What I did-
NSCA National Conference-
The main reason I visited Vegas was to attend the annual National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) conference. As a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through NSCA, I have to earn continuing education credits to keep my certificate active. One of the ways to earn credits is by attending NSCA conferences. Since I could get free flights and I could visit a new city, I decided to go to the conference.
Walked down “The Strip”-
Las Vegas Boulevard is better known as “The Strip.” It is the first thing most people think of when they think of Vegas. There are numerous hotels and casinos along the Strip, as well as other attractions such as arenas for Cirque du Soleil, Sports, and other entertainment. Also, the fountains in front of the Bellagio hotel and casino put on a water show throughout the day and night.
After Las Vegas Boulevard, the second most iconic street in Las Vegas is Fremont Street. Similar to Las Vegas Boulevard, Fremont Street also has various hotels and casinos. The west side of Fremont Street is known as the “Fremont Street Experience” and is a covered, but outdoor, mall. At night there are light shows on the inside of the canopy. There are also free concerts, a zip line, and various other types of entertainment. The east side of the street has relatively recently undergone a revitalization and added placess to eat, drink, and have fun.
Kà by Cirque Du Soleil-
Cirque Du Soleil is a popular acrobatic entertainment show. “Kà” is one of the Cirque Du Soleil shows located in Vegas. It features and impressively unconventional, moving stage. Unlike other Cirque Du Soleil shows, Kà follows a story line and incorporate forms of martial arts into its show. I was able to use travel points to get a ticket to the show.
Eiffel Tower at Paris Hotel and Casino-
The Paris Hotel and Casino features a half-scale replica of France’s famous Eiffel Tower. The top of the tower offers some very nice views of Las Vegas. I was also able to use travel points to go up the tower.
Where I ate:
Lotus of Siam-
Lotus of Siam is a very good Thai restaurant, and it was one of the places Anthony Bourdain visited on his trip to Vegas. I ordered the Kang Hoh, which is a dry pork curry with mixed vegetables.
Tacos El Gordo-
Tacos El Gordo has good food for good prices. The catch is, there is usually a long wait. They offer various types of tacos such as tripa, lengua, cabeza, and al pastor. There are separate lines depending on which type of taco you want, so you want to make sure to line up in the correct line.
The Commonwealth is a bar located near the Cortez Hotel on Fremont Street. It is much more laid back than other places in Vegas, and also often features live music.
The Laundry Room-
The Laundry Room is a speak located inside the Commonwealth bar. It derives its name from being the old laundry room for the Cortez hotel. To gain entry, you need to text the phone number for the Laundry Room and ask about reservations or availability. Although they have a small menu, you are encouraged to simply describe the flavors you like to the bartender and have a personalized drink created for you. Also, the popcorn is very tasty.
One of Las Vegas’s top “cheap eats” restaurants, Bruxie claims to serve the original chicken & waffle sandwich. Though it isn’t incredibly healthy, it was very tasty.
Eggslut is a quick-serve breakfast place. Their signature dish features coddled eggs served over puréed potatoes in a jar.
In N Out Burger-
In N Out is a fast food chain in the western United States. They offer cheap (although not very healthy) food. Also, they have a “secret menu” with items like a three by three and animal style.
The Mandarin Oriental is a cocktail bar with great views of Las Vegas Boulevard. While it is relatively expensive, the cocktails and view are very good.
Where I stayed:
Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino-
The Paris Las Vegas Hotel is located on the Strip. It was the site of the NSCA conference. By using the conference rate, I was able to use credit card points to pay for my stay there. The casino and lobby are painted to make it seem like you are outdoors even when you are inside. Also, they make it seem like it is always daytime. They have a very small, basic fitness center (that may cost an extra fee) and a pool that features views of their Eiffel Tower replica.
How I got around:
Lyft and Uber-
Lyft and Uber are both available in Las Vegas. Most drivers I spoke with, however, preferred driving with Lyft.
Since I was already staying on the Strip, I walked to most of the places I went. Las Vegas has very low humidity, so I didn’t sweat as much as I normally would have. However, I had to use a lot of eye drops due to the dryness.
My Favorite thing:
The Laundry Room speakeasy was awesome. It is a hideaway from the craziness of Vegas with a great environment and great drinks.
My Least favorite thing:
It felt like there was a lack of depth to the city. There were many lights and many impressive facades, but I don’t have a strong desire to return to Vegas.
For next time:
Next time I am in the Las Vegas area I would like to get out of city and visit places like the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon.
What I did:
Walked down Bourbon Street-
In my opinion, Bourbon Street is highly overrated. It is dirty and smells bad. My recommendation would be to skip Bourbon Street and walk down Frenchman Street (see below).
Jazz Crawl down Frenchman Street-
Frenchman street is awesome. Due to the various street food vendors it smells amazing. Also, there is awesome music in almost every bar/restaurant on the street. Grammy award winning musicians are known to play at many of the bars of the street.
Visited an above ground cemetery-
At most cemeteries in the United States, bodies are buried in the ground. However, many of the cemeteries in the New Orleans area are above ground in response to the risk of flooding. It is an interesting experience to walk through an above ground cemetery. It felt like I was in a movie or the real life version of Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book.
I did two free walking tours while in New Orleans. The French Quarter food and history tour went through the origins of popular New Orleans dishes and cooking styles. The New Orleans Ghost tour talked about the supernatural stories in the New Orleans cultural history.
Explored the neighborhoods-
Due to the mix of different cultures such as Spanish, French, and African, the architecture in New Orleans is very interesting. Each house in New Orleans seems to be unique. There are some beautiful mansions (and trees) in the Garden District, and the Tremé neighborhood is real, authentic New Orleans.
Worked out at the Dryades YMCA and St. Charles Ave. Athletic Club-
It is important to stay healthy while traveling. Both the Dryades YMCA and the St. Charles Ave. Athletic Club were solid places to workout. They may not have had a large amount of state of the art equipment, but they both had plenty to get a good workout in.
Where I ate:
I had one of the best meals of my life at Brennan's. It is a super high quality New Orleans institution. I had soft-scrambled eggs with real truffle shavings and more truffle shaved on top paired with some of the best bread I have ever eaten. While the quality of the food was amazing, it was not a cheap meal.
Parkway Poor Boys Bakery and Tavern-
Poor Boys (aka Po' Boys) were invented in New Orleans. The best place to try one is arguably at Parkway. The sandwich, while a bit unhealthy, was inexpensive and very tasty.
Frenchman street is full of amazing live music. Some friends and I decided to stop at 30º/-90º to grab a drink and listen to the music. It is named after the rough latitude/longitude coordinates for the city of New Orleans.
As its website says, Coop's Place is "a Decatur Street staple since 1983" that "is the place to go for a true taste of New Orleans at down home prices." The traditional food was very good and inexpensive. I also liked the laid back, New Orleans vibe.
French Truck Coffee, Krewe du Brew Coffee, and Avenue Cafe-
Each of these coffee spots were good places to grab a coffee or espresso drink. Not spectacular, but good.
Spitfire had the best non-nitrogenated cold brew coffee I have had anywhere. I highly recommend giving it a try.
NOLA Brewing Company and Port Orleans Brewing Company-
Two good breweries both located on Tchoupitoulas Street.
Carmo is one of the best places to get a healthy, good meal in New Orleans. Also, it is not very expensive.
A historic restaurant in a two-hundred year old building, Napoleon House is a great place to try some classic New Orleans dishes.
The Carousel Bar-
Located in the Hotel Monteleone, the Carousel Bar is a classic New Orleans bar that actually slowly spins like a carousel. It was a great place to try some of the famous drinks invented in New Orleans, such as the Vieux Carre.
Willie Mae's Scotch House-
Located in the Tremé area of New Orleans, Willie Mae's is a great place to get soul food. It has received awards for having "America's best fried chicken."
The Sazerac Bar-
The Sazerac is believed by many to be the world's original mixed drink, and it was invented in New Orleans. The Sazerac Bar, located in the Roosevelt Waldorf Astoria Hotel, is a nice, classy place. As its name indicates, it is a great place to get a Sazerac.
The French Market is an outdoor market located in the French Quarter of New Orleans. It offers many different options for food, and also sells things such as souvenirs and clothing. I took advantage of the opportunity to have alligator sausage, which was very good.
Cafe du Monde-
Cafe du Monde is a New Orleans staple that serves the classic beignets and coffee. It is very inexpensive, but in my opinion the beignets are not good enough to justify how unhealthy they are.
Peche Seafood Grill-
Peche is a high quality seafood restaurant. However, many of the dishes can be slightly expensive.
The Bulldog Pub-
The Bulldog Pub offers a variety of bottled and tap drinks. It also has a nice outdoor patio area.
The Rumhouse Caribbean Taqueria-
The Rumhouse is a nice place to get good food for good prices.
The Creole Creamery is one of the best ice cream shops I have ever been to. They also offer unique flavors such as an absinthe ice cream. They even offer ice cream flights, offering the chance to taste a variety of different amazing flavors.
Pirates Alley Cafe-
A laid back cafe, and one of the better places to sample absinthe.
Where I stayed:
Auberge has been rated the best hostel in the United States by Hostelworld, and for good reason. It was very clean and had very good facilities. Also, there was a nice mix of cool people there while I was there. It is located halfway between the Garden District and the French Quarter, allowing easy access to the top locations in New Orleans.
How I got around:
New Orleans is a fairly walkable city. Most destinations and restaurants are within walking distance of each other.
While they are not incredibly fast, streetcars are a very nice way to get around New Orleans and get a fresh breeze. For $3 you can purchase a ticket that allows unlimited access for 24 hours.
I enjoy using public transportation when possible. In my opinion, it gives me a better feel of the "real" city. The same $3 pass that allows access to the streetcars also allows access to the bus system.
Uber and Lyft-
Uber and Lyft are also both available in New Orleans and can be fairly cheap when traveling in a group.
My favorite thing:
The food in New Orleans was amazing. The historic cultural mix produces some amazing flavors. Also, the music in New Orleans was great.
My least favorite thing:
Bourbon Street- it stunk, it was messy, it was overpriced, and it didn't have the amazing food, drink, and music found in other parts of New Orleans.
For next time:
Next time in New Orleans I want to try more of the amazing food, drink, and music. I want to check out Bacchanal and Verti Marte.
What I did:
The National Archives Museum-
The National Archives Musuem hosts many important documents such as the Declaration of Independence. Unlike the movie National Treasure, I did not see a treasure map on the back of it (but maybe I have to put lemon juice on it and put it under a hair dryer). Depending on the time of day, the wait can be very long. However, I went close to closing time, and did not have to wait at all.
Visited Various Memorial Sites and Statues-
I visited the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, National WWII Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. They are all very impressive and free to visit.
Library of Congress-
The Library of Congress is the oldest American federal cultural institution, and is said to be the largest library in the world. However, while it it free to enter the building and look into the reading room, only high-ranking government officials can check out books and materials from the reading room.
Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History-
The Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is located just off of the National Mall. It is a very nice museum, especially for animal enthusiasts and world history buffs.
National Portrait Gallery-
The National Portrait Gallery is another one of DC's free museums. Since I am not a big art enthusiast, I did not expect to enjoy the National Portrait Gallery as much as I did, but I found it very interesting.
Visited the U.S. Capitol Building, Capitol Hill, and the White House-
Each of these places hold a large historical and political significance in the United States. Also, the architecture is very impressive.
United States Botanical Garden-
Although I have not visited a significant number of botanical gardens throughout the world, the United States Botanical Garden in DC is by far the best free botanical garden I have been to. Also, it was very interesting to see the plants that many spices and medications are derived from.
Walked through the National Mall-
Although it is called a mall, the National Mall is not what most Americans would call a mall. It is a large, outdoor, grassy area that is located between the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. This area hosts different events and vendors.
4th of July parade-
I was in Washington DC during the 4th of July, which is Independence Day in the United States. There was a large parade going through the streets on the 4th that I was able to watch.
Watched Fireworks from a Rooftop-
Throughout America there are large fireworks displays on the 4th of July. I found out about a CouchSurfing event (see more on CouchSurfing below) where I could watch DC's fireworks from a rooftop. I was able to meet a lot of interesting travelers and see a nice fireworks display.
Where I ate:
&Pizza was the top ranked inexpensive restaurant in DC. It was a very cool, laid back place where you can customize your pizza with the various types of sauces and toppings.
The Gibson is a cool speakeasy behind an unamarked door. If you do not know where it is you will not notice it, but if you find it you will be rewarded with a cool atmosphere and drink like the "Merry Traveler," which came with a cinnamon stick that was toasted with a torch.
Ebenezers is an award winning coffee shop in DC. The people were nice, the environment was cool, and the coffee was good. Also, their proceeds go towards helping people throughout the world.
La Colombe Torrefaction Coffee Roasters-
La Colombe is a popular Philadelphia-based coffee company with some locations in the DC area. Their draft latte is definitely worth a try.
Compass Coffee has a very good nitro coffee (coffee infused with nitrogen, giving it the texture of Guinness). It was probably the best cup of coffee I had in DC.
Dolcezza Gelato Factory and Coffee Lab-
I had heard about some interesting flavors Dolcezza had, but they were not serving them while I was there. It was good, but expensive for gelato.
Grand Trunk is a nice Indian restaurant in DC. While it wasn't the best Indian food I have had, it was still very good. Also, it was inexpensive compared to other restaurants in DC.
Where I stayed:
While in Washington DC, I used CouchSurfing for the first time. CouchSurfing is a website/application that travelers can use to find free accommodation worldwide, or to host fellow travelers. First, you set up a profile (similar to Facebook) telling a little bit about yourself. Then you can offer to host travelers that are visiting your city while you are at home. You can also attend CouchSurfing events, or use the mobile app to find other people in your area that are looking to do something. When traveling to a new city, you can search for people to send personal requests to or post a general request to that city's page. I added in my request on the Washington DC page that I would be moving to Spain to teach English, and Alban (who is also moving to Spain to teach English) offered to host me. He was super nice and very welcoming. I was even able to exercise in the gym in his apartment complex!
To be honest, I was hesitant to use CouchSurfing. However, I had a great experience using CouchSurfing. Also, I now have a new friend I can meet up with when I get to Spain! While proper caution should be used, CouchSurfing can be a great resource for travelers.
How I got around:
I used the subway system to move throughout much of DC. I also walked quite a bit while I was there. I found it easy to get around.
My Favorite Thing:
Many of the museums in DC are free to enter and explore. Also, I met some really cool people while I was in DC.
My Least Favorite Thing:
Although the museums are free, much of the good food in DC is very expensive. Much of the area felt a little too "high-end" for my taste.
For Next Time:
Next time I visit DC I would like to explore Roosevelt Island, Old Alexandria, and Georgetown. I have heard very good things about each of these areas and would like to check them out for myself.
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