Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The Mob and The Grand Canyon

As most people know organised crime was behind the early days of the gambling edifices erected in Las Vegas in the '50s and '60's. And mob history continues today in perhaps a less violent form and style. Having an interest in American history, old movies, and other aspects of American life I was pleased when my young friend discovered there was a 'Mob Museum' in downtown Las Vegas. So we made tracks to it yesterday morning. What a great museum it was. Located on three floors it was full of real artefacts interspersed with many informative video displays.
This is the actual courtroom where major members of the mob were sentenced - including the infamous Al Capone.
And this is probably not a real electric chair but it looks a bit frightening anyway.I had a go with a revolver by re-enacting a scene as if I was a law enforcement officer but failed on the first try. However I managed one out of three hits on the second - but was still taken out by the criminal!
After a couple of hours in the museum where we learned a lot about the history of America's major criminals and witnessed a great deal of very gory incidents by both film and wall- sized photographs, we took a taxi back to our hotel.And having heard all about 'Glitter Gulch' we paid a return trip in the evening after dark. The whole place - 4 blocks - becomes alive with colour every night as a million lights take over.

Today - Tuesday - was a memorable day. We had to be outside and waiting for our coach trip to the Grand Canyon at 6 in the morning. A brilliant clear blue sky soon dawned. On the way to the West side of the canyon we stopped for a while at a Navaho reservation.

Then on to Grand Canyon. Absolutely fantastic, it was even more spectacular than either of us had expected. And no restraining fences or any commercial enterprises to spoil the views. We clambered up and around the rocks and as the part of the canyon we were on formed a sort of horseshoe edifice, we could view the scene from three sides. I spent an hour or so stumbling around the rocks on our way to various vantage points. My young friend acted like a young gazelle as she nimbly climbed up and down over the boulders. I'll just show a few of the sights we saw.

It's hard to describe the feeling of seeing such an incredible feature of nature, but we both agreed it was the best part of being in Las Vegas. With all the millions spent on creating the beautiful buildings on the strip they could in no way match the magnificence of the Grand Canyon. After a while we were taken to a nearby ranch where we were given a somewhat interesting meal, and were entertained by a singing cowboy and a magician. Waylaid by a passing cowboy he did let me feel the weight of his gun.

It being our last night in Las Vegas we walked along to the Bellagio in the evening for dinner there, then tarried awhile on the way back to see the musical fountains in the massive lake outside the hotel. So that's it for a while as we head home tomorrow evening.

Monday, 28 January 2013

From Rustic to Lavish

Everything in Las Vegas is big. The buildings, the illuminations, the casinos, the food - and the prices! We did have a little gamble yesterday. Won a little bit - then lost a little bit more. Yesterday, to avoid the crowds - and the casinos (more difficult) we thought we'd make a trip out of the city to The Clark County Heritage Museum. The taxi driver had never heard of it - it was over 7 miles from Las Vegas - but we found it. Comprised of a tiny rustic museum and a number of authentic old buildings, we spent a very pleasant hour or so wandering around in the bright, but cold, sunshine.

This is a little wedding chapel. We were allowed to go in every house, which was interesting because they all contained the original furniture and articles of the period. Passing by this pretty-well patched up old steam train
We carried on to a ghost town nearby where the remnants of some of the buildings were scattered - including this Native American dwelling.
And various interesting old buildings.

Really good to get away from the hustle and bustle of the casinos. However later in the afternoon we strolled along the strip towards the Bellagio.

This is the Bellagio Hotel. Very lavish - with a massive casino to walk through - but happily they have found a way to eliminate the cigarette odour that permeates all the others. We found a very elegant dining room where we had a nice dinner before going into the lush, lavish, and fantastic theatre to see 'O' Cirque du Soleil.
It was probably the most magnificent show we'd ever seen. The gigantic stage was filled with water and dependant on the act the depth varied. Sometimes only a few feet deep when ballet and underwater dancing was performed, and other times it must have reached a depth of over 10 feet to allow for the amazing high dives into it. The choreography blew my mind away and the costumes were incredibly artistic. Impossible to describe. It has to be seen to be believed. Our seats were especially comfortable - only about ten rows from the front - and the theatre easily the largest I'd been to anywhere in the world.

We walked back to our hotel past my Gamblin' Hall and Saloon, and more from Las Vegas strip.

And so to bed in the city that doesn't seem to sleep.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Las Vegas

We arrived in Las Vegas yesterday evening. My young friend thought I was being a bit silly because during the whole of the 2 hour flight between Tampa and Las Vegas I kept my hand over my nose for the entire journey, having still not got rid of my bad cold in no way did I want to catch another from the constantly sniffing man sitting next to me. Anyway here we are in The Mirage Hotel.
It seems just to check in you have to transit through hundreds of slot machines and gaming tables before you get to the front desk. And the ever present smell of cigarettes doesn't help.
But after a night's sleep and trying to adjust to the 4 hour time difference we visited Siegfried and Roy's Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat here at the hotel.

These pictures were taken through an underwater viewing room. Here at the Mirage many of the bottlenose dolphins were actually born in this habitat. It's good to know that it's also an education and research facility. Unusually for Las Vegas it's rained most of the day but it certainly didn't worry us, and the dolphins were really frolicking in the pools - especially the young ones. Nearby, and inside the secret garden itself, were about five beautiful white tigers. This one looks quite magisterial I think.
The whole garden was a very welcome respite from the general feeling of freneticism we are beginning to experience here.

It's impossible to visit any of the hotels (which is almost exclusively where everything takes place) without marching through acres of machines. We've had a couple of flutters so far - but, believe it or not we've mainly restricted ourselves to the one cent machines. Later this morning we toured the absolutely magnificent Venetian Hotel - right opposite ours on 'The Strip'.
Inside this enormous building are authentic reproductions of almost everything you'd find in Venice from the Doges Palace to St Marks Square - and even canals with Gondolas and Gondoliers who actually sing as they pole their passengers along.
As we walked through 'Venice' we looked up above the buildings and were amazed how realistic the sky looked with all the little wispy clouds. And the quality of painting on other ceilings were superb.

This is not a skilfully carved Roman philosopher, but a live statue. When he moved I must admit I jumped a bit as he was so real.
The afternoon became very wearysome as we walked and walked along the strip often finding ourselves trapped in one of the multitudinous casinos. Eventually a welcome sign 'Monorail' beckoned and we caught it for a ride up to the MGM Grand Hotel. I particularly wanted to see the enormous lion which growls at you at the beginning of every Metro Goldwyn Mayer film. But we were out of luck because we couldn't find it. All we found was another casino!
So, knackered, we made it back to the monorail stop nearest our hotel.