I knew little of Las Vegas… From how it was portrayed in some movies, it’s this place with bright lights, casinos, and partying. It definitely has the bright lights, casinos, and energetic vibes throughout the Strip where most of the big casinos are, but as my Mom and I came to stay there with our relatives for our vacation last December 2014, a different side of Vegas showed itself.
What stuck to me the most is that this is the city where a few of our relatives call home. My Tita Mila’s home is where the family reunions are held, because our relatives from my Mom’s side are in California and Arizona, so Vegas is the midpoint.
Our stay in Vegas was the first ever trip I had gone to with my Mom to the States. My Mom first went in 2007 to attend her older brother Tito Cesar’s wake and funeral. It was for a sad reason that she came to the US then. Our December 2014 trip was the first we got to be together to visit our relatives.
Weeks prior our departure date, I kept telling my Mom that I couldn’t believe we were coming… Growing up, I just read or knew about the States through books, movies, photos of our families sent to us through mail, and phone conversations with them. That first trip was very special for my Mom and me. I’m very thankful to the Lord, my Mom and Dad, and everyone who has guided me in applying and acquiring a US visa on that same year too. Now, our families could definitely make new memories together.
But for some reason, when we were a thousand feet above Los Angeles, I still could’t believe it. I was in a surreal state.
Truth be told, I thought that I’d never be able to see my tito’s, tita’s, and cousins anymore whom we haven’t seen in so long… Which is probably why it all felt like a dream to me.
But when my Mom and I got outside already and felt the cold air, oh dear, we are in the US in winter time.
Tito Pads met my Mom and I outside Tom Bradley International Terminal. He stayed with us for a while and bought us big sandwiches for dinner, until it was time for our connecting flight to Las Vegas. But before we got to check in, I got to talk to Kuya Romar and Ate Girlie through the phone. I haven’t seen them perhaps in 15 or more years since they last migrated to the States!
On that night, we had to say goodbye first to Tito Pads, then we would see him again after Christmas.
I liked flying with Southwest Airlines. I remember them giving us peanuts for our in-flight snacks. Anyway, it was a quick flight. I remember from our flight details that it would last an hour – our flight probably lasted 45 minutes. It was amazing to think how pilots took control of these planes daily like how drivers would drive and park their buses too.
While our plane neared Vegas – around a hundred feet above – I spotted this pyramid structure which had a light that shone through straight into the sky. Later, I would learn that it was a casino called Luxor.
When we arrived in McCarran International Airport, I was surprised to see so many slot machines. I think that’s the most slot machines I’ve ever seen in my life. Haha!
Tita Mila and my cousins Jango and Ouel welcomed us to Vegas! When we went outside of the airport, my Mom and I were shivering! If it was cold in LA, it was colder in Vegas since it was in a desert. Extreme temperatures during winter and summer – a lesson that has somehow stuck with me since elementary school…
They drove us to their home first, and it was so heart-warming to see where they lived, as if my Mom and I had lived there with them too. That trip was like a home-coming even if it was a first for me. We got to see Tito Manny too again after many years!
Surprisingly, we didn’t sleep right after our flight. Jango and Ouel wanted to show us around a bit and have a midnight snack, so they drove my Mom and I to a nearby casino – South Point – and had a very late dinner.
And when it was time to go home, we went out again around 1 in the morning, and it was so cold (!!!), I was still shivering and teeth-chattering inside the car, snuggled closely to my Mom.
When we reached their house and we got to unpack a bit and lay on the bed lovingly prepared for us, it still felt surreal but in a good way now…
It was my first time in Vegas, but with my Mom, Tita Mila, Tito Manny and my cousins, I felt at home finally.
Two days after, Tita Tess, Igo, and Paffy arrived from Arizona! Ouel and Jango visited more often before in the Philippines, but the last time I saw my Gutierrez cousins was around 14 years ago already. I couldn’t thank God enough for blessing us with this opportunity for a reunion.
For the weeks to come, little did I know that there would be more family gatherings, short trips, and beautiful places to visit.
One of the first few places in the Strip that our relatives brought us to was Bellagio. My cousins Igo and Paffy came with us already then.
We had dinner first and saved space for dessert!
Hoping someday I could bake or prepare desserts like these for my family and friends!
After dinner, we went around the place.
The designs in the main hall of Bellagio changes every season, if I remember correctly. During this time, since it was winter, there were big polar bears, poinsettia plants, large Christmas balls and sparkles in the ceiling above, and two talented musicians – a xylophonist and saxophonist – added to the holiday vibe with Christmas songs. It was great to see them smile to us when we clapped after one song.
Inside Bellagio and just a few walks from the main hall is also Jean Philippe Patisserie. Jean-Philippe Maury is an Executive Pastry Chef and named as ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’ or Best Pastry Chef in France, according to the acrylic sign to the left which also shared information about…
The world’s largest chocolate fountain!
Right next to the fountain is the shop. We didn’t get to buy any, but you should try if ever you’re in Bellagio! I’m sure the chocolates and pastries taste great!
Paris Las Vegas
I was surprised to see a replica of the Eiffel Tower along the Strip on our first drive through this popular tourist spot. On our last few days staying in Vegas, Ouel toured my Mom and me in the other hotels here, and the first was Paris Las Vegas.
We were supposed to walk outside to fully experience the Strip, but because it was extra cold then and my Mom and I came unprepared, we mostly stayed inside.
(*By the way, I’m just giving an important reminder too which my cousin gave to me: if you plan on walking along the Strip, and somebody tries to hand you something, don’t take it, and keep walking. We actually passed by a few before, but we marched on.)
It was picturesque inside and the ceiling painting mimicked the blue skies during daylight. The street lamps gave a warm glow too as we walked along this busy street inside the hotel!
Hopefully someday, my Mom and I could also see Paris in person and the other provinces that Ouel mentioned would be great to visit. He said that in some parts in Europe, restaurants would have outdoor spaces for people to dine in or have coffee at while watching others passing by. Europe was very different from America in terms of the pace of living; the pace was much more serene and slow in the former.
I guess it’s up to an individual where he thrives more at.
We had dinner at Mon Amí Gabi, which Ouel translated for us as “My Friend Gabi.”
My Mom had the one in the right, while I had the one on the left which was smoked salmon. It was listed as an appetizer in the menu, but for me, it was okay as a meal.
We were seated outside the restaurant, and it was a good thing there was a heater around the area, or else, I don’t think my Mom and I would be able to stay 1 minute outside the cold.
We had a beautiful view of Bellagio too. Its fountains would have a presentation synced with music!
The Palazzo Las Vegas
We went through the intricately designed interiors of the Palazzo.
And came out to see a giant Christmas tree lit in the middle of this plaza.
After taking a few photos outside, Ouel, my Mom and I then went to the Venetian.
The Venetian was the last hotel we went to that night. Inspired by Venice, Italy, the hotel also has a grand canal inside its walls.
Still, someday, hoping that my Mom, Dad, and I could travel to Italy too and see the canals and bridges there.
It was a different experience walking along the Strip’s hotels and casinos. Although there are many slot machines here and there, there are still distinct characteristics that make each building or establishment unique in themselves. My favorite would have to be Bellagio though because of the charming decorations they have that change every season.
Las Vegas has its own charm too. Bright lights in a desert. Sight-seeing and people-watching. Tall buildings and music coming from slot machines. Big-time events and gatherings. These are what it is mostly known for, but this city of bright lights and casinos has more than what meets the eye. There are the other places behind the buildings, the neighborhoods, little shops and restaurants, parks and canyons, faraway hotels from the Strip, and the historic Downtown Las Vegas which is reminiscent of neon lights in the past decades.
And of course, there is home for us and our relatives. The tiny bookstores and calm spaces.
From the loud side of Vegas to the more quaint and quiet side of it. We gradually lower down the volume.
That’s it for the first part of my Landing in Las Vegas post. On the next post, I’ll write about Downtown Las Vegas, which we went to on our last day in Nevada for that trip.