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Category Archives:Destinations

5 unexpected highlights of visiting Las Vegas for the 4th time

I went to Las Vegas for the first time in 2011. It was me with a couple of buddies who were young and on a road trip around California. I visited a few weeks later without them as part of a 2-day tour from LA to the Grand Canyon. I then visited for a third time in 2014 with my wife. And late last year we found ourselves back in the States and made our way back to Vegas to catch up with some of the same friends as visit 1, plus a few extras.

Suffice to say I love Vegas. The energy and grandeur is like no place on earth. The night sky lights up with scale replicas of some of the world’s best-known attractions. And you can carry beers from one casino to the next as you seek out new places to play cards.

Everything about it is brilliant.

This most recent time in 2016, I was able to explore a little more than I had before because a) I’d done a lot of the common Vegas attractions before, and b) because I had 4 days there instead of 2. Here are some of the highlights from my most recent trip that made it all the more memorable.

Eiffel Tower Experience

The cornerstone of the Paris Hotel and Casino, the one-third scale Eiffel Tower replica dominates the Las Vegas Strip. By day it stands boldly, towering over the Bellagio fountains and by night it lights up like a beacon, a perpetual reference point.

Las Vegas from the Eiffel Tower Experience Paris Hotel and Casino-sm

I took the chance to actually go up the Eiffel Tower replica this time; I got some discounted tickets on Groupon. And while the view is a little different to that of the real thing, it is no less dramatic. We went up at night and were treated to an impressive vista of the entire strip – the Linq High Roller and beyond to the north, The Aria, the Luxor and more to the south.

However, the highlight of the Experience is being able to watch the Bellagio Fountains dance the night away with the best seat in the house every 10 minutes.

Discovering Downtown LV

Downtown Las Vegas is a completely different experience to the Las Vegas strip. The Strip is long and feels unbridled to the point of exhaustion (in a 100% good way). Downtown is contained mostly within the Fremont Street Experience: a comparatively short, covered street bounded by low-rise, historic casinos, live music, and the obligatory flashing lights on the ceiling and on every surface possible.

Fremont Street Experience Downtown Las Vegas

Just like the Strip, Fremont Street is great to wander. Grab a roadie from a convenience/souvenir store or sit down at a bar with a cheap margarita. My group chose – actually I’m not sure what casino we chose. But the margaritas were strong and cheap.

Make sure to visit the shark tank in the Golden Nugget and if you visit in summer, bring your swimmers to take a water slide through it. You can take a brewery tour at Banger Brewing, see a what a million dollars cash looks like at Binions Casino, or enjoy some of Vegas’ best pizza and craft beer menu at Pizza Rock.

Finding Craft beer in CVS

While this may only be special to beer lovers from Australia, being able to not just buy beer, but excellent beer in a local pharmacy was something dreams are made of. Buying long necks of Lagunitas and Goose IPA was something of a novelty. Buying a big can of Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA and drinking it while walking down the street then inside another casinoa at midnight was something that is not just illegal, but impossible to do in Australia.

I recognise that this is not exclusive to Las Vegas within the USA, but the novelty was heightened by the magnitude that is Las Vegas.

Las vegas strip New York New York

Seeing the strip from the air

If you know anything about Las Vegas you will know that it was built from nothing, up out in the middle of the desert. It is near nothing and all electricity needs to be generated nearby, and water piped in from far away just so the extreme consumption of each casino and individual can be satisfied in the city.

Nothing exemplified this more than seeing the city from the sky. The whole region is flat and sandy, with the exception of Red Rock Canyon. Then there is a small section of odd-shaped high-rise buildings in the middle. It is truly something special to see and is equally spectacular in the day as it is at night.

Las Vegas Strip from the plane

I think it was so memorable for me because when you’re walking along the strip, you can usually only see a few casinos at any one time, and you feel dwarfed by them. You see exactly what the architects want you to see from the strip, and this is what most people see most of the time.

But in the air, you see it all. You can see the scale, and you can see the layout. You also get a sense of how trivial it is. I mean, I love Las Vegas, but it truly is excessive. From the air, it just looks so small.

Getting immersed in nature at Red Rock Canyon

I went to Vegas to enjoy the lights, the ridiculousness, and play some blackjack while drinking free beers – as usual. However, my highlight this time was indeed a day hiking out at Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock Canyon is a natural, rocky wonder just 30 minutes from Las Vegas Boulevard. Over 20 hiking trails of varying difficulty extend from the one-way ring road.

Red Rock Canyon summit

The hike my group chose was Calico Tanks and we couldn’t have selected better. It wasn’t a difficult hike and it took us through some incredibly vivid rock formations, winding its way through a canyon valley until finally reaching the end: a beautiful panorama of a flat Clark County with the Las Vegas Strip visible in the distance.

Have you been to Vegas? What was your favourite discovery or unexpected highlight?

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5 Days in Paris, a Highlights Tour On an Epic Budget

Palais du Luxembourg Paris France header

It’s not often that you get to sit at the foot of the Eiffel Tower and watch the sunset. When I started this journal entry in March 2010, that’s where I was. I arrived in the middle of the Champs de Mars at dusk, and before long, the whole structure just lit up.

I sat there in awe for quite some time and it took about 10 minutes for it to become real to me that I was really in Paris, looking at the Eiffel Tower. This was something I’d looked forward to seeing for a long time.

Eiffel Tower at Night

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St Kitts: Things to do on your cruise day ashore

st kitts form the cruise ship

Drenched in warm Caribbean sunlight and blanketed in picturesque mountains, St Kitt’s was one of the more impressive Caribbean islands I’ve seen. The terrain is quite flat around the capital of Basseterre before the mountains to the north push civilisation outward, forcing villages closer to the coast.

Interestingly, it was a stark difference between two ends of the island that espoused 2 very distinct personalities, almost as noticeable as on St Martin/Maarten.

North of Basseterre, where the cruise terminal is located, there are mostly rural towns, with dilapidated buildings, local establishments, and bumpy, narrow roads. But in the south, the terrain is flatter, the roads are newer, wider, and much more even. There are many larger hillside houses and of course, there is the gargantuan beachside Marriott Resort and Royal Golf Club. It is clear that money has flowed more so to one end than the other.

Along the ring road on St Kitts

We hired a car and did a full loop around the island starting and ending in Basseterre. The rental car was great to have, but I don’t think a full lap is necessary as there is not a lot to see once you get past the main sites on the west coast.

It takes around an hour and a half to do a full lap of the island without stops and if you don’t feel the need to see every bit of the road just to “say that you did it”, this is time you could be spending enjoying the weather on a beach instead of in a car wondering where else you could be stopping.

Romney Manor

The first major stop on the tourist circuit is Romney Manor, where the biggest claim to fame is that the great, great, great grandfather of Thomas Jefferson used to own it.

Big whoop.

I’ve never seen a more useless connection used to entice visitors to an attraction since, well, ever.

Romney Manor, St Kitts
Around the gardens of Romney Manor

The manor is pretty small and does not have much of a view. In one of the historic buildings there are a few locals doing batik demonstrations, where fabric is drawn on in patterns with wax, then dyed. It is actually a pretty impressive art, but the pieces and clothing are very expensive. It felt like the historical significance of the site was an overstated excuse to entice you in to buy some Indonesian artwork.

I also didn’t see an actual workshop and one of the managers said he goes to Indonesia (the birthplace of batik) very regularly. I wonder how much batik he brings back with him to sell in the gift shop…

Brimstone Hill Fortress

Despite the fact that zero presidents’ distant uncle’s cousin 4 times removed ever lived there, Brimstone Hill Fortress is the star attraction of St Kitt’s. It was a military fortress on a low hill that changed hands between the English and the French a number of times throughout history as they fought for control of the Caribbean.

View over St Kitts from Brimstone Hill Fortress
View over St Kitts from Brimstone Hill Fortress

The fort is blessed with impressive vistas over the entire west coast of the island. To say the view is spectacular is to understate it.

Signage is pretty poor throughout the facility so if history really fascinates you and you want to spend a solid amount of time there learning, get the audio guide.

Blackrocks

After this, the next stop was Blackrocks, which I think has been added to the tourist maps just to break up the loop for visitors when doing a lap. The rocks were formed out of lava from a volcano eruption and settled on the coast. There’s not a lot to see, just that on the coast is a bunch of black rocks.

Another hint that this was just for tourists is the handful of souvenir stalls set up with the obligatory palm tree shirts, caps and magnets for sale. Not that I am complaining at all, since I bought this sweet one with flamingos on it, and it is bloody awesome.

Blackrocks St Kitts
Yep, black rocks

There are also a few “pubs” there, or more accurately shacks with wooden signs with drink prices scrawled in paint. I learnt that if you’re paying more than $2 for a beer on St Kitt’s they’re overcharging you.

Completing the Loop

After this, we drove south until there was no more road, with one photo stop to appreciate the stunning view over the south-west peninsula at Sir Timothy’s Hill. For those that aren’t aware, Sir Timothy was a man who had a hill named after him on the Caribbean island of St Kitts.

View looking south from Sir Timothy's Hill St Kitts
View looking south
View looking north from Sir Timothy's Hill St Kitts
View looking north

Southwest we went until we hit Cockleshell Beach; a fairly narrow beach with deck chairs available for hire in front of any number of beach bars. There is plenty of parking and would be a great place to spend a day ashore if you didn’t want to do the full adventure like we did.

Watch: My enttire Caribbean cruise in 3 minutes:

South Frigate Bay

South Frigate Bay is not only fun to say, but it also touted as the best play to park yourself for drinking in the sun’s goodness. It is just a few bays around from the cruise terminal in Basseterre but being so close, means it’s also one of the busiest. But this can have its perks: there are plenty of water sports to entertain you, as well as no shortage of beach bars and restaurants to keep you adequately lubricated.

Everything I read before going ashore said South Frigate Bay was the place to be. My opinion is that Cockleshell Beach might be nicer in terms of sand quality and tranquility, but South Frigate Bay might be more fun, with a little help to the many beach bar shacks the line the very long beach. It depends on the type of day you’re after.

South Frigate Beach St Kitts
South Frigate Beach

Similar to most popular beaches in the Caribbean there are ample deck chairs available for hire, but if you’re happy to sit on the sand, I don’t see any reason you can’t sit anywhere you’d like.

The drive from Basseterre to Cockleshell Bay was actually one of my favourites of the whole Caribbean Cruise as it passed over Sir Timothy Hill, which not only gave incredible views of both St Kitt’s and Nevis, but the drive wound up and gave mountains, and around lakes, giving a new, spectacular view of the region around every corner.

Basseterre

Lastly, after dropping back the rental car we explored Basseterre on foot. Basseterre was lively and colourful and plenty busy – the roads seemed at capacity both in the morning and afternoon. This made driving slow and walking/pushing a stroller somewhat interesting/exciting, as it seemed like you were dodging traffic every second step.

Broken Fountain at Independence Square Basseterre St Kitts
Broken Fountain at Independence Square, Basseterre

The Circus, which takes top spot in most tourist guides was as mundane as I expected it to be, but Independence Park gave a nice break from the relative chaos of the rest of the streets. Plus, on its border is Immaculate Conception Catholic School, housed in a very impressive stone church with some obvious British and French influence from the 18th Century.

The Circus, Basseterre St Kitts

Scenic Railway

One option for cruise days is to do the scenic railway, which takes you on a journey through sugar cane and small towns. We opted not to do the scenic railway because it seemed like a really expensive way to get sloshed on rum punch and see a lot of sugar cane.

I honestly can’t comment on how good it is as an attraction, but based on the reviews I read it seemed like something you would either love or hate. We chose not to risk it and just drive ourselves and I’m glad we did.

Are you heading to St Kitts on a cruise soon? How do you plan on spending your day?

Village and mountains on St Kitts

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South Frigate beach, one of many things to do on your cruise day ashore.Things to do in St Kitts. How to spend your cruise day ashore.


Anzac Day in Gallipoli: Why every Australian Should Make the Journey

This story actually begins the week before my trip to Gallipoli, at the tail end of a whirlwind 4-week tour of Europe in Spring 2010. This very trip culminated in my being stranded in Brussels then Amsterdam the week prior due to a volcano eruption, and it left me wondering if I was going to make my flight from London to Istanbul for the Anzac Day Service in Gallipoli, Turkey.

Spoiler alert: I did make it, but only by a whisper.

I was living in Leeds, England at the time and I eventually got in on Thursday night and I went straight to the pub (The Eldon) to meet my friends I hadn’t seen in a couple of weeks. On Friday I unpacked, went to class, repacked, back to The Eldon, then caught a train back down to London from Leeds at 8:40 pm, arriving at 12:30 am for out 6:30 flight. The things you do as a poor student!

Beautiful buildings along the Bosphorus

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10 ways to get off the beaten track

There is an ever-present, yet largely unspoken discussion that goes on with travellers. It’s the traveller vs. tourist mentality where a tourist is there to tick a box, read the guide book and follow other tourists, and the traveller is more up for adventurous, serendipitous experiences.

While these two types of people definitely exist, I think it’s a little pretentious to think one is better than the other (and I’m definitely talking to past me in this instance). Different people are just up for different types of experiences. Regardless, if you want to get away from the crowds and create your own unique experiences, let these ideas inspire your creativity. Continue Reading

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