Budget Travel Tips for Europe

budget-friendly travel europePractical, how-to budget travel advice is indispensible. There’s something particularly valuable about travel advice that opposes the emphasis on expensive hotels and other forms of high-end consumption that characterizes the contemporary travel media, perhaps especially in regions like Europe where costs are generally quite high.

Budget-friendly travel in Europe is no impossible dream, and the following sites are good for inspiring shoestring feats, assessing likely costs, and, above all else, disproving the idea that you have to spend hundreds of dollars a day to see Europe well. For some ideas about where to travel affordably in Europe, check out last week’s ten budget-friendly European destinations post.

1. Less Than a Shoestring. Though no longer publishing on a regular basis, the archives of this blog are astoundingly helpful in their low-budget audacity. Particularly useful for anyone scared off at the thought of Europe’s cost index are the blog’s “Baring my Budget” posts, which run through budgets for various short trips in great detail: three nights in Malta for €50 (currently $66); five days in London for £85 (currently $133); four nights in Venice for €91 (currently $120), all departing from Berlin. Costs breakdowns are provided in these “Baring my Budget” posts, as are the freebies encountered along the way. The mention of freebies is particularly helpful, as it reveals how often tourist information, maps, museum admission, and various cultural performances can be accessed free of charge. Though this series ran over two years ago, it is still very relevant.

2. EuroCheapo. Disclosure: I worked as an editor at EuroCheapo for almost three years and continue to do occasional freelance projects for the site. Phew. Glad I got that out of the way. Personal loyalty aside, EuroCheapo really is an enormously helpful resource. It is first and foremost as a hotel review site with useful descriptions of hotels written by trained hotel reviewers. EuroCheapo also edits a great blog full of essential budget-oriented tips penned by correspondents on the ground.

3. Guardian’s budget travel section. To be fair, the Guardian’s budget travel section is good for destinations around the world, though the density of articles on the UK, France, Italy, Spain, and other European countries is impressive. Recent articles that showcase well the newspaper’s creatively open approach to the subject of budget travel include Susan Greenwood’s budget Stockholm journey story, indebted to insider tips provided by a local blogger; a piece on backpacking in the Crimea by Maxton Walker; and Benji Lanyado’s TwiTrips series, for which the author receives tips via Twitter about the city he’s visiting and then liveblogs his discoveries. The most recent TwiTrip series installment sees Lanyado visiting Liverpool.4. Flycheapo. This site felt buzzing and electrified back when Europe’s low-cost airlines were announcing new routes weekly. With all the route cut-backs and cancellations of the last few years, the site sees far fewer regular updates. Nonetheless, Flycheapo is still an essential place to look for route information for inexpensive flights around Europe. The site provides new route news snippets, a route index, an airline index, and a route search, all of which are helpful for figuring out potential itineraries for low-cost air journeys across Europe.

5. Deutsche Bahn. Indispensible for figuring out train itineraries, Bahn.de features Europe-wide train schedules in enthralling detail. Bahn.de is also a much cheaper place for purchasing advance train fares than US-based agents. A very helpful run-down of how much cheaper these fares can be as well as information on how to access Deutsche Bahn sales personnel in English can be found in two posts by the editors of hidden europe magazine, here and here.

(Image: Flickr / vxla)

Flying Ryanair no cup of tea: Poland flight diverted to Germany

When wackiness hits the European skies, it’s usually safe to guess that Ryanair is somehow involved. A British plane from this discount carrier had to land in Germany – rather than in Poland, its intended destination – because a passenger couldn’t keep her tea in her cup.

The 56-year-old British woman spilled hot tea on herself, according to German police, forcing the flight from Liverpool to Poznan to make an unanticipated stop in Bremen. She was treated for scalding, according to Reuters, and released. But, her plane left without her. So, she finished her journey by train, which was probably much more comfortable.

Hey, come to think it, even hot tea on your lap is probably better than flying Ryanair …

[Photo by bigpresh via Flickr]

Ringo’s boyhood home threatened with demolition

If you want to see where Ringo Starr was born, you better hurry.

Number 9 Madryn Street in Liverpool, where the Beatles drummer was born in 1940, is one of a neighborhood of decrepit homes slated for demolition. The little Victorian rowhouse was never glamorous, and fell into disrepair years ago. While John and Paul’s childhood homes are now preserved by the National Trust, Ringo’s place doesn’t even have an historic plaque.

Fans are up in arms and are hoping to save the house. They’re even comparing it to Shakespeare’s home. Starr himself had a more measured response, yet nonetheless said he’d love to see his old address saved from the wrecking ball. Currently the house is unoccupied and the windows boarded up. That doesn’t stop a steady trickle of tourists coming to the rundown area to see a bit of music history.

A Liverpool City Council representative offered a ray of hope by saying the city is “currently in discussions” with the city museum about options for the building.

Image courtesy user Tima63 via Wikimedia Commons.

Visiting the new Liverpool

Well-manicured Liverpool ONE terrace
Liverpool has changed.

I attended the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (the Paul McCartney “fame” school) for three full years and thought I knew the place, but in the six years since my last visit, a series of events — particularly its run as European Capital of Culture in 2008 — has led to impressive developments of the “and New York still hasn’t finished Ground Zero?” variety.

Firstly, everyone knows the Roman Catholic Cathedral, affectionately known as “Paddy’s Wigwam,” looks like a spaceship (or perhaps a wigwam). Now, it’s as though a newer, more modern spaceship has landed in the town center. The new spaceship is Liverpool One, an epic open-air shopping complex with over 160 shops you didn’t know Liverpudlians wanted or needed, as well as clubs, restaurants, a Novotel and a Hilton (on the left above) on the terrace and an enormous parking structure underneath it. The Grosvenor-backed project has brought a good deal of tourism to Liverpool, helping it to become the UK’s second most popular destination (after London); women come in packs for shopping trips and to go clubbing at the uber-fab bars.

%Gallery-86734%My only major issue with Liverpool One is that it seems to have been designed with style and not simplicity in mind. It’s pretty difficult to navigate. I couldn’t even find Bold Street, a street for which I once had a professional-grade radar, without assistance. When I did find Bold Street, many shops had closed or moved — this was the case with nearby Clayton Square, as well, and was a trend all around the outskirts of Liverpool One. Such is progress, though, and I can’t find much pity in my heart as most of the stores were national or international chains.

Albert Dock
Albert Dock (above) is the same. The beautiful home of the Tate Liverpool and several nightclubs, some new, some not, is relatively unchanged and still carries its distinct old-world charm. The parking lot still has Humped Zebra Crossing signs, much to my delight (see gallery). The surrounding area, however, is majorly built up — you may have heard about the Echo Arena or the new Museum of Liverpool (opening in 2011), both of which are impressive achievements. There’s also new an extension of The Beatles Story (which is still in place), featuring a “Fab 4-D” experience; it’s one of those “rides” where you sit in a small movie theater in a chair that moves — you also get sprayed with water, and guess what scent they pump in during “Strawberry Fields Forverer”?

Dining and nightlife, if you ask me, have significantly improved. I had the good fortune of stopping into San Carlo, which is just three months old, on my first night by chance, where I had a truly immaculate appetizer (pictured below, Insalata Adriatica £7.25) in a terrifically classy and friendly ambience. I visited several of the new night clubs to take some photos and try some cocktails, and while none stood out as being the best, they were appropriately varied and well-attended; definitely serving the cosmopolitan locals as well as the tourists.
On the lighter and cheaper side, vegan best-kept-secret The Egg Cafe is still in place, and walking in the door still makes you nervous you’re about to break and enter into somebody’s house. Seriously, you climb like five or six flights of stairs and then there’s just a big purple door. If you didn’t know about it, you’d never find it — but now that you know, please go. The food is incredibly fresh, incredibly cheap, and it serves as a haven for artists and musicians with an array of long tables which encourage conversations with strangers. I’ve always loved it.

Despite the changes, Liverpool still has its charm. It feels a bit more London-like, but that northern, brass-tacks edge is untameable. The hard drinking, crass joking, bottle-blondes-in-tracksuits culture is still there — but it’s not the rule, and there’s something more relaxed about it. It’s like the blue collar city’s cosmopolitan dreams came true, and they’re are flaunting their hard-won identity. It’s a strange one, but that’s why we travel, right?

This trip was paid for by VisitBritain and VisitLiverpool, but the ideas and opinions expressed in the article above are 100% my own.

A look inside Liverpool’s Beatles-themed hotel

A zip and link bed and art by Shannon at The Hard Days Night Hotel
The Hard Days Night Hotel
is a Beatles-lover’s must-see, located right in the heart of Liverpool’s city center, just around the corner from the famous Cavern Club. I recently had the opportunity to visit said hotel, which Scott Carmichael told you about back in May (Liverpool Hard Days Night Hotel offers the real Beatles experience).

It’s easy to walk right by the hotel if you don’t know where it is (I did several times), so watch for the sandwich boards for Blake’s, the adjoined cafe. The anonymity of the exterior isn’t necessarily a negative thing; it keeps the onslaught of tourists from entering the hotel (and wandering the guest floors — each of which is locked by keycard for safety), and helps maintain an air of exclusivity for their glamorous Bar Four.

The hotel itself is a four-star luxury property overseen by General Manager Mike Dewey, with whom I had a brief chat and a tour. “We’re a luxury hotel first and foremost,” he said, “but it’s important for an independent hotel to have stuff that’s a little different. To be different is more difficult than you’d think.” I believe part of the struggle he’s referring to is how to keep your hotel in the “luxury” realm while fully expressing a theme like The Beatles. One expects tons of kitsch the moment they walk in the door — but that’s not really what you get. The theme work is surprisingly tasteful, from the enormous murals of John Lennon and Paul McCartney in their respective namesake suites to the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” montage in Blake’s, where breakfast is served.

Sir Peter Blake himself has actually visited the hotel and the restaurant which bears his name. “He loved it,” said Dewey. “He was very accommodating, willing to sign anything.”

Beatles photos and memorabilia appear all over the hotel. Many rooms feature unique Beatles artwork by Shannon, and even the staircases are lined with photos of the Beatles’ glory days. What I found most impressive were the details, like the scores of … scores (sheet music) hanging from the lighting fixtures in the lobby and a “Rupert the Bear” emblazoned rug in the Paul McCartney suite — McCartney featured the bear in his 1984 music video for “We All Stand Together” and also created him a cartoon vehicle called “Rupert and the Frog Song.”

Two things you’re certain to find at The Hard Days Night Hotel are bullshit-free service (Dewey said his only rules are “wear your uniform and be nice to people”) and like-minded Beatles fans. “In most hotels,” said Dewey, “Sunday through Thursday you look after business people, and Friday and Saturday you look after leisure people. Here, we do leisure seven days per week.”

What, not eight?

This trip was paid for by VisitBritain and VisitLiverpool, but the ideas and opinions expressed in the article above are 100% my own.