How to Travel in Europe Without Visiting That Tiresome Airport

111I’ve just got back from an extended rail trip which was wonderful and I’d like to share with anyone who would like to hear, how to go about this really enjoyable activity.

First you have to be flexible (both mentally and physically) and optimistic. Secondly it helps if you enjoy planning and don’t feel completely spooked when all your plans seem to fall about your ears.

That said, this is something that everyone should try. I began by deciding where I wanted to arrive at the end of my trip. For me, this time, it was Greece. Over the years I have visited Greece many times and the worst part of it for me was always the airport and the associated driving to airport, queuing for flights, crowded and tight-fitting aircraft and all that goes with them. I had become totally disenchanted with all the paraphernalia that goes with flying, and now the cheap airlines have become the sneaky, charge-you-for-anything-we-like airlines, I just felt disinclined to use one.

So I went for rail travel and so could you. To begin with you need to take Eurostar to Paris ore Brussels. I use my Airmiles, earned by shopping with Tesco, to buy the ticket, but it really isn’t terribly expensive if you actually have to come up with hard cash. I guess it costs about as much as a week’s airport parking. Then I went to a wonderful website started by a rail enthusiast who calls himself the man in seat 61. If you Google this you will find a wonderful resource for travel by train. Here is all the information you could possibly want on rail travel anywhere in the world. I went to the section on railpasses and selected the one I wanted.

But railpasses are just for teenagers doing their gap year, aren’t’ they? No – now anyone can have one. They run from 5 days during a set period, 10 in 20 days and a full month and can be limited to one country or to  a very large section of Europe and Scandinavia., which includes such countries as Poland, Serbia – but not, sadly, Russia (yet). You set the area you want to cover and the time you have for travel and it’s very east to buy online.

Then, consulting the same site, you can plan your route and reserve seats on your chosen train. This runs from a few euros to a lot more of you want a sleeper, or some kind of sleeping accommodation. Balance the price of this with a hotel room and you will find it’s fairly comparable. If you usually star in hostels then a bed in a six-berth compartment compares really well with a hostel bed. Yes, it’s pretty cramped – but you’re asleep most of the time. Then you make the right contacts, reserve your seats/beds and get ready for the off.

Now, what to take? Well, luggage. Don’ t take too much. You have to carry it, and who will see that you are wearing the same skirt and shirt as yesterday? Clean underwear takes up very little space, and is kind of useful, of course. And get insurance – nothing fancy, but get some. Don’t forget your medical insurance card, free for EU members. Take simple things like painkillers, moisturizer and sun cream – you won’t be on the train all the time.

It’s a wonderful way to travel, to meet people and to relax. You can move up and down the train, carry your own food or risk what’s available on the train – which in some cases in Eastern Europe is nothing but drinks. You can get off and spend a day somewhere and get back on for a night’s rest – and you don’t have to book all this in advance. If you just book your first couple of trips then you can be far more flexible later. You can make reservations at all major railway stations – and you don’t need them for many local trains, on;y for the special extra speed or inter-country trains. A European railpass covers certain ferries for nothing – for example, my global pass covered the ferries between Greece and Italy. You just pay port taxes, and maybe a summer supplement.

If you are travelling at peak times it pays to sort out at least some reservations – certainly the one back into Paris or Brussels which connects with Eurostar is a vital reservation. Of course most people will end up at one of those stations and demand is high. Also, if you miss your Eurostar and it’s your own fault, they won’t be obliged to replace your ticket. And one last thing. Railpasses for Europeans do not operate in their own country – that’s why we need to pay for Eurostar. There are railpasses for non-Europeans too – all details on that same website. Happy travelling! Take photos – record your trip – each train journey will be different and all will be great! Oh, and don’t expect perfection. Keep telling yourself, as the train is held up for one reason or another,  ‘I am not sitting in a tin can up in the air in some holding pattern.’ It’s a different kind of freedom.

The 10 most underrated things to do in Amsterdam

118While Amsterdam first-timers would rightly cut off their left ear to whirl around the Van Gogh Museum or clatter across 1,500 bridges to cycle the Canal Ring, what happens when you’ve been there, done that and bought the proverbial clogs? From hard-to-find beaches to long, indulgent brunches, the Dutch capital brims with surprises. Here are the 10 most underrated things to do in Amsterdam.

Explore the Western Islands

The Jordaan may be the prize-winner for the most picturesque neighbourhood in Amsterdam, but the artistic and the creative soul of the city is concealed in the charming Western Islands. This small archipelago bathes in amazing quietness, only nudged from its slumber by bobbing houseboats and bikes rattling across the wooden bridges. Among the former grain, herring and tobacco warehouses, intrepid travellers will now find artists’ studios creating everything from film and music to painting and designer furniture.

Brunch on Kadijksplein

Forget the neon glare and scramble for seats on Leidseplein, and swerve the statues and sunbathers of Rembrandtplein; tiptoe instead to Kadijksplein, a delightfully quiet square that is also home to one of Amsterdam’s best brunches at Bakers & Roasters. This New Zealand-style cafe serves mouth-watering Navajo eggs, healthy salad bowls and decent coffee. Try a brekkie (a decadent mix of eggs, crispy bacon, fat sausages and creamy mushrooms) and wash it all down with a Bloody Mary. Waddle off your waist-expanding brunch at Entrepotdok, a dockside line of former Dutch East India Company warehouses, just around the corner.

Go for drinks at the hip bars on Javastraat

Forget struggling to get served in the city centre, informed barflies are buzzing along Javastraat. The heart of up-and-coming Indische Buurt neighbourhood, Javastraat chimes with the clink of glasses at trendy bars. With low-hanging lights, overgrown ferns and bamboo birdcages (but no actual birds, thankfully), those in search of a soothing G&T should try the Javanese colonial ambiance at the Walter Woodbury Bar (walterwoodburybar.nl). Bar James (Javastraat 49) meanwhile, pairs vegetarian dishes with whiskies, cocktails, wines, and local beers.

Relax on the beach at Amsterdam Roest

Forget heading to the coast, Amsterdam Roest in the Eastern Islands offers the complete weekend package without the need of a train ticket. Part urban beach, part art space and a whole lot of laid-back bar action, this urban escape revels in its graffiti-strewn industrial heritage as live bands and DJs head up an on-going roster of creative excellence, which swings joyfully between film, theatre and get-me-on-the-guest-list festivals. Take it all in with a glass of punch.

Hang out with the locals at Weesperzijde

With unrivalled views over the Amstel, Weesperzijde is where the locals come to picnic right by the water’s edge. Join them for a beer at De Ysbreeker, a historic café-restaurant from 1702, or take in the scene at Girassol (girassol.nl), where you could almost be in Lisbon: the cooling blue-and-white Azulejo tiles, the cosy cotton-covered tables, the soft Fado music drifting from the speakers. The food is authentic Portuguese too: fresh octopus carpaccio and thick-filled cod croquettes, all seasoned with a Dutch sunset on a waterside terrace.

Go shopping on Czaar Peterstraat

Framing the fringe of the city centre, Czaar Peterstraat is peppered with independent boutiques, innovative brand outlets and rails and rails of vintage clothes. Trendsetters should browse the racks at the CP113 concept store (cp113.com), where stylish retro wear and good coffee are on the menu. Peanut nuts, meanwhile, should make a trail for De Pindakaaswinkel (depindakaaswinkel.nl), the first (and possibly only) peanut butter shop in the Netherlands. Its flavours spread from honey and walnut to sea salt caramel. Souvenir shopping? NJAG (njag.nl), which stands for Not Just a Gift, has more necklaces, soaps, ceramics and toys than you could ever fit in a suitcase.

Explore De Baarsjes neighbourhood

Although most travellers only make it as far west as Oud-West, keep heading away from the city centre and you’ll hit upon the vibrant and contemporary neighbourhood of De Baarsjes. Brimming with the licks of the Amsterdam School’s architectural style (think: brick façades, wavy lines and expressionist details), this former working class area teaches the intrepid about the good things in life. Caffeine aficionados should stop for a home-roasted brew at White Label Coffee (whitelabelcoffee.nl), where light pours through the windows; else T’s (tsteas.com) huge selection of loose leaf teas will merrily convert any coffee fiend.

Take a walk on the Wibautstraat

If you think Amsterdam is all about narrow streets, romantic canals and arching bridges, chances are you haven’t yet set foot on Wibautstraat. With its edgy, high-rise concrete buildings, plus wide roads and pavements, it could easily be mistaken for East Berlin. Step inside the unconventional Volkshotel, opened on the former premises of a newspaper HQ, and head up to its Canvas restaurant for a captivating view of the city. Then indulge in some Mediterranean-inspired tapas at The Pool (thepoolrestaurant.com) where the cocktails are as glam as the décor.

Relax by the water at Muziek Gebouw

Feeling overwhelmed by the crowds in Dam Square? Clear your head along the banks of the IJ river next to the state-of-the-art concert hall Muziek Gebouw aan ‘t IJ. On the terrace at Zouthaven, with a glass of prosecco in your hand, watch the boats pass by as the sun sets over Centraal Station. If you’re staying for the seafood dishes, try the Zeeland oysters. Desserts are delectable, especially the lime-honey mousse and pineapple tarte tatin.

Taste delicious street food at De Pure Markt

The street food scene is still emerging in Amsterdam, with food festivals and Sunday markets inviting locals to sample cuisines from around the world. Although stately Westerpark is a popular destination for food fairs, a hip alternative is De Pure Markt at the lesser known Frankendael Park. From Dutch Gouda cheese and Surinamese roti, to Indian curries and Spanish paellas, you’re spoiled for choice for affordable artisan food and alongside local arts and crafts stalls.

Top 10 Women Adventure Travel Destinations in Europe

112It can be difficult sometimes to look for adventure destinations in Europe especially if you are a woman. But there are still a few places in this continent that can give you the adventure you seek. Here are some of our recommendations that will hopefully succeed at giving you the thrill and excitement you are looking for. Before you dive into your adventure of a lifetime, however, have some adventure activities travel insurance to cover your itch for extreme adventure, freeing you of the risks of running into unexpected things along the way.

The Scottish Highlands

Biking and hiking the Scottish highlands is very scenic. Pedal your way through castles, herds of cows, grasslands, and then bask in the romantic vibe of the entire route. You can also hike to Fort William and explore the most popular park in Scotland, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

Midi-Pyrenees

Midi-Pyrenees is located in one of France’s most underrated tourist destinations. Midi-Pyrenees covers the Dordogne woods all the way up to the high peaks of the Pyrenees. You can ski here to your heart’s content during winter and try kayaking in the spring.

Provence

Located in France, Provence is very popular for its biking trail set on rolling hills with a beautiful view. You can look out to the ocean as you enjoy the fresh air. However if you want a bigger adventure you can also go for rock climbing and even skydiving. Be sure to secure adventure activities travel insurance before you go for more daring adventures, just in case.

Northern Norway

Northern Norway is very near to the Arctic Circle and it is just a couple of hundred miles from the Earth’s highest point. This of course means access to skiing in winter and kayaking in the summer. At night, the northern lights are displayed in the dark sky, the perfect way to end your day.

Croatia

Croatia might be out of your radar but it is one of Europe’s best places to kayak in fresh water or near the coast. Fresh water kayaking means going through the forest making the adventure more memorable.

Rhone-Alps

If you have been dying to see the Alps and ski on its slopes then Rhone-Alps is the place to go. But skiing is not the only thing you can do here. There is also rock climbing in the area and there are 8 natural parks so hiking is also a good option.

The Dolomites

The Dolomites is located in Italy. What you can do here is hiking and trekking the world’s best ferrate route. You can behold the majesty of the Brenta mountain range while hiking the route. This can be a challenging hike so prepare accordingly.

Akureyi

Located in Iceland, you can be sure to be wowed by the glaciers, fjords, and scenic coastlines of Akureyi. You can try dog sleighing and ice climbing while visiting this place.

Cairngorms National Park

This national park is located in Scotland and is known for its scenic hiking trail through Wester Ross. The Caledonian Pine Forest is inside the park and also the arctic plateau wilderness giving you a lot of things to see while exploring the area.

Tallinn

Tallinn is the capital of Estonia. Just in the outskirts of the city, there are country villages, Baltic towns near the coast, and woodlands that can be a great place to hike around. The Lahemaa National Park is also a must-see in Tallinn.

The Top 5 Crucial European Trips to Take WELL Before You Die

115You may as well admit it. You’ve always wanted to travel in Europe, whether or not you’ve already done so. And even if you’ve traveled there many times, you yearn to go back—-again and again. For as long as there’s been an America, Americans have been drawn back to Europe.

Whether this yearning to return is because many of our ancestors came from Europe… Or because Europe has such a deep, rich and long-ranging history, much of it still there to wander around in… Or because it has amazing food and wine, to be experienced at charming restaurants, sitting at tables canopied by colorful umbrellas, and surrounded by flowers… Or because it has brought together awe-inspiring art and music and culture, and made it readily accessible for all to experience… Or because it is traversed by marvelous networks of transportation – trains and boats, trams and gondolas – making it possible to go virtually anywhere at any time from anywhere else, and to enjoy the going as much as the arriving… For all these reasons, the urge to “cross the pond” is strong. And the possibilities once you get there are extensive. Travel to Europe provides experiences and memories to last a lifetime.

The temptation, given the immense number of possibilities, is to make a whirlwind tour, jumping from country to country and place to place. Or, even worse, to hand over the reins of your trip and sign up for a group trip, either at whirlwind speed, or at a more modest pace, but in either case letting someone else be the decider about where you will go, what you will see, when and how. Avoid these styles of travel. Instead plan to travel independently, but with a well-designed plan, using a Great Trip guidebook to know exactly how to plan, arrange, prepare for and make your trip.

At a bare minimum, give yourself these five crucial, rejuvenating independent trips abroad, one each year.

Crucial Trip #1: Fabled France–Loire Châteaux, Mont St Michel, the Normandy Coast & Paris, City of Lights

On this unforgettable trip, you will fly into Paris and journey immediately by train to the charming medieval village of Amboise in the Eastern Loire Valley, your first home base, and your jumping off point for visiting five Châteaux, including the final home of Leonardo da Vinci. From there, you will travel, again by train, to Mont St. Michel, where you will stay out on the Mont like the monks of old, with the water surrounding you at high tide, then receding entirely at low tide — racing in and out at the speed of a galloping horse.

Next, you will take another train to the small town of Bayeux, your home-base for exploring the tales and memories of the conquests and liberations that have taken place from and to this precipitous coastline… from William the Conqueror in the 11th century to the Allied troops in the 20th. Then on to Paris for four glorious days (and nights!) on the left bank, where you will travel the Seine by Batobus (“Boat Bus”) to visit the art and architecture, cathedrals and gardens, markets and cafés.

Crucial Trip #2: Luminous Northern Italy–Cinque Terre, Florence, Hill Towns of Tuscany & Venice

After flying into Florence, you will travel by train to the coast for four days in Monterosso, clinging to the rocks along the Ligurian Sea, one of five gloriously lovely towns of Cinque Terre. Here you will take up lodging near the water, and travel about among the villages by boat.

Then on to Florence, where you will take up residence on the left bank of the Arno River, near the Ponte Vecchio and learn “your neighborhood” for the next eight days. Prepare to be awed. There is nothing you have experienced so far in your life like standing before the Duomo for the first time, or gazing in wonder at Michelangelo’s David.

While in Florence, you will have time to devote to art and cathedrals, sculpture and science, as well as markets and shops, outdoor dining and evening music on the squares… and gelato. From Florence, you will venture out on day trips to Cortona and San Gimignano, captivating hill towns of Tuscany that date back to the Etruscans.

Then on by train to Venice for three days, and exiting the train station to the cacophony of vaporetti and water taxis queued up to transport you along the canals to the stop closest to your hotel. This entirely unique city is another incomparable destination that will etch itself in your memory forever.

Crucial Trip #3: Stunning Vistas–Swiss & Italian Lakes & Alps

In anticipation of traveling to the Alps, and their lakes, picture the breathtaking scenes from Sound of Music. After flying into Geneva, you will board one of the impeccable trains of the Swiss rail system and travel to Lausanne on the far side of Lake Geneva, home to the International Olympic Committee, where you will be staying for three days. The funicular next to the train station will carry you up to the old town or down to the lakefront, where you will be staying while you explore the charms of this Swiss town. From Lausanne you will venture out by boat on day trips to the nearby town of Montreux, known for its Jazz Festival, and the legendary Castle of Chillon.

After Lausanne you will take a train to Lucerne, another storybook lakeside town, and your home for the next two days. Here you will be able to walk across the lake using a flower-bedecked covered bridge dating back to the 14th century, and walk the stone streets of old town, with brightly colored timber-framed buildings and little squares with fountains at their centers.

From Lucerne, you will be back on the train, changing to a different gauge train for the climb up to rustic Zermatt for two days, at the foot of the Matterhorn. Here you will be transported about town by small electric vehicles, or by foot, and carried high up into the mountains using a far-ranging network of gondolas. One of these gondolas will take you up over the Alps and into Italy for lunch with a stunning view.

From Zermatt you will travel via the famed Glacier Express to St. Moritz for three days, a beautiful and hospitable showplace that has its own lovely lake, with its own towering Alps in the background, and all the “ooh and aah” views that go with them. Continuing from St. Moritz by train, you will take the Bernina Express through the breathtaking Bernina Pass, traveling south across the Alps, then shifting from high Alpine scenery to palm trees. Next it will be on to Varenna, Italy where you will delight in five matchless days living along the breathtaking shores of Lake Como, traveling about by boat from one lake-side village to another. This is another entirely exceptional haven that you will love immediately and want to return to again.

Crucial Trip #4: Incomparable Capitals–London, Paris & Amsterdam

On this trip, you will divide your time, with five days each in three of the most extraordinary cities in the world, London, Paris and Amsterdam, each entirely distinct from the others. In London you will stay in a flat or hotel near Covent Garden, and learn “your neighborhood.” This will put you within a short walk of the Theater District (and the discount ticket booth at Leicester Square). So you will be able to take in two (or, better yet, three) superb London theater performances, with at least one of them performed at the rebuilt Globe Theater that harkens back to bawdiness of Shakespeare’s days.

At Covent Garden, you will delight in the ongoing troops of open-air performers–mimes and musicians, acrobats and jugglers–as well as the shops and stalls with every conceivable offering of craft and art, adornment and style. There will be time to explore the priceless collections of art in the museums, some of it created by British artists, but much of it appropriated from countries and cultures around the world. You will stand in awe before the magnificent Cathedrals of Westminster and St. Paul’s, then sit inside to soak in the peace, and possibly take in an organ performance. And you will travel the Thames, taking the London River Bus south to Greenwich, then north to Hampton Court Palace.

From London, you will travel by Eurostar to Paris, where you will immerse yourself for five days in the delights and senses, art and architecture, gardens and music of this remarkable city. Last you will move on to Amsterdam for five days, a feast of canals and canal houses, art and history, museums and music, outdoor cafés and markets. From Amsterdam, you will venture out to small neighboring towns with familiar names like Delft and Gouda. Your time in Amsterdam will fly by in a mirage of sights and sounds, stories and experiences, and priceless encounters with the affable Dutch.

Crucial Trip #5: The Dazzling South of France–Cote d’Azur, Provence & the French Alps

After landing in Paris, you will hop aboard the TGV (“Train a Grande Vitesse”—“train of great speed”), where you will doze away your jetlag in comfort while you traverse France at 200 mph in a little over three hours. But then, when the sparkling azure waters of the Mediterranean first burst into sight, you will snap into focus, and your train will slow to hug the coastline on its way to Nice for three nights. After Nice, you will move on by train to spend three nights in the enchanting small coastal town of Cassis, with its immaculate white stone market square, and its boat rides out to see the Calanques-towering limestone cliffs, rising straight up out of the Mediterranean Sea to heights approaching 2,000 feet.

Leaving Cassis, you will make your way back along the coast to Provence for three nights in the walled city of Avignon. Once the second city of the Popes, Avignon has its own “Pope’s Palace” and Cathedral, as well as its bridge of childhood song, pedestrian streets, and vast open squares, surrounded by cafés and restaurants and lined with trees.

Then you will travel north until you reach the French Alps, where you will spend three nights in lovely Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924 (elevation 3,320 – 15,780 feet). From high up in Chamonix, you will descend to Annecy for three nights, sometimes called the “Venice of the Alps” for its two canals and the Thiou river flowing through the old city. In this enticing town beside a stunning glacial lake, with its glorious backdrop of mountains, you will walk the narrow cobbled streets of Old Town and travel by boat or by bicycle to other small towns bordering the lake.

And So, Where to Begin

Where will you begin? When? Could you manage to take them independently? Should you? Can you afford to go? Can you afford not to?

Taking these questions in order… Where will you begin? Start with Trip #1: Fabled France. When? Plan to take this trip next year at the latest. Then take another trip each year from that point on (or, at the very least, one every two years).

Could you take these trips independently? And should you? Yes, you most definitely could manage to take them independently, and, yes, you should. Use a Great Trip to France guidebook to know exactly how to plan, arrange, prepare for and make each trip. Each book in the Great Trips series carries you fully through every stage and detail of the trip, from planning and preparing, to making arrangements and booking planes, trains and drivers, to budgets and packing, to arrival and orientation, to day-by-day guidance of what to do and when and how to do it, and how to have the full experience. You will have everything you need to make your own great trip, yet you will keep your freedom too.

Yes, you can afford to take the first of these trips, through some combination of saving and priority shifting. If taking the entire 15-day version of the trip is beyond reach, timewise and otherwise, then find a way to take half the trip in 8 days and save the other half for later.

And, no, you cannot “afford not to.” These are the trips of a lifetime that will become part of you and will change forever how you see life and the world. By making these trips, you will bring home stories and treasures, as well as changes in how you live your life from day to day.

Take it from a pair of habitual travelers… From Tremezzo on Lake Como, we brought home from market day the tablecloth we now use when we eat lunch in the little Italian Trattoria we have set up on our front porch. Many days we enjoy sea bass in a lemon butter sauce, with fresh spinach lightly sautéed in olive oil, just the way we liked it when we were sitting at a lake-side restaurant in Bellagio. We take time out from our busy work days to sit outside talking and laughing together, looking out across our front gardens, in the contented style we brought home with us from Italy and from France. And we turn on music first thing every morning, another habit change we adopted from our travels.

Once your perspectives and views have been broadened by travel, your eyes will be opened, and there will be no going back… nor would you want to. “As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do” (Zachary Scott).

How to Protect Your Personal Safety While Traveling in Europe

110Tourists from all countries flock to Europe for sightseeing and vacations. Before leaving on a trip to Europe, however, put some thought into your personal safety while oversees. Most of Europe is relatively safe for a travel destination compared to other places in the world, so many travelers do not think to take precautions. As a traveler, it is important to remember that you can’t be too careful. Do not worry too much, but do take the time to protect yourself when you travel to Europe as a tourist.

One important safety step that only a small percentage of travelers to Europe take advantage of is to register with your country’s embassy in each European destination. Travel safety does not only involve protecting our possessions or ourselves from crime but also consists of having a plan in the case of natural disasters or other unforeseen circumstances or if your trip does not go as planned. Protecting yourself involves having backup places to stay and people you can reach back home. If you register with the embassy, your family will have a way to contact you in the event of an emergency.

Before you leave for your trip, it is also important to check terror threats in the areas of Europe to which you are traveling. Europe has historically been safe for travelers, but lately there have been some terror threats regarding subway systems and other forms of transportation, so be sure to check into this before departing to each new destination.

Wherever you plan to travel in Europe, make sure you know who to go to in the event of an emergency or problem. Whenever you travel to a new country, there are a few things you need to know to be safe. Find out the emergency phone number for each area you will visit, make sure to know where the nearest police station is or somewhere you can go if you need help, and make sure you know where the nearest hospital is and how you will get there if needed.

If you travel to Europe alone, and even if you go in a pair or as a group, there are some steps you can take to make yourself safer. Establish a set contact person, or preferably more than one person, back home. Before you leave, give copies of your itinerary to everyone who is important. Make sure they know how to reach you if necessary, and make sure you have a plan to reach them. Think about the logistics of using your phone and email in Europe. If you are staying in hostels, you may have trouble accessing the Internet. Phone chargers must have adapters to convert to European outlets. Think about these things beforehand so that you always have a line of communication with home should something go wrong.

It never hurts to have a backup plan to deal with potential issues. A little planning before your trip can save a lot of trouble later. Much information is available regarding how to protect personal possessions, and money while traveling, but it is part of your personal safety as well to make sure you do not leave yourself without necessities in the event of a problem. It may be a smart idea to leave whichever credit cards or credit card information you do not take with you with someone you trust back at home. Should something happen to your money while in Europe, this person can reserve hotel rooms and other necessities for you.