Why you should travel with a Backpack!

Travel Tip Tuesday
Happy Travel Tip Tuesday! After a 2 month hiatus to return to life back in Toronto, from Amsterdam, I am back with more monthly tips and tricks for your next travel adventure! After binge-watching Marie Kondo on Netflix, purging through our stuff to move back, and sifting through any unnecessary belongings that had accumulated over time, I want to take a moment to focus on the effectiveness of packing light.

I love having wardrobe options with matching jewelry, day and night shoes, and numerous hat options; but after spending many weekends living out of a backpack, I’ve learned how unnecessary it can be. I’m not saying to wear the same outfit all weekend (you do want some variety in your Instagram photos, and need to be prepared for all weather types), just find articles of clothing that can be mixed, matched and layered (if necessary). Pairing this plan with different accessories each day can refresh your look, but more importantly, leave more room in your backpack or reduce weight – your back will thank you.
Wearing a backpack in South Africa
Traveling with just a backpack means that you don’t have to wait for checked luggage and won’t have to stress about lugging around a bag with wheels up long staircases, or wish you had additional arms to carry more stuff. This is ideal if you have an early or late flight (as you can stroll in a bit closer to your flight, and not waste time in a line to get your luggage weighed and tagged). It also means that you can walk a bit faster with just what you need on your back, and cover more ground seeing more landmarks on your trip. Perhaps the most important of all, with a well-balanced bag that fits you properly, it greatly reduces the strain on your body and you may even forget you have a bag on at all! – great for stairs, terrible in antique shops.
Wearing a backpack in Bordeaux
When packing your knapsack, I find it’s ideal to roll up your clothes. I’ll pre-steam the wrinkles out, and then neatly and tightly roll everything so I can pack more. That also leaves space for your toiletries, makeup, an empty water bottle, socks, undergarments, accessories, etc. Always leave a tinnnny bit of room for any souvenirs you may pick up along the way, optional if that’s not your jam. Also, a hot tip, since this is your carryon item on flights (so you don’t need to be separated from your belongings), you usually also get a personal item. For us, that usually means my purse, my husband’s prized procession (his camera) or a fragile purchase from an antique market.
Travel with a Backpack
So next time you are luggage shopping at The Bay or Bently, don’t forget to consider a nice sturdy backpack. For ample back support get one with straps that clip along the chest, they don’t look nerdy or touristy at all, says my husband. Or go for the Eddie Bauer stowaway packable backpack. I love that you can use it all day and then fold it up into a tiny bag and store it when you don’t need it! For more tips on how to make the most out of the space in your knapsack, check out my tips on travel makeup options HERE, or learn how to cut down on hair appliances HERE.

Do you travel with a backpack? Do you have any travel questions that you want me to cover in my next monthly post? Let me know in the comments below!

Cheers,
Melissa

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! Want to see more? Check out my YouTube video at ‘Mellie Telly’ HERE!

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

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

 

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