French Given Etiquette Manual To Combat Rudeness

paris eiffel tower
Gary Cycles, Flickr

French tourism authorities desperate to overhaul the country’s reputation are handing out a manual aimed at teaching locals how to be polite to foreigners. France is the number one tourist destination in the world with nearly 30 million people visiting the capital in the past year; however, many foreigners leave Paris feeling snubbed by the locals.

The unhelpful tone and attitude used by shopkeepers or the unwillingness to speak English to tourists has earned the French a reputation for rudeness causing tourism bureaus to fear they will start losing visitors to friendlier cities in Europe.

The six-page booklet “Do You Speak Touriste?” teaches locals how to greet foreigners in a number of different languages and explains some of the cultural peculiarities of various nationalities. This includes referring to Brits by their first names, welcoming Italians with a firm handshake and greeting the Chinese (who are described as “fervent shoppers”) with a smile and a “Ni Hao.“Around 30,000 copies of the etiquette guide have been handed out to wait staff, taxi drivers, hotel managers, retail sales staff and other Parisians who regularly come into contact with tourists.

This is not the first attempt to encourage the French to be more polite to visitors – just last year the Parisian transport authority launched an ad campaign to end rudeness, and back in 2008, a group of locals set up a meet and greet service designed to showcase the friendlier side of the local folk. Five years on, the effort to combat rudeness continues… old habits, it seems, die hard.

International Budget Guide 2013: Athens, Greece

For budget travelers, there’s never been a better time to visit the Greek capital. Despite being on the Euro, the country’s debt crisis has made this popular tourist center dramatically more affordable than the balance of the European Union, making once expensive resorts now surprisingly reasonable.

As unemployment and other economic problems take their toll, Greeks have all but stopped taking vacations, which means most of the city’s tourism bookings rely on foreigners. Unfortunately, many visitors have been scared off by the tide of uncertainty. Fears of a Greek exit from the euro zone and strikes and demonstrations in Athens caused many potential visitors to cancel their bookings – in the first half of last year, the number of tourists visiting fell 9%.

The silver lining to this distress is that for the budget-conscious, it presents a great opportunity. Tourism is the backbone of the Greek economy making up more than 16% of GDP, so the travel industry is bending over backwards to welcome travelers. Hotels, which lost 10-12% in profits last year, have had to drop their prices dramatically to attract tourists. Visiting Athens now means fewer crowds and better deals than ever before.

Athens is also the jumping off point for travel to the Greek Islands. Like the country’s capital, the islands have also seen a reduction in the number of tourists and have had to lower their prices accordingly. As an added bonus, the strikes, demonstrations and closures that occasionally afflict the capital are not really felt in the islands.

Activities

The New Acropolis Museum. This modern structure opened a few years back but it’s actually one of the few newer developments in a city that has dramatically cut back spending. Even if you’ve visited Athens before, the New Acropolis Museum provides an excellent reason to return. The beautifully curated exhibition details the historical and archaeological significance of the Acropolis and is a great primer for a visit to the ruins. The museum also hosts various temporary exhibits, and this year visitors can see the caryatids – sculptures of Greek women who form part of an Acropolis temple known as the Erechtheion – being restored. Earlier this year, the museum also launched a series of workshops during which visitors can learn about ancient technology, modern preservation techniques and the production of replicas. The workshops, which are run by archeologists and conservationists, are free with museum entry on a first come first served basis. At 5 euro for entry (or 3 euro for reduced admission) the museum is a great value.

The Antikythera shipwreck exhibit. The National Archaeological Museum already boasts some of the most important artworks and artifacts from ancient Greece, and this temporary exhibit provides another compelling reason to visit. The Antikythera Mechanism is an ancient astronomical instrument that was lost for 2000 years when the Roman ship it was on sunk in the Aegean Sea. Experts have only recently come to understand the complexity of the mechanism, which has been referred to as the “world’s first computer.” The shipwreck exhibit is on display until August 31st and is free with museum entry, which costs 7 euro (3 euro reduced admission).

See a performance at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Situated on the slopes of the Acropolis, this ancient amphitheater comes to life as orchestral concerts, operas, plays, and dance performances take place during the warmer months. Spectators are provided with cushions to place on the tiered, marble seating of the amphitheater, which makes for a spectacular backdrop. Previous performances have included the Athens State Orchestra, a German contemporary dance troupe, and a tribute to Greek folk music. Tickets start at around 15 euro for seats in the upper tiers. Check out a schedule here.

Hotels

Athens Backpackers. Centrally located just a few minutes from the Acropolis metro station, this hostel offers easy access to all the main sights. Accommodation includes self-contained apartments as well as dorm rooms with access to a fully equipped kitchen. The hostel is air-conditioned and boasts a sports bar as well as a rooftop bar that is open during the warmer months. From 17 euro for a dorm bed, including free breakfast and Wi-Fi. backpackers.gr 12 Makri St, Makrygianni.

City Circus Athens. Located a five minute walk from Monastiraki Square, this budget accommodation option is found in a 20th century mansion complete with frescoed ceilings. The atmospheric hostel has been decked out with reclaimed furniture and was decorated by local street artists. There are a range of room types, including dorm beds and doubles with private bathrooms. Guests receive free breakfast and Wi-Fi and have access to a roof terrace with Acropolis views. From 16 euro for a dorm bed. citycircus.gr 16 Sarri St, Psirri.

Hotel Amazon. If you want to step it up a notch and stay in a hotel, this is a great budget option. Located right by Syntagma Square, the hotel is an easy walk to the popular Plaka area and most tourist sights. The establishment, which is part of the Best Western chain, has been recently renovated and provides guests with television, Internet and breakfast. The only drawback is that some of the rooms do get quite a bit of street noise. Official rates start at 80 euro for a double, but you can often find deals in the 40-60 euro range through secondary hotel booking sites such as trivago.com or opodo.co.uk. amazonhotel.gr 19 Mitropoleos & Penelis St, Syntagma.

Restaurants

Kostas. This hole-in-the-wall restaurant serves up juicy souvlaki at bargain prices and the long line out the door is a sure sign of its popularity. The closet-sized eatery is located in the same square as the Agia Irini church, and diners can either take the food to go, or eat it at one of the standing room only tables located outside in the small plaza. A serving of souvlaki or kebabs topped in a rich and spicy tomato sauce will fill you up for around 2 euro. 2 Plateia Agia Irini, Monastiraki.

Mani Mani. Located in the leafy Makrygianni neighborhood close to the New Acropolis Museum, this restaurant serves up food traditional to the Peloponnesian region of Mani. The restaurant is tucked away on the 2nd floor of an unassuming building, but once inside, there’s an open kitchen and warm, modern vibe. Dishes have a haute cuisine feel and include a type of traditional pasta known as chilopites, a pork belly cooked for 17 hours, and a desert flavored with mastic liqueur from the islands. Mains cost around 10 euro, but most plates are also available in half portions for half the price. manimani.com.gr 10 Falirou St, Makrygianni.

Tzitzikas & Mermigas. Despite being in the heart of Athens and close to the tourist sites, this restaurant seems to attract a large local clientele. The décor has a kitsch feel with shelves of jarred and canned goods lining the walls. Butcher’s paper covers the old-school wooden tables and you’ll find your silverware stashed inside drawers beneath them. Dishes include saganaki (cheese fried in olive oil and spices), traditional greek salads, and chicken with a mastika sauce. The mezedes (small plates of food) cost around 5-10 euro and diners are treated to a free shot of ouzo. Be sure to check out the unusual tomato can sinks in the bathrooms before you leave. 12-14 Mitropoleos St, Syntagma.

Logistics

Getting Around

If you’re staying in the downtown area of Athens, you’ll find many of the tourist sites are easily accessed on foot. For traveling longer distances, the metro is cheap and efficient. Individual tickets are good for multiple trips within 90 minutes of being validated in the machines at the train stations. Tickets cost 1.40 euro from the vending machines and can be used on buses as well. While you’re at the metro stations, keep an eye out for artifacts that are on display – these were found while the metro was being constructed.

You can also get to the international airport via metro although you need a special ticket that costs 8 euro. Buses to the airport also depart from Syntagma Square. Tickets cost 5 euro and are available from the bus driver.

Seasonality

Summer is the peak travel season and hotels raise their rates (sometimes doubling them) during this period. The temperature in Athens can also shoot into the high 90s and beyond, making sightseeing feel like an exhausting Olympic sport. But if those things don’t deter you, summer is a great time to visit with the Hellenic Festival taking place – the summer arts event that involves music, theater, and cultural programs. However, for those who prefer lower prices and milder temperatures, the best times to visit are spring and fall when the mercury hovers around 70 F.

Safety

Like with most large cities, you should beware of pickpockets, especially when traveling on packed buses and trains. At night, some parts of the city can feel a little unsavory. While most tourist haunts such as the popular Plaka area are fine, it’s best to steer clear of Omonia.

Given the economic unrest in Greece, you should be careful when sightseeing near the parliament building on Syntagma Square, which is often the site of demonstrations. While it’s still safe to visit this area, it’s a good idea to keep abreast of the latest political developments to avoid getting caught up in any potentially violent protests.

Lastly, it’s worth being aware that Greece has been cracking down on illegal immigration and recently made headlines after a number of tourists got caught in the net.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Panoramas]

An Insider’s Guide To Exploring Uppsala, Sweden

Most people that go to Sweden for their first time head to Stockholm, a beautiful city that is well worth a visit. But just outside of Stockholm you will find another Scandinavian gem: Uppsala. It’s a university town, and founded in 1477, the university is the oldest in Scandinavia. The fourth largest city in Sweden, Uppsala has managed to keep its quaint feel, the center a mixture of cobblestone streets, old architecture, and local residents on bicycles.

For me, Uppsala is a combination of cozy cafes and brightly colored houses. Although it is big in population, the city center feels small and welcoming, and because it’s a university town there’s plenty to do.

You could spend several days in Uppsala, but if you have the time for a day trip or two from Stockholm, here are a few things that I never miss when I am there. And although traveling to Sweden isn’t necessarily “budget travel” (you can blame that on the exchange rate) these things are all reasonably priced and/or free.

What to see

Domkyrkan – Uppsala Cathedral

You can’t go to Uppsala without visiting the cathedral. It dates back to the 13th century, and in the middle of town, its spires stand high above the rooftops – it’s no surprise that it’s the tallest church building in Scandinavia. It is an active cathedral, with not only the traditional mass, but also presentations and concerts. Every Saturday there is a free concert offered in the afternoon – well worth a visit. Domkyrkoplan, www.uppsaladomkyrka.se

Botaniskaträdgården – Botanical Gardens

The oldest botanical garden in Sweden, Botaniska Trädgården was founded in 1655 and was originally used for teaching students about botany and pharmacy. Today the gardens extend over 34 acres with some 11,000 species from all over the world. The original garden is today called Linneträdgården, Linnaeus’ Garden. Here you will find a museum and a cafe. Entrance to the Botanical Gardens is free (except for the tropical greenhouse which is 40 SEK) and entrance to Linnaeus’ Garden is 60 SEK. www.botan.uu.se

Gamla Uppsala – Old Uppsala

Take a bus out to Gamla Uppsala (Old Uppsala) for a feel of ancient Viking times. Just outside of central Uppsala, Gamla Uppsala is a historical site that has. During the Iron Age, this site was home to an established society as well as a place with religious importance. Gamla Uppsala’s main draw are its great Royal Mounds, three large mounds that stick out of the ground and are covered in grass. There was much speculation as to their significance, but in 1846 an archeological dig showed that it was in fact a burial ground. The identities of the people buried inside are unknown, but they were certainly people of importance. At the local Gamla Uppsala Museum you can learn more about the history of the area and the Royal Mounds (entry fee is 60 SEK). The site is perfect if you want an outdoor getaway; there is a nice selection of trails making for a good walk or run, perfectly free of charge. After a walk, grab lunch or coffee at Cafe Odinsborg.

Godsmagasinet

In between the train station and the concert hall, Godsmagasinet is a design and craft gallery, featuring local artists. There are textiles, ceramics, jewelry and clothing, and if you are interested in Swedish design, this should be the first stop on your list. Explore the gallery and then grab a cup of coffee and an open faced sandwich in the cafe that’s located in the building. Rosalgsgatan 1, www.godsmagasinet.nu

Ulvakvarn

Just outside of Gamla Uppsala you will find Ulva Kvarn, Kvarn means “mill” in English, and sitting right on the Fyris River, Ulva Kvarn was in use as a watermill from the early 1300s all the way until 1960. Today you can visit the old mill house, built in 1759, but there is also an entire collection of local artisan studios on site, making and selling traditional Swedish goods from blacksmiths to jewelry makers. There is also a good cafe on site, so it makes for a perfect day trip from Uppsala to go and explore the countryside. Ulva Kvarn, www.ulvakvarn.com

Where to eat

There is nothing more Swedish than coffee and a baked good. Here are some of my favorite cozy cafes around the city.

Cafe Kardemumma

Located inside Uppsala’s library, Kardemumma is a quiet cafe in the middle of town. It has a quaint outdoor courtyard that’s very enjoyable in the summertime. They bake their own bread, and source much of their ingredients for sandwiches and salads locally. Try one of their chokladbollar. Svartbäcksgatan 17.

Cafe Linne Hörnan

An old fashioned styled cafe, Cafe Linne Hörnan is like stepping into a Swedish cafes from several decades ago. They serve breakfast, lunch and the traditional Swedish coffee break, fika, which means you can choose from a wide array of baked goods and classic Swedish cakes. Svartbäcksgatan 22, www.cafelinne.com

Ofvandals Hovkonditori

My mother ate here when she was a student at Uppsala University, and the decor and menu have barely changed. This bakery and cafe is an iconic Uppsala destination – it has been there since the late 1800s – and if you want a taste of traditional Swedish cakes, this is the place to go. Sysslomansgatan 5, www.ofvandahls.se

Getting there

Getting to Uppsala from Stockholm takes 55 minutes on the train, just enough time to enjoy the scenery and drink a cup of coffee. Because it’s a common commuter line, there are frequent departures and tickets can be purchased at the Stockholm central station. A one-way ticket costs between 80-100 SEK (about $12-15).

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[Photo Credit: Anna Brones]

Gadling Guide Review: Bradshaw’s 1862 Guide To London

George Bradshaw was responsible for the development of a series of railway timetables that were an icon of British Victorian travel – they’re mentioned by Sherlock Holmes, Phileas Fogg and there was a 1876 music hall song called “Bradshaw’s Guide.”

I reached my destination, and was going to alight
When she placed her hand upon my arm, and said with much affright
‘Oh Dear Sir, don’t leave me, all alone to ride
What shall I do without you and the Bradshaw’s Guide.’

If you’re fond of Baedeker’s Guides – the essential red, leather-bound book that’s also an icon of the Grand Tour years of travel – you may also find the Bradshaw appealing. You probably want a vintage one, sold for a pretty penny on eBay, perhaps, but for a mere tenner, you can pick up a reissue of “Bradshaw’s Illustrated Hand Book to London and its Environs.”

A new version of this isn’t going to have the magical ticket stubs or marked pages that one that’s been used in the late 1800s would have, but it does have the pretty little engravings of London’s monuments. It’s got the cramped, hard to read type of 1800s guidebooks, exhaustive details and information that has zero value for today’s traveler – though it would be an amusing exercise to travel with this book as a guide.

What I love about it, though, is what I love about all old guidebooks – the practical information for travelers of another time. Current guidebooks put this stuff at the front; in the Bradshaw’s London guide, it’s all in the back.

There’s an entire section devoted to London churches, complete with the names of their ministers. There are several pages of postal regulations. The table of money for all nations does not include all nations by a long shot, but it does include Prussian, a nation, which no longer exists. There’s a list of “Dissenting Chapels,” begging the question: what is a dissenting chapel? The “Places Worth Seeing” section is alphabetical and lacks description, but opens with cemetery Abney Park. (I looked it up elsewhere; it does indeed seem to be worth seeing, still.)

It’s fun to open the book at random, pick a location, and then, turn to the web to see if it’s still in existence today. This reissue of Bradshaw’s Guide to London is not going to help you if you’re walking around modern London – it neglects to include even one map – but if you’d like to take a virtual tour and do some time travel as well, it’s good fun.

“Bradshaw’s 1862 Guide to London” is available on Amazon for about $10.

[Image: Crystal Palace, London, 1851 via Wikimedia Commons]

National Geographic Television Casting New Adventure Series

National Geographic Television is looking to cast its new seriesNational Geographic Television has put out an intriguing casting call for a new adventure series that is set to go into production in the near future. The network is seeking an experienced adventurer to join its cast and the job description certainly isn’t one that you’ll find in the local classifieds. That description reads as follows:

National Geographic seeking to hire a multi-disciplinary team leader with multiple extreme and expert outdoor skills to guide challenging field expeditions around the world. Must be experienced navigating through remote areas, able to handle rapidly changing situations, passionate about exploration and adventure, and as comfortable on camera as in the field. Full-time employment with a minimum one-year contract. Be prepared to inspire a team and have the experience of a lifetime.

If interested, please email us at NGTeamLeader@gmail.com and let us know about why you’re perfect for the job. Make sure to include your name, contact information, and a photo and/or video links. (Submissions without photos or video WILL NOT be considered.) U.S. passport and enthusiasm required.

Beyond that, not much is known about the new series or the job itself, but it sounds like there is something interesting coming our way soon.

Do you have the qualifications necessary to join the team? If so, fire up that email and send in your resume. Who knows, you just might become the next big reality TV star.