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Visiting the Canyon lands

We’ve recently returned from a trip with the following itinerary:

  • 2 days in Zion, Utah
  • 2 days in Sedonah, Arizona
  • 2 days in Grand Canyon Village, Arizona
  • 2 days in Las Vegas Nevada

Map of area

(Not quite our itinerary, but gives you an idea)

Getting around: Why drive when you can walk?

We flew into Vegas, rented a car, and drove ourselves to the other locations. (And by that I mean, Jean did all the driving.) But it was still a pretty active vacation, because we managed to get some walking in on the driving days, and on the non-driving ones, we did a lot of hiking. And the thing about Canyon areas is, there a lot of uphills! So it wasn’t just ambling down paved lanes.

On Grand Canyon trail

Even in sprawling Vegas, since we abandoned the car as soon as we arrived, we got around mostly on foot.

We did use a bit of public transit, trying out the cool monorail in Vegas, and having to take the free park shuttle to get out of Springdale (the little town right outside Zion) into Zion park, and to get to the various trail heads. Grand Canyon Village also had a free shuttle, but it wasn’t as frequent or as late-running as the Zion. So we did some car-supplementing there, especially at night.

But still, pretty active. And I have to say, that does wonders for sleep. And gives you quite the appetite, too. (For food. What did you think I meant?)

We’ve discovered that quite a few people actually visit all these parks from a Las Vegas base, driving out and back in the same day. If you have limited mobility, such that hiking isn’t too feasible anyway, it’s probably a reasonable approach. The landscape is very interesting—sometimes, but not always, gorgeous—but so varied and different from here, it does make for good drives. And Las Vegas is cheaper to stay in than the other places.

Route 66 scene

Not our rental car! A view from Route 66, one of the interesting drives you can do around these parts

But our best days were definitely the hiking ones, not the car ones. So if healthy and wealthy enough to do so, I’d strongly recommend getting out of Vegas and spending non-driving time in the other places.

Trail in Zion

You can’t get here by car! (trail in Zion)

The weather outside is (not at all) frightful

The weather was perfect. It was sunny everyday. It was warm, but not too warm. Despite SP15, I even got a bit of a tan.

I’m not sure that was such great luck. It is desert area, after all; warm and sunny’s not so unusual. Still, we heard that the week before we were there, Grand Canyon had turned so frigid, they actually got some snow. And Vegas got a flash flood that left knee deep water in parts.

So maybe it wasn’t great luck, but at least some luck. (Hmm, maybe I should have tried the slots at Vegas. Oh well.)

And, we were even graced with a full moon, which apart from looking gorgeous, was helpful in those small towns which (unlike Vegas) are not very illuminated at night. Especially given that the sun set around 6:00.

Moon over Grand Canyon

Hotels: Living in the lap of luxury

This wasn’t an organized tour, so we booked all our hotels a little haphazardly, over a series of weeks. In Zion and Grand Canyon, it quickly became clear that things were selling out fast, so the main criteria became, which hotel has space? In Sedona and Las Vegas, we were able to deal-hunt more, and picked out places mostly based on value (most stars for the least money).

So we were repeatedly surprised at just how fancy the places we were staying at were. In Zion, we had a full suite with complete kitchen, a hot tub outside, and a beautiful view of the park. In Sedona, we got valet parking, porters, free yoga classes, another hot tub, and walk-in closet. It also had the most gorgeous dining area, with a view, and on the Monday night, a great guitar player performing. Really, super-romantic.

And Vegas—our cheapest accommodation—was the best room of all! Again a full suite with complete living room as well as bathroom, two flat-screen TVs, walk-in closet (of course! Too bad we were never bothering to unpack), enormous bathtub (Jean said you could get a full workout walking around in there while taking your morning shower), escort by golf cart… 9 pools (all heated)… Crazy.

The only “normal” room—a perfectly fine room of the type we normally stay in—was at Grand Canyon Village. That was the most expensive one of all.

Hell is other people: The crowds

Actually, it wasn’t that bad. But, we weren’t exactly the only people there. All accommodations in Zion/Springdale and Grand Canyon Village were fully booked. (In Utah, they post Sorry! instead of No Vacancies. Isn’t that cute?) But where Zion had some crowded buses and busy restaurants, it really wasn’t annoying. Like, we never made restaurant reservations, and that was never a problem.

But in Grand Canyon, there really were people everywhere, all the time. Really hard to get parking, most any of time of day. Really hard to get a seat at a restaurant, especially the better ones. (One we had to reserve weeks ahead, and still got only an 8:45 dining time; another we had to wait 45 minutes before being seated.) In Zion, on some trails, we hardly met anyone. Not so at Grand Canyon.

Crowd at sunset in Grand Canyon

Joining the crowd to watch the sunset at Grand Canyon

In Sedona, the trail we did was really quiet; hardly met anyone. I guess most people were visiting the little town, which was quite a bit busier. But manageable. And except for one very popular restaurant, no dining issues here, either.

Las Vegas is packed with people. Especially at night. On the streets, in the hotels, everywhere. But, great people watching, especially given the higher percentage of attractive people here (especially female, but some men as well). And of course, so many restaurants, they’re not all going to be booked.

But all in all, if this is sort of the low season, can’t imagine what it’s like in these places in the high season…

You didn’t come all this way for the food, did you?

Well, no, we didn’t. But, with the help of a few guide books, we mostly did pretty well in the dining department. It was not a big foodie focus (for once), but with about two exceptions (both in the Grand Canyon—who knew breakfast could be so dire?), all the meals ranged from decent to very good.

A real Mexican focus to the food options here, which unfortunately made us realize that we get tired of Mexican food faster than other types (despite it being better prepared there than anywhere around here). The El Tovar at Grand Canyon was touted as a five-star restaurant; I’d say that’s generous. It was good, but in local terms, I’d say it was Solé good rather than Verses good. But it was just a gorgeous place to be at; too bad it was too dark to see the view.

The beautiful restaurant at Sedona also had really good food, though with very disorganized service. Still, that benefited us one night, as they were so late bringing us the wine, we got it free! And pretty much every place we tried in Springdale was rather remarkably good.

In Las Vegas, we had supper in Paris, lunch in New York. (I just like saying that.) And back in Sedona, we did an Arizona wine tasting. I only learned on the flight over that they even made wine there. None of the restaurants seemed to serve it, but two of the whites and one of the reds were very enjoyable.

Dining in Vegas

Sorry; probably more of me than you want to see. But when in Vegas…

Leaving Las Vegas

And what did we think of Vegas, really? Worth visiting… for a day. Never seen anything like it before. But if you don’t gamble or drink your face off, it doesn’t take that long to get tired of the crowds, the noise, the smoky casinos (that all look and sound the same). And mainly what there is to do there (besides gambling and drinking your face off) is visiting big, lavish hotels and fancy designer stores. Which gets old.

But, they do have good shows. And we did get same-day discount tickets to one of those, the Cirque du Soleil Beatles Love. It was really excellent. It was compelling in itself, but I also felt it gave me new insight into the familiar Beatles music. Even at a discount, not cheap, but certainly my favorite part of Vegas.

Cirque Du Soleil at Mirage

For more photos, see http://jean-cathy.smugmug.com/Travel/Zion-Utah-Sedona-Arizona-Grand/19635036_qgqcMK#1539211510_N2cb2X3

(And Jean will be continuing to add and update that area in the coming days.)

And for a particularly detailed account of the trip: http://jean-cathy.com/cathy/photos/nevada-utah-arizona.htm


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Classic albums live

A concert is not a live rendition of our album. It’s a theatrical event.

—Freddie Mercury

The most recent “Electric Thursdays” concert did not feature the usual Jeans’n’Classics band. Instead, it was the Classic Albums live crew, trademark “Note for note, cut for cut”. We were warned that there would not even be any talking to the audience ( I guess, because there wasn’t any on the album).

The subject of the “full album” treatment was The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. And although the Centre in the Square website had the peculiar note that this concert did not feature the KWS (Kitchener Waterloo Symphony), that was not the case. They were there, although sitting farther back than usual. And also just sitting around more than usual, because of this idea of faithfully rendering the original album. Not all of which featured orchestra.

Now, though it is not my favorite Beatle album, I do like Sgt. Pepper. The musicians performing it were very good. The Symphony, when they did have occasion to play (“She’s Leaving Home”, “Mr. Kite”, and of course, “A Day in the Life”) sounded wonderful. The songs they played on were the highlight to me. The sound mixing seemed particularly good.

But the whole concept is kind of peculiar. The no interaction with the audience. The covering everything on the album, including the little sounds effects and spoken asides. Seemed more of an exercise than a performance, and left me a little cold, and Jean somewhat bored.

Fortunately, the second act, of “Beatles greatest hits” was somewhat more free-wheeling. They still stuck with the “as originally performed by the Beatles” idea, but by selecting a whole series of songs that were originally orchestrated, at least the Symphony had more to do. And this one did feature some of my favorites: I Am the Walrus, All You Need Is Love, Eleanor Rigby, Hey Jude.

The “encore”, which the only the band (not the symphony) came back for, turned into a rather extended set of various other Beatles classics like Ob-la-di Ob-la-da, While My Guitar Gently Weeps (with truly awesome re-creation of the original Clapton guitar solo), Twist’n’Shout, Norwegian Wood (with sitar, which was cool) and Helter Skelter! (And Jean amused me to no end with his shock that this cacophony of feedback was actually a Beatles song.) The band really seemed to be having fun at this part, and interacted a lot more with crowd, speaking occasionally, and getting us to clap and sing along at times.

Still, I have to say that overall, I prefer the Jeans’n’Classics approach. Even though they also sometimes do entire albums, sometimes even with the original artist, it’s never presented exactly as it was originally recorded. It’s always a re-creation, designed to take advantage of the concert hall and the variety of talented musicians available in the orchestra.

And isn’t that the point of live? To hear something different than what you can hear in your living room?


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Movie review: Nowhere Boy

*** Nowhere Boy (October 2010) – Theatre
Aaron Johnson, Kristin Scott Thomas. A look at the early life of John Lennon, when he was getting to know both his mother Julia and a boy named Paul.

She says: Well cast and acted; a fairly intense look at this tumultuous time in John Lennon’s life. Lots of passion burning below the reserved British surface, which occasionally erupts.
He says: I think you have to care about The Beatles more than I do to really get into this movie.