Good evening, and welcome to tonight’s edition of the World’s Best and Most Amazing Blog Ever. First up, we review the V Australia service between Sydney and Los Angeles, as well as the bowl of ramen I ate at the southern food court in the San Francisco Airport International Terminal, and the Holiday Inn at the airport. Finally, there will be an extensive coverage of travels over the last three days at Las Vegas.
V Australia is a recent addition to the Virgin brand (who I recently discovered also offer superannuation through their Virgin Money brand!), providing long-haul flights between select destinations on the east coast of Australia and the west coast of the US. I booked a series of flights starting in Hobart and ending in San Francisco, via Sydney and Los Angeles, spending about 14 hours over the pacific. Like most other things Virgin, flight VA1 was pretty sexy. I was particularly pleased with the food, the legroom (cattle-class), and the deviously funny flight information cartoon. The one and only one downer was actually supplied by the Virgin Blue flight that got me in to Sydney. This flight took longer than usual, and combined with the laggy international terminal transfer bus (which stunk like my laundry bag) and the positively frenetic pace of Australian immigration and customs meant I had to run the length of the inordinately long duty-free shopping area at the Sydney international terminal, and therefore board VA1 covered in sweat. Not cool.
The bowl of ramen in the food court was acceptable late-night food, and yet nowhere near being in the league of the bowls of ramen I ate in Japan.
After polishing off the noodles at 11PM-ish local time, I caught the shuttle bus over to the Holiday Inn I booked to bunker down in for the night. Sorry to sound like a shill, but I was very pleased with the small things provided by these guys, like a bottle of water, free late checkout, and so on. In the morning I went to their restaurant and had some wonderful blueberry pancakes for breakfast.
That day, my fellow travel companions and I met up back at the airport for lunch and our flight to Las Vegas. After some confusion regarding the correct BART station to meet Paris and Jon at, we settled down for some more food court food and then caught the Virgin America flight to Vegas. Virgin America again has a distinctive and sexy service, with another flight safety cartoon full of wicked little jokes.
Now Las Vegas is known as Sin City–gambling, strippers and hookers, and booze seem to flow quite naturally there. What I wasn’t expecting was poker machines in the airport waiting area, straight off the plane!
I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking here: we stayed in the Stratosphere, the only hotel casino which is in the Las Vegas city proper (the rest are actually in unincorporated Clark County, though still part of greater Vegas). The Stratosphere is so named due to the tower over 300 metres high with awesome rides at the top. After leaving the airport, we basically checked in, found dinner over at the NASCAR Cafe, and went to sleep. The NASCAR Cafe serves very large portions of food like most places we ate, but aside from being particularly proud of this fact, they have a special menu item: the B3 burrito, weighing in at six pounds (!) and which if you can eat the whole thing, you don’t pay for it. Nobody tried it, but instead I managed to eat most of a huge burger and chips.
In the morning we ate breakfast at IHOP (ohgod: cheesecake pancake stack! Lethal!) We also went around on the monorail to some of the major attractions: the MGM Grand, the Excalibur (Arthurian-legend-themed hotel), Luxor (Egyptian-themed hotel shaped like a pyramid), and past many of the other hotels on the strip.
We wasted the most time at Luxor, since we had planned to see Criss Angel perform that night. Luxor had several fascinating things to do. We saw Bodies, a tastefully presented exhibition of plasticised human bodies. Some of us also saw an exhibition of artefacts retrieved from the Titanic. Both these exhibitions are well worth the regular ticket price! As for Criss Angel’s show, I was impressed by the speed of his magic tricks and the theatrics, especially of the Cirque du Soleil performers, but the guy came across as a bit of a wanker and his act seemed a bit repetitive by the end. We had dinner at the Rainforest Cafe, a rainforest-themed restaurant in the MGM Grand, which was fun, especially as Paris paid for all the drinks. The others all had stupid cocktails with excessive alcohol, but I was quite happy with my rainbow-coloured frozen sodas.
The next day we took a guided tour of the Grand Canyon, which is in Arizona, unlike Las Vegas which is in Nevada. This boils down to a five-hour or so bus ride each way. Breakfast was all-you-can-eat McDonalds (the principal reason we suspect that this tour was suggested by Andrew). We stopped at some very interesting places along the way: the Hoover dam (damn we had some bad dam puns going), and the towns of Kingman and Seligman (spiritual home to the longest remaining pieces of historic Route 66).
The Grand Canyon is really fucking massive. The best way of explaining it involves the computer graphics concept of “skybox”: the opposite side of the canyon looks like one (like a flat backdrop!) We learned that the canyon is about as long as the distance we covered in the bus ride (about two hundred and something miles), and about 20 miles wide. I won’t put up too many photos since photos really do not do the place any justice.
After the Grand Canyon trip we had a few hours up our sleeve for dinner and some random activity. Dinner was to be had at the 50s-style diner located in the Stratosphere, which as usual had way oversize meal portions. I had a burger and a killer chocolate malt!
At some point however, the idea was floated to see a topless show as the night’s random activity. Pople staying at the hotel got a two-for-one deal on the tickets, which was a plus. The show was called Bite, and the theme was, naturally, topless female vampires. Out of sheer random spontaneity, we did it—everybody except Alex got a ticket and the eight of us all crowded around a table next to the stage.
What a great idea! The show was absolutely hilarious and weird, with a rocking soundtrack! Judging the faces of the fellow audience members, we seemed to be the only people who had a fun time. Maybe they were trying to get aroused. Who knows? My advice: go for a laugh!
And finally, we had yet another abridged sleep in the noisy, dehydrating hotel room before Alex and I woke up and competed in Google Code Jam online round 2, local time 7AM. Alex did way better than me as usual, but it was a curvy round and neither of us got through to the next one.
After that we went around a lot of other attractions: up the Stratosphere tower a bit, caught a cab to New York, New York to ride the roller coaster (FUN!), checked out the Belagio with its water fountain theatrics and did a bit of gaming (Dad asked for some chips: got you one!). We went into Paris for lunch (second lunch for some) which has a disturbingly cool ceiling which, when you don’t concentrate on it, makes you feel like you are outdoors. We then went through Bally’s and emerged on the other side. Finally we did a series of rather uninteresting moves to get back to the airport and fly back to San Francisco, but not before Matt and I played some single-deck blackjack together back at the Stratosphere. Matt made $50, I lost $10. Compared with the Belagio chips, the Stratosphere chips seemed really cheap and nasty, so I didn’t save one.
After arriving back at San Fran airport, we immediately headed for Palo Alto to collect our large baggage which had been stowed away at Jon’s apartment there. Highlight of the evening was the Chicago-style pizza from a place called Patxi’s. Oh. My. Gawd. That was easily the best pizza I’ve had in years. Three larges for the table had us all full. They took 40 minutes to cook properly (that gives you an idea of how thick they were!) and I think it was worth every minute of the wait and every penny we paid.