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

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

 

Scarf It Up!

I swear half my closet consists of scarves. I really do love them and wear them constantly. Therefore it makes sense that my latest travel tip is to always bring a scarf on a trip. A scarf will not only keep you warm as a blanket (as flights tend to be on the cooler side), but can dual as a pillow (great for trains and buses). You can use them to cover your face for privacy, as an eye mask to shield against bright lights, or folded up as a neck pillow. When travelling in the summer, it can get very hot, but some churches have dress codes and a scarf will be needed to cover your bare shoulders. They also come in handy as seat savers in the movie theatre, at concerts, or when getting standing tickets at the Opera (see my Vienna blog post later this week for more on this).
Apple Picking IMG_2639(LR,PS)And don’t forget that they are a fabulous fashion accessory; they can make any outfit look classy and put together in a second! One of my favourites is NimiNimi scarves! They are not only luxurious silk scarves that are hand rolled in Italy, but for charity! They have also been nominated for a Canadian Arts and Fashion Award, congrats!
sunday market (2)Do you have any other travel questions? Let me know! And stay tuned for more!
“When I wear a silk scarf I never feel so definitely like a woman, a beautiful woman.”Cheers,
Melissa

Buda – Best!

Budapest, the capital of Hungary, is pretty awesome! There are so many exciting options to explore; you will need more than a couple of days. I must say, one of my favourite things to do with my BFF was the traditional Hungarian bath. Szechenyi Spa was our bath of choice, the largest medicinal bath in Europe. There you can relax outdoors in a 20th century heated pool, steam your face, and tan, all in the middle of winter! I’ve never done a public bath before and this was definitely an enthusiastic check off the bucket list. If you are a budget minded traveller, you can bring your own towel to save a few Euros! And if you work up an appetite after all that swimming, stop at the nearby Varosliget Café & Restaurant, at Budapest City Park, for a mid-day lunch. There they have a spectacular view, reasonable prices, and a delicious gluten free vegetarian option (grilled sheep cheese with roasted vegetables – yum).
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Other amazing mentionable activities in Budapest include: Fisherman’s Bastion (which is a bit of an uphill hike but a must see at night), Buda Castle, Heroes Square, Hungarian Parliament (so beautiful), Matthias Church, St Stephen’s Basilica (only 300 steps up for a panorama view of the city) and Shoes on the Danube (a touching WW2 memorial along the river, seen in the photo below). When you get a little snack-ish from all that walking, be sure to try the traditional chimney cake, which will give you an instant delicious  doughy sugar boost!
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Your day does not end when night begins here. In Budapest there are many ruin bars, restaurants and lots to do in the city when the sun goes down. We went to Mazel Tov for some great eats for a girls night in a romantic ruin setting, and drank some traditional Palinka at Szimpla Kert Ruin bar. Another activity I would highly recommend is a wine tasting at Faust Wine Cellar in Hotel Hilton Budapest. The wine cellar is in the basement, with a cave like feel. The setting is dark and intimate. You get a personal tasting of the most delicious Hungarian wines, along with a treat to snack on. For wine lovers, this is a must do while in Budapest, and a brilliant thoughtful surprise from my bestie!

One thing to note is that Budapest is pretty cheap, (leaps and bounds cheaper than the last trip to Zurich), which makes eating and souvenir shopping a lot easier on the wallet. They do have their own currency there (Hungarian Forint also referred to as HUF, which is roughly 314 HUF for 1 Euro) however we were able to get away with using cards or Euros the entire time.
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To see more photos of life in Budapest, be sure to check out http://fromkaren.com/, for gorgeous views of the stunning city (and so much more)! Overall I will definitely be back to this charming city one day.

Do you have any questions? Did I miss anything? Where should I travel next? Comment below to let me know!

Cheers,
Melissa

All roads lead to Rome

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

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

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

Cheers,
Melissa

Dinant, Belgium

Just had a short visit to the to the Belgium town of Dinant, right on the River Meuse. This very old town is known for its landmark, the Collegiate Church of Notre Dame de Dinant. Right behind it, at the very top of the mountain, is the Citadel of Dinant. You can take a cable car to the top; however, “we” chose to walk it. All 408 steps of it, to walk off the calories from our beer of course. It is worth the climb though, as there is a small interactive exhibit to experience and a breathtaking view.20171111_152107Dinant is also known for Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone from the early 1840’s, its Trappist Leffe beer, delicious chocolate of course, mussel’s for dinner and the couque de dinant. This sweet treat is made of just flour and honey and is not intended to be bitten into. Instead, you break off pieces and suck on it. Or maybe dip it in some tea. Yum!IMG_4445This cute little town was very picturesque, with a few surprises along the way, such as the Rocher Bayard rock and the hidden ruins de creve-coeur. The ruins were a bit of a hike, and maybe not the safest thing to do in the rain, but well worth it. To get there you also walk through a tiny medieval town, and it’s only about a 30 minute commute from downtown. Some other tourist activities included beer tasting at Maison Leffe and exploring the caves at Grotte La Merveilleuse.IMG_4870-EditDo note that as this is a small town, and if you go in low tourist season, most outdoor water activities are closed. There is not much of a nightlife, as things shut down very early, and it is also very difficult to find places for an early breakfast, so feel free to sleep in. A free but fun activity to do is to walk along the river. Check out the colours and architecture of the locals homes, take pictures of the scenery, and breathe in the fresh air, while sampling some fresh Belgium chocolate of course!
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Where should we go next? Any suggestions?
Cheers,
Melissa

I Heart Paris

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

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

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

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

J’aime Paris.

Au revoir,
Melissa

 

 

 

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