South Africa: My Top 10 Favourite Stops

Sunset in South Africa
South Africa is a beautiful country, with so much to see and do. We spent over a week there for our honeymoon, and covered a lot of the southern coast, driving more than 5,000 KM along the Garden Route with Hot Spots 2 C Tours. I highly recommend this company (and by the way, this is not an ad, I am not being endorsed for saying this), they were safe, accommodating, fun and both of our tour guides were a dream! They took care of everything from hotels, to excursions, nightly restaurants and pit stops along the way. Since this was an epic trip to cover, I’m going to share with you my top 10 favourite stops in South Africa in 2 parts!
Cape Agulhas
1) Cape Agulhas: This charming stop has something quite magical about it with the picturesque lighthouse and the romantic boardwalk pathway. The path is best done at sunset. My favourite part was the most southern tip of Africa, this is where the Indian and the Atlantic Ocean meet (there’s a sign so you know when you arrive). Some say you can see a distinct line where this happens, I think that’s a tourist grab to incline people to check it out for themselves – we did not see this so-called line. Perhaps the locals will blame it on the rough water that day. Either way, it’s gorgeous with super cool geological features to check out!
Stellenbosch
2) Stellenbosch: One of my personal highlights of the entire trip. This quaint town reminded me of Canada’s Niagara on the Lake wine region. It is old and cute, and famous for their wine, which you know I love. If you are staying there, be sure to stop at Wijnhuis Wine Bar & Restaurant for a great wine sample platter with your dinner. The food was a bit overpriced (tourist pricing), however, the wine was not! If you are looking to visit a winery check, out Simonsig to sample MCC (Methode Cap Classique is the South African version of Champagne), though they did not offer any tour (via Hot Spots 2 C), so keep that in mind. Our favourites from the tasting were the Kaapse Vonkel Demi Sec 2015 and the Kaapse Vonkel Brut 2005, yum! In Stellenbosch, we stayed in an old Victorian house turned into a bed and breakfast. It was decorated with antiques, with each room having its own unique theme; ours even came with silver plated snuffer candle holders to light your room! I highly recommend staying at this gorgeous place with a secret garden in the back. Check out Caledon Villa Guest House HERE. A little Bonus tip for you, not too far away, there is another great town called Franschhoek, South Africa’s epicurean capital. In this 17th century town, travel to more wineries, or walk around sightseeing down the main boutique-lined street.
Penguin
3) Marine Life: South African is known for its wildlife both on the ground and in the sea. In Hermanus Bay, you can sit on a patio, or on the edge of a cliff, and watch whales surface in the bay all day long. In fact, Hermanus is known as one of the best whale watching locations in the world during whale season from June to November. We were there for an hour and saw over a dozen whales. It was incredible. Not far from there is Betty’s Bay that hosts a thriving African Penguin colony. This is now one of the only remaining breeding grounds of the African penguin. Walkthrough and prepare to say “Awww” at least a dozen times, maybe more! If you want a bit more danger, then head to the fishing town of Gansbaai for some shark cage diving! Stay tuned as I will be dedicating a whole blog post to this, as it was a once in a lifetime experience. It’s exciting, exhilarating, a bit cold, and prepare for seasickness, but worth every penny! If you want to watch a short video of our shark cage diving experience (the shark sticks its head IN THE CAGE!), check it out HERE!
Bungy Jump South Africa
4) Adrenaline: If you are more on the active side and desire adventure, then you have some great options! You can bungee jump from the world’s highest bridge bungee in Tsitsikamma Forest, or there you can also hike and hop along the suspension bridges overlooking the ocean (there is a great restaurant with a view nearby). Still craving the adventure there? Then zip line across a waterfall and river gorge! I tried this and although I was a bit nervous, okay a lot nervous, it turned out to be an absolute blast!
Oudtshoorn Ostrich Farm
5) Oudtshoorn: Hands down a winner in my books. This stop was unforgettable! Just outside of town is an Ostrich pet farm, allowing you to feed and hug these odd looking creatures. I could stay there all day if our schedule allowed it. These worlds’ largest birds are flightless and adorable, though quite dense. Ostrich rides are no longer offered as it can be incredibly dangerous (to the rider, not the bird) and short-lived. Be sure to pick up an Ostrich egg as a souvenir! You can find them engraved and painted, or etched and turned into a candle holder. For a short video on our highlights at the Ostrich farm check out this video HERE. If you are in Oudtshoorn, the Cango Caves are simply a must do! They offer different tours through the caves for various levels of athleticism; we opted for the adventure tour. It was a bit tough carrying cameras (DSLR, 360 camera, cell phones), so I suggest to leave them behind if you can. On this tour, you are crawling, twisting, sliding and climbing your way through small passageways. It is very tight and slippery on the path, so make sure you are actually up for it. No bathrooms once you get started, so be sure to go first as you will be gone for a while a couple of hours. If you are not a cave or bird fan don’t worry, you can hug, feed and walk with elephants at Buffelsdrift Game Lodge nearby instead!
Honeymoon Selfie
I’m going to end here for now, but stay tuned for my next post with the remaining 5 stops to make in South Africa. I’ll cover the townships, an honest review of Cape Town, what to keep in mind for your Safari game drive and more!

Photos courtesy of KVDV Photography!

Cheers,
Melissa

Rise & Shine

I’m going to suggest something that I will RARELY say…Get up early (when you travel)! I know you are on holidays and staying tucked in extra-long can be ever so tempting, but don’t! Not only will rising at the crack of dawn get your day started early (allowing the chance to fit in more activities), but that means you may be able to beat the long lineups and overflow of people at popular tourist attractions.
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When we arrived early at the Palace of Versailles we were able to view most of the palace on our own, without fighting to see the paintings or antiques because of overcrowding. While not the most important, it also makes it easier to get that perfect picture without soo many heads in your photos. This also takes the stress of waiting, and the anxiety of people out of the equation, meaning you can actually enjoy and relax! Another quick tip, in relation to being an early riser, is to pre-purchase tickets ahead of time, then you really can spend less time on logistics and more time enjoying the beautiful views.
KVDV Photography
Speaking of views… check out the sunrise! How often do you get to witness that? And how frequently in another country? We recently were up at 3:30 am (I know right, ugh) for a safari drive in South Africa, and it was worth every moment. Though be it, the chill permeated through our thin clothes, the views more than made up for it. If the clouds are just right, the sunrise can become one of your favourite memories of the whole trip.
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So suck it up buttercup. Put your outfit out the night before if you need to, and pull the shades down early to experience the morning life over the nightlife for once. Plus who’s to say you can’t have a mid-day fiesta if you need a rest?
KVDV Photography
Are you an early bird catches the worm type, or are you a night owl? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned for more tricks and tips next month!

Cheers,
Melissa

Dryer Sheets & Travel

It’s time for Travel Tip Tuesday! I know I am a bit late this month, but planning a wedding this summer kept me quite busy. For anyone who is interested in what it’s like to plan a wedding overseas, stay tuned for future posts! It will be loaded with lessons learned, jam-packed with personal DIY tips and the pros and cons of being an expat bride to be from abroad.
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So back to the tidbit of today… let’s keep it simple. Bring dryer sheets everywhere! Don’t laugh, not only are they super lightweight, but they have an abundance of uses apart from the dryer. The first and obvious is to cover up any smells. Not just in your bag, but for your shoes, or even in your accommodations. There you can repel bad smells in the bed, dresser drawers or the trash bin. I’ve even heard that the smell of dryer sheets can keep unwanted visitors away such as insects, bed bugs and mice!
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Dryer sheets are also great for preventing static on your clothes or hair, so feel free to use them to tame your mane before taking a selfie. They can also be used to remove deodorant from clothes (just rub it away), removing sand after a visit to the beach, and freshening up that questionable rental car. Who knew such a small item, which takes up virtually no room, could be so useful!

Does anyone else have one of these tucked away in their purse or carryon at all times? Want to know more? Leave a comment below! Stay tuned for more monthly tips and tricks!

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

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

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

 

Travel Tip Time

sunday market (1)One Tuesday a month I’m going to start sharing a new travel tip with you from my own personal experiences, to make your travels that much easier. One thing I’ve learnt this past year is to #KISS when travelling. You know, Keep It Simple Silly! I prefer not to have checked luggage and therefore become restricted in my carry on options. So at home, I keep a large box of samples, hotel & Dentist freebies, etc, that I have picked up along the way and I use those (especially when staying in Air B & B’s). If you have specific products that you like, invest in small reusable bottles at the Dollar Store. To stay organized and save on time through security, I pre-package my liquids in my own transparent zipped bag. This may seem like a pain to invest in now, but will save you time later on! That gives you more time to relax and explore!

Any other travel questions? Let me know! And stay tuned for more tips!IMG_9195_edited Amsterdam Lights Full 1Cheers,
Melissa

Krakow, Poland

Krakow, Poland, was such a memorable experience! It’s a gorgeous place to visit, rich in history, food and activities. If you ever plan on visiting Krakow here are a few essential places to visit: St. Marys Basilica (which has a picturesque view of the town square from the top of the tower), Auschwitz, The Wieliczka Salt Mine, Wawel Cathedral (and don’t forget to check out the Dragons den underneath the castle grounds), Kościuszko Mound (for a panoramic view of the city), and old town square (where you can purchase as many souvenirs as possible at the old cloth hall).

One tip I have is to check out “Cracow Free Tours”. They offer tours daily (we signed up for 3 of them while visiting), and are very informative. The tours are led by locals whom really know the area and have personal insights that add an extra touch to your tour. Without these tours we would have missed out on so many unique pieces of history that Krakow has to offer. Check them out here: http://www.cracowfreetours.com/.

While in Krakow be sure to satisfy your taste buds with all the pierogies, sausage and pretzels that your heart desires. Then take a stroll through the Kazimierz district to snack on a traditional Zapiekanka (an open faced sandwich on half a baguette, topped with sauce, cheese and more), a trend that dates back to the 70’s and was mentioned by our tour lovely guide. Or stop at Alchemia Od Kuchni, one of the oldest and cutest pubs on the block that has a Narnia themed décor, including a wardrobe to walk through. Lastly, have a drink outside of the childhood home of Helena Rubinstein and be inspired by her life story. A cosmetics entrepreneur once deemed one of the world’s richest business women.

Souvenirs to purchase include dragon décor, a flower crown and pottery! Did I miss anything? Any suggestions on where I should travel next? Let me know in the comments!

Cheers,
Melissa

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