Becca Jane St Clair

Personal Blog

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.

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Adventures in Yorkshire

Things have been hectic lately. So hectic, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get together with one of my oldest friends when she and her sister were visiting…but we made it work and I spent Sunday evening with them, and then they asked me if I wanted to join them on Bank Holiday Monday to visit the North Yorkshire Moors Railway – someplace my friend and I planned on visiting when she visited me six years ago but hadn’t been able to.

Our reason for going to the NYMR was Harry Potter because Goathland was used to represent Hogsmeade station in the films (well, just one film) and my friend, her sister, and I are all big Harry Potter fans.

When they first told me their plans, I sat down with the National Rail app and bus schedules and I worked out a long trip for them leaving Lincoln at 7 in the morning, taking the train to Pickering, then getting on the steam train to Goathland, followed by a two hour bus ride to York, then a train to Edinburgh, their final destination for their trip.

I worked out that I could go with them a far as York, and then hop on a train back towards Lincoln…although I really wasn’t looking forward to a two hour bus ride to York!

I started looking at schedules again and I worked out if we took the train to Malton, then the 840/X40 bus to Pickering, we would be able to do a round trip to Goathland, take the bus back to Malton, and then head in our separate directions – my friends to York to get up to Edinburgh, and me to Leeds to catch trains heading back towards Lincoln.

The trip was not without a few snags. Our first snag hit when the Northern Train to Reford was cancelled….but fortunately, we could hop on an East Midlands Train to Newark North Gate and continue on our journey.

We reached Malton with plenty of time,and the bus station was only across the street from the railway station. The round trip to Pickering was £7.50 (singles are £4.80) and the twenty minute bus ride was pleasant. We sat with a man who is a regular bus rider, so he was able to tell us which stop to get off at and how to walk to the station.

From the bus stop, it’s about a ten minute walk to the railway station. This was fine as we should have had twenty to do the walk in and get tickets. Unfortunately, the bus was running late, and it shortened our time to walk and get tickets to just under fifteen minutes, but we made it to the NYMR station with five minutes to spare…

We missed the train. When we got to the ticketing counter, the man was just putting through our tickets when his phone rang – a little boy fell and broke his arm and required first aid. But by the time he got back to us, the train had already left the station and we would need to take the train in an hour…which would cut our time at Goathland, but we thought it was still doable.

We had to have tea and scones in Goathland, and I think I finally solved the Cornwall vs. Devon debate:

One half done each way!

We heard our train come in and we rushed up the iconic stairs and grabbed seats on the train…to sit. And sit…and sit. The train we were supposed to be crossing was running late. We watched the clock tick up and realised we were going to miss our bus back to Malton, so back to the planning stage I went.

The next bus was two hours later, and then we would have another hour to wait in Malton before boarding a train to York, and then I would split from my friends – they would go on to Edinburgh, and I would head home.

Of course, our original plans would have had us reaching our destinations by five and now we wouldn’t get to our destinations until almost ten, but…these things happen, and no one got stranded!

And it was all worth it – the early start, the transfers, the emergency contingecy plans on top of contingency plans because I got to see one of my closest friends…we’ve known each other for over thirty years!


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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.

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Travel Products [Techish Stuff] Review

I thought I would write up a post about some of the travel products I’ve bought in the past year. All of the links lead to Amazon (and are Amazon Affiliate links). All of the photos have come from Amazon as well. Amazon is my current go-to for pretty much everything I can’t buy in town because I am an Amazon Prime member and get free one-day shipping. Despite all the issues I sometimes have with the delivery drivers, I still prefer Amazon over eBay.

ButterFox Universal Electronics Accessories Travel Organiser / Carry Case – The Butterfox organiser is one of those packing cube like products that works. When Tim and I travel together I’m able to fit nearly all of our cables for two DSLRs, my laptop (including external mouse), 2 phones, 2 tablets, and 2 kindles. This bag has two small inner pockets so I tucked in a few USB sticks and a card reader. When we travelled internationally, I also was able to include a double plug converter for the camera chargers and laptops. This bag also is great at home for keeping the camera chargers locatable. Much easier to see the mesh bag in a basket of chargers than finding the individual cords, and much easier when you’re travelling to not have lots of cords tangled all over the bottom of your bag. I WISH I had had a bag like this when my mom and I went to Ireland in 2009. We had a connecting flight in Paris (sadly, no chance to see Paris) and I had my backpack filled with stuff. For whatever reason, at CDG you have to go back through security to get a connecting flight and the lady on security did not like my bag full of tangled cords and actually made me empty my entire rucksack for her so she could see everything because “cords”. Literally, the only reason she gave me for wanting me to empty my bag. She also confiscated my awesome EMS caribeaner that I still haven’t been able to replace, but that’s another story. So, bag to organise your cords is a good idea. If you don’t want to go with a bag, maybe you want one of these:

dodocool Universal Grid-it Organization System – Tim and I both have grid-its we bought before our trip to the US in 2013. These were my first attempts at cord organising, and I like them a lot, but the only problem is they can get quite bulky if you have a lot of boxy plugs. The grid is good for flat items though, so it would be a great organiser for USB cables and other flat things. I’ve also seen people use these for more than electronics – you could use one of these for your make-up when you travel instead of a make up bag, you could use one to organize your pens/pencils and other stationary bits, or just to keep track of all the little odd things you take with you that don’t really have a home….and ok, that’s all I can really think of. Again though, these are great at home for securing all those odd cords and things you have no idea where to put because every item comes with a separate USB cable, but you only really use one cable for everything….or you have a video camera that comes with an AWKWARD cable that when you lose it you wind up not being able to empty it for a year. Yeah, that happened. We didn’t take these on our recent trips, but I still think they’re good.

Damai Portable Universal Electronics Accessories Travel Organizer – Another organising case for electronics. I picked this up because it said “fits ipad” and my Samsung is the 8″ version, so I assumed it would fit. It does not, and this case is not big enough for a standard ipad. Maybe the mini would have fit? But it is a great case because it zips shut so unlike the grid-it, nothing ever falls out. And it has loads of little pockets and elastic bands so it holds loads. It also has lots of slots that are credit card sized, so you can use it to empty out your purse of all the unnecessary store loyalty cards if you’ve forgotten before you go, or use it to keep track of attraction tickets. I used this to keep things like USB sticks, extra headphones, my ipod (which is now lost! :'( ), and extra memory cards for the cameras. This wasn’t useful on our short trip to Austria because of space (I took the Butterfox case), but I took this to the US for three weeks to try to keep things organized. This worked, but it also suffered the same problem as the grid it because once you cram it full, you risk it being bulky.
Probably my favourite product, and one we use all over our home is this:

Multi Port USB Mains Charger – 4 Ports USB Charger with UK, EU, US & AU Plugs – These are great! One plug, four USB ports. Like a USB hub but for the outlet. Tim and I each use one upstairs on our bedsides to charge phones, tablets, and kindles without taking up multiple plugs and we keep one downstairs in the living room for charging Tim’s work phone, my fitbit, an emergency phone or tablet charge if one of us starts beeping low battery before bed, etc. They’re also great for hotel rooms where they usually only have one or two plugs for the whole room and you have loads of devices to charge! It also comes with interchangeable plugs for the entire world, so no matter where you are travelling, you will have a charger without needing to pack loads of those little converters, assuming everything you have can charge via USB.

Travel Adapter USA 3 Pin Earthed Extension Lead 2 UK Socket This is a USA plug, but here’s the one for Europe: Travel Adapter EUROPE Multi Extension Lead 2 Pin Earthed Plug 2 UK Sockets. Having two plugs on a short extension instead of a bulky plug at the wall is so much easier! Especially if access is limited because plugs are behind furniture or high up on the wall and there isn’t space for a bulky plug. 2 sockets instead of one because this way you can charge your camera and use your laptop at the same time, or you can charge two cameras, or both you and your husband/partner can use your laptops. I also have a UK 4-plug with a US plug on the end that lives at my mom’s house since when we visit her it’s for a long visit and we will usually want to be charging cameras AND using both laptops at the same time. And since my 4-port plug has a UK plug for it, I sometimes don’t bother switching it to a US plug and plug it in to the extension.

SAMAR® Extendable Integrated Selfie Handheld Stick – Yep. A selfie stick. Because Tim and I travel alone and we usually get loads of pictures of me some place or him som eplace, but very few of the two of us together. So a selfie stick was purchased in the Amazon day deals for £2. We really used it for the first time when we were in Austria, and we have tons of pictures of us together! And if you have short arms, it’s also good for yourself if you travel alone. The trick to not being “that guy” is to just take out the stick when you want your photo, extend it, get it all set up (mine has bluetooth and then you press a button on the stick to take the picture), go to where you want your photo (set it up while you’re waiting in a queue if it’s a place with a queue!), use it, then walk away to put the stick away. People will like you better.

There’s also things I don’t have that I’d love to have, like a really good portable USB charger. Tim has one of these, but I only have what I like to call “lipstick chargers” and they’re only good for maybe 75% of a charge and only good once before you need to recharge it, but the one that Tim has can be used multiple times to a full 100% and can even do two devices at once. So much easier than carrying around the 3-4 portable chargers I was carrying around in Austria.

I feel like I’ve really rambled on about travel tech stuff and haven’t talked at all about anything else, but this post is getting pretty long, so I’ll do a second post on other things.

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.

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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 (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, has excellent customer service. I have had good luck with, but also some less-than-perfect luck. 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. 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….more details in another post on that apartment.

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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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Microwave Cooking?

In a few weeks, Tim and I will be travelling down to Brighton to stay with his friend Nick, and to help Nick and his dad out at a model engineering show. We’ll be staying at Nick’s house for 4-5 days. Without going into personal details, Nick is on some serious pain killers that leave him with no appetite. And I mean, no appetite. Tim told me that one time Nick prepared a trip itinerary and neglected to put in lunch and dinner breaks! So…we’re on our own if we want to be fed at all that weekend.

We don’t want to eat out for the entire weekend because a) that’s expensive and b) that would be unhealthy. Plus with my onion and garlic allergy it can make eating out “interesting”. This goes double for trying to buy ready meals or tinned soup!

We also have one other issue to deal with — Nick doesn’t have a stove. No oven, no hob, no grill. Just a toaster, a kettle, and a microwave. I only use our microwave for 5 things – defrosting meat at the last minute, cooking vegetables, heating up cups of cold tea, making rice, and making a quickie “baked” potato.

Lunch should be pretty easy – we’ll be at the show all day and I can make us some sandwiches in the morning to pack along. Breakfast also is pretty easy – cereal and toast. It’s making sure we have a good dinner that’s proving to be a problem for me!

We DID decide to take the car down. Originally, we were going to rail it the whole way, but then we remembered that we probably need to bring along some additional bedding, as we discovered the last time we were there that the small duvet doesn’t quite cover the both of us. This means, I could bring along the crock pot or the George Foreman grill…or even both. I might just do that, since I know I can cook with both of those, even if it’s just using the GF as a panini press.

So, with no stove…what can I cook? I don’t want to rely on tinned stuff or ready meals, but obviously I won’t be able to cook meat or anything like that. I could buy pre-cooked meat products to then heat up, or I could pre-cook some things at home and take them down in the cooler.

If I DO pre-cook meals and pack them into plastic…what meals re-heat better than others? I suppose I could pre-make pasta sauce and then do “baked” potatoes. Or do a roast and cut it up to be reheated along with some veggies? Should I do lots of pre-cooking and package things into individual homemade ready meals like I do for Tim’s Lunches? (well, he always gets leftovers)

I feel like this is worse than camp-cooking, because at least camping I had the gas camping stove.


(for those of you who are here for things OTHER than food related posts, real posts are coming! I promise!!)

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Photos Post

Last photos from Manitoba, traveling, and the index of all the albums from my trip:

the 12-seater prop plane I was on!

The snack shop once you go through customs in Winnipeg had a huge mural of US sites….including flying killer whales.

Snoopy is all over the Minneapolis airport. I forgot to take photos of this, but the airport also had a vending machine for Elizabeth Arden perfume and for Sony products (like a PSP and games!).

and one more photo:


Photo Index:
Walking around Winnipeg
VIA Rail Winnipeg to Dauphin
Quincy, Hobbes, and Casper
Lake Dauphin
Camping at Blue Lakes
Vermillon Park and Manitoba Brain Injury Assn. Walk
Flying Home

13 Days until I leave for the UK! The blog might be a little on the light side as I work on unpacking and repacking, but expect regular updates once I’m in the UK! 😀

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