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Tuesday 24 Sep 2013
Las Vegas, USA

Bright lights city gonna set my soul on fire

After a good sleep, we were ready to tackle the traffic on the Strip in daylight.  Verity drove us down to Planet Hollywood for our next two nights.  The difference between the Riviera and Planet Hollywood was huge – our new home was bigger, brighter, stylish and great fun.  We couldn’t check in straight away, so spent a couple of hours exploring the shops, which were set out as a Southern California/Mexican style street with a false sky overhead, and eating a delicious lunch at one of the many restaurants.  When we did get to our room, we found ourselves on the 38th floor overlooking the Strip, opposite the Cosmopolitan, with a view down to Luxor, New York and Excalibur in one direction and the Bellagio Fountains in the other.  Our room was dedicated to the late John Belushi, with movie memorabilia and screen shots up on the walls.  The décor was luxurious and the bathroom was huge.  It was more expensive than the Riviera, but it was clear to see what the additional dollars get you in Las Vegas.  We loved it.

We wanted see a show while we were here and the concierge, Brandon, turned out to be a very helpful.  Verity was keen to see a proper magic show while I fancied something like Cirque de Soleil, so after discussing things we ended up with a good deal on tickets for David Copperfield at the MGM Grand and Planet Hollywood’s own “Vegas: the Show”.  This turned out to be a variety show telling the story of Las Vegas across the decades, with showgirls and some very impressive performances from the six key singers as Elvis, Tom Jones, Diana Ross, Sonny and Cher and especially the Rat Pack of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr (who was the first African American to ever walk through the front door of a Las Vegas Casino – he spent much of his career here having to enter through the kitchens as he was not allowed on the casino floor).  These performances were interspersed with some comic acts and a very talented pair of tap dancing twins, Sean and John.  For something we’d known nothing about only a few hours earlier, it was actually a very entertaining evening.

You can walk a long way in Las Vegas without actually getting very far, especially if you’re trying to walk along the Strip.  It runs for 5 miles from the Stratosphere tower down to the Las Vegas sign, but getting from one end to the other is never a straight line.  There is just too much to look at, for a start.  The pavement is crowded with people staring in all directions and taking photographs.  Crossing the road is theoretically made easier by the presence of footbridges on each intersection, but most of these take you directly into casinos, which are designed to stop you finding your way back out again.  And then there are the casinos themselves – huge masterpieces of imagination and detail that leave you marvelling at the creativity and expense.  You really can travel the world in a single street.

We set off for the Venetian, which Verity really wanted to see.  Thinking it would be quicker, we decided to take the monorail.  However, the layout of the Strip casinos and their monorail is very deceptive.  Casinos may not look so big from the façade on the Strip, but they tend to go back a long way and the monorail runs even further back behind their car parks.  By the time we’d walked all the way to the back of Bally’s, travelled the two stops on the monorail, walked right the way through Harrah’s to reach the Strip again, we still had to walk past two more casinos to reach the Venetian, so we’d actually walked more than twice as far as if we’d just walked along the Strip in the first place.

We were so hungry by then that we headed through the sumptuous lobby to the restaurant, only to discover it wasn’t a buffet.  Instead we crossed the road to Treasure Island and had lunch at their buffet, which was as good as I remembered from last time.  Fuelled up again, I gave Verity a tour of some of my favourite casinos from my last visit: the elegant beauty of the Wynn, with its cascading waterfalls outside and mosaic floors inside; the canals of the Venetian shops, (which were sadly lacking in water as they were being refurbished) with the day/night sky and St Mark’s Square; the shops of the Fashion Show Mall; the gorgeous autumn displays in the Bellagio Conservatory; and the legs of the Eiffel Tower dominating the casino floor inside Paris.  A lot of walking, but it was great fun to see Verity’s reactions. I am still awed by the imagination that goes into every part of the casinos – the gambling floors have the same basic components but you can still see the themes carried through.  The real detail is in the entertainment spaces like the shopping areas, the restaurants and the lobbies, which are all designed to draw you in and keep you there to spend money!

We had just enough time to get in and change before dashing down to the MGM Grand for our magic show.  David Copperfield has a reputation as one of the best magicians in the world, so we were looking forward to something really special.  What we got, however, was not quite what we’d expected.  The vast majority of his show consisted of him walking around and chatting informally, throwing balls and Frisbees into the audience in various games to pick people entirely at random, then asking them for information or bringing them up on stage to take part in his tricks.  They were very elaborate set ups, in which any number of seemingly random events took place, yet every time he was able to produce the right answer from a locked box or a sealed envelope.  In one trick, the answer was woven into a poster of Michael Jackson, which had been suspended in full view above the stage (and which he had taken a photo of and e-mailed to everyone in the room before starting the trick).  Don’t get me wrong, I have no idea how he did any of these tricks so the imagination deserves some credit, but perhaps there has been too much Derren Brown on telly, because as elaborate as the trick was, it would have been more shocking if he'd got the answer wrong.  We’re now so used to seeing things like this that it’s no longer a surprise and didn’t justify the price of the tickets.

Where David Copperfield really lived up to his reputation, however, was when he pulled out his big budget illusions.  He lay in a box with his feet and head sticking out each end, and then somehow folded the box in on itself until his feet and head were less than two feet apart.  In another illusion, he appeared to walk through a huge rotating fan and disappear in a puff of smoke, before popping up halfway up the auditorium a split second later.  He even managed to make 13 members of the audience vanish at once. That was the kind of thing we had come to see.

The best illusion by far – the one which actually made me sit back in my seat in amazement – was when he made a full sized Lincoln Convertible car appear on pillars in the centre of the stage!  There had been absolutely nothing there while he set up the stage, positioning the pillars while he and his helpers made a large cube shape out of white sheets blowing in a breeze.  There was a bang, a flash and a cloud of smoke and he whipped the sheets away to reveal the car.  He then climbed in and started the engine to show it was real.  Absolutely mind-boggling.  I don’t really care about the chatty tricks, but I would love to know how he made that car appear...

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