Archive | Europe RSS feed for this section
October 10, 2017

Milan, Italy – Style and so much more!

11776118253_61edc3e00b_z

11776118253_61edc3e00b_z

Milan is the capital of the Lombardy Province in northern Italy and the second most populous city in the country after Rome, with nearly 3.3 million people. Calling Milan a well rounded city is a bit of an understatement as it’s a leading world city in industry, finance and commerce, education and the arts, healthcare and research. Most people know of Milan as the “Fashion Capital of the World”, but it is also the “Design Capital of the World” too. In this post I will feature some of the many highlights of Milan. When visiting this iconic city of fashion and elegance you might like to consider getting the mood by riding in style from Malpensa Airport into the city.

Milan Cathedral
Duomo di Milano is the largest church in Italy and the 3rd largest in the entire world. This grand cathedral was built over a period of 400 years and wasn’t completed until 1805. Not surprisingly, it’s design has a mixture of styles reflecting preeminent fashions of the changing times and it certainly has had it’s detractors and admirers over the last few centuries. It is the number one tourist attraction in the city and one of the really cool things about it is that, for a fee, you can go up on it’s roof and see the myriad of elaborate spires up close.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
This is “mall shopping” on a style level I’ve never seen before. The galleria is an amazing 19th century structure, comprising of 2 four storey bisecting arcades in the shape of a Latin cross. The space between the arcades is covered by an arched roof of glass and cast iron and where they bisect, there is a magnificent octagonal glass dome that is 154 feet high. It is the oldest shopping mall in the world and the arcade connects the Piazza del Duomo (the square in front of Milan Cathedral) and the Piazza della Scala ( the square in front of La Scala Opera House). The entrance from Piazza del Duomo is framed by a magnificent triumphal archway. The galleria has all the big name fashion shops but I’d go there just to see the architecture alone.

La Scala
If you are opera buffs like my parents you’ll know that La Scala is one of the top opera companies in the world, so be sure to check out the season program and book online in advance for the popular operas.

Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore
This monastery is very unimposing on the outside and completely belies the splendor within. The rooms within are decorated with amazing frescos, some of which are over 400 years old and still in amazing condition.

Il Cenacolo
The monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie houses Il Cenacolo, the famous Last Supper painting by Leonardo de Vinci which dates back to 1495. Because of the way it was initially painted, the condition of this fresco began deteriorating soon after it was completed. Due to this decay and despite, and in some cases because of, numerous attempts at restoration (the last in 1999) very little of the original painting remains. In spite of this the painting is a big drawcard and due to it’s popularity you need to book online a few months in advance. It is also recommended to do a tour so you can learn more about the story behind the painting and appreciate it more.

Attractions near Milan

Milan is only 1 hour by train or a 2-2.5 hour drive to another great northern city Turin. Genoa on the north-west coast takes about 1.5-2 hours by train and 2-2.5 hours by car. Because of it’s proximity to the coast many tourists choose to visit La Spezia and cliff-edge villages that create the picturesque Cinque Terre.

Despite North Italy being the most industrialized region of Italy it also famous for the natural beauty of it’s many lakes. The most well known ones are Lakes Maggiore, Como and Garda which lie at the foot of the Alps and/or Dolomites and are lined by gorgeous villages with a lot of character. It takes less than 2 hours to drive from Milan to any of them. Lake Lugano is another of the larger lakes – it is partially in Italy with the rest of it lying over the Swiss border. It’s hard to imagine any lake more beautiful than Maggiore or Como, but some of northern Italy’s smaller lakes are arguably even more pretty e.g Lago Iseo and Lago d’Orta so be sure to visit more than the big four.

Image by Jess Wood under Creative Commons license.

September 28, 2017

Bordeaux, France – more than famous wine region.

IMG_3667

IMG_3664
Cite du Vin

Once you visited Paris and got that ticked off your travel bucket list, it’s well worth worth looking further afield for perhaps a more authentic French experience. The sixth largest city in France, Bordeaux lies in the south-west of the country near the Atlantic Ocean, in the Bay of Biscay. It is a port city with the large tidal Garonne River passing through it. Bordeaux is a mini Paris of sorts, having a large number of preserved historical buildings, second only to the capital in France. Surrounding area around Bordeaux is one of the best wine producing regions of the world. As someone who enjoys relaxing with a full-bodied red in hand, I can think of nothing finer than taking leisurely drives around the vineyards and stopping off at beautiful chateaus to partake in some wine tasting and a spot of lunch. There are many rentals in France, providing luxury accommodation for parties from four up to thirty people.

Getting There and Getting Around

As of early July 2017 Eurostar has a new, faster train trip from London to Bordeaux ( with a quick switch of trains in Paris), getting there in just under 6 hours. Return tickets cost from GBP110.
As well as from many cities throughout France and Europe, you can also fly to Bordeaux directly from the following cities in the U.K.: London, Bristol, Birmingham, Southampton and Edinburgh. There is no need to get a taxi from the airport into town. The public airport bus to central Bordeaux is Alignes 1(line one) and comes every 10 mins. Tickets are €1.60 and are purchased from a vending machine, right beside the where the bus leaves from. Correct change is required or use a credit card. There is a easily legible map of the bus route and stops along the way.

Bordeaux is a city that is very walkable, if you have the time and legs. My parents were there recently and were very impressed with the city’s tram system. There are four tram routes which have quite an extensive radius. They travel overground, are clean and efficient, and run frequently. You can buy your ticket at any stop using coins or a credit card, and you will get change. Tickets are €1.60/hour. There are other options/passes but that is what my parents used. You have to validate your ticket upon entering the tram and they do have inspectors so it doesn’t pay to cheat.

There is an excellent Information Centre close to the large Quincones Tram B and C interchange, on the corner of Cours 30 Juliette St. There is clean and coin operated toilet on the corner there too which is a bonus for us ladies :-)

Things to do in Bordeaux

Wine Tours

You can’t visit Bordeaux without going on a tour of the local wine region. My parents purchased their tour tickets from the Information Centre. They opted for one of the more expensive ones which took a maximum of 8 eight people in a very comfortable “people mover” van. The tour cost £70 for a half day tour from 1400-1900 hours. They visited two very interesting and different chateaus in the famed Saint Emilion region.

Cite du Vin
This modern wine museum, just completed in 2016 and situated on the bank of the Garonne River, is a must-see. It tells the story on wine from ancient to modern times with interactive displays, films, live entertainment etc. The building has an extraordinary design, supposedly replicating the “swirl of wine” in a wine glass. The ground floor has an enormous circular wine bar with approx. 14,000 bottles of wine from prominent wine growing areas in 70 countries of the world. Wine is purchased by the glass which costs € 5-15. On the 8th floor is a large wrap-around bar from where you can see great views of Bordeaux and the Garonne River. It is a great spot from which to see the Pont Jacques Chaban Delmas, an impressive vertical lift bridge completed in 2013, that can allow ocean going liners to travel up the navigable part of the river. The Bridge was completed in 2013. They even give you a complimentary glass of wine to enjoy the views. You can get to the Cite du Vin on Tram B.

IMG_3665

The Water Mirror (Miror d’Eau) at the Place de la Bourse
This amazing and large water feature is a wonderful playground for children and adults alike, as well as a photographer’s dream. Imagine if you will a nearly 3500 square metre slab of black granite, covered in 2 inches of water, creating the largest reflecting pool in the world. To the pleasure of everyone on a hot day, the splash park alternates between still water and a low mist. The Water Mirror and the beautiful old buildings that surround it look especially stunning at night when they are lit up by lanterns.

IMG_3667
Place de la Bourse and Miror d’Eau

Other Places of Interest

Porte Cailhau is an historic city gate, built in 1495, and worth a photo op. Near the Garonne River it is within easy walking distance from the Miror d’Eau, and the Pont du Pierre which is the oldest bridge in Bordeaux. The Garonne River itself is not that attractive as it tidal and therefore a bit muddy, but the bridge does look beautiful lit up at night.

IMG_3666

The Basilique St Michael and Bell Tower is an interesting place to visit, especially on Saturday morning when they have a huge antique market. Place de la Victora is an interesting stop too. It has one market type street (Rue Sainte Catherine) and the rest of the area has a trendy feel and is a great Cafe scene.

The Galerie Des Beaux Arts is a mid sized gallery. It lacks the big names of Rembrandt, Vermeer, or Van Gogh et al, but it is “big” on Rubens, and a great array of French artists including Matisse. My parents have been to many of the world’s big name galleries and were a little underwhelmed by this one.

May 3, 2017

When to splash out for luxury.

medium_3470166777 (1)

medium_3470166777 (1)

Most of the time we’re happy without luxury travel. However there are some scenarios when it’s nice to make that little step up. Here are our ideas for when it makes sense to go lux.

1. When it’s only $20 more.

There are quite a few times when it’s only a small $20-30 to step up from a 1 star tiny room with no pool to a 4 star luxury hotel with a pool and a deluxe bed and view. Cities in Asia are often good candidates for this. The Daily Mail has some other suggestions here for places you can stay in luxury for under 100GBP/night. The Independent recommends Poland as their destination for cheap luxury within Europe.

2. When it’s super hot.

When it’s 30C/90F or more, a pool is a must (unless you’re at a beach location where you can swim in the ocean). In hot cities, you’ll need to cool off once you get back from walking around in the heat. Remember you’re likely to walk a lot more when you’re traveling rather than be getting around by air-conditioned car.

3. Honeymoons and Babymoons.

If you haven’t heard the term, a “babymoon” is when people take a trip while pregnant, usually before a couple’s first child. The assumption is that travel will be harder after baby (maybe not) and that the woman deserves a treat after enduring morningsickness and before going through labor and lots of sleepless nights.

Honeymoons and babymoons are times when you’re generally wanting to focus on each other and have a relaxing hotel break, rather than be trekking around through the jungle.

If you’re going to splash out, make sure you do very thorough research so that you get what you’re paying for. You can easily do this research online yourself rather than working with a travel agent.

4. When someone else is paying.

Conference travel and other types of work travel are a great opportunity to stay in nicer hotels. Since the cost can be expensed, their isn’t a lot of real difference in the cost of a cheap hotel vs. a slightly nicer one.

5. When it’s mid week in a weekend travel destination.

This brings us back to the point of scenarios when you can get luxury for cheap. Some destinations have super high prices at the weekend but 60-70% discounts during the week. Think places like Las Vegas or beach/sun/ski resort locations that fill up on weekends and empty out on weekdays.

6. When you’ve been roughing it.

If you’ve been roughing it, e.g., you’ve been doing a hike or been on a small island with few facilities then you definitely deserve some luxury. It’ll be something to look forward to after enduring discomfort in the name of adventure.

photo credit: Bert Kaufmann via photopin cc

February 21, 2017

Hamburg, Germany – the Highlights

hamburg

hamburg

Hamburg is Germany’s second largest city and has a big personality all of its own. It offers something for everyone, whether you’re a culture vulture, shopaholic, outdoor lover or history enthusiast.

This northern German city between the North Sea and the Baltic Sea is one of the busiest ports in Europe. The city centre is built around two artificial lakes and a network of canals. Take a stroll along its many waterways to see why it’s called “The Venice of the North”. Spare time to visit the local fish market, the Merchants District – take a boat tour or jump on a ferry. Even in summer the wind can be brisk, so pack a sweater.

Green Spaces

Hamburg is full of green spaces, waterfront walkways and bike paths. Budget conscious tourists can stroll through the cobbled streets window-shopping and see the buildings change from old brick warehouses to uber-modern architecture by crossing any of the 2,300 bridges that span the canals. Walking around the two lakes or relaxing along the banks of the river is a free and an enjoyable way to spend some time. Or take a tour, public transport or rent a bike. In the summer you can go swimming, kayaking and sailing or take a boat tour on the lakes, and in the winter, go ice-skating. Hamburg is one of Europe’s greenest cities. Planten und Blomen Park is among the most visited with its old botanical garden, the largest Japanese garden in Europe, a tropical house and numerous children’s activities. Another popular attraction is Hagenbeck Zoo, home to over 200 different animal species and a four level aquarium.

Art and Culture

For culture enthusiasts, there are loads of museums and art galleries. The Maritime Museum explains Hamburg’s maritime history and the Miniatur Wunderland has the largest model railroad in the world. While Spicy’s Spice Market inter-active museum has over 800 exhibits and different spices to touch, smell and try.
For art lovers, there are seven centuries of art, from medieval to contemporary, in the Kunsthalle’s three different buildings. And a visit to the Deichtorhallen is a must for lovers of contemporary art and photography.
Architectural wonders abound with many significant churches, such as St. Nicholas, which was the tallest building in the world for a short time in the 19th century, and St. Michael’s whose bell tower has beautiful views of the city.

Vibrant Night Life

At night, Hamburg has a vibrant vibe, from classical concerts to loud club music. St. Pauli and the Reeperbahn area are full of clubs, while Schanzenviertel has more laid back bars. A must-see for many tourists is the red-light district of Reeperbahn, where you can retrace the steps of the Beatles before they became famous.

January 3, 2017

10 Tips for Making Your Summer Holiday Affordable.

holiday

holiday

Although things appear to be turning the corner economy-wise, most of us still have to plan our summer holiday on a tight budget. Whether we holiday in Europe, North America, Asia, or further afield, the more flexible we can be with our arrangements, the more we can save.



Booking Early:



Early booking, 10 or 11 months before you wish to holiday, will often get you substantial discounts. Most operators sell a certain amount of cheaper rooms and apartments in the early days. When they go, the price goes up.

 

Booking Late:



This is where flexibility comes in. Tour operators want to fill their rooms and apartments. When business is slow, big discounts come into play, sometimes as much as 50%. If you’re even more flexible, and are prepared to accept the tour operators choice of ‘somewhere’ in France, Spain, the Balearics, Canaries, or other hotspots, then booking last minute will often attract even greater discounts.



Search the Internet:



Check all holiday types on the internet. Depending when you can travel, making your arrangements independently may well be cheaper than taking a tour operator’s package, but beware, if the operators slash prices, their option may be cheaper.



Check All Inclusive:



All Inclusive isn’t everybody’s idea of a holiday, but don’t dismiss it. All inclusive is very popular with families and groups, and can be a big saving against half or full board hotels. In the off season, when children are back at school, all inclusive packages can be substantially discounted, often to a level of self-catering units.



Play the Waiting Game:



If you find your ideal package on a tour operator’s site, fill in your details, email address etc, but don’t buy, leave the site. Next day you may well find an email in your inbox offering an additional discount – ‘if you book your package today.’



Booking Insurance:



Because you’ve bought their holiday, doesn’t mean you have to buy their holiday insurance. Check out specialist travel insurance companies online. Their plans are often cheaper, and more comprehensive, than tour operators.

 Also some credit cards provide you with free travel insurance when you pay for the bulk of your trip expenses e.g overseas flights, with that card.

Car Hire:



If your holiday plans include car hire, check out international car hire companies. While tour operators may well offer ‘discounted’ car hire if you buy through them, the big hire companies often offer a discount for pre-booking, especially out of season.



Car Insurance:



Don’t be caught out by the excess insurance trap. If you’re confident about driving abroad you may choose to forgo the excess waiver insurance. If not, then buying a separate, independent excess waiver policy may well be a cheaper option. Shop around on this one.



Large Parties, Family Groups:



If you’re planning a large family get together, or holidaying with a group of friends, check out condos, houses, country cottages, or apartments to let. Large savings are to be had per person. Group privacy is confirmed, and everyone is in the same place when organising those days out.



Tours and Excursions:



Lastly, if you’ve already decided on certain trips and excursions to undertake while on holiday, wait until you’re at your destination before booking. Tour operators receive commission on trips the reps sell. Visit a few of the excursion booths you’ll find around the resort. Compare prices and offers, many offer two for one deals, free child entrance when booking for family, or discounts for large groups. 

June 30, 2016

Charming Crete: History, Hiking and Hammocks…

Greece’s largest island, Crete boasts a fascinating history, as well as diverse landscapes. It’s no wonder then that the destination is so popular among discerning tourists. While on the island, you can explore ancient ruins, trek over undulating terrain and soak up the sun on Crete’s beaches.

Although Crete attracts nearly a quarter of all Greece’s tourists, it’s still easy to escape the hustle and bustle of your fellow holidaymakers. Step off the tourist trail and you wander into charming traditional villages and quiet coves. Crete’s south coast, for instance, is less developed than the north, while the interior of the island contains the White Mountains, which are ideal for secluded drives and hikes.

8772500527_c03e4fdca9_z

Step back in time

No vacation to Crete is complete without a trip to see some of the island’s Minoan ruins. The excavated town and palace complex of Knossos is a highlight. Located three miles from Iráklio, this is the largest Bronze Age archaeological site on the island and is a real spectacle to witness. You should also check out the sites of Phaistos and Agía Triáda. Meanwhile, if you want to truly immerse yourself in local history, you should take a walk around the Archaeological Museum in Iráklio. This contains an array of exhibits, including jewellry, pottery and murals from an array of Minoan sites.

4767604965_b9a6455972_z

Explore the island on foot

If you’re feeling energetic, there’s no better way to experience Crete than by setting off on hikes. Cretan mountains form a continuous chain that stretches from one side of the island to the other, and you’ll be spoiled for choice if you’re looking for good walking routes.Despite its ominous name, the ‘Gorge of the Dead’ at Káto Zákros makes for an amazing hike. Located in the north-east of the island, it packed with flora and fauna, and it’s also home to Minoan palace ruins.
The south-west boasts some superb walks too. There, you can tackle the precipitous White Mountains, wander through deep gorges and make your way along coastal trails that meander through peaceful beaches and fishing villages.

2879916876_7730ab8d7d_z

Soak up the sun

When you fancy a spot of relaxation, simply make your way to one of Crete’s beaches. If you’re after a tropical experience, head to Vai on the east coast. Featuring Europe’s largest natural palm grove, this is a real peach of a spot. While you’re there you can also enjoy water sports, including jet skiing, scuba diving and windsurfing.
The suntrap of Mýrtos in the south of the island is another great coastal destination. A hippie mecca in the 1970s and 1980s, this fine-pebble beach is protected from the wind and has retained its laidback, bohemian atmosphere. When it comes to places to unwind, this is the ultimate spot.

Like a small country in its own right, Crete has lots to offer as a holiday destination. Whether you’re there for a week, a fortnight or longer, you’ll be able to find plenty of activities to keep you entertained.

Images by April Weeks, Dan Taylor and Matt Sims used under creative commons license.

January 12, 2016

How to have “a Lat” of fun in Latvia (and Estonia, for that matter)

After a short day in Copenhagen, we made it to sunny Riga, Latvia!  After waking up at our very reasonably priced and comfortable hostel, we headed for the medieval streets of Old Town.

We spent the morning ambling through cobblestone streets snapping shots of the 17th century architecture and crumbling buildings.  Many of the buildings were pillaged in WWII and have been restored to their original beauty.  One of the most notable is the House of Blackheads built in 1344 by the Brotherhood of Blackheads merchant guild.

After listening to a somber street violinist in the square, it was time for some snacks at the Central Market.

The market is housed in four Zeppelin hangars built in 1930.  These hangars were never actually used for aircraft but immediately became the home of one of the world’s largest markets with over 80,000 visitors each day.  Each building has a different theme– meat/dairy, fish, produce, clothing, etc.  Merchants sell everything from hand-knit socks to amazing pastries.

We stuck more to the pastries.

There were plenty of locals stocking up on food, so this was an excellent opportunity to snap a few photos of Latvians in action.  Still being new at that kind of thing, I wasn’t sure how to go about this.  Do you try to take it while they aren’t looking?  Do you ask them?  I went with the former strategy and pretended to take photos of a lot of things around me and then snapped several quick shots when my subject wasn’t looking

This method was only moderately effective.

I got the photo, but apparently the woman with the pink bag was a little camera shy.  She began shouting at me in Latvian and flailing her arms wildly.  Oops.  The people around us stopped and stared while I retreated horrified.  I’ll try the other approach next time!  I did, however, manage to get a second photo of the man with the flowers.

Pre-yelling shot Pre-yelling shot

Luckily, we found some great street food at the market.  Nearly everything cost about 1 Latvian Lat (approx. $1.70) or less, which made for a cheap day of eating.  We enjoyed a black tea for 0.80 Ls, ½ a kilo of amazing strawberries for 0.75 Ls, a fresh homemade donut for 0.10 Ls, an apple filled pastry for 0.16 Ls, a loaf of rye bread for 0.58 Ls, potato pancakes for 1.16 Ls, a stick of cured sausage for 1.07 Ls, smoked salmon for 1.6 Ls, fresh bread and cheese for 1.04 Ls, and 2 beers for 1 Ls each!  This came to a grand total of only 8.22 Lats– about $14– for two days of food.  Not bad.

Estonia was a different story.  A Lat Kroon doesn’t quite go as far north of the border.  The two Baltic countries are somewhat similar in feel except the noticeable differences in quality of life and per capita income.  Riga had a very gritty atmosphere with very few tourists.  It felt like dropping in on the daily life of the local culture, which we really enjoy.

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, relies heavily on tourism.  Their Old Town is filled with fancy restaurants, chic coffee shops, and costumed peasants and monks to recreate the Middle Ages for the masses.  There are some great views of the old city wall and towers, and it is undoubtedly a beautiful city.  However, it felt a little disingenuous at times.  Check out our Flickr gallery of Estonia.

Our CouchSurfing host, Mirjam, showed us some of the “real” city.  She also took us around to some other great sights like the open-air museum and the Kadroirg art museum.

On a side note, the lengthened daylight hours in the Baltics requires some adjustment.  The sun doesn’t set until long after midnight and rises around 4:00 a.m.  Add in cross-Atlantic jet lag, and you’ve got a seriously screwed up sleeping and eating schedule.  By the time we were ready for dinner, it would sometimes be 11:00 p.m. or later!

We said goodbye to Mirjam and Estonia last night, and we are currently relaxing in Stockholm after our overnight cruise on the M/S Victoria I.   Our journey through Northern Europe will be wrapping up Wednesday when we fly to Barcelona.  We found some unexpected treasures buried in the former Soviet States, and I’m very glad we started our journey here.

June 24, 2015

What Americans Need to Know To Save Money on European Travel

What Americans Need to Know To Save Money on European Travel

Let’s say you’ve got your dream job in London. You’re an official expat and all of Europe is at your doorstop. What might you need to know about how to save money on your travel planning? Here are some things that UK natives know that can trip up Americans.

1. That giant carryon bag ain’t going to fly.

America has very generous rules for what’s considered carry on luggage and size restrictions are rarely enforced as long as your bag isn’t too tall to slide into the overhead compartment. In America, if the overhead compartment door will close with your bag placed lengthwise, then you’re good.

In Europe and the rest of the world, the rules are much tighter. There will often be a weight restriction (sometimes only 10 lbs, but mostly likely 15 lb or 22lbs).

The bag sizes allowed are also often smaller.

If you’re planning on traveling carry on only in the UK and Europe (or Australia and New Zealand for that matter), plan on taking way less stuff. You might be able to fit a change of underwear and your laptop in your carry on, if you’re lucky!

Usually the carry on weight restriction only applies to your carry on bag and not your personal item (laptop bag, purse etc), but sometimes the combined weight of your carry on bag and personal item are considered.

Always check the rules of the airline you plan to fly before you book. There are a few airlines that don’t have weight restrictions but they tend to snag you by having smaller size restrictions. Argh!!

This chart will help you but restrictions change so always double check BEFORE you book. It’s sometimes better to take a full service airline and be able to travel with your carry on rather than have to check a bag (and pay for it) on a budget airline.

2. Charter airlines.

I don’t think I’ve ever looked into charter airlines in the US but charter airline flights are much more mainstream in the UK, especially to holiday resort destinations like Greece and Turkey. You can get some very cheap fun in the sun breaks with these airlines, and you’ll need them with how gloomy and depressing the weather in London is (but, hey, great weather isn’t why you’re moving to London).

The charter airline flights also tend to fly out of airports beyond just London, so you can combine a trip to say Glasgow by, for example, flying out of London but back into Glasgow. You’d then stay a couple of days in Glasgow and take the train back to London.

3. Plot out your bank holidays on your calendar.

What Americans would call Federal Holidays are called “Bank Holidays” in the UK, after the idea that the banks are closed on those days. Bank holidays will be a day off work for most people. For example, Easter Friday and Monday are bank holidays.

Since everyone and their mother will be trying to travel on bank holidays, you should book early if you want to travel these weekends. However, they are a great way to make the absolute most of your vacation days, which will typically be more generous than in the US. If you can swing it with your boss, arrange to start or finish your bank holiday weekend a day earlier/later to get the jump on everyone else trying to book flights for that weekend.

write my assignments for hdip assignment buy papers for college academic paper writers mba dissertation writing services uk