Serdica Is My Rome

Constantine The Great, the Roman Emperor who ruled from 306 to 337, was reported to have said: “Serdica is my Rome”. Serdica is the ancient city that Sofia is literally built on top of.
Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
Want a weekend escape that is off the beaten path and not your typical Central Europe destination? Check out Sofia, Bulgaria! You will not need more than 2 or 3 days in this lovely city, and any longer you may run out of things to do. Before heading to Sofia, I had no idea what to expect. I did just enough research to fill up our itinerary, but I really wasn’t sure what to anticipate. What would the architecture look like? How big was the nearby escarpment? How old was the city? Would they have vegetarian options for dinner? We boarded the plane without even checking if we needed a visa and what the local language was. Luckily, as a Canadian, we did not require a visa and enough people spoke English.
Boyana Waterfall
Let us start with my usual suggestion, a PWYC walking tour. I know you must be bored of this suggestion by now, but this was one of the best ones yet! Our guide was not only informative, but kept up a great pace and knew her shit. She was also a loud speaker, making it easier to hear, and you could tell she loved her city. Another tour idea is their hiking tour up the famous Vitosha Mountain. I highly suggest you do this. It will eat up most of your day but you will see (the very small) Boyana Lake, Maiden Rock and the beautiful Boyana waterfall (pictured above). Warning, you will need to dress appropriately as you will indeed be in the deep of the forest hiking uphill…for hours. Also bring lots of water, snacks, and be prepared for the weather. When descending, we were hit with a major storm; not only was the storm above us, it was also around us because we were actually IN the storm clouds. It rained so much that even a submarine would get wet, and our escape path was flooded over thus requiring us to get a few soakers along the way. If you are a nature lover, do this tour. Heck, if you like fun do this tour.
View from Vitosha Mountain
Not far from Sofia (about a 2 hour drive) is Rila Monastery. This is a castle-like structure, with a courtyard that houses a medium size church (free admission but no photos inside) and a separate bell tower (small admission fee). The castle structure houses the residential accommodation which is off limits to the public, and it also has a museum which has the most detailed carved wooden cross I have ever seen. A short walk away from the monastery there are several restaurants where you can have traditional Bulgarian food, while looking at the mountains, with the soft roar of a raging river in the distance. Following the sound of the river will lead you to a hidden graveyard. In all, planning 2 – 4 hours is sufficient enough to see the local sights, though there are trails nearby that can occupy your time for a full day. This was one of the best overall atmospheres of any religious institution we’ve been to yet. The impeding mountains surrounding the monastery complex coupled with the unique look of the church was something we just have not seen yet.
Rila Monastery
There are a lot of churches in downtown Sofia, and great news they all have free admission, though most forbid pictures or will charge for the privilege of taking them. The most well-known church is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. It is actually one of the largest Eastern Orthodox Cathedrals in the world and a big tourist attraction. Though it was very lovely, my favourites were the Church of St. George and Church of St. Petka of the Saddlers. St. George is one of the oldest buildings in Sofia and is situated in the courtyard of the now Sheraton Hotel. This was done to discourage people from finding and attending church services. Like most churches here it is very small, and has 5 layers of preserved frescos, some dating back to the 4th century. If you think this church is small, then wait until you see St. Petka! Located among the ancient ruins right along the subway line, this tiny place of worship is worth a quick visit. To enter you take the stairs down and set foot through a tiny doorway (meant to be low enough to force churchgoers to bow to God before entering). A fun fact, the walls are 1 M thick made of brick and stone!
St. George
What surprised me most about Sofia was the numerous locations of ancient ruins. Even more astonishing is that you can walk among them and touch them, all for free. It’s incredible. These locations are all over the city, indoors and out, but usually located near subway stops. This is since a lot of them were discovered when they were digging for the transit system. The reason for the amble ruins is that over time instead of removing the old sections of the city after they were destroyed or left for disrepair, they would build on top of them. From this, almost every block within Sofia has another city below it. There are simply too many ruins to excavate them all, and so when they are discovered during digs for new developments, the government does not mandate that they need to be preserved in their entirety. A good example is with Arena Di Serdica Hotel, as they found an amphitheatre while digging, they were able to keep only a small section and put it on display and remove the rest for the foundation.
Arena Di Serdica Hotel
And now for the food and drink. Sofia is cheap!! Portion sizes are quite generous, especially for the price. I doubt you will need a late night snack to hold you over. But hey, I won’t judge if you do! Word of caution, Sofia closes down early, so if you want to have some nibbles late at night, be prepared and buy portable snacks during the day. My favourite places to eat were Moma (traditional food, fair prices, great service and the perfect ambience) and Hadjidraganov’s Houses restaurants (super cool Bulgarian feel with traditional eats and homemade wine). I highly recommend ordering the traditional Shopska Salad, Meshana Skara for the meat eaters, beans in a clay pot, or at the very least, something that you would not normally eat. Want to be pleasantly surprised? Order a glass of Bulgarian wine. I lied, order an entire bottle it’s De – Lish!
Statue of Sveta Sofia
A few more things to note about Sofia, the taxis are very cheap…except when you want to leave the city center (Vitosha Boulevard) at night to hit the hay. People there shake their head no when they say yes, and shake their head yes when they say no. It’s a bit of mind trip and makes interaction very interesting. If you want to purchase rose oil as a souvenir for the ladies, it is everywhere, so don’t buy the first one that you see. Sofia has lots of museums, or look into spa treatments if you rather relax on your holiday. And overall people there seem very pleasant and are happy to help if you need it!

Cheers,
Melissa

Last Minute Travel

Grab your agenda, it’s time for travel tip Tuesday!
Travel Tip Tuesday
Sometimes travelling on a whim can actually be the cheapest. And that is not easy for me, the organized – itinerary making – over planner, to admit. For example, our trip to Trinidad & Tobago from Canada, or really most of our European weekend getaways from Amsterdam, have been last minute spontaneous decisions.

So how do you go about this? If you can, search on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, the prices are usually at their lowest then. Next, I like to follow travel Facebook groups which often post last minute deals or promos (such as YYZ deals). If you find a deal you like, act quickly! Great deals often go VERY fast! I also like using sites such as Tickettipper.nl (which will list great travel deals in Europe), and Skyscanner (to book according to the best price). Some airlines often have last minute deals on their site, such as Transavia. The most difficult part is getting the time off, so I preach the tried and true, “Better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission”. I only know of one story where that failed, he only missed a day of his trip and had to book a new flight. But, it is a risk one has to take to get the best deals.
My Plan
Keep in mind that when you leave it this late in the game, you may not have much selection in your destination. But if you just want a weekend away, and are not particularly picky about where you want to explore, give this a try!

Are there any sites that you suggest? Let me know! And stay tuned for more tips and tricks!

Cheers,
Melissa

Canada Day

Happy Canada Day Everyone! I may currently be in Amsterdam, but I am still celebrating while wearing some red and white!
Canada Day
Since it is Canada Day, I have written an article on the top 5 things I miss most from back home. Check it out at Verge Magazine here: https://www.vergemagazine.com/work-abroad/blogs/2280-happy-canada-day-from-amsterdam.html.
Red and White
Let me know what you think in the comments below! Are you an expat at well? What do you miss most from back home?

Cheers,
Melissa

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

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