A new dear friend of mine is a freelance writer and recently took it upon herself to write a story for her local newspaper about her adventure on her Amazing Journey to the National Parks of the US Southwest. My guest writer/friend is Barbara Russek, and here is her very interesting story from an angle most casual travelers would not have considered:
Get Very Much for Very Little…in Vegas!
They say that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But my good news from Vegas, also known for good reason as the City of Lost Wages, needs to be shared. You can enjoy entertainment right on the Strip that will leave your wallet intact and you with some fun memories of your trip.
Our group arrived in Las Vegas late on a recent Wednesday afternoon, the last stop on a tour of some stunning Southwestern natural wonders. These included Monument Valley in Northern Arizona and Zion National Park, just across the border in Utah. The serenity that had filled my soul while taking in nature’s artistry was shattered when we pulled in to our hotel on the Strip. Just outside, there were wall to wall people everywhere, hawkers selling everything from hotdogs to hot babes and huge billboards advertising a myriad of shows: Cirque du Soleil, Bette Midler and Seinfeld (coming in December) to name but a few. Most shows had prices that made Tucson theatre look like bargain matinees. I was practically the only one in our group who didn’t shell out big bucks to be part of an audience that can number in the thousands.
Call it serendipity, but I happened upon some great free entertainment right in the area. Upon entering my hotel room, I saw a phone message blinking from the management. The reigning Miss Universe, Stefania Hernandez of Venezuela, would be signing autographs in the lounge between 10:00 and 11:00 the following morning. I was there by 9:55. Finally about 10:10 Stefania appeared, statuesque in her stilettos, wearing her banner. She is a beautiful girl, with huge eyes and dark, shiny hair graced with a widow’s peak. It later occurred to me that there are many, many beautiful, poised, talented young women in the world. How many, though, are willing to go through all the rigors of numerous beauty pageants to arrive at the top? For that alone, Miss Universe is to be congratulated.
A half hour or so later, our tour leader took us on what he dubbed “Bill’s Excellent Walking Tour of the Strip.” I had been to Vegas once before and had been mesmerized by the dancing fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel, the Luxor pyramid and replicas of The Eiffel Tower, Arch of Triumph and huge hot air balloon (the French Mongolfier brothers launched the first manned hot air balloon) outside the Paris Las Vegas. But instinct told me there was much more to discover that wouldn’t cost me a dime. In that, I was not disappointed.
One of these discoveries was the magnificent glass sculpture of multicolored flowers hanging from the ceiling of the Bellagio Hotel’s lobby. It was created by the artist Dale Chihuly, with over 2000 hand blown glass elements. Although Chihuly lost an eye in a car accident during the 70s, his fertile imagination knows no bounds.. I stood under the sculpture in silence, awed by Chihuly’s creative spirit and determination to persevere.
Our walking tour wound up at The Venetian, an Italian themed hotel. I was impressed by the statues in white robes , but then, Oh Mio Dio, I saw their eyes moving! Indeed, these statues were very much alive. I had a lot of fun asking my favorite “statue” a few questions which he answered by blinking his eyes.
We just happened to walk onto a re-creation of Saint Mark’s Square during a free performance. A charming singer with an operatic soprano voice, jugglers and an acrobat all had their parts to play in this Venetian carnival. I was so captivated that long after the other members of my tour group had left, I hung out at the hotel to see the next show. It was even longer than the first, with the addition of musicians and other singers. The whole ensemble had such a contagious energy that I started clapping and even added my own nondescript singing voice to the chorus of a familiar number. I left the Venetian with an Italian song in my heart.
Friday, we all departed for home. I took a later flight than most in the group, as a visit to the Liberace Museum was a must see. I had never forgotten Liberace’s dazzling smile, sweet personality and great technical ability. There was a short taxi ride involved, but tickets were modestly priced. Two for One coupons can be obtained in many venues, including hotels and racks throughout the city. The Museum was one of the highlights of my trip. Liberace’s flamboyant costumes (weighing up to 200+ pounds) were all there, along with his collection of flashy cars, even his shoes. A video was available to watch for $4.00 that featured footage of the star, known as Mr. Showmanship, in interviews. I loved that video and will never forget Liberace’s words: “I would like to be remembered as a kind and gentle soul, and as someone who made the world a little better place to live in because I had lived in it.” In that desire, he succeeded on a scale as grand as himself.
Waiting for my flight home at the Vegas airport, I felt pleased to have gotten so much for so little. But suddenly from the corner of my eye, I caught sight of the nearby slots. Lured over and sucked in, I blew almost all the money I had saved on theatre tickets…and lost. Well, that’s Vegas for you!
Barbara Russek is a French teacher and freelance writer in Tucson, AZ. She welcomes comments at Babette2@comcast.net