Wednesday, December 29, 2010

St, Mikhail's Monastery of the Golden Domes

Very close to St. Sophia's Cathedral in Kiev and echoing the style of its belltower, St. Mikhail's looks old but was actually reconstructed in 2001. Various monasteries stood on this site since the 12th century, but the previous one was destroyed by Stalin in 1937. Just as with Christ the Saviour in Moscow, rebuilding the church was a high priority of the new non-Communist government after the fall of the Soviet Union.
I didn't actually explore this monastery, but found it another beautiful example of Ukrainian church architecture. This monastery belongs to the Kiev Patriarchate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, so apparently it is one of the few places in Kiev where the Ukrainian language is actually spoken.
For fans of Ukrainian churches, this is the last picture I will be posting in 2010, but look for more in 2011. Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Europe in January

January is probably the least popular month for travel in Europe, and that can mean savings and a more pleasant experience for intrepid souls who don't mind cold, damp and the occasional blizzard. I have friends who visited Portugal last January, and liked it so much they are heading back again in the new year.
By travelling in the lowest season you can save on air fare and perhaps on hotels. Best of all, you do not have to deal with the hordes of fellow tourists who can make summer travel at top European destinations a nightmare. And you get to experience Europe more like the locals do, complete with often inclement weather.
The attractions of winter sports are obvious, and culture vultures will find theatre, opera and symphony seasons in high gear in the great cities of Europe. Shoppers can enjoy bargains at semi-annual sales at department stores and boutiques in London and Paris during mid- to late January.
On the downside, you need to be prepared for inclement weather with warm coats, umbrellas and boots, and be willing to concentrate mostly on indoor attractions like castles, churches and museums. This has been an especially snowy winter in Europe so far, and many holiday travellers were strended for days in major airports. A friend in Holland wrote that, lulled by many warm winters, local authorities in most of Europe are ill-equipped to deal with major snow falls.
Whatever the season, it pays to be ready for possible delays when travelling. I like to travel with a book or two, some trail grub such as nuts and dried fruit, and language tapes for the destination country.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Professional Hobo

That's the moniker of a young former financial planner from Toronto named Nora Dunn, whose site contains a lot of useful information on long-term travel and affording it. She does it through a combination of travel writing, volunteering in exchange for accommodation and picking up work as she goes.
She's been on the road for more than four years, but often spends months or more in one place. Her site contains links to articles she has written for various publications, and blog entries by her and guest bloggers. She may also soon be appearing in a television travel show.
Before leaving Canada she got rid of most of her possessions, and writes about what that was like. So far she seems to be enjoying her lifestyle, even though it included breaking up with her travel mate on the road.
I find it interesting that many people seem to be making a long-term lifestyle of more or less perpetual travel. I admit I'm a little envious, and I would like to read how some of them manage all the financial necessities of life--taxes, insurance, communications etc. Do they have someone at home who has power of attorney to handle their affairs? Obviously the internet makes it easier to handle bills and investments online, but can everything be done online?
This is an interesting site with some good suggestions about travel savings, even if you aren't a long-term traveller.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Eurozone Welcomes Estonia

The Eurozone and its fiscal problems have been in the news a lot recently. However, from the viewpoint of travellers from overseas, the adoption of the euro has brought many benefits. In pre-euro days virtually every European country had its own currency, and a trip on the continent required many changes of currency with all the associated costs--exchange costs, costs incurred from not understanding how much the currency was worth, embarrassment over not having the right currency.
I can recall once travelling on a train from France to northern Italy that went via Germany, and finding out that the ticket I had was not good for that route, only for the route that stayed in France. I didn't have any Deutschmarks, though, so the conductor finally allowed me to remain on the train anyway. (I was very grateful for not being kicked off at the next stop.)
At present 16 countries use the euro, currently worth about one and a third dollars. On January 1 2011 Estonia will adopt the euro, and a number of other countries are expected to begin using euros in the relatively near future, barring economic and political catastrophes.
In a few years it may be only the U.K., Norway, Switzerland, Russia, Belarus and Ukraine that do not use the new currency. Some pessimistic commentators are predicitng, on the other hand, that the euro may fail and large countries like Germany and France may go back to having their own money.
For now, though, if you enjoy travelling in Europe it makes sense to keep some funds in euros. The value of the euro has fluctuated considerably against the dollar, from about 80 cents at the start to over $1.50. By keeping a stash of euros on hand, you avoid having to exchange large amounts of dollars when the rate is very unfavourable. And euros are starting, like dollars, to be accepted in some non-euro countries in the region.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gites ruraux

For lovers of the French countryside (and who isn't?) there is a national network of holiday cottages called gites ruraux ( that are often reasonably priced. These are independent dwellings usually located in or near rural areas (there are a few in cities) and they are located across the country and even in some overseas territories of France.
The gites de france Website allows you to choose a region of France and search for places that are available during the desired time. Like hotels, gites have a rating system, from one to five ears of corn. The rating corresponds to the facilities offered and more or less to the price. All gites include at least a room with bath and cooking facilities, and some are quite large and luxurious.
Most gites rent by the week, but some are also avaible for weekend stays. Prices do not include heat, which can add quite a bit to the price in the cooler season.
I checked the Website for places in Burgundy, and found some that charge less than 200 euros or about $260 per week in low season. Considering that staying at a gite offers the possibility of additional savings by cooking at home, this could be a real bargain.
Gites in popular areas like Provence tend to get booked up early for the summer season, so if you dream of living the good life in the south of France next summer, it is not too early to start looking now. Larger gites are especially well suited to groups of family or friends.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

One of the best Websites I have found on budget travel topics is It is the creation of Andy Graham, an American who has made travelling and writing about it his vocation for the past 12 years. He has visited 88 countries so far, in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. He blogs about his travels frequently, with photos. In addition to travel information, he provides content and commentary on diverse topics that include politics, society and religion.
Graham's style of travel isn't for most people--he recently wrote about staying in an apartment in West Africa for only $20 a month. The downside was primitive sanitary facilities. However, he demonstartes that low-cost travel is indeed still possible in most parts of the world. One interesting aspect of his Website is interviews with other long term budget travellers. These include a retired Canadian woman in Honduras and a young Finnish couple in Europe. The Website is not complete, in that there are a lot of topics listed that have no associated content. But what is there is compelling including the details about how he manages to travel in some very remote areas and still keep up his Website and blog regularly.
Hobotraveler is a good source if you are researching inexpensive places to visit. You may not be able to travel as inexpensively as the author does, but it is good to know the general cost structure of other countries. He provides details on costs in many different places, and few countries have overall costs higher than those in North America.
Andy Graham funds his travels mainly through ads on his Website, so be prepared for a lot of them. This is a problem I have found with most travel sites--way too many ads. While I understand that everyone has to make a living, I find online advertising intrusive. I have a lot more respect for successful sites like, an educational Website, and Neither site hosts outside ads, although of course craigslist is itself an advertising site.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Hostels U.S.A. guidebook

I'm not a big fan of hostels, but reading the Hostels U.S.A guidebook is almost enough to get me to change my mind. The book lists and gives extensive reviews, including a rating system, of hostels in many American states and three Canadian provinces. Some of them sound very appealing.
For instance, there is a hostel located in a former lighthouse in the remote town of Cape Vincent, NY in the Thousand Islands region that receives high praise. The most interesting way to reach it is from Kingston, ON by ferry to Wolfe Island, then another ferry to Cape Vincent on the mainland.
In New York City, where it is hard to find a hotel room for less than $200 a night, the guide reviews seven hostels where a bed costs no more than $50 per night. At the other end of the country, the lightly populated state of Montana boasts five hostels that rate reviews, and they all sound appealing.
Staying in a hostel can permit a visit to an otherwise very pricey location such as Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, summer home to many of the rich and famous. And many single travellers enjoy hostels because they are good places to meet other friendly souls.
Someday I will try hostelling again--I should not let a bad experience at a cold, dirty hostel in Scotland put me off hostels forever.
The Hostels U.S.A. guidebook is written by Paul Karr and produced by Globe Pequot Press. The most recent edition seems to be 2006, so some of the information is out of date by now. For example, the hostel listed in Clearwater Beach, FL is now closed.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Taras Shevchenko, Ukraine's National Poet

This statue of Taras Shevchenko stands in a park in Yalta. Shevchenko was born a serf, but on account of his great abilities as an artist and poet acquired a patron who liberated him and paid for his education in St. Petersburg. Born just at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the poet died in 1861 just a few days before the universal declaration of the end of serfdom throughout Russia. He had agitated all his life for an end to serfdom and for his Ukrainian homeland.
The start of one of his poems runs thus:
The mighty Dnieper roars and bellows
The wind in anger howls and raves
Down to the ground it bends the willows
And mountain high lifts up the waves
It is good to know that much of the Dnieper still looks, after 150 years, as it must have to Shevchenko.
I was surprised to discover that there is a Shevchenko Museum in Toronto, the only one to the poet in North America. Many Ukrainians immigrated to Canada at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries. Most of them went to the Praries, which resemble the steppes of their native land. But even Montreal has a Shevchenko Boulevard, and a Ukrainian caisse populaire.


Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Long Stays, Low Prices in Europe

A company called My Europe Base ( has apartments for rent along Germany's scenic river Mosel (or Moselle) in a town called Zell an der Mosel. The Mosel is one of the country's finest wine regions, and vineyards line terraced slopes rising from the river bank behind historic towns.
This is one of the most ancient and beautiful parts of Germany, well worth a visit in its own right. The towns of Trier and Koblenz are not far away, nor is Aix la Chapelle or Aachen, the city where the Emperor Charlemagne was crowned. It has the added plus of being located near Frankfurt-Hahn airport, a major hub for low-cost European carrier Ryanair. Fares from Hahn Airport to Sweden are as low as $17, $16 to Poland, $31 to Ireland or $55 to Bulgaria.
The apartments start at about $200 a week if you stay four weeks or more. They are owned by an Australian couple with experience in the tour business, who saw a need among their fellow inhabitants of the Antipodes for inexpensive places to stay while trying to see as much of Europe as they can.
The benefits of apartment stays include the ability to save by making your own meals, and a more relaxed pace than most hotels offer. They also allow you to meet locals during shopping expeditions, and to experience a city or town as a local does.
I have enjoyed short-term apartment stays in Berlin and St.Petersburg, and would not hesitate to explore apartment living in a smaller town.