A new place to spend euros: Estonia

One of the greatest boons to travelers in recent years is the expanding eurozone. Gone are the days when you spent a few days in France, then wasted money getting your francs exchanged into lire in order to visit Italy. There were always a few odd coins left over that ended up sitting useless in the sock drawer.

At the start of 2011, Estonia has become the 17th country to join the eurozone. The kroon will soon become a memory as the old currency is phased out.

While this is good news for travelers carrying euros, it could carry a hint of future trouble. Many countries that adopted the euro saw prices rise as shopkeepers rounded up in the exchange. This is what happened in Spain, and prices never stopped rising. What used to be a budget travel destination soon became almost as expensive as the rest of Europe. Living in Madrid I’m constantly hearing Spaniards complain about how much more expensive things are these days.

Estonia has also become a budget travel destination in recent years. The Baltic republic may be small with only 1.3 million people, but it has an interesting history, some beautiful countryside, and a distinct culture. Hopefully it won’t get too expensive to experience all that.

Don’t pay in dollars – International travel tip

Like it or not, the gold standard for international currency payment is now the Euro.

The United States Dollar is still being used, but it doesn’t hold the prestige it once did. There was a time when you could purchase goods at a great discount if you paid with hundred dollar bills. However, nowadays, merchants will increase their base price and round up figures to give you can even dollar amount. Merchants do not want $5 dollar or $10 bills. Whatever you pay will be rounded to the next $20.

So pay with local currency — or pay with Euros.

Counterpoint: Bring American dollar bills – International travel tip

Spain to be home to Europe’s largest casino

Spain’s lottery market is one of the largest in the world; it is home to the world’s fattest Christmas draw (El Gordo) that amounts to Euro2.20 billion(!), the country has slot-machines in almost every bar, and countless mini-casinos in every city.

I don’t know what the scene is like in other European countries, but trying your luck at some sort of gambling on a daily basis can totally be considered part of Spanish culture and tradition. With the high variety and demand of national and local level daily ‘money-winning’ opportunities in the country, gambling has often, and rightly, been called a national obsession.

So, it is no surprise that Spain has just declared building what will be Europe’s largest casino resort in Zaragoza — the 5th largest Spanish metropolitan that is located about 200 miles from Madrid. Tentatively called “Gran Escala” (Grand Scale), this ‘Vegas’ will cover 5000 acres, include 32 hotels and 5 theme parks.

A few years ago, the estimated amount spent on gambling by Spaniards was Euro22.68 billion, with older figures showing that every Spaniard spent Euro435 annually on the same. The country’s gambling market is expected to grow to Euro39 billion by 2010.

I guess everyone would love to sweep the table in a game of poker or win the lottery and never have to work again; here Spaniards try day-in-day-out to make that dream into a reality.

Be Respectful or Face a Fine in Venice

A while back, I wrote about vendors in Venice jacking up the price of goods for rude tourists. Now it appears as if the people of Venice are taking it a step further and implementing fines for tourists who don’t respect the rules of the city. And these fines can range from 25 to 500 euros — ouch! The city is being patrolled by t-shirted stewards who will alert police if the rules are broken. So far, 100 tourists have been fined.

Punishable crimes include laying out food, walking about bare-chested or treating the Grand Canal like a beach, and implementing fines is the city’s effort to uphold its image as a mecca of fine art and sophistication. Still, I don’t see what’s wrong with having an innocent picnic every now and then …