photo by Marionzetta on Flickr
One of the longest running TV soaps in Australia is a relatively wholesome* and slow-moving series called Neighbours. It’s filmed in a cul-de-sac out in the Melbourne ‘burbs (well, it’s filmed in a studio out in the ‘burbs, but the exterior shots are done in a cul-de-sac). For some reason, it is far more popular in the UK than in Australia. When British tourists visit Melbourne, they often do a bus tour out to the cul-de-sac to stare and take photos and tell their friends back home. Melburnians do not understand why they would want to do this. I mean… it’s Neighbours.
But I think I get it now. A few weeks ago, The Boy and I decided we were going to visit Las Vegas for a weekend. Most Americans I told could not understand why we would want to do this. It’s tacky and expensive and seedy and sweltering hot and full of rednecks. EXACTLY. I had to see for myself. I have no doubt most British tourists visit Pin Oak Court with their tongues firmly placed in their cheeks, but I also have no doubt they enjoy the experience throughly and feel like they’ve seen and done something truly Australian. And indeed they have.
Las Vegas — as far as the rest of the world is concerned at least — is truly an American experience. It’s over-the-top greed and excess and lust. It’s the dream that anyone can make it rich and the reality that most people are broke and up to their necks in debt.
The thing that struck me most when flying was that it really is in the middle of a dessert. I mean I knew that, but when you see it from the sky, it really is just a strip of casinos and a piss poor downtown area, surrounded by generic urban sprawl and then… nothing.
photo by Evil Yoda on Flickr
It’s quite a silly place for a city, really, as evidenced by the oppressive heat and sudden freak storms both days. It reminded me of those sci fi stories where the outside environment is inhospitable, so people build entire cities indoor or on a space ship or whatever. Each casino is its own city: restaurants, malls, theaters, shows, rides, animals, nightclubs. The only reason to go outside is to go to another casino, most of which are connected by above-ground walkways and monorails, because the city is really not set up for pedestrians.
We spent most of the first day wandering and looking inside all the buildings. The Boy had been before, but about 10 years ago, and much had changed. The problem with hotels and casinos is that they date. Quickly. It was kind of sad to go to the older end of the Strip and see the once famous casinos from the “Golden Age” that now look like total dinosaurs. The flashy multi-billion-dollar complexes of today will look drab in a decade, and newer, shinier ones will be built, and the area will just keep getting built and knocked down and rebuilt, regenerating over and over again in the pursuit of being the biggest and flashiest.
Caesar’s Palace was easily the most ridiculous casino we saw — the faux-Roman fountains and statues and paintings and Coliseum and staff in togas. The MGM Grand was also pretty insane. The Hooters Hotel and Casino (yes, this exists) was the worst, though I will dedicate a whole post to this later.
Food court at Caesar’s Palace
Neither of us like gambling, but we felt we should try a slot machine just so we could say we had. We put $5 in one. I got bored after about a minute and observed that it was disappointing to see so many big flashing machines with buttons and screens that weren’t video games. So we went and found a video game arcade instead and shot at CGI dinosaurs.
Feeling we should do something cultural, we went to the Atomic Testing Museum which was informative, if a little dull and pro-nuclear. It was kinda disheartening to realise that was about the only “educational” thing to do without heading out to the Hoover Dam or Grand Canyon.
One of the upsides to the shit tonne of money being squandered in Vegas every day is that it attracts a lot of very good chefs and restaurants. We thought “fuck it, when are we going to be in Vegas again?” and decided to eat at Joël Robuchon, which is the city’s only three Michelin star restaurant. It was, in every respect, ridiculous.
The restaurant sent a stretch limo to pick us up, even though we were staying across the road. We were dropped off in some weird secret back-entrance waiting room of the MGM Grand. We could have just found our way to the restaurant ourselves, but they insisted on sending a guide. While we waited, the choice of reading material was Forbes, Cigar Aficionado and Elite Traveller: “the private jet lifestyle magazine” (inside I learned it had also recently launched a new magazine called Elite Traveller Superyacht, which you can find on board superyachts and at superyacht events, just FYI).
We opted to forgo the 16-course tasting menu (it was already 9pm, and were pretty sure it couldn’t be done in under three hours) for a less ambitious five. It was generally very good, with only one dish falling a little flat. The bread cart had about 20 choices, the wine list was longer than a Russian novel and they gave me a free cake and a book of pictures of the restaurant (for what exactly?) to take home at the end. Afterwards, our guide took us back to the room to read more about the private jet lifestyle, and we were driven back across the road.
The bread cart. Seriously.
Photo by niallkennedy on Flickr
Portland really has no fine dining restaurants, and it had been some time since I’d been to one. The previous night, we had been to another well respected local restaurant, Sage, which reminded me of everything I dislike about them: impersonal, boring, awkward. And foam. Joël Robuchon was everything that is good about them: so over-the-top it’s just amusing, top notch sommeliers, ignoring the menu and just letting the kitchen decide what to make you.
By day two, we had kind of run out of things to do. When you’re not interested in gambling or Cirque du Soleil (there were SEVEN different Cirque shows running) there are limited choices. And frankly, there is a fine line between “hilariously tacky” and “nauseatingly tacky”. Watching people stumble around from casino to casino with huge plastic cocktail glasses, cigars and several kids in tow, underneath giant screens pimping semi-naked women and pool parties gets old. So we got off the Strip and went to Las Vegas’s Chinatown. It turned out to be a string of strip malls fronted by dragon statues, but it was nice for a change of scenery and we had some decent banh mi.
I kept missing the Bellagio fountain shows that happen every half hour and was determined that I must see one before we left. So when we got back, I walked down to the Bellagio and waited and waited and waited and then finally the show started. It was disappointingly set to My Heart Will Go On. It was kind of… creepy. I know this sounds weird, but it was like the water was moving to the music like a sentient being and that just squicked me out for some reason. Probably just me. (I am irked out by mussels and oysters and things for similar reasons, so almost certainly just me.)
I’m alive! And I’m going to KILL YOU. (I don’t really know why the fountain would be homicidal if it were alive, it just seems like it would, right?).
Photo by Jon’s snaps on Flickr
Around the same time the show started, one of the aforementioned freak storms also began. There was nowhere to hide, so I just watched the show while getting soaked then ran into Planet Hollywood where I located an H&M and replaced my now soaked-though $12 canvas shoes with an identical pair. Sometimes those little sci-fi cities within buildings have their good points I guess.
After not even two days in Vegas, I think we had well and truly our fair share. Perhaps we will return in another 10 years, when everything is new again.
*except that time Dr Karl and Susan went skinny dipping