AdventureNotes #10: Special Edition, Family Euro Trip

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Despite the picture, no, I’m not going to write about my own family trip to Europe. Instead, this article is dedicated to ‘emak-emak rempong’ in Birmingham. It’ll consist of tips and other things to consider in preparing for travel and in traveling in Europe (well, most of the countries in Europe, anyway).

Maybe for most Indonesian, traveling to Europe is a dream. Having read many encyclopedias about European countries, seeing pictures of European typical scenery, and listening to other people’s story of their experience traveling to Europe made me promise myself that someday I will go to that continent. Maybe this is also the case of many people. Besides, the dream to explore the world is always tempting, right?

The world is getting narrower and narrower. The access to move around and to visit the far-away places has been opened. And now, as I live in the UK, I automatically think that it is such a good opportunity to explore Europe! Such an opportunist, I am indeed. However, it is a logical choice as the cost to travel European countries from the UK will be much cheaper than from Indonesia.

Based on conversations with other people who had traveled to Europe (cc: Mbak Magda & Mbak Ari) and my own experience, there are some points to consider in planning the trip and in traveling, especially when you are going with your family. It is going to be different from my usual tips in other AdventureNotes articles because traveling with family is definitely a different kind of challenge.

1. Transportation

The first step to plan your family travel is to find budget-friendly flight or train tickets. Other European countries are easily accessible by flights or train from London to Paris. We can search for the cheapest plan and train tickets using the ‘holy’ technology. I would recommend http://www.skyscanner.net/ as the website offers the comparison of plane tickets throughout the year so that we can really see the cheapest date to travel. Another way to get to European countries is by train. The fast train tickets from London to Paris can be found here: http://www.eurostar.com/uk-en. There is actually another way to travel, which is by ferry. Not too many people know this, but the port in Brighton and Hull offer ferry rides that connect those two cities to some cities in France, Netherlands, and Belgium. It can also be an option to consider. Plan your trip ahead to get the best bargain!

2. Accommodation

As I would suggest hostels for solo travelers, my friends who traveled with their family suggest AirBnB as the best accommodation option when traveling with family. The website, https://www.airbnb.co.uk/, enables you to search suitable accommodation for your family. The process of renting an accommodation from AirBnB is pretty simple, actually. Just search for the accommodations, compare the available options, and book the chosen one! There are just some things we might need to consider as we are actually renting a place owned by a person. It is recommended to check the guest reviews and contact the owner beforehand to see the owner’s flexibility – for instance when we are going to arrive late at night and such.

3. Car Rent

As most countries in Europe are located closely to each other, many modes of public transportation are available to help us move from one country to another. There are buses and trains connecting one country to another. As they are easily available, they can be considered as an option for your trip. However, traveling with family sometimes requires high level of flexibility, which does not go hand in hand with public transportation. Renting a car may be the best deal for families traveling to Europe. Some people are worried because they don’t have an international driving licence, but actually Indonesian driving licence is widely accepted here. Renting a car is also a simple process as you just need to book the car online and pick it up in your chosen place. The most convenient place to pick up the car is in the airport so that you don’t have to think about how to get into the city from the airport. Choosing the car that you want to rent is also a crucial step because you have to match the car with your needs. The chosen car should meet the number of seats needed, its GPS readiness, and whether it is in manual or automatic mode. Again, your preference will affect the cost.

4. Food

This is an inevitable expense during traveling. And sometimes, it cost a lot, probably a huge percentage of the total traveling cost. To reduce this expense, people who travel with families can consider to cook their meals throughout the journey. As AirBnB accommodation usually provide kitchen, it is quite an easy thing to do. Local shops and amenities will provide quite good range of groceries and food supplies. Easy peazy! For Indonesians, bringing ready-made food is also a good option.

5. Inner City Transportation

As in some European countries parking spot is a difficult thing to find, it may be a good choice to park your car outside the city and commute using the inner-city public transportation in order to explore the city. For some cities with bad traffic, such as Rome, it is also a very good option. You can usually buy inner-city public transportation tickets easily. Some cities offer family tickets, some others offer day tickets. It is an advantage to know these things beforehand to avoid unnecessary cost. A thing to consider in mind for families with children under 5 who may still be in stroller, it is better to commute by bus than metro or tube because bus is easily accessible whereas metro or tube requires you to go underground, sometimes without adequate facilities.

6. Attraction Tickets

For some families, strolling down the streets of beautiful cities or enjoying the scenery is enough. For some others, going into a tourist attraction is a must. Most tourist attractions offer group or family tickets. Ask for this when you are purchasing your ticket. Sometimes there are also city pass, which enables your family to enter several attractions with only one ticket. Sometimes, there are also 2for1 tickets or other promotions offered by companies or the attraction itself. Do search and take advantage of those promotional tickets!

With those points explained, there is no one-fit-for-all explanation. Each family should consider different aspects before deciding on the travel itinerary. There are three crucial factors need to be taken into account when planning your Euro Trip:

1. Time

Consider when you are going to travel. Is it a long school holiday? Is it winter? Is it summer? The time you are traveling is important because it will affect how you choose your outfit, whether it is easy to drive a car (it can be very slippery when the road is frosty), and if the day is going to be longer or shorter. It will also affect whether you enjoy the atmosphere or not – traveling during summer school holiday can be uncomfortable if you don’t like crowds.

How long you are going to travel is also a factor to be considered. Is it worth it to rent a car if you only travel for 5 days? How many cities do you want to visit? It is mostly important to determine your destination cities. Most Indonesian tours aim to visit as many cities as possible. Is that what you want? Or do you want to absorb a city’s spirit so that it’ll take you some times in one city?

2. Budget

I think this is the core of all travel plannings. How much do you want to spend for a trip? If it is okay for you to spend millions, probably you’d choose a nice hotel in the center of a city instead of AirBnB. I would suggest to budget every single detail of your trip. For example, I budget the food cost for each day to be GBP 20 or the cost of attraction tickets to be GBP 100 for the whole trip.

3. Condition

Traveling is an exhausting activity. Yes, despite the fact that it is fun and enjoyable and blablabla, it is exhausting! Therefore, you need to consider you and your family’s physical ability. It is especially important when you are traveling with very small children. You won’t want half of your trip cancelled because you are too tired, won’t you? Measure your pace and plan your trip accordingly.

So, plan your next trip now! Don’t worry too much because you are the only one who knows what you want and what you are capable of. And as a wise man says, when there is a will, there is a way.

Jan 10, 2016

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AdventureNotes #8: Lost in Rome

This article is way long overdue. So sorry! but since I’m an active traveler again now, it seems that I have to continue this AdventureNotes series.

Anyway, for this session, I’ll write about Rome! Who doesn’t know and doesn’t want to visit this city? It has its own unique charm and to be honest, you’d want to visit this city again and again, strolling at its small alleys. So, I’ve been in Rome twice now. The first one was when I did my solo Euro trip and the second was when I did a Euro tour with my family. This article will be based on the recollection of my memory from both trips.

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People coming to Rome by plane will most probably arrive in Leonardo Da Vinci Airport. I took a train from the airport to get to the city center, Roma Termini Station. The journey was short and pleasant. However, when I stepped my foot on Roma Termini, it was very crowded; lots of travelers, lots of beggars, lots of officers, and lots of sellers. I was shocked and therefore tried to find a quiet place to think. I needed to adapt before finding my way around.

I had a quite interesting experience in Rome because I was lost for a while! It was kind of funny actually because I tried to find my hotel at that time. The hotel was supposedly not too far from the station. I walked around and around, asked people but still couldn’t manage to find it. It was difficult to find it because there was not too many people who can speak English in that area. After a long 2-hours search, finally I could enter my room! The owner responded to my email and came get me. It turns out that there was no sign of the hotel and actually I walked pass that hotel several times without noticing.

The first time around, I tried to use the Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus to get around Rome. I purchased the ticket online for a 24 hour pass. During my time there, I found out that the HOHO bus was not that available. One time I had to wait for 30 minutes until the bus arrive. Additionally, the traffic in Rome was just not good. I thought that it might be faster to walk! Seriously.

I think the better option to get around Rome is by public transportation. Almost all of the attractions in Rome are reachable by many different means of public transportation, such as bus and metro. It was much quicker and cheaper. On my second visit to Rome, I bought a one-day travel card that I can use to get on all public transportation in Rome. It costed like a quarter of what I paid for the HOHO bus and I managed to see more Rome tourist attractions!

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From both visits to Rome, I managed to enter some places, such as Colloseum, Roman Forum, and St. Peter’s Basilica. I had to buy tickets for the Colloseum and Roman Forum, but the entrance was free for the St. Peter’s Basilica. Rome is such a popular tourist destination so that to enter the attractions, we would be most likely have to queue, sometimes for a long time. Therefore, actually during the online ticket purchase, there is an exact time allocation for us to visit. However, it seems that the system did not work because I could enter Colloseum and the Roman Forum one day later than the appointed schedule on my ticket. All attractions mentioned above were worth to visit, besides they are legendary!

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Besides those attractions, Rome is also famous for its outdoor attractions, such as Piazza and the Trevi Fountain. I went to Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, Spanish Steps, and Piazza Venezia on both of my trips. I love the environment in those neighborhoods. Some of those places are quite close to each other so that I could just walk. It was really nice actually comparing to taking a bus or metro because I could explore the small and charming alleys near those places. I even passed the Pantheon on my way from the Trevi Fountain to Piazza Navona.

There are still many attractions in Rome that I haven’t visited. I wished I could visit the city again, longer the next time around. Surely one or two days are not enough to explore this city.

Now, for the tips of visiting Rome!

1. Be ready with your Google Maps to find your way around because not too many people can speak English.

2. Buy the daily or weekly travel tickets. The attractions are easily reachable by public transportation. It is safe, even if you travel alone.

3. Beware of the weather. Rome can get very hot during the summer. The weather gap between this city and other cities in Europe during spring is also noticeable. Get hydrated!

4. Stay alert, especially in crowded place because there are quite a lot of beggars and strangers who may try to steal. Moreover, the city is packed during the summer months, it can get super crowded.

5. Try the gelatto and icy drinks! They are good. Regarding the foods, for Muslims who have to eat halal food, there is this restaurant really near to the Roma Termini station that sells halal and very yummy and delicious foods.

6. Purchase your tickets online. Sometimes they offer discounted price tickets or Rome pass that could get you into many different attractions in cheaper cost.

Let’s go and travel to Rome!

Jan 01, 2016

Adventure Notes #6: Kaiserslautern – Heidelberg – Milan

This AdventureNotes is the second part of my first Eurotrip journey, which is the story of my third day of the whole trip. One day, three cities to visit. When I think about that now, well that’s quite impressive. I travelled across three countries in a day.

Kaiserslautern. Well, the reason why I went to the city was because there was my friend there and I needed a place to sleep. Haha. I was a backpacker back then and budgeting was very important! I needed to save my money (I need to save my money as well now!). The city is very small. I remember that fish is the icon of that city so you can see fish sculpture everywhere. I get to see the student’s life in Kaiserslautern. It was quite different with student’s life in the UK, I guess. As education is totally free in Germany, yes for foreigner too, what international students and students in general need to be concerned about is their living cost. There were Indonesian students who do not have any financial support and have to work to fulfil their needs. How can they manage that? I have no idea. But they work here and there to get enough money to survive.

A night in Kaiserslautern and I had to go early in the morning to Heidelberg. Why Heidelberg, because I wanted to visit another friend of mine. It is funny that when you live far from your hometown you seem to have more friends than ever. Moreover, the relationship between you and the people you leave back home gets better. I don’t know why but that’s what I feel based on my experience. Anyway, I went to Heidelberg from Kaiserslautern by train again. I really love the transportation system in Germany. The train is punctual, the information is provided well, and the physical appearance of the train is very nice. All seem to be modern. The journey from Kaiserslautern to Heidelberg was about 1.5 hours. Not too far and I arrived quite early in Heidelberg.

I met my friend and took the tram to old town area of Heidelberg. Well, I think it is the most beautiful old town area. Seriously – I mean with all the buildings and the paints plus the scenery around. I love it! The old town area in Heidelberg is not too big. I walked across the old town and walked up through the Philosophenweg to see Heidelberg from above. I could see a kind of castle across the Philosophenweg. I didn’t go up there but my friend told me that it is beautiful. Well, hope there’ll be next time! I visited the Heidelberg University library which is gorgeous. Haha. Oh! And the university is the oldest university in Germany. I think it is worth to visit.

I only spent a few hours in Heidelberg and then I had to catch another train to bring me back to Milan. It was a very long journey; 6-7 hours if I am not mistaken. On my way to Milan, I had to transit in Basel. Basel is a city in Swiss. I went out from the station as I had around 45 minutes before my next train. I walked around the station area. What I forgot was that the currency they use in Switzerland is not euro! Most shops will accept euro but you’ll get CHF as the change.

After a very long journey I finally arrived in Milan at around 9 pm and had to go to my hotel for the night. It wasn’t a big, nice hotel but it was okay for me to rest as I had to go very early the next morning for my flight to Rome.

Lessons from the first part of my first Eurotrip:

– Traveling around Europe by train is very nice! Solo travelers – well, small group traveler as well – need to try this! As all of the transportation systems between countries are connected and the information is provided well, it is very safe. You get to see beautiful scenery and cities along your train ride. You also get to see local people’s daily life. Priceless experience!

– Beware when you travel during the Easter – or the seasons in between like during spring or fall – as the weather can be tricky. It’s kind of difficult to decide what clothes to bring and to wear. But bear in mind that you have to prepare for the worst! If you bring too many warm jackets, you can just take it off when it’s too hot; as simple as that.

– Currency, currency. Not all countries in Europe are members of EU. And those who are not have different currency. Yeah, UK has different currency although it is a part of EU. It is not too difficult if you end up in Swiss and only have euros in your pocket. But it will be probably more difficult if you are in some Eastern Europe countries. Check again the facts about the countries that you are going to visit.

– Backpacking is very tiring. You have to be on top of your stamina and use all opportunities to rest. You need your focus and your brain to be always on. You need your body to be fit because you have to carry that heavy backpack and to walk long distance. However it is a very great experience! I’d love to go backpacking again!

– It’s great to have friends everywhere so you can go and visit them. You can have free accommodation and meal. Haha! They’ll be glad to see you and you’ll be happy to see them too.

Jan 01, 2014

Adventure Notes #5: Milan – Munich

This is getting interesting! My first Eurotrip. My fifth journey was during the Easter break. My housemate actually asked me to go with her and her friends but I chose to go by myself. Yes, it was my first Eurotrip and I was alone! I was super excited planning for the trip and actually went for the trip. So here’s my next AdventureNotes.

First thing first; travelling to Europe for Indonesian people is not that easy. Visa stuffs made me dizzy. I sorted out my Schengen visa in Manchester. I applied through Italian embassy as it was my first and last destination. Before applying for the visa, I needed to plan my entire itinerary as I needed the proof for visa documents. At that time, I went from Leeds to Milan and back to Leeds. The trip was 8 days long and I planned to go to Germany as well.

Travelling inside Europe was not that expensive. Imagine you can travel from Jakarta to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur easily; it goes the same in Europe. It is even easier because it is a continent so that the transportation is not a problem. Catch a train and you can go somewhere. I went from Leeds to Milan by plane which was cost only around 40 pounds return – the train ticket from Hull to Leeds even more expensive at that time. LOL. In this first part of my Eurotrip AdventureNotes, I will write about the first two days of my trip which was Milan and Munich.

When I say Milan, it was not actually Milan as the plane landed in Bergamo, which was the low cost carrier airport, Milan’s neighbor city. My first impression when I saw Italy was that it is not too different from Jakarta. The landscape, almost the weather, the crowd… almost all reminded me of Jakarta. I arrived at around 6 pm in Bergamo and took an airport bus to Milan Central Station to take a train to Munich. The bus ticket was 5 Euro and it took around an hour to get to the Central Station. Milan’s Central Station was quite good. There were shops and restaurants in the station and the place was convenient. I could look around the shops and eat peacefully. Unlike the station in Rome which was very crowded and uncomfortable, Milan Central Station was generally nice for traveler.

My train to Munich was a sleeper train. It went from Milan at 9 pm and arrived in Munich at 6 am. That was the first time I went somewhere with sleeper train and it was a good first experience. The cabin was quite big, women only – well in my case myself only, with complimentary breakfast. Yeay! The train ride was nice and the steward (I don’t know what they call them if they work in trains) was very helpful. I felt like I arrived in Munich in no time. A little bit cold during the night but it was fine.

The thing when you travel during the Easter time is that the weather can be unstable. When I went from UK, the weather was horrible. There were snowstorms all around UK. I was lucky that my flight wasn’t cancelled. When I arrived in Italy, the weather was pleasant. It was not too cold and not too hot. It was around 15-18 degree Celsius, I guess. And when I arrived in Munich it was -6 degree Celsius. Oh no! I was lucky that I still put my winter clothes on.

As my train arrived quite early in Munich, I kind of had nowhere to go. I decided to walk slowly to the Altrathaus and Nueuerathaus which is in Marianzplatz (correct me if I’m wrong, I already forgot some of the details). I wanted to see the famous clock there. Unfortunately, at that time the clock which supposed to be moving around during the hour change did not work. I continued strolling around the area, walked pass the farmers market, saw the sausage shops – yes the Germans are famous for their wurst, and ended up in a coffee shop. It was very cold outside and being able to sit down and feel the warmth of a cup of hot chocolate was very nice. I was there until I felt like it was okay to go out and went to another destination. I wanted to go to this place which was used to be a palace. The place is called Munich Residenz. It costs around 8 Euro to go inside the place. Munich Residenz is huge. I went to all of the rooms and saw beautiful decorations and architecture. It took around an hour up to two hours to look around the place.

After that, I just went around Munich old town. I didn’t have time to explore more places as I had a train to catch to go to Kaiserslautern – a city in German near France border. I regret that I didn’t go to Allianz Arena. I don’t know why but I always have this thing with German football. Haha. That’s why I really want to go to Allianz Arena. The place is a little bit out of Munich so we have to take the S-Bahn to get there. There are so many interesting places in Munich and I think a day or two days more in Munich will be good.

Anyway, at 2 pm I had to take another train to Kaiserslautern – my friend’s place. It took 5 hours train ride from Munich to Kaiserslautern. I had to change the train 3 times but they weren’t confusing at all. I got all the information from my ticket. I got the platform number and the exact time of the train. It was very pleasant – except when one of my trains was delayed for 3 minutes and I had to run to catch my other train which was only 5 minutes apart. What an experience! The journey from Munich to Kaiserslautern was beautiful. It was very nice to see the scenery along the journey. I saw many small cities and one of them is called Frankenstein. I wonder if Frankenstein really comes from that small city.

Well, that’s about it, I guess. I have 6 more days to write about as parts of my first Eurotrip. It was a great trip and travel experience. I really recommend people to go and travel alone because it is fun! So much fun!

Jan 1, 2014