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

Amsterdam Vs Toronto

AMS vs TOIt has been a year this weekend since we packed up and ventured to a new way of life in Amsterdam. It has been exciting, challenging and liberating. To celebrate our one year anniversary here, I have created a list of 20 differences that I have experienced between Toronto and Amsterdam.

  1. Cityscape: There are very few “skyscrapers” in Amsterdam. Downtown most of the buildings have the same look and feel, yet they are different with various colours or characteristic details. I do find the old look to be quite charming. If you want more of a modern look check out Rotterdam nearby!Amsterdam Buildings
  2. Alcohol: Wayyyy cheaper and more accessible here in Amsterdam. Who needs the LCBO when you can walk into your neighbourhood grocery store and purchase 3 decent bottles of wine for 10 euros! That is around $15 CAD! What?!
  3. Communication: Here the official language is Dutch; however, most residents will speak to you in English if needed (especially in touristy areas). Signage and transit announcements are usually in Dutch, which has led to a few funny stories of trains being cancelled and being stranded in the train yard. Fun…
  4. Food: Traditional Dutch dishes are amazing for your mouth, but not so much for your waist. Deep fried, sugary, savoury, cheesy and yummy are all the food groups you can look forward to here!Say Cheese
  5. Way of Life: Amsterdam tends to have more of a work life balance. This is probably since most stores are not open past 6 pm and have limited hours on the weekends. Not so great for the shoppers that are used to typical North American hours – such as the 24/7 Walmarts. On that note you will not find many big department stores in the Amsterdam core as it is majority boutique shops. Great for local businesses, not so great for one stop shopping.Toronto at Night
  6. Weather: Everyone lied to us. It does get cold and it does snow in winter – luckily not as much as Toronto, still enough to cause panic when it snows. Another important fact to know is the significant difference in sunlight hours: 2066 for Toronto and 1662 for Amsterdam. It seems like it is always dreary and cloudy, and I have yet to see anyone skating to work. However this week has been amazingly sunny, so today I am not complaining at all!Toronto Snow
  7. Nature: Amsterdam offers large parks with green space for its residents, and has an abundance of beautiful canals. Toronto also has many park options, especially along the beaches/ island. Pretty even playing field here. There is also less wildlife in the suburban neighbourhoods of Amsterdam (I haven’t seen a squirrel in ages), but a lot more varieties of birds and ducks.Vondel Park Amsterdam
  8. Cleanliness: Though Amsterdam tried to implement a recycling program, I do find that Toronto is much cleaner and more progressive in protecting our environment. In Amsterdam (or Europe rather) you will also find more cats and pigeons inside restaurants. On top of that, places often allow you to bring in your dog!
  9. Bathrooms: Unfortunately there is a theme across Europe that lots of public restrooms are not free. Even in restaurants. It can range from 50 cents to a Euro just to relieve yourself of all the alcohol…I mean water… that you’ve been drinking. Although at night men’s urinals do pop up in the streets for easy usage, but I wouldn’t use one of those. One would expect that paying for the usage of a water closet would ensure a nice and sanitized environment, this is not the case and most can be smelled from meters away. No location signs required!
  10. Extra charges: They don’t just charge you for bathrooms here. Restaurants often put items on your dinner table that are typically free in Toronto. When you go to pay for your dinner, expect that water, bread, condiments and more will be added to your tab!
  11. Location: Toronto has many great spots to visit nearby, but it is not always very convenient via transit. Amsterdam is a prime location to travel to because it is centrally located within Europe. Just do not expect for all your transit to be cheap. There are so many more travel options here, that you are bound to be bitten by the travel bug.Toronto Transit
  12. Shopping: Clothing is quite expensive in Europe. Essentially a shirt in Canada could be 25 dollars, while the same shirt in Amsterdam is 25 Euros, converting to 39 Canadian dollars! Bananas! Although Amsterdam has some really cute boutique shops, it also has some of the same stores that you can find on Queen St. There are still some stores that I miss from Canada and get excited about visiting on my trips back.
  13. Bike Culture: Although hipsters in Toronto love their bikes, Amsterdam has them beat. Honestly, crossing the street here as a pedestrian can be really scary if you don’t look both ways (and then again). There are massive lots for bike parking everywhere; with almost as many bikes as people in this city. Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly large cities in the world, with 400 km of bike lanes and nearly 40% of all commutes are done via bike. Here most cyclists don’t wear helmets, and bike theft is a big problem. We had one of our bikes stolen within 2 weeks of purchase!Amsterdam Bikes
  14. Crime: Speaking of theft… I felt pretty safe in Toronto most of the time even with the constant reminder of crime on the news. Amsterdam has its pickpockets (especially in tourist locations), bike thefts and large amount of home burglaries. However there appears to be less violent crime here. I have never felt unsafe walking around at night in Amsterdam.
  15. Arts: Although there is a love of culture, and lots of theatre and film options for performers here, if you do not know Dutch it is very very limiting. I’ve been lucky enough to book a few roles, however, here you really have to search for them. It does limit the competition though when the role specifically requires a native English speaker!
  16. Prices: Rent, food and entertainment seem to cost more overall in Amsterdam. This could be because I am still constantly converting the Euro to Canadian dollars in my head every time I make a transaction. But it definitely is cheaper to drink (alcohol) here. Yay!Amsterdam Food
  17. Population: Toronto may have more residents but Amsterdam is BUSY, though most of this population are tourists. Also I do find that overall there is more butting in line here, and less of the Canadian way of lining up. “Sorry!” And to go on a bit of a tangent here, customer service is not always as quick or friendly in Europe like what you can get in Canada. Amsterdam Boat
  18. Living: Kitchens are much smaller in Europe. We were very lucky to land a place with an “American Size” oven, stove and fridge. Dishwashers seems to be non-existent in pre-furnished homes. And dryers? Not everyone has them. If you do, it probably takes hours to dry a single load and normally the clothes just get warm and less damp. I also don’t see very many apartments with elevators or AC, especially if you live in the downtown core. The trade-off? You live in a charming old historic Dutch apartment in the heart of Amsterdam, and have a view of a canal if you’re lucky! Many people also live in houseboats along the canals, how cool is that?Houseboat
  19. Laws: There are laws here, yet they seem more lenient on safety. There is texting and biking, drinking and boating, young kids playing with fireworks at New Years and most canals do not have a railing. In a way it’s a bit refreshing to not feel so restricted and have to own up and be responsible for yourself.
  20. Fashion: I cannot speak for all the men here, but women’s fashion is more laid back. I wouldn’t say its years ahead like the old stereotype goes, but it does have a different vibe from Toronto. Here no one really cares what you wear. Typically you see women sporting jeans, a plain top and jacket. They don’t seem to spend hours on hair and makeup and look like they just rolled out of bed and decided to change out of their PJ’s, and yet still look fabulous.

Overall it has been a year filled with lots of ups and downs. I do not regret the decision to move and am so grateful for the opportunities that have come with moving. Who knows what will happen in this next year to come! Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Are you an expat? Have you lived or traveled abroad? What differences have you noticed in your journeys!

Thanks so much to KVDV Photography for the beautiful photos!

Cheers,
Melissa

Do As The Locals Do

IMG_1825_editedFirst off, hope you had a lovely Easter weekend filled with family, friends, fun and of course chocolate!sunday market (3)It’s that time for Travel Tip Tuesday! One of my favourite things when travelling is to do as the locals do. When travelling you most definitely want to check out the famous iconic landmarks that each city holds, but also try to venture off the beaten path. Some of the best foods I’ve eaten were not in touristy restaurants, but mom and pop shops that were not listed on maps! You can find beautiful sites, delicious food and local crafts that are not commercialized when you step out of the main tourist core. Also asking the locals where they like to eat and shop can be helpful and very rewarding! Want to save some cash? You can check out the local grocery stores for snacks to carry with you when exploring.IMG_8532(LR)_editedEnjoy your trip and be adventurous, but with a degree of caution to your surroundings. Any other travel questions? Let me know! And stay tuned for more!

Cheers,
Melissa

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

Switzerland: Zurich, Rhine Falls & Schaffhausen

Zurich is a picturesque place which you can visit within a couple days, making it a perfect weekend getaway location. Filled with museums, shopping options and churches, you will have plenty to do. Along with filling your day with activities, you can also fill your stomach with cheese and chocolate. Though, be warned that though flights may be on the cheaper side, dining and drinking in Zurich is quite expensive (I’m talking 30 dollars for 2 glasses of wine here). But if you don’t mind forking out some money, go for it and don’t let it deter you.

I suggest you start your Zurich visit at the Salt & Pepper Shakers (nick name of the towers at Grossmunster Church). Though quite simplistic inside, you can pay 5 Swiss Francs to climb to the top for a panoramic view of the city. Another popular church is Fraumunster, which has a free courtyard filled with frescos that I recommend checking out, as it was originally a former abbey for women founded back in 853. Zurich also offers lots of museums and galleries, or you can just enjoy walking up the hilly cobblestone paths of Altstadt (Old town). Feel like a workout? Climb up the mountain to check out the University and then enjoy a tea and a view at bQm Culture Café & Bar. You know I love free tours, and I thoroughly enjoyed http://www.freewalk.ch/zurich/. They were friendly, informative, and brought us into places I may not have discovered on my own (such as an old Swiss bank now a building for boutique store owners).

Once you’ve worked up an appetite you can satisfy your taste buds with the traditional fondue or raclette at places such as Swiss Chuchi (which offers a choice of gluten free bread by the way), or check out the oldest continuously open vegetarian restaurant in the world (according to Guinness World Records) at Hiltl. I recommend the Tatar, it’s worth the price tag. Be sure to try some champagne truffles, meant for New Years but such a delightful treat. Also order the Flambe with Firewater at Zueghauskeller (your instagram will thank you for it), or go for upscale cocktails with friendly service at Nachtflug (stone walls of over 700 years, combined with a modern interior).

Excursions outside of Zurich can be pricey (starting at 60 dollars a person, up to the high hundreds); but another option is to take the train 1 hour out of the city to Rhine Falls. You can spend hours there walking around the falls, or visiting Laufen Castle (which also offers a platform at the bottom of the falls to get a closer view of the water). In the summer they offer boat rides, but in the winter you can enjoy some delicious mulled wine in a winter wonderland. Rhine falls formed in the last ice age and is the largest waterfall in Switzerland with quite a spectacular view (weather permitting). More information can be found here: http://www.rheinfall.ch/en/yourvisit.

One stop away from Rhine falls is Schaffhausen. It is worth the trip! A cute medieval town that you can walk through within hours, that offers a lot of authenticity. In the winter, and on a weekend, not much is open. However you can check out sites such as Kloster Allerheiligen (former monastery), Munot (which is free and surrounded by vineyards, with a great view of the city), lots of unique water fountains, and more.

Due to weather not all of our plans were followed. However, here are some more suggestions on other activities to do in Zurich: The Urania Observatory: Old Crow (for some whiskey options), Gerold Cuchi Umbrellas, and Uetliberg the Top of Zurich. Did I miss anything? Want to learn more? Let me know!

Have you been to Zurich? What did you think? Any suggestions on where I should travel next? Be sure to leave a comment below!

Cheers,
Melissa

All roads lead to Rome

This adventurous road trip consisted of stops in Terni, San Gemini, Cortona, Arezzo, Perugia, Chianti, Lucca, Pisa, and ended with a few days in Rome. Despite the miserable weather (I’m talking hail storms, lots of rain, heavy fog and unexpected cold temperatures); it was a beautiful countryside to drive through. It was much hillier than expected, and still had a full supply of radiant fall shades on the trees, with lots of castles scattered throughout. Cortona was a short stop, but it was lovely to wake up and take in the top of the mountain view (while enjoying a breakfast buffet). Tonino’s in Cortona for dinner was a delightful experience. It may have been the best meal in all of Italy so far, and they were very accommodating for Vegetarians! San Gemini was a charming medieval town, which I could see as a great tourist spot to visit in the summer. Pisa of course had the leaning tower, surrounded by many other essential historic buildings to visit such as the Cathedral, Baptistery and a couple Museums. We also happened to witness a perfect sunset with clear skies, which added a nice touch to the quick stop.

The last part of the trip included a weekend in Rome. Luckily we were there on the 1st Sunday of the month, meaning that a long list of popular tourist attractions were all free! Though that does mean you will be spending lots of time in line ups. Our activities included The Vatican (beautiful, and the line actually moved much quicker than anticipated), The Coliseum (Yes, I did have to say “Are you not entertained?! while there), Castle Sant’ Angelo, Trevi Fountain (coins were definitely tossed into this magnificent fountain), The Pantheon, The Roman Forum and more.

As per my usual, we did participate in a free walking tour by http://www.newromefreetour.com/, and I must say it was not only educational, but our guide was quite humorous as well. A fun part, VIP access into an ancient church and the chocolate wall waterfall at Venchi.
IMG_8682I wish I could tell you that I ate the best pasta I’ve ever had, however nothing has topped the Spaghetti Parmigiano from Mangiare Rotterdam. (It was prepared in a cheese wheel after all). Check them out here: https://mangiarerotterdam.com/. If you can prove me wrong with any pasta suggestions let me know for when I return to Italy. There is still so much more to explore there.

Cheers,
Melissa

I Heart Paris

Bonjour! They say Paris is always a good idea, and they are wrong; it is a fantastic idea! We recently went to celebrate our anniversary and my 30+1 birthday. It exceeded all of our expectations and was more than I dreamt it would be.

After taking a quick train from Amsterdam, we got settled into our less than desirable Air B and B, and we were finally ready to explore all the treasures that Paris holds. I must tell you that unlike our time spent in London, we were well prepared for this trip. Tickets were pre-booked, reservations were made and an itinerary was drafted to ensure we were able to see everything we wanted, and stay on schedule.

I’ll jump right in with my favourite part of the trip, the Eiffel Tower. Now before you roll your eyes at me, let me explain (and I warn you there may be some cheese; not the edible kind). We arrived early enough to beat most of the line, and were up the tower in no time. The weather was at first desirable which allowed for a picturesque view of the cityscape. Not too long later it started to rain, and the rain turned into a full on thunder storm. To us this didn’t ruin the experience, it enhanced it. We sat in a dry spot, drinking wine and watching the storm from the highest point in Paris. Who else has done that? Super romantic. I should also add that at night the whole tower sparkles for 5 minutes, every hour on the hour. It really is spectacular.
IMG_20170901_111956_076
In our very limited time we were able to visit most of the popular tourist sites in Paris including, the Palace & Gardens of Versailles, Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalides, Notre Dame, The Latin Quarter, Champs-Elysee, Galeries Lafayette, a boat tour, The Catacombs and The Louvre. This is completely doable in 4 days with strategic planning and luck. We were early enough to each spot that we didn’t have to wait in line very long (other than the many bag checks). We also got to see more than expected through our free walking tour (you know I love those)! If you are travelling in Europe check out Sandemans Tours at  http://www.neweuropetours.eu/paris/en/home. Our guide had so much passion for the history of the city that it was contagious, he also mentioned unique details that one would never notice on their own. I suggest doing this at the beginning of your trip, in case your guide points out something that you want to go back and see in more detail
IMG_20170831_111937_748
The food. Don’t even get me started on the food. My mouth is already watering. First off macaroons are now ruined for me. I have finally tried the best ever melt-in-your-mouth macaroons, that nothing else compares. If on Champs-Elysee go to https://www.laduree.fr/en/ for this life changing macaroon. We ate our way from street vendors to Michelin star restaurants, and were always satisfied. Do you love fromage? Truffle pasta? Is everyday #winewednesday for you? Have a sweet tooth? Go to Paris!

All in all, this bucket list trip was well worth it. I cannot wait to go back (and trust me, I will). There is still so much more to see, do, eat and drink! Paris is beautiful, romantic and friendly (despite the stereotypes that if you don’t speak French they will be rude towards you – that never happened and cannot be further from the truth. They are genuinely nice people). It is filled with fashion (stripes everywhere), history and magic.

J’aime Paris.

Au revoir,
Melissa

 

 

 

Create a website or blog at WordPress.com

Up ↑