Letters From a Bus
April 2008: Springtime Desert
5th entry for April

Venetian Canals & Other Wonders

Las Vegas, NV, Day Fifteen at Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort, Site: 180

Monday, April 14, 2008 — Ten Months

On Friday, April eleventh, we finally made it over to the Palazzo and the Venetian.  Connected by shared walks and waterways, these hotel resorts are opulent and visually stunning.  Of course I fell in love with them immediately.  We spent a happy afternoon walking through an extravagant Italian palace and the grandeur of the Renaissance by the Venetian Grand Canal.  As I am a born romantic, I loved it all and found myself saying dopey things like, “This is my kind of place” and “Isn’t this fun?”  “Don’t you love it?”  Well, fortunately Dennis is a romantic at heart also, so we held hands and walked everywhere.  We like to window shop although I rarely go into these Rodeo Drive types of stores.  The Palazzo has Barneys New York, Christian Louboutin and Ralph Lauren so that’s fun to see. 

The effect of the dome ceiling sky in St. Mark’s Square was just amazing.  I was happy to enter into the spirit of this graceful and romantic scene.  We looked at restaurants in the square but settled on a romantic trattoria along side the canal.  We went into one and got a table right by the canal.  Then we saw we had chosen not Italian but Mexican — Taqueria Canonita.  We had to laugh.  We both chose Santa Rosa Barbacoa de Puerco, marinated pork slowly roasted in a banana leaf and served with cilantro rice, black beans and a chipotle barbeque sauce.  It was absolutely delicious.

I wonder if they program a change of light in the Venetian sky?  I could have sworn we experienced sunset and evening dusk.  It was beautiful and we had a lovely time.

The Palazzo Lobby. 4/11/08
The stairs in the Palazzo lead up to the entrance to the Grand Canal in the Venetian. 4/11/08
The Palazzo Lobby dome. 4/11/08
As a masonry contractor, Dennis lays GFRC (Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete) like this all the time. It's strong but lightweight and very decorative. 4/11/08
The gondolier saw my camera and waved to us. 4/11/08
We enter St. Mark's Square. 4/11/08
Left, our taqueria is right next to the canal and above, I have a beautiful view of the buildings and that sky. Below, Dennis is thinking about ordering a marguerita. We had gondolas passing all during dinner and we heard a variety of renditions of classics like Santa Lucia. 4/11/08

On Saturday, April twelfth, we decided to get out of town and explore by car.  For the first time we crossed over I-15 to see the west side of Las Vegas.  We followed Hwy 160 (Blue Diamond Rd.) west towards snow covered Mt. Charleston.  At Bonnie Springs, Blue Diamond turns north and becomes 159. It makes a loop by Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and turns east back to Las Vegas north of Spring Valley. We continued west on 160 across a pass called Mountain Springs.  Then we descended into a wide valley and followed the edge of the mountains northwest into Pahrump, situated below Lee Canyon.  We could have continued and made a big circle north and east skirting around the mountains to return to Las Vegas on US-95. A loop on 158 and 157 would take you up the north side of Mt. Charleston to snow country.

Other than distant mountains and a flat desert landscape there wasn't much to see. We are told that Pahrump is like the Las Vegas of old when gambling was the central theme instead of resorts and entertainment.  It is a quiet desert city .  We took note of a several RV parks and drove around a bit.  I noticed a museum sign and we turned off 160 to find the Pahrump Museum.  We looked at the collections in cases in the museum and at the old buildings around the museum. 

I was amazed at the growth and construction in the outskirts of Las Vegas.  They are filling up the land just as fast they can build.  Along Hwy 160 we saw many developments.  Most appeared to be very cheap and ugly.  I think they build them with small windows facing south because of the heat and they are all colored desert beige or brown.  There is little grass and no trees so the beigeness is unremitting.

Before we drive to Pahrump we go over to Rick's Cafe at the Oasis for breakfast. I stepped out onto the patio by the restaurant and saw that the tree I photographed a week ago is now filled out with new green leaves. I also noticed a clever bar table with a firepit in the center. That would be fun to sit around. 4/12/08
Above, the mountains as we climb east above Las Vegas. Right, I finally get a photo of those big yellow blossoms on a Joshua tree. Below left, a view of snow capped Mt. Charleston north of Pahrump. Below right, Dennis looks at a desert garden at the Pahrump Museum. 4/12/08
A local artist has some nice bronze sculptures on display outside the Pahrump Museum. We stopped to look at a cabin built in the 1940s of railroad ties. That old refrigerator is modern by our childhood standards. I remember ice being delivered for our icebox when I was a kid in the forties. 4/12/08
Behind the Pahrump Museum we see Pahrump's First Ambulence and Dennis looks at the old general store. 4/12/08
This is a common sight along 160 west of Las Vegas. 4/12/08 And this is typical of what is being built. 4/12/08
Approaching I-15, we see the highrise towers behind the Oasis RV Resort and then after crossing the freeway we see the entrance sign on our right. Home, sweet home. 4/12/08

On Sunday, April thirteenth, we went back to exploring the hotels.  This time we headed for the MGM Grand.  The lobby is filled with flowers and the first thing we noticed was that it smelled like Hawaii.  We came to see the Lion Habitat.  That was definitely fun and worth the trip.  We learned that the lions live twelve miles outside of town.  Their keepers raise them from small cubs.  They take turns coming to the glass environment in the hotel where they stay in pairs for four hours.  They are washed and combed before their appearance and two keepers stay in the environment with them. 

I was struck by the similarities between these lions and my Coton: Rudi the Lion King.  The way the lions lay down and sat and their playful demeanor was very similar.  One played with a big ball — just like Rudi!

Next we walked across a bridge to the Tropicana.  I was looking for live flamingoes but I never saw them.  Then we walked across the strip on a bridge towards Excalibur.  Another bridge took us into New York-New York Hotel & Casino.  We walked through an interior that was like an exterior set of streets in New York.  By then we were tired and we decided to stop for dinner at Nine Fine Irishman.  The pub, with a grand Victorian-style bar, looked like fun and there was an Irish singer entertaining.  But we selected their outdoor patio dining where we sat by the sidewalk of the strip — as if we were at a New York sidewalk café.  It was fun and we enjoyed our waitress but our fish and chips were tasteless.  Although the fish was fresh I did not enjoy the way it was cooked. 

MGM Grand Lobby. 4/13/08
The Lion Habitat enclosure is three stories high and visible from three sides. A glass tunnel allows you to feel like you are walking into the enclosure. Often one of the lions will lie on the glass top of the tunnel, which is an odd sight. There are two keepers who keep company with their two lions at all times. One lion entertained himself like Rudi, trying to paw a ball out of a tight spot, dropping it in water, and then gently licking it. The big ball was clearly a favorite toy for him.

Below, we went into the Lion Habitat store where I was startled by a swaying python overhead who opened his mouth in a most threatening manner. 4/13/08

We left the MGM Grand on the bridge level and crossed Tropicana Blvd. to go into the Tropicana Hotel. Some guy wearing leis is just coming up the escalator. In the distance are the bridges that cross the strip from the Tropicana to the Excalibur and from there over to New York-New York (out of sight to the right). 4/13/08
The only flamingoes I saw at the Tropicana were the decorative panels on the hall walls. We went into the gardens and passed the Island Wedding Chapel where Dennis warned James, "No! Don't do it!" The Tropicana has a big pool with lots of splashy waterfalls. 4/13/08
From the Tropicana we crossed the strip on the bridges and entered New York-New York where we walked on New York streets by lots of fun cafes. However, we settled on a real outdoor dining patio. The sculpture standing in the dining area says, "Meagher's Court at Nine Fine Irishman." The nine were inspired to seek freedom for Ireland using mostly peaceful means. In the Young Irish disorders of 1848, Thomas Francis Meagher was one of nine captured, tried and convicted of treason against Her Majesty, the Queen. He spoke up in court — hence the title. Passionate protests forced Queen Victoria to commute the sentence and Meagher was exiled to Australia. 25 years later he was Brigadier General, US Army and Governor of Montana! 4/13/08
In the patio of Nine Fine Irishman we were seated side-by-side facing the panorama of the strip. Next to the patio, the sidewalk passes under a New York style bridge, Brooklyn Bridge? 4/13/08
Monday was our last day in Las Vegas. We went over to Bally’s in the late afternoon and walked around Paris and admired their setting of Paris streets.

Then we crossed the bridge over to the Bellagio and had dinner at Todd English’s OLIVES, a restaurant with a balcony that faces the fountains.  Earlier in the week it was my plan to have lunch on the balcony, but we didn't get around to that.  Dinner was a less good idea as it was expensive and serious and not as much fun as Red Square.  It is perhaps a better setting for businessmen who are on an expense account.  Dennis had hurt his back and I suggested he take the banquette seat facing the bar while I took the chair.  He agreed but it turned out that the banquette was too low for the table and he was not comfortable.  Everyone on the banquette sat low and I don’t know why the restaurant doesn’t fix that obvious flaw.  

Dennis ordered French Onion Soup and I had a Boston Bibb Salad and then, as we did at Red Square, we decided to split the entrée.  But at Red Square it was their idea and at OLIVES, it was our idea.  They were polite but not enthusiastic and they presented our Slow and Low Braised Beef Short Rib on one plate with a second empty plate.  We had to split it ourselves at the table, an awkward affair. I thought that showed a smallness of nature that was not in keeping with an expensive and clearly elitist restaurant.  I was neither pleased nor impressed as I scraped crème fraiche, whipped potatoes, sherried cipolini onions and braised foraged mushrooms “stroganoff style” onto a second plate.  However I will admit that it was delicious. 

Before dinner we wander through Parisian streets in the Paris. 04/14/08
OLIVES is in the Bellagio hallway and has a patio that faces the fountains. It was windy so we chose to sit indoors. (We were informed that if we were seated outdoors and changed our minds, we couldn't switch to an indoor table. This was an attitudinal clue and Dennis did comment that we could change our minds and just leave....) We noticed people smoking on the patio so we were glad we didn't sit out there. 04/14/08
This is Dennis's view from the banquette facing the bar and the entrance to OLIVES . 04/14/08 Note that the table comes up to Dennis's chest. However, his French Onion Soup and my Bibb Salad were excellent. 04/14/08
In the evening, we had tickets to see Donn Arden's Jubilee! at Bally’s. To say that we enjoyed a very high energy performance with a large cast of dancers and singers and spectacular effects would be an understatement.  I was expecting a classic Las Vegas showgirl performance, but I was not expecting such a huge production. As the program states, it has "gorgeous showgirls, incredible special effects, dazzling lights and costumes—all within the framework of classic song and dance." With tons of of feathers, thousands of rhinestones and "miles of stunning fabric," the costumes for this huge cast of nearly 90 performers are designed by Bob Mackie and Pete Menefee. There is a sixteen-minute opening based on Jerry Herman's "Hundreds of Girls with singers, dancers and beautful topless showgirls." (Ladies, I am pleased to report that there was not a set of large, silicone breasts to be seen anywhere. These skinny dancers where built small and natural.)

The production of "Samson & Delilah; A tale of Love, Romance, Passion, and Betrayal!" involves sexy dances, and elaborate sets. Corny and over-the-top, it was actually hilarious and great fun to watch. After a tribute to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers we were treated to costumes and stage sets on the Titanic which was sunk with appropriate pyrotechnics. I later read that the Jubilee! stage is half the size of a football field and fifteen stories tall from basement to roof. The program tells me there are 11 elevators around the stage and they can go as high as 25' above stage and 20' below stage level. The three main elevators can hold 100,000 pounds. Five pounds of explosives are used in the 50 pyrotechnic displays of each show. When the Titanic hits the iceburg, more than 3,000 gallons of water (recycled) cascade across the set.

However, inbetween the big production numbers we were entertained by three sensational variety acts that left me in awe and were really the most memorable. We saw international juggling sensation Rejean St. Jules, Polish hand balancing champions Duo Design and world-famous aerial silk artist Vitali Tomonov.

Rejean did a bounce piano juggling act and finished by bouncing tennis balls against a glass triangle. It was like handball but speeded up and with eight tennis balls. http://www.rejeanstjules.com/home.html

Jaroslaw Marciniak and Dariusz Wronski of Duo Design, from Warsaw, Poland, are former Polish national hand-balancing champions. One, a giant with amazing flexibility is the base and the other smaller man balances on him as they move slowly from one balancing pose to another. They do a "dynamic and exciting strength and hand-balancing act" and have rave reviews: "oozing from one outrageously difficult position to the next" — Washington Post; "quite possibly the most superbly conditioned athletes on Earth" — Los Angeles Times; "astonishing slow-motion balancing act" — Cincinnati Enquirer; "blending brute force and ballet with nary a wobble" — Dallas Morning News. Dennis was stunned by these guys and said he'd never seen strength like that displayed by these men in Duo Design. http://statue-duodesign.com/

Personally, I fell in love with Vitali Tomonov. He does a mysterious and erotic performance by dangling and flying from two long red silk drapes suspended from a hook above the stage. Somehow he wraps himself in these drapes as he pulls himself upwards and then unravels amid these drapes as he swings and falls towards the stage. With arms extended back he flies in circles like a bird gliding on a draft of air. It is beautiful to watch.

Jubilee! was certainly a fitting finale for our two-week stay in Las Vegas.

Goodbye Las Vegas! Tomorrow we will drive northeast to St. George and begin our exploration of Utah's canyons and plateaus.
Elsa Walton, Oasis Las Vegas RV Resort, Las Vegas, NV, Monday, April 14, 2008