Friday, August 19, 2011

In Vegas Placidus

I don’t suppose most people head to Las Vegas anticipating a laid-back, relaxing jaunt.  This most recent visit of mine, however, was surprisingly so.  The trip itself was put together somewhat haphazardly – not last minute exactly, but certainly not planned well in advance.  I simply had a round trip ticket with Southwest to burn sometime before mid-August, and, after considering several alternative destinations, ultimately settled on Vegas.  I put out the word to family and friends, inviting anyone to come along who could and who wanted to.  But after trying to coordinate schedules and finances, etc., it came down to just my sister, Karen, and me.  Well that was okay – we love each other and get along well.  We’ve traveled together before without incident.  So, we booked our flights (me, from St. Louis, she, from Austin), snagged a very reasonably priced hotel room at New York, New York, and began looking forward to our mini-vacation.

Things didn't get off to an ideal start, however. The night before we were scheduled to leave, I received a frantic phone call from Karen -- she'd lost her purse.  Or had it stolen.  Whatever the cause, the result was no purse.  Which means no driver's license, no credit cards, no cash she'd just withdrawn, and an early departure flight the next morning.  Yeah - I'd have been in a panic, too.  As it was, all I knew to do was try and help her calm down and come up with a plan.  Fortunately, Karen's pretty resourceful, and she had an old license, a passport, some other ID, her check book, and a couple credit cards she hadn't kept in the purse, so with some phone calls, and no small amount of angst, she handled the situation, and managed to make her flight the next morning.

My own flight was unremarkable, save for the fact that I cut the timing a little too close to save money by parking in one of the shuttle lots.  Glad I opted to park at the terminal, too, because when I got inside, I was rather surprised to see just how crowded the airport was at 5:45 a.m. on a Wednesday. What the heck?! Here I'd thought I was being all smart and savvy booking an early flight. Guess a few thousand other folks had the same bright idea.

I was slated for a brief layover and plane change in Phoenix.  When I got there, I texted Karen to advise her of my progress and check on hers.  "On the ground in Phoenix."  Imagine my surprise when the reply came back, "Me 2 - just now."  After agreeing on general flight times, we really hadn't discussed them in great detail.  Neither of us realized we'd be in Phoenix at the same time.  Had we coordinated that better, we could have shared the second leg of the flight.  As it was, she came and found me and we checked into switching her to my flight, but nixed that idea when advised of the up-charge.  So, after I arrived in Vegas, I still had an hour or so to kill before she caught up with me.  Cell phones and lap tops are glorious inventions!

We hopped a shuttle to the hotel and forked over the extra $20 for early check-in so we could throw all our stuff in the room and get down to relaxing.  I'd never been to New York, New York before -- it was...colorful?  In a kind of garish, jewel-toned way.  But nice enough.  And the restaurant selection was quite good!  We opted for lunch at Il Fornaio, and sat "outside" (in the fake sort of "outside" casinos manage to fashion), and enjoyed some lovely lunchy food and a glass of wine.  Karen was beat after the previous night's hassles so she decided to rest for a bit in the room.  I, on the other hand, couldn't wait to get out to the pool and the sun.  It was a little crowded out there, but I finally snagged a spot 'neath NY Squared's main attraction -- the roller coaster!

Ahhh - nothing like hot sun, cranked up hip-hop, and the sounds of screaming strangers overhead every five minutes or so to get that rejuvenation going!  Actually, it was fairly relaxing. A little boring, though.  My phone was about out of juice, and without Karen there to talk to, I found myself rather restless.  Eventually, she joined me, and we hung out for a bit before returning to the room and freshening up for our wild evening out.

Though we quickly established neither of us was much up for "wild".  A nice dinner and maybe a stroll seemed about all we could muster.  We wandered over to the MGM Grand and ultimately settled on the Nobhill Tavern.  It looked quiet and cozy.  The service was excellent and the food delicious, if a tad on the pricey side.  (Karen momentarily contemplated the Lobster Pot Pie special.  Until we were informed "market price" for it was $85.  I'm currently looking into investing in lobster.) 

After dinner, we went for a brief stroll along the strip.  We both had a couple of odds and ends we wanted to pick up at the drug store, and though it was still fairly warm out, it wasn't oppressive.  We saw lots of interesting creatures while we were in Vegas.  Yes, I do mean creatures:

We decided Chewy looked like he had a bad case of Mange.  Poor Wookiee! Maybe he just wasn't cut out for the desert. Although, he seemed to manage okay on Tatooine.  Maybe the crazy night life of LV finally caught up to him?

Anyone who's been to Vegas can attest to the wondrous sights one can see there, especially at night -- be they of the human, critter, or structural variety.  I thought The Monte Carlo looked very pretty lit up at night.  As did The Chrysler Building.

Yeah - I always thought that was the Empire State Building, too, but not long ago, during a Trivia Night contest, I learned that I'd been woefully misinformed all these years.  Both tall buildings in New York. But this one? Actually the Chrysler Building!

After an hour or so of strolling, we agreed to head back to our hotel for a drink.  We chose the Nine Fine Irishmen pub which seemed like a right fine and lively drinking establishment.  And indeed, it was.  There was an Irish band playing spirited Irishy music, and some fine Irish lasses river dancing and such.  Unfortunately, Karen and I were dog-tired.  We vowed to last until after midnight -- and we did.  But only just barely. 

Thursday morning, we awoke at a semi-reasonable hour and decided to avail ourselves of the "complimentary" buffet included with our stay. The only catch was that New York, New York didn't actually serve said buffet itself.  We'd have to head over to Excalibur or the MGM or Monte Carlo if we actually wanted to eat.  We settled on the Monte Carlo and moseyed over. The selection was plentiful, and like all good buffets, it possessed the most important ingredient of any meal: Bacon!

After brunch, it was time to shop. And shop, we did.  Very must. (H/t to Rev. Al.)  We started out in the shops at The Monte Carlo.  The first store caught our eye with its rather provocative name:

I won't mention what the t-shirts said. Never have been to an R-rated candy store before.  But, hey, Vegas, I suppose.  Next we moved on through City Centre, and eventually made our way to the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood.  We wound our way through the entire complex, stopping to check out these shoes and that dress.  Speaking of shoes, this first pair I had to try on purely so I could take a picture of me wearing them.  They called to mind big white toasters.  Or maybe cinder blocks.

The second pair, I had to try on to know what it felt like to be six feet tall.  And...because I fell in love with them.  And...they were only $40 -- so I had to buy them!  Though I'm not exactly certain when I, or my ankles, will ever work up the courage to wear them. *sigh* Serious shoe love!

At one point, we passed by a bar which was actually called "Stripper Bar".  One thing Vegas is not: subtle!  Then we meandered into the Brighton store.  And, oh, they had such cute things!  Like, for instance, these really cool key chains.  Including this one.  Of a giraffe.  In a French Maid costume.  Or is it a courtier?  A dominatrix?  I'm really not quite sure. I simply know I was fascinated by it, even as I talked myself out of that impulse buy.  I certainly didn't need another key chain.  And it was almost as much as the shoes!

Finally, we were shopped out and decided to head back to hotel.  We stopped in at Gonzalez Y Gonzalez for a mid-afternoon Mexican snack. Okay. It was a full lunch. But we walked a lot that day.  And the margaritas?  Magnificent! 

After that, we were fat, happy, and slightly sassy, so decided some pool time was in order.  Which would have been fine and dandy had our hotel not decided to drain the pool in order to perform maintenance on it.  Instead, we were directed to the pool at The Monte Carlo.  (Sensing a recurring theme here?  Who knew Vegas casinos were so into out-sourcing?!)  Well, that was okay. Truth be told, the pool at The Monte Carlo was probably a bit nicer.  And the sky was the most spectacular shade of blue that afternoon...

On the way back to New York, New York, we ran into Gene Simmons.  (I hear he's endorsed Rick Perry -- don't tell my sis! ;) )

We also found the answer to that age-old question. (No, not, "Why do so many people insist on dragging their small children to Vegas, and pushing them around in strollers out on the Strip at  midnight?!")  "Where's the beef?!"

Karen and I had decided that Thursday night would be the night for our "nice" dinner.  Not that Wednesday night's feast at Nob Hill was remotely shabby.  I've a favorite restaurant in Vegas.  It's called Aquaknox, and it's located in The Venetian, which I've visited often, and yet I've never stayed there.  I do love the look of it, though.

I first fell in love with Aquaknox some six years ago.  I made sure we had my 40th "birthday dinner" there.  And so we determined that it would be Thursday night's treat, as well.  I'm not sure what exactly it is about the place that appeals to me so.  The food is quite good, and the service, typically, is as well.  I think most of all, though, it's the atmosphere and decor.  It's decorated in all these shades of blue and gives one the feeling of being in an underwater palace.  Or maybe just an underwater wine cellar.  Either way, it's a lovely place to dine.  And the food presentation is lovely, as well.  Just feast your eyes on this salad & on Karen's lobster/filet combo:

Om nom nom, indeed!

Once we'd finished our feast, it was off to a bar featuring dueling pianos to meet up with friends Jacque & Michele, who were also in town.  Was great to see them both, and we had much fun catching up and chatting -- though it was a bit loud in the piano bar.  Ultimately, we decided to head back to our hotel and hang out in "The Center Bar." Which actually was rather nice.  There were dancing girls on the bars here, as well, and it had a sort of upscale club feel to it.  Of course, no night would be complete without the obligatory attempted hit-on by boys with fake British accents.  Oh, I suppose they might have been real.  But when the one told me he and his buddy played "soccer," I had to call BS.  Besides. They were young enough to be my.....nephew.  Was wonderful to spend some time with the girls, though!

We actually made it 'til 2:00 a.m. Thursday night.  So proud of us and our wild exploits!  Karen had a late morning flight on Friday, so we got up and grabbed some breakfast in "America".  Interestingly enough, this restaurant featured a huge mural/puzzle/mobile replica of the United States, complete with cute little themes/concepts for each state. Some of these made more sense than others. Still, it was interesting to look at while we ate.  Most importantly, of course, it featured:

My arteries love me so. 

After that, Karen packed up her stuff and headed out to catch the shuttle back to the airport.  The only hitch with that?  You're supposed to call the shuttle company 24 hours in advance to confirm your reservation.  Oops!  (Karen informed me of this during her cab ride to the airport.  Fortunately, since I still had five or six hours, I was able to call and secure my own shuttle ride.)

So...I had time to kill in Vegas, by myself.  What was I to do?  Well, shop some more, of course.  And squeeze in some sight-seeing along the way.  Our hotel really did have some neat features on the exterior:

I also made a point to wander past the Bellagio, where I've vowed that I will one day stay!

Actually, though, I was on a mission at that point.  I wanted -- no needed -- to return to Brighton and adopt that giraffe key chain!  It had stayed with me for 24 hours.  I figured that made it no longer an impulse buy.  I also wanted to check out the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace.  Have always loved those shops.  And there was this one little jewelry store where one day, long ago, I fell madly in love.  With a black opal ring.  I understand black opals are actually bad luck.  Go figure.  Still, it was a beautiful ring.  And despite its $3,000 price tag, I vowed that one day, I would return to rescue it. Since then, I've visited it several times and we've remained on good terms.  So, you can imagine the bittersweet sorrow I felt upon discovering that the little store, and the jeweled love of my life, were no longer there.  I guess it just wasn't meant to be.... 

The bizarro giraffe, however, clearly was.  So I found the Brighton store there and snagged one right up.  I felt a bit like that Russian dude in the commercial with the miniature giraffe sitting next to him. I haven't tried mine out on the tread mill, yet, though.  (If this makes no sense to you, and yet you're still reading, just nod and smile and take some solace in the fact that no animals were harmed in the writing of this blog.)

On my way back, I wandered through the Bellagio, taking pics of the spectacular panoply of whimsy.  Which, for some reason, reminds me -- I once saw Vanilla Ice in the Bellagio.  No really, it's true.  My sisters and cousins can attest to this.  Although, why the word "whimsy" brings him to mind, I'm not certain.  In any event, here are some of the shots I snapped while there:

And a special treat for all the chocolate lovers out there -- fountains of it!

Yeah. I'm not sure what else to say about that.

By this point, I was getting tired of meandering, and decided to head back to New York, New York so that I could grab some lunch.  And maybe actually find some time to gamble.  Yeah -- I'd spent 48 hours in Vegas at that point and not so much as dropped a dime into a slot machine.  I guess that would be more pathetic if I'd never been there before, but....well, no.  It actually is pretty pathetic regardless. 

I stopped back in at Il Fornaio, and this time, opted to sit at the bar, since I was solo.  God bless the lovely bartender lady who graciously plugged my iPhone in behind the bar for me while I ate, since, once again, it was almost out of juice.  I guess if I didn't live on the thing, that might not happen so frequently, but I do.  So it does. 

Finally, I decided to be bold and get out there and gamble.  There were several "Sex and the City" machines which had caught our eyes the previous day.  I decided to sit down and see what that was about.  Well, it was about three minutes of stupidity.  It's your basic slot machine dolled up to include all the SATC characters and themes.  But $5 still gets eaten by it just as quickly. 

Next, I moved onto video poker, where I've always had a fair amount of luck.  And, true to form, I ultimately ended that up by $7.  I thought about some Roulette, but all the tables were either empty or full.  I did spend about 20 minutes playing the video version of it.  Which frankly is rather lame.  I think I broke even there.  I never did get a chance to sit down and play some Texas Hold 'Em, which is my favorite.  That's almost as sad as the fact that Karen and I actually stayed in the hotel where the roller coaster is located and still never rode it!  I decided that the perfect amount of time in Vegas is three days and three nights.  Next time. 

It was about time for my shuttle to arrive, so I took one last look around and headed outside to wait for it.  In the sun.  In 100 degrees.  For 20 minutes.  Which afforded me a chance to take a couple more good shots of the coaster and the hotel:

And that, as they say, was that.  Yes, it's true.  I went to Vegas and shopped and sunned and ate.  I didn't even drink so much that I forgot any of it.  I barely gambled and never did ride the coaster which was right there in my very own hotel.  In fact, the biggest adrenaline rush I got came on the plane ride back home, when we hit a couple rough patches of turbulence.  And that's the kind of rush I'd just as soon do without.  For the next sixty years.  And then some.  (Have I mentioned I'm not a good flyer?  Yeah, well, I'm not.)  

And for those who've actually slogged all the way through this travelogue of mine, I'll simply say this: If you were anxiously awaiting some sordid, salacious tales, I'm so sorry to disappoint. This was, indeed, a very tame and surprisingly -- but pleasantly -- relaxing sojourn in Sin City. But I do thank you for indulging me and my storytelling!