Becca Jane St Clair

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Archive for the 'European Travel' 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:


The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission.

I have not received compensation from any companies mentioned in my post.

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A Letter to Ryanair…

Because their online contact form isn’t long enough and their Facebook page doesn’t allow for visitors to post (gee, I wonder why), and they don’t offer any additional contact information…

Dear Ryanair,

My husband and I understand that issues happen.  A shortage of staff can cause chaos, a broken plane can cause delays, weather can have an impact on take offs and landings.  Most of the time, we both go with the flow and if our plane is a half hour late, it doesn’t bother us and we carry on.  However, the events of Saturday, 16th June need to be addressed and reparations need to be made.

My husband and I were scheduled for flight FR1548 – London Stansted to Leipzig (Germany).  The flight gets in to Leipzig quite late, so we always book a room at a hotel with 24-hour reception and book our rental car to be picked up the following morning as no one is manning the rental desks that late.  This is a system that has worked out for us on several previous trips, including one where we were delayed by about an hour.

On Saturday, we arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare.  After going through security, we checked the departures board and our flight said “Gate info 1845”, so we went to Giraffee for dinner.  While on our walk around the duty free area, my husband noticed the flight information changed to “Delayed until 1940”.  This was fine, as it would only make the flight a half hour late (original departure 1915). We finished up our dinner, and checked the board once more.  Our flight info was now blank, only showing the flight number, time, and destination.

We tried to find someone who could explain what that meant, but you have no staff on that side of the airport and neither does the airport.  We finally spoke with a man at the currency exchange who could only tell us that he didn’t know either.

To our delight, the gate was announced at 1845, the original time stated.  Fantastic, we thought.  Still slightly later than our boarding passes said, but maybe they can get the plane loaded in a half hour.  We all rushed to the gate and joined a neverending queue . It seemed half the plane had opted to get “Priority” boarding to be able to put their bags on.  We did, since my rucksack carries my laptop and I didn’t want it to wind up in the hold.  We stood around for fifteen, maybe 20 minutes. I probably should have kept track, but I didn’t.  Eventually, we got told our gate was changing and there was a mad rush to the new gate, now putting us at the back of the Priority queue.

We stood.  A Ryanair employee finally arrived and started scanning people through.  They stood on the stairs, unable to go outside to board the plane as the doors were locked and there was no staff around to unlock the doors and babysit our walk.  It was around 1945 when the queue finally started moving and we were able to board the plane.  Once again, we optimistically thought this would only cause about an hour’s delay, and I quickly checked the S-bahn schedule for Leipzig to make sure we could still get into the city centre before shutting my phone off per flying regulations.

We sat on the plane.  No one was speaking to us and as far as anyone knew, we were still boarding.  Except that a quick look around (we were in the last row) showed the plane was full.  What was going on?  They went through the safety announcements and we thought for sure this was the signal that we would be pushing back….nope.

Finally, sometime after 2030, the pilot finally comes on to tell us “There was a problem with the flight plan.”  Naturally, this caused confusion as surely the plane would follow the same flight path it always follows from London to Leipzig?  But then my husband and I speculated that we were simply waiting for a slot to take off since we were late.  The PA system remained silent.

Around 2045, there was a sudden announcement to return to seats, fasten seatbelts, and we would finally be departing.  Hooray!  Some quick Maths and we determined this would mean landing around 2330 local time, but trains would be running until 0130, so we weren’t worried, and the flight progressed as normal….but it seemed a little long.

Finally, well past the hour and forty minutes in the air, the pilot comes on to tell us –Surprise!  We’ve brought you to Berlin. “Unable to land due to curfew” was the reason given, although I now know that our plane could have landed and Ryanair could have paid a fee for landing outside the curfew.

Berlin?  Berlin wasn’t even on the side of the country we planned on being in.  “What are they going to do for us?”  began the common thread across the plane as we descended.  Once we landed, we had to wait on the plane some more as we were waiting for busses.  At first, we thought the announcement about the bus meant “We’ve arranged for busses to take you t Leipzig”, however we soon found out that this was not the case, and we were waiting for busses to take us to the terminal.

Confusion continued with another announcement “Ryanair will pay for taxis to your final destination”  came over the PA.  Cue cheering.  My husband and I assumed this meant there was ground personnel in Berlin who was going to be arranging this for us. Perhaps they would pile as many people as possible into taxis to the various final destinations. We needed the city centre, so we were fairly confident there would be a few more heading that way.

A steward near our end gave us clarification. “You pay for the taxi now, and Ryanair will reimburse you.”

Since we were now on the ground, I turned back on my phone and googled for taxi rates.  The cheapest was €381, the most expensive over €500.  We looked at the trains.  The earliest train to Leipzig was at 4 in the morning (it was now close to 1AM).  While that was an option for some of the passengers, it wasn’t an option for my husband and I, who had a further drive on Sunday to our destination in the Harz mountains.  Neither was shelling out €400 or more for a taxi ride with no actual guarantee in writing that your company would be reimbursing us.

We still remained optimistic, thinking surely there would be ground staff able to help.  In the meanwhile, an email came through from our hotel in Leipzig that I was being charged €107 for the room we should have been checking into, and being listed as a “no-show”.  I tried to contact the hotel, but had no luck.

Once in the baggage claim, it became obvious to all of us that there was no staff other than airport staff to help, who naturally had no idea what was going on.  Sighing, I opened up a hotel app on my phone, and booked the cheapest and closest hotel I could find – the Best Western for €86.  We then jumped on the DB app to look up tickets back to Leipzig (remember, we had to pick up a rental car there!). Tickets were showing up around the €50 mark.  Our quick trip to relieve stress was soon adding up.

Next came figuring out how to get to the hotel, so I rang them and in my halting German asked about a shuttle.  The shuttle doesn’t operate on weekends.  Fantastic.  We had to book a taxi, €21.20.

I am seeking the following in reparations:

*€86.36 Hotel in Berlin

*€21.20 Taxi in Berlin

*€6.80 S-Bahn tickets

*€50 DB Tickets

And lastly, I am also seeking €107 for the cost of our hotel in Leipzig which I had to pay for as a no show for a total of €271.36.  Please see attached photos for proof of amounts.

Additionally, I would like to add that I have Type 2 Diabetes and by the time we arrived at our hotel there was nothing open nearby to purchase food and if it wasn’t for a cereal bar in my suitcase, you might have had a serious medical issue on your hands.

I expect to see a cheque waiting in the post when we return from our trip.

Thank you.

Rebecca Lockley

The contents of this post, including images are © Rebecca J Lockley and Tim Lockley unless otherwise stated and should not be reproduced without permission.

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Pickpocketed in Dresden

You always read about people being pickpocketed, and you never think it will happen to you. After all, you’re smart. You keep your wallet in a secure pocket or around your neck; you’ve purchased RFID blocking cases and sleeves, and/or you use slashproof bags when you travel. But then perhaps you get too comfortable in your location and you become lax. You find yourself leaving your handbag by your feet while you take a photo, or perhaps your wallet doesn’t get put back into a zippered pocket….and then you get hit by a pickpocket.

This was my reality on our recent trip to Dresden. I felt so at home in the former East German city that I didn’t really think about my own personal safety and after having my Wochenkarte checked onboard a tram, I shoved my pass case into the front pocket of my camera bag instead of putting it away inside my zippered purse. We got off at Albertplatz and made our way to the Rebecca Brunnen (fountain) near the Drei Konig Kirche and on towards the fountain at the end of the street and even got as far as the golden statue of August II, two hours after we had had our tickets checked. It was while we were paying for our lunch at a Nord See takeaway that I noticed it was missing.

Queue panic. Serious panic. I emptied my entire camera bag right there on the sidewalk, double checked, and made Tim triple check… was gone. My passcase that contained my Wochenkarte (worth €61!), My London Oyster card, and more worrying – my National Rail ID and travel card for travel within the UK.

At first, we wanted to believe I had merely dropped it on the tram, so we headed to the DVB office at Postplatz. After finally finding someone who could speak English (I do speak German, but in this instance, I knew English would be easier), he agreed to contact the driver of the tram we had been on. The driver would check the tram and get back to him in an hour. So we went off to the shopping centre at Altmarkt (I really wanted ice cream!) and returned to find out that the driver had not found my case. We were advised to either return in 2 hours or come back the following day, and the Fundbüro was also suggested. Being pickpocketed was mentioned as a possibility, but we still didn’t want to believe that had happened. I also kept checking my facebook “other” inbox, thinking that if someone had found the case they might have searched for me on facebook and tried to match the photo ID to my profile pic, but no luck. We headed to the Lindt shop and had a delicious Eisschokolade drink (it was crushed truffles and milk. SO DELICIOUS) before heading back to our apartment.

The following day, I returned to the DVB office, but my case stil hadn’t been found, so we went around the corner to the Fundbüro. The Fundbüro is located at 13 theaterplatz, and is in the basement of a building that has many other city offices in it. I dont think it was the city hall building, but it was definitely a city office building. Once we got to the basement, there was a sign (in German) telling us we could only enter if the light above the door was green. Since it was green, we went inside. Fortunately, the people in the office speak English. After explaining what I had lost, they searched their computer that logs everything that comes in and the gentleman suggested to me that I most likely had, in fact, had the item stolen from me because things like wallets tend to show up fairly quickly if they are simply found.

Well, crap.

We had plans for the day, so we purchased a second weekly ticket (uuuugh) and headed on our way. That night I also researched how to get home after we landed back at Heathrow……and I had to spend an additional £31.50 – £10.50 for the Heathrow Connect (while Tim would be using the Heathrow Express, it was twice as expensive to buy a replacement ticket for me) and £21 for a single from King’s Cross to Lincoln. I planned on using my contactless debit card on the underground to get from Paddington to King’s Cross.

The following day, while Tim explored the transportation museum in town, I made my way to the police station to file a report. This report was necessary so I could have my rail passes replaced once we got home, and on the off chance that our travel insurance would kick in.

The main police station in Dresden is located on Schießgasse between Landhausstraße and Rampische Straße. it is a beautiful building, and we actually had admired it on our first evening in Dresden and took several pictures of the building so I knew exactly where I needed to be.

Once you enter the building, there are two windows – one to the left and one to the right. IF both are manned, I believe you are supposed to go to the left, but as only one window was manned, I went to the right. After asking if I could speak to someone who spoke English since my German wasn’t up to snuff (see the end of this post for some handy German phrases!), I was directed to a small waiting area.

After about 20 minutes, a female officer came out and I thought she would be helping me, but after I explained to her what had happened, she asked me to wait. 20 more minutes went by, and I was finally called back by an officer who identified himself as Herr Jentzsch. Herr Jentzsch explained that he wasn’t fluent in English, but since I could speak some English, we decided we could communicate…..along with the aid of google for looking up images of things and correct words!

I was back with Herr Jentzsch for quite some time, but that was mostly to do with needing to first explain everything in English (and write the report in English), and then helping Herr Jentzsch to translate what I had said into German. This is where looking things up on google helped us, as some of my English words and what I thought were the German equivalents were not understood. This was likely due to either dialect differences (I know a mostly Bavarian/Tirol dialect) or because when i translated a word with google, it gave me a literal translation and not the correct word. It didn’t matter though, because even though we had a slight language barrier, we persevered, and I was handed a Bescheinigung to take home with me to get my cards replaced. Herr Jentzsch even wrote part of the Bescheinigung in English for ease of it being understood once I was back in the UK!

All in all it was a pretty painless process. Well, the reporting was. Obviously, losing my card case has been quite painful and I’m still waiting on replacement cards from Rail Staff Travel, but I’m sure they’ll get to me eventually.

I still feel pretty vulnerable….and stupid. But at the same time, relieved. Sure, I had to buy another weekly ticket for 60 euros and train tickets for £30, plus wait for my replacement travel cards to show up before I can travel again, but it could have been worse. My entire purse could have gone missing with all my cash, debit card, and credit card. My passports could have been stolen, my entire bag could have been grabbed, or I could have been hurt. Yes, this incident has cost about £100, but it could have been worse. Way worse. And you know what? I learned my lesson. For the rest of the trip, NOTHING went into the front pocket of my bag unless it was disposable (like a brochure), and I buried my passport underneath the padding that holds my camera. This isn’t going to stop me from travelling, it’s only going to make me more aware in the future. And If I get checked by fare revenue on the tram next time we’re in Dresden, I’ll make sure I put my ticket away BEFORE getting off the tram….and I probably won’t store it in my passcase with my UK tickets and passes.

If you don’t speak German and you need help whilst in Germany you might need these handy phrases (with some rudimentary pronunciations. It’s not perfect as I’m not a linguist, but the effort will be appreciated):

Ich brauche Hilfe (Ik brow-keh hill-fe) – I need help.
Sprechen Sie English? (Sprek-ken zee) – Do you speak English?
Ich spreche kein Deutsch (Ik sprek-eh k-eye-n Doy-ch) – I don’t speak German.
Ich kann sich nicht verstehen (Ik can seech neecht ver-stay-en) – I don’t understand you.
Danke (Dank-eh) – Thanks.

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[Travel] Grocery Shopping

A selection of food and drink souvenirs from Austria.

One of the things I love to do when we travel is to hit up the local grocery store even if we’re not self-catering. On our recent day trip to Rotterdam, I went into a grocery store and purchased a bunch of foods to try, but my pic of everything turned out too blurry to use for anything (sorry!)

Going to a local grocery store first of all can cut down on food costs while travelling. Even if you’re not self-catered, you can pick up snacks for your visit or in your room – a box of cereal bars that will last for 5 days is going to be cheaper than buying them in singles from the corner shop. Same with a bag of apples. Buying beer or other alcohol to drink in your room can cut down on your bar bills tremendously, and if your room has a kettle, you can stock up on tea, cups of soup, etc. And if you packed a spork and a set of nesting plastic boxes, you can even pack up your own lunches to take with you when you’re on the go.

Second, you get a better feel for the language if you’re in a foreign country and don’t have knowledge of the native language. Everything in a grocery store is labelled and sometimes there are even pictures of the item. For example, with a pile of lemons in Germany, you will see the word “Zitrone”. Now you know when you go out to a restaurant and see the word “Zitrone” on a menu the dish contains lemon.

I bought zitrone wafer cookies in Austria, and other flavours.

Third, it can help to get a flavour for local food. Check out the bakery section to see what breads and pastries the locals buy. Head to the deli section and see what meat (if you’re a meat eater) is popular. Look at the local beer options if you’re a drinker. And check out the chocolate aisle! Don’t forget buying chocolate at the grocery store will be a lot cheaper than buying it at a convenience store.

Our chocolate haul from Austria

Fourth, as you can see from my photos, bringing back food as souvenirs is fun! Feeling glum in the middle of Winter knowing your next holiday is months away? Break into some chocolate or make a bowl of soup. Giving food to friends and family is great too – everyone loves cookies and chocolate! Need a gift for a beer drinker? How about a few bottles of a local brew (space permitting, of course!)?

Fifth, if you’re really feeling homesick, or are travelling with children who might need a dose of “home”, you can always head to the grocery store and look to see if they stock a similar product or if they have an import aisle. Imported items will be expensive, but sometimes, you just need it. As an American now living in the UK, I can vouch for sometimes just needing a dose of “home” and yes, I have paid £2 for a single can of Root Beer.

And lastly, shopping in a grocery store can be fun! Check out this short video I made while Tim and I were shopping in a Billa store in Gmünd and at a MPREIS in Werfen.

Follow along on our Austria trip:

Watch the rest of the videos here:

Disclaimer: I received no compensation from products pictured in my photos or video, nor did I receive compensation from the shops visited.

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, 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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[Travel] Behind the (former) Iron Curtain

Iron_Curtain_map.svg I had never been to Eastern Europe before this trip. The closest I had ever been geographically was Vienna (as in, the border with Hungary was nearby). I think I looked at Eastern Europe as kind of scary, and I was possibly a little Xenophobic about it because “they use a different alphabet” (though not all of Eastern Europe does….some just use a heavily accented Latin alphabet!). It probably didn’t help that I grew up in the 80s, when the Cold War was winding down, but I was still young enough that I really had no idea what was going on outside of New Jersey, let alone the world, and even in 1990 my German classroom still had maps of East and West Germany, both flags, etc. And even when we started studying European history, my class didn’t go into the present, focusing more on the Holy Roman Empire than anything else. My HS had a requirement to take two years of US history, but only one of world, so I never took a modern European history class and if I’m honest, I wasn’t even interested in learning anything until within the past 10-15 years.

When we started planning this trip, I was still really nervous about travelling to the Czech Republic. Mostly because neither Tim or I spoke Czech and they use a different currency from the Euro (They are in the EU, but not the Eurozone) and maybe there was still a lingering fear of the unknown in general. I had only ever travelled in countries that either spoke English or German or I knew enough of the native language to be polite (ie – French and Spanish speaking countries where I can manage to say things like hello, please, thank you, and do you speak English). But Czech? Totally foreign. Even looking in the phrasebook I bought left me with a puzzled look on my face.

I soon learned that because we were on the border with Austria, a lot of the people we would interact with spoke German, and many knew English, too. The few places where no one spoke anything other than Czech, we made do with pointing and trying to pronounce things in the phrase book!

After we griced (chased!) a Waldviertelbahn train to Gmünd, we noticed that we were very close to the Czech border and were in fat parked in an area where they probably used to have people pull over for inspection. So we decided to go on a short walk across the border just so I could say I had been in the Czech Republic, even though we would be returning in a few days to ride a train on the JHMD.


When we were getting close to our apartment, we also noticed how close we were to the border on the map. When we mentioned it to our landlord, he told us that when he was a child, if you got too close to the border you could hear the border agents cocking their guns, and they would occasionally hear gunfire. You didn’t want to kick your football too close to the border, that’s for sure!!

We’re also pretty sure that when we went on a walk in the woods behind our apartment, we must have crossed the border at least once. After we visited the JHMD (I’ll blog on that later), we needed to get rid of some Czech Kroner because neither of us had realised how cheap things are in the Czech Republic. I had exchanged £50 before we left and was given something like 1600 Kroner. We had intended on buying our tickets with the cash, but then we decided to book them online instead to make sure we got seats so we really had quite a bit to spend. We then assumed Lunch would use most of it, but Lunch only came to around 300Kr. We decided to wander into a grocery store (Lidl), but we still only spent the equivalent of £13. But at least I have some Kroner for our next trip. I’m totally ready to visit Prague now!

There will be more about our visit to the JHMD in a few days!

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

Iron Curtain Map from Wikipedia

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, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

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[Austria] Road Tripping Days .5, 1, and 2

roadtrip Yep. That does say 20 hours of driving!

I know I mentioned it before, but I’m pretty sure we were crazy when we organised our trip. 20+ hours of driving?

But it wouldn’t be the first time Tim and I have done a long trip – our trip right after our wedding was driving from my home in PA to my cousin in FL, which takes about 21 hours and when we went on our belated honeymoon in Autumn 2010 we drove to Austria. Still though, it is a lot!

We decided to break it down into several days of driving, and even started our trip around 7PM on the Sunday right after Tim had worked a 12 hour day shift. No, I’m not kidding. He got home around 6, and we loaded up the car and headed to Ashford where we had booked into a single room at the Travelodge for the night. We have booked into these family rooms before and have always found them to be spacious, but this time we had a very small room and there was only about 6 inches between our double bed and Mom’s single! Fortunately, it was the only night we were all staying in one room. We showered that night and went to bed around midnight with the alarm set for 6AM. Our channel crossing had a check in time of 0720, and we were 20 minutes away.

Checking into the Eurotunnel was easy and quick, and so was getting through French immigration……in fact, that nearly didn’t stamp my mom’s US passport (Tim and I travelled on UK passports)! Tim had to tell the I/O that we had an American in the car. He soon stamped her passport and we were on our way into the queue, where we sat for about 20 minutes before being directed onto the train.

The train was a lot faster than I had thought it would be. Probably because the last time I went by rail, I was on the Eurostar and travelled between London and Paris. It hadn’t dawned on me that we would only be on the train to go through the tunnel under the channel and the trip only took about 30 minutes. The rest of the time was mostly loading and unloading!

I also was surprised that you stayed sitting in your car and there were no snack bar facilities, but I also think that was du to my confusion on the length of the journey. Also, if they had to have coaches for passengers as well as the carriages for the cars it would have to be a VERY long train, or only take half the number of cars.

The rest of the drive on our first day was long and uneventful…..until we got diverted off the main road due to it being closed and could’t seem to find a way back (this clip wound up missing when I was doing the video, so I might do a separate one later) onto the autobahn! Our original hotel booked was called Schlossblick and was located in Schwangau. The check in deadline was a FIRM 2000. I kept watching the ETA on the sat nav (really, Google maps) and started to panic the closer the ETA got to to 8PM. I had read the reviews on and saw that the owner does not give you any leeway, even if you ring ahead to tell her you will be late. As much as I was looking forward to having a balcony overlooking my favourite castle, we decided to cancel the booking around 4PM, as you could only cancel for free until 5. Fortunately, the app on my phone (I swear, I don’t work for them, I just really like their site!) helped me to find us a new hotel – this one with a 24 hour front desk. It was a SmartHotel, and we booked it about 2 hours before we arrived.

Of course, this couldn’t go off without some kind of hitch. The receptionist spoke perfect English, and I can speak German, but we still semed to hit some kind of language barrier and it took me nearly a half an hour just to check in. First, he said I didn’t have a reservation, then he tried to put the three of us all in the same room (at the rate for two rooms!). Finally, we sorted it out and we had rooms located next door to each other. Then, when we got to the room, I discovered someone had left their clothing in the wardrobe! After taking the clothing back to the front desk, I returned to the room and crashed for the night. I don’t know what Mom did, but Tim and I did not stay up very long!

In the morning, we ate breakfast at the hotel and got on the road to Schwangau and Neuschwanstein!

Credit goes to Tim for this shot #neuschwanstein

A photo posted by Rebecca L (@beccajanestclair) on

Ultimately, we decided against doing the castle tours – The Maria bridge was closed, so no opportunity for those amazing photos, but you still got dropped off at the bridge. We remembered it being a 20 minute uphill walk to get to the castle, plus walking around the castle and up the stairs and decided with Mom’s knees to skip it, and instead we wandered around Schwangau for the morning and early afternoon. Tim and I wandered down to the Alpsee for some gorgeous photos of that “toothpaste green water” as Tim calls the Alpine water.

Never leaving!! #bavaria #alpsee

A photo posted by Rebecca L (@beccajanestclair) on

We still had about 5 hours of driving to do, as once we were in Austria we still had to drive through most of the country to get to our first official stop! We encountered more road works, closed roads, and temporary roads. Fortunately, I was in contact with our landlord and was able to give him updates on when to expect us. We finally arrived around 7PM, long after the shops were shut for the night, so the landlords offered to feed us and we were treated to a smorgasbord accompanied by local beer. They spoke English, and I was slowly getting my German back….but Tim did much better than me!

After a pleasant few hours with our landlords, we retreated back to our apartment where once again, we fell into bed.

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


Map image at the top screenshot from Google.

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, my facebook page, Networked Blogs, the RSS feed(s), or through an e-mail subscription, please notify me.

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European Road Trip – Day Two: Neuschwanstein and Setting Up Camp

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

Today was THE day. I was finally going to see what we affectionately dubbed “my castle”. I blogged about this all the way back in December 2009 when we started planning our trip, though at that time we had been planning on staying in Germany and not Austria. In between December 2009 and going on our trip in September 2010, our plans changed A LOT…but the one constant was always going to be visiting Neuschwanstein.

Neuschwanstein has been the inspiration behind many artists, poets, writers, and….animators. Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World is partially based on Neuschwanstein. It’s no surprise…the castle is gorgeous. Even without going inside, I would have been completely satisfied with my visit having finally gotten the chance to gaze upon “my castle”.

I printed directions before we left the UK to get us from the hotel to the castle, and they seemed to work pretty well. At one point, we were driving on a tree-lined narrow road and I could catch glimpses of the castle through the trees. We pulled over and discovered a path through the bushes (obviously well-travelled by other visitors!) and I got my first in-person look at Neuschwanstein. It took my breath away and nearly had me in tears. We got back in the car, drove about 100 feet, and stopped again, this time to take a photo of the OTHER castle near Schwangau, Hohenschwangau. These two castles are within yodelling distance of each other. We did not tour Hohenschwangau that day, as my main focus was getting to Neuschwanstein, but we will go back and explore it on another trip. There’s so much to do right in that small area I could see us easily planning a week just staying right in that area.

We finally reached the castle grounds. You need to purchase your tickets before you get up to the castle at a special ticket booth (located next to one of the many souvenir shops!). This is also where you would purchase tickets for Hohenschwangau, as well as a combination ticket for both castles. After you have your ticket, you can opt to walk up the mountain, take a bus, or ride behind a horse-drawn carriage. As much fun as the carriage sounded, we opted for the bus ride up and the walk back down, figuring down would be lots easier than up! Tickets are for timed entries depending on what language you want the tour in (tours are offered in German, French, English, and then a multilingual tour where you walk around with a device similar to a mobile phone that translates into something like 30 languages), so you really need to watch how you get up to the castle and make sure there aren’t long queues! In fact, we nearly didn’t make it on time as the first bus to come down filled up with everyone ahead of us, leaving us standing about 5 people back from the front.

The bus drops off right near Marienbrücke (Mary’s Bridge), a very rickety wood and iron bridge that goes over the gorge giving you a perfect view of Neuschwanstein. Tim braved the bridge despite his dislike of heights to take a few photos for me. The bridge is still a decent uphill walk to the castle gates, so we had to get on our way quickly so we wouldn’t miss our booked slot.

Tours start from the courtyard. You can’t take large bags into the castle, so they offer lockers you can rent. Tim and I knew this ahead of time and left our knapsacks in the car, stuffing water bottles into the camera bag and my handbag. Each tour has a number attached to it and a barcode on your ticket. When your number is called, you have to go to the barrier, insert your ticket, and go in. When our tour was called, there was a mad (rude) dash to the barriers and I nearly got knocked over twice by people who seemed to think they had to be first.

Before I tell you about our visit, let’s talk about Neuschwanstein. The castle was built in the 19th century by a man who is better known as Mad Ludwig. It was intended to be his personal refuge, however he died while the castle was still being constructed. Ludwig wanted his castle to be a fairy tale castle and to pay tribute to Richard Wagner, and so all of the rooms are decorated to represent his musical works. Ludwig also had a slight obsession with swans, and there are multiple swans in every single room – carved into furniture, worked into the paintings, and even carved into the crown moulding. In fact, one of the first things you see when you walk in is a life-sized swan sculpture. Neuschwanstein means “new stone swan” in German.

Photography is not permitted inside the castle, but I did find a website with some interior photos.

The other people in our tour group continued to be rude. It’s really a shame, but some people just didn’t have the patience to wait their turn and were pushing and shoving at us. At one point, Tim and I even got separated by a crowd of people because they managed to push by me. It’s a castle, for crying out loud! It’s not going anywhere! Despite (or in spite of, take your pick) the rude tourists, we still had a great time. I was in awe. At one point we were looking out some windows at the scenery below, and I asked our tour guide if it was all right to take some photos looking out the (open) window. She gave me permission, so guess what happened? Yep. About a dozen people in our group all went over to the window and started taking photos and I had to wait until they were done before I could go take mine. Not that the guide wouldn’t have given the others permission, but it just really rubbed me the wrong way to have that happen when I was the one to ask about a picture!

At the end of the tour, you can take a self-guided tour of the kitchens on your way to the gift shop and cafe. The kitchen was amazing, and I couldn’t help but dream of the kinds of meals I’d cook if I had that large of an oven and hob at my fingertips! Once again, we ran into an issue when we tried to use the cafe. Tim and I didn’t know what was going on and there weren’t any signs, so we stood there by the counter waiting to place our order while one of the workers did something away from the counter (but saw us). Tim and I both assumed that since she saw us, she would come over to serve us as soon as she was done. Not so. Three ladies walked in behind us, got in front of us, and started calling for the woman’s attention. We thought we’d get served before these ladies because the woman had seen us waiting, but no. She goes and gets the food those ladies ordered, and then goes back to her other work, completely ignoring Tim and I. Not ones to hang around where we’re not wanted, we left and decided to grab food at the food and drink stands dotting the perimeter of the castle.

We started walking down the footpath taking photos and Tim was trying to find a spot to set up his camera for a self-timed shot. Ironically, a British couple heard Tim and I talking and asked us to take their photo in exchange for them taking ours. Worked out perfectly! We started hiking down the mountain and found a footpath to follow that went through the woods. It was dotted with benches, so we had someplace to stop and rest if we needed to.

By the time we got to the bottom, we decided it was time to head towards Austria. We had booked a few nights at Camping Hofer in Zell am Ziller, and we had about a two-and-a-half hour drive to get there. Since we’d be setting up camp, we wanted to make sure we arrived while it was still daylight, and the office at the campsite closed at 7PM. If we arrived later, we’d have been forced to find a B&B for the night. Arriving in daylight also gave us the chance to see what shops were available near the campsite. Fortunately, we passed a Billa supermarket on our way.

We arrived while it was still daylight. One of the very odd things about where we were was the complete lack of a sunset. I think it was because we were in a valley completely surrounded by mountains on all sides. The sun must have been behind a mountain. Tim and I just barely managed to get everything set up and Tim was blowing up the mattress as it started to get dark. I fished out a torch (US: flashlight) and managed to make us cups of tea and instead of going back out to Billa, we decided to eat whatever we happened to still have in the cooler that night. A review of the campsite will be made in a separate post.

We had an amazing day! Tim really spoiled me on this trip, and day three was to be another day of my choice – Swarovski’s Kristallwelten

And the photos…oh, you know you want to look!

If you click on the photo once, it will take you to that photos page. If you click on the photo again, you will be able to view it full size. I have no idea why WordPress made it so complicated!

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Vlog – Sneak Peek at Day Two

Post about Neuschwanstein tomorrow!

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European Road Trip – Day One

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

Or I should say, Day .5 and Day One.

On the Sunday before we left, Tim had to work a 12-hour day shift. So, we packed the car up on Saturday afternoon – I dragged everything outside while Tim was at work, and then when he got home we spent a few hours stuffing it…and boy, do I wish I had thought to take pictures of the packed car! My friend Lou lives down near Dover, and she offered to let us spend the night at her place on Sunday so we wouldn’t lose a half day driving through England. What a lifesaver! We didn’t actually get to her house until past 10PM, and didn’t get to sleep (too busy chatting!) until around 12, but it was well worth it to get on a Ferry around 8AM. Thanks again, Lou (Lou is currently cruising in the Caribbean with our favourite band, Barenaked Ladies)!

Our plans for Monday were to drive across France, through Belgium and Luxembourg, and finally into Germany. The drive was LONG. I think when we do this again (plans are for 2012 or 2013!), we’ll be breaking the journey sooner, as Tim was really tired. Unless by then I’m driving, in which case we would be able to switch off. But we had important plans and a sort-of itinerary to follow. Plus, I booked us a room for the night in Oy-am-Mittelberg.

We took an early morning ferry, around 8AM BST. Unfortunately, we crossed into a new time zone and we actually lost an hour. I think next time, we’ll aim for a 7AM sailing, as well. I also discovered that P&O sail continuously through the night, so we could have driven down after Tim got off work, gotten on the ferry and stayed at a hotel in France and given us a jump start. Oh well. We know for the next trip. The ferry was also cold. We went outside on the open deck while the ship was leaving port in Dover and while it was docking in Calais, but then we went inside and ordered breakfast. Food on the ferry was expensive, but it was worth it – They had a breakfast deal where you got something like 6 or 7 items for a flat rate. I took a picture of Tim’s plate!

We reached Calais around 9:30AM local time, and started in on the long drive. We made a bathroom stop somewhere in France, and stopped in Belgium for Lunch. I packed things into our cigarette lighter socked powered cooler so we could have a picnic lunch and we took a decent break. Original plans were to get to our Gasthaus in plenty of time for Abendbrot (evening meal), but that wasn’t going to happen. We finally gave in and stopped around 8PM at a service plaza. Our options were an expensive authentic German meal, or Burger King. Needless to say, we opted for Burger King. No reason to break the bank on a dinner break! This also is where we learned about Frauenparkplatz.

A Frauenparkplatz is a parking space, or series of spaces, reserved for women. The spaces are a little wider than traditional spaces, which lead you to think the Germans perhaps don’t think women can park. However, these spaces were actually created for women’s safety and are located close to doors and well-lit. Personally, I think it’s a great idea…it just also has the potential for jokes!

Around this time, we also discovered one of the perks of the Germany Autobahn — Many sections have raised speed limits or even NO speed limit. At first I was afraid for Tim to be driving at 100, but then I soon realized that if he didn’t, we’d get squashed by all the other passing cars! The sections aren’t very long, or at least, driving along at 100 they don’t feel very long. It helped us to make up some time, too. Our Gasthaus had a check-in time of by 10PM and if we didn’t get there, we’d lose 80% of the room rate plus not have a place to sleep. Fortunately, I was able to call the Gasthaus from my mobile and they were willing to “wait up” for us until 11. As luck would have it, we managed to arrive right at 10PM!

We stayed at the Ratskeller. A Gasthaus I picked completely by random based on it’s location and price. I just looked at a map of where we planned to be the following day, and picked out a few towns to check that looked like they were within an hours driving distance. I picked the Ratskeller completely blind, but it turned out to be an excellent choice.

Our room was basic, but it had all the basic commodities you expect from a hotel – comfortable, clean beds, a clean WC with shower stall, a telephone, television, and as luck would have it- free WiFi. Our hosts even offered to cook a meal for us when we arrived at 10! We declined, since we had made a stop already for food. We did make the mistake of assuming there would be a kettle or coffee maker in our room though and wished we had asked for some tea. We were really tired, so we set our alarms for 8 the following morning, plugged in some of our electronics to get them charged up, pushed the beds together (we booked a double room, but it consisted of two single beds), and collapsed.

The following morning we pulled back the curtains to absolute beauty. We missed it the night before since we arrived in the dark, but Oy-am-Mittelberg is in a valley of the Bavarian Alps. It’s stunning. Most of their tourism comes from skiing in the Winter, so in the off-season it is fairly quiet. When we went down for breakfast, there was only a handful of people present.

Breakfast (Frühstück) in Bavaria consists of a continental breakfast of meats and cheeses, and then there is usually a second breakfast called Brotzeit (“Bread Time”). The Gasthaus gave us a nice spread of breads, meat, cheeses, cereal, and hard-cooked eggs. The meal also included tea, coffee, milk, and apple juice. Surprisingly, the tea wasn’t bad! Tim and I adopted the continental style breakfast for the duration of our trip, as it made Frühstück a lot easier to prepare before we headed out for the day!

We were soon on the road and on the way to our first tourist stop of the trip – Neuschwanstein Castle. We stopped a few places along the way to take some photos. I’ll try not to overwhelm you with photos, but it’s going to be hard to pick my favourites!

If you click on the photo once, it will take you to that photos page. If you click on the photo again, you will be able to view it full size. I have no idea why WordPress made it so complicated!

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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!