First Impressions: Cape Town

An American traveler’s first 48 Hours in Cape Town, South Africa

IMG_1511 Images by Travis Levius, @misterlevius


My Johannesburg visit was lovely- very grateful to have experienced the misunderstood city for myself- but Cape Town has been one of my “must-visit places before dying” for ages.  It’s a place that doesn’t need much selling…we’ve all seen the Mother City top many a list as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, anchored by Table Mountain’s magnificent presence. I have yet to meet an American who’s been and didn’t love it (and want to move there).  Anything attracting such constant superlatives runs the risk of being over-hyped, and I was sure I’d correctly assess Cape Town for what it was in my first 48 hours. Is the city really as amazing as everyone (and every travel article) says it is?

The Verdict

In terms of natural beauty: yes. Yes, indeed. Throw in all of those hefty words connoting “greatness” and “gorgeous” and “paradise” into a hat and pick one…they are all apropos for Cape Town.


Enjoying a remarkable sunset on Signal Hill

The city had me even on the plane’s descent flying from Johannesburg. I sat slanted toward my seat’s window, craning my neck to search and lock eyes on that mighty mountain from above. The plane passed over several ranges and hills minutes from landing, and I wondered if the real Table Mountain was so underwhelming that it had passed me undetected…then the plane turned. Like a dramatic film, my window view slowly unraveled a monstrous form in the distance, silhouetted by the backlit haze of the sun with its peaks blanketed by pillowy clouds. I sat speechless in my seat. This was the sight I’ve anticipated for years, a dream finally made real.


My iPhone shot of *that* moment

The dreaminess continued on a scenic taxi ride from the airport- through the city with more amazing mountain, city and sea views- to Camps Bay, a posh and popular beachside area with Table Mountain National Park towering from behind. There, I witnessed a gorgeous bright stretch of Atlantic beach, a diverse scattering of people and plenty of cosmopolitan restaurants/bars yards away from the waters. Cape Town, just 3 hours into my trip, was paradise.


The spectacular Camps Bay

Little Bit of Everything

As a traveler, it’s difficult to resist comparing cities, but alas, I give in all the time. I mentally compared Cape Town with Johannesburg (ha…that will be an upcoming post on its own!) and other cities that resemble a facet or two with the Mother City.  While exploring Cape Town’s compact neighborhoods, I saw Miami: Continue reading

First Impressions: Johannesburg

An American traveler’s first 48 hours in Jozi, South Africa


Instagram: @misterlevius

Note to self: Next time, avoid visiting Johannesburg during the Christmas/New Year’s season if you’re looking for the usual summertime bustle.  The city, I’ve been told, goes near empty at this time as Jozi dwellers flock to idyllic coastal towns such as Cape Town and Durban for their holiday.  Duly noted.


It’s a shame that rumors- outdated ones, especially- have such power to damage reputations. I didn’t need to experience Joburg to understand it’s one of the world’s most misunderstood destinations. First-time tourists to South Africa flock to Cape Town en masse, as it’s more beautiful and world-renowned. But many are still stuck on hearsay back from 1998 that JoBurg is a run-down, crime-ridden city that should be a no-go zone for travelers. Not many are aware of (and others don’t care to share) the tremendous progress that’s happened over time…so when I constantly heard from friends with direct experience living/traveling in today’s Johannesburg that it is indeed “safe to swim”, I happily took the plunge.

The Downtown Sights


On top of the Carlton Centre, Africa’s tallest building!

I walked and tour-bused through its main CBD (or downtown) on my first afternoon.  Afterwards my friend, a frequenter in Johannesburg, asked me if the city (the “inner city” Jozi, as I didn’t get the chance to see the world’s largest manmade “forested” side of the city) was what I expected.  To be honest, it was: not classically pretty, busy and a bit distressed in many areas, but with an energy worth exploring.  I knew it would be no Paris; while it’s more gritty concrete jungle than charming city-center, exciting sights appeared once I looked in the right direction. Directly above the grungy, partitioned ground floors of retail space are several aged art deco buildings hinting at Johannesburg’s glorious past, aesthetically-speaking. I learned Johannesburg has one of the largest collection of art deco buildings of any city in the world, third after Miami and New York. The buildings here, however, need much TLC, but the city has begun reclaiming the many derelict spaces in hopes of making the CBD a viable, flourishing area once again.


On the Red Bus Tour crossing the Mandela Bridge

Party/Music Scene (One of the Main Reasons I Visited!)

As a bonafide Deep House music lover, I’ve been told that House is huge in South Africa, but I had to be there to see it. My God…South Africa is House music. You’ll hear it everywhere, much more than Rap. The first songs on the radio on my cab ride from the airport to my accommodation were Deep House tracks. What I found frustrating to find in the States is ubiquitous in Johannesburg. Musically, I am home.

And this unyielding crime people speak of…I must have missed it. I wasn’t robbed, held at gunpoint or felt Continue reading

The Big Leap: 5 Reasons I Left the U.S. for London

This new life chapter of mine is an insane one.

Earlier this summer I said “ciao” to the USA- my assigned birthplace- for London, UK, the truest home in my heart. People who know me know how infatuated I am with this city, lovestruck ever since I studied abroad here in 2008. I’ll save my reasons for why I love London, for that could result in a length tantamount to a Harry Potter read. But I will share the 5 reasons why I moved, what possessed me to do something so “crazy” and why I’m confident that everything will work out the way it should.

1. I choose life to be an adventure.

Life is that elusive entity given to all without much instruction, allowing each of us to interpret the design of our existence. It is a choice to believe that life is pure suffering…it is a choice to assume life is to tolerate an unsatisfactory career until you retire, “when happiness finally starts”.  I’m having none of it.  I’d rather see life as a journey full of adventure, wonder and tremendous possibilities.

2. There’s no better place to build my globetrotting writer/photographer & entrepreneurial career.

My intentions are to travel the world, share valuable content through these adventures to inform & inspire, continue my destination wedding photography and launch a travel tech startup business in the UK. I follow the philosophy “go wherever the flow of life leads you”, and London remains unmatched. If you continually find yourself at the right place meeting the right people at the right time and finding the right opportunities based on your intentions…that’s most likely where you belong. I’d rather not risk staying comfortable surrounded by 2nd best opportunities.


3. I need to walk the walk

I’ve dreamed, achieved and encouraged others to do the same over the last 4 years (which is why I started this website in 2010). I say:

“Get past your fears!”

“No excuses- Make it happen!”

“The world is yours if you want it to be!”

…and there I was, initially scared to death to pursue my own ultimate desire of moving overseas. Adventures are meant to provoke you, challenge you, dare you to push your limits. Isn’t it the teachers who experience the most challenging assignments before sharing their wisdom? It’s about time I attain further qualifications for advocating the passion-driven life.

4: A near-death experience last year taught me how futile “someday dreams” really are.

It’s difficult to stay the same after being in the hands of an in-motion driver suddenly under a diabetic coma, weaving in and out of traffic and stoplights unconsciously on a busy road. Is there really much to lose if I decide to chase my dreams now with this one life I’ve been given? None of us know our personal termination date, and I’d rather perish knowing I gave my dreams a chance.

5: I’m learning to trust my intuition

Some call it your “gut feeling” or your “inner spirit,” but I believe everyone is able to access guidance from within (living by intuition will be a major topic on my website). I have always desired to live in London, but it was only until last year that I had that nagging, internal “hunch” to finally make it happen this summer. I’ve learned over time the difference of acting upon a mere desire and acting upon your intuition, and adhering to the latter has never steered me wrong…no matter how crazy it might look.

So maybe I’ll make it in London…maybe I’ll run out of opportunities and return to the States. What matters most is that I can live in peace knowing that I quelled my fears attempting to live the life I want.



Have you made an equally huge jump in your life? Are there things you currently desire but feel it’s unlikely to happen? Share your thoughts, experiences and questions below!

LondonLife: The Hundred Foot Journey Gala Screening (with Helen Mirren)!


I had a stroke of London luck Wednesday, winning tickets to see the Helen Mirren-fronted UK gala premiere of “The Hundred Foot Journey.” It’s a Steven Spielberg and Oprah-produced film, and I discovered they both appeared at the New York City premiere a few weeks prior. Could you imagine if they came to London?! I, however, knew better; the press list a few weeks ago showed they wouldn’t be attending. But I did get to see the main stars of the film, including living legend Helen Mirren, vet actor Om Puri and newcomer Manish Dayal, which was rewarding enough.



Before the screening, Helen shared a few remarks alongside her co-stars about the film.


The Movie:

Admittedly, I had to adjust my expectations while watching the movie (which is based on a book), reminding Continue reading

Trip Essentials: 6 Must-Have (and Free) Apps for Every Traveler


While it’s exciting to discover a growing market of trendy, trick-heavy travel apps- one can now book private jet flights with apps such as BlackJet and PrivateFly- we still wonder: what are the excellent, practical apps suitable for all travelers?  From the business exec to the budget backpacker, these tried-and-true apps are the definitive finds for every kind of world tripper.



Flight fare search has never been more comprehensive (and budget-conscious). This app consolidates all commercial airline flights to provide the lowest available fares. While the desktop version is more feature-rich, the app does wonders for quick, accurate flight quotes on-the-go.

Available for: iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone

Alternative: Skyscanner

Xe Currency


Let XE Currency ease the guessing work of foreign money amounts on your next trip; this helpful app provides accurate conversion for every world currency, helping travelers better understand their “foreign” budget before they check-in for departure.

Available for: iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Windows Phone, or Firefox OS

Alternative: Converter Plus

Google Maps


A seamless option for current Google/Gmail users, Google Maps is still the reigning app for accurate worldwide navigation. Its public transit ability is its best feature, providing astoundingly accurate directions and stop times for global cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Paris and Sydney.

Available for: iOS and Android

Alternative: Waze

 Wi-Fi Finder


Going on a short overseas trip and don’t really need the hassle/cost of a foreign phone service? Wi-Fi Finder uses Continue reading

Insider’s London: Albion Cafe, Shoreditch


In a Nutshell: A trendy resto in a very trendy area that surprisingly delivers on food quality (and spectator fashion).

Best For: People-Gawking, Al Fresco Dining/Drinking, Artsy Types, Hipsters & The People Who Love Them, British Dining, Brunch

Neighborhood: Shoreditch

There’s the Boundary Hotel and its posh rooftop bar above…and the members-only Shoreditch House across the street.  I was a tad nervous that I’d be trapped in some overly pretentious East End nonsense at the Albion, but the ambiance (though still very much hip) struck the right balance.  My friend and I were lucky to snag al fresco lunchtime seats, and the proximity to all the street activity and passerby fashions on Boundary/Redchurch street was worth the price in itself.

18heads_600 Johnathan Player, NYT

The menu is quintessential British, and the dishes were listed with minimal description…which made me a tad anxious.  My recommendation is to ask your waiter what he or she would recommend, for the “Rabbit in Mustard Cream” wouldn’t have been my first choice.  The actual presentation of the meal was tremendously more attractive than the terse text on the menu.  It would be the best, most tender rabbit dish I’ve ever tasted (others have been too gamey for my preference) and the mustard cream was well-balanced, appeasing my fears of an onslaught of tang throughout the dish.


For dessert we split a rhubarb crumble, which came with a lovely warmed custard to help neuter the sweet punch of the rhubarb flavor.  Add to the mix good tea, affordable wine and unfussy service, and you have one of my more delightful restaurant experiences in East London of the summer.

The Albion may just have converted this reluctant American into enjoying British fare.

Golden Tip: Come early, and if you can get a seat outside (especially when the weather is excellent) do so.


Image Credit: Alamy, Johnathan Player, and Travis Levius

Insider’s London: Ottolenghi, Belgravia


(Pictured: Yotam Ottolenghi, the international chef-God himself)

In a Nutshell: Yotam’s smallest, most charming London branch of stunning daily-changing dishes & sweets

Best For: Gourmands, Sweet Tooth Bandits, Luxe Lovers, Posh Diners, Party of 2, Aspiring Chefs, Intimate Experiences

Neighborhood: Belgravia

You know it’s real love once you return the 2nd time and your heart still flutters.

Ottolenghi’s Belgravia location is one of three in London and- though there are others much closer to where I live- I have an allegiance to this tiny, 6-seater goldmine of masterful sweets.

Yes, there’s just one (minimalistic & spiffy) round communal table here. Due to its limited size, most use the take-out service, but I see the in-dining experience as part of the thrill (I was able to easily snag a seat on both visits, including one accompanied by a friend).  My expectations were high, for Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi is a rockstar chef & author; every true London foodie/amateur chef owns at least one of his international best-selling cookbook Bibles.


Though Ottolenghi serves his signature Mediterranean-inspired food (which I’m sure is sublime), I came for those lust-worthy desserts.  On my first visit, I ordered jasmine tea and the lime cheesecake with strawberries.  I tasted the cheesecake…then became paralyzed for about 6 seconds.

Creamy, dreamy and deceptively filling- you can truly taste the *thoughtfulness* of the size, the perfect portion of large glazed strawberries, the atypical shape, etc.  Yes…I have no qualms confessing that this was the best cheesecake I’ve ever had.

Love brought me back a 2nd time recently, testing if it could sweep me off my feet as it accomplished three months prior. I ordered green tea with the Blackberry Financier.  I took a breath and took a small edge of the vanilla-almond cake…then proceeded to shout “Hallelujah!” in my head.


I wasn’t eating a cake…I was eating an experience.  Rich, sweet vanilla-almond batter with blackberries, marscapone cream and pistachio shavings on top…with a ‘surprise’ stuffing of a raspberry and halved apricot in the center.  Every single bite was a celebration.

Desserts are in the £4ish range and is absolutely worth every pence.

Two time’s the charm, Ottolenghi.  You are officially one of my top favorite foodie destinations in London.

The ONE major downside: There is no public restroom in this location.  But true, unconditional love forgives all shortcomings, yes?

[Image Credits: Clara Molden, Char and Travis Levius]