Posts Tagged ‘Hostels’

Edinburgh: In Hindsight

I’m delayed in the airport by an hour… somehow I’m not surprised. After a couple of flight cancellations and snow ravaging all UK airports, an hour delay seems like the least of my problems.

With my short jaunt in Edinburgh, hotel stays in the Old and New Towns, loads of sightseeing and a day trip to the Highlands, I crammed a lot into five short days and there are some things I would have done differently, had I known before-hand. Don’t get me wrong – everything was amazing and Edinburgh really is a fantastic city, but cities this beautiful come with loads of tourist traps! Here are a few tid bits I’ve gained from my recent excursion:

Getting to Edinburgh

Ohhh… Lord. After so many flight cancellations and delays, I would now opt for taking the train from London! Obviously your plan of attack for getting to Edinburgh is going to vary based on your current location, but be aware that there are a number of ways to get to the city.

1. Fly. Something I’m not fond of anymore, but it’s quick if you’re going from London (1 hour, 20 minutes). With EasyJet, BMI and other discount airlines, you can get some seriously good deals, too!

2. Take the Train! Virgin Trains, East Coast… they’ll all get you there, and most for under £40 – £50 if you book in advance! Sometimes they have some really great deals! Expect it to take 4-1/2 to 6 hours depending on the number of stops, but you’ll get to take in some of the English countryside and some trains (East Coast) even have wi-fi!

3. Jump on the Coach. With National Express, you can get funfares for as low as £12 – £15 if you book at the right time… they’re definitely good for the budget traveler, but be ready to spend a loooonnng time on board. 7 – 10 hours is a good estimate depending on the weather.

New Town vs. Old Town

My first temporary home, the Royal British Hotel, was in the New Town on Princes Street directly across from Waverly Station. Looking down the road, the street was very reminiscent of Oxford Street in London: loads of shopping mixed with a bit of culture (Royal Scottish Academy, National Gallery, etc.). A few minutes walk into the New Town, you hit St. Andrew’s Square where you can catch a bus to Rosslyn Chapel and visit the likes of Louis Vuitton and Harvey Nichols. Definitely a modern shopper’s paradise! [The picture below is of me on Princes Street in front of the Christmas markets.]

My second stop was Jury’s Inn in the  Old Town of Edinburgh, right off of the Royal Mile. Like I had mentioned right after my jaunt over, there is a palpable difference between the Old and New Towns. Instead of Harvey Nichols and H&M, you’ll run into St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle and loads of kilt makers and Celtic jewelry stores. The roads are less perfectly paved and have more of the cobblestone and narrow alleys that you would expect of the old world.

[This shot was taken from the St. Giles area, looking down the Royal Mile in Old Town.]

Although it’s a matter of preference, I found the Old Town a lot more charming. Keep in mind, the invisible line that separates New from Old in Edinburgh is the rail station, essentially. If you cross through Waverly Station or cross over North Bridge, you can move easily from one area to another. If you’re on Princes Street or the Royal Mile, you’re pretty central!

Hotel Recommendations

Our two-day, unplanned stay at the Royal British Hotel was actually a pleasant surprise. Due to its proximity to the rail station, I wasn’t expecting much, but was quite surprised by the size and comfort of the rooms, the free wi-fi (never to be underestimated!) and cute café downstairs (Princes Street Café) where you can get a morning coffee plus a morning treat for £1.75. The prices were more than reasonable considering the last-second booking and the holiday season. You’re looking at between £51 – £65 per night and a comfortable size for two people.

Jury's Inn Room

The Jury’s Inn in the Old Town is also great, but for different reasons. My room was huge and my view was incredible. With three massive windows peering out into the snow-capped city, I really felt like I ended up with someone’s suite! The bathroom was also huge, with a full-sized bathtub for actually taking a bath (something I haven’t done in months)! It’s proximity to Old Town (the Royal Mile is in the hotel’s backyard) make it a prime location, plus it’s around one-third of a mile from the train station! The downside? Wi-fi is far from free. I had to rely on the web on my iPhone and the free wi-fi from the pub down the way [The Mitre] for most of my online needs. I would recommend this place for its comfort and spaciousness, but be aware of the internet situation – that was almost disappointing enough to nullify my love for this place. I got a great deal when I booked with Expedia (£200 for R/T tickets + 3 nights at this hotel), but a room here normally goes for £99+ a night.

Also, if you’re super budgeting, there are loads of hostels along the Royal Mile that would be worth checking out… do a bit of homework though, sometimes the £10 per night saved isn’t worth sharing a bathroom with 8 strangers!

Tourist Attractions

There are loads of attractions nearby: Edinburgh Castle, Camera Obscura and world of illusions, Haunted Tours, Rosslyn Chapel, Christmas Markets, Lyceum Theatre, Highlands tours, the National Gallery… the list goes on and on. So, if you’re here for a few days, what was worth the money? Well, that’s a matter of preference of course, but let me give you the down low on where I spent my money and where I would take it back, if possible. Keep in mind, in the winter the days are incredibly short with the sun disappearing entirely by 4P or 430P. With only a few hours of sunlight, you probably want to make the most out of every minute!

Freebies to Note:

There were a few freebies that I wasn’t aware of before heading to Edinburgh. I wish I would have known about them before my adventures, but they’re worth noting:

  1. A free tour of Edinburgh on foot! Although I didn’t partake in the tour, it leaves from the Starbucks in Old Town and it’s about 2 hours of sightseeing around Edinburgh. It’s definitely something that would be worth checking out early on in your excursion; good way to get acquainted with the area before undertaking your own adventures.
  2. National Galleries of Scotland. If this is anything like the National Gallery in London, it’s worth checking out. Plus, it’s free so even if it’s not exactly what you’re expecting, your only loss is a few minutes of time.
  3. Free ghost tour from Deacon Brodie’s Pub. Edinburgh is widely considered to be one of the most haunted cities in the world, so why not check out a ghost tour? There are tours like this that you can pay for (£5 – £10 depending on the company and length of tour), but there’s also this freebie! I probably would have checked it out if I were with someone… I didn’t want to scare myself silly while traveling alone. :)

Edinburgh Castle

£11 for entry with discounts for children & seniors but no discounts for students! If I had to go back and do it again, I probably would have saved the £11 and spent it elsewhere. You can walk up to the Castle and take some amazing pictures from the ticketing area without having to pay the entry fee. The views from the top are seriously gorgeous and worth the trek, but the money to get into the castle is only worth it if you’re with someone who loves the history that you’ll find within the castle. If I were with my dad, I would have been 100% more satisfied with the entirety of the situation. The pictures of the façade are what you want anyway, so only go in if you’re wanting to check out old chapels, museums, etc. See the amazing picture above? No entry fee required & it’s my favorite one of the bunch!

Camera Obscura

[If I were tall & had crazy cankles?]

If you have kids, this is a super fun little place! You’re looking at £8.50 for adults, £6.75 for students and seniors, £5.75 for kiddos (5 – 15) and under 5’s go in free! The building is comprised of five floors of illusions (holograms, crazy mirrors, optical illusions, etc.) with the top floor containing the ‘camera obscura’ where you can get a visual tour of Edinburgh in 15 minutes! It’s actually really cool and the views from top floor are superb! Some of the best pictures that I got of the city were from the rooftop. Check these out:

I mean seriously? How great are these pictures? I have a lot more where that came from — the views are really unsurpassed. I had more fun in this building & ended up with cooler pictures than I did at the Castle!

Highlands Tour

As your recall from my recent post, I undertook the longest day tour available in all of Britain a few days ago! From Edinburgh, we traveled all the way up to Loch Ness and Inverness, the capital of the Highlands. The tour was £34 (£36 for non-students) and comprised 400+ miles and 13 hours of tour time. The tour showed me a completely different side of Scotland, plus I got to do a Loch Ness cruise! How many people get to say that? I would say that the tour was definitely worth the money considering how much was covered and the quality of the tour guide. My only recommendation though would be taking Timberbush up on their 2 or 3-day Highlands tour, instead! I thought we covered a little too much in one short day — for a bit more money you can have a much more full experience.

Lyceum Theatre

I must say, just a few days ago I was so proud of myself for snagging my Peter Pan tickets for £11 with my student ID card! It seems like a great deal at the time considering adult tickets normally go for £22. Sadly, the play was not only a waste of £11, it was also a waste of three good hours that I could have spent elsewhere, taking in the sights. I don’t know if I had particularly high expectations or if the show was just a bit of a let down, but there are definitely better ways to spend your money. Some locally made Scotch, perhaps (Dalwhinnie)?

Christmas Markets

Who doesn’t love to feel like a kid during Christmastime? Ice skating, a German market, loads of fun Christmas goodies, a ferris wheel and mulled wine… Mmm… The whole area can be accessed from Princes Street (at The Mound) and it’s 100% free to meander! Bring some cash for mulled wine and Christmas treats, though!

Rosslyn Chapel

Ahhh… Rosslyn Chapel. Who has read the DaVinci Code and not wanted to visit this place? I had planned on visiting (you can easily access it by hopping on Bus 15/15A from St. Andrew’s Square in the New Town), but decided to save that for my next journey to Scotland. With my dad and Chris visiting within the next few months, Edinburgh Round II will definitely be in order and I would like to see something new! You’re looking at £7.50 for adult entry, £6 for students and seniors and free for under 16s! Not sure if it’s worth the money, but pictures of the outside at least are worth the £1 – 2 bus fee!

Hope some of that helps someone out there somewhere who’s interested in hitting up magnificent Edinburgh. It’s truly an amazing city…

Lots of love & Merry Christmas Eve!


Viva Munchen! {Part I: Oktoberfest}

Ahhh… back in London after nearly four days of German madness. Due to the fact that we had three(ish) days in Munich, we decided to spend one day at the beer tents, soaking in the debauchery that is Oktoberfest. Let me say this as a preface: even as a non-beer drinker, Oktoberfest is something all people should experience once in their life. We stayed at a place aptly dubbed “The Tent;”  inside of a massive tent (surprise) filled with glorious orange bunk beds. Some people opted for the cheaper alternative: bringing their own tent and sleeping outside.

The TentThe TentAlthough Germany gets a bit cold at night (even with three blankets and insane layers), The Tent was definitely a good choice; I paid a grand total 57 euros for three nights in Munich. I took 200 euros out at the airport, hoping that it would be enough for the four days, and actually left the country yesterday with nearly fifty euros in my wallet!

When we landed in Munich on Thursday night, Sarah & Lois (our Nova Scotian partners in crime/tour guides) led us down to the beer tents to expose us to the madness that would ensue on Friday. By 830P, of course, the scene was a bit calmer — many people had already gone home to pass out (or just walked into the street to pass out) so we managed a pretty good sneak-peek at the tents.

HippodromThe Hippodrom (complete with champagne bar) had been our dream tent. We managed to get inside and see the masses of drunkards enjoying themselves, but ended up hitting up two different tents on Friday due to the crazy line that formed Friday afternoon. I don’t know what my vision of the tents was exactly, but I was beyond amazed at the set up — it was like the biggest, greatest, brightest fair ever! The area was covered in beer tents, food stalls (pretzels, sausage, currywurst, nuts, etc.), and rides!

We spent Friday morning exploring the city centre and checking out some of Munich’s sights and architecture before hitting up the actual tents. We discovered that Munich has an obsession with H&M; we (seriously) saw seven within a quarter of a mile! Bargain shopper heaven, I tell you.

Munich CenterTown Hall{Their town hall was seriously amazing.}

After exploring, we finally felt ready to hit up the tents around 230P. We joined up with our two new Aussie friends that we had met at our hostel and hit up the Spatenbrau tent for some massively huge steins.

With Francesco from Napoli
We ended up finding a table surrounded by some seriously drunken/creepy Italianos and a few sweaty Danes; it was glorious, to say the least. Although getting hit on/harassed by drunkards is foreseeable, there is definitely a line between drunken banter and grossness. Unfortunately, Francesco from Napoli (pictured above) ended up being a super d-bag and developed a minor obsession with Alex’s shoulder/purse/general being. I’m not 100% sure what happened next, but some intense dialogue between said Italianos & our Aussie friends ensued and a mini fight broke out. Fighting is, of course, not desirable at tents of happiness, so we were evicted. The tent cops escorted all of us out of the tents. Francesco decided to make a break for it when we’d barely made it out of the tent; fortunately, one of our Aussie buds happened to be a cop and took him down so quickly it was amazing. It made for some amazing pictures and a truly impressive scene; you can try to piece this madness together:

Crazy Italian ManMark's Amazing Take Down!

Aftermath.Needless to say, we had to leave the area after some questioning.

We ended up hitting up another tent down the way where we witnessed at least three more fights (none nearly as amazing as Mark & Francesco’s). We ended up sharing a table with a group of seventeen year old Germans who proved to be hugely educational. First, they taught us how to toast properly:

To the titties, {raise stein to chest}
to the sack, {lower stein to nether regions}
tac-tac! {cheers!}

Sweet tee & cookie necklace.

Secondly, they taught us not to accept gifts from strangers. Earlier in the night we had been given heart-shaped cookie necklaces (see sweetness above) with German phrases written on them. The lady who gifted them to us prefaced the gifting with the following question: “Do you speak German?” After responding that we did not, in fact, speak German, she gave us said necklaces to adorn ourselves with. One of the kiddos at our table informed us that these cookies could be translated as such:

After sex, we do it again.

Needless to say, we had an all around amazing day at Oktoberfest. It was incredibly eventful from start to finish and we met some of the coolest people ever.

Stay tuned for Part II of our trip — an incredible trip to Dachau & our attempt to hit up the Erotic Messe.

Lots of love,

Signature Stamp - Shannon

I’ll Take That Dissertation To Go, Please!

If you’ve read any/all of my previous posts, you know by now that I am one plagued by grandiose dreams. I can’t visit France, I have to rent a flat in France for a week and explore the Louvre from top to bottom. I can’t book a weekend in Rome, I have to pre-schedule visits to art galleries and find a slew of restaurants I will be hitting up per Rachel Ray’s recommendations. I’m a planner. A planner who plans big. That being said, I have tentatively (very tentatively) planned a little map of fun for next summer. I specifically chose an accommodation provided by LSE that had a contract of 40 weeks (instead of the standard 52). July 3rd, which marks the last day of Lent Term, also marks the last day of my housing contract. After speaking with my graduate department, I have been assured that being in the UK is not mandatory during the summer. The only thing that is mandatory is that one’s dissertation is completed and submitted by September’s end in 2010. Well, being the advantageous Californian that I am, I have a well-thought out plan of attack for the 12 weeks that I would be homeless: Euro trip + hostels + rented villas = the life!


My plan from the beginning has been to spend the summer in hostels and/or homes that provide Wi-fi, so I can travel and see the world whilst working on my crazily important dissertation. I have no intention of letting my studies or responsibilities fall by the wayside, but I do think that if doing my dissertation in London isn’t required, then I will be using those 12 weeks to check out a load of European countries. With discount airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir providing amazing flight deals (£1, £5, £10, etc.), a little flexibility and an internet connection is all I will need to have a super fun-filled summer. Plus, with fellow students being interested in this madness, I know I have some partners in crime with which to share the costs of a villa.

On the list for next summer:

1. Portugal
2. Spain
3. France
4. Italy
5. Switzerland
6. Germany
7. Czech Republic
8. Belgium
9. Netherlands
10. Denmark
11. Turkey
12. Greece

With the amazing deals on hostels and on vacation homes, traveling is actually super affordable. Considering I am paying about £160 ($265) per week to have a place to live in London, any place that offers housing for the same amount (or less) per week, will fit into my plans perfectly. At that rate, anything that costs less than costs less than $35 – $37 per night is in my range and most hostels are much less than that (depending on the country)!

Amazing what discount airlines and one-star accommodations can afford us!

Signature Stamp - Shannon

Traveling Like A Princess {on a Pauper’s Budget!}

Half of my excitement for the upcoming year is rooted in the fact that I’ll finally get to travel to all of the places that I’ve dreamt about since the womb: France, Italy, Spain, Portugal… the list can go on and on. Of course, the downside of travel is that it costs money. Even if we snag an amazing deal on airfare or on train tickets, we’ll have to find a place to stay. After looking around, I’ve found loads of hostels that work well into a student budget. For €15-30 per night, we can stay in a fun little place and bond with fellow budget travelers. Cool. It works. It fits into our measly budgets & we’re able to see everything the world has to offer on a budget. Here’s the downside: whilst perusing hotels and hostels on Expedia (or some other amazing travel site) you see the real hotels — the ones that don’t involve 10 people to a room — and you’re enticed. You want to stay in a real place for a bit. A place where you don’t have to bring your own sleeping bag to ensure proper hygiene. I get it. Here’s an option that too often gets overlooked: vacation homes.

For example, in my idyllic world of amazing travels (aka Summer 2010), I will be traveling to the French Riviera for a little sunshine action; to Rome, for a little artistic inspiration, and to Greece, for a little cultural immersion. I’ve found awesome rentals on a couple of sites (although you can surely find a slew of websites that have similar offerings): craigslist and HomeAway. Both sites have a pretty amazing selection at totally affordable prices — in fact, they’re so affordable if you’re traveling in a group, I find it more cost effective that hostel living!

Here’s some pricing to give you an idea:

French Riviera:

A two bedroom apartment with internet, TV & Wi-fi has two beds (a bunkbed) and a double bed in the Master bedroom. Four people could comfortably fit in this place (and I’m sure you can squeeze 5 or even 6 with couch space) plus you have access to a kitchen, showers, and a balcony overlooking Nice.

€600 for the week! If you assume four people share the place (although you could have more!), you’re looking at €150 per week per person, or €21 per night (about $30)! Even though hostels are probably equivalent, you get the luxury of having your own shared flat or house, plus Wi-fi, TV, and all the amenities of a home!

Next stop — Rome, Italy:

A two bedroom, two bathroom apartment that sleeps five is a short walk from the Colosseum. This bad boy has a Master bedroom and then a second bedroom with three single beds plus satellite TV (not that you’ll be watching TV whilst in Roma). Plus there’s room in the living area with a sofa that could accommodate an extra visitor!

665 per week! With five people comfortably sharing this place, you’re looking at €133 per week per person, or €19 per night (around $27.50)! Check out this view and tell me it doesn’t beat a hostel!


Final stop — Athens, Greece:

Of course there are many Greek islands that would probably better be worth a gander, but we’ll use Athens as an example! This darling home, in a well-connected part of Athens, has three bedrooms and sleeps 8 people. It’s near the beach, the downtown area and close to loads of authentic Greek restaurants and hangouts. There’s a market nearby to purchase local fruits & veggies to cook in the kitchen.

Check out some of these shots:

{Worth €12.50 per night, right?!}

600 – 700 per week! At €700, with 8 people, we’re looking at €87 per week per person, or €12.50 per night ($18.13)! Seriously! What a steal. At that rate, you can have just six people occupy the huge place and still keep your costs super low.


Those places are pretty high up on my list, but I’ve looked for homes all over Europe and have managed to find some really amazing deals if you have a group to travel with! There are some really beautiful places to stay in Lisbon, Florence, Istanbul, Austria, etc., if you take the time to look!  Look for a place with Wi-fi (and some places even have phones with free calls to North America!) and you’ll be well connected so you can have fun during the day and work on your dissertation at night!

Note: Word on the street is that Greece and Portugal are two of the least expensive places to travel. Although the scenery is gorgeous, their respective economies have allowed us to snag some really amazing places on the cheap. On top of saving money on the stay, you’ll be able to save money on food, drinks and cultural excursions!

Happy travels — let me know where you’ll be heading this year!

Signature Stamp - Shannon

Hotel Hoopla:: Choosing a Hotel for Your Visit

Let’s be honest: the most frustrating and expensive part of travel is typically your temporary residence. You want to find a deal, since it can be so costly, but at the same time you don’t want a cheap-o hotel in a less-than-reputable part of town… you do want to enjoy your vacation or excursion after all. Well, I can tell you, I would (almost) always prefer a less expensive hotel — I would rather spend the money on sight-seeing, shopping or cultural events. Even if the hotel is a 2-star hotel lacking luxury… who cares? You’re only there to sleep and shower for the most part, right? Like I said, I’m not looking to get mugged, but I’m also not looking to spend $300 a night on a glamorous hotel when I could use those funds for a train ticket or airfare. Chris & I hit up San Francisco earlier this year and stayed at the Fairmont, which was a total eye-opener to me. Although the hotel is luxurious and has hosted a number of old school celebs, the room’s cost ($300 – $500+ per night!) was excessive for the service and amenities provided. The rooms were average sized, the service wasn’t spectacular (not to warrant the cost) and we had to pay for Internet ($15 per day or so)! I have stayed in Residence Inns and been more pleased. After that experience, I promised myself that 5 * hotels were not ever going to be on my personal menu again; more money definitely didn’t mean a greater experience. So, here’s a run down of some super cool hotels that are worth checking out.

Budget Hotels:

Choice Hotels International :: This chain includes familiar faces like Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Econolodge and the Clarion. Although the room costs are relatively low, many of these hotels include free high-speed Internet (to Skype at night), a continental breakfast (to energize your day’s travels), an indoor heated pool and a hot tub. I found a room for $59.99 for two people — not too bad!

* Holiday Inn::  Holiday Inn always offers great deals and special offers, depending on where you’re staying. Plus they have hotels all over the world! Although rates vary, I found rooms for $55 per night for two people. And — get this — each suite has a fully equipped kitchen with a full-size refrigerator, microwave, range, and dishwasher. Plus there’s free high-speed Internet and a desk for uploading pics to your facebook account at night!

* Best Western :: Super spacious rooms and some awesome amenities including high speed Internet (a must!), cable TV with HBO, a microwave, fridge and free continental breakfast. These guys run at around $65+ per night for two people. 

* Joie de Vivre Hotels :: This super cool hotel chain can be found in California. Although the rooms aren’t always inexpensive, you can find them from about $89. Plus courtesy of Joie de Vivre, check out 100 Affordable Things to Do {in California!}

* Hostels :: Let’s not forget — hostels are a fantastic way to travel on the cheap! Check out HostelWorld or Hostelling International to find rooms all over the world! If you’re wary of sharing your room with 10 other people, remember that you can spend a little extra and get a double or triple room for you and your friends! Many hostels offer free Wi-fi and kitchens for travelers. Typically even a double room in a hostel will be cheaper than a hotel.


Let me tell you from my personal experiences, when I am traveling and sight-seeing, I am there to truly travel and sight-see. I love getting up early in the morning and heading out for the entire day to enjoy the culture and diversity of a city. That being said, things like free high-speed Internet and a free breakfast mean something to me. I like being able to grab a quick cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal to fuel my day. Even better, I like being able to get back in at 10 or 11 in the evening to upload pictures, call people using Skype and blog about my day’s adventures. Those things really do add up! If you’re spending $55 a night for two people and your breakfast and Internet are included, that seems like a better deal to me than spending $40 for two and having to find an Internet cafe (or pay $2 – $5 per hour) and pay for breakfast. Weigh all the factors (maybe an on-site fitness center is worth the extra $5 per night for you versus trying to find the nearest gym?) before just picking the cheapest option <3.

** Note: For all of the pricing, I used Salt Lake City, UT as my point of interest — an average sized town with an average amount of tourism, unless otherwise noted. Costs will obviously vary depending on the city (NY will not be equivalent to Kansas City. Duh.)

Hostelling for Travelers!


Most of us are familiar with hostels. For some, the word conjures up images of a not-so-pleasant hole in a more than questionable area that students resort to out of necessity. Well, it’s most definitely time for us to wake up & recognize the benefits of hostelling. Hostels are actually a wonderful (read: inexpensive!) alternative to hotels for struggling students (or struggling non-students)! On a limited budget, it’s difficult to have to allocate a good portion of your funds to the place that you’ll use primarily for sleeping & bathing. That money could better be spent on tours, on admission to museums, on souvenirs or on food & drinks. Well, save some of that cash —  Hostelling International, a parent company overseeing around 4000 hostels in 80+ countries provides fairly comfy hostels for travelers (for a very reasonable price). Aside from being inexpensive, hostels have other advantages — they are wonderful meeting places for people sharing a desire to travel or for those looking to meet travelling buddies!

Hostelling International (HI) offers a membership for people interested in doing a lot of traveling and thusly, a lot of hostelling. The memberships are FREE for youth (those under 18), $28/year for adults, $18/year for Seniors (55+) or $250 for a lifetime membership. Although you can stay in a hostel without a membership, there are benefits to purchasing an annual or lifetime membership. Aside from having access to a huge network of hostels, members get discounted prices in many hostels, discounted trips and activities,  reduced price admission to museums and cultural centers as well as  savings in retail outlets!

Check it out and start saving money on accommodations! After all, how often do you want to be in your ho(s)tel when culture’s waiting outside your door?