Thursday, February 21, 2008

Up High, Down Low, Too Slow

Las Vegas is the sort of town where fun doesn't just happen at street level. Way down The Strip, past the biggest gift store in the world (where a ridgey-didge uniformed sheriff patrols the entrance), you reach The Stratosphere Hotel and Casino.

The place is home to three death-defying attractions - "X-Scream", "Big Shot" and "Insanity". Check out the website to see what they're all about, and trust me when I tell you that you could never, ever hope to persuade me to even go on one of those crazy rides. Call me a nana, but simply taking the elevator 866 feet to the top viewing platform was all the white-knuckle excitement I needed for one evening! The view from up there IS gorgeous though, especially at night when all the lights are twinkling beautifully (I wonder if you can see the Vegas lights from space?).

Having left the lofty heights of Vegas and the stunning panorama behind, we took 'The Deuce' past a bunch of sleazy motels and drive-thru wedding chapels (no kidding!) to Fremont Street, to get an appreciation for old Vegas in its heyday, when the Rat Pack (and the Mob) really did own the town.

The blessed internet tells me that the
Fremont Street Experience, as it is officially known in the guidebooks, boasts a $70 million light canopy, which is basically a pedestrian promenade covered over by a domed canopy that has a 550,000-watt LCD light and sound system built in. Every thirty minutes or so from 11pm each night, the lights come on and screen a short display of colour and sound designed to stimulate your senses (or hypnotise you to spend more money, I am not sure which).

Either way, Fremont Street is an assault on your senses. It's non-stop action just like The Strip, but it's also chock-full of street vendors like The Chippendales, who tried to get me to pose for a photo with them but I modestly declined! I am not averse to having very well-built men drape themselves over me, but in full view of tourists? And I have to pay them at the end? No thanks hehe.

So me and JK wandered up and down Fremont Street, and went into The Golden Nugget, one of the most famous original casinos in Vegas. The decor was kinda 1960's (think oranges and browns everywhere). It's old school, and not as flashy as the newer places on The Strip. But neverthless, the Golden Nugget (and other places just like it on Fremont Street) was stiill making a lot of money out of people that night - the tables and machines were pretty much full.

I'm not even sure you can stay at the casinos on Fremont Street anymore and even if you could, I'm not sure you'd want to. It's a decent Deuce ride from the Strip, but it also seems to be just another place you have to check off your list when you come to Vegas, a must-see attraction to get an idea of how things used to be in Sin City - and I really am glad I got to see it.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What happens when the sun comes out

Okay so I should have posted a post-script to yesterday's entry because I completely neglected to comment on the spectacular light show that we watched on the lake out the front of Bellagio after the Cirque show. I mean, it's only one of the most famous attractions in Vegas after all!

The Bellagio Fountain

Now that picture of course shows you the fountains and light show from the FRONT of the Hotel, but me and JK didn't want to have to stand in a crowd three people deep in order to appreciate the view. So being the clever chap that he is, JK suggested that we view the spectacle with a glass of champagne, from INSIDE the Bellagio's Fontana bar. They have a beautiful terrace that you can go and stand on, to fully appreciate the enormity of the fountain sprays, set to music (just like fireworks might be). I tell you, after that experience, and the Cirque show, I was on overstimulation-mode. Thanks be to God for the champagne.

[Now we can move to the morning after.....Saturday, Part 1]

Las Vegas is a round-the-clock town, indoors particularly. At any time of day, the croupiers are 'dealing' with patrons at all stages of intoxication, and the bars and restaurants and full of tourists re-fuelling for the next round of partying.

And during the daylight hours outdoors, there isn't much to do on The Strip other than walk around and get a grip on the adult wonderland you've landed in.

So when Saturday morning rolled around, and the sheer scope of the previous evening's Cirque de Soleil show was still seeping in, Gab the Goldfish took a shower and prepared to face Daytime Vegas.

We scrambled aboard 'The Deuce' and rode it to "New York, New York" casino to appreciate their breakfast buffet. The restaurant we went into was in the casino's China Town, so I scooped some BBQ onto my breakfast plate but stopped short of spring rolls and wontons. I have to tell you, BBQ pork for breakfast was pretty darn good. And with my belly full of the rather noxious combination of BBQ pork, orange juice, and filtered coffee, we set off.

JK played the tables for a bit and I wandered around the cheap souvenir shops upstairs. When he'd finished, he tried yet again to convince me to ride the huge roller coaster at the "New York New York" but naturally I didn't budge.

I think you could probably convince me to eat or drink just about anything from any culture around the world. You could talk me into travelling just about anywhere or talking to just about anyone. But don't ask me to pay to sit in a tiny carriage up monstrously high above street level, and then speed around a narrow track at break-neck speed for three torturous minutes. It's just not gonna happen. And so JK had to abandon his idea for the Rollercoaster of Death ride. Too bad, so sad chum.

Then we crossed the road to a cheap souvenir shop to assess the postcard situation. I'm a big postcard person, and am constantly on the lookout for the glitziest, most hollogramic postcards I can find. And if they were going to exist anywhere, it would be Vegas - right? Sadly I was let down on this front. Most of the postcards I found were simple location shots of sparkly night scenes, or daytime location shots of the Casinos. So having selected some of these cards, the cash register lady told us that we could buy postcard stamps in a vending machine at the 7-11 adjacent to her store.

We found the machine and I started ferreting through my purse for the required number of quarters. Then JK, the numbers man, did a quick calculation and stopped me. "How can a 90-cent stamp cost you $1.75?". And sure enough, the machine advertised 90-cent stamps but required you to insert 7 quarters ($1.75). WHAT THE? Another example of Vegas trying to take our money. So we left the 7-11, scratching our heads.

A quick wander through M&M World and Coke Land - or whatever those too emporia were actually called, and then we rocked up at Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum. Fabulous ability to get up close and personal (and even rather grabby) with some celebs. Anyone who tries to tell me that Marilyn Monroe was a US size 14 is a smelly liar. I don't think the dress she was wearing at the museum would have even zipped up on me! But she still looked pretty great. And just seeing the wax figure of Lucille Ball cracked me up.

We wandered past "Treasure Island" casino, and I had a couple of margaritas at their bar where I was pretty much mesmerised by the bartenders who were flipping bottles in the manner of Tom Cruise in "Cocktail" - it was all pretty impressive. But then I was tired and we decided that an afternoon lie-down would be a good idea in preparation for our big night of activities.

Which I will blog about tomorrow bwahahahah (evil laugh).....

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Las Vegas and the big "O"

So if you're paying attention to posting dates, you might think that I have been on the biggest margarita bender known to mankind. After all, I only suggested I'd be popping out for a few quick ones. But truth be told, I have been putting off the Las Vegas re-cap. There was so much that happened, writing it all down seemed like a really daunting concept. But here I am, at my computer in the manner of Doogie Howser, all ready to lay out the high points of the holiday. And don't worry, I didn't learn anything worth sharing with you all...

The first thing I have to tell you is that the flight from Chicago to Las Vegas is about 4 hours long. And with a little bottle of cheap red wine on top of a couple of beers from earlier in the night, I arrived in Vegas absolutely shattered. Not drunk by any means, but simply exhausted. I just wanted to discover some sort of Quantum Leap style time travel and beam myself directly into bed. Fortunately I didn't have to worry because JK had been very clever and booked us some bus transfers from the airport to the Hotel.

But it's true what "they" say - Vegas doesn't sleep. Even at 1am on a Friday morning, The Strip was a living organism. There were people of all ages wandering around and through the little slits in my eyes, I could make out people drinking on the streets, lots of big-haired tourists, and best of all - tshirts! That meant that I had finally left behind the frosty streets of Chicago and entered some sort of desert oasis wonderland. Finally!

Close-up of the Bellagio lobby ceiling A sparkly horse at Bellagio Before we trashed the hotel room

And as the opulence of Bellagio greeted me, I assumed my soon-to-become permanent facial expression of open-mouthed goldfish. I suspect that expression is rather common on first glance at Bellagio.

Not to be snobby about the whole affair, but I have been to the real Bellagio, a small hamlet off Lake Como in Italy - something that now reminds me of Rivendell from "Lord of the Rings". So even though I was initially concerned that Vegas would bastardise all the gorgeous things I love about Italy, I have to say that Bellagio the Hotel is an escape to the sort of Lake Como villa you can only dream about. It is stunning in every sense, and nothing is too much trouble for any of the staff. Like the rest of Vegas, Bellagio is open 24/7 so it is always "on", but I never noticed any of that on my first night. Once I got upstairs and took a "before" photo of my gorgeous queen sized bed, I face-planted on it and fell into the sort of blissful sleep only reserved for holidaymakers.

JK had been to Vegas before so I was more than content to rely on him to make sure I saw everything I was supposed to see. And our first port of call on this 'must see' list was the Bellagio Breakfast Buffet. I can't even remember how much it cost, but I will say that the excess of the smorgasboard was really just a food-filled metaphor for the whole town! After a filling breakfast pitstop, we commenced our day's journey.

We caught 'The Deuce' (the double-decker Las Vegas shuttle bus that put-putts tourists up and down the Strip for $5 per day, unlimited travel). JK and I realised that 'The Deuce' is a very cool mode of transportation, but naturally only when you say 'The Deuce' like some sort of Robert De Niro gangster hitman. We were so awesome.

'The Deuce' dropped us off at the Las Vegas Outlet Center first of all, and we spent just over 90 minutes wandering around the suburban strip mall. It wasn't a shopping mecca by any means, though I did score a cute dress and top for about $25 all up, which wasn't bad. Vegas had already begun to take my money it seemed!

Returning to The Strip (via 'The Deuce' of course), we wandered through a couple of the larger casinos down the opposite end from where we were staying. We walked through "Mandalay Bay" (and visited its impressive Shark Reef exhibition), then through "Luxor" which only references Ancient Egypt from the outside, and then across to "Excalibur", which is a knock off of King Arthur's times. The interior of these casinos all look fairly similar but they are all worth seeing. The sheer scale of them all nearly blew me away.

Before long, it was time for a margarita and we hailed 'The Deuce' to take us to Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville, which had come highly recommended to me. And after an Ultimate Margarita and an amazing creation called Volcano Nachos, we returned to Bellagio for a quick nana nap before heading out again.

Ahead of time, I had bought us tickets to the Cirque de Soleil show called "O", which is a spin on the French word for water, so much of the show focuses on diving, and swimming, and waterplay. It is positively breathtaking. I had never seen a Cirque show before, so I strongly suspect that I was again very much the gaping goldfish (although perhaps appropriately this time), as I marvelled at the athleticism and choreography of the artists. To call them acrobats or (worse) circus performers doesn't do them - or the show - justice. They are just amazing and while Americans seem quite at home doing standing ovations after just about every show, they're not something I'm usually comfortable with. But this time, I was on my feet almost immediately, and was just so impressed. From the murmurs of my fellow theater-goers after the show, my reaction was a fairly common one.

I have just scrolled up this post and seen how lengthy it is, and I've only recapped Day 1 of my Vegas Adventure. Perhaps I should pause here then and give it a day or so before busting out the news and fun of Day 2?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

It's Vegas baby, Vegas

Close-up of the Bellagio lobby ceiling
Originally uploaded by Miss Gab.

There is a lot that I need to catch you up on, but my desire to have jugs of margaritas at my local Mexican restaurant has overriden my desire to write.

Check out my photo album from Las Vegas by clicking on the photo of the gorgeous multi-colored ceiling at Bellagio.

I promise I'll write soon.