Traveling by Rail in Europe on Your Luxury Travel Vacation

114One new popular way to explore Europe on luxury vacations is by rail. This travel trend is growing in leaps and bounds.

With the emergence of the European Train Network, trains are becoming the preferred mode of travel. Often chosen over air travel, trains are a great option for those interested in seeing multiple cities or countries in just one vacation.

The European Train Network

Trains are a convenient mode of short, medium and long distance travel across Europe. Western and central Europe has a dense and widely used railway network spanning the entire continent. With over twenty countries and five-hundred cities, this rail network can literally supply eager luxury world cruise travelers with a comprehensive view of Europe’s interior. Trains on the network are also great for short jaunts around your country of choice. These European trains are fast, reliable and depart and arrive approximately every half hour. With the European Train Network, travelers of can travel to capital cities and charming, forgotten towns.

Trains Versus Flying

Travelers on luxury vacations are out to consider trains as an alternative to flying. Trains have more spacious and comfortable interiors than most airplanes, offering you a more comfortable way to travel. Trains in Europe will allow you to take advantage of scenic routes and allow you a new way to experience the beautiful countryside. You will also avoid the long waits in security at airports. The railway stations are usually located in or very close to the center of the city, whereas airports can be up to 100 km away from the city’s center. Trains have more of a romantic feel than airplanes. Train tickets that are booked in advance are also a bit cheaper. The developing train technology makes the train usually the same speed as airplanes, especially when you calculated the needed time to check in early and go through security. Plus, if you miss the train, you can take another one in about thirty minutes.

With so many great reasons to go, European train travel has become a leading way to explore the interior of Europe for travelers on a luxury travel vacation. Besides the air of romantic hype that has developed around rail travel, it has simply become extremely practical. New technologies have evolved into an extensive European Train Network, which offers stops in most European countries and hundreds of cities. Train travel has become preferable to air travel because of the better availability, the better location stops, the speed and the price. Experience the joys of European train travel.

When Is Europe Not Europe?

113Holiday destinations in countries such as Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco are very popular. When purchasing travel insurance for your trip or holiday it may not occur to you that some of these destinations may not be categorised under ‘Europe’ for insurance purposes. For example, an insurer may not include Turkey or Egypt as part of Europe under their policies, which means that you would be required to purchase a ‘Worldwide’ policy in order to be covered for travel in those areas.

Next time you purchase travel insurance on the Internet pay attention to the box with a question mark [?] next to the drop-down menu under the section marked ‘Area’ or ‘Destination’ or similar wording in the ‘Obtain a Quote’ section. The drop-down menu usually gives a choice, which will be worded differently from company to company and may include any of the following:

  • Europe
  • Worldwide (excluding USA/Canada)
  • Worldwide (including USA/Canada)
  • Australia and New Zealand

It is very important that you select the correct area for your travels, and always double-check that any individual company or insurer does not exclude your destination country from that geographical area. This issue has come under scrutiny recently regarding cover for Turkey and Egypt, and whether the countries are categorised as part of Europe for travel insurance purposes.

Individual insurance companies and underwriters may rate destinations differently, so never assume they are all the same. It is important to make use of the [?] box when obtaining a quote online, and check that you have purchased the correct cover for your destination before you press ‘Buy’. If you purchase insurance over the phone you will be asked for your destination country or countries and the correct cover will be applied automatically.

Insurance underwriters typically rate a geographical area based on a combination of factors, including:

  • Civil stability
  • Any potential threat to tourism
  • The cost of medical treatment and repatriation

Many travellers may find geographical areas and the way insurers rate them and their associated risks very confusing. Take North Africa for example: Libya, Tunisia and Algeria are neighbours, geographically speaking, and yet Tunisia may be the only country of the three that is classified as being within Europe for insurance purposes.

Most companies make a differentiation between Worldwide cover that includes the USA and Canada, and Worldwide cover that excludes the USA and Canada. The premium is obviously higher for Worldwide cover, and often even higher for Worldwide cover that includes the USA and Canada (mainly because of the astronomical cost of medical care and repatriation).

It would come as a huge shock to have a medical emergency while overseas and then discover too late that your insurer will not cover your claims because you chose the incorrect area of travel when you purchased the insurance.

Most travel insurance companies do automatically include popular holiday destinations such as the Canary Islands, the Azores, Tunisia, Turkey, Madeira, and Egypt under Europe – but always check.

Eligible travellers in Europe holding the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) should also do their research and be aware of whether or not the EHIC covers them for their holiday destination. For example: although Turkey is in Europe, it is not a part of the European Union (at the time of writing) and therefore the EHIC is not valid.

The EHIC should never be used as a substitute for travel insurance, but carried in addition to your insurance. The reason for this is because the EHIC has limited cover, and while it should cover most costs for any emergency medical treatment it can vary from country to country. However, the EHIC does not cover many other potentially expensive travel problems, such as lost or stolen luggage, liability claims, legal costs, or the need for air ambulance and medical repatriation (to fly you back home, perhaps on a stretcher and with a medical escort – all very costly).

The standard rule of thumb for most insurers has traditionally been that Europe includes all countries in Europe ‘west of the Ural Mountains’. However, individual insurers may at any time decide to change their territorial limits or boundaries based on the amount of claims they receive for those destinations in relation to the number of policies sold.

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.