Pop the Bubbly, I have a Hubby!

K and M
Weddings are beautiful and magical, and behind every bride, there is a load of stress. I’d say it’s like event planning on crack. You have to orchestrate many moving pieces to come together in perfect unison and form your dream day, and you also have family politics, traditions and childhood fantasies to adhere too while looking fabulous. It is extraordinarily tough to accomplish all of this while still staying under a reasonable budget.
Kiss
I decided to plan our wedding from abroad, with no assistance from a formal planner. I have experience in event planning and TV production anyway, so why not. It came with its own challenges for both myself and the groom, however, in the end, it all came together perfectly and I would not exchange it for anything in the world.
Taco Bout A Wedding
If you want to know more about the planning process, or the details such as what I wore, what venue we decided on and what we ate, check out my latest article for Verge Magazine HERE. If you are looking for gift ideas for your Groomsmen, check out my latest article at Geargreed Men’s Magazine for ideas on what to purchase HERE.
Reception
Honourable mentions to our Best Man, Maid of Honour, Mint Room Studios, Good Fortune Bar and our patient loving friends and families for all their help!
In The Chair
Let me know what you think! Have you planned a wedding abroad? What was your biggest challenge? Leave a comment below!

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

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

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

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

Well Hello There 2018!

hello 2018!A lot can change in a year. Last New Year’s we were toasting rum filled drinks on a sandy beach in Cuba, not knowing what life would have in store only a few months later. This has been the year of travel and change. Not only travelling to 10 countries in 12 months (Cuba, Trinidad & Tobago, The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, The UK, France, Belgium, back to Canada twice, and Italy) but uplifting our lives to start a new in Amsterdam as well. Living abroad has brought on new challenges, but also new adventures. It has its uncertainties along with its pleasant surprises. It’s been a year of facing fears, adapting, exploring and reflecting. I have now been on stage (and screen) in another country, bought a bike, had that bike stolen, joined a gym that does not speak English, taught my first acting workshop, lived through culture shock, made new friendships (and strengthened old ones), ate uncertain foods (and my fair share of cheese), and seen more old school windmills than I ever have before.
20161227_174244I have no idea what 2018 holds, I have my goals and plans, but really anything can change. Which also means that anything is possible. Thank you all for your continual love and support, stay tuned, and bring on 2018!

Cheers,
Melissa

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