shopping

Viva Las Vegas (A Second Visit)

It’s very rare for me to be thrilled at the thought of going back to a previous holiday destination (over a new holiday destination – clearly any holiday destination is preferable to not going at all).

Having said that, when presented with the last minute opportunity to return to one of the most ridiculously entertaining places in the world it’s even more rare that I would turn that opportunity down.

So I find myself heading off to Las Vegas for a long weekend with my Husband – celebrating our 12 year anniversary of dating. Yes, we did celebrate that a couple of weeks ago by going to a spa but there’s nothing wrong with celebrating twice… right?!

Last time I wrote about Vegas, I told you about 10 things you shouldn’t miss if you’re planning a visit to Vegas. Given I’ve now done those things, this time I’ll be writing a bit of a diary post instead. Here Goes…

virgin atlantic las vegas boeing 747

Thursday 14 July AM / PM- In The Air 

We’re flying with Virgin directly to Vegas – a 9.5 hour flight. I’m not the best with sitting still, so any flight over 2 hours can be a challenge for a near-professional fidget-er such as myself. Having said that, I settle in to the comfy seat, sip my welcome drink and find a good chick flick to kill the first 90 minutes.

In the last few days, some people have made remarks to me along the lines of “that’s too far to go for 3 nights” which I wholeheartedly disagree with! Holiday maximisation is all about getting the most out of what little time off work we actually get in a year. I won’t choose my destination based on a 5-hour flight time limit. It’s not like I’m going to New Zealand for 3 days. Now that would be a bit nuts.

Last time, we flew in from New York, so we were already partly adjusted to the time difference. This time, when we arrive it will be 10pm UK time and 2pm Vegas time. I think another power-hour nap is on the cards if I stand any chance of staying up past 5pm Vegas time!

Thursday 14 July PM – Bellagio Hotel

So we’ve arrived at the hotel and despite only passing through last time, it has an air of familiarity to go with the extraordinarily OTT luxury. We checked in – all the while hoping for an upgrade but without getting one – then headed up to the room.

We take our own bags to the room to avoid the awkwardness of tipping the bell boy. I find tipping pretty awkward and I’m pretty sure I always get the value wrong. Should it be a $2 job or a $20 job? Nobody tells you. Better to just avoid insulting them / unnecessarily overspending. I realise this is a typically British way to get around a socially awkward situation.

So what’s to do when you are jet lagged and struggling to adjust to afternoon middle-of-the-desert temperatures of 42 degrees Celsius?

SHOPPING of course.

fashion show mall las vegas

Thursday 14 July PM – Las Vegas Strip / Fashion Show Mall

We headed to the Fashion Show Mall. Foolishly we decided to make the journey on foot. It was only a ‘couple of hotels’ along the strip. Clearly I had forgotten how long it takes to walk past one hotel in Vegas.

40 minutes after we left the Bellagio, we shuffled off the escalator and dived into Abercrombie to recover from temporary heat exhaustion. My green tea frappucinno had done nothing to prevent the feeling that my eyeballs were being air dried by the hot desert breeze.

When we visited Vegas last October, it was hot but not this hot. The summer breeze is akin to turning your hair dryer around and blowing it on your face when its on it’s highest setting. This coupled with the extreme sunlight means there is no relief until you can get into the nearest air conditioned building.

I must have been over-tired, because I didn’t actually buy anything.

 bellagio roulette

Thursday 14 July PM – Back at the Bellagio  

In our zombie-like state we shuffled back to the hotel and commenced gambling. The beginner’s luck which won us $70 on the slot machines last time failed to make an appearance this time and jet lag had hit well and truly now.

Nap time. That’s what we would do! Then we could get up after an hour and go to the buffet for our evening meal! Genius!

neon museum las vegas

Friday 15 July AM – Neon Museum

The ‘nap’ turned into a ‘sleep’ and at 6am, wide awake, we found ourselves in the casino. After a couple more unsuccessful bets, we wandered out onto the strip to grab a sandwich from CVS.

There’s something quite interesting about Vegas at that time in the morning – it’s a very different place to it’s afternoon and evening counterpart. There were hoards of runners taking advantage of temperatures 10 degrees lower than they would be at 10am. There were masses of people finding their way to –or perhaps from- work and of course there were those who hadn’t quite managed to find their way back from wherever it was they’d ended up spending the previous night.

We decided to try and make the 8am tour at the neon museum, so hopped on the bus (the Deuce) down to Freemont Street and caught a taxi from Freemont to the museum itself.  You can get a 3 day pass for the Deuce and SDX (the express bus) for $20 for 3 days. The taxi cost less than $10.

neon museum las vegas signs

The ‘Graveyard of Lights’ at the Neon Museum

I was told about the Neon Museum by a friend and ex-colleague who had been looking into getting some wedding photos taken there. It’s a non-profit exhibit of iconic Las Vegas signs and includes an outdoor exhibition space delightfully known as the “Neon Boneyard”. Viewing is available to the general public only through booking a place on an hour-long guided tour. A visual history lesson, at $18 pp it’s probably one of the best value things to do in Vegas, and is most definitely recommended!

Friday 15 July AM – Las Vegas Outlet Malls

We hopped into another taxi to the Premium Outlet Malls – Las Vegas North (which again only cost around $10). Despite being tempted by an Alexander Wang bag, I managed to leave with only 2 pairs of shoes from Saks (Coach and Chinese Laundry), a long grey waistcoat from Marciano and a dress and blouse from Calvin Klein. Not quite as damaging to the credit card as that Wang bag would have been!

We had Cheesecake Factory for lunch then hopped back onto the Deuce southbound – hopping off right outside the hotel.

Friday 15 July PM – Bellagio Pool

 bellagio pool

After another spell of losing – winning- then losing again at the Roulette table, I decided to try out the somewhat well-acclaimed Bellagio pool. On the advice of our taxi driver – a Las Vegas local – I slathered on the Factor 50 and headed out with a 1l bottle of water and a book. 1.5 hours later, despite being very warm indeed, I had barely tanned as much as an overcast day in the UK. Perhaps factor 50 was overkill?!

Friday 15 July EVE – Finding Food

We succumbed to jet lag once again and ended up having a 2 hour nap. I know – bad idea. Around 9pm we made it down to the buffet, only to find that the queue was approximately 45 minutes long! Given the buffet closes at 10pm, we decided to give it a miss. It defeats the object of all-you-can-eat if you only have 45 minutes to cram in the food.

We headed over to Wahlburger – a fairly new addition to the food offering at Bally’s and conveniently just over the road from the Bellagio. It’s the newest of a chain of burger restaurants headed up by the Brother of Mark Wahlburg.

wahlburger las vegas

A blooming good burger.

I ordered one called ‘The Beast’ and had it with a rather American sounding side order of ‘Tater Tots’ which I’m pretty sure are just smaller, rounder hash browns. I’m not sure why they have a different name. Either way, it was bloomin’ good!

Saturday 16 July AM – Breakfast Buffet 

On our second morning in Vegas I managed to get my buffet fix. We had Brunch at the Bellagio buffet, which was excellent if not a little bit strange. Yes, there are breakfast items available, but there are also many, many non-breakfast items such as pizza, cakes, prime rib and chorizo – not exactly standard breakfast items but nevertheless very enjoyable!

We ate at around 8am, before hitting the casino to spend our remaining ‘designated gambling money’ which was actually only a small kitty to begin with! After exhausting any remaining luck on the roulette table, I found my way back to the pool – this time armed with factor 15.

Saturday 16 July PM – Escape the Room

We met up with our Friend who was staying at the Tropicana Hotel, then headed over to xtreme escapes for an escape the room game. We love doing these games back in the UK so when we found an offer for one in Vegas it made sense to give it a go. We did technically manage to escape, but at 1 hour and 9 minutes we weren’t breaking any records. Not a bad effort for only 3 of us, in what was a far more sophisticated game set-up than the one’s we have played in the past!

las vegas xtreme escape game

No records set, but still smiling!

Saturday 16 July EVE – Second Buffet of the Day

None of us were sure what we wanted to eat, so the natural thing to do was to head to the MGM for what would be the second buffet of the day! Given we hadn’t had lunch, this seemed completely reasonable.

2 hours and many courses later, we rolled back to the bus stop and caught the Deuce north towards the hotel.

We pondered the idea of going out for drinks, but decided we were content with being a little bit old-before-our-time and decided to call it a night!

Hardcore.

Sunday 17 July AM – Last few Hours

We decided to go out shopping for a few souvenirs (bags of sweets) before we headed back to the hotel and checked out around 9.

We then went in search of a good handbag bargain in Ross and Marshalls discount stores but sadly there was nothing that caught my eye. On the back of a handbag related failure, we headed back to Wahlburger and stuffed our faces once again!

It was then time to head to the airport. Since our tickets were still live, we retrieved the bags from the bell desk, caught the bus to the Monte Carlo (Hotel) which was closer to the airport and grabbed a taxi from there. That might sound really tight (please don’t judge me!) but it saved us $15 in taxi fare.

Flying Home

So I’m currently sat 35,000ft in the air – 2 hours into the flight, having eaten a pretty darn good curry. We’ll be landing in the UK in the morning, having returned to GMT from being 8 hours behind! If I don’t sleep on the plane, my return to work on Tuesday morning (and the raft of meetings I have on Tuesday and Wednesday) could be pretty horrific, so I’m off to catch some Zzz’s.

 

Good night Vegas.

It’s been cracking.

paris hotel las vegas

Probably won’t be seeing this view for a while!

 

 

 

 

 

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36 Hours in London

Last year it came to my attention that I had never visited London as a tourist.  As an Accountant working for KPMG Audit in Manchester, I had worked and trained in London for weeks on end. Although I had seen a a fair bit of London, it was usually when I was en-route to a hotel, the client’s offices or the restaurant of choice for the evening.

I decided to go and spend a Saturday seeing the sights, tourist style and  give my own take on it.

Here’s how the day panned out, what I saw and what I thought about it. All opinions are my own and are not intended to offend!

Getting There

We left the house at around 6am, walked to the station (Warrington Bank Quay) and hopped on the Virgin Pendalino which delivered us to Euston in 1 hour 45 mins. It was a welcome change to take that train without feeling like I had to work on-route. Instead I slept most of the way apart from when I woke up needing a cup of tea and a breakfast sandwich!

London Euston Tube Station

Our hotel was only a short walk from the station. Really short – like 250m or something. We dropped our overnight bag and set off on the tube to Camden.

Score? 10/10!

Camden 1.0

Only  few of the larger shops were open as it was before 10am (apparently thing kick off a bit later in the south – not sure why… Seems unreasonable) so we walked along the river with a green tea latte and then made our way back to the tube stop. Even if you’re only there for a couple of days, sort yourself out with an Oyster card – much easier than faffing about with tickets, and probably cheaper but if I’m honest I didn’t bother to work it out. I don’t like doing finance-y things when I’m out of work!

2/10 – pretty but I’m not impressed with people having a lie in when I want my second breakfast!

Camden tube station

No people… anywhere!

Borough Market

If you like street food – you’ll like borough market. Think artisan bread, baklava, macarons and cheese. Need I say more?

Score? 10/10 – not to be missed!

Borough Market

Bread Jenga at Borough Market

st. Paul’s Cathedral

We walked from Borough market to st. Pauls. The weather was glorious so it would have been criminal to hide away on the tube (I also wanted a record-breaking day on my Fitbit so I could beat my dad).

We took a couple of photos and sat on the grass for a little while admiring the view, before wandering over the bridge to the Tate Modern.

Score? 6/10 – quote pretty but really it was more of a time filler whilst we waited for the city to wake up.

Tate Modern

Some alright art. Free entry, but donations encouraged.

To be honest after walking around in an empty space on the ground floor searching for some artwork I decided it was no surprise that entry was free.

The atmosphere was highly pretentious and a little infuriating.

Time to move on… Places to see and all that Jazz!

Score? 1/10, and only a 1 (as opposed to a zero) because of the entertainment value of some of the more obscure exhibits like the crayon bondage mask which was actually pretty cool and deserves applaud.

Trafalgar Square

Busy and bustling as you might expect on a sunny saturday, the square on this particular day was home to a series of street performers.  A lively atmosphere and lots to see made this the perfect spot to stop and people watch for 20 minutes, given there was a high proportion of people in the area behaving in a somewhat excitable and unusual manner.

Score? 5/10

trafalgar square

Tower Bridge

Oh jeez. Good look taking a selfie here without someone photo bombing – intentionally or not! I know this is a ‘must see’ on the London tourist list but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite a busy as it was!

Crowds aside, the sun was beaming down and the view was rather pretty.

Score? 7/10

tower bridge london

Buckingham Palace

The queen was home, so the atmosphere around the palace was pretty cool. I often wonder what the perception of the Royal Family is outside of the UK. The adoration of the visitors clinging to the railings around the palace suggest that the general feeling is good!

Score? 5/10 – worth a visit but not much to see unless you see changing of the guard, which we missed!

buckingham palace london

Downing Street

As a student of politics, I used to muse about what it would be like to take residence in downing street. I thought it would feel stifling and oppressive – like you were a contestant in a terrible reality TV programme like Big Brother.

When we arrived at downing street gates my musing opinions were confirmed. It looked much smaller and darker than on the TV and access seems so much more limited. Security was so tight that there was an unseen barrier between the street and the tourists on the other side.

The whole scene was intimidating and I most definitely wouldn’t want to live on that street. It’s a good job I’m an accountant instead of PM. What a relief.

Score? 8/10 – go and see it for yourself!

Camden Market 2.0 – around 4pm

Hurrah. The hipsters finally dragged themselves out of bed! The shops were open and the stalls in the market bustling with trade. The sun was out and everyone was merrily eating and drinking.

I bought a burger and sat eating it on a ‘communal picnic bench’ type thing (probably re-purposed out of something else, like a lot of hipster stuff is). The middle-aged guy sat next to me started photographing the arse of a woman stood in front of us and making strange noises. I don’t think the woman knew, but she moved away before I could even think about alerting her to the behaviour. We swiftly finished the burger and moved on ourselves.

We had a wander round the stall. There’s a lot of random stuff, including old board games (like you’d find at a car boot but for one-hundred-zillion times the price) and mouse-based humane taxidermy.

Camden is quirky, but try-hard quirky. It’s like everyone is trying so hard to be different that they’re all in fact the same!

Score? 8/10 once open! plenty to do and see, and good food.

Chocolate churros. camden market london

Oooh yeah. Chocolate Churros.

Hyde Park

After rushing around most of the day it was time for a rest! We wandered to Hyde Park and decided to hire a Pedalo on The Serpentine lake.

As it happens, being on a pedalo against a gentle breeze is far from a rest, but lots of fun!

Score? 10/10 – fab park and hire was good value!

hyde park london

Piccadilly Circus Area & Leicester Square

We changed at the hotel before heading back out for food. Leicester Square is full of people at night and although not on the same scale, has a similar vibe to Times Square, New York.

There’s another giant guy being paraded around outside Ripleys’ Believe it or not and a massive M&Ms store.

We sat and took it all in for a few moments then headed to Jamie’s Diner for a good feed.

Score? 7/10 – a good area to visit for lazy evening food and drinks, but highly commercialised and touristy

jambs diner london

Oxford Street Shopping

It wouldn’t be a city break without a spot of shopping! We were up relatively early the next morning, so checked out and left our bags at the hotel before heading into town for retail therapy. By early afternoon it was nearly as busy as the Trafford Centre is on a Sunday so we decided to head back up North!

Shopping Score? 7/10

Home Sweet Home!

As much as I enjoyed my brief flirtation with being a tourist in London, it made me more grateful for what we have on our doorstep in Manchester, Liverpool and Chester.

Score? 10/10 – after all, it’s always nice to be home! 🙂