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

Vienna, Austria

I had no idea what to expect for our latest trip to Austria. I had received mixed reviews from fellow travellers. After spending 4 days in Vienna, I must say I am thoroughly impressed. Vienna has plenty of history, arts and culture to offer on your visit.
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I don’t really know where to begin, there is so much to cover, so I’ll start with my most memorable part, the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper). The construction of this building was completed in 1869, and can fit an audience size of 2300. You can end up spending up to 200 euros on a ticket or you have another option; standing tickets. This option will cost you around 3 to 4 euros; the only drawback is the wait time. 80 minutes before a show starts (which is every day except for a couple months in the summer) you can stand and wait for tickets. We went earlier than this and found the line up (which is indoors for all you winter travellers) had already started. Once the box office opens it moves quite quickly. After your ticket purchase, you are moved to another location where you will have to wait once again. Once you get inside you will need to claim your spot immediately with a placeholder. The recommended method is to tie a scarf around the railing where you will be standing. This way you can step out for snacks, beverages or a washroom break before the show begins. Don’t take too long though, if you are late coming back you will not be allowed back in until intermission. After intermission the standing audience size cuts back in half so you may be able to move closer for a better view. Despite the long hours on your feet this is a great way to see an imperial show on a budget; we lucked out to have an amazing view, which also came with a subtitle screen. The State Opera also offers tours for 9 Euros which was pretty cool, so check out their site before you go!… I should also mention, this romantic location is where my fiance proposed after the show, so it has a very special place in my heart!

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is also worth the trip. Located in a unique spot surrounded by souvenir shops and hotels, we opted to pay the 5 euros to climb 343 steps to the top for stunning views, and 6 euros to view the Catacombs. Though not nearly a tenth of the size of Paris’ catacombs, it was still an interesting bit of history beneath the city centre.
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Other mentionable places to visit while in Vienna are the Austrian National Library (I swear this is the most beautiful library you will ever see), The National History Museum (Lots of rocks, stones and dinosaurs), Musikverein (one of the finest and most famous concert halls in the world where you can line up for tickets one hour before the show starts), Schönbrunn Palace (in photo above) and the Vienna Zoo (which is oldest continuously operating zoo in the world).
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The food prices in Vienna are pretty average. The best meal all trip was actually in the Zoo believe it or not! Kudos to Café Kaiserpavillion for the flawless presentation, impressive service and historic ambiance. This breakfast pavilion is decorated by paintings and mirrors, and even offers vegetarian options on the menu. Another honourable mention is Gösser Bierklinik which is located in a building that was first mentioned in a registered document in 1406. The prices there are also super reasonable, with exceptional service! Along your journeys make sure you sample the Sachertorte, a scrumptious chocolate cake dessert invented in 1832 by Austrian Franz Sacher. If you are counting dollars be mindful that they charge extra for whip cream on the side (and mayo, bread, etc).

Other than the people trying to sell tickets, there were not very many vendors trying to get our attention as we walked around. Keep a lookout for people dressed up as Mozart – they are relentless in trying to get you to buy tickets. The box office still had tickets at both the Wiener Staatsoper and the Musikverein Music Hall when we arrived, so I would recommend visiting the box office first as these tickets will be legit.
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Overall Vienna is quite large with a lot to do. You can aimlessly walk around the streets downtown (or even in parliament) and find so many unique characteristics in the city. Prices there are pretty decent (not as cheap as Budapest, but not as expensive as Zurich). It is a beautiful place with so much to do see and do, I can’t wait to go back soon!

Did I miss anything? Suggestions on where I should travel next? Let me know in the comments!

Cheers,
Melissa

 

Scarf It Up!

I swear half my closet consists of scarves. I really do love them and wear them constantly. Therefore it makes sense that my latest travel tip is to always bring a scarf on a trip. A scarf will not only keep you warm as a blanket (as flights tend to be on the cooler side), but can dual as a pillow (great for trains and buses). You can use them to cover your face for privacy, as an eye mask to shield against bright lights, or folded up as a neck pillow. When travelling in the summer, it can get very hot, but some churches have dress codes and a scarf will be needed to cover your bare shoulders. They also come in handy as seat savers in the movie theatre, at concerts, or when getting standing tickets at the Opera (see my Vienna blog post later this week for more on this).
Apple Picking IMG_2639(LR,PS)And don’t forget that they are a fabulous fashion accessory; they can make any outfit look classy and put together in a second! One of my favourites is NimiNimi scarves! They are not only luxurious silk scarves that are hand rolled in Italy, but for charity! They have also been nominated for a Canadian Arts and Fashion Award, congrats!
sunday market (2)Do you have any other travel questions? Let me know! And stay tuned for more!
“When I wear a silk scarf I never feel so definitely like a woman, a beautiful woman.”Cheers,
Melissa

Buda – Best!

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is pretty awesome! There are so many exciting options to explore; you will need more than a couple of days. I must say, one of my favourite things to do with my BFF was the traditional Hungarian bath. Szechenyi Spa was our bath of choice, the largest medicinal bath in Europe. There you can relax outdoors in a 20th century heated pool, steam your face, and tan, all in the middle of winter! I’ve never done a public bath before and this was definitely an enthusiastic check off the bucket list. If you are a budget minded traveller, you can bring your own towel to save a few Euros! And if you work up an appetite after all that swimming, stop at the nearby Varosliget Café & Restaurant, at Budapest City Park, for a mid-day lunch. There they have a spectacular view, reasonable prices, and a delicious gluten free vegetarian option (grilled sheep cheese with roasted vegetables – yum).
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Other amazing mentionable activities in Budapest include: Fisherman’s Bastion (which is a bit of an uphill hike but a must see at night), Buda Castle, Heroes Square, Hungarian Parliament (so beautiful), Matthias Church, St Stephen’s Basilica (only 300 steps up for a panorama view of the city) and Shoes on the Danube (a touching WW2 memorial along the river, seen in the photo below). When you get a little snack-ish from all that walking, be sure to try the traditional chimney cake, which will give you an instant delicious  doughy sugar boost!
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Your day does not end when night begins here. In Budapest there are many ruin bars, restaurants and lots to do in the city when the sun goes down. We went to Mazel Tov for some great eats for a girls night in a romantic ruin setting, and drank some traditional Palinka at Szimpla Kert Ruin bar. Another activity I would highly recommend is a wine tasting at Faust Wine Cellar in Hotel Hilton Budapest. The wine cellar is in the basement, with a cave like feel. The setting is dark and intimate. You get a personal tasting of the most delicious Hungarian wines, along with a treat to snack on. For wine lovers, this is a must do while in Budapest, and a brilliant thoughtful surprise from my bestie!

One thing to note is that Budapest is pretty cheap, (leaps and bounds cheaper than the last trip to Zurich), which makes eating and souvenir shopping a lot easier on the wallet. They do have their own currency there (Hungarian Forint also referred to as HUF, which is roughly 314 HUF for 1 Euro) however we were able to get away with using cards or Euros the entire time.
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To see more photos of life in Budapest, be sure to check out http://fromkaren.com/, for gorgeous views of the stunning city (and so much more)! Overall I will definitely be back to this charming city one day.

Do you have any questions? Did I miss anything? Where should I travel next? Comment below to let me know!

Cheers,
Melissa

Holidays Abroad

Happy Valentine’s Day! Sending love, hugs and chocolate kisses from Amsterdam.
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Living abroad is exciting and very fulfilling. But what they don’t tell you in the pamphlet is that it can also be lonely, especially during holidays. It can be very challenging trying to celebrate one of your favourite traditional festivities when it is not as popular abroad. Thanksgiving and Halloween are great examples of this. Though slowly picking up in popularity, they are still not big social holidays in The Netherlands. Don’t get me started on finding cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie! Even though we did find a Halloween party for expats, we were the only ones dressed up in costume while on public transit – maybe they thought we were crazy? Then again, it is Amsterdam!
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On the flip side, you also get to participate in new holidays, such as Kings Day or Sinterklass. It’s not every day you see “Santa” arriving by boat and then riding past you on a white horse, or over one million people all dressed up in orange. So if abroad, try to immerse yourself in the local cultural traditions as well as maintaining your own.
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Not to worry, I have been able to find some heart shaped desserts in Amsterdam at Leef, though St.Patrick’s Day decor seems nonexistent!? Has anyone seen this anywhere? Most stores are prepping for Easter now!
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Want to know more about my thoughts of living abroad? Check out my feature online in Expats of Amsterdam here: http://expatsofamsterdam.nl/country/canada/dutch-blood-veins-also-made-feel-home/. So grateful to be part of this! Also, a big thank you to kvdvphotography.com for the Valentines photoshoot, and the white vintage sweater found at Treasure Hunters Amsterdam!

Cheers,
Melissa

Travel & Beauty

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Anyone who knows me, knows I LOVE makeup. I really don’t go very far without it (especially if we are taking lots of photos and videos). But when you travel with just a backpack, you don’t always have much room for cosmetics (especially when you plan on bringing back souvenirs). So over the year I have learnt to pack light and minimal when it comes to beauty. I have also discovered, and absolutely love, all-in-one makeup travel kits such as the Gigi Hadid Jetsetter Palette from Maybelline and the Douglas Collection Mini Star Palette. Makeup travel kits work great because they are small, but last, and have all your beauty essentials. This along with a powder compact is really all you need on a trip. Another reason I love these is that they often have eye shadow shades that I would not normally try, and you still get concealer/ contour options! What is in your travel makeup bag?
sunday marketI also have just started a collection of lipsticks from visited countries, so that I have a shade to remind me of each trip! What do you collect?
20180206_095044_edited_editedAny other travel questions? Let me know! And stay tuned for more monthly tips and tricks!

Cheers,
Melissa

Switzerland: Zurich, Rhine Falls & Schaffhausen

Zurich is a picturesque place which you can visit within a couple days, making it a perfect weekend getaway location. Filled with museums, shopping options and churches, you will have plenty to do. Along with filling your day with activities, you can also fill your stomach with cheese and chocolate. Though, be warned that though flights may be on the cheaper side, dining and drinking in Zurich is quite expensive (I’m talking 30 dollars for 2 glasses of wine here). But if you don’t mind forking out some money, go for it and don’t let it deter you.

I suggest you start your Zurich visit at the Salt & Pepper Shakers (nick name of the towers at Grossmunster Church). Though quite simplistic inside, you can pay 5 Swiss Francs to climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city. Another popular church is Fraumunster, which has a free courtyard filled with frescos that I recommend checking out, as it was originally a former abbey for women founded back in 853. Zurich also offers lots of museums and galleries, or you can just enjoy walking up the hilly cobblestone paths of Altstadt (Old town). Feel like a workout? Climb up the mountain to check out the University and then enjoy a tea and a view at bQm Culture Café & Bar. You know I love free tours, and I thoroughly enjoyed http://www.freewalk.ch/zurich/. They were friendly, informative, and brought us into places I may not have discovered on my own (such as an old Swiss bank now a building for boutique store owners).

Once you’ve worked up an appetite you can satisfy your taste buds with the traditional fondue or raclette at places such as Swiss Chuchi (which offers a choice of gluten free bread by the way), or check out the oldest continuously open vegetarian restaurant in the world (according to Guinness World Records) at Hiltl. I recommend the Tatar, it’s worth the price tag. Be sure to try some champagne truffles, meant for New Years but such a delightful treat. Also order the Flambe with Firewater at Zueghauskeller (your instagram will thank you for it), or go for upscale cocktails with friendly service at Nachtflug (stone walls of over 700 years, combined with a modern interior).

Excursions outside of Zurich can be pricey (starting at 60 dollars a person, up to the high hundreds); but another option is to take the train 1 hour out of the city to Rhine Falls. You can spend hours there walking around the falls, or visiting Laufen Castle (which also offers a platform at the bottom of the falls to get a closer view of the water). In the summer they offer boat rides, but in the winter you can enjoy some delicious mulled wine in a winter wonderland. Rhine falls formed in the last ice age and is the largest waterfall in Switzerland with quite a spectacular view (weather permitting). More information can be found here: http://www.rheinfall.ch/en/yourvisit.

One stop away from Rhine falls is Schaffhausen. It is worth the trip! A cute medieval town that you can walk through within hours, that offers a lot of authenticity. In the winter, and on a weekend, not much is open. However you can check out sites such as Kloster Allerheiligen (former monastery), Munot (which is free and surrounded by vineyards, with a great view of the city), lots of unique water fountains, and more.

Due to weather not all of our plans were followed. However, here are some more suggestions on other activities to do in Zurich: The Urania Observatory: Old Crow (for some whiskey options), Gerold Cuchi Umbrellas, and Uetliberg the Top of Zurich. Did I miss anything? Want to learn more? Let me know!

Have you been to Zurich? What did you think? Any suggestions on where I should travel next? Be sure to leave a comment below!

Cheers,
Melissa

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