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Europe

Tips for a First-Timer Visiting the United Kingdom

The UK is among the world’s most popular tourist destinations. English-speaking, prosperous and full of history, it has a great deal to offer. But what should first-time visitors do to prepare for their arrival?

What is the UK?

This is one of those countries, like the Netherlands, which presents a few opportunities for confusion. Indeed, many of the natives might struggle to tell you exactly what the difference is.  There are actually three countries which comprise Great Britain: namely England, Scotland and Wales. A fourth comes in the form of Northern Ireland, to create The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The British Isles isn’t a country; it’s just the name for the landmass.

Public Transport

While the trains and buses don’t meet quite the same standard as set on mainland Europe, they’re still the easiest way for a new arrival to get from one place to another. Car rentals and taxis can be extremely expensive, especially if you’re traveling frequently. For example, the train from Eastbourne is a safe bet for those looking to head to Hastings to check out the battlefield and the beach.

Etiquette

When visiting any new country, it’s worth getting to grips with the local customs concerning etiquette. To begin with, the British know how to form an orderly line, and will take a pretty dim view of anyone attempting to push in. In the UK, the chance of any new arrival causing a serious commotion are fairly small; at worst, you’ll probably get a pointed tutting, or an “excuse me.”

The Currency

The currency is sterling. Notes come in fives, tens and twenties (and, very occasionally, fifties). You might find different sorts of notes if you’re in Scotland. These notes are legal tender everywhere, as Scottish people will never tire of telling you.

The Weather

The UK has a famously temperate climate, being surrounded by water. You won’t get extremes of heat or cold, and you can expect to be rained on at least once, even if you’re heading there at the height of summer.

City or Country?

The UK is quite a small country, especially compared to the United States. As such, you’ll find quite a lot of variety crammed into just a small area. You might use a city as a base of operations, and from there venture out into the countryside. London tends to take the lion’s share of the tourist traffic, but there are other places in the country worth visiting – and you may find that the cost of things in smaller towns is markedly lower.

When to Go

The UK provides plenty of distraction throughout the year. If you’re travelling in summer, then you’ll benefit from the traditional seaside and city breaks – though you should be aware that the prices will rise accordingly. At winter time, there’s more of an emphasis on indoor attractions. Some of the country’s outdoor adventures are best undertaken during autumn and spring. The countryside looks its best at this time of year, but you’ll still get a full day of sunshine.

Food Truth in Travel

Truth in Travel: Chicken Schnitzel

Our new series, Truth in Travel will share the not so pretty side of travel. We will be sharing stories that need to be shared in order to increase awareness and to make the world and the travel world a more inclusive place for all. Sharing the truth is now more important than ever in order to see the changes we all want to see.

It was in October 2016, I accompanied my husband to Vienna in Austria while he was there for business. He was at a conference for three working days, in which I was so thrilled to explore the beauty of Vienna without any time restrictions or a partner with conflicting plans! We had moved from San Francisco ten months prior to this conference, so we were eager to travel to every city we could. Europe wasn’t unfamiliar to me, as I was born and raised in Scotland before moving Stateside. But I also wasn’t fully aware of the mentality in some places in Europe.

Prior to my trip, I spent countless hours pinning posts, reading blogs, and researching cool photography spots. There seemed to be so many things I knew I would love from the Hundertwasserhaus to the Vienesse Sachertorte and was so excited to be going.

It was the 12th of October, a chilly Wednesday morning. I packed my camera, put on wooly socks and lots of layers, and set out to explore the city by myself. All those exciting feelings of when you’re in a foreign land, hearing a foreign language, were kicking in. It didn’t take long for the buildings and architecture to captivate me, the imperial traditions to enthrall me, and the old coffee houses fascinate me. After climbing 50 meters high in St Stephan’s Cathedral, I was hungry and knew exactly what I wanted – chicken schnitzel! I had marked a place I would have lunch at for the three days my husband was going to be at the conference and there was no doubt in my mind which would be first – Cafe Diglas.

Cafe Diglas is a classic Vienesse coffee house serving traditional Vienesse food. Besides the food offering, there was another reason I really wanted to have lunch there. I once saw a photo of a woman on a rainy day, dining there sitting by the window looking out. Raindrops speckled her face and from above shone an angelic yellow glow from a light fixing, where the lampshade was dressed in a tutu skirt. After doing some more research, I learned that all the lampshades by the window booths were tutus and this got me really excited – the little things. Famished, I reached there past lunchtime rush hour where many people were vacating tables. It took a while before anyone noticed me, and being new to a city, I was still figuring out how the dining situation worked – do I wait to be seated or grab a table. A couple of elder women walked in five minutes after me and were seated immediately. That prompted me to seek the attention of the staff and asked for a table for one, hoping they would place me under one of those dusty pink tutu skirts. The server told me to follow him. I walked in past the bustling bar area, hearing the clinking of glasses, the murmur of chatter. I passed people putting on their scarves and coats, thanking the staff for their service, saying goodbye upon exiting, embarking from their empty tables. I next passed the window seats with the tutus I so longed to sit under, questioning myself why I couldn’t have sat there. The server guiding me to my table was fast so I couldn’t reach him to ask. So I kept following, walking now in a part of the restaurant that didn’t even seem like the restaurant, up a dark corridor, where the sound of the faint classical music was replaced with the clanging sounds of pots and pans. Soon after, the server introduced me to my table – an isolated table in a peculiar spot next to the opening of the kitchen. There were no windows, no natural light, and no other customers. I was puzzled and afraid to ask why I was seated there when there were plenty of vacant tables. But I plucked up the courage to ask why I couldn’t sit in the main restaurant to which I was told there were no available tables if I don’t have a reservation. I swallowed hard and had a knot in my stomach. I was soon given a menu and the waiter walked away.

I should have got up and left. I should have stood up for myself and demanded one of the vacant tables. I should have questioned why I was seated where nobody could see that there was a brown woman eating chicken schnitzel. But I didn’t. Was it my British politeness that didn’t want to cause any bother? Was it because I didn’t want to spoil the rest of my day after spending so many great hours in the city? Was it because I didn’t want to accept that I had been discriminated against by the color of my skin?

My heart sank. I felt like I had been punched in my stomach. My throat was dry. But I refused to show the waiter I was troubled by his ill-treatment and immersed myself into my phone, acting busy and unphased, but really typing about my experience in my iPhone notes. I ate my chicken schnitzel, paid the check, even left a tip in case I was treated even worse, and left, saying bye to the staff with a broken heart and wet eyes.


Do you have a travel story to share? Get in touch!

Europe

Why A Scandinavian Tour Is Your Best Bet This Summer

Scandinavia, the region of Northern Europe encompassing Norway, Sweden and Denmark, has long been touted as a paradise on earth, having the highest quality of life, happiest people and some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet. When it comes to travel tours, most people, especially young travelers tend to forget about the region as an option, or intentionally swerve it due to the famously eye-watering prices. However, the region, and the wider Nordic area which encompasses the equally amazing countries of Iceland and Finland, have a huge variety of experiences to offer adventurous travelers. Here’s why you should set yourself off on your very own Scandi tour this summer.

Smorgasbords Of Culture

People often tend to conflate the various Nordic countries together as a homogenous entity, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The closely Germanic culture of Denmark is legions apart from the more Russian culture of Finland, or the Inuit-style culture of Iceland. However, at the end of the day, the cultures of each country are unique to themselves and difficult to compare to anywhere else on the planet. You’ll find vastly different cuisines, architecture, histories, natural scenery and social attitudes throughout Scandinavia and the Nordic countries, and a trip to all five will constitute a cultural extravaganza on par with inter-railing across Mediterranean Europe or road-tripping across the United States.

Easiest To Organize

Although we would never encourage lazy travelling, there’s a lot to be said about the ease and efficiency of travelling through Scandinavia, especially if you’ve experienced travelling through less developed parts of the world. Everyone speaks English, transport and visas (if you need them) can all be done online with amazing ease and user-friendliness, and the countries are all tightly interconnected with ultra-modern infrastructure. In addition, all of the most wired countries in the world are in Scandinavia, so you’re likely to have a strong internet connection wherever you are. This means that if you’re camping out in the Norwegian wilderness or doing a 7-hour train journey from Stockholm to Copenhagen, you’ll still be able to Skype your friends or even play online casino games with bonuses, like Party Casino, from your phone, which you find out more about from here. The fact that you can play online slots from basically the arctic circle highlights just how developed and efficient this region is, and how it’s a safe bet for those looking for a stress-free travel experience. The fact that these are also the safest countries in the world for solo female travelers is also a major plus!

Not As Expensive As You Think

Whenever you mention to friends that you’re heading to Scandinavia, they’re likely to give an eye-roll and start lecturing you about 8 euro pints of beer and how even waiting in line is expensive. However, a little bit of savvy and research can ensure that your Scandi trip doesn’t end up costing much more than anywhere else in Europe. The number one rule is to live like a student and hit up all the great bars, restaurants and venues in the great student neighbors of the Nordic capitals, where prices are often less than half of what you’d pay in the stylish city centers. The region also has a proud reputation for free museums and cultural activities, so do your research beforehand!

 

Europe

5 Historical Dutch Cities Beyond Amsterdam – An Insider Guide

The Netherlands is known for its historical cities with canals, brick houses, gothic churches and locals on bikes. But it’s not just famous Amsterdam I’m referring too. There are many more lesser known cities equally or even more characteristic than our capital. These Dutch off the beaten track cities are all in short distances from Amsterdam – as is pretty much anything in the Netherlands actually – and make the perfect daytrip. Make sure to visit at least one of them to enjoy the typical Dutch city vibe without the crowds.

Haarlem

Let’s start with a close neighbor of Amsterdam. Haarlem is only a 20 minute train ride away from our capital. The city is concentrated around its historic market square and church. Close to the central market square are the ‘Gouden Straatjes’ (Golden Streets) with boutique stores, concept stores and small shops. Two highlights of Haarlem are the Teylers Museum for historical science and the Hals Museum with works of the Dutch painter Frans Hals. One of the best parts of Haarlem are the small courtyards – ‘hofjes’ in Dutch –, most of these green city oasis are open to the public.

Delft

One of our favorite Dutch cities is picturesque Delft. Delft is perhaps one of the most visited cities in the Netherlands, tough it won’t get as crowded as Amsterdam. This small town is famous around the world for its Delftware porcelain, or Delft Blue. We’d recommend you to skip the souvenir shops and porcelain workshops though and go for a walk around the historic canals. You might notice that Delft is quite small for a city with this many churches. One of them – Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) – is famous in the Netherlands for having the Royal Crypt. The first member of the Dutch royal family buried here, is known for liberating the Netherlands of its Spanish occupier. He was murdered in Delft and afterwards buried in the nearest church, starting a family tradition. But there are more churches in Delft, as well as canals, small streets, cheese shops, local boutiques and museums.

Leiden

Leiden is one of the most characteristic cities of the Netherlands – and only a 35 train ride away from the capital. The canals, bridges, brick houses and monumental gates make Leiden one of a kind. The best part of this open air museum is the old fortress on top of a hill overlooking the city. It is free to visit and offers nice views of the city. Leiden is packed with interesting museums as well. One of them has Egyptian mummies on display, another one a huge dinosaur skeleton. Leiden is also a popular place for vintage shopping; our favorites are Flamingo, VNTG and Hartendief. The best espresso bar is small Chummie, Logica serves vegetarian and vegan food and ROOS is known for its instagrammable breakfast.

Utrecht

Utrecht is the fourth city of the Netherlands, but still has a cozy atmosphere. You can stroll around the small streets along historical houses from one canal to another. The biggest one is the Oudegracht where you can rent a kajak to explore Utrecht by water. For quite a different view we’d recommend you to climb the famous Dutch icon the Domtoren. This church tower is actually not connected with the church itself since  a big storm 300 years ago. Utrecht has just as many coffee bars, restaurants, concept stores and hotspots as Amsterdam. We’d recommend Meneer Smakers for burgers, Rachmaninoff for interior shopping, Cupp for coffee and Gys for healthy comfort food.

Amersfoort

This historic city is more to the east of Utrecht and almost one hour by train from Amsterdam. It has one big canal, surrounding the old walled city. Amersfoort didn’t have an actual wall though, but it created houses around the city to make it easier to defend. These so-called Wall Houses are still in place and make you feel like back in the old days. But there are more monumental buildings, ancient churches and old gates. If you’re done with all these brick houses and that Dutch history, you might like to walk to an upcoming part of Amersfoort with new restaurants and bars. It’s called ‘De Nieuwe Stad’ (The New City) and even has a small river beach.

 

Europe Guides

An Insider’s Guide to Mykonos, Greece

*Covid-19 edit: this guide is for bookmarking purposes only, please stay home as we all help to flatten the curve*

Mykonos is a Greek island that is part of Cyclades archipelago in the Aegean Sea. In recent years, it has been getting more and more popular among the rich and famous and also in the Instagram community. Thanks to its bright white buildings, turquoise water, vibrant nightlife, and picturesque streets, it attracts millions of visitors every year.

Mykonos is also a unique destination for fashion lovers. Many known and less known greek designers are present here. Just walk around colorful streets of Mykonos town, the biggest town on the island, and you will for sure find an outfit that will make you look like a Greek goddess.

Getting around

There are year-round flights to Mykonos from Athens and Thessaloniki, as well as flights from various European destinations during the high season. Mykonos is also pretty small, so you can easily get around by moped, taxi or bus.

When to Travel

The main season on Mykonos lasts from May to October, with summer months being more popular. However, if you want cheaper hotel prices and a more relaxed atmosphere you could go in April to early June or late September and October.

Night Life

Mykonos has a well-deserved reputation of being the “the Ibiza of Greece”. Its Scorpio beach club is one of the best beach clubs in Europe. It offers stunning sunset rituals, live music, delicious food and excellent views with a romantic atmosphere. If you are on a budget it can get a bit pricey here, so you may want to consider the many other party locations in the downtown area of Mykonos, or Paradise and Super Paradise beach.

Best Photo Spots

Mykonos is a real paradise for photography lovers. Every corner and street, colorful balconies make it feel and look like a fairytale. To avoid crowds it’s better to start your photo session as early as possible, preferably before 8 am.  The top locations are the narrow streets of the town, the windmills of Kato Mili, Paraportiani Church, cafes and the beach in Little Venice. Read more here.

An Insider's Guide to Mykonos, Greece

 

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