Leaving Las Vegas

The castle like towers of the Hotel Excalibur
Sunday was our last day. We finished packing, and left our suitcases in the very efficient left luggage facility at the hotel check-in area. We booked a shuttle bus to the airport ($7 each). And caught the SDX back to the mall where R treated himself to a watch he’d fancied for some time.The shuttle bus took about 25 mins to get to the airport, as it was picking up passengers at a number of hotels, and also dropping off at some of the other terminals. Terminal 3 seemed to be quite a distance away from 1 and 2, but when we arrived Virgin were doing curbside check-ins, which was a novelty for us (though the check-in girl said she’d rather be inside the air-conditioned terminal building.)  Our bags were just under the 25kg limit, and they’d go straight through to Dublin. That was a great relief! I usually have to keep toiletry bags of sun cream, lotions, toothpaste etc near the top of my case ready to ditch if my bag is overweight.IMG_2933The airport terminal was quite small, though it did have a gambling room. We found a bar, selling very overpriced drinks. A man beside me asked the price of a beer, and on hearing the price asked how much a small one would be. Even that was outside his budget, and when he enquired if there was ANYTHING that he could get for his $8, the answer was no. I did offer him my last cash dollar, but he refused. I stocked up on US sweets and peanut butter crackers in the shop, and salt water taffy for my office colleagues.We boarded on time, but then sat on the runway for well over an hour – apparently the baggage checking computer system had gone down, and the numbers of bags and passengers didn’t match. Our seats weren’t great. We were right beside the galley, and as this was a night time flight we’d be trying to get some sleep, but the noise and lights emanating from there made this more difficult. Worse, when the food trolley emerged it went to the back of the plane first, and by the time it reached us not all choices were available, and those that were tasted very overdone.

We dozed on and off throughout the very short night, and landed about lunchtime in Gatwick. As we had a long time before our next flight, I’d booked a room in the Yotel, situated in the terminal building and renting small cubicles by the hour. These contain a bed, a shower and loo, and a TV, and are perfect for chilling out and getting some much needed sleep before the next leg. There are plenty of food options nearby including Marks and Spencers Simply Food, and we emerged 4 hours later feeling rested and refreshed. The final leg to Dublin, picking up the car, and driving home, all went according to plan, though we were shattered by the time we stumbled over the accumulated post behind the front door.

Final thoughts?

The journey is long. If I was going to the States again I’d pay extra to fly direct from an Irish airport, where you can do the immigration process before you depart.

I’d love to see more of Route 66, and take it at a slower pace.

Vegas is flashy, trashy, brashy, cashy.

There is no such thing as bad taste, or too much bling.

Are the ersatz Venetian canals et al even better than the real thing?

Anything goes. No really, I do mean ANYTHING.

It’s a full-on top-speed no-holds-barred sensory overload.

What happens in Vegas, stays on facebook …..

Viva Las Vegas – Freemont Street

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Friday dawned. I ran off my hangover in the gym, and we set off for an aimless wander of the Strip. Having missed out on his Man vs Food dinner last night, R was heading for Hashouse a Gogo in The Quad, which had featured on that TV show a while back. There was a bit of a queue, but the restaurant had a pop-up bar in the waiting area serving the best Bloody Marys on the Strip, complete with jalapeno stuffed olives. R enjoyed a Tangerine Screwdriver while we admired the array of signed photographs from famous visitors.

After lunch we aimlessly wandered through Miracle Mile shops, which features an indoor rainstorm, and its own dancing fountains.
Back at our hotel we fancied another go at Pai Gow, but the table limits had increased to $25 minimum bet, which was too high for my tastes. Labor Day weekend was approaching, the queues at check-in were longer, guests were wandering around with jugs of cocktails on lanyards round their necks, and the minimum bets at all the tables were creeping skyward.

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We headed for Freemont Street, the old downtown Vegas, home to the original casinos like the Golden Nugget, with live music and an amazing ceiling of lights which danced and dazzled. To get there we took the Deuce bus. This is a double decker bus which plies the strip, stopping at most major hotels. In the heavy evening traffic, it makes slow progress, but at $8 for a 24 hour ticket, it’s great value, and if you can find a seat near the front upstairs you’ll get some spectacular views of the famous brightly lit hotels.

IMG_2877Freemont Street is like Blackpool on speed. We were able to get some drinks in plastic glasses and wander about soaking up the atmosphere, enjoying the live music and a stunning light-roof. In the Golden Nugget, we shared a plate of nachos, before finding a bar with an Elvis impersonator who claimed to have a song for everyone. When he learned we were from Ireland he played something by U2. I danced with a couple of other game girls, R went to the loo and got lost, so we took a taxi home.

There is a different bus called the Strip and Downtown Express or SDX, which uses the same ticket as the Deuce. It is a single decker, doesn’t have so many stops on the Strip, and goes all the way out to the Premier Outlet Mall. This takes you past some of the less glamorous areas of Vegas. Small single storey buildings separated by vacant lots sport signs which indicate the trouble that many people get into in this city: Bad Boys Bail Bonds, pawn brokers, garages offering to give you cash for any vehicle, and plenty of attorneys.

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The outlet mall is mostly outdoors, but has a good range of shops offering decent discounts, and an OK food court.

Saturday was our final night in Vegas. We took the Deuce back up to Miracle Mile shops, as R decided he quite fancied a leather Stetson we’d seen in Hattitude, and I’d offered to buy him that as a birthday present. And for our final meal, we’d booked a table back at Hashouse a Gogo where he devoured an 18 ounce rib eye, and I tucked into grilled swordfish.

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Across the Strip, we tried to find a good viewing spot for the Bellagio fountains, but found ourselves lost in the sumptuous surroundings of the hotel itself. R bumped into TV baker Paul Holywood in the loos, and I counted six stretch limos parked outside.

The fountains were beautiful, the show is repeated every 15 minutes to different music, and as it’s free it is a popular attraction. We bought another 24 hour pass for the bus, as we planned to return to the outlet mall in the morning, and back at the hotel I put $20 into the Wheel of Fortune, comped a few drinks, and took out $14 after an hour, which I reckoned wasn’t bad going.

Viva Las Vegas – Gambling

gambling machines everywhere

On Thursday morning we thought we’d better learn a bit more about gambling. It goes without saying that this is where Vegas makes its money, but it was somewhat shocking to comprehend just how much this is – the city makes so much money from gambling that it doesn’t need to charge any additional city taxes. This makes it quite an attractive place to retire to. Rooms in the casino hotels are cheap, because they want you in there gambling. Drinks are free while you’re playing, as the drunker you are, the more you lose. The croupiers are all very pleasant and helpful, and make the experience fun. Each morning, there are free lessons on the main table games – roulette, blackjack, and craps. But my moral compass struggled somewhat with the billions being made off what is basically people’s stupidity. The house ALWAYS wins.

Ceasars Palace by nightWe started with roulette, a game I’ve never really played before. The premise is simple – you pick a number that you think the ball will land on. Or you can pick several numbers. Or groups of numbers. Will it be a red number, or a black? Even or odd? Low or high? The lesson gave me enough knowledge to feel confident about what to do, but I still wasn’t drawn to it as there’s no real skill involved on the player’s part.

The next lesson was in Blackjack, and here I really did pay attention.  I knew there was a strategy table that advised when to split, double down, etc depending on what card the dealer was showing. Lady Luck still has her bit of fun, for sure, but playing this I felt you weren’t completely at her mercy, and the player can use a bit of maths and logic. To ask the dealer for another card, tap one finger on the table, while a wave of the hands over your cards means you dont want another.

The final lesson was in craps, which is what you see people playing all the time in films (and Friends). The throwing a pair of dice up an enclosed rectangular table looks dramatic, but I’m afraid I didn’t quite understand the maths or the logic involved, so I resolved to keep that one as a “watch only”.

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The other game which was very definitely “watch only” was Poker. There are dedicated glass-walled zones in all the casinos for those who’ve been working on their poker-faces, and I was intrigued at the variety of people playing – old, young, black, white, male, female, it clearly had a universal appeal. But I wouldn’t be nearly good enough to participate, and anyway, my face is always a dead giveaway.

I do understand poker hands, though, and on the recommendation of both Kevin our tour guide, and the blackjack croupier, we had a look at Pai Gow Poker, an Asian variation. Each person is dealt seven cards, from which they have to make two hands. The five-card hand should be the higher value one. Each player is only playing against the dealer, not the other players, so there can be lot of consulting and helping each other out, as long as the cards are kept over the table so they can be seen by the cameras in the event of a dispute. To win, BOTH your hands have to beat the dealers, and to lose, BOTH hands have to be worse. More often than not, one hand beats and the other loses, and so there is a “push” to the next round. This is indicated by a knock on the table with the knuckles. Most importantly, your bet stays on the table.

That’s the basic rules of play. There are some added features: the dealer uses 3 dice in a bell to decide the order of dealing the cards, and there is a “fortune” bet beside the main bet. The fortune bet looks at all 7 cards displayed by a player, and pays out on any winning combinations such as full house, run, straight etc. If the player puts above a certain amount as his fortune bet (eg $5), then he qualifies for an “envy” bonus, which means that a winning fortune payout to one player is also paid out to all those holding an envy mark.

After our gambling lesson, we explored the hotel’s pool area, which was pleasant, but not very exciting. The weather wasn’t sunny, but it was dry, so we went back to NYNY so that I could ride the roller coaster. It cost $14, was a fun ride, and don’t forget your ID when you’re paying by credit card! We’d planned to go to Freemont Street that night, and R was saving himself for a heart attack burger, a concept in such bad taste it could only happen in Vegas. Diners have to wear a hospital gown to eat the calorie-mountain, gut-busting, artery-clogging meals, and are spanked by a nurse-attired waitress if they don’t finish it. Those weighting over 350 pounds eat for free. We explored the eateries in the fake New York streets for something light to eat. I had a salmon burger, and he a small Caesar salad which came with very strange textured croutons.

We went back to our hotel aiming to have an afternoon nap, but played the Wheel of Fortune for a while, before deciding to give Pai Gow poker a try. Three hours later we’d had far too many free drinks to be going anywhere else, and I sensibly cashed in my chips and went to bed.

Hotel New York New York, a recreation of the Big Apple skyline, with added rollercoaster

 

Viva Las Vegas: The Grand Canyon

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As I’ve said, R likes to do “aimless wandering”, but I am not going to travel half way round the world without checking out some of the Must-Sees. The Grand Canyon had been on my list for many a year, and I’d pored over reviewers comments on Trip Advisor of the various means of seeing this wonder. Soon after we’d bought out vegas tickets, I booked a sunset tour to the South rim with a smallish group, run by Grand Adventures.

On the morning of our tour, I breakfasted on tea and a banana from the Starbucks kiosk beside the Rotunda, a circular area at the back of the hotel from where all tour groups and shuttle buses operate. We watched many of the large air-conditioned coaches arrive, collect their passengers, and leave again, and I was relieved when at 9 a.m on the dot Kevin arrived in the Grand Adventures minibus, and greeted us warmly. After pick-ups at Luxor, Tropicana and Vdara, our party of 9 was complete, and we set off through the Vegas outskirts, Kevin giving us a running commentary on the history of the city and the various landmarks we passed, such as the Heart Attack Burger Bar, David Copperfield’s villa. We soon reached the Mohave Desert, and our first stop was at McDonalds in Boulder City for breakfast, or in my case, second breakfast. It was such a change to be looking out at dry pinkish scrubland, and the heat outdoors was intense.

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Our next stop was Hoover Dam (originally Boulder Dam) and en route we passed a mansion that had belonged to Nicholas Cage, before he lost it during bankruptcy proceedings. Lake Mead, formed by the dam, has been showing record low levels, and the white chalky “bath tub ring” reveals just how much the water has dropped. Depending on whether you believe the climate change doomsayers or not, the future viability of the dam itself is in doubt.

The dam was built across the Colorado River, which forms the border between Nevada and Arizona. These states operate Pacific Time and Mountain Time, so there’s usually a one-hour time difference which you can observe changing on your watch or phone as you cross the dam. On our visit, though, daylight savings time was in force, so the times shown by the clocks on the towers at either end of the dam were identical. One of the interesting facts I learned here was that the hard hat was invented during the construction of this major engineering project.

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Back on the bus, we continued across the vast desertscape to the crossroads town of Kingman, with its many gas stations, the price falling the further towards the centre of town you got. We had a fuel and restroom stop here, and picked up some of our favourite peanut butter crackers to while away the journey.

Next stop was Seligman, on historic Route 66. This iconic road ceased to be maintained in 1985, but sections of it are still kept alive by local campaigners and supporters of the Mother Road. The first of these sections to be adopted was here at Seligman, where vehicles parked at the side of the road which had been given humorous eyes and features inspired the movie Cars. I could happily have stayed here much longer than the mere half hour we had. I like to buy jewellery when I travel, and I really would have loved some turquoise. It gets its blue colour from the nearby copper mines, but was a bit pricey for my traveller’s budget, so I settled for a chunky brown stone necklace at the Road Runner cafe, and posed for photos beside the famous road signs, and the original Tow Mater truck.

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The next part of the journey was long and rather tedious. The landscape was flat and dull, I found myself wondering how on earth a canyon could be near here as I could see no mountains! Worryingly, we also hit a few rain-showers, but seemed to pass through them and finally reached the Grand Canyon National Park. The name Grand comes from the fact that the river used to be the Grand Colorado River. We called at the El Tovar Hotel, again another place full of character and history which I’d loved to have lingered longer in, but time was ticking by.

It is just about impossible to describe that first glimpse of the canyon itself. It is vast, stretching out as far as the eye can see, and seeming to defy logic. The Colorado River is a barely visible brown tickle, and it is not advisable to try to hike down to the bottom and back up again in one day. The North rim over there is 11 miles away as the vulture flies, and we saw more than a few of those circling lazily overhead as we ate our picnic lunch, carried to our site by Kevin. This comprised were well-stuffed sandwiches, cheese and crackers, grapes, and cookies. We strolled among the Ponderosa and Juniper pines, Kevin pointing out interesting wildlife and rock features as we went. There were plenty of photo opportunities, even jokey ones like the fake “help, I’ve fallen off the edge!” ones. The edge is not sheer, so there’s often a series of ledges behind what appears to be a precarious rim.

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We arrived at the sunset viewing site, beside the geology museum. We were not alone, and quite a crowd gathered as we approached 7.03 pm, many groups with boxes of pizzas. This isn’t the sort of food I’d associate with picnics, but I gathered it was fairly commonplace, as a notice above the waste bin requested “No Pizza Boxes Please!”
The sunset itself was glorious, turning the canyon pinky brown, and the sky above a fiery orange.

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The journey home was long, as we expected. It was dark so there wasn’t much to see (though I occasionally glimpsed some tantalisingly clear starry skies), and we caught up on some sleep before reaching the hotel at midnight. My former English teacher used to implore us not to use that old “tired but happy” cliche, so instead I’ll say we were exhausted but elated.

Viva Las Vegas – Exploring The Strip

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There is a free monorail (called a Tram) which connects the
Mandalay, Luxor and Excalibur hotels These three hotels form the foot
of a reversed L shape, the main vertical bit being the Strip proper.
Hotel New York New York was just across the street from ours, and I
wanted to explore its roller coaster. Sadly, it was closed because of
the rain, but we found a Wheel of Fortune machine instead, where I
more happily placed single dollar bets on low-odds numbers, which was
a bit of fun without blowing my whole gambling allowance in one go. I
know, I’m far too sensible and logical to make a good gambler.
No matter where you travel, there’s always an Irish pub, so thought
we’d better explore Nine Fine Irishmen (tsk, no bicycle on the
ceiling? What sort of fake oirish pub is this!), and back at the
Excalibur we used one of our $20 welcome tokens on drinks at the
Lounge Bar, where there is no escape from gambling, as there are even
machines on the bar counter in front of you.

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After an afternoon nap, we headed out for something eat. We were too
tired for the Ice Bar, but agreed we’d try that before the week was
out. And R didn’t want anything too spicy, so we ruled out Tequila
Taco, and instead opted for Rice sushi place. For some unexplained
reason, we couldn’t sit in the main dining area, so we were offered a
seat in the lounge area, either at the bar, or at low tables on a
sofa, or at high bar-stool tables. R found it hard to understand the
menu, and the noodles he’d ordered were crispy fried, rather than
slurpy soft, so he was unimpressed. I had a sexy lady (snigger) which
was a beautiful sushi roll filled with avocado and prawn.
Tuesday dawned, and we were starting to be more proficient at finding
our way around. There was no tea making equipment in the room, but
there were coffee kiosks at every entrance, so I started the day the
way I like best, with a cup of tea in bed. Then I hit the gym for an
indoor triathlon (10 mins each elliptical, bike, and treadmill),
before breakfast at McDonalds, a rather respectable maple fruit
oatmeal. We sussed out where the pick-up point was for tomorrow’s
long trip, skipped the casino’s craps lesson, and went to explore
where the heliport is, and also the main strip monorail, which starts
at the back of the MGM Grand.

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When this massive green glass edifice opened, it was the largest
hotel in the world, though it’s currently in second place behind the
rather more utilitarian Izmailovo in Moscow. It has 6,000 rooms and
keeps a fleet of private jets at the airport for its more wealthy
customers. Inside, the spacious decor is very art deco inspired, with
beautiful fountains and chandeliers, and video footage of Dire Straits
playing on a giant screen above the reception desk.
But hey, 6 of the world’s 10 largest hotels are in Vegas, our own
clocking in at the number 10 spot.
We ambled admiringly through the almost chilly air-conditioned
splendour, and found our way to the monorail which runs along the back
of the hotels on the right hand side of the Strip. $12 bought an
all-day ticket, and the ride was smooth, un-crowded and pleasant. We
decided to go all the way to the end of the line to get our bearings,
and were intrigued by the construction of a huge wheel, called the
Linq, an attraction due to open next year.

Coming back down southbound, we got off at Harrahs, which had a
strange Blackpool-like sleazy feel to it, and an odd smell. The
Excalibur smells of coconut (R reckons they probably went Camelot –
Coconut, close enough!) but this place had the odour of stale wee.
Back in the heat outdoors, we wandered down the Strip as far as Paris,
before crossing and entering the vast opulence of Caesar’s Palace. It
was jaw-droppingly glamorous. We found that the bar did not have
gaming machines on it, I ordered my daily Bloody Mary, and R noted
that his theory that the classiness of the hotel could be guessed at
by the shagability attractiveness of the cocktail
waitresses was still holding up. The dress-code in Vegas does seem to
be “not very much”. The drinks were served with little cheesy
nibbles, so although it was pricey, it was a memorable and enjoyable
experience which did double duty as brunch.

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When in Vegas, there’s no place like Rome. And the Forum Shops does
its best to evoke the sense of ancient Rome, though obviously in a
non-smelly, sanitised way, with the aid of acres of designer
boutiques. And under a fake-sky roof. With a spiral escalator. I’d
promised myself a pair of Stateside jeans, and was magnetically
pulled into the Lucky Brand store which had a sale on. I came away
with a dark blue pair of bootlegs, a paler blue pair of tomboys, and a
bargainatious pair of soft leather pants in oxblood red. Original
price $499, reduced to $69, with another 40% off made them an
affordable but slightly mad purchase. They are rather “spray-on” and
I don’t know where I’ll wear them, but when in Rome….

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Using the convenient pedestrian walkways above street level, we
crossed back over and went into the Venetian, another case of “even
better than the real thing”. Canals that don’t smell, singing
gondoliers whose voices resonate off the fake sky, and no pigeons. I
was reminded of the Truman Show, when I spotted an air vent disguised
by a bird painted onto the ceiling. We had a late lunch at Zeferinis,
overlooking the canal and a great way to enjoy the ambiance. Three
courses of deliciousness were $22.95, though the charges for water and
drinks pushed this up a bit.
An afternoon nap was called far, then I changed into my slouchy new
jeans and walked down Tropicana past Hooters to find the airport suite
for our night-time helicopter flight. This had been included in the
package price of our holiday, and we were looking forward to it
greatly. We were weighed, given a green armband, and a plastic saucer
shaped glass of what the organiser called “Dan Perignon”. They asked
for volunteers to sit in the co-pilot’s seat, and R’s hand shot up.
We browsed the calendars and photo merchandise, waiting for the call
for green armband wearers. We shared the minibus out to the runway
with the white armband group, who were to go up first, giving us 10
minutes to pose for photos at a chopper on the ground.

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They were doing “hot loading”, i.e. the helicopter wouldn’t come to a
complete standstill between one lot getting off and the next lot
getting on. The rotor blades were very noisy, and created a lot of
wind. R hopped into the front, and I scooted into the back seat over
to the right hand side, before the other 5 passengers took their
seats. And we were off, soaring past the golden triangle of the
Mandalay, the glittering pyramid of The Luxor with its beam of light
emanating from the apex, and past our own castle-like Excalibur. We
cruised down one side of the strip – sadly it was most visible out of
the left hand side of the craft, so my choice of seat hadn’t been
optimal. We sailed past the dancing fountains outside the Bellagio,
the looming Stratosphere Tower, and over the bright lights of old
downtown Vegas, Freemont Street. And then turned and came back down
the other side of the Strip, with the best views to be had again from
the seats beside the windows on the left hand side.
A shuttle bus returned us to our hotel, where we had a quick flutter
on some fun slot machines. I won $25 on a Michael Jackson themed
bandit, where the seat moved in time to the music, before getting an
early night ready for tomorrow’s adventure – the Grand Canyon!

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.

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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.