Toronto Islands: City Escape

The view from the Toronto Islands ferry

One of the many things I love about this gigantic sprawl called Toronto is that on any given day you can end up very far from where you thought you’d be.

And I don’t mean that literally. In an always evolving metropolis full of endless options – a side street, friendly suggestion or long wander can lead you to a handful of hours that are delightfully unexpected and instrumental in furthering your love for the Big Smoke. I feel like this happens to me most weekends.

Yesterday afternoon was no different. After a week of wonderful birthday celebrations for both Meghan and Kaylee – which included champagne at Tuesday night softball, lovely gifts, a heartwarming surprise visit from the Ottawa nuts and many, many laughing fits – I decided Kaylee and I needed to top off the festivities with a new Sunday activity that took us away from downtown crowds. And so, after some brainstorming, Kaylee, myself and our two friends ventured over to Hanlan’s Point – a portion of the beautiful Toronto Islands – to have an extravagant champagne and cake-filled lunch and afternoon of beach lounging. This adorable outing was the definition of proof that you don’t have to venture far to feel like you’ve accomplished a total city getaway.

If you’ve yet to explore either Hanlan’s Point, Centre Island or Ward’s Island, the waterfront picnic parks that make up the Toronto Islands, you have to do so immediately. When one thinks about trekking to an island, you might think it calls for planning, hassle and hours of your time. Wrong. I was amazed at the ease and convenience of this beautiful jaunt across the pond, considering the bliss we were treated to upon arriving. We effortlessly strolled onto a harbourfront ferry (at Queen’s Quay between Yonge and Bay) after a five-minute wait, instantly found a picnic table in the acres of green grass and weeping willows, had a stretch of soft beach all to ourselves and readily hopped right back on a ferry at the end of our relaxing day. The entire endeavour was almost all too simple considering our only fare paid was for baguette, spreads, cake and champagne – and our only moments of waiting were between turning on to our backs and fronts as we sprawled on beach towels.

Whether as part of a group outing, date or a leisurely solo excursion (one of my personal favourite things) – anything that includes a refreshing boat ride and sandy beach perch is one of the most beautiful ways to spend an afternoon, in my mind.

PS Our dear friend Cass, who joined us yesterday, was able to (cutely) tick a Toronto Island visit off her city “bucket list.” Do you have a bucket list for your city? I think it’s a great idea and we’d love to hear yours – comment below!

Full bellies, happy girls

Beautiful birthday girl and cake!

My first non-vegan cake in 10 months! (Insert major stomach ache here)

Heaven.

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El Camion

“The more you travel, the more you realize how little you’ve seen”

-Anonymous

I learned from a young age that travel opens the mind, heart and soul to new experiences. For this reason, travel has always been a passion of mine. As I mentioned in my last post about travel, I haven’t had much opportunity to pursue this passion, so I made sure that every last second of my most recent 10 day stint in England counted.

Aside from the motley crew of people you can meet while journeying through a different continent, my favourite things to discover are, in no particular order: new drink, new food and new tunes. I remember as an 18 year old exploring Europe for the first time ever, alone, I met an extremely well traveled fellow who had a 16G device set aside for all of the music he had gained and shared over his many years of travelling. Those moments where you taste something unforgettable, share a bottle of something pretty and peculiar or turn your ear toward an unfamiliar sound are some of the illuminating and awe inspiring moments of travel. And so, without further ado, an experience that is tailored for a blog where each of the contributors have a particular affinity for tequila…. a tequila bar in Soho London,  with some seriously electric soul.

EL CAMION

If you urbanspoon this baby, you will more than likely be directed to reviews of a cheap and cheerful Mexican restaurant. And when you walk in to El Camion, that’s exactly what you’ll find.

Unless you take a sharp right and wander downstairs. . .

So how did we come upon a seemingly underground tequila bar? We were grabbing a late night bite and struck up conversation with our waitress who appeared to have a handle on the local nightlife. She told us to head up to Brewer Street in Soho, to El Camion.

“It’s usually members only, but because it’s a Tuesday, you may have some luck.”

Off we went, a couple of hopeful tourists, to find a tall, dark and intimidating bouncer at the door of a completely empty Mexican restaurant. After a few minutes of surprisingly friendly banter, the bouncer said we seemed alright and let us into the restaurant. He quickly tuned in to our disorientation and guided us to the staircase, chuckling at our North American expense. We came to a set of closed doors that were bursting with energy, music and  leading us to some seriously good tequila inside. With a collection of over 300 bottles of Mexico’s finest  and most exclusive tequilas, we truly hit the jackpot and managed to steer clear of the tired path of tourists.

The menu boasted a rainbow of cocktails that all sounded delicious and tempted us once or twice, but sticking to their shtick we opted for more than our fair share of tequila.

Adopting house policy (top left) of avoiding salt and lime with any tequila shot, we shot the cheap stuff and chased with a red “sangrita”: a concoction of red wine, tomato juice and hot sauce. From brandy snifters, we sipped the “Pechuga” known for the chicken breast suspended inside the still in a basket of fruit during the third distillation (bottom left).

Perfectly in my element, I had one of those aforementioned moments where I couldn’t help but turn my ear toward the electric soul sound of Milez Benjamin twisting around the dj’s deck.  That, paired with some ominous art and a few more slams of 100% agave made for a traveler’s night to remember in the grungy, funky basement somewhere in the middle of London.

London Calling

After 2 solid years of working in the service industry and completing various degrees and diplomas, I can safely say I was in dire need of a vacation. I’m talking about the kind of vacation that allows you to fly across a sea, experience a different culture and truly leave behind the everyday life. So for the last 3 days, I have allowed myself to unwind many miles away from home. I am in England for a little under 2 weeks and I’m digging every moment of it.

For many people, England is synonymous with Big Ben, West Minister Abbey, The Royal Family and all things London. And London is unquestionably a staple of the United Kingdom, offering thousands of tourist attractions and that completely lovable metropolis vibe. But for me, England is synonymous with Marsden Rock, Coleman’s Fish ‘n’ chips and Ocean Road.

{ London: Big Ben and a double decker}

{ Newcastle: Marsden Rock at Marsden Beach}

{London: The famous crossing at Piccadilly Circus}

{Newcastle ‘burb South Sheilds: Ocean Road}

{London: London Bridge}

{Newcastle:Tyne Bridge}

As a child, I spent months on end in England visiting my mom’s side of the family. They have always been situated in the North of England, on the outskirts of Newcastle. Unfortunately, Newcastle has been branded by the popular reality T.V. show, Geordie Shore (a spin off of Jersey Shore). This unfortunate connection has caused the ever wary tourist to steer clear of Newcastle and its surrounding suburbs. I assure you, although the city streets are occasionally graced with a Snooki look alike, the city that I spent so many summers in exudes small town familiarity and is rather quaint. The “geordies”, as they are so called, are incredibly friendly, love a good pint of bitters and are always ready to lend a helping hand. To me, this town and its people hold many childhood memories of chasing down the ice cream van at a quarter to six, of playing old records on my gran’s Gramaphone, of pedaling along the narrow streets on a rented bike. To me, this town and its people are the true markers of English life.

 

**Stay tuned for some real time photos of London as I make my way down to the big city**

Cottage Country

After reading Meghan’s selection of road trip jams and not long after an account of Kaylee’s 50 days in the great outdoors, I’ve been feeling the itch to get away. Cottage season has been upon us for a few weeks now and I have yet to elope to one of those sacred destinations that makes summertime come alive. Cottaging is one of my favourite things about the summer, and although I do not own a cottage myself I will always jump at the opportunity to make that 3 hour drive out of the city toward the serene lake awaiting.

Aside from the obvious reason of getting a mini-break from the city, the cottage means so many other things. Whether you are cottaging as a couple, with your girlfriends or a group of pals, the whole experience opens the floodgates for some things that get overlooked in city life. Below are some of those things that I love to do when at a cottage and that sometimes are forgotten in everyday life – whether it is lack of time or patience- the cottage gives you back the time to do some of things you love most.

Whenever I’m going to a cottage, I always grab a good book to take along for the ride. #1 The Paris Wife is the kind of book that transcends your imagination and allows you to share exchanges with literary types such as Hemingway and his wife, Hadley Richardson. Nestled deep in the woods, with little to distract you, this book will quickly enthrall you and make for an easy read while you are living easy.  And, while you’re lying on a dock, nothing beats a good book and cold beer in your hand. Which brings me to my next point….

Anyone who knows me and knows me well, would be quick to say that, given the choice, I will always opt for a glass of wine over a pint of beer. But all grapes and caloric caution are thrown to the wind when it comes to cottage country. Beer is most people’s (including my own) drink of choice. Here are 3 of my favourite summertime beers. #1 Millstreet Organic is fresh, flavourful and not too heavy which makes for an easy sipping kind of beer. #2 Blanche de Chambly is an all-time favourite with hints of orange citrus, this beer has summertime written all over it. #3 Mad Tom IPA is an interesting fellow that will easily accompany a BBQ.

When the sun goes down and the lake gets too cold to dip your toes in, it is time to let the games begin. I am a game fanatic, with a slightly competitive streak so each of the games above are tailored to my preference. These games, or any others that you might love, are a surefire way to keep the evening rolling well into the wee small hours.

And, though I hate to admit it, during the year a manicured set of extremities is often pushed to the sidelines (especially during the winter months). So when summertime hits I try, try , try to keep a pretty coat of polish on my toes. Cottage country allows you all the time in the world to pamper yourself, and time to layer on a second coat!!! So why not use that time to try a touch of shimmery gold, a summertime coral or a soft neutral colour on your tootsies.

So next time (or the first time) you take the weekend to visit a cabin nestled in the woods, remember to bring a few of these items, take care of yourself and allow yourself to enjoy and relax in the great outdoors.

Summer Escape

Polished finger nails, patent pumps and an obvious fixation with clothing and style may not be indications of a girl who enjoys the great outdoors, but didn’t your mother ever tell you not to judge a book by its cover? Just like any man who can throw a football just as well as he can pair a gingham shirt with khakis, my love affair with fashion is only a portion of that which I adore.

As a fresh-faced 16-year-old, I attended the summer camp in Algonquin Park where my father’s name stood etched in wood in the dining hall, and where each of my aunts learnt to canoe, swim and explore. I had spent several summers at this place before, but this one in particular was to be profound. Months before, with friends of summers past listed as “preferred cabin mates”, I applied to embark on a FIFTY day canoe trip. Having done a thirty-six day adventure the summer before, I yearned for more of what the wilderness and the feeling of survival offered.

As Day 1 of 50 neared, food preparation, purging of unnecessary items and map navigating were underway, as the anticipation of it all began to build. The ultimate test of my contrasting qualities? Fifty days in one outfit for daytime (bathing suit, shorts, t-shirt, hiking boots) and one outfit for nighttime (long sleeve, sweatpants, sandals). Quite the comparison to our modern world where consumerism reigns and wearing the same outfit two days in a row can only mean a walk of shame is in order.

One important rule of the trip was a strict no-watch policy. Time had no place here. Lunch was not devoured at the strike of noon, but rather when we felt hungry, or when the sun began centering between the tree-flanked lakes. We became experts at deciphering just how much daylight remained, allowing enough time to set up camp, stow away food and devour our meals before wiggling into our sleeping bags, scribbling the day’s activities in our journals, and falling asleep to tent chatter, bird songs, and the gentle nearby lake (or, in some cases, the sound of hail or lightning). No modern conventions controlled our everyday activities, just the simplicities of navigating through forests, lakes, rivers and rapids.

Of course, a trip of this grandeur was not spared of drama, and as one can imagine, the moments of pure anguish were the most memorable in the long-term. Cracking a canoe in half (with me in it) tops that list, and watching our packs filled with tools for survival float down the river thereafter, does too. Not to mention, the consequent aquatic race that occurred as we noticed the waterproof bag containing our maps join that pack down the river. Peering down at my scarred toes offers a daily reminder of the trip, marked from boiling water that fell from a grill wedged atop the fire pit (hence my nick-names “boo” and “bubble toes”).

Why reminisce now, you ask? Well, each summer as the weather turns hot and we all migrate to nearby parks and patios, I’m reminded of these moments, and their meaning to me now, eight years later. If nothing else, I would urge all city folk to disappear for at least one weekend this summer. Rid yourself of the tweets, texts and notifications, listen to the breeze, the lake or the birds without the interruption of one siren or honk, and ease your mind from the worry, the deadlines and the speculation. Take notice of how often you check the time, and how much it controls your life. Think of all the gadgets that dictate you, and live more simply for just one day. Sleep under the stars, appreciate the nature around you and most of all, find your very own version of an escape.

DAY 50.

Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto: Summer Festivals

Well my little nuts, it’s safe to say that despite being three weeks away from the official inauguration of summer, it’s actually HERE. The weather is warm, neighbors have come out of hibernation, parks are filled with wanderers, lovers, Frisbee-throwers, patios are where it’s at, and ice cream parlors have finally begun to make a profit. If each of these indicators aren’t enough, there’s also that wild sense of scheduling that begins to come to fruition at this time; when every weekend seems like an opportune moment for a big event. Calendars begin to clog up with cottage weekends, camping trips, holidays, celebrations, and all those glorious things that make us ga-ga for summer. Among these activities are the countless festivals we are so fond of. The summer offers a festival for pretty much anything…you name it; beer, Italians, pride, jazz, blues, food galore, cars, weddings, and so much more. Between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, there’s something to see, hear and do, every weekend from now until Labour Day. Here you’ll find a one-stop resource for all the summer festivities, where to buy tickets, what the festivals entail and when/where they all take place. Get out your day timer, and start planning your summer!

MONTREAL

Mondiale de la Bière (translation: Beerfest)
When: June 8th to June 12th
Where: 
Place Bonaventure, 800 Rue de la Gauchetière Ouest
Why: 
Last year, I had loads of fun tasting beer from around the world, pairing them with fine cheeses and meats, not to mention watching festival-goers who were a few drinks in play volleyball on the fake indoor beach. The only downside is that it takes place indoors. 
How: 
Admission to Beerfest is free, but tokens to purchase beer and food are 1$ each and can be purchased at Place Bonaventure upon your arrival. Tastings will cost you anywhere between 1 to 5 tokens each, click here for more info.

Grand Prix
When: June 8th to June 10th
 
Where: 
If you’re partying, Crescent Street and St-Laurent. If you’re racing, the Gilles Villeneuve Circuit.
Why:
  Crescent Street and St-Laurent Street close down for the weekend, featuring race cars, concerts, food, drinks, extended club/bar patios and other kiosks. The city is jam-packed, and everybody wants to party.
How: 
If you’re visiting Montreal because you’ve heard of the insanity this weekend brings, then all you need to do is step outside. If you actually want to attend the race (who are you?), you can buy tickets here.

Montreal Jazz Fest
When: June 28th to July 7th 
Where: 
Various locations in Downtown Montreal
Why: From the legendary B.B. King to the sweet jams of Ben Harper, Montreal Jazz Fest has something for everyone. Other appearances include Janelle Monae, Liza Minelli, Rufus Wainwright, Piers Faccini and many more. 
How: 
Many outdoor performances are free admission, otherwise, tickets can be purchased here.

Just for Laughs
When:
 July 10th to July 29th 
Where: 
Various locations in Downtown Montreal and Ville-Marie
Why: 
Just for Laughs is pulling out all the stops for their 30th Anniversary, featuring the Muppets, Chelsea Handler, Bill Hader, Bob Saget and Wayne Brady, among so many others. The Nasty Show draws in the crowds (of mostly men) each and every year.
How: 
Tickets are on sale now, call 1-888-244-3155 or click here.

OTTAWA

Jazz Fest
When: June 21st to July 1st
Where:
 Confederation Park and other various locations
Why: 
If you follow Steve Martin on twitter, you know he plays the banjo in a Bluegrass band. Well, see him live at the Ottawa Jazz Fest! Other appearances by Janelle Monae, Esperanza Spalding and many more. 
How: 
Purchase a gold or bronze pass for multiple shows or a single-day ticket here.

Canada Day
When: July 1st
Where: 
Parliament Hill, the Market, any backyard
Why: 
Because it’s the nation’s capital and NO ONE celebrates better.
How: 
By plane, train or automobile.

Bluesfest
When: July 4th to July 15th
Where: 
Lebreton Flats
Why: 
This year’s lineup includes: Atrak, Alice Cooper, Blue Rodeo, City and Colour, Dragonette, Hey Rosetta!, Iron Maiden, John Mellencamp, K’Naan, LMFAO, Metric, Norah Jones, Our Lady Peace…need I say more?
How: 
Tickets are available in the form of day passes, full festival passports and multi-day wristbands, purchase tickets here.

Hope Volleyball SummerFest
When: July 14th
Where: 
Mooney’s Bay Beach
Why: 
Charity, sports, sunshine…the key to feeling like a great human being. Ill Scarlett, Treble Charger and Mother Mother are headlining the live entertainment.
How:
Admission is free, or you can register a team and participate in the action (click here) – You only have until May 31 to do so!

TORONTO

Taste of Little Italy
When: June 15th to June 17th
Where:
You guessed it – Little Italy! (College St. between Bathurst & Shaw)
Why:
Stroll through College St, which is closed for the occasion, while tasting the food of Italy that we all adore, and listening to the tunes of local bands.
How:
Admission is free.

Jazz Fest
When: June 22nd to July 1st 
Where:
Various locations in Toronto
Why:
Ziggy Marley, Janelle Monae, Natalie Cole, Esperanza Spalding and many other Jazz legends (who I don’t know) will perform.
How:
Many concerts are free admission, tickets for feature performances can be purchased here.

Pride Week
When: June 22nd to July 1st
Where:
Various locations in Toronto
Why:
While a concrete schedule of events has yet to be released, there’s no question that live performances, street fairs, the parade on July 1st and so much more, will be great fun this summer.
How:
Admission is free.

Summerlicious
When: July 6th to July 22nd
 
Where:
Various restaurants in Toronto
Why:
Try that restaurant you’ve always wanted to experience – for a limited-time, Summerlicious price. Throughout the festival, find exclusive three-course prix fixe menus offered at many of Toronto’s top restaurants.
How:
Sign up for the e-newsletter to get a first look at the list of participating restaurants (click here).

Beerfest
When: July 27th to July 29th 
 
Where:
Bandshell Park, Exhibition Place
Why:
Live entertainment, a grilling tent…not to mention, access to beers from around the world, all under the summer sun.
How:
General admission tickets can be purchased here, included are 5 sample tokens, a sampling cup and a pocket guide. Hoptimize your ticket for added features ($10 extra)!

Caribana Parade
When:  August 4th
Where: Exhibition Place & Lakeshore Boulevard
Why: It’s North America’s Largest Carribean Parade and I’m told it’s a lot of fun.
How: Just show up!

Taste of the Danforth
When: August 10th to August 12th
Where:
Greektown on the Danforth
Why: A street fair lined with Greek delicacies, free samples, a beer garden, concerts and games – it’s sure to be a blast!
How: Admission is free – More info here.

**Click calendars to enlarge**

Stay tuned for our coverage of many of these events throughout the summer!

Globe-Trotting Nutshell

As Kate wrote yesterday (beautifully might I add), I have returned from my European adventure in one piece and am happy to be back on Canadian soil. Aside from the obvious dirt-encrusted backpack and tired footwear, I have returned with some great stories, a couple of oil paintings from memorable places, a few aches and bruises …and, most notably, 5,091 photographs.

At the beginning of the trip, every statue, every fountain and every meal seemed worthy of a snapshot, leaving me with countless photos from so many small moments that now seem quite insignificant in the big picture (no pun intended). At some point in the trip however, I began to stop myself from reaching for the camera to capture the sunset or snap a shot of a cat sleeping soundly. There comes a time when sitting back and taking it all in, without a concern for documentation or picture quality, becomes very important if you want to truly appreciate the moment.

As I now sift through the rubble that is my EuroTrip picture folder, I find the best sights and experiences are captured in my “in a nutshell” moments, because these were the times when I thought to myself, “the girls would want to see this” or “I can’t wait to share this gorgeous place with our readers”.

So, here are some snapshots from my journey, each with a little touch of home in the form of our logo. To see the rest of these pictures, like our Facebook page and let us know your favorite!

Positano, Amalfi Coast

Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy

Sofia, Bulgaria

Click here to see the rest of the photos!

Keep Calm, and Travel On.

We all know that traveling is, of course, a privilege. It gives us the chance to learn about other cultures, to see the world´s beauty, to experience new things, and to meet people we otherwise wouldn´t. It is the ultimate learning opportunity, teaching us many more lessons than our textbooks or teachers, or even our parents can instill in us. And while the joie de vivre that comes over us on any given travel day is undoubtedly present, there is another side to traveling that can creep up when we least expect it.

It´s that ¨how rude was that desk clerk?¨… ¨I missed my train by 5 minutes and now have to wait 6 hours¨ … ¨what do you mean my credit card won´t work?¨… ¨how could a human being steal something so easily?¨ … moment. I can tell you that throughout the past two months or so, variations of these events have happened time and time again (as is expected). It´s the price you pay with traveling. As a foreigner in a new city you are left without a clue at times, with nothing but intelligence and hope that the person you´re about to ask for help, will kindly oblige.

In Romania, we were verbally attacked by a man at the train station, who, we later found out, did the same to many other tourists who passed him (in fact, he uttered the exact same threatening words to a guy staying at our nearby hostel). In Rome, we were left with no choice but to sit outside the train station watching TV on our laptop very early in the morning (due to interrupted train schedules and no hotels willing to take us), and we found ourselves in the middle of a police chase after two men stole our computer in what I´m sure you can imagine was a very aggressive scenerio (by the way, we ended up sending them to jail for 1 year and 10 months – but never got our laptop back).

The reason I´m writing about these experiences rather than those I have scrupulously photographed, and those that make me smile, is because they have taught me a great deal about traveling. Of course, there are the obvious lessons that come straight to everyone´s mind (hi mom), like 1) Always be aware of your surroundings, 2) Be cautious, 3) Avoid train stations relentlessly. And yes of course, each occasion was a quick wake up call for every one of our cautionary intuitions. But the aftermath of it all…the moment the situation has passed and you are left once more with new cities to explore, filled with strangers and different cultural tendencies, you can find yourself feeling more lost than ever, and wanting nothing but the neighborhood you call home.

The quality we´ve learnt to possess throughout our travels is to stay positive, to move forward, to keep it all together, and to find a place that feels friendly and comfortable (which is, of course, easier than this post portrays). A rude local or an overpriced tourist trap, and yes, even a stolen laptop, can ruin an afternoon if you let it, but the way to make it all okay, is to have the right attitude. And isn´t that just how life works? The person who revels in positivity will always prevail, not because of karma, or some higher being watching our every move, but because a day spent huffing and puffing is one less day spent relishing everything this life has to offer. In a nutshell :)

 

Oktoberfest 2011

Stein €10, Pretzel €5, Hat €12 .. The Bavarian Experience? Priceless.

From Canada Day festivities in our nation’s capital, to Stanley and Grey Cup gatherings, us Canadians experience our fair share of public celebration. We are the unite-at-parliament-and-play-street-hockey-after-winning-the-gold-medal type of people. We love to come together in honor of the nation, a sport, or in pure, communal love of beer. And although we are less chauvinistic than our neighbours down south, no one can argue that we truly love to gather, drink and have a friendly chat with whoever finds a spot next to us. For this reason alone, Oktoberfest in Munich was one of the best parts of these Canadians’ EuroTrip.

Oktoberfest was like … actually, I can`t compare it to anything. It was larger than life, crowded with jolly people dressed in their best leiderhosen, tables and tables of old friends meeting new ones, live music with traditional German songs as well as American classics and not an empty beerstein in sight.

The Hippodrom! A rowdy Bavarian tent, and the first one on the lot (therefore our home for the entire first day)

We had been warned by other travelers that it was impossible to get a seat in a tent during the weekends, and it was compulsory to reserve, so we made sure to be there during the week to avoid any of that. We also arrived before noon to beat the rush and get a full day in before the tents closed at 11:30pm (we only made it that far one of two nights).

After doing a bit of research, we quickly learnt that Munich is an expensive city to visit, especially during Oktoberfest. Hostels were either fully booked (we met people who booked 4 months in advance) or ridiculously overpriced. Thankfully, we met some travelers in Salzburg who had just stayed at a place called The Tent, where visitors can pay 14 euros to sleep on the floor of ‘FloorTent’, 22 euros to sleep in a bed in ‘BedTent’, or 8 euros to pitch a tent in the grass among dozens more. The Tent is just a 15 minute tram away from the festivities, so it’s really a great solution for those looking to save their money for those 10 euro steins.

Aside from the outfits, the language and the immensity of it all, two things seperate Oktoberfest from any festival thrown in North America. 1) Entrance is free, so you can easily drink outside the event, enter the festival and walk around if you so please. 2) The beer is actually made STRONGER for Oktoberfest. Instead of 5 or 6%, the beer you’re buying is specially made at 8% or higher. I know, shocking and incredible all at the same time.

I can only attempt to express the Oktoberfest atmosphere in writing, but as I’ve said, it is truly like no other. The people are beyond welcoming, ready to include anyone in their traditions by repeating songs and sayings slowly and excitedly, enjoying every moment of watching visitors realize the absolute grandness that is Oktoberfest.

Of course, we met many travelers who could only grimace at the thought of a crowded, beer-filled day spent with strangers. So if that’s not your thing, I suppose I wouldn’t suggest it. But the great thing about this event is there’s something for everyone. Kids are entertained by hundreds of rides and games, the ferris wheel offers a great view of Munich, and the German delicacies offered are tasty and traditional. In a nutshell though, if you enjoy the taste of beer, I recommend you add this event to your bucket list immediately.

Oktoberfest is the world's largest fair, and attracts more than 5 million visitors every year.

Here’s a little tour of the festivities…

The Hills Are Alive…

Atop Untersburg Mountain: it called for a complex photo op.

Widely recognized as the setting for The Sound of Music and the birth of Mozart, Salzburg is a gorgeous Austrian city that offers plenty more than a few overpriced tours of Mozart’s first appartment and Fraulein Maria’s stomping grounds. Found at the northern boundary of the Alps, the city’s tall mountains, picturesque river and busy Old Town are ideal for a taste of Austria in all its splendour. Okay, I’ll admit…exploring the hilltop where The Von Trap’s escaped Austria at the end of the movie, and seeing the “I am Sixteen Going on Seventeen” gazebo was also thrilling.

We never planned (I use ‘planned’ loosely considering nothing on this trip was planned) on heading to Salzburg, until a brochure of the mountains jumped out at us in Vienna, and we couldn’t resist a short visit. I then insisted that our three hour train ride be complete with a screening of the Sound of Music, which consequently made us hum (and outright sing) Do, Re, Mi and The Hills are Alive the entire duration of our stay.

One great thing about Salzburg is its extensive bike paths; following the river, intersecting farm houses and small towns, as well as guiding visitors to its main attractions. Each of those guided tours that cost 30 euros or more by bus can so easily be duplicated by way of bike, in a much more interesting way. We camped just 5km outside the city, so a 3-day bike rental was a necessity and definitely made our stay in Salzburg that much more fun.

We happened to arrive at the time of St-Rupert’s Day, a celebration which lasts a week and from what we could imagine, was similar to a mini Oktoberfest (we soon found out that it was a very TINY version). Nevertheless, beer tents, rides, crowds and performances kept us entertained for some time.

Roaming the streets of Old Town, climbing to Hohensalzburg Fortress, getting lost in the city’s bike paths and reaching the top of a nearby mountain are all musts when visiting Salzburg, and if you ever find yourself in Vienna, you’re just a three hour train ride away from this gem of a city. Because Mozart was born and wrote most of his symphonies in Salzburg, the city shuts down for four weeks in the summer for one of the largest classical concert festivals in the world. This, and so much more, brings 8 to 10 million tourists to the city each year.

If you’ve visited Salzburg before, I’d love to hear of your experiences in the comments. Auf Wiedersehen!

Biking around Salzburg. Destination? That mountain.

Reached the top of that mountain! (by way of gondola) - it was chilly

Mozart was born in the appartment just above the writing.