New Years with the Danish

This year we celebrated NYE in Denmark! We have witnessed the fireworks in Amsterdam and were told these are some of the best fireworks in Europe, but the fireworks in Copenhagen are INSANE. I cannot even fathom how I am going to begin to depict the craziness of the fireworks in Denmark. So here it is…
Fireworks in the Square
Fireworks are being lit all day and all night long. I’m not even referring to the scheduled professional ones, these are your amateur neighbors store-bought fireworks. The most popular professional fireworks are launched at 11 pm inside Tivoli park (more on this famous amusement park later on). Then the party continues just outside the gate in the City Hall Square.
Tivoli Fireworks
Picture this, a couple thousand people of all ages, forming a circle and literally tossing any fireworks they have into the circle of people observing. It starts out as all fun and games, but it gets loud, crazy and chaotic. I literally witnessed people getting hit with fireworks, or panicking and knocking themselves out while trying to escape the upcoming sparks – one gentleman tried to run away from a misfiring firework, tripped and hit his head on the pavement and literally knocked himself out, this was our cue to turn in for the night.
Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens is where we launched our celebrations. It is the second oldest amusement park in the world and was visited often by Walt Disney for inspiration. It opened in 1843 and is still functioning today. But it is expensive. To gain an entrance that does not include any rides you may have to give them your first born. Yes, it is beautiful, like a winter wonderland, light show and fake snow included. But unless you plan on standing in line and enjoying every ride, it may not actually be worth it. Even the food inside will cost an arm or leg!
Tivoli Gardens
Bringing me to my next point. It was increasingly difficult to find authentic Danish food in Denmark! They have a variety of choices from Chinese, to American, Dutch, Italian, etc, but Danish was not always on the menu. Now, this may be because we were here over the holidays and many restaurants were closed or Google Maps is not updated. Even with the conversion to their currency, the DKK, much like Zurich, Copenhagen is very expensive. My favorite stop to eat was at A Hereford Beefstouw, they had an incredible vegetarian steak! That’s a first! A runner up is Tivoli food hall as it has a variety of eats for all the foodies out there (you do not need to purchase a ticket for the park to enter this hall FYI).

Even in the high wind chill, and on the day of hangovers, they still run the free walking tour in Copenhagen. It was very informative and ran by a very enthusiastic guide whose fascination with the city was contagious. Having a guide is helpful maneuvering through the windy streets as Copenhagen is actually very large and spread out.
Changing Of The Guard
If you are there for a short trip, here are 5 places that you must include in your itinerary:

1) Christiansborg Palace is large, beautiful and a popular tourist attraction (as this is where you will find the Supreme Court, Ministry of State and the Royal Stables). We were lucky enough to watch them rehearse the equestrian show for the Queen’s party that night!
Copenhagen, Denmark
2) The Round Tower is super unique, I’ve never been in something quite like this. To reach the viewing platform at the top you don’t actually climb stairs, but instead, ascend up a flat (ish) winding ramp. There are little stops on the way with little surprises to add to the excitement.
The Round Tower
3) You cannot visit this city without a stroll down Nyhavn, better known as the canal with a row of colorful houses and old sailboats. This 17th-century waterfront and entertainment district is very photogenic, but unfortunately not authentic (thanks walking tour!). Sorry to burst your bubble, but the boats that are docked there are paid to be there to draw in tourists. Though the houses were constructed from 1670-1673, and once housed Hans Christian Anderson (in 1845-1864), they have been reconstructed and painted to draw you in. But who cares, the street is super pretty and photogenic, giving you a feel of what it may have been back in the day.
Nyhavn
4) The Little Mermaid statue is bronze and placed on a small rock by the waterside. Much like the Mona Lisa in Paris, it is a tiny attraction that creates quite a crowd. This statue is based on the fairy-tale by the same name and was unveiled in 1913. It often gets decapitated or vandalized on a yearly bases. You can go right up to it on the rocks or from a safe distance via a boat tour.
The Little Mermaid Statue
5) The Danish War Museum was surprisingly one of my favourite stops on this trip. It was a lot bigger than anticipated and had the most cannons I have ever seen at once. The focus is mainly on past wars just affecting Copenhagen; did you know they had the biggest Navy at one time? I definitely recommend this museum, it was very informative with lots to look at. It is also housed in an old military fort!
Danish War Museum
Overall this city had its charm, but I think would have been more enjoyable if most attractions were not closed for the holidays. If you plan on starting your New Year here you will experience the craziest fireworks ever, but there is a limited amount of attractions to occupy yourself in between.

Still not finished your coffee and want more to read? Check out my latest articles for other publications! Exiting Expat Life for Verge Magazine is all about my mixed feelings of moving back to Canada from The Netherlands. If you are an adrenaline junkie keep South Africa on your radar, with 8 activities you can do there! Check out my Geargreed article HERE!
Melissa in Amsterdam
Cheers,
Melissa

 

Holiday Travel

Thanks so much for all your comments, questions, and support this past year! Due to popular demand, I will continue my monthly ‘Travel Tip Tuesday’ posts! Since the holidays are wrapping up (see what I did there?), this month’s tip is dedicated to traveling over the Christmas season.
Travel Trip Tuesday
On previous Christmas vacations, my husband and I have traveled to the Caribbean, and for the most part, it was seamless. The trips were on the pricey side since our dates were not flexible, though this was offset by the near limitless alcohol, constant parties and the weather was heavenly. This is the only way to really enjoy the holidays when traveling, in my opinion.
A Sunny Christmas Vacation
This year we tried something a tad different. We celebrated Christmas in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and dashed off to Copenhagen, Denmark, to catch the New Year’s fireworks. Though both trips were fun filled in their own way (and stay tuned as I will be posting more details on each trip very soon), they were difficult this time of year. Having known what we know now, we would have done it differently.
Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Due to Palma being in their offseason, coupled with the last remaining businesses being closed for the Christmas holidays, many of the attractions and restaurants were closed for Christmas and New Years. We found that museums closed early (if they were even open at all), open restaurants were far and few between (and adding in our GF/ Vegetarian needs was a blast), some excursions were not running, and often it was a ghost town between mid-afternoon and late at night. In warmer countries like Spain this is not a huge issue, however, Copenhagen is collllllld. So walking around aimlessly can be tiring. Why not stop and have a drink you ask? Well, Denmark is expensive (like Zurich, Switzerland expensive) and who wants to spend their whole trip held up in a bar? Then add the cold chill and it’s probably not even healthy to spend the entire day walking around in the winter wind.
Copenhagen, Denmark
Don’t get me wrong, both countries had a lot to offer and were beautifully decorated for this time of year; just be prepared to do extensive research before packing your bags and booking your flights. Instead just go on a guided tour or an inclusive resort to ease the stress of planning and just enjoy relaxing away from the holiday stress! Better yet, get out of the city, rent a car and drive around for a few days; this is when we typically have our most fun.
Palma Decorations
Do you travel for the holidays or do you prefer to stay in town with the fam jam? Any stories of traveling during the Christmas season? Do you have questions for me to cover on my next ‘Travel Tip Tuesday’? Let me know in the comments below!

Cheers,
Melissa

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

South Africa Part 2

South Africa
If you haven’t read part 1, I suggest doing so first! South Africa is way too amazing to cover in just one post so I have split my top 10 favourite stops into two posts. So let us dig right in with what to know for your Safari game drive!
Elephants in South Africa
6) Park It: We did two game drives through Addo Elephant National Park. This park is the 3rd largest in all of South Africa and was created in 1931 to provide sanctuary for the remaining elephants in the area.  The cool thing is that all the animals and vegetation in the park are originally from that area. The park rangers prevent the influx of animals (such as giraffe and cheetahs) and any vegetation that does not actually originate from that area. They have over 700 elephants, along with buffalos, rhinos, zebras, antelope, hyenas, monkeys, ostrich, lions (rare to see as they only have 14 in the entire park) and the largest population of the flightless dung beetle! Our first drive was insanely early in the morning (up for 3:30 am), and it was chilly! Be prepared with layers, it is cold. We thought ahead and brought fleece, gloves and hats. We were there in September, which is their spring, so most days have a bit of a crisp breeze, with a nice warm afternoon in the sun. I found that the animals were more active on our second drive in the afternoon, as the watering hole was the meetup spot for almost 50 elephants!
J Bay
7) Surfer Dude: If you are a surfer, or think now is the time to learn, ride the waves in Jeffrey’s Bay! Jeffrey’s Bay is in the top 5 most famous surfing destinations in the world and hosts the annual World Surf League. This town was pretty quiet during our visit, as summer has not started yet, but I can see the potential during the peak surfing season for sure. It did have some cute souvenir shops, an awesome beach with a quickly rising tide, and beautiful accommodations at Mandyville Hotel, who were super accommodating to us with gluten allergies (which is quite rare).
Cape Town
8) Cape Town: A must see on this side of the Western Cape is Table Mountain. You can get to the top via a cable car (book your tickets ahead online and be prepared for a long line up), or by a 2-hour hike. We opted for the cable car as we had limited time to explore and wanted to spend most of our time viewing from the top, turns out, either option takes the same amount of time during peak times. Once there, you will have incredible views of Cape Town and it’s Harbour on one side, and the never-ending ocean on the other. The landscape is rocky with some bushes and adorable Dassie’s running around (A gopher like animal, actually related to the elephant family surprisingly). We were lucky enough to experience this at sunset and had a view that would give Santorini a run for its money. However, if you stay that late you will have to wait for HOURS to take the cable car down, and be prepared for lots (and lots) of butting on epic proportions. In Cape Town, I would also suggest my usual, a free walking tour. That way you can explore the city on foot safely with a guide, and learn about the history and politics of the country. We did feel rather unsafe in Cape Town, we were harassed for about 6 blocks by an aggressive homeless man and nobody stopped to help us out. We ended up going into a store and waited for the person to leave. It really ruined the vibe of the city for us.
South Africa
9) Townships: I don’t recommend heading to a Township on your own. These government made neighbourhoods have high poverty and practically no employment. They are so bad that even our Uber driver would not venture to one. If you do, go with a guide in at least a small group and ONLY during daylight hours. I’m not even exaggerating this. We made a quick stop at Kayamandi Township and met with a wonderful local who made homemade Xhosa treats such as amagwinya (deep-fried dough bread, not so great for your stomach If you are GF) and chakalaka (a vegetable spicy relish, great for vegetarians). She also explained the traditional wardrobe that women would wear to a wedding (how fitting since we were on our honeymoon) and filled our stomachs and hearts. Within the first 30 seconds of exiting her house, we had someone threaten us for our cameras, so we quickly got into the van and left.
Baboons
10) Baboons: If you are driving along Cape Point, you are bound to see these creatures at some point (usually near mountains) We stopped to take photos of the baboons on the side of the road. However, I warn you not to get too close. As adorable as these old world monkeys are, they are not pets. They can be very aggressive (especially if you have food) and are incredibly smart (they can zip open your purse, inspect your lipstick and open car doors). So make sure to leave space between you and them if you decide to get out of your car! Also, watch out for traffic, but that’s a given.
Elephant Hugs
The great thing about driving in South Africa is that every 100 Km, the scenery drastically changes. The ecosystem is so diverse that one moment you are gazing up at snow-topped mountains, and the next fields of the canola flower. Instead of cows you will see Springbok (an antelope, apparently they taste delicious), and will constantly want to stop for photos, guaranteed! I had no idea that South Africa would be so rich in landscape, really I envisioned walking into The Lion King, but it is so much more than that. It is a beautiful country with an immensely long list of things to do and see, filled with welcoming people, magnificent wildlife and delectable food. If you have the opportunity, book your tickets and go see for yourself!
KVDV PHOTOGRAPHY

Photos courtesy of KVDV Photography!

Check out my YouTube video on the Top 15 Things To Do in South Africa HERE.

Cheers,
Melissa

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

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

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.
KVDV Photography
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!
KVDV Photography
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).
KVDV Photography
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…
KVDV Photography
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.
KVDV Photography
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!
KVDV Photography
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.
KVDV Photography
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

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

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