Archive for November, 2009

Exploring London on a Budget

“London” and “budget” don’t typically go together. But fear not! It can be done. Contrary to popular belief, London offers a good amount for those on a tight budget. From theater performances to museums, lodging and transport. Most of these conveniences are not hard to find.

Theater Discounts

Find Cheap Tickets to Any Show

Find Cheap Tickets to Any Show

Going to the theater doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. Explore the ticket booths around Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden, and Leicester Square. Want to see a show in the West End? Check out Tkts booths. This half price ticket booth is officially operated by the Society of London Theatre. Royal Court Theatre Company in Sloane Square (Chelsea) offers reduced priced standing room only tickets an hour before each performance. You can also visit the The London Theatre Company to check out discounts and special rates. If you’re going by yourself, catch a major deal by arriving at the theater house 90 minutes before the performance. When people return tickets, the ticket office resells them at bargain rates.

Museums

They’re free! No catch. London is one of the few cities that opens its museums to the public at no cost. Get lost for hours at the Science Museum, the National Gallery, Tate Modern, the Natural History Museum, and the Greenwich Royal Observatory. There’s a museum for every taste. Some museums do ask for a voluntary donation to help preserve the collections. Here is a full list of London Museums.

Lodging

Looking for a cheap stay? Hostels are the way to go. As in most European cities, hostels offer great discounts for visitors staying more than one day. Check out St. Christopher’s Village near London Bridge. Often recognized as a top hostel, St. Christopher’s offers three locations near London Bridge depending on your interests. There is also Astor Museum Inn. Astor Museum is conveniently located near the British Museum, Covent Garden and Oxford Street. Of course, a hostel might not suit you- especially if you’re traveling with family. In that case, research hotels in advance- and consider traveling in the off season.

More Than Just a Museum

More Than Just a Museum

Getting Around

The London Underground is one of the best public transportation systems in the world.  Buying the Oyster card greatly reduces your cost per ride on the tube and buses. If you don’t want to hop on the tube, London is a perfect city for walking. Check out these walking guides. New London Tours provides free guided walking tours, which last 2-2 1/2 hours and give a humorous and historical look at prominent sites. Take a stroll along the River Thames or relax in a beautiful park. Once you start exploring the city, it’s hard to stop.

Getting Around While Abroad

You’ve just arrived in a new country and can’t wait to explore the city.  One problem, how do you get to town? When I arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport this morning, the first thing I worried about (besides the exchange rate) was how to get across town. My fears quickly subsided when I discovered London’s convenient Underground Metro system. Normally I try to save a few bucks and walk everywhere. Not only is it good exercise, but it’s a great way to acclimate oneself to a new city. There are some places, however, where it’s worth your while to hop on public transportation. Not only will it cut down your travel time, but some stations have a pretty interesting history.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin offers one of the most efficient public transportation systems. Whether you stay a day, a week, or a month it’s easy to take a city bus, the metro (U-Bahn) or the commuter rail system (S-Bahn). Staying a few days? Consider buying a 7 day transit pass. Or the 24 hour or 48 hour Welcome Card. Two-zone passes are required to travel between the Berlin city centre and either Tegel or Schonefelt Airport.

London, England

London's Underground: A Comfortable Way to Travel

London's Underground: A Comfortable Way to Travel

Face it, London is big. You can walk your heart out, but you’ll never cover the entire city. If you really want to get a taste for the different districts, hop on the Underground Tube. It will take you anywhere. For starters, it’s the cheapest way to get from Heathrow Airport to most destinations around London. Your best bet: purchase an Oyster card (at metro stations or grocery stores) for about three pounds and then add money to it. Each time you take the Underground or local buses swiping the Oyster card will automatically deduct money for the ride. During off peak hours (between 9:30am and 430pm) you’ll save nearly 50% off regular cash paying rates.

Moscow, Russia

Need to get somewhere on time? Take the Moscow Metro. Considered the most “precise” subway in the world, the Moscow Metro is a marvel of efficiency, speed, and beauty. 8.2 million passengers pass through the metro daily, making it the second busiest rapid transit system in the world. An added bonus, each subway station features ornate socialist realist architecture worthy of being featured in a museum.

Paris, France

Even the Paris Metro is a Work of Art

The Paris Metro is a Work of Art

Paris is known for it’s artistic influence, love, beauty, baguettes… and metro stations. The Paris Métro is the second oldest subway system in the world, and offers the best city coverage. Each station is only about 500 meters apart. You’ll save if you buy metro tickets in bulk. Some of the Métro stations are worth a visit in their own right. For starters, the Métro’s Art Nouveau entrances are iconic symbols of Paris. Abbesses station (Montmartre) features murals alongside its spiral staircase leading to one of the two original Art Nouveau entrances. The Louvre Museum stop has marble walls lined with exhibits and replicas of art, with glass cases containing various sculptures. The Varenne stop displays exhibits from the nearby Rodin Museum (including a replica of The Thinker). Can’t get to where you want to go via Métro? Just take a bike!

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo’s public transportation system is massive. The transit system combines a light rail, ferry, bus, and the famous, and privately owned, subway lines of Tokyo. Needless to say, if you want to get anywhere in Tokyo, you can do it via public transport. You might just have to shuffle from line to line, to do so. If you’re staying for a couple days and want to see touristy sights, check out the Tokyo value tickets.

Deck the Halls with International Christmas Markets!

Now that Halloween is over it’s time to look forward to the next celebration.  Although Thanksgiving is a couple weeks away, most people already have Christmas on their minds. In Europe, instead of a turkey feast at the end of November, cities transform into Christmas Markets. This festive tradition originated in Austria and Germany and now takes place all over the world. What better way to enjoy the holiday spirit than seeing a city decorated with Christmas lights, warm cider, and other fun treats! Here are a few of the best.

Austria

Vienna has dazzled visitors with its holiday markets since 1294. From Schönbrunn Palace to City Hall, the city hosts more than 25 markets. Lose yourself to the aromas of candied fruits, cotton candy and other delicacies like Christmas punch and roasted chestnuts.  Also special to Vienna, pony rides, express Christmas trains, and fairytale displays.  The best part is that this wonderland is free to explore – unless of course you indulge in some holiday treats.  Vienna’s not the only Christmas market around, you can also check out Innsbruck, Graz, and Salzburg.

Brussels Winter Wonderland

Brussels Winter Wonderland

Belgium

How do warm cider, Belgian waffles, and ice-skating sound? Not too bad, huh? Belgium’s capital city has got you covered. Each winter Brussel’s Place Sainte Catherine transforms into a winter wonderland. Vendors set up dozens of stalls offering holiday toys, clothing, trains, and of course Belgian waffles and fries. The ice-skating rink brings out the child in everyone! From November 27th until early January, Brussels will display a dazzling array of festive lights and one of the biggest Christmas trees you’ll ever see. Live music keeps you entertained for hours as you wait for Pere Noel to stop by. A small word of caution- bundle up or you’ll freeze! Traveling around Belgium? You’ll find other great Christmas Markets in Antwerp, Brugge, and Ghent.

France

A Christmas in France is like no other. Christmas markets, known as marché de noel, highlight most French cities during late November and December. In addition to festive lights and holiday treats, you’ll find great deals on delicious wine, liquor, and the traditional Stollen holiday bread. Easily take the Eurostar to Paris or Lille for a day trip or a weekend getaway. Other popular Christmas markets around France include Lyon, Strasbourg, Tours, and Mulhouse.

Bavarian Christmas Markets are Priceless

Bavarian Christmas Markets are Priceless

Germany

Forget about the cold and explore the Rhine and Moselle valleys, which provide an idyllic setting for a romantic Christmas Market break. At these trendy Christmas Markets, the aromas of cinnamon, gingerbread will grab your senses, while locally produced wine and beer will capture your taste buds. You’re in for a treat no matter where you go. Berlin alone boasts more than 50 grand markets. The Christmas markets in Trier, Koblenz and Mainz are notably famous and quite large. If you’re looking for a small town atmosphere check out Bernkastel-Kues, Cochem, Rüdesheim, Worms, Speyer and Ahrweiler.

Find Great Discounts Abroad

With exchange rates fluctuating daily there is no way to gauge how much you’ll spend while traveling abroad. This is why it’s important to take advantage of every discount opportunity. That International Student ID Card might really come in handy. In some places you’ll also find city specific discount books or coupons to help you explore museums, zoos, cathedrals, and other important sites. Before purchasing any discount cards, research a little to guarantee you’re getting a good deal. Here are a few to consider.

Amsterdam

The I amsterdam Card provides a public transport ticket (GVB public transport system), a pocket guide, and dozens of free and discounted offers at major attractions and restaurants. The card is valid for 24, 48, or 72 hours and starts at €38. Your I amsterdam Card and Transport Ticket will automatically validate the moment each is stamped and/or after your first use. The I amsterdam Card is available at most Amsterdam Tourist Offices or can be purchased on-line.

Belgium

Get a View From the Top in Brugge!

Get a View From the Top in Brugge!

Discover one of Belgium’s most beautiful cities- Brugge – at half the price!  The Brugge City Card offers discounts or free admission to practically every place in the city. Check out the Chocolate Museum, Belgium Fries Museum, or take a Canal Ride (closed during the winter). Want a breathtaking view of this medieval town? Hike the 366 stairs to the top of the Belfry Tower for an unforgettable experience.

Italy

If you’re under 26 years of age, you can explore any museum in Florence for an entire year, for €40. Adults over 26 can purchase a coupon card for €60. You’ll have free membership to such places as: The Uffizi Gallery, L’Accademia Gallery, Pitti Palace (Palatina Gallery & Royal Apartments), Bargello Museum and Medici Chapels (San Lorenzo) to name a few. You’ll also find discounts for other events, restaurants, and exhibitions around Florence. If you’re going to Venice, check out these coupon passes. Although most places in Rome are free to visit, the Coliseum and the Roman Forum are not. Make sure you pick up a combo package before paying full price.

Ireland

The Sky is the Limit When You Find a Great Deal

The Sky is the Limit When You Find a Great Deal

Want to travel around Ireland? Look into a Local Discounts Card or the Emerald Discounts Card. These cards provide a minimum of 10% savings on hotels, restaurants, shopping purchases, transportation (including buses, trains, ferries and rental cars), golf fees, museum entrances and more. Each card costs €10 for a one-year membership.

Japan

Antsy to explore Japan? Then pick up a Grutt Pass (gurutto pasu in Japanese). The pass offers free admission to such places as the Ueno Zoo and the Tokyo Sea Life Park. The card is a great find if you live in Tokyo or plan to visit several museums, restaurants, and art galleries in the area. For some of the more expensive sites, like the Mori Art Museum in the Mori Tower, you’ll get discounts off admission. Here is a full list of places where you can use the Grutt Pass. The pass is good for 2 months.

Lions and Tigers and . . . Sea Turtles!

We’ve been talking about all things exotic, scary, fast, and volcanic recently so  I decided today that I would tone it down and remind our study abroad readers that you don’t need to do something nation specific to have fun.  In fact, sometimes even a quick trip to the zoo or aquarium on a lazy Saturday afternoon can really make your day.  I grew up 30 minutes from the Bronx Zoo in New York and zoos are undeniably charming.  Even if you’ve been to a zoo or aquarium recently, it’s no reason to skip out while abroad.  Check out some of the best international zoos and aquariums below.

Oceanário de Lisboa, Lisbon, Portugal:

This aquarium opened in 1998 and I remember seeing it featured in Architectural Digest (don’t ask) during that time.  The central tank holds 5,000 cubic meters of water and showcases sharks, rays, tuna, and one of the few captive sunfish.  The aquarium as a whole holds over 16,000 animals and plants from over 450 species.

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, Osaka, Japan:

800px-osakaaquarium_seaturtleOne of the largest aquariums in the world, the Osaka Aquarium’s main attraction is its pair of whale sharks.  It displays habitats from the Ring of Fire, including the Aleutian Islands, the Gulf of Panama, the Ecuador Rain Forest, and more.  Other highlights include seals, otters, and 12 tanks of jellyfish.

Sydney Aquarium, Sydney, Australia:

The Sydney Aquarium makes this list because it houses more species of shark than any other aquarium.  You can get up close and personal with them as well, through a series of underwater, see-through, tunnels.  The aquarium also contains exhibits for Australia’s northern and southern rivers.

Basel Zoo, Basel, Switzerland:

Basel Zoo successfully bred Cheetahs

Basel Zoo successfully bred Cheetahs

Founded in 1874, the Basel Zoo has around 1 million visitors annually and is the second most popular Swiss point of interest.  Over 600 species and 6,000 animals call it their home.

Berlin Zoological Garden, Berlin, Germany:

This zoo opened in 1844 and managed to survive WWII mostly intact.  Over 13,000 animals from 1,400 different species live there.

National Zoological Gardens of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa:

This expansive zoo sits on 198 acres in Pretoria and is home to over 2,500 species of animals.  Interestingly, almost all of the animals at the zoo were born there.

Thai Elephant Conservation Center, Chiang Mai, Thailand:

Having been to this center I can say that it’s definitely worth it.  The facilities aren’t exactly what a normal tourist would expect (it’s in the jungle), but the handlers love their elephants and it shows.  Also, you can take a mahout training class and learn to direct and ride the elephants.

Hit up the Beach this Fall!

Not ready to settle into the cool winter months? Then don’t! Enjoy warm, crisp temperatures year round at the most beautiful beaches in the world. Whether you’re studying abroad or just taking a quick break, these spectacular beaches heat up the fall season!

Long Bay Beach, Providenciales, Turks & Caicos

Long Bay Beach offers plenty of charm, with two miles of white sand fronting a beaming coastline that makes Turks & Caicos famous. Located a good distance from the big city, this quieter side of Provo provides a great escape from work or the chilly winter. Visitors can also check out the more frequented Sapodilla Bay and Grace Bay beaches.

Englishman’s Bay, Tobago

Paradise Awaits

Paradise Awaits

If you seek a picture perfect atmosphere, then revel in the soothing sand, turquoise waters, and tropical forest that engulf Englishman’s Bay. This hidden gem is far removed from tourism and offers great snorkeling. The area is relatively isolated, so pack food, water, and maybe a good book. You might even want a hammock and a pillow.

Port Antonio, Jamaica

Located on Jamaica’s northeast coast, Port Antonio is surrounded by coves of buttery sand and sapphire seas, flourishing vegetation and steep hills. You won’t have trouble finding housing at one of the funky lodges or stately villas. There is also a multitude of restaurants, water sports, hiking trails, and even a growing ecotourism movement.

Las Penitas & The Corn Islands, Nicaragua

Nicaragua offers plenty of spectacular beaches: La Flor, Los Cardones, Masachapa, and Montelimar (near Managua). Most beach-goers rave about Las Penitas and The Corn Islands. Not far from Leon, Las Penitas offers a quaint fishing village on the Pacific rim. Enjoy great sunsets and tasty seafood! Others are drawn to the tropical paradise of the Corn Islands off the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua. Picnic Center Beach on Big Corn is the most popular swimming beach, with soft sand and mesmerizing water. The tantalizing Long Beach is a bit rougher and has fewer bars and restaurants. Watch out when venturing North, the island can get very windy.

Relax Along the Zanzibar Coast

Relax Along the Zanzibar Coast

Zanzibar Coast, Tanzania

Zanzibar offers some of the most sought after beaches with Pemba and Mafia and Bagamoyo and Pangani on the mainland. Make these your final destinations for relaxation, spectacular marine-life and water sports. The lesser known beaches of Pangani are virtually unspoilt. You might even find yourself mystified by Tanzania’s whimsical Tinga Tinga art, which originated in Zanzibar.


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