Thursday, February 27, 2014

Erica's #8 - Play Blackjack at a Casino (2/12/2014)

So, here's another post that is Cayamo related...I'll save the actual post about Cayamo for later, but it just so happens that my first chance to play real blackjack in a real (I guess cruise ship casinos are considered "real"?) casino came about because of that magical floating music festival called Cayamo.  Oh yeah, this post is about blackjack, so back to that...

I'm fairly certain (make that 100% certain) that I have never, ever, ever, wait...there was that one time...nope, never won money in a casino.  I know people who have, but I am that person who takes any small, hard-won earnings from the one-armed bandit and puts them right back into the next bright, shiny, dinging money-pit with pretty flashing lights that has obviously been waiting for ME to pull that lever so it can pay out a jackpot.  The root of my "lack of winning" issue (we won't call it that yucky "L" word) has to be that my casino adventures begin and end with slot machines, right?

Incorrect, my friends.  But I'll get back to that point in a minute.

I'd never had the guts to saddle up to a table with a living, breathing human being dealing cards in my life.  I've been to Vegas several times, on cruise ships, in a number of Indiana's fantastic floating (and now land-based) gambling establishments, Indian casinos, and hotel-lobby casinos (thanks, Butte, Montana, for having ten casinos within spitting distance from anywhere you happen to stand).  I've lost money to friends playing Texas-Hold'em on kitchen tables.  I've played lame games of blackjack as a kid with poker chips to be twith that were worthless.  But sitting down at a table with a dealer who knows pretty much all there is to know about the game, and 1-5 other strangers who probably have done their homework too is intimidating.

What did it take for me to play some real world blackjack, you might ask?  Nothing more than setting this goal as one of my 101 things, a few ounces of liquid courage, $20 burning a hole in my pocket, having the good fortune to be on a cruise ship in international waters, a few minutes spent watching other people do it, and the piece de resistance - a pal who knows what the hell she's doing to stand behind me and tell me what to do and when to do it!  (Thanks Amy!)

The first night I sat down and played, I played at the $5 minimum bet table on the same $20 for at least an hour and a half!  I did eventually end up losing it all, but I can't complain - I had a blast! Again, I have to thank Amy for her helpful advice.  By the end of that night (or early morning), I had at least picked up some good basic strategy, other than the old "get closest to 21" stuff that's pretty self-explanatory.  I played a few more times on the trip, and never had any decent luck!

So, in case you were wondering, my lack of winning still abounds (I was just donating to Norwegian Cruise Line, right?), turns out it isn't just the slot machines that enjoy taking my cash,  but I had a blast, and at least felt like I was in control of my winning (or lack thereof).  I know there's still a great deal of chance involved in the game of blackjack, and the house still has a slight advantage, but I know it's less than the advantage the slot machines have!

I've now decided that a trip to a local casino and their blackjack tables is in order for my upcoming birthday celebration.  Maybe I'll have more luck this time!

(I'm also not sure how Mel got away with taking these pictures - we didn't know that was on the list of "no-no's" in a casino, and experienced several people being told to put away cameras throughout the week!)

Erica's #20 - Get up early to watch the sunrise (2/6/2014)

I'm cheating just a little bit on this one...instead of getting up early to watch the sunrise, we ended up staying up all night to see the sunrise.  And it might have been less about staying awake to see the sunrise as it was staying up to drive to Miami from Indianapolis overnight so we could get on a cruise ship to paradise.  But let's not split hairs here...we saw the darned sunrise, and that's what counts!

There was, as there often is in February in the Midwest, frankly some pretty crappy weather the day before we were scheduled to fly down to Miami the day before Cayamo.  Crappy weather that led to many flights being cancelled in the Midwest and Northeast (not to mention me working from home that day to avoid the traffic headaches).  For those of us who fly standby, cancelled flights the day before you are planning on trying to fill an empty seat is not good news!  Any open seats on Thursday would have been filled by the people who's flights were cancelled the day before, so we gave up hope on the quicker/easier/cheaper option...

We ended up renting a car in Indy (a Prius, thankfully - that thing only sipped $90 in gas all the way to Florida!), and leaving Wednesday night, February 5th to drive to Miami.  Originally, we planned to stop around Nashville, TN, get a room for a few hours so we could get some rest, then finish the drive on Thursday, bright and early.

By the time we got to Nashville, we had scrapped those plans and just decided to switch off sleeping in the passenger seat.  It wouldn't have been worth it to spend money on a room we were only going to sleep in for 3 hours, and we'd probably feel worse if we took that short of a break and tried to get up and do it all over again.  So onward it was for us.  At one point, we did stop for an hour in a Target parking lot and both napped at once.  Sleep won for just a bit...

The roads were still a little iffy in Indy, but really not bad other than that.  By the time the sun was rising on Thursday morning, we had officially entered the South - Georgia.  It was still, for whatever reason, freezing in Georgia though.  We left home with no jackets, expecting the weather to warm as we inched toward Florida, but that wasn't the case.  Oh well - it was warm inside the Prius, and we only had to freeze when we got out at the gas stations that are strangely closed, and dark, but with pumps that still work in the middle of the night in GA.  At first, we assumed that they really were closed, but as long as you're paying via credit card, they are open.  Probably not the safest of places to be - at an eerily silent highway exit, standing beside a gas pump under a dark awning at 4am - but you do what ya gotta do.

We did get to experience a beautiful sunrise just before 7am near Fort Valley, GA.  It was truly a gorgeous sight, and one that we rarely get to really enjoy.  We do see the sunrise sometimes in the winter in Indy, since it comes up on our way to work, but it's tough to actually marvel at the beauty of it while you're in a hurry and battling rush hour on the same highway you take to work every single day.  It is quite another thing to bask in it's glory as you're barreling toward a vacation that includes friends, warm weather, music, sand and surf!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mel's #26 and Erica's #82 - Eat at a Greek Restaurant (11/15/2013)

There is a really cute part of Indianapolis that reminds me a little bit of some of the neighborhoods we have visited in Portland, Oregon. You know what I'm talking about...hipsters, wine bars, non-descript music venues with neon signs that don't necessarily indicate that there is a music venue there. Well, in Indy, this section of town is called Fountain Square. It is a part of our city that has gone through quite a bit of revitalization over the past several years, and happens to be a part of town Erica and I frequent.

For years, I had heard that Indy had an amazing Greek restaurant in this neighborhood, called Santorini. I dreamed of trying it someday, since so many people raved about the food.

Now, I must disclose that for about a month in college, I probably watched the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" twice a week. I don't know why, but I loved that movie. I think it was the simplistic and light hearted humor about falling in love a little later in life and of course, the portrayal of the Greek family. The movie always lifted my spirits. After a while, I caught on to how big a presence food was in the movie and presumably, how amazing Greek food must be.

So, on that chilly autumn evening, Erica and I parked the Jeep and ducked in, all under the glow of a ridiculous amount of blue and white neon signs. couldn't miss this place if you tried.

Our dinners were incredibly delicious, as almost anything smothered in real Greek olive oil is. I had a chicken gyro, which came with about 10 sides, including a salad, green beans, and potatoes, all cooked Greek-style.  Erica had Tiropita, which is feta cheese encased in delicious phyllo. We had some wine, and enjoyed the nice family atmosphere where it seemed that everyone was enjoying their meal.

Also of note, there was a woman in the restaurant who was belly dancing for tips. I'd say she was in her mid-50's and not in bad shape, but I still thought she had a lot of guts and maybe a lot of wine in order to do this every night. I didn't quite know how to react to this. I'm the kind of person that would never ask for a string quartet to serenade us during dinner. In fact, when it comes to places where I'm eating and being entertained at the same time, I get a bit awkward. I don't know where to place my attention...I didn't know, for instance, if it was rude to ignore the belly dancer or actually watch her. I defaulted to ignoring her for the most part when she was close to our table, then looking at her when she was further away. I never know how to react in those situations. This is probably the best resemblance of the face I make when confronted with this scenario:

Oh, and I should mention, that should you ever go to this restaurant, you'll notice no smoke detectors or sprinklers on the ceiling, and that the ceiling tiles and a bit charred. Santorini has a famous appetizer called Saganaki, which is flaming cheese, complete with oil fueled flames licking the ceiling as the server brings it out. Everyone in the place yells "Opa" when the servers bring out this dish!

All in all, it was a great experience. And, my parents have decided to try new things and foods, so I'm thinking about bringing them to Santorini for something different. It is sure to be entertaining.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Erica's #22 - Eat in a revolving restaurant (12/23/2013)

You always hear about those fancy revolving restaurants at the top of buildings in big cities, and Indianapolis is no exception to this rule.  The Eagle's Nest sits atop the Hyatt Regency in downtown Indy, and I remember hearing about people having dinners there to celebrate special occasions since I was in high school.  Since we are typically operating on a Taco Bell or pizza budget, we haven't ever made it to this restaurant to give it a shot.  I decided it was time for that to change, so I made a reservation for us on the night of Mel's birthday.

It was a cold, windy, but thankfully clear night as we headed downtown to try out The Eagle's Nest.  Since Mel's birthday fell on a Monday this year, the place wasn't that crowded, and we were seated right next to the window.  The interior of the restaurant rotates 360 degrees, providing a beautiful view of all of downtown while you enjoy a delicious meal.

We started off with an amazing appetizer of goat cheese with sundried tomatoes and a balsamic reduction drizzled on top of toasted brioche slices.  Yum - you can never go wrong with cheese and bread in my opinion, and this goat cheese was fresh and the most flavorful that I've ever had.

Mel chose the salmon as her main course, which was served on creamy polenta.  I'm not a fish person, and I've eaten exactly one meal of salmon in my life that I've enjoyed, but I tried a bite - this salmon was delicious, as was the polenta.

I ordered the vegetarian pasta, and I'm not sure I've ever had a better pasta dish.  It was prepared with grilled zucchini, squash, and mushrooms, and troffiette pasta.  The pasta had been cooked to a perfect al dente, and almost had a grilled taste to it.  It was in a very light wine sauce, and had the best delicate flavor.

Even though their dessert options sounded delicious, we opted to skip dessert at The Eagle's Nest in favor of meeting Mel's mom, sister, and nephew for a late dessert of frozen yogurt!  This was one of the things on her list to do, and it was a great time.

So we highly recommend The Eagle's Nest as a place to go celebrate a special occasion.  The pricing wasn't even as high as we expected, so that was a nice surprise.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Erica's #5 - Take a trip outside the US (2/10/2014)

I honestly thought this goal would be a big stretch to accomplish in under three years. I figured we'd get to the end of this whole 1001 days experiment, and have to take some wild last minute road trip to Canada, leaving just enough time in a weekend to cross the border, take a few pictures, and head back home. Then a little thing called Cayamo happened...

The next few blog posts are going to all be Cayamo related - consider yourselves warned!!!  I promise I wasn't sandbagging when I created all of these goals that could somehow all be accomplished in one amazing week - we had no clue we were even going to try to get on Cayamo until just a few days before Christmas 2013.  Cayamo had been sold out for months already, and after losing the raffle at the East Coast version of Raise the Roof - a fundraiser for Brandi Carlile's Looking Out Foundation - we had just about given up our hopes of a winter escape.  We still had a nagging desire to get ourselves on that boat though - we've been dying to go back ever since our inaugural cruise in 2010 - so I called the Sixthman folks, who, surprisingly, said they could book us right away!  Merry Christmas to us!  Cayamo isn't a cheap vacation by any means, but it's well worth the money!

First, I'll explain what Cayamo is for the uninitiated...Cayamo is a floating music festival, or what the Sixthman folks refer to as "A Journey Through Song".  You board a cruise ship for a week, are entertained pretty much non-stop with amazing music, get to stop at a beautiful (and, most importantly, warm!) port for a couple of days, and, if you're lucky, you get to do it all with some of your best friends (regardless of how long they've been in your life), and make a ton of new friends along the way.

So, this year's port-of-call was the island of Tortola, in the British Virgin Islands.  After a couple of days at sea, we were greeted with beautiful weather in the 80's, plenty of sunshine, and a gorgeous view of the island.

While in Tortola for a couple of days, we took a small boat to another island, Jost Van Dyke, the first day to see Humming House play at a little bar called Foxy's, right on a beautiful beach (but that's a story for another blog!).  The second day, we caught a cab to the other side of Tortola, to Brewer's Bay.  It was one heck of a hilly road we took to get there, but the views and the beach were stunning.  More to come on that, since that day checked a couple more to-do's off my list!

Oh, and our excursions were referred to as "Bertscursions", after our friend Bert - the unofficial tour leader for our group of 10.  There were t-shirts and everything!  We even left a Bertscursions button at Foxy's, so we have to remember to check up on it if we come back again!

The British Virgin Islands were an amazing place to magically end up at for our trip outside the US - I wouldn't complain if the next Cayamo we end up on stops there again...