Sunday, February 26, 2017

Tour de Vegas

The North Strip - Las Vegas
Lights, camera and long walks – Welcome to Las Vegas people!
I know I was on a considerably long hiatus from blogging since grad-life has started getting to me, but I am back with some party vibes and fun, I guess. I usually write about history, nature or some really pretty but not widely known place of the world – but today I break the trend with a city that literally never sleeps! The desert city of Las Vegas is undoubtedly one of the most famous tourist destinations of the United States and I got to see why during my winter break in December. Though the place invoked some mixed feelings in me.

Vegas is engineered to lure tourists and mint money in whatever way possible – from world class chefs’ restaurants, to multiple bars in every hotel; from casinos that keep running almost 24x7 to open invite parties at night; from strip clubs to artsy shows; from limousines lined everywhere to tour busses; and of course, the glory of every hotel in making itself as amazing and aligned with its own theme. Sounds fun? Maybe it does, but it didn’t to me so I focused on what I loved the most of the list stated above – architecture, and enjoyed my trip to Vegas to some extent no doubt!    

From the very first glance, one can tell that this place was all about the pomp and the show. We reached Las Vegas at about 7:30, and were all ready to explore the city – at least the North Strip in an hour! Just getting out of our hotel Circus Circus took us about half an hour! The lobbies of the hotels of Vegas are huge and are like a trap for people for all kinds of interests – gambling, parties, food, shopping, and music – and Circus Circus was no different. In our case we also saw a small scale circus during our venture of finding the exit. Carryout food, inexpensive Uber ride and there we were at the start of the strip – Mandalay Bay.

I have to admit; I was in awe of all the structures aka hotels of Vegas. The hotels of Vegas make you a fan of architecture for sure if nothing else and this experience starts with the gates and gargoyles of Mandalay Bay, the luminous pyramid keystone and Egyptian statues of Luxor and the Scottish Kingdom themed hotel Excalibur. 

It feels like you move from an era to another, but unfortunately do not feel the touch of history in any.

Soon you get to New York and Paris – both take you to the cities on some funky rides and party nights. New York New York sticks to an image of party and shopping center while Paris gives you the first “real” feel of casino and culinary art in Vegas. But this is all a warm up!

New York New York
While the center area of North Strip gets modern in architectural sense with New York New York, Monte Carlo, MGM, Paris etc., the best of Vegas follows this section and takes you back to some old school architecture treat flavoured with royal essence. Surprisingly this section is the Casino hub of Vegas too but all I could think about was the beautiful interiors and the classic amalgamation of modern and ancient elements of architecture!

Bellagio and the Fountains
Bellagio fountains and the street performers there made the slowly turning dull evening beautiful and vibrant again. 15 mins, different songs and the fountains dance to them. In those 15 minutes, street performers keep you company with dance, music and mime. But if you are not a fan of that either and are there with your partner – well, you will love this place!

Lobby of Caesar's Palace
While Bellagio starts with a touch of Roman Era – Caesar’s Palace just takes you back completely to Caesar’s time in a way. This Greco-Roman hotel is probably the second largest of Vegas and is considered to be one of the most known Casino Hotels of the world! 

Caesar's Palace is like this throughout! 
Caesar Palace’s grandeur is not limited to its casino glory image or external architecture with the King Towers, Roman baths and sculpted fountains – the interiors of this place is a must see! 

Forum Mall
Imagine a hotel that has life size statues of Roman Gods and Kings – sculpted and imported from Italy and has frescos and spiral escalators (not just staircase) – do you want to miss this place? I was in a spell of wonder, but only till the time I reached Venetian though.

The Venetian - the largest hotel of Vegas, second largest in the world – is literally Venice in Vegas and the prettiest hotel on the strip! The gondolas of Great Canal and ornate frescos on the ceiling of the lobby and game area left me speechless. 

Not Venice, it The Venetian
The minute I entered the Grand Canal Shoppes I actually felt like I was in Venice – just prettier and cleaner! Oh and I forgot it was night 1 o clock – thanks to the false 3d sky. (Think Hogwarts Great Hall ceiling) 

It is just 1 o clock at night
Anyways to get a ride of the canal and check out beautiful windows, small but classy shops, cafes and restaurants – there is no way one can hate that right? If you have just an hour to spend in Vegas, you know which hotel to hit.
This is no Roman Palace or Church or Museum
There are more hotels to consider like Mirage – known for its volcano fountain show, Stratosphere which has the second highest thrill ride of the world, Treasure Island and Tropicana etc… but given the contented feeling The Venetian left me with, I decided to retire for the night and end my Tour de Vegas!

Some Tips for First Timers in Vegas!
-        Carry Water with you!
-        Do not take the bus if you are a group of four or more. Ubers in Vegas turn out to be a lot cheaper.
-        The Fountains of Bellagio have fixed timings: - Monday – Friday there is a show every half hour from 3 p.m. - 8 p.m. and every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. – 12 a.m. while on Saturdays and holidays the show runs every half hour from 12 p.m. - 8 p.m. and every 15 minutes from 8 p.m. – 12 p.m.
-        Volcano Shows at Mirage are at 8 and 9 on weekdays and an additional show at 10 happens during weekends and holidays.
-        The Gondola Rides at The Venetian and The Forum Mall at Caesar palace both shut down at 11 p.m. and while you can still walk the gondola ride area at any hour of the day, entry to Forum after hours is not possible.

Accommodation cost in Vegas ranges from 45-250 per night during Decembers at least. Yup it is relatively cheap! I stayed at Circus Circus in a Two Queens Room that costed 44 USD/night. 

Hope this post does give you some reason to visit Vegas even if casinos and parties are not your thing. Because Las Vegas, no matter how quirky and fancy, gives everyone a reason to visit at least once if not more! 

And yes, I am leaving you guys with "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas" performance!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lower Antelope Canyon - A Marvel

First Look
Narrow shafts, no visible way to enter, a sea of red soil making you wonder where you are to go next, and there you see it – A narrow opening in the side of the seemingly flat land. The opening shaft more like a slit in the mountain - like someone cracked the mountain open is the first sight that makes you wonder about the force of nature but the real deal is yet to come. At least for me the “wonder” phase for Antelope Canyon began with that glance at the entry crack.
The entrance
Long ride, a day’s delay, extremely crowded area and the only horrible “loo” experience in US so far had kind of made me question if Lower Antelope Canyon was actually going to be the bucket list place I always imagined it to be and twenty minutes later I was standing gaping at a marvel that erased all the doubts in my head.

The Magic Begins
Crowd, cold, rushed entry to exit tour nothing can actually stop you from praising Antelope Canyons which are actually Nature’s might and art sketched on ancient rock, etched and leveled by winds and water over centuries.

See the shapes?
Antelope Canyons are slot canyons located in the Navajo Nation of Arizona that are a part of the Grand Canyon. So you can imagine how old this place must be and ever curve and cut of Antelope Canyon tells you about the time gone by. My friends – the ones with whom I did the recent Grand Canyon road trip and I – joked at the entrance level that maybe people chiseled the slot to make it more appealing, but as we moved ahead in Lower Antelope, the area kept getting narrower and the formations more elaborate and stunning.  That tiny slot that started out with towering colourful rocks on two sides of a path barely enough for 15 people to stand – had arches and hollow ringed rock formations.

A friend of mine posed for me near an arch!
By the time you are done with your tour you would be speechless, cold but forgotten all about that long tiring drive, the crowded narrow path and well the loo too. I usually am very verbose when it comes to describing what I felt in a place but Lower Antelope Canyon actually rendered me speechless. That’s why I will let the photos do all the talking but will surely leave you with what to do for Antelope Canyon tips!

The changes

The Must Dos!

1.   Tours and Tickets - Buy your guided tour ticket in advance and preferably keep the tour timing between 10 AM to 1 PM. Antelope Canyons are a part of Navajo Nation and thus are private properties of the natives. Due to this there is no way you can enter the canyons without a guide. The ticket prices are quite high considering it will be at most a thirty minutes walking tour so consider that and also keep tab on if your tour is getting cancelled due to rain or heavy snowfall. I didn’t feel a photography tour was required to see Lower Antelope Canyon, but Upper Antelope is a whole different case. You get enough time to click but be aware of time and people always because the place is extremely crowded and your guides will rush you throughout the tour.

Let it shine
2.  Keep Buffer – Antelope tours during monsoons and winters have high probability of getting cancelled due to flash flood alerts. If you are travelling during this time, keep a day’s buffer for Antelope, i.e. plan your trip in a way that you are close to Antelope (South Rim Grand Canyon or Page itself) for at least a day.


3.  Necessities – Do not! I can’t stress enough on this but do not rely on the tour area cafes and loos for anything! Page Downtown is just 20 mins away from Antelope – that is the place you would want to go for all your food, coffee, water, washroom necessities.
That was it. That gap is what we crossed
4.  The right clothes – During summers it is extremely hot in the Canyons and winters are freezing. Be sure to dress right else the thirty minutes long walk would seem like eternity.

I got my pic!!!
5.  And most important one – Enjoy! This touristy place will not disappoint you, at least not for the most part.

How to get there from Las Vegas

How to get there?
Closest Airport - Page. 
Next closest and the most convenient one would be Las Vegas.
You could take guided bus tours from Page or Vegas but we did a Road Trip from Vegas and I would say it is the best way to cover the place.

Where to Eat?
Page Downtown. Many options in the area like MacD, TacoBell, Subway, Starbucks and some local restaurants. My saviour was Subway!

Where to Stay?
Hotels in Page would be a good options but most of them are 2 star places and expensive for the services they provide. I stayed in Red Feather Lodge at Grand Canyon Village South Rim, but there are plenty of options close by.  Courtyard Page or Best Western plus in Page would be the most convenient options to stay in close proximity of Horseshoe Bend, Lake Powell, Glenn Canyon Dam and Antelope Canyon.