Monthly Archives: June 2018

Staying at Hostels in Europe

Gone are the days when one had to book hotel rooms without knowing any details from suave travel agents. There are now a plethora of options and even a plethora of aggregators for all the options. From Homestays, hotels, and hostels, there are many places for all pockets to choose from. While staying at hostels is not a new concept, for many Indians, it still continues to be one. There are still perceptions, that these hostels are only for students or for backpackers. Well, my solo trips to Europe have completely busted any former perceptions I had of hostels.

With the changing times, hostels have caught on to the changing needs and have upgraded. No longer do you hear horror stories of bathrooms that smell or claustrophic rooms that give you sleepless nights. Hostels have organized themselves to cater to all sorts of travelers now. There are the budget travelers who don’t mind sharing a room or the bunk beds. The business travelers who are weary of dreary hotels and can enjoy the peace of a private room within the hostel, yet enjoy the jovial and warm vibe of the hostel, the leisure traveler who wants to stay long and enjoy facilities of a good kitchen and laundry at a reasonable price, the luxury traveler who wants to experience a hostel stay at a chic location, the solo traveler who looks to find company, and the party crowd. I have stayed in several hostels across Europe now and here are the points you should consider if you want to stay in one.

  1. Privacy: If you are looking for more privacy, you could look for rooms within the hostel too. These are usually at standard hotel rates in the vicinity but you get the atmosphere of the hostel and a good location. If you are traveling on budget, there are hostels which will provide you with curtains for every bed which trust me is important when travelers come in and out at night in dorms. There could even be attached bathrooms to the dorms if you prefer. For women, check out places that have exclusive female dorms for added comfort and security if you prefer.
  2. Location: After having stayed at several hostels, I realize that the location is not quite as important as the other factors. Most hostels are conveniently located to forms of public transport and it is fairly simple to get around. So, your hostel could be in a cosy neighborhood but a short train ride away from the hordes of tourists and it could just be better
  3. Self Catering: Most hostels provide self catering facilities and you can cook and eat your own food at the hostel. Well, you may not cook a full fledged meal, but it is nice to have a cup of coffee, maggi or a quick pasta at the hostel itself. As a vegetarian it was good to have the facility available. And of course, you can save plenty if you cook especially in expensive countries.
  4. Quiet hostels vs party hostels: Most hostels come in either of the two categories. If you are the sort who prefers to have a good nights sleep, then don’t book a place at a party hostel! Party hostels usually have a bar that is open for long, game rooms and common areas where travelers can enjoy a drink and socialize.
  5. Restrictions: You may want to be sure that the hostel has no restrictions for you or your group. Sometimes people over a certain age, children, pets and families are not welcomed by certain hostels. So be sure it suits you.
  6. Hostel chains – There are several hostel chains across Europe such as St. Christophers Inns, Generator, Stay Okay, Plus hostels etc. These are typically the large hostels, but you can be sure that they are quite professional and you will not face any problems. I have stayed at Christopher’s inn at Paris and the Berlin Plus, both of which were large and catered to my every need. However, there are several cosy old hostels usually with the best locations which are great too. For example, the Hostel Ruthensteiner at Vienna was the best hostel I have ever stayed at I reckon. I daresay, I have liked the smaller hostels better as you can meet more people in a smaller more personal setting rather than a hotel like lobby.
  1. Other factors such as cleanliness, good staff, price, good wifi, enough plug points are hygiene and you can glean how good the hostel is from reviews and pictures
  2. Read up the reviews: Read the reviews on Hostelworld.com before you book. Most reviews are authentic and provide you a good perspective on if the hostel is something  you want.

So, if you haven’t stayed in a hostel before, do give it a try!

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Categories: Europe, Germany, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Whatsapping our way through parenthood

Whatsapp

From going down to memory lane and bantering with friends for a few months and then  exchanging only ‘Good morning’ messages, birthday and festival wishes and perhaps some forwards a few months later, Whatsapp groups are what fuel our days. Whatsapp groups have become ubiquitous for anyone who has or ever had a common activity with a bunch of other people. While we turn to the forwards for some fun from these friendly groups, my daily dose of entertainment as well as minor irritation is from the school whatsapp groups for parents. Here is what I have discovered.

  1. Circulars sent by school aren’t supposed to be read. The questions have to asked and re-asked and answered on the whatsapp group. What time, what dress, which colours, when, how, what are other parents doing it?
  2. Entrepreneurs may just start adding photos of all that they have on sale. I once had a group where hundreds of pictures of dresses, kurtas and saris were put up on the group in one go!
  3. If there is a linguistic majority in the group, for example in mine it is Gujrati, you may start seeing forwards in Gujrati which everyone else is clueless about!
  4. At home, you can feed biscuits and cakes to your child, but God help the child if the school happens to serve noodles or French fries once in a blue moon. Ofcourse, whatsapp is where you have a full-blown discussion on if sandwiches, noodles or pasta should be boycotted from being served and where kids should be served only nutritious food such as dal-rice, and parathas! Eek, to think I can’t survive without bhelpuri once a week! And discussions on food can get even more polemical than a discussion between the Left and Right wings.
  5. Whatsapp groups are for important discussions between parents to rake up issues with the school. Like for example, if 2 kids get indigestion in class, the school food must be blamed. Although everyone else was fine really. If the teacher has scolded a child, it is a matter of discussion. Hello, breaking news: teachers are meant to reprimand and correct!
  6. If teachers don’t feed the child along with the 20 others, she is irresponsible. Not the parents, who haven’t been able to teach the child to eat on her own!
  7. What did they learn at school, what is for homework, when is it to be submitted, what was served for food, have the kids left school are questions to be answered even before the kid reaches home. EVERYDAY.
  8. There are dads on the school group. So “Mom’s please help”, “Mom’s let’s meet” makes them feel really left out. Do think of their feelings ladies!

While I am no expert on whatsapp etiquette, as parents, we need to consider that while whatsapp is a great tool to broadcast information, let us think if the discussion really warrants  inputs of a hundred others or if the information can be found in the school circular or if your child can tell you. Attending orientations, checking circulars and keeping them carefully, are responsibilities for parents, and we need to be cognizant that in this stream of information, the important points do  not get buried.  Ofcourse,  many a day has been saved when a responsible parent pings a reminder to send a puzzle on puzzle day (which is a puzzle to me!- A puzzle day – really?!)  or water logging during rains in Mumbai has rendered the transport shut  or if the school has announced a special holiday!  Social interactions are great as well by all means, but if it is a group meant for a purpose, let us stick to it.

Have you had any hilarious discussions in your school whatsapp groups?

Reference: The Internet Is Filling up because Indians are sending Millions of ‘Good Morning!’ texts

Categories: News, Views and Reviews | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Walking tours in Europe – What, Why, Where should you take these

It was in Europe that I discovered the ‘Free’ walking tours. These walking tours have been my favorite pass time this entire Europe trip. Europe has several wonderful cities in the continent with a huge number of stories to tell, monuments to show, and a history that goes back several centuries. While one can visit the monuments, look at them, take photos and pass on to the next sight to repeat, a tour is something that provides a bounty of information often designed to entertain as much as it is to inform.

And the big question…Free? Well, almost. The ‘Free’ walking tours, are free if you want them to be. But ofcourse, it is only decent that you tip or pay someone who has put an effort into designing and researching the tour, and spending the next 3-4 hours of their time on sharing their knowledge with you. How much you pay is upto you though. Fair deal huh!

What do the walking tours cover?

The tour covers key highlights of the city that can be covered in the vicinity of the area that can be covered on foot usually in a radius of 2-3 kms. Usually in the general overview tours, the old part of the city, the most touristy locations and places of key historical importance are covered. The tour normally finishes close to where it starts or the guide tells you how to get to where you started off or wherever else you may want to go to.

While the general tours are a fabulous way to get oriented to the city very quickly, the more indepth tours are even more interesting and I would highly recommend these depending on your interest. Each company can do their own versions of different types of tours. For example, in Paris there are Art tours of the Montmarte district which housed several famous artists, there were tours to the Prague castle, the Berlin alternate tours provided a peek into the street art and creative projects at work. These indepth tours are also quite reasonably priced and  companies such as Sandeman tours are excellent operators to choose. Then there are other tours such as bike tours or Segway tours which could cover greater distances and show similar attractions around town. There are pubcrawls in every city that promise to take you to the most exciting party places in town for a fee.

Berlin Walking tour

The Berlin Alternate tours guide was as funky as the tour she was taking!

 

What do the tour guides tell you?

These tours are not necessarily purely gyan or knowledge sessions that you might envisage. Run by a bunch of enthusiastic young people, often not always from the same city where they are conducting tours, the guides are certified, well educated and passionate about their work and city.

As the tour guide takes you to each point, he or she tells you the story behind the point. A lot of these stories are told with great animation and emotion and it is quite a performance indeed. Stories of kings, betrayals, crucifications, torture, resurrections, superstitions are all told with greatest relish and the power of storytelling keeps the audience engaged. The tour guide also shatters myths and tells you what is now touristy was never the norm! For example, my tour guide told me that ‘Trdelnik’ which is crisp bread and sugared was never Czech but is Hungarian although it is touted as a Czech delicacy everywhere. The guide at Berlin showed us the bunker where Hitler committed suicide..and it was under a mere parking lot! The tour guide also points out famous places to eat, where certain movies were shot, famous personalities of the country and the city, history of the city, political situation of the country and a lot more!

Prague walking tour

Prague walking tour

Duration of the walking tour

Be prepared to walk for long though! In the 3 hours of the tour, you can expect a 10 minute break somewhere in between but the rest of it can be quite tiring if you aren’t prepared for it! Sometimes, the tours also take you by public transport depending on the theme of the tour, but largely, most ground is covered walking.

Where to find details of the walking tours?

  • Look out for umbrellas beckoning you to join walking tours at key tourist locations
  • Check online
  • If you are staying in a hostel, check if the tour operators begin at the hostel as well. There could be additional discounts also in certain hostels or hotels, so be sure you avail them!
  • My personal favorite are the Sandeman tours. Check them out online! 

A complete must do, one should always check out the ‘Free’ walking tours before attempting any exploration of the city!

 

Categories: East Europe, Europe, France, Germany, Other Travel Blah | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

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