Archive for October, 2010

When disneyland freezes over!

Posted: 25 October 2010 in Europe, Sweden

Stockholm’s number one must do!

I’ve seen a million and one photos of the Icebar. Icebar Vegas, Icebar London, and most important the Absolut Icebar Stockholm! Who wouldn’t want to party in 27 degrees Fahrenheit? The reason I compare it to Disneyland is because it brings happiness and also opperates like a ride. You have an appointment, or if you’re daring, just wing it at the end of the night. You sit in the waiting area, until they come out to give you your overly thick poncho with built in gloves. Don’t worry about bringing a coat, the ponchos are plenty warm. Then they shuffle you and about twenty-five of your closest friends into an icy wonderland. The bars are ice, the walls are ice, your glasses are also ice. There are plenty of fun places to take a photo with and everyone seems exceedingly talkative. Guess the cold makes you chatty.

Your first drink is included in the cover charge, and while they may offer refills for $15, you wont have time. Believe it or not, you only get about a forty-five minutes to explore the wonderland of ice. If you absolutely feel the need to live an icy existance just a bit longer, than by all means venture to the world famous Ice Hotel in northern Sweden. For most of us, less than an hour is sufficient. It’s more of an experience than a hang out. And it certainly worth it. If you happen to be staying at the Nordic Sea Hotel, you can usually get a discount or free ticket included with your hotel visit. Saves you at least $30 per person. And rest assured, all the Icebar and hotel staff speak English.

Skål!

The Icebar is located in the Nordic Sea Hotel, right next to the central train station; I recommend making an appointment one day in advance. Visit: http://www.nordicseahotel.se; Tel: +46 8 50 56 30 00; Vasaplan 4 Stockholm.

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There are two factors that should decide whether or not you are a good candidate for a hostel:

1. How old are you?

2. How many people are you traveling with?

Now, let’s put aside factors of prissyness, insecurity with strangers, and other obnoxious qualities, and look at this objectively. We will revisit those issues at the end.

Age

If you are between the ages of 18 and 24, then you probably still get all the youth discounts, you may not legally be able to drink in your home town, and this may be your first trip to Europe. This is when hosteling is ideal. Because you are young, you like to party and go out at night, and you don’t really care where you sleep as long as it is cheap and doesn’t smell too bad.

If you are over the age of 24ish…. then you are starting to enter the phase where you may have started a career, are a little more mature, don’t stay out till all hours of the night, and would really like a place to crash where no one will bother you… ever. Thus, I would advise against hostels. And suggest that you get a private room or stay in a hotel.

Numbers

If you are traveling by yourself, hostels are cheaper than hotels by at least half. If you are traveling with someone else, than you both need to be up for it. Because, the two of you could end up in a room with great people, or really gross, annoying, or otherwise unfortunate roommates.

If you happen to be traveling in a large party, like four, six, or ten people, than you could more easily find a room to fill, or dominate the room you are in. This gives you some home turf advantage. Do try and be courteous to the other people. Nevertheless it is comforting to know that the people around you are all your friends, except for Javier in the corner.

Factors into choosing which hostel:

Space. If it’s a private room than space shouldn’t be an issue. You can cozy up to your friends easily. This is an ideal time to do something fun, like staying on a boat Hostel. We stayed on the Gustaf av Klint in Stockholm, and ideal spot if you like boats. The cabins are very small and cozy. Great if you know all the people around you. If there are strangers though…. it becomes uncomfortable. So be aware. When we stayed in the Circus Hostel in Berlin, the room was really large, and even had a table and chairs in the center for doing whatever. Clearly it felt less obtrusive than the boat, even though we now had a room of six instead of four.

Bathrooms. Do you share the bathroom? And with how many people? This really only becomes detrimental if you happen to want to use the facilities at the same time as everyone else, or if you find yourself stuck with less than cleanly people. This is also an ideal time to find a discount. If you have a private room in a hostel or cheap hotel, sometimes the bathroom is still shared. You can save a lot of money this way, and you will often have a private sink or shower in your room. In Nice at Les Camélias we had a bathroom shared by only four people versus St. Christopher’s Village Inn in London, which had bathrooms shared by the whole floor, but offered hair dryers.

Beds. What kind of bed are you sleeping on? Having a good nights sleep might be really important to you. You may also be a sound sleeper, and would never feel the pea under the mattress. When we stayed at St. Christopher’s Village Inn in London, the beds were soft and cushy and warm. It was the best nights rest we’d had in a while. When we stayed at Les Camélias in Nice the beds were rock solid and the room was unbearably hot.

Ambiance. The Flying Pig hostels of Amsterdam range from resembling an opium den to having a “smoking” bar that seems to waft into your room at a constant rate… The Hostel Archi Rossi in Florence offered a private villa in a courtyard that was quiet and tranquil… Wombat’s Hostel in Berlin had a bar that seemed to serve twelve-year olds. Need I say it was loud and constantly busy?

Location. Some hostels are ideally located, while comparably priced hotels are in the middle of nowhere. Decide if you’d rather be close to everything, or don’t mind the commute.

Attitude. Venturing back to the aforementioned prissyness.

Problem: Refusing to sleep in a room with strangers. Solution: Bring five friends, and get a six bed hostel room.

Problem: Refusing to bunk with boys. Solution: Stay in an all female dorm. Or vice versa.

Problem: Questionable cleanliness. Solution: Visit sites like traveladvisor, and see what people have to say about upkeep. Some hostels are cleaner than hotels.

Other benefits to hosteling: It can be a lot more social; there’s usually internet to use; the staff will most likely know of fun and exciting things for young people to do. Which brings me back to how old are you? Let’s be honest, if you are of a wiser and more sensible crowd, you’re unlikely to make friends at the hostel. Make friends at the pub crawl instead.

Put the phone down!

Posted: 25 October 2010 in Europe, Travel Tidbits

Dear world,

it is very much a possibility to take a vacation without technology. Our phones seem to be glued to our faces, which is ironic, because I grew up without a phone, at all… And it was a really nice existence. We feel the necessity to have phones at all times, because our work, our family, and life in general, expect us to be at their beckon call. Guess what, sometimes we just need a break. So when you go on vacation, ditch the phone! First of all your hotel will have a phone, your neighbor will have a phone, and if you’re in a well populated area, you’re probably close enough for other people to hear you scream if you get in trouble. Debate all you want, but my actual point is to tell you what tech you should bring with you.

Do’s

1. A Watch. Do you even own a watch? Not many people do. Mostly because we use our phones too often for telling the time. Just try and have a functional watch on your wrist, and you’ll find it the most useful gadget you brought along.

2. A Hairdryer from the country you’re going to. Yes, we can pile on a million converters. But, if you want your hair to look great, just go to the nearest electronic store and get a $20 no-conversion-necessary hairdryer, and save yourself the headache. Note: Call the place you plan to stay at, it might come with a hairdryer already.

3. Detergent. I know it’s not technology-based, yet it is one of those things that can be either difficult to find, or expensive to buy. Tide makes great travel packs that you can carry onto the plane.

Don’ts

1. A Laptop. If you are staying in a hotel, than OK… you can get away with it. However… Hostels and laptops do not mix. You either have to keep it on your person indefinitely or it will get stolen. Do you really think a rinkydink lock will keep someone from stealing your laptop? Think again. Secondly, learn to detach. No one really needs a status update minute to minute. That’s why there are internet cafes.

2. Electric toothbrush. Sounds silly, but it’s much easier to carry a regular toothbrush, than to carry chargers and converters.

3. A Camera (attached to your face). I know what you’re thinking “Never! How could I not take a picture of everything?!” I don’t want you to not bring it, but try to at least enjoy some of your trip without looking through the lens. Whenever you see a famous landmark: take a deep breath, soak it all in, talk to your friends or family about it. Then, after all that, you can take a photo.

Things to look for:

Internet! Internet cafes are everywhere, and usually cost only a couple dollars per hour. It’s pretty reasonable, and if you can’t find one right away, just ask a local, they’ll probably know. Also try the library! I know it’s a novel concept, but often they will have free internet for people with library cards. If you don’t have a card. Get one. It makes a great souvenir. It’s free. And you can use your hotel address. It usually works. Except in New York….

Laundry! Some cities don’t have laundry facilities readily available. So when planning your journey, also plan where you’ll have access to laundry. If you think that you’ll just wash stuff in the sink… remind yourself how many other people might need to use that sink. Most big cities should have a good option, or their might be laundry in your hostel or hotel. This is one aspect where forethought is key. Never wing it when it comes to clean clothes!

Other useful packing ideas:

Everyone knows how to buy travel sized bath products. But make sure you have a money belt; copies of your passport and credit card numbers; address of the embassy; knowing how to get to and from airports and train stations.