Las Vegas: ‘Go big or go home’
Some 100 years ago in a sprawling desert with spectacular canyons and not much else Americans decided to build a city, added in casinos and called it Las Vegas.
Situated in the arid Mojave Desert, the driest in North America, the ‘Go big or go home’ motto of Las Vegas is apparent from the outset.
The charm of Las Vegas is exactly that – it’s not meant to be just any average city - it’s a playground of vices.
Try to spend a day without bumping into a casino and that is simply not possible in Vegas – there’s a casino in the airport, every hotel lobby and in restaurants.
You’d be hard pressed to find an indoor venue without at least one slot machine, let alone a room filled with machines, poker tables and red-eyed men slumped over a table placing their ‘final’ bet.
Night and day meld into each other in the casinos. Wake up and go down to the lobby at 8am for breakfast and chances are you might still see quite a lot of people in last night’s clothes.
Las Vegas matches its reputation as a larger than life city from its pool parties to a rollercoaster on top of a replica city at the New York, New York Hotel.
The small one-way roads of Gibraltar are a far-cry from the six lane crosswalks, and when dining anything under 800 calories would be classed as ordering from the ‘skinny’ menu – at least this is at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant.
This of course depends on where you go, but when it comes to food bigger definitely means better.
A trip to Denny’s for a big breakfast saw two plates laden with pancakes, hash browns, bacon and sausage served to guests.
Sightseeing is strange in the Las Vegas strip as instead of visiting historical monuments, the city offers a Frankenstein version of well-known sites from across the globe.
Want to see a tropical Polynesian forest? Go visit the Mirage.
Want to travel in time to Rome circa 100 BC? Visit Caesars Palace.
Or is it Paris and the Egyptian pyramids that pique your interest? Check out the aptly named Paris Hotel and the Luxor.
If the Las Vegas strip seems like a fun place, Downtown Vegas is its far more outlandish cousin.
But it’s a must do when visiting Vegas. Downtown, also known as Fremont Street, is after all the birthplace of Vegas as we know it.
“Have you ever been to Freemont Street?” my cab driver says with a big grin.
“The people there are crazy. Freemont Street ain’t like the strip, I can tell you that. You girls are gonna have lots of fun.”
Driving us out of the strip, our middle-aged white cab driver sporting a grey moustache delightfully warns us of the sights we’ll see at Freemont Street.
“Girls you’re gonna see people dancing strange in the street, people almost naked and people doing all sorts of things.”
The glitz and glam fades as we drive away from the strip. Rows of tents can be seen on the roadside, forming a sort of makeshift community for the most impoverished residents of Vegas.
The first step out of the taxi onto Freemont Street and the cab driver definitely was right.
Fremont Street is the much smaller than the strip, and yes the people were much more eccentric.
He dropped us off coincidentally in front of the ‘Heart Attack Grill’ that prides itself in serving unhealthy calorific meals.
A big scale outside its door lets people weigh themselves before entering the restaurant with a chance of eat for free if weighing over 350lbs [158kg].
Waitresses dressed as nurses served the diners which were kitted out in hospital robes.
Instead we went to ‘Mickie Finnz Fish House and Bar’ and hit to the zip line for an aerial tour of Downtown Vegas.
A trip to Grand Canyon National Park is a necessity, by far much more beautiful than any manufactured sight you will see in Vegas.
The views are picturesque and on a helicopter the aerial views are stunning.
Native Americans have inhabited the Grand Canyon for at least 4,000 years and to reach it from Vegas you need to cross state lines into Arizona.
Our helicopter pilot informs us the Colorado River which runs through the Canyon is called so due to the red rock which has stained the water.
Only a small part of the Canyon can be seen in a day as its 18 miles long and larger than the state of Rhode Island.
All in all Vegas is great. It’s a city like no other, where hotels built like castles and historic sites are commonplace, and a place where the people are warm and the climate is even warmer.
Are you a keen traveller? Or do you enjoy short breaks up the coast? The Chronicle’s weekly travel feature is open for local writers to share their experiences of the places they visit.