Becca Jane St Clair

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Archive for the 'EU' Category

Travel in the time of COVID

Two weeks ago, Tim and I kept our autumn travel plans and went to Dresden. We went for a few reasons – some I’m sure a lot of you can sympathise with. We had to cancel our big trip because there was no travel allowed at that point, and we had to cancel a rescheduled trip in August due to a family death. But we still had October booked – originally to go to Destination Star Trek in Dortmund and Stadtfest/Canaletto in Dresden. Both of those events were cancelled, but we thought as long as travel to/from Germany was still permitted with no quarantine that we would still go but for a shorter break. Ryanair flies direct to Dresden currently on Tuesdays and Saturdays (They used to also fly on a Thursday) from Stansted for the low base price of £12.99, but the flight is at 0630 in the morning, which for us requires an overnight down by the airport (The Premier Inn is around £40).

We kept an eye on then news out of Germany before we went, in addition to the COVID restrictions in the UK. The day before we left, Germany added Yorkshire/Humberside, Wales, and the NE and NW to their quarantine list..but not Lincolnshire, and not Essex (where Stanstead is) and fortunately, we changed trains at Peterborough and Ely. But we obviously would have cancelled the trip and taken the £500 hit (between flights and accommodation and pre-booked steam boat tickets) if it was deemed to be unsafe or if WE felt it wouldn’t be safe.

The trains were all fairly empty on the way down to Stansted. People followed the guidelines and everyone was wearing a mask, though wearing it correctly was another story. The shuttle over to the hotel was full but not overcrowded and we opted to walk over to the petrol station to pick up dinner in the M&S Simply Food instead of the attached restaurant.

Naturally, the airport at 0430 was fairly deserted….as was our flight! I was really surprised because I know Ryanair likes to take full flights, so I don’t know if a lot of people cancelled last minute or if they were just running planes at low capacity.

The flight home was slightly more populated, but still empty enough that Tim and I had a row to ourselves, and the last row that we hadn’t been able to book was actually empty (indicating to me that there were people who weren’t using their booked tickets).

Once we arrived in Dresden, our plane was the only plane there and passport control was easy (after their machine worked again) and we were soon in a mostly empty airport on our way to the S-Bahn. On the way to the escalator down to the platforms, I noticed a vending machine selling facemasks for a two euro coin with a notice that you needed to be masked on the trains (but not on the platforms – a lot of people we saw would remove their masks as soon as they exited the trains). The S-bahn was fairly empty, and I think we only had one train that was crowded – and that was the morning we left as we were leaving during peak commute time. The same with the trams. They were busier during peak commuting times, but mid day pretty empty.

We prepared for the trip to keep ourselves safe by packing facemasks (We each had 4 and since our accommodation had a washing machine, I washed them frequently. IF we didn’t have a washer, I’d have washed them by hand). We also had hand sanitizer (in our liquid bag, naturally), and I packed some Dettol wipes. We also carried a thermometer and checked our temperature the day we flew to Dresden, and each morning before we went out for the day. I also made sure I had some paracetamol packed just in case it was needed. We wound up spending the first and half of the last day hanging out in our accommodation because we felt unwell. Not with COVID symptoms, but we felt it was safer to stay out of the public even if it meant losing time in one of our favourite places to visit.

We also picked Dresden because it’s someplace we’ve been multiple times so we’re familiar with getting around the city, we know what we want to do, we know where the shops are, etc. I don’t think I would have gone to a city I wasn’t familiar with.

We self-catered (We always do) and this time didn’t eat out any days (other than grabbing a knockwurst or a croissant at a station). This way we also kept our contact with the public down. We visited both narrow gauge railways and on both we pretty much had the entire carriage to ourselves, but we kept our masks on per guidelines.

Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be getting to go in December for our usual market trip….but on the other hand, I’m not sure the markets are going to happen, either.

IF you’d like to see what I packed, you can check out my youtube video here:


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A Day Trip to Wales

Yes, you read that right. a day trip to Wales.

It involved leaving the house by 0445 to drive to Scunthorpe, 5 hours of trains cross England and Wales, then a spin on the Ffestiniog, and the trip in reverse. We pulled into our driveway at 2359.

This trip was spurred by trying to decide where to go on day trips on Tim’s time off and one of us saying “too bad we can’t go to Wales”. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! If we couldn’t go to the Alps (or North/East Germany) for a day trip, we’d do the next best things and go to Snowdonia.

Bleary-eyed, we got in the car and drove to Scunthorpe. I was freezing, and began to regret my choice of clothing – jeans and a long sleeved tunic. It didn’t help that that particular Trans-Pennine Express train seemed to not have functioning heat and it was like an ice box. I planned on sleeping on the first leg, but it was too cold to sleep.

We made our first connection with a rush to a platform change at the last minute…but at Chester we nearly missed our connection as our train was running late and we had to leg it down the platform….fortunately, the Arriva staff held the train for us or our entire day would have been scrapped!

At Blaenau, we only had about fifteen minutes to get our tickets for the Fez and hop on behind the good old Earl of Merioneth (the Square) as she’s being retired in April and actually, getting to ride behind the Square was one of the reasons we did the trip!

Riding the Ffestiniog is one of our favourite things, so we sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed the ride to Porthmadog.

Our plan once we got to Port was a leisurely lunch in Spooners and some wandering around the town before boarding to go on the long journey home. And by this time, we were ridiculously tired.

I was still really cold, so I bought a blanket in Edinburg Wool Mill and wrapped myself in it on the platform and the trains. Tim called me granny, but I was warm!

Our trip home had considerably less changes and with the exception of the loo on the Trans-Pennine express overflowing and smelling horrible, the trip home was fairly painless, and I’m pretty sure I slept through most of it.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have access to rail privs like we do, this trip would set you back by about £300. But for us, it cost less than £20 (for the Fez on a priv discount).


Screenshots from the National Rail Enquiries app for Android, and the Ffestiniog website.

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Beverley: A Hidden Gem of Yorkshire

Recently, my husband had his week of spring leave off from work. Last year, we managed to do a short international trip to Rotterdam on the ferry, but this year we decided we would do a few day trips from home instead. And by day trip, I mean we just jumped on a train heading North to see where we would wind up.

After a short stop in Scarborough, we decided to go to Beverley. Not for any real reason other than when we took the ferry from Hull to Rotterdam in November, we had found a “mini guide to Beverley” and I used it for a humerus photo op with my Star Trek action figures. And, naturally, we had to take MiniBev to Beverley…

It turned out, it was an utterly amazing place!

Beverley has a minster, so we headed in that direction. I actually hadn’t been aware of the minster ahead of time, and this is why I think Beverley is a bit of a hidden gem. I mean, look at this minster:

The minster offered free admission, but an £3 charge for taking photos, which we gladly paid. We were two of maybe a dozen or less people walking around the minster – it’s obvious they don’t get a lot of tourists, at least not in March.

Even the columns and ceiling were intricate!

I love how even after almost ten years in the UK, I’m still discovering little gems like this – and my husband, who grew up in Lincolnshire and visited Yorkshire frequently had never been either!

Beverley is the county town of the East Riding of Yorkshire and is located about 8 miles away from Hull. In addition to the Minster, there are many other things to explore and do in Beverley, we just didn’t have enough time to explore the whole town! Beverley also has a fascinating history, well worth a read on the Wiki page, or experiencing first hand, as the sewards at the Minster are very informative and will take the time to answer any questions to the best of their ability!

Definitely add a stop to Beverley on your next trip to Yorkshire.


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Driving on the Continent – Things You Need to Know

Like many Britons, our idea of a holiday abroad is packing up the car and going across the channel (via ferry, rail, or tunnel) to mainland Europe (called “the continent”). One of the first things you notice as you drive off the boat is the cars are driving on the opposite side of the road from the UK and the drivers sit on the opposite side of the car (so American drivers, it’s the same side of road and car that we’re used to). This can make for some very interesting driving on small country back roads as the passenger tells the driver “you’re too far over!”, and even more fun on the motorways – particularly if you get passed by a driver who looks over and sees the person in the “drivers seat” (left side of the car) napping or reading a book!

Europe has some regulations for driving that you must follow, including carrying appropriate safety equipment with you. You can even purchase the required items on the ferry if you have forgotten them, but most auto supply shops (like Halfords) should stock everything you need.

*The first thing you need to do is pick up a pair of headlamp beam converters. These are round stickers you stick on your headlights so that the beam of light coming from them doesn’t blind other drivers, since UK headlights point in a different direction from European cars. These stickers are removable, and you should try to remember to remove them as soon as you return from Europe. I think our car might still have the stickers on it. Ooops!

*The second requirement is to display a GB sticker on the back of your car. Most post 2001 tags include the GB symbol on them, however this does not exempt you from needing the sticker in all countries. You can purchase this as a magnet if you do not wish to have a sticker permanently on the back of your car.

*Most European countries also require a reflective vest if you will need to get out of your car on the motorway. Some countries require this only for the driver, some require it also for passengers. A good idea is to make sure you have enough vests to cover everyone in your car. There are no requirements on the colour or style of vest, only that you must have one. If you work in a profession where you need a vest, you can use that one or you can even pack along the vests you wear while cycling if you already own some.

*Another item MOST European countries require is a warning triangle if you are stopped on the motorway.

*Lastly, you also should carry a first aid kit. Not only is it a requirement, it could come in handy. If you already have a first aid kit in your car, now is the time to check it and make sure it has plenty of supplies and that the adhesive hasn’t gone off on the plasters (US: band-aids). Your first aid kit does not need to come from an auto supply shop or be specially marked for Europe. Just like the vests, you can use a first aid kit you already own.

There are also some regulations that are country-specific. For example, if we had been going to Austria between November and April, we would have needed to fit snow tyres to the car. A great website for checking the requirements for the countries you plan on visiting is The AA’s Driving Requirements by Country page.

So…we’re ready to drive our UK car in Europe, right? Wrong. You also need to call your insurance company to make sure you have European coverage. It’s best to do this at least a month before your trip to make sure you have copies of the require paperwork, but some companies can email you the documents you need to print. Make sure you carry these papers with you.

It also is a good idea (but not necessary for European travel) to contact your emergency breakdown provider (AA, RAC, etc.) and enquire about services while in Europe. Tim and I were able to get coverage for Western Europe for 14 days for about £65 from the RAC. Pricey, yes, but better than getting stuck somewhere with a broken car. The RAC services we signed up for even included a hotel stay if we needed to wait for the car to be repaired, and would pay for getting our broken car plus ourselves back to the UK if it came to that.

In addition to getting your car ready for European travel, it’s a good idea to make sure you have valid travel insurance and if you are a European resident, a valid EHIC card. An EHIC card is not a substitute for travel insurance, so it is wise to carry both. The EHIC card is free to European residents, including those of us here on spousal visas. The website states that you need to apply via post, however if your UK spouse has an EHIC card, they just need to call 0845 606 2030 and request a card for their spouse.

Oh, and don’t forget to take along your paper counterpart to your driver’s license. You probably won’t need it, but I always like to be prepared.

You also might want to pick up a road map for the countries you plan on visiting. We purchased a Michelin map from Amazon that covered Germany, Austria, BeNeLux, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic. Tim already owned a map book for France, and then we also picked up a large-scale Austria map while we were in Austria, since it had on it the Austrian names for places and had some of the off the beaten path places we wanted to go.

So, we’re ready to go to the continent. Keep reading this week as I start to (finally!) write about our trip in September.

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We’re Back!

We’re back from our two-week European road trip! We had a GREAT time and loved camping. Photos are slowly going up on Facebook….between the two of us, we have over 2500 pics to go through, but Tim has way more than me (since he took more when we rode trains than I did!)

Here’s a breakdown of what we did:

Day .5 – Drove down to my friend Lou’s house to spend the night
Day One – Got on the ferry from Dover-Calais. Drove across France, Belgium and into Germany to stay in Oy-am-Mittleburg for the night
Day Two – Neuschwanstein, then drove to set up camp in Zell am Ziller at Camping Hofer
Day Three – Kristallwelten and Innsbruck
Day Four – Zillertalbahn
Day Five – Achenseebahn and Achensee
Day Six – Drove across Austria to set up camp in Nußdorf at Camping Gruber along the Attersee
Day Seven – Steyrtalbahn
Day Eight – Vienna (by rail!)
Day Nine – Murtalbahn
Day Ten – Salzburg
Day Eleven – Ybbstalbahn and Mariazellerbahn
Day Twelve РLong drive into Germany, overnight near K̦ln
Day Thirteen – Drove back to Calais, decided to take an earlier boat instead of another overnight and we arrived back in Lincoln at 12:30 in the morning.

I still have to finish up posts about Wales, then I’ll start in on Austria, but I do promise to blog about everything!

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Wir fahren nach Deutschland!

I’m so excited.

When I was 11 and I walked into my first quarter of German with Frau R (the district I went to divided the year into quarters and we took one quarter each of German, French, and Spanish to give us a “taste” to help us decide what foreign language to study), a GIANT poster of Neuschwanstein was hanging on the wall above the blackboard. I spent a good amount of time that quarter looking up at that poster – if there was a quiz and I needed to think, I’d glance up at it. If Frau R was talking to another student and it wasn’t relevant to German, I’d look up at it. I wound up picking German as my foreign language largely because I wanted to some day visit that castle and be able to speak the language.

When we moved on to HHS, I continued with German. I loved the language, loved the country, loved the food….I didn’t want to stop talking German. And guess what poster was once again, hanging up above the blackboard? Yep. Neuschwanstein. I studied German at HHS all four years, and even took the AP class/test testing myself out of 2 semesters of collegiate level German.

My Love for German didn’t end there. When I went away to college, it was harder to stick with German, as Penn State York didn’t have a German class at my level. But I still loved the language, and read my German books.

When I moved into a dormitory, my uncle gave me a poster that came with a puzzle of his. The puzzle? You guessed it. Neuschwanstein. That poster hung in all of my dorm rooms, reminding me of how much I loved German and wanted to go to Germany. At one point, I had even switched my major into International Business, with the intentions on doing IB/German so I could work in Germany. I didn’t stick with it, but only because once again, being at the “wrong” campus gave me no options for higher language courses, and it would have taken me an additional 2 years to complete my degree.

Tim has always known about my love for Germany, German, and Castles, particularly Neuschwanstein. He wanted to take me there for our honeymoon, but with all the other costs involved with the move (visa, shipping stuff, airfare) we decided to put it off and do it at a later point, hoping for Spring 2010 or even Fall 2010 to be for our anniversary.

When we got Tim’s schedule for 2010, he found out that his summer fortnight was actually in September. Our canal boating plans had to be put on hold until 2011, but we decided we are going to head to Germany instead!

We’re going to mostly be in Baden-Württemberg and Bayern (Bavaria). At this point, I don’t think we have any plans to go farther North, and we’ll have to plan a Northern Germany trip for another year, as there is a TON I want to see in Germany. Of course, a trip to Neuschwanstein is in our plans.

…..Now to brush up on my German, as I haven’t spoken it in…oh….10 years? Tim’s got audio CDs, and I found a book I’d like to order. Hopefully it will all come back!


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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Finding Inexpensive Travel Deals

I ♥ travelocity. Let me back up. I ♥ 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!

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