Thursday, April 3, 2014

Viva Las Vegas Part III

The public transport system in Vegas is pretty straightforward. If you stick to the tourist areas downtown and on the Strip, you only need to remember one busline:The Deuce.                                

The Deuce performs a neverending loop, starting next to the Heartattack Grill in Downtown Las Vegas and then down the Strip, stopping at every major casino until it reaches Mandalay Bay at the Southernmost point of the Strip, next to the airport. It does, however, not go TO the airport and a lot of people misjudge this part and argue that if they are next to the airport, they can walk the last bit. Don’t fall for this. Airports are big operations, especially busy ones like McCarran, and being next to it is in no way a guarantee that you are anywhere near the entrance. Many people find that walking the mile or so around the airport to get to the departures building is quite a tasking enterprise, especially in the desert sun and carrying suitcases. So save yourself the hassle (and sunburn) and spend 10 dollars on a taxi from the Strip.  

The Deuce operates a hop on-hop off ticketing system and for $9 you can use it the whole day. Operating parallel to The Deuce on the Strip itself is the Las Vegas Monorail, which has stops at most major casinos. This service is slightly more expensive but will get you from one casino to the next very fast. If, like me, you love walking, you can just take the Deuce and walk from one place to the next. 


I got off the bus at Treasure Island, a massive red building at the start of the Centre Strip. I walked around the outside of the building for a while to check out the surroundings and had a look in some of the shops. As I like gambling and drinking much more than shopping, I gave up on the mall after 5 minutes and went into the casino. One of the great things about the big casinos in Vegas is the diversity that you encounter, not just from one casino to the next, but even within the same casino.  The Bellagio for example, has 19 restaurants. Five of them are categorized as ‘Fine dining’ and 2 of these have a Five Diamonds designation, which is the American equivalent of having 3 Michelin stars. Only about 150 restaurants in the whole of the USA currently hold the Five Diamond award, and 2 of them are in 1 casino here in Las Vegas. That’s impressive. I can fill another page with amazing stats like these, but take it from me, everything in Vegas is done to a degree that would be impossible in any normal city.

This diversity became apparent immediately when I walked into Treasure Island. There was a huge gaming floor straight ahead, which had 3 or 4 bars, 2 restaurants and a huge lobby which offered access to the elevators and the hotel rooms. There was one of those “You are here” maps and a list of possible diversions you could jump in to. I noticed “Sports Book” on one of the arrows, so I followed it down an escalator and arrived in a subterranean wonder world. Ahead of me was another casino. Though it was slightly smaller in scale than the one above, it was still big enough to get lost in. To my right was a seafood restaurant that would seat at least a 100 people and was still in the process of getting ready for the lunch shift. I wandered over to the bar, ordered a pint from a gorgeous girl and walked towards the room that had Sports Book written above the door. It was, ofcourse, HUGE. The sportsbar I always drink in here in Dublin has 2 BIG screens, with a diameter of about 25 foot. Here, they had 8 of those and they were surrounded by countless smaller ones (small being 60” flatscreens in this case).

                                                               Like this.

As it was Sunday afternoon, everybody was getting ready for the day’s NFL action. Every seat in the place was taken, people were franctically checking odds and form guides, while a dozen tellers were taking bets non-stop and hardly had time to shove the piles of cash in the registers before the next gambler presented himself, eager to get rid of a week’s salary. All the while, a platoon of waitresses darted around the room with trays full of beers and cocktails, to make sure every punter was kept appropriately intoxicated. I went to one of the tellers and placed a laughably puny $5 bet on a horse race that was about to start. I picked a horse with a funny sounding name on the account that I know next to nothing about horse racing and this is my system for picking winning horses. I found that with every bet of $5 and up, you received a voucher for a free drink from one of the waitresses.

         Free beer tastes better!

I ordered a Corona off one of the girls and stood beside a row of seats that had little screens in front of them with odds and race commentary. The guys in these seats were clearly professionals. They sat hunched over racing papers and were constantly scanning the screens in front of them for race information. Not only did they have a waitress bring them drinks, they also had a runner to walk their betting slips to and from the tellers. This is not uncommon among serious gamblers. In Ireland, in pubs where the clientele are heavy into gambling, there is often a local who runs betting slips up and down to the nearest bookie. This person is often paid in pints, which leads to a scenario where everybody wins as the gamblers don’t have to leave the pub and can focus on the races, while the runner secures a steady stream of free beer.

I watched the machinations of this system for a couple of minutes until the race I had bet on started. My system worked yet again, and my horse came in first, so I headed over to the teller to collect my winnings. I focused on the NFL games after that, and ordered a new beer from a waitress. When she returned, she informed me that I needed a Free Drink voucher to acquire a new drink. I realised I did not have one, but before I could offer the waitress to pay in cash, a noisy guy from Pittsburg who was standing next to me handed me a couple of vouchers and told me that he had so many that I could have these and if I wanted more I just had to tell him. I thanked him for the beer and spent some more time watching NFL in the subterranean betting den. While the possibility of watching NFL games in a normal afternoon time slot, rather than late at night as we have it in Ireland, was rather tempting, I decided against spending hours and hours indoors in the first casino I walked in to, and after saying goodbye to my new friend from Pittsburg, I downed the last of my Corona and went outside to get some sun.

You don’t get to go on holiday in the middle of a dessert that often, so you might as well enjoy the sun while you’re there. I walked across the Strip via an elevated footbridge and again looked out over the mayhem. It looked like some bigger force had crashed the world’s biggest bachelor party into the New Orleans mardi grass parade. There were throngs of people everywhere, lots of them in special outfits, and every single one of them had a drink in their hand. I took a sip from the cup of beer I had picked up at a bar outside one of the casinos and made my way down the Strip.

                           Evil Sith Lords need their holidays too, you see.

After being harassed by Darth Vader and a Stormtrooper who wanted 5 dollar for a photo op, I decided that I would not make any plans and just see where the vibe took me. I walked into several casinos, just to have a look around, and every time I put a dollar in a slot machine, a waitress would appear from out of nowhere and stick another bottle of Corona in my hand in exchange for a small tip.  My love for Las Vegas was growing by the hour and even though this was only my second full day here, this neverending party already ranked seriously high on my list of best holidays ever. I walked into Harrah’s and got a $1 bottle of beer. Okay, I had 2. And another one after that. I had my mandatory “Celtic jersey on tour” picture taken in front of the Mirage, a great photo that had its focus slightly distracted by the presence of a huge picture on the side of the building. It was a  picture of The Beatles because they were playing there that night.  Nothing in Vegas really surprises you anymore after 2 days.  It amazes you all the more.

Caesar’s Palace is such a huge place that it defies belief. It has a 5000 seater theatre called The Colloseum which, ofcourse, is built as a replica of the actual Colloseum in Rome. It has a dozen restaurants and a shopping mall that would be an impressive mega mall if it stood on its own. Here it’s an add-on to a hotel. It is a serious walk past the whole complex that will take the better part of 10 minutes so I ordered a new beer from another roadside stand. Dessert air is dry, and you need to keep yourself hydrated at all times.

I continued past the Bellagio and its magnificent lake which, like everything in Las Vegas, was especially created from scratch for added entertainment value. The water is as green as the Adriatic Sea and the Bellagio building is so grand that you might forgive yourself for thinking you are somewhere near the Mediterranean rather than in a dessert. 

I had a fantastic time, strolling from one bar to the next and from casino to casino. I passed all the legendary names that you know from tv and movies. I crossed over to Planet Hollywood, sat down in the sun at an outdoor bar and watched some more NFL. Life was good. Between pints of PBR, I looked back up the Strip and noticed that the Colloseum isn’t the only landmark that has been rebuilt in Las Vegas. I was now looking at a 540 foot replica of the Eiffel Tower that stands in front of the Paris Las Vegas casino. Next to it was a huge Montgolfier balloon which stood in front of an almost-lifesize copy of the Arc de Triomphe. It is another ridiculously huge development, and it is made all the crazier if you consider that they originally planned to build the replica Eiffel tower as big as the real one in Paris. The reason why this did not happen? Paris Las Vegas is too close to the airport and a full size tower would interfere with the flightpath of the incoming planes. You really can’t make this stuff up.

I walked around a bit more and while darkness started to set in, I decided to start making my way back North towards the Stratosphere. There was still a bit of Strip to explore further South, but that could wait. There is so much to see in every single casino that if you take in too many in one day, you don’t register everything that is there, which would be a shame because it is all so awesome and over the top that you really don’t want to miss anything. I spent another hour or so playing slotmachines and drinking and then jumped on The Deuce and got off at the Stratosphere. I got some pizza and played a couple of games of bottle cap poker at Dino’s. In the distance, the glimmering light of downtown Las Vegas continued their neverending siren call to the gamblers. I was too tired to walk over there after another 12+ hour drinking session. Downtown could wait until tomorrow.

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