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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Ciao, Venezia!

via our Facebook page:

Venice was a great little vacation, we loved “getting lost” (though comparatively, it was much easier to get lost in Fez or Marrakech), strolling around the canals, and finding little hidden pockets of history. The whole island is a beautiful museum!

Now, off to the Mediterranean for a few days!

@ http://www.facebook.com/pages/p/190184244496819

Buongiorno, Venezia!

via our Facebook page:

Morocco was an incredibly memorable trip, but alas, we must venture onward. After spending an entire month immersed in the French language, it’s time to unravel what we’ve learned and dive headfirst into Italian. 🙂

Venice is cold and rainy right now, but we’re glad for this, otherwise we wouldn’t have sought shelter at a church and discovered a chamber music concert next door. Also, the public transport system is unique, and bidets are pretty cool.

@ http://www.facebook.com/pages/p/190184244496819

Salam, Morocco!

by Karen

Wow.

We were still on the plane when we’d already gotten an invitation to eat dinner with our seat neighbor’s family home.
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Only an hour after stepping off the plane, and already we’re enchanted. Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. It’s a sensory overload.
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Our chauffer picked us up in the airport. We were very lucky to find him at the last moment, because he was not given any information about our flight, only Mark’s name. He assumed “Florentino” was from Italy (which is a reasonable assumption), and the only planes arriving from Italy were later at night. He was about to turn around and head home when we found him waving our sign. Huzzah!
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Our van was surrounded by crowds of people at the airport waiting for their loved ones to return from the Hajj. It was a beautiful kaleidescope of chaos. People joyously reuniting with families, roses, balloons everywhere. Our driver was none too understanding though, but he handled the crowd like a pro.
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We drove along the main roads for a bit, they looked like western-style paved roads. Mopeds, cars, horse-drawn carriages everywhere. Then, our adventure started. Everything you’ve seen in movies, games, and TV shows showing crowded streets, faded window shutters, shopkeepers hawking their wares, people cooking food on the street…it’s all real. We even had a kid hop on the back of our van and hitch a ride for a bit. Cars driving recklessly with moped bumper-to-bumper, bicycles narrowly hitting people, pedestrians walking slowly in front of oncoming traffic–it was madness.
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Our driver dropped us off in the middle of an alley, and another man met up with us and took our bags. We followed him through dark alleyways and arched passageways, winding streets with no name. You could very easily get lost here, and the best way to know where to go is to memorize it by heart. We shared the road with motorcycles (I almost got hit by an oncoming one coming out of the shadows!) but on the whole, the streets felt pretty safe. It was invigorating to see the streets so crowded with people going about their nightly lives.

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We arrived at our lodgings (Riad Edward), and I immediately felt transported back to the medieval Ottoman empire. We were speechless, the place looks run down from the outside, but inside is like a magical fairytale palace, with lots of charm reminiscent of a life long ago. Our room had arched wooden doorways we had to duck down to enter, the entire suite was spacious, and rose petals were placed everywhere.
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In the middle of the riad was an atrium with a pool of water in the middle, surrounded by trees and plants. We had Moroccan mint tea (need to add plenty of sugar!), and a satisfyingly good dinner:

– salad course (eggplant dish, tomato dish, and green bean dish),
– main course (beef, tomato & egg dish, and noodles sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar),
– dessert (very dense chocolate cake with some kind of goat yogurt?)

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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. 🙂