The last part of our trip was in Las Vegas – M had a three day conference, and I tagged along for the free hotel room and dinner dates. This was my second trip to this city – both for convention-type events – and I must say, it’s not growing on me. I’m not complaining about the time away from work and other responsibilities, or even the pure luxury of a few days with an agenda outlined completely by me. But I find the place a bit depressing in so many different ways – the cheesy replicas of real places, the smell of stale cigarettes and the tinkling sound of slot machines, the miles and miles of circuitous routes from one building to another with absolutely no link to the outside world. And that doesn’t even touch the experience of taking an evening stroll under the neon lights where you have to navigate through an endless stream of silent solicitations. It is pretty cool to have so many theaters and performances and superb restaurants (if you ignore the buffets) to choose from within walking distance. We scored on two nights with some truly enjoyable dining experiences and great seats to one of the Cirque du Soleil shows. I’m sure there will be other times when work will bring us back to this one-convention-hall-fits-all kind of place, and they might coincide with times when your super generous mother-in-law takes a week off of work to come down and spoil your children while you hike the canyons and the dams and the strip for a few nights of escape. But if I had to choose, I’ll take the real cities, with the real sites, and the restaurants that require directions with right and left hand turns instead of straight ahead and up those escalators. St. Mark’s Square is just a glorified food court at the end of a mall coincidentally named the Venetian, with a Grand Canal that smells of chlorine and overpriced perfumes, next to a Ben and Jerry’s and an Abercrombie and Fitch. Piazza San Marco, and for that matter, Paris, you are not.