10 Tips for Prague on a Budget

I admit I’m a few months behind on this post as I have been busy traveling to Canada to get married and visiting South Africa for our honeymoon (more on these adventures later on). However, better late than never to post on our wonderful long weekend spent in Prague, Czech Republic. To attempt something new, we tried to do this trip on a backpacker’s budget, just to see if we can have the same amount of fun, and guess what, it was still a blast! So here are some tips to do the same:
KVDV PHOTOGRAPHY - Prague
1) Eat on the cheap and I mean CHEAP: Prague has delicious food and at a fair price. A lot of restaurants offer great deals such as Lokal (recommended to me by a wonderful friend), which has some of the best authentic food we found. Want something different? Try Kofola; a sweet herbal substitute for Coke. If your budget has tighter purse strings, you can opt to get groceries and live like a real local. Another great thing about Europe is that the booze is much cheaper than North America, at times even cheaper than a bottle of water!
KVDV PHOTOGRAPHY - Prague Walking Tour
2 ) Learn from Locals: I always suggest it, but pleaseeeeee go for a free walking tour! It is a fabulous way to see the city and they point you in the best direction for more free things to do, places to stay, and hidden restaurants. You will also get a great workout as they often walk for 2 – 3 hours. So turn on that Fitbit.
KVDV PHOTOGRAPHY - John Lennon Wall
3) Free Art: Prague itself is a glorious work of art; it also has unique pieces spread out throughout the city. Let’s start with the John Lennon wall. You guessed it, it is a wall. This wall is special in particular because it is covered with colourful inspirational lyrics and eye-catching graffiti. Not too far is the Statue of Two Men Peeing. Again, it is literally what it sounds like; two men peeing. For some added fun, send a quick text and they will spell your name with their “pee”. Next stop is the Library for the bookworms out there. Some of you may want to read, but the real reason to step inside is to get your Gram on with the never-ending book tower. Such a unique piece of art! You can also look for the giant head of Franz Kafka and the Upside Down Horse statue downtown.
KVDV PHOTOGRAPHY - Smallest Street
4) Smallest Street: This is free entertainment perfect for any time of day. Prague boasts the narrowest street in Europe; it’s so tiny that there are traffic lights to prevent people from colliding in opposite directions. The gap of this alley is only 50 cm wide. Wowzers! (Great for a photo opt!)
KVDV PHOTOGRAPHY - Prague Castle
5) Castles: If you were looking for medieval architecture, you are in the right city. From cathedrals to castles to cobblestone, Prague is the city for you. One spend I will encourage would be for the Prague Castle grounds, which includes St. Vitus Cathedral, Vladislav Hall, the Basilica of St. George, The Crown Jewels (of course) and so much more. According to the Guinness Book of records, this castle is the largest medieval castle in the world, with over 1.8 million visitors a year. They started to build the Prague Castle in the 9th century and it was finally completed in 1929. I’ll make sure I won’t use the same company to build my next house. Fun fact; on the main entrance of St. Vitus Cathedral, there are self-portraits of the architects from over the years and it is interesting to see how clothing has changed in the last 1000 years.

6) Riverside: Take a romantic stroll along the riverside of The Vltava, or cross one of the many bridges to get a view from the other side. The most famous one being The Charles Bridge which connects Prague Castle and Old Town Prague.
KVDV PHOTOGRAPHY - Riverside
7) People Watching: Wenceslas Square is the heart of New Town Prague with shops, bars, restaurants and more. The great thing about this square, or the many others around town, is that it is free to sit there as long as you like and take in the historic atmosphere. If you know Europe, hardly anything is free and seating in nice areas are typically at a premium. Watch the tourists, lick an ice cream and bask in the European sun imagining what it may have been like back in the day.

8) The Hunger Wall: While you are hiking up windy paths making your way to Petrin Lookout Tower, you can find a unique hidden surprise. Along the edge of the path is an original medieval defensive wall that was built in 1360, and a great view of the city.
KVDV PHOTOGRAPHY - Prague Railway Station
9) Railway Station: Praha hlavní nádraží is the largest railway station in Prague. It originally opened in 1871 and still runs today. If you look hard enough you will find the hidden Wilsonova Building. This portion of the station has a small beautifully decorated ceiling dome that was once the main entrance and ticket hall impressing passengers on arrival back during its peak.

10) Get Lost: Some of our most treasured memories and greatest discoveries came from our walks throughout the city that had no planned out route. No map, no destination, just pure exploring. When doing this you will discover markets, new food, meet new friends, see new sites and add a personal touch to your trip. We did this when in Prague and found some local music to enjoy while watching the sun delightfully set over the old picturesque town.
KVDV PHOTOGRAPHY
To sum it up, you can splurge or save, but either way, you will have an exceptional time in Prague. With over 200 museums, and many churches (often free or at the very least they’ll allow you to step in for a quick peek without actually paying any admission), there is lots of room to explore and discover your own riches. Have you been there? Let me know about your trip in the comments below!

Cheers,
Melissa

Top 7 Things to Do in Berlin

Berlin is an exciting city with something for every kind of traveler, not just for the history buffs, but the art lovers, gardeners, foodies and more. After spending a long weekend exploring the bustling city, I have decided to list my top 7 suggestions of things to do while in this German city. So let us begin!
The Berlin Wall
1) Topography of Terror Documentation Center: There is a reason why over 1.3 million people visited this free museum last year. This indoor and outdoor exhibit is located on a site which was formerly the headquarters for the SS during the Nazi regime. It is also where a part of the Berlin Wall was located from 1961 to 1989, this remaining piece is now the longest existing segment of the outer wall. This museum has a lot of reading; it makes a Ph.D. dissertation look like a postcard. If you want to read it all, be prepared to spend an afternoon. I recommend it. Learn about the history not just of Germany, but Europe, and really the world. Learn from past mistakes. Learn to prevent this from ever happening again. Take a moment to also respect the lives that were lost.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
2) Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp: Since we are on the topic of WW2, I suggest taking a walking tour with New Europe Tours to visit Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. This tour is about 5 plus hours (including travel time), and only 16 Euros plus a transit pass. Granted there is more than enough to do within Berlin, take a moment and leave the city to experience something else. If you don’t have 5 hours, they also offer PWYC tours that stay inside the downtown core of Berlin and last only a couple of hours.
View of Berlin
3) Get a View: See Berlin from above or at least get the aerial shot for Instagram. Now you do have many options. You can do what everyone else does and go to the Fernsehturm Television Tower’s observation deck and be surprised with the unnecessarily long lineup and a pricey ticket. Want a better view surrounded by buildings instead of on the outskirts? I suggest you skip the line and head over to Kollhoff-Tower in the Potsdamer Platz. There is also a café up top if you want to rest and fuel up with a beverage. For something different, go up in the tethered hot air balloon at WELT Balloon Berlin Service LLC.
Opera House
4 ) Bebelplatz: This stop is free; it is a square after all. I suggest it not just to check out the gorgeous pink Opera House, which looks amazing at sunset, but for the whole area. There you will also see buildings of Humboldt University, and St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, the first Catholic Church built in Prussia after the Reformation. This location is also where the infamous Nazi book burning took place on the evening of May 10th 1933. Today you can see a memorial on the ground in the middle of the square by Micha Ullman.
Sanssouci in Potsdam
5) Potsdam: If you follow my Instagram account you will have seen my gorgeous photos of this loveable town. Why did I enjoy it so much? I felt like I was in Versailles! No really! There is an endless supply of castles (which you can enter for a small fee) and gardens galore. I suggest taking the train (less than an hour away) and checking out this area for an all day trip. Stroll through the properties and you will find surprises like The Chinese House (it’s covered in gold), and more. Before heading back to Berlin you will find ample food options to stop for dinner (I had the best pumpkin soup ever). I highly recommend adding Potsdam to your itinerary!
The Holocaust Memorial
6) Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, or also known as The Holocaust Memorial: This memorial was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. Building began in April 2003, but it was not completed until December 2004. Sixty years after the end of WW2, it was inaugurated in May 2005 and opened to the public. It is a large site covered with 2,711 concrete slabs. They are assembled in a grid pattern on a hilly concrete field. All the slabs vary in height and are slightly askew so that none is the same as another. At this location, there is also a museum which holds the names of the approximately 3 million Jewish Holocaust victims. This art was never fully explained, but I believe when you walk through this maze of stone, you are meant to feel alone, afraid, lost, isolated and claustrophobic, as the victims would have felt. This memorial cost around 25 million to complete.
Bunker Tour
7) Bunker Tours: Do not leave the city until you have completed a Bunker Tour. It was not only educational but a cool experience. Literally! It was so refreshing to cool down on a hot summer day. Tours are offered throughout the day, in different languages. You cannot purchase a ticket ahead of time, but if you go in a bit before the tour to buy a ticket, you should be fine. Some are offered underground, but we opted for the Flak Tower in Humboldthain Park in Gesundbrunnen. Only a part of it remains as it was destroyed after the war to de-militarize it. You don’t realize it at first but as you walk up the mountain to get to the entrance, it is actually the Flak Tower itself that is buried in rubble and has become a large hill! Here you are shown three of the seven floors of one of the biggest bunkers in the city, but they offer other bunker tours as well!
Inside Zur Gerichtslaube
Bonus: One last thing I would recommend in Berlin is to eat up! You all know by now I am not only a vegetarian, but am gluten free, and to throw in a wrench I’m on a wedding diet! Ahh! This makes travel a bit difficult for suppressing my hunger. Luckily we found options in Berlin (not just options but delicious meals!). At Zur Gerichtslaube they have authentic German food, and are located in a tiny historic building from 1270 which was originally a Medieval Town Hall! If you love pink décor then visit Wilde Matilde Bar. Honestly, even if you just want Shawarma or other foods, the options were all great in Berlin.
Checkpoint Charlie
Berlin is very spread out, so prepare to walk lots! Berlin offers a lot of museums (even a dedicated one for currywurst), and provides so much to entertain yourself for free (such as checking out the Brandenburg Gate or walking past the recreated Checkpoint Charlie which is super touristy by the way)! If in doubt just walk around and explore, sometimes this is how the best discoveries are made, such as an adorable flea market we randomly found!
Flea Market in Berlin
Want to know more? Have you been to Berlin? Let me know in the comments below and stay tuned for my next travel adventure! Thanks so much to KVDV Photography for the lovely photos.

Cheers,
Melissa

Love is in the Hair

It is that time again for Travel Tip Tuesday! Today, I’m going to talk about hair! In the time of Instagram, Snapchat and Youtube Vlogs, how do you maintain great photogenic hair, without overpacking on products and appliances while on trips? What’s your secret?
Travel Tips
My first tip is to purchase mini travel sample sizes of the bare minimal essentials (I like to have serum and hairspray at all times). When purchasing these items, ensure they are under the travel regulation size (you can also purchase larger sizes to use for refilling the travel bottles when needed). We often opt out of Hotels and sleep in Air B & B’s, which do not always offer the cute free shampoo bottles, especially not hair colour friendly options. So I fill mini bottles of my own choosing from home.
Curlers at Breakfast
I find the easiest hairstyle to maintain is beach friendly waves. If I spend the time straightening my hair, it often curls from the European heat anyways. So after a quick blow dry in the morning, I roll up my hair in curlers and let them set while I sip on my morning coffee and indulge in breakfast. After that, a quick brush through and spritz of hairspray is all you need. Let’s face it, when you are travelling your hair is not expected to be perfect. I also rather spend more time checking out the sites, then myself in a mirror.
Wearing a hat
Often there is no blow dryer available at our accommodations. When that happens, which is quite often in Europe, I just sleep with the curlers in wet hair and good ol shower cap it when showering in the morning. If it’s really hot, or you feel unmotivated, might I suggest just going simple by wearing braids, or wrapping your hair in a bun after your morning shower. Personally, my hair does not always cooperate and can dry frizzy when I go for these options. If that happens you can always cover up with a super cute scarf or hat (which is also a great way to protect yourself from the sun). And when in doubt, go with dry shampoo. It can be your best friend!

Do you have any hair travel tips to share? Any questions? Let me know in the comments below! And stay tuned for more monthly tips and tricks!

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

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 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! For more tips on what to do, check out my Youtube video on 15 Things to do in Santorini HERE. 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 ambience 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 centre (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 populace 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!

Want to know more? Check out my Youtube video 15 Things To Do in Antwerp (in under 3 minutes) HERE!

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

Cheers,
Melissa

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