BootsnAll Travel Network

Archive for April, 2009

« Home

Planning for Europe – May 2009

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009


The itinerary:

fly into Munich
Regensburg (Germany) with my mom – 3 days
Munich (Germany) where I meet up with Lissette – 2 days
Fussen/Reutte (Germany/Austria) – 2 days
Salzburg (Austria) – 3 days (including a side trip to Berchtesgaden)
Venice (Italy) -3 days
Montreux (Switzerland) – 1 day
Geneva (Switzerland) – 1 day
Lauterbrunnen (Switzerland) – 3 days
Lucern (Switzerland) – 2 days
Bacharach and the Rhine (Germany) – 3 days
Heidelberg (Germany) – 2 days
Fly out of Frankfurt


It’s a charged itinerary – Europe’s become really expensive since the last time I was there (in 1993 – the last time the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup! It’s also the year Bill Clinton became president in the US. A really long time ago…). Anyway, we might never travel through this part of Europe again so we’ll see as much as we can in 3 1/2 weeks. I’m also adding a couple of days at the beginning to see my mom in Regensburg (she’s left Thailand and is in Europe for the summer).

This is not the most exciting and pictoresque of my blogs but some might find this entry informative because travelling Europe on; a) a tight schedule and b) by train requires A LOT of planning. I don’t know what people did before the internet.


A few tips:

Blend In (don’t dress like a tourist)

Above: the Lederhosen that German men wear. I’ve decided not to pack pants on this trip (takes too much space in the backpack) and just buy a pair of lederhosen once I arrive in Munich. One of my travel tips is to blend into the local populace as much as possible. Not only will I blend in with my lederhosen, they’re also loose and generally comfortable – perfect for hikes, early morning jogging, or even just for comfort when lounging around in airports.

Ok, I’m just kidding – I saw National Lampoon’s European Vacation last weekend and couldn’t stop thinking about how funny it would actually be if I went around wearing lederhosen everywhere…

real tips:

Hotels; is a great resource. But I only use it for reference and not booking – I look up the hotel and book directly online (I prefer my money goes to the hotel and not to a 3rd party site). I also find dealing directly makes it easier to make any amendments after the fact – which I had to do with the hotel I booked in Salzburg because of complications with train reservations (see below). They’re just more amiable when you book direct. Also; I’ve heard what some people say – but I find I generally get a better price dealing directly.
I’ve pre-booked all our hotels; with our limited time I don’t want to spend time trying to find a hotel. Surprisingly some hotels were full up months in advance – so making reservations 1 1/2 to 2 months in advance is not a bad idea (especially a place like Venice where I actually struck out with my first 2 hotel options. I also had problems with Munich which surprised me…).

Itinerary: Lissette and I both had ideas of what we wanted to see – she wanted history and culture, I wanted nature and castles. I designed the above using a combination of Lonely Planet guides, Trip advisor (as mentioned above), and Rick Steve’s “Best of Europe 2009” travel guide ( Once I had “must see’s” and “possibilities”, I worked out different itineraries using the German Rail site (Deutsche Bahn That’s when you see that some destinations or the ordering of destinations don’t make sense; bad connections, infrequent trains…Then there’s weather; we wanted to go in May when there are fewer tourists, but then I also had to consider weather in the mountains: that’s why I’ve tried to push Switzerland towards the end of the trip (some cable cars and hiking trail don’t open up until mid-May). So there were a lot of factors in building the itinerary.

Trains: This is technical but I wish someone had told me all this stuff:

You CAN save money by buying a Eurail pass, but you have to plan it properly otherwise the little money you save won’t be worth the effort you put into it.
I bought a Eurorail Select Pass Saver for 2 people (basically a volume discount – you pay less per person than you would individually). There are so many variations of the number of countries and days of travel that you really have to research which pass is worthwhile for you; We’re going to 4 countries so I chose the 4 country pass including 5 days of unlimited travel within 2 months – you can chose the number of unlimited days but every day is more expensive and you have to decide if the incremental days are worth it. I will end up taking the train 11 times during the trip – but I calculated that I had 5 MAJOR train days; the other train days were minor trips of an hour or two that are relatively inexpensive.

The passes for 2 adults (4 countries, unlimited travel for 5 days) cost a total of 1,030 Cad for 1st class (if you are over 26 you can only get a 1st class pass). I calculated (using and that I would have paid $1,400 for individual tickets if I had decided not to buy the passes (this is basis 2nd class – much more for 1st but we wouldn’t have required that additional comfort). So there are some savings PLUS you travel 1st class.

I bought the tickets I needed for the minor trips (ie. the ones not covered by the pass) in Germany on the Deutsche Bahn website – they email you an online ticket. No problem and very efficient and they even reserve a seat where required.

BUT, there are a few things about using the passes that have already made me question whether they were the way to go.
1) Some trains require reservations. You would think that would be easy. It’s not. First of all, it’s up to YOU to figure out if you need it or not. If you think you can just show up on a train with your pass you are mistaken. So you have to look at all the trains you are taking on your journey to see if they require a reservation. Then you have to call Rail Europe (1 800 622 8600 in Canada) to make your reservations.
IF YOU DIDN’T BUY A PASS and just bought your ticket online, they automatically assign you a reservation and you don’t have to worry about all that.
2) You may not be able to reserve certain portions, as I found out. Eurail tells you that in the pamphlet they send you with the passes. So when I called to reserve the Salzburg-Venice train I was told that I would have to pay full fare, that there was no more availability for Eurail pass holders. I had to change plans. So it’s kind of like booking a flight with miles; there’s only so many alloted spaces available.
IF YOU DIDN’T BUY A PASS you don’t have to worry about any of that.
3) Can someone please explain to me how it can cost $95 cad (for 2 people) to make a reservation on the Salzburg-Venice train? Or $67 cad from Venice to Milan? This is called getting shafted en el culo. I ended up paying $280 cad (for 2 people) for reservations. It’s the Italy portions that killed me (reservations in Germany, Austria reasonable. No reservations required in Switzerland). Suddenly the passes don’t sound like such a great deal.
Again, IF YOU DIDN’T BUY A PASS, you don’t have to worry about that, the reservation is included in the price of your ticket.

Again though, your savings will be different depending on the amount of travel you do on your travel days, plus also reservation fees. It’s complicated but you have a lot of variables you should consider before buying Eurail passes.

I’ll have a better assessment of the passes once there and travelling around. But in the meanwhile I’ve never spent so much time planning as I have planning for European trains. Yes, they’ll probably be some savings from buying the passes, PLUS we have 1st class seats. But knowing what I know now I would have skipped the passes and just bought my tickets individually. It’s already been a major headache and I havn’t even used the passes yet!

The thing is, you can do all the planning in the world as I have and everything can still go wrong. Hopefully that won’t be the case. If so, what you wear can help smooth the way – so when Lissette asked me what she should wear in Germany, I came up with some ideas of what Women should wear when visiting Bavaria to fit right in (these can also be worn back home when relaxing around the house)

bavarian-beer-girl.jpgfraulein-girl.jpgbeer-girl-custom-2.jpggretchen-alpine-girl-custum.jpg ok, just kidding…

Misadventures in Far Away Places – excerpts

Thursday, April 9th, 2009


In 2003 I wrote “Misadventures in Far Away Places”, a Bill Bryson-ish type travelogue detailing my travels through South-East Asia and the Dominican Republic. It was my first attempt at writing and I really enjoyed spending time on it. I originally wanted to get it published and even had an agent in New York look at it in it’s rough beginnings – he liked the stories but thought they would have to be worked around a ‘guidebook’ format. That didn’t interest me much. He mentioned that with blogging getting to be a big thing (this was in 2003, blogging was just starting up for normal people) that there was no longer a market for a ‘travelogue’-format book.

I printed my book, had people I know read it (I blush now thinking of my first drafts), put it away for a while, then finally finished it. It’ll never be published but I can say I wrote a book. It’s a little dated – some of the places I’ve covered in here have changed tremendously (I’m thinking of Ko Phi Phi in Thailand in particular).

Below you’ll see excerpts – If you go to the Pages section of this blog (main page, top right corner) you’ll find the entire book. If people are interested they can read the whole thing there. Read it with an open mind and a sense of humour otherwise you won’t like it.

If you enjoy my writing I’d much appreciate comments or, even better, pass it on to others – especially if you know someone in writing. I want to write again one day and feedback and contacts are always appreciated.

A small sampling of the 139 pages of my book:

On preconceptions (Chep Lap Kok Airport, Hong Kong)

I had somehow pictured arriving in a crowded airport lobby full of babbling, shabbily-dressed Chinese people wearing large straw hats, all pulling at my sleeve and wanting to take me to some back alley with promises of Dim Sum and Lucy Liu. It wasn’t anything like that – Chep Lap Kok Airport is huge and incredibly modern. There’s a subway within the complex which brings you from the arrival gate to immigration. Planes take off above your head, you can see their underbellies through gigantic glass panes. The airport is cavernous, dome-like and airy. I suddenly felt like a poor country hick with my backpack and t-shirt. And the Canadian flag sewn to the bag – it suddenly reeked of insecurity (“Please leave me alone, I’m not American. We Canadians invented insulin, basketball, the green garbage bag and the zipper. We even invented the game of Yachtzee which you oriental people like so much…”)

Codeword for taking a dump that sounds almost sophisticated

Travel tip: “Crappucinno”. Definition: “The particularly frothy type of diarrhea that you get when abroad”. Tell a fellow traveler that you “have to go for a crappuccino”, it will automatically discern you from the unknowledgeable, inexperienced traveler and you will no doubt be treated with equal doses of respect and sympathy.

On Americans Vs Europeans (Cabarete, Dominican Republic)

I ended up having a couple of beers at an American-owned place with large screen TVs. God bless Americans, you always know you are in an American establishment because the owner comes right up to you, introduces himself, shakes your hand, asks you where you are from and welcomes you to his bar. Americans know how to greet a customer. It’s always a bit of a shock when it happens and I have to admit that I got thrown off – I started talking to him, telling him my life story when I suddenly realized he really didn’t give a shit about anything that I was saying. He just wanted to greet the next customer. I sat down in my seat and shut myself back up, a bit embarrassed. I don’t know what’s better, the fake cheer and friendliness of an American, or the relatively unfriendly European. At least you know what you get with the latter (at most a smile, at worst to be treated like a guest, an unwanted and unappreciated guest at that).

Food on China Airlines

I usually love plane food. But China Airlines (which is from Taiwan, not China) had really bad food, starting with a weird cold soup which was either rice soup, tapioca soup, or the maggot leftovers from a recent Fear Factor episode. Thinking of it reminds me of every time I’ve ever puked in my life.

On travelling with a moody girlfriend (Chiang Mai)

Sylvie took a piece of paper, wrote something and gave it to me. It was a nice little love note, apologizing for her ‘moods’ and promising she would be more careful. I gave her a kiss and Sylvie’s radiant smile came back. I told myself I would do whatever she wanted the rest of the day, whatever made her happy. I wanted her in a good mood. That’s how we ended up going shopping. Shopping is what everyone does in Chiang Mai and we spent the next few hours visiting factories: an umbrella factory, a silk factory, a silver factory. We learned how paper umbrellas were made, how silk was grown and harvested, how silver was moulded into jewellery. It was pretty goddamn boring and I suddenly felt myself feeling sorry for those married men that I sometimes see getting bossed around by their women, the ones following their fat wives around shopping centers saying stuff like “you look beautiful my dear ” in that defeated, dejected voice. I could suddenly empathize with them.

Things to remember when contemplating a date with a foreign speaker

I already had a full agenda for the evening, plus I wondered if she would even understand me; her English was bad and my Cantonese limited – there’s only so many times you can say “Hi, how are you?” “I’m fine” and “I have diarrhoea” before the conversation gets stale.

Not so funny – but I have to trash the Lonely Planet DR guide, it’s just crap (Boca Chica)

I ended up at the Aparthotel Madjera. The Madjera is Italian owned and it was almost immediately obvious that almost all the clientele was Italian. The manager, a young Italian, was friendly and showed me a few rooms. I had read about this place in the LP guide under places to stay in the “Mid-Range section”. The Madjera, among other things, has its rooms described as “Tastefully done”. “If you prefer quiche to a hamburger, you’d likely like this place,” says the writer. Yes, he actually wrote “likely like”, an unforgivable faux-pas really that will hopefully get him sent somewhere where they have no paper. On top of bad grammar, I’ll bet the guy decorates his lawn with pink plastic swans – because the Madjera was honestly tacky as all hell. The best of the rooms was very, very basic. A plain room with a large window looking out over a back alley. It had paper-thin doors and a kitschy Hawaiian-looking mural on the wall behind the bed. The bathroom was plain, everything looked old. But, as I discovered turning the TV on (which was conveniently located high up on the wall, perfect for viewing while lying horizontally in bed), the hotel had access to the Playboy channel. That was about the only perk here, the Madjera, at $26 US a night, is nothing great and I would have moved on had it not been raining and had I not been staying in Boca Chica just one night. Maybe the reviewer meant “If you prefer kitsh to a hamburger, you’d likely like this place”. Yeah, that’s it.

I’ve always been a big fan of Lonely Planet, but the 2002 edition of LP’s “Dominican Republic & Haiti” just stinks. It’s the worst of the LP guides I’ve seen; travel times are often wrong and hotel information is sparse and outdated. I also find that there’s an opinionated, biased tone to the book that shouldn’t belong in a traditional ‘guidebook’.

My theory on Public toilets

My theory is that a city’s public bathrooms say a lot about the state of the city itself. If you see un-flushed faeces or, worse, faeces wiped against latrine walls, then it’s a pretty good assumption that the city doesn’t have the time or money to clean the streets of dog shit, litter, or even dead animals. I’ve been places where I’ve seen the remains of dead animals decorating the road like patches of cheap carpeting. Guess what? Those places had really filthy public bathrooms.

On Latinos and children (Dominican Republic)

I remember a kid, a small boy of about 2 years old, who played with the glass door of the terminal; opening the door, closing the door, re-opening the door…A lady came up to the door from the outside, middle aged and well-dressed, and had to gently open the door in order not to knock the little boy over. Once inside, she took him by the arm, knelt down to his level, and proceeded to give him a gentle lecture on how he shouldn’t be playing with the door. A few minutes later, the same scenario was repeated; a businessman came in with some parcels that he wanted couriered. Again the little kid got in the way. The man addressed the child and, with a wagging finger, told him not to play with the door. I struck me how different this treatment would have been in North America. In Canada a person would not have spoken to the child (god forbid you get sued for child or psychological abuse or for having infringed on his civil liberties). If anything he/she would have singled out the parent and given a dirty glance or made a commentary on the child’s behaviour (“Misbehaving little fuck, isn’t he?”). It reminded me of other scenes involving children and the sense of community, of getting involved, that you see in Latin America.

The truth about Forteleza Ozama (Santo Domingo, DR)

The place is right out of a medieval movie. What made it all special was that I was the only person within the fort, there were no other tourists walking around the grounds of Forteleza Ozama. It was actually eerie; I kept turning around in paranoia, somehow imagining dwarf-sized Spanish soldiers sneaking up behind me. What very few people know is that Forteleza Ozama was almost attacked in 2001 by the Americans – the attack was averted when some smart guy in the CIA caught on to the spelling mistake. That’s how they ended up shifting their focus to Afghanistan. Very few people know this.

Hikes around Montreal. Help needed please…

Monday, April 6th, 2009
mt-pinacle.jpg (Mt. Pinacle; my favorite place in Quebec) April 6, 2009 - 83,248 hits, 23,131 unique hits on this blog (cool, that's like full capacity for a Canadiens game at the Bell Center). 13 comments in total...hmm, ... [Continue reading this entry]