Sunshine Blogger Award

Sunshine Blogger Award
Great news! I’ve been nominated for the Sunshine Blogger Award! Thanks so much https://rockpaperspirit.com/ for the nomination. I’m so excited for this opportunity!

RULES OF THE SUNSHINE BLOGGER AWARD:
1. Thank the Blogger who nominated you for the blog post and add their link to your post.
2. Answer the 11 questions which your nominator asked you.
3. Nominate up to 11 new bloggers for the award and write them 11 new questions for the same.
4. Let your nominees know that they have been nominated.
5. List the rules and add the Sunshine Blogger Award in your post.

NOMINEES:
I would like to nominate the following amazing 10 bloggers. Some of them I’ve been following for a long time now, while some others I have just discovered. Please send me a message to let me know when your own Sunshine Blogger Award posts are up!

1. Amsterdam Tourist Guide
2. Dine and Fash
3. The Green Shoestring
4. Cranky Actress Blog
5. Ryan Miller
6. The Gal Pals
7. Tim Van de Vall 
8. Douglas Taurel Acting Blog
9. Actor Adnan Zey Blog
10. Little Travel Bird

MY ANSWERS:

What made you start blogging?
I originally started my website to share my experiences while acting and to further promote myself as an actor. After uprooting my life and moving from Toronto to Amsterdam, I decided to document our travels and soon after discovered that I enjoy sharing my advice on travel and love of food. With this newly discovered passion, I continued my journey by blogging for other publications.

What was your first blog post about?
My first post was simply introducing my site to the world, and reminiscing about my year of acting accomplishments. I was very fortunate to be involved in many plays consistently at that time.

What’s your favourite biscuit/cookie?
Oh gosh, do I have to choose? I have such a sweet tooth and a weakness for all sweets (as long as they are gluten free of course). I must say my top 3 are ginger molasses (from The Rooster Coffee House in downtown Toronto), shortbread and peanut butter!

Who would be your dream interview subject?
Meryl Streep! Hands down! I admire, respect and idolize her amazing talent, and her as a person in the media. She is brilliant!

Who would play you in the movie of your life?
Can I play myself? I am an actress haha. If not, then Melissa Ivy Rauch from Big Bang Theory (she plays Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz). Melissa is sooo talented and hilarious.

If you could visit any country, which one would it be and why?
My current bucket list of places to explore keeps on growing with no end in sight. After some recent research and reading other people’s awesome travel blogs, on the top of my list are the southern areas of Africa, closely followed by Thailand. Each have their own unique sense of adventure, beauty, fun activities and history.

The world is ending and you can only write one more blog post. What is it about?
About my appreciation and thanks to all of my love ones. I would not be who I am, and where I am, without their continual love and support.

What tips do you have for me on how to improve my blog?
You have such an amazing blog! I love that you recommend books, and would encourage that you continue with explaining what you like about them and what the reader would get out of it.

Who would be your dream brand to work with and why?
Does the Academy count as a brand? I’d love to stand next to Oscar! No? Okay then let us move to another love of mine, shoes! I’d love to work with Christian Louboutin, who isn’t obsessed with that red sole?

Which is better: having a niche or having no niche?
Hmm, having a niche. That means you have a specific passion for something in particular. Even if it’s unique or different, there is always someone out there that may also be interested and soak up your every word.

MY QUESTIONS FOR THE NOMINEES:
I can’t wait to read everyone’s answers and congratulations to everyone for being nominated for this award!

1. What is your biggest challenge with blogging?
2. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
3. Any advice for beginners to the blogging community?
4. What is one thing you want to do or learn in 2018 and how will this make you a better person?
5. What is the last thing you Googled?
6. Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest? And why?
7. Favorite taco spot?
8. What is the last article you read that made an impact?
9. What inspires you?
10. How do you think technology will impact future blogging and will you adapt to cutting-edge blogging technology as it becomes available?
So Excited!
Thanks so much and congrats!
Cheers,
Melissa

 

A Cuba Travel Tip

Melissa in Cuba
Wow, can you believe this is already my 6th monthly post for Travel Tip Tuesday! Today’s post is on the wonderful Cuba! Also known as the “Pearl of the Antilles”, Cuba is a gorgeous place to visit, filled with spectacular beaches, a bustling capital city and stunning views. However, due to restrictions in trade, the food will not live up to the beauty of the island and will leave you disappointed. A tip? Pack your own sauces and spices! Mini packages of ketchup (or Mayo for the Dutchies out there) from your local fast food restaurant, Franks, Sriracha, salt and pepper will go a long way to enhance the local cuisine to something more tolerable! You can even find small enough travel friendly bottles if you plan on just taking a carry on. Adding extra flavour to the bland food will help you get through the same buffet every day, and let you build memories on something that matters – having fun abroad!
Cuba Beach
Any other travel questions? Let me know in the comments below! And stay tuned for more tips and tricks!

Cheers,
Melissa

Greece Part 2 – Athens

Athens, Greece
If you haven’t read my previous post (Greece Part 1) be sure to check it out for what to do when visiting Santorini!
Oia, Santorini
To make it to Athens from Santorini you can fly, or you can attempt to save some money and travel by boat from the surrounding islands. I rather spend the money next time and fly. Our 4 hour boat ride ended up being a 7 hour milk run filled with lots of sick people. I’ll spare you the gross details but you could literally hear everyone around you get sick. With 1+ meter high waves, be sure you have a tough stomach, avoid alcohol, bring a neck pillow such as this one and have a light lunch.Athens
Once you arrive on the mainland, your journey can begin! You’ll notice that Athens has a much different vibe compared to the Island with its ancient temple ruins, massive hills (I swear I constantly felt like I was walking uphill), streets lined with palm trees (or orange trees) and graffiti everywhere!
Athens
I’ll give you the same advice as I do for almost every European city…Start your trip with a PWYC walking tour. Ours was a bit disorganized this time around, yet it gave us an idea of where major landmarks were, with a local touch. As soon as you’re finished, go get your combination ticket for the Parthenon! I believe they offer many other deals, but the best one being the 30 euro ticket package. This gives you access into 7 outdoor locations and is valid for 5 days! Most of the locations are all in the same general area and can be done in one really long day, or broken up into two more manageable days. I would augment this deal with two other museums, such as the Acropolis Museum and The National Archeological Museum (but you will have many to choose from).A for Athens View
Much like any other city, the downtown core has streets filled with shopping and has some of the best prices to find souvenirs, antiques, sandals and gold olive wreaths. Continuing with the typical European vibe, the core also has more restaurants than you can count with a good variety of choices. We did not have any issues finding food that is vegetarian and gluten-free. My favourite spot being the rooftop patio at ‘A for Athens’. Once again, I suggest making resos, but we lucked out without and were seated at the same table as another couple – odd, but at least we got a balcony table with a great view. They also have a sommelier on staff to assist with your wine decisions to make sure it is pleasantly paired with your food.
Mixed Sample Plate of Greek Food
Speaking of food, Greece knows how to keep you full! My favourite vegetarian options were the greek salad (obvi), dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), tzatziki, gigantes plaki (baked giant beans), stuffed tomatoes and peppers called yemista and of course baklava. I didn’t try the meat but I heard that the gyros, souvlaki and octopus were worth a sample. A note that here they charge you for water and bread and will attempt to not give you an option to say no. Such as opening the bottled water just as they arrive at your table and start pouring, or adding bread onto the receipt even after you rejected it. On the flip side, some places will provide a free aperitif with your bill, yum! The greek frappes (essentially an iced coffee) were good, as were the local wines, especially the latest trend…blue wine!Blue Wine in Athens
Though Athens is pretty touristy, if you go off-peak season (peak is mid Jun-Aug), the crowds were tolerable and it wasn’t like walking around in a furnace. We never encountered any long lines, and were able to get some great photos without loads of people in the background. Speaking of touristy, a must stop is to purchase a pair of sandals from The Poet Sandal Maker. Here they measure your feet and custom fit the straps (only for certain models). Oooor you could fake them and get knockoffs for half the price on Amazon, like these.The Poet Sandal Maker
If you want to get out of the city there are lots of day trips available. We opted to check out the ancient ruins of The Temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion. It was beautiful; great views of the harbour, yachts and the beach. For our particular tour (Athens Extreme Sports), it was not worth the price we paid (120 EUR), as we rented a 4 wheeler to drive on city roads for 5 hours with 2 short stops, instead of the 4 as advertised. Most importantly, we did not get any opportunity to go off roading, thus negating the entire purpose of renting an ATV. The guide did not offer any additional information along the way and we still had to purchase our ruins admission and lunch. So essentially, we rented a 4 wheeler for 120 EUR to see ruins for 30 minutes and had to pay to follow a “guide” to show us where to go, when a GPS would have worked just as fine. I cannot recommend this particular tour, however they have many other options. You would be much better off to rent a car and drive yourself, as you could take your time, enjoy the sites, and save a lot of money.4 Wheeler Excursion
End your day with a trip up Mount Lycabettus. Word of caution, you will have to walk up most of the mountain before you can take a tram the rest of the way (7 Euros each way). At the top there are 3 restaurants, each with fantastic panoramic views of the city. Reflecting back, I found this to be the best spot to watch the Greek sunset.
A photo of yours truly
Overall, Greece is a fantastic place to visit. It has a mix of old and new with its own unique charm that I haven’t seen anywhere yet in Europe. Want a tip for your Instagram photos in Greece? Purchase a toga and a gold wreath (they are everywhere) and snap away!Greece
Did I miss anything? Anymore questions about your next trip to Greece? Let me know in the comments below!

Cheers,
Melissa

Greece Part 1 – Santorini

Yamas! As the locals say in Greece. I am so excited to share this post with you, as I really enjoyed my trip to Greece both in Santorini and Athens. Since this was quite a long trip, with so much to share with you, I have split it up into 2 parts. So let’s begin!Greece Lunch Spot
Santorini is one of the many islands off the coast of Greece. With so many options you may wonder why we picked it. I had heard it has a world famous sunset, so why not! First impressions were that Santorini is hot, sunny, friendly and beautiful!Oia Sunset
There are 4 main locations on this volcanic island where we spent most of our time. I’ll start with Oia. There you will find the amazing sunset. You must go early, in fact I would recommend packing a picnic (with some local wine of course) and heading there at least an hour before sunset, if you want to take epic people free photos. We were over an hour and a half early and barely got a spot. Everyone will tell you the best view is the Castle and I would agree they are absolutely correct. Though if the weather and clouds are not cooperating, the sunset may not live up to your expectations and you may have to go back a few nights. If you want a view while you eat, reservations are a must as most coveted balcony spots fill up fast. Oia is gorgeous with its blue dome roofs (though only a few are easily discoverable, so not as many as I had pictured), white curved arches and flowers everywhere. Oia is meant for tourists and they are everywhere, which can really be felt in the narrow streets. It’s busy, expensive and traffic leaving the city after sunset is just bananas!The Famous Sunset
If you want to see the same architecture, same sunset, but more of a nightlife, then go to Fira. The capital of Santorini offered more to do in the way of bars, food and shopping, they even had fun fish spas for your feet and it was a (tiny) bit less touristy. If you are determined to try the authentic donkey ride up the escarpment you can find this both in Oia and Fira (stay tuned for more about this horrible experience later!).Fira, Santorini
Have you seen enough sunsets? Then check out some ancient ruins! My favourite was Ancient Thira (on the southeast side of the Island). I suggest renting a 4 wheeler or a car to get up part way. This is a great first stop after you land as it is super close to the airport. Another option is on the southwest end of the Island to Akrotiri. Yes, it is quite fascinating to see remains of a settlement that was destroyed in the Theran volcanic eruption in 1627 BC, however, this indoor facility was a bit overpriced. Also if you do not have a guide there are minimal signs so you may not get a very deep understanding of it all.Ancient Ruins at Thira
Being on a sun filled Mediterranean island, the beaches are truly endless. My favourites are Kamari Beach (I was originally confused and thought this was the Black Beach as it’s all black sand and black stone) and the Red Beach. The Red Beach is a quick 10 minute hike from the parking lot, and pretty small so it is important to get there early. There you can enjoy sunbathing while being surrounded by red cliffs. A reminder to bring water shoes as it is all stone, like these here. Unfortunately, we did not go to the White Beach as our GPS would only suggest one sketchy road that our tiny car would not be able to handle. Red Beach
If you are the excursion or activity type, I have many suggestions for you! First, go to a winery! There are so many local wine creators in Santorini, and many wineries offer tours or tastings. I enjoyed Boutari Winery. The cool thing about the local wines is that their vineyards do not look like what you’d see in the Niagara escarpment. To protect the grapes from wind and the sun, they wrap the vines like Christmas wreaths close to the ground. Also since the soil is all volcanic, this adds a bit of flavour to your adult grape juice. Boutari Winery
Second, do a boat tour. Just do it. Yes it’s a bit touristy. Yes it can be pricey. But doooo it! We used Key Tours for an all-day adventure. We made a stop at the volcano (yes it was a bit disappointing as it’s just a hike on rocky hills with the highlight being a hole in the ground that is slightly steamy with little Instagram worthy shots, but still a great experience), swam in sulphur hot springs (my fave part of the whole day), and ate lunch on Thirasia Island. A bit of a warning, the bathroom on the boat is hot and small. You should not, under any circumstances, wear a one piece bathing suit AND a onesie jumper, unless you are wanting an unpleasant experience. Nuff said! (In general the bathrooms suck in Greece and you must not throw any TP in the toilet, as their pipes are too small and cannot handle it and you are lucky to get toilet seats).Swimming in Hot Springs
Another fun thing to do is just rent a car and drive around. Check out the local less touristy villages such as Pyrgos or go to the edge of the island and check out the lighthouse. You never know what you’ll see, eat or discover, such as the free Venetian Castle we found. It’s the spontaneous adventures and discoveries that add to your lifetime of memories.The Lighthouse
Now for those asses! I am not afraid of heights and I love animals of all kinds (ask K who is constantly following me as I am trying to pet lizards, cuddle stray cats or feed the ducks). I read ahead on the donkeys and felt assured that they were well treated. After being up close and personal, I don’t feel like this is the case. The donkeys did not seem very happy and were covered with hot spots from the straps. The poor things go up and down the mountain all day long carrying tourists. I also had a very unpleasant donkey who clearly wanted nothing to do with me as he constantly walked too close to the (very low) edge, crushing and scraping my leg against walls (bruises to show for it) which induced fear and panic in me (I legit cried after getting off). He also had no desire to listen, and would stop or run up ahead of the other donkeys when he pleased. There are no reins to steer the donkey, just a single rope on the one side, which only helps if you want to turn right. The whole thing is rather depressing and I will not do it again. Do as you wish, it’s your trip, but I do not recommend it. Instead get your steps in for the day and climb the stairs.DSC02892
Any comments, questions or concerns? Let me know below! Stay tuned for part 2 on the mainland…Athens!Enjoying the local wine
Cheers,
Melissa

The Diamond Capital

As the local saying goes, there is Antwerp, and the rest of Belgium is just a parking lot. This being only my second stop in Belgium (after Dinant), I don’t think I can comment on this quote just yet. However, I can tell you what to eat, what to do once you get there, and perhaps most importantly what to avoid!AntwerpI cannot even describe how much I adore food, so leading with the top Belgium foods just makes sense. There are 4 essential food groups when in Antwerp: Waffles, Fries, Chocolate and Beer (some would also argue muscles, but I’ve been told they were much better in Dinant). Tucked in the shadows of Europe’s first skyscraper lies a tiny booth where you can purchase the best waffles in all of Antwerp, called, go figure, “The Smallest Waffleshop”. Go there! Run, don’t walk, they are amazing! Pro tip: If you want to eat like a local, don’t add any toppings, it really is sweet and delicious enough naked!WaffleMultiple locals told me about their favourite fry shop, Frituur LO, and a fun way to get there was to pass through St. Anna’s pedestrian tunnel (I’ll come back to the uniqueness of this tunnel in a bit). The locals will probably curse me to my grave for saying this, they were only OK, not great. They had much better fries at Simit Sarayi just two blocks away from Central Station. Sure the ambience is sub-par, but the rest of the food was decent for the price. Frituur LO is close to the river’s edge, allowing you to enjoy fries while watching the boats go by or listening to the church bells in the distance.Frituur LO FriesWhat better way to end your day with some Belgium chocolate for dessert, yum! You can find shops everywhere in the downtown core to purchase the traditional chocolate hands of Antwerp. Or you can go to a local grocery and pick up the cheap and local Cote D’Or.  In between fry sessions, and to give your feet an extra break, Belgium beer is simply a must. I enjoyed the beer and ambiance at Elfde Gebod. It is a tad….odd…on the inside. Instead of typical paintings or coat of arms, they have religious statues and other religious artefacts crowded in every nook and cranny. Very unique and touristy, but I loved it!Elfde GebodNow that you are full, you’ll need to burn off those calories with some activities. Though there is quite a bit to do in Antwerp, you really won’t need more than 2 days. A unique activity is the underground sewer canal tours at De Ruiens, you can do this led by a guide, on your own with an Ipad (90 mins) or on a boat (15 mins). Do note that this books up way in advance so get your tickets ASAP. Also carry a flashlight, and maybe bring something to cover up the lovely smell…De RuiensOther great museums to note include The Rubens House (great with a combination ticket for  Mayer Van Den Bergh which in my opinion was actually more impressive and less busy), Diva Antwerp Home of Diamonds (fantastic if you are into jewellery and antiques), and the stunning Cathedral of our Lady, which was quite beautiful with a small crypt underneath . If you want to go for a bit of a walk check out The Red Star Line Museum for personal stories of immigrants coming to North America, or the MAS Museum (Museum aan de Stroom).  Heads up that the Panorama at the top of the MAS museum is free and open until midnight, making it the perfect spot to watch a sunset. Overall most of the museums were worth their cheap admission price, and filled with interactive activities. Keep in mind not a lot of English is offered so you may be given a tour guide to refer to while walking around.MAS MuseumIf you are into markets like me, then you will have lots of options in Antwerp. There was practically a market every day we were there! At Groenplaats on Thursday, the Friday Market at the historic city center (for furniture and other random findings), and on Saturday the fresh food market at little Paris and the Antique market at Lijnwaadmarkt (only a few tables but prices so low it felt like stealing – we bought some fantastic silver antiques).Steen CastleFor some more free entertainment check out the beautiful Central Station of course, Steen Castle (pictured above, great for a view and photos), walk through the Diamond district (really a few blocks of jewellery stores), stroll through the boutique shops downtown, check out the red light district (yes they have one), or learn from a local on a PWYC walking tour. I also thoroughly enjoyed riding the original wooden escalators from 1933 in St. Anna’s pedestrian tunnel under the Scheldt River! The underpass is about a 15 minute walk (572 Meters), or you can bike it!St. Anna's Wooden EscalatorsWhile walking around be sure to look out for hands in Antwerp! Legend has it there was a giant in the city who forced people to pay a stipend to cross the river. If the populaces could not afford the fee he would cut off their hand and disposed of it in the river. It is said a Roman Soldier killed the giant and threw its hand into the river, hence the name of the city Antwerp, which means hand throwing.HandsWhether you choose to veg out basking in the sun on a patio, walking under the cranes along the harbour, or touring museums, you will be pleasantly surprised in Antwerp. So eat up. Drink up and go explore!

Did I miss anything? Have any questions about Antwerp? Let me know in the comments below!

Cheers,
Melissa

Travel On A Budget

sunday market (6)It’s that time of the month for Travel Tip Tuesday! Are you travelling on a budget? Look for free things to do! Most cities offer some tourist attractions that are free or by donation. This can include museums, churches, graveyards, parks, gardens, beaches, waterfalls, hiking and more! Some locations have special free days once a month on big tourist attractions as well (such as the last Sunday of the month in Rome, where most attractions are free including the Colosseum and Roman Forum), or cheaper rates on unpopular nights (enjoy discount tickets at The Rom on Friday nights in Toronto and Thursday nights at The Bata Shoe Museum).RomeHere’s the catch; other people are also looking for these deals and the free days can come with higher than normal lines to get in, and perhaps can overcrowd your perfect Instagram shot. So go early, have patience, bring snacks and be prepared.Tourists at VaticanYou all know by now that I am a huge advocate for the pay by donation walking tours (such as Sandeman Tours), as they allow you to see parts of the city through the eyes of a local.  I recommend doing this at the beginning of your trip, in case you hear of something you want to check out that is not on your itinerary!ArtWant to see more vintage artefacts without spending a dime? Check out high-end antique or art shops. This is a great option if you are a budget traveller, and sales staff are typically more than willing to give you a full history lesson regarding a particular piece.  If in doubt, Google is your friend! Ask it anything!

Any other travel questions? Let me know! And stay tuned for more tips and tricks!

Photos courtesy of KVDV Photography!

Cheers,
Melissa

Amsterdam Vs Toronto

AMS vs TOIt has been a year this weekend since we packed up and ventured to a new way of life in Amsterdam. It has been exciting, challenging and liberating. To celebrate our one year anniversary here, I have created a list of 20 differences that I have experienced between Toronto and Amsterdam.

  1. Cityscape: There are very few “skyscrapers” in Amsterdam. Downtown most of the buildings have the same look and feel, yet they are different with various colours or characteristic details. I do find the old look to be quite charming. If you want more of a modern look check out Rotterdam nearby!Amsterdam Buildings
  2. Alcohol: Wayyyy cheaper and more accessible here in Amsterdam. Who needs the LCBO when you can walk into your neighbourhood grocery store and purchase 3 decent bottles of wine for 10 euros! That is around $15 CAD! What?!
  3. Communication: Here the official language is Dutch; however, most residents will speak to you in English if needed (especially in touristy areas). Signage and transit announcements are usually in Dutch, which has led to a few funny stories of trains being cancelled and being stranded in the train yard. Fun…
  4. Food: Traditional Dutch dishes are amazing for your mouth, but not so much for your waist. Deep fried, sugary, savoury, cheesy and yummy are all the food groups you can look forward to here!Say Cheese
  5. Way of Life: Amsterdam tends to have more of a work life balance. This is probably since most stores are not open past 6 pm and have limited hours on the weekends. Not so great for the shoppers that are used to typical North American hours – such as the 24/7 Walmarts. On that note you will not find many big department stores in the Amsterdam core as it is majority boutique shops. Great for local businesses, not so great for one stop shopping.Toronto at Night
  6. Weather: Everyone lied to us. It does get cold and it does snow in winter – luckily not as much as Toronto, still enough to cause panic when it snows. Another important fact to know is the significant difference in sunlight hours: 2066 for Toronto and 1662 for Amsterdam. It seems like it is always dreary and cloudy, and I have yet to see anyone skating to work. However this week has been amazingly sunny, so today I am not complaining at all!Toronto Snow
  7. Nature: Amsterdam offers large parks with green space for its residents, and has an abundance of beautiful canals. Toronto also has many park options, especially along the beaches/ island. Pretty even playing field here. There is also less wildlife in the suburban neighbourhoods of Amsterdam (I haven’t seen a squirrel in ages), but a lot more varieties of birds and ducks.Vondel Park Amsterdam
  8. Cleanliness: Though Amsterdam tried to implement a recycling program, I do find that Toronto is much cleaner and more progressive in protecting our environment. In Amsterdam (or Europe rather) you will also find more cats and pigeons inside restaurants. On top of that, places often allow you to bring in your dog!
  9. Bathrooms: Unfortunately there is a theme across Europe that lots of public restrooms are not free. Even in restaurants. It can range from 50 cents to a Euro just to relieve yourself of all the alcohol…I mean water… that you’ve been drinking. Although at night men’s urinals do pop up in the streets for easy usage, but I wouldn’t use one of those. One would expect that paying for the usage of a water closet would ensure a nice and sanitized environment, this is not the case and most can be smelled from meters away. No location signs required!
  10. Extra charges: They don’t just charge you for bathrooms here. Restaurants often put items on your dinner table that are typically free in Toronto. When you go to pay for your dinner, expect that water, bread, condiments and more will be added to your tab!
  11. Location: Toronto has many great spots to visit nearby, but it is not always very convenient via transit. Amsterdam is a prime location to travel to because it is centrally located within Europe. Just do not expect for all your transit to be cheap. There are so many more travel options here, that you are bound to be bitten by the travel bug.Toronto Transit
  12. Shopping: Clothing is quite expensive in Europe. Essentially a shirt in Canada could be 25 dollars, while the same shirt in Amsterdam is 25 Euros, converting to 39 Canadian dollars! Bananas! Although Amsterdam has some really cute boutique shops, it also has some of the same stores that you can find on Queen St. There are still some stores that I miss from Canada and get excited about visiting on my trips back.
  13. Bike Culture: Although hipsters in Toronto love their bikes, Amsterdam has them beat. Honestly, crossing the street here as a pedestrian can be really scary if you don’t look both ways (and then again). There are massive lots for bike parking everywhere; with almost as many bikes as people in this city. Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly large cities in the world, with 400 km of bike lanes and nearly 40% of all commutes are done via bike. Here most cyclists don’t wear helmets, and bike theft is a big problem. We had one of our bikes stolen within 2 weeks of purchase!Amsterdam Bikes
  14. Crime: Speaking of theft… I felt pretty safe in Toronto most of the time even with the constant reminder of crime on the news. Amsterdam has its pickpockets (especially in tourist locations), bike thefts and large amount of home burglaries. However there appears to be less violent crime here. I have never felt unsafe walking around at night in Amsterdam.
  15. Arts: Although there is a love of culture, and lots of theatre and film options for performers here, if you do not know Dutch it is very very limiting. I’ve been lucky enough to book a few roles, however, here you really have to search for them. It does limit the competition though when the role specifically requires a native English speaker!
  16. Prices: Rent, food and entertainment seem to cost more overall in Amsterdam. This could be because I am still constantly converting the Euro to Canadian dollars in my head every time I make a transaction. But it definitely is cheaper to drink (alcohol) here. Yay!Amsterdam Food
  17. Population: Toronto may have more residents but Amsterdam is BUSY, though most of this population are tourists. Also I do find that overall there is more butting in line here, and less of the Canadian way of lining up. “Sorry!” And to go on a bit of a tangent here, customer service is not always as quick or friendly in Europe like what you can get in Canada. Amsterdam Boat
  18. Living: Kitchens are much smaller in Europe. We were very lucky to land a place with an “American Size” oven, stove and fridge. Dishwashers seems to be non-existent in pre-furnished homes. And dryers? Not everyone has them. If you do, it probably takes hours to dry a single load and normally the clothes just get warm and less damp. I also don’t see very many apartments with elevators or AC, especially if you live in the downtown core. The trade-off? You live in a charming old historic Dutch apartment in the heart of Amsterdam, and have a view of a canal if you’re lucky! Many people also live in houseboats along the canals, how cool is that?Houseboat
  19. Laws: There are laws here, yet they seem more lenient on safety. There is texting and biking, drinking and boating, young kids playing with fireworks at New Years and most canals do not have a railing. In a way it’s a bit refreshing to not feel so restricted and have to own up and be responsible for yourself.
  20. Fashion: I cannot speak for all the men here, but women’s fashion is more laid back. I wouldn’t say its years ahead like the old stereotype goes, but it does have a different vibe from Toronto. Here no one really cares what you wear. Typically you see women sporting jeans, a plain top and jacket. They don’t seem to spend hours on hair and makeup and look like they just rolled out of bed and decided to change out of their PJ’s, and yet still look fabulous.

Overall it has been a year filled with lots of ups and downs. I do not regret the decision to move and am so grateful for the opportunities that have come with moving. Who knows what will happen in this next year to come! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Are you an expat? Have you lived or traveled abroad? What differences have you noticed in your journeys!

Thanks so much to KVDV Photography for the beautiful photos!

Cheers,
Melissa

Do As The Locals Do

IMG_1825_editedFirst off, hope you had a lovely Easter weekend filled with family, friends, fun and of course chocolate!sunday market (3)It’s that time for Travel Tip Tuesday! One of my favourite things when travelling is to do as the locals do. When travelling you most definitely want to check out the famous iconic landmarks that each city holds, but also try to venture off the beaten path. Some of the best foods I’ve eaten were not in touristy restaurants, but mom and pop shops that were not listed on maps! You can find beautiful sites, delicious food and local crafts that are not commercialized when you step out of the main tourist core. Also asking the locals where they like to eat and shop can be helpful and very rewarding! Want to save some cash? You can check out the local grocery stores for snacks to carry with you when exploring.IMG_8532(LR)_editedEnjoy your trip and be adventurous, but with a degree of caution to your surroundings. Any other travel questions? Let me know! And stay tuned for more!

Cheers,
Melissa

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland

IMG_0105 (1)Deciding where to go on St. Patrick’s Day was an easy decision, Dublin, Ireland of course! Not only is there an unlimited amount of pubs to celebrate in, they also have a parade dedicated for the festivities. Surprisingly though, most of the participating bands, floats and spectators were American; it did not have the St. Patrick’s vibe one would expect – no leprechauns!

In Dublin there are lots of free museums to check out such as: Chester Beatty Library, National Gallery of Ireland and the Natural History Museum. There are also cute parks for people watching such as St. Stephen’s Green. If deciding between which churches to check out (as they are not free here) I would consider Christ Church Cathedral before St. Patrick’s Cathedral. There will be a shorter wait time, more to see and they have a large crypt underneath. Sandeman’s offers free walking tours here as well, but my favourite tour was of Kilmainham Gaol. A former prison not only filled with so much history, it is very interesting for anyone into the Irish politics, and has a museum at the end. This tour was only 8 Euros and my top pick in Dublin. Other spots to check out are Anne’s Lane for the instagramable umbrella art installation, the Spire of Dublin (not loved by the locals), and a walk along the Liffey river for views of the cityscape and many bridges.
IMG_1239Thirsty from all that walking? You can taste local brews at the Guinness Storehouse, the Jameson Distillery and The Irish Whiskey Museum, or any of the local pubs. However I really enjoyed Vintage Cocktail Club the most. At VCC you must make reservations. When you arrive you will see a random door with no door handle and will have to ring the doorbell. It has a speakeasy feel inside, with a vintage décor. It’s cosy, small and has the best tasting cocktails. Their menu is setup based on time periods of cocktail creation and provides an insight as to what was offered throughout history, along with their own signature creations such as The Dirty Wizard.
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When checking out the big cities of surrounding countries, I also like to take the time to see the smaller towns nearby. If staying in Dublin, I highly recommend checking out Howth. Less than 30 minutes away by train, Howth is a beautiful location filled with fresh seafood restaurants, and you can follow the main road which takes you up a hike to the top of the cliffs. This is a must do for nature lovers, or those wanting a fantastic view of the marina. In fact, I enjoyed this the most of our entire trip, namely due to the massive sea swells, and all the breathtaking views from the cliff tops!

Another (touristy) stop that you must do is a trip to Cork. You can get there by an express bus from Dublin, but it takes about 3 hours. Once there stroll through town, or take another bus only 20 minutes out to Blarney Castle and grounds. Here you can eat, shop, stroll through the gardens, check out the caves or climb to the top of Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone. Legend has it that many celebs, politicians and royalty have done this over time for the gift of eloquence. I would recommend doing an overnight here, allowing for sufficient time to explore Cork as well as visit the beloved Blarney Castle.

Did I miss anything? Have any questions? Any suggestions on where to travel next? Let me know in the comments below!

Also, on a non-travel note, I booked my first modeling gig in Amsterdam! I can’t share all the confidential details unfortunately, but I must tell you that I got to walk the catwalk and it was such a fun experience!I DO MY LITTLE TURN ON THE CATWALK
Cheers,
Melissa

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