Converted to Cruises

Over the Easter period I found myself with four free days. I decided to use this opportunity to do a little exploring. When I sat down to plan the city break I decided on two criteria. Firstly, I wanted to travel as cost effectively as possible. Secondly, the journey must take me somewhere new and be an exposure to fresh experiences . With only a week to plan and a starting point in Stockholm I scoured the internet for bargain holidays.

After a few hours of research I’d gathered a list of trains and planes that could take me somewhere within Scandinavia for a decent price. However, the costs seemed to treble when I searched for accommodation. Booking last minute meant all the bargains had already been bought and I was left with the more expensive options. I returned to the search engine disheartened and started reading other people’s recommendations. To my surprise, one of the most frequent options for budget traveling was to take a cruise.

Initially I was a little skeptical of boat travel. Cruises conjure the image of bingo halls and close quarters with very tanned pensioners who spend six months of the year in the  Caribbean. However, after totaling the prices on several websites the savings of cruises couldn’t be ignored. Even with a last minute booking a three day journey came in slightly cheaper than flights for two people. By combining the cost of transport and accommodation traveling across the Baltic sea becomes a steal.

Finally, I had hunted down a holiday that fit my cost effective criteria. Now all I needed to do was choose a city to explore. Most cruises companies offer four or five destinations. That gives you plenty of options when picking a city break in a country that borders the Baltic Sea. The most frequent locations were Estonia, Latvia and Finland but if you were willing to travel for longer you can reach Russia and even China. With so many places to choose from it was impossible not to find somewhere I hadn’t explored. And by taking my first journey by boat I had the opportunity to appreciate a new country a unique way to get there.

The week quickly past and I found myself at Stockholm’s port, ready to begin my voyage. I still held some reservations about cruises but they were quickly washed away after a few hours. Unlike the airport leaving the country by boat is a much calmer experience. Gone are the frustrated families cramming through baggage checks and long lines at passport control. There’s no need to wrestle for a seat whilst you’re waiting to depart because you’re immediately at ‘hotel’.

Once onboard all there is left to do is relax and enjoy the journey. This is made easy with the amount of opportunities on board. Most hotels offer one or two restaurants whilst cruises double your choices. Alongside this there are multiple bars, shopping centers, live entertainment, spa facilities, play areas for the children and of course the obligatory bingo. Even though your are spending more time traveling by boat the experience itself makes the journey feel faster. What cruises lose in speed the make up for in comfort.

Taking a city break by boat is ultimately an experience in pleasure. From the effortless journey to the plethora of options for entertainment and dining, you arrive at your destination refreshed and ready to explore. When you consider the bargain prices as well then it’s not surprising why they are so highly recommended. If you have a few days to enjoy and a wanderlust to satisfy then a cruise around the Baltic may be perfect for you.

 

 

How to Fight the Fear of Flying

No matter how much time I spend in the air I am anxious for the majority of the flight. It’s a ridiculous fear for someone who spends at least fives hours on a plane every four weeks. According to the app for my most used airline I have flown one and a half times around the world. But despite my abundance of air miles I spend a large part of every journey panicking. Perhaps my anxiety of being in an airplane is justified and something I can never completely conquer. However, I am starting to gather tips after each experience in order to make the next journey slightly more enjoyable. Hopefully you have some too and will leave them in the comments below.

 

Some Do’s

  • Chewing gum throughout the flight is essential for me. Not only does it help with alleviating the pain of air pressure but gum also keeps your mouth occupied. This stops you nervously breathing large gulps of air, which is unpleasant for the person sitting next to you but also seems to make you panic more. Slower breaths through the nose release tension at a more steady rate whilst giving you a minty smile. As long as you aren’t a loud chewer gum is a winner for everybody.
  • Whenever I fly it’s important to choose an airline I trust. Statistically air-travel is the safest mode of transport but a phobia isn’t a rational creature. If you know that an airline has had a recent accident then the it’s best to avoid them. Even though lighting rarely strikes the same place twice you’ll still be thinking about the worst throughout the journey.
  • I’ve found that it’s worth paying a little extra for a flight instead of opting for the budget option. The main reason for this is simply breathing space. Budget airlines have limited room in order to their maximise profit and offer you a better deal. The down side to their lower prices is that you’re often cramped into a considerably smaller space. If your body is bunched up then it’s impossible to relax your mind. If you’re going to fly budget then I would recommend the aisle seat. You may get bashed more by the air staff but you will have a little more room and shouldn’t have to fight for the arm rest- an essential to grab during turbulence.

 

Some Don’ts

  • Although a playlist of whale songs may sounds harmonious I wouldn’t advise listening to music in flight. When your ears are occupied then every muffled announcement becomes a minor panic. Something as simple as being asked to fasten seat belts or the starting of the drinks service can make you anxious when you miss it. Without all your senses the mind immediately races to an emergency landing in the Pacific ocean. To avoid this I’d recommend reading a book or if you are going to download some movies get the subtitled version and only use one headphone.
  • It goes without saying the alcohol and coffee should be avoided in the air. Caffeine will only increase your heart rate leading to further panic and alcohol amplifies the feeling. It’s best to stick to water and if you need the bathroom then go straight away. I always feel like I am going to get pulled down the plane toilet when it flushes but at least I will have an empty bladder when it happens.
  •  A lot of people sleep during their flights but it’s something I don’t do anymore. There’s nothing more frightening than being in the middle of a dream and being shaken awake when the plane takes a turbulence dip. If you’re on a long haul flight then I would avoid naps and wait until you are tired enough to sleep for a long time. That way you will probably fall back to sleep as soon as the panic is settled.

 

 

Berlin on a Budget

A city break is an affordable alternative to a major holiday. It should be a weekend away to break up the monthly cycle and recharge your batteries. But all too often these mini vacations can be devastating to your bank balance. In the excitement to fully experience a new city we indulge our appetites a little too much  and only once we are home begin to realise the cost. To celebrate a recent birthday I decided to visit Berlin. It was the first trip I intended to be thrifty with my cash. Overall, Germany’s capital isn’t the most expensive city in Europe but with a bit of extra attention I managed to make the most of my euros.

Being Careful at the Cash Machine

When it comes to paying your way around Berlin remember that cash is King. I was completely shocked when an affluent bar didn’t accept any card payments at all. It appears as if the German people prefer to take make their purchases in physical euros over a card transaction. This is a little irritating if your country doesn’t use the same currency but a secret blessing in disguise. As we all know, your bank will charge you for each transaction you make abroad. At the end of the end of a trip your card can accumulate a sizeable pile of overseas charges and currency conversion costs. The same applies to ATM withdrawals as well.

The solution is simple but effective. It’s best to convert your cash before you go. The benefits of this are twofold. Not only do you avoid charges for spending your own money but you immediately have to budget your spending. If you have a set amount to purchase with then you value every time you hand over your euros. Having a fixed sum in cash should make you a little more careful as you see your stockpile dwindle.

 

Food and Drink without a Fortune

My favourite part of any city break is always the food. The majority of my plans are made around meal time and whilst it is nice to spend an evening in a fancy restaurant it isn’t the cheapest option.  Fortunately, Berlin responds to this with its fondness of street food. Currywurst and Kebab vendors can be found on every other corner-particularly handy if your walking across the city and are in need of tasty fuel. And it’s no surprise with chain restaurants like Vapianos that the Germans rank in the top five pizza eating countries in the world. However, if you’re in need of supplies then I would highly recommend finding a nearby Lidl. The prices are astounding. Four beers, a tub of hummus and a pack of Kettle Chips totaled less than five euros.If Berlin has imparted any lesson then it’s to ditch the Martini at the hotel bar and go to the pub instead.

 

Walk Your Way Around

There’s a temptation with a new city to take transport everywhere. Simply getting from point A to point B is  probably the largest expense after food. In the age of smart phones when there is always a map at our fingertips there is no longer an excuse to not explore the city by foot. At first this seems a little daunting but it is especially rewarding in a city as historic as Berlin. Every street discloses another secret of the past. The effects of the wall are evident on how the city was shaped over the last century. It’s surprisingly simple to spring from Checkpoint Charlie, to Parliament and then to the Brandenburg Gate. Just as Venice is the city of canals, Berlin is the city that  wears the history of the twentieth century.

 

 

How not to Irritate at the Airport

Airports should probably be labelled with a public health warning because of the stress they induce. They’re crowded with a mass of people all seeking different locations in different languages. The result is a swarm of chaos filled with swinging suitcases and screaming children. Every day the news doesn’t report on a riot at an airport is a surprise. Somehow the chaos succeeds and safely transports people to every country on the globe. However, the triumph can only last so long. The law of averages dictates that someday this system must fall apart. I think we can delay this though. By lessening our irritating traveling traits perhaps airports can remain brawl free a little longer.

 

The Golden Rule of Waiting in Line

In every airport there are two vital queues. Firstly, there is the baggage check line, followed by the wait to board the plane. How you behave in these social structures determines your fellow travelers perception of you. The golden rule for any queue is space. Waiting in lines is understandably irritating but feeling someone else’s breath on your ear is worse. You have to provide the person in front of you with enough room to drop something and bend down to retrieve it, without feeling obliged to buy them dinner afterwards.  Shortening each other’s personal space doesn’t make the process any quicker. After all, we are all boarding the same plane or waiting for the individual who forgot to take their laptop out of their carry-on bag. A little consideration for each other’s breathing space makes for a much smoother wait.

 

The People Getting the 16:35 Flight to Shanghai

If there was an award for the most appalling passengers it would go to these people. Approximately twelve individuals whose collective failures managed to be irritating in every part of the airport. Beginning at baggage check we have two young men and a lady. The trio’s biggest accomplishment was taking eighteen minuets to be scanned and collect their luggage. They achieved this through their desire to keep all personal belongings in their pockets, refusing the separate the liquids from their luggage and hiding hair straighteners and laptops under their clothes. Their collective efforts were an effective tester of airport security and proved just how safe air travel can be.

Once the Shanghai destined party were safely ushered through baggage check they descended into duty free shopping. It was relief to other passengers to see them browsing discount chocolate and reduced price alcohol. Avoiding their crowd I headed to the long passport control line. The relief was short lived as all twelve party members came rushing with their new purchases, attempting to push to the front of the queue. Only one individual offered an explanation for their behaviour. Essentially, they had been shopping so long that they forgot their flight was departing in ten minutes. Armed with discounts they managed to push to the front of a line every body had been waiting in for nearly half an hour. Their collaborative irking deserves a lifetime ban from air travel. To achieve this I have appealed to several UN bodies but have received no response.  The next logical step seems to be crowdfunding. My goal is to gather enough cash to only send these people on cruises.

Conserve your Carry on

The price for extra baggage is excessive. It’s no wonder people attempt to cram excess carry-on luggage onto the plane.  Flight staff rarely check the amount of cargo people are trying to smuggle onto the aircraft. Most of the time they are too busy or it’s not worth the hassle of engaging a cranky traveler who is over eager to complain.  The result of this lack of regulation is a serious lack of space. People are scrambling to stuff their slightly too large cases into the over head compartment, willing to crush everybody else’s belongings in the process.  When the compartments are opened upon landing several suitcases descend on people’s head. On average four passengers are removed from the aircraft on stretchers for immediate medical attention. In order to reduce airplane injuries we should attempt to only take an appropriate amount of luggage and remember that your family’s coats can under the seat, instead of taking up valuable storage space.

 

Paris without the Price

In June this year I wandered for several days around Paris. Between the hotel, flights and sparkling drinks my card whimpered in my wallet all the way home. My bank balance shall forever wear the scars from the champagne deficit of 2016 and the month sized chunks it devoured. More money was poured into crystal flutes than the gross domestic product of Malta. However despite the drinks being slightly pricey, excursions around the city were fairly inexpensive but the visit could have been considerably cheaper if I’d been more thrifty in my bubbly haze.

The first thing to have been avoided was climbing things. For some reason there’s always a charge for a decent view of Paris. Photos end up costing nearly £5 a snap because of the excessive entrance fee and by the time you’ve scaled your way back down a monument you feel deserving of another drink. Next time I’ll avoid the Eiffel Tower. Yes, it’s beautiful to survey the city from phallic scaffolding and an effective way of burning off the morning’s croissant but it’s also pricey, even if you don’t take the lifts. Perhaps my experience felt underwhelming because only three stories were accessible to the public that day. If all the floors were open there would have been less unfit American’s blocking the stairways further up. I’m certain that the view from the utmost platform would be breath taking. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, it would have been better to save the entrance charge and picnic nearby; devouring cheese and wine, pitying those willing to take excessive exercise.

Cathedrals like Notre Dame and Sacre-Coeur are normally free to explore but come with seemingly inexpensive extras that quickly accumulate into a price larger than the Eiffel Tower. I’d like to be able to wander around these places without the guilt to pay but the glares from the stained glass apostles and the brass depictions of crucified Jesus can break even Ebeneezer Scrooge. By the time I’d finished ambling through Notre Dame and Sacre-Coeur I’d prayed for the first time in my life, lit four candles for the Virgin Mary, deposited in several donation boxes and bought tickets to every exclusive staircase. Visits that were originally intended to be a free option to while away an hour in between Kir Royals somehow turned into a fund-raising spree for the Catholic Church. That being said, both buildings are absolutely worth the visit, especially the staircase of Sacre-Coeur. The view from atop the Cathedral is superior to that from the third platform of the Eiffel Tower and several euros cheaper.

Another expensive mistake I made in Paris was dining. Every restaurant was fantastic and I never chose a course I later regretted. Waiters were always accommodating and through their practiced charming natures led me to excess. On the first evening meal I asked for a wine list and was instead offered the waiter’s recommendation. Maybe sitting on a Paris street, somehow toasty beneath the restaurant canopy despite the rain, infected me with the romance the city perfumes. I accepted his suggestion only to later realise that the bottle was costing a euro per drop. Despite the price, I will never regret that wine or the whole cheese boards I thought acceptable as a main course. There’s something in the atmosphere (perhaps the extreme air pollution) that fogs the everyday senses. Thus transforming everyday caution into a craving for opulence. Even when waiter’s explain a meal is too large for one and reminded me that the cheese board’s traditional function is as a savoury sharing dessert.

My favourite aspect of the trip was the Pantheon which was free because I’m under 25 years old. It’s best described as an ‘atheist temple’. It has huge paintings of French history, photography exhibits and a marble laden crypt of prominent French figures such as Marie Curie, Voltaire and Alexander Dumas. I can’t sell this place well but it’s the highlight of my trip, along with the adult grape juice. For only a few days I’d recommend squeezing it in for a few hours.

It seems that I’ve grumbled over the price of my visit and now sit, scanning over bank statements, in miserly regret. In truth, I cherish my visit to Paris and even though I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the Eiffel Tower, I’m glad to have walked part way. One day, when it’s fully accessible, I’ll climb the structure again. Hopefully it will force me to regret what I have just written and readdress my opinion. Even if it doesn’t, I’d encourage everyone to visit the city regardless and any money you spend there is well spent. I shall return if only to make my way around the Louvre, but until my return I’ll always have my hazy memories of Paris.

Three free things to do in Stockholm

Last month I had nine hours on my own in the center of Stockholm whilst all my friends were working. Yes, I had to wander a new city alone. Some people thrive on this sort of thing adventure but I’m more of Shire hobbit than a Bilbo Baggins. There was the temptation to sit in a 7/11 and embark on an all day ficka binge. It was very much a possibility if I was willing to pay for nine hours worth of coffee and cake. However, I intended to do my visit on a budget and set out to find moderately interesting things to do for free. Here’s what I got up to:

National Library

This was the first place I headed on my exploration day. Largely it was a massive disappointment. I expected an ornate building crammed with books; I’d wander through the stacks and shelves for hours, absorbing smells. A mysterious cover would draw me in, settle me into a quiet corner and by some mystery, only known to the universe, I would be able to read Swedish with ease. This didn’t happen. Mostly because the National Library is a research library as opposed to a fantasy realm. I walked in, felt embarrassed about my confusion and read for forty minuets to save-face before leaving. However, whilst I wouldn’t recommend the National Library’s interior the exterior is worth a look. The building is the size of a stately home and beautiful to look at. It’s also located in a park that’s equally picturesque on a pleasant day. Judge this place by its cover and don’t delve into the contents of the building then it’s a lovely place to spend a few hours.

Kulturhuset

I’m still not 100% certain on the purpose of this building. From the outside its five floors and name in giant letters, tempts or intimidates passers by. Kultur seemed close to the English word culture and people interested in that tend to be occasionally pretentious and have hot drinks. It sounded like my kind of crowd, so I headed in. Downstairs is a cinema (I wasn’t willing to pay for a film that may not have subtitles), there’s also two cafes, a book shop and three galleries. I went to the galleries because they were free if you are under 25. At the time one of the exhibits was shut but the National Design presentation and a fashion gallery were open. Normally, I’m not drawn to these kinds of displays but I headed in anyway. The clothing exhibit was clothing and as always it will remain a mystery to me. A few pieces stuck out but for the most part I struggled to reconcile how designers match what they want to create with profitable clothes. However, one display stuck in my head that I’d like to mention, Human by Linea Matei. The exhibit focused on cartoon depictions of humans which were used as prints onto pajamas. I’m not sure why I liked Human the most but I’m glad I saw it.

The National Design Exhibit was a much more grotesque affair. It was more memorable because of the visceral motif: the body. With interactive machines that measure your pulse, glass cases with breathing faux lungs and cubes of what looked human meat, the exhibit left me slightly nauseous but impressed with the numerous ways human matter can be interpreted.

Old Town

This was actually the first place I went to in the day. Unfortunately, most exhibits don’t open until 11am, so I left for the national library and returned later. There are many many things to do here: The Royal Palace and armory; the Nobel laureate museum and several other museums; or just wandering around the buildings and admire how it’s like walking through Balmory. Looking for free things I went to the Royal Armory, the parts of the palace that don’t charge and the economy museum. All three are brilliant. The armory was my favorite with basement carriages and royal sledges. The main exhibit displays Swedish military weapons and armor alongside the history of the royal family and the wars the now neutral nation engaged in. The free palace sections are filled with stunning carvings and paintings. Walking through inspires wonder at the fading masonry skills in stone the world is slowly losing. Finally, the economy museum is filled with old coins throughout the world and serves as a reminder that trade has unified the planet longer than any other cohesive method. I didn’t get to view all the economy museum because it was time to return for supper but I shall wander it more completely next time.