Where We Stayed During Our Travels

One question we get a lot from people planning their own trips to Europe, is “Where did you stay?”

Travelers on a budget will frequently use youth hostels, or couchsurf.  While you can find awesome deals at these places, they do come with many pitfalls, and we’ve decided that paying a little extra for some peace, quiet, and comfort was more to our liking. (Most likely, we’ve grown out of our “party” phase.)

One website we utilized HEAVILY was AirBnb. If you’re not familiar with it, it is a website that allows you to book vacation rentals that can provide you with unique insight into the lives of locals. So instead of staying at an expensive hotel or noisy hostel near the outskirts of town, you could potentially stay in someone’s clean, unoccupied apartment near the city center. Or stay with a host family and learn about their country’s culture, share a meal, and listen to their stories. Prices may vary at different times of the year, but we’ve met some truly awesome people through AirBnb, and felt that our hosts greatly enhanced our experiences. We only had one negative experience with AirBnb (not listed below), and it was primarily because the host was new, and was not prepared to have guests (we were his first customers, so he was learning the ropes). We learned from that experience, and prefer to stay with hosts that have several positive reviews.

Another homestay alternative to AirBnb is to house-sit for someone while traveling.

For hostels and hotels, we used Booking.com a lot.

Anyway, here is a list of all the places we’ve stayed in during our travels. With the exception of Morocco, all these places have been handpicked and researched by us, and were generally booked at least 2 weeks before arrival (or in the case of Paris, 3 hours ahead of arrival!). We favored housing that was close to public transportation (within a 10 min walk) or near the city center. Our budget was $75/night for 2 people, and I think we did a pretty good job of sticking to it. We really enjoyed staying at these places, and recommend you check them out as well.

 

ICELAND

SCOTLAND

ENGLAND

  • London – AirBnb (Philippa & Bill) – HIGHLY recommended, they are a great couple to be around, and we’d love to stay with them again.

FRANCE

MOROCCO
(All housing—except Casablanca—pre-arranged via Naturally Morocco)

MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE
(Bari, Katakolon, Izmir, Istanbul, Dubrovnik)

ITALY

AUSTRIA

CZECH REPUBLIC

GERMANY

  • Rothenburg ob de Tauber – Jugendherberge Youth Hostel Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber – Private bedroom, ensuite bathroom.
  • MunichEuro Youth Hotel – Shared bedroom, ensuite bathroom. (Get a private room if possible, we shared a room with 2 other girls, and one of them had a very loud one-night-stand with a random stranger while we were all trying to sleep.)
  • BerlinAirBnb (Simone & Uwe) – Also HIGHLY recommended, we felt like a part of their family and loved spending time with them.

 

Feel free to leave recommendations for places to stay in the comments!

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The Turkey Shuffle

by Karen

No matter how much careful planning you think you do, there’s always something small that can slip through the cracks. In our case, it was a pretty big crack!

Somehow we got the idea into our heads that Mark didn’t need to apply for a Turkey visa beforehand, that he would be able to purchase one upon arrival for $20. We both could’ve sworn it was true. In fact, it IS true for US citizens, but not for Philippine citizens.

We were thisclose to booking our 14 days in Turkey, when on a whim we decided to read the page about visa requirements.

PHILIPPINES
Ordinary passport holders are required to have a consular visa before travelling to Turkey.

To say that we panicked is a gross understatement. We scrambled to get all his visa paperwork together, going through the motions of booking fake hotels, printing out flight itineraries, filling out forms, and grabbing cash, and raced towards the Turkish embassy in Paris, only to find out they were closed. We then realized that it might take days or weeks to get the visa approved, so we gave up on the idea of going to Turkey for 14 days.

Turkey was an important strategic segment of our trip. Because we’re only allowed 90 days in Schengen territory, and because we want to experience Christmas & New Years in Europe, we needed a way to extend our time in the Europe region through January. An obvious solution would be to fly to Asia, then come back, but we have bigger plans for that trip later. 😉

So what were our other options? We couldn’t go to a country that required Philippine citizens to get a visa in advance, and we couldn’t stay too long in Schengen, lest we go over our 90-day welcome.

  • Extend our stay in Morocco (US & Philippine citizens OK for 90 days)
  • Go to Israel (no visas required for both of us)
  • Go back to London

After e-mailing the Turkish consulate in LA about our visa issue, I found out that there was a loophole for Mark entering Turkey. According to the friendly Turkish consulate worker:

If you come to Turkey by a cruise ship and thereafter leave Turkey for another country by the same cruise ship, all cruise passengers on board are exempt from visa for a daily stopover. If your cruise ship starts from Turkey or ends up in Turkey, all passengers are subject to a visa to enter Turkey. Depending on the citizenship of the passenger, an advance visa may be necessary to disembark.

Really? Even if we have to disembark the ship? *flutter of hope*

Mark found a cruise with Costa Cruises that fits into our itinerary quite well (anyone back home wanna join us???). But, we need to be absolutely sure, for real this time, lest we repeat our mistake:

YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE AN ADVANCE VISA UNDER YOUR CRUISE TRAVEL ROUTE FOR ALL TURKISH PORT OF CALLS. AS LONG AS YOU ARE LISTED IN A CRUISE PASSENGERS LIST, YOU VISIT TURKEY.

Yes sir, we will go and visit Turkey! With the supposed blessing of the Turkish consulate, we went ahead and booked our cruise!

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Now because we are leaving from Italy, we would be spending extra time in a Schengen zone. We did the math and so far it seems to work out (we hope). So if we’re on a cruise ship, which country are we technically in? I e-mailed the Greek consulate in LA and got back this response:

When you are on the cruise ship in Greek waters, you are considered as being in Greece.  They will stamp your passport when you enter and exit the country.  As a U.S. citizen traveling on a U.S. passport you can stay in the Schengen area 90 days in any six months.

So, hopefully this all works out in the end. A cruise will be a nice break from all the planning, and in addition to Turkey, we get to visit Greece, Croatia, and 2 new Italian cities in the process, something that we hadn’t planned. 🙂

London Wrap-Up

by Karen

We managed to squeeze in a lot of sight-seeing during our precious little week in London (our AirBnb hostess even marveled at our “sightseeing stamina”), and yet we hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface. We’ll definitely be back!

Speaking of AirBnb, we really loved our hosts, and we considered the little amount of time we were able to spend with them to be one of the highlights of our week. Their house was a bit far from central London, but it really felt like a cozy home, and it was nice to be in a place that didn’t feel like a hotel or dorm. So if you happen to be reading this, thank you for being awesome, Bill & Philippa!

And now, a quick list of our likes & dislikes about London—

Likes:
– so much history!
– the London Underground and ease of public transportation
– the diversity of people and neighborhoods
– the markets
– free museums
– everything is within walking distance
– plethora of ethnic foods
– local television
– the “internationality” of it
– tourist-friendly maps on every street corner

Dislikes:
– everything is pretty expensive (compared to America)
– air pollution & quality is very bad (gave us black snot)

The weather was actually gorgeous while we were there, so can’t complain about that!

Ultimately we enjoyed our time in London very much, and are eager to go back again (don’t worry Edinburgh, we want to give you more love next time too). We made the (somewhat) tough decision of skipping Stonehenge, Bath, and York, simply because there was already so much to see and do in London, and we had a short amount of time. We had already crammed so much into a few days, we were starting to get exhausted by the end of the week.

We’re actually considering returning to London after Barcelona at the end of our trip, since both our UK stamps are valid for 6 months (and it would give us an opportunity to get Mark a visa for Ireland). It would be a lot more expensive to fly back from London than Barcelona, but since we’re already on this side of the pond anyways…….

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Stay fresh, London! Til next time!

Traveling from London to Paris on Megabus

by Karen

There are a bunch of different ways to travel to Paris from London, the cheapest most likely being a bus. There are also many different bus companies going to Paris (probably at around the same prices), but we ended up choosing Megabus because we didn’t realize how many others there were at the time of booking (we booked our Edinburgh-London bus at the same time).

Unfortunately, London-Paris does not offer a sleeper option yet. So we had to get a regular seater bus for £18/person.

Our bus left from Victoria Coach Station at 9:30pm on time (yay!). But we had to get to the check-in line about an hour earlier. Holy crap, the station was absolute chaos. It was like someone started throwing free money around and everyone was crowding around doors.

The seats are like normal coach seats and the bus is a duplex. It’s pretty full in contrast to our Megabus from last weekend.

Cheap bus full of (predominantly young) people traveling in groups = bring earplugs if you want to sleep. (I almost feel like the older I get, the more anti-social I become.) Fortunately I was tired enough to just pass out.

Two hours into our journey, we had to get off the bus and go through passport control. Mark said that it was like going through Communion for him; everytime he gets a passport stamp, he feels “blessed”.

We got off the bus again after that to get a sandwich while waiting to board the ferry, and again after the bus parked on the ferry. The ferry feels pretty huge, it was almost like being on a cruise ship, and had a large cafeteria and small slot machines. It was about a 1.5hr ride to the French shore. Goodbye, England! Unfortunately, it was too dark to see anything outside.

Our bus arrived in Paris around 8am and dropped us off in Porte Maillot, which is supposedly a giant concert hall & shopping mall area.

Nothing special about the bus, but it was pretty darn cheap. The ferry made us really sea sick though. 😦

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London – Signs and Beasts

by Mark

Brilliant things to look at in and around London. The area, compared our trips to Iceland or Scotland, has a lot more beasts incorporated into their symbols. Their text-based signs are very similar to the other countries. However, London has more of a tendency to info-cluster bomb people with mosaics of signs.

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London – Food!

The best food in London isn’t from London, it’s from around the world.

Makan – Malaysian food on Portobello Rd, £5 for a plate of all this:
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Kaslik – Lebanese food in Soho, £6.50 for their awesome lunch box20131012-014112.jpg
Kati Roll – Indian street food off of Oxford St.20131012-014146.jpg
Borough Market – a food market open Thurs-Sat near London Bridge.20131012-014202.jpg
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese – English pub hidden in an alleyway off Fleet Street. Lots of locals, lots of lawyers, and great pub food. Even if you don’t eat here, you should go downstairs and look at the building, it’s very interesting.
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Mogul – Indian food in Greenwich. Oh wow, best Indian food ever.
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London – Oyster Card

If you plan on staying in London for more than 2 days and want to go exploring, GET AN OYSTER CARD. It is totally worth it!

– You need to pay a £5 fully-refundable deposit.
– Any amount you put on the card and don’t use will be refunded to you when you return your card to a ticket booth.
– No expiration date.
– Can always refill the amount at kiosks in every station.
– There is a cap on how much you get charged per day, in order to avoid accidentally overpaying (how nice of them!). I believe it’s £7 for zones 1-2 (meaning, if you travel a LOT in the city in one day, you will not get charged more than a total of £7 for that day, regardless). It really helps, there have been days where we’ve used the Underground multiple times a day.