There are two types of people in this world – those who like Las Vegas and those who dislike it. Therefore, for anyone who is going to Vegas for the first time, the trip is nothing else but a gamble. Here are some misconceptions about the Sin City, which I realized after my first visit in November.

  1. Las Vegas is warm all year around. The city might be in a desert, but temperatures can drop to single digits in winter months.
  2. Cigarette smoke in casinos makes one’s eyes red and watery. While this may hold some truth, dry air in the region can also cause watery eyes, skin peeling, and nose bleeds.
  3. The Strip is not walkable because casino resorts are huge. Many casino hotels span several city blocks, but the Strip can easily be explored on foot. The best is to break the visit, and explore the Northern Strip on one day, and the Southern Strip on the second day.

    Las Vegas Strip

    Las Vegas Strip

  4. It does not matter where one stays for as long as it is on the Strip. There is some truth to this statement; proximity to the Strip allows for a lot of convenience. However,  not all hotels are the same, and the accommodation cost dictates offered comfort, ambience, quality and service. For example, the scent in each hotel may span from the smell of stinky feet or of burned grease to sweet vanilla scent.
  5. White lion and tiger cubs at Mirage Casino Resort must be seen. Upon the retirement from showbussiness, Siefried and Roy created a secret garden at Mirage where they host their animals. At first this tourist attraction sounded appealing, but after visiting it, all I wanted to do is escape it. Many if not all these animals look malnourished, unhappy and some toothless. After seeing lions roam majestically in African high grass, the scene of a toothless lion at Mirage broke my heart. Although I met Siegfried in the Secret Garden, I did not have enough voice to raise my concerns about these animals. Furthermore, I do not think that it would have mattered. After all, by visiting the garden and paying the entrance fee I did somewhat endorse this tourist attraction unfortunately.
  6. Bus tour of Grand Canyon is exhausting. Grand Canyon can be visited in a day, and although sitting in a bus for approximately five hours each way may sound tiring, the journey is so well-organized that time passes by quickly. After seeing majestic vistas of Grand Canyon, any effort to get there will be worth it! Bare in mind that in winter months, some ice and snow might be found in the canyon. Therefore, a proper hiking shoes might be needed to explore the area for a couple of hours.


    Grand Canyon, Arizona

  7. Food is overpriced. Food is more expensive on the Strip than just a few blocks away from it, but buffets, which is something that Vegas is known for, are relatively affordable.
  8. Guys always pay to get into clubs. Dress to impress when you go for an evening stroll, and you may score a free entrance into a club from a promoter on the Strip. In addition, clubs that also have restaurants, such as Hakkasan, offer to its dining guest a VIP entrance into the club but the club admission still has to be paid.

    DJ Calvin Harris at Hakkasan, Las Vegas

    DJ Calvin Harris at Hakkasan, Las Vegas

  9. Slots are the easiest way to win money. As much as slots may seem fun and “harmless”, they actually have the lowest return on gambling. Furthermore, they might be the quickest way to lose money without noticing!

    Casino on Fremont Street, Las Vegas

    Casino on Fremont Street, Las Vegas

  10. Vegas is just not that fabulous. Las Vegas is what one makes out of it. Fine dinning, spectacular shows, luxurious shopping, and memorable clubbing with world-renowned DJs definitely add to the city’s fabulousness, offering something for all generations.

    Celine Dion at the Colosseum (courtesy of C.J.)

    Celine Dion at the Colosseum, Caesar’s Palace (courtesy of C.J.)


New York City View from Brooklyn Bridge

New York City View from Brooklyn Bridge

This summer I ventured off to New York City for an extended weekend.  While I did all typical things one does when in NYC (eat, shop, stroll along avenues, and go to theater), one thing distinguished this trip from so many others. I noticed the change in customer service.

I do not know what happened, but the days of f*ck off attitude are gone amongst New Yorkers. While waiting for a shop assistant to find the right denim wash that I was looking for, I was treated with tentative care, making sure that I don’t dehydrate on a hot summer day. On a Saturday night, my friends and I walked into one of the hottest restaurants in Meatpacking District without a dinner reservation. Although fully booked, the restaurant staff made sure that we were accommodated. Whether the reason for these customer experiences was me or the chance, I was impressed. So well done New York!

Oh and if you wonder who has better Peking duck – Tao restaurant or Buddakan, the answer is Buddakah! For the stunning décor and service both places should be on the list of upscale Asian restaurants to visit in the city.

I’ve been pondering for a while how to describe Mexico City and the time that I spent over there. But all tourist sites and experiences are overshadowed by people who surrounded me for those four days. Many have expressed safety concerns about this city of 21 million inhabitants, yet once in it, one understands that there is nothing to worry about. This is a hidden gem of North America full of energy, great food and friendly people; a place with most museums in the world and greenery that engulfs urban development. As to me, the city is nothing else but 5 things: happiness, friendship, chaos, traffic, and unforgettable times.

What happened in the next 12 hours following the news of leopard sighting deserves a blog entry on its own. It was National Geographic worth material, and the experience that defined awesomeness of my safari trip.

12 hours of leopard’s life in Sabi Sands

In the late afternoon, a male leopard was taking a nap hidden in the tall savannah grass before heading for a stroll, marking his territory, and coming to a clearing to look for a prey. His meticulously planned hunt went well into the night until he interrupted our dinner. Around 9.30 pm as we sat down around the lodge fire, our guide started shouting at us to jump back onto the truck and head into the bush because killing sounds were heard. Not even 100 m from our camp, same leopard that we spotted earlier today, was dragging a baby deer. Grabbing the deer by its neck, he dug his claws deep into the tree bark, and in few jumps, climbed up, securing the prey on the branches right above me. Deer’s urine and blood started dripping right in front of us while ripped deer’s hair flew in the air like fluffy feathers. The leopard moved from the deer’s neck to buttocks, and the feast finally began. So there I was – in the deepest part of Africa and away from civilization – witnessing something that only a few get to see. At this point there were only two sounds that I could hear – crickets in the distance, and leopard’s teeth ripping deer’s flesh, fiber by fiber. As grotesque as it sounds, it was one of the most beautiful things one could experience and the act of nature at its finest. Mesmerized with the view, we all watched the leopard eat for over 40 min. before heading back to the camp to have our dinner. 

Many say that an African safari is one of the lifetime experiences. But once you experience it, you realise how addictive it becomes, and how one safari is not enough. After visiting Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands, I want to experience this continent so much more. I want to go to Namibia where red desert sand dunes collide with the Atlantic and where lions roam on the beaches, to Botswana where hippos and crocodiles fill up river banks, and to Tanzania where thousands of wildebeest and zebras create stampedes that are earth shattering.

Two weeks in South Africa overwhelmed me with beauty, and very often I had to take a moment to grasp where I actually was and what I was seeing. My business venture was unsuccessful, but at the end of the trip, this mattered the least because of everything else, expected and unexpected, that I experienced. As much as I want others to witness natural beauty of this country, that much I want to keep it only for myself, as a well-known public secret.

African Penguins on Boulders Beach, Simonstown

African Penguins on Boulders Beach, Simonstown

Nowhere else in the world did a leopard interrupt my dinner because he caught his too. Nowhere else in the world did I get stuck between lions and jeopardized being late for my flight. Nowhere else in the world did I have a chance to swim with penguins, or walk on the beaches surrounded with ostriches. Nowhere else in the world sky is so vast, unobstructed, animated and enigmatic. Nowhere else but in Africa.

God's Window, Mpumalanga, South Africa

Above the Clouds in God’s Window, Mpumalanga, South Africa

To go on a safari is a lifetime opportunity. But when the opportunity appears, the reality also kicks in. Why is it so expensive? Which game reserve to choose? How to get there?

Giraffe and Its Reflection in a Water Hole, Sabi Sands

Giraffe and Its Reflection in Sabi Sands, South Africa

“It’s a walking zoo! Why would you spend so much money on it?”, said my friend and declined to go on a safari with me. For months, I debated and researched whether to do one. Finally I decided that I shall go big or go home. To fly for 30 hours and not to experience the true Africa, the one that I as a kid watched on Discovery channel was not an option. So I went, crossing the country all the way to the border with Zimbabwe and Mozambique, to Sabi Sands game reserve.

There where three requirements that had to be fulfilled in my mind: I wanted to see the big five in natural setting where they roam freely, I wanted to stay as close to them as possible – hence, in the bush, and I wanted to see leopards. The former one was the most challenging requirement because leopards are masters of disguise and could be seen only when they allow to. However, for some reason leopards love Sabi Sands, which turns to have the greatest concentration of them. Without a doubt this was the place where I had to be!

Following South African plantations of oranges, bananas and olives, behind the mountains of evergreen trees, lies the wilderness disconnected from the civilization with an electrical fence. This is the place where nature sets the rules and men oblige to them if they do not want to be hurt or in the worst case eaten. Little did I know that after three days of staying in the bush, my life will never be the same again.

Zebras on Termite Nest in Sabi Sands, South Africa

Zebras on Termite Mound in Sabi Sands, South Africa

What really changed is my appreciation of nature and my understanding of human vulnerability. National parks are the last pieces of wilderness where human involvement is forbidden; where African elephant dies from starvation after loosing its sixth and last set of molar teeth and where the lion leading it’s pride will kill all cubs that are not his in order to secure his hereditary line. This truly is the survival of the fittest. For the first time ever I also felt vulnerable but in an odd way.

The night before flying over to Johannesburg to embark on the journey to Sabi Sands, I ate a kebab that consisted of ostrich, impala, kudu, and wildebeast meat. 24 hours later I saw those animals in the natural setting, and realized that I would have to turn vegetarian because I would not know how to kill these huge and rather vicious beasts.

The safari was everything and so much more. It is an unpredictable game where one roams at dawn and dusk looking for animals in the waste land that is occasionally disrupted with an acacia or marula tree and an elephant right below it. Yet after 1.5 days of looking for big cats, I got impatient. I stopped caring for zebras, elephants and giraffes. What I wanted were lions and leopards that were hidding somewhere in high savannah grass, but there was no sign of any.

Elephant under a Tree in Sabi Sands, South Africa

Elephant Under a Tree in Sabi Sands, South Africa

After series of false baboon alarms on a potential preditor sighting, our fortune finally turned around. Our tracker received a call that a leopard was spotted, and we sped to the location in what was described by everyone as Ferrari safari. My last wish of what to expect from a safari was about to come true.

A childhood memory relived in my mind as I was waiting to be seen by a travel consultant in order to receive a series of vaccines. One summer while vacationing at my grandparents, I came across an old, dusty book. The book probably belonged either to my mother or her sisters when they were just a few years older than I was at the time. In Desert and Wilderness by Polish Nobel Award winner Sienkiewicz tells a story about the journey of two teenagers along the Nile River, from Cairo to Khartoum. The story and the strong mouldy paper scent of the novel revived my memory as I was getting ready for the trip to South Africa. African continent has been for me one of the most mystical, exotic places on earth, and I was about to travel to the most southern tip of it.

Cape of Good Hope, the Most South-Eastern Point of the African Continent

Cape of Good Hope, the Most South-Eastern Point of the African Continent

The trip to South Africa was suggested to me by a friend, a chef from London, who was impressed with Cape Town on his first visit and who also wanted to establish a food export-import venture between Cape Town and London. This is where my role lied. I was to become a business partner and a travel companion. It did not hit me until I arrived to the airport, that I was not only bound into unknown but that I also had to travel 1.5 days to get to Cape Town. Too little, too late

Cape Town from Lion's Head

Cape Town from Lion’s Head, South Africa

Set between mountains and Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town reminded me of Rio de Janeiro where buildings perk from the edges of rainforest. Far from the stereotypical image of African cities, “Mother City” thrives, and the amount of wealth is evident. From Ferrari and Louis Vuitton shops to tin houses in townships at the outskirts of the city, the socioeconomic differences are evident. Despite the economic disparity, never for a moment did I feel unsafe. Had I gone to Johannesburg, things would have probably been very different.

St. George's Cathedral, Cape Town

St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town

Town Hall, Cape Town

Town Hall, Cape Town

What shocked me the most was the racial and social inequality that still prevails in South Africa, two decades after the end of apartheid. People are still proudly segregating themselves into white, coloured and black, and biracial relationships are not fully accepted. Despite the freedom of movement, only black people serve one in restaurants, and many Afrikaans, people of Dutch descent, still see themselves as superior – not only towards other fellow countrymen but also towards tourists like me.

One of Many Apartheid Signs

One of Many Apartheid Signs, District 6 Museum, Cape Town

Photograph in District 6 Museum

Photograph in District 6 Museum, Cape Town

District 6 Museum tells the story of apartheid through a neighbourhood in Cape Town where in the matter of days blacks and other races were forcefully trans positioned to the outskirts of the city where they were segregated by colour. Homes and businesses were left behind and demolished by bulldozers to build a community for white South Africans. To see all of this was mind-blowing. As the civil movement strengthened in America, human rights in Africa diminished. To further illustrate the racial importance during apartheid, a Japanese fisherman boat full of tuna sank close to Robben Island; it was tuna that got saved first and then the fishermen.

Tutu & Tutu

Tutu & Tutu at V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Barbed Wired Fence on Robben Island, Cape Town

Barbed Wired Fence on Robben Island, Cape Town

Robben Island was the place were most activists were imprisoned and although one would think that this is a must tourist attraction, the visit turned to be a huge disappointment. Former inmates guide one through the prison yet none of them is willing to share personal stories about their stay or answer any personal questions; information is simply regurgitated en mass. Reliving unpleasant moments in life is not something that anyone wants to do, but I wonder whether this is a personal choice or yet another rule imposed on these men following their freedom. The tour brisked through the hallway and by the prison cell where Nelson Mandela was kept just before his release. But Mandela’s cell looked exactly as any other cell, and nothing has commemorated his former presence or assured one that this is the cell where he spent last days on Robben Island.

Table Mountain from My Apartment

Table Mountain from My Apartment

Each morning I woke up to the view of Table Mountain, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and each time the mountain enchanted me with its formation and clouds gliding across the summit as a huge waterfall that evaporated before it ever touched the ground. The vistas all around the city and Cape Peninsula are nothing short of breathtaking. Had I put aside a dollar each time I said “wow” spontaneously, I would have paid off my holiday. Therefore, it was a natural beauty that dragged me out to walk along the beaches where the Atlantic is cold, stormy and shark infested, to cling onto rocks, hooks and chains as I climbed to the summit of Lion’s Head hill, to bike through the Table Mountain National Park and to stay in the bush surrounded by wilderness, which deserves a blog entry on its own.

Hout Bay & Chapman's Peak

Hout Bay & Chapman’s Peak, South Africa

The View


Is the view from the Shard, the tallest building in the European Union, worth an admission fee of whopping 30 pounds (nearly $60)? You be the judge of it, and let me know.