Thursday, November 7, 2013

Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon

Las Vegas

Vegas. What a place. You can drink outside and smoke inside. It's crazy. That said, I actually really, really enjoyed it.

In case you can't wait to start gambling they've conveniently set up slot machines at the airport. Also convenient for when you leave, in case you haven't quite wasted enough money.

After arriving and not gambling I took a bus to my accommodation. And not the tourist bus which crosses the Strip either. No, a local bus that turned out to have a bunch of crazy people on it. First there were two random people who'd both been in rehab. The guy (probably in his late 40s, early 50s, or maybe younger but has a drug aged face) started talking to some girl in her 20s. Somehow they got onto talking about some rehab place and how good it was. That conversation in itself was quite interesting cos I've never known anyone to go to rehab. In fact, rehab sounds very much like an American thing. Then he starts hitting on her and she tells him she has a girlfriend who she is now living with. It didn't sound like a line either to get rid of him. Of course that didn't discourage him. 

Then some other woman gets on the bus. She may have been drunk or high or just a bat shit crazy lady. But she walks up the bus taking a stance against participating in some line up and getting arrested cos she didn't do nothin' and the cops have nothing on her. 'Kay...

So I find my stop and get to the hostel and it's all good. Because I'm travelling for a long time, I decided not to stay in one of the hotels along the Strip with all my friends, but at a hostel Downtown. 

So they all stayed at the luxury Aria (because they have jobs and were on two week holidays) and I stayed at Hostel Cat, which was completely fine and I would stay there again. Plus 12 bucks a night for a bed in Vegas? You can't beat that for value! 

However, the view from the 52nd floor in Shandell and Marcus's room was of this.

Mine was this.

Not sure what the point of the sad looking mannequin is.

I was also within walking distance to 'half price' lawyers and numerous bail bond agents. It explains a lot about my bus ride from the airport. I also kept expecting the CSI crew to show up at any moment.

My favourite one is 'Bad Boys'. Although obviously they've been bad or they wouldn't need a bail bond agent. Hmm...

But this area isn't totally dodgy. I was also walking distance to the Arts District. 

At this stage 'district' seems like a bit of a stretch since it's just a couple of buildings. You probably wouldn't go out of your way to go there unless you stayed at one of the nearby hostels/ cheap motels or were really into one of the galleries/ businesses.

I also liked that there were several quickie wedding chapels across the road from the hostel. I did actually see a few newlyweds while I was waiting for buses. Sadly, no one was dressed as Elvis.

While you see loads of people walking the Strip, Freemont Street, and the north and south outlet malls (which are awesome - way better than Australia's crappy ones), that's it. No one walked anywhere else in Vegas except me and the homeless people. And Vegas has a lot of homeless people. Like a lot. More than anywhere else I've seen on this trip. From a social science perspective, I find this so interesting about this city. On one hand you have capitalism at it's finest. Money, luxury hotels, designer shops everywhere, basically whatever you want, when you want. But then on the other hand the sheer amount of homeless people I saw out of the main tourist areas demonstrated how America fails to look after it's most vulnerable citizens, and this post GFC "conomic state we've entered into does not work for ordinary people. There is such a problem with first world poverty here but there shouldn't be given how rich America actually is. On this trip I've seen first hand how socialism doesn't work. However, America's far right policies and this 'socialism for the banks' era aren't ideal either.

One of the places I walked to (several times since it was 10 minutes away from the hostel) was this vegan restaurant. Vegas is so pedestrian unfriendly outside of the tourist areas, I basically had to climb over a freeway exit barrier and walk past a bunch of vacant lots to get there. This was probably the scariest place I walked in Vegas since it really did look like CSI crime scene waiting to happen.

But it was worth it just to get to these.

100% vegan chocolate pancakes. Oh. My. God. They were so good. After eating this in the morning, I did not need to eat for the rest of the day. I ate a bunch of other things here too at different times, and all the food was all delicious. I also liked that there was a good mix of locals and tourists each time I went in and everyone bonded over veganism. 

The owner/ chef also gave me free organic apples and pears from her orchid (or her friend's orchid) each day I went in. While I ate some of them it was too much for the time I was there. I debated leaving them in the 'free food' section in the hostel kitchen, but then decided the homeless people would probably appreciate them more. So for two days I carried fruit around (which I washed so it was ready to eat) and handed them out to homeless people I encountered around the city. 

Vegas is really vegan friendly. Most of the big hotels have vegan items these days in at least one of their restaurants (usually the buffet). I wanted to try this one at Wynn since it pioneered the vegan menu on the Strip and the food on the website looks pretty delicious. However, the night we were going to go, it took us about an hour to get from Aria to Wynn, by which time we only had about 30 mins of buffet left. Seemed pointless spending $40 or whatever for half an hour of eating, so we didn't go. 

Walking up the Strip at night is cool.

Wynn was gorgeous inside, even though we didn't make it to the restaurant.

In fact, I spent a day walking through quite a few of the hotels just to see what they were like.


There is a fountain show here every night at around 7pm. One night I was heading in to meet the others and I got stuck on the bus for about 30 minutes. The upside was I got to see the entire show from the window. It was pretty good.

This is the ceiling at the reception area. Gorgeous.

Mmm, chocolate...

The Venetian. This was one of my favourite hotels.

Caesars Palace.

Paris Las Vegas. I liked this one a lot too.

New York New York.

Luxor (didn't go in).

MGM Grand.

This is the one and only time I've seen tv screens on taps in bathrooms. It only advertised stuff going on in the hotel of course. They weren't showing episodes of the Big Bang Theory or anything.

I really wanted to do the CSI Experience, so I did.

It was pretty cool. I got everything right and solved the crime so watching hours and hours of all three CSIs has clearly paid off. I also found a spelling mistake (actual spelling mistake not just wrong American spelling) in the sheet you have to fill in, but I didn't get extra credit for that.

Apparently I am a CSI now. Thanks Gil. Maybe I can get a job with CSI Brisbane when I get home!

A few us also saw KA at the MGM Grand. It was my second Cirque du Soleil show and really good. There are about seven permanent Cirque shows in Vegas at the moment so it's pretty easy to get tickets.

One night I stopped at the Stratosphere on the way home and decided to check out the night view. This is the tallest building in Vegas and you get brilliant 360 degree views. Totally worth the $18 or whatever to get up there.

The Strip.


I also wanted to try a ride. Tip: buy rides passes with the entry fee before you go up cos they are way more expensive at the top.

I went on this one which went out over the edge and spun around.

I didn't even see this one til I got up there but it looked terrifying.

Mine was this one from the ground. Also pretty terrifying.

Yes it was one of the scariest things I've done. I also think it's the most amount of times I've said 'fuck' in three minutes. And I say fuck a lot!

One of the best museums I've been in was the Mob Museum. This place was so interesting and explained the role the mob has played in America's history, as well as how Vegas got started. Interestingly Vegas would not be the place it is today with out the mob's dirty money.

Here are some cool pictures.

This is the actual wall from the St Valentines Day Massacre with real bullet holes. 


Being a prostitute would be shit (for numerous reasons).

The Neon Museum is also in Downtown and was really cool. It's basically where all the old signs from Vegas (and some other places) go to die. I did an evening tour so it would be lit up. It goes for about an hour and they tell you about the signs and Vegas and it was really fascinating.

This one is my favourite. I would love to see this guy restored but apparently it is a lot of work and there aren't too many people around with the required skills.

This is a giant skull from Treasure Island. I like that you can see it on the satellite view of Google maps/ Google Earth (search Neon Museum Las Vegas if you want to see for yourself).

One of the things the museum is doing (and your money goes towards) is restoring the signs. You can do a self guided tour of the restored signs, which are mostly in the Downtown area. Most of the signs I've taken pics of including the 'Welcome to Las Vegas' at the start are restored signs.

Obviously this one is my favourite:

Might as well stick this in here while I'm on a shoe theme. 

Hello lover!

Another cool thing to do in Downtown is Freemont Street.

 The roof along Freemont Street is cool.

We went to a bar across from the Heart Attack Grill (which sounds like the worst place on earth).

Then outside someone collapsed (may or may not be related) and the fire brigade was called (apparently they are the first responders in the US) then the ambulance came. Interestingly someone dressed as the Grimm Reaper also walked past while all this was happening. Gold!

Final Vegas thought.

The Grand Canyon

On my last day I went to the Grand Canyon. I did the cheap option (which is still not cheap) of getting the bus there. This meant a 5am start. Joy!

On the way we stopped at Hoover Dam. This is probably the only large engineering project in the world that has come in ahead of schedule (two years) and under budget! Bet that wouldn't happen if they built it now. It would be one blow out and delay after the next.

I also flew past it on the way from Fort Lauderdale and got some good pics.

The white lines are old water lines before drought conditions kicked in.

Then we drove through the desert for a few hours.

These are the Joshua trees. It's a real thing not just a U2 album!

We went to the Western Rim where the Sky Walk is. There are three places you can go. Two for views and a ranch. Luckily this is America so you don't have to walk anywhere. A shuttle bus takes you between them.

I only went to the two lookout areas since I don't care about ranches. The Grand Canyon is amazing!

I have never been on a helicopter before but I've always wanted to go on one. I decided that if I was going to spend $150 for a 15 minute ride, this was the place. 

I learnt two things:

First, helicopters are very cool.

Second, it was totally worth it to fly into the canyon.

You can see where the Sky Walk is in the middle of this photo. Basically you get to see a lot more from the helicopter.

After the helicopter ride I went on the Sky Walk but it was a let down. I should have done it first. Plus it's expensive and you can't take your camera. A photographer goes around with each group and takes pictures and then charges you $18 (not including tax of course) for each one. And you don't even get a digital copy. Like what the fuck are you supposed to do with actual photographs?

Lunch was included in the tour. You could use your voucher at any of the three places. I didn't have high expectations but I went to the food place at the Sky Walk since they did a vegan burger there. It was surprisingly good. It also came with some fruit. 

The next day we all left Vegas. I had to fly to Denver to get a connection to Cancun, Mexico. On the way we flew over the Grand Canyon and I got to see just how big it really is. Huge! I guess that's why they call it the Grand Canyon, not the Small or Medium Sized Canyon.

So that was my week in Vegas. Some people say a week's too long but I say it wasn't long enough. There is so much to do that doesn't involve casinos and I missed out on a couple of things because I ran out of time. I didn't gamble one cent and I didn't even really drink but this still ended up being the most expensive place I've visited by far on this trip. Everything in Vegas is expensive even if you're trying to do it on the cheap. 

Because I got up early each day to do stuff and I was catching up with my friends in the evenings, I was totally exhausted by the time I got to Cancun, but this was a short stopover so there was no rest for me yet.  

Next stop: Cuba. My least favourite country ever!