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Eat, pray and love in Sin City

Vegas visitor searchesfor this life Trifecta

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LAS VEGAS -- Looking for the meaning of life often entails a road trip.

The search to find adventure, find love or find oneself is a popular quest that has long been reflected in literature, everywhere from Homer's Odyssey to Jack Kerouac's On the Road.

So when Elizabeth Gilbert released her book Eat, Pray, Love, it's no surprise that the theme resonated widely. Over the course of a year, she travelled to Italy, India and Indonesia to find herself, as did actress Julia Roberts in the movie version of the book released a few weeks ago.

But do all soul-searching adventures need to be as grand, or as long? Is it possible to shake up one's life with food, prayer and love in a three-day getaway? I contemplated the questions as I boarded a plane for a three-day Vegas getaway.

EAT

The first part of the equation seemed easy: Eat.

The variety and quality of restaurants in Las Vegas has exploded in the last 15 years. Almost every chef of note has hung out his or her shingle in Vegas, from Bobby Flay and Wolfgang Puck to Joel Robuchon and Michael Mina.

Where to start? Well, the main character in Eat, Pray, Love has a pivotal moment in a pizza place, realizing the search for a perfect slice is a worthwhile pursuit. So, I headed to one of my standby Vegas favourites, the California Pizza Kitchen in the Mirage, and ordered the famous BBQ Chicken Pizza.

It was predictably delicious.

The carb craving continued later in the day. A stop at Circo landed me a plate of ravioli, but not just any ravioli; this was "Mama Egi's" recipe of sheep's milk ricotta, spinach, Swiss chard and butter sage sauce.

The next day, I delighted in barbecued salmon, served with andouille sausage potato hash and crystal fried onion rings at Emeril's New Orleans Fish House in the MGM Grand.

Another highlight followed at the Todd English P.U.B. in the new mega-resort CityCenter.

A "carvery" feature allows a diner to first pick a favourite meat; prime beef, pastrami and confit duck leg are just a few of the choices. The diner then selects one of several breads and desired sauces, such as black truffle mayo or pineapple mint jelly. The flights of beer (four small glasses of four different ales) provide a perfect accompaniment.

I was quickly becoming amazed at how much food could be consumed in a three-day period when "eat" was one of the mandates.

There was always room, however, to stop for dessert, a snack or even breakfast at Jean Philippe Patisserie. The pastries are so pretty, they almost make you weep.

As one heavenly creation of chocolate and raspberry melted on my tongue, it was akin to a religious experience. I realized in that brief moment that it might be possible to eat, pray and love all at the same time.

PRAY

At first, the notion of prayer in the entertainment capital of the world may seem a strange juxtaposition.

But as I walked through a casino at 3 a.m., I realized there's no shortage of prayers, both silent and shouted.

"Oh, God, please, be there, be there!" yelled one craps player, as two red dice tumbled across the green felt table.

Nearby, an older woman gently fiddled with a cross around her neck as she put a $20 bill in a slot machine.

There seemed to be an unusually high interest in divine intervention and prayer -- although not necessarily for the purest of pursuits or intentions.

I also noticed devotion of another sort permeates the Las Vegas Strip; the sanctity of style.

It's long been easy to have faith in fashion here, with hundreds of boutiques and shops lining shopping centres, sidewalks and casino walkways. But the cult of clothing was kicked up a notch last year with the opening of Crystals.

Crystals, a 500,000-square-foot shopping and dining Mecca in CityCenter, houses the best brands, such as Gucci, Pucci, Dior, Prada and Balenciaga. Fashionistas often discuss the names in hushed tones; it almost sounds like prayer.

Speaking of prayer, there are actually a few Vegas chapels that have become tourist attractions themselves over the years, and No. 1 on the list is the Little White Wedding Chapel.

Thousands of couples get married here each year, including celebrities. Past nuptials include those of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Slash, Britney Spears, Michael Jordan, Frank Sinatra, Mary Tyler Moore, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Patty Duke (twice) and Mickey Rooney (twice).

Don't miss the chapel's Drive Thru Tunnel of Vows. If you're lucky, you'll also catch a glimpse of an Elvis minister.

But if you're looking for a true slice of sanctuary on the Strip, check out the unusual shrine in front of Caesars Palace. The first time I stumbled across it, the shrine seemed oddly out of place.

This gilded monument, complete with burning incense, is a replica of a popular shrine in Thailand that pays tribute to the Hindu god Brahma. Made in Bangkok, this replica was a gift to Caesars Palace reportedly from a Hong Kong shipping magnate and a Thai newspaper tycoon in 1984.

More than a quarter-century later, the hotel continues to see the importance of the shrine, as a symbol of good luck and prosperity for all. Perhaps it's not such an odd fit, after all.

LOVE

After finding plenty to eat and partaking in a little bit of prayer, the big question remained as to whether Las Vegas is a city filled with love. Would I be triumphant in this quest for an eat-pray-love trifecta?

While I thought about whether or not love was in the air, it quickly became apparent a healthy dose of lust was.

Sin city is a sexy city, complete with steamy shows, provocative advertising and plenty of gyrating body parts in hot clubs. Even the names of the clubs -- such as Haze, Rumjungle, Tryst and Light -- evoke thoughts of beautiful people, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, moving to thumping beats.

Romance hangs heavy in the air, too. Take a hand-in-hand stroll past the fountains of Bellagio. Sneak a quick kiss during a gondola ride, while gliding under a bridge. Sip champagne in a limo, while taking in the city's lights at night.

But I quickly realized it wasn't just lust and romance I saw. Love existed, too.

Couples were committing to spending their lives together everywhere on the Strip. At the beach at Mandalay Bay, near the volcano at the Mirage and in front of the Bellagio's fountains, there were weddings, proposals and vow renewals.

With a feeling that everything was right with the world, I headed to the Cirque du Soleil show celebrating the lives and music of the Beatles, aptly titled Love.

For 90 or so minutes, I felt surrounded by love -- the love of music, the love that exists between friends and the Beatles' ideal that we can all make the world a more peaceful and loving place.

I also realized that when it came to love, I needed to look no further than the couple next to me.

I was in Las Vegas to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my parents, Ted and Eileen. They were here marking a half-century of life together because of one thing -- love.

I guess all you do need is love. And a little bit of pasta never hurts, either.

-- Postmedia News

IF YOU GO

-- General information on Vegas is available at www.visitlasvegas.com.

-- Info on Las Vegas flights (direct from many Canadian cities) and vacation package info is at www.westjet.com

-- Details on the Bellagio, the Mirage, the MGM Grand, their restaurants and their wedding, anniversary or engagement packages are at www.mgmresorts.com

Vegas on your iPhone

Going to Las Vegas? There's an app for that.

Owners of iPhones can use a number of free applications from the MGM Mirage group of hotels that help enhance a visit.

-- For starters, there's Vegas Reality, which gives users a multi-dimensional look at attractions and hotels.

-- Specific hotels within the resort chain (such as New York-New York, Mandalay Bay and the MGM Grand) have their own app that goes far beyond information found in a brochure. With these apps you can make dinner reservations, see show previews, book tickets, check on meeting rooms and even order room service.

-- Another app, Entertainment of Las Vegas, details event calendars, show times, directions and ticket purchase info for all MGM Mirage shows and events.

-- Live Twitter feeds, commenting, seating charts, casino game rules and fun facts are just a few of the other features offered with these apps.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 2, 2010 E4

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