Escape of the Week: Downtown Las Vegas

Downtown Las Vegas has always held a special place in my heart.

I remember the first time I ever went to Vegas, fresh off of my ninth grade year in high school. My father drove us down past Fremont Street and the glittering lights and seeing Vegas Vic welcoming visitors to town with an arm raised. Instantly, I was mesmerized.

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

Then, when I moved to Vegas in 2005, and learn more about the history, particularly of the mob and the town’s earlier days, I became fascinated imagining what my experience in the southwestern town would have been 40 years earlier.

In the years I lived in Vegas, I watched the downtown area be reborn. I watched as the Arts District 18b laid its roots, as local hot spots were born, as the city cleaned up its act and began to embrace the area for what it could be — a burgeoning place for businesses, locals and tourists to all share space.

With Zappos moving in to the old City Hall this month, and my stop there, I noticed a huge change from my last visit: Downtown Las Vegas is alive and oh-so vibrant.

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

There is something so old-school about heading to Fremont Street and seeing the glittering lights beckoning people into the casinos … the ringing of the slots as the machines “dispense” coins.

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

The in-your-face marketing of one of Vegas’ biggest sells: getting wasted …

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

And the neighborhood charm of Fremont East and all of its groovy bars and restaurants (you can read about some of my recommendations here) which have popped up in the past decade.

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

In fact, some of my best memories of my life in Vegas center around Downtown and the amazing and beautiful memories created there.

A look at Downtown Las Vegas

Getting there:

From the infamous Las Vegas Strip, simply hop in a cab or bus and head north on Las Vegas Blvd. to downtown. It is a straight shot. If you want to avoid the congestion of The Strip, hop onto I-15 North and exit at either Charleston Blvd. (to check out the awesome arts scene), or take 95 towards downtown and exit at Casino Center. My favorite spots are Fremont East, which is home to Beauty Bar, The Griffin, La Comida, Park on Fremont and other hopping bars and restaurants. Don’t miss Gold Spike. A former casino, today it’s got a sweet bar and fabulous outdoor patio with corn hole and more. To experience Old Vegas, check out the Fremont Street Experience and the casinos there.

What’s your best Vegas experience?


Americas Destinations Nevada

Daily Wanderlust: Bullets and Bosnia

From memorials like the one in Berlin to museums in Rwanda to simply a pock-marked building telling the tales of those who were silenced … images like these haunt my mind.

In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the remnants of war can be found in many places. Even in the heart of Sarajevo, there are stories to be told from the war … a shuttered national library … roses marking where people were killed … and bullet-riddled buildings.

This photo was snapped just outside of the Sarajevo airport near the Tunnel Museum which, during the war, served as a place for those fighting for the city to go underground and move supplies.

Bullet riddled building in Sarajoev


Daily Wanderlust: The White House Squirrel

Growing up in Maryland, my dad always made it a point to take my brother and me on “adventures.” These could be anything from sitting at the Metro station on a bench and watching the planes take off from National Airport to checking out all of the museums, to walking down the Potomac when the cherry blossoms were pink and snowing down on us.

As a child, he even took us on a tour of The White House and Senate, where we got to take the underground train to a special dining room where all of the Congress people eat.

It was really cool growing up in place that was in such close proximity to the nation’s capital.

When I returned to Maryland after my road trip through Zion, the Rocky Mountains, Omaha, Chicago and Louisville, taking Erica to see DC was a must.

On this day, we parked it outside the iron fence and looked onto the grounds of The White House. Here, this little guy enjoys a snack on one of the most famous lawns in the world. Hello, photobomb.

A squirrel photobombs the White House lawn


The charm and quirk of Louisville, Kentucky

“Louisville is so cute!” I coo to Erica as we drive through the giant, tree-lined streets. “It reminds me of Atlanta!”

While totally out of the way on our road trip, I included Louisville on the route for two reasons: one, because one of my good friends live there; and two, because it was a place I had considered living when I returned from my long-term travel. Of course, Las Vegas won out, but it was the only other place I wanted to go. Even without seeing it first.

Aside from visiting Churchill Downs, seeing the city through the eyes of a local is something both Erica and I want to do. Thankfully, my friend Karen and her fiancé volunteer to take us on a little exploration of the city.

We head to West Main Street to explore the quaint and charming city.

A street in Downtown Louisville, Kentucky

A piece of street are in Louisville, Kentucky

Another photo of Downtown Louisville, Kentucky

Located on Main Street is the Louisville Slugger Museum. With record attendance two-years in a row, today there is a crowd of people outside. Inside, they will learn about the history of the museum, as well as tour the factory and more.

The entrance to the Louisville Slugger Museum

A stack of bats on display inside the Louisville Slugger Museum

The machines to make bats inside the Louisville Slugger Museum

Just outside the museum is the World’s Largest Baseball Bat — a must for photos.

The World's Largest Bat, Louisville Slugger, in Louisville, Kentucky

And then, there is the quirk. Erected in May 2012 in front of the popular 21 C Museum Hotel, this Statue of David is a replica of the infamous Italian one. Standing at 30-feet tall, the enormous gold figure is not easy to miss.

The Statue of David in Louisville, Kentucky

Another perspective of the Louisville, Kentucky's Statue of David

A look from the back at Louisville, Kentucky's Statue of David

My favorite part of Louisville, though, it what lays outside of the main streets — the homes. Gorgeous, palatial homes dripping in Southern charm can be found here, complete with front porches to take in the summer nights.

A home in Louisville, Kentucy

Have you visited Louisville? What were your favorite spots?

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of the #winosontheroad series. Over Yonderlust and d travels ’round went road tripping and exploring America from Colorado to Maryland in June 2012. Be sure to check out all of the posts of life on the open road.

Americas Blog Kentucky

Daily Wanderlust: the DC Metro

Travel was instilled in me at a very young age. Growing up 20 minutes from Washington, DC, meant there was always something to do, always something to see.

I was very fortunate to have a family that wanted me to see the world around me.

On weekends, my dad would bundle up my brother and I and we’d head out on Adventures. These could be anything from taking the Metro down to the National Mall (a landmark I learned very quickly was not a shopping mall, but a vast expanse of land in the heart of the nation’s capitol) to sitting on the Metro platform watching planes take off from National (now Regan) Airport.

All of these adventures have one thing in common: we always took the Metro. Whether or not we were going to a national museum, to gaze at the cherry blossoms in April along the tidal basin of the Potomac, or simply to go to Union Station to see a movie, this mass transit option always makes me smile.



Up-close with elephants: a photo essay of life with a herd

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

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Thick, leathery gray legs covered with a layer of thick, wet, chocolate-colored dirt, surround me.

At first, I am apprehensive.

On all sides of me are six-ton elephants. Capable of plowing me over.

I look over to Lek, the founder of Elephant Nature Park, with my eyebrows raised.

We’ve learned we’re not supposed to be in the path of these giants, and here I am. Not only keeping step with them, but flanked by them.

“It’s OK, it’s OK,” Lek assures Pam and I as we keep our eyes fixed on the animals around us. “We are a part of the herd right now. They won’t hurt us.”

In normal, volunteer park life, we are not part of the herd. But, this afternoon is special. Lek has invited Pam and I to walk with her through the elephant’s habitat, an experience most don’t have while here.

We’re shadowing Lek as she makes her afternoon rounds with the main elephant families. Two babies, loads of aunties, nanas and moms.

The afternoon happened on a whim.

“Do you want to come with me on my walk?” Lek asks Pam and me following a presentation she has given to our group about the atrocities of training elephants to pain. The two of us have hung back, discussing our frustrations with the tourists down the road riding elephants as we speak and trying to figure out how we can help educate visitors to Thailand set on enjoying these magnificent creatures.

I look at Pam and our eyes light up.

How in the world could we ever say no to such an opportunity to walk the park with Lek?

My mind drifts back to the first time I saw Lek, earlier in the week.

Under a thin mist of rain, she had walked out into the field and kept step with the Faa Mai, the pudgy baby elephant she’s bonded with.

The two look like an odd-coupling, but behave like old friends out for an afternoon stroll.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

Lek and Faa Mai, the first baby to be born from the Elephant Nature Park herd.

Lek walks with her hands on her hips, dwarfed by the baby, who reaches around to touch her with her trunk.

Today, I get to witness the beauty of Lek’s friendship with these elephants first-hand.

As we begin our journey into the elephant’s habitat, we’re trailed by about 10 dogs who are Lek’s shadows. It’s clear — these adopted dogs love Lek as much as the elephants love her. I follow after Lek the same way they do — hanging at her heels. My heart is full of admiration for a woman who is nearly single-handedly taking on the elephant tourism industry in a country where it is one of the biggest selling points.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

The families hang out under a tree, waiting for fruit.

The three of us head out into the elephant’s habitat — a grassy field with thick brown puddles from the rainy season that is causing flooding in other parts of the country. We quietly stroll up to the family, which is snacking on fruit a mahout shakes from a tree. None of them are related, except mommies and children, but an entire make-shift family has blossomed.

The beauty of elephants embracing the inherent structure of family and adapting to create their own.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

Chang Yim and mom, Dok Ngern

Pam and I stand back at first, unsure of what to do or how to behave. Jack’s warnings of standing in front of them echo in my mind, so I try to sidestep their bodies. But, with so many of them, it’s nearly impossible not to stand in front of one of them.

Lek produces a bag of bread, and suddenly, we’re surrounded. Trunks come from every angle as they grapple for a piece of the fluffy snack. Talking to them softly and scratching their searching speckled trunks one-at-a-time, she delivers the pieces  to them.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

Baby elephant Faa Mai and her family surround Lek.

This is unreal.

When the bread is gone, the three of us sit among the long blades of grass for awhile as Lek talks about the park. Then, we hear commotion from a mahout.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

The baby elephant, Faa Mai, waddles away from her mahout, wrapped in the garden hose.

One of the baby elephants is tangled in a green hose, as if she has taken it and spun in a circle, lacing it around her legs. She waddles with it for a moment, playing, and then her trunk wraps around the part still attached to the house and pulls it from the spout, causing a slow trickle of water to hit the ground.

I can only imagine, this is how a delighted and happy elephant looks as she speeds away from her owner.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

She waddles around for a moment, hose wrapped around her pudgy legs, before the mahout can sneak in and remove it from her body.

Then, it’s bath time. The entire family heads to the banks of the rushing brown river.

This is the moment we become a part of the family.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

The family begins its walk to the river bank.

Looking around, in between legs, trunks swaying within centimeters of my hands, the gushes of wind from the flapping of the ears … it evokes this happiness I have never felt before.

I can’t help but realize how incredibly lucky I am to be keeping step with these creatures.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

One dirty (and cool) elephant.

In the moment, walking with the herd, I am incredibly fulfilled and it stretches from my toes to the tips of the hair on my head.

This is, quite possibly, one of the most amazing moments of my life.

Lek, Pam and I stand back a few feet as the family heads into the water to rinse off. Some of the elephants wade out a bit and just stand in the water, letting it rush over them. Others seem to enjoy it more, plunging their heads and then entire bodies under the water and letting the current carry them down stream a little bit.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

An elephant enjoys the refreshing bath.

And, of course, the babies play, splashing their trunks in the water.

 Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

It’s not just bath time, it’s play time!

Mommy and baby come out of the water, headed straight for us. Instinctively, Pam and I dart out of their path as they rumble past.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

A baby elephant plays as another leaves the water.

“Where are they going?” I ask.

As we turn to follow, their end point is obvious. The huge dirt hill a few feet away where a group of volunteers are digging and making sand bags for a sick elephant.

The baby walks up to the truck where the rust-colored dirt is first, flinging a boot into the back of it. Then, she grabs dirt and sprays it on her.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

Lek and volunteers look on as elephants enjoy dirtying up again.

Within minutes, the elephants are once again covered in dirt. They are laying in the pile. Rolling in it like dogs.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

Rolling in the mud keeps these elephants cool in the tropical heat and humidity.

It’s one of the most adorable displays of animals enjoying themselves I have ever seen.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

While one lays in the dirt, another elephant finds more to play with in the trailer.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

Rain doesn’t stop these elephants from enjoying the dirt pile.

I almost feel guilty when Pam and I head off with Lek again, leaving the other volunteers to continue shoveling.

But, as we walk with the herd, those feelings vanish and are replaced with one of the most exhilarating feelings of elation and bliss.

This trip to Thailand is life-changing, there is no doubt.

As we continue, and the elephants stop to scratch their now dirty bodies against posts and logs to get at itches.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

They find an old log to get those hard-to-scratch places.

They slide their enormous bodies against the wood, back-and-forth, back-and-forth, until they move on to the next post, where they once again rub and scratch.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

Elephants display satisfaction at quieting their itches.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

 As we make our way back to the family shelter where all of the volunteers will meet to sit with Faa Mai as Lek sings her lullabies to for her afternoon siesta, we encounter Medo, in her 20s, and her best friend.

She has been sadly disfigured from both logging and forced breeding injuries. At a young age, Medo was forced into illegal logging, and was the victim of a serious logging accident, breaking her right ankle badly. The bone was unable to set and today her ankle is enlarged and irregularly shaped.

After this injury, she was unable to work in the industry and sold to a new owner as a breeding elephant. She was chained to a tree and a bull in musth was chained next to her. According to Elephant Nature Park, under normal conditions he might not have taken an interest in her, but in this case, he attacked her and mounted her. Medo collapsed under his aggression and laid there for two days, until the bull was able to be removed.

But, the damage was already done.

The teenage elephant had a dislocated spine and broken pelvis.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

Medo has lasting effects from life before Elephant Nature Park. Photo: Pam Brace

Today, it is impossible to miss her gait and how she can hardly place weight on one of her legs.

Up-close with a herd of elephants at Elephant Nature Park: photo and story from

But, she is beautiful.

As we walk by Medo, I can’t take my eyes off of her. Her history and abuse run through my mind, and I smile, comforted by her being so close to me, knowing she is no longer going to face any harm.

When we finish our walk, I return to my room, speechless, breathless.



Asia Blog Responsible Tourism Responsible Tourism Featured Thailand

Escape of the Week: Outdoor Art in Prague

Prague, considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world, is a smorgasbord of style ranging from renaissance to gothic to baroque, contemporary and more.

It’s easy to spend days just wandering the city, taking in the hundreds of churches with spires that pierce the skyline, the colorful buildings on quaint tree-lined streets, the parks set against historic and modern backdrops at the same time. There are plenty of things to do in Prague, that’s for sure.

The colorful old buildings of Prague.

Prague is certainly breathtaking.

As it has emerged as a hot spot on the tourist path, the city, which has always been seeped in culture, has taken on an identity as an art attraction. Museums throughout pay homage to a wide-range of works of art, including the Museum of Decorative Arts, The National Gallery, Old Town Hall and Prague Art Gallery, The Fine Arts Museum and more.

But, for those on a budget, simply walking out the door of a hotel or hostel can result in an artistic experience in the pulsing capital of the Czech Republic. Street art and installments are stumbled upon while engrossed in an entirely different exploration in the whimsical Bohemian city.

It’s these little gems that add a certain charm to a city that has already captured the world’s heart.

Love Lock Bridge

Couples in love make the pilgrimage to this bridge with padlock and sharpie in tow.

Believed to signify the eternal love of a couple, starry-eyed romantics affix their own padlock with their names inscribed on the metal up and down this pedestrian bridge that crosses over the Vlatva River.

Supposedly, clicking the lock on to this bridge (and other similar Love Lock Bridges in Europe) means good luck in a relationship.

With a view of the charming old neighborhoods, the bridge isn’t just an ode to romance, it’s romantic!

John Lennon Wall

A quick walk from Love Lock Bridge is the John Lennon Wall, a colorful outcropping of graffiti on one long wall in Velkopřevorské náměstí (Grand Priory Square), Malá Strana.

It used to be a normal wall, but then in the late 1980s, when the country was under the communist regime of Gustáv Husák, younger residents began to show their disapproval in the form of writing on this wall. This led to fighting between students and police on the famed Charles Bridge.

The students were described as following “Lennonism,” hence a large amount of graffiti dedicated to the namesake of the movement, John Lennon.

You won’t see the same wall twice. Visitors and locals regularly add their own piece of history to the wall, from Lennon quotes designed to inspire peace and love to their own portraits of Lennon to works of art and everything in between.

For those artistically inclined (and even those who aren’t), grab some paint and leave your own mark on this historic wall. (I only had a pen, but you get the point!)

Revoluce Key Sculpture

Unveiled in March 2010, the key sculpture was created by renowned Czech artist Jill David.

Standing at a towering 6 meters high in Franz Kafka Square, it spells out “Revoluce” (“Revolution” in English) with more than 85,000 keys.

David’s work signifies the non-violent Velvet Revolution which used keys as its symbol. The revolution, which took place from November 17 to December 29, 1989, was a largely student-led protest against Communism.

Have you been to any of these places? Are there other free art attractions you recommend for Prague? Leave your comments below!