It means ‘The Meadows’ in Spanish, but it is difficult to see anything pastural about Las Vegas which was recently voted their ‘least favourite city’ by a group of leading travel writers.
True, it is short of beautiful buildings, natural beauty, world heritage sites and cathedrals (although there are any number of tacky ‘chapels’ where you can marry in haste for under $10) But stepping back from the bling of The Strip and the ker shing of the gaming machines I admit to a certain fascination for Sin City
Visiting with three grown up sons is a challenge in itself – last time we holidayed together The Boys were all under 21 and considered minors in the USA, so none of them were old enough to drink or gamble . Now they don’t seem to want to do anything else but as we were there to celebrate the a 21st birthday of the youngest, it seemed churlish to cramp their style.
However by day two when the sight of three Elvises and a couple of Michael Jackson look a likes before breakfast, nonstop one-armed bandits and wall to wall burgers were beginning to lose their charm I was eager to discover if there was any more (or was it less) to Vegas
And then, when on day 3 all of the boys had been propositioned before 9 a.m. (note, gaming is legal in Nevada but prostitution is not, although one wouldn’t know the latter) I vowed to find out what made this place the way it is
What better place to find out about the roots of evil in Sin City than The Museum of The Mob. Also called the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement we find it housed in the former 1920s courthouse downtown in a quiet, less frequented part of Las Vegas. As well as charting the story of how Vegas grew from a sleepy stop on the railroad in the middle of the Nevada desert to the glitzy sleazy city it is now, it dwells on some of the unsavoury characters whose bootlegging and illegal activities helped fund the building of Las Vegas
It’s not an easy museum to visit as it spares no detail when confronting the violence and harshness of ‘The Mobs’ and includes graphic images of their handiwork including deceased victims and weapons. The gangs who began their criminal lives in the cities of New York and Chicago and who developed networks all over the USA in the early 20th century made money out of on prohibition, drug-use and prostitution.
The Museum’s key exhibit is the brick wall from Chicago’s Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929 and there is an explanation of the murder of a gang led by Al Capone’s South side Italian gang. The wall includes a 38-calibre Colt Detective revolver, the only gun related to hs shooting
Another grisly object on display is the barber’s chair where mobster Albert Anastasia once sat. He was brutally shot and killed while getting a haircut and shave
The museum is interactive, and so the three sons were able to ‘enjoy’ shooting with an FBI forearms training simulator and taking part in a police line-up where they were photographed as suspects. Definitely one for the album
Easier on the eye is the Neon Museum, which showcases Las Vegas bright distinctive signage as an art form. It is situated in Old Vegas, or Downtown where we find one of the most famous neon signs in the USA, Lucky Strike’s waving cowboy who grins down at a street of souvenir stalls and barsof Freemont Street. The Neon Museum has more than 150 vintage Las Vegas neon signs from the 1930s to the present including the Golden Nugget and the huge Treasure Island skull
Golden Nugget is one of Vegas’ quainter hotels, although it impossible to explore without walking through the ubiquitous casino The first thing we noticed about Vegas is the number of electric shocks you get, literally non-stop and even from just touching another person. This is quite widely documented and is caused by the dry air and the static from the carpets. Shocking as this is, it is just one of the many side-effects of 24-hour gaming. Everything, from the cool fragrant air pumped into the casinos, carefully regulated temperatures and bright, but not too bright, furnishings are designed to keep the punters awake, alert and gambling.
Back on the Strip, the boys take a ride on Stratosphere Hotel’s Insanity ride. It proves to be aptly named as they are spun in the open air on a mechanical arum extending over 60 feet over the edge of the Stratosphere tower.
Coming down to earth we took a more leisurely stroll from Venice to New York. Only in Vegas can you see the statue of Liberty at New York New York hotel, the Venetian gondolas and St Mark’s square at the Venetian, the Eiffel Tower at Paris and the roman statues of Caesars palace. Of course they are not a shadow of the real thing but for a while if you can suspend belief you can imagine are in one of those travel writers’ favourite cities.