Monday, November 09, 2009

Fall on the Strip

We thought that we’d play tourist last Saturday, and enjoy one of the last warm weekends before the colder holiday season starts. We just did half the Strip, parking in the Fashion Show mall (and doing some shopping) then walking down the west side to the Bellagio, crossing the street and back up on the east side. We left the house around 10 and got back a little after 6, visiting several countries around the world.

Starting out, there was a Veteran’s Day sale at most of the stores, but we hit the cookware sale at Bloomingdale’s in the Fashion Show mall. I’ve been wanting a large cast iron skillet for a while, not for the weight but there are several recipes I wanted to try that start out on the stove and move to the oven. I didn’t want just a big black skillet but a pretty one, and there they were for half price. The place was crowded for the sale, and B talked me into getting a big pot in addition to the skillet. See - pretty multi tone ‘cherry’ color. I hope they cook as good as they look. (sorry you can’t see the color on the skillet, but it’s the same red as the bigger pot). And for as much as they weigh I better start building up my arm muscles in order to lift those suckers.

We put them back in the car and hit the coffee shop on the way out of the mall onto the Strip. The weather was our usual gorgeous sunshine with high temps in the mid 70’s. We headed south, crossing on the pedestrian bridge to TI. A few years ago they started adding pedestrian bridges across the Strip and side streets, without them the cars didn’t have a chance. There are only a few places left where you can actually cross at street level, the casinos have installed fencing and low walls to keep you off of the street. TI (formerly Treasure Island) was recently sold, and the new owner hasn’t made any major visible changes. The pirate ships are still out front, there was new carpet inside but it still looked about the same. The TI used to be a pirate themed casino, with skeletons and pirate booty, chests, jewels and gold coins all over the place. That was removed a few years ago in a big remodel and rename to TI, but if you look close you can still see some remnants of those days. Christian Audigier now runs the big nightclub out front (Dress Code: Ed Hardy & Christian Audigier designs encouraged).

Then out on the street and down past the Mirage, with its volcano (only active at night) and waterfalls and into the Caesar's Palace Forum Shops. This was one of the first shopping malls on the Strip, with large fountains that come to life periodically, a big fish tank and the sky painted overhead. They used to run a one hour cycle from sunrise through daylight, sunset and night, but now it’s just generally gloomy twilight inside. It was rather crowded, with a fair number of people filling the halls. The Forum Shops mall was the first place I’ve seen circular escalators.

I’m still impressed with how they work. As you can see, the place is well decorated but rather echoy and noisy with all the hard surfaces. The main entrance is three stories high with a large vaulted ceiling, and is rather bright compared to the inside passageways. You have to go up to the third floor in order to cross over to the main shopping area. Even up here it’s rather pleasant, with the standard inlaid marble floors and big statues.

Then through the casino and out to the street, past a long cab line and their entrance fountains and statues over to the corner bridge. This crosses over to the Bellagio. Their shopping center starts at the corner bridge and runs around a curve behind the fountains over to the casino. This is one of the nicer casinos, with large walkways to work your way through without dodging people at the tables and machines. We stop here periodically to see the conservatory, which is a large glass ceiling room that changes with the seasons. We caught the Fall harvest display, which revolved around pumpkins and fall blooming flowers.

There were some metal fountain trees down the center, which sparkled really nicely in the sunshine. Besides the pumpkins, miniature pepper plants, mums and other flowers they had some talking trees and ents.

We caught them a few years ago in the middle of changing over from Fall to Christmas. That seems to be quite a lot of work, swapping out thousands of live plants and trees, buildings, fountains and other hardscape and making it all so pretty. Last year it was snowing inside over a pine forest, the changeover usually takes place just after Thanksgiving weekend. Then outside and along their moving sidewalks back out to Las Vegas Boulevard. There were no cabs lined up here, we were surprised at the difference from Caesar’s where there were dozens of people in line and lots of yellow cabs waiting to pick them up. The end of the walkway deposits you onto the sidewalk where there is a crossing signal, so that you can walk across the Strip to get to Planet Hollywood and their shopping center; the Miracle Mile Shops. It was here, across ten lanes of traffic, that I caught sight of something I look for every time we hit the Strip.

Yes, the Las Vegas bride wandering the Strip and casinos in full white gown, waiting with her new husband and wedding party to cross the street. It’s a big joke to us, and kind of like a treasure hunt, to see who will be first to catch sight of the bride. I’ll have to create a web page of Strip brides, I think I have posted pictures of about a dozen so far. I have no idea why someone would wear a big fancy white gown out and about, dragging long trains on the dirty streets and sidewalks. Is it just to show off the fact that you are now married? This bride was a little different; she appeared to be in her late 50’s with a husband of similar age, rather than the young chickies we usually see. By the time the light changed there were a few hundred people on either side waiting to cross, and we and she were lost in the crowd when the light changed, so I couldn’t get a closer shot for you. Sorry. This is also a very unusual photo of Las Vegas Boulevard, with ten lanes and no cars. The pedestrian crossing lights had just turned red, and cars have not yet gotten the green to proceed. But it does let us see her across the street there.

Our destination however was not that mall but the place next door, Paris. Out front is my favorite outdoor Strip restaurant, Mon Ami Gabi

The weather was perfect, sunny and warm but not too hot. It was around 74f when we finally sat down; lunch on a Saturday here is popular, and there was an hour wait for a table. But they gave us a pager thingie and we wandered the casino, then sat at the bar and had a drink before getting called. The tables for two are right along the rail, just a few feet above sidewalk level so that you can look over the heads of everyone. We got the table at the very end, with a nice view of the Bellagio fountains across the street.

I don’t know how high that water shoots up, but it is impressive. There is a short show set to music every half hour, and the number of people walking and cars driving by was greatly reduced from summertime highs. There are heaters for winter, and misters for summer, but it is best right now when none of that is needed. The large umbrellas gave shade from the midday sun, but shortly after we sat down the sun moved behind the large new towers over at City Center.

That is the largest private construction project in the world, with quite a few large towers and over $7,000,000,000 US spent so far. Grand opening is scheduled for the middle of next month, it is impressive to see that site and realize it was bare ground jus three years ago. The ability to go from bare ground to a hole several hundred feet deep to a dozen towers fifty stories high in three years: wow. There is still a large crane or two, and not all the buildings will be open, but the main entrance, casino and hotel will be ready in a few short weeks, with the rest within a few months. Each tower is leased out to a major hotel chain or two, so not everything will be run by the MGM Mirage Corporation. Go click on the City Center link, they have a nice aerial video of the Strip at night and shots of the Center.

I was also able to get a shot of two other things we see quite often when out on the Strip.

The guy on the left carrying one of those big tourist drink things, this one an 18 inch high plastic Eifel Tower filled with some white drink, probably a pina colada. Most Strip casinos offer these things, with models of the Stratosphere or whatever the place is, or a giant beer bottle or just a plain tall tapered container with a very long straw. The biggest we saw that day while sitting there were some that were over a meter tall, which came with neck straps to help carry them. A large percentage of people walking the Strip are carrying drinks, ranging from beer cans and bottles up to those large mixed drink things. It is a lot of liquid, and having gotten some ourselves it is funny to realize there is only a shot or two of cheap booze mixed with all that shaved ice and sugary liquid. The bigger ones probably hold a gallon of ice and liquid, which is nice to have along when it’s 115f in the summer. But don’t plan on getting drunk on it.

The other thing in that photo is to the right; the big mobile billboard truck with the ‘hot babes direct to you’ advertisement, including a picture of three young women wearing not much. But doesn’t it look pleasant, out in the sunshine having a nice meal and watching the fountains across the street and all the people walking by? It is worth the wait. And no, we didn’t go back inside and get some of those drinks. You can also see our fall colors in that photograph: green, with people wearing long pants instead of shorts. The green leaves will drop soon, leaving a better view of the fountains, but the palm trees will stay the same.

After the meal it was back on the Strip heading north on this side of the street, past Bally’s next door and some of the older casinos. We didn’t see any of them across the street, but this side had dozens of the ‘card slappers’: people wearing ‘hot girls direct to you’ t shirts passing out business cards with photos of these hot girls wearing almost nothing. For a few hundred dollars one (or two or three) of these beautiful women will gladly come to your hotel room and entertain. Prostitution is illegal in Clark County (but legal in the rest of the state, kind of strange there) so I have no idea as to what form of entertainment is offered, never partaking of that form of entertainment here. In addition to the cards our phone book’s largest section is for ‘Escort and Outcall Services’. There are about two hundred pages of ads; the next largest section is for lawyers, almost as many pages.

We wandered through the Venetian and stopped for some gelato for dessert and to watch people inside. The adjoining Palazzo has a small central court with big waterfall and smaller fountains. This used to be a plain space, but in the past year they have started decorating it, probably trying to compete in a small way with the Bellagio conservatory. I had posted shots of their Spring umbrellas, now it was Fall pumpkins and some big stick cornucopia thing and lots of mums. Not as big as the competition, but still rather pleasant.

Then across the walkways to the Wynn and back to Fashion Show to pick up our car and head home. All in all a rather pleasant day, sunshine and lots of people and a walk of around 10 miles overall, including casino and shopping center wanderings.

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