Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Guide to Eastern Europe

I recently discovered a Website that contains extensive information on what the site calls the New East, a region that includes Eastern Europe and the countries of the former Soviet Union. It is a London-based site called the Calvert Journal ( and while most of the lodging recommendations tend to be on the pricey side, it also includes some hostels and modest hotels.

For example, in St. Petersburg, Russia they list a hostel called, located near St. Isaac's Cathedral and Nevsky Prospect. It looks interesting, with dorms designed like old-fashioned railway carriages where each bed is curtained off from others. I happen to have read of it recently on another site I'm familiar with,, and that traveller gives it a good review also.

The Calvert Review also includes a lot of coverage of culture, design and events in this region which still gets little attention in the mainstream media, despite its attractions. To plan a trip or just to catch up on what's happening there, the Review is a useful online source.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Long Cruise, Low Price

Some of the best deals in cruising are re-positioning cruises, where a ship moves from one part of the world to another as seasons change. For example, next April you can sail from Florida to Barcelona on Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas for as low as $799 per person. The price includes two nights at a hotel in Barcelona and 14 nights at sea. However, it does not include taxes and air fare back from Europe.

This particular deal is from Travelzoo, but a number of other re-positioning cruises are available at Vacations To Go and from individual cruise lines or travel agents who specialise in cruises.

I have never taken a re-positioning cruise myself, but I have done a number of Atlantic crossings. My only caveats for cruises such as these is that you need to be a good sailor (Atlantic storms are common) and really enjoy being at sea. Adrenaline junkies, these cruises are not for you, regardless of the savings.

The picture above is of the cruiser Aurora, permanently docked in St. Petersburg, Russia. A shot from this ship indicated the start of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Affordable Russian River Cruise

A number of companies offer cruises on the Volga River between St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia's largest and most interesting cities. The itineraries include stops at some smaller places that have always intrigued me--places like Yaroslavl and Uglich.

However, the cost of these trips tends to be high. For example, Viking River Cruises( has a 13-day cruise on the Volga with extensive sightseeing en route and in the two large cities, but the price for 2017 starts at a stunning $6,899 per person, or more than $500 a day. Other providers have similarly elevated prices.

Gate 1 Travel ( is now providing similar cruises at much lower cost. Their 12-day cruise next year starts at just $1349 per person. Now the ship is not as fancy as a Viking ship, and perhaps the food is not as good. This is a re-conditioned older Russian ship with smallish cabins. But for a cost of not much more than $110 per night, how can you go wrong? Gate 1 emphasizes that prices may rise if their costs increase, but they would have to escalate a lot to get anywhere near the other lines' rates. Below is the rastral column in the Neva River in St. Petersburg.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bargains in Crimea?

According to a story on Deutsche Welle, there is both good and bad news about travel to Crimea. The good news is that small and mid-market hotels are having trouble attracting visitors, so that prices can be quite low, as little as 6 euros per night. That's only about $8, which must be about the cheapest price anywhere in Europe today.

The bad news is that the cost of food has risen because of the political situation, so restaurant meals will be more costly. And the large luxury all-inclusive resorts favoured by Russian vacationers have also raised their prices, to as much as 150 euros, around $170. The Ukrainian visitors who used to frequent the peninsula often called the Russian Riviera are less in evidence, but they have been replaced by Russians.

The Russian economy has been badly affected by sanctions and the lower value of the ruble is keeping a lot of Russians at home.

Russia's annexation of Crimea is not recognised by Western countries, so Western visitors go there at their own risk.
 The picture is of the Livadia Palace in Crimea near Yalta.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Good and Bad in Air Travel

Long distance travellers who face significant wait times en route have a new option at some airports. They can rent a sleep pod for a nap or a whole night's shut-eye, which would probably beat trying to sleep in an uncomfortable chair or on the floor.

The company Go Sleep Pods ( offers rental of the pods, which are similar to some business class seats on airplanes, for periods of between one and six hours. The price is $14 for an hour, and starts at $65 for six hours. So far these devices are available at the airports in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Helsinki. If you have a long layover at any of these places, it may pay to book ahead and try them out.

On the down side, British Airways has recently decided that if you are an economy-class flyer, you will only get one meal on long-distance flights, unless your flight takes eight and a half hours or more. They are substituting a chocolate bar for the second meal. This means that on most flights between London and North America, you may arrive a trifle peckish.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Cheaper Air Fares Soon

If you are planning a trip within or from North America, air fares will be cheaper if you can postpone it until August 23 or later. That is the date when lower fall fares take effect, and savings can be substantial. At least, that is what the Website Fare Compare says.

Of course, the fares will rise around popular holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you must travel during that time, you will usually pay less and have to contend with fewer fellow travellers if you can wait until the actual holiday and fly then--for example, on Thanksgiving itself instead of the previous day.

This advice applies to flights within North America or from North America to Europe or Asia. I try to avoid flying around the holidays myself, but for some people that is not an option.

It may not have much to do with budget travel, but I have posted a number of travel stories on Wattpad under my own name, and would appreciate your reads and comments. There are stories from before I started doing this blog, so you can learn about Russia in the time of the USSR, Berlin shortly after the fall of the Wall, and other nostalgia. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

Free Book Swap in Helsinki Airport

One of the things that can make long-distance air travel pleasant is the chance to read a good book with little or no interruption.. But books can be heavy, and you may not want to carry many of them on board.

If you happen to be flying through Helsinki Airport, check out the free book exchange in the Kainuu Lounge by Gate 31. This lounge, which is open to all passengers, is at least as attractive as most of the restricted airport lounges I have sampled. Why doesn't every airport have something like this?

I'm aware that some people prefer to read books electronically, but I'm not one of them. Finland, along with Iceland, is a highly literate society and there are plenty of good book shops in Helsinki with books in English as well as Finnish.

To hear the national anthem of Finland being played in the new music hall in Helsinki, go to

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Fall Savings with Copa Air

If you were thinking of visiting Latin America, this fall could be a good time in terms of air fare. Copa Airlines is a Panama-based airline that is offering unusually low prices on flights from North America to Central and South America.

For example, a round-trip from Montreal to San Jose, Costa Rica is as low as $376, while Montreal to Quito starts at $730. From Toronto, a flight to Guatemala City is as low as $483 return if you book quickly. Similar prices apply to flights from Copa's U.S. gateways.

Travellers into apps, a category that so far does not include me, might want to book these fares with the Hopper app

Fall is a good time to travel in South America, since it is equivalent to our spring, though usually without the snow. I visited Argentina in November, and found the weather just about perfect.