Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fabulous Las Vegas

We decided to spend our Christmas break at Las Vegas also known as the Sin City, entertainment, gambling, and marriage capital of the world. One just can't avoid the glitz and glamour of this happening city.

After the detailed trip planning of the San Diego tour, I decided to go easy on this one. There was no real plan for the four days that we were there. Visit the Grand Canyon and experience Las Vegas-that was about all I had in mind. And that was exactly what we did. I'll cover the Grand Canyon tour in a separate post.

Las Vegas, as everyone knows, is famous for gambling, entertainment and prostitution-a heady mix for sinful living. All the big names in the hotel industry have huge resorts and casinos with lavish decor and over the top lighting. Each one has a theme which is very unique and makes it stand out from the others. 'The Luxor' has an egyptian theme and is shaped like a pyramid. 'Caesar's palace' has a roman theme complete with roman architecture and sculpture. 'Paris' has a half size replica of the Eiffel tower while 'New York New York' has a replica of the Statue of Liberty.

The best part about the hotels is that all are interconnected. You can easily walk from one casino into the other without having to come on to the street. They even have free trams running between different hotels.

The casinos have slot machines, poker, blackjack, roulette & craps tables and digital versions of these games as well. Smoking is permitted in the casinos so there is a horrible stench in the air and I found it very uncomfortable. Drinks are served free of cost to those gambling and you can see waitresses in skimpy costumes strutting around taking orders. ATM machines are located at multiple, convenient locations inside the casinos so that people are never short of funds to gamble. I found it really funny how everyone was standing in a queue at the ATMs only to lose their money.

In the connecting walkway between hotels, you can find food courts, designer apparel stores, beauty salons, gifts & souvenir shops and the likes. It is designed to ensure you get every opportunity to blow away your cash!

It being December, the weather was very cold and chilly. However, once you step into the casinos, the temperatures are so high and I found it very uncomfortable. It looks like some plan to keep people inside the casino all through out. I was surprised to find that the slot machines and tables were occupied right from the morning.

The hotel buffets are very popular. They are known for having exotic food, especially sea-food, at very low rates. Every restaurant inside the casinos had a long winding queue during lunch-time. Since I'm vegetarian, the buffet did not offer anything to me so I skipped it and opted to eat outside. However, there was not much luck there too. Unlike the Bay area, none of the restaurants had any good veg food options. I had to make do with a salad, fries or pizza on most days.

Las Vegas has some of the best shows to offer. Dance, comedy, magic, music, acrobatics-everything under the sun! Some of the big names in the industry regularly perform in Vegas. The streets are filled with people who sell you "cheap" or "free" show or event tickets. The best way to get tickets for the shows is through the 'Tix4 tonight' counters located along the Strip. They usually have very good deals for the same-day shows. I decided to watch a magic show by Murray-the magician (he was one of the America's Got Talent finalists). He was amazing and very goofy. Most of the tricks were something that I'd already seen before but his presentation filled with humor made it a winner.

All three days were spent walking from one casino to the other and still we couldn't cover all of them. Since it was the Christmas weekend, the place was crowded and I was surprised to see a lot of families coming on vacation. Kids, teens along with their parents and even grandparents were enjoying their time off at Vegas. Of course, children are not allowed to loiter around the casinos. We found that out when we were asked for our IDs while we were watching a game. I found it amusing and flattering at the same time :D

Although my vacation was nothing like the one in the movie 'Hangover,' I definitely had a great time being awe-struck by the extravagance and hedonistic way of life. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

San Diego-Day 4: Cruise & Gaslamp

On the last day of our tour, we took the 2 hour cruise from Harbor drive. It was a narrated tour that took us down the south bay and the north bay.

The guide showed us a large number of ships used by the US navy. I learnt that San Diego is the second largest naval base and has one third of the naval ships. Since I'm not too keen on ships, I didn't pay much attention to it and was interested in taking in the beauty of the ocean.

At one point we saw 3 islands which marked the Mexican border. We also saw the Shelter island marinas, Maritime museum, Naval training building, Coronado bay bridge and the downtown skyline.

After which we walked to the downtown region known as the Gaslamp quarters. It has a lot of eateries and businesses. It was a complete contrast to the cosy restaurants of Old town. Here, it was more about flashy and shows hotels. We walked along the entire stretch checking out all the places until we got hungry. We had an early dinner (5.30 pm!) at a fancy Italian restaurant and then headed back to the hotel as we had to catch a flight at 7.30 pm.

San Diego has so much to offer and appeals to everyone's tastes. Some of the things that we could not cover were Sea World, La Jolla Island, Sea Port village and Coronado island. There is just so much to do and four days was just not enough. It was a perfect break for us. 

San Diego-Day 3: Visit to Old Town

After spending an entire day in the Zoo, we decided to head out to Old Town. It is the birthplace of California and was the first place where the Spanish explorers settled. The heavy Spanish influence can be seen in the people, art, houses and music.

Old Town park

The Old Town Historic park is a fantastic cultural hub with quaint museums, arts & craft stores, numerous eateries, ancient homes and musicians playing Spanish songs. 

We first went to a cafe called 'California Cottage' It was a cottage converted into a cafe. We sat outdoor with the gas fireplaces and brilliant lighting. As I sat sipping my Hot white chocolate (which was simply out of this world) an elderly gentleman with a Spanish guitar moved to our table and asked us if we'd like to hear a song. V immediately agreed and the gentleman said he would play a romantic song for us. He played a Spanish song-although we didn't understand the meaning of it, we thoroughly enjoyed the melody.

We then walked to the park and looked around the stores with their old-world charm selling pottery, tobacco, masks and others. There was live music, freshly baked mexican goodies, wine sellers, olive oil tasting and open air restaurants. I will never forget that scene in my life-colorful, lively and buzzing with activity.

Decorated shops
The streets are lined with a wide array of mexican restaurants. I had a tough time picking one. However, one of them 'Old town cafe' has a separate section for vegetarian food and also mentioned that vegetarian food is cooked in separate oil. I hadn't heard of such a thing in any other place and immediately decided to go in. This was also very quaint and cosy. We ordered and surprised to see the huge portions-one dish enough for two people.

There is a haunted house -Whaley's house which is supposed to be the most haunted place in the US. We briefly passed by the house and saw there was a huge queue outside waiting for the ghost tour. I was not interested in paying money and getting sleepless nights.

We were so glad that we picked this place to spend the evening.