rolls which contain collard greens, portobello mushroom, takuwan, cucumber, and avocado. I told our waiter that I was gluten-free and confirmed that the Amazonia is topped with a wasabi-onion soy sauce, which contains gluten, but can be made without the sauce. 

When I was presented with my rolls, it was obvious that the soy sauce was drizzled on top. I called the waiter over and asked him about it, but he assured me that they were gluten-free. In my normal skeptical fashion, I didn't trust him, and started eating the avocado rolls. Sure enough, about a minute later, he came back to our table and took away my Amazonia rolls saying there had been a mistake. I waited for about 15+ minutes for my new, gluten-free rolls to be served. My colleague was very irritated and said I should complain. Once my new rolls arrived, I ate them quickly because I was so hungry and could not savor them as much as I had the previous year. However, they were very delicious and I still considered them to be the best sushi I ever had... until the following night.


Andrea's at The Encore | Andrea's at Encore stole the show. My colleague and I had made reservations based solely on the fact that all restaurants at the Wynn and Encore have a special vegan menu. We had no idea that it would be so fancy!

I ordered the edamame with truffle salt. Honestly, I could not taste the truffle salt, and my colleague, who considers herself a great lover of truffle salt, could not taste it either. It was still delicious. Once my main course of two vegetable rolls and one avocado + asparagus roll arrived, I was in vegan sushi heaven. Not only was the presentation gorgeous, but the sushi was absolutely delicious. The vegetables were super fresh, I almost felt like I was eating a fresh salad in sushi form. After I finished my rolls, I ordered another vegetable roll as my "dessert" while my colleague had actual dessert.

Not only was the food incredible, but the service was the most on point that I have ever experienced. We received such attentive service, from our water being refilled, to an individual solely in charge of leading diners to the restroom. Along with the overall simplistic elegance, beauty, and cleanliness of the restaurant, this was the highlight of our trip and the best dining experience of my life.



Paris Hotel | My colleague is a Francophile and booked our stay at the Paris Hotel. We had stayed at another casino the year before and found it dated, not super clean, and overwhelmingly smelling of smoke. This year, we decided that it was important to stay at a hotel that was superior to the previous year's experience. The Paris Hotel did not disappoint. The ground floor is decorated as a Paris cafe and is lovely to walk though. All of the rooms are beautifully decorated and super clean. We both loved the French ambiance and overall decor. My colleague and I also spent some time in the hotel's shops, and she may or may not have spent $115 on a sweatshirt and $50 on an outfit for her infant daughter. YOLO. Paris is definitely our go-to hotel for next year.


Experience | Skagway, Alaska: White Pass + Yukon Route Railroad

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Monday, August 27, 2018

"I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center."- Kurt Vonnegut

White Pass + Yukon Route Railroad | My most favorite excursion of the Alaska trip was hands down the White Pass + Yukon Route Railroad Train. This ride is 41 miles round trip, leaving from Skagway, Alaska, entering into the summit of the White Pass in British Columbia, and then returning back to Skagway. For the majority of the ride, you are elevated nearly 3,000 feet and traveling along the edges of Alaskan mountains. 

The train is a connection of 10-12 smaller cars, each complete with its own (very clean!) bathroom and wood burning heater. We originally chose a car with several small, very loud children. Luckily, the conductor allowed us to move to the first car, even though the ride had begun and we were explicitly told on several occasions that once the train started, moving from car to car was prohibited. Of course, it helped that my dad had introduced himself to the conductor before the ride began and they became very friendly; the conductor was very fond of "Chalie from Philadelphia." We always poke fun of my dad for insisting on getting on a first name basis with literally everyone, no matter where we are, and in this case, it definitely worked to our advantage. After making our way to the very quiet first car, we were able to relax and cozy up in the warmth of the wood-burning heater, which gave off the most lovely woodsy, or as I say, "up the mountains" scent.

Once the trip began, we were quickly traveling among the Alaskan mountainside, complete with large, luscious trees and long, winding rivers below. Riders had the opportunity to stand outside of the cars in a small space with a guard rail to take pictures and be one with the surroundings. Even though it was very scary due to the height at which we were traveling and how unprotected I truly was from tumbling to my death, I am so glad I challenged myself to experience everything this train ride had to offer. I went outside on numerous occasions to take photos and get the views that individuals that stayed within the confines of the train car would not be able to experience. It was truly a YOLO moment.

The trip takes about 3.5 hours roundtrip. However, we were super lucky and traveled an additional 12 miles, which equated to a total of about 4 hours. Apparently, the train engineer picks one ride a day to take the extended trip and we were the fortuitous recipients. During the entire trip, we had a wonderful guide that spoke across the loudspeaker. He was funny, insightful, and very knowledgable about the history of the Yukon Route. We learned so much from him and were happy to say a quick hello as he walked around at the end of the ride to meet the riders.

This train ride really put into perspective the truly illustrious and awe-inspiring Alaska terrain. Among the trees and mountains, all of life's anxieties and worries fade away. How can anything in our tiny, insignificant lives matter when you are with Earth's most beautiful creations? In the current book I am reading, the author talks about how events that inspire awe within us have the ability to dissolve our mental anguish. If only everyone was able to travel to the Alaskan mountainside, maybe anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications would become superfluous. This experience also reinforced my vision for the future in which Dayv and I live in a little home among the trees and nature where we can live quiet, intentional lives. In this future, I also return to Alaska on several occasions.


Experience | Juneau, Alaska: Glacier Gardens + Mendenhall Glacier

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Monday, August 20, 2018

"Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the soul of the world, and it will one day return there."- Paulo Coelho

Glacier Gardens | Glacier Gardens was another magnificent and life changing excursion that I will never forget. A man named Steve bought this 50 acre plot of land after it had been devastated due to a landslide. As a landscape architect, he was able to envision its potential, even though it was filled with overturned trees. His solution was to create "flower towers" with these trees, which utilized the roots as the vase/garden to plant flowers. 

When you first arrive at Glacier Gardens, you are greeted with several flower tower floral arrangements along with beautiful, exotic gardens filled with flowers and greenery that are not grown in northeast Pennsylvania. Since Glacier Gardens is located in the Tongass National Forest, much of the land is still untouched. The tour gathered into large Jeep-like vehicles without a roof or doors and made the way up to the apex of the area. From there, we were able to look down at the town of Juneau, which was extremely scenic and beautiful. The air was crisp and clean and the temperature was cool and airy.

The Tongass National Forest is filled with trees, bushes, skunk cabbage, flowers, creeks, and little animal friends. Its expansive lifeforce really puts into perspective the beauty of the Earth and how much respect it deserves. If there were no humans, the world would be covered in these luscious woodlands. This trip was a wonderful reminder and educator on the importance of protecting our National Forests, as well as triggered a desire within me to make it a point to visit many more in the future.


Mendenhall Glacier |  Mendenhall Glacier is a retreating glacier located in Tongass National Forest. Due to climate change, it is possible that this beautiful glacier will one day no longer exist. 

Our time at Mendenhall Glacier was only about an hour, as we arrived in the evening when the visitor center was about to close. We watched a 15 minute tour video before making our way down to the glacier. Due to the limited time, we were unable to spend much time exploring. We took the 15 minute walk down to the "photo opp" area of the glacier. There was a longer walking trail, called the Nugget Falls trail, that was supposed to be breathtaking, but unfortunately the bus driver warned us that he would leave even if not all tourists were accounted for when our allotted time was up. 

I was a bit underwhelmed by our trip to Mendenhall glacier, but it was due to the fact that we had limited time and also that it was beginning to get very chilly. I'd like to return to the glacier during the day and be able to explore more, including the Nugget Trail. Mendenhall Glacier is extremely beautiful and I know that I was unable to give it the appreciation it deserves.


Experience | Tracy Arm Fjord

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Monday, August 13, 2018

"It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world."- Mary Oliver

Tracy Arm Fjord | I had never heard of a fjord until researching our Alaskan vacation. A fjord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by a glacier. We awoke on our third morning to find ourselves cruising through Tracy Arm Fjord, one of the most magnificent and breath-taking fjords of Alaska. Since it was late June, the bodies of land were scattered with beautiful and luscious greenery and trees. The rock appeared smooth and aged, as though the snow and ice had polished it over thousands of years. There were patches of snow and ice on the cliffs, as well as in the water. One of the most surprising aspects of Tracy Arm is that the temperature is rather mild, rather than super cold, which causes the fog to rise and settle among the mountains.

I was the first in my family to wake up on the morning of Tracy Arm. I went up to the deck at about 6 am while it was still cold and ate breakfast alone. It was difficult to find a table since many others were taking in the beauty and astonishing views. However, I eventually settled at a table with another lone breakfaster. The exquisiteness and natural refinement of the cliffs in which we were cruising though were magnificent and heart-stirring. My brain could not even begin to comprehend the magnitude and beauty of Tracy Arm, but I did my very best to take in and appreciate it as much as possible. 

In the few hours that we were in the presence of nature's true beauty and wonder, life felt both so much bigger than we can ever know but also so much simpler. Who are we and our problems compared to these cliffs and glaciers and sea green water and trees? We're not special, we are spectators of this elegant, illustrious sight. Although I am not a religious person, I would categorize my time in Tracy Arm as a religious experience and life-changing. It was one of two times during our Alaskan vacation where I felt a shift in my life and consciousness, as if I was one with nature and the Earth. In that moment, Alaska became my first true love and I wanted to escape into the mountains forever.


Experience | Ketchikan, Alaska: Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary

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Monday, August 6, 2018

"When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."
-The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry

Oh Alaska, you beautiful, exquisite oasis. 

Prior to visiting Alaska, I had two points of reference. First, the I Love Lucy episode when the gang travels up to Alaska to look at perspective property and, inevitably, Lucy gets herself into a pickle with celebrity, Red Skelton. Second, I knew of the beauty and and alluring nature of Alaska from reading and watching Into the Wild. But, as we all know, reading and watching is a lot different than actually experiencing.

Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary | My family and I went on a seven day roundtrip cruise from Seattle to Alaska. The first stop was Ketchikan. We chose the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary walking tour, which lasted about three hours. The walk was very moderate and did not require many steep hills. The tour guide walked us through the sanctuary on a dirt path. Although some sunshine did break through the tree canopy, the walk was mostly shaded due to the large, luscious trees.

During the walk, we learned about the different trees. Hemlock can be distinguished from other trees due to the bark looking like bacon, or ham, and remembered as hamlock. The Sitka tree has bark that looks like potato chips. Skunk cabbage is also very prominent in the Alaskan rainforest and is sought after by bears for its natural laxative properties, which is necessary after their long hibernation. We also spotted berries and banana slugs along the way. Banana slugs are said to give anyone who licks them good luck, so, of course, my brother licked one.

One of the most interesting aspects of this rainforest walk was learning about the ecosystem. Since the weather is very damp and cool in Alaska, the forests do not experience fires. Forest fires are nature's way of getting rid of old/dead trees that may have fallen to the ground. However, since the trees are not removed either by nature or human, nature uses them as new ground for growing trees and other plants. Because trees are beginning their growth above ground, the roots must reach down very far before finding the earth. This pattern of growth creates a very interesting and symbiotic relationship among the trees and plant life. 

Another interesting part of the walk was seeing bear claw marks on the trees. Bears often climb trees to hide and hunt. Mama bears also tell their baby bears to climb trees while they go out and find food. Although we never saw bears during our walk, it was very evident that they were close by.

Once we finished our walk through the rainforest sanctuary, we were brought out to a pier across a body of water. We were so excited to see bald eagles sunbathing among the water. Even the employees got out their phones to take pictures since it was such a rare occasion to see so many eagles at once.

Next, we visited the Raptor Center. This center rehabilitates raptors that have been injured and are unable to return to the wild. We were also invited into the totem pole workshop of Wayne Hewson. He shared his process with us, as well as his history in the art of totem pole making. Growing up, being a totem pole carver was illegal and Natives were forced to subdue their cultural heritage. Luckily, Wayne was able to begin his journey as a carver in his 30's where he was an apprentice for about 10 years before working on his own. He is such a soft spoken, gentle man with a great gift. My favorite totem pole on display was the story of the mosquito. However, not all totem poles convey a story or legend.

Overall, I really loved this magical walk in the Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary and would recommend it as an educational and breathtaking way to learn about Alaska's ecosystems.

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