The Many Layers of Las Vegas

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas Strip

It’s no secret that the concept of Las Vegas doesn’t excite me. I’ve never been a partying, gambling, drinking kind of girl. My first impressions were not favorable – an overwhelming jumble of clashing themes, lights, noises, and people. There seemed to be no escape from the oncoming tide of humanity engaged in raucous entertainment.

For me, Vegas is the epitome of artificial – a frolicking city of sin and no-holds-bared fun in the middle of the barren desert, a mirage that never quite feels real. The Disney-esque themed casino hotels only cement this impression. The painted “sky” of Paris that looms over the beeping slot machines, invoking claustrophobia. The lack of windows and clocks, wiping out all notion of nature’s cyclical rhythm of night and day. The bizarre sight of a fairytale castle sharing space with a hodgepodge of New York City landmarks, a giant golden lion, a gleaming pyramid guarded by a sphinx, and the Eiffel Tower visible down the street. I was unnerved in the first hour.

Yet slowly Vegas shared with me a another side beneath the crass commercialism and escapism. There is quality and culture to be found if you allow yourself to explore. My first hint of this came when we stumbled upon the City Center, a brand-new, expensive, and controversal development on the Strip. We whisked for free on the tram between the City Center and the Bellagio, giving our weary feet a break and avoiding the criminally expensive monorail. We goggled at the delicate, fanciful cake designs at a shop within the City Center. Giant chocolate flowers graced a wall like a modern art installation. Outside, a hulking sculpture made entirely of kayaks reminded me of a prickly porcupine.

Over at the Bellagio, more discoveries awaited. In the grand lobby of the hotel, we halted in our tracks to stare up at the delicate and whimsical glass sculpture in the ceiling. Designed in 1998 by Dale Chihuly, it is made up of 2,000 handblown glass flowers. The result is stunning enough for the most renowned fine art museums of Europe.

Bellagio Conservatory

Just steps away is another gem of the Bellagio – the casino’s conservatory. The exuberant displays of art and flowers are changed with the seasons and holidays. While we were there, the vast arrangements of mums, marigolds and other flowers made up a Alice-in-Wonderland make-believe harvest world, with giant pumpkins, twisted, spooky trees, and splashing fountains. During the day, the display is friendly, invoking that cozy feeling I associate with autumn walks through crunching leaves and sipping apple cider. The thousands of flowers scent the air with enticing spices. But visit at night and the low lighting creates a spooky, haunted pumpkin patch. The gnarled trees, so delightfully playful during the day, are menacing at night. An artistic botanical genius by manipulating mood with light and shape.

As I discovered the intellectual side of Vegas, I also allowed myself to surrender to the other more traditional pastimes of Sin City. Feasting at the famous (though definitely not cheap!) buffets, sampling Japanese sushi, pastas, Chinese stirfry, and decadent desserts at the Mirage Buffet. Savouring an impressive array of craft brews at Pour 24 while mingling with friends post-wedding inside the New York-New York. Browsing stylish shoes at a boutique inside the MGM Grand. Lounging poolside in the mid-afternoon sun before diving into the nightlife. Even the raved-about Bellagio Fountain show lived up to the hype. I was lulled by the graceful beauty of a lyrical ballet dance and laughed at the humor of “All That Jazz”. I never imagined I would actually be able to perceive the cheekiness of the top-hatted entertainer from the musical Chicago perfectly captured in the movement of a fountain.

Koi at the Flaminco

By the end of the weekend I was even enjoying the unapologetic irreverence of Vegas. I strolled the atmospheric “cobblestone” shopping street of the Paris Hotel, treating myself to a surprisingly good crepe and peeking into unique shops under a canopy of stained glass. Inside the Venetian, I stumbled across a quirky operetta performed live by costumed actors in the grand piazza and paused to watch an artist painting a mask in the glittery Venetian style as a serenading gondolier slid past in the shallow fake canal, his baritone voice reverberating off the arches of pedestrian bridges spanning the canal. 

My final surrender came as I passed through the gaming hall of the Vegas classic Flaminco, a 1950’s-style casino still outfitted with pink neon lights and inhabited by feather-coiffed showgirls. I dodged drink-laden tuxedoed waiters to reach a garden oasis in the center of the casino. Standing on the bridge over the koi fish-inhabited waters and surrounded by palm trees, birds, and graceful flamingos, I let in Vegas, with all its artificial, over-the-top glory.

CityCenter art installation made with 100% chocolate




About chronictraveler

Chronic Traveler starts as a dream, one that I thought I had lost, but that has slowly changed into a mission to realize and live that dream every day. In December 2007 I became seriously ill and the doctors did not know what was causing my illness. I had to stop teaching as my life tumbled into a never-ending nightmare of doctors, hospitals and tests. Finally, in May 2008 I was diagnosed with a chronic condition - fibromyalgia. I was only 26 years old at the time. I have had to give up teaching, and now work part-time at a performing arts center as I learn how to manage my condition and improve my quality of life. What helped me through the months of uncertainty and sickness, and continues to inspire me, was a new focus on what truly mattered to me: family, friends, gardening, the arts, and especially travel. I have always fed my soul by traveling, ever since I first stepped off the plane at age 16 in Kathmandu, Nepal to help with an orphanage's building project. Meeting new people and experiencing how they live and how they view the world infuses my life with a richness I was so afraid I would lose when the doctor first said, "You have fibromyalgia". This blog is my story, as I begin to forge a new path. I am embracing my life as it is, with the fibromyalgia pain and fatigue, and learning to do what I love regardless. It may mean I have to go slower and take more naps or breaks! But I am determined to learn how to travel and experience the world, and hopefully what I learn will help others like me who believe their medical condition stands in the way of their travel dreams.
This entry was posted in American Southwest, General Travel, Nevada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s