Tag: travel tips
Amsterdam… city of Rembrandt, red lights, canals, cannabis and… bicycles. The slowly whirring sound of wheels is the soundtrack to a city constantly on the move on models that haven’t changed since the 1940s. Well, why bother with gears when everywhere is so flat? But then who needs even two wheels when you can walk from one end of Amsterdam to the other in 40 minutes? That’s how long it takes to fly there from the UK too, so Chris Drew gets on his bike for a two-day trip to Holland’s biggest city…
First surprise is Schipol Airport, which has the look of a 21st Century shopping mall. And every sign is in English. Not much of a shock really, as you almost have to beg the Dutch to speak their own language. A 20- minute ride on a double-decker train (pounds 2.10) and you are at Centraal Station. Stop off at Platform 2 for a 48-hour Amsterdam Pass. For pounds 28 you get unlimited travel on the metro, buses and trams, free entry to more than 20 museums and two canal boat trips.
Save your feet by catching the No.2 or No.5 tram to the Rijksmuseum (Jan Luijkenstraat). It’s undergoing a major makeover but all the masterpieces of the golden age of Dutch art are housed in the Philips Wing. Star of the show is Rembrandt’s Night Watch.
Next, take a 60-minute cruise along some of Amsterdam’s 150 canals. The Golden Bend is the stretch where you’re sure to grow green-eyed gazing at the double-fronted mansions once owned by the city’s most opulent merchants.
Back on dry land, head for the Van Gogh Museum (Paulus Potterstraat) which has more than 200 of his paintings and 500 drawings. Expect to queue. Van Gogh has a lasting appeal, especially with the Japanese and most leave with a Toblerone-shaped box containing one of his posters from the impressive bookshop.
For llunch sample Holland’s contribution to fast food, a cone of chips with a dollop of mayonnaise. Wash them down by visiting the nearby Heineken Experience (Stadhouderskade). You have to pay pounds 6.50 for the brewery tour but this includes three glasses of beer and even the glass. There are also interactive rides which see you as a Heineken bottle careeering around on a drayman’s wagon. Unsteadily weave your way back towards Dam Square, stopping off to gawp inside the luxurious Magna Plaza (Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal), a shopping mall that used to be the general post office.
AT 5pm Amsterdammers stop for a borrel (drink). At De Drie Fleschjes (Gravenstraat) you get a free jenever or Dutch gin with your Amsterdam pass. The Dutch don’t trust optical measures and the small bell-shaped glass will be filled to overflowing. Just lower your chin to the bar and slurp.
To eat, try the Jordaan, an enticing backwater criss-crossed by canals, streets and alleys with plenty of pub restaurants. Cream potato soup with shrimp followed by guinea fowl and a glass or two of beer costs pounds 16 at De Reiger (Nieuwe Lekiestraat).
Visit some houses. The Willet-Holthuysen Museum (Herengracht) is a peep behind the curtain of a 17th Century canal house with its imposing dining room and magnificent ballroom. Rembrandt did everyone a favour by going bankrupt in 1656, because the authorities took a full inventory of the contents of his house on Jodenbreestraat – a historical record which has allowed the curators to refurnish it just at it used to be.
Our Lord in the Attic (Oudezijds Voorburgwal) is the oldest museum in Amsterdam and the most surprising. A church with two galleries was hidden away on the top floors of a canalside house in the 17th Century when Catholics could not openly celebrate Mass.
There’s nothing secret about the services offered by the girls standing in the windows of the house a few doors away. And there is the same openness about the cannabis cafes with their appeals to “support your local dealer”. But Amsterdam’s drug connections have been overstated – you won’t be tripping over discarded syringes.
Pick up some bargains at the Albert Cuyp street market. Eat lunch as you browse – another Dutch delicacy is raw herring and pickle for pounds 1.50. Then try a wheat beer at De Engel, a huge pub in what was once a church. The plastic swizzle stick with crusher, by the way, is for dunking the slice of lemon hanging on the side of the glass.
BE sure to visit the Anne Frank House (Prinsengracht). There is a hushed silence as visitors disappear behind the moveable bookcase and enter the hiding place where ske kept her diary for 25 months before her family was betrayed and sent to the Nazi death camps.
Finish off your break with a meal overlooking a canal at Luden (Spuistraat), a French restaurant that does excellent fixed price menus for pounds 12 and pounds 14.
Where to Stay: Hotel Fantasia (Nieuwe Keizersgracht, www.fantasia-hotel.com) is run by a guy crazy about cows with pictures and models of the beasts everywhere. Basic rooms with B&B from pounds 60 for two per night.
Getting There: easyJet.com have flights from Belfast, Bristol, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Liverpool Luton and Stansted, with bargains if you book early. We flew for pounds 31 each return. You could also try Amsterdam Travel Service.
Niagara Falls is located on the west bank of the Niagara River, overlooking the falls and directly opposite the city of Niagara Falls, N.Y., to which it is connected by both highway and railway bridges. It is famous as a tourist resort and for its great hydro-electric plants which supply most of the cities in southwestern Ontario. Its chief manufactured products include abrasives, beverages, chemicals, cereal products, canned goods, fertilizers, machinery, silverware and underwear.
Welland, county seat of Welland county, is located on the Welland Ship Canal about 8 miles north of Lake Erie. A developing manufacturing centre, its factories produce steel products, machinery, tools, rubber goods, textiles and electrical appliances. In 2006 the city had resident population of 50,331.
Fort Erie, at the outlet of Lake Erie into Niagara River, is connected with Buffalo, N.Y., by the Peace Bridge. At the Canadian end of the bridge is located a park which occupies the site of a French fort and settlement of 1750. From this point the four lane Queen Elizabeth Way leads to Toronto.
At the Lake Erie entrance of the Welland Canal, Port Colborne, including the formerly independent village of Humberstone, held a population of 18,599 in 2006. Grain elevators, blast furnaces, a nickel refinery and a cement plant are important industries.
Despite our general admonition to patronize the tourist restaurants in Athens, you’ll want to try a typical Greek taverna (that’s spelled “TABEPNA” in Greek) at least once. And there’s no need to worry about the absence of an English-language menu in these establishments, because the custom at tavernas is to go into the kitchen and select your courses from the pots on the stove!
And by the way, don’t worry about the price of what you’re ordering. Hope and I had one of the thirstiest and most famished evenings of our travels when we last dined at a taverna, choosing two bowls of delicious tomato soup to begin, then two huge Greek salads, one veal and vegetable casserole, one order of moussaka, one beer, two orange drinks, and one iced coffee.
Grece Style Food and Drink
As earlier noted, virtually all the Athenian restauran ts we’ve discussed are tourist restaurants, equipped with menus printed in English or French. Because of that, and because few of our readers (induding your author) can read Greek, we have not included a translation of Greek menu terms in our menu chapter, appearing further on in this book. But we do have some menu comments:
When in doubt, ask your waiter for “moussaka”-a staple dish served in many of the Athenian restaurants and in all of the “tavernas” (smaller and totally unpretentious restaurants). Moussaka consists of baked, ground meat, covered with vegetables and spices, and sometimes topped with alayer of dough or mashed potatoes.
lts quality varies from place to place, but if you’re lucky, you’ll make a wonderfully tasty meal of it. And it’s filling: you’ll be more than stuffed if you have, for dinner, a plate of moussaka, a tomato salad, bread and wine. Eaten in the normal taverna, that combination should never cost much.
We’ve already mentioned “dolmothakia” (rice and meat in vine leaves). For a lighter snack, ask for “souvlakia,” which are roasted and spitted chunks of lamb, Havored with oregano.
The Greek table wine is “retsina” -a red wine Havored with resin (pine sap)-and it’s death to American tastes. To get it without the resin, specify that you want your wine “aresinato.”
The Greek aperitif-a before meals drink-is “ouzo,” which is terribly cheap, and is taken either straight or in water (which it turns cloudy white). A Seven-up type drink, which Hope very much likes, is “garzoza” (or at least that’s how it’s pronounced!)
Milia beach, Skopelos
This is a beautiful white sand beach that stretches almost a kilometer, lined with pine trees. The sand is very fine and Milia glimmers white, and turquoise waters are incredibly calm. The picturesque green island of Corfu is located in the bay. Perfect for romantic walks, holding hands. In the summer months there is a high beach bar serving beer and refreshing cocktails at sunset, but Skopelos island is calm and the beach is rarely crowded.
Egremni beach, Lefkada
What really sets Egremni separates the limestone cliffs that back the beach, which gives a concentration of white sand and blue sea drilling. The beach is accessible by a stairway leading down along the cliffs – but not too intimidating, inaccessible light means it is never crowded and has a relaxed and peaceful. This is a protected place, free water sports and restaurants bustling beach: just a simple basic hut for refreshments.
Nas beach, Ikaria
About a mile west of the village of Armenistis is this fjord own tiny, white pebbles, surrounded by steep cliffs on either side. The water is incredibly clear, bright turquoise. Just inside are the foundations of an ancient temple of Aphrodite, and a river inhabited by turtles, frogs and dragonflies winds its way through a canyon – works very well if you are bored to range. On the cliff above, there are a clutch of half a dozen taverns and boarding simple, but it is also far from large hotel and country station you can get in Greece these days.
Balos beach, Crete
The most amazing beach of Crete to be Balos, where the white sands lead to a shallow turquoise and emerald green lagoon and an island, you can reach by walking through warm knee-high water. There is nothing on the beach, but a makeshift canteen serving cold beers and water. Balos is coming to an experience in itself because it is six miles along the rugged peninsula Gramvousa, following a breezy bumpy. Once you reach the end, you walk 20 minutes by a steep path, offering unforgettable views: a great moment for the photos.
Tsigrado beach, Milos
Safely off the beaten track, on the south coast of the island, Tsigrado is kept reasonably free from the crowd because the only way to achieve this is to plummet from the cliff hanging on ropes attached to the rock . When you reach the sea, however, it’s worth – nothing but sand and turquoise water crystal. Most people swim, sunbathe for half an hour, then leave, but if you are organized enough to bring an umbrella, water and something to eat, you can laze the day away to your heart’s content.
The permanent residents of Capri have the same uncanny ability as the Balinese for going about their business oblivious to the tourist hordes around them. Capri’s tourist numbers are even more extraordinary than Bali’s. Although its area is barely four square miles and its population a mere 12,500, Capri plays host to two million visitors a year.
Most are the dreaded day-trippers from Naples and Sorrento-pendolari, the Capresi call them, in description of their incessant to-and-fro motion-who arrive clutching a packed lunch, spend nothing, leave their rubbish, and depart at teatime. During the middle of the day, Capri is best enjoyed by disappearing to the island’s furthermost comers, which can be surprisingly pretty and peaceful. But the long, balmy summer evenings, after the pendolarihave left, are what for me makes Capri a favorite island. This is when the famous Piazzetta, the social hub of Capri town, comes into its own. Tiny and intimate, fringed by animated cafes, it is the perfect place for relaxing and people-watching.
An often-noticed thing about watching people in Capri is that everyone looks highly pleased with life, especially the Capresi themselves. James Money, the island’s social historian, as always has the explanation: “Making money out of the visitors is the dominant activity, and this is done by the islanders with characteristic Italian ingenuity and skill. Because this makes them happy, most of them look happy. A glum face is rarely to be seen.”
Down from the Piazzetta, the terrace of the Grand Hotel Quisisana is another prime spot for an elegant cocktail. Since 1982, Capri’s most splendid hotel has been in the ownership of the Morganos, an old Capresi family of hoteliers. I got to talking to the Quisisana’s immaculately dressed general manager, Dr. Gianfranco Morgano. Aged forty-one, he had just decided to abandon his career as a cardiologist to run the family flagship full-time.
The Quisisana, he reminded me, had originally been built as a sanatorium (its name means, roughly, “Get well here”), so it was appropriate that his first act had been to equip it with a gleaming new fitness center. If you are planning to have a heart attack-and some do when they get the bill-the Quisisana seems a pretty good place to be.
Elsewhere, the Morganos are extending their dynastic rule over Capri’s hotels. The Scalinatella, the island’s second-most highly regarded, is now run by Enrico Morgano, and a new hotel, Casa Morgano, is run by Nicolino Morgano-both brothers of Gianfranco. Needless to say, all look very happy indeed.
Hotels in Capri
Bussola di Hermes Hotel Capri, Anacapri
Regina Cristina Hotel Capri, City
Hotel San Michele Capri, Anacapri
La Floridiana Hotel Capri, Piazzetta
La Bougainville Hotel Anacapri, Anacapri
La Vega Hotel Capri Island, Anacapri
Bristol Hotel Capri, Marina Grande
Relais Maresca Hotel Capri Island, Marina Grande
La Residenza Hotel Capri, Piazzetta
Il Girasole Hotel Capri, Anacapri
Casa Caprile Hotel Anacapri, Anacapri
We all know that London stands on the Thames, that it is the capital of an empire on which the sun never sets, and that it has the right to call itself the largest and richest city in existence, perhaps the greatest congregation of human beings to which history ever had a chance of preaching on that old text, the rise and fall of so many a Babylon. We ought to know how it measures at least a dozen miles in length and breadth, and how it contains five millions or so of people, to which some half as many must be added if we take in its outer area.
We can learn that it counts a million of houses; that its myriads of streets, if set on end, would reach across Europe; that it includes some sixteen thousand acres of open spaces; that yearly it lays twenty miles of fresh pavements, and adds new inhabitants enough to make a country town, while it is always swallowing some old village in its insatiable maw.
Those who have an appetite for such figures may further be instructed that every year its port harbours more than twenty thousand vessels of all flags, that every day nearly nine thousand trains run into its stations, and that every hour about ten million gallons of water are drawn for its various needs, flushing out in subterranean channels more than one cares to count or measure.
The above are but samples from an imposing stack of statistics, that might be drawn upon by way of helping the imagination to realize what London is. Unimaginative and uninstructed eyes have long been content to leave the matter thus: “The cities of London and Westminster are spread out to an incredible extent. The streets, squares, rows, lanes, and alleys are innumerable. Palaces, public buildings, and churches rise in every quarter.” I am using the pen of Miss Lydia Melford, whose first sensation in those thronged thoroughfares was like that of the fabulous Scot, at a later date found waiting shyly up an entry in Fleet Street, as he explained, till the people had come out of church.
But next arises the question, What is London?–one to be less readily answered. Not every Londoner could say off-hand whether Hampstead, for instance, belongs to his hive, nor in what sense it includes Norwood or Kew. London was once a walled city about the mouth of two small brooks flowing into the Thames; then, escaping from this confinement, like the genius released by a fisherman in the Arabian Nights it quickly spread itself over the surrounding heights and flats, till, from an area of some square mile or so, it had expanded more than a hundredfold. Sovereigns in vain bade its growth come to a stand, their proclamations as idle as Canute’s commanding the waves. Not less vainly lords cried out against the citizens who presumed to neighbour their parks and gardens, sooner or later to be ploughed up by streets.
A century ago sociologists of Cobbett’s stamp vituperated that “wen” whose bulk seemed a danger to national health; and by the end of the century the tumour was swollen five times as great. Not that it has grown so much out of proportion to the general body, if we may accept Mr. Matthew Bramble’s indignant calculation, made several generations back, that “one-sixth part of this whole extensive kingdom is crowded within the bills of mortality.” That is much the same ratio as London proper now bears to England, its own thicker outskirts and the rest of the United Kingdom being eliminated, which, if brought into the sum, would make it work out in favour of the capital’s increase.
When we come to boundaries and definitions, we are met by the truly British want of system, symmetry, regularity, through which London was allowed to straggle and struggle up into a confused rough-cast conglomeration of materials stuck together by chance or by rule of thumb, cross-divided for different purposes, to be managed by divers and sometimes overlapping authorities.
There are citizens who, till the consideration be brought home to them by rate-collectors or other call to civic duty, do not care to know in what parish, borough, Poor-Law union, Parliamentary division, or what, they have their home; and on the edge of London some may be hardly clear what right they have to call themselves Londoners. The City, as it is styled, honoris causâ, forms an independent core, round which strangers must be taught to distinguish between the County of London, by law established, and the wider circle that has come to be known as Greater London.
If you don’t find a hotel or restaurant in a guide, a bad review may be why.
1. We’re already out of date.
After more than a week in $5-a-night hostels in Peru, Caitlin Childs was looking forward to a hot shower and a comfortable bed. But when she got to the Hotel Paracas, there was no hot shower, no bed – and no hotel. “It had been leveled in an earthquake the year before,” says Childs, a graphic designer and frequent traveler. It turned out her Footprint Peru Handbook – the latest edition – had been published a year and a half before her July 2008 trip.
Even without earthquakes, much of the information covered by guidebooks changes too fast for book publishers to keep up. Restaurants close, quaint markets lose their cachet, and trains change their schedules. If it’s essential to your trip, make a phone call before you go, says Peggy Goldman, the president of Friendly Planet Travel, a tour operator. Never rely on a guidebook for key information like whether you’ll need a visa to enter a country and how much it will cost, or what vaccinations you might need, Goldman says, because those facts can change rapidly. Although the guidebook’s web site may have more up-to-date information, travelers should still check with the consulate and look for CDC alerts for the latest information.
2. No news is bad news.
There’s simply not space in most guidebooks to include negative reviews – so a hotel or restaurant that isn’t in the book might not have made the cut for a reason, says Thomas Kohnstamm, a former Lonely Planet guidebook writer and the author of the memoir, “Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?” Guidebooks are also trying not just to inform but to sell potential travelers on the idea of a particular destination, he says. The end result: Every beach is beautiful, and the people of every country are “some of the nicest people in the world.” “It’s supposed to be an unvarnished take on places but you have to be pretty PC about everything,” Kohnstamm says.
It’s true that space is limited, so if something isn’t in the book, “there may be a reason,” says Ensley Eikenburg, the associate publisher of Frommer’s travel guides. The exception: “There are certain iconic places that can be overrated, and that’s something we encourage our writers to say,” she says.
3. We haven’t actually been there.
It’s called a “desk update”: Writers use the phone, the Internet, stories from other travelers and even old-fashioned books to research a destination, but they never actually go there. The practice is common throughout the travel industry, Kohnstamm says. And with tight budgets, some publishers simply never ask how writers are getting their information.
Eikenburg, of Frommer’s, admits that the company does desk updates, but only on a few titles that cover multiple countries, while Lonely Planet’s Americas publisher, Brice Gosnell, says that the company’s contracts with writers always require travel to the location they’re covering.
4. We’re relying on you to catch our mistakes.
There’s essentially no fact-checking process for most guidebooks, Kohnstamm says. “They might do a random check, but mainly they’re trying to rely on the writer” to get things right, he says. (Lonely Planet and Frommer’s say fact-checking is the writer’s responsibility.) In practice, and with the prevalence of the “desk update” (see No. 2), that may mean waiting for readers to point out errors or out-of-date information. Jeffrey Ward, the founder of Savvy Navigator Tours, says he once wrote to Fodor’s to let them know that the index to their South Africa guide was from a previous edition, making it very difficult to quickly look up restaurants or sites while out walking around. Ward says the company sent him a free copy of a corrected book within a couple of months.
5. That “easy” hike is only easy for experts.
In 2007, a 32-year old hiker died taking what a guidebook had described as the “easy way” up Tryfan, a 3,000-foot mountain in Wales. “The definition of ‘easy’ is relative depending upon your experience, your physical ability, your footwear, clothing and kit, and your party,” explains Chris Lloyd, a spokesman for the local Ogwen Valley Mountain Rescue Organization. Death by hiking is fortunately uncommon, but Brian King, the publisher of guidebooks for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says his organization frequently hears complaints from less-experienced hikers who feel the books make scrambling over boulders sound like an easy day’s stroll. “We could probably do a better job of accommodating the day hiker,” King says.
6. We ruined that secluded spot we mentioned.
Brian Ghidinelli thought he and his wife were the only tourists in Old Hanoi’s winding streets – until they walked into a Lonely-Planet-recommended restaurant, which was packed with other travelers, some with their own Lonely Planet Vietnam guides on their tables. “While we ate, several more pairs walked in with guidebook in hand,” Ghidinelli, an entrepreneur and experienced traveler, says. Accidentally walking into a tourist trap can have financial consequences, too. In Ghidinelli’s experience, hotels and restaurants recommended by the guidebook tended to cost 25% or 30% more than those that didn’t cater to tourists.
7. We’re terrified of your smartphone.
Ten years ago, guidebooks to popular destinations like Walt Disney World or Paris were common on the New York Times best-sellers list, says Michael Norris, a senior analyst for Simba Information, a market research firm that covers publishing and media. These days, the physical books just don’t sell as well as they used to, in part because so much information is now available for free online – TripAdvisor, anyone? – and can be accessed on the spot with a GPS-equipped phone.
8. Going to Estonia? We don’t really care.
Guidebook writers sent to less well-traveled destinations are often hindered by tiny budgets, Kohnstamm says, explaining that books about popular destinations command the majority of the companies’ resources. “The rest get sort of short shrift,” he says. Other publishers see it differently. Frommer’s doesn’t spend more on the more popular guides either, Eikenburg says. “If one of our customers buys our guide to Panama and it’s not accurate, then we’ve lost that customer to the competition when they go out and buy an Italy guide or an Alaska guide,” she says.
9. We’re tourists too.
Guidebooks can’t always be trusted for “insider” tips on what the locals eat, how they behave or what the cultural norms are in a country, says Bryan Schmidt, who has traveled to six countries on four continents over the last ten years. Guidebooks for Brazil, for example, will recommend places to get “authentic” feijoada, a traditional meat and bean stew – but Schmidt, whose wife is Brazilian, says even those meals are designed for tourists. Of course, some may see that as a blessing: The truly authentic dish involves “a lot of pig ears and pig snouts,” Schmidt says.
“It’s possible to overcome the challenge of not being from a place, but it just takes a lot of time,” says James Kaiser, the author of several independent guidebooks to national parks. Kaiser says he likes to spend about two years doing research so he can get to know locals and see how a place changes over time. Of course, even locals can make mistakes. Kaiser grew up near Acadia National Park in Maine, but his first guide to the area included a recommendation of a picnic spot for families that he came to regret. “Nude bathing was not uncommon,” Kaiser says. “I learned the hard way to triple-check my information.”
10. Don’t take all of our advice.
Some travelers feel guidebooks encourage a frenzied, see-it-all approach to tourism. “I have a really good friend who’s a lawyer, and she prepares for a trip the same way she prepares for a murder trial,” says Friendly Planet Travel’s Goldman. Relying on a guidebook for minute-by-minute planning robs a trip of spontaneity, she says. “The true reason for travel is the absolute thrill of discovering something all by yourself.”
Holidays are supposed to bring rest and relaxation, but some families find them horribly stressful. With less time to enjoy, many people try to compensate by planning jam-packed itineraries, which can end up with exhaustion, arguments and disappointment. Here are some parent tips to consider…
Ease the ‘annual holiday’ pressure, if possible, by planning a few short breaks during the year. That way, the annual holiday won’t have the entire weight of your expectations upon it. It is also is a min-rehearsal for family travel, which does need a different kind of organisation than at home.
If possible, take longer annual holidays, rather than shorter. You have a better chance of feeling relaxed after three weeks away rather than just one. Action-packed itineraries could be intermingled with decent spells of ‘just bludging around’, so you don’t need a holiday from your holiday.
Preventing potential problems
Holiday stress can be brought on by bad luck, but you can avoid many potential upsets with forethought, planning and commonsense.
Research your intended location and accomodation very well.
Make sure you have adequate travel insurance. Check that it covers the needs of everyone in the family.
Pre-think your location and make sure you have enough sunscreen, insect repellant etc (all the specifics for that location).
If you’re keen to try out adventure sports with a family in tow, use the correct equipment and go with a reputable, well trained professional.
When travelling overseas, make 2 copies of all important documents (such as passports, travellers cheques and credit cards) in case of theft, keep one at home and pack one separately to the real thing.
Take extra pre-cautions when eating out to avoid common holiday gastro disturbances. Take a basic first aid kit. (be prepared to deal with basics.)
Travelling with young children
Ask your travel agent for family-friendly possibilities. Eg, you may prefer two-bedroom accommodation, or a facility with child-minding services, kids club etc.
Try to balance everyone’s needs when planning. The whole family should understand that everyone is there for a holiday so divide your day into adult choices and those more for kids. This definitely helps to avoid holiday stress. Keep it simple.
Just spending additional time together can be stressful. It is common to expect to have a good time on your holidays. However, in reality, during the year, most families only spend a few hours per day together because of work, school and other activities. Little habits could turn into holiday stress, even nightmares.