Las Vegas - Sin City

Made of Money?

Adore it or abhor it, there is nowhere else on earth like Las Vegas. If you had a week to live and you wanted to experience everything from gut wrenching disgust to heart bursting exhilaration, pulling up a stool in Sin City is probably your best bet (assuming Eastenders wasn’t on the telly that night).

It’s not somewhere I deliberately make plans to visit, that said, I have been there a number of times! My first visit was as a wide eyed backpacker on the way to a gap year in Australia, the biggest attractions were the all-you-can-eat buffets and free margaritas (read here for my take on it back then). I returned many years later with a bunch of foodie friends, we holed up in the Bellagio hotel and mowed our way through the plethora of fine dining on offer. When you start your day in Nobu you know you know you’ve had one black cod too many (starting your day at 6pm is perfectly acceptable in Vegas, the place is a virtual black hole where space and time collapse under a stack of cards).

My most recent visit was at the end of 2013. Friends from London, Nic and Phil, were rolling into town and suggested we pop down for a relaxing weekend in the imploding firework that is the ‘Entertainment Capital of the World’, challenge accepted.

Everyone smile, at 45 degrees
We stayed in the Luxor hotel, built in the image of the Egyptian pyramids. To accommodate the triangular shape of the building the elevators sweep up the side of the building at a 45 degree angle and are called ‘inclinators’ (Pythagoras would have been delighted, he loved an aul triangle). Naturally enough the bedroom windows were also at a 45 degree angle. As it was Vegas the room had a double bath directly in front of the windows (where else!) which had an expansive view over the flashing fluorescent lights of the city.

“What a view!” I shrieked as I clambered to stand in the bath (fully clothed). As I paused to think about the amount of parties that must have happened in this very room, (in this very bath…. eeuughh), I leapt out with another shriek, it was time to hit the town.

It was superb to hear the tinkling English accents waft over to us in the chosen bar. Nic and Phil are probably the best people you’ll ever meet, hugs were doled out and then more hugs for their old mates and our new bezzies Gayle and Dan.

You don’t have to find Vegas, Vegas finds you, so we sat back and soaked up the atmosphere. People watching is a profession in Vegas (and Vegas knows all about professions!), everyone is watching everyone else.

Unless you’re actively gambling you never sit still for too long in Vegas. The crowds are like an electric current twitching their way up and down the strip, in and out of hotels, stopping to gawp at the gondoliers in the Venetian hotel, stealing into the Cosmopolitan to stalk a celeb, marveling at the Paris hotel’s replica of the Eiffel Tower, and getting lost in the maze of slot machines every couple of hours.

Although all the hotels on the strip are distinctly unique with more themes and activities than Disneyland, most of them are owned by the same company, MGM. If you want to see a different side to Vegas, head to the old part of town, so that’s exactly what we did.

Life is only gorgeous!
We went to the Life is Beautiful music festival on Fremont St, where an old favourite, Beck, put us in a good mood. We hung out at the indie stage to see Portugal the Man, and somehow got into the VIP area of the main stage to see the crowd pleasing Imagine Dragons. I was dying to see the headline act the Kings of Leon, but they were a bit lack lustre in the end, so I didn’t mind when Dom decided it was time I got my pregnant self back to the 45 degree inclined bedroom (straight to bed, don’t even look at the bath, eeugh).

It was the inaugural year of the Life is Beautiful festival but I would highly recommend it. It was set in among blocked off streets downtown. It’s the ‘old Vegas’ from back in the day (I say that like I was knocking around with Ole Blue Eyes and the boys). When you’re moving from stage to stage you can take a load off in the ‘Alchemy Garden’ a wonderland of stalls run by hipsters each specializing in their own brand of pretension and alcohol.

My favourite quirk to the festival was an abandoned motel that had been stripped down and repainted with pop art murals on the exterior walls. Each room was painted a stark white with avant garde artists hosting exhibitions. Some of the ‘art’ was clearly designed to shock, I was still trying to get over the lurid history that stank out the bath in my hotel room, I didn’t need to see explicit ‘art’ thank you, but I did like the idea that the motel was one big art installation.

Once I realized the famous Golden Nugget casino was within the ‘grounds’ of the festival I insisted we have a little flutter in between bands.

Now, I should point out that 75% of my personality likes to be in control, to know what’s about to happen, doesn’t like change, however, 25% of me doesn’t give a flying flahula. Dom, on the other hand, is impulsive, spontaneous and has a propensity for risk that terrifies me (well, 75% of me). So I think we were all a little surprised when two hours into the gambling Dom had yet to place a bet while I had been playing the room!

Viva Las Vegas
I started with Blackjack and due to the luck of the Irish I ended up on a roll. The dealer, who was a crabby old bag, got the hump with me for reasons unknown so I cashed out, or at least that was the plan. I hadn’t intended on further gambling but I found myself drawn to the craps table. I have no clue how to play craps or why it has such an unfortunate name, but I was entranced by the idea of throwing dice and having someone shout “Snake Eyes” (or the like, I assume it doesn’t extend to bingo terms with the crabby old bag from the blackjack table shouting out things like “two fat ladies 88” or “Danny La Rue 52”, “Clickity Click 66”, I could go on).  

I sidled my way over to the craps table and planted myself beside the casino chap who was running the show. While pushing chips around the table and waving his arms around in different signals he kindly took a minute to murmur the basics of the game to me out the side of his mouth. All of a sudden someone handed me the dice, my life went into slow motion, a large man at the table shouted ‘Go Girl!’, I had stepped into a movie!

After a prompt I slid my chips to “Pass the line”, a whisper told me to hope for a 7 or 11. The table was vibrating with drunken wishes, I shook, rattled and rolled, silence fell as my dice bounced and trickled along the hard table, they came to rest, the table collectively inhaled, ‘7’ announced the stickman. I was smothered in an attack of high fives. I lived to roll again, the dealer flipped a token on the table from ‘off’ to ‘on’ and placed it on the number 4. ‘Go for a hard 4’ he said to me with a wink. Boom, 4! I was the toast of the town (in the movie in my head) more people had joined the table. I was hoping and praying that I would roll 1 and 1, someone would scream out “Snake Eyes” and my movie would be a box office hit. Alas, I rolled a 7, “you’re out” my friend said and cast me aside like yesterdays bingo sheets. It was short lived but I must admit it was exhilarating, even if I had no clue what I was doing!

Was it at this point that I decided I’d had my fun, enough is enough? No, of course not, I headed straight to the roulette table.

I developed a system (one chip covering 4 numbers in the 1st 12, one chip covering 4 numbers in the 2nd 12 and one chip on the '3rd 12' box). It was about as effective as anyone's ‘system’, you win some, you lose some. Gambling is a seductive mistress, thankfully I had Dom to remind me that we were missing out on sunshine and live music and general festival frivolity. So I left some chips for the dealer and finally cashed out.

Back out into the healthy sunshine, my ‘gambling’ would revert to once a year on the Grand National horse race, which is actually just a bet I have in my head cos I don’t watch the Grand National and I’ve never been into a betting shop in my life, so that would be back to no betting (to be more correct).
Me, after weekend in Vegas
People are always excited to go to Vegas but never sorry to leave it, it’s like marathon running, you’re glad you did it but your body really isn’t built for that kind of carry on (before anyone asks, no, I haven’t run a marathon, too busy rollin’ dice, my friend!).

We were sad to leave our British buddies (old and new)  but in one last sweep of the Vegas shops together I did manage to pick up a deck of cards that had been used in play at the high rollers table in the Bellagio. The corners had even been cut off to indicate they could no longer be used in play.

When I was alone, I took the cards out, gave them a shuffle, felt a little of that Las Vegas thrill, then buried them deep in my suitcase, and with a smile headed to the airport.

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