Tag Archives: travel planning

Practice what you preach: Travel Planning

All the latest posts have been about my resent trip to Russia. I know this travel destinations sounds a bit exotic to many people, therefore I wanted to share my travel experience in Moscow. But at the same time I havent forgotten other travel related activities & planning some other trips as well. But before that here are 3 reminder things about planning a trip:

1. Of course, when we think about trip & related expenses, first advice from everybody is plan in advance. What comes to this trip I did it – got flight tickets already in December ( 4 month before the trip). Since then I’ve been comparing the prices that been offered as a ‘special deal’ and can say that the price I bought the tickets was one of the best. Few times for the short period there were some offers with prices close to one I had but basically it showed that as it gets closer to departure date a ‘special deals’ or ‘sales‘ prices don’t go lower that the basic level price, if booking good time in advance.

Moscow. Sheremetyevo Airport.

Moscow. Sheremetyevo Airport.

2. Other thing I wanted to mention is a hotel reservation. Earlier on to book a hotel room in Russia with international booking engines was almost impossible. There were just few international brands with 4-5 star hotels. What I was usually doing for my Russian trips, is doing search on local russian sites & then looking for the website of particular hotels I was interested. That way I could get at least reasonable price range for 2 – 3 star or private hotels.

When planning my trip to Moscow this year, out of curiosity I did a search on Booking.com – the hotel booking site I use for European destinations. Big was my surprise to find that they have added many hotels and even hostels with reasonable prices for Moscow and Russia in general.

What I like about Booking.com is that you can find hotel reviews there. For booking a hotel in Moscow that is very important because many ‘hotels‘ arent really a hotels, but just one floor or even one very big apartment as a ‘small private hotels’. Last time I visited in Moscow I actually stayed in one like that. The best things were central location and the price  around 2000 rub. Not so good things – that is a big apartment were you rent just one room ( with shared kitchen, shower &WC); furniture in rooms are not the best quality; no internet access.

3.  Last thing I’d like to mention here is – get off the beaten tracks. And here I mean your habits of planning the trip.

For several years I had clear picture what is the best way to plan my a trip to Moscow. As mentioned before, I was nicely surprised to about opportunity to book a hotel in Moscow on my favorite booking engine and was about to do it. In the last moment I decided to check out the special offer from event organizers.

I know the hotels they were offering – the good ones. And I knew the price range of hotel rooms there. From my experience before I knew that mostly every time hotels offered by organizers are good but they cost much more I’d like to pay. Definitely not a budget friendly ones. So I just do my own research & find the one  nearby area.

Same was about to happen this time as well. But for god knows what reason I downloaded a hotel registration form. And what I see there? Both 3 and 4 star hotels are offered with very reasonable price. Of course I want it. Why I didn’t take the offer before? Because I knew the price for that hotel & I could not imagine that special discount for event participants will be so big…

What I wanted to say here is that even you’ve been doing something for years & you think your solution is one of the best one, check out the some other options that are a bit outside your regular beaten trap. Because it might happen that NOW there is a better, cheaper or more convenient way…

What comes to me – I’m about to try one more thing I havent done – use Priceline.com for bidding on hotel room for one of my next trips.

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Summer time is here!

Just a quick note – tonight many European countries turn their clocks one hour ahead for Daylight Savings time. Many might like many not really. This weekend it will affect just people working or traveling. Other ones will have just one hours less to sleep…

Since I’m traveling to Russia in a few days, here is one thing that got my attention – this is the last time Russians are turning clocks for the Daylight Savings / Standard time. The time shift will be made last time in accordance with the decision of  Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

According the President’s decision, there will be no switch back to ‘winter time’. This decision is based on some studies were it has been stated that “the need to adapt (to the time switching) is connected with stress and illnesses”. Some experts has confirmed that the time change twice a year violates the human life biorhythm.

How it will affect rest of the world? As long as we switch to the summer / winter time, Russia will have prolonged day light & the time difference will vary GMT +3 or +2 hours for the Moscow & St Petersburg.

P.S Other news is that now there are just 9 time zones in Russia.

All set & ready for the trip to Moscow

Yesterday I got my travel visa to Russia. So I can say that I’m all set & ready to go to Moscow. Well, I’ll go in a week but right now I already know what my plans will be there. It’s not that I’ve been planning this visit a lot. I’ve been in Moscow before &  I know what I’d like to do.

St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

View of the St Basil's Cathedral on Red Square

This time my trip to Russian capital is more like business trip, therefore there will be 3 evenings & 1 day for visiting the places I’d like to see. Because of tight schedule there are things I know for sure that I’ll do & when.

1. For fastest & most convenient way from Sheremetyevo Airport to the central part of Moscow is by AeroExpress. This direct train service is very good & comfortable way to the Belorussky Train Station. From there I can take a Metro to the place I need. I expect total travel time around one hour. For the city in size of Moscow, this is fast. And price for this convenient trip is reasonable – 320 RUB for the train & 28 RUB for the Metro.

2. What comes to the Metro, this is one of the best ways to get around in city. Inside the Circle line is the central part of Moscow with many sightseeing places & attractions. If you stay in Moscow for at least few days, I suggest everyone to get a card of 10 rides for 250 RUB. That will make entrance to the metro smooth & more convenient.

I like using Metro in  Moscow. It provides fast & easy access to many sightseeing  places. Many Metro stations are deep underground therefore for many people it might be as a small adventure as well. It kind of gives the feeling of the place. Besides – all the Metro stations inside the Circle line are like a piece of art. Get a map of Metro & explore underground Moscow.

Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Take a walk in area around Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

3.On Thursday evening I’ll visit Cathedral of Christ the Saviour – one of the places I like to visit every time I’m in Moscow. Cathedral itself and area around is very nice & impressive ( after the visit to the Cathedral I would suggest to take a short Moscow River sightseeing cruise nearby to see Kremlin). In the nearby area there are few Museums to visit as well. Why Thursdays are good for museums? Because in many museums there is a late night entrance – you can see exhibitons till 8 or even 9pm. Works good if I’m busy during the day.

Last time I was in Moscow I found out about this by chance. I went to Pushkin Fine Art Museum and besides great exhibition of Japanese Art there was a musical performance at that evening as well.  So now I’m suggesting to everyone – use the opportunity of thurdays. What comes to Russian museums – they are great & worth to visit. State Tretyakov Gallery is national treasury for  Russian fine art but Pushkin Fine Art Museum has one of the most representative collection of foreign art.

4. Last day of my visit I’ll have free for myself. That means… actually I havent decided yet 🙂 There are many places to see or many things to do. I’ll be staying near VDNH – large exhibition center and park. Might be there will be something interesting or check out Kva-Kva Aquapark – one of the largest water parks in Russia. Great fun for children but adults can check out list of special night events. Ok, maybe no the Aquapark  this time because my hotel will have a large swimming pool with some slides & SPA center…

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5 Tips How to Save on Hotels

Everyone knows that costs of accommodation is an essential part of all the costs for any travel activities. In order to keep up with the travel habits, first step for budget friendly trips is to look for the ways to lover costs of the trip.

I’m one of those people – I want to keep on going to seminars I’m used to; I want to visit places I havent been; I want to return to the places I like. Well, I’m still looking for some comfort during the trip – internet access, breakfast, access gym / pool or fitness facilities… So, usually I’m interested are  2 – 3 star hotels. If it happens to find great deal – have nothing against 4 stars 🙂 But what I ‘d like to add that this rating of stars depends on country.

Here are 5 tips how to lover costs of accommodation from my experience:

1. – Check out big booking engines to see what are the overage offers for your chosen travel destination. If going to US, Travelocity is the first place to look. I know there are many other sites  but the main idea is to see the options at first. What comes to hotels in European countries I’m choosing Booking. com because they have very good  database for all European destinations. Lately they have added great deals ( with ‘reasonable prices‘)  of Russian main travel destinations as well.

2. Look for special internet offers on hotels website. Not always but very often you can find better price there than big hotel booking engines are offering. My favorite hotel for northern Europe and Scandinavia is Scandic Hotels. Amongst special offers there is one that offers up to 35% discounted price  – if to stay 2 or 3 nights. Often there are some special deals for particular hotels.

If the basic price is around 60 Euros or more, then often there are options to find offers for 44 Euros. For one of my next trips I have already made reservation for hotel in Stockholm for 384 SEK (~$60).  With courtesy breakfast, fitness facilities & free Internet access this price is very reasonable for Scandinavian countries or northern Europe.

3. Actually end of previous tip is beginning of this one – look what’s included in the price.  Maybe there are cheaper hotels, but if you have to pay for the breakfast or usage of internet per hour, then sometimes slightly higher price is better deal. This is why I like Scandic Hotels – always good breakfast & free WiFi access included. Holiday Inn might sounds good as well but mainly you have to pay additional for these services.

4. If you are flexible on your travel time, compare prices of hotel rooms for  weekdays / weekends. Tourist oriented hotels will have lower price during the week but hotels oriented to local business & events often have lower prices during the weekend.

Once while traveling in Norway, I stayed in two hotels while in Oslo. Because with all the prices in Norway, any hotel  accommodation around 600 – 700 NOK ($ 100 – 120)  is already a ‘good price’. So I found that there are two special offers for different days in different hotels. With some planing of activities / attractions to see & because I was traveling light, actually is was not so complicated to use them for my stay. But I saved more than third of total original costs for 2 night stay.

5. Join the club! If you are frequent traveler or usually stay in some certain hotel brand, sign up for the rewards program. One thing is that you will earn free stays, but besides it as a ‘prefered guest member’ might receive upgrades or special amenities. So price might be the same but additonal services are nice 🙂

Often hotels have special discounts for loyal customers up to 20%. If you are a member of some airline loyalty program already, then you can earn additional miles for the stay or get some special offer.

To read more ideas how to save on hotels, check out to my website AmberTravelBox.com. If hotels are too expensive, try vacation rentals or hostels (some might be not bad at all for company of 3 or 4 people).

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Tallinn, Estonia – budget friendly travel destination.

Every year popular travel magazines and portals are making different TOP lists. Recently I saw the list of Top Budget Travel Destinations made by Budget Travel. From European destinations Dublin (Ireland), Tallinn (Estonia) and Lisbon (Portugal) were mentioned. From my experience, I agree on first two but instead of Lisbon would put Berlin (Germany).

First of all, my understanding of term ‘budget friendly’ is slightly different from Budget Travel editor’s because I don’t think that  hotel room of $150 or more is budget friendly. Well, I’m not a person who is looking for hostel type accommodation either. If I think of ‘budget friendly’ destinations, I’m checking for hotels in price range  35 – 60 Euro ($50 – $85) for single room. That is the overage price you can find a hotel in central part (or close to it) of city. What comes to the European destinations, Booking.com is the best resource for the hotel search (same like for USA destinations I’d use Travelocity).

Old Town Roofs, Tallinn

Old town roofs. Tallinn is waking up

I’m glad that Tallinn has been listed us up-and-coming. I’ve been there several times and always like it. What comes to international travelers, Estonia is one of Baltic States near Baltic sea. With Helsinki (Finland), Riga (Latvia), St Petersburg (Russia) and Stockholm (Sweden) in easy reach, Tallinn is great destination for multi-city trips as well.

On Jan 1, Estonia is part of Euro zone. That makes all the travel more convenient to this country. To celebrate crown of  2011 European Capital of Culture, Tallinn is hosting many major international events. You can find the list of upcoming events at VisitEstonia.com.

Old Town, Tallinn

Streets of Old Town, Tallinn

As a capital, Tallinn is not a big city – just around 440 000 inhabitants. But is has many interesting things to see. Tallinn’s heart is Old Town – UNESCO protected medieval city center. Most of cobblestone streets and properties, important state and church buildings, citizens and merchant’s residences dating back 11th century, are preserved in their origin form.

Whether you have only few hours or few days to walk around, Tallinn’s Old Town is beautiful and enchanting during all seasons. With easy reach from Port, Bus and Train Station. Every time I visit Tallinn, I’d like to take a walk in narrow streets of Old Town. Old Town Square is hard to miss. If you have a time, check out lunch / dinner menu at Olde Hansa. This is something very special & nice. Stroll the streets of Old Town to find the way up to the Upper Town Toompea public viewing platforms for spectacular views over medieval rooftops.

New Tallinn at night

Modern side of central Tallinn

Tallinn is very dynamic city with capacity to grow. In last decade Tallinn has changed a lot. Now there are many new modern buildings in central part of city. Not everybody likes it but one way or other, Tallinn has an ability to blend medieval architecture with Scandinavian modernity. During tha last few years Tallinn has become modern, competitive and innovative capital, with unique Estonian identity.

P.S. Test your knowledge about Estonia & win a free trip to Tallinn from VisitEstonia.com

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Explore Europe – language travel

While winter outside it’s right time to think about summer. Summer means vacation. Vacation means travel. Traveling to some European country seems an option. But Europe is big, diverse place. What are the cities you always wanted to visit? London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona… just to name a few.

What are the things you want to do during vacation? Probably relax, have fun & do something good for yourself. I have found language travel as a great experience to combine option of improving language skills & exploring destination a little bit from locals perspective. Language schools are offering wide variety of courses. Traditional offer varies  from Super-Intensive (30 lessons per week) for rapid progress to semi-intensive (15 lessons) for people who would like to take things a bit easier.

What comes to Europe, there is wide variety of choices. Most common languages spoken in European countries are English, German, French, Italian and Spanish. I would add Russian as well. I’m not really fan of French (sorry for that) but French & Surfing, French & Cooking (French Cuisine) or Bordeaux Wine Course sounds tempting 🙂

Same applies to learning any other language. To learn German you can travel to Germany or pick  Austria as a destinationWith its great natural splendor, elegant cities and rich history, Austria is an extraordinary setting for a German course. Discover spectacular scenery, a wealth of culture and plenty to see and do once your German lessons are finished for the day. Combine language classes with skiing in winter / spring time or explore this lovely country during the summer by hiking, mountain biking or swimming activities.

St.Julians Bay

St. Julians Bay, Malta

I think that this is one of the best ways to learn / improve foreign language skills. Go to the place where language is around you & then pick up the experience as it comes along. Doesnt matter are you a complete beginner, or already have some advance level when language is around you on daily basis, it  greatly speeds up the learning process. I have one example from my experience. I did learn quite a lot of Italian while living in Malta.

For learning English, many people think of Great Britain, but Malta is perfect summer destination for it. Actually, Malta is great place for learning Italian as well. Beginning of June, mid July is time when there are many young & active language students from all over Europe. Classes during the day, beach & summer-fun later on.

What comes to me, than Malta was the place where I learned most of my Italian. I didn’t go to language school ( I was working in Malta for 4 month) but during my stay I improved my very basic Italian to the level that I could understand around 90% of spoken language and could speak Italian  about 70% myself.

Malta

Exploring Malta. Boat trip to Comino.

Yes, I was willing to learn but that wasnt my goal. I was using the situation I was in  – shops, beach, gym and even TV at evenings to learn language that was around me. Even more, August is the month of vacation in Italy, and many Italians are going for a vacation to Malta. So I had many Italian children in my classes and it was an  additional motivation for me to learn even more. Yes, I was spending some time with books, but I had fun as well 🙂

But I agree that for learning Italian language, timeless city of Rome, Venice or Milan are great destinations. If Malta is more summer fun, then language courses in Italy offer other kind of experience as well. By picking 1 or 2 week Italian course there are options to combined language lessons with cooking courses, wine tastings and guided tours to vineyards.
Does this sound like a great way of spending a vacation in location of your dreams? 

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5 things to know before traveling to Moscow, Russia.

Russia as a travel destination has been a land of mystery for many years. Geographically Russia is largest country in world. It is part of two continents but most foreigners still think about Russia as a Moscow or St.Petersburg.

Image of Moscow.

Moscow, capital city of Russia

Well, I would say, that for a  person who never been in Russia, this is best place to start. Moscow – the current capital of Russia – is one of the largest cities in the world as well. Definitely it’s worth to visit. First impressions about this place might be diferent, depending on you travel experience.  With all the sightseeing, entertainment, world-class museums, monuments, churches and other historical centers to see, every traveler can find something fascinationg in this trip.

But before you start your journey to Moscow, there are few things one needs to know about travelling in Russia. I made a list of 5 important things if you intend to discover beauty & mystery of Russia.

1. Everyone needs a visa for traveling to Russia.

When applying for visa, you need to know how long your stay will be. Visa is issued for certain number of days. For getting a ‘travelers visa’ travelers are required to point a specific travel destination & reason for the trip as well. Besides, when applying for visa, everyone needs to get special travel insurance for the same number of days.

Make sure all the information is written correct in visa documents. It has happen with me few times that some info is misspelled. Good that I found it while in Embassy. On the border customs are very strict. I have heard many stories, that because of this people are turned back or there has been long discussions with custom officers about it. 

2. After arriving at the final destination, foreigners need to register within 3 working days.

Lately many hotels in Moscow are offering this service right at the arrival with no extra cost (but some might take a small fee). They might ask to leave your pasport at the reception for a short while.  But if you stay in smaller or private hotel ask at the reception were  you can do it.

3. The best way to get from Sheremetyevo Airport to the city center is by AeroExpress. 

AeroExpress - train from Seremetyevo to city

AeroExpress - train from Sheremetyevo Airport to the city

Sheremetyevo is the main Airport for international arrivals in Moscow. There is a train station right next to the arrival hall. This new direct non-stop train service has been operating since 2009 and is very convenient for getting past all the traffic on the streets. Travel time from the city to the Airport by car or public bus is around 1 hour, depending on traffic.  With Aeroexpress it takes just 35 min to get to the Belorussky Railway Station.  From there you can use metro to whatever place needed.

Price for the one way ride is 320 rubles ( ~ $11) or round trip 550 rubles. This price is reasonable for many travelers though train is not crowded. There is a train every 30 min. If you happen to arrive in Domodedovo Airport, there is a similar express train to Moscow, Paveletsky Station.

4. The best way to get around city is by Metro.

Metro station in Moscow

One of Metro (Metropoliten) stations in Moscow central part.

Public transport is relatively cheap in Moscow – 28 rubles (~$o.5) for one ride. Actually Metro, with 12 lines, is the fastest way to get around as well. With all the traffic jams and large distances (overage trip  length – 13km) from place to place, Metro is the most convenient transportation in Moscow. 

For more convenience, get a ticket for 10 rides (265 rubles) or 20 rides (520 rubles). This will speed up the entrance to the metro itself.

Besides, almost every metro stations in central part of city – inside ‘Kolcevaja linija’ (Circle line) – is like a piece of art or architecture. I would even suggest to spend an hour or more exploring Moscow’s underground. Get in and out of train in every station in central part of Moscow to see difference. Someone will find fascinating long escalator rides as well.

5. Always carry a passport with you.

Even if I ‘ve been in Moscow several times during last 10 years, it’s still kind of discomfort for me, seeing police officers checking documents ‘just because’. You might be asked to show passport (other ID documents are not so important) when entering some office building  or simple on the street.

With resent incidents in Airport and other public access areas, now there are a lot of metal detectors around central part of Moscow. Therefore don’t be surprised to see it before entrance to museum or metro as well.

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By mentioning this things I don’t want to scare people from traveling to Russia. This country ir great. definitely with different mentality or attitude to the things but worth to visit. If you speak some Russian then it will open up even more. 

Enjoy the trip!

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