Sunday, July 31, 2011

Carrying Coals to Newcastle

I remember reading that one of our Canadian clothing designers, Linda Lundstrom, went bankrupt by trying to keep all her production in Canada. Then one afternoon a few months ago, as I worked at my volunteer job at the hospital thrift shop, an original three piece gold coloured Lundstrom pant suit arrived.... in my size. I immediately laid claim to the ensemble. For a mere $25, I picked up a stylish and stunning Canadian made formal outfit valued at close to four digits and suitable for wearing to my next red carpet gala event. I was thrilled as I stashed my find in the closet. I was also saddened, knowing that this label was now extinct.

I have heard that Germany has a strong economy because of their industry and manufacturing. Most of the items sold in Germany are in fact made in...Germany. How alien is this concept to people like us who love nothing better than to get our bargains? Most of our discounted treasures however, are made in countries that are able to manufacture items with cheap materials and inexpensive labour. Many of our Canadian companies are having their wares produced further afield in order to keep prices in line with the competition.

I recently needed to purchase a new dress for a wedding, so I decided that I would try to buy something Canadian. Since the wedding is in Manhattan on a Saturday night, I wanted something unique. I wanted something unfamiliar in New York. I wanted something affordable. I wanted something I could wear often. This time, a Value Village sale was not going to satisfy my fashion requirements.

I sought out reasonably priced Canadian designs and stumbled across some unusual, multifunctional outfits from a Vancouver based company called "Simpli". I then made up my mind that nothing but the Simpli V-necked sleeveless dress with the uneven hem, plus a small covering jacket would do for the wedding. Besides, Simpli clothes were made of some kind of miracle fabric that could be rolled into a ball and tossed in a suitcase without wrinkling. I then toured several stores in a futile attempt to locate this particular dress. First, I discovered that the fabric was some type of knit, fairly heavy, not suitable for a New York summer, but possibly more for a Canadian winter. Then I learned that any colour other than black, which seemed to be what all the stores carried, would require 4-6 weeks for delivery. My disappointment resulted in procrastination.

This week, I was under pressure. With only a few dress hunting days remaining, I went to a well known boutique-like clothing store in a small town not too far from here. Most of what I tried on either didn't meet my body covering requirements, made the saleslady guffaw in laugher, or was too ugly to wear beyond the privacy of the change room curtain. I finally found a two piece purple crepe number which met my criteria...stylish, interesting uneven hemline, no obvious bulges, small covering jacket, not black. Below is the dress. That's not me in it.
Purple dress is a much lighter, prettier colour in real life
In my desperation, it did not occur to me to ask about or look at the label. When I got home, I "Googled" the tag, "Ursula of Switzerland", to see what I would be transporting to Manhattan. 
"Ursula of Switzerland...a New York based company with a showroom on Broadway." Thanks Google.

Perhaps I just ought to wear my $25 Linda Lundstrom Canadian treasure to the wedding.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Vegas for Mummies...and others

View from our room
I just returned from a trip to Las Vegas. I have been there a number of times before. It is affordable and entertaining. I took my daughter for a graduation/birthday gift.

It seems that with every trip, I see and learn something new. Then, each time I return, I only remember half of what I had previously discovered. Sometimes, it's because of the many changes that take place in this ever expanding city. Other times, it's just because I forgot.

It occurred to me that by writing down my collective thoughts, impressions, ideas and discoveries, that I might recall some things for my next visit. That is, if I can actually remember to re-read this blog.

My main Las Vegas helpful hints are...NEVER pay full price for anything. Be aware. There are always deals, vouchers, coupons, 2 for 1 tickets and so on. They require only a bit of research to locate. Also, it never hurts to ask. I inquired at the hotel upon check in whether there were any discounts for food, drinks etc. and was given two bar vouchers worth $30.

Lesson #1 -  Hotel Selection
If you can afford a bit more, try to avoid the old and that is. I have stayed at several such locales which were imploded soon afterward (Aladdin, New Frontier), a few that haven't been (Circus,Circus, Imperial Palace, Caesar's Palace...great historic hotel with many upgrades and new tower additions) and at least one that should have been (see Tripadvisor link below). For single moms, with minimal funds they were fine. No expectations, no complaints.

Last year, I was upset about our hotel. I not only complained, but wrote a tripadvisor review to warn others. The hotel in question sent me an offer of an upgraded room if I returned. My philosophy is that an upgraded room in a dump, makes it no less of a dump. See for details.

This trip, I selected the MGM Grand. It has 6.6 acres of property around the pools, a monorail station and a lion compound. I thought the lions would be a big hit with my daughter. They were. The MGM is not a super exclusive hotel, but it was nice, clean, had a friendly, efficient, helpful staff who quickly checked us in, providing us with a non smoking room on a non smoking floor. The view was good too. As was previously mentioned, I inquired about coupon books and discounts and was handed two $15 drink vouchers.


One thing to keep in mind. Some hotels charge a "resort fee". I'm not too clear on what this is, but it can range from $10-$25 a person per day. This is tacked onto your credit card when checking out. Be aware when selecting a hotel. Travel books usually specify if the hotel has such a fee. There are many that specifically advertise "No resort fee".

Lesson #2 - Transportation
Airport Shuttles
There is a stand near the luggage carousel when exiting the airport. It offers return shuttle fare because hotel transfers are not included. This is ok except that it brings you back to the aiport very early prior to flight time. We opted to sleep an extra hour, and take a taxi both ways to and from the airport. Since we left at 7:45 a.m., taxis were readily available at the front of the hotel. It cost us $10 one way by cab from the MGM Grand, one of the closer hotels to the airport.

These can be found everywhere. People line up in a designated area outside hotels where the bellman will whistle for a taxi. These are plentiful and are just waiting at the end of the driveway. Evenings are busier times for taxis. They can get costly if used exclusively.

Rental Cars
I have not rented a car. I noted a long lineup for rentals at the airport. I think renting is fine if you plan to leave town and tour the vicinity eg. Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon, Lake Mead etc. For transportation along the strip, I would not rent a car. Traffic seems chaotic, congested and confusing. I don't know much else except that I have no idea where one parks.

This is a fast way to travel and we used it one time to get from one hotel to another where we went to see a show. For one ride it cost $5. A three day pass is $30. I don't think it's value for the money. The monorails connect a few hotels.

The Deuce
There are two kinds of buses. One is long and looks like two buses connected by an accordian in the middle. It is the express bus and makes fewer stops than the double decker deuce. The double decker makes frequent stops and is often crowded. We found that upstairs almost always had seats so we would get on and head through the crowd and upstairs. There are ticket machines along Las Vegas Blvd. Often, there are transit personnel to help tourists. Two hours on the bus costs $7 and I really don't see a use for such a ticket. We got a 3 day pass for $20 and it was well worth it.

Everything on Las Vegas Blvd. (the strip) is farther than expected and because of the flat land, distances are deceiving. Some hotels are blocks and blocks long. Many people walk on concrete sidewalk areas to get to shopping, attractions and other hotels. It is usually not possible to simply cross the multi lane, heavily trafficked street. Rather, there are bridges, escalators and some moving sidewalks which need to be sought out and negotiated in order to arrive at one's destination. For example, last year, my friend and I took a bus to a shopping area just past the airport. When we were finished, we decided not to wait for the bus since we clearly saw the hotels not far away. We thought we'd walk back. We walked and walked, stopped for drinks, walked some more. It was hot. It was February. On the bright side, we saw the famous diamond shaped "Las Vegas" sign. Our feet were aching and blistered by the time we got to the first of the hotels. I checked the distance on mapquest and learned that the direct route to our hotel (there is no direct route in Vegas) was almost 10 kilometers.

Lesson #3 - Shows, Meal Deals and Drinks
At first glance, it looks costly to survive in Vegas. There was a time when there were signs offering 99 cent breakfasts and $3.99 steak dinners. Things have changed somewhat, although there are still bargains to be found. Be aware, the minute you get off the airplane or set foot in a taxi, there are entertainment type booklets available. Take them. I picked up a 24/7 magazine in our first cab. Inside, I found many coupons. We were able to pick up a pair of front row seats for one of the more expensive shows at a total cost of $100. There are visitors' guides and "What's On" magazines, all containing discounts for food and shows. There are even free shows available, usually comedians and magicians, fine if you're not too selective. More types of coupon books and deals can be found in hotels and downtown Freemont St.
Food is generally less expensive late at night, although there are always deals for hot dogs and beer $3, shrimp cocktails 99 cents, buffets, and free meals with a show ticket. At some hotels, you can get food and gift shop discounts just by registering for a priority card. It costs nothing. While waiting for a cafeteria style breakfast one morning, I found a placemat covered in coupons on my food tray. I tore off the 50% off coupon and used it immediately.

Drinks can be acquired for the price of a tip. If you sit at a slot machine for 30 seconds, a hostess will come and offer a drink. In fact, I sat near a machine to check the contents of my purse one morning and was immediately offered a drink, soda or coffee. 

Lesson #4 - Miscellaneous Shopping
There are a number of ABC convenience stores along the strip. ABC stores sell everything from water to beer, snacks, souvenirs and essential drug items. Souvenir stores abound. There are also a few Walgreens and CVS drugstores. There are also several shopping malls. We visited the "Fashion Show Mall" and "Miracle Mile Shops". For exclusive designer clothing, shoes, purses and the like, look toward the stores in the fancier hotels.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Weird Random Stuff

I often have odd random ideas, thoughts or queries. None ever provide me with enough insight or material about which to write an entire blog. They're just floating ideas, albeit strange ones. On the other hand I have decided to start a list which has now turned into a blog. Let's begin...

Why is it that after you take one tissue out of a hotel box of kleenex, you always end up with either the remaining beige ones or white ones with a blue stripe, both indicating the end of the box?

Do you think that expired, probiotic yogurt which has not been refrigerated for a day or so would make a person sick if they ate it?

Why do they have lots of drug advertisements plus a description of their 723 side effects during the evening t.v. news? Add to this the names of unknown magazines (eg " The Urban Wildlife Alien Hunter's Plumbing Magazine") which are said to describe the 723 side effects and more, in great detail.

Do all men put on their seatbelts after the car is moving?

Once they're finished pumping gas, why do some people have to wiggle, jiggle and fiddle in their car for 5 minutes before moving away from the pump?

In department stores, why is larger women's wear strategically situated either next to the maternity outfits or beside the extra small, petite, elf clothing?

Why are there signs on buildings and on the sides of buses advertising English classes or literacy classes for people who can't read or write?

Does the term "carpal tunnel syndrome" have anything to do with the fish?

And anecdote.

I asked hubby recently if he thought that the length of time it takes to dry one's hands under one of those blow dryers had a direct correlation to the length of time it takes to dry one's hair with a hairdryer. He looked mystified (often happens to people around me). I tried to explain but think I lost him.

"I notice that it only takes me a few seconds to dry my hands under one of those dryers. Lots of people use the hand dryer for a really long time and are still there after I'm gone. Since my hair takes no time to dry, I wonder whether there's a correlation. I think I'll have to look at people more closely. If they take a long time, I'll see if they have particularly thick hair or something." (Insert glassy eyed, mouth agape, baffled male stare here). Ah yes, my job here is done.