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zoya
HT - with some planning, you can totally do it. Europe is so much easier to travel in than the states, IMO. some things to consider:

1) like the other girls have said, pack light. If you can do a backpack or carryon size roller bag, do it. That's how EVERYONE (ie: the europeans) travels in europe. You can always tell an american by the gigantic suitcases they bring! (I'm guilty of this, but I'm getting better) Pack all things that will mix and match easily- lots of blacks, maybe one pair of jeans, a skirt, etc. remember, Europe IS civilized. you don't need to bring full size toiletries - you can always buy more if you need them, (as a matter of fact, travel size toiletries are much more prevalent in the drug stores over here) and you can do laundry when needed. much better to travel light than to get stuck hauling a bunch of crap around.

2) plan out your trip in advance. do tons of research online. If you're in Europe for 2 weeks, maybe find 4 cities you want to visit and spend like 4 days in each one. You can base in each city and do day trips out from there. That might also help you to find your 'base' cities - see what other things / cities that are close that are easily accessible. Then when you travel between. your "base" cities, you can fly if needed (I second the train, though) I like to make sort of a loose schedule for Holidays. I plan the hell out of my actual travel and lodging, making sure that everything is totally set in stone so there are no suprises (for example: call your hotel or place you're staying in advance to confirm your reservations, or make sure they know you're coming. no time waster and sanity buster like showing up somewhere and they dont have any record of you coming) And I super research things to do in and around that city. Usually I'll make a list and stick it in the guidebook I bring (Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are the best, IMO) but I don't actually plan WHEN I'm going to do those things. I might have a loose idea, but I'm really flexible. It is a holiday, after all! That way, I can be as leisurely as I want to be, but I'm not completely clueless and lost when I want to do something. And I don't have to waste time on figuring out things I want to do.

3) Once you're there - if you want to find cool restaurants or bars, or stores to go to.... find a local that looks cool, and don't ask them "what is there to do?" (because they'll inevitably send you to touristy stuff) but ask them "what bar would YOU go to?" or "Where would YOU go to shop?" etc. - like if you're into art, go to an art museum and ask some cool looking person who works in the cafe or bookstore. Or if you stumble upon a hip clothing store you'd like, ask the clerk there. This tactic works wonders. Because if you get them out of "oh they're a tourist" headspace, and in to THEIR headspace, you'll get some great suggestions. I've found some of the coolest bars / shops / restaurants that way all over the place.


So, as to places:

I'd second eastern europe, but it can be a bit difficult if you want to do both eastern and western europe (unless you plan your schedule out really well in advance) because it is pretty far apart. however, there are cheap airfares, so it's doable. As far as eastern europe, I'd suggest Zagreb (Croatia), Warsaw (Poland - I've never been to Krakow, but I've also heard it's great), and this is way off the beaten path, but Istanbul is absolutely amazing. One of the best places I've ever been.

I wouldn't rule out Italy. Italy is excellent. The food is great, the people are lovely, it's not all that difficult to find budget lodging there, and you can get cheap fares to Rome or Milan pretty easily. Cities I'd suggest in Italy... Honestly, I'd avoid Rome unless you were going to spend quite a bit of time there. Its just such a big city with so much to see that it can be overwhelming. If you're trying to take in a few countries on your trip, I'd stick with smaller cities in Italy that you can see more of. Florence would be a great city to visit. Or you could go to Venice (believe it or not, there ARE cheap hotels in venice, or you can stay in Treviso, which is about 30 min away by train) if you can swing it, I'd highly recommend at least spending one night in Venice. Most of the tourists leave after about 6 pm, so if you stay up late and run around at night, it becomes truly magical. Do your homework, study up about the city and look at people's travel blogs about it. if you do it right, you can avoid the tourist crunch and have a great time.

I'm also partial to Berlin. And Lisbon is wonderful.

UK can be really expensive, because of the exchange rate. You could always come up to Scotland, where it's a bit cheaper and really beautiful (I'm partial) and there are castles about every 3 feet. (ok, well you know what I mean)

Sybarite, you forgot Dublin! great city to visit with cheap flights to get there and it's not too difficult to find fairly cheap lodging.

ok, that's my .02 cents.
beck
ooh more good ideas here, I definitely agree on Istanbul - amazing (especially the food, which is always my top priority for any holiday). For city guides, I can't recommend Time Out guides highly enough - their maps aren't always the greatest but they can't be beat for restaurant and culture recommendations.

another thing I forgot earlier - find out when feeding time is in your country of choice as it really varies - in Barcelona people eat late (like 10pm - if you go at 7 or 8 the restaurants will be dead) but I remember in Venice really struggling to find a restaurant still serving at 9:30 after we arrived there in the evening starving hungry. (can you tell i like my food wink.gif?)
zoya
beck - I totally forgot about the Time Out guides! They are great!

one place you NEED to know if you are in Venice again (or anyone who plans on going to Venice) - Campo Santa Margartia. It's a plaza with tons of bars and some little cafes all around it, and it's where all the local young people go to hang out. As you know, Venice is a really early city, but Campo Santa Margarita and a bit of the area around it are usually going until at least midnight, if not 1 or 2 am. And it's a great place to hang out, because you hardly see any tourists, mostly locals. You usually have to ask someone where it is (it's on most maps too) and they all think you're nuts, because they think that as a tourist, you'd rather go to some overpriced mojito bar that is on the edge of the Rivoli bridge, but once you convince them that you really want to go there, they'll laugh and point you in the right direction...

oh, and it's cool you've been to Istanbul - it's the place I've been recommending to EVERYONE these days. it's seriously the best time I've had anywhere in years. such an amazing, fun place.

ETA: I meant RIALTO bridge in Venice.... I was thinking of the city of Rivoli when I wrote that... whoops.
hellotampon
Wow! I came back to a TON of great information, thanks guys!

I definitely want to backpack now, so I can see more countries. I'll probably be back for more questions after I do some research.
sarasota
i'm heading out to baltimore for a week soon for an art fair and i've never been before. anyone know of any good stores or places to go?
likeanyother
Hmm, I’m not entirely sure this is the right thread, but I was wondering if anyone has done the teaching English abroad thing? I’m in the uncomfortable situation of bursting with wanderlust, yet so poor and in debt. So, I figure working and living abroad is the best way to reconcile my situation. I’ve looked into it a little and it seems that South Korea is the best deal right now, as they pay for your accommodations and airfare.

So, I’m just looking for opinions on teaching English abroad in general, as well as any input on living in South Korea, specifically Seoul. (Or, if anyone could direct me to a previous discussion in this or any other thread it would be much appreciated.)
erinjane
Actually I wasn't very clear in my post. I'm going to be all over Europe as well so I'm stealing all your advice for hellotampon. tongue.gif I'm getting together with my travel buddy this week to figure out how long I want to be there.
tankgirl
I don't know if this is the appropriate thread for this. I was wondering if anyone had any experience in moving 5ish states away without a license. Like, what is the cheapest way to do it. Traveling with animals etc... If this isn't the right thread, please direct me to the right one because I couln't find anything tongue.gif
erinjane
I'm getting super excited to leave and cross the pond. I'm meeting with my travel buddy on Thursday to see what kind of plans we have. At first I was thinking of just staying two extra weeks but now I'm thinking of staying until the end of June (april 23rd-may 19th with my family, may 19th-whenever with my friend around Europe). I'm going to the library today to pick up some books because I don't really know where I want to go either than 'all over'. I think I'll be doing a lot of couch surfing to save money and probably traveling by train because I'll be there for at least 3 weeks.

I can completely see myself getting addicted to traveling fast. A friend of mine is in Thailand right now and keeps posting pictures and it's giving me new ideas for the future. biggrin.gif
zoya
erinjane - if you are going to make it to the UK, PM me - we have a great bunch of busties over here who can show you around, etc etc!!!
erinjane
Absolutely I'll be there for a 2-3 weeks in April-May. I'll PM you when I have a few more details.
edie52
Erinjane- if you're planning on staying for about 3 weeks, the Eurail pass with 5 days of travel within 20 days might be good for you. You've probably researched this, but it just popped into my head. They have all kinds of other plans too, and it's cheaper if you choose less countries. But be careful! They won't let you go through any country that's not on your pass. My boyfriend dealt with this, he had to go the long way (through Switzerland, not Austria) to get from Rome to Munich. It was an unpleasant surprise. But I'm sure almost everyone plans things better than us.

And I think you should definitely stay until the end of June if you can! There is just way too much to see. Though if you're only going to travel by train I recommend not choosing destinations that are too far from each other. Last month my boyfriend and I were like "yeah, we''re going to take the train from Sweden to the south of France, then swing down to Rome, up to some small German towns to visit friends, and then hopefully still have a week in Berlin (all in just over 2 weeks)!" It was tight. Everything worked, except that our time in Italy was really short. Don't spread yourself too thin. Train travel is really nice but I find it still wears on me, I got grumpy and almost sick.

Can't wait to hear about where you decide to go!
erinjane
I'll actually just be in the UK for the first 3 weeks, then after that I'm hoping to do the traveling around for another 3-5. But I'm really leaning toward staying out the end of June too. AND a bonus tonight was that I found out its only gonna cost me $100 to change the date on my return ticket. We thought it was going to end up being about $600. Woo! I'm definitely looking at the eurail pass. Looked like a pretty good deal to me, especially if I give myself from mid-may to the end of june and take my time with one of the non-consecutive passes.
jcravens
QUOTE(likeanyother @ Feb 23 2008, 08:45 PM) *
if anyone has done the teaching English abroad thing? I’m in the uncomfortable situation of bursting with wanderlust, yet so poor and in debt.


A lot of reputable overseas placement agencies now do credit checks on applicants specifically to screen out people who are running away from credit card debt.

You might try looking through the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree message boards. I doubt you will have to post -- your question has probably been asked, and answered, many times.

I'm not crazy about these kind of programs myself, because of the horror stories I read about them (volunteers or paid staff not receiving training, female participantss placed in homes where they are sexually harassed -- or worse -- etc.). For every program you hear about, type in the name into google along with words like "awful" or "rip off" or "stay away," and if there are negative stories out there, you will probably find such.

I have a list of questions to ask volunteer placement organizations; I think you might find these helpful:
http://www.coyotecommunications.com/volunteer/vetting.html
jcravens
QUOTE(edie52 @ Feb 14 2008, 10:46 AM) *
My favorite city: Berlin. It's a special place (the east-west thing, beautiful classical stuff in the west and awful soviet architecture in the east, but cool people and affordable eats in both parts).


I want to second this Berlin recommendation. It's one of my favorite cities in Europe. It's easy to get around using mass transit, the art and history museums are fantastic, great food, all sorts of bars and restaurants, good shopping, fun people... really a treat. I fell in love there with the man who is now my husband... awwwwww.

I also really love Barcelona, Brugges (Belgium), Hamberg, Prague and Paris. I love all of Northern France (Normandy and Brittany are soooo beautiful, and the food is beyond fabulous).

I was underwhelmed by Amsterdam, but am going to give it another chance, since everyone says it's so wonderful. Madrid is, to me, a city for those who want to party and dance the night away. The only thing I really liked about it was the Prado and an Irish pub I found.

I loathe Geneva (didn't find it charming and the people were beyond rude) and Naples is nasty, but if you have to be there, Pompeii and Herculeneum are amazing.

I live near Bonn, Germany. It's rather snotty and there isn't much to see. But the wine country to the South is fabulous (both red and white wines), and nearby Cologne is a good city if you know where to go (other than the cathedral, it's not obvious what there is to see there; you need a really great city guide).

Just remember that you cannot do it all -- don't try. Enjoy wherever you are, and take your time to do so!
jcravens
QUOTE(cecilia @ Feb 13 2008, 05:18 AM) *
Check out ryanair.com - they have a lot of cheap flights.


Also check out German Wings and Hapagg Lloyd. Their flights are often cheaper than taking the train (though worse for the environment, ofcourse).
erinjane
So here's the basic outline of our plans thus far.

April 23-May 19th - In the UK and Scotland with my family

April 19th-June 23-27th - Traveling all over Europe with my friend.

This is the rail pass I'm going to get: http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/passes/e...h_flexipass.htm
But I'm not sure if I should get the 10 or 15 day pass. Do you think 5 weeks is enough time for the 15 day pass? I'm leaning towards the 15 day pass but I honestly have no idea if I'm being overly ambitious or not. I know we both want to see as many places as we can but we don't want to be crazy rushing all over the place.

Ideas?
edie52
Erinjane, I can't give you a definite answer, obviously, but I'm also leaning towards saying the 15 day pass, since you have 5 weeks. I had a 5-days-within-10-days pass, and I used all of the days (though we were traveling at a pace I wouldn't recommend). Keep in mind you can also use it for day trips (using only one day on the pass to go and come back). I didn't get a chance to do that but it seems like a great opportunity. So even if you end up staying in one city for a week, it doesn't necessarily mean you won't use your pass- you can go see villages or the countryside.

On the other hand, if you know where you want to go and plan it well, 10 days would probably be enough- you could still travel every 3 or 4 days.

Where are you flying home from? Do you have to make your way back to, say, the UK in June? That's something I'd also look into soon. If you still don't have a return ticket I would consider flying out of somewhere like Paris, since it's on the continent and more central, and you could maybe get back there using your train pass if you plan it properly. You can get cheap tix out of Paris with Zoom, but not to Winnipeg.

I'm having some problems with Ryanair- does anyone know if it's possible to get a hold of them?? I messed up while buying a ticket and bought the wrong one, and I want to change it. However I think I might be stuck with it. They're impossible to get a hold of. I'm beginning to see why they're considered a horrible company by many. (That's just one of the reasons.) Lesson here: check, and double check, before you finalize online purchases of plane tickets!! (I guess that should go without saying.)
erinjane
Thanks for the advice. We got a 50% off airfare deal which unfortunately means I have to make my way back to the Heathrow Airport at the end of it all. I didn't think of the day trip thing. I think I will get the 15-day one. I'd rather have too many days than not enough.
bunnyb
erinjane, whereabouts in Scotland will you be?

I think zoya suggested it previously but if you are in Scotland for a while you should try to book a cheap flight (Ryanair or Aer Araan) to Dublin for a short visit.
erinjane
I really want to do that, the only problem is that I'm traveling with my family at that point. Which is bad and good...bad because there's less flexibility for getting away from them, but good because my parents are paying for our accommodations! biggrin.gif I know we'll be in Edinburgh but I'm not too sure where else yet...I keep bugging my dad to give me an outline of our itinerary so I can get planning.
sybarite
Edie: the short answer IRT Ryanair is that you probably are stuck with the ticket. Is there any way you can use it? I hope you didn't pay too much...

Also beware with all the cheapie airlines that the default options on their websites usually include paying to check in your bags, sometimes built in insurance and further 'invisible' charges. Check all the charges carefully when you buy your ticket; if you're travelling around you probably will be checking bags, but I have to be careful to uncheck the check-in box as I never check mine.

I'm going the opposite direction smile.gif. Does anyone know anything about Jamaica? I'm thinking of staying in Negril, which I hear has the best beaches and isn't too enclave-y...
hellotampon
If I'm staying in Europe for 2 weeks and visiting 4 cities, will it be economical to get a railpass?
zoya
erinjane -

it's a 50 minute train ride from Edinburgh to Glasgow and you should (well I think) come check it out, even just for a day. OR come on over and spend one night then go back to Edinburgh. Trust me, Edinburgh is beautiful, but it's good for about 2 days of interesting stuff, and there's not really any nightlife to speak of. You MUST come out for a night in Glasgow! I think that bunnyb, Sybarite, and Mornington can attest to that. Besides, it's got better shopping and better museums than Edinburgh.

Oh, and while you're in scotland, make your family go to Stirling Castle as well as Edinburgh Castle. It's way more important historically and you can also go to the Wallace monument. Also go to Rosslyn Chapel, which is 6 miles out of Edinburgh. You won't be sorry.
edie52
Hellotampon- I think so. Those passes are designed so that you save money, in almost every case. There's a pass with 5 days of travel in 20 days, which would be good for you- you'd have one or two days left over for a day trip or in case one of your journeys takes 2 days. But, I think it really depends what countries you'll be visiting. In Germany, for example, individual tickets are effing expensive- it cost me over $100 to get from Munich to a smaller city about 3 hours away. And bus lines there are virtually non-existent (however, they have a thriving online carpooling community). But in Spain, I've heard it's often more convenient, and very affordable, to take the bus, because the train lines branch out from Madrid in all directions, sometimes making it inconvenient to get from one place to another if they're not on the same line. And in eastern Europe, individual tickets are pretty damn cheap. Also, if the cities are close to each other buying individual tickets will cost less (again, depending on the country).

It also depends how many countries you'll be visiting- I think they offer passes with 3, 4, or 5 bordering countries, or unlimited- and of course the price changes depending on that.

ETA- HT, check out eurolines.com if you want to price out individual bus tickets, to compare it to the train pass price.

Sybarite- I've pretty much accepted that I'm stuck with the ticket. I can't sell it, because a name change is 100 euros. I just bought another ticket, because the website wouldn't let me change for the one I needed- only more expensive, inconvenient ones! It's impossible to reach a human. They're awful!

The only time I can maybe use it is when I go back to Canada in May- because I'm not flying out of where I am now. But the problem there is that I have way too much stuff. So on that note, does anyone know about shipping a suitcase on a bus or train through several countries- how it's done, how much it costs?
tesao
hi! bumping the thread for bob4both. he used to bust here with his girlfriend a while ago. he is going to Johannesberg on business and wanted to ask for information about RSA in general and Joberg in particular.

i'll come back and post more about that in a bit; i'm swamped at work and need to go.

my 2 centavos about eurail passes: best thing i ever did! can't say enough good things about them!
sybarite
Happy to help on anything to do with J'burg and RSA...
erinjane
What would be the best way to bring funds with me? We're sticking to western and some parts of central europe and I'm not really sure what I should use. I heard about the Visa travel card and I'm wondering if that's the best way to go.
edie52
I'm not sure what the Visa travel card is (and I'm too lazy to Google it right now). But I have a normal Mastercard (with the National Bank of Canada) and it has worked almost everywhere (ok, once it caused a cash register to crash, and for some reason in Denmark they didn't take it because it doesn't have a pin code). And I use my regular bank card (also NBC) to take out cash, the bank just charges a fee of a few dollars. My boyfriend has different cards, a regular Visa and a Royal Bank interac card, they also worked just fine. Occasionally an ATM wouldn't take his card, so he'd just go to the next one and that always worked. There'll be a little logo on the machine that should also be on your card, you know like "Plus" or "Cirrus."

Are there special benefits for the Visa travel card?
bunnyb
erinjane, for anything paid for in the UK you have to use chip and pin (edie, this may have been the same in Denmark) where your card has to be (micro)chip enabled, scanned and authorised by your pin number rather than a signature. zoya or sybarite may be able to tell you which North American cards are compatible with our system or if the systems simply revert to signature because it's a card from overseas.
edie52
Bunnyb, that probably was the case in Denmark, and also, I haven't been to the UK and I think that's where Erin will be spending a lot of her time, so... yeah. I may be doing more harm than good with my advice!
erinjane
We're actually hoping to hit:

Paris, France -> Antwerp, Belgium -> Amsterdam, Netherlands -> Berlin, Germany -> Prague, Czech Republic -> Vienna, Austria -> Florence, Italy -> Rome, Italy -> Naples, Italy -> Dubrovnik, Croatia -> Corfu, Greece -> Naples, Italy -> Nice, France -> Toulouse, France -> Paris, France -> Calais, France -> Dover, England -> London, England

I'm worried because the only card I have that has a pin is my credit union debit card. I can't use my mastercard to take out cash as far as i know.
zoya
erinjane -

They do mostly use chip and pin in the UK (it's the type of credit card that have the little gold sim card looking thing in one end, and instead of swiping it, you stick that end in a reader, and then type in your pin instead of signing a slip) BUT I've been able to use my american debit card and credit cards everywhere in europe and the UK - all their terminals will swipe US-style credit cards as well, and you sign a slip just like the US. You just have to tell them that it doesn't have a chip, that they have to swipe it (it should be obvious that there is no chip on the card, but they're just so used to doing it that way you have to tell them) sometimes they'll have you try to stick the card in the chip and pin card reader, and usually I just do it to show them it wont work and they have to swipe it - but I've never really had a problem other than convincing them they need to swipe it.

ATMs work exactly the same as in the US. Once in a while you'll run in to an ATM that won't take your card, but there will probably be another ATM within a few blocks that will. (and that hardly ever happens)

you could get a VISA travel card if you wanted to, just so you could pre-load it with money and have that set amount, but it will work the same way as any other American credit card.

My only suggestion, is to check and see if you get a service charge from your credit card company or bank (if you have a credit card / debit card from there) for using it to pay for stuff overseas. Some banks and credit card companies charge a service charge for charges made outside the states. It's stupid. So I'd say check, and use the one that doesn't.

anyway, to sum it up, I've had no problem either in the UK or Europe using American Visas or Mastercards - either credit or Debit. (amex is the one card that not everyone takes. but they all take Visa or Mastercard) I would say to have some cash in your pocket, because once in awhile you'll go into a little store that doesn't take cards (that hardly ever happens, but once in awhile)

The other thing is - don't get to freaked out by what people tell you about things being difficult. The UK and Europe **are** civilized, it's not like they don't have ATMs or banks that can cash a traveler's cheque .... in fact, you may be expecting something vastly different from the US, but by far and away, I think you'll be find that things over here(and everywhere you're going) are just about the same as in the US (more or less - especially in the UK)
edie52
Erinjane, that sounds like a great itinerary- I'm especially jealous of the Croatia/Greece leg (I haven't been). I hope it all works out!

I can give you some recs for Berlin if you like. I've spent about 2 weeks there in the past few months, which certainly doesn't make me an expert, but I have some favourite places.

And in Vienna, there is one restaurant where you really, really should go. We discovered it the first night we were there and went back twice. It's an all-you-can-eat, pay-what-you-can Pakistani buffet. It looks like an artsy cafe and the waitresses are cute Viennese girls, but the owner and cooks are from Pakistan so the food is (presumably) authentic, not to mention tasty and filling. Especially great to find it in Vienna, which is generally pretty bourgeois. A cheap way to feed yourself for a day there is buying a pastry or something in the morning, then buying lunch at a grocery store (sandwich from deli counter, fruit, bottle of cold beer) and eating it outside, then filling up on Pakistani food at night. I can come back with the name and address if you want.


ETA: More about cards, I can't take out cash on my credit card either, so I use it in stores, even for small-ish (though not tiny) purchases, and used my bank card to take out money from ATMs (stores can't take North American bank cards). I think some stores can also give cashback if you make a credit card purchase, it's worth asking.
sybarite
The only thing I'd add to zoya's advice is to keep a running record of what you're taking out each day, so you don't get caught short: obvious I know, but worth remembering.

Dubrovnik is stunning; you'll love it. Its streets are marble or a similar stone, and at night they reflect the streetlights and glow. There are cafes and restuarants everywhere, many on the street so you can people watch. Unfortunately, Croatia has gotten popular as a holiday destination so it may be crowded, and it's not as inexpensive as it was. There is a city beach and a nearby island, but they aren't great for swimming: I'd go further down the coast for that.

I'm sickened by what's happening in Llasa. We were there last year: the old city is a place of pilgrimage for Tibetans, while newer garish Chinese casinos and businesses have been built around the outskirts. I can't imagine they'll let people visit again for a long time and I hate to think of its peaceful inhabitants being punished for simply speaking up for their right to independence.
indiechick
just a short note: anyone coming to berlin this summer, let me know when you are here! i am a berlin native and could show you around... or at least give some non-touristy recommendations. ;-)
erinjane
indiechick! I'll be there probably in late may/early june!
mornington
erin, what zoya said is pretty accurate - you can still use swipe, but i would be aware that some places charge for withdrawals, although they tell you beforehand, and your bank may charge you on top of that. The visa chargecards are handy as most places accept them and they're easy to get hold of, especially if you're sticking to a budget.

also, if you have cash when you come over from europe, some shops do take euros (marks and spencer, for example) but the post office changes euros to sterling without charge.

and always happy to make recommendations - especially about nights out in glasgow wink.gif
hellotampon
QUOTE(mornington @ Mar 24 2008, 06:37 PM) *
The visa chargecards are handy as most places accept them and they're easy to get hold of, especially if you're sticking to a budget.


are you talking about the gift card thingies?
zoya
hi mornington - I suck ass, I've been so busy but I'm going to email you!!

erinjane - please tell us that you are going to be in scotland!! and please tell us that you'll come see us some day / night!! we can show you around the city and take you out on one of those infamous nights out....
erinjane
I will I will! My dad is the one taking care of the first three weeks of the trip (woo! no planning for me) and I keep bugging him to tell me what days we'll be where, he's just trying to figure out the last few. As soon as I know where I'll be and when I'll post in here and PM anyone who wants to know. tongue.gif
tesao
Regarding Johannesberg, Republic of South Africa:

i've been through it via Tambo Airport countless times. i literally can't get anywhere from here except via Lisbon and Joberg. i have friends who live in Joberg, and i've taken the time once going through in transit to visit the Aparteid Museum and go to Soweto.

the Aparteid Museum is definitely worth seeing. i don't imagine i will ever go again, but i think we need to keep reminding ourselves of just how egregiously we can treat other humans. we need to keep reminding ourselves so that perhaps some day we will STOP DOING IT.

i've had some great meals in Joberg, there are some fantastic restaurants. shopping is really good, too.

all of that said, Joberg scares me - in the sense that i am usually there on my own. it has a high crime rate (my friend has had her house broken into at least 5 times, and her car stolen once, attempted car robberies - from her premises - at least two other times) she is also a single woman living with her older mother.

if you have the time, you can fly to Kruger Park from Joberg and go on safari. THAT is the single most amazing thing that i have ever ever ever done in my entire life. (believe me, i've done a lot of stuff. and i've been on safari around a dozen times or so and i NEVER tire of it) okies, you have to be into animals. but i love the bush and walking safaris are the best even if you don't see as many animals.

there is something about africa that sings to me. the land is so fertile where i live that i swear a dead stick would grow. everything started here. life confronts you head on here. everything will probably end here. the land is still revered by the original peoples, and there are still many of them here, not on reservations as in the USA after the trail of tears.

any specific questions, bob4both? i'm sure that sybil will chime in, as she mentioned below.
mornington
I'd definitely go to the apartheid museum, it's amazing and so heartbreaking. And kruger or any of the other safari places, very cool. If you can't get there, the Zoo in Pretoria (which is maybe an hour's drive from joberg) is one of the best, i can't recommend it enough. If you're feeling indulgent, Gold Reef casino is very cool just to look at - it's definitely an experience, and it's not just about gambling, there's a theater there and plenty of restaurants. Eat out - it's insansely cheap, and the food is good. Seafood especially, even the chains are brilliant. I loved Kwaii for fast food, they do amazing vegetarian/vegan stuff.



hellot, they can be given as gift cards, I think they're sometimes called 3V or something, and they were advertised as gift cards over christmas. Basically it's like buying phone credit, you get a credit card and you put money on it that you can spend, it's handy if you're not sure your bank card is going to be accepted.
bob4both
Thank-you VERY much, tesao, for the info & bumping this thread for me; and to those who've already provided several interesting ideas for my RSA trip. I've traveled a lot of Europe & some middle east , but Africa (at least south, as I've been to Egypt as well) seems so far removed from anywhere else I've been (at least in my mind). I will be there Aug-Sep for about 6 weeks. I have a million questions; unfortunately I don't have but enough time just to post this quickly for now. Anyone who's been to RSA. please keep feeding this thread with any experiences or inputs you care to share. I'll get back to it soon. And Hello to all!

Bob
sybarite
In my experience, Joberg and Cape Town are well worth visiting, although I was only in Joberg briefly so know less about it. I agree with tes though that Joberg can make me uneasy: it does have high levels of crime and the city seems divided between enclaves (residential and tourist, with hotels, restaurants, malls etc) and townships, with the city centre the exception. Unless you decide to take a tour of Soweto that includes an overnight stay you wil probably be staying in one of these enclaves. If so, it's worth getting a taxi or someone to drive you to other parts of the city.

The Apartheid Museum and Soweto are great places to visit, although again the experience can be disturbing as well as interesting. Morn's absolutely right about the restaurants: every meal we had out was fantastic. game, seafood, local fruit and veg--it's all epic as well as reasonably priced.

Cape Town is more overtly beautiful than Joberg and (again, in my short experience) somewhat more accessible by foot. Its touristy harbour is a little cheesy but the stunning scenery visible everywhere (Table Mountain, the Atlantic on the horizon) is awe-inspiring in itself. Table Mountain is a great place to visit (we couldn't; it was too windy!), as is Robben Island, as are the surrounding townships. We also had a great time just wandering around parts of the city centre away from the harbour: there was a little strip with cafes and music clubs.

Do post again with questions. I also recommend safari: again an awe inspiring experience. The bush landscape alone is wild and lovely.
bob4both
Great advice, syb. I know we have a safari planned, though I don't know any of the details about it. Cape Town was certainly on my list of places to go. I imagine that's a long weekend kind of thing if I have to drive it. Do you know if there are any flights between the two, similar to the European-style hops? What about the train? How's the public transportation in Jberg? Why Soweto; for the history? What about places like Sun City, Lost City, Gold Reef City; or are they "tourist traps"? How are the people with Americans? Enough questions? I saw on one website that they have balloon tours over the bush; that would be great.

I'm psyched about the food. I certainly enjoy seafood, an am interested in the local fare. Not much that I won't try at least once, but any tips on foods to avoid? On our last trip to Italy, I soon learned the word for 'donkey' after my first stew! Not bad actually, but I don't think I could go into it knowingly again. Thanx for all the tips.
erinjane
Okay, I can't remember who I said I'd PM so let me know if I missed you when i send the PM's.

I will be in London from April 23-May 1,
Darby from May2-6, Durham from May 7-9,
Edinburgh from May 10-12,
Bath on the 13, 14,
Heath on the 15th,
and then I'm off to: Paris, Freedom -> Antwerp, Belgium -> Amsterdam, Netherlands -> Berlin, Germany -> Prague, Czech Republic -> Vienna, Austria -> Florence, Italy -> Rome, Italy -> Naples, Italy -> Dubrovnik, Croatia -> Corfu, Greece -> Naples, Italy -> Nice, Freedom -> Toulouse, Freedom -> Paris, Freedom -> Calais, Freedom -> Dover, England -> London, England
sybarite
You can fly to Cape Town and other S. African destinations from J'berg airport. J'berg-Cape Town is about a 2 hour flight, and internal flights in SA are reasonably inexpensive. Driving from Cape Town to J'berg would take almost a day, maybe?

Krueger park in the Mpumalanga province is the most well known of SA's safari parks, but you can also safari in the eastern cape. There are all kinds of safaris at different price ranges, so it's a good idea to research online in advance.

I can't think of any food to avoid. We ate a lot of game, including kudu, impala and wildebeest, and game carpaccio became my favourite food for a few weeks. Dunno if that's to your taste but it's yummy if you're into game meats.

I think you're probably better not taking public transport in J'berg unless you're familiar with the system. We generally took taxis, which aren't cheap. The roads are great so I would recommend hiring a car.

Soweto is worth seeing because it's probably the largest and most famous of SA's townships; it's got neighbourhoods within neighbourhoods. Townships are everywhere in SA, something I found it very hard to get used to. Their presence highlights the contradictions of the country: first world roads, beautiful scenery, alongside such a divide between the rich (usually white) and the very poor (usually black). SA is stunning in many ways but its history remains disturbing, and you'll see evidence of this.
tesao
i don't know if there is such a thing as a list of the world's most beautiful cities, but cape town is on my own such list. the natural beauty there is nothing short of stunning. i just got back from a trip there, there was a jazz festival going on and i went to that. i'm lucky in that i have a friend/colleague who lives there so it's only the cost of the airfare...and SAA just started a direct flight to cape town from maputo! it's the kind of place where there is always some sort of special event/music/show going on.

remember that if you are going in october or november that it will not be cold, as the seasons are reversed. it can get cool at night, esp in cape town (because of the water) and on safari, so bring a light jacket or sweater but for the most part think spring like weather). if you do plan to go on safari, it can be cool early morning and on night drives - bring clothing you can layer. the best colors are sand, tan, light brown, grey, olive drab. don't bring bright colors - the point is to try to blend in with the bush (especially if you go on walking safaris, my favorite) - and don't bring white - it gets filthy about 5 minutes after you put it on. you want natural fiber clothing that won't get caught in a thorny acacia tree or show dirt. bring a hat. bring bring sun screen. the sun here is brutal. i wear sun screen daily here and still manage to get burned at times. bring a flash light. bring mosquito repellent. parts of kruger are malaria zones. (you might want to consider malaria profilaxis - i've given up taking it, but you won't be living here).

i second syb's recommendation to avoid local transportation in joberg.

i will warn you, however, that they drive on the left in RSA, so if you're new to that, renting a car might be a bit of a thrill (i can attest to this, as i found myself in the wrong lane more than once learning to drive here). look BOTH ways more than once before you cross any street as a pedestrian!

syb also pretty much summed up soweto. it is historically famous (the soweto uprising) and a lot of very famous people have come from there, as well (the one you are perhaps most likely to know being nelson mandela. his house there has been preserved and you can visit it).

i've never gone to sun city or any of the other places like that, so i can't say anything about them one way or the other.

i tend to eat meat (beef and game - wildebeest, impala) when in joberg, and save the fish for cape town (or just eat it here where i can buy the shrimp when their legs are still moving). RSA is very well known for its excellent beef. they also have this thing called biltong, which is jerky - made out of game and beef.

some traditional fare is quite good - bobotjie, for example, which is sort of a custard ground beef pie, with curry and raisins. sweet but not. grilled meats and sausages are extremely popular. there are a lot of stews that are served in black metal pots with legs and lids (called potjies that may be mispelt). good local beer, some GREAT local wines. actually, if you are in cape town, you can rent a car there and drive through the wine country, which is beautiful and fun.

i would say that
americans are well liked and treated quite well - or at least i was.

syb is also spot on regarding seeing evidence - and quite a lot of it - of the apartheid history of the country. a male friend of mine (black) and i (white) were on a road trip in RSA once and got pulled over by a white cop -- and i'm pretty sure it was because we were a mixed couple. the inverse happens too -- once we were standing in a check out line at a store and i was playfully being annoying (very annoying) and poking him and pushing him with my fist, and a black man in the line next to ours told him in dialect that my friend should not put up with my hitting him, it was racist.
mornington
bob, if you do go to cape town, take a day to go to simmon's town down the road and the boulder penguin colony - you can hang out on the beach with loads of penguins; if it's the right season whale-watching is good too.

we used kulula for internal flights, they're similar to easyjet in the uk, and not expensive.

I'd also recommend going to augrabies park - the orange river gorge is stunning, and you can go swimming in a waterfall there. it's a bit out of the way - towards the west, but i'd take a road trip to cape town as there's plenty to see along the way. I'll ask my dad if he can remember the route we took and the places we stayed.

the music festivals - oppikoppi and muddy glen in particular - are supposed to be fantastic; if you like live music there's plenty of it.

try ostrich. and a braai (bbq) as the south africans do them like no-one else.

and gold reef city is great - the theater there is excellent, and it's just stunning inside - yes, it's bling and a bit touristy but there are plenty of locals.


erinjane, let me know if you want a guide/emergency contact in london
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