Friday, April 18, 2014

Autoslash for Lower Rental Rates

Autoslash (www.autoslash.com) is a Website that promises to secure the best deal on car rentals by finding the best coupons, tracking rental rates constantly, and searching multiple vendors. You can also use it if you have already booked a rental car online.

From what I could tell on their Website, the service is confined to the United States, at least at present. Car rental is one of the most opaque areas of travel costs. There are all sorts of rates, and then there is the question of insurance. I often rent cars in the U.S., and have been surprised to find that the collision damage protection provided by my premium credit card is not acceptable at some rental companies. You must also have private insurance on your own vehicle if you wish to decline the often exorbitantly-priced rental car company insurance.

Buying the insurance offered by the rental car company can easily double or even triple in some cases the cost of a car. However, if you are not a car owner, you may have little other choice. Even if you decline to buy the insurance, laws in most U.S. states provide some liability coverage for third-party damages in event of an accident. But without insurance, you could be on the hook for the entire cost of your rental car and other charges if you are involved in a serious accident.

I have yet to book a car rental online (I prefer to prefer to check rates by phone,) but if I ever do I will consider booking through Autoslash for convenience and savings.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Best Choices for 2014

According to Budget Travel magazine, the best value travel destinations for this year are spread around the globe. Their number one choice is South Africa, followed by Venice, Italy and the Dominican Republic.

Buenos Aires is fourth, then Orlando, Florida, Atlantic Canada, Philadelphia and Warsaw, Poland.he final two are Seoul, South Korea and Riga, Latvia.

As I mentioned in another recent post, South Africa is a fascinating country, but air fare to reach it can be costly. One of the bargains there is the entrance fee to Kruger National Park, only about $20 and all the wildlife you can spot. Hotel rates in the country are down about seven per cent from last year compared to the U.S. dollar.

Venice is a gorgeous city, but I have always found it kind of a rip-off for the average tourist. The baggage handlers at the port were, in my experience, very money-hungry and except for the public vaporettos plying the canals, bargains were very few.

Buenos Aires is worth a visit, and tickets for a concert at the beautiful Teatro Colon start at only about $10. Hotel prices are lower than last year by about 8 per cent. However, for my money the real beauty of Argentina is found in its natural wonders such as Iguassu Falls.

Atlantic Canada is a pleasant summer destination, much less crowded than most resort areas in nearby New England. Philadelphia is a good weekend escape, with lots of history, great museums and culture. Warsaw is another very interesting city--don't miss the free piano concerts on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer at Lazienki Park.

To read the whole story in Budget Travel, so to http://budgettravel.com/features/10-best-budget-destinations-for-2014, 19628/.

Thanks for reading, guys. On two recent days the page view count surpassed 1,000, a record for this blog.

With regard to the last post on Brit in Ukraine, Phillips reports today that he was kidnapped by militia from the Donbass People's Army and forced to undergo a drug test, which luckily he passed. This type of independent reporting is valuable, but can be hazardous in a quasi-war zone.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Brit in Ukraine

For up to date video posts about developments in Ukraine by an independent journalist, check out http://grahamwphillips.com. He has been posting a lot lately, as things heat up again. Recent posts are from Sloviansk and Donetsk, and I saw some earlier ones from Odessa where he was asking passsers-by which they favoured, Russia or Ukraine. The answers seemed to be about equally divided.

Phillips is 35 and has worked for media such as ITN, Pravda and the Kyiv Post, among others. His Russian seems good to me, though I am certainly no expert. This is often not the case with network journalists who must usually rely on translators. It is interesting to see how much an independent reporter who is willing to tell and show us what is going on can discover in this part of the world.

Warning to the politically correct--some sentiments expressed by Russians and Ukrainians interviewed may be offensive. This is a different culture, and they do things differently there, including sometimes thinking and talking about politics in ways that would not be acceptable in the West..

Phillips says he will not accept advertisements on his site, a policy which I applaud and follow myself.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Which Side for the Cossacks?


I saw on the news that the unrest plaguing eastern Ukraine has now reached Zaporizhzhya, home of the Zaporizhzhyian Sich of Cossacks. The riders shown above are modern re-enactors of some of the extraordinary feats of horsemanship performed by Cossacks. I saww one guy who stood atop two galloping horses, another who rod underneath the horse.

Cossacks were originally sent by Russia to fight for and hold the territory of southeastern Ukraine against the Tatars in the 16th century, but they were later joined by escaped serfs, convicts and others who were not happy in Mother Russia. There were only two requirements to be a Cossack--you had to be male and Christian. According to the Bradt guidebook on Ukraine, modern Ukrainians regard them as the precursors of their first independent government.

Today I suspect Cossacks like the actors above find themselves divided between those who support Ukraine's current government and those who favour closer ties with Russia. In any case, I would definitely want these guys on my side.

If you happen to visit Zaporizhzhya, don't miss the Cossack Museum on Khortytsya Island in the Dnieper. It tells the story of this group of men and the surrounding area, and admission is very inexpensive, probably less than $1.

Cossacks were also noted for dancing, and you can view a modern day Cossack dance troupe at www.zapcossacks.com.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Boston More Costly than Budapest

According to a report in the Daily Mail (www.dailymail.co.uk,) a weekend in Boston, Massachusetts will cost quite a lot more than a similar weekend for two in Budapest, Hungary. The Boston break comes to $647 U.S., compared with $184 U.S. in Budapest. (I have changed the original British pound figures at the rate of $1.57 U.S. equals one pound.)

The higher cost of hotels in Boston accounts for most of the difference, but meals too are inexpensive in Budapest. A three course meal with wine for a couple costs just about $41 in Hungary`s gracious capital. I haven`t been to Budapest since the bad old days of Communism, but even then the food was exceptionally good. And the price for a meal now sounds like a bargain, since last week at the Alpenhaus, a Swiss-themed restaurant in Montreal, a main course with wine came to about $40 U.S. for one.

Vilnius, Lithuania is only slightly more expensive than Budapest, while Warsaw, Poland and Prague, Czech Republic are also relatively cheap in this survey. The least costly place in Western Europe  for a weekend break turned out to be Lisbon, Portugal.

The prices do not include the cost of travel, unfortunately, or we could all nip over to Budapest next weekend for an inexpensive Easter meal.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Cheap Bus Travel in Germany

Several bus lines in Germany are offering unusually inexpensive fares in that country. According to an article on www.eurocheapo.com it is possible to travel between some German cities with special offers for as little as one euro, about $1.50 U.S.

The lines include www.berlinlinienbus.de, www.meinfernbus.de, and www.adacpostbus.de. They provide service mainly in the centre and north of Germany, but Mein Fern Bus also goes to south Germany and plans to travel to Austria in the summer. You can book tickets on their Websites, but for special deals you may have to become a fan on www.facebook.com.

Sample fares include Berlin to Hamburg from 9 euros, Dusseldorf to Erfurt from 26 euros, and Hamburg to Leipzig from 23 euros. Many of these buses leave from the bus station at Berlin Zoobahnhof right in the centre of the city, so you can also check there if you happen to be in Berlin and want to make a quick getaway.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

EasyHotels Expanding

The hotel brand www.easyHotel.com is growing quickly, with hotels not just in its home market of the United Kingdom, but across Europe and into Asia, Africa and the Middle East. This year the chain is planning to open hotels in Croydon, a suburb of London, as well as in Prague, Czech Republic and Frankfurt, Germany.

The brand is somewhat opaque--the only way you can book a room is on their own Website, and I had to examine several hotel reviews to find out whether or not rooms included private toilets (they do.) However, rooms are very small and some lack windows--to get a window you have to pay more. The standard room size ranges from eight to 11 square metres, and some rooms are even smaller and less expensive.

The rate structure is based on saving by booking far ahead, and avoiding peak demand periods. I checked the rate for a room at the easyHotel in London near Victoria Station and discovered it would cost 79 pounds ($132 U.S.) for a date late in May. However, if you book far enough ahead you can find a central London room at an easyHotel for 35 pounds ($58 U.S.) or less.

Generally the reviews I read were positive, though readers were warned that you get what you pay for. In pricey cities such as London or Zurich, Switzerland (where rooms at the easyHotel start at 69 Swiss francs or $78 U.S.,) these hotels may be worth exploring, especially if you can book a number of months ahead.

When the new easyHotel in Croydon opens, you can pick up the makings of lunch or dinner downstairs at the new easyFoodstore, the first of its kind.