LAS VEGAS - I’m no gambler.
I’ve tried roulette. Once. I put my money down on red, I think, four times and twice the machine up in South Lake Tahoe came up with double zero.
I don’t care much about blackjack, and I wouldn’t ever try to play poker with pros.
So I pretty much stick to slots. And pretty much lose.
I usually find machines with names I like, kinda like the way my Mom used to pick horses at the racetrack. It doesn’t seem to work.
Then I found the Wizard of Oz machine. I had to play for the sake of my sister, who’s a big fan. Me, too, actually. It was only a penny machine so I rode my luck big-time and laid down a five-credit bet for a whopping nickel on the line.
After about six pulls of the handle (always the handle, folks, never the button) the machine went all nuts on me. I think I had three “Good Witches” and a pair of Toto’s. Lights flashed. Music played. “Big Win” the machine said in huge letters.
I rubbed my hands in glee and out came…$1.90.
Okay, that’s 38 times what I had put in. But even on a dollar bet that would’ve been, well, $38. And that’s not a big win, excluding the fact that kind of money might buy you a house these days in foreclosure-laced Nevada.
I had a nice dinner my final night in town at a restaurant called American Fish at the Aria Hotel. They do fish four ways, including grilling over apricot wood, cooking in salt and poaching in sea water. My waiter said they fly the ocean water in from Hawaii.
I thought he was joking but he said it’s true.
“Okay,” I asked. “What island? I kinda like Oahu water.”
He looked at me kinda sideways, then grinned.
In addition to great seafood, they make a really nice salad with greens, apples and fried camembert and homemade, ridiculously good corn bread. A lovely setting, too, with lots of cool lighting and an interesting, bronze-looking metal sculpture that dominates the ceiling.
The Aria is a nice hotel, with a soaring lobby (see photo) and a whopping 4,000 rooms. They have a system for the drapes and lights and TV called Control 4, and I was told it’s the first hotel in the world to use the system.
When you walk in to the room for the first time a sensor is tripped and the drapes open and the TV goes on. Apparently you can set the system so you wake up with a full-frontal assault of open drapes and Oprah blasting through the TV, or you can make it gentle so the drapes open slowly and the lights do a reverse fade from dark to dim to normal to super-bright. I tend to wake up when somebody sneezes in a room down the hall, so I didn’t need the full blast.
I foolishly tried using the system to turn on some lights and hit the night button, which plunged the entire room into darkness. Nothing seemed to work, so I had to fumble around and find the phone and call the front desk for help. They took me through some small buttons I had to push on the TV remote to navigate my way through the lights and drapes menu. Probably fun for some people, but I enjoy an old-fashioned, dependable clock radio and a bedside light with a button or switch big enough to find at 3 a.m. when that guy sneezes and I wake up with a start.
Also curious that they didn't have a place I could find for coffee and a muffin at 5:30 a.m. One restaurant I was pointed to had coffee to go but not food. The coffee shop, the one like Starbucks or Second Cup, didn't even open until 7 a.m.
There are a ton of bars and restaurants, of course, including American Fish and a Julian Serrano tapas place.
The sister property is Vdara, also located in the new City Center development in the middle of the Strip. Vdara doesn't have a casino, so it's a great spot for non-gamblers or folks who simply don't want the action of a casino in their lobby. They have a nice, elegant lobby and a casual restaurant called Silk Road, with good Thai soups, naan bread and Italian food. It's quite sunny and bright; also a nice contrast from many Vegas spots.
The new Cosmopolitan Hotel is just a few feet away from Aria and Vdara but under separate ownership. It's slated to open in a few weeks, so check out Star Travel for more on that in December.
TSA PROTEST - THE BIG PROTEST GOES BUST
I was expecting a big deal at McCarran airport on Black Wednesday, the day before American Thanksgiving. But it was a big fizzle, thank you. Heck, the lineup at Starbucks was longer than the one at TSA security.
The guy checking documents at the back of the line was quite funny, which served to disarm people (so to speak) and put them in a good mood. He kept saying things like "Thanks, and enjoy your TSA experience" or "Thank you, and enjoy your screening today."
There were three of the new scanners in the screening area, but I was told only one of them was operational. And I didn't see anyone actually go through it.
MORE GRAND TOUR COMING FRIDAY
As I mentioned earlier this week, we’ve got more of Toronto Star Travel’s Grand Tour coming up on Saturday, with a colourful report o the delights of Buenos Aires; a wonderful, European-style city with a nice waterfront, fabulous restuarants, colourful neighborhoods, and yes, lots of tango dancing. Check this space tomorrow for a Buenos Aires blog, then tune in to Saturday’s paper – or online Friday – for the full Grand Tour.
And remember we still have three spots coming up: Sydney next week, followed by Jerusalem and Paris.
If anyone has an idea on something they want to hear about in Paris, drop me a line at email@example.com and I'll try to check it out when I visit the City of Light.
I often see Paris referred to at the City of Lights,
but I've always thought it was "City of LIght." And I've always been under the impression it's because of the quality of the light in northern France and the way it shines in and around all the white/creme-coloured buildings. "City of Lights" doesn't make sense to me because Paris has no more night lights than any other city, and probably less.
Las Vegas probably has 100 times the wattage of Paris. Ditto New York and Hong Kong.
But I've been wrong before. I think.
Happy American Thanksgiving to all our American readers!
THE BIG TSA PROTEST BUST