Las Vegas 2015

In August of this year I had the opportunity to go to Las Vegas. A colleague and I had submitted a talk to the BlackHat hackers conference and were accepted, so we went to Las Vegas and stayed there for almost a whole week.

Las Vegas, NV

I had never been to Las Vegas, and if it hadn’t been for this conference I probably wouldn’t have gone there by myself. But this way I was able to kill two birds with one stone: Present at an awesome conference and experience the unique city of Vegas. Meeting a lot of cool people and linking up with some of my co-workers was the cherry on top.

Newark, NJ

My trip there was a little arduous. Having booked a little late, I had only found a flight with one layover in Newark, New Jersey. But at least I got a great shot of the Manhattan skyline on the approach to the airport. The airport in New Jersey was chaotic and crowded, and it didn’t help that my connecting flight was five hours late (and another five hours to actually fly to Vegas). Still, it was amazing to fly into Las Vegas at night, first over miles and miles of pitch-black desert and then suddenly past the bright lit Hoover Dam and the screaming street lights of the city.

Las Vegas, NV

From the airport I took a cab to my hotel, the pyramid-shaped egyptian-themed Luxor hotel. Once you enter any of the hotels, the line between day and night quickly blurs, as there is a line for the reception desk no matter the time of day, and the gambling tables and machines create an incessant noise level.

Las Vegas, NV

The following days can hardly be described in any coherent story. I spent all day going to and from different hotels, meeting people for lunch and dinner, going to some of the many vendor-sponsored parties and in general just trying to take in the sheer madness that is the sensory overload of Vegas. Fortunately I had two days to acclimate myself before our actual talk, but still it was more than exhausting to cram this much into such a short time frame.

Our talk went well, we got some great feedback and gave a couple of follow-up interviews. After the stress of preparing for the talk had passed I was able to enjoy myself a little bit. Flo had also flown into Vegas as we wanted to visit another hacker conference (Defcon) that takes place at the same time, just a little bit further down the strip. After the days we’d try to get to the cool parties, which often meant queueing up in the long lines for the taxis and aimlessly running through the Casino floors to find the exits that would lead us to the street. I even found the time to visit the old Vegas strip with a friend, which was a lot smaller and not as loud and stressful as the modern strip.

Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas, NVLas Vegas, NV
Las Vegas, NV

The photos in this post will certainly show some of the craziness that is Las Vegas, but this is really just scratching the surface. Vegas is, without a doubt, the most unapologetic and over-the-top location you could think of. You marvel and laugh at things every instant you’re there, and you can just as easily be annoyed by the blatant money-making machine that is the whole city.

Las Vegas, NV

After a week of Vegas I was completely burned out and happy to go home. It was an absolutely unique and new experience, most of all because of the people I met there. People have a love-hate relationship with this city, as everyone I met confirmed to me readily. Happy to go there once year, but just as happy to be back after a week.

Greece 2015 – Nafplio

The Peloponnese city of Nafplio was to be our last stop on our way through Greece. We heard many great things about Nafplio both from friends as well as locals. They told us that Nafplio was one of the prettiest cities and it was often described as romantic.

Nafplio, Greece

The old center of Nafplio is located on the tip of a bay, wedged between the harbor and some hills. As a result, the streets are narrow and steep and there are only a few places to go to by car. We weren’t completely sure about the location of our hotel, so we had to do some driving, search, Googling and cursing. Eventually we found a hotel by the right name, only to realize that it was only part of the hotel we were looking for and that the other (prettier) part of it was run by the brother of the owner, further up the hill.

Nafplio, Greece
Nafplio, GreeceNafplio, Greece
Nafplio, Greece

Eventually we found our hotel which had a grand view of Nafplio and the harbor, and could only be reached on foot. From there it was possible to take one of the many stairways down into the city, past the many stray dogs and cats and beautiful houses.

Nafplio was the capital of Greece from 1821 until 1834, and it still radiates some of its grandeur. There is Palamidi castle, towering high above the city, and there is Plateia Syntagmatos (Syntagma Square) in the city-centre. The streets and houses in Nafplio are incredibly well preserved and cared for. While there are a few of the mandatory tourist shops, the rest of the store-fronts are either really good restaurants or tasteful local shops. We were especially taken over by the myriad of absolutely sublime Tavernas we encountered, making us wish we could dinner three times a day.

Nafplio, GreeceNafplio, Greece

From our hotel it was only a short walk down on the opposite side of the hill to a tiny and crowded beach. Once we saw the pre-arranged sun loungers, the busy waiters (!) and the constant stream of music we decided to skip it and head for another beach a little further away. Not wanting to take our car (and lose our parking spot) we actually walked there on our first day. This was a rare instance where we regretted our decision to do something during this holiday. The gravel walkway to the second beach was cared for and gave us some beautiful views of the coast, but it was also without any shade and took us almost an hour. When we arrived we had already been burnt by the sun, so there was not a whole lot swimming we could still do. The next day we took our car, but by then we could only sit in the shade, shirts and everything, and I still looked like a lobster the next day. But we still had a great time, the city and the food made up for any inconvenience.

Epidaurus, Greece
Epidaurus, GreeceEpidaurus, Greece

We also found time to visit the ancient Greek city of Epidaurus, not far from Nafplio. Since the sun promised to become unbearable on that day, we had driven there earlier than usual. The huge amphitheatre of Epidaurus was another childhood memory I could recall, and I was glad that we went there again. Apart from the theatre, the stadium and a lot of columns, there really isn’t too much to say about the site except what I had already critised about Olympia.

On our last day we left Nafplio to drive to Athens airport directly. The only stop we had planned on that drive was at the canal of Corinth. I distinctly remember visiting Corinth as a child, but seeing the narrow and steep canal driven into the sheer rock was nevertheless an impressive sight. Since we weren’t in a hurry, we didn’t immediately get back onto the highway to Athens but instead took the small old national road going the same direction. This way we saw the small bridge at the far end of the canal, an interesting and fitting way to end our vacation.

Corinth, Greece
Corinth, GreeceCorinth, Greece
Corinth, Greece

Greece has been an absolutely awesome vacation in every way. The weather, the landscape, the food, and the people all make this one of the top destinations to go to to relax. In hindsight, it would certainly help to read up on ancient Greek history and mythology to be able to take in the wealth of historic sites. Also it really pays of to be able to read (and pronounce) the Greek alphabet fluently (lower- and uppercase), this will help a lot when navigating the roads. I was particularly impressed with the diversity of the Greek countryside, going from flat, arid Olive plantations to mountainous dense forests within an hour of driving. Last but not least, we didn’t notice the Euro crisis that everyone was talking about back home, and we were always warmly received by our hosts.

Road to Sparti, Greece

We left Kalamata heading east, on the road to Sparti. Just outside of the city, the road started climbing and winding through the hills and we were soon well up in the mountains. This is one of the occasions were I didn’t take many photos as I had to drive, which was a real shame since the road was so unique. If you search the Internet for “road kalamata to sparti” you get an idea of what it looks like. This was, without a doubt, the most beautiful and diverse stretch of landscape we saw in our time in Greece, and it rivalled even the stunning mountain roads of Canadian national parks.

Mystras, Greece

A little before we reached the city of Sparti we left the main road to drive up a really tiny and even steeper mountain road. Our destination was the ancient town of Mystras. When we arrived at the upper parking lot the sun was already punishing us, but this wasn’t to keep us from seeing the ruins.

Mystras, Greece

Mystras is located in the Taygetos mountain range. It was built there for tactical reasons, and we soon discovered just how steep the climb up the mountain to the ancient fortress really was. There were some ruins which had since been consumed by nature while others (like churches and cathedrals) were still very much intact. From the highest point, the fortress, we could see all of Mystras and lot of the surrounding countryside.

Mystras, Greece
Mystras, GreeceMystras, Greece

On our way back we noticed that there was a second parking lot (the lower entrance) to the ancient town, so we stopped here as well to see some of the additional buildings. The highlight of the lower part was definitely the Metropolis (Cathedral), with its beautiful courtyard and dark church interior. The rest of the day was spent driving towards out final destination for this holiday: Nafplio.

Mystras, Greece
Methoni, Greece

The day was far from over when we left the wonderful Polilimnio Waterfalls. We drove straight west until we reached the coast and the town of Pilos. In Pilos we parked our car at the pier and walked around the central square to finally get a coffee and some ice cream. With its central square and the small restaurants surrounding it, Pilos is the kind of town I think of whenever I remember our vacations in Greece when I was a child.

Pylos, Greece

After Pilos we drove to Methoni, a sleepy tiny town with a formidable citadel. We parked the car somewhere near the entrance of the citadel and started strolling around its huge defensive walls. After a few hundred meters we were almost ready to turn around and go back when we came upon the most serene beach we had seen in Greece. Although we had done plenty of swimming already that day it only took us a few minutes to get back to the car and get changed again. The beach was wide and very shallow, so one could just walk for hundreds of meters while still being able to reach the ground.

Methoni, Greece
Pylos, Greece

The last stop that day was the tiny town of Koroni. It might not have been much smaller than Methoni, but the street to the harbor was a lot more narrow and went straight through the central square in Koroni. There is really not much more to say on Koroni or the other places. We drove back to Kalamata for our last night before leaving for Nafplio.

Methoni, Greece