Viva Las Vegas – a long long way

Looking north on Las Vegas strip at night

The Las Vegas strip

Now that was an early start. Our plane had a take-off slot of 6.30 am, which meant being at the airport two hours before. And the airport in question was Dublin, a two- hour drive from our house, allowing for time to argue with the sat-nav over the location of the car park (for it was one of those field-with-a-fence-round-it types, the official airport car-park’s fee requiring several of our limbs and/or an additional mortgage). I’d managed to at least get a few hours sleep before locking the front door, but my husband switches to Tigger mode on holiday, and had barely been to bed at all. I wanted to stay awake on the drive to make sure that he did too. Also, I was in charge of the toll required to cross the Boyne Bridge, gorgeously illuminated at night and another reason to stay awake. I had to do a bit of fissling about with euro coins, keeping them separate from my dollars and my sterling, but we enjoyed listening to a series of comedy radio plays, and the journey passed smoothly and quickly.

We were soon dragging our cases into Dublin’s sparkly new Terminal 2 building, acres of glinting glass and cool modern colours. There were no queues at check-in or security so early in the morning, and we found a squishy leather sofa in an area with good wifi connection to top up our caffeine levels and check-in on Facebook. One of my little travel foibles is that I only ever consume almond croissants and caramel machiattos at airports, but previous experience of Dublin prices had deterred me from ordering such a breakfast here, preferring to wait until we got to Manchester, where we would connect with the main flight to Vegas. So the two coffees and one biscuit I’d limited myself to cost me a mere eight euro.

The Aer Lingus flight was delayed. Apparently a passenger who had checked in a bag had not appeared, and so they had to locate his luggage and remove it from the plane. I glanced nervously at the suspicious empty seat beside me. But the flight time itself is barely 30 minutes, so even with that delay we touched down ahead of schedule. I couldn’t see any of the “Flight Connections” signs I was looking for, but R was anxious to go outside for a cigarette anyway, dreading the long flight ahead. It was quite a walk over to Terminal 2, and the security queues were longer, but the staff were very friendly.

Next item, the duty-free shop. Here we tried to work out how we could buy liquids to take out with us and/or on our return journey, given the itinerary with its UK connecting flights. This required summoning a manager for advice, and working our way through the following set of limitations:

  • Liquids can’t go in hand luggage.
  • Alcohol is much cheaper when you’re on a flight outside the EU area.
  • We could buy some booze here in Manchester, take it with us and either drink it while away, or bring it home in our main bags.
  • The “buy now, collect later” option only applied to flights within the EU so that was out.
  • If we bought duty-free in Vegas on the way home, we wouldn’t be able to carry it on board on the final leg of the journey.

I needed a drink after all that mathematical logistical puzzling, and luckily enough there was an assistant giving out samples of vodka. Flavoured vodka. Salty caramel flavoured, to be precise. I bought a bottle of this as I’d never seen it anywhere in the UK, plus I reckoned it would be a nice “on the rocks” pre-dinner cocktail type drink to have in the hotel. My husband was convinced by the first half of this argument, and to my astonishment bought two more bottles! He would later explain that one was to be a gift for some close friends who we’d be visiting shortly, but it did strike me as odd to use all your duty-free allowance on one product. I chose a bottle of dry vermouth as my second bottle, envisioning myself concocting caramel martinis.

If you’ve ever had your colours analysed, you’ll know whether you’re a Winter (look good in bright jewelled colours) or a Spring (pale yellows and pinks). I’m an Autumn, my favourite colours being sludgy olives and rusty browns. I wandered over to the Benefit counter, as I wanted to try some of their bronze make-up, and I let myself be pampered as the assistant did my whole face from the Bronze of Champions box ( I can thoroughly recommend the Hoola bronzer and lip-gloss, for any other Autumns reading this). I mean, you never know who you’re going to bump into!

Prince Harry and friend

Prince Harry and friend

Notable by their absence were any almond croissants! I muttered and grumbled and settled for biscotti to dunk in my machiatto instead.
My hand luggage was in my black Gambia bag which I’d bought the last time I was at Banjul airport. But its single zip had been having difficulties for a while, and at this point it gave up any pretence of being able to hold it together. The bottles of booze probably didn’t help much. I went to the store that every airport has selling luggage straps and other baggage accessories, and my clever bargain-hunting husband spotted a delightful Roxy bag in a muted pastel check pattern, reduced to £15. The very patient assistant let me try it for size, and I decanted all the contents of my hand luggage (Kindle, loo roll, neck cushion, change of clothes, flip-flops and swimsuit) into their new home, which swallowed them with ease, and had room to spare. I bid a sad farewell to Gambia-bag: it has accompanied me on a number of trips, so it’ll have a tale or two to tell when it reaches the great baggage carousel in the sky.

My other purchases were made in Monsoon. After having had a “buy-nothing” August, my debit-card was getting itchy, and I treated myself to a short sleeved linen mix cardigan in light stone, as well as a glittery notepad in which to record my adventures.

There were 440 passengers and 18 crew boarding the giant 747. I took my time settling myself into the seat which would be my home for next 10 hours, making sure I had everything I’d need close by. Gosh, hasn’t in-flight entertainment changed! I’m old enough to remember when one solitary screen descended, and the only choice passengers had was to watch the movie or not. These days, digital technology with individual screens and headphones gives everyone a vast selection of films, TV shows, games and music. I watched Gerard Butler saving the world in Olympus Has Fallen, smiled at some of my favourite Big Bang episodes, and had a little doze while listening to some classical guitar. A guy in the row in front of us had been over-indulging slightly in the free drinks, and was being given a stern talking to and a strong cup of coffee by the chief stewardess. My husband caught the words “no more vodka” and was getting concerned, though I suspect the phrase was an instruction to this one gentleman, rather than a comment on the state of the plane’s drinks trolley.

The meals were pleasant enough – bangers and mash with a waldorf salad, and dessert of a lemon mousse served about an hour later. Spicy mini sausage rolls were doled out about half way through the flight, with an afternoon tea of a cheese-and-pickle sandwich and a toffee cupcake before landing.

Getting the time zones right on long-haul flights is always a head-scratcher. I find it easiest to switch to the destination’s local time as soon as I sit down on the plane, but R is always asking “what time is it back home?” Anyway. Our flight left at lunchtime on Sunday, and arrived in Vegas 10 hours later in the middle of the afternoon. I could have done with more water (they didn’t sell any bottles, just handed glasses of the stuff on request) and with more opportunities to walk about and keep my legs and feet moving. Though I was relishing the views from my window seat – the vastness and emptiness of Canada, the sheer enormity of the Great Lakes, the rigid square patchwork of farms in the mid-West, each with its green irrigated circle in the centre, and glimpses of red and grey canyons as we descended into McCarran International Airport, surprisingly close to the instantly recognisable shapes of the hotels on the Strip.

SAMSUNG CSC

We touched down at 3.30 pm. A long taxi to the stand, followed by queues for passport and immigration control, a short wait for a cab, pretty straightforward check-in procedure, and it was 5 pm by the time we were finally dumping the bags on the hotel bed, a full 24 hours having elapsed since leaving home. We were both exhausted, grumpy, and not thinking straight. But most of all, hungry. The Excalibur has a food mall accessed by an escalator, though I made a vow to take the stairs everywhere I could, in an attempt to limit the damage that was going to be caused by American sized portions. And I was not disappointed, as the Buca di Beppo plate of chicken and broccoli pasta described as being for two would have fed a family! It was a bit bland, but it did the job. We had enough sense not to try any gambling that night, but collapsed in a jet-lagged heap on the giant bed. It amazes me that the body can survive fairly well on restricted water and food, but without sleep the brain really struggles. And then of course, your body clock hasn’t been reset as easily as your watch. About midnight, your semi-conscious self thinks hey, it’s time to get up! And your rational brain has to try to over-ride this instruction. And your digestive system hasn’t a clue what’s going on….

It wasn’t the best night’s sleep, but sleep it was, and much needed. I rose at 7 am and explored the gym, managing 20 minutes on the treadmill, followed by my usual push-ups and squats routine, before having a blissful shower. I dressed and was soon ready for some of my husband’s favourite pastime of “aimless wandering”.

quesadillas to start the day

quesadillas to start the day

We had breakfast of quesadillas in Scholtzkys, and then took the walkway to the next door hotel, the fabulous pyramid-shaped Luxor, filled with ersatz sphinxes and obelisks. We continued our wanderings to the Mandalay Shoppes, and were seduced by free samples at a daiquiri bar (At this hour? It’s Vegas baby, time is most definitely an illusion here). We walked all the way to the shark aquarium ($18 entry fee), and then decided we were ready to have a go on some slot machines.

I was astonished at how vast the casino floors are. In each hotel, they stretched out as far as the eye could see, in fact it was difficult to negotiate a path through them, and very easy to lose sense of direction. In the Luxor, we tried feeding some bills to a machine. It seemed to want $5 a go, and after three attempts I decided this wasn’t much fun. I’d rather lose small amounts of money and not win a small prize, than spend large sums not winning a bigger jackpot.

For lunch, we gravitated to the House of Blues. I’d eaten at one of these before in the States, and found it to be a friendly and fun experience. And we were not disappointed. I started with a Bloody Mary.

Getting my veggies, Stateside

Getting my veggies, Stateside

I always have trouble getting enough vegetables to eat on this side of the pond, and at least in a Bloody Mary there’s tomato juice, a stick of celery, and often some olives as well. It was fabulous.
We shared a portion of jalapeno cornbread served with a maple butter, and the contrast between the sharp-spicy warm bread and the oozing sweet-spicy butter was a taste sensation. I had the appetiser sized Portobello sliders, while R had shrimp and grits in chipotle sauce. These words are all so foreign, it really did feel like our adventure was well under way.

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