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[Review] P&O Mini Cruise Hull to Rotterdam

P&O Pride of Rotterdam* What to do with a few days off work for as little money as possible? Why not go to another country? I found an absolute steal on P&O Ferries website for their mini cruise from Hull to Rotterdam and back – £80 for an interior cabin with bunk beds! I think this is probably a Winter rate and only on certain days, as the mini cruise booked just a day before or a day after would have been £130. We decided to “splurge” and upgraded ourselves to a cabin with a window for an extra tenner. Having the window wasn’t super important since it would be mostly dark out while we were in the cabin not to mention sleeping, but the extra £10 also gave us two twin beds instead of bunk beds so the room was slightly larger too. And it was only an extra tenner. When you book on P&O’s website, you also get the option to add Breakfast & Dinner on both days at a slight discount, so we added Breakfast & Dinner on the day we would be in Rotterdam, bringing our total to £146. The price of the cruise also includes a bus transfer from the Europort to Rotterdam central, but it does not include transportation to or from Hull city centre. However, there is a shuttle bus operated by Stagecoach departing from stand 38 (I think) at 5PM and it costs £2.30 for a single. The shuttle then picks you up at the port of Hull at 830AM the day you arrive back and it’s a short 20 minute ride back to the railway station. However, I probably wouldn’t book a train until at least 0930 as you never know what kind of delays you will have! We also decided to arrive in Hull around 330PM, which gave us plenty of time to have a late lunch/early tea at the shopping centre next door to the railway station (and we didn’t buy food once on the boat unless a hot chocolate counts!).

The Port of Hull is a very simple building/multi-story car park. You enter as foot passengers on the ground floor to check in, and then you immediately get directed through security (random bag checks happen) and passport control with no chance to use a loo or get anything to eat from a vending machine. Then you go up….and up…..and up……before finally getting to the gangway to get onto the boat.

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As a foot passenger, you enter the boat on Deck 8. The bulk of the accommodations are on deck 10, with some cabins on 9&8. Lorry drivers get their own lounge and accommodation on deck 7. Apparently there is an option to not have a cabin, but when the sailing is 12 hours long and the cabin only cost £20, it seems silly not to. Even if you are bringing your car or caravan along, there is no unaccompanied access to the car decks, so you could not sleep in your car or caravan.

Once on board the ship, you have the option to immediately go to your cabin to drop off your bags. The restaurants are open, however the coffee shop does not serve hot snacks until after 8PM, and the casino and duty free shops aren’t open until we are out of the Humber.

The ship also has an Irish bar, 2 cinemas (you pay extra for them), a child’s softplay area (free), a lounge for live shows (free), and an arcade.

There is no room service like there would be on a large cruise ship, and the only option for takeaway food is the snack bar/Starbucks. I’m not sure if the Irish bar serves food, but the restaurant options are either a sit down brasserie or the buffet.

The duty free shops aren’t very large. They have a tobacco and alcohol shop (we didn’t go in), a candy and other sundry items shop, and a perfume and makeup shop. We went into the candy shop thinking it would have snacks like a convenience store, but they didn’t and I wound up buying a bag of crisps from the Starbucks. Tim was talking to one man who told him he takes these cruises only to buy duty free cigarettes and it somehow is worth it for him. Neither Tim or I are smokers, so we have no idea how much they cost or if it really is a good deal.

Once we dropped off our bags in our cabin, we immediately went out on deck. Unfortunately (as a non-smoker) the entire outside areas are smoking areas as is the slightly protected area on Deck 11. It’s annoying, but you just have to stay upwind from the smokers!

But the views of the sunset were pretty amazing and made the smoke worth it!

Of course, no trip would be complete without Hamish, so he tagged along too!

We're going on an adventure! #hamish #ducksoninstagram

A post shared by Rebecca L (@beccajanestclair) on

After taking our photos of the sunset, we headed back in and browsed the shops (we spent all of £13 on a guide book for Rotterdam, a Dutch phrase book, and some ginger chews), and got some hot chocolate and snacks to take back to our cabin. We retired early and watched an episode of Lewis I had downloaded to my Kindle, and set the alarm for dawn so we could hopefully catch the sunrise.

The sunrise wasn’t as spectacular as the sunset. Plus, we were running a little late as we had a problem with our cabin in the morning. This is my only complaint about P&O, but I did get an apology out of them via email, so I do forgive them.

The way the cabins are laid out, there is a fire detector located right outside the bathroom door along with several warning signs not to shower with the door open as the steam can set off the fire detector. I’m lifting the rest of the story off my Facebook post on P&O’s facebook page:

When I showered on Thursday morning (around 0600 CET), I made sure the bathroom door closed behind me when I took my shower, and after I was finished I turned off the water and waited in the bathroom until there was no more visible steam in the room before opening the door to swap places with my husband. While he was showering and I was towelling off there was a loud knock on the door. Now, as it was 6AM (5AM in the UK), I assumed it was silly drunks banging on doors, so I ignored the first knock. When there was a second knock, I asked “who is it?” and the response back was “Ship Police”. Again, this sounded a bit suspicious as I had not contacted the police and I knew we had not done anything that would have required police. I asked “Do you have any ID?” and all I got back was “This is the ship police”. I repeated my request for ID, and the response now changed to “This is the Ship Police and I need to check something in your cabin”. Well, progress I suppose. I responded “There’s nothing wrong with my cabin”. Bearing in mind, I STILL DID NOT KNOW if he was actual ship police or someone trying to gain access to rob us. Then I got told to “open the door or I will”. Now, I was scared. A stranger was going to open the door to my cabin without my permission. So I called back that I was naked and my husband was in the shower, and we needed a minute to throw some clothes on. AT THIS POINT I HAD TO OPEN THE BATHROOM DOOR WHILST THE SHOWER WAS RUNNING to alert my husband to the police outside our door. This was the ONLY time the bathroom door was open during a shower. My husband came out with a towel around his waist, and I hastily threw on a dress. We had another knock and I told him if he had a key to let himself in (because if he was a stranger, I was sure this would then deter them to go away). He did, and as it turned out, the little light on our fire detector was on. He then accused us of leaving the bathroom door open while we showered, told us he had to go tell the ship’s captain that nothing was wrong, and left. My husband then finished his shower but took a tepid shower as we were now afraid to take a hot shower.

That night, after we had turned out the lights and my husband had gone to use the loo, I noticed there was a sizeable gap at the bottom of the bathroom door that the light was streaming through. I pointed this out to my husband, and the following morning when we showered, we shared one towel between us and used the other at the bottom of the door to block the gap and I took a tepid shower as I was now afraid to shower with hot water.

So yeah. Make sure there is no gap in your bathroom door, and if there is, block it with a towel or you risk setting off the fire alarm and having a visit from the ship police!

After getting dressed and getting our photos, we went to Breakfast. The Breakfast buffet was half continental style and half full English style, so there were plenty of options. The layout of the buffet was a little backwards to me though. You needed to pick up your bread at the beginning, but the meats and cheeses for a continental style breakfast were not until after the hot food. The tea and coffee were at the very end, but after we entered the buffet everyone headed straight for the tea/coffee and it created a bit of a bottleneck between people who were going through the queue and getting their drinks last and the people who wanted to get their drinks first.

After breakfast, we hung out on the deck and watched the ship dock before being called for debarkment. If you drove you car, you have a massive rollercoaster style ramp to drive on to get to the shore, but for foot passengers, it was once again a long tunnel and lots of escalators (this time going down!) to get to passport control. And just like in Hull, you could not access the public loos or vending machines once you went through passport control. It was then on to the shuttle bus for our day out in Rotterdam.

Oh, and I should mention that since we had booked it as a mini cruise and our boarding card had a little suitcase on it we were able to leave things in our cabin. If you did not have a suitcase symbol on your boarding card but were coming back that evening, you could make arrangements to store your luggage on the ship.

There will be a separate post about our adventures in Rotterdam.

At the end of the day, we took the shuttle back to the port and after boarding we decided to stash our camera bags in our cabin before going to dinner. At this point, we were both pretty tired and didn’t want to take photos out on deck. Dinner was really good! They had several hot options including 2 types of curry, salmon (although it was labelled as trout!), chicken fingers, chips, steamed vegetables, salad, 2 types of cake, ice cream, and cheese & biscuits. We ate a leisurely dinner before once again retreating to our cabin for another episode of Lewis before falling asleep.

In the morning, we opted to buy snacks in Rotterdam the day before so we skipped breakfast and instead were able to sleep in a bit later. Due to the shower situation, we both took slightly cooler showers, finished packing up, and were soon debarking back onto British soil. Another short shuttle bus ride, and we were back in Hull and after two trains and another bus, arrived home in our village with our kittens around noon, making our total time away just about 48 hours exactly!

We will definitely be doing this again, and might even do the three day cruise with an overnight hotel stay in Rotterdam next time.

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*Stock photo and deck plan images from P&O Ferries.

I did not receive any compensation from P&O Ferries in writing this blog post.

The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

[LJ readers reading this on the LJ RSS feed: Please click on the link at the top of the entry to go directly to my blog to leave a comment, as comments left on the LJ RSS do not get seen by me. Facebook users reading this from my Networked Blogs link can either comment on facebook or on my blog. If you are reading this through an e-mail subscription, you might need to go directly to my blog to view videos and images.]

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Packing for a Mini Cruise

Packing for travel in the Spring is never fun. Spring (and Autumn) are so changeable weather wise you can go from a warm, sunny day to snow within a 24 hour period in certain climates. The obvious solution is to pack layers and pack clothing that work in multiple climates – however, this becomes challenging when you are planning for a shorter trip and planning on sharing your bag with your spouse or partner!

While my husband was off on his Spring annual leave, we decided we wanted to get away for a few days. We hadn’t gone away since our wedding anniversary because we adopted kittens that weekend and hadn’t felt comfortable leaving them on their own. Now that the kittens are 7 months old, we decided we would go away for an overnight or two….But to where?

A friend of mine happened to mention Rotterdam to me about a week before our break. And by a happy coincidence, P&O was offering a 2 night mini cruise for 2 for £80! Score! (and I’ll review the cruise in a separate post).

Usually when we go away for a day or two, we’ll both take a backpack (usually LL Bean bookbags) and our camera bags….but I felt like that would be too much stuff in our cabin. So instead, we decided to share a single weekender bag from Cath Kidston, and a toiletries bag from LL Bean.

I started checking the weather the week before we left (also the week we booked it) and the temperature was hovering from 3C to 15C. Plus, we knew we would want to be on deck at least on our departure from Hull, and knew it would get chilly. We finally settled on packing some thermals just in case we needed them for layering.

Packing List

Small Packing Cube:
2 x boxers (T)
2 x knickers (R)
2 x socks (T)
2 x socks (R)
1 x thermal socks (T)
2 x tights (R)
1 x thermal tights (R)

Medium Packing Cube:
1 x Rugby top (T)
1 x dress (R)
1 x thermal top & bottoms (T)
1 x thermal top (R)
1 x leggings (R)
1 x camisole (R)

Toiletries Bag:
100ml 2 in 1 shampoo/conditioner (T)
2 x sample packs shampoo (R)
50ml conditioner(R)
50ml body wash (T)
30ml hibiscrub (R)
30ml face/body wash (R)
2 x Spray deodorant (T)/(R)
After shave (T)
Body spray (R)
Face moisturiser/eye cream (R)
Make Up (3 in 1 concealer/3 in 1 makeup pallet/lip gloss/BB cream) (R)
2 x folding toothbrush
Toothpaste
Mouthwash
Febreeze

First Aid/Medication Bag:
Sanitary products (R)
Gaviscon
Tums
Deep Heat
Zineryt (R)
Pill box (Metformin/Alieve/Paracetamol/Pepto/etc)
Vitamin C tablets
Eye drops

Misc items:
2 x face cloths
Wet bag
Laundry bag
4-port USB Charger with UK and EU plugs
4 USB cables
2 x Seabands
2 x earplugs
Travel Razor (T)
Travel Hairbrush (R)
Neck pouch for passports

I chose to use a Cath Kidston backpack as a camera bag/day bag. Initially because I felt that it would be better to distribute the weight over both shoulders….but I decided I won’t do that again as it meant I was constantly needing to take off the backpack to get to my camera or I was always asking Tim to go into it to get out my camera. My backpack had my DSLR in it, my kindle, legwarmers, wrist warmers, my purse with passport, and a mini first aid kit.

Ironically, we didn’t need any of the thermal items on the boat or in Rotterdam, but when we got back to Hull I changed into my thermal tights in the railway station loo because I was freezing on the platform!

Posts about the cruise itself and Rotterdam coming soon….

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The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

[LJ readers reading this on the LJ RSS feed: Please click on the link at the top of the entry to go directly to my blog to leave a comment, as comments left on the LJ RSS do not get seen by me. Facebook users reading this from my Networked Blogs link can either comment on facebook or on my blog. If you are reading this through an e-mail subscription, you might need to go directly to my blog to view videos and images.]

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[Review] Urlaubsnest

urlaubsnestFor our first long stop of our Austria trip, I booked us in at Urlaubsnest in Moorbad Harbach (Weitra). I found it on Booking.com, after Tim and I had decided we wanted to stay within railing distance to Vienna (my pick), and within driving distance to the Waldviertelbahn and the JHMD. Originally, I started looking around Weitra, and this place popped up. We knew we wanted either a one or two bedroom apartment (remember, my mom was with us, so she needed a place to sleep to!) with a full kitchen. Urlaubsnest was reasonably priced and in a great location. We live in a small village close to a city centre, so it made sense that we would pick an apartment located in a village closer to a larger town (Gmünd was only about 30 minutes away, Weitra even closer).

The route in and out of the village is easy enough to find, but they were doing some kind of roadworks so part of the drive was spent driving on gravel roads (where we may have picked up the screw that killed our new tyre) with fields and woods on either side, it was quite picturesque (And you can see the drive on our driving video).

Our landlords, Dietmar and Brigette, were fantastic. Dietmar asked me if I was on Facebook, and when I said I was he suggested that I message him through facebook so messages would get to him faster. On our drive from Neuschwanstein I kept Dietmar updated on our ETA according to our sat nav (google maps on my phone) and it was no trouble arriving later than originally planned due to traffic. We arrived around 7PM, tired and hungry, and Dietmar and Brigette offered to feed us! Brigette laid on an amazing spread and Dietmar opened up a few bottles of beer. They even gifted us with a bottle of sparkling wine waiting for us in the fridge. Our holiday was on to an amazing start!

You can watch my tour of Urlaubsnest here:

We loved everything about this facility.

The kitchen had everything we needed for cooking main meals and they even had a minibar with beer and soft drinks available for purchase (no diet sodas though!). They have a wood burning stove for the winter months, and a modern electric range for the Summer months. They even provided coffee, filters, and sugar for the coffee pot (no measuring spoon though. I think I left my sliding spoon there though, much to my annoyance)! There were plenty of pots, pans, dishes, cutlery, and glasses and they provided some dish soap and a sponge.

The bedroom features a really nifty lighting feature where you can change the colours depending on your mood and time of day – it even has a nighttime mode that operates on a dimmer/timer. The bedroom also features an infrared sauna, which we only used on our last 2 days, but wish we had used it sooner!

(I made a video of the lights, and I will add it to this post after it gets uploaded!)

Wifi was adequate and I even managed to stream Netflix one night when I was unable to sleep.

When you stay at Urlaubsnest, you also have an extensive exterior grounds at your disposal. If you have children, we noticed they had a swing set, slide, sandbox, and trampoline. There is an outdoor picnic table with retractable awning and an outdoor grill/oven (which we did not use). My husband and I took a walk across the back fields and found a public walking path into a quiet wooded area and we’re sure we must have crossed the Czech border at some point since we were so close to it.

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(I’m really not sure why the portrait shots are showing as landscape. I’ve rotated them three times!)

We have put Urlaubsnest on our list of places to stay at again. While there is no main public transportation to Moorbad Harbach, on their website they say they will provide transportation from either the Weitra bus station or the Gmünd OBB station and I’m pretty sure we saw bus stops for a local village postbus that could get you around if you were going carless.

If you do travel by car, they have plenty of off-street parking. The driveway has a slight incline to it, but once you’re up you can park anywhere at the top as long as you aren’t blocking the tractors getting in and out of the barn (and of course, don’t knock over any of the plants).

Dietmar and Brigette have a dog, who does like to meet people, but she’s also shy. There are, however, several village cats that hang around. Some of which are friendlier than others and we even had one wander into our apartment to make herself comfortable on our bed!

I would highly reccomend Urlaubsnest to anyone looking for an off the beaten path place to stay.

Read about the full trip here as links are added as new posts and videos are posted.

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The contents of this post, including personal images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

Unless stated otherwise, I have not received any compensation from any of the companies, properties, websites, etc. mentioned in this blog post.

[LJ readers reading this on the LJ RSS feed: Please click on the link at the top of the entry to go directly to my blog to leave a comment, as comments left on the LJ RSS do not get seen by me. Facebook users reading this from my Networked Blogs link can either comment on facebook or on my blog. If you are reading this through an e-mail subscription, you might need to go directly to my blog to view videos and images.]

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[Hotel Review] Apart Heim, Fügen

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When we first decided to visit Austria, we intended on it only being a long weekend to the Zillertal region. We decided to look for self-catered to cut down on costs, and we knew we wanted to be near the Zillertalbahn railway. When I spotted an apartment for rent less than 2KM away from the Fügen station, we decided to book it. The one-bedroom apartment was listed on booking.com at £50/night plus a cleaning fee of €50. It was amazing. I reviewed it over on Trip Advisor, but thought I would expand on it here.

We originally thought we would have issues crossing the border between Germany and Austria, so I contacted the hotel and asked for a late check-in, which we were granted. As it turned out, we didn’t need it and I wound up ringing the landlord several hours ahead of time to tell her we had arrived! Unfortunately, we arrived outside of their check-in hours, so we had to wait for her to come over to let us in, and then she had to leave to pick up her children from school right away so we had to wait for her to return to go over the rest of check in, but the important part was we were IN our apartment! Since we had arrived in Jenbach early, we took a quick walk over to the Billa (grocery store) and had picked up a few things, so waiting for our landlady gave us plenty of time to look around and explore the apartment.

Here’s a video I took of our apartment:

Our apartment was on the top floor, so lots of steps to walk up to get to it! Once in, there was a small foyer area to remove outerwear and a hallway. The end of the hallway opened up into a combination living room/dining room/kitchenette. We booked a one bedroom apartment, so our bedroom was off this hallway as was the water closet (toilet only) and shower room. The bedroom and the living room both opened up onto a balcony….my favourite part of the place! Of course, the weather was a bit chilly in September, but we still managed to spend some time out on our balcony each day, even if we were hugging a cup of tea at the same time!

As I mentioned in my TripAdvisor review, I was a bit disappointed with the kitchenette. There was mismatched glasses and in fact only one glass the appropriate size for a bottle of beer. There was a lack of some basic staples. It would have been nice if they had included some salt & pepper and coffee for their specific coffee machine. Because we were only staying for 4 days, it wasn’t worth us buying the required pods, but if they had provided us with a few pods it would have been a nice touch. And salt/pepper would have been nice to at least have some seasoning available. I wound up snagging some packets from one of the restaurants we ate at. The kitchen also didn’t have an oven, so everything we cooked had to be cooked on the hob (stove), and we only had two burners. We ate a lot of pasta and bratwurst based meals!

I found the bed to be very soft and comfortable, but Tim says he didn’t think it was comfortable. But we each had our own separate bed (the double bed was two singles pushed together, which seems to be the norm in Austria) so it’s possible his bed wasn’t as comfortable as mine! The downside to the separate beds was it made it hard for us to cuddle right before bed and one of us wound up in the crack between the beds, but I actually quite enjoyed having my own duvet! haha! The bedroom also had two bedside tables with lamps and outlets(!!), a dressing table, and a large triple wardrobe with shelves on one side. I unpacked our bags, but we really didn’t have a lot since we had packed so light.

The shower was hot and the water pressure was nice. The shower room also had a towel warming rack, but it took over a day for the rack to be hot enough to warm things (and then I used it as a hot drying rack to dry stuff I sink washed!). The toilet made quite a bit of noise though, so we tried not to use it in the middle of the night.

As I said, the kitchen/dining room/living room was all one large room with a door out to the balcony. The dining table was large enough to fit 6 (the apartment sleeps 4), with a bench going around the corner of the room and then a few chairs. The living room had a sofa, which would convert to a sofa bed if you needed it and then the living room also had a wardrobe and a TV. We didn’t use the TV at all, but obviously, it would have been in German! I tried plugging in my USB stick to watch a film, but it didn’t work.

Apart Heim is located partway up a mountain right near the Speiljoch and the Speiljochbahn (which we rode!), a few small shops (one was a news agent, the other was a very limited convenience store), and Hotel Kohlerhof, which was a spa hotel with several restaurants (we ate breakfast there twice, dinner there our first night, and pizza there another night) that our apartment was affiliated with. There also was a preschool located nearby, but since our room was up on top, we never heard the children. Instead, we always heard the cow bells from a nearby field.

One thing I had failed to think about was the apartment’s location. 2KM away from the railway station sounds great….until you realise that it’s 2KM up a mountain! We had to walk this every day, including once with all our luggage. The day we checked out, our landlord offered to give us a lift down, and I wish I had thought to have asked for a lift on the way up when we got there! We also found out there is a taxi service in Fügen that I hadn’t found online when I ran a search. The taxi service is called Egger Taxi. We did not use the taxi service, but I have made a note of it for future trips!

We hope to stay here again on a future trip. Unfortunately, it won’t be this Summer when we return as they did not have any rooms, but we will be back!

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The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

[LJ readers reading this on the LJ RSS feed: Please click on the link at the top of the entry to go directly to my blog to leave a comment, as comments left on the LJ RSS do not get seen by me. Facebook users reading this from my Networked Blogs link can either comment on facebook or on my blog. If you are reading this through an e-mail subscription, you might need to go directly to my blog to view videos and images.]

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Renting a Holiday Apartment

FugenBalconyOn our recent trip to Austria, we thought it would be a great idea to rent apartments instead of hotels so we could do a bit of self-catering to help cut costs. The last time we were in Austria, we were camping with our tent (and car) and had breakfast and dinner at our campsite, so shopping in Austrian grocery stores wasn’t a foreign concept (haha!).

When you are choosing to rent a holiday apartment, you have two options. You can either rent a private home through a site like airbnb or you can rent an apartment in a managed property, similar to a hotel through booking sites like booking.com (what I use)*. I also leave a tab open with TripAdvisor to check reviews of the apartments I’m looking at and a tab with google maps for checking the area the apartments are in for finding out how close they are to public transportation, shops, restaurants, and attractions. I’ve never used airbnb, but I have friends who have used it while travelling abroad, and they’ve had very good experiences. Airbnb also seems like they are on the ball with their customer service if you have any problems. Likewise, booking.com has excellent customer service. I have had good luck with booking.com, but also some less-than-perfect luck. Booking.com suggests not booking properties with a rating below 7, as their ratings are generated based on users reviews. So if you don’t mind renting someone’s private apartment, you might want to have tabs open for both to compare apartments. I also kept open a tab with google translate in case I needed to look up German words I wasn’t familiar with.

Firstly, you need to decide on your location and price range. Booking.com lets you search by towns as well as regions, so I put in “Zillertal” and then ticked the box for £0-£55/night which led me to several choices, including Apart Heim, the place we stayed. I wound up looking at around a half dozen places before making my decision, and one of our “musts” was being close to public transportation as we would be using the Zillertalbahn to get around and would not have a car. We also needed to be close to a grocery store, due to the aforementioned lack of a car. I used Google Maps to look at where the apartment was and zoomed in until I could see the icons. When I saw a shop icon, I googled to find out what the shop was and discovered MPREIS was the name of a grocery store.

Another thing to consider is what amenities you need. It was only my husband and I travelling, so we knew we could stay in either a studio apartment or a one-bedroom. When we travel next Summer with my mom, we will be looking at one-bedroom with a sofabed in the living room as well as two-bedroom apartments. Our only other requirement was that we wanted to have our own private bathroom (not usually a problem with apartments, but many hotels have shared bathrooms). I also looked at what was available in the kitchen and we picked an apartment that had a stove (hob), refrigerator, sink, microwave, and kettle. Our first apartment didn’t have an oven, but the second location did. We weren’t bothered by things like wifi or television since we knew we wouldn’t watch TV and we had our phones for internet. Our apartment provided dish soap, a sponge, and potholders in the kitchen. You also can assume that apartment rentals will include basic dishes and cooking equipment, though if you need anything specific you probably should pack it. Our apartments also included towels and linens, but some apartments do not or charge extra, so check the notes on the listing.

Most apartments also charge a flat cleaning fee between €25-50 no matter the length of your stay. You’ll want to make sure you factor this fee in when you’re picking an apartment as it won’t be part of your total for accommodation and many places will ask you to pay the cleaning fee separately in cash on arrival. Some apartments also charge a security deposit, so again, make sure you read all the information listed on the booking site.

Unlike a hotel, front desks at apartment rentals aren’t open 24 hours a day, so you will need to check and make sure you can arrive at the hotel while the desk is open or are able to ring the landlords when you arrive. This was another mistake I made with our second booking.

Even though you paid a cleaning fee, some apartments require their tenants to take out (and sort) the rubbish, strip beds, or sweep the floors. Most places will come with a set of rules, and it’s important you read over these. Google translate can help translate a picture of text. This is particularly important in case there are additional fees for breaking any of the rules!

Have fun and happy planning!

*~*
*But I did make a mistake and wound up booking a private apartment through booking.com….more details in another post on that apartment.

The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

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Planning Austria

September 2015 032

Recently, my husband and I returned from a a rather spontaneous trip to Austria. I say spontaneous, because we planned it 2 days after I received my British passport (yes, there will be a post about that) for travel the following month. We originally planned for a long weekend away to one of our favourite places, the Zillertal area of Tirol, but then realised Tim’s week of Autumn leave happened to be right after his long weekend, so a 10-day trip was put into place!

We booked our plane tickets with Ryanair, and I was pleasantly surprised at the cheap fares. However, once we added in checked bags (1 going, 2 coming home) at £15 and paid for our seats (£5 each each way), it soon added up and I was surprised to discover that British Airways actually offers cheap European flights that include both one bag and your seat selection for around the same price once you add in all of Ryanair’s extra fees. So, my suggestion is to shop around on several airlines before making your final selection. Ryanair might wind up being the best or go to the destination you need, but you might find BA or Lufthansa or Austrian Air offered a better price.

We flew into Linz, simply because it was the cheapest Austria option for flying with Ryanair. We needed to actually be closer to Innsbruck, and could have also flown to Munich, but after all the problems being reported with cross border trains in the weeks leading up to our trip, it was a good thing we chose to fly directly into Austria.

Our options to getting over to our first destination included rail, bus, or a car. We might have also been able to book a flight on a smaller, local, airline, but we skipped that option all together. We don’t like travelling by bus for long distances, so we also didn’t bother looking that information up. I did price out a rental car and I found a car for around €10/day. However, as my husband is a former BR staff member, he retained his BR privs and we get 4 48-hour free travel passes on OBB, Austria’s railway, so I began to look up trains.

Remember what I mentioned above about the border issues? Yeah, our train should have been a corridor train that crosses into Germany for about 45 minutes with no stops, but due to Germany deciding to close the borders, this was going to become a nightmare with a 90-minute delay! In the end, Germany decided to allow the corridor trains, so we were fine and in fact, things worked out so well that we managed to snag an earlier direct train to Jenbach without going out of our way to Innsbruck and got to our destination a lot earlier than we thought we would!

For rail schedules, I downloaded an app to my phone called OBB Scotty. For ticket prices and buying, you will need a separate app called OBB Tickets, but the Scotty app will prompt you to download it if you want to buy tickets. Also helpful is the DB app as DB has schedules for all European countries. The nice thing about all of these apps is that they seem to be automatically working in English for me. And if you’re using Chrome to look at websites, Chrome can automatically translate things into English.

Our schedule looked like this:

24 September- TRAVEL Stansted-Linz-Fügen
25 September-Brenner/Brennero (Italy!)
26 September-Achenseebahn/Achensee/Spieljochbahn
27 September-Zillertalbahn Dampfzug
28 September- TRAVEL Fügen-Zell am See
29 September-Salzberg
30 September-Pinzgauerlokalbahn/Krimml Wasserfälle
01 October-Pinzgauerlokalbahn Dampfzug/TRAVEL Zell -Linz
02 October-Pöstlingbergbahn/Linz
03 October-TRAVEL Linz-Stansted-Lincoln

We did have to modify our plans slightly as due to the no trains to Germany thing we had to cancel our plans to visit the Chiemsee, but we replaced it with a quick trip to Italy instead, so not all bad!

We changed locations twice, so we had a 4 night stay in an Apartment in Fügen, 3 nights in an Apartment in Zell am See, and 2 nights in a hotel in Linz. I will detail our stays later, however you can read my reviews of the first and last place on TripAdvisor. On average, we paid €50/night for our accomondation, but both apartments also charged a cleaning fee.

The nice thing about renting apartments is you get to eat on your own schedule, and you generally have a bit more space. The downside is you have to buy all your own food, but more on that in a later post.

Over the next few days/weeks I hope to post about our entire trip, since after all, my blog was originally a travel blog!

***
The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

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Happy Campers

Happiness is travel*

Tour our caravan here:

(just in case it hasn’t embedded, you can watch it here: http://youtu.be/cgqVuxAFtrg. I can’t see the video when I preview my blog post, so I have no idea if it’s me or wordpress or youtube that’s having the problem….)

My husband and I are about to be the proud owners of a 1995 touring caravan! Last Summer, we borrowed a caravan from Tim’s parents and over the weekend they offered to sell it to us as they don’t feel they will use it again, and they know we really liked using it. So as soon as we can find storage for it and take possession of it (and erm, pay them!) it’s ours!! This isn’t to say that we don’t like tent camping….I LOVED our holiday in Austria in our tent. Our two weeks in Wales in a tent? Not so much thanks to the rain. But last year having the caravan was fantastic. It was so nice to have a place that was dry to sit in/eat in/read in/sleep in, and a place where you could turn on HEAT when you were soaked through! It was also nice to have dedicated electricity for things like a kettle and fridge and oh yeah, we had a stove. The caravan even has a toilet with a shower, but neither one of us needed to use it (we were pitched up close enough to the toilet blocks we just walked over to those even in the middle of the night).

So, now that we have a caravan, I thought I would start looking at photos of caravans online to get some ideas for better ways to organize things (permanently) as well as give it a little personalization. Pinterest is full of great ideas and woah are there some amazing caravans out there! Check out this one**:

purplefuzzymittensonflickr

Now, that’s a little too busy for me. I also liked this one***:

cornbread-and-beans-blog-0271

But that one is probably a little too pink for Tim!

I think it will take awhile to actually do anything to the caravan, but if I can organize myself and get it done, it could become quite nice. A few things I think we need to consider for the future include painting the interior walls, making or getting new curtains made, and re-covering the cushions. I don’t have any ideas on what colours we’ll use yet, but I’m sure we will pick something we both like. I’m sort of leaning towards red, but the kitchen area is green and I wouldn’t want it to look like Christmas year-round! I can’t see us doing any of it until it’s absolutely needed, but there’s no reason we can’t do a little decorating in it now.

One thing I learned from all my browsing, is that a caravan needs cushions:

myvintagecaravan^

cathinspiredcaravan^^

Doesn’t that one look like it belongs in a Cath Kidston catalogue?

Cushions, I can do. We already (of course) have our pillows in the caravan, but it might be nice to be able to put the pillows away in the wardrobe during the day and have a few throw cushions on the two sofas. I know how to sew, so I could make my own out of fabric scraps, or I could buy pre-made covers or even whole cushions. I’m going to have to think about this and pick something neutral for now and then jazz things up later. Maybe I’ll buy some cheap cushions for now that can be recovered later.

I did, however, get some great ideas for what to do with the (very small) amount of wall space. Most of the caravan is made up of windows or cabinets, but there’s bits of wall here and there.

7d30412ff4d5935fb05f418cd458cfd1^^^

I think maybe a few framed postcards from where we travel would look cute on the wall. I read on an RV site that you can use sticky backed velcro to keep things attached to the walls while travelling, so I’ll have to do that with the pictures.

I also want to take a cookie sheet and make a backsplash for the wall between the cabinet and fridge, and then paint it with chalkboard paint. We collected a few magnets while we were away last year and I kept sticking them to the tea tin so we wouldn’t lose them. And having a little board where we could stick up important things (like tickets) or make notes on would be helpful.

I plan on purchasing a bunch of command hooks as well and will have a play to see where the hooks can go. I already purchased some over the caravan door hooks (ages ago!) so we can at least have some hooks on the inside of the bathroom door instead of tossing the towels on the toilet and the bathrobes in the bottom of the wardrobe.

And the outside! Some people go all out on the exteriors as well!

dotty+

purple++

But something tells me Tim would not let me paint our caravan purple OR polka dots. So I’d settle for some decals. We could get a train, or some tracks, or even some music notes. But we need to do something to personalize it.

We have lots to do before we start thinking about that. We have to take possession of the caravan and clean out anything Tim’s parents want back/we don’t want and add in some of our own camping gear that will live in the caravan, plus make a list of things it needs. We need to practice hooking it up to the car, too. We’ve only hooked it up a handful of times, and we had help from Tim’s dad a few of those times! There’s loads of instructions for what to do when we get to a site from setting the brake, hooking up the electrics, getting the water pump working, hooking up the waste water receptacle, turning on the gas…..

Ah, I can’t wait. Time to research local storage facilities….and try to plan a weekend away!

~~*~~
The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated below and should not be reproduced without permission. If you are not reading this on http://blog.beccajanestclair.com, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

*Credit unknown, found it on Pinterest. If this is yours, let me know so I can credit you!
**Photo credit: PurpleFuzzyMittens
***Photo credit: Cornbread and Beans Quilting Co
^Photo credit: My Vintage Caravan
^^Credit unknown, found it on Pinterest. If this is yours, let me know so I can credit you!
^^^Credit unknown, found it on Pinterest. If this is yours, let me know so I can credit you!
+Photo credit: Shannon Christensen
++Credit unknown, found it on Pinterest. If this is yours, let me know so I can credit you!

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European Road Trip Day 6, Part I – Moving Camp (Camping Hofer Review)

[Finally blogging about our trip to Germany and Austria we took in September 2010!]

We learned something on this trip. Trying to break up the camping into two different sites is not a good idea – we lost nearly three days of our holiday just from setting up and tearing down our campsites. Next time, we will probably pick a location that’s not so much near some of the things we want to do, but within a reasonable driving/railing distance from everything we want to do, although I would go back to both campsites we were at in September in a heartbeat!

The first site, where we spent the first 4 nights of our trip was at Camping Hofer in Zell am Ziller. I picked this campsite based on it’s location to the Zillertalbahn, and based on the photos on the website. I emailed them, and the woman who runs the campsite wrote back promptly and let me make a preliminary reservation the day before we left!

When we arrived, it was still fairly light out. We were given a map of the site with circles around the available pitches. Tim and I took a mini tour looking at the different spots, and finally picked one that was located close enough to the sanitation building for late-night bathroom trips, but far enough away that the noise of people going in and out of the building wouldn’t bother us.

Our set-up took us a lot longer than we thought, hindered slightly by the rocky ground. It seemed that everywhere Tim tried to peg in a tent stake he would hit rock, but we finally managed to get ourselves set up.

We did not use many of the available facilities, and I honestly couldn’t have even told you where the pool was located, though there was one on property. As it was late September, I really wasn’t interested in swimming, anyway! We weren’t really there to just camp, as we had plans for nearly every day. If we had just been there on a camping holiday, we might have taken advantage of some of the facilities. They also have a restaurant and bar, but we glanced at the menu and though the prices were a bit steep for campers. The facility also has a gasthaus and is open throughout the Winter season for skiiers, though I wouldn’t fancy staying in a tent in the middle of Winter!

The sanitation building looked fairly new. It had washrooms and shower rooms for both genders – the toilets were in a separate WC room with just a single sink to wash your hands in, and then the room next door had a long row of sinks at a mirror, about 6 individual stalls with sinks and stools for washing, and 4 shower cubicles. The showers operated on an on-demand type system. Instead of just turning on the shower, you had to push to get water. The shower stream lasted for about 10 seconds, and you could press it as many times as you wanted (showering was free). While it was a slight inconvenience, it did mean you could lather up your hair without the water turned on, and I’m sure that helps the site to conserve water. The water was nice and hot, but you did have to usually duck out of the way the first time you turned it on to avoid the spray of cold as it warmed up. Each shower stall had an outer area to change in as well as the common area, so if you didn’t feel comfortable getting undressed in front of other people, you didn’t have to.

The sanitation building also housed 2 rooms for washing dishes. Each room had long counters along each side and 2 sinks on each side (4 in each room/8 sinks total). Not all of the sinks had hot water, however, so you always had to check first. The sinks were standard, industrial size sinks. You needed to provide the soap and sponge. We packed along our dishpan, too, but I wound up using it more for carrying the dishes back and forth than washing.

The facility also had a laundry room with only 2 washers and 2 dryers, as well as a hanging rack to drip dry clothing. I found the room to be very crowded and wound up taking my line-dry items back to the tent to hang outside. The laundry services wasn’t cheap, either. 7 Euros per load, so a wash and dry cycle cost 14 Euros. Crazy, but I suppose they have you by the nose. Next time we go camping, I’m going to try to pack enough underwear to last the whole trip, and hope our clothing doesn’t get too stinky, because I do not want to pay that much for laundry again!

Tim and I appeared to be the only people with a tent – everyone around us had caravans. Even funnier, a lot of the caravans had little satellite dishes outside! Can’t go on holiday without your telly, I guess.

The site had loads of international visitors, too. Lots of license plates from Germany, the Netherlands, and Denmark. Fortunately, the family that runs the campsite speak English.

As for the camping itself – we both had a great time. The only time we didn’t like camping was the night it poured down rain – the sound of rain on the tent really makes you have to go! Since it was pouring, neither one of us wanted to make the walk to the sanitation building, especially as we left our waterproof jackets in the car. I wound up sacrificing one of my cooking pots to turn it into a chamber pot. Yeah, I know. That’s kind of gross. Sorry. But I promise I never intend on cooking in that vessel EVER again.

Camping also tends to get boring late at night. The light would finally fade around 10PM, and then Tim and I would try to read by the light of our torches, lanterns, and candles, but it never was enough light. The lack of light, paired with it getting cold without the sun meant we had a lot of early evenings….which meant that most mornings I was awake by 5 or 6!

All too soon our time at Camping Hofer was ending, and we had to take down the tent and pack everything back in the car to drive up to the Salzkammergut region. It took us several hours to get everything packed and into the car – mostly because we forgot how we had packed the car! Next time, we’ll be taking a photo of the car.

I only have one other picture to share from Camping Hofer – the telephone booth:

How funny to see a red phone booth in Austria!

Next up – either driving in Austria or setting up camp. I haven’t decided yet!

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Caravan Camping vs. Tent Camping

This past week in Wales, I stayed in a static caravan in Nebo with my friend Helen and her son, Mark. Our caravan was really nice – a lot nicer than I had expected! We had a large living room/dining room area with seating for at least 8-10 (though a small table that would struggle with more than 4!), and adequate walk-through kitchenette, a bathroom complete with a shower stall that was at least twice as big as the shower we have at home, and three bedrooms – a “master bedroom” that had a double bed, and two “kid’s rooms”. The kid’s rooms had single beds. One had two, and the other had two plus the capability of having a pull-down bunk bed up top. Each room had at least one small wardrobe and several drawers – the most being in the master bedroom, of course.

I slept in one of the kid’s rooms, and since I was alone was able to leave my suitcase and other belongings on the bed I wasn’t using, since there wasn’t really space to store my suitcase anywhere else. I even managed to unpack into the wardrobe and drawers, and had some of my toiletries lined up on the small shelf under the mirror. My room had one electric outlet, so I had to take turns charging the camera, phone, and ipod. The room was small – about as long as a single bed and then about a foot longer and really narrow. There was barely any room between the two single beds, but it was designed for kids, not adults.

The room next to mine was Mark’s, and his looked mostly the same except that at the foot of each bed overhanging it was a small wardrobe cabinet. I still think he and I should have changed rooms though, because he kept whacking his foot into the cabinet in his sleep and it woke everyone up!

Helen had the master bedroom. From what I could tell, it had plenty of storage and a small vanity, too.

Our living/dining area was nice and roomy. Three corners of the room were taken up by various sofas, and in one corner there was a dining table. The fourth corner held the entertainment section – a television, freebox, antennae, and DVD player. All running off of two outlets, so you had to constantly switch which item was plugged into the TV and outlet, but we managed. The people we rented from even leave a few DVDs in the caravan for perusal, though we had brought some of our own. The living room also had a gas operated fireplace, which was quite welcome on the chilly nights!

The kitchen was in the narrow hallway between the bedrooms and the outer wall, but adequate for a week. It had a small fridge/freezer, stove, microwave, kettle, and toaster. The owners stock the cabinets with dishes and cooking equipment as well as some dish soap and a dishtowel.

And boy, were those walls thin! Any noise in one of the rooms would carry into the others if it was loud enough. a few times I heard Mark’s CD player going at night. We had a bit of a fright on our second night there, though. We heard this loud knocking. I thought it was Helen knocking on my bedroom door, so I said “Yeah?” and then when no one opened the door, I got up with my torch (flashlight) and went to see what was going on. Helen was doing the same….and we had no idea where the noise was coming from!

The wind and the rain was pretty bad, too. The wind would shake the little caravan so much I really feared it tipping over and the rain was so noisy on the roof.

Were we camping? Technically, yes. Though, I don’t know many people who go camping with DVD players! In a few weeks, Tim and I will be tent camping (ie – REAL camping) in Austria and Germany. Since I’ve slept in the tent a few times, I know what to be prepared for…I just wish the tent had a kitchen! LOL

Here are some photos of the caravan:

And here’s a google earth shot of the 2 static cabins, the cottage the family lives in, and the surrounding area:

There were lots of public footpaths nearby, and we did go on a walk the first night (a post later with some pics). I’m hoping Tim and I can go back on our own and do some more walking!

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Hotel Review: The Fleet Street Hotel in Dublin, Ireland

When my mom and I went on our European trip, we started in Dublin. Primarily because the airfare into Dublin was less than any other European city we had been considering, and I wanted to take my mom to more than just the United Kingdom. So we picked Dublin, and I began my hotel hunt. Unfortunately, the hotel I had decided on in my previous post was no longer available when we were finally ready to book, but I found a just-as-inexpensive hotel in an even better part of Dublin for around US$40/night. The Fleet Street Hotel at Temple Bar. Reviews on TripAdvisor were favourable (at the time), and the photos on Travelocity and their own website looked nice, so we booked it for our 3 night stay.

After about 3 hours in the hotel room on our first day, we really wished we had stayed elsewhere.

The hotel itself is fairly rundown. There used to be a pub/restaurant attached, but it was closed down and made the place feel a little creepy. We asked for a room in the back to avoid the street noise, and we were given a room facing a back alley. The back alley that all the delivery vehicles used for the stores, so we were woken up around four in the morning each day by the noises of the deliveries.

It’s an odd building, quite literally looks like something designed by MC Escher. The most likely explanation is that the hotel took over several row houses and converted things to rooms, making it a bit of a maze. But the funnier thing had to be being told we were on the second floor….and to take the lift, turn left, then go down 2 short flights of steps. I wish I was kidding. The worst thing was, my mom and I both had large suitcases (with wheels) as this was leg 1 of a 15-day trip! Trying to carry the suitcases down the short flights was rough, and it was even harder when we had to check out. The staircases didn’t have any railing to hold onto, you just had to use the wall for support. At one point, I really thought one of the steps was going to give out on me.

Our room was….a room. We had two twin-sized beds, one chair, a desk, a table, a bedside table, a suitcase rack, and a dresser with a TV on top of it. There was a heater/air unit up against the ceiling but no matter how many times I tried to adjust it I just couldn’t figure it out. Not all of our outlets worked (and yes, I flipped the switch), so it was hard charging devices. On first glance, the bathroom was really nice looking. What appeared to be all new tile lining the walls and floor, and a towel warming bar (which didn’t seem to work) next to the shower. The sink could have done with more counter space, as there was plenty of room for it, and they really needed a new toilet. The shower looked to be pretty decent. It was just a standard shower stall, or at least appeared to be.

Since we were coming off of a long flight to Paris, followed by the short flight to Dublin and a bus ride, I really wanted to take a shower before we did anything outside the hotel. The shower went on alright….but the floor soon filled with water as if the drain was clogged. Fortunately, I take a fairly short shower. I went t o get out of the shower and tried to turn the knob to off…and it wouldn’t go. I wrapped a towel around me and called for Mom, and she couldn’t get it to turn off, either. Oh, and did I mention the rooms don’t have phones? Mom starts bailing out the shower into the sink, and I threw on the first clothing I could find and ran down to the lobby to tell the desk person about the shower. He comes up and tells me there’s nothing wrong with it, and turns it off. Then, he calls housekeeping and all the woman does is plunge at the drain! Plunging? Plunging isn’t going to get out the major clog the drain probably has! We get offered a new room, but neither one of us really feels like lugging our bags around, so we declined. Each morning we would have to take a towel, wrap it around our hand, and tug the shower off.

Travelocity claimed the hotel had free wi-fi. And they did. In the lobby. The only place in the entire hotel the wi-fi worked was sitting in the Lobby. Get 2-3 people in there with their laptops and there wasn’t any room to move! Fortunately, I had my N810 and iPod and didn’t need to get out my laptop, but it was really annoying trying to make private phone calls on Skype (to my aunt and to Tim) with other people hanging around.

In the end, I found the hotel tolerable. It was in a great location central to a lot of the Dublin attractions, and the bus that took you over to the Ferry port even picked up right outside the hotel. However, I don’t think the hotel was pleasing to my mom, and I don’t think she’d ever stay there again. Really, it’s debatable if I’d stay there again, though for the price and location, you really can’t beat it. It’s right at the entrance to Temple Bar, Trinity College is 3 blocks away, and it’s a short walk over to Guinness.

One thing I do have to say about the staff – ALL of the desk staff we interacted with were friendly…even if they didn’t have any good suggestions for places to eat. I felt safe staying there and sleeping there, and I wasn’t too worried about leaving our things in the room while we were away (though I did still lock the expensive electronics in my suitcase while we were out!). Since the hotel is at the opening to Temple Bar, which is essentially an entire street of pubs, they use a buzzer system to get into the hotel after dark. You press the buzzer and tell them your room number before they will let you in….and they have close-circuit TV at the door to check people’s appearances. So I do need to add that it was a friendly and safe hotel to dtay in…even if it wasn’t quite what we were expecting.

On our way back through Dublin, we just had a stopover and I booked us at the Travelodge Swords, as it was close to the airport. The Travelodge was so much nicer, and only $10 more. The only negatives of the Travelodge was the €27 cab ride from the ferry port (which I paid for ALL in small coin), and the fact that if you based yourself there for sightseeing, you’d be paying for cabs into town daily. The Travelodge also had a restaurant attached…even if it was super expensive for a small pizza (€10!).

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Hotel Dining

Eating while traveling is always a problem. You either wind up spending way too much money to eat three meals/day out, eat nothing but junk food and other snacks during the day but a full dinner, or you try to make food in your hotel room.

Some hotels offer rooms with kitchenettes (self-catering) consisting of a fridge, stove, sink, microwave, toaster, and coffee maker. With these at your disposal, all you need to do is make a trip over to the closest grocery store and stock up. Most self-catering hotels offer you all of the kitchen utensils, pots/pans, and dinnerware you will need either in your room or at your request. Some places even have a closet full of condiments and spices you can gain access to. While self-catering is the cheapest option for food while traveling, it does require that you spend some time doing the actual cooking. Trying to have Lunch at your hotel could become problematic if you were staying outside of the city center and needed to travel back and forth. Depending on how long the commute is, you could wind up wasting several hours each day just trying to save a few dollars. Your best option at a self-catered hotel is to eat Breakfast and Dinner at the hotel, and Lunch out.

Many hotels now offer rooms with an empty minifridge instead of the traditional minibar. You can use the fridge free of charge to keep food and drink cold. This could come in handy for bringing back leftovers from a restaurant, keeping some fruit or cheese for a snack, even for chilling a bottle of wine to enjoy later in the evening. If the hotel also offers a microwave, you’re in even better shape. Think back to your days of college dorm cooking when all you had was a microwave, coffee pot, and fridge and I’m sure you can come up with plenty of ideas. If the fridge has a freezer section you could even pick up frozen entrees from the grocery store.

Some hotels that do not usually have fridges or microwaves in the rooms give you the option of adding one to your room for an additional fee. Also, check the breakfast area of your hotel. If it’s out in the open, sometimes the microwave and toaster are available for use all day. Of course, if you have a medical condition that requires keeping medicine refrigerated, most hotels won’t hesitate to put a fridge in your room free of charge, and there’s nothing stopping you from keeping other food/drink in it with your medicine.

The above options are great if you can find them, and if you don’t mind paying extra for the amenities, but if it is not an option, you’re usually left with two things: a coffee pot (or kettle) and a bucket for ice.

Recently, my friend posted the following to her journal. Her husband sent her the link after she informed him she would be packing along food for their trip to Dragon*Con to help offset the cost of food.


Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wMhQc8T7tqQ

My only response to this is “wow”. I personally would never dream of cooking something IN the kettle because someone else will always have to use it and you don’t want to be the jerk who makes their tea taste like pasta. But dehydrated pasta you add hot water to? No problem. As illustrated in the video, it was pretty easy to get a bowl and utensils from the hotel. Some convenience foods even come in a container you add hot water to, such as instant oatmeal or Pot Noodle.

Another example of extreme hotel cooking was found via this link:


Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEZ2aIQhVSU

Again, this is something I would never do. Though a very clever idea, you really could do damage to the hotel’s iron if you tried this. Some hotels have sensitive smoke detectors in the rooms, and attempting to cook with your iron could result in setting it off.

So what can you do in a hotel room with few amenities? Like I said above, look for food you only need to add hot water to – soup, oatmeal, and pasta are three popular choices. For a quick vegetable soup, dissolve a vegetable bullion cube in some hot water and then add a can of mixed vegetables. The hot broth will heat up the vegetables. Many soups come in powdered form and you can jazz them up with some simple ingredients. For example, you might not be able to make that grilled cheese sandwich to go with your tomato soup, but you could sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top of your soup and dip pieces of bread in it.

Another option is turning the sink into a wet bar, though this will mean brushing your teeth and washing your hands at the bathtub. Simply plug the drain on the sink and start filling it with ice from the hotel’s ice machine. Submerging your food in the ice will create the same effect as if you had things in a cooler and you can keep loads of food cold this way. I would still stay away from items that are overly perishable, but string cheese or Babybell cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, and lunchmeat are all items that would stay cold on ice. You might have to change out the ice every day and leave a note for housekeeping not to clean the sink.

If you’re driving to your hotel, you could pack a small crock pot and use that in your room. Plug it in in the morning and by the time you get back to the room, you’ve got a hot dinner. If you have your own electric kettle (we called them hot pots when I was in college) you could bring that along to cook soups or pasta in. Electric sandwich presses also could come in handy. I would avoid bringing along an electric skillet or grill due to the aforementioned smoke detector problem.

If your hotel doesn’t even offer an ice bucket and ice, you’re better off finding a new hotel if you really plan on trying to eat in your room. Either that, or you’ll have to stick to nonperishable and snack foods. When I used to go on road trips, I would pack a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam, a loaf of bread, and a knife. It got a bit monotonous, but it was always filling, and nonperishable.

Some hotel food options include:

*Peanut Butter and Jelly
*Tuna fish in the can (use packets of mayo to avoid mayo going bad)
*Sandwich Paste (UK item)
*Hard cooked eggs
*babybell cheese or cheese in a can
*Fresh fruit and vegetables
*cup of soup/pot noodle
*instant oatmeal

The list could go on and on. What do you take along to eat in a hotel?

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Hotel Review: Vienna Wolf Trap Hotel

When we were planning Tim’s visit, we decided to go away for a week of sightseeing outside of my local area. Our choices were pretty wide, but we needed to be able to move around via public transportation, since I knew we wouldn’t be able to borrow my mom’s car for a whole week away (I sold my car in July 2008), and a rental car would have been too expensive. We settled on taking a trip down to the nation’s capital, Washington,DC since we could take a train from Lancaster to Philadelphia, and then Philadelphia to DC. We also entertained the idea of going down to Orlando to visit my cousins, but I think the heat intimidated Tim a bit!

Anything in DC was going to be expensive, so I put on my research hat. I first loaded the Washington Metro website and then opened my regular search engines for hotels (Travelocity, Priceline, Orbitz, Hotels.Com, etc.) I cross referenced the search results with the Metro map to help find a hotel near a Metro stop, and the name Vienna stuck out at me. My friend Maggie used to work in Vienna (and as it turns out, we stayed at a hotel directly across the street from where her wedding reception was! I completely forgot!), so I started checking Vienna hotels.

The Vienna Wolf Trap Hotel stuck out at me, because I’ve been to concerts at Wolf Trap (for BNL, I know you’re not surprised!). A check on Trip Adviser gave out mixed reviews, but it still had an overall customer rating of 4/5. Then, I checked the hotel’s website directly and I was pleasantly surprised to find a summer special – rooms for $69/night! WOAH! So, we booked it. The person I spoke with on the phone was a really nice man named Jeff who answered all my questions and told me the Metro stop was about a mile away, and I was able to book us a room with a mini fridge and microwave to help save on food costs, too.

The hotel itself is pretty standard. It has a motel set up where the doors all lead directly to the outside. Two buildings of three floors. No attached restaurant, but there was a Mexican place next door, and several other restaurants all within walking distance. There also was a 7-11 and a grocery store nearby. We were told our stay included breakfast in the morning, which was served from 6am until 9:30AM.

The room was pretty basic. Two Queen-sized beds, a large TV, a table/desk, a fridge, microwave, and coffee pot…but only one chair. The toilet and shower were in the bathroom, but the sink was at a separate vanity outside the bathroom. The sink was a little dingy and miscoloured with cracked enamel, but fortunately the shower was clean. And boy, did they have lots of TV channels! The hotel had more channels than Comcast in Lancaster has!

The air conditioning really worked overtime in our room, too. We finally learned to leave it set somewhere between the cold and hot dial in order to make it comfortable, otherwise we started to freeze overnight!

Other hotel amenities left something to be desired. The cleaning service wasn’t all that great and several times they failed to replenish the cups for the coffee pot. Fortunately we were able to make do with what we had. But they did make the bed and provide clean towels every day, so that really was my only complaint. Breakfast….left a LOT. They converted the hotel room next to the lobby into the breakfast area, with 2 tables to sit at and a long table for the food. Our choices? Coffee, Sunny Delight (yes, Sunny D. Not OJ), bagels & donuts from Dunkin Donuts, bread (for toast), and a few sad looking pieces of fruit. They also provided cream cheese, butter, and jelly. Not exactly the greatest breakfast in the world, but it was enough to keep us going until Lunch, so really, that was all that mattered. It’s just funny comparing it with the hotel breakfasts I got used to in the UK (a hot breakfast, usually full English).

We only had one problem during our stay. There was a really bad thunderstorm, and it managed to knock out the keycard system at the hotel. There was only one person on desk, so he had to run around to let everyone back into their rooms each time someone wanted in. He also had to create new keycards for every single room that was occupied and had to call each room to tell the occupant when to come pick up their new key.

The walk to the station was long. Longer than one mile, I don’t care what they said. My pedometer (now lost in DC) said 1.46 by the time we got to the station. Fortunately, in the mornings there is a Fairfax Connector bus you can take, and it also runs in the evenings, but more about that in a different post. A taxi ride was just around the $7 mark. There also were several Metro busses that passed near the hotel, but none of the routes and times seemed to work for us. The Metro busses also seemed to take the long way around to get to the stations, and we really didn’t want to spend 45 minutes on a bus, when the Metro ride was about 40-45 minutes into DC.

If we were going back to DC again, I think we’d probably stay there again, now that we know what times the Connector runs. The price was right, and the addition of the microwave/fridge meant that we saved on food 2 days (which was good, considering one of our days we ate out with friends twice!), and had a place to keep a gallon jug of water cold to refill our bottles in the morning.

Our total bill for the 4-night stay including tax was $303. I’d say it was a pretty good deal!

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Finding Inexpensive Travel Deals

I ♥ travelocity. Let me back up. I ♥ moneysavingexpert.com.

Moneysavingexpert.com is a UK site for cheap bargains. I signed up for the weekly newsletter in the hopes that I’d find some good deals for Tim and I…and I have.

First, I discovered that for every £10 in Tesco vouchers we earn, we can trade it in for £40 in hotel vouchers instead of using it at Tesco. £10 off your groceries is nice, but if we can get a hotel room for free, we’ll take it! On our last Tesco statement, we had earned £12 in Tesco vouchers (which Tim used to get money off his groceries now that I’m back in the US), so we should be able to get ourselves £40 in hotel vouchers once every three months (Tesco earnings come out quarterly).

It also had deals on things that don’t apply to us, like credit card deals, deals on Sky+, etc. But this week, it had a link to their section on travel and tips on finding inexpensive hotels (which apply worldwide, btw). Since I have an upcoming trip to Ireland in September, I’ve been hunting for an inexpensive hotel.

I opened all their suggestions in tabs and compared it with the hotel I had already found (a self-catered place for ~US$250/3 nights). Travelocity found a fantastic deal. The Ardmore Hotel for only US$48/night! The hotel is a few miles from both the airport and the ferry port, as well as the train station. There’s a bus stop right in front that will take you into the city center….and the hotel has decent reviews on TripAdvisor. The other great thing about Travelocity is it will charge in USD, so we won’t have to worry about a currency conversion fee.

The minus to staying at the Ardmore is going to be that it’s NOT self-catering. It’s iffy if breakfast is included (hotel site says it’s available, but a review claims it cost €12 (~US$17) and apparently a cheaper breakfast can be had in town at Debenhams for €7 (~US$10)), but there IS a hotel restaurant/bar and they have daily dinner specials for €10 (~US$14) as well as room service, so if we can’t find anyplace else to eat, we can use the hotel as a fall-back option. But I can’t see us spending more than ~US$150 on food for three days (the price difference between the Ardmore and the self-catered place is ~US$150, and that’s before we’d have to shop for food for meals, too.)…if even that. Especially if I still head to a Tesco when we get there to stock up on some non-perishable snacks. If we eat a big breakfast at Debenham’s in the morning and pack snacks for the mid-day, as long as we eat an early dinner, we might be able to skip lunch (Tim and I did that frequently when we were traveling).

Do the discount websites work? Well, not always. And it’s always best to compare several in different windows or tabs to ensure you are finding the best deals. When I was searching for our flights I managed to find flights for $100 less through Priceline than even Kayak or Cheap Tickets was linking to (and those sites are my first stops for cheap air fare)! I also always open a direct link to the hotel or airline website to make sure there isn’t a better deal through booking direct. And if you’re looking at hotels, make sure you read the reviews or check Trip Advisor. Sure, a hotel for under $40 is nice, but is it going to be clean?

I also try to take advantage of membership cards. Obviously, airlines have frequent flier cards you can earn miles on for future trips and even spend buying other things. But did you know that many of the hotel chains have their own rewards system? Some even as easy as stay three nights in any of their hotels, get a one night stay for free!

Inexpensive travel is out there. You just have to be willing to search for it!

[LJ users reading this on the LJ feed, please click on the links at the top to go directly to my blog to leave comments, as comments left on the LJ feed do not get sent to me.]

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