Posted from Paradise, Nevada, United States.
(Or: All You Need Is “LOVE”)
To view the photos that accompany this post, click here.
We forgot mention in the last post that we have a new page above called Links. We haven’t had time to make it too interesting yet, but we will definitely be adding to it in the near future.
Last week Saturday we woke up early at our campground in Needles, CA, excited to get on the road and head to one of our very favorite cities, Las Vegas. Admittedly, Las Vegas isn’t for everyone: it’s bright, loud, crowded, and a little dirty. But it’s also unapologetic about wanting everyone to have fun and if you can just accept that, it has a lot to offer including great shows, amazing restaurants, impressive hotels, plenty of casino games, a mild and dry climate, and of course endless people-watching. The road through the desert was flat and straight, especially once we crossed the border into Nevada, where the highway became luxuriously smooth and opened up into four lanes. Nevada spared no expense making it very easy for people to get to Las Vegas to spend money. In contrast, the two-lane highway in California was pitted and bumpy. (Which would you prefer? It’s really no contest.)
Before we go any further, we’ll answer the question on everyone’s mind: why would travelers on a budget spend time and money and drive out of our way to Las Vegas? We have an answer and it’s one word: LOVE. Before your heart melts (or you hurt yourself from rolling your eyes)…. “LOVE” is a Cirque de Soleil show dedicated to the music of The Beatles. Two years ago we planned a trip to Las Vegas to see this show (now in its fifth year), but we scheduled and booked the trip without checking to make sure that “LOVE” was actually playing while we were there. It wasn’t. It was dark the whole time we were there. We were crestfallen but vowed to see it someday. In planning this trip, we prioritized some important stops before leaving the country, and this was one of them. It was budgeted for and planned many, many months ago. More on ”LOVE” later.
Another great reason for making a stop in Las Vegas was that it was a very convenient place for Erik’s parents to fly to and spend time with us. Getting back to our narrative… After arriving Saturday morning at The Tropicana, we checked our bags, opened up Uli’s backseat (which took plenty of reconfiguring and was only possible because we checked our luggage at the hotel first), and headed to the airport to pick up Erik’s parents. We haven’t seen them since May, so it was a great reunion even if airport security was yelling for us to move Apollo. Since we couldn’t check into the hotel until the afternoon, we spent some time driving down the Strip, admiring the big resorts, driving to the downtown area, and visiting the UNLV campus. Erik’s dad really wanted to pick up a couple of souvenirs at the bookstore, but everything was closed because of Veteran’s Day, which apparently now lasts for more than one day.
The exciting plan for our first night was to take the double-decker “Deuce” bus downtown to the Fremont Street Experience. This is where all the old, classic Vegas casinos still operate, including the Golden Nugget and the 4 Queens. Fremont Street is also a pedestrian walkway with a covered roof, on the inside of which are projected images, ads, witty Vegas slogans, etc. It’s very cool but definitely not glamourous like the Strip. People of all ages walk around with enormous containers of brightly colored alcoholic drinks (always with a straw), people dressed as celebrities (like members of K.I.S.S. or Elmo) stand on corners hoping you will want a picture of them – after a tip, of course, there are oodles of kiosks selling wares, there are stages with live bands or DJs, there are street performers, but ultimately everyone is there for the cheap casinos. $1 minimum bets on the tables and loose slots that pay out 11% more than Strip slots. We were there for all of it – and the buffets. The bus ride took an excruciating hour of our lives; if we had driven it would have taken 10 minutes. But that was fine. The feast for the eyes was a great precursor to the feast for our stomachs.
That’s not to say the food at the Fremont Hotel & Casino was exceptional. It was just… plentiful. And fairly inexpensive by Vegas rates. Joe’s first plate consisted of prime rib, Mexican lasagna, sushi, and some sort of sweet potato casserole. Someone else at the table (who will go unnamed) returned with a plate that had a steak, some prime rib, and a pork chop. Where else can that happen? Oh, it gets better: for dessert Joe had two pieces of cake, a pecan bar, and a brownie. To reiterate: it wasn’t great food, but, well, it was there, everywhere. After dinner, we laboriously tumbled out into the street to enjoy the action and even played some casino games. Erik’s dad showed a natural talent for the big wheel that seems to be at every casino entrance, while Erik very quickly and effortlessly demonstrated just how easily money can evaporate into thin air while sitting at a roulette wheel. But it was fun, and that’s what was important.
On Sunday Erik’s parents did their thing and we did ours, which was a 5-hour walking tour through the magnificent hotels on the Strip. This is our third visit to Vegas, and we never get tired of it. Aria, the Cosmopolitan, and Vdara are all new since we were here last and they are very beautiful. But our favorites are as follows:
Erik: 1. Encore; 2. Wynn; 3. Palazzo Joe: 1. Palazzo; 2. Wynn; 3. Mandalay Bay
The Bellagio is still utterly gorgeous and has so much to offer, but it is because of that that it is always unbearably crowded. But its dancing fountains defy words in terms of their beauty and magnificence. Joe (yes, a music snob) even tolerated “Time to Say Goodbye” by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli three times because the fountain choreography is utterly amazing. After a wonderful dinner at the Tropicana with Erik’s parents, we all walked to the Bellagio so that they could experience the fountains and the spectacular indoor garden. That night we played some craps, our favorite game. Despite some ups and downs, we both lost the little money we set aside to play, but it lasted a very long time because our bets were both modest and controlled. There are many bets in craps with good payouts but terrible odds; we dutifully avoided those and stretched our money a good, long time and had fun doing so. And, of course, if you are playing a game, you drink for free. Score!
Monday was a busy and exciting day. First we drove about 30 minutes out of town to Boulder City to visit the Hoover Dam. This is a remarkable piece of engineering that was completed more than two years ahead of schedule and well under budget. And it completely pays for itself. It provides hydroelectric power for three states and manages water distribution for seven states and Mexico. We took a tour of the power plant at the bottom of the dam then explored the massive wall itself. There was a room on the tour where we were standing only feet above a massive pipe that had thousands of gallons of water racing through it, and we could feel the vibrations from just the sheer volume. Later that afternoon the two of us went to a new television show screening at Television City in MGM Grand. This was one of those situations where you watch a TV show with a dial in your hand, and you turn it based on how much you are enjoying the show. The show was called “Fatal Encounters” (ugh) and told the true story (complete with reenactments!) of how one woman pretended to be pregnant and befriended another pregnant woman with plans to steal her baby. Well, with a title like “Fatal Encounters” you can guess how it ended. After the show concluded we had to fill out a lengthy questionnaire. If you see a show called “Fatal Encounters” on television in the future, just know that we tried our best to convince them not to air it. Our reward for this hour spent watching a color-by-number real-life docudrama and answering lame questions about it… coupons for things like hotdogs, pretzels, and ice cream.
After a dinner of taking advantage of the Happy Hour specials at a nice seafood restaurant while Joe periodically craned his neck to watch the Packers/Vikings game on the TV over the bar (go, Packers!), we cashed in our Häagen-Dazs coupon and headed to The Mirage to see “The Beatles LOVE.” Where to begin with “LOVE”… it was an all-encompassing experience, an explosion of music and color, and a completely sincere tribute to the greatest rock band ever by reworking and combining their performances with acrobatics and dance that you wouldn’t think could be accomplished by mere mortals. Little character threads were interwoven throughout the show that gelled it all together. The level of originality that Cirque du Soleil continuously demonstrates when creating shows is virtually superhuman, and this show was no exception. The attention to detail and the synchronization of the feats were jaw-droppingly impressive. Most likely, the next time we are in Las Vegas, we will see “LOVE” again. After the show, basking in our post-”LOVE” bliss, we had a nice drink at The Mirage and walked back to The Tropicana. (While we were at “LOVE,” Erik’s parents enjoyed a show of the Rat-Pack at the Rio, which they said was fantastic.)
Tuesday morning, still glowing from the enjoyable previous evening, we were awoken by some people in the hallway who think that the doors of hotels room are soundproof. As they obliviously enjoyed their indoor party with outdoor voices, we gave in and got up. After packing we headed back to UNLV so that Erik’s dad could purchase some UNLV-branded supplies, said goodbyes and gave warm hugs to the parents, and headed back to the same campground in Needles where we stayed Friday night. First item of business: washing our Vegas clothes, which reeked of casino smoke.
Well, now what? What could possibly come after the past 12 days of fun in Palm Springs and Las Vegas and reunions with both sets of parents? An extended period of decompression and focus, that’s what. For the next ten days, we will be participating in a meditation retreat, which will prohibit any computer or telephone use and also require refraining from all speech. Can we do it? Of course – we can do anything! It will be a nice way to regain focus for our trip after the past few weeks of activities of a more vacation-like nature than usual. So while you all will be enjoying your turkey and pie, we will be dining on some sort of “modest vegetarian” meal.
Coming up: just so you don’t miss us too much during our 10 days of silence (how will Joe ever make it?), we have Photo Essay No. 2 scheduled to automatically post early next week.
Also – quick shout-out to the MPO. We hope your weekend is wonderful and the performance is everything you want it to be. Be proud of your accomplishments and enjoy the moment!