Nothing but desert for miles, then out of nowhere erupts Las Vegas. Towering hotels replace the more familiar American skyscrapers. Banks and corporate headquarters substituted for the Bellagio and Caesar’s Palace. As you take it all in, it feels more like you’ve stumbled into a movie set than a city.
The hotels provide an endless stream of themed casinos and high end shopping centres, all strung together by a series of walkways, so you barely have to touch the street between designer shops. Amidst the beautiful Prada models on advertising boards, homeless men and women slouch in the roasting heat. Billboards costing thousands to promote yet another ‘all you can eat’ buffet aren’t half as powerful as the cardboard sign reading, “I have cancer – no healthcare – Homeless”. Poverty makes an awkward appearance for those tourists, who are all too ready to place dollar after dollar into the mouths of insatiable slot machines.
Escaping the heat in the shade of the Statue of Liberty replica and staring up at the Eiffel Tower, you cannot help but be struck by how surreal it all seems. To be in Las Vegas is to totally leave reality behind. But, if you try hard enough to shake the feeling that your feet are stepping in perfect time with the beating heart of Capitalism, as you stride in between the impressive and the insane, you might just have a brilliant time.
Wandering along the promenade that lines the cartoonish blue lake outside the Bellagio, you could be forgiven for momentarily mistaking your location for the French Riviera. That is until the 3pm fountains burst into life in an unmistakably American fashion. As you lean over the edge to admire the sheer excess of it all, think back to Ocean’s 11, and know that Brad Pitt and George Clooney were once stood in the very same spot.
Although each hotel provides something different, at least in décor if not function, almost nothing sums up Las Vegas better than the interior of the Venetian Hotel. You’ll enter the overwhelming Plaza by an airport style conveyor belt walkway, and find there a series of lavish stores, each riddled with boutique art dealers and yet more designer brands. Below, there is a network of water ways with Gondoliers who themselves recite verses of Opera as they ferry couples around. Overhead is a tribute to the Italian sky, painted clouds over a bright blue have transformed the ceiling in an alarmingly thorough attempt to immerse visitors in the façade. Letting go of how unnatural it all feels, and embracing the madness, experiencing Vegas’ attempts at replicating foreign spectacles becomes strangely entertaining – even addictive.
As night descends people flock to the betting tables, the nightclubs, the big fight, or even jousting tournaments at the Excalibur Hotel. For an alternative though, nothing is better than getting to the highest vantage point and looking out over the strip. Nowhere else is there so much to see it just over four miles. As the dazzling lights emerge excitedly into the foreground, those cardboard sign holders shuffle away from the glare, and back to where they sleep. As ruthless as the contrast between wild excess and desperation makes Las Vegas appear, it remains a truly spectacular and unique city.