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My second chance at Vegas

You may recall my Vegas post from a few months ago in which at the end, I stated the following:

“….I recognized that as a travel destination, Sin City just isn’t a right fit for me and unless fate somehow leads me to Vegas again in the future I’ll be quite happy to return via arm-chair travel, Hollywood films and gangster biographies.”

Well, thanks to a radio competition fate did indeed lead me back to Vegas far sooner than I thought, and this time I embraced it with the welcoming arms of experience. Once I accepted wholeheartedly that Vegas IS a place of excesses, consumption, lights and hedonism, I stopped trying to scrape at the ground in search of a deeper meaning. I let go of all prejudice and I concentrated on having what Vegas is known for – PURE FUN.

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On our first night there I accompanied Andre to a club called ‘Krave’, “the #1 Gay Nightclub in the Country!” I don’t know if it’s something to do with the dry air or if they just make their drinks strong in Vegas, but a few hours later I was dancing like a maniac in a room full of gyrating boys. The paid dancers, both wearing next to nothing and dancing on either side of the stage were very attractive and when they ended their shift, I thought I’d let one of them know just how awesome they were. After all, paying a compliment to a gay man is like paying a compliment to a straight female. Right? Well…..picture me, in my happily inebriated state, affectionately grabbing one of them by the arm and casually telling him, “You were GREAT! You’re SUCH a good dancer and you’re very good-looking!”

Imagine my surprise when he returned my arm grab and told me with a wink, “Thanks! But just so you know, I’m not gay.” Immediately I went over to Andre to share this shocking discovery. “Andre, isn’t this odd? The dancers are straight….who would’ve thought?”
Andre (who is about 7 years younger than me but far more knowledgeable on these topics) just looked my up and down, rolled his eyes and factually stated, “Uh, of course honey, what did you expect? Most dancers in gay bars are straight – it’s good money.” Learnt something new that night. 

As expected, we did it all again the following night. Except this time we went to a straight club which meant that Andre didn’t stay for long (and made a quick escape back to Krave), but Rachel, Eunsoo and I had a ball at the Wynn’s XS. It is here that I learnt another lesson – the clubs in Vegas pump oxygen out so you last longer. That explains a lot, for after I lost Rachel and Eunsoo I kept partying with a bunch of randoms until the wee hours of the morning and all the while I felt like Red Bull concentrate was pumping into my veins on a drip. 

The next day I was coming down with something. Something ugly – I could feel it in my throat. But nevertheless, with it being Rachel’s birthday, we had to go out again. This time the venue was Moon, a club high up in the Palms Casino Resort. With it being hip-hop night (and not the type of hip-hop I like), I wasn’t quite in my element so after an hour and a half we were about to leave when we discovered that The Cataracs were going to be playing there shortly. You may not have heard of The Cataracs, but chances are you’ve heard of a song by Far East Movement that they mixed called ‘Like a G6‘. 

It’s a song we’d been hearing throughout our trip and it’s made for dancing and the occasional bout of fist-pumping, so of course we stayed. By this point I’d forgotten that I wasn’t feeling well but naturally it came back to haunt me the next day when we were in the car again, leaving Vegas and en route to LA. The lack of sleep, endless partying and shouting above loud music had come back to bite me with what appeared to be laryngitis. Surely a sign of too much fun! 

As we drove past the Eiffel Tower, the Bellagio’s gigantic water fountains and a man dressed as Bumblebee I thought to myself, “there really is nowhere quite like this.” As a rule, I prefer the historical marvel of cities like Madrid, Paris and Rome. But never before have I encountered a place where you can let down your hair to such an extravagant degree. In Vegas anything is considered normal yet everything is extreme. 

Unlike my first visit, on this one I did nothing remotely cultural or related to natural attractions for the entire three days – but I’d had a cracker of a time. If a no holds barred, genuinely self-indulgent time is what you need, then this is the place for it. 

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Photos from Alcatraz

On the first of this month Andre, Eunsoo and I made it to Alcatraz on a splendidly sunny day. The photo opportunities were plentiful but the highlight was the audio-tour….it wasn’t one of those monotone museum tours – it had variety and special effects so never a dull moment!

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Jet skiing for my very first time

Last Friday morning Christine and I woke up early to head to the lake with her family friend, Chris. We went to Lake Elsinore in Southern California and Chris brought his two jet skis on the trailer. I was a little nervous to begin with but soon enough I was hitting speeds of up to 58mph (approximately 93km/h) and loving it! 

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Photos: The Grand Canyon. Need I say more?

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Red Rock Canyon, Nevada

Not far (24kms) from the chaos that is Vegas lies a National Conservation Area called Red Rock Canyon. Within the park is a one-way loop road about 21kms that takes you to various view points and travelers with more time can go hiking or rock-climbing here too. 

Beautiful!

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Oh, Vegas

Las Vegas…what can I say? It has never been on my list of places to see before I die but seeing as I was going to be in LA for a few days I figured, “why not?”

I knew what I was in for. Bright lights, big boobs, rows and rows of slot machines, excessive consumption, incomparable levels of consumerism….the list goes on. There are no rules in Vegas. It’s like being in another world, a make-believe world. What attracts tourists to Vegas? The promise of transient hedonism. 

After experiencing so many natural, humbling moments during the past 7 months I knew that I’d have to prepare myself for Vegas otherwise I wouldn’t enjoy it at all. Here’s how I did that:

  • Realise that Vegas is much more than just The Strip. In fact, over 560,000 people live in Las Vegas and over 2.2 million in the Las Vegas metropolitan area so most of the city looks nothing like what you see on The Strip
  • Take advantage of the location to do trips to some of the stunning attractions nearby, for instance Hoover Dam, Red Rock Canyon and the Grand Canyon
  • Walk The Strip to admire all the crazy dressed-up people (e.g. a midget Elvis with a snake)
  • Go see a show – you won’t be short of options
  • Read up on the city’s interesting history which includes Mormons, mining and gangsters like Bugsy Siegel
  • Check out the history of Fremont St which is named after John C. Frémont, an American military officer and explorer
  • Take advantage of free drink hours at one of the many hotel clubs (I think this is easier to come by if you’re a girl!)
  • Check out Wikitravel’s page on Vegas – it has a huge list of what to see, where to dine, what to do and where to stay

I wouldn’t do Vegas alone and I was lucky enough to be able to go with a good friend. We had an absolute blast together but as we departed I recognized that as a travel destination, Sin City just isn’t a right fit for me and unless fate somehow leads me to Vegas again in the future I’ll be quite happy to return via arm-chair travel, Hollywood films and gangster biographies.

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A Kiwi’s guide to driving in LA

When we (my friend Christine and I) picked up our Dodge Charger last week for our Vegas road-trip, I wasn’t too nervous about driving. After all, we had GPS. However, since we returned the car we’ve been getting around in Christine’s sister’s Jeep, with no GPS, no cellphone…just us and Google Maps printouts. What can I say…it’s scary. Firstly there’s the whole driving on the right thing. Secondly there’s the traffic, the huge freeways, the confusing signs and the ruthless drivers. 

When things do go right it’s a huge ego boost: “Wow, I just totally merged onto the 605 South!” But there have been wrong turns and moments of suspense. Learnings from the past few days include:

  • Don’t cross the double yellow lines EVER
  • When entering the freeway/highway merge with caution because the merging space is short
  • Sometimes the freeway you’re meant to be on suddenly changes to another one so watch the signs to see what lane you should be in
  • When changing lanes start turning the wheel as you turn on the indicator. Nobody is going to give you space to let you in anyway!
  • Further to previous point, you can also opt to not use the indicator at all (not uncommon)
  • You can turn right even when the light is red if there is no sign to indicate otherwise and if the road is clear
  • At intersections with or without STOP signs give way to vehicles already in the intersection, otherwise give way to the vehicle on your right if it reaches the intersection at the same time as you
  • Lanes are often referred to by number, e.g. the left or fast lane is called the ‘Number 1 Lane’. The lane to the right is ‘Number 2’, e.t.c.
  • If parked on a hill (more applicable to San Francisco) ensure you turn your wheels into the curb – you will get fined if you do not
  • Drive about 10mph faster than the speed limit which is usually 40-45 on main roads and 65-70 on the freeway. If you don’t, you’ll be driving too slow for the other drivers
  • Roads are LONG here. If you see a familiar name and think that you may know roughly where you are, you’re probably wrong
  • Don’t panic. If you miss a turn, take the next exit off the freeway, get back onto the same one but in the opposite direction and hope for the best!

For further tips and hints check out Wikitravel’s page on Driving in Los Angeles County and download the California Driver Handbook

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The Castro District, San Francisco

If you haven’t seen Milk (starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk), you should. It’s an excellent depiction of the life of the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in California.

The Castro (district) became a gay centre following the Summer of Love in the neighbouring Haight-Ashbury district. When Milk began his political activity in 1972 as a gay activist the district further blossomed as a gay destination.

I took a walk up Castro Street and admired the multitudes of rainbow flags, the half-dressed mannequins in shop windows, the relaxed, cheerful crowd and the saucy, double entendre names of shops.

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The extraordinary Golden Gate Bridge

How does such a significant arterial route become such a major tourist attraction? Lesson 101 in bridge-building: Don’t make them so attractive otherwise there will be congestion every day!

The Golden Gate Bridge really did take my breath away. Could it be the reddish hue, ‘International Orange’ that coats the entire thing to prevent corrosion? Could it be the 92.7cm diameter of the two main cables? Could it be the tremendous 227.4 metre height of the towers? Or could it be the 128,747 kms of total cable wire length? Answer is ‘E’, all of the above. Plus the fact that it makes for an excellent view of San Francisco. 

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Huey Lewis and the News – Live in San Francisco!

The number of awesome music acts that are on in San Francisco blew me away. I missed out on a great festival this last weekend but managed to catch two great bands during my four days. One was Huey Lewis and the News.

The night before the show my friend Erika and I decided that we wanted to go but we thought we’d just buy tickets at the door of Mountain Winery. We arrived about a half hour before it was due to start and just as we were about to buy our tickets, the guy behind the desk said, “Here you go, have these. A man donated them to the desk so they’re yours.” We looked at the tickets – two VIP passes worth about $100 each! Needless to say, we were stoked!

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