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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Middlerun Does America, Days 12-14: Las Vegas

On my last day in Los Angeles I was pretty exhausted by the trip so far so I took a holiday from my holiday and didn't do much. I went to a nice Moroccan barber shop on Venice Boulevard and got a much needed haircut, then went back to the boardwalk for another look around. It wasn't nearly as busy this time.

I also went to see the Venice canals, an imitation of the other Venice canals which spans something like eight blocks. I walked along the canals for a while taking photos with my phone. A lot of the houses have little jetties with small boats tied to them. Some boats were better-kept than others.

That night I spent hours trying to organize my trip to the Grand Canyon, which would happen after I spent a couple of night in Las Vegas. After considering dozens of possible permutations of bus trips, car rentals, flights and accommodation, I finally settled on a plan to rent a car from Vegas, drive to Flagstaff and spend the night there, then drive to the Grand Canyon the next day, spend most of the day there and then drive back to Vegas that night to return the car and catch a flight at 1 am to Austin.

I checked out of the hostel early to give myself lots of time to get to the Greyhound station for my bus to Las Vegas. I got there in plenty of time, and eventually the bus boarded and we set off. The trip was as pleasant as the last one, and I got a good view of the scenery as it turned gradually more rocky and deserty.

On the way there we stopped for lunch at some random town in the middle of nowhere. The place we pulled into had a few fast food options and fake train cars you could sit in and pretend to be in a dining car while you had lunch. There were a bunch of gift shops with various Las Vegas and Route 66-related souvenirs, plus some pretty realistic Airsoft guns. When it was time to get back on the bus I forgot which one was mine, but found the right one after an anxious few minutes.

Eventually the bus arrived in Las Vegas. Immediately I was hit with a wave of hot air. Being in the middle of a desert, Vegas is incredibly hot, but it's a dry heat which makes it much more tolerable. Public transport in Vegas mainly just runs up and down the Strip (aka Las Vegas Boulevard, where the main casinos are), so I was forced to get a cab to my hotel, the Riviera. The first taste of an expensive city.

The Riviera is a pretty nice hotel, especially considering how cheap it was. The prices at Vegas hotels plummet during the week in a bid to get as many people gambling as possible. (Unfortunately for them, the tiny amount of gambling I did was at other, nicer casinos.) The room was nice and clean and somehow actually looked bigger than the one in the photo.

That night I set off down the Strip to explore. The Strip is an amazing place. The thing that struck me more than anything else was just how huge everything is there. Each casino is so gigantic, it can take ten minutes just to walk from one to the next. For this reason some of the casinos have trams which run between them along elevated tracks.

Another weird thing is that on most intersections on the Strip, the only way to cross the road is by using big footbridges. An intersection will often have four of these footbridges, each with up and down escalators and a lift on both sides. That's sixteen escalators and eight lifts, for one intersection. They do have rivers in Las Vegas, but instead of water they contain money.

By far the most annoying thing about Vegas is the multitude of people who hand out flyers for (presumably) prostitution agencies. They all where the same style of T-shirt: solid colour with simple printed text along the lines of "Girls straight to you in 40 minutes! [phone number]". As you walk past, these clowns will try to hand you a flyer. I don't think I ever saw anybody take one. At first I said "no thanks" to each one, but very soon that was reduced to shaking my head, and shortly after that I gave up and just walked straight past them.

There's lots of cool things to see on the Strip without even entering a casino. Every fifteen minutes in the evenings, there's a fountain show on the huge lake in front of the Bellagio. Fountain nozzles rise up out of the water, and tilt and spray water in sync with music that plays through speakers along the footpath. The nozzles are so powerful that when they shoot at full force they sound like fireworks.

Also on the Strip is a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower and a 2/3 scale Arc de Triomphe at the Paris Las Vegas casino, replica canals of Venice at the Venetian casino complete with rideable gondolas, replicas of all sorts of New York landmarks at the New York New York casino, the Excelsior casino which is a giant castle, the Luxor casino which is a giant pyramid, and all sorts of other cool stuff. And neon. So, so much neon.

I ended up at the Nine Fine Irishmen, an Irish pub at the New York New York, which had a real Irish band and a fun, unpretentious vibe. After hanging out there for a couple of hours and spending far too much money on Guinness, the night was getting on a bit so I thought I should set off to find another bar. I ended up at Caesar's Palace, drinking Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in the presence of big marble statues.

On my way back to the hotel, someone on a footbridge tried to sell me cocaine. That was pretty funny.

The next morning I had breakfast at the hotel buffet, which was pretty decent. Then I got the bus down the Strip to do a bit more looking around. One highlight was the Flamingo casino, which has a wildlife area at the back with live flamingos, other birds, big koi fish, a tortoise and other animals wandering about.

Next on the agenda was to go back to the New York New York to ride the rollercoaster (visible here). That was loads of fun, with a fast loop and a corkscrew, and gave a great aerial view of the Strip. As the rollercoaster car slowly climbed the giant initial hill, someone ahead of me called out, "how do you feel, Las Vegas?". "Terrified!" I called back. That got a few laughs.

I checked out a few more casinos I hadn't seen the night before, rode a couple of inter-casino trams, then went to get a better look at the Venetian. The canals at the Venetian aren't just outside - the large indoor shopping area has a long canal stretching almost its entire length and does a reasonable job of looking like a real, outdoor part of Venice. There was a shop here selling packs of cards which were used in actual play in various casinos. I bought a pack used by the Bellagio for two dollars.

That afternoon I tried out the pool at the hotel, which was pretty nice. Another fun activity was playing with the insanely fast hotel lifts. They're so quick that you can jump into the air as the lift accelerates downwards and you kind of float in the air for a moment like you're on the moon.

Later I went to the New York New York and rode the rollercoaster again. It was even more fun at night. I had a few more beers and explored a few more casinos, and eventually it was getting late so I headed back to the hotel to get some sleep. While waiting for the bus I met Mike from Boston.

Mike was a slightly creepy old guy who started talking to me about how he had just lost six thousand dollars gambling. He then told me he had been given a free ticket by the casino for Cirque du Soleil at the Bellagio on Saturday that he couldn't use and offered to give it to me. I cautiously said sure, and he called the Bellagio to have the ticket transferred to me. I got the feeling this was leading up to some sort of scam, and when he asked me for money for a taxi I pretty much knew he was full of shit, so I told him I didn't have any cash, and couldn't afford to go to the ATM to get some. He took some convincing.

Of course, the next day I called the Bellagio to confirm the ticket and, of course, there was no ticket. In fact the guy I spoke to on the phone asked if the guy who offered me the ticket was from Boston, which he was. He knew who I was talking about. So I guess that sort of thing happens a lot.

The thing I find most obnoxious about this scam attempt is that Mike was convincing me to alter my travel plans in order to be in Vegas on Saturday night for the show. Since I was going to be visiting the Grand Canyon on Saturday, I would have had to leave there earlier than I wanted to to get back to Vegas in time for the show. I would have had to get over to the Bellagio, find out there was no ticket, and get back to the airport, wasting lots of time and money. And for all this bullshit I would have had to go through, how much did Mike try to scam me for? One cab fare. Like twenty dollars. What a fucking jerk. If you're going to try to screw up my travel plans, at last have some goddamn ambition. Look at Bernie Madoff - he may be a grade-A arsehole, but at least he has cojones.



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