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Vegas for Real

sunny 20 °C

So, Vegas. I have no idea how to use those slot machines, with all their buttons and handles. I do know the rudiments of most card games, but don't gamble. Not going to like Vegas, am I? Funnily enough, I loved it, ended up staying five nights - partly because I only had the cheapest car In America for a week or so more and had to think hard about how much more I could achieve. I examined the maps closely, looked at the prices of hotels in Vegas, and worked out that what I still really wanted to do would take just the one day (plan B would have taken about 3 days and taken me many miles north). Being in Vegas is just so easy: lots of good food, cheap hotels (I paid $18 a night for the best room of the trip for my last two nights - I did have to keep moving to follow the cheap prices) and stuff to do. I even found a really good coffee shop, right outside my hotel - it is part of some sort of community art space, with a very interesting clientele.

For me, I don't think staying "off the strip" was a very good option, which is what I did do for a couple of nights. Nor do I think being on the strip would really be me either: I did walk it for a while and had had enough. No, for me, the place to stay is in downtown:

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This is where it all started, then it turned to crap as The Strip started and so in the late 1990's they started the renaissance of downtown. My first hotel, the El Cortez, is one of the oldest, originally a mere two storeys: I was in that old part of the hotel in what they called a vintage room (but it was fine) immediately above the gaming area, which was moderately busy (it was a Friday night) with an older clientele.

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I walked through what they call the Fremont Street Experience: essentially, all the old Casinos face off against each other on Fremont Street so they've put a canopy over the street (actually a huge TV screen, biggest in the world (it runs for five blocks!), on which they play music videos.

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There are a bunch of street vendors, performers,

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a couple of stages, all very loud and over the top but great. I found it quite strange to be able to just wander in and out of the casinos, just to see what was going on or because they had a food outlet I wanted something from. In this way, I had the best pancakes in the USA (according to Esquire) which, unless Canada can beat them, probably means they are the best in the world at an old fashioned diner called Du-Pars in one of the casinos. They say they've used the same recipe since the 1930's: they certainly were good pancakes, best I've ever had, with a kind of sourdough element to the taste. Beer was $2 and you could wander around willy-nilly, with your beer, checking out the scene. Somewhere I didn't eat was the Heart Attack Grill

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This was a strange place: all the patrons (they were mostly beefy males) were dressed in what looked like hospital gowns, as if they were awaiting the heart attack. Ah - there is a good Wikipedia page about the place: it is a medically themed burger restaurants where the customers are treated as patients (I see why - the biggest burger is 32 ounces or just under a kilogram!) and served by nurses in controversially revealing uniforms.

I did get to the strip on my first night: one of the things on my bucket list for this trip was to try out the new multi-million dollar buffet at Caesar's Palace (the report I read seemed to suggest the food cost that much but now I rather think it was the refit). It was surprisingly modest in terms of the variety of food, but good quality. They've set up about 8 different stations (most were different countries, but they also had seafood, dessert and meat). Almost everyone seemed to be making a beeline for the chilled crab legs and taking away a big pile of them, but they really did nothing for me. Their oysters and mussels were both quite tasteless so I didn't pay the seafood much heed. But, oh, the roast duck from the Chinese place! And the barbecued lamb chops and the prime rib and the roasted corn and the deep fried chicken and the more roasted duck and the salmon and the other sort of fish and - you get the picture: I went up four or five times and finished off with ice cream.

Ceasars Palace is enormous, an entire block with quite a big outdoor eating area and a shopping mall (all very high class and expensive brands, of course).

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I was free to wander through with my camera, so that's what I did.

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Right next door is another grand edifice, Bellagio, which has created a large artificial lake which apparently has some fountains but although I wandered around for quite a while, I never saw them.

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They even go one step further in Vegas: the buffet of buffets - where you get card which gives you 24 hours access to about 8 different buffets (including the Caesars one if you pay a surcharge). I was tempted, but I had plenty on my plate (sorry!) already, what with the need to try out PF Changs and the restaurant in my hotel (where they served a surprisingly homely potroast) and various other places: it would be very hard to go hungry in Vegas.

Here's the Strip - I was well down, just north of the Harley Davidson Cafe, looking north

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I got lost in the middle of a mall (it went around in a big circle - all I was looking for was a sandwich shop I had seen at the entrance but didn't know how to get back to, since I was caught up in this big circle): I was intrigued to see that they attempted to recreate a sort of cityscape inside the mall.

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Something I wish I had known about when I was there (quite coincidentally, the New York Times wrote about it last week) is the Neon Museum. There are about 1.5 acres containing 450 relics of Las Vegas's neonic past. Some have been installed around Downtown, which confused the hell out of me, as I'd see a sign for an old motel, but no motel.

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What I did go see was the Mob Museum, more formally known as the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, which told the story of gangsters across America, and of the various efforts by law enforcement people to control them (seems a bit futile, really). It was mainly photographs and videos, which were effective in communicating a lot of information but not really something I could take photographs of. There was a sort of Courtroom set up inside the Museum, although it was more used as a venue for a Senate Inquiry into Organised Crime, led by one Estes Kefauver who had the proceedings televised across the nation, which is credited as making a huge difference to public attitudes to gangs. It is here I saw the bullet-riddled body of Bugsy Siegel, former owner of two of the hotels I stayed in. He was the Las Vegas man on the ground for some guys in California, making sure their new casino, Flamingo, got built. Silly man: he was less than honest in reporting the actual costs of construction, and skimmed a fair amount off the top for himself. Hence the bullets.

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My last day there was Martin Luther King Day: it didn't seem to make much difference to the goings on in Vegas, except that there was a march of sorts up Las Vegas Boulevard. I say of sorts, because the various groups marching seemed to go more when it suited them rather than as any sort of coherent march - people were straggling up the street for hours. Oh, and while the streets may not have been paved with gold in Vegas, they have golden buses!

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Posted by NZBarry 06.02.2013 05:19 Archived in USA

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