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Food and travel captivate Janet Podolak, who chronicles both for The News-Herald. Get the back story of her three decades of stories here. Guest bloggers and fellow News-Herald staffers also periodically share details of their trips.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Vegas now, avatar bound

Brett Purmal,son of Kathie and Dick Purmal of Mentor, was a digital animator for the hit film Avatar. His parents will spend the holidays with him in New Zealand where the film was produced. Kathie, executive director at the Lake County History Center, has promised to email me so I can keep readers up to date with this blog. Read Mark Meszoros' review of Avatar in Friday's TGIF.
Traveling Down Under is especially challenging over Christmas with gifts in tow. The Purmals had to repack after they learned that they could carry 70 pounds of luggage from LA to Sydney, but only 50 pounds from Sydney to Auckland. "We’re down to two changes of underwear, blue jeans and tee shirts," Kathie writes.
An overnight in Las Vegas was in their plans to help moderate the jet lag. Sydney is 12 hours ahead of us and one day later.
"First surprise- all car rentals in Vegas require boarding a large shuttle bus to the “major car rental center.” Being thrifty travelers, Dick booked a company called “Fox” Car Rental. Unfortunately, they were not at “Major Car Rental Center”- however, a quick reread of our email directions determined we needed to go to the shuttle curb for the“Fox” van. Highly recommend these guys. Very accommodating, good equipment and only $12 per day.
Then came the “Timewarp”

We drove down the Las Vegas strip for the first time in 30 years. We couldn’t look eft and right fast enough andfeel like you arein the center of a Mardi Gras parade. Huge, larger than life images on both sides of Las Vegas Blvd. Near our hotel, the MGM, the new “City Center” is opening this weekend. It is a huge complex of high rise condos, condo hotels (the Mandarin Oriental and others) and thrown down Las Vegas Blvd. in front of these buildings looks like a bunch of children’s blocks, on their sides, edges, sitting flat, but covered with amazing graphics boasting that these are actually stores (Tiffany, Gucci and the like).

There is the Venetian, looking like someone had ripped it from the dirt of Italy. The detail on the buildings is amazing. Construction is still going on everywhere. Between all the lights and sites, we by-passed the MGM as we couldn’t figure how to get in and kept going down the blvd. A hint of the past on the right as we came to the old familiar Riviera. Looking small and user friendly, we almost expected old blue eyes to walk out. Turned around and called the MGM Mirage (not Grand)- it’s now covered in green panels so it glows in the night. They gave us landing nstructions and we headed down Tropicana Ave. to the entrance. From the moment we pulled in, all was taken care of. Car attendant: appeared immediately. Baggage: no problem. A cart appeared out of the night with instructions to call when we got to our room. We walked into the incredible lobby like a king and queen and were immediately hit with an incredible aroma. Roses- hundreds of roses- done in giant red balls, looking like Christmas ornaments.

The lobby was decorated for the holidays in white and gold. Check-in was smooth and friendly and all the people in line looked so very normal. No European royalty, but zillions of Asians having a grand time in large groups. All for $39.95 per night. I now realize why retired people travel out of season. We have a room on the 24th floor, overlooking the lights of the city. They added a package for $20 per person per day for their “All Day Buffet” pass. This gives you complete access to the MGM Grand Buffet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We headed down to dinner and the casino after check-in. (Dinner alone was $60 for two)

Timewarp #2- no quarters- no ka-ching of money- no handles to pull!!! Refined, quiet, what’s going on? Watching folks at the machines, we realized we had no clue how to use them We have a bachelors and masters degree between us and we were confounded. Dick- the daring one- finally realized people were putting cash into the machines and pushing buttons. This he could do, only he pushed the wrong button Never hit MAX PLAY unless you know what that means. $5 was gone in a flash.

We wandered and watched,finding a lot of hilarity and noise at a table with little horses on sticks having a race. You bet on the winning horse #1 & #2- (we had to ask) But it took quarters-- all ten pounds worth I had brought from Cleveland. But a crazy group of 20 something cowboys (the rodeo is in town) had taken over the table. Eye lids heavy - off to sleep.

Dick and Kathie Purmal


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