terça-feira, 26 de março de 2013

Edinburgh Easyhotel

I have to say my expectations were a bit high, I had stayed in the London Victoria Easyhotel and the experience was quite good, so for my stay in Edinburgh I decided to give it a shot on an Easyhotel.

The Edinburgh Easyhotel was not so good as the one in London, our first impression was negative, since the room was a little cold and the sheets did not seem so clean, nothing really bad but on our other experience everything was very good.

When choosing an Easyhotel, you should know the main reasons for its low price, the main reason is the room space, which is very small with only the essential furniture(basically the bed). Since we only wanted a place to sleep, this was enough, but we decided to pay a little more, and in the morning we would wake up with this great view, the Edinburgh Castle.

View from the Window - Special Room

Why the Easyhotel in Edinburgh?
I must say the location was the main advantage of this hotel, when you consider the price we were willing to pay. As I told before we had a car, so we also wanted a hotel near a public park, and we did not care so much about public transportation.

The Easyhotel Edinburgh has its address on Princes Street with direct access to the West Princes Street Gardens and very near to the castle.

The Rooms
The door of our room, window is on the right, bathroom in the left and the bed in the center
There are three choices, Small room with window, without window and a standard room with window.
Our choice was the Standard room to get the view, and it was worth it, specially in the morning. The bathrooms are really small but enough for what we wanted.
The quality of our sleeping was good, we did not hear other guests neither street noise.

This photo is from the entrance, there is not much room for luggage 

The Hotel
When you get to the door you should ring the bell, so do not try to open the door, it is not worth to push it hard. The reception is open 24h, since we arrived there at 02 AM, we can confirm that they were efficient even in the dawn.
There are no lifts, so you have to take the stairs to the reception, which is on the first floor. If you are carrying anything heavy, be prepared to use your strength.
If you need there is a computer on the reception with free Internet for the clients.

Where to eat near the Hotel
We chose to dinner one day at the Amber Rose (Tripadvisor ranking), it was a champions league night and the restaurant was quite crowded, still we got a table and had the opportunity to eat. If you have the opportunity to go there, it has a good atmosphere but the food was nothing special.
There are two Starbucks near the hotel, one of them is almost side by side with the hotel, a good option for a hot drink and get free WiFi.
Even thought not being the most commercial place in Edinburgh, there are plenty of option near the hotel.

If you are feeling hungry in the room, the hotel has some drink & food machines, which can be a good option since the price is not exorbitant and the options are god.


For the price we paid it was quite good, a simple room for some quiet nights.

sábado, 23 de março de 2013

River Cruises around Europe

Europe is a small continent, according to Mistupid it is the seventh continent representing 6,95% of the earth when measuring the square kilometres.
When you look at the biggest rivers in the world, if you look at the length Europe has none in the top 10, it is only on the 18th position that you can find the Volga, that only flows in Russia, and in the 26th position you can find the famous Danube, which according to Touropia is the forth most important river in the world.

These are some of the river cruises you can make in Europe.

River Cruise in the Danube
The Iron Gate

Inter-country Cruise
The Danube is the second biggest river in Europe and due to its route, it passes by ten countries! Including some of the countries capitals. Due to the "Rhine-Main-Danube Canal" completed in 1992, some of the Danube cruises include a cruise by the Rhine river and the Main river.

The Danube Only Cruises can last for more than ten days. During these days you can see cities as Regensburg, Passau, Melk, Vienna (Austria's Capital), Budapest (Hungary's Capital), Kalocsa, Osijek, Belgrade (Serbia's Capital), Iron Gate (Wikipedia Link), Vidin, Veliko Tarnovo, Bucharest (Romania's Capital)
The Danube + Rhine Cruises can last twenty three days, and can also include the cities of Amsterdam, Kinderdijk, Cologne, Koblenz, Rhine Valley (My Trip to the Rhine Valley), Miltenberg (Main River), Würzurg, Bamberg, Nuremberg, and then you continue to the Danube.

River Cruise in the Seine
City Cruise
The main focus of the Seine river cruises is the French Capital, known as the city of love and lights, Paris.
The river has importance to the French economy, but regarding tourism, it is Paris that concentrates the tourist cruises, most of them are not famous for sleeping, but for dinners and sightseeing. 
If you are going to Paris, do not miss a cruise by the Seine, it is an enjoyable part of visiting Paris. You probably don't need to book your cruise early, you can do it one the place.
If you are thinking on cruising the Seine to the north, you will pass by the city of Rouen, where the Seine goes as an "S", and end in the industrial and port city of Le Havre, which is 150 km far from the Disembarkment beaches.

River Cruise in the Rhône

If you want a river cruise in the south of France, this is it, a cruise in the Rhône include a passage by the famous vineyards in the south of France and the Lavender Fields.
The most important cities that you can see are Lyon, Vienne, famous for the Roman ruins, Arles, with some World Heritage Sites and Avignon, the city of the Popes

River Cruise in the Saône

The Saône is the most important tributary of the Rhône river, it is in Lyon where they meet. One of the famous cities near the Saône is Dijon, famous for its mustard. Chalon sur Saône was once a busy port and it is nowadays a port for some cruises, it is a small city with a nice city square with cafés and a busy market on Fridays and Sundays. Sundays are a great day to visit a market in a southern France village.

River Cruise in the Elbe

Intercity + UNESCO
The Elbe is one of the most important rivers for the north German economy, specially in Hamburg, but it is lower on the Elbe that you can find some of the nice cruises that can pass by Prague, if they include the Vltava river. The other cities that you can visit during a cruise in the Elbe are, Magdeburg, Dessau, Torgau, Dresden (Dresden Elbe Valley - UNESCO Heritage) and Melnik, where the Vltava river finds the Elbe.

River Cruise in the Douro

Gourmet + UNESCO
The Douro river is located in the west edge of continental Europe and the main city for its cruises is Porto in Portugal, which is also known for its wines. That is why part of the cruise is focused on the UNESCO Alto Douro Wine Region.
The Douro cruises are focused on the nature and on the valleys where you pass, you will not see many important cities since the visit goes through the Portuguese countryside.

River Cruise in the Rhine

Castles + UNESCO
The Rhine river starts in Switzerland, divides France from Germany, and then it is inside German that assumes a great importance in the German economy and in the Rhine Valley, after that it ends in the Netherlands where it has also its economic important, being a vital way to ship many of the freight.
The Rhine river has its glamour specially on the valley that starts in Bingen and ends in Koblenz, which is part of the UNESCO Heritage Upper Middle Rhine. In Koblenz you can find many companies that from April to September make cruises for the Rhine Valley that last more than an hour.
The big cruises that pass in the Rhine can last more than twenty days, if you include the Danube. If you want to do a Rhine only cruise you can take a trip between Amsterdam and Basel which last for a week due to the cultural richness you will find on the trip.

River Cruise in the Moselle
The Moselle river is a tributary of the Rhine river, so some of the crises can include part of the Rhine, others may include the Main river. It is in the Moselle where you can find two beautiful German cities, Trier and Cochem. Trier is considered the oldest city in Germany with vine-covered Hills and Cochem has its beautiful castle in the top of a hill.

River Cruise in the Main
The Main is another tributary of the Rhine, with a special importance since it also connects to the Danube. The cruises in the Main are mainly cruises that also pass by the Rhine or the Danube, in the Main you will see the city of Würzburg, a wine town, other important cities are Bamberg, Mainz in the connection between the Main and the Rhine, and Frankfurt.

Many of the river cruises in the Moselle or the Main rivers include a passage by the Rhine, and some cruises pass by the three rivers.

River Cruise in the Volga

City + Scenic
The Volga river is the biggest river in Europe, but to connect the two most important cities in Russia, Moscow, the country's capital and St. Petersburg, it is needed to pass by other rivers. Many of the cruises of the Volga include the two cities, since they are an important part and a must see if you go to Russia.
In the Volga river you can see the Russian cities and villages including Kizhi, Kuzino, Goritsy, Yaroslav and Uglich.
A trip in the Volga including the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg lasts for thirteen days.
If you want a more Volga cruise, you can make it from Moscow to Astrakhan, near the Volga delta, this trips include more history and a taste of an Asian trip.

Later I will talk about some of the cruises with detailed information, some nice images and my personal experience.

Companies & Websites
Grand Circle Cruise Line
Avalon Waterways
Euroriver cruises
Douro Azul
Express to Russia

I have seen some of the river cruises options and although the pass through unique places, as the Iron Gate and other valleys, they still seem an activity for older people, probably starting at the age of fifty. The reason is the relation between the age, length of the trip and the amount of activities during the day. This may be a biased opinion, but it is based on what I have seen so far.
I would not like to be in such a long cruise for now due to the trip length and to not be limited by staying near the river, and sleeping on the cruise. I have already done a twenty four hour "special" cruise between Turku and Stockholm and return and I did not feel comfortable passing so much time in the water, even having a lot of activities, but that can depend on what you like and even your fears.

sábado, 16 de março de 2013

Visiting Scotland

We decided to visit Scotland during April, Spring time.

April may not be the best month for a trip to Scotland, some of places are still preparing for the high season, and there are a few castles closed. However it is also an opportunity to see the Spring and we even saw some of the places with snow, curiously during our first night there, it was the night of the biggest snow fall of 2012.
The Glamis Castle with the white snow instead of the green grass
Our main goal when visiting Scotland was to visit the castles around the country, so we chose to rent a car during all the time we were there. The main disadvantage was in the big cities, we did not visit much of them, we spent three nights in Edinburgh and one night in the suburbs of Glasgow.

We did not make a smart choice spending so much nights in one place, but in the beginning we still did not know we were going to Dunrobin, right in the North of Scotland. It gave us the opportunity to visit a variety of places around Edinburgh, but on the other hand less coverage of landscapes, specially in Glencoe.
Our advise if you want to visit several castles is to sleep at least one night in the north, near the Lake Ness, probably in Inverness.

The Dunrobin Castle, the reason we went most northerly than we expected
We caught a flight from Lisbon to Manchester, it was easier and cheaper than the other options. (Flying directly to Edinburgh or doing a scale), so we decided to rent a car in Manchester and drive to Edinburgh, if you have spare time, it is a nice trip since you pass by places as Lancaster and you can divert to see the Hadrian's Wall.

Edinburgh Castle view from the Easyhotel
Since we were in the Edinburgh Easyhotel we visited Edinburgh during the late afternoon, during the day we travelled with the car, avoiding to pay parking We decided not to visit the Edinburgh Castle, since we did not have enough time to visit everything, and the most important jewels were not available in the exhibition. We were told that a good visit should last at least two hours, and for us the castle was closing in an hour.

Scotland has amazing landscapes and castles. It is surely one of the trips that was worth it and we are planning to come back.

So some of the advices we can make are:
  • Choose wisely what you want to visit in Scotland. Between cities, castles, lakes and mountains, there are several options with a distance between them.
  • Consider the season you want to go, different seasons offer different colours in the landscape, specially in Glencoe.
  • The time of the day of your visit is also important, remember the sun rises in east and sets in west. In the Arthur's seat in Edinburgh this can be useful, since the best view can be in the morning, and in the late afternoon the sun is setting on the horizon.
  • When doing the budget on visiting castles, plan at least £12 for each person, at least 2 hours and if you like a walk around the castle gardens.
  • On some remote places, as Glencoe you may not find restaurants or any retail, so be prepared and always carry something, specially water.

quarta-feira, 13 de março de 2013

The Gerbeaud Cafe in Budapest

Gerbeaud Cafe

When going to Budapest, do not miss the Gerbeaud Cafe, that is where you have the possibility to taste the best chocolate cakes.
Before going to Budapest I was told by a friend to not miss the Gerbeaud Cafe, it was an unique Cafe and I would not be disappointed I am glad I went there and tasted a marvellous Chocolate Shake, the flavour was inexplicably good, not too bitter or sweet, just the chocolate flavour at its best and at the right temperature.

I went there in a hot day and the chocolate milkshake was chill, but not too cold for the throat. We were a group that also chose to drink something, the cappuccino & the coffee were also good, but not as tasty as the specialty of the Cafe,chocolate.
If you visit the cafe, do not miss also a visit to the interior of the cafe. As you can read in the brief history, it is a renewed cafe with the original style of an hundred years ago.

The Gerbeaud Cafe is located on theVörösmati tér, one of the main plazas in Budapest, located in the end of the Vaci utca, one of the most important streets in Budapest for shopping.


The esplanade is a good place to enjoy your drink and cake, the chairs and tables are in the Vörösmarty plaza and depending on the day you can hear music, enjoy the sun or just watch the Budapest life.
The cafe offers table service, so you can sit there and wait for someone to attend you. You will be given a list to choose what to eat and drink and after some time you will be asked what you would like. If you prefer to see the cakes, you should start by entering in the Cafe and see the variety of cakes offered, specially the chocolate cakes.


I did not feel the waiters were very friendly, but they were efficient. We sit and after a few moments we had the list to choose, when we put the list in the table we were asked what we wanted and after a while, not long, we were served. Efficient, but do not expect any chat.
When you fill prepared to go, you have to ask for the bill, there is always someone there and you will not wait too long.

Interior of the Gerbeaud Cafe

Interior of the Gerbeaud Cafe

Brief History of the Gerbeaud

The Gerbeaud Cafe was inaugurated in 1858, but do not worry, the dishes are not that old, they are new and beautiful. In 1910 the cafe was designed and built using marble, exotic woods and bronze, having french tables, ceiling pictures and marvelous chandeliers.
During the Soviet administration of the country the Gerbeaud had to be renamed and between 1950 and 1984 it was called as the plaza, "Vörösmarty", and the style was simpler.
Nowadays it regained the original style of 1910, and it is a beautiful place to be inside, specially during winter, when the esplanade is out of service.

Cake in Gerbeaud Cafe

Delicious Cake in Gerbeaud Cafe, what a better way to motivate you to go there...
Delicious Cake in Gerbeaud Cafe, what a better way to motivate you to go there...

segunda-feira, 11 de março de 2013

Renting a Car in Germany - Weekend Special Offer

When renting a car in Germany, and many other countries, if you want to guarantee a low price you should look forward to stay with the car between Saturday and Sunday. Usually it is the leisure client that stays the night from Saturday to Sunday, so the business client (normally willing to pay more) cannot benefit from this offer.
The maximum for these special prices can be 72 hours, which is enough for three nights, so if you want more than this specific number of hours you may end up paying more 50%.

These are some examples of prices:
Frankfurt Airport - Pick and Return in April (Prices may vary, specially during holidays)

Europcar - Audi A1

3 Days including Weekend - €135 (€75 from Friday to Monday)
3 Weekdays - €194
5 Days (weekend or not) - €306
Curiously in the Alamo website you will find different prices for the same dates, but they are the same in the Frankfurt Airport.

Hertz - Ford Fiesta

3 Days including Weekend - €78
3 Weekdays - €166
5 Days (weekend or not) - €252

Budget - Ford Fiesta

3 Days including Weekend - €69
3 Weekdays - €137
5 Days (weekend or not) - €237

As you can see prices can be very different, but don't take these prices so seriously, the conditions may vary from company to company, and you can see the promotions in the website. Other factors like the currency you are using and the country where you are from may change your price.

Considering the biggest car rental companies and the ones that are present at the Frankfurt Airport (biggest in Germany), this is the List of Car Rental Companies easily reached:

Europcar (Alamo / National)

or you can just visit a aggregate website like RentalCars.com

My experience has been good with Europcar, for both times I went to Germany and rented the car, Europcar was doing promotions in Germany(25% discount).
You can also do some homework for them and do a "online check in", so when you get there, they have almost all the information they need.

sexta-feira, 8 de março de 2013

Driving the Mercedes A in Germany

The new Mercedes A class is considered by most as a beautiful car, including me, that is why I am talking about the car. I had the opportunity to drive it in Germany, it seems that when a new German car is out (at least it happened with the Audi A1, Mercedes A and Volkswagen Golf), Europcar gets some of the cars and offers the opportunity to its clients to drive it.

The interior is quite comfortable. The seats are very good, well defined, where your body can easily adapt, which is good when you are on vacations and want to feel comfortable.
I do not know if all cars from the car rentals are equipped with GPS, but this was and it was a good surprise and extra. Another good surprise was the heating system for the seats, which feels so good during the cold days.

Driving Experience
The driving is very good, it soft and has a nice steering, the manual gear box is soft, and the sixth gear is perfect when driving in the Autobahn, also helping to decrease the gas consumption.
Driving in the city is also easy due to the steering and if you are in a stop and go situation, the brakes are also soft and it does not cause any discomfort, unless you brake suddenly.

Interior of the Mercedes A
The Trunk
We travelled with one hold baggage and a hand baggage. The trunk was enough for everything, and it had enough space for something more. It is not a huge trunk, if you are considering a four people trip, the four seats are great, all well defined but the trunk is not as big as you may think.
The trunk has a capacity of 341l, (Compared to 380l / VW Golf & 267l / Audi A1)

The exterior
You may like it or not, it is your opinion that counts. Since it is from a car rental company, you cannot chose the colour.

Side view of the Mercedes A

Speed Limit
The autobahn may not have speed limits, but in the windscreen of the car there was a sticker with a speed limit of 210 km/h.
The car is pretty stable, and until you reach 160km/h, you barely feel any trepidation. Since we were on holidays we did not have the need to drive too fast, so we just enjoyed our trip. If you like the speed or if you are planning a trip all over Germany, a fast car can interest you, I believe for the price this is a good choice.

Parking the Mercedes A can be very to park due to its parking sensors, and if you need, the car can park by itself in parallel parking. Even being a bigger car than the smaller options in car rental companies, the sensors are a great help

Side view of the Mercedes A
The mystery of the "hidden" P button

A stupid thing that happened to me was not knowing where I could unlock the car and start driving. I even had to stop the engine and ask for help to the Europcar Employee. The answer was simple, the "hidden" button was hiding at the left of the steering wheel.

Wikipedia - Mercedes A
German Site - Mercedes A configurator
Mercedes A on Pinterest
Renting a Car by Europcar

quarta-feira, 6 de março de 2013

Buying souvenirs on Sunday

Our experience buying souvenirs in European smaller cities on Sundays is simple, almost everything is closed. Since there are not many tourists, there are not shops open for a larger period, and most shops are open only during weekdays and Saturday during the business hours.

So we decided to adopt a simple lesson,
"If you see a shop selling a souvenir or a postcard you want to buy, buy it, the next place can be closed"

We have been to several places where we wanted to buy a souvenir, we normally buy a souvenir magnet, or a simple postal card to offer to our closest friends and family. However it has happened to us to have the will and money to buy it, but most places were closed and only one was open.

The only shop in Heidelberg we saw open during the afternoon of the 31 of December
We faced these problem in Koblenz on a Sunday morning and then in Heidelberg in the 31/December. These are typical days when almost everything are closed, so we were already expecting it, but sometimes you never know what your next stops will be.

This rule clearly does not apply for food !

In our last vacations we ended up eating for two times in the first place we saw, after leaving the place, ten to fifteen minutes later we saw a place that was better, curiously we did not find many places to eat, but there was still one alternative at least.

sexta-feira, 1 de março de 2013

Pickpockets in Barcelona - Beaware

Barcelona is known for the pickpockets and the quantity of them trying to steal tourists. It is not about the violence involved, there is almost none, so you can walk in peace everywhere in Barcelona, but your wallet may disappear in the strangest situations.

The main targets for thief are easy access wallets. Wallets located on pockets easily visible or wallets inside woman handbags.

Our experience was fairly good, we were not victims at all, being Portuguese (with the Iberian look) it is easier to pass by as locals in the city. My wife even used a necklace and we did not have any problems with that.

One of the Scheme to steal in Barcelona

While we were lunching in the Parc de La Ciudad, we saw a scheme to steal something from a woman purse. In the stairs shown in the image below,

A tourist couple was walking down the stairs when suddenly three kids/teenagers walked faster down the stairs, one of them opens a map and holds it in front of the couple, the other one starts talking with them, as if he is a tourist helper that just wants to show something on a map. The third is "the thief", it is the one that is not in front of the couple, he stayed behind the couple and he was trying to put his hand in the woman handbag.

It is a strange situation, and the couple cannot walk, since the kids are around and they do not want to be rude to walk against them. The couple did not seemed interest and wanted to continue walking down the stairs, but they could only try, since the two "helpers" were in front of them.

After a while, the three kids left and the couple continued, we were on a bench in the garden so I cannot tell if anything was stolen, but I believe it was an annoying moment for them.

There was no violence involved, but if you get your wallet stolen it can ruin your vacations and you may have to lose time to go to the embassy or consulate.

Most of these kids are in waiting in the stairs for the people, they are not hiding and you can easily spot them.

Story of a friend.

We know a couple that also went to Barcelona but brought a small sad story, easily solved. 

They arrived at the airport and then took the bus, after a while and after taking a second bus, the girl noticed she did not have their Barcelona Card anymore, it was stolen from her handbag.

Fortunately, they went to a desk of the Barcelona Card and after telling them their story and showing them that they had bought the cards online starting on that day, the staff was nice enough and gave them two cards for the rest of their stay.

It was not a big loss in money, but it was at least one hour wasted.

More about scams
Video about the Scams in Barcelona by National Geographic, you can find it useful so you don't get scammed.


  • Carrying a fake wallet with something not important is a way to attract the attention of the pickpockets. This way if they want to steal your wallet they will probably steal the "fake" wallet and you will not lose anything important.
  • Do not show signs of luxury. you do not have to look poor or homeless, but most of these pickpockets know how to evaluate how much money someone may be carrying. I do not mean fancy clothes or wallets, but a pocket full that 
  • When paying, do not show all your money, try to keep it separated, so when you are paying for your lunch or a souvenir, you will only grab a twenty euro note instead of a bunch of notes.
  • If you have an handbag, try to keep it closed, so there is no way of foreign hands trying to sneak in, it is very easy and quick to steal something from an open handbag.
  • Leaving your bags unattended is a big risk, there seems to be always someone looking for these bags and they disappear in less than a minute.