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!

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

Greece Part 1 – Santorini

Yamas! As the locals say in Greece. I am so excited to share this post with you, as I really enjoyed my trip to Greece both in Santorini and Athens. Since this was quite a long trip, with so much to share with you, I have split it up into 2 parts. So let’s begin!Greece Lunch Spot
Santorini is one of the many islands off the coast of Greece. With so many options you may wonder why we picked it. I had heard it has a world famous sunset, so why not! First impressions were that Santorini is hot, sunny, friendly and beautiful!Oia Sunset
There are 4 main locations on this volcanic island where we spent most of our time. I’ll start with Oia. There you will find the amazing sunset. You must go early, in fact, I would recommend packing a picnic (with some local wine of course) and heading there at least an hour before sunset if you want to take epic people free photos. We were over an hour and a half early and barely got a spot. Everyone will tell you the best view is the Castle and I would agree they are absolutely correct. Though if the weather and clouds are not cooperating, the sunset may not live up to your expectations and you may have to go back a few nights. If you want a view while you eat, reservations are a must as most coveted balcony spots fill up fast. Oia is gorgeous with its blue dome roofs (though only a few are easily discoverable, so not as many as I had pictured), white curved arches and flowers everywhere. Oia is meant for tourists and they are everywhere, which can really be felt in the narrow streets. It’s busy, expensive and traffic leaving the city after sunset is just bananas!The Famous Sunset
If you want to see the same architecture, same sunset, but more of a nightlife, then go to Fira. The capital of Santorini offered more to do in the way of bars, food and shopping, they even had fun fish spas for your feet and it was a (tiny) bit less touristy. If you are determined to try the authentic donkey ride up the escarpment you can find this both in Oia and Fira (stay tuned for more about this horrible experience later!).Fira, Santorini
Have you seen enough sunsets? Then check out some ancient ruins! My favourite was Ancient Thira (on the southeast side of the Island). I suggest renting a 4 wheeler or a car to get up part way. This is a great first stop after you land as it is super close to the airport. Another option is on the southwest end of the Island to Akrotiri. Yes, it is quite fascinating to see remains of a settlement that was destroyed in the Theran volcanic eruption in 1627 BC, however, this indoor facility was a bit overpriced. Also if you do not have a guide there are minimal signs so you may not get a very deep understanding of it all.Ancient Ruins at Thira
Being on a sun-filled Mediterranean island, the beaches are truly endless. My favourites are Kamari Beach (I was originally confused and thought this was the Black Beach as it’s all black sand and black stone) and the Red Beach. The Red Beach is a quick 10-minute hike from the parking lot, and pretty small so it is important to get there early. There you can enjoy sunbathing while being surrounded by red cliffs. A reminder to bring water shoes as it is all stone, like these here. Unfortunately, we did not go to White Beach as our GPS would only suggest one sketchy road that our tiny car would not be able to handle. Red Beach
If you are the excursion or activity type, I have many suggestions for you! First, go to a winery! There are so many local wine creators in Santorini, and many wineries offer tours or tastings. I enjoyed Boutari Winery. The cool thing about the local wines is that their vineyards do not look like what you’d see in the Niagara escarpment. To protect the grapes from wind and the sun, they wrap the vines like Christmas wreaths close to the ground. Also since the soil is all volcanic, this adds a bit of flavour to your adult grape juice. Boutari Winery
Second, do a boat tour. Just do it. Yes it’s a bit touristy. Yes it can be pricey. But doooo it! We used Key Tours for an all-day adventure. We made a stop at the volcano (yes it was a bit disappointing as it’s just a hike on rocky hills with the highlight being a hole in the ground that is slightly steamy with little Instagram worthy shots, but still a great experience), swam in sulphur hot springs (my fave part of the whole day), and ate lunch on Thirasia Island. A bit of a warning, the bathroom on the boat is hot and small. You should not, under any circumstances, wear a one-piece bathing suit AND a onesie jumper, unless you are wanting an unpleasant experience. Nuff said! (In general, the bathrooms suck in Greece and you must not throw any TP in the toilet, as their pipes are too small and cannot handle it and you are lucky to get toilet seats).Swimming in Hot Springs
Another fun thing to do is just rent a car and drive around. Check out the local less touristy villages such as Pyrgos or go to the edge of the island and check out the lighthouse. You never know what you’ll see, eat or discover, such as the free Venetian Castle we found. It’s the spontaneous adventures and discoveries that add to your lifetime of memories.The Lighthouse
Now for those asses! I am not afraid of heights and I love animals of all kinds (ask K who is constantly following me as I am trying to pet lizards, cuddle stray cats or feed the ducks). I read ahead on the donkeys and felt assured that they were well treated. After being up close and personal, I don’t feel like this is the case. The donkeys did not seem very happy and were covered with hot spots from the straps. The poor things go up and down the mountain all day long carrying tourists. I also had a very unpleasant donkey who clearly wanted nothing to do with me as he constantly walked too close to the (very low) edge, crushing and scraping my leg against walls (bruises to show for it) which induced fear and panic in me (I legit cried after getting off). He also had no desire to listen, and would stop or run up ahead of the other donkeys when he pleased. There are no reins to steer the donkey, just a single rope on the one side, which only helps if you want to turn right. The whole thing is rather depressing and I will not do it again. Do as you wish, it’s your trip, but I do not recommend it. Instead get your steps in for the day and climb the stairs.DSC02892
Any comments, questions or concerns? Let me know below! For more tips on what to do, check out my Youtube video on 15 Things to do in Santorini HERE. Stay tuned for part 2 on the mainland…Athens!Enjoying the local wine
Cheers,
Melissa

The Diamond Capital

As the local saying goes, there is Antwerp, and the rest of Belgium is just a parking lot. This being only my second stop in Belgium (after Dinant), I don’t think I can comment on this quote just yet. However, I can tell you what to eat, what to do once you get there, and perhaps most importantly what to avoid!AntwerpI cannot even describe how much I adore food, so leading with the top Belgium foods just makes sense. There are 4 essential food groups when in Antwerp: Waffles, Fries, Chocolate and Beer (some would also argue muscles, but I’ve been told they were much better in Dinant). Tucked in the shadows of Europe’s first skyscraper lies a tiny booth where you can purchase the best waffles in all of Antwerp, called, go figure, “The Smallest Waffleshop”. Go there! Run, don’t walk, they are amazing! Pro tip: If you want to eat like a local, don’t add any toppings, it really is sweet and delicious enough naked!WaffleMultiple locals told me about their favourite fry shop, Frituur LO, and a fun way to get there was to pass through St. Anna’s pedestrian tunnel (I’ll come back to the uniqueness of this tunnel in a bit). The locals will probably curse me to my grave for saying this, they were only OK, not great. They had much better fries at Simit Sarayi just two blocks away from Central Station. Sure the ambience is sub-par, but the rest of the food was decent for the price. Frituur LO is close to the river’s edge, allowing you to enjoy fries while watching the boats go by or listening to the church bells in the distance.Frituur LO FriesWhat better way to end your day with some Belgium chocolate for dessert, yum! You can find shops everywhere in the downtown core to purchase the traditional chocolate hands of Antwerp. Or you can go to a local grocery and pick up the cheap and local Cote D’Or.  In between fry sessions, and to give your feet an extra break, Belgium beer is simply a must. I enjoyed the beer and ambience at Elfde Gebod. It is a tad….odd…on the inside. Instead of typical paintings or coat of arms, they have religious statues and other religious artefacts crowded in every nook and cranny. Very unique and touristy, but I loved it!Elfde GebodNow that you are full, you’ll need to burn off those calories with some activities. Though there is quite a bit to do in Antwerp, you really won’t need more than 2 days. A unique activity is the underground sewer canal tours at De Ruiens, you can do this led by a guide, on your own with an Ipad (90 mins) or on a boat (15 mins). Do note that this books up way in advance so get your tickets ASAP. Also carry a flashlight, and maybe bring something to cover up the lovely smell…De RuiensOther great museums to note include The Rubens House (great with a combination ticket for  Mayer Van Den Bergh which in my opinion was actually more impressive and less busy), Diva Antwerp Home of Diamonds (fantastic if you are into jewellery and antiques), and the stunning Cathedral of our Lady, which was quite beautiful with a small crypt underneath . If you want to go for a bit of a walk check out The Red Star Line Museum for personal stories of immigrants coming to North America, or the MAS Museum (Museum aan de Stroom).  Heads up that the Panorama at the top of the MAS museum is free and open until midnight, making it the perfect spot to watch a sunset. Overall most of the museums were worth their cheap admission price and filled with interactive activities. Keep in mind not a lot of English is offered so you may be given a tour guide to refer to while walking around.MAS MuseumIf you are into markets like me, then you will have lots of options in Antwerp. There was practically a market every day we were there! At Groenplaats on Thursday, the Friday Market at the historic city centre (for furniture and other random findings), and on Saturday the fresh food market at little Paris and the Antique market at Lijnwaadmarkt (only a few tables but prices so low it felt like stealing – we bought some fantastic silver antiques).Steen CastleFor some more free entertainment check out the beautiful Central Station of course, Steen Castle (pictured above, great for a view and photos), walk through the Diamond district (really a few blocks of jewellery stores), stroll through the boutique shops downtown, check out the red light district (yes they have one), or learn from a local on a PWYC walking tour. I also thoroughly enjoyed riding the original wooden escalators from 1933 in St. Anna’s pedestrian tunnel under the Scheldt River! The underpass is about a 15-minute walk (572 Meters), or you can bike it!St. Anna's Wooden EscalatorsWhile walking around be sure to look out for hands in Antwerp! Legend has it there was a giant in the city who forced people to pay a stipend to cross the river. If the populace could not afford the fee he would cut off their hand and disposed of it in the river. It is said a Roman Soldier killed the giant and threw its hand into the river, hence the name of the city Antwerp, which means hand throwing.HandsWhether you choose to veg out basking in the sun on a patio, walking under the cranes along the harbour, or touring museums, you will be pleasantly surprised in Antwerp. So eat up. Drink up and go explore!

Want to know more? Check out my Youtube video 15 Things To Do in Antwerp (in under 3 minutes) HERE!

Did I miss anything? Have any questions about Antwerp? Let me know in the comments below!

Cheers,
Melissa

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