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March 24, 2014

15 budget bus companies to check out on your next trip to Europe

 

 

The cheapest way to travel across Europe is definitely the bus. In terms of comfort and ease of travel, nothing beats interrailing across Europe but if you’re on a tight budget, then taking the bus in Europe can offer some amazing cost savings.

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Whilst offering excellent fares some of these bus companies featured offering a very high quality service- you can expect reclining seats, extra hold luggage, free wifi, sometimes they offer you free tea or coffee and you also have charging points at each seat.  If you have any bus companies to add to this list, please leave a comment below as I will be constantly updating this page and will credit you. Cheers!

 

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1.Megabus

The starting fares can be ridiculously cheap: If you’re looking to go from London to Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam then look no further than the Megabus where you can book yourself a seat for as little as £1 ( 50p booking fee) Other destinations being served by Megabus from London include now Ghent, Rotterdam and Cologne so it’s definitely worth checking them out.

Plus if you are travelling across the UK and especially if you’re looking for the best deal to getup to Scotland from London, do checkout Megabus.

 

2.National Express

Talking about travelling across UK on the cheap, National Express also has a very impressive network across UK with ‘funfares’ as cheap as £1 if booked in advance. Plus if you are visiting London, Manchester, Bristol or Birmingham, your ticket gets you 2 for 1 tickets in some leading visitor attractions like Legoland in Manchester or Madame Tussaud’s / Tower of London in London.

3.Eurolines

London-Paris bus route is fiercely competitive so it’s definitely worth shopping around. Eurolines offer advance fares of £38 return at the moment plus allow for 1 piece of carry on luggage and 1 hold luggage.  If you’re looking for an all inclusive bus pass , then Eurolines is a great network covering 41 destinations in 21 countries. Price varies according to the season you travel. In low season: €320 to €465 in high season. ( 30 days, Adult)

 

4. IDBUS 

Another recent rival on this route worth checking it is IDBUS, subsidiary of SNCF. IDBUS are offering currently deals from London to Lille for as little as £8, London to Paris for just £16, London to Brussels is £29 while London to Amsterdam costs £33. The IDBUS comes with free-wifi, plug point at each seat plus reclining seats. (I hope to be posting a in-depth full review of IDBUS soon on the site)

 

5. Berlinlinienbus 

If you are heading to Berlin, definitely worth checking out the excellent Berlinlinienbus where you can secure fares for as little as €9. Destinations served include Munich, Dresden, Hamburg, Paris and London etc. On board services include stewardesses on long national lines, free daily newspapers, luggage service, check-in with mobile devices and the latest state of the art coaches that offer great comfort. 

 

6. Mein Fernbus

Another German bus company that has take advantage of Deutsche Bahn losing their monopoly over the German transport network is Mein Fernbus where you can sample fares like  single from Zurich to Munich for €15 or Dresden or Leipzig to Stuttgart for €22 one way

Features of the service include free Wifi, reclinable chairs with at least 70cm legspace, air conditioning, toilet, snacks and drinks (sodas or beer are around  €1.50 mark)

 

7. ADAC Postbus

ADAC Postbus is the marriage of two German giants – ADAC & Deutsche Post who have created a nationwide bus service that offers an alternative low cost travel between 24 of Germany’s largest cities.

You book online via ADAC-Postbus , via a Deutsche Post office or direct from the driver.

Buses are equipped with three point safety belts, free WLAN and electric plugs for charging devices.

Fares?

Booking in advance you can  book a one-way ticket from Munich to Stuttgart from €11, or a trip from Cologne to Berlin from €28 or Cologne to Hamburg from €19

Bikes can be taken along for just 10€ – stowed away in the luggage hold.

Top Germany bus tips

In some cases the bus can be cheaper than the train in Germany plus faster- for example the BerlinLinienBus coaches that take you from either of the two Berlin airports or from the central bus station straight to Dresden Hauptbahnhof (main station) or Dresden-Neustadt station takes as little as 2 hours and, if you book early, you get the € 9 fare.€18 regular price, €20 if purchased on the bus.

If you’re visiting Bavaria, do check out the Bayern Ticket which gives you unlimited travel any day, till 3am and covers between one and five people. It costs €23 for one person plus a further €4 each for up to four more people. The price for five people is just €39-really is one of the best deals in Europe.

8. Simple Express

If you’re looking to heading out to the Baltics and Russia from Germany, looking no further than the excellent Simple Express which covers Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia. Prices start from €3. Book early because the 3 euro special price applies to the first 5 tickets bought from the internet per departure.

To give you an idea, their Berlin to Warsaw service takes 8 hours with standard fares of just €18 while an overnight coach journey from Riga to St Petersburg takes 12 hours and costs just €23.

9. PolskiBus

If you’re hitting Poland then definitely check out the legendary PolskiBus.com : Travellers can take advantage of 16 lines linking 20 Polish cities and five European locations. You can expect luxury, double-deck Van Hool Astromega coaches which are equipped with reclining, leather seats, free Wi-Fi, air conditioning and toilet. In addition, on the way from Wrocław to Kraków each passenger receives free refreshments: hot and cold drinks, sweet buns/croissants, cookies and water. Amazing. Ticket prices start from 1 zł + 1 zł per booking.

10. Onnibus

Further north if you’re visiting Finland then do check out Onnibus. Booking in advance you can get fares from Helsinki to Tampere and Turku for as cheap as €3.

11. Swebus

Other companies to check out include Swebus where you can go from Oslo to Copenhagen for as little £35 and journey takes around 9-10 hours.

12. Student Agency Bus

Do check out the excellent Student Agency bus service. 7 years ago, I checked out their Prague- Cesky Krumlov route ( as little as €4 one way) and back then, it had reclining seats, free Czech newspapers plus free refreshments like hot chocolate, coffee or tea.  Don’t let the name fool you-anyone can travel on their network. You hop from Prague to Vienna or Budapest for as little as €16 one way.

13. Westbus

Another company to check out for the same route and also for getting around Austria is Westbus. Vienna- Prague to Budapest is €22 one way, Salzburg-Munich €9 or Vienna to Zagreb for €29 while Salzburg to Prague is just €29.

14. Alsa

Spain’s bus services are provided by a host of bus companies whose routes comprise an extensive network. The biggest of the Spanish bus companies is ALSA which operates an extensive network of bus routes throughout the country including international routes to Andorra, France and Portugal. Definitely for many routes in Spain alone, Alsa offers major cost savings when you compare the prices with trains. Plus they have a bunch of excellent money-saving offers like when visiting France from Spain, you can get 50% off your ticket if you book more than 30 days in advance. For bus travel in Spain, the same offer of 50% stands if you can book a mammoth 120 days in advance. Both these type of advance tickets are non-refundable and cannot be changed, once booked.  They also have an app which avoids the problem of trying to print your ticket.

 

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15. Busabout

Last but not least, if you’re looking for an alternative network to getting around Europe, do checkout Busabout.

Am a big fan of their service- great destinations, friendly guides and they drop you off at the hostel ( work with a great network of hostels )

They offer a range of options including their popular ‘Hop on and Hop off’ network which serves 9 countries and 34 destinations. Prices start from  €485. For more about Busabout, do checkout my earlier in-depth review of the Busabout experience.

March 2, 2014

Carnival in Madeira- Photoessay

 

So. Last night I attended my first ever ‘Carnaval’ in Funchal, Madeira.

It was one of the most memorable nights of my life.

I will let the photographs below speak for themselves. Enjoy!

PS Big thank you to Madeira Promotion Bureau for organising access to the parade.

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February 20, 2014

You’re invited to Lonely Planet’s first ever global Twitter chat!

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A very exciting announcement to share with you all!

To help celebrate the launch of Lonely Planet’s top 10 best value stays for 2014, I am very excited to announce that the BudgetTraveller is joining forces with the Lonely Planet to help co-host their first ever global Twitter chat on Thursday, 27th February, 4-5pm (GMT) and 8 – 9am PST. 

Everyone is invited and can be involved in this unique event!

We will be discuss money-saving travel tips, exceptional value accommodation and finding out about your favourite budget destinations. The most creative and inspiring tweeter will win a bundle of LP guides!

How can you take part?

1) Follow the hashtag #LPchat on Twitter on 27th Feb ’14 from 4-5pm GMT/8-9am PST
2) Questions will be ordered Q1, Q2, Q3 etc. To answer Q1, begin your tweet with A1. For Q2, A2 and so on.
3) Add #LPChat to all of your tweets during the twitter chat, so others including Lonely Planet and myself can see what you’re saying.
4) Bring your best travel tales and tips!
One week and counting till the 27th February, 2014. 4pm GMT. Keep the date aside for the diary, grab your popcorn, tell your mates to join in the fun!
I look forward to chatting with you soon!
Terms and conditions are as follows:
Terms and Conditions: Entrants must be  13 years old or over. Judges’ decision is final. Promoter: Lonely Planet Publications Ltd of 201 Wood Lane, London, W12 7TQ, UK. The winner will be notified via direct message and public tweet on Twitter. The winner must claim their prize and provide and address for delivery within 7 days of being notified, otherwise the judges may select another winner. Prize: A pack of 4 Lonely Planet Shoestring guides, as chosen by Lonely Planet, valued at £76.96.

 

February 17, 2014

A few hours in Parma

 

Before you I whisk you virtually away to the city of Parma, to get you into the mood, I made a mixtape of songs from local native composer, Giuseppe Verdi.

Press play…and enjoy the piece.

 

I came to Parma on a stifling hot day in July.

No one in their right mind would recommend you visiting Parma at this time of the year. Temperatures were around the 35c mark. However, I don’t mind the heat.

Forget the heat. Parma strangely does not figure prominently in many popular travel guidebooks. Which explains why the city was completely devoid of tourists when I visited, even at the major landmarks. While it lacks the attractions of the “big three” of Venice, Florence, and Rome, Parma is a microcosm of everything beautiful about Italy and definitely worth a day trip.

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So what’s Parma like?

Very colourful. Lots of great history ( founded 2000 years ago) and beautiful architecture , great culture, amazing gastronomy, beautiful gardens , medieval piazzas, interesting shopping plus it’s a compact, very walkable city. What more could you want?

Amazing fact: This is the town that the Italian flag, or il Tricolore, was first adopted.

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It’s an easy walk from Stazione di Parma to the historic city centre. I enter the city through the colossal, fortresslike Palazzo della Pilotta. Despite being heavily bombed by the Allied forces in WW2, the structure has managed to retain a beautiful grandeur.

I spent a good half hour just walking under its complex network of arches.

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The palazzo was supposedly named after the Spanish game ‘pelotta.’ No one was playing the game on the day I visited but there was a fantastic organ player busking under the century old arches. I casually observe the passage of locals while listening to the melancholy strains of the organ, the soft cooing of the pigeons above and the gentle echo of people’s footsteps passing by….

Here’s a sample of his work.

Originally built for the ruling Farnese family, the palazzo today houses two significant treasures- the art museum, the  Galleria Nazionale and the beautiful Teatro Farnese which you encounter enroute to the Galleria.

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The theatre was built to commemorate the passing of Cosimo II de Medici through Parma enroute to Milan where he was visiting the tomb of San Carlo Borrome.

Since it was built in 1618 (entirely out of wood and plaster) , the theatre was used only 9 times, mainly to mark ducal marriages or important state visits. Since the last show in 1732, the theatre lied unused and fell into disrepair. It was still visited by many famous dignitaries including the writer, Charles Dickens who noted the poor state of the wonderful theatre in his book, ‘Picture from Italy.’ The decaying theatre was destroyed during the Allied forces bombardment of May 1944. It was rebuilt in 1956 according to it’s original design. It still remains a beautiful space and worthwhile visiting.

Corononation of the Virgin, Correggio

Corononation of the Virgin, Correggio

 

I also recommend visiting the Galleria Nazionale which houses some of Parma’s greatest art treasures- works by local artists like Parmigianino, Corregio plus paintings by Fra Angelico, Canaletto and El Greco.

Top tip: The combined ticket to both attractions is €6. However, if you go in after 3pm, entry is half price and a very reasonable €3.

My next stop is Parma Cathedal. ( € Free ) This 11th century cathedral is easily one of the most beautiful cathedrals I’ve visited anywhere in Europe.

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The walls of the duomo are painted with scenes from the bible . The cupola is decorated by the 16th century fresco ‘ The Assumption’ by Correggio. It depicts Mary ascending to heaven in a rather inelegant way, nightie tucked round her knees.

Next stop? I need lunch.

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While in the search for lunch, I have a nice ramble around the streets of Parma observing the beautiful stucco houses in different , happy shades of yellow.

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It is a very colourful city.

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Even stepping into a humble vegetable shop, just looking at the colour of these beautiful vegetables and the way they are presented…..Life in Italy, imitates art.

I make a brief stop at the friendly tourist office to ask for lunch suggestions and they point me in the direction of Strada Farini, whose lively bars and restaurants make this a great place to come, for lunch or dinner or for just a drink.

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I find a bustling historic enoteca -Enoteca Fontana.

Enoteca for those not in the know, is used to describe a special type of local or regional wine shop in Italy that often serves small snacks with their wines.

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It’s a cosy place, packed with locals. Always a good sign. It has a great selection of local wines and tasty paninos. I enjoyed a panini stuffed with delicious local prosciutto crudo de parma ( €3 ) accompanied by a glass of the local sweet ‘Malvasia Dolce’ ( €1.20 )

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Fortified by my lunch I head next to the Baptistry,  a beautiful pink ( made from pink Veronese marble) and white octagonal building  built in the Romanesque style by Benedetto Antelami in 1196.

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One of the highlights of the building is the beautiful dome covered with ranks of saints and angels. Inside, the walls are covered with scenes from the life of Christ. The downside of coming here is the entry fee of €6 which is a bit prohibitive.

It’s late in the afternoon by the time I come out of the Baptistry. The sun is still high in the sky.

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After another aimless wonder I find myself in the grand Piazza Garibaldi. Lurking behind the statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi himself,the Palazzo del Governatore towers in front of me. The facade dates from 1760 and has an impressive astronomical clock.

I cross the Ponte Dattaro.

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I stumble across this beautiful church which has inscribed above it’s doorway

‘Et verbum caro factum est’

…which translates as …“And the word became flesh” . This is part of a Catholic prayer called the Angelus (it is said morning, noon, and night, to commemorate the incarnation of Christ) and also appears in the Gospel of John 1:14.

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I hop back across the Ponte Dattaro that bridges the dry expanse of the Torrente Parma. More a stream than a river, in the summer months the Torrente Parma dries up like the proscuitto of the region.

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Back in the historic centre, I pop into the Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista. ( € Free)  Behind the 16th century facade, inside you can observe the magnificent frescoed dome by Correggio.

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I loved the stylish shopfronts in Parma.  The facade of this shop/restuarant for example could be belong to the streets of Paris.

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I also loved the Post Office building.

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My aimless wonder brings me into a puppet museum-Il Castelo dei Burani. These are the characters from popular 80′s TV show- Opera Mouse by Gruppo 80. Italian friends recognise these faces?

 

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I end my trip at the stunning Teatro Regio (Via Garibaldi 16a ) where many of native composer, Giuseppe Verdi’s works have been performed.

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If like me you are not lucky enough to catch a concert or opera at the Regio, I recommend going on one of their free guided tours of the Teatro (Tuesday-Saturday, 10am-1pm and 3pm-6pm). It’s conducted in Italian so bring your guidebook along. Or just use your imagination and just think what it must have been like in the day of Verdi.

Here’s a little Instavideo, to give you a little idea.

Essentials

You can fly direct to Parma from London Stansted with Ryanair. Or alternatively, you can fly to Bologna. From Bologna , taking the regional train. It costs €6 one-way and the journey takes just 1 hour.

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My thanks to the amazing people at Emilia Romagna tourism board for making Blogville a reality.  Also thanks to my fellow iAmbassador colleagues for their passion, craft and dedication to this project. Plus a big thanks to all my friends and fellow bloggers who I shared this unique experience. You can read about the bloggers amazing experiences of Emilia Romagna here. Plus check out my earlier 48 hour guide to Bologna.

January 31, 2014

Paris, in 40 photos & 20 songs

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Here are 40 pictures I took from my latest jaunt to Paris.

Pictures are taken with my humble iPhone 4s.

To accompany the pictures I’ve also created a Spotify playlist of 20 songs that have inspired my past and present trips to Paris.

Press play. Sit back and enjoy this little November ride through the streets of Paris….

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St Pancras International Terminal, London

Every great adventure has a great beginning. Our first big adventure to Paris started at the epic Eurostar terminal in St Pancras International which is a destination in it’s own right.

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We went to Paris with Eurostar. Booking early, you can get tickets as cheap as £69 return to Paris. Another bonus of travelling with Eurostar is that they are offering passengers 2 for 1 entry  into some of Paris’s top cultural attractions like the Musée d’Orsay. Great for culture vultures like me and Sofia.

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Gare du Nord

2 hours and 30 minutes after we left St Pancras, we are safely nestled in the heart of Paris.

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Hotel Manufacture

This was our double bed at Hotel Manufacture. Very comfortable room. Nice bedding. Quiet. Great friendly staff. It’s located in the 13th arrondissement and just a 20 minute walk to the Latin Quarter. The nearby (50m) Place d’Italie metro station offers easy access to several metro lines (5, 6 and 7) so it’s a ideal base for exploring Paris. Booked via Expedia’s new mobile app ( I got 20% off booking via the app) , I got a room for 3 nights for £197 which works out to be £67 a night. Great deal for Paris.

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Roue de Paris

Next day. A cold, grey day in November. We start our walk at the northern edge of Jardin de Tuileries at the Roue de Paris , a 60-metre (200 ft) tall Ferris Wheel, installed on the Place de la Concorde in Paris.

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Fontaines de la Concorde, Place de La Concorde.

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Place Vendôme

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La Madeleine, Paris, just a few minutes walk east of Place Vendome.

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Jeu de Paume – a home for all types and periods of the visual arts. During our visit there was an excellent exhibition about the photographer, Erwin Blumenfeld. Plus 2 for 1 entry with our Eurostar ticket. Saving of €8.50. Magic.

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 Sofia capturing the last colours of autumn in Paris.

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Time for lunch. We loved Mavrommatis on 42 rue Daubenton, just a 5 minute walk from Jardin Tuileries. Best Greek restaurant I’ve ever dined out in. €38 for 3 course lunch. Pricey, but damn good food. Lamb moussaka was amazing.

Nice service. No tourists. Just locals. They also have an excellent deli downstairs which serves delicious sandwiches with great fillings- jambon, grilled halloumi, artichokes..to name a few.You can have a sandwich, drink & one of their delicious desserts for just €9.90.

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The Jardin des Tuileries is Paris’s most visited garden thanks to it’s perfect location between the Louvre and Place de la Concorde. In winter, I guess it’s a different story.

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Approaching the world’s greatest art museum, the Louvre...

Dunno who the naked dude is. Can anyone enlighten me?

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Love the courtyard of the Louvre.

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While people were jostling in the long queues to get into the Louvre, we were content just to soak in the atmosphere outside, observing visiting tourists striking all kinds of weird poses in front of the pyramid.

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Continue our walk up the Seine. I am desperate for the loo. I am hopping like mad to find a place to pee. I ask politely at two restaurants. I get a firm, grumpy ‘non.’ My third attempt is a moderate success. I have to pay 50 cents as my fee to pee. Which I reluctantly accept.

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Continuing our walk up the Seine, we meet a few friendly locals.

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Shakespeare & Company, across from the Notre Dame Cathedral is my favourite bookstore in Paris. I love coming back here every time I visit Paris. Upstairs they have a cosy library with lots of worn out interesting books and worn out sofas. We spend a few hours leafing through their collection. There’s a lot of tourists packed into the bookshop but still a wonderful silence.

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Then I find a typewriter! It’s been years (decades) since I’ve sat in front of a typewriter.

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Unfortunately, the typewriter was broke. Still, like R.B from India above, I too was inspired just sitting there.

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Day 2. We’re at the beautiful Musee D’Orsay. Probably my favourite art museum in the world. Plus 2 for 1 entry with our Eurostar tickets. A grand saving of €11.

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From inside the Musee D’Orsay looking out….

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Favourite painting at Musee D’Orsay? Probably Auguste Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette

 

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Another favourite of mine at Musee D’Orsay. Le Dejeuner sur l’Herbe by Claude Monet

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Clock Cafe, Musee D’Orsay. Overpriced and very touristy but worth visiting just to enjoy the ambience.

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Sofia, lost in wonder , enjoying the view of the Sacre Coeur from inside the Musee d’Orsay clock tower.

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One last look at the impressive atrium of Musee D’Orsay …

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Macarons at Richart. Situated very close to Musee D’Orsay ( 258 Bvd. St. Germain ) it’s perfectly located . Priced at just €1.60 per piece, it’s very reasonably priced.

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Wondering the Left Bank, we stumbled upon the famous Hotel D’ York (56 Rue Jacob )

The Treaty of Paris was signed here on September 3, 1783 that marked the end of the American War of Independence between Great Britain and the United States of America.

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This is the courtyard of Hotel D’Angleterre on 44 Rue Jacob, just a stone’s throw away from Hotel D’York. I love coming back and going for a wee nosy in this historic hotel. Hemingway spent his first night in Paris here.

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Thanks to tip from my friend Alexis from Hejorama blog, we ended up for dinner in Cafe de l’Industrie just off the crowded Rue de Lappe in the Bastille area. It’s a charming restaurant, filled with locals and has a nice cosy atmosphere.

If you do visit here, I recommend the wonderful snails cooked in garlic and butter.

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We end the day wondering the cobbled streets of the village of Montmartre. Lit up at night, Sacre Coeur looks stunning.

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While looking for bars to have a farewell drink, we noticed that bars don’t offer free wifi here and revel in the fact that they don’t offer it. I get your point but still there is a certain snobbery about the whole issue of offering wifi in Paris which frustrates me.

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In the touristy drag of Rue Lepic, we find a bar that offers free wifi has a real down to earth charm. Welcome to the lovely Un Zebra de Montmartre. The food is decently priced, staff are friendly and the wine is great. We buy half a carafe of red for €7 euros and enjoy our wine, sipping it slowly and savouring the last moments of our holiday.

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So that’s our 40 pictures from Paris. Hope you enjoyed the moments from our holiday and also my Paris playlist. It would be great to hear your suggestions of the perfect song for Paris.

Essentials

Courtesy of Eurostar , I travelled from London to Paris. Booking in advance you get one-way fares for £39 and return from £69.

I flew from Paris to Madeira courtesy of Transavia, the low-cost airline from KLM. I have to admit before this trip, I wasn’t aware of this low-cost airline. They have some great deals. Currently they have a fantastic sale on where you can fly from Porto to Lyon for €29 or from Rotterdam to Prague for €30. If you’re planning to travel across Europe this summer, it’s very worthwhile bookmarking their website.

We stayed at the Hotel Manufacture courtesy of Expedia. They currently have a fantastic winter sale on where you can get 40% off hotels.

Disclaimer

While my flights and stay were offered courtesy of Expedia, Eurostar and Transavia, the views represented in this article are entirely my own. 

 

December 20, 2013

Don’t Be A Mug! How To Avoid Being Robbed in Barcelona

 

Given my recent misadventures in Barcelona and being robbed TWICE, I asked local blogger and Barcelona expert Duncan Rhodes who has survived 5 years without being mugged….to give BudgetTraveller readers some tips about how to avoid being robbed in Barcelona. Take it away Duncan…

Inspiring architecture, fantastic flavours, action-packed nightlife, year-round great weather and a billion awesome things to do any time of day… from beach volleyball and open-air vintage markets when the sun is shining to street parties, fiestas and carnivals when it goes down… the pros of Barcelona have been gushed about in many a travel feature and on many a website (including mine! More info below). But are there any cons to life in the glittering, glamorous capital of Catalonia?

Yep, and top of the list by far are the city’s ubiquitous pickpockets.

As Budget Traveller has discovered - twice - pickpockets are a huge menace in the capital of Catalonia, and many an unsuspecting and unprepared traveller has had their holiday ruined by a brief moment of carelessness. However, as someone who has lived in Barcelona for 4-5 years, without being pickpocketed once (despite several attempts), I feel well qualified to advise BT’s readership on how to avoid being a victim the next time you’re sunning yourself in this sensational city.

Here we go…

 

Avoid Danger Zones

Pickpockets operate foremostly on the metro, Las Ramblas, on the beach (especially at night) and in the Gothic District and El Borne. Basically anywhere where there are tourists. In fact my advice is not so much ‘avoid dangerous zones’, as that is all but impossible, but simply be conscious when you’re in one and turn the paranoia factor right up to 11. No one alert has ever been pickpocketed, and simply being aware when you’re in these areas will all but ensure that your possessions are kept nice and safe.

Protective hand over bag even when in fake sleep mode

Protective hand over bag even when in fake sleep mode

Avoid Classic Mistakes

Phone openly displayed on cafe table? Bye bye Mr. Nexus! Bag under table? Well at least you won’t have to carry it home. Wallet in loose/back pocket? Very charitable of you Señor Estúpido. Drunk on the beach? The story will be great at least… in five or ten years time.

I’ve heard a million tales of robberies in Barcelona and 99% of them fell into the above categories. Here are some more specific tips to avoid the above.

- Never leave anything valuable on a surface at any time. Keep your valuables in your front/safe pockets.

(Ninja-level bonus tip. If you do have to carry your phone in your back pocket, wedge it in sideways so that it sits tightly at the bottom of the pocket).

- Always keep bags zipped up at all times.

- When entering a crowded area or danger zone, switch bag from back to front, or tuck under arm, so you that noone can tamper with it without you seeing.

- A bag unattended, typically left under chair = stolen bag in Barcelona. Either keep it on your lap, between your legs where you can feel it, or – another ninja-level tip – stick your leg, or a the leg of your chair, through the strap… so that no one can run off with it without yanking you.

- On the beach or in the park, use your bag for a pillow when you sleep.

Other less common, but not infrequent, occurrences are bag/phone/camera snatchers… ie. the robber rips the valuables from your hands and does a runner (sometimes on a bike or moped). Girls should wear their bags across their body/shoulder, and expensive cameras should not be held loose in the hand but with a strap around the neck.

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Avoid Scams

I’ve had people try to run scams on me twice in Barcelona. The first was a drifter type who handed me a nightclub flyer about a supposed Brazilian theme night… and then proceeded to teach me to dance Brazilian style by repeatedly kicking my leg. I instantly realised this was a distraction technique – sure enough his hand was in my wallet pocket – and I was able to push him away. I also saw this being worked on a drunk tourist near the beach once (so I guess it’s a common one) and was able to warn him of the danger. The second was a bit more intimidating as a group of muscular guys, who were either gay – or thought I was gay – surrounded me and started dry humping me. It was a tough choice to defend either my assets or my wallet/phone!! But once they realised that I realised what they were really after, they soon left me alone and I escaped… my dignity somewhat violated, but my pockets 100% intact.

Hands off thief you're messing with the wrong spear handler

Another one that guys have to watch out for are the prostitutes on Las Ramblas. They often surround drunk guys and sidle up to them with wandering hands… it can be a struggle to shrug them off but just because you’re not interested in their services, doesn’t mean you won’t end up paying them everything you’ve got!

In general whenever you feel body contact with someone on the street be very very suspicious. It’s not a bad idea to carry all your valuables in one place, so that you can use one hand to protect them, and the other to protect yourself or push any would-be thieves away. It could even save you a dry humping!

Girls watch out for guys trying to steal your bikini tops

Girls watch out for guys trying to steal your bikini tops!

Damage Limitation. Carry Only What You Need

Being robbed hurts a lot less when it’s just a few euros that go missing. If you’re going out drinking at night, leave your passport and camera in the hostel, and consider taking out any unnecessary cards/keys etc. from your wallet. Girls… please please please don’t go out with a strapless bag full of all your stuff! Generally foreign girls exploring the nightlife stand out like a sore thumb in Barcelona and for sure the thieves will notice you… especially if you are in a big group. Do whatever you can to avoid carrying a bag… those mojitos are strong and chances are you’re going to get drunker than you expected! I would personally suggest instead of a dress and bag go with jeans/shorts/hotpants and pockets.

That’s it from me. I hope this article helps at least a few people avoid Barcelona’s bad guys and enjoy the city without any mishaps. For tips on the more pleasant sides of Barcelona do mosey on over and check out my travel guide, Barcelona Life, where you’ll find reviews of the best restaurants, bars and clubs, district guides… and even the odd bit of cultural insight!

Bonus reading… I’m also the editor of Urban Travel Blog and penned my perfect weekend guide to the Catalan capital right here.

October 22, 2013

48 Hours in Bologna, with £200

 

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I like cities in which I can lose myself in.

I turn left. Then I turn right.  Get lost.

It’s a game I play when visiting many cities.

I’m winning this time.

At every turn there is a revelation.

A nice café where the locals are gathered.

Not a tourist in sight.

Next turn. I am greeted by a beautiful historic church.

Angels sigh at me from heaven above.

I then find myself in a beautiful empty square full of cooing pigeons.

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Plus the odd person having a nice old snooze on the chairs that are permanent fixture at this time of the year thanks to the Sotto le Stelle del Cinema.

Then on the next turn. It’s chaos.

Traders are cackling away, setting up the market stalls.

The ripest, reddest tomatoes I have ever seen.

Crates of fish freshly caught from the Adriatic coast just a hundred miles away, sparkle like silver beads on the ice.

I walk by speciality shops selling the finest cured meats known to mankind- prosciutto de parma, mortadella and culatello di zibello.

My tummy rumbles.

Its 8am and I am already hungry.

But that’s ok.

Because in Bologna, you can come here just to eat..

Welcome to my 48 Hours in Bologna, ‘La Grassa’…the ‘fat one.’

Ease a few notches on the belt.  Plus bring good walking shoes please. Not only to save money but your waistline too.

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9:30am Caffe Terzi

I like to start a good holiday with a good cup of coffee.

For me the best cup of coffee in Bologna try Caffe Terzi (via Oberdan 10/D; 39-051-236-470; caffeterzi.it) where owner Manuel Terzi concocts the perfect cappuchino con cioccolatto-shavings of dark chocolate into a lovely not too frothy cappuchino really is the stuff of dreams.

Cost €1.50 Tip: Sitting down there is a cover charge of €2 so better off drinking at the counter

 

Top tip Turn left. Turn right? Ditch the map in Bologna. Like any classic Italian city, the whole joy of a visit to Bologna is getting lost and losing track of time and space.

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10:30am Via Emilia and the Due Torri

Sooner or later you will find yourself on Via Emilia which is an excellent reference point to any adventure in Bologna. 2200 years old,  this is the original roman road that connected Rimini with Piacenza. A grand boulevard, flanked by historic colonades and a string of designerwear shops,  at its crown lies the spectacular 318 feet tall Torre degli Asinelli, the symbol of Bologna and the perfect point to start your adventure.

When you look at these awe inspiring towers, remember these twin towers were kinda like the Manhattan of their age. They marked the gateway to the city. The towers were symbols of prestige to their owners. Higher, the more prestigious. To the point where they started groaning under the weight of gravity and started leaning. At one point they were 100 of these towers so you can imagine how breathtaking the city skyline must have been like. Now only 20 of these towers exist. It’s a 498 step climb to the top but once you’ve made it to the top you are rewarded with stunning views of Bologna and the surrounding countryside.

Cost: €3

12pm Gelato No 1-Gianni

The perfect way to reward your epic climb is by having a gelato at Gianni. For me personally it’s not the best gelato in the city but still is pretty epic compared to the gelato I’ve tasted anywhere in the world. You can choose from flavours like ricotta, mascarpone , cocoa, pistachio, nocciola, crema, chocolate, coconut or if you’re looking for something light and fresh, go for their strawberry and lemon sorbet.

Cost: For as little as €2 you get a choice of 2 scoops.

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12:30pm Museum of History of Bologna

My next stop is just a few minutes walk to the brand new Museum of the History of Bologna housed in the beautiful Palazzo Pepoli. The museum condenses the 2220 years of the city’s history into a few hours helping you retrace the amazing historical, cultural,  artistic and scientific heritage of the city of Bologna.

Cost: €5

Top tip Make use of the excellent free English Audio Guide which guides you through the museum. The museum also has a very nice café that does a decent lunch menu plus offers free wifi.

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2pm Eataly

I love a place that is filled with books and smell of great coffee. When you add to that the smell of delicious Italian food to that equation, you have quite an unbeatable combo. Unwittingly I walk into Eataly, a chain of Italian gourmet restaurants that lies in the midst of the chaos of Mercato di Mezzo. They have an excellent wine bar and restaurant upstairs but if you’re looking for a quick but tasty bite, pop into the deli downstairs. I grabbed a delicious sandwich with potatoes, beans dressed with some olive oil and pesto. Simple but so damn tasty. Italy in one bite.

Cost: €2.80

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3pm Palazzo Archiginnasio

My next stop is probably one of the most important, historic buildings in Bologna- the Archiginnasio, home once upon a time to the oldest university of Western Europe ( 1088 )- the University of Bologna. Present day it functions as a library.

However the main draw for visiting here is the wooden Teatro Anatomico.

It’s quite morbid and fascinating at the same time sitting on the benches of the theatre gazing up at the skinless humans of Enrico Lelli overlooking the dissecting table. Dating from 1637, this was the first university to allow dissection of the human body.

Cost: € Free

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4:30pm Passeggiatta , Via Indipendenza

Shops remain closed here between 1 and 4:30pm. As the sun sinks and shadows lengthen, twist your way back to the ‘high street’ of Bologna- Via Indipendenza where you can indulge in a spot of window shopping, admiring the mix of local and international fashion brands. Suddenly, the street starts filling up with elegantly dressed locals and you’re an active member of the famous Italian tradition of the passeggiata. People sip coffee under the arcades, watching the flow of humanity. Day or night, walking this street, under its beautiful arcades is one of my enduring memories of this city.

Top tip: If you’re visiting Bologna on the weekend, on Saturdays, the historic square is closed to any form of traffic. Via Indipendenza is then perfect for pedestrians.

5:30pm Osteria del Sole

Perfect time for another pit stop. Duck into the maze of streets of the market and locate 13, Vicolo Ranocchi where you find the locals spilling out into the street from the city’d oldest wine bar, Osteria del Sole which has been serving thirsty locals since 1465. The great thing about this place is that it’s unprententious, a relaxed vibe with a great mix of people from all walks of life. You can bring your own food here and have a inexpensive picnic with some gourmet treats from the Quadrilatero. Wine by the glass, red or white, is just €2. Last time I came here I had an excellent Pignoletto. Have a few glasses as the day melts into night.

Cost: Two glasses of Pignoletto: €4

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6:30pm Aperitivo at Lab Sedici

In the evening, Via Zamboni just a stone’s throw from the Due Torri is choked with students from the university indulging in the tradition of apertivo –evening drink or cocktail that in many places accompanied by a buffet. The tradition of aperitivo has it’s roots in Northern Italy so it’s something I would definitely recommend you try on your trip to the region. For the cost of a drink, you are allowed to enjoy a plate of food from the buffet. While it’s not meant to be a substitute for dinner, I have often been guilty of having the extra plate and overindulging myself. In Bologna, Lab Sedici is one of the best haunts for a traditional aperitivo. They offer an excellent range of beers and cocktails. I enjoy a glass of DAB- Dortmund for €6 and help myself to the buffet. Magic.

 

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9:30pm  Sotto le Stelle del Cinema– One magical night of forty nights in Piazza Maggiore

 

If like me, you love movies, the best time to visit Bologna is from the end of June till the end of July when the annual open air film festival-Sotto le Stelle del Cinema is held in Piazza Maggiore. It’s free for locals and tourists.

It kicks off at 10pm so I grabbed  a seat around 9:30pm. I brought my own bottle of drink along with some snacks I had picked up from the market earlier. It’s quite indescribable, intoxicating the feeling of watching a movie on the big screen in the middle of a historic piazza at night, thousands of people sitting in pin drop silence, stars sparkling above your head.  At this year’s festival they showed some classic movies of Jack Nicholson, Jerry Lewis, as well as some of great protagonists of the cinema who were both directors and actors, like Charles Chaplin, Orson Welles and Vittorio De Sica.  Perfect ending to a great first day in Bologna.

Cost: € Free

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San Luca arcades. Photo courtesy of Asgeir Pederson http://www.asgeirpedersen.no/

 

6:30 AM A pilgrimage to Santuario della Madonna di San Luca

2nd  day is an early start and kicks off with a unique pilgrimage. Bologna is the city of porticos and walking under these historic colonnades is one of the highlights of any trip to this city. The perfect way to admire these iconic porticos and also walk off the excesses of the day before was to undertake the unique journey of travelling under 666 arches (the longest arcaded walk in the world) to the UNESCO world heritage site of Santuario della Madonna di San Luca (Via di San Luca 36) a beautiful basilica that lies outside the city perched on a hill. The walk to San Luca begins at the arches at Meloncello. It’s quite a hike but quite a spiritual experience.

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View of the rolling hills of Emilia Romagna. Photo courtesy of Asgeir Pederson http://www.asgeirpedersen.no/

 

Once you reach the basilica, you are rewarded with beautiful view of the green, gentle rolling hills of Emilia Romagna. Perfect way to start a day in Bologna.

Hours of opening: 7am-12.30pm & 2.30-7pm Apr-Sep, to 5pm Oct-Feb, to 6pm Mar

Cost Entrance free

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9:30 AM- Breakfast with a view: Caffe delle Sette Chiese

The perfect way to relax after the long walk is to have breakfast at probably the most scenic points of the city and watch the sun rise over the city. Devoid of the crowds, the Piazza Santo Stefano is one of my favourite piazzas in Italy with the beautiful church of Santo Stefano in the foreground, flanked by the beautiful colonnades. I settle down to a breakfast of a fresh orange juice and the crispiest, freshest salted croissant you could taste.

Cost: €4.50

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11AM Teatro Communale

Once I’m back in the city I decide to checkout the Teatro Communale. Note that the theatre is NOT open for public viewings during the day. However if you politely ask the security personnel via the side entrance to the teatro, they may let you in a for a quick viewing. If you never ask, you never know right..?

It’s worth the short visit. The beautiful lights of the 250 year old Teatro di Comunale Bologna glimmer in the dark. I feel a tingle down my spine, just admiring the theatre, empty but still regal. This is the oldest publicly owned opera house in the world & the 2nd oldest opera house in Italy after Naples San Carlo. Situated in the centre of the University district you can catch everything from Verdi to Wagner or classical music performances from as little as €10. Check www.tbco.it for details of upcoming performances.

 

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11:30am Walking down Via Zamboni

 

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As I noted before, the real charm of Bologna does not lie in a museum but in the simple act of walking under the row of porticos and just observing the flow of everyday life. One of the most captivating streets to catch the flow of life in this city is Via Zamboni which besides being home to the Teatro Communale is also home to the University of Bologna.

 

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Be curious. Be bold. I spent some time walking into each of these century old buildings and spending time reading the student noticeboards ( Esp the room vacancy notices. €200 a month? With bills. Almost makes me want to become a student again and live in Bologna)

 

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My curiousity was rewarded when I walked into the Faculty of Jurisprudence to discover this beautiful open courtyard filled with students sitting around.

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Many of them studying their notes ( final exams ) and some were just chatting away. Brought back memories of my university days in Scotland.

 

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1PM Lunch Marsalino

Tucked away in a quiet corner of Via Marsala ( just a few minutes walk from Via Zamboni )with a few tables outside, Marsalino ( Via Marsala,13)  is a vibrant, very pleasant restaurant. The menu offers a few but excellent choices. All the food is locally sourced following the zero-kilometre principle.Mains for lunch range from €6-€7 euros. I enjoyed an excellent rigatoni with zucchini and shrimps. For dessert, I went for their excellent homemade chocolate cake (€3.50) Waiting staff are happy, friendly people. Excellent wine list too.

Cost: €10.50

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2:30pm Camera a Sud

To stop slipping into a post lunch pasta coma, I recommend checking out one of Bologna’s excellent coffeehouses and Camera a Sud is one of the best.

Walking into this cafe is like being ushered into a writers living room- books piled up from floor to ceiling, Miles Davis playing in the background, beautiful photographs of a chinese tea plantation , interesting quotes everywhere , wine crates doubling up as book shelves-interesting place.. where you could be happily stuck here for hours. Wine list is great, coffee one of the best in town ( cheap too, cortado I was drinking was just €0.90)and the free wifi excellent. Little secret places like this hidden away from the view of the world are what make Bologna such a charming place.

Cost: €0.90

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4pm Hidden canals of Bologna- Via Piella

If you think canals. Italy. Most people would associate canals with Venice. Many would not think of Bologna as a city with canals. Hidden from public view, an underground network of canals exists in Bologna. Now only a few exist, majority have been paved over by public car parks.  Riva di Reno for example, one of the city’s major waterways which once traversed through half of the city now runs beneath the streets. A shame. If you visit Via Piella, you’ll find a small window hidden in the wall which opens up onto the Moline canal.

These canals back in the 13th century were the most advanced waterway system in Europe. Bologna was then the fifth largest city in Europe (after Cordova, Paris, Venice, and Florence) with over 60000 inhabitants.

The city tied with Milan as the largest textile industry area in Italy. These canals help run the numerous textile mills and transport goods. Bologna’s rich history of textiles is still evident from their street names: Via delle Moline (mill), Via dei Tessitori (Weavers), Via Drapperie (drapery)

[ Tip of hat to Kathryn Burrington’s excellent post about the Hidden canals of Bologna which inspired me and I recommend you check out ]

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5:30pm  La Sorbetteria Castiglione

Time for another gelato.

The best places for gelato in the city in my humble view is La Sorbetteria Castiglione (Via Castiglione, 44 www.lasorbetteria.it), a classic gelato shop where there’s always a busy hive of locals tucking into some of their mouth-watering flavors which include cremino ludovico,  hazelnut and cocoa butter; dolce contagio, with pine nuts and carmelized walnuts and dolce emma, with ricotta and figs carmelized with honey. Amazing stuff. I dream about going back here every day. Please enjoy on my behalf.

Cost €2

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6:30 pm Salotto del Jazz

My next stop is Via Mascerella where I am about to discover another amazing secret of the city- a great summer event in Bologna called Salotto del jazz .If you’re visiting from June to August you can dine and drink while listening to live jazz sitting on the street of Via Mascarella. The upper area is specially closed to the traffic for this period of time. Even if you don’t fancy jazz, there something so cool about eating or having a drink on a street, surrounded by beautiful buildings in a communal setting on a beautiful summers evening, sipping on good wine like Pignoletto maybe….One of life’s great experiences.

Cost: €3 for a glass of wine at Cantina Bentivoglio which hosts the best Jazz nights in Bologna. They offer an excellent daily fixed price menu for €28 which is worth checking out.

 

Top tip: Pop by for the evening feast at Mercato Delle Erbe

On Via Belvedere feast, every Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday during summer locals pour into enjoy meals prepared from unsold produce from the Mercato delle Erbe. Great atmosphere and the food is great. You can buy bottle of wine for a few euros and have a great meal surrounded by locals. Highly recommend if you’re in town on any of those days.

 

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7:30pm Aperitivo at La Stanze

Another very decent aperitivo option in Bologna is La Stanze. A former 16th-century private chapel of the Palazzo Bentivoglio, one of the highlights of a visit here is the high ceiling which is adorned with beautiful pastel frescoes. Aperitivo. Expect plates of pasta, grilled vegetables, bite-sized pizzette, cheeses and prosciutto.

Cost: €7 which includes any drink or cocktail.

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9pm Pizza Casa

I’m still hungry and I walking out of La Stanze, I smell pizza. Pizza Casa (Via delle Belle Arti, 6,) just up the road a few hundred yards is a simple pizzeria that does great pizzas, freshly baked in their huge oven. It’s popular with students and locals. Pizzas are very competitively priced with a margharita pizza costing just €2.50. You can create your own, which I did. My pizza ( I called it ‘Kashizza) consisted of tomato, garlic, potatoes and topping of rocket leaves. Delicious. Pizza and potatoes is a Michelin star winning combo.

Cost: €3.50

10:30pm Klubbing at Kinki

If you’re in the mood for clubbing, the club scene in Bologna is not the most vibrant for what you would expect in a student city.  There’s lot of Irish bars which are popular with the students, tourists and hence you can expect, overpriced drinks. However there are cool clubs like Kinki which is an icon of the local club scene since 1950. I was curious to check out the place with a few friends and  wasn’t disappointed. Free entry, good music, drinks and cocktails were around the €5-€7 mark.  Crowd was mixed bunch but overall a decent night.

Cost €13. One beer and an aperol spritz

12:30 am Piazza Verdi

Piazza Verdi. Photo courtesy of Asgeir Pederson http://www.asgeirpedersen.no/

Piazza Verdi. Great buzz about this place, day or night Photo courtesy of Asgeir Pederson http://www.asgeirpedersen.no/

The perfect place to end 48 Hours in Bologna is in the lively Piazza Verdi where the students congregate at night to chat and drink into the late hours. It felt like I had stumbled into some huge street party. Nothing beats summer nights with people on the streets and drinking cheap good wine (Latter is no problem, for €3-€5 you can get a very nice bottle of Sangiovese in Bologna. )

Cost: €5

 

Where to stay

There are a few but decently priced budget options in Bologna. Accommodation will be one of your biggest expenses in Bologna. Unless you wish to stay at the hostel that is 6 km out of the centre which for me pretty ruins the fun of experiencing this city.

Albergo Centrale ( Via della zecca 2 ) just a few minutes walk from Piazza Maggiore is an excellent priced budget option with a good location, cracking buffet breakfast, nice interior decor and clean and comfortable bedrooms. Via Booking.com, 2 nights in an economy double room with breakfast here comes to €69 per room, per night. Which works out to be €35 per person, per night including breakfast which is a great deal in my opinion.

How to get there and away

Bologna has an excellently priced and convenient rail connections to all the key cities of the north. You can reach Florence in an hour and half and pay around €11.50. Rome is 3 1/2 hours and tickets cost €34.

The Guglielmo Marconi airport is just 6 kms northwest of the city.

Aerobus-BLQ is the express shuttle bus service connecting Bologna Marconi Airport to the Bologna Central Railway Station. There are regular services with the first bus from the airport leaving at 05:30 and the last bus at 00:15. Travel time is 20 minutes. For more information about schedules see TPER.

Tickets currently cost €6 one way. Taxi costs around €15 so if you are travelling in a group, better take a cab. Taxi rank is just outside the arrivals entrance.

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Total cost of 48 Hours in Bologna

Caffe Terzi €1.50
Climbing Due Torri €3
Gelato No 1-Gianni €2
Museum of History of Bologna €5
Pesto potato beans sandwich at Eataly €2.80
Palazzo Archiginnasio €Free

Wine at Osteria del Sole  €4

Aperitivo at Lab Sedici €6

Santuario della Madonna di San Luca €Free

Breakfast with a view Caffe delle Sette Chiese

Lunch Marsalino €10.50

Coffee, Camera a Sud €0.90

Glass of wine at Cantina Bentivoglio €3

Gelato, La Sorbetteria Castiglione €2

Aperitivo at La Stanze €7

Pizza Casa €3.50

Klubbing at Kinki €13

Bottle of Sangiovese, Piazza Verdi €5

2 nights in Albergo Centrale  €138

Return, Airport Bus €12

 

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Total €219.20 / £187 / ¢300

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My thanks to the amazing people at Emilia Romagna tourism board for making Blogville a reality.  Also thanks to my fellow iAmbassador colleagues for their passion, craft and dedication to this project. Plus a big thanks to all my friends and fellow bloggers who I shared this unique experience. You can read about the bloggers amazing experiences of Emilia Romagna here.

October 16, 2013

In praise of the museum cafe

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Last weekend. It was cold, raining and we were lost in the confusing maze of canals of Amsterdam.

 

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The rain was no longer vertical.

It was lashing into our faces from a horizontal angle on the back of furious gusts of moisture laden air.

Unlike the beautiful Autumnal day before, the canals were no longer still and silent but thanks to the incessant rain overnight, had swelled considerably.

They were like tidal rivers now,  angry and shrill as the swirling wind around us, threatening to overflow their banks.

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Umbrellas were of no use in these blustery conditions.

Every 5 steps, we found broken umbrellas sprayed across the pavement or jacked into bins.

‘Broken umbrellas like dead birds’  was the phrase that came to mind, to quote Mr Waits.

Dead autumn leaves were like now like a slimy carpet under out feet.

The earth was truly beginning to move under our feet.

 

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It was at this precise moment that we finally managed to locate FOAM, the museum of photography in Amsterdam.

I love this museum and I always come back here whenever I revisit Amsterdam. I find their photography exhibitions always thought provoking and moving.

 

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To warm our hands and feet, we nip down to the basement café of Foam.

The staff here are always warm and welcoming. Out of the rain and away from the prying wind, suddenly a moment of calm and peace descends upon us. We sit down. Rub hands to generate warmth. Order tea. As we flick through the prospectus of the exhibition ( 40 years of Dutch magazine photography) a pot of steaming tea arrives with a smile and a nice piece of shortbread. We are paying for the tea but still, sitting there feels like a privilege.

The food menu looks like quite varied and interesting. Little pricey for the BudgetTraveller, nevertheless, it looks like really good quality food and smells great. Everyone is smiling, happy with their food. We look at the animated faces of all the people in the cafe and wonder about their lives, where they came from. Marvel at how fate has brought has together at this precise moment in time.

The low lighting is soothing. The rain drops slide down the broad window panes behind us. There is a reassuring sense of comfort and gratitude being in the museum café, shielded from the unpredictable elements.

Then, as gratitude envelopes my heart, a nagging thought enters my brain…

Why are museum cafes such an unloved instituition?

I rewind a few days back to our day in Rotterdam. I remember Sofia, my girlfriend suggesting that we have lunch at the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen ( Fabulous collection of surrealist art )

I scoffed at the idea with the nonchalance of a well travelled man. In my heart, museum cafes were not an entity within themselves. There were an unwanted add-on. A sideshow to the main event. Somewhere you passed through on your way to the exit or after taking a wrong turn from the souvenir shop.

I closed my eyes and visualised tired faces when thinking of museum cafes. Bored faces. Haggard looking parents. Weary waiting staff.

However, maybe I was a victim of a stereotype?

 

I plumbed my memory to think of all the museum cafes I’ve visited on my travels.

I immediately picture myself back in Edinburgh where I lived for almost 8 years.

I am taking a walk down the enchanted Water of Leith canal. Starting at Dean Village, I wind my way through the village, into Stockbridge and then finally found myself at the feet of the city’s two excellent modern art galleries- Dean Gallery and the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art.

Both the cafes in these two museums are excellent, my favourite is the Café Modern One at the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art.

The café is always is this vibrant mix of art lovers, tourists and locals. It’s always packed. Especially on sunny days where people soak in the sun in their glorious outdoor garden patio. The food here is excellent too and offer generous portions.  From their delicious crispy jacket potatoes to homemade soups and casseroles to their puy lentil salads plus an excellent range of cakes-this café is a great place to eat in it’s own regard.

Cafe, Bojimans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam.

Cafe, Bojimans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam.

Back to almost the present- Rotterdam and the café at the Bojimans museum. Sofia was desperately needing to make a phone call to her parents via Skype and hence needed a decent wifi connection. After buying our tickets to the museum, the friendly receptionist informs us that the café has both free AND working wifi. While she makes her phone call, I buy two coffees. Both come with a free piece of chocolate shortbread. I pick up a selection of local magazines lying on the next table and for a few moments, find myself really absorbed, enjoying myself.

Sipping on the freshly brewed coffee. Words. Images. A beautiful sense of calm. Around me I don’t see any bored or unhappy faces.

 

The more I travel, for better or for worse, I’ve realised I’ve become a godamn fussy person. The travellers curse. A simple café won’t do. I won’t settle for a cold slice of pizza for lunch or visit Starbucks just because of the free wifi.

I want to feel welcomed. A smile, when I walk in.

Even if it’s a tiny bite of something, be authentic. Even if all you got is soup and sandwiches, if your soup is something local and unique to your establishment, you’ve got me hooked. Lie. Tell me you made it with your grandma’s secret recipe. Tell me a story.

 

I want to feel a sense of connection with the environment I’m in.

I love places with great design, that allow light and seem cheerful, even on the dullest day.

Plus I really really love FREE WIFI. Especially when you are travelling on the road in a foreign country, it’s great to be able to connect with your friends and family on the road.

 

A museum café ticks all the boxes.

They won’t have the most jaw dropping menus but they will have a limited but good selection, something nice to nourish your soul. The staff I’ve found are always polite and friendly. The design of most museum cafes, in harmony with the rest of the building, is always eye catching. The coffee is always good.

So the next time you visit a museum, don’t treat the café as an unwanted add-on. A place just to rush through to pee in their loo or catch up on your Facebook messages using the free wifi or a convenient pit stop to stuff your mouth before running to the next destination.

Treat it as an experience in it’s own regard. A quick escape from reality. A place for reflection in the midst of a holiday where you can gather your own thoughts before you are ready to face the world outside.  Come rain or shine, I promise if you give them a chance, they might just surprise you and be a highlight of your next holiday.

 

Some of my favourite museum cafes to check out on your next trip..

 

Le Café Diane, Tuileries Gardens |Paris

In the heart of the Tuileries Gardens, this is the Museum Café with THE view, offering a great vista of the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Perfect for a sunny day, nestled within the beautiful Tuileries Gardens, this place is perfect.

 

Café Modern One, Scottish Gallery of Modern Art | Edinburgh

Hearty food, generous portions, a beautiful outdoor terrace and a nice mix of locals and tourists- this is a place not to miss on any trip to Edinburgh. Perfect, when combined with a walk up the Water of Leith.

 

National Café, The National Gallery | London

 If you want to get away from the bustle and clamour of Trafalgar Square in the evening and really looking for a decent bite to eat, then do pop into the beautiful National Café at the National Gallery. Menu is a mix of modern British and European cuisine. At the moment, they are offering an excellent offer of £10 supper ‘dish of the day’ with a glass of wine, beer or soft drink. You can expect dishes like Wiltshire pork and mussel paella to a homemade fish pie and fragrant Thai seafood curry.

 

September 12, 2013

Why I won’t be going back to Barcelona

Barcelona Dreaming

 

 

It’s been 18 months since I blogged about my painful experience of being robbed in Barcelona.

While the experience was bruising it definitely did not deter me from visiting Barcelona again the following year

September 2012. I visited Barcelona last summer after 2 months of  of interrailing and busabouting across Europe. It was great to be back , staying at my favourite hostel in Barcelona, Casa Gracia. To celebrate, me and Alex from Casa Gracia had a big night out in the town with his friends. It would have been a great night if I hadn’t had the misfortune of being pickpocketed again.

I  remember the moment in the nightclub, reaching for my pocket to take a picture, only to realise I had been pickpocketed again.

My shiny new iPhone 4. Gone.

More disappointing was the loss of the pictures from my travels that year. The limited iCloud storage meant that while some pictures had been backed up, some were gone ( Use Dropbox now, have 20 GB, syncs via their app. Great. )

I thought about reporting it to the police but remembering the painful experience of last time, I decided against it.

I was determined not to let my experience of being robbed deter me from visiting Barcelona but after a 2nd experience of being pickpocked, my love affair with the city will be on hold till the authorities figure out an effective way to stop the problem of crime in the city.

2 years on since I spoke about my experience, little seems to have changed.

My piece on being robbed in Barcelona has had over 30000 hits and every week without fail, I see a raft of comments from travellers who have had the same misfortune of being robbed.

It seems that petty theft is not being taken seriously.

 

Pickpockets that are caught are given one-three nights in the cell before being released.

Plus police have to prove that the goods stolen have to exceed the value of €600 to prosecute.

Also given the fact that many of the perpetrators are ‘foreign’ makes them hard to track.

 

Petty theft, whichever you look at is an unnecessary evil.

It has consequences in terms of the visitor experience, the image of the city- Barcelona now has the sad title of being the ‘Pickpocket capital of the world.’

Plus there are other dangerous consequences- El Periodico ran a piece last year about how Al Qaeda was found in the possession of passports stolen in Barcelona.

There is some evidence that the local police are trying to step up to problem of pickpocketing. BBC News did a video report about plain clothes policeman trying to act pickpockets in the act.

However, truth remains that the current laws are still too lax and still not draconian enough to deter pickpockets.

If you are prepared to take the right precautions by all means do visit the city.

However, personally I won’t be going back to Barcelona until the laws change and they elect a mayor who is going to take a much more tougher stance on street crime.

It is no fun being on holiday in a city where you constantly have to worry about having my stuff stolen. That’s how it felt on my last trip and really killed my trip.

 

The problem of street crime is a stain on the image of the city.

It affects the livelihood of thousands of people.

It damages the image of the city across the world.

 

The authorities, the locals , bar owners, restaurants, tour operators and the hosts-all have to be vigilant, educate visitors that the problem exists, and work hand in hand to help stamp out the problem.

Locals and travellers alike be great to hear your thoughts and suggestions.-please leave them in the comments box below

September 2, 2013

Cheap Eats Guide to Rome

cheap-eat-guides

 

One of the top destinations in Europe, Rome can be a challenge for those traveling on a budget, and this is certainly true when in search for a decent meal. With its share of restaurants catering to visitors in the historic center, it can be difficult to find good value for money. Here are some places to eat in Rome that will ensure you eat well and not spend a fortune.

 

1. Pinsere 

Pinsere: Different toppings but all delicious!

 

You’ve probably heard of pizza but what about pinsa? It’s an ancient type of pizza that’s oval-shaped and with toppings on top. One of the best places to try pinsa is at Pinsere where you will be spoilt for choice. From a plain pinsa (no toppings) which costs €3 to fancier toppings of pears, gorgonzola, walnuts and honey (costs €4), this is the perfect place to grab a quick lunch bite. They also offer some limited selections of pasta and rice salad. The place is small and mainly for people to takeaway but there are some bar stools and a wall bar table to enjoy your pinsa.

Located close to the main train station, Termini, it’s about a 12-15 minute walk. Alternatively, you can take Metro A to Repubblica or Barberini stop and it’s a shorter walk.

Address: Via Flavia 98
Opening Hours: Mondays to Fridays 8.00am to 4.00pm

2. Forno Campo de’ Fiori

Heavenly pizza bianca from Forno Campo de’ Fiori

 

Located as its name suggest in Campo de’ Fiori, it is renowned for its pizza bianca (plain pizza without any toppings) which is delicious as it is or it can be filled like a sandwich with cured meats, vegetables, or cheese. Here the pizza, including pizza bianca and pizza rossa (with tomato sauce topping only) is sold by the weight. Let them know how big of a slice you want and usually, it won’t cost you more than €6. The place is popular with locals and tourists alike so expect a crowd at lunch time.

Address: Campo de’ Fiori 22 / Vicolo del Gallo, 14
Opening Hours: Campo de Fiori 7.30am-2.30pm and 4.45pm-8.00pm
Vicolo del Gallo 10.30am-4.45pm
Closed on Sundays (Note: In July and August, there are also closed Saturday afternoons)

3. La Renella

The aromas of freshly baked bread and pizza will lead you to La Renella.

 

If you want pizza for dinner but got to Forno Campo de’ Fiori a touch too late, fear not. Enjoy a nice stroll across the Tiber to Trastevere where you’ll find La Renella, an excellent alternative. You’ll be drooling over the display of pizza with a wide range of toppings, and don’t be surprised if you find it challenging to decide on just one slice! Average price €5.

Address: Via del Moro 15, Trastevere
Opening Hours: 11.00am to 11.00pm

4. Pastificio

Crowds at Pastificio during lunch hour. Well worth the wait.

 

Tired of panini and pizza? Then head to Pastificio to get some hot freshly prepared pasta dishes for under €5. There’s nothing fancy about this place despite being in the vicinity of Piazza di Spagna. Pastificio sells dry pasta but at lunch it offers one of the best deals in town.

For €4 you get to choose between two dishes and it includes water and the house wine. Your heaping pasta will be served on a plastic plate and expect to be using plastic utensils and cups (told you there’s nothing fancy). The place is small with some chairs and wall bar tables and when it gets crowded, you might have to wait for people to clear out.

Alternatively, on a sunny beautiful day, you can get the pasta to go (not the water and wine though) and enjoy lunch in Piazza di Spagna, a prime spot to just soak in Rome. Since it is also popular with locals, head there just a touch before 1pm to beat the crowds.

Address: Via della Croce 8
Opening Hours: Lunch from 1pm-2pm

5. Trattoria Vecchia Roma

The specialty at Trattoria Vecchia Roma: Bucatini all'amatriciana

Situated in the Esquilino neighborhood is only a short walk from the Metro A Vittorio Emanuele stop. Their specialty is bucatini all’amatriciana which they flambe and mix it up in a pecorino wheel. Portion sizes are generous and dishes start at €9. As its popular place, reservations are highly recommended.

Address: Via Ferruccio, 12
Tel: 06 446 7143
Opening Hours: Mondays to Saturdays 12.30pm to 3pm and 7pm to 11pm

6. Kathmandu Fast Food

Tired of pizza, panini, and pasta? Head to Kathmandu

If you want a change from pasta, panini and pizza, make your way to Kathmandu Fast Food also in the Esquilino neighborhood, where you can get a mix plate of rice, vegetables and meat curry for not more than €7. A hole-in-the-wall but you won’t be disappointed.

Address: Via Michelangelo Buonarroti 38
Opening Hours: Every day of the week from 10.00am to 11.00pm.

7. Hamburgerseria / Burger Bar 

Menu at Hamburgerseria

Craving for a burger or a late night snack? Close to Piazza Navona, you will find this burger bar tuck in a corner. They offer a choice of beef, turkey or veggie burger served with tomatoes, lettuce, and BBQ sauce for €7. It doesn’t come with fries which would be an additional €3. On the menu, you will also find hot wings, salad and chicken quesadilla, each at €6.

Address: Via Del Teatro Pace 35/3
Opening Hours:  Mondays to Fridays 6pm to 2am / Saturdays and Sundays from 10am to 2am

And here’s a bonus!

Gelato is not made equal in Rome! In general it is an affordable treat, if you know where to go! Here are a few gelaterie that offer excellent gelato and for €2-€3, it will be money well spent.

Sweet and inexpensive treat!

Sweet and inexpensive treat!

 

FataMorgana: Various locations in Monti, Trastevere, Prati. Check their website for more details.

Gelateria del Teatro: Via dei Coronari 65-66 and Lungotevere dei Vallati 25

V-Ice: Corso Vittorio Emanuele II 96

Gelateria Corona : Largo Arenula 27

Come il Latte: Via Silvio Spaventa, 24/26

Il Gelato: Viale Aventino 59

 

Biography

Diana has made Rome her home for the past 7 years. Consequently, she has found herself sharing her experiences on the blog BrowsingRome.com where she now also writes about about her adventures beyond the Eternal City. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

PS: If you are visiting Florence, don’t forget to check out our cheap eats guide to Florence 

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