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

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

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

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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