2012-10-08-Vegas-MagicKingdom

What a cliché – certainly I could have come up with a more creative title for this blogpost?

But, in a way, it captures my Las Vegas experience very precisely. The main reason I chose it, though, was something that did actually happen on our British Airways flight from London to Las Vegas. It was a group of Britons, 15 or 18 people, who entered the plane together in matching black t-shirts. The front said: 2012 wedding of (hisname) and (hername) in Vegas, the back featured the „what happens in Vegas“ slogan plus, similar to a back number on a sports jersey, the name of the person wearing it. Three of the party were right in the row in front of us, and most of the developing onboard party took place in the aft end of the 747, where I was standing to stretch my limbs.

When I say, everyone, I am not totally correct – the bride and groom had ‚bride‘ and ‚groom‘, respectively, on their shirts, and one of the guys only had a huge ‚H‘ on his back, which evidently was what he was called. H. was also the one who was hauling loads of beer, coke and whisky mini bottles from the galley to the party zone in the back more than just once.

Now, if I absolutely have to get between the lines of a pre-wedding booze-up, by all means I would choose people from the British Isles (Ireland included in this case) as the participants. Even when half wasted, they tend to stay friendly, and the worst thing that may happen to you if you bump into them is finding yourself with a drink in one hand and a pat on the shoulder right amongst them. These lads and lasses were no exception. So, yeah, I could have done without the elderly lady in the seat in front of me singing to the playlist on her ipod (actually, it was an HTC phone, but you get the idea), waving her arms in the air, in the middle of the ’night‘, but hey… for having eliminated probably half of the mini Johnny Walker bottles on the plane all by herself, she was in a pretty good and relaxed mood. I also got to know a lot more of the family history and personal stories of the people involved than necessary, but even discussing serious personal topics, they were a friendly and forthcoming bunch.

The guys and gals from God-knows-where in Great Britain were having fun, and they made a terribly long flight bearable with their good spirits. At first glance, I thought: oh my, pricey to have a wedding in Vegas, but then it dawned on me: it isn’t. A one-week cheap getaway to Vegas costs maybe 500, 600 Euro if you have a smart booking agent, multiplied by 15, or 18, there are more expensive ways to get married, and I think they had a great time. Later we learned they were going to the Venetian, probably by minibus / shuttle service (I seriously doubt any of them was able to drive safely).

Landing in Vegas at around 6 p.m., we suffered through a slow and lengthy immigration, which wasn’t as bad as expected, only very very slow. After that, we headed for the Rental Car terminal. The rental car services in McCarran have a joint parking garage and rental center which is three miles from the airport, and a free shuttle service, dropping us and our luggage right at the front door. Within minutes we had our car —a Jeep Liberty— and drove off to find our hotel.

Which wasn’t complicated, although (or maybe because) we did not stay on the Strip, actually not even in Vegas, but in Henderson, the eastern extension of Vegas. We stayed at the Sunset Station & Casino, a landmark hard to miss. Checking in, we grabbed a burger, and with over 24 hours on our clock, fell asleep very soon – no frolicking around Fremont street or night clubs or casino anything.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas also resembles my mixed feelings about the City of Sin. It is one of the places I consider „been there, done that“ – it was exactly what I expected, and I didn’t like it (as expected). So, after a tour to the Hoover Dam in the morning (I’ll give that one a blog post of its own), we went to see the Strip.

The main impression of Vegas is fake. And I don’t like fake. Evidently, most people here do. I don’t mind fake pyramids and pharaohs, actually I found the Luxor very impressive, architecturally, and for a while it is fun to stare at the faux parts of the world collected on the Strip. There were a few details I found really interesting – such as the monorail built by Austrians, or the sheer size of the Mandalay, which is a world of its own, really a league of its own, probably. On the other hand, what struck me most about Vegas was that everything was the same.

It doesn’t matter what casino or hotel complex you enter, they all have the same fast food chains and Starbucks, the same dark dungeon-ey casinos with psychedelic carpet, the more you see, the more it is the same. The only exception being the Bellagio, which kind of glowed in old-fashioned glamour with its faux-Italian looks. I liked the Bellagio, it has a retro charm, very old-world style (and wandering along the lake in front Frank Sinatra sings all his top hits to you).

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But all in all, there was nothing unique, nothing special in Vegas, behind the pretty Disneyland-like façades all the casinos and hotels are interchangeable. It gets boring soon, and I stopped being interested in exploring something else really fast, which is not my typical modus operandi.

We grabbed some mediocre fast food somewhere along our walk, downing a liter of Coke on the side, just to make up for the dry heat outside (and we had been drinking lots of water already). Originally, we had planned to go to a buffet at the Wynn or the Bellagio, but somehow, at 30°C in the afternoon, I really didn’t feel like queueing up with hundreds of people, I’d had enough people for a day, just walking up and down Las Vegas Boulevard.

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Actors dressed up as Sesame Street characters, giant M&Ms, Wookies or Elvis offered to be photographed with tourists for a tip. The only one I would have liked was the Elvis guy, but then I don’t like having my picture taken at all, so that’s not for me – and again, it is part of the whole celebrating fake theme. Look, we can make anything worth seeing for real as unreal as it gets, that’s our secret superpower. If you are into that thing, Vegas is for you. If you are happy spending time exclusively at the pool, the casino and a buffet, and spending money like there is no tomorrow on top-chef restaurants and shows, Vegas is for you. For me it is a strange, alien world, where I don’t feel at home, not even at ease. So let everything that happens in Vegas stay in Vegas, I am fine with that.

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In the end we did not go to a show, did not see the Bellagio fountain in action, did not even spend a quarter (ha) or dollar on a slot machine – the days of the quarter-fed slot machines are gone, everything’s electronic these days, and frankly, the cave-like casinos were not really attractive to me. (On a side note, Vegas is probably the only place in the US where you still can smoke indoors, as in you don’t have to leave your game for a smoke).

Again, no nightlife, not even a neon-lit walk along the strip. But we did take the mandatory picture of the Vegas sign 😉

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After a long shower we settled for a bite at the hotel, watching TV and giving in to our jet-lag instead of returning to the Strip at night. Although parking is really easy with the huge garages on the back side of the hotels, the illuminated palaces of fake had lost their appeal really soon. Vegas, with all its glitzy nightlife, was not what we had come for, it was just a convenient first stop on our road trip. And we were looking forward to our next stop – the Grand Canyon North Rim.