Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another solo trip

When we first moved to Europe, we had every intention of it being a 'forever' move, which is why we gave away most of our things to friends/family that needed a little help, and bought one-way tickets. For the past 2 years all of our round trip tickets have originated in Denmark or Germany. Recently SAS has had some great deals on Economy extra, but only on flights originating in the US...so, I've had to do some creative round trips within round trips in order to take advantage of the bargains.

Well, I'm officially going to get on a schedule of having the US as my origination point and always having a return ticket (from Denmark) available.

How pray-tell will I be doing this? Ryanair does one-way trips to London at 50% of a round trip fare. Perfect. Then, I cashed in some American Airlines miles for a one-way first class ticket.

Next week, I'll be back on a Chicago-Copenhagen-Chicago schedule. Yippee!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On the road again...and in the air!

Let the traveling begin.

One of the busiest travel seasons is from Thanksgiving through the New Year. Generally, I try to avoid peak travel time at all costs.

Airfare prices are higher, planes are full to capacity with crabby and sick adults...and screaming kids that have far surpassed the amount of time they can handle waiting around doing nothing, hotels are full, people are rushing around pushing/shoving/being rude...just so they can be the first person in line, first person at the baggage claim...so they can wait some more, and security lines longer than the eye can see filled with people who have either been living under a rock and failed to pay attention to the liquids in a plastic bag rule...or they are first time fliers.

Grant me the patience to deal with holiday travel this year, as between Thanksgiving and New Years, I will be in about 30 cities in 6 different countries.

A few tips to get through, what will no doubt be a trying time:

  1. Place all your 3oz or smaller liquids in a clear ziplock baggie. The quart size freezer version is a bit more durable. Do this at home before you leave as many airports no longer carry the 'last minute free baggie.'
  2. Be prepared at security checks - take off your shoes and jacket, take your laptop out, remove liquids, and have your passport and boarding pass in your hand.
  3. Pick up some antibacterial spray and don't forget to place in your ziplock baggie. And no matter how much you want to, do not touch your eyes and face unless your hands are clean. Keep those germs at bay!
  4. Pack some antibacterial hand wipes to wipe down your tray table, arm rests, and inflight entertainment. They don't get wiped down between flights.
  5. Have your cell phone and battery charger in your carry-on; along with all important numbers, including the hotel, taxi pick up, and airline. If your flight is delayed or cancelled, it's easiest to pull out your cell phone and make some calls, rather than wait in the rebooking line. If you're traveling and a storm is coming, jot down the phone numbers of some hotels near the airport...just in case.
  6. Pack some entertainment - books, suduko, crossword puzzles, ipod
  7. Have your OTC meds and prescription meds handy in your carry-on. You never know when you'll need a few Tylenol or Aleve to drown out that screaming kid.
  8. Pack a snack - nuts and dried cranberries, granola, whatever you fancy.
  9. Pack an empty water bottle that you can refill with water on the other side of security.
  10. Throw in a few pieces of hard candy (in case you get a tickle or your seatmate is hacking away), some gum to help with pressurizing and popping your ears, and some tissues.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Rental Cars

A few weeks ago, while in the US, we rented a Chrysler Sebring through Avis. Chuck insisted on the gasoline prepay ($2.68 a gallon), while this would not have been my choice, it was fine...or so I thought.

After driving the car with the gas light on for 20 miles, I pulled into a gas station and filled it up. 13.3 gallons @ $2.74 a gallon.

Imagine my surprise when I looked at our rental agreement and it stated the tank capacity is 16.9 gallons. Needless to say, in the prepay option, Avis charged us 16.9 gallons @ $2.68 a gallon.

My search online states, that indeed, the fuel capacity for a 2007 Chrysler Sebring is 16.9 gallons.

So, the questions remain...did I get 3.6 gallons of gas free from the gas station? Is Chrysler's published tank capacity wrong? Was there something in the tank that decreased the volume?

Lesson learned...don't opt for the prepay gasoline, even if it is 5 cents cheaper than at the pumps.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Picture pages, picture pages...

....time to get your crayons and your pencils.

Or, just click on the links and check out the slideshows from our recent travels.

Edinburgh, Scotland (November)
Barcelona, Spain (September)
Madrid, Spain (September)
Budapest, Hungary (September)
Northern Wisconsin (June)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cappellari Bis, Apartment Rental in Rome Italy - Review

Note: I have been holding off on posting this review in the hopes of some sort of resolution from Sleep in Italy. My correspondence has gone unanswered and unacknowledged.

While in Rome, Italy we stayed at Cappellari Bis , located just of Campo Fiori, which is a great location! I did a ton of research and worked with a woman named Gulia at Sleep in Italy . She was quite friendly and answered all of my questions. Well, that's the extent of the positives.

The apartment was just ok. When we arrived, a gentleman met us, walked us through the apartment, gave us the keys, and then was on his way.

The downfalls...a washing machine that didn't spin, so clothes were soaking wet; a homeowner who didn't pay the electric bill, so no electricity for 2 days; a kitchen where only one appliance could be running or the breakers flipped, so no microwave and oven at the same time (talk about a pain in the butt when it comes to cooking!); rooms with hardly any light and most had these lampshades and bulb surrounds in crazy colors (red) that did not lend themselves to emitting any light; no toilet paper; no soap; a TV with 3 channels.

The management company, Sleep in Italy was anything but helpful and when we had no electricity, due to nonpayment by the owner (from November until April!!!) they were extremely rude and condescending. As if it was our fault there was no power. And, heaven forbid we actually demand power on a rental property. How dare we! We contacted them at 11am when we noticed a 'Termination of Services' note on the door, and then subsequent no power. After waiting around for hours, we were moved to a Bed and Breakfast for 1 night, but were unable to check in until 6pm.

Sleep in Italy has yet to address our losses (over 50Euro in spoiled food and a huge cell phone bill).

Avoid this place (and management company) at all costs!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Edinburgh, Scotland in a little over a day

About a month ago, Ryanair was running a fare special. As luck would have it, this whole no working thing (professional tourist) worked to my advantage as I was able to fly out on a Monday and return on a Wednesday for a mere 1 penny. No check in fees, no taxes, no checked luggage....no problem!

I stayed at the Hilton Caledonian. What a lovely hotel! I was in room 218, which is quite large and has an amazing view of the Edinburgh Castle. There was one small issue, but at no fault of the hotel....the construction crew, which has Princes Street all torn up cut the power to our block, which caused a blackout at about 19:30. The generator kicked in and power was restored, but the fire alarm was affected, so we were back downstairs 10 minutes later. Then, the fire department didn't clear the panel correctly, so 10 minutes later another fire alarm. All in all, about an hour of climbing steps. Luckily all the guests were good natured about it and the staff was very nice and apologetic.

Edinburgh was wonderful. I cannot wait to return in the spring/summer time when all the flowers are in bloom and the tram work is completed (late 2010). In one full day (and two partial days), I managed to take in some sights and do a little shopping, but next time I'll bring Chuck along and we'll spend a few days in Edinburgh and then head to the highlands for a few days.

I started my day at the Edinburgh Castle. It is quite the hike to get there, so if you plan to walk all day, I'd recommend hiring a taxi to take you to the castle, then walking down the hill and exploring the rest of the day.

The Royal Mile runs from the Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and is lined with cashmere and wool shops, souvenier shops, kilt makers, and pubs. As I walked from the Castle to the Palace, I shopped and I shopped some more. I even went into a few shops to buy an extra suitcase...but, in the end, I just crammed everything into my existing bags. Note to self....next time, bring an extra bag!

At the end of the Royal Mall is Holyrood Palace, which is where Queen E stays when she is in Scotland. It's a lovely palace, but of course, is not as opulent as Windsor or Buckingham.

Princes Street is undergoing a major renovation, with new infrastructure (water/gas pipes) and will soon be getting a new track for the tram, which is supposed to extend from the airport to the city center. But, for now, getting around the Princes Street area is a bit of a challenge as you have to basically commit to one side of the street or the other because there are very few pedestrian passageways. I shopped at Jenners and felt a little giddy when I stumbled upon Mark and Spencers. Yes, I love the wensleydale cheese with cranberries. One little snack size piece and I was set for another few months.

I'll be back. There are so many things I didn't get a chance to do...and Chuck would love it there, so we'll plan a return trip that is sure to include a trip to the Highlands...and maybe a visit to some folks we met in Venice!

A few pix and the slide show.

The view from my room at the Hilton Caledonian.

The Edinburgh Castle

The Crown Jewels are located in here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Planning our European adventures

Over the past several months, I've received quite a few questions about how I go about planning our holidays and if, in fact, there is someone else that plans our various adventures. Nope, it's just me. Me, and my trusty DK Eyewitness Europe guidebook. Oh, I should probably mention that in 1996, I did get my travel agent certification. But, with so many online travel resources, it's not as though it is really worth anything today.

When we first arrived in Europe, almost 2 years ago, we were surrounded by amazing cities that we wanted to visit. So, we had a long list of 'must see' cities.

Living in southern Denmark, we are very fortunate that we can easily drive to many cities and have access to several airports.

As 3 day weekends approached, I'd pull out the guidebook and find out what was 'in season' or those cities that are best seen during a particular season....
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands in April - Keukenhof gardens
  • Alkmaar, Netherlands in Spring, Summer, Fall - cheese festival
  • Paris, France in Spring, Summer - Versailles in bloom
  • Dresden and Lubeck, Germany in Winter - Christmas market
  • Barcelona and Madrid, Spain in the fall - not too hot
In other cities, we planned to spend most of our time indoors at museums, so it really didn't matter which month we visited.

I typically have 3 or 4 cities selected for a particular timeframe. If we plan on flying, I'll do a quick search on Expedia to check flight costs. I also check Ryanair and see if we can get a super cheap flight out of Billund, Denmark or Lubeck, Germany. Low cost, no frill airlines are not included in typical search engines like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. However, I've found that Skyscanner does include the low cost airlines.

Once I decide on a city, it's time to figure out possible hotels. TripAdvisor is one of my favorite resources. I consult TripAdvisor for just about every trip and look for reviews on various activities, too. Because I'm an avid user of the service, I also contribute reviews...hopefully providing someone with another piece of information before they make a holiday decision.

Note: If you are looking to book a room at a discount, you may consider using Booking.com or Hotels.com; however be aware that some hotels will put you in an undesirable room or one that has not been updated. If you want to save a buck and score a renovated room, be prepared to request a room change after checking in.

I tend to book directly with the hotel via their website. I've found that booking via a discount or consolidator usually only saves $10 or $15 a night. I'd rather not be irritated when I first arrive at a hotel because of a less than desirable room, the first time around. So, I save myself the hassle.

Prior to our departure for a particular city, I pull up the online tourist maps, read excursion and tourist site reviews and develop a plan of attack so we can make the most of our stay. Is there a particular brew pub that we should visit? A brewery or wine tour? A famous bakery or pub? Any plays, shows, or musicals we should see? Museums? Day tours? How is the metro? Can I buy a day pass? Does it make fiscal sense to purchase a tourist card? Can I buy tickets online? Can I skip the queue? There is nothing worse than wasting 2 hours in line trying to get into a museum or into Versailles, up the Eiffel Tower or in the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Don't do it. Be informed and buy your tickets online.

Yes, I always have an excel spreadsheet that has all our travel information, daily events, hours of operations, and fees listed. It takes a bit of time to pull together, but in the end, we see the things we want to see, avoid the crowds, and don't waste hours wondering around, waiting in line or the never ending..."what do you want to do?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?" We usually try to see the major tourist attractions right away in the morning before most people wake up and then in the afternoon or during peak tourist time we'll shop, wander side streets, parks, riverfronts, or beaches.

This approach is not for everyone. Some prefer to wander through cities, experiencing life and doing whatever feels good that particular day. Happening upon a great bistro in Paris or a stroll through Luxembourg gardens that results in meeting a Parisian family and joining them for a picnic are definitely not planned events. But, they are amazing experiences, nonetheless.
The best part about being on holiday is relaxing, enjoying, experiencing, and learning...on your own terms...with whomever you choose.

Up next, a few itineraries.