Wednesday, 27 July 2011

A Trip part 5

Las Vegas

What can you say about this place? It is larger than life and the capitol of glitter. Every new hotel competes to be the biggest, finest and most extensively themed establishment on the Strip. They most often end up being ridiculous.
Not Lego land, the Excalibur Hotel
Click to enlarge all pictures
In England, the two well-known seaside resorts, Southend and Blackpool, are glitzed up to the nines to make themselves interesting and an ‘experience’ but they are candy floss, an ounce of sugar spun up to make a huge cloud of insubstantial pink, allegedly strawberry flavoured fluff. It looks good, tastes good, but has little substance. Similarly, Disney World and other money spinning resorts are fun and excitement and candyfloss too but Las Vegas whilst it is fun, and candyfloss, it is spiked with cocaine underneath the strawberry flavour.
Some wild architecture
The hotels all have casinos which are their real source of wealth, no one could possibly build and run a hotel at the room prices charged in some of them, even taking into account the numbers of rooms per hotel, and make a profit .
A typical casino
But behind the glitz there is a much more sordid sex industry. Whilst the town is showy and fun with fancy buildings made to look like works of art, there are constant adverts for escort services and adult shows whilst on every street corner there are sad looking people handing out business cards for contacts, promising to get a woman to your hotel room in twenty minutes.

These trucks were driving up and down all day and night
The most impressive part of Las Vegas is the sheer demonstration of wealth it presents.
The glories of Rome and ancient Egypt, took the combined wealth of their entire nations to build their emperor’s and pharaoh’s palaces and temples, whilst in Las Vegas, a property developer can come along and build a complete imitation of their works on a whim and the speculation of making even more money from the resulting work.
The glory that was Rome, duplicated in Vegas at wholesale
We stayed in the Luxor hotel, which is a huge pyramid shaped building with 30 plus stories and a vast open space inside that easily totalled the same amount of space that every single hotel in my home town contains.
The rear of the Luxor with one of the two towers

The balcony outside our room

Looking over the balcony you can see all the lower balconies
Looking further over the balcony you can see all the way down, all twenty six floors
Outside the hotel there is a full sized replica of the Sphinx, an obelisk and several statues in the style of ancient Egyptian art. Scattered around the building are more statues of various Egyptian deities and minor gods, whilst the décor is based on various interpretations of Egyptian structures. All of which must have cost millions of dollars to build.

The Luxor front, complete with obelisk and sphinx
Such a casual display of wealth is impressive but makes you realise that there are more have-nots in the world than haves.
The cityscape in the background is all one hotel, the New York New York.  In the foreground, the grass is astro turf and the hedge on the left plastic but the flowers and palm trees are real

New York New York has a roller-coaster around the outside
Naturally we took in as much of this as our three days we had set aside would allow. Of course TBH would not let me try out the escort services or the adult shows, but I did have a short session on one of the Roulette tables. I have played roulette before and rarely lose and with a certain amount of luck, I managed to retain that dubious claim by doubling my stake. The trick is always to stop when you are winning, a difficult thing but this is the key to my success on the tables rather than any arcane ‘system’. Just common sense, cover your losses and quit. It works.

We noticed that all the major stores and malls had nothing but up market designer goods
One of the aspects that confirmed my impressions of this place were two shows advertised all over town, ‘Menopause the Musical’ and ‘Fantasy’ a show advertised by a group of scantily clad leggy females, with the subscript ‘The show must go on’ with the word GO crossed out and TURN written in.

Two contrasting shows

Whilst a lot better accommodation than our first overnight stop, the Luxor is beginning to show signs of age having been open for about eighteen years. They have recently refurbished the towers but the pyramid is due for an upgrade. We were offered an upgrade to the towers but we wanted to be in the pyramid and it is certainly a strange and interesting experience. I had idly wondered when we first booked a room in the pyramid if we would find ourselves in the centre with no outside view, but as I had mentioned earlier, all the accommodation is in the outer wall. The lifts (‘elevators’ according to Americans) were labelled ‘Inclinators’ because due to the shape of the building, they went up at an angle.
 This meant that every time the inclinator started you got an unexpected lurch to one side, which took me by surprise nearly every time I rode up to or down from our room. We were on the 26th floor and when you leave the inclinator, there is a corridor that forms a square running around the whole floor, connecting all the bedrooms to the lifts. In places this turns into a balcony with just a low wall between you and a 25 story drop straight down to the centre of the hotel mezzanine floor! My first thought was ‘nice, if you have just made a disastrous loss on the tables, what a good place to end it all,’ and decided to keep an eye out for falling bodies whenever I was on the mezzanine floor.
The Egyptian décor was universal throughout the hotel
Inside our room, the Egyptian theme was continued by the large wooden wardrobe, but somewhat spoiled by the rather elderly CRT television it housed.
An Egyptian wardrobe
Our bedroom window was facing west and the view was impressive, because in the morning there was a huge triangular shadow leading away from the hotel and in the evening we saw a splendid sunset across the Desert Mountains in the distance. It also meant that during the afternoon the desert sun baked the room and both the window glass and the window frame were too hot to touch.

We had outlined a rough plan of the places we wanted to visit before we left Kansas and this involved a lot of walking. The strip is several miles long and everything looks nearer than it really is. There is a bus service and a monorail but the former is slow due to the heavy traffic and the latter does not always go very near the places we wanted to see, so we walked most of the time. With outside temperatures often well above 100F, this was thirsty work and I acquired a taste for Starbucks Frappuccinos, iced coffee so cold you had to be really careful to avoid the dreaded ‘brain freeze’. We all suffered from this at least once but the advantages were worth the pain.

We managed to visit most of our priority places, Caesar’s Palace, Mandalay Bay bay’s Shark Reef Aquarium, The Venetian, the Mirage volcano, The Secret Garden Zoo and the Bellagio fountains.
Caesar's Palace
Caesar’s Palace has impressive interiors and has some interesting shops, but to my mind the most interesting thing was a circular escalator, something which is quite an impressive engineering feat. Getting something strong enough to carry people, to rotate smoothly in two directions is not simple.

The interior of Caesar's Palace was sumptuous, complete with moving staircases
In the aquarium at Mandalay Bay, we saw the usual display of sharks gliding above and below us, which was one of TG's choices.
I am sure there is some appropriate movie theme music to accompany this picture, but I can't quite remember it...
Another of his choices was the Secret Garden zoo. This place amused me because there were signposts everywhere telling you how to find the ‘secret’ garden, of course there may have been another secret garden, or several, which we never found because they really are secret. We will never know. The one we found had an impressive display of large cats including a white tiger.
A contented looking leopard

So who is king of the jungle?
(Just as an aside, a good book that, The White Tiger)

The Venetian impressed me as an engineering feat too, because on the second floor (first floor to us perverse English) there is a canal system complete with Gondolas with Gondoliers and some pseudo Italian singing. You could take a ride in one and have a well-known Italian song blasted at you if you really wanted. O sole Mio seemed to be favourite and I was expecting to hear Poppa Piccolino or Shut uppa your face, any minute but that never happened.
Hard to remember not only are you indoors but upstairs as well.
The sky is a projection on the ceiling 
The canal outside this hotel was disappointing because it had sprung a leak or something and was innocent of any water but had workmen doing something to it with cement.
An empty canal
We had a look in Paris, but did not do more than pass through the ground floor level where the legs of the half size Eiffel Tower come down through the ceiling and get in the way. You can go up this model tower, which is quite large and although only a replica is actually taller than the Blackpool tower, but we skipped that treat.
The half size Eiffel Tower
We managed to arrive at the Bellagio just in time for the fountain display to start and found a good spot to film it. This is most impressive, and possibly the high spot of the entire visit to this fabled city. Not only was it spectacular in its own right, it was accompanied by Elton John’s Your Song, something both TBH and I like a lot.
The effects produced by this fountain were spectacular

These sprays are going up more than three stories in height
The Mirage volcano was not quite what we expected.  On TBH’s previous visit with the family, it was much more realistic and less of an effects show. She had videoed it and we are able to compare the difference and it was not as good this time.
Good but not spectacular
At one point in our travels, we took a ‘cool cut’ through the MGM Grand, cool cut, as in air conditioning and as opposed to a short cut, and were given the spectacle of two grown men earning their living by sitting in a glass lion cage each stroking a sleepy looking lioness. Neither of them looked delighted by their good fortune but it did draw a big crowd.
The MGM Grand outside, complete with huge golden lion

The MGM inside.  Here be lions
We used the bus on a couple of occasions and the monorail twice but all of this walking, roasting and alternately freezing our brains wore us out and by the afternoon of day three, we had run out of energy and so by mutual consent simply lounged about in the hotel, some of us dozing , some reading, some watching TV or playing Angry Birds.

Desert sun, ancient Egypt and a monorail
But we had seen Las Vegas! One of the fifty things to do before-you-get-too-old-and-the-cost-of-travel-insurance-is-larger-than-the-pension.

On the last morning, checking out of the Luxor was quite an interesting experience. A small wizened creature sat at the desk I approached and having given the room number, I was asked for my name and they could not find it so I told this possibly female creature at the desk that it was probably booked under TS’s last name. She/it did not understand what I said and then turning to someone near on another desk, (who was definitely a human female) asked her something I could not make out and when she got a reply turned back to me and snapped $390!
 I wanted to make quite sure I was paying for the correct room and so asked, ‘Is that in the name of TS or M?’
‘$390!’ was the reply.
‘OK, but is it under the name of M?’
At this point two things occurred to me. It had been in the back of my mind throughout the encounter that she/it reminded me of someone or something when it spoke. I suddenly realised it was the character from Monsters inc, number one, who constantly snapped ‘You haven’t completed your paperwork!’ in exactly the same way as the creature behind the checkout was asking for the money and secondly I realised that they had been saying the TS’s, name but contracting the second syllable so much I had not recognised it. Satisfied I was paying for our room, I paid and left.
You haven't filled in your paperwork!
We then set off heading South East to Boulder to have a look at the Hoover Dam, on our way to the Grand Canyon.

Friday, 22 July 2011

A trip Part 4

The Arches National Park - more pictures
The next morning, we headed back up into the Arches National Park. The scenery is amazing in this park, where unusual shapes, impossibly balanced rocks and natural arches have formed over the millennia. Carved out of red sandstone by the action of rain, frost and wind these rock formations have produced towers and pillars and the definitive arch shapes as a result of the curved strata in the rock.
Click to enlarge any picture
On the way in you pass huge wind scoured cliffs that look as if someone has sandpapered great curving hollows in them and past a wide area of rolling ancient petrified dunes.

This balanced rock made me think of queen Nefertiti of ancient Egypt  

Petrified sand dunes
 The area is arid and there is little vegetation but several species of hardy plants including cactus manage to survive.
A stunted tree with a curved root

 There were small burrows in the soft sand which may have been made by prairie dogs or snakes, but we saw no other signs of animal life.
The altitude is about four thousand feet, so we found the climb up to the larger arches a little bit breathless, but not as bad as some climbs we made later.
One of the larger arches

There are several people in the arch, which gives you some sense of scale

Nowadays tourists come out to admire this scenery or to walk and trek through it, taking it in as an easily accessible wonder, but long ago these places must have caused the original settlers and earlier explorers huge difficulty in crossing all this beautiful but desolate country and I wonder what they thought about the strange scenery when coming across it for the first time.

For people arriving from Europe, it must have been mind blowing. During the whole of our trip whenever we came across a new view of something spectacular, huge or rugged, the same thought crossed my mind.
The way in and out of the Arches National Park, with route 191 in the background
After spending the morning in the Arches National Park, we had to get on the road again as we were aiming to arrive in Las Vegas for the next night’s stop.
The quickest way to do this was to drive north back up route 191 to re-join the I-70 and then continue west across most of Utah to join the I-15 to head south towards Vegas. There were a number of alternative routes but many were difficult roads and none were very direct and we wanted to reach our hotel that evening.
Typical scenery in mid Utah
The central part of Utah is quite barren and we saw some dry and forbidding mesas and hills.

This strata was very pronounced
A proper mountain shaped mountain, just like the ones we drew as children
 At one point on this part of the I-70 there is a sign which tells you that there are no services for the next 160 miles, a mere nothing in the USA, but it reminded me that Margret Thatcher had wanted to build motorway service stops every fifteen miles along the British road system when she was in office. A little impractical out here.
There were several warnings that we were passing the 'last'  petrol before this stretch,
a bit like the movie titles Final Destination 2, 3 and four
After crossing this deserted area, we came into sight of the Fish Lake Mountains, which we had to cross. Although these mountains are similar in height to the range we crossed after Denver, the road does not reach much higher than seven thousand feet, so no danger of our crisp packets bursting. 

Approaching some mountains

In the mountains

There are two ranges of mountains between us and the I-15, so no sooner had we crossed the first range when the Pahvant Range came into view.  The two ranges are different in character, the Pahvant Range being greener and less arid than Fish Lake.
As we started to descend on the far side of this range, we went through some heavy rain.
Some more mountains
After crossing this range, we left the I-70 and headed south on the I-15. Whilst the scenery was still very different from home, much of this part of the journey was relatively uneventful because we had been so blown away by the Arches, it took something very special to grab our attention.

This family were proud of their numbers, nine plus a dog followed by 19 grandchildren
Passing through Cedar City, we saw the unusual sight of a lighthouse, miles from the sea declaring ‘Providence’. I have, found out since that this is the name of the Providence shopping mall and the lighthouse is simply used as a sign for this.
Cedar City shopping mall
We next passed through Saint George, which had bad connotations because it was the site of a breakdown on a previous trip by the family where they were stuck for some time. So this is a place everyone was pleased to leave behind as soon as possible.

Entering Arizona
 The next landmark was the brief passage through Arizona, the I-15 cuts through a corner of this State and so for about thirty six miles we were in yet one more state.
Arizona scenery
When we started out in the morning at the Arches, it was quite cloudy and we had experienced some rain, but as we headed further south it began to clear up and by the time we were in Arizona, it was brilliant sunshine.   Quite soon we left this tiny corner of Arizona and entered Nevada.
Leaving Arizona and entering Nevada

 We were now only about eighty miles from Las Vegas and in Pacific time, so we had to put our watches back yet one more hour. A little over an hour later we came into sight of Las Vegas.
First sight of Las Vegas