Traveling: Unlocking Las Vegas, The Sin City

2019 was indeed good to me and in December when I started to work on a new project, I got sent for two weeks to the “Sin City”. At first, I had very low expectations, since it didn’t sound as it was a place that fitted my style, yet in the end, I loved every second that I spent in the crazy Las Vegas.

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December might not be the best time to visit this area, yet beggars can’t be choosers, therefore I embarked on the plane, and a lot of hours after, I landed in the sunny, surrounded by canyons city of Las Vegas. The first impression was that it has a lot more to it than the infamous Strip street.  The Red Canyon was the first thing I saw when I got to the hotel and I have to admit, the view was amazing, never have I thought that the dessert can be so beautiful.

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The Red Canyon area, has also, a lot of very good restaurants and pubs, the ones that I have tried (and loved) are Frank & Fina’s Cocina and The Bar. If you plan a trip there, make sure you are hungry since the portions are HUGE. Compared to Chicago, I can say that the food in Las Vegas is beyond amazing, pretty sure I have put on a few pounds while here.

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Getting to the “main star” of the city, The Strip, and the famous casinos, I have to admit those are not my cup of tea. I have imagined more of a Casino Royale style, not flip-flops and shorts, also the image of people losing the track of hours spent on slot machines is not a pretty one. I do have to give it to the Venetian for the interior that resembles the real Venice and the sky that will trick you into thinking you are outside. The rest of them I would describe as kitsch. Since this is the city center, I saw that the food is mainly fast-food and expensive, aimed towards the tourists. Would recommend stepping away from the Strip if you want to eat.

Bellagio fountain and the Volcanos are nice shows to see, tacky yet cute in their own way. I guess for a once in a lifetime experience, you can check those out.

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A couple of other disappointments that I had were: The Pawn Shop, maybe I had high hopes since I watched their show for a while, but the store had little to nothing to see. Fremont Street is nothing but a highly artificially lighted place where people like to undress and “shock” the tourists, again, not my scene. Hard Rock Caffe, where you can listen to Nicky Minaj (wtf???) and drink an overpriced cocktail.

Clubbin in Caesar’s Palace Omnia wasn’t on my favorite list either, but here I knew from the beginning that the electronic music will not sweep me off my feet. All in all the experience is a nice one, with enough alcohol any type of music can be a good one.

Moving away from the not so great things, to the amazing ones, here are my top picks: Red Canyon, Grand Canyon ( technically not part of Las Vegas, but it’s only a few hours drive), Hoover Dam and, saved the best for last Cirque du Soleil – Mirage show. I will append a few of my favorite photos below, yet I cannot recommend those enough.

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In the two weeks that I spend in the city, I cannot say that I was bored, maybe it was because of the fact that I spend at least 8 hours at work, but even so, I would love to return to the infamous city that makes everyone lose their mind. As for a piece of advice if you plan a trip here, keep an open mind and if you are not planning to gamble, focus on the other attractions that the city has to offer.

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Traveling: Unlocking Prague, Czech Republic

There are certain places so iconic that you will see on every bucket list or screensaver carousel there is. One of those places is Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic and one of the most, if not the most, beautiful cities in the world. My trip there was a relatively short one, but if there were a place I would recommend you to do a city break, it will be here.

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We chose the low-cost version of the flight and landed in Vienna from where we took the Flexibus to Prague central station. If you also think about doing this, make sure you book your tickets in advance for the bus or the train. Due to common delays in the Wizz flights, we decided not to, and that cost us more. Also, take into consideration the 4.5 hours that you will spend on the bus.

For the accommodation, we chose to rent using Airbnb a studio near the central station and we walked to the city center every day. It might not be the best solution if you don’t like walking 27 km in a day, but luckily the public transport is very good and organized. The center of the city is pretty small, so the only ride you will need is from your accommodation to it.

Since we only had two full days to spend in the city we decided we wanted to get a glimpse of the city and see the most important attractions. We refrain from visiting museums, the only place we did entry was the Prague Castle, and I have to admit the best part of it it’s free, so if you find yourself here, don’t waste the money. You can even enter the church and see most of it, without the paid ticket.

 

 

Just like the saying best things in life are free, pretty much the same goes for the Prague attractions,  St. Vitus Cathedral, Charles Bridge, Prague Astronomical Clock, Old Town Square, and Dancing House are all available to you in the city center. While here make sure to grab a beer, or a Radler to fully enjoy the Czech vibe. And since we are on the subject of beverages, they are known for their craft beer that goes very well with their cuisine. If might be problematic for vegetarians, since it does include a lot of meat, but for those of you who love it, you will be in heaven.

While here, there is a special treat for the sweet lovers, the Trdelnik, a rather interesting dessert that you will see everywhere, with chocolate, fruit gem, ice-cream, fruits or other devilish flavors (like the one I choose) those will make you go to heaven.

 

 

Prague is also a river city, so do include a cruise on the Vltava, where you can learn more about the city history and get to take a few gorgeous photos. In the summertime, there is no better relaxation than to sip on lemonade while overseeing this amazing place.

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The city panorama can be captured from many places, my personal favorite was the park where the Petrin Tower can be found. We didn’t climb on the tower, because of the line and the number of stairs, but we did admire the view from the park. Another great place is the tower from Charles Bridge where you can see the 360 degrees view, the best time to go is either in the morning or at twilight.

 

With a city this beautiful and popular you must pay attention to the tourist traps, there are a few and while you can never protect yourself from all, it’s good to do your homework before arriving. The most popular trap is the one that has to do with the money conversion, in the Czech Republic they use the koruna, and many places accept only cash payment, therefore you will need to exchange some money. If you plan on using the ATM machines make sure you read if they have any commission and verify the conversion rate, the Euronet ATM should be avoided at all times, those are known for offering the worts rates. I used my Revolut card to withdraw from a random ATM and the rate was decent. A better way to avoid this is by bringing cash and converting it. If you chose to do so, be very careful at the conversion rates and only accept the conversion if it’s the correct one. A trick that they make is they display the price they use to sell euro (or dollars) and not the one they will offer for buying the currency.

While on the ugly side of the touristic city, pay attention to the menu prices, if those are not displayed either ask or go to a different place. It happened for us to pay more than double for a bear just because they said they don’t have a menu ( we stayed only because the rain started). A friend of ours paid 4 times the price from the menu after the waiter asked if they would also like different types of salads with their food.

And lastly, make sure you don’t fall in the optional tips that they kindly calculated for you at around 20-25%. In Europe, unlike the US, the tips are NOT mandatory, if you liked the service you can leave one, usually is around 10%. The staff is fully paid (again unlike in the US where they are paid less because of the tips) so there is no obligation from your end to leave anything. Don’t get me wrong, I do tip, usually 10-15% but if the staff is rude or tries to trick me in any way that tip will vanish and I highly recommend you to do the same.

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Clearly, the bad parts and the tourist traps are everywhere these days, so if it does happen to you, try to let it be and continue to enjoy your time in Prague. I refuse to give the satisfaction that they ruined my vacation to some bad people, karma will take care of them for sure.

 

 

Prague was one of the destinations that weren’t really on my list for this year but somehow manage to get on it after I got a couple of recommendations from my friends and I am so happy that I squeezed it in. Made in a budget-friendly manner we spent around 600 euros for the plane tickets, accommodation, food and attractions, in 3 days. To us, this place will always be one to be remembered with a huge smile on our faces.

 

 

 

 

 

When I First Realized That I Am Hopelessly in Love with Traveling

It’s said that we are born travelers, but we have to wait until the demon is awakened by a random event to understand it. I was born in a family where my mom was in love with seeing the world, with conquering new lands and with understanding other cultures, it’s from her that I learned how to respect the places  I visit and their customs. As for the exact moment when I realized that I will never be able to save money for anything other than plane tickets and b&b hotels, well, let me tell you how it went!

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In 2009 I got into the Faculty of Computer Science and I was devasted about the fact that my parents pushed into this career path rather than letting me study journalism. I was sad and I cried almost every night in the first months spent in my dorm room. I felt out of place and had zero interest in learning programming, felt alone and with no friends in a city that I hated, so I needed something to focus on. It was then I learned about the Work and Travel program that allowed students to go to the States for 4 months during summer. I had to wait until the second year since it often happened for the juniors not to get the visa and I had to pass all my exams to maximize my chances. For two years I worked a boring data entry job to gather some of the money for the program,(I borrowed the remaining from my mom) while giving my best to pass and understand all the rocket science subjects from college.

In 2011 I was finally in the plane (for the first time) to cross the ocean to the destination I always dream of seeing: America. Landed in Boston with big eyes and for the next 3 months, I have worked my a*s off on shitty jobs. The working part of the program was awful since the agency that brought as overbooked the job offerings (they didn’t expect us all to pass the visa interview) and we ended up not having enough hours to support our living and since we arrived late (also due to their paperwork not being ready on time) most of the jobs were gone in the small place of Weirs Beach Laconia, New Hampshire.

Let’s just say that it was a very bad summer, filled with drama and money issues, that made me promised myself that I would never be in this position ever again, but then something out of the ordinary happened, I found myself in the best place in the world:  New York. It was on the streets of the never-sleeping city that I fall in love, both with the crazy place and with a friend of a friend. The 5 days spent there really put my life in a different perspective and made me understand that I looked for happiness in the wrong place all along. It was a combination of magic and love that it’s hard to explain.

From the fast-food that we brought from the streets to the small cheap apartment in New Harlem that we rented, to the Central Park vibe, I learned that I am not made to stay in one place, I will never be happy with just owning a car or a house and I am not cut for the white fence life. Finally understood what my mom kept on saying about wanting to see more, feel more and make traveling a priority. As I walked hand in hand on the Brooklyn Bridge in the cold days of October, my life started to make sense.

 

 

Of course, there will be times when I feel that my hobby is taking so much energy, there will be tourist traps that I would fall in, the places are not as I have expected or the weather will not be on my side, yet even in times like this, the memories are my treasure. It’s true that nothing can compare to my NYC moment (and I admit I am afraid to go back and ruin that special memory) but there are other places when I felt so happy that I had tears in my eyes ( Paris, Rome, Zakynthos, PhiPhi Island, Prague, etc).

Many will not understand, will think it’s just a phase and I will grow out of it, but the ones suffering from the same addiction will know that this is more than just a hobby is more of a lifestyle, a chosen life path, the taste of the forbidden apple. Yes, it will be hard working a full-time job and sometimes a part one as well, just to keep it going, but in the end, it’s all worth it.

Whenever I feel like I have to get away my day to day routine I just go on a plane aggregator website as Momondo and I look for my escape ticket, often I search for the route to the Big Apple just to fantasize how it could be, maybe someday I will have the courage to relive it, but until then the bucket list with destinations is set and ready.

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It’s been 8 years since the New York moment, yet it was the awakening that I always desired, the moment I finally knew what I want in life, the time where everything fell into the place it has to be and I knew that I am no longer lost. Probably the only time in my life when I was certain of something, my moment is frozen in time where a girl with big blue eyes and blond hair looked up the tall buildings and realized what she has to do in life to be happy.

How about you, when was the moment you realized you were a traveler at heart?

This is an article for Open World Travelers Ambassador Program @momondo. #owtravelers #admomondo

 

Bucketlist for Traveling Experiences

As I returned a few days ago from my trip to Prague, I thought about the travel experiences that I have on my to-do list for the upcoming years. If until now I wanted to see as much as possible from the globe no matter the country, now I want the unique experiences that are present only in certain places.

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When you want to travel as much as you can, there are certain limitations that you need to overcome, the most common one is the budget. Since we all have to pay rent and eat, traveling has to come second. This is the reason I am sometimes traveling to my second best destinations where I found a good deal on the plane tickets or a direct flight from my home town or a great price for the accommodation. But I do have a list of experiences that I wanted to have once in a lifetime and I try to get at least one done each year. For 2019 that experience will be visiting Egypt and doing scuba-diving in the Red Sea, in 2018 was visiting an exotic country like Thailand, seeing the temples and eating Thai food, in 2017 it was visiting Disneyland Paris and so on.

So the following items are on my list for the years to come, hopefully, I can include more than one in a year, so fingers crossed for 2020. Photo credit to Pixabay.

1.  Zanzibar’s blue water and lunch at The Rock, Zanzibar

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2. Fly with the hot air balloon over Cappadocia, Turkey

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3. See the aurora borealis, Iceland

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4. Ride a pink vintage car on the streets of Havana, Cuba

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5. See the cherries blooming in Osaka, Japan

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6. See a cabaret show at Moulin Rouge in Paris, France

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7. Scuba-diving in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

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8. The Great Balinese Temples, Indonesia

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9. Go on a cruise in the Caribbean Sea

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10. Safari in Africa to see the animals where they belong (in the wild)

11. See the lemurs in Madagascar, Madagascar

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12. Take a bath in an infinity pool overlooking Singapore, Singapore

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13. Walk on The Great Wall of China, China

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14. See the Great Canyon, US

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15. Party on the streets of New Orleans, US

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16. Hike to Machu Picchu, Peru

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17. Watch the sunset in Santorini, Greece

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18. The Great Temple of Petra, Jordan

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19. Walk the streets of Marrakech, Morocco

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20. Sunbathing on the flamingo beach, Aruba

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I didn’t include the items that are already planned for this year, also, I skipped the countries that I would love to do a city break just to see the capitals or the landscapes, here I would include Lisabona, Madeira, Tenerife, Moscova, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, and many others.

Even though I know this list will change every year, I have to say that there are certain items that we should all try to do once in a lifetime. For me, it’s the ones stated on the list above, what are yours?

 

 

Traveling: Unlocking Copenhagen and Malmo

The Scandinavian area was on my list for quite a while, therefore you can imagine my joy when I saw a great deal for the plane tickets in March. Since the direct flight was to Malmo, 42km away from Copenhagen, I got to catch 2 rabbits in one hit, Sweden and Denmark in a short city-break.

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The flight was at a bargain price of 35 euros for 2 round trips with WizzAir. The prices for the hotels can be very high in the northern part of Europe, so I choose the Airbnb option with private rooms. One of the main benefits of this was the fact that I got to see how the local people leave, how their apartment looks and bonus, save a lot of money. For one night in Malmo and 2 in Copenhagen, I paid around 130 euros for 2 people, furthermore in Malmo, our host offered us breakfast and coffee. So what more to ask for?

 

The public transport is very well organized so there is no need to rent a car, unfortunately, most of the time we had to ask for guidance since not everything is intuitive. Also, if you plan on visiting Malmo, make sure to buy the bus tickets prior to getting on the bus, there is no option of buying from the driver. If you are also traveling from Malmo to Copenhagen and back, buy the return train ticket from Malmo since it will be cheaper. Traveling from one place to another is done by train, they come by Malmo Central every 15-30 minutes and the ride takes around 1h.

Both countries have their own currency and it can be hard to differentiate them, but you can use your credit/debit card everywhere, furthermore many places accept only payment by card, so make sure to bring one.

The favorite way of transport is by bicycles, so if you are also a fan, you can rent one. Just make sure the weather is on your side. In March, for me, it was pretty cold and the wind makes the real feel even worst, appropriate clothing is a must.

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Both Malmo and Copenhagen have a great architecture with old buildings and canals, so wandering on the streets of the city is a feast for the eyes. Both places have a lot of great places for coffee and food, from the mini-burgers I had on the Malmo Central to the amazing fish I had on the Nyhavn, everything was tasty and fresh. A recommendation that I got from my BFF in Amsterdam, was the cheesecake from Bertel’s Cheesecake Salon from Denmark side, probably the best cheesecake I ever had. If you are also, gourmand there is no better place for you!

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Speaking of places to check in Copenhagen, the ones that I had on my list were:

  • The Little Mermaid statue
  • Nyhavn – this is the place where you will shot the wallpaper pictures
  • Rosenborg Castle and the park around it
  • The Round Tower – great view of the city from above
  • Christanbor palace
  • Christiana park – keep an open mind about this one, since it will be a place with no rules

 

For Malmo, I cannot say that I had a list of items to check, I wandered around the streets and went to the port for a few minutes( the wind was too strong).

 

Both countries are rated among the first when it comes to the standard of living and just looking at the people that live there you can understand why. The overall atmosphere is a relaxed one and the citizens are clearly enjoying the moment. I cannot say that I will ever be able to get past the cold weather, but I do recommend visiting Scandinavia at least once in a lifetime.

Solo Traveling: Why You Should Do It At Least Once!

As a woman, I am very happy to see a change in the old-fashioned mindset that says we are not made to do things on our own like men do it. We are very much capable of taking care of ourselves, so why not travel alone?

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If seeing a man traveling alone is not strange or out of the ordinary, the same cannot be said about a woman who is doing this, but the millennial generation might be the one to finally break the pattern and show the world women can be solo travelers and can be even more successful than man are. So why don’t we see the number go sky-high? Is it more dangerous for us? Or are we just too afraid to go out of our comfort zone? My money is on the last one.

When I first started working, I received a project that required me to move to The Netherlands for 3 months. All my friends and colleagues keep on asking me if I wasn’t afraid and if I was comfortable with being alone for such a long period. Truth being said, I was terrified by the fact that I would be all alone in a foreign place and not speak Dutch, yet I kept on reassuring everyone that I will be OK. In the end, it was the best thing that could happen to me, because I got the chance to learn so many things about myself.  I became the self-independent woman that I always dreamed of being, I had enough time to rethink all my life, attitude and plans and it also gave me the confidence to do everything on my own.

In the time spent in Rotterdam I got to eat alone in a restaurant and not feel bad about it, read in the park or in a coffee shop, write in a coffee shop, visit a new city on my own, drive in a different country, go shopping alone, meet new people and have small talk. I learned that I don’t need someone else to survive and that I will always have me to count on. The experience started out as a terrifying one, with me being afraid to leave the hotel room, taking the wrong subway and eating only from the supermarket, but ended up with a new me, a more confident and happy version of myself.

I will not lie to you and say that I would like to have more experiences like this, I love to travel with my partner and my friends, but I am not afraid of doing this on my own either. It is this type of experience that teaches you what are your strengths and reassures you that you are able to take care of yourself, you don’t depend on anyone to survive.

Clearly if you decide on doing this make sure you travel in a safe manner, it doesn’t matter if you are a woman or a man, you should always make sure you take all the necessary measures to travel risk-free. Also, make sure you oblige the countries rules, there might be places whereas a woman you must be accompanied by a man all the time, so plan ahead.

As kids, we are told so many lies and we learn to accept them as general things without questioning. Women are not weak and don’t need Prince Charming to save them from the big and mean the world, they are very much capable of taking care of themselves. Having the experience to travel alone should be on everyone’s bucket list since it will teach a valuable lesson, that you have all it takes to be independent so embrace the challenge and book the trip, you will definitely not regret it.

Book Review: A World Worth Seeing by Brian Nelson

How to better start autumn than with a traveler’s journal? If you ever wondered what it would be to quit your job and go see the world, then you found exactly the book you were looking for!

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A World Worth Seeing is the type of book that will make you want to get on a plane to your dream destination and never return to your mundane living. It might sound idyllic, but as the author is describing easier than it sounds. Narrated in a friendly manner you will be taken on a journey across the globe, with personal notes on each visited destination and photos of the iconic attractions. Even if you are among those who didn’t think traveling is for them, you might experience a change of heart just as you turn the last page.

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In the first chapter you will learn more about Brian’s life and how he ended up making the decision to leave America and go see the world, along with some very important information related to traveling, from visas to safety measures, costs, languages, weather and ways of sustaining yourself when you are abroad and you have to work for your next meal. You will also find tips and tricks for different parts of the world, like never getting your passport stamped in Israel since you will be denied entering other Muslim countries, or the type of vaccines you need to have before traveling to Africa, or even where to exchange money so that you get the best rate in Myanmar. Answers to questions you didn’t even know you have to ask are present in this first chapter entitled Vacation 101.

The next 5 chapters will be divided by each continent and contain the itinerary Brian took to check all major attractions from North and South America, Australia and the Pacific Islands, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East and Africa. I have to say that I would have loved for him to go a little bit deeper with the description of each place he visited, but given the huge amount of cities that would have to take us a while to be able to finish reading.

As I read about places that I also checked I smiled and saw them once again but this time from a different perspective and part of an itinerary. Small dots on a map that are holding so many memories, some that happened and some that are waiting to happen. Creating a map is not always easy, neither is knowing what to expect when you get there, so reading about the alternatives are always welcome. I love the fact that now I have a roadmap of all the countries from each continent, not to mention inside information about locations that are not so easy to reach, for example North Korea, Venezuela, Columbia, Cambodia or Kenya, places that I never thought I would be interested in, are now part of my “master plan” as well.

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Travelling the world is on the bucket list of many of us, unfortunately not all have the courage to give it all up and live the dream, some of us are still influenced by the media and never get to leave their home country because “it is not safe out there”, failing to see that the danger is leaving inside their own mind. Reading the adventure of a traveler that is not doing this for the media, or to get money from advertising, is the best feedback about the world you can get, to see each country through his eyes makes you realize how lucky you are to be borne on a place like Earth. As the author finishes his book you are warned: “World travel can be addictive“, but this type of drug is exactly what we need to feel alive.