By Antonio Malara
The most beautiful and surprising thing about the journey by car from Los Angels to Las Vegas was the crossing of the metropolitan area of San Bernardino. Never in my life had I seen such an uninterrupted urban agglomeration. Over 100 km and an hour's trip to get to the end of the urban area of Los Angeles. Buildings everywhere, the six-lane highway that in the evening hour of intense traffic in which I traveled, created the play of red and white lights of the cars in line. Soon after, only the “desert”! What I mean is that the road with the big lanes led us to Las Vegas and on the way I saw neither buildings nor a gas station.
We arrived at the Cosmopolitan Hotel at about 10:30 PM and at check-in I immediately understood that in that city, the customer was a number and part of an “assembly line”. The desks were many and the operators were very quick to repeat in an operation learned by heart, all without feeling. However, our room was very nice, it overlooked the fountains of the Bellagio Hotel, where we could immediately see the fountain show directly from the room. Soon after we went out to the lights of the Sunset Strip looking for a place where to have dinner and when we saw a Johnny Rockets we decided to have dinner there aware of not being wrong. After the double cheeseburger we walked north on the strip to discover this bizarre city. Just in front of the Bellagio was the Paris-Las Vegas complex, it was an exact reproduction of the Eiffel Tower which nestled on top of a rectangular building reminiscent of the Louvre, alongside was also a stylized version of "Arc de Triomphe". Behind this large structure, there was the other much larger than the Hotel-Casino. Photographing with those lights was like photographing in the daytime, I took some photos of the tower from the side where I was and then we continued walking towards the Caesars Palace.
Crossing the strip or crossroads was not as easy as in normal cities. First of all, the strip was fenced, there were no traffic lights for pedestrians and it was very wide. In order to cross in any direction you had to do it via the sky bridges. These are pedestrian bridges that take you from the street to a casino-hotel first and then back to the street. If at first this may seem cool, when there is a hurry to cross, this creates long times and personally as I was there, it created a sense of claustrophobia. The Caesars Palace was supposed to recreate the idea of power and grandeur of ancient Rome. The style of the hotel was not bad but the tall columns and a miniature Colosseum gave a fake feeling. Everything was very impressive but it seemed fake except for a large fountain that was supposed to remember that of Trevi. Looking at it at night, this really looked like something ancient even if it was in a totally different context. I had the impression that Las Vegas was an amusement park city right away, I still couldn't understand the purpose of those structures but this was my feeling. When we arrived at the Venetian I was even more surprised! Here they had surpassed themselves, in a large area they had managed to reproduce some of the monuments in Venice. All piled up close there were; the Bell Tower of “Piazza San Marco”, the “Rialto Bridge” and part of the facade of “Palazzo Ducale”. The Bell Tower was identical but smaller, the bridge was not exactly faithful in size or detail, the facade of “Palazzo Ducale” gave me more the idea of a quote than a copy, which was not bad. We stopped in that area to take pictures especially with the Bell Tower in the background. With certain angles and being night, it really seemed to be in "Piazza San Marco", but only those who had really visited those places could know this. I asked myself the question: who was Las Vegas meant for? For those who had already seen those places or for most Americans who would never see them. I concluded that it was for the latter, between homage and copy those structures were designed for those who had never seen them live. Personally I reacted differently because I saw for real those cities that were represented there. They made me laugh a little, it was like going to see the Sleeping Beauty Castle at Euro Disney. Going back to the hotel I thought that everything we had seen had its effect but it certainly wasn't what I expected.
The following morning we woke up around 10 AM, it was immediately understood that Las Vegas was not a city like any other where the visit to monuments and places of interest required whole days. Walking through those streets during the day did not have the same effect as at night, the neon lights amplified the size and originality of the buildings. During the day, even though the casinos were always open, everything gives the impression of being "switched off". After a few steps my attention was taken from "The Shops at Crystals", this was a mall with a beautiful modern design. All covered in aluminum, the design was developed by geometric shapes of various types, on whose walls you could see the giant signs of some fashion brands such as "Gucci”, “Louis Vuitton, “Tom Ford". It was very original in design and reminded me of the works of Frank Gehry, we decided to start exploring by visiting the mall. The thing that struck most inside beyond the fashion design boutiques was a very large wooden structure. It was made up of two oval shapes that made up a terrace where there were tables. Honestly, I had never seen such a complex structure to accommodate only bar tables. All in all it was beautiful and let's face it clearly, everything in Las Vegas had a "visual" value, everything had to be exaggerated and extravagant. As we passed a perfume shop, I was drawn to the beauty of a girl who promoted the fragrances. I stopped immediately and I clarified that I was not interested in perfumes but I wanted to congratulate her because she had a very particular beauty. She thanked me and explained that not only her parents were of different races but also her grandparents, so there was a bit of South America, Asia and Southern Europe in her. Speaking of Las Vegas, she recommended going to see the "Venetian" inside, because it was wonderful. Up to that moment I believed that the Hotel-Casinos were only something to see from the outside (beyond betting of course), thanks to the conversation with that girl I understood that in the intentions of those who had conceived that new version of Las Vegas (which seemed fake) there were also other ambitions.
Despite our spirit of independence, the itineraries in that city had an already established route. In fact, without even understanding how, we found ourselves in a kind of external square of the Crystals. The exterior design was reflected here in a giant courtyard version, I also liked this part and continuing to walk through that "square" we arrived in front of another beautiful hotel-casino; "Aria”. This hotel-casino attracted attention for many reasons. It certainly had two extravagances, "Aria Express" a sky train which connected many Casinos passing through the Crystals and in front of Aria. Just outside on the right of the main entrance there was a disproportionate artificial waterfall, all this even if excessive was very nice. The structure was divided into four separate complexes, two towers on the front and two half-moon shaped buildings just behind the towers. “Aria" was also noted for its colors, the main tone was yellow mixed with a kind of light green.
After leaving "Aria" we went back to the Strip and I have to say that simply walking the extravagances appeared everywhere. Right in front of where we were there was a Coca Cola store, right in the center of the building the iconic glass bottle stood out disproportionately, it was higher than the building itself. Again a useless thing but with a strong visual impact. Along the way we arrived in "New York New York", this time they had outdone themselves even managing to imitate themselves. The tribute to the Big Apple included a Brooklyn Bridge that also served as a walkway, a miniature Statue of Liberty, several buildings that resembled the Manhattan of the beginning of the century, behind which sprouted a Chrysler Building and an Empire State Building with more blue than gray tones. In the midst of this skyline, the roller coaster twisted. Certainly as a hotel it was original compared to others, the Brooklyn bridge was very detailed in the part of the pylons with the tie rods. I took a selfies like the ones I had taken on the original bridge and I must say that looking at the photos, an observer can be deceived into thinking that I could be in New York. At this point I had no more doubts, Las Vegas was a city-sized playground that sadly wanted to give people the illusion of being in multiple cities at the same time.
Our exploration of the southern area was almost finished, we lacked the sight of one of the Hotel-casinos that intrigued me most. It was “Luxor”, a real Pyramid with a Sphinx right in the center. I must say that to date I have not yet been to Egypt and I have never seen the Pyramids, so this time I found myself looking at that building like any other tourist. I don't have a yardstick but “Luxor” was really great and this feeling increased once we entered the interior. Here the design was very interesting, the balconies of the rooms seemed to follow the inclination of the structure giving a sense of vertigo. This sensation was more noticeable as one looked upwards. This was a truly original structure, being at the center of four large sides that converge towards a single point at the top, was truly impressive. Inside there were many reproductions of Egyptian statues and then there was also a very large "model" of the "Titanic". The external obelisk was copied very well, I can say this because I have seen real ones, both in Rome and in Paris.
Before returning north, we stopped at the "Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino", I looked carefully at this building. Very nice especially for the gold color with a little contrasting white at the top. Certainly the color made the difference, but that hotel pointed out to me that most of those buildings all had the same shape. It was a large "Y" difficult to perceive up close but that only came out when you looked at it from a certain distance. I understood it thanks to the color, which was the only difference that Mandalay had compared to others like "Mirage", "Monte Carlo", "Bellagio", "Venetian", "Treasure Island". All had the same shape, and if it wasn't a "Y" it was an "X" or a half moon.
On the way back we stopped in "New York New York" because I wanted to do the roller coaster ride. Although I am not an expert, they didn’t seem extreme to me, the interesting thing must have been the passage between the Statue of Liberty, the bridge and the buildings. Surprisingly, the interesting thing was the long line to enter! I hesitated a few seconds but then I decided to wait the line. As expected, the tour was not very dizzying but rather fun and the passage near the Statue of Liberty was the most spectacular. After leaving, it was dark and Las Vegas was playing its trump card again. We "crossed" the street entering various casinos and continued the walk north, "New York New York" illuminated was not bad at all. One shop that caught our attention was the M & M's store and we entered. It was on several floors and beyond the various souvenirs the really nice thing were the human-sized plastic M & M's. There were many in many poses and I must say that they were very successful in fact we also took several photos next to them.
At 6 PM as expected, we were at the Bellagio fountains to see the show. There was a lot of confusion but we found space in a corner sufficient to be able to take photos. Here too the surprise was for those who had never seen such a show, personally watching it again after the one in Dubai, I understood that it was a format because even the music was the same. The best thing about this version was the background which, thanks to our location, was the Caesar Palace and the Eiffel Tower. When the show ended, which for me was more a pain than a show, we entered at Bellagio. The size of these hotels is so exaggerated that one enters through a door and finds himself inside a space that seems impossible to exist looking at the structure from the outside. In this case, inside the hotel we found an immense Botanical Garden. When you dive into similar structures, you even forget where you are. This garden was not only large but beautiful and full of colors. There were plants, trees, flowers and fruits, even gigantic pumpkins. In one corner there was a mill that was not there for decoration but really worked with lots of water and a stream. Walking in there I felt like Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” and when I thought I had seen everything, here is a large tree that seen in profile had a strange protuberance. This protuberance was the nose that belonged to a male face, yes because that was a talking tree! It was incredible, because the face inside the tree moved the lips and the eyes, even the most rational person was drawn into that magic. Even if he said sentences that were mostly incomprehensible, that tree involved anyone from children to adults.
That experience at Bellagio had satisfied me and it was with this mood that I went with my friend to see the last attraction of that city. On the advice of the beautiful girl who was a mix of races, we headed to Venetian. The large entrance presented itself with frescoes on the ceilings, but here too a new paradox, as soon as we entered, we actually went outside. They had managed to create part of Venice inside a hotel! Inside there were the typical houses of the Venetian city, the canals navigated by gondoliers with regular gondolas, bridges, the typical pavement and then there was also the sky! I don't know with what design technique that whole "city" was illuminated by a light that seemed to really come from sky. They had done things well except for one detail, the cliché of the Italian. On the canals where the gondoliers were there was an Italian background music that was ancient. A type of melody that is no longer listened to, this combined with the gondolier gave me a little annoyance. More than anything else it should be explained to the people that there is no type of Italian. Italy, although small, has habits and a culture that clearly differs between the various regions, especially the northern and southern ones. It was 2012 and being represented that way was a mistake and was an understatement. This detail certainly did not spoil my mood, we kept turning until we found ourselves in a small San Marco square. Here another magic happened, the sky gradually darkened. What a night! We entered the Venetia while it was night in Las Vegas, in it as if by magic it became day, then after a few hours there was a sunset and we went out that it was night again but illuminated by the thousand crazy lights of the casinos. Since Las Vegas respected my personal “time zone”, we also had dinner around midnight on the second day. The next morning we always woke up late and calmly, after breakfast we went around to buy souvenirs. Despite there were around 15 degrees, there was a dry weather and I was feeling good even wearing only a t-shirt. After lunch we filled up the car and headed to San Diego.
Las Vega begins where Martin Scorsese's Casino ends. Today it is a place for families and in general there is any type of human being around the streets. From the person who doesn’t have a minimum of care for himself to the respectable person. Here there is no luxury, this is a place for the masses who have to let slots play and lose as much money as possible. There was an adjustment to the low, even the hundreds of dollars lost playing, were worth a lot because they were multiplied to big numbers. The hotels themselves didn't seem real but they gave a fake impression. However, there are original design structures and ideas that deserve a positive rating. The Crystal, the interior of the Luxor and the Venetian, the speaking tree. In general it’s a place that must be visited at least once in a lifetime but without expecting big things.
To all this, for fairness I have to add two more notes. Las Vegas is a city that also thrives on various events, surely visiting it in those periods makes the experience different and more pleasant. For example, for a technology enthusiast, coming here and attending CES plus a visit to the city changes the point of view very much. The same thing applies to other sporting or other events. For both the limited time available and the type of company, I didn’t experience the city at night going to parties or pool parties which are frequent here. This too would have greatly changed my perception and perspective of this city. Last mandatory note is that in fact what I visited was Paradise, but Las Vegas also has a Downtown which is located a few kilometers north and where you can certainly find some local history and culture. Unfortunately I haven't been there. What else to say, at the moment I have no plans to return but especially for this city, if there is a new visit, it will be lived entirely from dusk till down.
Pictures: Antonio Malara
Camera: Nikon D800