Viva, Las Vegas!

OMG, when can I go back?! Oh, yeah...in just over 11 months. I am counting down the days to Dec. 5, the 2010 Las Vegas Rock & Roll Marathon--I will be doing the half. I don't have any expectations of a PR performance, simply looking forward to 13+ miles with a bunch of girlfriends on the Vegas Strip (and then some) and cheering at the finish line for my friends running the full.

Hubby and I had a fabulous time. It wasn't even particularly warm or sunny (2 of our days in Vegas were overcast and temps were in the 40s--lower than their typical temps this time of year, in the mid-50s), but it was nice to be away from snow and see some new sights (well, new for me, at least). I'm like a crow...I like shiny things. Vegas fit the bill.

Our flight into Chicago was a bit delayed, but our flight from Chicago to Vegas was around 90 minutes behind schedule, so we weren't at any risk of missing our connecting flight. The weather when we left was very cold and snowy, so planes were delayed, then had to be de-iced before each leg. We arrived at the airport in Vegas at around 4pm, made it to our hotel (New York, New York) a short time later, enjoyed the darkening sky and view from our window, then headed down to wander the Strip a bit.

We found an excellent Mexican restaurant (best damned wet burrito I have EVER had with a green cilantro sauce) in the Planet Hollywood shops where we ordered those tasty tall margaritas (those drinks in the plastic collectable glasses are available at nearly every restaurant with less than 4 stars). Mine was "upgraded" with Patron...damn, that was tasty.

After eating we wandered the strip a while longer...a day of traveling + jet lag + strong/massive magarita = giggly Kirsten. I think we made it down as far as the Venetian before we turned back toward the hotel.

And, boy, my husband was not kidding when he talked about the scale of the Strip. In photos it appears compact, but in reality it takes an hour to walk from one hotel to another one 3-4 down. All those stairs and walkways over the intersections add a lot of time (and exhaustion).

On our first full day we headed 3 hotels south (which took about 45 minutes) to Mandalay Bay for a trek through their aquarium. Sharks are the main attraction, but there were also some freshwater predators, colorful reef fish, and an ugly Komodo Dragon. Very cool.

That evening we went out for our "fanciest" dinner while in Las Vegas -- a meal at the Firefly* Tapas Kitchen & Bar right at the end of Fremont Street (downtown "old" Vegas) in the Plaza Hotel. At left is the view of "The Fremont Street Experience" from our table.

Our meal was simply fabulous. We had about 6 appetizer-sized entrees to share, including Firefly* Fries. Wow...best. french fries. ever. Seriously. Who would think that shoestring fries with some melted cheese could be so decadent? No tapas items on their menu are priced higher than $10. Our entire meal, including our entrees, pitcher of mojitos, and dessert martinis was $100 and change. On a scale of 1-10 taking into account food, price, and atmosphere...I would give Firefly* a solid 11. I hope I can talk my runner friends into going there for an evening meal when we are in Vegas for the race.

On our second full day in Nevada we rented a car (our rental car curse seems to have followed us from our honeymoon 12.5 years ago--that car had a broken parking brake and this nearly new Ford Focus had 2 map lights that would not shut-off...no biggie during daylight, but a dangerous inconvenience after dark) and took off for California, and Death Valley, specifically.

Our trip out of Vegas was beautiful and uneventful. We left around 8am and returned back to our hotel sometime after dark. Over the course of the day we covered about 350 gorgeous miles of nature. We had lunch at a cafe in the Furnace Creek Ranch complex, where DH has stayed twice during JDRF Ride For The Cure events.

Here is the stubborn little barrel cactus we found right near Jubilee Pass. Kind of reminds me of some stubborn cyclist friends I know.... Amazing to find resilient plant-life in such a harsh, dry place.

On the way home the increasing darkness made the defective map lights increasingly annoying. At a gas station in Pahrump we stopped at a gas station for snacks and tape. In the future we will ALWAYS bring duct tape on trips. All the gas station had was really crappy masking tape. We attempted to furnish an opaque cover for the lights with cardboard from a cracker box and tape...but it wouldn't stick. For about 2 hours I held the makeshift cover over the light. We even tried removing the appropriate fuse, but the fusebox on the Ford Focus is buried. We were never able to actually locate the cover, even though we knew which fuse (#9) to remove.

Day 3 I like to call "Chihuly Day." This was one of my only requirements of the trip--that we see the Chihuly ceiling at the Bellagio. Imagine my surprise when we find a BRAND NEW Chihuly gallery in the new City Center complex! Dale Chihuly is my favorite artist...ever (though I found a photographer's gallery in the Planet Hollywood shops who could be a contender--he shoots everything in wide-frame medium format using transparency film. God...sometimes I really miss film. Digital can't touch that intense color reproduction). I have been a fan ever since visiting a small installation of his at the Frederik Meijer Gardens in Grand Rapids when Dane was a toddler. Had we been in Vegas a couple of weeks ago we could have met the artist, which is a bummer. Chihuly seems like a fun guy from everything I have read and seen. How can anyone who creates such colorful art not be happy and loving life?

After making my eyes happy looking at colorful blown glass (in the gallery, the Bellagio lobby, and the Chihuly store at the Bellagio...yes, the store with the tiny $12k piece that I would have bought in a heartbeat if I had that kind of coin just lying around) we did a little souvenir shopping.

That night was our "Vegas Show" night. We got a really good deal on tickets to see Zumanity in our hotel (less than half of what we would have paid had we been staying in a different establishment). The show is perhaps the most risqué show on the Vegas Strip. It's a Cirque de Soleil prodution reserved only for those 18 and older. It was excellent, funny, visually gorgeous (and not a little naughty) and we had great 4th row seats.

After the show we again enjoyed Mexican at a little place right in the hotel, though it was not nearly as good as the first Mexican meal we had on the night we arrived. Once we paid our bill we headed over to the slot machines where I played and lost $2. That took about 15 seconds. We then redeemed our 2 free drink coupons (both had mediocre Sin City Brewing Company beers) we received upon arrival...so we weren't really out $2. Then I took this one last photo of us enjoying our vacation before we headed back up to the room to pack for our return flight in the AM (yes, Derek is checking out my cleavage, ha!).

The next morning we had a quick breakfast (in part because DH thought our flight was out around 2:30 when it was actually scheduled just before 1pm) at a restaurant in the hotel and had a quick taxi ride to the airport. Getting through security was easy and it wasn't long before we were back in the sky headed to cold and clouds, but not before viewing the Hoover Dam (at right) and the Grand Canyon from the sky--that was pretty cool. Our connection was in rainy Dallas...our gate assignment changed at least 6 times in an hour. Even our pilot was annoyed. The flight from Dallas was pretty uncomfortable on a tiny commuter plane with the heat cranked. I came down with the beginnings of a head cold the night before we left (too little sleep, too many viruses) and the pressure in my eustachian tubes was unreal and caused the worst ear pain I have ever experienced while flying. My right ear finally cleared about 4 hours after we landed...in the meantime I was pretty much deaf in that ear.

We arrived back in Grand Rapids just a bit behind schedule, got our bags, left the airport in our dirty car (damn, cars in Vegas are all so clean--even the old beaters. Helps not to have snow and road salt), and headed over to friends' house for a slightly belated New Year's Eve toast. As fun and exciting as Vegas was, I am glad we were not there to witness the year turn-over. Each day the Strip became more crowded and difficult to navigate (and full of families with small kids...seriously, who brings kids to Sin City? Even though there were a lot of kid-friendly activities, I would not ever consider taking a child to such an adult place with some pretty raunchy elements in massive technicolor detail). Plus our room rate would have been about double on the 31st.

• food...wow, I had no idea there was so much good eating in Vegas. The Strip smells of so much meat. Really reminded me of the Tandoori smells in London.
• smoke in the casinos. Seriously, my lungs still hurt. I have to wonder about the rates of lung cancer among non-smokers who work in the casinos.
• the lack of humidity is kind of uncomfortable. I drank a ton of water and still felt thirsty...which probably has a lot to do with how relatively little alcohol we drank.
• what an amazing feat of Human ingenuity Vegas is...grass, trees, flowers, a thriving city--all in the middle of the desert.
• how much I really hate Midwest Winters (OK, this wasn't really a surprise--running has pretty much turned me into an enemy of this season). Returning to cold, snow, and complete absence of sun for weeks on end has really been difficult. I completely understand why so many retire to sunny climates. I would join them in an instant.
• the relative smallness of "Old Vegas" (Fremont St.) vs. "New Vegas" (The Strip). Old Vegas felt a little sad, but it has history. The Strip feels less honest, if that makes any sense.

Going back to Vegas at the end of the year is really something I look forward to. While I wouldn't want to live there (I wouldn't really want to live in any major city), it would be fun to live an hour or so outside of the city. It's a really amazing place to visit and there are so many gorgeous destinations within a reasonable drive...Hoover Dam, Death Valley, and the Grand Canyon, to name a few. Here is a parting shot of the moon rising over Death Valley:


  1. Wow really nice trip you had there Kirsten. Makes me want to visit Las Vegas as the only knowledge I have is from watching CSI.

    You mentioned London, did you visit for a race or business only I live about 30 miles north of London (in fact went there today) and just wondered where the Tandoori smells are.

  2. I was in London for a college semester during the early 90s (and they STILL won't let me donate blood here, due to the mad cow nonsense). I don't even remember specific areas, but there were at least a couple of Tandoori joints in the Ealing area, where I was staying. Man, I love that smell--though maybe not as much as the smell of a fish 'n chips shop. I would weigh at least 30#s more if we had those here, I fear. That stuff should be tagged a controlled substance!