"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The STEAL City vs. The STEEL City

We booked two almost back-to-back trips over the week of 4th of July
 including a return to Las Vegas and our first-ever trip to the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area.

Friday, June 28:  We boarded an early afternoon direct flight to Las Vegas via Southwest Airlines and touched down in the desert in the early afternoon (gotta love gaining two hours) and met our friends Karen and Mike.  Lodging went a little different this time with a "girls' room" and a "boys' room" - well, actually,  make that a "girls' hotel" (the MGM Grand) and a "boys' hotel" (directly across Las Vegas Blvd. at the New York, New York Hotel and Casino).  Ashlee and Karen chose MGM since that's where the two concerts they were attending (Justin Beiber tonight - because the tickets were cheap) and (Beyonce on Saturday night - the show this trip was planned around) were being held.  Mike and I chose NYNY because it was a cheaper rate but still close by.  I didn't attend either show but chose to play some poker tournaments instead.  The girls said Bieber kind of stunk (what a surprise), but was at least interesting to check out.  It was reported that Beyonce's show, however, was incredible. Unfortunately, I was 0-3 in my poker tournaments during the concerts without a cash, but I still had a lot of fun playing.  It's probably unfair to refer to Las Vegas as "The Steal City" since we don't do a lot of big-time gambling, but money can still slip away fast out here with good food, great shows and tons of other fun things to do.

Close to record-setting temps for Sin City while we were there visiting.

Saturday, June 29:
After a huge brunch buffet we spent the majority of the day lazing around at the larger (and a bit nicer than NYNY) pool at MGM before "all the (married) ladies...and Mike" headed out to see Beyonce and I headed off to play some poker including my first-ever official World Series of Poker tournament entry in Las Vegas.

Sunday, June 30:
After Karen headed back home this morning, we had a fairly busy day of activities planned up and down The Strip.  We started with an early drive up the Las Vegas Blvd. to the Paris Hotel and Casino for a light breakfast.  Afterwards, we continued north and stopped by the pawn shop made famous on The History Channel's "Pawn Stars."

 When we got back to the hotel we took a ride on the roller coaster at New York, New York.  This was my second time on it and I can't say I remember it banging me around as much before.  Ouch!

We walked to and had lunch at the tasty, Fatburger,  near our hotels, but we still give our nod to In-N-Out as the best West Coast gourmet burger chain.
 We drove down to Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort to check out the Minus 5 Ice Bar.  What a "cool" concept!  Everything is made of ice including your drinking glass and it was kind of trippy considering it was 111 degrees outside. (Photo courtesy of the Ice Bar staff photographer - thanks to Mike for purchasing and sharing it!)
Our first real casualty from the heat was the news that the helicopter ride over The Strip we had booked had to be cancelled due to the weather conditions.  Hot air and rotors don't mix very well it seems.

We ended the day with some discounted tickets to check out the 10 PM performance at NYNY of the Cirque de Soleil show, Zumanity, which was quite entertaining albeit quite a bit racier than we were expecting.

Monday, July 1:
After a great Thai lunch buffet at a popular dining spot for Las Vegas locals called Lotus of Siam, we shuttled Mike to the airport for his afternoon flight home.  Our flight wasn't until that evening, so we finished the afternoon checking out the newest casino on The Strip called The Cosmopolitan and did a little shopping next door at the Aria Resort where Ashlee excitedly got her first-ever Gucci handbag (it was on sale at least!).

July 3:  During our two-day
"layover" back at home we also caught a pre-Independence Day celebration show by one of our favorite performers, Brett Dennen, at The Tin Roof in downtown Nashville.  Opening for Brett were two other great bands, John and Jacob, and Alanna Royale.  We also ate dinner here during our first visit to this new downtown establishment and it was very good. We will definitely be adding this rocking little joint to our list of places to visit again.

RED hair, pale WHITE skin and BLUEjeans.  What's more patriotic than the great Brett Dennen!
July 4:  Thanks to a great airfare sale with Southwest Airlines. We boarded a plane to The Steel City on Independence Day.
Beautiful PNC Park is the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and we grabbed some great seats to their day game vs. the across-state rival Philadelphia Phillies.  The weather was nice albeit pretty warm and the first-place Pirates dropped the game to the Phillies 6-4.  By the way, their food and beer selections are tremendous!

We had a delicious dinner (and the 8, yes 8, beer sampler) at The Church Brew Works.  As the name implies, this award-winning microbrewery is set-up in a restored (and, yes, deconsecrated) Roman Catholic church building.  This has been on my Bucket List of breweries to visit for a long time.  More on the beer in my beer blog.

Friday, July 5:
Stone meets wood in a wonderful way at Kentuck Knob, the lesser known and smaller in size of Frank Lloyd Wright's residential masterpieces located in Pennsylvania's Allegheny Mountains.  Our morning tour of this incredible structure was a perfect way to start a very memorable day.  Kentuck Knob is about an hour southeast of Pittsburgh.

With no photos allowed inside, it was the after the tour and out on the back patio and porch of Kentuck Knob that we could capture some of the amazing creativity and design that went into this home including these cool skylights.
The hexagons of harsh, bright sunlight from the skylights strike in hard contrast to the dark coolness of the stone and wood on the back porch of Kentuck Knob.

The view from atop Kentuck Knob just a short footpath down from the home.
The beauty and roar of Ohiopyle Falls in Ohiophyle State Park which separates Kentuck Knob from Fallingwater.

The amazing masterpiece:  Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater! Speaking of Bucket Lists, this beauty has been on mine for a long time now.  To see it in person and to be able to take a tour inside was a dream come true!  It's everything it's "built" up to be! Pun definitely intended!

The classic shot:  Fallingwater sitting atop Bear Run Falls.  Is this the eighth wonder of the man-made world?  It sure seems like it to us!

About a half-hour away from the beauty of Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob is the peacefulness and infinite sadness of one of our country's newest national monuments, The Flight 93 National Memorial.

The crash site which created a huge crater at impact has been filled in and wildflowers now grow in its place.

The simple, yet stirring, memorial consists of 40 marble slabs each with a name of a crew-member or passenger who died that fateful day here as heroes saving countless more lives by diverting the plane from its intended target in Washington, D.C.  The angle of the marble wall is the actual flight path of the plane to the crash site.
Did we mention the food was amazingly good in Pittsburgh?  Because it is.  Our first stop when we got back to The Burgh from our day in the mountains was Primanti Brothers, a local chain of restaurants and a Pittsburgh legend that specializes in sandwiches with French fries stuffed inside.   They were pretty good (and efficient).  Dessert was on our mind next and back near our hotel (a nice and cheap little Wyndam on the University of Pitt campus - thanks Hotwire.com) was Dave and Andy's Ice Cream where all of the good stuff is home-made (and delicious).

Saturday, July 6:  Food continued to be on our mind (and in our bellies) as we packed up to fly back home this afternoon, but beforehand we had arranged for a food tour over in the Brookline neighborhood.  Our tour stuck to Brookline Avenue but wandered all over the map in terms of types of food from Middle Eastern pitas with olive oil and cheese; Mexican candied fruit; Philly-style soft pretzels, bakery-fresh sweets;  rich, delicious South American coffee; and ending with classic thin-crust Italian pizza.
Brookline Avenue is a classic Pittsburgh neighborhood with tons of great eateries and local shops nearby.

It's not called "Pitaland" for nothing.  They are cranking them out here all hot and puffy six days a week.  We got to pick our fresh pitas right off the line and dipping them olive oil and a hunk of cheese was incredibly tasty.  The Lebanese-American owner could not have been nicer to us and his story of his journey to the U.S. was very interesting.

The amazing Pittsburgh skyline and more atop Mt. Washington.  This was a nice place to say goodbye to The Steel City, but with assurance that we will be back someday.  Thanks for a great time!
The beautiful Chesapeake Bay peeks out from under some rough-looking clouds.  After stopping in Baltimore, we made it safely home despite the ominous weather.

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