The GPS says it’s only 20 more kilometres to our hotel and in front of us, the first sight of the famous Las Vegas opens in the valley. We put together tips and recommendations from the guides and messages from our friends but we try to focus more on the practicalities and let the city show make its own impression without expectations and prejudice.
We booked the SLS Hotel at the end of the Strip for a price that is normally enough for motels by a highway (since you give the management hope that you’ll spend your money in their casino the prices here are very, very reasonable). The card beeps and lets us into the nicest room we’ve stayed in so far with the view of the Stratosphere Tower and lovers of adrenaline bungee jumping down from the very top.
We washed away the dust and heat of Death Valley and after dawn, we’ve headed out to the Strip.
The Las Vegas Strip is nearly 7 kilometres long street famous for the number of casinos and hotels dating back to 1940s. It only became a synonym for luxurious hotels fairly recently, at the beginning of this century, when the famous Bellagio hotel together with a few other iconic buildings. It really is alive nonstop and the unbelievable density of billboards, neon headlines, shiny buildings and music coming out from almost every entrance makes you think there is really no time to sleep.
Firstly we stopped at a typical diner for some food and when we finished our (giant) portions of food, we headed to the heart of gambling. The Venetian, a replica of Venice, opened its doors to us as the first resort that night.
The shopping centre with a canal and gondolas, shops looking like Venetian houses and a ceiling that creates a perfect illusion of Italian evening sets the mood. Tourists pass us on gondolas, choosing which shop to visit first after their cruise, more people are sitting down in replicas of Italian coffee shops surrounded by their bags full of goods from Italian brands…
When we find our way out from the Venetian evening back into the night, a replica of the famous red tower Torre del’ Orologio is right in front of us. Neon lights are reflected in the canal, the town hall is decorated with an ad for a Thai massage and videos with today’s offers and shows are flashing in the windows. Why would you even need to go to Europe, when you can just get off a gondola under the blue sky that will always be decorated with perfect clouds and go to a casino, which is just around the corner, inviting you inside to dream about a better future.
We keep walking and a few minutes later we’re standing below a majestic golden M, inviting hungry tourists for a quick Big Mac and Coke. Only a few steps away, the lights on a fake Eiffel Tower glitter. We can see the famous Bellagio across the street but we can’t see the fountains.
Instead, we see a car with probably the most important phone number in Vegas. These girls really want to meet you, call anytime. Anyway, the competition here is fierce, a lady standing in front of a supermarket is offering us a card with another phone number. These girls also want to meet us apparently. We’re buying a bottle of water, hoping to wash down at least some of the bizarre things we’ve seen, but just around the corner, we come across a shop offering us to design our own t-shirts and shorts.
We agree that blue tank tops that put together a Best Fucking Bitches slogan are not really a good addition to our wardrobe and neither are the shorts saying Yes Daddy. Across the street, there is the New York - New York hotel and casino so we let the signs, buildings and the replica of Brooklyn Bridge convince us that it’s time to explore the other side of the Strip.
The surroundings of the hotel are really a decent attempt at the New York atmosphere and the area really fits into Las Vegas more than the Venetian gondolas. For the third time tonight we enter the casino. The section with vending machines is pretty basic but just a few steps away the interiors are a bit more fun and replicate different parts of New York. Little Italy, China Town, Soho,... just choose where you want your beer from.
We got a recommendation from our friend to spend our first dollars and see how it is to gamble in Las Vegas in Cosmopolitan. We are going to visit a few more before we leave Vegas but we’ll admit Cosmopolitan wasn’t bad at all. After we explore the casino a bit more, we’re ready to find our way out, the Bellagio fountains are about to start the show. We enjoy a few minutes of the show and a Lady Gaga song and we can tick another box of “the real Las Vegas”.
The city doesn’t slow down even a little bit for the fountains, only a few dozen tourists who watch the show are standing still for a few minutes. On the pavement, we see a group of girls in all colours of underwear and fake wings, who are posing for a picture with a 12-year-old boy. The group is photographed by his mother.
We definitely don’t need that kind of memory so we enter the Caesars Palace. It’s quite clear that everything here is subordinated to Caesar right when we enter the hotel. We walk past the reception to the casino with what is looking like an endless parade of options.
The flashy slot machines are luring us to them with the promise that we could be rich before the sun rises. Elderly ladies who have been sitting at the blackjack tables for at least a few hours but could be sitting there for a few years as well, toast to the next game and with another cigarette puff, their retirement and savings are disappearing in the game.
We’re having a good time at the part of the casino with retro slot machines that remind us of old Hollywood films and I’m crossing one thing of my bucket list - pulling the handle on one of them to start the game. It’s pretty clear I wasn’t born for this when the handle gets stuck and I can’t pull it back up. Seems like I’ve broken the thing even with the lowest possible bet so I finish losing the dollar just using the buttons which are a bit boring so we decide to go try our luck elsewhere.
When we’re trying to find our way out from Ceasar Palace a little later, we realise we’ve been tricked by the interior. We have no idea what time it is and we kind of forget that outside, behind all those neons it’s actually the middle of the night but it could be the middle of the day as well.
We walk to the end of the strip and decide to walk to our hotel. We open the door to our room after a very long day (and night), our phones tell us we’ve walked over 20 kilometres. We fall to the bed at a time that could be both considered a very late night and a very early morning.
Luckily the check out times in Las Vegas are quite merciful and they let us stay there until noon. Maybe if there’s some time left we’ll try out “our” casino in the hotel and play roulette since we’re already here. But now it’s time to say goodnight and fall asleep in the comfort of our room, leaving all the neon lights and the never-ending party behind the door.