Wine Time in Bordeaux

KVDV PhotographyNot too long ago, Bordeaux was THE place to be. It was rich in trade, aristocrats were acting all important and streets flooded with wine like Venice, at least that’s how the story goes. While the wine production has moved out of the city, there is simply no shortage of wine tastings to jump start your day. The old wineries still exist but have been converted to trendy high ceilinged apartments, or on the contrary, empty areas that look very unkept. Nonetheless, Bordeaux is a Unesco world heritage protected city. To sample some of the famous adult grape juice you can visit any of the lovely restaurants in the city, or you can venture out to the nearby wineries. We opted for the excursion, and boy did it not disappoint.
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To start, I highly recommend the Bordeaux Wine Day Trip by Viator. For less than 100 euros a person you not only get a comfortable air conditioned bus ride, but you visit 2 wineries, a museum (which was once a private winery), and an authentic lunch spot. Each location differs from the next not only by ambience but taste, and will offer 2 glasses of wine per person (or more if you get lucky, like us, we got an extra bottle to split between our table). The lunch was one of my favourite meals of the whole trip (and trust me, the food was on point all trip). Restaurant De Fromages was super accommodating with my vegetarian requests and even gave us a private tour of their basement cheese cellar. It was the coolest thing ever, and now one of my own personal goals to have one day. The tour through the vineyards really reminded me of Niagara wine country, in Canada, just with a few more castles!
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If you are not much of a drinker and prefer to stay in city center, there are lots of activities for you to stay occupied for at least a weekend. You can start with a walking tour (of course) to get the lay of the land, walk along the Garonne river, cross the Pont de Pierre bridge (made in honour  of Napoleon), or get lost downtown (trust me it’s not hard to do that, every street looks identical). You can also check out the Grand Theatre de Bordeaux, Place de la Bourse (which also has a famous reflecting pool to cool down by in the hot summer afternoons), the famous Bordeaux Cathedral, Tour Pey Berland (go to the top of this tower for only 6 Euros and enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the city), walk through Puerta de Cailhau (once the main gate to the city, built in 1495) and so much more. And for the museum buffs, there are lots to check out. La Cite du Vin was our main choice. It was very technologically advanced and interactive; however it was a bit over crowded. There is also a looooot of reading, so you will definitely appreciate the free drink at the end. A bit overpriced though, if you ask me. But overall this French city has so much to offer filled with unique characteristics along the way (they even have new trendy places to eat such as a cat café).
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Despite the list of attractions, you won’t need longer than a weekend in this historic city. So if you are planning on staying longer, check out some of the neighbouring towns! We decided to venture out to Soulac-sur-Mer. This charming town is situated on the coast, and more importantly has a gorgeous beach! After strolling through the souvenir shops, head straight to the white sands and warm waves. The beach is an endless beautiful site to walk along, and if you venture off far enough you may even get a free history lesson…
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Along the beach and hidden from view, there are numerous WW2 bunkers, referred to as Fort de Sarros. They are all completely free to walk through. It was a bit eerie, and unusually quiet, I personally would not visit at night. They were pretty well kept, although covered in graffiti. Some had a few questionable smells, and leftover bottles, but it was safe to walk through and explore. Pro tip, bring a flashlight as some sections do not get any sunlight.
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We also lucked out that during our visit to the beach the final France World Cup game was playing. Luckily every bar along the beach was playing it, and we had reservations for a great spot! We had a liquid lunch as they were not serving food and joined the French crowd celebrating their win. Not only that, but when we were back in the downtown core of Bordeaux, it was Ba – Nan – As!! Street parties, personal fireworks, music blasting and honking cars driving by with all the passengers hanging out of all exits. We saw one car that had at least 10 people on it, plus countless inside of it. Just crazy!
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Another cool part of our trip, was that we totally planned to be there for Bastille Day…yup we knew it would be that weekend. Not really, but you can imagine our surprise! Bastille Day is the national day of France, celebrated on July 14th. It is the anniversary of storming of the Bastille in 1789, which was a turning point of the French revolution. The oldest and biggest military parade in Europe is held on this day in Paris. We did not make it out there, but we did get to witness parachute jumpers land in Place des Quinconces (a large city square with a stunning fountain), fighter jets, followed by music and fireworks at night.
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Overall, I love France. Yes it was hot, and had a peculiar smell in some areas, the mosquitos ate us alive (really cannot stress how bad they were there), I could not understand most of the menus, and I got way too much sun… but it was France! FRANCE! In my books, it can do no wrong. I loved charming Bordeaux, and if you remember my birthday trip last year, I LOVED Paris. (Click here to read all about that trip!). I hope to have more opportunities to explore this incredible country again! Want to see more? Check out my YouTude video on ‘Mellie Telly’ HERE!

And thanks so much to KVDV Photography for providing these lovely photos!

KVDV Photography

Cheers,
Melissa

Travel On A Budget

sunday market (6)It’s that time of the month for Travel Tip Tuesday! Are you travelling on a budget? Look for free things to do! Most cities offer some tourist attractions that are free or by donation. This can include museums, churches, graveyards, parks, gardens, beaches, waterfalls, hiking and more! Some locations have special free days once a month on big tourist attractions as well (such as the last Sunday of the month in Rome, where most attractions are free including the Colosseum and Roman Forum), or cheaper rates on unpopular nights (enjoy discount tickets at The Rom on Friday nights in Toronto and Thursday nights at The Bata Shoe Museum).RomeHere’s the catch; other people are also looking for these deals and the free days can come with higher than normal lines to get in, and perhaps can overcrowd your perfect Instagram shot. So go early, have patience, bring snacks and be prepared.Tourists at VaticanYou all know by now that I am a huge advocate for the pay by donation walking tours (such as Sandeman Tours), as they allow you to see parts of the city through the eyes of a local.  I recommend doing this at the beginning of your trip, in case you hear of something you want to check out that is not on your itinerary!ArtWant to see more vintage artefacts without spending a dime? Check out high-end antique or art shops. This is a great option if you are a budget traveller, and sales staff are typically more than willing to give you a full history lesson regarding a particular piece.  If in doubt, Google is your friend! Ask it anything!

Any other travel questions? Let me know! And stay tuned for more tips and tricks!

Photos courtesy of KVDV Photography!

Cheers,
Melissa

Vienna, Austria

I had no idea what to expect for our latest trip to Austria. I had received mixed reviews from fellow travellers. After spending 4 days in Vienna, I must say I am thoroughly impressed. Vienna has plenty of history, arts and culture to offer on your visit.
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I don’t really know where to begin, there is so much to cover, so I’ll start with my most memorable part, the Vienna State Opera (Wiener Staatsoper). The construction of this building was completed in 1869, and can fit an audience size of 2300. You can end up spending up to 200 euros on a ticket or you have another option; standing tickets. This option will cost you around 3 to 4 euros; the only drawback is the wait time. 80 minutes before a show starts (which is every day except for a couple months in the summer) you can stand and wait for tickets. We went earlier than this and found the line up (which is indoors for all you winter travellers) had already started. Once the box office opens it moves quite quickly. After your ticket purchase, you are moved to another location where you will have to wait once again. Once you get inside you will need to claim your spot immediately with a placeholder. The recommended method is to tie a scarf around the railing where you will be standing. This way you can step out for snacks, beverages or a washroom break before the show begins. Don’t take too long though, if you are late coming back you will not be allowed back in until intermission. After intermission the standing audience size cuts back in half so you may be able to move closer for a better view. Despite the long hours on your feet this is a great way to see an imperial show on a budget; we lucked out to have an amazing view, which also came with a subtitle screen. The State Opera also offers tours for 9 Euros which was pretty cool, so check out their site before you go!… I should also mention, this romantic location is where my fiance proposed after the show, so it has a very special place in my heart!

St. Stephen’s Cathedral is also worth the trip. Located in a unique spot surrounded by souvenir shops and hotels, we opted to pay the 5 euros to climb 343 steps to the top for stunning views, and 6 euros to view the Catacombs. Though not nearly a tenth of the size of Paris’ catacombs, it was still an interesting bit of history beneath the city centre.
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Other mentionable places to visit while in Vienna are the Austrian National Library (I swear this is the most beautiful library you will ever see), The National History Museum (Lots of rocks, stones and dinosaurs), Musikverein (one of the finest and most famous concert halls in the world where you can line up for tickets one hour before the show starts), Schönbrunn Palace (in photo above) and the Vienna Zoo (which is oldest continuously operating zoo in the world).
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The food prices in Vienna are pretty average. The best meal all trip was actually in the Zoo believe it or not! Kudos to Café Kaiserpavillion for the flawless presentation, impressive service and historic ambiance. This breakfast pavilion is decorated by paintings and mirrors, and even offers vegetarian options on the menu. Another honourable mention is Gösser Bierklinik which is located in a building that was first mentioned in a registered document in 1406. The prices there are also super reasonable, with exceptional service! Along your journeys make sure you sample the Sachertorte, a scrumptious chocolate cake dessert invented in 1832 by Austrian Franz Sacher. If you are counting dollars be mindful that they charge extra for whip cream on the side (and mayo, bread, etc).

Other than the people trying to sell tickets, there were not very many vendors trying to get our attention as we walked around. Keep a lookout for people dressed up as Mozart – they are relentless in trying to get you to buy tickets. The box office still had tickets at both the Wiener Staatsoper and the Musikverein Music Hall when we arrived, so I would recommend visiting the box office first as these tickets will be legit.
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Overall Vienna is quite large with a lot to do. You can aimlessly walk around the streets downtown (or even in parliament) and find so many unique characteristics in the city. Prices there are pretty decent (not as cheap as Budapest, but not as expensive as Zurich). It is a beautiful place with so much to do see and do, I can’t wait to go back soon!

Did I miss anything? Suggestions on where I should travel next? Let me know in the comments!

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

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