New Years with the Danish

This year we celebrated NYE in Denmark! We have witnessed the fireworks in Amsterdam and were told these are some of the best fireworks in Europe, but the fireworks in Copenhagen are INSANE. I cannot even fathom how I am going to begin to depict the craziness of the fireworks in Denmark. So here it is…
Fireworks in the Square
Fireworks are being lit all day and all night long. I’m not even referring to the scheduled professional ones, these are your amateur neighbors store-bought fireworks. The most popular professional fireworks are launched at 11 pm inside Tivoli park (more on this famous amusement park later on). Then the party continues just outside the gate in the City Hall Square.
Tivoli Fireworks
Picture this, a couple thousand people of all ages, forming a circle and literally tossing any fireworks they have into the circle of people observing. It starts out as all fun and games, but it gets loud, crazy and chaotic. I literally witnessed people getting hit with fireworks, or panicking and knocking themselves out while trying to escape the upcoming sparks – one gentleman tried to run away from a misfiring firework, tripped and hit his head on the pavement and literally knocked himself out, this was our cue to turn in for the night.
Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens is where we launched our celebrations. It is the second oldest amusement park in the world and was visited often by Walt Disney for inspiration. It opened in 1843 and is still functioning today. But it is expensive. To gain an entrance that does not include any rides you may have to give them your first born. Yes, it is beautiful, like a winter wonderland, light show and fake snow included. But unless you plan on standing in line and enjoying every ride, it may not actually be worth it. Even the food inside will cost an arm or leg!
Tivoli Gardens
Bringing me to my next point. It was increasingly difficult to find authentic Danish food in Denmark! They have a variety of choices from Chinese, to American, Dutch, Italian, etc, but Danish was not always on the menu. Now, this may be because we were here over the holidays and many restaurants were closed or Google Maps is not updated. Even with the conversion to their currency, the DKK, much like Zurich, Copenhagen is very expensive. My favorite stop to eat was at A Hereford Beefstouw, they had an incredible vegetarian steak! That’s a first! A runner up is Tivoli food hall as it has a variety of eats for all the foodies out there (you do not need to purchase a ticket for the park to enter this hall FYI).

Even in the high wind chill, and on the day of hangovers, they still run the free walking tour in Copenhagen. It was very informative and ran by a very enthusiastic guide whose fascination with the city was contagious. Having a guide is helpful maneuvering through the windy streets as Copenhagen is actually very large and spread out.
Changing Of The Guard
If you are there for a short trip, here are 5 places that you must include in your itinerary:

1) Christiansborg Palace is large, beautiful and a popular tourist attraction (as this is where you will find the Supreme Court, Ministry of State and the Royal Stables). We were lucky enough to watch them rehearse the equestrian show for the Queen’s party that night!
Copenhagen, Denmark
2) The Round Tower is super unique, I’ve never been in something quite like this. To reach the viewing platform at the top you don’t actually climb stairs, but instead, ascend up a flat (ish) winding ramp. There are little stops on the way with little surprises to add to the excitement.
The Round Tower
3) You cannot visit this city without a stroll down Nyhavn, better known as the canal with a row of colorful houses and old sailboats. This 17th-century waterfront and entertainment district is very photogenic, but unfortunately not authentic (thanks walking tour!). Sorry to burst your bubble, but the boats that are docked there are paid to be there to draw in tourists. Though the houses were constructed from 1670-1673, and once housed Hans Christian Anderson (in 1845-1864), they have been reconstructed and painted to draw you in. But who cares, the street is super pretty and photogenic, giving you a feel of what it may have been back in the day.
Nyhavn
4) The Little Mermaid statue is bronze and placed on a small rock by the waterside. Much like the Mona Lisa in Paris, it is a tiny attraction that creates quite a crowd. This statue is based on the fairy-tale by the same name and was unveiled in 1913. It often gets decapitated or vandalized on a yearly bases. You can go right up to it on the rocks or from a safe distance via a boat tour.
The Little Mermaid Statue
5) The Danish War Museum was surprisingly one of my favourite stops on this trip. It was a lot bigger than anticipated and had the most cannons I have ever seen at once. The focus is mainly on past wars just affecting Copenhagen; did you know they had the biggest Navy at one time? I definitely recommend this museum, it was very informative with lots to look at. It is also housed in an old military fort!
Danish War Museum
Overall this city had its charm, but I think would have been more enjoyable if most attractions were not closed for the holidays. If you plan on starting your New Year here you will experience the craziest fireworks ever, but there is a limited amount of attractions to occupy yourself in between.

Still not finished your coffee and want more to read? Check out my latest articles for other publications! Exiting Expat Life for Verge Magazine is all about my mixed feelings of moving back to Canada from The Netherlands. If you are an adrenaline junkie keep South Africa on your radar, with 8 activities you can do there! Check out my Geargreed article HERE!
Melissa in Amsterdam
Cheers,
Melissa

 

10 Things To Do in Mallorca; Caves, Castles, Cathedrals & more!

A great getaway location is Palma de Mallorca (Majorca). This tourist destination is the capital (and largest) city of the Balearic Islands in Spain. It can be intimidating deciding where to go and what to do on the island, so here are my recommendations to ensure an adventure filled trip! There I discovered that most of this dazzling island is covered by a mountain range – a pleasant surprise when we landed. This leads me to my first recommendation when visiting this popular island…
Road Trip Views
1) Rent a car. Start with something relatively narrow, and not a large SUV, or a Fiat (we’ve had issues with those on tight narrow bumpy drives), but definitely leave the comfort of your hotel and drive through the mountains. Literally. There are tunnels carved out through the mountains to get you to the other side faster than zig-zagging up and around. The freedom of driving allows you to make your own schedule, stay where you like and stop when you want for photos of this stunning landscape. Warning, do not follow Google maps blindly, as multiple times we ended up in some sticky situations going uphill in places that were likely meant just for hiking. We may have gotten stuck in a pothole or two – don’t tell the car rental company!
Fornalutx
2) Break in Smaller towns. Okay, you got the car, snacks and a full tank of gas, now what? My first stop would be Fornalutx, nestled in the Tramuntana mountain range. Voted one of the most beautiful places in Europe, I can see why! Stop here for lunch with a view, stroll through the town, and get lost among the cobblestone streets and orange trees. I enjoyed the free range to explore wherever we liked, including an old unique cemetery that was hidden away. We spent a few hours here just basking in the sun and admiring the authenticity of this charming quiet place, with only 1 bus stop – can you imagine! Some other great towns to stop along your road trip include Valldemossa, Soller, Pollenca, and Alaro.
Bellver Castle at Sunset
3) Hike up to Bellver Castle. Built back in 1300, this circular castle was once a residence to kings and queens, then converted into a military prison, and is now the post for the city’s history museum. I really enjoyed our time spent here, especially with the lack of tourists during the down season. A unique aspect of this stop is that you can hike around it for free on their many trails; an activity we did on Christmas Day. So camp out and enjoy the sunset over the Mediterranean sea.
Palace of La Almudaina
4) Feel like a royal at Palace of La Almudaina. By now you probably get that we have seen a lot of palaces. They are fun to visit for the architecture, history and décor inspirations (crown molding and gold everywhere, am I right!?). Royal Palace of La Almudaina dates back to Roman times and hosts one of the most beautiful chapels in the city! For any EU residents reading this, they also have free admission on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, so now you have no excuse not to visit. However, it was a bit on the small side and is not as glamorous as Versailles, so don’t walk in with high expectations.
Castell d’Alrao
5) Castle ruins in the hills. Sick of castles yet? Hope not because this top 10 contender is worth the drive out of the city. Perched on top of a large rocky mountain, overlooking the town of Alaro, above the clouds are the ruins of Castell d’Alrao. We followed Google’s suggestion to drive up and it was terrifying! The roads are tiny, windy and bumpier then the 29 Dufferin Street bus in Toronto if you can believe that. The narrow roads make it nearly impossible when passing other cars, especially the people that bring their large SUVs, so good luck with that. I pretty much held my breath the entire drive to the restaurant near the free parking lot. We walked from the lot to the castle, which takes about 1.5 hours if you are not an avid hiker. Tip: Pack water and snacks. There is another parking spot much further up the hike, but I have noooo idea who would want to drive there, as at this point the road is pretty much non-existent and truly a one lane road, so if there is oncoming traffic one car would have to back up on the mountain, not my view of a good time. Ascending to the top is rewarded by one of the best views in Palma and an opportunity to check out the castle ruins and monastery at the top.
Palma Marina
6) Walk along the waterfront in Palma. Strolling along the marina is the perfect way to check out the puddle jumpers to the personal yachts rivaling Carnival Cruise Line. Stop for a drink, watch the sunset or lick some ice cream. This is one of the most inexpensive things you can do, AND a great way to view the city. A fun game on your walk: look at the names of the boats along the way, pick your favourite and try to guess how the owners can afford them! Yup, we are nerds.
Cathedral de Mallorca
7) Cathedral de Mallorca is the architectural jewel of the island. It does cost money to go inside, however, if you are there over Christmas Eve you can enter for free for the midnight mass (which actually starts at 11, not 12, and I recommend starting to line up early, at least by 10:30 pm). This is the best way to see the Cathedral in all its glory, lit up and decorated for the festive season, filled with the delightful smell of incense and singing churchgoers. There is a large selection of cathedrals to visit, however, during our trip; most were closed during the day. Oh, Island time.
Port de Pollenca
8) Stop for a swim at Port de Pollenca. This beach is great to explore with its soft sand and near perfect washed up shells. Though it was not warm enough to swim in December, the empty beach was the perfect setting for a nice long walk and some photos for the Gram. End the stroll by watching the sunset while eating cheese and crackers, and let’s not forget some Spanish wine. Or you can grab tapas at one of the many local restaurants – though not all will be open this time of year. See my previous blog post about this HERE. Plus, if you are like us, we prefer not to have tapas and like full entree meals.
Palma de Mallorca
9) Old town timing. Palma’s old town looks like a movie set. Not only is it filled with all the best places to eat, shop, and see, but it really gives the feeling that you are traveling through time. The roads are tiny and untouched, as they would have been originally. Most of the must-see tourist museums are located within this downtown core, including the cathedral and palace. It houses scenic squares, century-old streets, gothic details and Instagram worthy hot spots like Passeig del Born. Be sure to nibble on some tapas (often overpriced), street meat (literally a paper cone filled with jamón serrano [ham]) and their famous Paella rice dish (great for vegetarians).
Coves de Campanet
10)  Explore the caves. The Coves de Campanet are located on Mount Sant Miquel, in Northern Mallorca. Visits include an hour guided tour through multiple spacious chambers. It was a really unique experience, which we were lucky enough to enjoy without a crowd. Normally in the summer, the groups can span from 75 to 100 people, which can get quite crowded through certain passages. Since we were alone with one other couple, we were allowed to venture off and explore on our own, and allowed to take as many photos as we’d like! It can be a bit slippery, wet and hot inside, so dress appropriately.

There are more museums and churches in Palma then you could count on one hand, or even two. As long as you are not traveling over the Christmas holidays you will have an incredible list of opportunities to explore. You can vacation here on any budget, but I recommend coming when more attractions are open.

Have you been to Spain? Did you visit Palma de Mallorca? Let me know in the comments below, Id love to hear from you!

Cheers,
Melissa

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

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

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).
IMG_20180216_122107_970
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!
20180216_160204_Film3_edited
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.
20180216_153600_Film3_edited
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

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