Monday, October 31, 2016

Top Five: Europe Travel Tips

Today, I'd like to share with you a little more about planning your trip, and some of the things you might like to know when you get there. 

Travel Tips!

Remember, we only traveled in Iceland, Ireland, England, and France. But I still feel like I have some good tips I can give you for these places—and they’re all things you should really know before you leave.

We took taxis in every country but Ireland, let’s just preface by saying that. Taxis are a very convenient way to move around, just because they’re literally everywhere. Trouble is, even Google doesn’t know how much it’s going to cost you to take a ride in a taxi, and there’s usually a cheaper way to move around (especially from the airport/train station to wherever you're staying). 

If you’re in Iceland, I recommend avoiding taxis as much as possible. They’re ridiculously expensive. Although the drivers are very nice and friendly, the price isn’t always worth it. In London, however, the taxis are very nice. We ended up taking two while we were there, both of which were very nice, drivers were friendly, and the prices weren’t bad (it cost about ten pounds to get from Paddington Station to St Pancras International Train Station, if that gives you an idea). In Paris, however, there’s something you need to know. If you’re taking a taxi to or from a train station or airport, it’s a set fee. And it’s a bit pricy, depending on where you’re going. It’s approximately fifty euros, to or from a train station or airport, to anywhere in the city. So if you’re not staying far from the station, it might be better to find an alternate route or walk the distance. 

The underground
Obviously, we only used this system in London and Paris, as Ireland and Iceland don’t have them. 

In London, the system is incredibly simple. What we did was purchase an Oyster Travel Card before we left, so we’d be able to use public transport in London without too much confusion. All you have to do is scan it when you go in and scan it when you go out. Simple. If you run out of money on the card, you can fill it at any station or register it online to add more money. Plus, if you’re staying near a larger underground station, you’ll be better able to move around the city at your leisure. We found their system very easy to understand, especially if you stick to the circle line as much as possible. It literally just goes around in a circle, and hits a lot of the fun tourist stops along the way. (Note: you'll have to have one Oyster Card per person)

Paris, however, was a challenge for us. The trains aren’t as nice, they don’t have any system as sophisticated as that in London, and everything is in French, so if you don’t know the language you might have some trouble. It took us a couple days to get used to their system, but it was workable and useful, as things are far more spread out in Paris than they are in London. It's important to note that if you can't figure out what you're doing, most people are nice enough to help you out, and most of the people working in the underground stations do speak some English.

Pickpocket prevention
Especially in Paris, there are signs all over the place (in tourist areas especially) warning about pickpocketers. It’s something that you’ll definitely want to be aware of, especially if you’re not generally all that cautious with your personal belongings. Mum and I ended up purchasing purses from Travelon before we left, where all the zippers lock closed to deter pickpocketing and the straps are slash proof. It’s also a good idea, guys, not to keep your wallet in your back pocket. My father highly recommends keeping it in your sock, where no one can get a hold of it without your knowing. Ladies, Travelon has a lot of great purse options. You’ll also want to remember to keep a hold on your purse and/or hang it across your body so no one can nab it from you. We didn’t have any problems with it whatsoever, and the bags are very nice, and don’t look shabby at all.

Difference between waiters in the US and abroad
Might not seem like a big deal, but this is definitely something you should know before going to Europe. Wait-staff are not the same as they are in the States. Here, you have one waiter who sees to your table, whom you generally tip when you pay your bill. There, you have a whole staff of people helping you, and the tip is included in the bill. If you’re paying via credit card, they won’t take your card from the table. Instead, they’ll bring a device to your table so you pay tableside and your card never leaves your sight. Very nice! But getting a hold of that bill… that’s the interesting part. Once you have your food and are happily eating, we noticed that the staff tend to ignore you. When you do get a hold of someone and ask for your bill, don’t be surprised if they forget. You may have to ask a few times before you get it. But everyone is very polite, and they simply want you to stay and hang out… and maybe order a few more things that they can add to the bill. If you’re in a hurry, it might not be a bad idea to let the wait-staff know when you get there, to help you get out the door a little quicker.

Arranged tour vs do it yourself
A lot of people were surprised to hear that Mum and I designed our own trip. We didn’t purchase a travel package that would take us all of the places we needed to go and tell us where to stay and what to do. I don’t see anything inherently wrong with those trips, but depending on your travel style, it might not be what you want to do. There are pros and cons both ways.

Arranged trips can be much easier, because you don’t have as much to think about when planning. A lot of the trips you get on Groupon and other such sites include a hotel stay, which means you won’t have to do so much research to figure out where to stay, and some even include tickets to some of the attractions wherever you’re going. So, it can be a really nice way to see the world. 

For us, however, arranging our own trip was the way to go. If you like to have more flexibility in what you’re doing, when you’ll be going, and where you’ll be staying, I highly recommend putting the trip together yourself. It takes time to do it (we were planning this trip for a few years, but you probably don’t need more than eight months to do it, tops). It can also be slightly more expensive, but you get to decide how long you'll be in each location instead of a travel agency deciding for you. For me and Mum, that meant we could spend almost a week in London and less time in the other cities where we didn't have as much we wanted to do. This way, we got to decide what dates we would be gone, we were in control of how long we stayed in each location, and we got to decide exactly where we were staying in relation to other things in each city. We wanted to see what it was like to live in each city, not just stay there. That meant avoiding hotels as much as possible, and using Airbnb. We also planned out only about a third of the things we really wanted to do, and got tickets ahead of time. Everything we did outside that, was what we’d decided on doing that day. No tours, no tour guides, no one to dictate what we were going to do on any given day. And it was a blast. 

I hope these tips help you in planning and preparing for your own Europe trip!

Next time, things get silly. Stay tuned. 

Also, pics from London coming as soon as I have time to sort through them! I have several... thousand.


{Rani D.}

Friday, October 28, 2016

Top Five: Before You Go

Taking a trip to Europe isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world. There’s a lot of planning that goes into it, a lot of things that you need to lean and do before you leave, and here I’ve put together some of what I think are the most important of those. Aside from, you know, getting plane/train tickets and figuring out where you’ll be staying. 

Top Five Things to Do Before You Go

Research every city.
This is extremely important to do before you book the place you’ll be staying. Figure out what part of the city you want to be in, what area has more of the things you want to see, and if the place you’re staying is close to public transport if you’re not planning on taking taxis everywhere you go. For example, in London we ended up staying near Paddington Station. It’s close to Kensington Gardens and a few other things, but most of what we wanted to see was a ways away, closer to the Thames. But since we were near Paddington, we could easily use public transportation (Paddington is a hub for trains, underground, and buses) to get where we wanted to go. Find out if you’ll be staying in an area locals say is safe or fun, and make sure you’ll be in a place where you won’t feel uncomfortable leaving your stuff in your room.

Figure out how to get from the airport to where you’re staying.
As opposed to what I’ve seen in the majority of large cities I've been to in the States, airports in big cities in Europe are a fair ways outside the city. In Iceland, this meant we had a forty minute bus ride into Reykjavik. In Dublin, it meant a half hour bus ride into the city. And in London, it meant catching the Heathrow Connect to Paddington Station (another half hour journey). Honestly, this wasn’t something I’d thought of doing before we left, but I’m glad Mum did! It saved a lot of stress on landing, to already know how to get into the city and to the place where we were staying. In a lot of cities, you won’t want to take a taxi (they're far more expensive than alternate public transport). So it’s important to figure out an alternate route, even if it means a twenty minute walk to your hotel.

Make a list of things you want to do, and get tickets online.
Obviously, it’s important to make a list of all the things you want to do wherever you’ll be going, and to rank things by how much you want to do them. There’s no point doing something low on the list if it means you’ll have to miss out on something you really want to do. But it’s also a huge time saver (and money saver) to get some of your tickets ahead of time. I don’t recommend doing it with everything, because then your schedule will be so rigid that you’ll have no wiggle room if you change your mind, but it’s nice to get about half of your tickets ahead of time. For example, when we were in London we’d planned out our first three days and gotten tickets for the Tower of London, a Thames cruise, and tickets to see Phantom of the Opera, but our second three days we left open to do whatever we wanted, and had a list of possible things we could do.

Buy guidebooks.
I really didn’t want to be an obvious tourist. That meant I didn’t want to walk around cities with a guidebook in my hands. But I did want to know what I was doing when I got there, which was why the books came in handy. We purchased ours a few months before we left, and spent a lot of time perusing them and finding things we wanted to do, places that sounded good to eat, and travel ideas in general throughout the city. It was also helpful to familiarize ourselves with maps of every city, so we had a general idea of where everything was within the city. This also made it easier when we got there, because we already had a basic knowledge of where we were going while we walked around. Google Maps is great, but sometimes it gets confused when you’re standing between tall buildings.

Work out. A lot. Especially if you plan on walking for the most part while you’re there.
This was something we’d started doing way back last year. Mum and I wanted to get into better shape in general, but then we’d talked about wanting to walk as much as we could around Europe. And then we realized that if we couldn’t even walk a couple miles a day at home we would never make it in Europe. So we started working out, and we’re both very glad we did. Strength training made it easier to haul our luggage to and from airports and places where we were staying, and cardio made it possible for us to walk approximately ten miles every day, which allowed us to see more of the sights and spend less time on a bus or in an underground station. Without those workouts, we wouldn’t have gotten through half of the fun things we did while we were gone.

And those are my Top Five. I’m glad we did all of them, and I highly recommend doing each and every one. Obviously. When you get there, you’ll want to have an idea of what you’re going to do and not be thrown into the deep end, trust me. So do as much as you can before you go, and make sure you’re ready for a trip packed with fun—and as little stress as possible. 


{Rani D.}

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Welcome to Dublin

Hello all! Last time I showed you some pictures, they were all from the beautiful country of Iceland. Now, it's time to check out some of the very many pictures I took in Dublin, Ireland! More will be up on Facebook in a few days, so keep your eyes peeled if you haven't had your fill. 

These first several images are from various walks we took around the city, showcasing things from Dublin Castle to the stunning bridges that cross the Liffey.

 Christchurch cathedral is one of the oldest in Europe, and was a lot of fun to go see. They even let you take pictures inside!

From there, we went on to Trinity College. We didn't spend a great deal of time here, but we had fun snapping a few photos before continuing on our adventures. Next time, I'll spend a bit more time getting to know this lovely college.

This arch is the entryway to St. Stephen's Green, one of the prettiest places we visited in Dublin. We had it on our list of possible things to do, which was likely to get cut out, but then stopped here for a few minutes during the 1916 tour we went on — and we just had to go back. So beautiful!

Saint Patrick's Cathedral. We did go inside, but we went for the Evensong, where no picture-taking is allowed. Still, the outside is just as pretty as the inside. 

Dublin was a great way to move into Europe. It's a smaller town where people are friendly and will literally stop you on the side of the road just to talk — great fun! If you're going to Europe and you're not sure where to start, Dublin is a great option.

Next up: London!!


{Rani D.}

p.s. Looks like getting through all my pictures might take a little longer than I thought, so we'll see how long it takes for me to finish posting everything from Europe. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top Five: Things To Do

It’s time for another Top Five!
This time, I want to relive a little bit of the things we did while we were gone, so…

My Top Five Things to Do in Keflavik, Dublin, London, and Paris

(in no particular order, because I couldn’t make myself decide)

Borough Market
Where: London, England

Why: Because it’s awesome! They have vendors with pretty much everything you could possibly want by way of food. Buy a cup of freshly squeezed juice blends and a plate of food from a street vendor while you walk around picking out snacks for the rest of your week and sampling foods so delicious you’ll be glad you brought your wallet. Seriously though, I can still see myself walking through the streets at Borough Market, sampling cheeses and teas, picking out fruits and veggies, finding delicious pastries and breads, and coming home with armfuls of yummy eats. If you’re a foodie, or if you just like free samples, you definitely need to check this place out.

How to get there: We walked from Tower Bridge, but if you don’t want to walk that far, get yourself to London Bridge Underground Station, which is just across the street.

Guinness Storehouse Gravity Bar

Where: Dublin, Ireland

Why: Because it’s a bar where you can literally see everything in Dublin. They’ve pointed out specific features for you to check out, written on the beautifully pristine windows so you can check them out… as long as you can get to them. From what I hear, it’s nearly always busy in the gravity bar—it was when we were there. But that doesn’t make it less worth checking out. The beers are amazing, the views are incredible, and you’re in Dublin, so the people are really nice too. Pour your own pint downstairs and bring it up with you for a fun time trying to move through the crowds.

How to get there: We walked, as per usual. But there’s a bus stop down the road, and the Hop On-Hop Off buses stop here as well.

Bateaux Lunch Cruise on the Thames

Where: London, England

Why: Because it’s delicious and so very much fun. They take you a ways up the river and point out a lot of the sights and history along the way. It’s a great way to start a trip in London, because this way you’ll at least get to see most of the landmarks from a distance. Let’s face it, most of them are close enough to the river that you’ve gotten fairly close enough to see if you're not in London for a great deal of time. It helps that the food is amazing and a great bang for your buck. You don’t get to decide what you’re eating, so if you’re incredibly picky this might not be the thing for you, but if you’re not, go for it! The food is an excellent quality and they give you just enough to fill you up without being so stuffed that you won’t be able to walk around the city afterward.

How to get there: Embankment Underground Station. It’s almost straight out the doors, incredibly easy to find.

Galleries Lafayette
Where: Paris, France

Why: Because it’s the best shopping we found in all of the cities in which we stopped. The mall is seven stories tall, with stuff for everyone. From a Disney section to Angelina’s Cafe, from winter coats to fabulous shoes, this store has it all. And if you somehow happen to get bored, Printemps is just down the street, for even more shopping. I highly recommend checking out the cafes in both malls, as everything we had in Paris was simply scrumptious. Take a day or two and mosey through the Galleries Lafayette, explore sections you wouldn’t normally look through, and don’t be afraid to treat yourself. That’s what Paris is for, after all.  
How to get there: Chaussee d’Antin – La Fayette Metro Station.

Walk along the coast of Keflavik
Where: Keflavik, Iceland
Why: Because it’s beautiful. During certain times of the year you’ll be likely to see both whales and puffins, along with various other types of birds. This one is for all you outdoorsy people out there, for sure. Iceland has a lot for people like you to do, and this is one of them—especially if you're short on time but still want to see some of the views. The city itself is sleepy and doesn’t have much going on, but the walk is beautiful. The water is some of the bluest I’d ever seen, and the volcanic mountains along the opposite bank make for stunning views. If you get hungry, there’s a great touristy eatery right along the coast as well, where Mum and I had a seafood feast.
How to get there: Go to Keflavik. Walk to the coast. Keep walking (toward the Giantess Cave, if you want to go the exact route we did).

See, and now I miss Europe all over again.

Stay tuned for more pictures coming your way tomorrow afternoon, right here on Too Many Books to Count!


{Rani Divine}