Archive for January, 2010

Low Cost Airlines - The Fees, Explained


2010
01.31

While costs are surprisingly low, there are many, many ways to increase them dramatically. No matter what you do, remember that it is always more expensive to book directly at an airport rather than online. To save some bucks, make sure to use the Internet.

Taxes: the flight itself is very often less expensive than the taxes altogether, low cost airline or not. Not only are there purchase taxes, but also service taxes. So make sure you take that into account when booking to avoid bad surprises.

The following grid contains all the possible fees for 3 major low-cost carriers: RyanAir, EasyJet and WizzAir. All fees are online fees and will be more expensive at the airport.

Visiting Andalusia? Why not throw in Gibraltar?


2010
01.30

While you’re in Southern Spain, it might be a great time investment to spend a few hours in this lovely British Island.

Baby macaques on the Upper Rock

There are several things to do on the Rock, but the most popular is without a doubt visiting the Macaques on the Upper Rock. Remember not to feed them as they are under strict diet (and you could get a £500 fine). They are used to have humans around so don’t hesitate to touch them gently.

You can also explore the Siege Tunnel, which were used as a defence system in the Great Siege, when Spain and France tried to capture Gibraltar from Great-Britain in 1782. While in exploration mode, you can also experience St Michaels Cave.

For adventurers, you can climb the Mediterranean Steps to get on top of the rock to get excellent panoramas of Europa Point, where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. On clear days, you can get a glimpse of Morocco,  only 15km away. If you would rather not go uphill by yourself, why not take the cable car up and walk down the steps on your way back.

There are plenty of dolphins in the Bay of Gibraltar and it’s really not a hassle to get to. There is a regular quick shuttle service.

Be aware that staying overnight in Gibraltar is not really recommended. Once the sun sets, it’s a totally different atmosphere. Remember that Gibraltar is an industrial place due to the Strait of Gibraltar, so be careful if you have to stay overnight. I strongly recommend you sleep in La Linéa or even Malaga, as it’s only an hour drive east.


Gibraltar

If have enough time on your hands, you can definitely fit in a day-trip to Tangier in Morocco. There is a regular ferry service crossing the Strait of Gibraltar, which only takes 35min.

For those of you on a budget, it might be useful to know that my adventure there didn’t cost me a thing. I had lunches ready to eat and I went after closing hours (7PM). Now, I don’t know if I was lucky or if it’s always like this, but the gates to the Upper Rock Observatory (and where the monkeys live) were wide open. I was alone with dozens of monkeys, watching the sun set over the Mediterranean. That is the only activity I did there but I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything. After all, macaques are the most important tourist attraction in Gibraltar. So if you’re willing to try it, go after hours and maybe you’ll get to experience the monkeys in a totally different way.

Read the report of my own adventure in Gibraltar here.

London’s Oyster Cards Explained


2010
01.28

Oyster Cards basically replace paper tickets and allow commuters to have more options.

They are available at most Tube station in London and several other locations. You can use it in the Underground, buses, DLR, Overground, Trams and some of the National Rail service within the Greater London area, depending on what zones you purchased (zone 1 to 6). The more zones you purchase, the more expensive, the further you can go.

Oyster Cards may contain Travelcard, which are permits to travel on different periods and zones, depending on what you’ve chosen. Note that any Travelcard is valid on every single bus route of Greater London. You can buy daily, weekly or monthly passes.

Now, for those of you planning to buy a One-Day Travelcard,  it might be a good thing to start you day a little bit later. To travel before 9:30AM, you will need to purchase a Peak-Travelcard (£7.20) which is more expensive than the Off-Peak one (£5.60).

It can also hold Pay As You Go money, which is self-explanatory. You load money in it and you can travel around the network, paying the full fare every journey. Note that there is such a thing as daily price capping for PAYG users, which means that when traveling on the Tube in zones 1-2, it cannot cost you more than £7.20 per day, the equivalent of a One-Day Travelcard. When traveling on buses only, the cap is £3.90. In other words, take the bus twice and the rest of the day is free.

When traveling regularly, it goes without saying that Travelcards are much cheaper than Pay As You Go. You can of course load both options in your Oyster Card and use each of them accordingly to your needs.

Check out Transportation for London’s excellent journey planner tool over at TFL’s website.

(cheap) Places to eat in London


2010
01.27

I’m not into Michelin stars of famous chefs. I was a student when I lived in London so the following restaurants have student-friendly prices.

One last tip: try to avoid tourist spots if you want to have a decent meal. Most of the restaurants in these areas are way overpriced

Curry 4 U

and not very good. Leicester Square and every restaurant on Oxford St are to be avoided, for instance.

(closest tube station)

Curry 4 U
114 Camden Road London NW1 9EE (Camden Town)
The best indian I’ve had. Great prices. Not on the average tourist track, but great for a take-out if you’re staying in the area, or if you want to eat it by the canal near Camden Locks or in Regent Park. Plus the staff is really charming.

Saharaween
3 Panton Street, London, SW1Y4DL (Piccadilly Circus)
Great morrocan food. I’ve never tasted a better chicken pastilla. Great prices too considering the location. If it appears to be full, make sure to ask for a table downstairs. For all the French-speaking people out there, indulge.

The Wellington
351 Strand, London, WC2R 0HS (Covent Garden or Temple)
Has the best fish & chips of the city and a nice atmosphere upstairs. When you’re done eating, you can go downstairs for a true pub

Pret à Manger

experience. Part of the London Ale Trail, which gives you a free T-Shirt when you buy 5 pints.

Prêt-À-Manger
Everywhere, really.
This is probably one of the things I miss most about London. Gotta love those fresh, organic and healthy sandwiches. Plus you support a great company as they distribute unsold products to homeless people in the city. My favorite is the Chicken Salad sandwich with the Tomato Soup. Mmmm.

Goodfare Italian Restaurante
26 Parkway, London, NW1 7AH (Camden Town)
Best lasagna in town. Enough said. Not the kindest people (they’re Italian after all) but it’s a small, cosy place for a relaxed meal. They only accept cash though.

The Court
108 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 5AB (Warren Street)

Dickens Inn

Definitely the cheapest pub in Bloomsbury. It’s very close to UCL so it has a very friendly and laid-back atmosphere. Huge TV downstairs and upstairs, hence the incredible vibe on a game night. More often than not, you can get 2 selected plates for £10 (mostly burgers, but also fish & chips and the usual).

Dickens Inn
St. Catherine’s Dock, Wapping, London E1 9LB (Tower Hill)
If you can get a table outside, you will have Tower Bridge in sight. The food was great and not too expensive for the location. Great choice on a sunny day.

Top 10 London


2010
01.26

I should warn you right away: I have unconditional love for London. I just love everything about it, its architecture, its life, its green spaces, its people. I even like the weather, which I guess makes me a true fan. Here’s a sneak peek at my 10 favourites things of the city, although I could easily list a hundred.

10. Primark
Any girl who loves shopping will tell you this: Primark is hell, and heaven, at once. So many clothes, so many tiny prices. I know the clothes start to disintegrate the moment you wash them and I am aware of the methods they use to produce these clothes. Yet, I still like to shop there as I feel I have saved so much money for things I’m not going to wear a hundred times. Perfect store for short-fashioned items. One tiny problem though: be there really early, because after noon, its overcrowded with excited teenagers and the queues for the dressing room are always at least 30 minutes long. The one in Ealing Broadway has less people but fewer items too. I know it’s something most people would over look but I just couldn’t have that Top Ten without my shopping paradise.

Albert Bridge

9. Albert Bridge
It just gets magical at night, reflecting on the Thames. Plus it’s in a really nice and quiet area.

8. Entertainment
London is entertainment by itself. The constant hustle and bustle creates a very special environment for all people who like to do some people watching. That being said, the West End truly is the Mecqua of all musicals in the country. Buying your tickets half price at TKTS in Leicester Square makes it even more enjoyable.

7. Camden Locks
Such a quirky place. You can find anything from earrings to art to tutus and that funky thing your niece would love. Although my favourite thing about it is the mix of smells and noises when sitting along the canal. Why not take the water taxi to Maida Vale while you’re there, it’s pretty fun.

6. People
Londoners are impossible to define. They are all so different from one another, each with different styles and manners. People watching at its best.

Double Decker

5. Variety of food
Whether you feel like Italian, British, Indian, Moroccan or whatever comes through your mind, you will find it in London, no matter how thick or thin your wallet is.

4. Public Transit
An activity by itself! For the non-initiated, travelling on the tube can be quite daunting. 270 stations amongst 11 lines travelling in 6 zones with each different fares… impressive, huh? It is definitely the most reliable way to travel around the city. I do prefer the bus, especially double deckers, as they are cheaper and allow visitors to do some sightseeing while relaxing.

3. Architecture
Luckily, London was not as damaged as other cities during the Great Wars, allowing us to witness different styles and eras, including the unclassified and discussable O2 arena and the noticeable Gherkin in the City, as well as lovely Georgian houses in residential neighbourhoods.

Lancaster Gate

2. Big Ben (Tower Clock)
Very cliché, I know. It just remembers me how lucky I am to be there, in that wonderful city, seeing all those wonderful things. More of a spiritual favourite.

1. Hyde Park (Lancaster Gate)
That one is a bit personal, as this is where I got engaged. But I’ve always loved this particular area, the calm that fills you in when you enter the park. I just love to see all the fountains and the birds. Plus when you walk west, you get to Kensington Palace, which is really nice too.