Thursday, July 28, 2016

Solo Travel in India

Solo travel can be intimidating at times, especially if you are headed to a country such as India, where the culture is very different from that of the West. So it's good to know that people, even young women, are doing it safely.

For one such account, check the Website http://notwedordead.com for the write-up of recommendations from a young British woman in a bikini, Katy Colins. The piece is pretty short on specifics, other than that she is a backpacker and visited Agra (for the Taj Mahal) and Goa on her own. I would have liked to know a lot more about where she stayed, how she got around and how much it cost.

I read some of her other posts on various destinations, and they too seemed to be quite lacking in the specifics I would have expected from someone who claims to be a trained journalist. Still, you can't argue with success and her blog seems to be doing a thriving business. If you need inspiration for a solo voyage to the sub-continent, you could do worse.






Saturday, July 23, 2016

River Cruise Savings

If you are willing to book quite a ways ahead, you can get significant savings on European river cruises with Gate 1 Travel https://www.gate1travel.com. For example, a 15-day Danube River package with a seven-day cruise and hotel stays in Prague, Dresden and Berlin costs as little as $2199 per person if you reserve by August 19. That brings the price down to just under $150 per day, pretty reasonable considering that it includes lodging, most meals, transfers and a number of shore excursions.

The sailings are on new ships designed specifically for Americans who enjoy river cruises and are owned by Gate 1--the MS Monarch, Queen and Baroness. I wasn't able to find any reviews of these specific ships online--perhaps next year will be their maiden voyages. However, reviews of Gate 1 trips on other ships were generally favourable.

River cruises often accommodate two language groups, but because these are American ships I presume they will operate entirely in English. I like intermingling with Germans, French or others, but not everyone does.

I have fond memories of a short Rhine cruise from Mainz to Koblenz, and would like to see more of the beautiful Rhine, with its castles atop hills. It most be one of the most magnificent river voyages in the world. I'm tempted by an 11-day cruise from Amsterdam to Lucerne, with two nights at a hotel in pricey Lucerne. The price starts at just $1849 if you book ahead. Prices quoted here do not include air fare.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Flights to Europe from $149 One Way

From time to time I check out Eurocheapo http://www.eurocheapo.com  for blog ideas, and it seldom disappoints. This is a very useful site for information on visiting Europe on a budget, including listings of cheap hotels in expensive cities such as Paris and London.

For example, a hotel in Montmartre with rooms with private bath and breakfast goes for just about $75 this summer. However, don't expect air-conditioning for this price, so it could be a better choice in winter.

But even more interesting is information on budget flights to Europe. The cost of getting there often amounts to half of more of the total price of a European vacation if you leave from North America. Wow Airlines http://www.wowair.com will be offering one-way fares to Europe this winter from Newark, NJ starting as low as $149. For Canadians, flights from Toronto this summer begin at just $249 Canadian. Destinations include Amsterdam, London, Paris, Berlin and Stockholm.

Wow is a true budget airline, so odds are you will end up paying more than the sticker price, but less than the fare charged by conventional airlines. Wow is based in Iceland, so it is also a cheap way to reach Iceland. Why, I wonder, are so many budget airlines based in remote and expensive places like Iceland and Norway? Is it because locals can't wait to get away and therefore travel frequently? Just wondering.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Volunteer at Lourdes

I'm all in favour of combining volunteering with travel, but only recently learned that it is possible to volunteer at the Christian pilgrimage site at Lourdes, France. I discovered this by reading a very interesting book by Jo Marchant called "Cure: A Journey into the Science of Mind and Body."

There is an organisation that organises North Americans who wish to volunteer at the famous shrine in southwestern France that attracts thousands of pilgrims every year, particularly very ill ones. Lourdes even has a medical office that documents the many cures that have been claimed by pilgrims. It is a place where a young woman named Bernadette de Soubirous experienced many visions of the Virgin Mary in the 19th century.

The North American group is called http://www.lourdesvolunteers.org and operates out of Syracuse, NY. Volunteering there isn`t cheap, with a $1,000 deposit required in addition to air fare. However, according to Marchant`s book, the atmosphere of love that pervades the shrine might make it worthwhile, whether or not you are Christian. Marchant herself is agnostic, and a scientist. Volunteers stay in a special dormitory where they share double rooms and baths.

I recall driving near Lourdes, which is`beautifully situated in the Pyrenees, many years ago and noticing the heavy traffic. I didnt stop then, but the idea of going as a volunteer is appealing.

Incidentally, this is my 800th blog post over a period of nearly 10 years. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Free Online City Guides

The German airline Lufthansa offers useful and free guides to most world cities at http://travelguide.lufthansa.com. They don't include detailed information on hotels, which are usually the biggest cost of travel, so they don't totally replace guidebooks. However, they provide a lot of information on topics such as how to fit in, maps, weather and sometimes attractions.

For example, the guide to Vienna has a list of the top ten attractions in that city, with details on opening hours and a link to the Website of each site, so you can check the entrance price. Not every guide includes this feature, perhaps because attractions of the conventional sort are relatively limited in some cities.

I checked the guides for two cities I visited on the same trip about a dozen years ago, Vienna and Amman. Vienna has plenty of and world-class palaces and museums such as the Hofburg and Schoenbrunn Palaces, the Kunsthistorisches and Belvedere Museums, and even a whole museum quarter of the city. The guide lists 10 of these top sights.

 Amman is a pleasant city but relatively lacking in must-see places, other than the Roman Theatre downtown and the citadel. Lufthansa's guideto Amman does not include attractions.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Adventures in Chechnya

Did you know it is possible now to visit Chechnya without a special visa? No, I didn't either until I read a blog called http://www.casualadventuresofkate.com. Kate is a young American woman who has been travelling and researching in the Caucuses region, including Chechnya.

Apparently it is as safe now as anywhere else, and there are regular flights from Moscow (you will probably need a Russian visa.) It sounds very exotic, more Islamic than I realised. Kate is especially interested in the position of women in the country, and by Western standards it isn't very good. Women are valued mainly as wives and mothers, and cleaning skills are especially prized. Women do not stroll the towns casually, they always have a destination and usually wear long skirts. Headscarves are optional.

It is good to know that the region has made a recovery from two devastating wars. It certainly sounds as if it is not a destination that attracts many tourists yet. Kate even has a section of her site for those who want to learn the Chechen language, or discover Chechen food, and a blog post on the advantages of long skirts over jeans.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Turn Over a New Leaf for Savings

Canada is known for having some of the highest domestic air fares in the world. There are only two major airlines, Air Canada  http://www.aircanada.com and Westjet http://www.westjet.com that try to serve the whole very large country, and limited competition is seldom good for low prices.

Now, though, a startup low-cost airline called New Leaf http://www.flynewleaf.com is offering competition in some markets across the country. Based in Winnipeg, it has flights mainly to smaller airports in the West, with very limited service in Ontario and New Brunswick and none in Quebec.

While the fares are low, most flights operate only two days a week. And by the time you add on fees for extras, savings may be minimal. They even charge for printing your boarding pass at the airport and for carry-on bags. Seat selection costs $10 to $25, carry-on bags cost $30 to $80, and checked bags cost $25 to $125. You do get one personal item like a purse or computer bag free, so long as it fits under your seat.

One option I would definitely take advantage of is a $20 Flex fee that allows you to change or postpone your flight once. I wish the major airlines offered this choice.