Getting Away

I thought I would write a very short piece about booking holidays. I’m by no means an expert but I do have the very tragic hobby of looking up different hotel prices and flights/trains/boats/space craft for fun. Since speaking to a few people, it has come to my attention that not everyone knows about these things and this is perhaps why a lot of people still book via physical travel agents, even though this is rarely the best deal.

So, here is my advice;

You can generally snare a better deal by booking your flights and hotels separately. This may seem obvious to some and daunting to others but it’s true. There are excellent price comparison sites to help you do this, I normally use SkyScanner for my flights and Trivago for hotels but there are multiple options.

Prices will fluctuate during the course of the day/week. I haven’t managed to pinpoint the exact science of this, at what times things increase or decrease is still a mystery but my advice is to check prices several times over the course of a week before you book. I tend to find that antisocial hours give you the cheapest prices, for example, for my most recent booking flight prices were coming in at £87 during the daytime, however at 11:45 on a Wednesday evening, I managed to snag the same flights for just £30.

Some airports are cheaper to fly from than others (East Midlands is nearly always extortionate, for example) so I suggest putting a little bit of time into finding out the cost of getting to another airport. From my personal experience of living in the Midlands, I can verify that you can shave off more than £150 by travelling from Luton rather than the Midland airports. With the train only costing around £40 (petrol and parking around the same) and the journey only taking 30 minutes more, it’s a no-brainer for me.

Booking your hotel online also comes with the good feature of having the exact address, which means you can look up your proposed destination before you book to ensure it is exactly where you want to be. You can then use this to find out the distance from train stations, bus stops and calculate taxi costs before you commit, ensuring your trip runs smoothly. Or if you are as obsessive as me, you can use this information to look via google street view and see if you like the area/ check out the walk to your surrounding destinations, minimising any nasty surprises on arrival.

Finally, book your travel insurance the same day you book your flights. It’s worth doing, not only in the unlikely event that you take ill or have an accident while you’re away, but because if your flights are cancelled or you can no longer make the journey, you are covered long before you leave home. Also ensure to check the maximum excess for your insurance, this is the amount you will be expected to shell out if you make a claim. If the excess is £250 yet you only paid £300 for the holiday and are taking nothing of great value, it isn’t worth making the claim should you need to. There are plenty of companies who offer a max excess of £50, sometimes even less. Travel Insurance, like flights and hotels, is easily compared through a comparison site and these will list the pros and cons of each policy, so make sure you choose the right one for you.

Happy Travelling.

Gdansk


A Flying Visit.

Visiting this city came about when seeing the name on an Airport departure board and thinking, ‘Where on earth is that?’ After a quick google, I decided it was worth a closer look. I visited for 3 nights, and not really knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised.
Getting Around.

This was something I found very little information on before arriving so I thought I would write it here, in (no doubt) irritating detail. There are probably quicker ways to reach the centre from the airport but here is what I found;

Catch the 210 bus from the stop just outside the Airport. To find the stop, follow the blue line (which continues outside) and buy a ticket from the machine at said stop, which at the time of writing cost 3zl 20, these machines do give change.

Once on the bus, validate your ticket by entering it in one of the yellow boxes scattered around the bus and make sure you keep it as they are sometimes checked. The journey takes about an hour, keep an eye on the screens stating the names of the stops, the one you want for the city centre is Dworzec Goscinna, it drops you off outside the main Train Station. Getting back to the airport is much the same, you catch the 210 from the same place but, obviously, the opposite side of the road. Once again, you can buy a ticket from the bus stop and validate it on the bus.


What’s in Gdansk?

Well, as it turns out, quite a lot. Gdansk is a very interesting city from a historical point of view, it has been owned by Germany and Poland as well as being an independent state. It took a hammering during the Second World War and is the birthplace of the Solidarity movement. There are several museums documenting its history, in fact you could spend weeks just exploring the various museums, but only having a short time, I opted for the WW2 museum. This is a fascinating and sombre place, built mostly underground. It states allowing 3 hours to see everything but you could easily spend longer, there is a large collection of memorabilia including uniforms, film footage and personal stories, giving you a powerful insight into Polish life at the time. I would suggest multiple trips to retain all the information as there is a lot to take in. Also, on Tuesdays they offer free entry.

One of the most famous exports from this part of the world is Amber, known as Baltic Gold. With this in mind, I had to visit the Amber museum. This is housed in an incredibly old building (so watch your step) which was also once used as a prison, so you get two exhibitions for the price of one. The display includes a mix of incredible amber sculptures and raw amber, with inclusions such as ancient plants, insects and even a lizard. There is also the option to pay a small fee on top of the price of your ticket and view the city from the observation room at the top of the building.

If all that Amber wasn’t enough, there is an entire street dedicated to the substance. Mariacka street, just behind the main shopping street, it a little gem of Amber shops and the number one place to bag yourself a souvenir. There is a wide selection of jewellery and other small pieces, the shops spill out into the small street, giving it a lively market feel. Even if you’re not in the mood to buy, walking down it is a lovely experience. There is a slight warning against plastic replicas, I would suggest, comparing the prices of various stalls and if something seems to good to be true, it probably is. You could however, purchase a reasonably sized Amber necklace for around £30.

Motlawa is the beautiful harbour that cuts through Gdansk. Among the row of shops, bars and restaurants, the famous Crane, dominates the skyline and a fully functioning pirate ship is a regular feature. A lovely place for a leisurely evening stroll.

The main Dulga street, is a one stop place for shopping, relaxing and entertainment. It houses stunning architecture and a wide selection of places to eat, drink and shop, as well as being home to the Hard Rock Cafe where you can do all three. The prices are insanely low and the food is spectacular, so I would definitely recommend it for both budding and seasoned foodies.


An Honourable Mention.

As it was such a short visit and with minimal research beforehand, there were a few points of interest in the surrounding area that I would have liked to visit. The Stutthof concentration camp, a few hours journey from Gdansk and regular tours are arranged from the city centre. Also to complete the tricity area, the cities of Gdynia and Sopot, had the weather been in my favour, I would have given these beach towns some time.


Worth A Visit?

Definitely. The place has a good vibe, although perhaps not as polished as some other European cities in terms of tourism, I think this is part of its charm. This is definitely an up and coming place with a colourful history, great food and low prices. Perfect for a long weekend, easy getaway. I can’t wait to get back and scratch more than the surface.

Copenhagen

Me Me Me
I have visited this amazing city a couple of times, at Christmas and over Halloween, two holidays the Danes seem to take very seriously. Both were fabulous experiences and the ‘hygge’ was in the air as soon as I stepped off the train. The people walked around with smiles on their faces, (why wouldn’t they?) the whole city seemed cared for and warm, despite the odd patch of drizzle.
I don’t have a first hand account of how it feels/what goes on in the spring and summer months but I am sure I will be updating this at some point soon when I invade the vikings once more.


Favourite Bits
So what did I like the most? Other than just generally meandering and shopping, (I have something of a developed a critical Skagen addiction – Seriously incredible, stylish jewellery) Copenhagen offers a wealth of activities, far more than can be enjoyed on two trips, but here are my favourites so far.

The Cisterns
A disused underground reservoir turned art installation in Frederiksberg. Filled with imposing, gothic arches and sprawling into the dark, it gives the impression of a beautiful underground cathedral, it must be seen to be believed.

Frederiksberg Palace
Just above the cisterns, sits the breathtaking Frederiksberg palace. An impressive, yellow fronted building, with equally beautiful grounds. On a bright, frosty day it was the perfect place for a wander in the outdoors. Definitely my happy place.

Visit Carlsberg
Nice beer and an interesting museum, what more can you ask for? A bar and restaurant on site, I hear you say? Visit Carlsberg has you covered and also throws in a sculpture garden, complete with Little Mermaid replica, for good measure.

Nyhavn
Arguably the most iconic area of Copenhagen, rows of colourful buildings lining the boat filled canal. The choice of multiple cafes, restaurants and shops to enjoy a leisurely afternoon or evening. It is also the top spot to join a sightseeing boat tour, if you wish to view the city from the water.

Tivoli Gardens
Another popular choice, but for good reason. Opening in 1843 and stated as the inspiration for Disneyland it is home to one of the oldest operational wooden rollercoasters. Like the majority of Copenhagen, it has a lovely atmosphere and is decorated to the nines for both Halloween and Christmas. Open until late it is, in my opinion, best experienced at night when thousands of lights illuminate the place. It’s not all about the rides, you can shop and eat to your heart’s content, although I would perhaps recommend the food stalls or the newly opened Tivoli Food Hall as some of the restaurants can require a small mortgage to dine in.

Christmas Markets
If you are lucky enough to visit the area over the Christmas period, which generally starts in late November, you cannot avoid the multiple Christmas markets. These are full of Christmas spirit and seem to spring up throughout the city, full to the brim with potential gifts, tipples and taste sensations, a perfect start to the festive season. A must-try for me is definitely Aebleskiver, a Danish Christmas tradition and somewhere between a pancake and a doughnut, often served with jam, truly delicious.


Some Extra Info
If you are remotely concerned about travelling from the airport to your hotel/around the city, don’t be. It couldn’t be easier, there is a train station in the airport which is very well signposted, and has trains departing every 20 minutes or so, to the very centre of the city. (Literally opposite Tivoli gardens) These pass and travel on to the other surrounding areas and carry on until well into the night. Tickets can also be purchased via machines in the airport.
A Copenhagen card is also worth considering, depending on what you want to achieve during your visit, these allow free, unlimited access to trains, metros and buses as well as discounted or free entry to multiple attractions. Although I found most locations were easily walkable, in bad weather public transport can be useful.
I stayed, on both occasions, at the incredible Ascot Hotel. It is a stones throw from the central trainstation, tivoli gardens and city centre, reasonably priced, great food and generally fabulous. My only winge is that they don’t offer a kettle in standard rooms but you can’t have everything, so if you love a cup of tea, as I do, maybe bring your own.
An attraction that I haven’t mentioned yet is The Little Mermaid statue. I have much the same opinion as most of the visitors to the city, a bit of a disappointment once you get there but probably something you want to tick off the bucket list. Quite a long way from the city centre it is an interesting walk if you take the route through the Amalienborg Palace, so not a wasted journey.
Similarly with the free state Christiana, I wasn’t overly impressed, a bit more run down than the hippy haven I had in my mind but if the inhabitants and other guests love it then it really isn’t my business.
A great way to get around the city is as the locals do, by bike. There seem to be more bikes than people in this city and they are easily rent-able. Make sure when walking you stay out of the cycle lanes, and always wait for the green man when crossing the street or you may meet some disgruntled locals.

Venice – July/August 2018

Our Hotel

If you are looking for a newly built, minimalist Premier Inn, then mainland Venice is probably not for you. If you expect a quirky but comfortable room, jam packed with character in a charming old city, you’re in the right place.

We stayed in a lovely example of the latter called Ca’ Pedrocchi, a few minutes walk from San Marco, Rialto Bridge and The Grand Canal. A stones throw from the San Marco and Santa Maria Giglio ferry stops (from the Giglio stop there is only one bridge to wrestle your suitcase over) at a very reasonable price.

Which brings me to my first top tip:

Don’t bring a big suitcase unless 100% necessary.

Venice is definitely not a place that is sympathetic to the plight of a traveller, narrow, cobbled streets, bridges every six feet and thousands of tourists make it a nightmare to cart around a big case. It may be tempting to bring enough space to ship back your various purchases but in my opinion, it’s not worth the stress.

And here comes my second top tip (I can feel myself aging as I type it):

Plan your route.

It may be incredibly boring, but Venice is a maze of tiny streets and it only takes one wrong turn for you to become hopelessly lost. Although the main sights are relatively well signposted, the rest is not, so make sure you know where you’re going before you set off.

The City

If you are planning to visit the main sights during the high season be prepared to queue. If you are staying in the city, I recommend visiting both St Mark’s Square and Rialto Bridge either early morning or late at night to avoid the sardine impression. It is also worth noting that the square is particularly beautiful at night and has multiple musical acts playing until late.

If you fancy a drink or snack whilst soaking in the ambiance, although some of the prices can be reasonable to take away, be prepared for hefty cover charges should you want to sit down.

Get lost.

The best way to see Venice is to wander. While getting lost with a suitcase in tow is one of life’s most depressing experiences, when you have nowhere specific to be, this is the way you will see the real heart of Venice and make some amazing finds.

Retail Therapy

Second only to the stunning architecture and history, the main reason to visit Venice has to be the shopping. It is home to some of the most stunning shops on the planet, at both high end and budget prices.

A couple of my favourites were Nino and Friends, a gorgeous chocolate shop with multiple free samples that I defy you not to spend a small fortune in, and La Bottega Dei Mascareri an incredible hand-made, mask shop with a celebrity clientele just off the Rialto Bridge.

The Islands

Whilst on our break we took half a day out for an island tour with the local Alilguana service. We visited Murano, including a glass blowing demonstration, Burano and Torcello.

I would recommend this tour at only €18 per person, although you don’t get long on each island, you do get a flavour of them all, as well as some interesting history of the area while you travel.

If you are only interested in the glass blowing demonstration, you can travel to Murano without booking a tour and most of the glass factories will offer a free demonstration.

Be aware that during the high season it will be hot hot hot.

Take A Break

Italy has some of the best food on the planet, and Venice is no exception. You would have to go a fairly long way to find somewhere in the city that is completely inedible and with bars and restaurants every few feet, finding a snack is one of the easiest things to do.

Particularly in the areas around St Mark’s Square, be prepared to pay a cover charge for the privilege of sitting down, although most are only a few euros.

If you fancy a quick bite, there are various small shops that offer multiple pastries and other delicious, hand-sized morcels to take away.

Some of the places I recommend are, Caffe Brasilia in the San Marco region, great for breakfast (if you can find a space) and with no cover charge. And The Hard Rock Café, a bit pricey but a great ambiance and one of the only places with decent air conditioning.

Getting Around

Venice is a fairly small island and is very accessible on foot, this is also the most interesting way to see the city.

The Vaporetto service is very reliable if not cramped, but it can get pricey so if you are planning multiple journeys, a travel card may be for you.

From the airport there is a direct ferry service with Alilguana that takes around an hour and runs at regular intervals along four different routes.

Water taxis are arguably the easiest but definitely most costly mode of transportation. However if you are travelling in a group, or fancy splashing out, this could be an option.

Links

Alilaguna Travel Service:

https://www.alilaguna.it/en

La Bottega Dei Mascareri:

http://mascarer.com/

Nino and Friends:

https://www.ninoandfriends.it/

Ca’ Pedrocchi:

http://www.capedrocchi.com/