Tag Archives: trams

Lessons Learned on Traveling in Europe

trains, transportation, travel, England, underground, overground

Horley (near Gatwick) Station

I thought I would write a lot while traveling, even took a laptop (mini) to do so but there were quite a few factors that made me post only once. I managed to get some gut bug when I flew into Amsterdam. It might have been caused by suspect Chinese food in Horley (but then I’m sensitive to the change of flavor in meat–it might have been slightly old or…bad) or it could have been the water, which is far softer than Vancouver’s water and maybe my body just couldn’t adjust. Still, tummy troubles didn’t keep me down but made my day a bit slower to start.

In Holland, thousands of people use bikes. If I had rented one it would have been a nuisance because I don’t just take pictures of tourist attractions but of things on the street; leaves, textures, patterns. A bike would have meant that I would be hopping on and off constantly.

I found my suitcase was in fact too heavy and I would take even less next time, maybe buying more there. However I was packing for rain and cold and got a very warm, extended summer of 25-30 degrees Celsius. I didn’t wear some of the items I brought because it was too hot. Still, backpacking might have worked but I have a few back issues that might have made it worse, but lugging anything up narrow, multiple Dutch and Belgian stairs will indeed give you a workout, and thankfully, my knees are good.

Most B&Bs have towels, though if you’re couchsurfing, check beforehand. I did a bit of both with even a hotel or two in there. I hate water splashing in my face and have always preferred using a face cloth. While these are pretty standard in any hotel in North America, you won’t find one anywhere in Europe (Holland, Belgian and England were the countries I visited this time). I brought one but might have brought two next time so one could air and dry when using the other. I had to deal with a bit of mildew even in half a day of being packed wet.

Many European buildings are centuries old and, besides having many stairs, have very high ceilings. This means the light might be faint. If your eyes don’t do well in low light, bring another light. I also brought a container for water, which was a good thing when walking around all day. In Belgium a waiter told me it was against the law to serve tap water so you’ll pay as much for a small bottle as almost for a glass of wine. And on drinking, while cider is in the veins of the British, Irish and Scottish it’s harder to find in other areas. I usually found only one bottled type in various places in Holland but it was nonexistent in Belgium.

I took cash but also brought my bank card and credit card. While cash always works, a couple of times I had to use the

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An example of old, steep, narrow stairs in Amsterdam

credit card, for reserving a room, or for storing my luggage at a train station because the machines didn’t take coins. I never could find out if traveler’s checks would work or not, or if there was a fee.

Trains are plentiful and sometimes hook up to trams. Many of the information areas are helpful. However, I found the rudest service in London at the booths marked for information. While different people working about the station were helpful in telling me what line to catch, no one bothered to clarify that there are trains and then there are trains in England. There is the underground or the tube, which has trains, and then there are the overground trains. They come into the same stations and sometimes your ticket transfers between the two (and buses) and sometimes it doesn’t. The underground information people were not helpful with the trains and vice versa. No one bothered to tell me the difference. At Victoria Station there was in fact a Tourist Travel Information center, which no one told me about, but they helped me figure out the overground and underground trains to the airport (after three other ties). It was also cheaper to fly from London to Amsterdam than to take a train through the Chunnel. On the way back I took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so check all forms of transportation,  and several months in advance of your trip for the best deals.

This is an overview and I did so much walking and visiting of galleries and buildings that I was just too exhausted to write in the evenings. Over the next few weeks I will do reviews of accommodation, food and the places I traveled.

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Travel Tips For Planes and Trains

Horley, London, trains, express trains, tracks, trams

Horely Station near Gatwick

I’m traveling in Europe and in the process of  finding transportation hither and yon I’ve discovered a few things. If you want cheap, book your flight about two months before your trip and shop around. Airlines will often hide costs so  check to see if they charge for baggage or seat selection and what weight you’re allowed to carry.

I went with Thomas Cook to save on the flight, thinking it might be better than the Air Transat but it turns out they’re just a horse of a different color. So, while the flight over was in a plane more modern than the one I took fours ago (if you have an iPod there is a plug-in for that and the light dimmer is digital now. However they’ve tried to make the most of a flying sardine can it is still a flying sardine can. A man and his 10-11 yea old son sat next to me and not even the boy could curl up or pull a leg  up on seats that are narrow and short in depth. I do not look forward to the return flight.

Headsets haven’t been free for years but now they chinch you on a pillow. You have to buy it and while the price is reasonable, it’s something you have to pack out of there. One deal was  a pillow that came with an eensy spot of wine, to make it more palatable . With a nine-hour flight it was a very uncomfortable sleep. I won’t go into the highly mediocre, greasy plane food served in too much disposable but not necessarily recyclable packing.

Once in England I stayed at a local guest house in Horley, about a 10-mminute drive from Gatwick Airport (more on guest houses later). When I googled how long it would take to get into London, Victoria Station, I got 2-3 hours, no matter how I entered it. Google can lead you astray. Even the people at the guest house thought it would take longer but not that long. Well, it turns out a 10-15 minute walk (instead of a bus here and a bus there and a train) got me to the Horley train station, which took 45 minutes to get to Victoria Station, for 14 pounds.

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Victoria Station, London

Vancouver, take note. In recent years there has been much discussion on putting in turnstiles at the SkyTrain stations because too many people get on board free. They now have the police pop on to check tickets. In England, you buy your ticket and you can put it through a ticket checker or walk right through. However, there are people on board who check the ticket, or when you leave they have the turnstiles closed at the smaller stations (or later at night) and you have to enter your ticket.  It’s still people checking half the time.

Back to planes for a moment. When I was looking at taking a train from London to Amsterdam through the Chunnel prices were about $170. On a whim I checked flights, which were half that price. Because I waited until about two weeks before my flight, I ended up paying more but still $105 is better and flying faster. Check all options.

Once I landed in Schipol Airport, the fastest way to Amsterdam Centraal Station was by train in 20 minutes, for about 4 Euros. A tram then took me the rest of the way for about 2.60 Euros. It’s a bit confusing and even the police were wrong on where I was to catch it but the driver of the tram was helpful.

In both Amsterdam’s and London’s stations, shops and even pubs abounded. These weren’t sketchy little kiosks but full-on establishments, making the station part of everyday culture, not some place to hurry into and out of. People had lunch there and shopped. Vancouver’s price may not be as high in comparison to Europe’s but if they want to make the trains viable and affordable then they should look at bringing people in with carrots instead of sticks. Don’t make the drivers of cars suffer, encourage them that the trains are better.

I’m sure to have more adventures on my travels and I’ll talk about other aspects in the days to come. But the biggest thing about travel is to check in advance, check all types of transportation, leave early if you have deadline, and ask the locals. They’ll almost always know the best route and usually won’t mind telling.

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