Iowa: You won’t understand until you experience it!

This post was inspired by a question asked during my last trip outside of Iowa. My friend/trip companion Rachael and I cruised up to the bar at the Flamingo Go Pool and engaged in friendly small talk to our bartender while he was making our margaritas. After being asked where we were from and responding with, “Iowa” we got: “What is all there?”. I’ve gotten a variety of responses like this as I have traveled near and far but this one stuck with me. I tried my best to explain what Rachael and I do for a living and the town we reside in and how much there is to do in the summer. I think it worked? There’s a good chance this person was born and raised in the west coast and eventually made their way to Vegas and has never been anywhere else.
This one interaction inspired me to bring it to my writing and blog. I needed to emphasize The Vanessa Monologues highlights my life in Iowa when I’m not traveling the country and world. it goes back to my dream to be the female Anthony Bourdain; a world traveler but staying grounded in Iowa giving a glimpse of real North Iowa life to those who have never been here. It really is true to the rest of the world: you won’t understand Iowa unless you experience it and I hope to bring the experience to all of those I meet across throughout the states and globe.

It is summertime in Iowa and with the warmer weather brings more adventures and things to do. For this post I wanted to highlight this activity that my husband and I spend majority of the summer doing. I have been riding on the back of Tyler’s Harley ever since we started dating and it’s an activity we’ve always enjoyed doing together. Actually something we do with all of Tyler’s family. Sometimes we just get on the bike and go somewhere on a limb, majority of the summer though our destination(s) are determined by this book:

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(Stops/locations are on the first page. The map located at the top of this post shows where all the stops are!)

Every summer we participate in the Find Your Marbles Run: Purchase your book for $10. from Ernie Williams or Okoboji Harley Davidson (proceeds from book sales go to charity, MDA) and stop at as many of these stops listed in the book as you can. When you go to each stop, you draw from a bag of six different colored marbles. The color of the marble you draw is recorded in the book along with a stamp of the establishment or a signature of an employee who witnessed you draw that color. No one knows how much each color of marble is worth until the end when all books are turned in and they draw each marble randomly to see which is worth more points. When the colors are given point values, each book is tallied by how many of each color they drew. Top 10 Winners receive cash and gift certificates to Harley and other participating establishment on the run. Even if you don’t place in the top 10, if you show up for the awards dinner in late September you could still walk away with a gift certificate and a free meal too! So if you don’t win anything, you still got a meal out of it. Above all this run is set up to give the money it raises for charity. It’s fun and for a good cause.

We’ve found so many cool little hole in the wall places to eat and drink at that we didn’t know about until we did the ride. Several of these stops as a matter of fact will have their own posts from me in the future. Sometimes just the ride from each place to another is the best part. This past weekend, Tyler and I rode to Clear Lake, IA to pick up some marbles then decided to get another one farther away: in Marble Rock, IA. It only took us about 45 minutes to ride from PM Park in Clear Lake to Whitetails in Marble Rock. We both had the steak sandwich! Other than this place, I can’t think of any other reason why we would have traveled to Marble Rock, IA. A nice little stop with a mini golf course next door!
The Dodens at Whitetails in Marble Rock
tyler vanessa

This post was the background information needed and also a preview of what is to come throughout the summer. Iowa seen on the back of Harley Davidson Night Train is fun and enjoyable even though my ass goes numb if I have to ride a long stretch. There is much good eats and beverages to share each stop along the way so if you want a random adventure to a town in Iowa you haven’t been, stay tuned!

One coat of sunscreen is never enough. Always reapply!!
sunburn

Vegas…it truly never gets old!

I really mean it when I say, ‘I could go to Vegas every year’. Honest. Just coming back from my third trip out and already can’t wait to go again. I think I have convinced one of my fellow travelers that this needs to be a yearly thing. There are so many things to do: shows to see, pools to lounge and drink by, gambling, shopping, did i mention drinking?!?! Even though drinking is more on the expensive side, I don’t know anywhere else you can walk around in public with a drink in your hand. Everyone experiences or enjoys Sin City in a different way, here’s how I enjoy it…

Booking/ getting there:
For my first and recent trip we got a non stop flight both ways and I can’t say how much I love that! Flying to Vegas, I just want to get there and when I’m ready to leave I just want to get home. My second trip out I had a connecting flight in Denver from Des Moines but the flight out of Des Moines was delayed so I had to rebook on another flight out of Denver putting me in Vegas three hours after then I originally planned. If I fly domestically I try to avoid doing a connecting flight at all possible costs; it’s nice just have one time and one destination to worry about. Also it makes for a LOOOONG journey home when you are tired of people, drained from having too much alcohol, I mean FUN, and being in airports. Save doing connecting flights for international travel when it saves you money and don’t have a nonstop option. When we land I always get a cheap shuttle to the strip hotels and on the day we leave, I find it much easier and faster (and cheaper if you get three people in) to take a taxi back to the airport.

Hotels/where to stay:
Before we booked this trip I’ve decided each time it could be fun to try a different hotel every time.
My first time out in March of 2011 for my cousin’s wedding, everyone who came out except me and Tyler stayed at Tropicana. Since one of the nights we needed to stay there was sold out because of an event, Tyler and I stayed across the strip at Excalibur. Tropicana is one place I definitely can’t wait to stay when I get around to it: VERY nice and claims to have been voted Best Pool In Vegas. Excalibur is a great stay too mostly because it’s more affordable but our stay was comfortable. If price is something you need to make work in order to get out to Vegas, Excalibur is always a nice stay for the cost; always affordable. Their pool is nice too! Sure it is on the south end of the strip and may seem far away from everything but there’s action everywhere: north, south or middle. Plus I have found I get more drinks when I gamble there than I do at any other casino.
My second time out in Vegas, I only need a room for the last night; I stayed with a friend and her husband on the air force base two nights and another night I had driven out to LA and stayed with another friend from college. Even though I wanted to try a different hotel I stayed at Excalibur again because I had tickets to see “Thunder From Down Under”, which was where it was showing so I didn’t have to leave the hotel. Also in Excalibur is the awesome bar/restaurant: Dick’s Last Resort. This is one of the few chain restaurants I love because of the fun atmosphere of the staff purposely being assholes to you. Your wait staff will make offensive hats for you to wear:
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For this last trip out with two friends we stayed in the middle of the strip at Flamingo. This was a fun hotel, affordable too with access to everywhere since it was in the middle. We just got a basic room since we were only in it to shower, change and sleep. This hotel made me realize when in Vegas stay somewhere with an awesome pool because when you are in the hot climate you don’t really need to do anything else during the day. A good pool= more relaxation. Flamingo had two, technically three pools. A smaller children’s pool, the Beach Club Pool for all ages and the Go Pool for ages 21 and over. There is a live DJ everyday at the Go Pool so the crowd there averages in the early 20s which can be annoying when you can’t stand the guido type crowd. Rachael and I found that we started our day at the Beach Club pool then later in the afternoon transition over to the Go Pool when it starts clearing out and you can actually find a place to sit.
Next time I hope to get a room at Monte Carlo since I heard it will be remodeled and made into a bigger resort. I see nothing wrong with it currently as it has an awesome looking pool and rooms. I guess better try to book a room there while you still can….

Gambling
I really don’t have much to say in this area, I only play penny slots to get free drinks. I know I’m kind of lame in that aspect. I will put a five or ten in and milk it as long as I can get free drinks (which by the way just keep tipping your wait staff and they will keep coming back!). While passing through the Mirage, I saw and Game of Thrones penny slot machine and just had to play it! I put in a 10 and cashed out at 30, winning my money back plus 20 bucks. I did feel lame going to the cashier and here’s a lady ahead of me walking away with a couple hundred dollar bills and there I am walking away with 30 bucks. (I look like an excited little kid playing it! :D)
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Get tickets for a show!
This trip the one thing I didn’t do was see a show because I figured we’d all just want to relax and decide what to do on the fly. Always book a show because going to Vegas just isn’t the same without one; you HAVE to see one when you are there. The only ‘show’ I have seen is Thunder From Down Under which I don’t think I need to say anymore about that! 😀 I still haven’t seen LOVE at Mirage or any Cirque show for that matter, Tournament of Kings would be awesome too. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Britney! Something I never thought I’d say, I’ve never liked her early stuff when I was a kid and still don’t but I appreciate her more being an adult making adult music and still dancing like she does! Sure she probably lip syncs her entire show but she looks amazing after having two kids!
The Luxor has two exhibits that you must see: Titanic: The Artifact Exhibit and Bodies. My last trip I saw Titanic and was VERY impressed by that exhibit as it has a lot of artifacts. I enjoyed it WAY more than the tour in Belfast. Bodies I have not seen but it’s another on my list; real bodies on display. I’m pretty sure it’s neat even though it sounds super creepy and gross. The High Roller Ferris wheel is another new attraction which you must do at night to see all the lights!
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It’s located right behind the new Linq hotel which was built after the shit hole hotel Imperial Palace was torn down. Little shops and restaurants were build between the Flamingo and the Linq so that’s a nice new area and the bars there are technically off strip places and prices are a little lower than the major hotels on the strip.

Where I have to eat when I’m in Vegas:
Since eating here after my cousin’s wedding on my first trip out, both times following I HAVE HAD to eat at Battista’s Hole in the Wall. Excellent Italian food, served with unlimited table wine, salad or soup, breadstick and a dessert cappuccino. Did I mention UNLIMITED table wine? The menus are located on the wall and each entree’s price has all that I listed above included. Seriously some of the best food I’ve ever had and they have their own accordion player on staff that comes to each table and plays. He’s a tiny little old man and so VERY adorable! Even when it’s super hot outside and Italian food is the last thing anyone wants I still have to eat here! Seriously check out this website! Here It’s located right behind the Flamingo so we didn’t have far to walk this time!

Fremont Street:
I always stay in hotels on the strip but one of your days must be designated to visiting and drinking on Fremont Street. Original old school Vegas two miles north of the strip where it’s cheaper to eat and drink. It’s less busy during daylight so you can get on the zip line faster but it’s more fun at night and you can see the light show they have going on above. Every hour on the hour they highlight and artist or music: I saw them do a Doors show and another one for DJ Tiesto. They have nice restaurants to eat at during evening meals but we found that during the day you may only find buffets to eat at. We found one for 10 bucks a person and as Chad said: “Paradise Buffet: you get what you pay for!” SO true for this one but we had fun cracking jokes like “if any of you are backed up there’s prunes up at the salad bar!” Speaking of buffets, our brunch buffet at the Flamingo was pretty good! Brunch goes until 2 PM daily. During the week it’s 19 bucks M-F, Saturdays and Sundays are 22 and they include bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys! Any food that cures your hangover I swear will be on this buffet!
Getting to Fremont/around:
Take the Deuce bus which runs 24 hours to Fremont and back down to the south end of the strip. I find it funny that going Northbound on the Deuce up to Fremont sucks and takes forever but going back down Southbound to the strip takes less time and is more tolerable. I don’t know why but at least when I’m ready to head back to my hotel on the strip it’s a better ride. Only 8 bucks for a 24 hour pass or 20 bucks for a three day pass; pretty awesome and comes in handy when you get tired of walking within the 6 mile stretch of the strip. However the Deuce is the ONE place in Vegas you can’t drink. It’s a no fun bus.

When to go and how long for?
In my opinion I love going in May or June or July during the warmer months. Sure the last two times I’ve had the luck of going right in the middle of a heat advisory and temps being in the 110s. Honestly though you are in the middle of the desert right in the middle of summer so that is expected. However the pools are open longer during these times and that’s pretty much where I spent most of the daytime hours. One of these years I go maybe I’ll get a time when it stays in the 80s or 90s. It’s always cheaper to book in winter months but if you do it ahead of time May or June can be just as cheap. The only downside I have found to being in Vegas during the summer is if you are in the middle of a Heat Advisory it is almost impossible to even get a buzz because what alcohol you do consume, you just sweat it out being it’s hot and because of all the walking.
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I have found 3 nights is the perfect duration to stay out there. I would only do four nights if you had to in order so see one/another show. Also: three years ago I did drive out to LA, which is four hours from Vegas so I would recommend that as a another reason to stay an extra day. The drive alone is pretty epic and something everyone should experience. After your third day or night staying on the strip, you are tired of paying 8 bucks for a small pool beer or 17 bucks for a margarita. It’s always cheap to get out there and stay but it’s the having fun while you are there that can add up if you want to live it up. I think I’ve figured out a good handle on how to spend money out there. Thank you penny slots….