The title to this piece is an outright lie. I am definitely no longer in the U.S.A. I am back home in Melbourne, adjusting to the cooler climate and trying to beat a rotten cold. (If there were a tissue-throwing event in the Olympics, I’d score gold.) But I thought I’d leave the title in place, because I originally typed it three weeks ago with the very best of intentions.
There’s a massive problem that comes with being a Blogger. You only have to answer to yourself and I’m not a very strict boss. I had a wildly ambitious notion that I’d blog madly while we were away, but trips aboard aren’t an everyday occurrence for us, and I was quite ignorant of how time-consuming playing tourist (with two teenage children) can be.
So I decided to give myself a break and enjoy the trip we’d saved so long and hard for and deal with the blogging dilemma on my return.
After a day’s consideration, here’s what I’ve decided to do. First up, let me assure you this will not be an on-going travel blog and opinion pieces about topical issues will follow. However, I am going to relate a couple of travel experiences – but only the quirky or major stuff that may be of interest to you. (in case you’re also planning to venture to the U.S. in the near future.) It’s also a chance to show-off some pretty amazing shots taken by Fletch, who never tires in his quest for extraordinary photographic achievement.
Instead of a TRAVEL BLOG, which will turn you away in droves, let’s call this a TRAVEL TIPS piece. (still with me?)
TRAVEL TIP ONE – DO visit Las Vegas
First stop for us was Las Vegas. I’d been twice before and should have learnt my lesson. Each visit was the same. Vegas sucks up time like it inhales the dollar bills out of your purse. It’s a city where strange and unpredictable adventures happen; where you lose all sense of the hours ticking by so that a plan to be in bed by eleven pm means you won’t get there till at least three. (Another reason I didn’t post a Blog there…)
Las Vegas is also a city that seems to divide people more strongly than any other. You either love it or hate it. Fletch is not a huge fan. He describes it as, ‘A testament to over-indulgence and consumerism.’ Me – I’m a lover, not a hater. I’m naturally drawn to this beguiling seductress with all her bright lights, glittering jewels and tawdry trimmings. The first time I went, I berated others for not telling me earlier of the fun to be had.
It’s not the gambling that lures me. That’s one vice I don’t have. But I do love the energy in
Vegas. Most people are there to have a good time. The charge in the air is electric. There’s an exuberance generated in the streets from shrieking party groups passing Elvis impersonators and leggy show-girls to the raucous chanting from tipsy wedding clusters and gasps of awe from tourists watching the magnificent swish and swirl of the Bellagio fountains for the first time.
It’s a circus of colour and motion: gilt-mirrored hotels shimmer under the dry heat, neon signs shout out famous buildings, an up-tempo beat beckons from tequila bars and dueling pianos while advertising blares from giant video screens that cover towering high-rises.
And it’s all about size. There’s tacky mini-versions of every famous world attraction from the Eiffel Tower and the Empire State Building to the Sphinx, while small commercial icons, such as the Coke bottle, guitars and motor-bikes become celebrated, giant-sized versions of their original selves.
Our arrival, however, was no cause for celebration. Our flight had left us drained and sleep-deprived. Veronica had been horribly ill throughout most of the flight. We knew she occasionally suffered from travel sickness, but the on going vomiting that continued, soon made it evident the cause was likely something stronger. We flew Virgin Australia and I have nothing but praise for the wonderful staff who helped us through this ordeal without ever flinching. Sympathy, warm cloths and water were always on hand with a gentle touch.
But you can imagine that after a three hour flight from Melbourne to Brisbane, a fifteen hour flight to Los Angeles and then a one -hour flight to Vegas, plus all the vomiting and no sleep, all we wanted was to get to our hotel room and collapse. Especially Veronica.
We arrived at the Platinum Hotel (a smaller off-strip hotel) just after midday, only to find our suite wasn’t going to be ready for us until 4pm. WHAT??
TRAVEL TIP TWO: Check your hotel check-in time before arrival.
Most hotels in Vegas have a 4pm check in time. This is because most people get to bed REALLY late and want a late check out. We had assumed it would be a 1 – 2pm check-in like most hotels have in Australia. Wrong.
Devastating news. All we could do was unpack a few items (bathers and shorts) unceremoniously on the floor of the hotel bar, change clothes in the foyer restrooms and then make our way poolside to fall comatose into cane chairs until we were allowed in to our rooms.
The pic of Fletch and Ronnie says it all. And we hadn’t even started. Welcome to Vegas.
TRAVEL TIP THREE: Visit an Oxygen Bar in Las Vegas to boost energy
After a night out with some girlfriends who, by good fortune, just happened to be in Vegas at the same time as me, the next day’s sightseeing was taking its toll. Tom and I were wandering through the Grand Canal shops of the Venetian and my energy was flagging – despite the impressive view.
Then I spied an Oxygen Bar. I’d heard about them but have never come across them in Australia. I know there are mixed reports about the benefits of inhaling oxygen, but I decided to give it a go so I could decide for myself. Anything for an energy boost… After checking it was safe for younger people, Tom – who was much more cynical about the whole concept – also decided to attach the tubes.
I felt great initially afterwards, but the feeling of improved energy didn’t last for too long. Tom ridiculed the whole notion and said he felt absolutely no different. But I managed to stay awake longer that evening and felt it really did seem to help jet lag issues. Although you could put that extra zing in my step down to the liquid energy shot in a mini-bottle the attendants serve up. And that’s something I didn’t allow Tom to have… Yep, I guess this is an experience you’ll just have to try for yourself.
A more impressive aspect of the Oxygen Bar was the mini-massage machine which they attach with small pads on wires to your back or neck while sitting there inhaling the oxygen.
Tom and I both thought this was fantastic. As I was suffering from neck issues, I bought a machine and it helped enormously throughout our trip. It’s very compact and at full-charge, can give up to 125 hours of massage in all varying rhythms and intensity.
It costs about $100 – depending on which Oxygen bar you buy it from. But it makes a great travel companion when flying as it’s practically noiseless and will soothe away the aches and pains every traveller suffers from – whether they be from walking long distances or having to travel economy. (like us)
The Oxygen Bar concept is obviously popular, as we also came across one at the Las Vegas airport. So if you get to your gate lounge early enough, you can pep yourself up with a quick fifteen minute oxygen session before boarding your flight.
TRAVEL TIP FOUR: Do see Celine Dion in concert
I can hear most of you thinking, ‘Ewww… seriously??’ A friend who’d seen Celine in Vegas (and he’s a regular Aussie ‘bloke’) said that it was the best concert he’d ever experienced. That made me think twice. Plus Veronica is studying singing and performs two songs that Celine sings, so we thought it would be worthwhile checking out. And it was.
I’d agree it was definitely one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. The staging at the Colosseum theatre at Caesar’s is phenomenal and Celine’s voice, so pure, she puts angels to shame. Backed by a full orchestra and with her musical director of twenty years, Celine packs the show full of hits plus some offbeat numbers. In one song she performs alongside a holographic image of Stevie Wonder that looks so real, it’s hard to believe the man himself is not actually up on stage.
TRAVEL TIP FIVE: Sing karaoke at the legendary Ellis Island Bar in Las Vegas
From the sublime to the ridiculous – from Celine at Caesar’s, to watching Vinnie the Elvis
impersonator perform at the cheapest beer joint in town. But if you want a full Vegas experience, you have to check out Ellis Island. It’s a down-to-earth basic bar that offers karaoke seven nights a week and attracts all types. It’s also a refreshing change from the glitz of main strip Vegas and gives you a chance to meet some of the locals. Fletch and I both took to the microphone which was daunting but fun. Easier for Fletch being a singer who had the crowd in the palm of his hand, despite me making him sing the most obvious of numbers, ‘Viva Las Vegas.’
But the uplifting moment of the night came when local regular at the hotel – Vinnie, the Elvis
impersonator – got up to sing. At 70-years-old, it’s pretty clear why he doesn’t perform at many weddings any more, but the enthusiastic response from locals was heart-warming. Vinnie has become an institution at Ellis Island and it’s great that he still wins support from a loyal following. We were told Vinnie suffered a stroke a while back but still sings at the bar almost every night.
Ellis Island is at 4178 Koval Lane, on Flamingo Road.
TRAVEL TIP SIX: Visit the Neon Boneyard
Who would have thought that scrap metal and broken light bulbs would qualify as art? But art it is, and the Neon Boneyard in Vegas is one of the city’s most popular attractions. Neon lights are, after all, the essence of this town. Huge money and design skills are invested in these pieces, which, over time, become hailed as iconic art forms.
The Boneyard is located on Las Vegas Boulevard and Bonanza – about half an hour away from the main strip. If you take part in a group tour, it costs $20 per person, but it’s advisable to book because it’s so popular – especially during the holiday season.
There’s about 150 pieces from the 1930s to the early 90s – mostly from celebrated hotels, casinos and restaurants, such as Treasure Island, the Moulin Rouge, Stardust and Flamingo hotels. Our tour guide was hilarious and did a great job keeping everyone entertained with stories about criminal activity, murders and infidelity associated with the hotels and gambling – all a part of Vegas’ colourful past.
There’s the iconic Aladdin’s Lamp – originally installed at the Aladdin Hotel in 1966, then came to rest in the Boneyard in 1997.
And outside the Neon Boneyard, the famous Silver Slipper twinkles in pride of place on the median strip.
The slipper used to rotate above the Silver Slipper Casino which opened in 1950. Folklore has it that tycoon Howard Hughes was staying in a hotel opposite and was under the paranoid delusion that a camera was planted in the slipper and every time it spun in his direction, he was being spied upon by the government. So he bought the hotel for a cool $5.4 million and promptly had the evil slipper dismantled.
I’m also rather fond of the metal Mullet Man who used to flag the entrance to a pool hall.
Not to mention the China Garden Café girl who actually comes from Utah. Could this be a match made in Boneyard heaven?
The oldest of the them all is the ‘Cocktails, Steak and Chicken’ sign from the Green Shack Café, built in 1930. It marked the longest-running restaurant in Vegas that didn’t shut its doors till 1999. Now a Denny’s restaurant stands in its place…
And while this might be the final resting place for neon art forms that some call junk, it also means over time, they’ll be restored and brought to life again, so that all who visit can learn about Vegas’ rich history.
TRAVEL TIP SEVEN: DO take a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.
It’s pricey, but if you’re going to travel all the way to the U.S. try to save up the extra cash for this indulgence. It’s mind-blowing and is one experience you’ll remember forever. A definite bucket-lister. We flew with a company called Maverick and they run a slick operation.
A light-plane ride of about half an hour took us to the Grand Canyon where we boarded a chopper that took us on a sweeping journey over about a quarter of the vast rocky expanse.
I’m not going to bore you with all the stats about the place, but you’ll get an impressive rundown from your pilot. Fletch was pretty happy with such an incredible birds-eye view for taking photos.
After the chopper ride, a bus takes you to the South Rim where you’re handed a picnic box. You can then wander about, soaking up the majestic views and checking out local craft and tourism shops.
But beware while eating lunch… Dangerous pests lurk in the bushes ready to pounce. Seriously though, we were warned these squirrels have a sharp bite and it’s best not to feed them – especially placing fingers within striking range.
While exploring, I took a shine to Buckley O’Neill’s cabin – the oldest surviving structure in the Canyon – which still takes guests. It was built in the 1890s, when O’Neill found tourism earnt him more than mining. I was keen to set up camp for the night, but sadly, it didn’t fit into our schedule.
After about an hour of walking and talking photos, we hopped on the plane to head home. Definitely a place to return to and see more of. One day…
(PART TWO OF ‘GREETINGS FROM THE U.S.A.’ COMING SHORTLY)