VIVA Las Vegas!

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 13, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Nevada
Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We woke up to another cold morning in San Fran, making our best batch of free pancakes to date before being reunited with our beloved minivan for the long drive to Vegas.

When I say long drive, I mean it! 676km to be precise. Once we had managed to negotiate our way out of the one-way nightmare of inner-city San Fran, it was just one big road cutting through a whole load of nothing the entire way. As the party bus was an automatic, and the road basically a straight line, Mark was not so much driving as just sitting on autopilot with one hand rested on the steering wheel for around 8 and a half hours. At one point the sat nav kindly announced that in 200km we needed to veer left - needless to say after that slight change of direction it was another 200km of straight line until our next instruction.

Of course, the drive is all part of the experience - we passed the time playing games and trying to get as many 18 wheelers to honk their horns for us as we could using the universal arm-out-the-window -for-a-honk sign language. It transpired, to our delight, that truckers in California are most indulgent to over excited tourists in mini-vans! Lunch was a stop at another American Institution, Taco Bell, where we piled up on unlimited refills of beverages that I'm sure are probably illegal in the EU. They seemed to have more sugar than a person should drink in a year. With additives pumping in our veins we doubled our "honk" request efforts, danced to Leila's extensive road trip themed play list (Viva Las Vegas, Are you going to San Francisco, etc) and generally had a good time while night began to fall around us. The sunset over the desert was an amazing deep orange, and it was just as darkness was creeping in that we began to see lights on the horizon...a weird multicoloured oasis in the middle of the baron landscape we had been driving through for the last 600km.

By the time we reached the strip it was fully dark outside, well it would have been if not for the electric glow from thousands of moving neon lights advertising Casino's, Hotels and a million other establishments. We had booked into The Luxor, an Egyptian themed hotel at the top of the strip. We had no problems finding it as, a) it is built in the shape of an enormous pyramid and, b) said pyramid has a massive white searchlight at the apex which roams the night sky to guide people towards it. As we pulled up to the entrance there was a flurry of activity as we all tried to sort ourselves out after a whole day festering in such a small space. Valets were stepping into the cars at the front of the queue while bellboys rolled trolley's to collect guests luggage, our poor mini van was strewn with wrappers and empty, sugar-coated drink cups, and our "luggage" were two over-sized rucksacks that had been dragged around the globe for the past 11 months. Nevertheless, we were paying guests, so with as much dignity as we could muster we tossed the keys to the valet and strolled through to the lobby.

To say I was awestruck would be an understatement. Don't get me wrong, it was a very different kind of awe to that of seeing the power of Victoria falls, the size of Fish River Canyon, or the amazing coral of The Cook Islands, but awe it was none-the-less. The lobby was not just a lobby -we were standing in the very centre of the giant pyramid we'd seen outside, with the balcony's of each floor encasing the walls all the way up to the top. The height was staggering, there were enormous Egyptian props everywhere and between two Sphinx's and some palm trees, arcade sounds were drifting from the in-house Casino.

However, the slots would have to wait as we were rather tired from a full days travels. So it was straight to our rooms - the absolute lap of luxury considering we were in a shared dorm with maggots in the carpet only a few months before! Therefore we committed the ultimate Vegas crime - an early night in our comfy room.

The next few days passed in a surreal blur of noise and lights - although very little of this was daylight. The casinos are designed to prevent patrons from having any concept of the passage  of time. With no clocks or windows, you can be in there at 1 in the afternoon or 4 in the morning and it will look exactly the same (there's not even a noticeable lull in foot traffic). Many of them are even inter-connected, as we discovered one day whilst wondering along corridor after corridor for around 45 minutes before finding our first window, which revealed we had walked maybe a mile or so from our hotel! The buildings are cleverly designed so you never have to leave, the Luxor for example offered an "all Day Buffet" where, for around $30, you are given a wristband which grants you entry to the restaurant as many times as you want throughout the day. The food was incredible, anything you could ever imagine eating was there in massive quantities, which when you are blinded by the buffet mindset of eating as much as you can (which we probably did by breakfast) is never going to end well. I guess Vegas is all about vices, mine happens to be chocolate - and that day I definitely indulged to the limit!

There is a great quote that I feel sums up the mood of the city:

" Las Vegas is every man's cut-rate Babylon. Not far away, there is a roadside lunch counter and over it a sign proclaiming in three words that a Roman emperor's orgy is now a democratic institution - 'Topless Pizza Lunch' "

Now, besides gambling and strip-pizza places, Vegas is famous for it's entertainment, so we decided to see some shows while we were there. It is of course also famous for drunken matrimonial decisions. However, as Mark and I already had those t-shirts, we spent a large portion of the trip trying to convince Leila & Donnie to get married - preferably in The Elvis Chapel. Unfortunately, it was all to no avail. It just so happened when we were booking the shows that there was a deal on where you got a discount on your second set of tickets. Mark and I both wanted to see Chris Angel (a weirdly emo looking magician who's famous on YouTube for walking on water). So, with that agreed upon, it would've been silly to ignore the special offer. My hands were tied - in fact, I was positively FORCED to make the second purchase along with Esmeralda and to The Thunder From Down Under. I'll let the souvenir photo do most the talking, all I'll say is that is was very educational. Who knew that fireman/builders/policemen could be so talented!

Chris Angel's show was amazing, lots of rock music and big illusions which messed with our minds. Even though it finished late we couldn't be tired as, where in London you would walk out of the theatre onto a cold, busy street signaling home time, in Vegas the foyer leads straight back into a Casino (In fact Chris Angel's show was in OUR hotel Casino - once again we hadn't even made it out of the pyramid). And like moths to the flame, we were drawn back into the slots, feeding more money into the machines until who knows what time. 
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