Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Learn Spanish for Retirement Abroad

According to recent articles on the best places for North Americans to retire abroad, six of the eight are countries where Spanish is the local language. Another is Portugal, whose language bears some similarity to Spanish, and the final one is Malaysia, where English is widely spoken.

An article from International Living http://www.internationalliving.com that I read excerpted in http://www.escapehere.com lists their favourite countries in terms of low cost of living, good health care, warm climate and the existence of an expat community. Their choices are Spain, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama and Portugal and Malaysia.

Of course, your criteria could be different--you might prefer a cooler climate, high culture and not mind relatively high costs, in which case virtually any city in Northern Europe would qualify. Or you might prefer to limit your choice to English-speaking countries only. It is all a matter of taste.

However, if you do intend to spend retirement years in a country where the local language is not English, you are likely to enjoy your stay a lot more if you can at least understand that language and communciate in it at a basic level.

There are many drawbacks to retirement abroad, primarily the distance from family, friends and community groups, as well as possible tax hassles. But you will never know whether it is for you unless you try.

Remember, there is no shame in moving abroad and then returning home if it doesn't work out.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Bargains in Old Quebec

Quebec City is one of the less-known gems of tourism in North America. Its old city, perched atop the Plains of Abraham and along the banks of the mighty St. Lawrence, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the only walled city north of Mexico, and is easily walkable.

Quebec's relatively remote location means that it is usually not overwhelmed with visitors except when cruise ships stop there. It offers a variety of lodging choices, including in summer student rooms at Laval University and the University of Quebec. The reference for Laval is http://www.residences.ulaval.ca/en/short_term_accommodation/. Unfortunately the site does not list actual costs for rooms, but they are sure to be reasonable especially if you choose a room with shared bath.

In addition to strolling around the old city, you may enjoy taking a whale watching cruise in the Charlevoix region which can be done as a day trip. Croisieres Aml http://www.croisieresaml.com offers trips from your hotel or downtown Quebec City to the area where the Saguenay River flows into the St. Lawrence and whales of many different species congregate. If you haven't been on a whale watching excursion, it is definitely worthwhile, even perhaps at a cost of $120 Canadian per adult.

A less costly entertainment while you are in the Quebec capital could be a minor league baseball game in the home stadium of the Quebec Capitales. Tickets start at just $11 Canadian for adults, a far cry from the prices for Major League games or NHL games.

For general information on Quebec City, the link is http://www.quebecregion.com/en/. When I'm in Quebec City, I just like to walk around and consider that had the British not won the battle here on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, most of North America now would probably be speaking French instead of English.

This should be another good year for Canadian travel in general, since the loonie is trading at around 77 cents U.S.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Cheap Youth Fare, Scandinavia Airpass with SAS

SAS http://www.flysas.com, the airline that connects Denmark, Sweden and Norway with other parts of the world, offers one-way fares to the U.S. to those under 26 years of age for less than $200. According to a post on http://www.flyertalk.com, this is in addition to youth fares they have for places such as Asia, a favourite winter destination for descendents of the Vikings. It is also possible that your age will not be verified if you look less than 26 (or can alter your documents to show that you are.)
Scandinavia is an expensive part of the world, so if you plan extensive travel there it could be worth looking into a Scandinavia Airpass provided to foreigners by the same airline. I couldn't locate the details quickly, but with work I am sure it is possible to find it on the Website. Sweden and Norway are largish countries, so air may be the most efficient and cheapest way to get around.

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Thursday, May 19, 2016

London to Santiago de Chile Nonstop

British Airways http://www.britishairways.com has announced that it will soon have an even longer nonstop than its current champion, London to Buenos Aires. That flight takes 13 hours and 50 minutes, while the new flight to Santiago will take 14 hours and 40 minutes.

I'm no fan of long flights, but if you need or want to go somewhere far away sometimes they can be more relaxing than the hassle of transferring at an intermediate airport. The longest flight I ever took was New York to Johannesburg on South African Airways, which was 14 hours at that time.

Santiago is one of the many South American cities I would like to visit, so if I lived in Britain I would definitely consider this option.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Win a Trip to Israel

Israel is a fascinating country, and now there is a possibility to win a free trip there. The blog http://www.travelsofadam.com is offering a 10-day trip including air fare, accommodation and tours. The site advertises itself as a men's lifestyle blog, but the contest is open to all.

In addition to its interest as a pilgrimage and historic site, Israel has a lot to offer in terms of climate, openness and culture. It is one of the few countries in the Middle East now where women can travel more or less freely with little concern about how they dress. I have heard that there is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish section of Jerusalem where outsiders, especially scantily-dressed ones, are not welcome, but other than in holy places pretty much anything goes elsewhere.

The walled city of Jerusalem is especially picturesque, but bustling Tel Aviv with its beaches and modern culture is also attractive. In winter you can still enjoy the beach in Eilat on the Gulf of Eilat/Aqaba. The holy places of Christianity other than those in Jerusalem lie mainly in the north around Nazareth, or on the West Bank (Bethlehem.)

As a holy land for three major religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) Israel is of course a place of contention and conflict, but nevertheless one that welcomes tourists. It is a tiny country, but one that contains enourmous variety.

I haven't been there since the 1990s, so I hesitate to say much about current conditions. However, if you haven't been there, I would definitely recommend a visit.

Friday, May 13, 2016

One Day Sale on Westjet

Westjet http://www.westjet.com, the other major Canadian air carrier, is offering a discount today only of up to 25 per cent on summer flights between certain eastern Canadian hubs and other Canadian and some U.S. airports. You can book until 9:59 Mountain Time today, and there are some blackout dates.

The only flight from Montreal that seemed to qualify was to Toronto, but from Toronto there are discounted flights to Sydney, NS, Boston, New York and a number of other destinations. You can book flights up to Aug. 31, except during the short blackout periods.

Given how expensive it tends to be to fly in Canada, any discount is a good one.

Monday, May 09, 2016

About.com for Travel Tips

I recently discovered that the website About.com has a section on budget travel http://www.budgettravel.about.com with some interesting tips. Unfortunately it does what many Websites do, puts each tip on a different page to make you stay longer on the site.

Still, if you can tolerate that, it has some useful information. One recent article has tips on things to avoid if you want to stay within a budget, such as eating in the tourist zone of certain cities such as Rome or Venice. Also, avoid taking a bus tour if a walking tour will cover more or less the same territory. In addition, don't fail to consider cruise options if you want to visit cities that are particularly expensive or hard to reach--places such as Venice or St. Petersburg, Russia. The latter is cheap now, but still a hassle because of the visa requirement. However, if you take an approved shore excursion you may not need a visa.

The article also counsels travellers not to fail to consider options such as staying in convents in Italy. They may not be a lot cheaper than budget hotels, but some have much better locations, such as the convent of the Little Sisters of the Sacred Family, near the Vatican in Rome. A double with breakfast goes for less than $100.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Free Tours with a Local

An organisation called Global Greeter Network http://www.globalgreeternetwork.info provides free tours with a local guide in cities around the world. Not every city offers the service yet, but many including New York, Calcutta, Moscow, Florence and a large number of lesser-known cities do.

The concept originated in New York, and is spreading throughout the world. It is purely non-commercial, and gives you a chance to meet a friendly local and see the locale through their eyes. They may take you to visit their favourite pastry shop, tell you about little known sights of interest, or offer you a walking tour of their neighbourhood.

This sounds like a fabulous idea to me. I checked and it is not yet available in Montreal. If it interests you and your city does not have a group yet, you can apply to organise one provided you have four friends willing to participate. If a group already exists, you can apply to be a greeter.

It is definitely something I will look into the next time I am in an unfamiliar city. I learned about the group through a story in my old newspaper, The Globe and Mail http://www.globeandmail.com.