Thursday, 17 September 2015

Backpacking to Vilnius in Lithuania

Vilnius in Lithuania, has continuously been voted a top destination for the young at heart backpacker. I've decided to have a quick look, to understand why this city, in a fairly 'obscure' part of Europe is ranking so high on most respected travel publications and web sites. Big was my surprise when I started my research to find out what a spectacular city, Vilnius is and what it actually offer tourists. So here are my findings: (Please note that I haven't visited Vilnius yet, but it is on my bucket list!)

Vilnius Town Hall
Vilnius is located in Lithuania on the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe. Lithuania used to be part of the Eastern Block during the Cold War and such it was a no go area for most Westerners. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 most Soviet satellite states became independent, including Lithuania. This also opened up the treasure that is Vilnius, to the world.

Vilnius is a medieval town with lots architectural masterpieces. The city was developed around its town square, with the town hall the main focus.

The population is fiercely patriotic to their homeland and this is very visible in the streets of Vilnius.

Some of the top sites of Vilnius for tourists are the following:
The Museum of the Victims of Genocide:
Lietuvos apeliacinis teismas. 2006-08-10"
by Algirdas  Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Palace of the Grand Dukes of Lithuania:

Zamek Dolny w Wilnie" by Poznaniak - Own work.
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Vilnius:


St. Peter and St. Paul's Church Exterior, Vilnius, Lithuania -
Diliff" by Diliff - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
There are many more sites in Vilnius that makes a visit to this Baltic city worthwhile.

You can search below for good accommodation in Vilnius:

Monday, 17 August 2015

Planning a Backpacking Trip to Europe.

Are you planning an exciting backpacking trip to Europe, but not sure where to start, then the below advice will hopefully help?

Critical Items

  1. Decide the route that you want to go.
  2. Decide your means of travel - Train, Bus etc.
  3. Decide if you are going to do a circle route or fly into one city and fly out from your final city.
  4. Decide how you want to lodge - Hotels, Hostels, Bed and Breakfast etc.
  5. Decide and confirm your budget.
  6. Confirm if you require any Visa and also if your passport is still valid.
  7. Decide when you want to go - weather can be a crucial factor especially in Europe.
The St. Bartholomew's chapel on the Königssee in Bavaria is a popular tourist destination.
Copyright: M.tesch at de.wikipedia


Important Items

  1. Electronic copies of all important travel documents and booking confirmations.
  2. Email critical documents to an email account that you can access while you travel.
  3. Take a couple of certified photocopies of your passport long as well as passport size photos in case you lose your passport and you need a new one urgently issued.
  4. Keep a Facebook account updated with progress of your travel so that family and friends know your last whereabouts in case they lose contact with you.
  5. Decide how you want to keep in touch with family while travelling. Mobile costs can be expensive.


Sample Itinerary

I decided to do a backpacking trip from Paris to Rome. I had +-18 days available and decided to travel as follows:

I decided to use the European Rail service and bought my Rail Pass on www.eurail.com.
I used the www.hotelscombined.com website as it offered the best price comparisons and cheapest hotel rates I could find.

You can click on each city on the itinerary to see some great hotels, B&B's and Hostels available in these cities.

  • Start in Paris - stay 3 nights
  • Travel to Geneva - Stay 2 nights
  • Travel  to Nice - Stay 3 nights
  • Travel to Venice - Stay 3 nights
  • Travel to Florence - Stay - 3 nights
  • Travel to Rome - Stay - 3 nights
  • Fly Home
Map of Sample trip above.















Take Note:
Read as much as possible about the places you will be going to during your research phase, so that you can build your itinerary before you start doing any bookings. The reason for this is also to ensure that you don't get to Europe unprepared and in the end waste money by not using the time to see some great sites.

On a personal note:
If your ancestors were from Europe, it is always an idea to go back to where your family originated from and walk in their ancient footstep. This can be very, very rewarding.

I will be expanding further in subsequent posts on how to expand this European itinerary and save lots of money.




Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Can I still travel to Greece during the current economic trouble?

Many tourists that were planning to travel to Greece in the Summer of 2015 is now unsure if they should cancel their plans or still proceed. The answer to this question will be different for different individuals.
Greece, public unrest. Photo: AFP

So let us review the current situation in Greece.

Before I dive into the below items - The most important item to make sure off before you leave home for any overseas trip, is the following  -
Ensure you take out Travel Insurance!

Money

  • All banks are closed until at least 15 July 2015.
  • Daily ATM withdrawals are capped for all Greek issued cards. The current cap is 60 EUR. This does not apply to foreign cards.
  • Card transactions in store are unrestricted, but not all business accept cards.

So firstly, if you are going to travel to Greece, take cash with you. This is the best advice, especially if you are an independent traveller. Package tourists should also take cash, but you will be able to get around with less cash as most of your trip should be covered in your package costs.

Personal Safety
The next important aspect is to ensure your personal safety. As the country is going through a political upheaval there are potential for demonstrations and street violence. This will be quite important if you are travelling in Athens. It is therefore important to avoid all areas where demonstrations are taking place. Areas to avoid when riots occur includes the following:

  • Syntagma Square
  • Monastiraki
  • Omonia 
  • Exarchia.


You need to use your own judgement on the matter obviously, as it might actually be interesting to see the population of the city acting out their emotions, which has been so hurt over the past couple of years. If you travel to the main holiday islands like Crete and Rhodes, you should be fine as these islands are very much focused on the tourist industry. Overall Greece is a European country with first world safety standards, so you should not be concerned for any other safety issue other than the current political/economic crisis.

Transport
This is also a very important aspect to consider when planning to travel to Greece. Currently all public transport and airports could be impacted as a result of possible strike action against any further austerity measures. So if you are a backpacker (or just an independent traveller) ensure you keep your schedule flexible to allow for delays. Plan to be Athens a couple of days prior to your departure flight - or book your flights into Italian airports and do for example the Ancona to Patras ferry route. Package tourists should hopefully be protected by the travel agency through which the tour got booked to ensure the necessary alternate arrangements are made.

These are the most important items related to the current uncertainties in Greece. You need to decide if these items are really that serious, to lead to a cancellation or delay of your trip to glorious Greece. I feel that these are no different than normal circumstances when travelling to a Third world country, so why cancel or delay!

Accommodation
If you are going to book a trip to Greece, the below hotels, hostels and resorts are some of the best in the country.

Andromeda Villas, Santorini -Awesome! 
Villa Popi, Santorini - Hostel

Herodion Hotel, Athens - Great specials at the moment.

Sunrise Beach Hotel, Agrari, Mykonos

In summary, Greece is still a great destination for holiday makers. You just need to be a bit more disciplined currently than in years gone bye. Be bold and go for it!