Become a Photographer

Well, folks, this is my last monthly travel tip of the year! I can’t believe how fast 2018 has gone by! If you want me to continue my Travel Tip Tuesday monthly blog posts, please let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you!
Travel Tip Tuesday
This year has been very busy for travel; by the end of the month, we will have covered 12 countries in 12 months. Since returning to Canada last Christmas, we have been to Switzerland, Hungary, Austria, Ireland, Belgium, Greece, France, The Czech Republic, Germany, South Africa, back to Canada and France, and soon flying to Spain and Denmark. It has been an epic year, and I feel so incredibly lucky for all the adventures! I know one day the years will go by faster and faster and may eventually blur together, so my take away for this month’s tip is to take lots (and lots) of photos when you travel!
Take Photos!
Each trip is unique and if you travel like us, it may be your only time visiting that city or country for several years. The places you eat, visit, and people you meet, will likely only happen once in a lifetime. So don’t be shy about taking photos (or videos). Photos will help you remember when you are older, can be shared with family members who are not able to travel, will be a learning tool for younger generations, and are really the ultimate souvenir!
Souvenirs
Souvenirs can start to clutter your home, break in transit, or take up space in your bag. Don’t get me wrong, we collect plates, magnets, etc when we travel, but photos are priceless. They literally cost you nothing!
Tourists
It’s OK to look and act like a tourist, it is your trip after all, so take your photos! Obviously be smart about where you store your phone and how you carry your camera though, especially in busy public spaces prone to pickpocketers. We like to use a general rule that our photo taking opportunities should not impact surrounding people. For instance, taking photos should not block other people’s views, hold up lines, disrupt traffic flows or draw too much attention. Most importantly, once you capture that picture perfect moment, put your camera away and simply enjoy being in the moment and take in your surroundings. What does it look like? Taste like? Smell like? What is something unique about what you are seeing or experiencing? Make sure you actually enjoy it with your own eyes and not just through a lens. Don’t just walk from one landmark to the next to get a single photo just to prove they have been there because honestly, nobody cares where you have been. Travel for you and your personal experiences. Pictures are great, living in the moment and truly enjoying the experience is best; when you relive the moment through your photos in years to come, the memory will mean more because it will be a strong emotional experience.

My last note: To cut down the time spent to capture “the shot”, take some photo lessons or watch some tutorials online. Minimizing time spent behind the lens allows for more unobstructed experiences.

Do you like to take lots of photos when you travel? Do you have any travel questions for next year’s Travel Tip Tuesday posts? Let me know in the comments below!

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

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

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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