Sunday, June 29, 2014

Generator Hostels

The group of hostels known as gets a good review in an article in the Huffington Post ( They have properties in several European cities, and feature hostels with modern design and rates starting as low as 10 euros per night for a bed in a dorm. They also offer single and double rooms at higher cost.

If you've read previous blog posts you know I am not generally a fan of hostels. However, hotel prices in Europe can be quite high, and I would consider trying a hostel again in a pinch. From the photos on their Website Generator Hostels look clean and attractive, but their dorm rooms can hold as many as eight people in bunk beds.

It seems to me that hostels are more geared to young people than to others, and the photos on the site certainly indicate that. In addition, some from what I have read have a hard-drinking culture that would not appeal to me. If you check hostel ratings, apparently a high rating for "fun" usually corresponds to heavy drinking.

Generator Hostels has two properties in Berlin, one in Mitte and one in Prenzlauer Berg. Rates this summer are considerably lower in Prenslauer Berg, a district of the former East Berlin just next to Mitte that is a little more green and quiet but equally hip.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Budget Hotels in Scotland

It sounds a bit like a bad joke, but a story in the Scottish Daily Record ( says that there has been explosive growth in budget hotels in Scotland. Motel One (www. motel-one.dom/de/) and Tune Hotel ( are among the chains that have opened new properties in Edinburgh, the picturesque capital.

Motel One is a German-based chain that is expanding into other countries in Europe. Its slogan is great design for little money, and its ultramodern hotels can be found in a number of German cities. The lowest price for a room I saw quoted on their Website was 49 euros, in Koln. Tune Hotels are based in Asia but have expanded into the U.K.

In Glasgow, budget hotel offerings include a property of the Citizen M chain (,) a Dutch company. This chain has rooms in Rotterdam and at the Charles de Gaulle Airport outside Paris starting at 79 euros, and even boasts a hotel on Times Square in New York, where rates begin at $199.

Budget hotels accounted for only 3 per cent of Scottish hotel bookings in 2000, but that percentage rose to 18 per cent by 2010 and is expected to reach 25 per cent by 2016. The newspaper article credits their growth mainly to the recessionary climate of recent years.

It is good to hear that lodging choices in Scotland are expanding. I have stayed in and eaten at some fine places in that country, but have also had the experience of sleeping in my rental car because I could not find anyplace that had rooms available. Car sleeping is not very comfortable even in one's 20s, as I was then.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Beijing to Moscow by Train

The train trip from Beijing to Moscow crosses some fascinating territory--China, Mongolia, Siberia, the Ural Mountains and into western Russia. It runs part-way along the path of the TransSiberian Railway, but the route is a lot more varied than just travelling across Russia.

It is possible to do this trip on one's own, but there is a lot of work involved. For my money, it would be worth paying a little extra for somebody else to work out the details. One company that has an interesting itinerary for this route is

They offer a 16 day trip that includes a stay in a Mongolian ger, a stop in Ulan Ude, capital of the Buryat Autonomous Republic, and a stop at Perm in the Urals for a visit to the Kungur Nature Reserve.Ulan Ude is known, among other things, as the city that has the largest head of Lenin anywhere. The cost of the itinerary is as low as $3,056 Canadian, which includes lodging, the rail trip in a four-bed compartment, some meals and tours.

One good thing about Intrepid is that they run small group tours where those travelling alone do not need to pay a single supplement. You will be paired up with another traveller of the same gender, or sometimes several other travellers. In a ger, of course, a large number of people may be snoozing together.

This is just one of Intrepid's many offerings, and the company provides several different types of trips from those for the rugged outdoors types to more comfortable alternatives. Generally the prices seem reasonable.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Savings in France

France, especially Paris, is reputed to be quite expensive, but there are ways to visit this beautiful city and country without going bankrupt. Just being in Paris and observing the scene from a sidewalk cafe is entertainment in itself, all for the price of a cup of coffee. There are interesting cafes along the rue Mouffetard in the Latin Quarter, and elsewhere. I used to love Fouquet's, an upscale cafe on the Champs Elysees.

The best bets for reasonably priced dining are ehtnic restaurants such as Vietnamese or Greek. Stick to the prix fixe menu if possible. A Website called has a lot of information about Paris restaurants, wine bars and food tours. In good weather, you can pick up the makings for a picnic in a charcuterie or patisserie and eat in one of the city's pleasant parks.

You can visit the grounds of the Chateau de Versailles for just the cost of a Metro ticket, though I believe it would be a shame to miss seeing the famous Hall of Mirrors inside, where the treaty ending World War I was signed. Strolling along the Seine is another free activity, as is visiting the city's churches for services.

If you head to Germany from France, an article in recommends stopping off at least for a day in Strasbourg, capital of Alsace. You can leave your luggage at the train station for just 4 euros, and wander around the city. The most interesting area is the medieval quarter called La Petite France, just a five minute walk from the station. The Cathedral, which dates from the 15th century, is a marvel of Gothic architecture.

I have a soft spot for Strasbourg because I spent a couple of weeks there studying French one summer. I especially enjoyed the local food, a rich blend of French and German fare, and the excellent white wine. A local specialty that is very tasty is known as flammkuchen, and it resembles quiche with plenty of onions. It was called zwiebeltorte or tarte a l:onion when I was there. At a restaurant called Le Flam's you can enjoy unlimited flammkuchen for just 12 euros.

Getting around Strasbourg by bike is easy and cheap, since bike rental with VelHop costs just 5 euros a day. A pint of Alsatian beer will set you back the same amount. If you have time, try to visit some of the smaller towns near Strasbourg such as Riquewihr, famed for their wines and half-timbered architecture. Strasbourg is decidedly French, but the local dialect is Germanic, so if you speak either language you won''t have any trouble getting around.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Unlimited Rail Travel in Canada

Canada has some of the world's iconic train journeys, particularly the trip right across the country from Halifax NS to Vancouver BC. On this route you see a lot of trees, but also lakes, towering mountains, prairies, farms and some fascinating cities. It rivals the Trans-Siberian as one of the most interesting rail trips around.

This summer you can enjoy unlimited rail travel with Via Rail (,) but there is a catch. You need to be between 12 and 25, or over 25 and the possessor of an ISIC student identity card. Travel must take place between July 1 and August 31, in economy class only.

There are two options--a pass for travel within the Quebec City to Windsor ON corridor goes for $499 Canadian, or a pass for system-wide travel costs $999 Canadian.

Unlimited travel options are rare now, and this could be a good option for a young person who loves trains. It is almost interesting enough to persuade us older folks to go back to school in order to qualify for a student card. If you don't qualify for this pass, or if you don't want to travel that much, Via continues to offer its very reasonable Escape fares this summer for travel in the Quebec City-Windsor corridor.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

City Beaches

If you are visiting large cities this summer but want to take a break from business or sight-seeing, a surprising number of them have beaches, sometimes right downtown. Not all of these beaches have sand or allow swimming, but some do.

Among the cities with relatively recent concrete beaches are Berlin, Paris and Montreal. These are places where you can catch some rays in a swimming suit in the midst of town. Other places, inclouding some in cold climates, have more appealing sandy beaches.

For instance, Chicago's Montrose Beach is a nice place to walk or lie in the sun. In a suburb of Amsterdam called Ijburg, Blijburg aan Zee is a sandy public beach. In Cape Town, which boasts water cold enough for penguins, Clifton Beach attracts a lot of visitors in their summer, and so does Playa Pocitos in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Even New York City has a public beach at Rockaway, and Toronto has both the district known as the Beaches to the east of downtown and the beaches on the city's islands in Lake Erie. Many places have nearby beaches, such as those on the lakes around Berlin including the Wannsee. This is a large lake with a lot of nice places to relax, and transport there is included on many city transit passes.

Wherever you are headed, do an internet search on beaches and the name of the city, and you may be in for a pleasant surprise.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Solo Traveler Blog

If you travel alone or would like to do so, a good source to consult is I have mentioned this information source before, but it has expanded a lot since I first became aware of it.

The blog is written by Janice Waugh, a middle-aged Canadian who went on the road after she was widowed and sold her business. Now she speaks and writes about the travelling life in an effort to inspire others to put their travel dreams into action.

One item I found particularly interesting is a detailed breakdown of the costs of two recent trips she took, one from Vancouver BC to Los Angeles CA, and the other to London and Paris. Her blog isn't specifically budget-oriented, but as a small business person she has to count her pennies. Some ways she saved on the West Coast trip were by sitting up overnight on a train, using Aeroplan miles and by staying part of the time at hostels. On the European venture she walked a lot and used public transit, stayed in hostels and watched her food costs.

In addition, she saved on the air fare to Europe by acting as a mystery shopper. This allowed her to fly for half-price. She works for an organization,, that hires part-time mystery shoppers in North America only. The group is based in Canada and has recently expanded into the United States and Mexico.

Mystery shopping--reporting on various shopping experiences--isn't a job that will pay the rent, but it certainly sounds as if it has some great perks.

Incidentally, I noticed on my blog stats that page views averaged more than 1,000 per day last month. Thanks very much, and I would like to welcome readers in countries I have not seen represented before, Thailand and Saudi Arabia.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Low-cost Flights in the Northeast

If you happen to live in or near Newport News, VA, you will soon be able to enjoy inexpensive flights on a new budget airline. Called PEOPLExpress (,) this company is clearly taking advantage of the similarity of its name to one of the earliest cheap airlines in the U.S., the late People's Express.

Service will begin to three cities on June 30--Newark NJ, Boston MA and Pittsburgh Pa. The base price for a one-way fare is $76 to Boston or Newark, and $59 to Pittsburgh. Later in the year the airline plans to begin service to a number of other airports including West Palm Beach FL.

As is often the case with budget airlines, there are charges for many items that are usually free on larger competitors. For example, on PEOPLExpress you have to pay for luggage stored in the overhead compartment and for coffee, tea and soft drinks.

Another problem with these airlines is that they own only a few planes, so if one is grounded for mechanical or other reasons it can take a while to get a replacement aircraft. Still, for people who live near the hub, this sounds like an option worth checking into.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Cruise Deals

If you are able and willing to book far ahead, you can get significant reductions on some otherwise expensive cruises. For example, with Viking River Cruises (,) you can receive 2 for one prices on their 2015 voyages in Russia, Europe and China if you book and pay by the end of June. Two for one air fares may also be available.

I'm not one of the people who is willing to book trips far ahead, but if you are you can save a lot of money. I know people like this, who plan travels years in advance, and it seems to work for them.

Cunard (,) is also offering savings for its 2015 cruises, and even on some of the 2014 Mediterranean sailings. For certain cruises, passengers receive a free balcony upgrade, free gratuities and a free bottle of wine.

In addition, Cunard recently announced that it has installed some new single staterooms on its former flagship, the Queen Elizabeth II. The staterooms are generous in size, most have windows and they are located midship, so I suspect they will be relatively costly. I couldn't find any price information on their Website. I am happy to see that a few cruise lines are starting to cater to single travellers, at least.

If you are a fan of cruising or would like to become one, it is a good idea to work with a travel agent who is a cruise specialist. They can often get better deals than you could on your own.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Japan on a Budget

There is an interesting story on a Phillipine Website called about how to visit Japan, a notoriously expensive country, at moderate cost. The complete reference is

It includes advice on how to get a cheap air fare from the Phillipines by booking far ahead when a promotion is announced, but also good ideas that can apply to all visitors. The author prefers staying at hostels or guest houses rather than hotels, and says that by booking ahead and avoiding major holidays you can get a traditional style room for about $35 per night. It will have air-conditioning, hot baths, WiFi, and be clean, apparently.

Kyoto and Osaka are known for their abundance of traditional architecture and temples, and are the cities to visit if you want to get a hint of the old Japan. Most temples and shrines are free, or charge admission of $4 or so at most. The best way to get around to see them is by using an all day bus pass which also costs $4.

Food can be expensive in Japan, but not if you stick to dishes like curry rice. A meal with a very large serving of curry rice, meat and tea goes for about $7, or try converyor belt sushi which costs $1 a piece. Sukiyaki is a fast food chain the writer likes.

Shopping is not a great bargain in Japan, but is an interesting experience. The international chains like Zara ( are among the less expensive places to find clothes if you need them.

I have observed how prices at shops like Zara vary from country to country. Here is Canada Zara is a low- to medium-price chain, but in Russia it is considerably more costly. A cotton shirt that cost about $70 in St. Petersburg would, I suspect, go for less than half that in Montreal.

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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Angry Planet TV

For some very interesting virtual tourism, check out, I recently saw an episode of this show on City TV ( about ecological disasters in the former Soviet Union. The secret nuclear submarine base at Balaclava in Crimea was among the examples. The image above is a miniature model of one of the nuclear submarines that used to operate from this base, which is now a museum.  Since Crimea is once again Russian, could the base be re-commissioned?

The other, much better kinown Soviet disasters the program discussed were the drying up of the Aral Sea in Uzbekistan and the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl, Ukraine. Not all the episodes, apparently, concern man-made problems, some are about natural phenomenon such as volcanoes. On the Website of Angry Planet, you can watch an episode about an Indonesian volcano.

I suspect this could be a pretty depressing show to make, focusing as it does on problem areas of the world. However, it makes for fascinating viewing, and concerns subjects that could affect us all. I'm looking forward to seeing more, since I don't usually go out of my way to find difficulties when I travel.

On a happier note, I am looking forward to seeing a special exhibit of the exquisite Faberge eggs at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (, which opens June 14  I suspect it is the same exhibition I saw several years ago in one of the Kremlin museums, but it would be well worth seeing again. I was particularly impressed there by an egg Nicholas II had given his mother, a tiny gold  model of the royal yacht Standart..

This weekend in Montreal we are welcoming the Formula One race, and the city is bussing with excitement. I'll be watching it on television. I've only seem one F1 race live, and I could see so little that it didn't encourage me to go again. ( I had a cheap ticket.) But the glamour of the crowd in Monaco made it all worthwhile, something one should experience at least once.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Dine In, Make Friends

Air b and b (,) the successful room-finding service, is expanding its offerings to home-cooked meals, at least in its base area of San Francisco. This is a pilot project which will allow those who love to cook to invite guests in for a home-cooked meal and reap a reward. The reward, of course, must be shared with airbnb.

Airbnb has been a remarkable success story--it now operates in 192 countries and books some 10 million rooms per year. The company recently received a cash infusion of $10 billion from an investor. I have never used the service myself, nor do I know anyone who has, but it appears that a lot of people are willing to chance their luck.

Another service called Feastly ( offers home-cooked meals with hosts in several U.S. cities--Washington, DC, San Francisco and New York among others. A quick search of its meals in New York revealed prices ranging from $15 to $95 per person. This could be a fun way to sample a new cuisine and perhaps make some new friends at the same time.

This individual part of the hospitality industry is expanding fast, so it pays to check in any major city whether there is a similar program available there.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Art Nouveau in Europe

When you have seen a lot of the major sights in Europe, you can make your visits to the Continent more interesting by going in search of particular things--styles of design such as Art Nouveau could be a good place to start. Pictured above is the House of Chimeras in Kiev, Ukraine, one appealing example of the style.

Art Nouveau, also known as Style Moderne or Jugendstil, swept the Continent at the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century. Today it can be found in many places, but some cities are particularly well-known for it. Barcelona is one, since it is the setting for most of the work of the famous architect Antonio Gaudi, whose Sagrada Familia Cathedral is still unfinished.

Glasgow, Scotland is another place where the style, known in Britain and North America as Arts and Crafts, flourished. According to an article on, following a fire there is now one less example, since the Glasgow School of Art lost its Charles Rennie Macintosh Library. But there are still plenty of other buildings, such as the House for an |Art Lover in Glasgow and Hill House in Helensburgh nearby.

Riga, Latvia obtained its rating as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its Jugendstil quarter, which is well-preserved and centred around Albert Street. In Moscow, the Beliorussia railway station is built in Art Nouveau fashion, as is the Metropol Hotel.  In Berlin, check out the Brohan Museum for its collection of Jugendstil and Art Deco interior design. Darmstadt, Germany is also a centre, and so is Helsinki, Finland.

Prague and Vienna are other places with many examples of the style, and Brussels was one of its centres. In Paris, some Metro stations preserve the curlicued metalwork often associated with Art Nouveau.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Summer Literary Seminars

You are probably familiar with the value of using some vacation time to study or brush up on a foreign language abroad. There is nothing like being in a place where a language is spoken to improve your verbal skills and motivation for learning. However, it is also possible to study other subjects in various locations abroad.

Through an organization called Summer Literary Seminars ( you can study writing with masters in the field in Lithuania, Kenya or Montreal. The Lithuania program lasts two weeks and gives participants a choice of two different kinds of writing to pursue, such as fiction, poetry, non-fiction and so forth. In addition to scheduled seminars, there are many events where you can get together with fellow participants, seminar leaders and local writers.

These seminars are a mini-introduction to creative writing courses, in case you have ever been tempted to pursue that field. The fact that they are held abroad adds greatly to their appeal, I believe. I participated in one of the workshops when they were still being held in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was pleased with the experience.

The cost of the Lithuania program for two weeks is $1,950 U.S. which does not include housing. Lodging is available in shared dorm rooms for as little as $11 per night. You also need to add the cost of air fare. Scholarships are available to some participants based on need.

For a full account of my experience at Summer Literary Seminars, you can consult the portfolio section of my Website, The article was originally published in Transitions Abroad (