“Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas!”

So says the gigantic sign at the south end of the strip (which I must admit we never actually saw), and if you take the meaning of the adjective as “barely credible”, or “of the nature of a fable or myth” you have a pretty accurate summary of the Vegas experience.

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Some 2000 feet above sea level in the Mojave desert is hardly a logical home for replicas of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building and Venetian canals, dancing fountains and a 1.6 million gallon aquarium, and the fact that craggy mountains are visible as you look down almost every street only serves to heighten the sense of unreality that pervades the place.

the southern end of the Vegas strip

I thought it felt unreal, anyway. Most of our fellow visitors seemed to take it all in their stride as they sampled the many delights that Vegas has to offer. And strides were necessary – for an American city Vegas is remarkably well set-up for sightseeing on foot (at least, the strip part of it is) and the streets were almost always busy with people walking around.

Vegas by night

Most of the hotels are built above casinos, and they all seem very happy for non-residents to wander in and spend some money, whether by gambling or in one of their many bars, restaurants, shopping malls or theatres. Many of the big hotels have different themes (some more successfully executed than others), and it was fascinating to flit from our own (which resembled nothing so much as a glammed-up Travel Lodge) to Egypt by way of New York and Ye Olde Englande, or through fancy Asian to Rome, Paris and Venice.

Vegas hotels

The classiest of all the hotels was, we decided, the Bellagio, which looked remarkably unpretentious from the outside, and was gorgeously decorated within. The frontage is taken up with what appears to be a small lake, home to the rather wonderful dancing fountains which perform several times an hour throughout the day and evening to the accompaniment of a variety of piped music. We never tired of watching these – lots of examples can be found online, this one on youtube is rather lovely, and we actually saw this one in action. (On a rather irrelevant side note, for some reason they made me think of the dancing flamingos from Fantasia 2000, but never mind!)

dancing fountains at the Bellagio

Seen here from the top of the Eiffel Tower…!

Not being terribly interested in gambling, or with any great desire to lose a load of cash, we limited ourselves to dropping a few dollars in the cheapest slot machines we could find, and invested the bulk of our holiday budget in frozen margaritas and tasty meals. We were particularly impressed with Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris hotel as it had a good gluten free menu, delicious food and an authentic Parisian bistro atmosphere.

frozen cocktails bar in Vegas

Despite a distinct lack of museums on the strip (not such a surprise really!), we stumbled across a gallery devoted to Peter Lik’s incredible landscape photography, and also admired the Dale Chihuly ceiling installation at the Bellagio.

All in all it was a fun place to spend a weekend, and I’m really glad I went. It’s taken me ages to get around to blogging about this, and as it recedes into the past the sense that that a place like this can’t possibly exist in real life grows stronger, but I guess that’s the point of it all!

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