Friday, May 2, 2008

The Strip

The Suncoast offers a free shuttle to the strip. After work one evening, and after a good meal at Whole Foods, I asked how it worked. I was given a card with the times on it and found that a shuttle was leaving in 2 minutes then not again for over an hour. The return times that were reasonable to go with this adventure were 9 and 11 and since I have stayed somewhat on east coast time and been waking up early, I didn't think I would last until 11. That still left about 2 hours to see what I could see. Walking quickly and getting a good workout in the process here's my tour:

1. The starting point. The shuttle drop off and pick up point is outside of Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon. An amusing place to start since I like country music. I saved going inside for the end of my tour and proceeded across the street past Bally's to look at the Eiffel Tower at Paris Las Vegas. Having been up the one in Paris, I did not go up the tower here or even into either of these casinos. I was more interested in what was across the street.

2. The Bellagio. The lobby's hand-blown glass flowers are beautiful and the Conservatory and Botanical Garden is amazing and fun. The current show was titled "Spring Celebration Show” The water fountains were from over sized watering cans but the real fun was the large critters. There was a frog and a ladybug and butterflies. They were basically flower sculptures. It reminded me of Rose Bowl Parade floats where everything is made from living items. That was not the case here as some of the metal framing was obviously part of the sculptures but it still has some similarities. I skipped the Fine Art Gallery. I was looking for a quick tour and free events. Besides, while I like some American Modernism, the exhibit is organized by the Boston MFA so I have probably seen many of the items. I missed the fountains - something for a later trip I guess.

There were also a few obvious reminders that the Bellagio is the ritzy casino in town. First as I walked up there were the limos. Not just standard limos from an airport and really, even more impressive than those advertised for prom night. Fancy limos with finely dressed drivers. The bellhops and lobby are also fancy but that happens in other not so nice hotels as well. Then there were the casino tables. After searching, I did find a few with minimum bets that I might consider if I knew anything about playing the game, but as I first walked through the all I saw were minimum bets of $100. That is without even getting close the the high stakes areas. Finally, as I headed out at the other end of the casino I walked through the shopping areas with very upscale items. The less obvious ritz factor was the noise - or lack of noise. Sure, the shopping area had high ceilings and hard floors and lots of echoes, but the casino was much quieter than the others I visited. There were just as many slots but they didn't seem so loud and there were just as many people. There was more carpeting to dull the sounds. It also was quiet as bright.

3. Next stop - a walk through Caesars Palace. The buildings with all the greek columns and statues and such are interesting. I wouldn't mind seeing a show in the Colosseum just because I have never been to Greece. I looked out at one pool, and the names of the bars and nightclubs are humorous.

4. On to the Mirage where the volcano is being renovated but the aquarium and the rain forest are interesting. I should have taken the free tram to Treasure Island even though it is just next door since the walkways wind through parking and valet areas and are not the easiest to navigate. I never went all the way to TI, but rather stopped and crossed on one of the pedestrian bridges to The Venetian. The gondolas outside were mostly covered and looked closed for the night. I did walk inside past a few shops but I did not see indoor canals. There were some very nice replicas of paintings and murals on the ceilings though. I was also too late to visit the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum.

5. I was tempted to go a bit further to the Wynn since one of my students used to work there and had described some behind the scenes features of the mountain. However, I was getting tired and I really did not want to miss that 9pm shuttle back to my hotel. So I started back passing through Harrah's where I found a lot of people and a lot of noise. Outside in the carnival court it was a little more comfortable to people watch. There was one of those carnival booth type places where you dress up and get your picture taken. I know the ones with covered wagons and still photos. This looked more like you get put in a movie - riding a motorcycle. And the couple checking out the place was trying on some black leather riding gear. I would place that in the What happens in Vegas staying in Vegas category. By the way, there was a sign posted at the place - "no cameras please".

6. I finished up at Bills with a $0.99 margarita, $5 into the slots, and a 15 minute wait for my ride back to SunCoast.

One last comment: I only had 2 Elvis sightings - both were on singing on the open air top level of tour buses.


Welcome to Sin City

I have been working in Las Vegas this week. My first time to sin city.

As expected, the city (and metro area) is pretty flat - it is actually a valley - and the mountains pop up fast at the edges. People drive too fast - and the rental car has too many blind spots - so I've been surprised a couple of times already, but no scratches (yet).

It has been a long time since I have been anywhere that smoking is allowed almost everywhere and I am reminded how much I don't like the smell of stale smoke. Also, smokers have no taste buds, so the "they have great food" recommendations have been a bit off in my opinion, and I was holding my breath walking by at least one of the cafes in the hotel. So, as usual, I have been eating at Whole Foods Markets.

For hotel choices, I decided to experience the city. The training center is about 10 miles north of the strip. This north and northwest part of Las Vegas is the Summerlin neighborhood - rapidly growing with both business and housing and loaded with money. The recommended hotels included a few regulars that I know and like but also one of the local casino and resorts. I figured I would go for the vegas experience. Now that I have been there, done that, I think I'll go back to the Res Inn if I ever come back.

I stayed at the SunCoast. I had a non-smoking room (and yes, it really was a non-smoking - no old smoke smells were noticeable), with a fridge and a view of the golf course. It was fine. A room. Nothing special but it had what I needed - a fridge and a clean bed and bath. They do use scented cleaners so I have been stuffy each morning but that is also in part from the dry air, pollen, and dust outside (and smoke in the casinos and lobby and elevator areas and parking decks and...). It wasn't until Wed that I noticed the lack of a morning newspaper. I do not get home delivery since I am on the road so much, but i do at least skim the paper when on the road and I usually save the puzzles for the plane ride home. Just another sign that I am not in a business hotel this trip.

It was recommended - strongly recommended - to drink lots of water while here. They weren't kidding. I generally drink a pretty healthy amount of water when I am teaching since bottled or filtered water is provided for all of our classes (usually by the training facility but I'll buy a case as part of my meal allowance if it isn't). I also remembered a jacket since the day and night temps can vary in the desert but I have not needed that this trip. Not even for the one colder than average day we had mid week. The wind can be brutal though. And even with sunblock and lots of water, it was dry enough for me to get a chapped lip and some nose bleeds.