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Tuesday, 24 December 2013

26. Paris Accommodation

As I'm now having four nights in Paris instead of seven, I thought it might be a good idea to find a place a bit closer to the tourist attractions. Remember, the main "sites" I really want to see are the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Galeries Lafayette and walk along the Champs-Élysées. With this in mind, I've been searching for something with a similar cost to the place I booked back in October. Huh! Had I been smart, I would have booked a few places back then and made a decision later. As it is, many of the cheaper places are booked out and what's left is slim pickings. Naturally if I had a bigger budget, I'd have a bigger choice, but ... we have to do the best we can with what we have. The other problem for me is I need something with a lift - having arthritis, walking up and down four or five flights stairs, especially lugging a suitcase would make it a bit difficult.

Left or Right Bank?
Of the two places I found, one is in the same area (Saint-Germain/Luxembourg) the other is on the other side of the river in the Louvre/Châtelet area. I wish I'd had the foresight to book something in the Marais area a couple of months ago - I just realised today, most of the "tourist" sites are north of the river and this would have been one of the best areas for seeing Paris tourist spots on foot. Unfortunately, the hotels available now are rather pricey - many of the cheaper places are fully booked.

Hôtel Saint Pierre
This one is in the St. Germaine/Luxembourg area, about 1 km north from the first place I booked, at 4 rue de l'Ecole de Medecine so it will be much quicker getting to the "other" side of the river. It's only 32 euro more, so the price difference isn't too great.

Above: Single room

According to the booking site, the room has as follows-
Room Facilities: Safe, Air conditioning, Desk, Heating, Carpeted, Soundproof, Shower, Hairdryer, Free toiletries, Toilet, Bathroom, Telephone, Satellite channels, Flat-screen TV
Room Size: 12 m²
Bed Size(s): 1 twin

This is what it looks like from outside.

Above: Hotel exterior

The hotel lift looks pretty ancient.

Above: An antiquated lift

Having checked google maps, I find it is 1.6 kms from the Louvre, whereas the first place I booked is 2.2 kms (from the Louvre) - so 600 metres closer! It's also closer to the RER B line which I will need to access when I arrive and depart.
The upside too is it has air conditioning, the downside is there isn't an outdoor area or terrace. (Being a smoker, I don't much fancy standing on the street at night)

Hôtel Flor Rivoli
This is the hotel I found north of the river and is in the Louvre/Châtelet area. The main metro lines are available at Châtelet Metro Station, which is only 220 metres away. The Louvre is 850 metres, Georges Pompidou Centre an 11 minute walk and the Latin Quarter, 10 minutes by foot, according to the booking site.

Above: Hôtel Flor Rivoli

It doesn't look very inviting, does it? Sort of cold, not welcoming.

This is the single room

Above: Single room

Provided with free Wi-Fi and a satellite TV, this soundproofed room has a private bathroom with free toiletries and hairdryer.
Room Facilities: Safety Deposit Box, Heating, Hairdryer, Toilet, Bath or Shower, TV,
Telephone, Satellite Channels, Wake Up Service/Alarm Clock
Room Size: 10 m²
Bed Size(s): 1 single bed

Free Wi-Fi for me isn't necessary, I don't need a hairdryer and it doesn't have air conditioning. It does have its own toilet though. Considering there's no air conditioning, (the fist place I booked doesn't have air con either), it probably isn't that much of an improvement. For 100 euro more, the only advantage I can see is it's a shorter walk to the tourist sites. Something I'll have to think about.

Taking things into account, now that I'm writing this up, I can better see the advantages between the three places and apart from a shorter walk, this last place doesn't really have much to offer, whereas the Hôtel Saint Pierre has the advantage of air con and a shorter walk - maybe not that much shorter, but a bit.

There is also the street itself to be considered. There are buses running along the street of the first place (Pension Residence du Palais) and it has a (small) balcony. I think the street itself looks a bit nicer too.

Actually, I just did a "google" walk with both places in the St. Germaine area, and the walk from the Hôtel Saint Pierre was much nicer.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

25. Accommodation in Venice

Well being on a budget, I'm somewhat limited as to my choice of accommodation places, but I've narrowed it down to a few. I can't help think had I started looking for accommodation earlier, there would have been a greater variety of cheaper places available. A friend who is going to Europe around the same time said she started looking in October but by the time December came, the prices had increased.

Venice is "divided" into different areas and I think the San Marco area is the one I'll go for. It's the most touristed area from what I've read, but it's the closest to the "sights".

Domus Ciliota
The first on the list is Domus Ciliota at Calle delle Muneghe, San Marco, 2976. A single room (with breakfast) is 126 euro. It has a lift and an outdoor garden.

Above: Domus Ciliota single room

Above: Outdoor garden

Above: Map showing water taxi stops

Features air conditioning, a small fridge and satellite TV. The private bathroom has a shower, toiletries and hairdryer.
Room Facilities: Air Conditioning, Desk, Heating, Tiled / Marble floor, Shower, Hairdryer, Free toiletries, Toilet, Bathroom, Telephone, Satellite Channels, Refrigerator, Wake Up Service/Alarm Clock
Room Size: 14 m²
Bed Size(s): 1 single bed

Locanda Silva
Then there's Locanda Silva in the Castello district - they have a terrace but no lift and it's four storeys high. A single room with shared bathroom is 120 euro, single room with own bathroom is 150 euro. If I could be guaranteed a room on the first floor, it maybe in the running, otherwise...

Above: Interior

Above: Exterior

The shared bathroom is located on the same floor. The room is air conditioned.
Room Facilities: Air Conditioning, Desk, Heating, Shared Bathroom, Free toiletries, Shared Toilet, Telephone, Wake Up Service/Alarm Clock
Room Facilities: 14 m²
Bed Size(s): 1 single bed

Hotel Malibran
This one is in the Cannaregio area, is 160 euro and as far as I can tell doesn't have a lift either, although on the hotel website it says "Lift" in the description for single room.

Above: Hotel Malibran single rooms

Above: Hotel Malibran exteriors

With satellite TV, minibar and private bathroom.
Room Facilities: Safety Deposit Box, Air Conditioning, Wooden / Parquet floor, Shower, Hairdryer, Free toiletries, Toilet, Bathroom, Telephone, Satellite Channels, Minibar, Wake Up Service/Alarm Clock
Room Size: 10 m²
Bed Size(s): 1 single bed

The reviews of this place aren't very good and I'm wary of hotels which supply photos which bear little resemblance to the real thing as the photo below shows. As you can see, the single room is a far cry from that which is advertised.

The above photo of Hotel Malibran is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Hotel Commercio & Pellegrino
The last one in the Castello district, I like mainly for the position near the water taxi stop, there are no steps to climb, therefor making it a lot easier when you're dragging a heavy suitcase. Even if you pack light, you're still going to be pulling at least 12 kgs! Downside is at 200 euro, the price is almost 80 euro higher and they don't have any outside area.

Above: Hotel Commercio & Pellegrino

This air-conditioned room comes with satellite TV, a minibar and private bathroom.
Room Facilities: Safety Deposit Box, Air Conditioning, Heating, Shower, Hairdryer, Toilet, Bathroom, TV, Telephone, Satellite Channels, Minibar
Room Size: 11 m²
Bed Size(s): 1 single bed

Saturday, 7 December 2013

24. Train Ieper to Cologne

Pre-booking international trains online

When pre-booking international trains online, I found the transfer time was 5 minutes. Now 5 minutes isn't enough time to get your luggage, get off the train, race down the platform, find the platform you need for your connecting train and get on that platform in time for your next train.
So - what to do? first I thought i'd have to make two separate bookings (this bumped the price up), then I found the little "Adjust the transfer time". I put in 25 minutes and the timetable page refreshes itself. I now would have just over an hour between trains (65 minutes actually). Below is an example of the journey. Trains can be booked up to around 92 days before date of travel.

Ieper to Coclogne
I put in the date Tuesday 25 February as I will be making this trip on a Tuesday.
Depart Ieper 07:38 from Platform 1 Train IC 2307, Intercity
Arrive Bruxelles-Nord 09:28 Platform 1
Transfer time 1:05 h
Depart Bruxelles-Nord 10:33 Platform Train 3 ICE 15, Intercity-Express
Arrive Köln Hbf 12:15 Platform 5 (Bordbistro?)

Fare: 19,00 EUR (Savings fare) Standard fare 57,30 EUR

Sunday, 1 December 2013

23. Paris to Florence

The itinerary has changed yet again. Forget Milan, forget Venice, forget Rome - Florence or Firenze as it is called in Italian is the place I'll be going to if I do the train journeys thing. Having spoken with some Italian friends, one said "Roma!", one said, "Venice" and another said, "Florence!. Forget Milan, forget Venice, Rome? go to Florence". Having done a bit of research, Florence seems like my kind of place. And I've seen Venice anyway - well sort of. When I was in Macao last year, I went to Cotai primarily to go to the Hard Rock Hotel and get a pin (I collect the pins, you can see where I wrote about them in this blog) and saw this wonderful hotel the Venetian and the surrounding areas with canals and gondolas and I thought gee it looks like Venice. When I got back after my trip, I set about finding out and yes there's St. Mark's Campanile, the Rialto Bridge, Doge's Palace, St. Mark's Square complete with gondolas and all. You can see what it looks like HERE. Even the street lamps are the same! (Well almost)

With this in mind, I've written down the different ways of doing this, including fare costs, always bearing in min that the fares are "from" prices! Gotta do some serious thinking about this, weigh up cost and justification.

Option 1: Eurostar & TGV daytime train...
Day 1: London to Turin
Depart London 09:17 arrive Paris Gare du Nord 12:47 Eurostar £39 ($70.10)
Depart Paris Gare de Lyon 14:41 arrive Turin Porta Susa 20:18 (high-speed TGV train) £25 ($45)
Overnight in Turin.

Day 2: Turin to Florence €29 ($44)
Depart Turin Porta Susa at 08:14 arrive Florence SMN at 10:55 (Frecciarossa high-speed train)
Day 3: Florence
Fare cost: $159.10

Option 2 Thello sleeper
Day 1: London to Paris. £39 ($70.10)
Depart Paris 19:59 to Milan (Thello sleeper) €35 ($53)

Day 2: Milan to Florence
Milan Centrale arrive 6:00
Depart Milan Centrale 07:15 (Frecciarossa) €19.00 ($29)
Arrive Florence SMN 08:55

Day 3: Florence
Fare cost: $153.10

Option 3 via the Swiss Alps...
Day 1: London to Zurich.
Depart London 13:31 arrive Paris 16:47 £39 ($70.10)
Paris to Zurich. Depart Paris 18:23 arrive Zurich Hauptbahnhof 22:26 TGV-Lyria From £21 ($38)

Day 1: Depart London St Pancras 07:55, arrive Paris Nord 11:17
Paris Gare de Lyon depart 12:22, arrive Zurich Hauptbahnhof 16:26

Day 2: Zurich to Florence
Depart Zurich 07:09 arrive Milan Centrale 10:50. CHF 40.00 ($49)
Depart Milan Centrale 12:15 arrive Florence SMN 13:55 (Frecciarossa) €19.00 ($29)

Day 3: Florence
Day 4: Florence to Paris
Fare cost: $186.10

Option 4 via Munich
Day 1: London to Paris to Munich
Depart London St Pancras 15:31 arrive Paris Gare du Nord 18:47 £39 ($70.10)
Depart Paris Gare de l'Est 20:05 (City Night Line sleeper train) 4 berth couchette 69.00 EUR ($103) 6 berth €59.00

Day 2: Munich to Florence
Arrive Munich 07:10.
Depart Munich 09:38 arrive Bologna Centrale at 16:20. (Austrian EuroCity train) 39.00 EUR ($59)
Depart Bologna Centrale 17:20 arrive Florence 17:55 €15.00 ($23)

Day 3: Florence
Fare cost: $255.10

Option 5, the super-scenic Bernina Express

Step 1, London & Paris to Zurich
Day 1: London to Paris by Eurostar, depart London at 13:31 (14:01 on Saturdays) arriving Paris at 16:47 (17:17 on Saturdays). Cross Paris by metro to the Gare de Lyon.

Day 1, travel from Paris to Zurich by TGV-Lyria train, leaving Paris Gare de Lyon at 18:23 and arriving Zurich at 22:26. (double-deck TGV-Duplex, book upper deck)

Or catch an earlier service from London to Zurich to arrive in Zurich in time for dinner.
Depart London 07:55 ( 08:01 or 09:22 Saturdays, 09:22 Sundays) arrive Paris 11:17 (12:47 Sunday)
Depart Paris 12:22 arrive Zurich 16:26 (Depart Paris 14:23 and arrive 18:35 Sundays)

Overnight in Zurich

Step 2, Zurich to Milan via the Bernina Express
Day 2, travel from Zurich to Chur by Swiss InterCity train. In summer when the Bernina Express leaves Chur at 08:32, you'll need to leave Zurich by InterCity train at 06:37, arriving Chur at 07:52. This is a scenic trip in itself, along the Zürichsee & Walensee lakes and into the mountains. In Chur, you'll find the Bernina Express waiting for you on the other side of the platform, a quick and easy interchange.

Day 2: travel from Chur to Tirano on the famous Bernina Express.
In summer from 10 May to 26 Oct 2014, the Bernina Express consists exclusively of panoramic sightseeing cars, seat reservation is obligatory, departing Chur every day at 08:32 and arriving at Tirano in northern Italy at 12:36.
You should check times at the official Rhätische Bahn website Rhätische Bahn as it varies on certain dates. A refreshment trolley comes down the train selling hot and cold drinks, snacks and souvenirs.

Tip 1: Going South, the best views are on the right hand side of the train, including the best views of the Landwasser Viaduct the Ospizio Bernina area and Brusio spiral, although unfortunately you cannot reserve a seat on a specific side.

Tip 2: The Bernina Express panoramic carriages have a small luggage vestibule at the opposite end to the entrance door, this has a small opening window, ideal for taking photographs without reflections.

Day 2, travel from Tirano to Milan by regional train. In summer when the Bernina arrives at 12:38, you can leave Tirano at 13:10 and arrive in Milan Centrale at 15:40. In Tirano, the Trenitalia and Rhätische Bahn stations are right next door to each other, and there are plenty of bars and restaurants near the stations. You may have time for a beer at Margy's bar across the road, or you could catch a later train to Milan and have lunch. You can use Trenord to find schedules, but pick a date within the next 7 days to see prices. Bring your own food and drink if you want any, as there is no catering on board the train. No reservation necessary or even possible for Tirano-Milan trains, just buy a ticket at the station and hop on, remembering to validate your ticket in the little yellow machine at the platform entrance. This is a pretty run, through more mountains and along the shores of Lake Como via Lecco.

Day 2, change in Milan for inter-city trains to Florence, Rome, Verona & Venice - use Trenitalia to find trains departing Milan any time after 16:20 (summer) or 18:20 (winter), to allow time for any delay to the train from Tirano.

How much does it cost?
• London to Paris by Eurostar starts at £39 one-way ($70.10)
• Paris to Zurich by TGV-Lyria starts at £23 (€25) each way if booked in advance. Book early for the cheapest fare ($43)
• Zurich to Chur costs CHF 38 (about £28) each way in 2nd class. Fixed price, no reservation necessary, can be bought at the station. ($46.10)
• Chur to Tirano by Bernina Express costs CHF 58 (£43) ($70.25) in 2nd class for the basic ticket, plus a reservation fee for the Bernina Express of CHF 12 (£9) ($14.55) in summer. Reservation is required for the Bernina Express itself, although other trains on the same route do not require reservations. ($70.25) plus ($14.55)
• Tirano to Milan by Trenord regional train costs €10.75 (£9) in 2nd class or €16.15 (£14) in 1st class. Fixed price, no reservation necessary, can easily be bought at the station. Check times at ($16.10) (First class $24.10)
• Milan to Florence €19.00 ($29)

Fare cost: $289.10

Information from The Man in Seat Sixty One