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Date: Saturday, 08 Aug 2009 19:35

Today’s guest post at Europe String come from Mary Jo Manzanares, Travel Editor and Writer at PlanetEye.  When she’s not busy traveling, for business or pleasure, you will find Mary Jo writing at The Seattle Traveler or planning her next great adventure.


The Coliseum in Rome (map) is the largest remaining monument of Imperial Rome, and is the top landmark in a city full of landmarks. Built between AD 72-80, the Coliseum was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater and was the center of the city of Rome. It was the first and the largest (it covers about six acres) permanent amphitheater built in the Roman Empire.

Roman Coliseum

The exterior of the building consisted of four floors – three tiers of arches and an attic. On top of the attic were a series of brackets and sockets that allowed a shade to be pulled over the arena for sun protection, and a canopy that could be pulled over to protect guests from the rain. It was a fairly complex system that may have served as the forerunner to the many stadium and arenas today that have a retractable roof.

Anyone who has seen Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator, has a pretty good idea of how the Coliseum operated.  80 doorways led into the interior arena area, with tiers of marble benches for spectators. Seating was arranged by rank, with the emperor and noblemen at the front, and working men and women at the rear. It was an efficient seating plan that allowed for the smooth arrival and departure of nearly 50,000 spectators. Originally, the arena floor was wooden with sand over it. There were various trapdoors that opened up letting lions and other ferocious beast enter the arena. (You can still see the outline of many of those trapdoors today.) There was also a fairly advanced underground aqueduct system that allowed the floor to be flooded for water battles. This is where the gladiator battles and other public spectacles took place – the ultimate battle between the lions and Christians. Many of both died in the games.

The Coliseum is occasionally used for special events, a few hundred spectators can be accommodated in temporary seating, and larger events like concerts have been held outside the arena on the grounds. Paul McCartney and Elton John both had concerts on the amphitheater grounds.

The exterior grounds of the Coliseum can be wandered at no charge. Look out for the young men dressed up like gladiators who’ll stand with you for a photo, though, as there’s a fee involved. You can walked around the entire perimeter, enjoy the grounds, marvel at the architecture, and soak in the feel of history for FREE.  Admission is charged to get inside, although EU citizens, students, and seniors have a reduced rate.

Photo credit: Mary Jo Manzanares

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Date: Saturday, 25 Jul 2009 16:57

Today we have another great guest post from W. Ruth Kozak, who writes about all thing related to Vancouver, British Columbia, as our expert at PlanetEye’s The Vancouver Guide.  She is recently back from some extensive travels, and shares with us the details of this budget accommodation in London.

I’ve visited London, England, many times, sometimes staying with friends, others at shabby hostels or cramped (expensive) hotel rooms. But two years ago a friend who lives in London suggested I try the Indian YMCA, a budget accommodation in the heart of London. I’d had no idea such a place existed, so it was to my great delight to discover this comfortable, friendly, centrally located accommodation.

Indian YMCA in London The Indian YMCA, located in Fitzroy Square (map), a short walk from the Warren Street tube station and Tottenham Court Road, is now my favorite place to stay in London. On a recent visit I shared a room with my sister and niece and they too, were impressed with the rooms, service, locale and – what makes it even more appealing – the price which includes breakfast and dinner.

The Indian YMCA has provided a safe haven and home away from home for Indian students and families and is a meeting place for students, civil servants, as well as leaders in the Indian political scenario. But it welcomes people of all nationalities, single, groups or families.

The rooms are clean, comfortable and you can have a room with en suite or just a plain dorm room with a shared bathroom. The spacious cafeteria serves delicious Indian cuisine. There’s internet access, a TV room and meeting rooms where we were sometimes entertained by a choir practicing. The staff are helpful and congenial and the prices are definitely right!

DSC08953 DSC09111

The neighborhood is interesting too. Right across the Square are the houses where Virginia Woolf and G.B. Shaw once lived, and down the street a few blocks, the Fitzroy Pub (map) was once the hangout of poets and writers such as Dylan Thomas.

Check it out for yourself the next time you’re planning a trip to London. You won’t be disappointed!


Single with common bath: 40 Pounds

Double room: 67 Pounds

Standard with bath 67 Pounds

Double deluxe 80 pounds (with extra bed)

How to get there: The Indian YMCA is located at 41 Fitzroy Square in London (map).  From Heathrow Airport (map), take Piccadilly line (eastbound).  Change at Green Park to Victoria line (northbound) Exit at Warren Street (map). The Indian YMCA is a 5 minute walk from Warren Street tube station.

Photo credits:  W. Ruth Kozak

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Date: Saturday, 18 Jul 2009 18:06
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Today’s guest post at Europe String come from Mary Jo Manzanares, Travel Editor and Writer at PlanetEye.  When she’s not busy traveling, for business or pleasure, you will find Mary Jo writing at The Seattle Traveler or planning her next great adventure.


Earlier this year, the Eiffel Tower (map) celebrated its 120th anniversary.  And what a 120 years it’s been!

Looking up at the Eiffel Tower Located beside the River Seine (map) in Paris, France, the Eiffel Tower is the tallest building in the city. Following its completion in 1889, it was the tallest structure in the world, and remained so until the Chrysler Building (map) in New York City displaced it from that top spot.

Originally built as the entrance arch for the Paris World’s Fair, also commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the French Revolution, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most recognized buildings in the world.  It is the most visited one.

It is now considered a piece of structural art, but at the time is was built many people believed it would be an eye sore!  It was also originally planned to have the tower torn down 20 years after it was built.  Fortunately, some practical uses came of the tower (including the role it played in helping to catch the infamous spy, Mata Hari), and it remains standing proudly.

On the first floor of the Eiffel Tower, during the winter, is a skating rink. You can skate for FREE, and catch a great view at the same time. To go up the tower, you can walk up 360 steps to the first level, and another 359 steps to the second level. But you will need an elevator to go beyond the second platform — once you move past the second platform, the tower is an open frame, with no other platforms.

Entrance fees are as follows:

  • Elevator entrance (to 2nd floor) – 8 Euros for adults, 6,40 for youth 12-24, and 4 for children 4-11
  • Elevator entrance (to top floor) – 13 Euros for adults, 9,90 for youth, and 7,50 for children
  • Stairs entrance (to second floor) – 4,50 Euros for adults, 3,50 for youth, and 3 for children

Although the entrance fees can add up, if you must go up, you can look for discounts that can save you a couple of Euros off the price.  Plan to make a day of it as the lines can be long.  Plus, after spending the money, you’ll want to maximize the experience.  Bring along some water as purchasing food and beverages there can quickly get pricey.

Or, you can opt not to go up in the tower at all!  Pack up a picnic lunch and find a spot of grass below the tower.  The area is full of tourists and locals, and it seems to be a inviting and fun gathering place.  Find your spot of grass, lay there, and look up at the eyesore that became the symbol of the city.

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Date: Saturday, 11 Jul 2009 19:16
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Today we have a guest post from W. Ruth Kozak, who writes about all thing related to Vancouver, British Columbia, as our expert at PlanetEye’s The Vancouver Guide.  She is recently back from some extensive travels, and shares with us the details of this budget accommodation in Athens.

On a quiet street not far from the heights of Philoppapou Hill and the Acropolis, the Villa Olympia is an old Neoclassical house that serves as guest house, offering budget accommodation. It’s not fancy; in fact it’s perhaps a bit funky and worn, with sparsely furnished bedrooms and shared bathrooms.

Villa Olympia exterior Villa Olympia interior

Be warned, it doesn’t have much of a star rating, but the friendly owner/host, a British ex-pat who has lived in Athens for years, will greet you warmly, offer you all kinds of tips and advice about your travels, direct you around Athens. She’ll serve you a hearty breakfast and perhaps even invite you up to her rooftop for a chat and a glass of ouzo.

The proprietor offers rooms for long stays as well as short with reasonable rates:

20 Euro single and 35 Euro double (shared) There’s no TV, phones or the usual amenities offered in hotels or hostels but you’re welcome to use the kitchen or the rooftop terrace. The rooms have hardwood floors covered with rugs, shuttered windows, antique furnishings and give the feeling of a casual home atmosphere.

If you don’t mind the casual flavour that is part of this guest house, you’ll find it convenient to all Athens major attractions, shopping areas as well as the trolley and metro lines. The Villa Olympia is in the Koukaki/Makrygianni district just minutes from the Plaka. You can get there easily on the #15, $1 or #5 trolley, getting off at Zini St. on Veikou for a short walk up the hill to Karatsou, or take a cab from the airport bus depot at Syntagma St.

Villa Olympia is located at 16 Karatza Street, Philoppapou 11741, Athens (map).

Photo credit: W. Ruth Kozak

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Date: Monday, 22 Jun 2009 18:02
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Today’s guest post comes to us from Andy Hayes, PlanetEye’s own Edinburgh Guide. Offering up great Edinburgh tips and advice, be sure to check out The Edinburgh Guide blog before your next trip to the Scottish capital — including exclusive tips for navigating the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the world’s largest arts festival.

Edinburgh, also know as "Auld Reekie" and "Athens of the North," swells to nearly double its population every summer as tourists from all over the earth come to visit and experience the joys of one of Europe’s most exciting summer capitals.

It’s a cold, dark winter here in Scotland, so when the sun shines nearly 20 hours a day the locals drop everything and enjoy it while it lasts. With so many historic attractions, days and days of festivals, and hundreds of world-class restaurants, it can be quite overwhelming to find your way in this tiny medieval town. Here are my answers for some of the most common questions for making the most of your visit to Edinburgh.

Where to Stay?

I get this question a lot. The easy answer: anywhere will do, as the city is quite compact and with a top notch local bus service, you’ll find yourself from one side of town to the other without much effort. We recently covered accommodation recommendations in Edinburgh but if you stick to these neighbourhoods, you’ll be fine:

  • Old Town - soak up the atmosphere in all the medieval architecture on your doorstep
  • New Town - relax in a rental flat or B&B in one of the old Georgian townhomes
  • West End - there’s plenty of stylish accommodation in this part of town at a reasonable price, especially near Haymarket Station
  • Stockbridge - trendy and fabulous, you’ll have a short, uphill walk to town but it’s worth it
Where to Eat?

Well, you have to try haggis or fish and chips - head for one of our recommended Edinburgh cheap eats to get you started.

But there are so many pubs with fantastic pub grub you can hardly go wrong - I love the steak and ale pie at Greyfriar Bobby’s, the fish and chips at The World’s End, or the daily specials at the Queens Arms. But don’t be afraid to be adventurous - one of my newest finds is a fantastic little Polish restaurant called Pani Solinska, which I’d say is one of the best Polish restaurants in Scotland, if not the whole of the UK.

What to do?

Don’t miss the key sights, such as Edinburgh Castle, Mary King’s Close, and the Scottish Parliament. Well over half of the sights are along the Royal Mile so that makes it a bit easier. This list of top tips might also give you some inspiration.

But don’t miss out on Edinburgh’s outdoor scene - go for a walk along the Water of Leith or do some aerobic exploring around Holyrood Park and Arthur’s Seat (the highest point in the city). Edinburgh is a city of seven hills so you’ll have no trouble finding someplace to get some height and perspective.

When to go?

Well, the obvious choice is August, when the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is in full swing. But this will be the most expensive and the most crowded.

If you don’t mind it being busy but want some budget relief, try September when it’s still warm and the glow of the festival still lingers, or June when you can enjoy our world-class film festival. December is dark and kind of chilly but the fun of the Hogmanay (New Year’s) festival will warm you up - but again, prices go up. January cools off, both in terms of prices and temperature, but you’ll have the city to yourself. Otherwise pop back in around May when the spring flowers start to bloom but the crowds haven’t.

What if I have more questions?

Check out some of our posts on Edinburgh Guide - hopefully we’ll have it covered. If you still can’t find what you need, you can contact me, I’m happy to help. See you in Edinburgh!

Photo courtesy of su_perera

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Date: Tuesday, 09 Jun 2009 02:48
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There is no way that shopping on the Champs-Élysées can be considered a budget conscious activity, but that doesn’t mean you have to avoid one of the prime people-watching spots in all of the city.

Avenue des Champs-Elysees in Paris Yes, here you’ll find beautiful bags, decadent shoes, and bespoke suits, and while those may be my definition of heaven, it’s not my definition of what my budget can afford.  But, a stroll down one of the most recognized streets in the world, looking at the luxury and specialty shops is still a Paris experience not to be missed.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées (map) is just over a mile and a quarter long, stretching from the Place de la Concorde (map) to the Arc de Triomphe (map) in the 9th arrondissement.  While luxury shopping, specialty shops, cafes and restaurants occupy this spot today, it was also the location of the famous marches that celebrated the 1944 liberation of France.  It is also the home to the annual Bastille Day parade and the end of the Tour de France.

Day or night, the street is full of people, so just talking a stroll can give you a feel for the vibrancy of the area.  Take a look at the window displays and observe what people are wearing – it will give you a free fashion lesson.  Pop into a shop and take a closer look, and you’ll see styles that will show up in the US in a couple of years.  Look for a cheap variation of the same, and you’ll be a fashion plate ahead of your time.

Interspersed between all the luxury stores, are a few basic chains.  So if saying “I got this on the Champs-Élysées” is important to you, you should be able to find something reasonably prices at the Virgin Megastore, Adidas (its largest store in the world), Nike Paris, or Sephora (map).

Photo credit: ©Mary Jo Manzanares

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Date: Thursday, 04 Jun 2009 15:30

While it may seem like only tourist flock to Trevi Fountain, it’s worth a visit for a few reasons.

First, it’s the most spectacular fountain in Rome.  And if you’ve looked around at all the fountains in the city, you’ll know that’s saying something.  The Baroque-style fountain features a large sculpture of Oceanus in the center, along with a chariot in the shape of a shell drawn by seahorses.  The water is full of sculptures portraying sea creatures, drawn from both real life and mythology.

Its intricate sculptures, cascading water, and faded stones are beautiful in the day time, and charmingly romantic come evening.  The lighting at sunset is particularly romantic, and you may see a few proposals happening here.

Trevi Fountain in Piazza di Trevi in Rome

Second, the fountain is in the middle of a busy part of the Rome, so it’s teeming with life and activity.  It’s likely on the way to or from some other point, or just a very short side trip.  A stop off at Trevi Piazza is a good resting stop in a busy day of city sightseeing, as you can sit on the stone steps for a bit of conversation or just to relax.  The shops and restaurants in this area, however, are generally over-priced, so come to visit the fountain and spend your money elsewhere.

Third, while it may be a tradition of dubious validity, you’re probably going to want to throw a coin into the fountain.  Tradition holds that throwing a coin over your shoulder into the water of the fountain guarantees a return visit to Rome.  If you fall in love with the city, as I did, why take a chance – just toss in the coin.

Trevi Fountain is located at 57 FS, Piazza di Trevi (map).  Signs point the way, but if you get mixed up, the narrow and winding streets can get confusing, just ask someone on the street. I found everyone most helpful, and as you get closer to the fountain you’ll hear the roar of the water and the buzz of people.

Photo credit:  ©Mary Jo Manzanares

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Date: Saturday, 30 May 2009 04:47
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Today we have a guest post from Kim Poulin, who blogs about Paris at The Paris Traveler.  Kim became fascinated with Paris as a young girl, and we’re very fortunate that the fascination continues, allowing her to share her passion and knowledge of the city with all of us.  Although Paris is usually thought of as an expensive city, today Kim shares with us an affordable Paris option.

When one speaks of budget travel, immediately backpacks, youth hostels, sleeping on trains or crashing in apartments of friends of friends of friends that just happen to be living or studying in any European city comes to mind.  Yet, even me, who doesn’t participate in any of the aforementioned activities when I travel about Europe, am still very mindful of where my dollars, severely minimized into Euros, go.

Budget Travel  Le Sandwich Three star hotels and in some instances, two, or better yet and I think way more economical, apartment rentals is what I call home at the end of my day.  Having a small kitchen to prepare at the very least breakfast in, in my mind just makes sense.  Many times, after a day of racing around the city, being in my sweats, all curled up with some deliciously prepared food that I brought home, along with a bottle of wine is the only place I want to be.

Yet meals out on vacation are something to look forward to and generally I do tend to indulge in dinner.  Regrouping for a few hours after sightseeing all day and I am ready to be social once again.  In Paris dinner doesn’t really get cranked up until 9:00pm, so you better be a bit of a late night person.  Those of you heading out for a 7:00pm sitting will certainly be the only ones in the place.  Depending on how you feel about that, it could be a good or bad thing.  Me, I want to be in the middle of all the action so clearly wait for the rest of the Parisian world to head out.

So, what does le sandwich have to do with any of what I have been rambling about?  A lot.

First, an emporter sandwich is truly one of life’s wonderful pleasures.  A gift from the gods.  Simple in its creation but sublime in its gifts .  A crusty baguette filled with brie, jambon, lettuce and tomato is difficult to top.  Other tempting combinations exist to please all palates but here is the kicker.  They are inexpensive ways to eat well during the day.  You grab one on the go along with a beverage of your choice, perhaps a small sweet treat to follow it, stake out a bench or plot of grass in say, the Tuileries or Jardin du Luxembourg and lunch is served. I think you’ll be surprised to see how many Parisians you will see doing the exact same thing as they dart out of their offices to catch some elusive rays of sun on their lunch hour.

Le sandwich is easy enough to find; most pâtisseries will have them and vendors along the sidewalks will as well.  If budget is really the call of the day, these will most likely be the least expensive options.  Should you want to upgrade a bit I suggest two places that really are not to be missed.  Paul tea salons offers great selections that should make just about everyone in your group happy.  They are a chain and have numerous restaurants and tea rooms throughout the city.  Eric Kayser, (map) is very similar, same wonderful baguettes and sandwich selections, along with the sweet treats for dessert.  They too are located throughout Paris and you will certainly stumble on one or the other during your travels.  Now at least you know to stop in and indulge your senses in a relatively inexpensive way.

Bottom line to all this is it’s just one way to stretch your dollars while you are spending time in Paris.  And the whole picnic en plein air thing makes everything just a bit more romantic.  Hey, this is Paris after all.

Photo credit: mu foo @flickr

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Date: Wednesday, 27 May 2009 21:01
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Today’s guest post at Europe String come from Mary Jo Manzanares, Travel Editor and Writer at PlanetEye.  When she’s not busy traveling, for business or pleasure, you will find Mary Jo writing at The Seattle Traveler or planning her next great adventure.

British Museum Budget travel means different things to different travelers because, after all, everyone has a budget of some sort.  One travelers cheap accommodation is another’s expensive.

There can, however, be no doubting that FREE will fit in any budget.  Here’s a list of FREE things to do in Europe this summer, courtesy of the European Travel Commission.  Working a few of these things into your travel plans can help you save plenty for another day.

  • Austria: Innsbruck is offering a free hiking bus program for all guests living in Innsbruck or staying at one of the holiday villages (with a Club Innsbruck Card). May 30th – October 26th.
  • Belgium: What else, but free beer?! The Haacht Brewery offers free tours and tasting (one low fermentation and one high). Yummmm, Belgian beer!  (map)
  • England: London has free admission to the British Museum (in photo, map), although there may be additional charges for some special traveling exhibits, and the National Gallery (map).  A chance to see great art and culture. (Personal note: Lots of other UK museums are also free including the National Portrait Gallery, Victoria & Albert Museum (map), and the National Army Museum (map).)
  • Estonia: Tour the 13th century castle in Narva, Estonia. The grounds feature concerts and open air shows all summer long.
  • France: The Fete de la Musique offers free music events during the summer. Lots of choices in Paris, and throughout the country.
  • Germany: Several museums on Berlin’s Museum Island offer free entry on Thursday after 2 pm, including the Pergamon, the Old Museum, Old National Gallery, Bode Museum, and the New Museum. Museum Island is a UNESO World Heritage Site.
  • Hungary: Energy and daring in the sky are in evidence during the Red Bull Air Race in Budapest. High speed flying and aerobatics over the Danube, as well a flying beneath the Chain Bridge, keep viewers holding their breath. August 19-20th.
  • Ireland: The Ring of Kerry (in County Kerry) is a mystical Celtic tourist trail starting in Killarney. Follow it for some of the best scenery in the country, and a visit to many historical attractions.
  • Norway: Visiting Oslo’s National Museum of Art (map), home to Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” won’t cost you a krone.
  • Switzerland: Zurich hosts one of the largest techno-parties in the world, with its August Street Parade. Originally begun as a political demonstration for love, freedom and tolerance, it’s become a giant parade and party. August 8th.

Photo credit:  Eric Pouhier via wikimedia

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Date: Sunday, 21 Dec 2008 21:09

This edition of Europe String’s weekly round up is brought to you by the letter D and G.  As in Doing Good– and that’s exactly what Passports with Purpose is doing this year.  If you haven’t already seen this, go check it out.  Over 50 bloggers donated $100+ gifts to be raffled off at $10 a ticket, and all proceeds go to Heifer International, a charity that works on eliminating hunger worldwide.  I donated a pretty cool REI backpack and travel towel, but there are so many amazing prizes, you’ll just have to go look and see.

European Destinations

Ahhh… a hot sauna in Europe.  What could be better?  Viator Travel blog runs down the best spots to get your steam on.

Wishing I was in Italy for Christmas…  Culinary Diva describes the sumptuous feast and her attempts to keep up!

Hmm, I also wish I was in Munich, Germany for the Christkindlmarkt (annual Christmas Market).  Looks chilly but fun.

When I was in Madrid, I had such a hard time partying– they don’t start until 1 AM!  But if you want to be cool in Madrid, you gotta know not just where to go, but when.

Thinking of moving abroad?  Check out what an apartment in Prague looks like.  Love, love, love those views!

Travel Tips

Want to ski Europe this winter?  Um, me too.  So, here’s some great tips on how to do it for less.

Coming soon… low fare alerts for over 500 airlines– FINALLY in one place.  Why you should use Fare Compare from Budget Travel.

Is your travel pro a thief?  Here’s how to know from Elliott.org.  (Yikes!  One person stole $75K before they were caught

Budget Deals

Fares to Europe, continue to be super low.  How long will this last?   Well, I’m starting to get an itchy trigger finger, and may purchase my ticket in the next few weeks.

Latest Sales & Specials Travel Dates
$492 & up — Roundtrip Flights to Spain, incl. Taxes
Iberia Airlines
Through March 25
$294 & Up – Holiday Fares to Prague, Vienna, Tel Aviv & more
Select December travel dates
$223 & up — Sale Fares to Europe; Travel into Spring
United Airlines
Dec. 24 – April 2
$447-$499 — Tax-Inclusive Europe Fares (Roundtrip)
Through February
$198 & up — Fly to London from Across the US
Virgin Atlantic Airways
Select dates through March 22
$219 & up — Fly Across Europe from New York City
Through April 2
$750 & up — Fly Business Class to Europe over the Holidays
Depart by Jan. 9
$155 & up — Save on Tickets to Europe
Travel dates: Select dates through Feb, 20

Next round up: December 28th.  Submit an article.

Italian Christmas Kitchen

Finish Sauna

Switzerland Ski

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Date: Wednesday, 17 Dec 2008 23:59

This time of year, across the blogosphere, everyone’s trying to outdo each other with Top 10 Lists of stuff you’re supposed to buy.

This year, we’re telling you what not to buy.  Here are the Top 10 things I hope no one gets me for Christmas:

1. Binoculars. I’ve seen this one a few lists, and unless your planning on bird watching in Europe, I can’t fathom why you’d need them. Do you use them at home to look at stuff? Get by perfectly well without it? Then you won’t need them.

A better option: A multi-day city pass that lets you enter any of the museums or attractions for a set number of days. That way you can see plenty, up close and in person.

2. Adapter plugs for multiple continents. Adapters in Europe are cheap, so you can buy one when you arrive, but if you buy one before hand, don’t get convinced to buy some 7 continent adapter set. You’re going to lose them. They’re cheap anyway. And these things cost $20 bucks or more, when you can buy a single adapter for a few bucks or less.

A better option: A single adapter, and use the extra money on something useful like band aids or extra socks. (Yeah it’s not sexy, but way more practical).

3. A full sleeping bag. There is virtually no where in Europe that doesn’t have sheets and blankets. Unless you’re going to do some serious camping, then leave it at home.

A better option: If you’re wanting something between you and those hostel sheets, then a think sleeping bag liner will do the trick. It’s super compact, washable and you won’t have to wonder what exactly you’re sleeping on.

4. A multifunctional tool. Are you really going to need a tool that lets you poke holes in leather, saw through wood and file your nails all-in-one? Yeah, it’s cool to have, but you’ll never get it through security (i.e. you have to check it) and really you’re not going to need it that much.

A better option: If you want all purpose tool this flat, credit card shape tool is usually well under $10 bucks.

5. Ginourmous neck pillows. Ugh! Really? Then you have to lug the thing around the whole trip! These always seem like a good idea, but they’re pricy and bulky. I’d say skip it.

A better option: A super comfy fleece jacket, that you can use as your outer wear during cold nights and folds up into a make-shift pillow, when you travel.

6. Travel kits of any flavor. Travel nail files kits, travel shaving kits, travel toiletries kits. If it says kit, drop it. Most kits have tons of crap in them you’ll never use, and as soon as you pull it apart, you’ll start losing pieces left and right.

A better option: Figure out what you’ll really need, buy an empty kit bag and store it in there. Add a couple of unused large zip lock backs to keep your toiletries separate or to store small items that you pick up as you travel.

7. More than one guidebook. They are big and heavy and frequently outdated. Take a general guidebook or one for the country you’re spending the most time in. Most hotels and hostels have some spare copies if you need to look something up, so save yourself the trouble and leave em at home.

A better option: Use Lonely Planet’s pick and choose by chapter shopping, where you can compile the information you’ll really need, and leave the read at home.

8. Multi-purpose monstrocities: anything that claims to be a alarm clock/radio/Panini grill, is just looking for an excuse to charge more without a whole lot more value.

A better option: Need an alarm clock? Will your cell phone work? Or your watch? better to set an alarm on something you’ll have with you anyway.

9. Every single thing at Brookstone. Period.

A better option: Cash.

10. Complicated hydration kits or water purifiers. You’re going to Europe, not the Sahara. There will be clean water or bottled water. Relax.

A better option: Instead create a small first aid kit, with all the essentials: aspirin, band aids, tape and gauze, a small sewing kit, safety pins and sunblock.

And you? What’s on your Christmas (un)list?

Post from: Europe String

Author: "--" Tags: "Top Travel Picks"
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Date: Monday, 15 Dec 2008 00:48

I’ve been working on my Christmas Travel Wish List.  I would like one Paris, a bit of Iceland and a few Eastern Europe please.  This week, everyone else, has been super busy writing about Europe.  Go figure.  Here’s the best of the best for this week’s Europe on a Budget Round Up.


European Destinations

Brussels is not THAT boring.  Hasn’t anyone seen the movie En Bruges?  (Now that city… ) Europe A La Carte apologies for Trip Advisor’s conclusion that Brussels is the most boring city in Europe.

Rain, rain, everywhere, but not a drop to drink.  Budget Travel covers the latest floods in Venice and Rome.

Do you love Amsterdam?  Well in case you need some convincing, here are four reasons.

Christmas Markets!  Gimme your Christmas Markets!  This edition from Eurocheapo is all about Vienna.


Travel Tips

Oh man, do I know this feeling.  Do you feel like a lab rat when you fly?  Here are some tips to deal.

Yawn.  Am I really traveling?  Vagabondish covers what to do when you DONT experience culture shock.

Where to find WiFi in Europe– a pretty cool directory to get you started.


Budget Deals

If you’re visiting the UK first, then traveling around you might want to check out these: Cheap Flights from the UK to Cypress

Don’t know what to buy your budget concious traveler?  Plane tickets are nice.  So are euro rail passes.  Ok need something cheaper?  Try these suggestions from EuroCheapo.

Question: How Cheap are Flights to Europe?  Conclusion:  Seriously Cheap.

From TravelZoo:

$399 & up — Fly to Iceland and Scandinavia (Roundtrip)

$219-$269 — Spain, Ireland & Italy from New York City

$238 & up — Europe on Sale this Winter

$178 & up — American Airlines Slashes Fares to Europe

Next Roundup: December 21st.  Submit your post now.


Rain in Rome

Bored in Paris

Christmas in Paris

Post from: Europe String

Author: "--" Tags: "Uncategorized"
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Date: Wednesday, 10 Dec 2008 21:23

As this year comes to a close, I’ve started dreaming about the next big trip around Europe…  Where will it be?  Back through France, Italy, or Spain?  Or somewhere new like Norway or Finland.  If you’re anything like me, then you already have a dream list of places in Europe you’d like to go (did I hear someone say everywhere?) and I want to hear about it.

I did a small poll on twitter and here’s the responses:  40% France, 30% Italy and 20% UK.

Clearly this doesn’t cover everyone’s plans so I’d like open it here.

-Where are you planning on going in 2009?

-What places do you want to hear about in 2009?

-And where would you like to send me, your intrepid author?

As I plan my travels for next year, I’ll keep your places in mind, so I can report from the locations you want to hear about most.  If no one comments, then I’m just going to spend 3 months in Italy, getting fat on pasta and drinking too much wine.  Sure the 100th post about how much I love fresh bruschetti might get a little boring, but after a bottle or two I’m sure at least I won’t notice.

Oh Yes, and a Winner:

Last week we had author Craig Martin on board to tell us about his new book.  This week, reader NewWrldYankee was picked as the winner! Stay tuned for the winner of the Pocket Comm, which will be announced early next week!

Post from: Europe String

Author: "--" Tags: "Armchair Traveler"
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Date: Monday, 08 Dec 2008 03:53

Yes, more free stuff, read on for more….

This summer, when I was living in Madrid, my husband contracted Mumps. An unusual affliction, and before we knew what it could be, we were both panicked at what the softball sized lumps on his jaw could be. We both spoke a little Spanish, enough to do almost everything we needed in daily life. This wasn’t daily life. Suddenly I was presented with medical vocabulary I had never heard or studied before. What’s the word for swollen? Or allergies? Or insurance card?

At almost the same time, Pocket Comms were created.

They are a series of cards that use cartoon pictures to represent common things: including medical emergencies.
The great thing about these cards?  They work.  The UK police department has been testing them out with citizens who don’t speak English.  Normally, they’d have to wait for an interpreter, while the suspect got away.  With these cards, they can flip to card and have the victim point to things like: what happened and what the suspect looked like.

If you’re traveling and don’t speak the language, you can probably get by.  But, I know for my husband’s medical emergency, having a way to communicate would have been extrememly helpful.

What do you think?  Would you use these cards?  Well here’s your chance to find out.  The folks at Pocket Comms have very generously offered a free Pocket Comms to one of our readers.  Comment to enter and next week, we’ll pick a winner!

Post from: Europe String

Author: "--" Tags: "Uncategorized, tools of the trade"
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Date: Friday, 05 Dec 2008 20:58

parisnight.jpgIt’s December already! This month we’re starting something new here at the ol’ Europe on a Budget factory… a weekly round up of the best posts from around the web: European Destinations, Travel Tips, and Budget Deals– and a few extra things I thought you might like. And while the holiday spirit is upon us, I’ve included a way for you to submit posts for next week’s round up at the end of this post. So go, write something brilliant, then tell us about it.

European Destinations

End of the Parisian café? Let’s hope not: Au Revoir, Café?

Ok so what café should I go to?  Budget Travel tells us: Paris: Restaurants and bars to visit pre- or post-Louvre

EuroCheapo really knocked it out of the park this week with these three posts:

Ah Central Europe with its Vienna and Germany and Austria countryside.  Uncornered Market takes us on a tour: A Central European Eye


Travel Tips

What the heck do you pack anyway? Matt tells us his strategy: What to Pack on Your Trip

Sick of Airports? Darren at Travel Rants, well… rants : Five Things I Hate About Airports

Wondering what to get your travel savvy family and friends?  Well make sure it’s green:
21 Gift Ideas for Green Travelers: 2008 Holiday Shopping List

Love the water?  Love natural hot water spas?   Here’s a roundup of European spas:  Getting into Hot Water in Europe


Budget Deals

Not so much of a deal, as a warning:  beware flaky airlines for your 2009 summer travel.  RyanAir predicts more bankruptcies.

Prediction:  Travel will continue to decrease through 2010.  The good news?  More travel deals for independent travelers.

Airline deals from TravelZoo:

$335-$477 — Ireland from Across the U.S. (R/T), incl. Taxes

$219 & up — Explore Spain: Amazing Air Deals, Tips & More

$198 & up — London: Top Airfare Deals and Tips

Next Roundup: December 14th. Submit your article now.

Post from: Europe String

Author: "--" Tags: "Top Travel Picks, Uncategorized"
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Date: Thursday, 04 Dec 2008 20:00

This Just In is a new weekly column at EuropeString.com featuring the week’s best European travel deals. Have something to share? Leave a comment or Twitter @europestring.

We didn’t have a column last week, for the US holiday (plus I was on the road traveling)– so this week’s column is extra special.  It’s something that I wish someone had thought of years ago.  Imagine this scenario:

  • You want to spend sometime in Europe.
  • You don’t have a fixed date or a fixed city.
  • You just want to find the cheapest flight over there, and then you can travel around and come home.
  • Maybe it’s a week, or 2, a month or longer.

It used to be that you’d have to test each city: Dublin, London, Paris, Munich, Barcelona and so on and test dates.  You find something cheapish, then you keep searching.  Is it cheaper if I leave on Tuesday?  What about if I stay for an extra week?

Now, there’s a website that does that for you!

Go to Kayak.com.  Click on Buzz (left hand sidebar).  Here you can search for the cheapest fares, and it will look at every date and every city option and all the major airlines and get this– Just Give You the Best Ones!

I searched for Boston, MA to Europe for Jan 2009 and here is what it found:


Here is why this is amazing:

1.  It checks all the major airlines.

2.  You can pick dates or not.  It can tell you the cheapest dates available (airlines usually publish no more than 1 year out) or just a month you want.

3.  You can pick the city you want, or just a continent.  I picked Europe, and it checked ALL European destinations.

4.  Once you’re done, you can have the fare updates emailed to you or you can add to your RSS Reader.  See that red circle I made on the screen shot?  That’s where you can get updates on the type of trip you searched for– making it hugely valuable.

So if you were thinking of spending some time in Europe this summer, you might pick a few options: June/July/Aug 09 travel dates to Europe or pick a few closeby airports (if that’s an option for you).  Then click on the “Get these by email” link and Kayak let’s you set an alert:


As you can see from the screen shots, you can even pick how often they send updates.

As far as I know, no other flight website let’s you do this.  I’ve already set up a couple alerts myself.  If you use this service to book your flight to europe, tell me about it!

So go, check it out, and report back… is this a helpful trick?

Can’t find the deal you need for your trip? Send me a twitter @europestring and I’ll put my industry contacts to work. Know about a great deal I haven’t mentioned? Tell me, and it could end up here in next week’s This Just In.

Post from: Europe String

Author: "--" Tags: "tools of the trade"
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Date: Tuesday, 02 Dec 2008 14:51

travellingeurope200x200-copy.pngToday, we have an interview with Craig Martin, author of the new ebook Travelling Europe.  Craig gave me an advance copy his book–which is full of advice of how to research better, travel smarter and spend less.  I loved it.  It gives practical, real world advice on how to travel Europe on a budget, and who would know better than Craig and his wife Linda, who have been traveling full time for almost 3 years.  Craig and Linda also host the Indie Travel Podcast, covering everything you need to know on independent travel.  This week they featured a podcast on Vienna, Austria.

Did you want a free copy?  Well Craig has graciously offered a free copy to one of the readers of EuropeString.com.  Just post a comment below, give us a shout out and next week we’ll pick a winner to receive a free copy of Travelling Europe.

Craig, I’ve been following your podcast for a long time now, but for those readers who don’t know you, can you tell us about yourself?

Sure. My name’s Craig Martin and I’ve been travelling around the world since February 2006. My wife, Linda, and I are addicted to it now: travel’s become a way of life rather than something to do when you’re not working.

In November 2006 we realised we were learning all sorts of things we had never read about or heard about. Travelling independently isn’t well documented! We decided to start a website on it and, being a geek, I wanted to give podcasting a try. The Indie Travel Podcast started off rough and ready but we have learned a lot since then. We’ve also added articles by guest writers and video podcasts by ourselves and also people who are sending in video from around the world.

I was born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand and, probably typically, I like to hike and muck around in boats or in the sea. New Zealand’s far away from everything though, so we knew we didn’t want to just go somewhere for a month. We had a stop-over in Hong Kong then hit Europe. We ended up spending two and a half years there and visited almost every country you don’t need a visa for. We spent two months or more in the UK, Spain, Austria, Italy, Turkey and Malta. We’re trying to warm up again now, so we’re spending this December in Perth, Western Australia. It’s time to save for our travels in the Pacific and then South and Central America in the coming years.


What gave you the idea to set off on this long term adventure?

There’s this Kiwi and Aussie thing called the OE – short for Overseas Experience. Basically it’s normal for us to travel and work overseas for six months to two years. Most people plant themselves in London and never make it out again.

We didn’t want to get stuck in the London trap. We really wanted to do something different and also to really travel, not just set up home in a new city. I guess it’s that culture of travel and the passion for unconventionality which has lead us to travel like this. Now that we’re hooked I’m eyeing up visiting every country in the world. Or perhaps attempting to circumnavigate the world on foot (I’ve even got a route pencilled in). We’re crazy enough, so who knows?!

When it comes to money, it’s a concern for everyone. I know there are lots of ways to finance a trip… how do you make it work?

Finding the funding for travel is no small task, even though travelling is often a cheaper lifestyle than living in most American or European cities. Taking off on this trip wasn’t an easy thing: we spent almost four years killing off our debt then saving to get us started and as an emergency fund.

We tried to do it smartly though. After finishing University we decided to do a TESOL qualification — allowing us to teach English to speakers of other languages in private schools around the world. We worked at home gaining experience and paying off our overdrafts and student loans. We lived simply, but lived well and indulged when we wanted. We travelled through New Zealand and visited Australia and some Pacific islands during that time. And all the time we were dreaming of heading off.

Now that we’re on the road, TESOL is still our major earner. At other times we have worked in call centres and retail shops and started to dip our toes into the travel writing market. It certainly doesn’t pay well though! Most people will make a lot more spending an hour in a classroom than an hour pounding the keyboard.


For someone who is just starting out, what are some of the things they can do to plan a low cost trip?

It’s a difficult topic and one I tried to condense and address in this article. If you’re looking to travel mid- or long-term then simplifying your life now is probably the best thing you can do. If your trip is less than a year away begin to sell off things you don’t use. You really won’t want it when you get home. Trust me. That money’s better off destroying your debt.

Begin getting involved in online traveller’s networks. There are lots around so find one that suits you — I like Matador and Couchsurfing, for example. Start subscribing to travel blogs and posting comments; that way you’ll be able to ask questions when you’re after some advice. Start reading as much as you can: use free resources like the internet and the library rather than spending money on new books. If you know someone who’s travelled invest in taking them out for a drink…and take notes!

If I can be cheeky, I’ll pimp my own sites: the Indie Travel Podcast is focused on independent travel and, since we’ve spent so long in Europe, it’s got lots of great advice. Eurail Stories is all about the Eurail train pass and travelling through Europe by train. I also wrote an ebook on travelling in Europe. I called it…Travelling Europe! It’s a great resource for beginner travellers and it covers things like budget airlines, train passes and accommodation options amongst other things. OK, pimping over.

Now that you’ve traveled through Europe, what are some unexpected things that you loved and what are some areas you’d avoid if you could do it again?

The things I loved are too numerous to count. Almost every day I woke up loving life and looking forward to the day. If I had to pick, two highlights would be visiting Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic and walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

We had just finished a short teaching contract and were looking for a small town to relax in for a week. Cesky Krumlov was recommended so off we went. I just remember sitting outside the Two Marys: sky stained red, a cup of hot mead warding off the night’s chill, the Vlatava River bubbling past us and thinking “life is very good”. Linda and I both started laughing with pure joy. OK, maybe the mead had something to do with it.

The Camino de Santiago de Compostela is a mediaeval pilgrimage concluding in Santiago de Compostela near Spain’s north-west coast. We took a month to walk from Pamplona to Santiago, then onwards to Finisterre and finally Muxia. Life was so simple and so good. Get up and put twenty kilometers behind you then eat, wash and relax in the afternoon heat. The trail community really makes it special though: people are walking for all sorts of reasons but there’s a wonderful cammeraderie and spirit on the trail.


What’s your advice for someone thinking about traveling?

I’d definitely recommend doing it. Go on!

Preparation will save you headaches on the road, so do that well. When it comes to planning an itinerary, however, make sure you have some rest days in there and also plan as loosely as possible. Don’t book 12 months of accommodation before you set foot out the door! At most book the first week or two weeks if you’re really nervous. You’ll need time to find your rythym and get on-the-ground recommendations from travelers. You don’t want to find yourself walled in by your itinerary.

Any final thoughts?

Plenty more, but I think people will soon start getting bored! Europe is a fantastic place to travel through: enjoy it.


Want to order a copy? Travelling Europe is available online.

Post from: Europe String

Author: "--" Tags: "Travel Blog"
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Date: Monday, 01 Dec 2008 16:08

paris.jpgThere are big, thick books on this subject, full of precise advice with lots of destination information.  But the truth is, there are just 5 very simple things you can do to drastically cut your travel costs.  When you’re on the road, you start figuring these things out, as your euros start dwindling and you wonder what happened to your well laid plains.  Here’s what you do:

 1.  Don’t move around a lot.  When most people budget they account for flight, food and accommodations.  But hopping from city to city, even on low cost public transportation, can eat into your budget quick.  Instead of doing 20 cities in 3 months, do 6.  You’ll see more, spend less and come back feeling like you really “experienced” Europe– not just the inside of buses and trains.

2.  Focus on time of year.  June, July and August are the highest priced times of year, across Europe.  Prices can nearly double (and sometimes triple, if it’s a popular European vacation spot) and you’ll be fighting the crowds.  Instead, travel close to peak season but not in it.  May and September are great times to visit– for cost, lack of crowds and weather.

3.  Watch the market before you buy flights.  Signing up for Orbitz deal detectors (with weekly emails) can give you a sense of the ebb and flow of how flights are priced.  What’s the best deal this week, might be the worst the next.

4.  Be thrifty on accommodation.  For most people, the point of going to Europe, is going to Europe… not sitting inside a hotel room all day.  Since you’ll be exhausted from your full days, this is one area you can go low budget and not miss it.

5.  Learning how to use public transportation.  1 euro metro pass or 30 euro taxi fare?  Figuring out how to read metro maps, find the correct bus or book your own train ticket, is huge when considering the alternative.  It’s the way the locals travel too, so you’ll get a little peek into how Europeans live.

That’s it!  Easy, right?

Post from: Europe String

Author: "--" Tags: "Cheap Accommodations in Europe"
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Date: Wednesday, 26 Nov 2008 18:12

Hostel: A type of hotel that typically offers super cheap rates, by creating rooms with dorm bunk beds, instead of private rooms.


The question of whether or not to use hostels when traveling is a highly debated one.  I know before I used them regularly in Europe, I couldn’t imagine being comfortable sharing my personal space like that.  While hostels are definitely not for everyone (having a laid back personality is a good starting point), here are some things you might not know about the hosteling world.

Hostels are not just for kids. There are people of all ages at hostels and while the demographics definitely lean towards the younger set (18-24) this can vary from property to property. And if you were wondering if you were too old to go, you can put those fears aside.

You get what you research. The best hostels are often booked months in advance. Using a site like HostelWorld.com not only lets you search for hostels that have the amenities you want, you can also read reviews from other travelers. While I would caution against just picking the highest rated (might also have the least reviews) you’ll find that it’s easy to spot negative trends in the comments. If 5 of the last 10 reviewers mention a bug problem, then you might want to stay away.

It’s not all party all the time. In this case it depends, but for many hostels, there are “quiet hours”. If you’re looking for a quieter place to lay your head, then you might want to avoid hostels with built in bars.


Sleeping on a bunk bed isn’t your only option. Most hostels offer several versions of the same thing: bunk beds (6 to a room, 8 to a room, 10 to a room or female only rooms). But a good percentage (maybe half) also offers privates. If you’re traveling alone, these can be a little pricey (if the bunks are $10, then the private will be about $25-30). Well worth the cost, if you want privacy. If you’re traveling with others, the cost of a private might be only a few dollars more than individual bunks.

A good hostel experience can add to your trip. There are lots of clean hostels, located in great spots in Europe. And the people there can be interesting too. Some of the highlights from trips I’ve taken have been coming home to the hostel, only to discover that someone cooked pasta for everyone. We spent the early evening eating together, sharing stories (everyone was from a different country) and laughing.

The entire hostel experience is hinged together by the travelers who use it. If it was full of abusive drunks who kept you up all night and trashed the room, then no one would use it. And while there are people who don’t get it, what you’re more likely to find is an international group of folks—some straight out college, others at retirement age—who all try to be respectful and share in the joy that is travel.


Have you used a hostel? What was your experience?

Creative Commons Pics:

RussellJSmith, Supa Pedro,  & Chorcel

Post from: Europe String

Author: "--" Tags: "Cheap Accommodations in Europe"
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Date: Monday, 24 Nov 2008 15:22

wine.jpgWhat do you want from a wine for your Thanksgiving dinner? It should be approachable, easy on the palette. It should pair well with turkey and all your fixings. It should be cheap, but not taste like it. Even if you’re not a wine aficionado, you want something that at least won’t be noticed. At best, it brings the whole meal together.

Of course there are the standbys: Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Chardonnay. But here are some wines you might not have considered:

Your Red Wine:

Beaujolais Nouveau: This wine is bottled on Nov 3 and shipped worldwide from France. It’s a young wine and exceptionally drinkable. It’s light, fruity, and best served chilled. The grapes are grown in the Beaujolais area (part of Burgundy) and because of its annual release, it’s always closely associated with the holidays.

Your White Wine:

Riesling: This wine originated in Germany but you can find varieties from Alsace, Austria and so on. It can range from very sweet (almost a dessert wine) to very dry, depending on the variety. Riesling works well for Thanksgiving, the sweetness makes everything taste more moist– even the driest of turkeys. If hearing the word “sweet” and “wine” makes you cringe, you can get a Riesling on any end of the scale (look on the label for dry or “trocken” for dry or “Auslese” for sweet).

These are two I recommend, but I’d love to hear from you.  What wines are you drinking this holiday season?

Author: "Christine Gilbert" Tags: "Holidays and celebrations"
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