Our Train Trip to the West – Part IV

Las Vegas, NV

Thursday, May 8th:

We did get up early as we had a long trip ahead of us. We left our luggage outside of room’s door and some time around 7.30 am the hotel staff picked it up and took it to the front of our bus, where Jerry and Mark would load them inside. Usually, one of our fellow travelers, called Jorge, would also help. Jorge, was (I believe) from Panama. He was traveling with his girl friend, Betty, and lived in San Francisco. Anyway, he was always trying to help, and Jerry and Mark appreciated his assistance.

On Route
On Route to Las Vegas

After a good breakfast at the hotel, we boarded our bus and started on our trip across the desert. On these longer trips, Mark would travel for about two hours and then stop somewhere, usually at a mall, where we would stretch our legs, some have a smoke and most of us run to a public bathroom. (I didn’t mentioned this before, but ninety percent of the members of this tour were older than 60, and a few older than 80.) Then, around noontime, we would stop again (another mall) for the same reasons and to have lunch.

So, we stopped at a mall, in a town called Henderson, just across the border of Nevada. Across the way, we could appreciate samples of Nevada’s biggest industry: gambling. There were several casinos, next to each other, and many cars parked in front of them. I guess lunch time is as good as any time to gamble. We passed the opportunity and searched for a place to eat. The usual suspects: Mac Donald’s, Subway’s, Wendy’s, some Chinese joint, and Chili’s… Marité and I, had never had been in Chili’s so we had lunch there. Don’t remembered what Marité ordered, but I did ordered a wrap and a Mexican XX (Dos Equis) beer. I was surprised as they didn’t have the dark variety of XX beer that I’m used to. It was some kind of tasteless lager, like any Miller or Budweiser. The wrap tasted good, but… (we’ll get to that later.)

We continued our journey through sparsely inhabited land. Mark was a good driver and he had a GPS  who usually guided him to our destinations. We were seated on the second seat at the right of the driver and had a superb view all the time.

Sometime in the afternoon, we turned from an almost empty highway into a eight lane (four on our side) slow moving “freeway” that was heading into downtown Las Vegas. On both sides of the road we could see fabulous structures, mostly imitations of something that exist in some other place or existed in some other time. Here were the resorts and casinos that Las Vegas is famous for: Luxor; Excalibur; Tropicana; New York, New York; Bellagio; Bally’s; Cesar’s Palace; Mirage and The Venetian, among many more. We arrived at our destination: Treasure Island, not one of the most glamorous hotels on the Strip; still, one mammoth of a hotel with 2665 rooms and 220 suites, plus the usual casino area, stores, pool, restaurants, etc, etc.

So what can you do in Las Vegas, if you don’t gamble? Walk up and down the Strip and in and out of the resort-casinos to catch some cool or hot air. For the ladies, specially, – and, if you are not in a spending mood – you can enjoy window shopping at expensive (and some exclusive)  boutiques, or if you have money to spend, walk in the stores and shop. Then, there are the shows (expensive), for which you should book in advance. Don’t expect to get there and buy a couple of tickets for that night show! Also, there is the food: most of the hotels have buffet dining, where you can stuff yourself (not as cheap as they used to, but still usually a good bargain), as well as run-of-the-mill restaurants. However, many of the resorts feature four star dining establishments, which may be well worth the visit.

We did a bit of everything, walked, did window-shopping (Marité bought a nice perfume), visited some of the hotels: Mirage, The Venetian, Cesar’s Palace, Bellagio, Paris and New York, New York. Also, we had a touch of culture. (Can you believe culture in Las Vegas?) Next to the Venetian, and entering through its lobby, we found the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum, which is a partnership between the Guggenheim Museum in New York and the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Both institutions exhibit here many of the paintings that are usually seen at their respective venues. When we visited they were showing “Modern Masters” from the Guggenheim Collection. Many of the artists associated with Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Cubism, Expressionism and Surrealism were represented here. Sadly, the museum closed the next day. As a journalist of the LA Times wrote referring to this matter:  “Guggenheim’s closing at the Venetian is evidence that visitors (in Las Vegas) seek glitz, not culture.”

That first night, after all the mediocre too bad food we had since we had left Chicago, we decided to go to a decent restaurant. Frommer’s Guide to Las Vegas (on the web) had some suggestions and we choose one: Corsa Cucina (by the name you may have guessed it featured an Italian menu). It was located at the close by Wynn Las Vegas hotel. We were not disappointed; we had a truly excellent dinner and enjoyed a couple of very nice glasses of wine. (I wish I could remember the labels.)

We returned to our hotel in time to see a free show: “Sirens of T I” featured outside of the hotel. Being guests of the hotel we were admitted to the first line of the standing only viewing area. It is a free show and you shouldn’t expect much. A lot of loud music, a teenager’s appealing plot, appalling singing and dancing by some light dressed lovelies, and a few loud explosions and bangs. Our advise: if you have nothing better to do while you are in Las Vegas, (we didn’t) go and see it. Otherwise, skip it.

Friday, May 9th:

No rush to get up early this morning. So we took our time and we had our breakfast in the hotel’s buffet restaurant at mid-morning. No light continental breakfast here. For $ 18.00 people really loaded their plates.

NY, NY in LV
New York, New York in Las Vegas

Afterwards, started our second walking tour of Las Vegas. There was a tour by bus, part of the travel itinerary, but we skipped it. We wanted to wander on our own. One of our destinations was the Paris hotel, as we wanted to go up the faux Eiffel Tower, which we did. There was a really great view from up there. The day, although hot, was clear (very little humidity) and we could see for miles. Afterwards, we did go to the New York, New York casino. Here we decided to try our luck at one of the roulette tables. It was empty and the lady croupier showed us how to play. She was good, in less than two minutes and with only four bets, we lost the $ 20 that we had set aside for gambling. So it goes…

We went back to our hotel and looked for a place to have lunch. We found a restaurant in the Venetian, which had tables outside the main room. It felt like we were seating on a side walk cafe, but actually it was inside the resort. People passed by, there where stores across the way and the ceiling, up high, was painted light blue with puffy clouds. The illusion couldn’t be more complete. About 15 feet from us, there was a statue, which seem to be made of stucco, of somebody that looked like a Venetian or Florentine gentleman of the 15th century. After a while of looking at it and seeing that people were also steering at it, we realized that it was another illusion. It was a “living statute” waiting for people to leave some money on the small veranda that surrounded it. It was amazing!

We left the restaurant after finishing our pizza and went back to our hotel for a well-deserved siesta. We missed the Freemont Street Experience, (a tour that the rest of the group took) as we were too tired and preferred to rest in our comfortable beds, until dinnertime.

We had had such a good eating experience the previous night that we decided to have dinner in the same place: Corsa Cucina. However, the experience this time wasn’t so good. Not the restaurant’s fault, but because I started to feel nauseous and couldn’t eat the excellent pasta dish, nor drink the superb glass of wine, I had ordered. So we left, without having desert. On our way back to the hotel, I had to make a stop in a bathroom (the first of many of that night) and realized I had come down with a touch of food poisoning. What had caused it? We don’t know. Although the wrap I had had the previous day in Chili’s got blamed, it could also have been something that I eat at breakfast. (Those buffets have been known to be breeding grounds for many bacteria.)

Saturday, May 10th:

The next morning, after having slept very little due to my illness, we skipped breakfast and departed from Las Vegas towards our new destination: the town of Bakersfield, in California. I sat in the back, next to the restroom, just in case. Ann had gotten some ice, which I held against my stomach and gave me some comfort. I also took some carbon tablets and Dramamine, which made me feel drowsy. Thus, I slept most of the time during the bus trip. By the middle of the day I was feeling better and tried to eat some bananas, which we got at a supermarket, somewhere in a mall along the way.

Well, we were in a tour organized by America “by Rail”, so at our stop at Bakersfield we boarded a train for a three-hour ride, which ended at the town of Merced, CA. At the train station our trustworthy driver, Mark, was waiting for us, to take us to dinner to a restaurant called the Branding Iron. We, and another couple, who had also had food poisoning problems, skipped dinner. (Marité had no problems, but was just being supportive and didn’t want to eat, while I didn’t eat.) Thus, Mark took us directly to our hotel, Courtyard by Marriott, which would be our home for the night. Next morning we would be getting up early, as we were going to Yosemite National Park.