Monday, 19 August 2013

Inspiration - That Photo...(Part 2)

Last September, I posted a number of photos from my travels as a way of inspiring my readers to grab their backpacks and travel...even if this does mean going solo!  I thought I would do this again with a new batch of, what I hope you will find are, pictures that make you want to get out there in the big wide world too!

All photos were taken on my travels in the past year.  I hope you like them!

The view from the Vogel Cable Car above Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

Amsterdam street scene, Netherlands

The Tatras Mountains near Zakopane, Poland

The Jewish Quarter in Krakow, Poland

The Concert Hall in Stockholm, Sweden

A panoramic view of Positano, Italy

Temples at Paestum, Italy

Wooden sculpture in Tallinn, Estonia

Green space near the Parliament in Tallinn, Estonia

Yinka Shonibare sculpture at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, United Kingdom

The Plitvice National Park, Croatia

Sunset at Zadar, Croatia 

 Dusk at the Louvre in Paris, France

The Tuileries in Paris, France

Friday, 16 August 2013

Questions, Questions, Questions...

Travel Questions! 
(source -

As I have mentioned previously on this mighty fine blog, travel provides you with a great number of learning experiences.  But, as I have journeyed around I find that travel presents me with a whole host of questions that remain unanswered.  So, below are a series of questions* I need your help with answering.  Please feel free to help me out in answering these tricky questions with the associated question number in the comment box below.

(* - Some more serious than others, but all asked with a fair bit of tongue in cheek)

1. Why do I see so many old women with carrier bags full of plastic bottles?

Fill me with plastic bottles!

(source -

On recent trips to Continental Europe, I have been baffled by the sheer number of (usually) elderly women, clutching a battered old Lidl carrier bag, steadily filling it with plastic drinks bottles, often from rubbish bins, peoples' hands and skips.  A friend of mine (who lives in an Eastern European country) once told me of his work colleague returning from a trip to Northern Europe proclaiming with delight that, "it's so nice to visit somewhere where people put rubbish in the bin and leave it there!"  Now, I know the comment neglects to consider issues of homelessness for example, but the point remains...what are these women doing rifling through bins for old Coke and Sprite bottles?!  Perhaps these women are an army of recycling fiends - receiving cash incentives, I assume, for their troubles?!  I would love to know!  Answers in the comment box below, please!

2. Do people on the continent of Europe just smoke and drink coffee all day?

Croatian Coffee! (source - author)

On a recent visit to Croatia, my friend and I were stunned to see not only a high proportion of smokers; coming from the UK and the Netherlands where the amount of people that smoke is relatively low, but also a thriving coffee culture where much of the activity is focused on lazy days in the shade lounging with friends (cigarette in hand), putting the world to rights.  The British cafe experience is somewhat coffee, sit down, clear table of the previous customer's detritus, have a heart attack when you realise what you have just paid for a coffee, have a quick chat with your friend and then leave.  I know unemployment rates are, unfortunately, high in Croatia, but this kind of leisurely activity is not confined to just one country.  It seems a very European thing to do and is something I have witnessed in several countries across the Continent.  Is this because the pace of life is slower, more laid back?  Does the manana attitude dominate?  Your thoughts below, please.

3. Do Italian women ever say to the men in their lives, "darling, aren't you a little old for Speedos?"

Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli rocks his Speedos!
(source -

Travel brings with it some real cultural shockers.  And as shockers go some of the most horrific  sights are those paraded on the beaches frequented by our European cousins, the Italians.  I am not even going to touch upon the issue of sun protection amongst the Italian travelling community; having gasped open mouthed at a group of Italianos lather themselves in baby oil as their sole deterrent from the scorching Croatian sun and UV rays!  No...this question relates to the fashion choices made by Italian men.  These are usually men of a certain age, who seem to think they can carry off a tight trunk when current trends...wait, trends ad infinitum, suggest otherwise.  But, I'm confused.  Italy and Italians are famed for being supremely fashion conscious.  The country is home to many globally successful famous designer brands and the country has the most stylish looking police force in the World!

Lookin' Fly!
(source -

I think we must lay blame not with the men.  When guys get to a certain age, they think they are capable of anything.  This leads to the mid-life crisis purchase of a motorcycle or a convertible sports car.  These men are not capable of reason!  I think we need to turn our attention towards the wives and girlfriends of these men.  They are the ones who can offer sartorial support and fashion guidance, steering them towards the correct kind of beach attire or swim short.  So, what do you think - is it 'i ragazzi o le ragazze'?  Are you an Italian wife who is finding hard to tear those Speedos from your husband (Oo-er!)?!  Please comment in the box below!  You can view this as therapy, if you wish!

4. Why, when I travel, does my diet consist mostly of bread, cheese and ham?

Mmm!  Guess what these are filled with!
(source - author)

Being a budget traveller, I try to keep costs low, particularly when I'm eating my three square meals each day.  To save those cents or Euros, I find myself inadvertently eating copious amounts of bread, cheese and ham.  For example, one of the best value meals a traveller can concoct is the supermarket/market lunch.  This involves buying a loaf of bread, cheese (I prefer brie) and some sliced ham.  This is then all put together to form a beautiful ham and cheese sandwich that will see you through til your late 'Continental Europe' style late evening meal.  Now, they say variety is the spice of life.  Well, why the hell do I always end up ordering a pizza or pasta dish that are filled with...yup, you guessed it...cheese and ham?!  Last week in France, I even saw crisps that were cheese and ham flavoured!  Comments, thoughts and assistance below!

That will do for now!  I look forward to reading your responses!  I am sure that future travel will only yield further questions.  Also, if you have any questions that we need to put out here, please feel free to leave them below.

Ask! Don't Go Loco...Go Local!

A local 'lady' I encountered in Lisbon.  Not much help with directions, though! (source - author)

Anyone who has travelled to a foreign country will have found themselves in one of those situations where a stressful discussion takes place, during the heat of the day at a critical moment of the trip.  This is most likely to occur when debating which direction to take, the best place to eat or to clarify if the building you are standing in front of is actually the accommodation you booked or the 4th century Etruscan relic you were aiming to visit.  The results of these discussions are always the same.  A dark cloud descends over the group as levels of frustrations rocket and the conversations become increasingly tense, where people start to say things they don't really mean or make personal remarks they didn't want to come out.  No need, people!  Naturally, you are all probably excited about witnessing the spectacular exhibits at the historical attraction on your itinerary or that beautiful secluded beach at your proposed destination, but why get stressed on what is your holiday; your break away from the daily stresses of life?

My solution is a simple one, but not the one we necessarily think of as our first option.  You just need to ASK!  Men especially, take your pride in your hands and ask a local - this is not your 'hood' and even you know you are guessing at best!  Try a few words of the language or point at a map, but make sure you go to the trouble of asking for help.  It will save you a whole load of hassle, an enormous amount of time and stop you from starting an all out war with your travel companion.  Besides, you are probably closer to your destination than you think!  Asking a local means that you are utilising a lifetime of local knowledge that will help you navigate the streets to your accommodation quickly, find that historical marvel in half the time and discover the best of a place without the bother of having to pour over the travel guides for an age.  Once you have consulted your friendly local for advice on your destination, whether that be on the streets, in a bar or in your hostel, you will wonder why you did not do it sooner!

Obviously, please approach your local with caution, particularly if you are a solo female traveller in a place you are not familiar with.  For example, in trying to find the street where my accommodation was located in Lisbon, I selected  my local carefully...I plumped for a wealthy looking elderly Lisboeta who was traversing the main city square.  I figured I could at least outpace her should she turn nasty in broad daylight and begin whacking me with her large designer handbag as a result of my poor Portuguese pronunciation.  Thankfully, this did not happen and she put me on the right track to the front door of my hostel.  Jokes aside...take care!

So ask!  It is the simple route to quick solutions to the travel problems and questions you may have about a place.  Locals know a lot, are keen to show off their place at its best and are often keen to help a bewildered traveller.  Make sure you take advantage of this.  Get on the inside track, be brave and just...ASK!

Safe travels!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Parlez-vous français? ¿Habla español? Parlo italiano? (AKA Mind Your Language)

MikeW (AKA TRGTALP) atop the Printemps department store on Boulevard Haussmann (source - author)

I am writing this as I zoom towards Paris on the Eurostar.  My head is a mess as I try to recall as much schoolboy French as I can muster.  After my English native tongue (and waving my hands about as a British Sign Language user) French is probably the foreign language I feel I know best.  But after 5 years of secondary school rote sentence learning...Je parle un peu le français!  It frustrates me that my ability to learn a language in depth always appears to escape me.  I suspect that to truly speak the language you are trying to learn you must be immersed in the country.  Nevertheless, to my credit, I ALWAYS give my language skills a shot when in a foreign country.  On this trip I will certainly be using 's'il vous plait' and 'merci beaucoup' and whatever else I can get away with.  Even though I know I will either be blasted back with a response in super-fast French or even worse, a disdainful, irritated English; I think it is important that you learn and use a few basic phrases when you travel.

Trips in the past few years have taken me to places where I knew little, if any, of the local language...but, I tried!  And, I think that is the key point.  To try some of the basics (despite your host's excellent English) is an act of politeness; respect towards your fellow man and their often beloved language.  To insist on using English (or your own language) when learning a simple 'thank you' in the native tongue is so easy smacks of ignorance and a certain laziness on the part of the traveller.  One or two words - that is all it takes!  Throwing an 'efharisto' and 'parakalo' around Greece resulted in lots of praise an admiration, particularly in restaurants, and with this a free carafe of house wine and food on a number of occasions.  Though, I thought it best not to reveal my Greek heritage to them as it might be considered cheating and obtaining goods by deception; nonetheless, the principle remains - using a bit of the local language has its benefits for both the local and the traveller.

So, how do I do it?!  Am I spending the weeks before a trip listening to language courses or studying the books intensively?  My trips to Latvia and Lithuania last year sent me into a mild panic about my inability to say a single word in these two countries.  This was easily solved by a simple search on the Internet where I found the BBC helpfully provide a host of excellent basic phrase lists with audio clips to aid pronunciation as part of their languages 'Quick Fix' section of their website -  I simply printed the words and phrases I wanted onto a small piece of paper and the week before the trip carried them with me in my pocket; practicing them in the supermarket queue or whilst on the loo!  By the time I got to Riga and Vilnius, I was saying 'paldies' and 'aciu' with gleeful abandon!  Although, I did not receive any clear signs but for the odd grin from these stoic Eastern Europeans that my use of the local lingo was welcomed , I did notice a couple of times when using English (often at volume) by some fellow travellers was not received as well by the locals, with confusion and heated repetition by coffee shop staff to ensure they were giving the traveller what they wanted to purchase.

I would recommend that you make sure you look out for language help on maps and in guide books.  The excellent In Your Pocket city guides series are free, often found in hostels and bars and provide you with the language basics as well as some hilarious phrases you can use to pull in bars and clubs!  Finally, be brave!  You are probably never going to see the waiter or shop assistant you are muddling through your basic German with again.  And if your friends and family are travelling with you; they may snigger at first, but once you have secured those train tickets or that extra special service from your appreciative 'foreign buddy' they will be laughing on the other side of their face and enjoying the benefits of your linguistic mastery!

Good luck!  And, for me...bonne chance!


So, I am back on the Eurostar, whizzing back to London!  And, how did I fare?  Let us just say I was wrong!  I predicted an utter disaster, but was surprised to find my first attempt at French, at the brilliant Paris Plage, was greeted with a warm, knowing smile from the lady behind the counter and resulted in me getting the coffee I wanted.  And, this trend continued for much of the trip, with my French holding up in a variety of day to day situations.  Also, hanging out with a bunch of francophones, who slipped seamlessly between English and French certainly helped build my confidence as they made it look so easy, using phrases and words that I understood surprisingly well.  Thus, helping me realise my French is not as bad as I thought, but there is still room for improvement.  A return trip to Paris, perhaps?!

Monday, 12 August 2013

Shoestring Munich (A Guest Post by towelintherain)

Continuing the theme of allowing you, the readers of TRGTALP to contribute, I present to you our third guest post from seasoned traveller towelintherain.  towelintherain is someone I met in the same Krakow hostel as previous guest poster, AllanaD; so you can be assured you are in good company and reading the work of a fine pedigree.  An entertaining and engaging guy, towelintherain offers the readers of TRGTALP tips and advice on negotiating the Bavarian city of Munich on a budget.  This is a city I am yet to visit and so I would like to thank him for this post as I am definitely going to nick some of his ideas to help make the most of my stay in what is supposed to be an incredibly fun German city to visit!  Enjoy!

towelintherain's Tumblr can be found here -


Munich can be a very expensive place. Exactly how expensive depends on who you ask, but there are some things you can do to push down that cost quite significantly and perhaps even add to your experience.

Sights and Sounds

- Free Walking Tour - You can get an excellent value and fascinating insight into the history of Munich by going on the free walking tour by Just rock up to the Mari statue in the middle of Marienplatz at 10:45am or 1pm and you’ll get hours of rich history and culture you might never otherwise discover. Feel free to give your tour guide a little tip at the end, depending on how much you enjoyed it.

Mari statue with the Rathaus in the background © towelintherain

- The Glockenspiel: Voted the second worst tourist attraction in Europe (behind a Czech pencil museum I believe), this is a 100 year old free show that happens at 11am, midday and 5pm in the Rathaus in Marienplatz. It doesn’t last long, but the square fills up to watch it and it’s quite entertaining.

Glockenspiel show © towelintherain

- View over the city: You can also go up to the top of the Rathaus. Two and a half Euros buys you a nice view over the city, a welcome breeze in summer and some excellent photo opportunities.

City views © towelintherain

- Endless green spaces: Munich has an almost infinite supply of parks and gardens. In particular, the Schloss Nymphenburg is a huge palace, museum and landscape garden with entry fees starting at 6 Eur 50 (more expensive entry fees are available but the basic one gets you access to all the key areas).

The Englischer Garten, the largest city park in Europe, is completely free and you could lose yourself for days in there. It has everything from miles of tranquil empty space to crystal clear babbling streams to biergartens (I personally recommend the Seehaus) to a Chinese pagoda. It even has surfing by the Koniginstrasse.

towelintherain at the Schloss Nymphenburg © towelintherain

Prost! at the Seehaus (they weren’t both for me) © towelintherain

Surfing in Englischer Garten © towelintherain

Food and Alcohol Free Liquid
Like most cities, good local food is in abundance from markets and street vendors. You can get a quick sugar hit for 30 or 40 cents or munch your way through the different kinds of wurst for a couple of Euros a go. You can even top up your water from a drinking fountain in Marienplatz. The Viktualienmarkt just south of Petersplatz caters for just about everything if you really can’t decide.

Viktualienmarkt © towelintherain


Yes, the Munich beer is *that* good. But you don’t have to spend all your time drinking in the expensive bars and bierkellers. The people of Munich drink everywhere except for the public transport.

A good place is on the River Iser, just by Fraunhoferstrasse station on the U2 line. It’s been turned into a sort of beach and stacks of locals go to hang out there on a nice evening. You put your bottles in the river to keep them cool, maybe get a barbecue going and definitely set about having some good times. It’s the same tasty beer but it costs you about a Euro a bottle from the local shop.

Chilling by the Iser © towelintherain

Beers (chilling) in the Iser © towelintherain

Even better, included in the price of each bottle is a 25 cent deposit to encourage recycling. So if you make the effort to recycle your bottles then 25% of your beer is essentially free. There are recycling points dotted all over the city and in many of the supermarkets.

Public Transport

As you’d expect from a major city, tickets are valid on all U bahn, S bahn, bus and tram services. There are a bewildering number of options available, from single fares, 3 day passes, 7 day passes, specific inner or outer zones, tickets for individuals, couples, families etc. With a bit of digging you should find the cost to be not too unreasonable. A 3 day individual ticket for the main districts will cost you 21 Euros, for example.

The public transport is cheaper than hiring a bike, but hiring a bike would be more fun. Munich is known as the 'City of Bikes'.


Luckily a friend of mine lives in Munich, so I stayed with him, but if you need to pay for accommodation then consider The Tent hostel ( located near the Schloss Nymphenburg and about a 20 minute tram ride to the city centre. This is just about the cheapest accommodation in Munich and was personally recommended to me by several people while I was there.

Don’t Get Fined!

There are a couple of random rules to be aware of.
- Don’t cross at crossings unless the green man is showing, otherwise you might get slapped with a 40 Euro fine. This law is actually enforced :-/
- Remember to validate your ticket. After you buy your travel ticket you have to put it in a machine located on the platform to get it validated. As a Brit, this is very much an alien concept to me but remember to do it or you may also get fined.

Munich very quickly became one of my favourite places. That may have happened/ happen to you too!


Steve's travel tantrums were getting too much for his friends to take! (source - author)

No matter the level of luxury you travel at, you need to accept one thing in order to have a pleasurable stay in your destination or on your travels.  You are going to have to suffer!  Yes...I said suffer!  Indeed, I am suggesting a little bit of pain on what you might expect to be a blissful break away from the daily humdrum existence at home.  So, what do I mean?  Am I asking you to bear the pain of accidentally treading on a sea urchin or endure a bout of food poisoning from that ropey-looking buffet on offer at the hotel?  No.  When I mean you are going to have to suffer, I refer to the need of the traveller to suspend the standards/norms they might expect at home, particularly when they travel abroad.  One of the quickest and surest ways to spoil your trip is to expect your destination to be just like home; unless of course you are a Brit heading to the Spanish Costas where you will, indeed, find all the comforts you get at home, including the foods, drinks and even language (possibly in an accent and dialect you are familiar with too)!

When you travel it is important to remember that you are in a country with differing cultural norms.  Queueing, for example, might not be as socially precious as it is in your home country.  The standards of service or manner with which you are served in a restaurant may differ from what you are used to at home.  The beer might taste different to your favourite brand back home and the bread a little saltier than you like, but are only likely to be in your destination for a short period of time - so my advice?  Suck it up!  Enjoy the difference!  Savour the fact that you are sampling something out of your comfort zone.  Your bed was not as comfortable as at home - so what?!  Be thankful you even have a bed!  Your room a little outdated in its design or stuffed to the brim with an inordinate amount of religious paraphernalia?  Deal with it!  Besides, on almost all the trips I have taken, the room has simply provided me with somewhere to rest my head.  It is the destination I am there for - not the hostel or hotel room.  Sure, if what you encounter in your hostel or the restaurant is downright unacceptable, I am not advising you keep quiet and endure, but if you find yourself constantly comparing your travel experiences to what you get back home or what you expect your destination to be like - you are going to have a miserable time and not enjoy the destination for all the special things (good and bad) that make it so unique or worth travelling to.  So, whether you are feeling addled in Amsterdam, bothered in Bulgaria or are going crazy in Colombia - suffer!  It will be good for you and almost certainly make your trip that bit more enjoyable.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Eating Alone - TRGTALP's Guide to Chowing Down Solo

Pad Thai in Chiang Mai (source - author)

When I tell people that I often travel solo, the first reaction I often get is, "Oh!  Not for me!  I couldn't eat out alone!"  The tone with which this statement is said would suggest that dining alone is too horrific to even contemplate or can be a major stumbling block to enjoying your travels.  I can assure you there is nothing to worry about and the thought of eating solo should certainly not stop you from getting out there and exploring.  I guess most people fear that their fellow diners may be mocking or pitying them and their lonely existence.  I imagine eating in a restaurant surrounded by loved-up couples might make the solo diner feel somewhat uncomfortable or out of place.  Much of this is due, I believe, to projection and what we think people are thinking about us.  In the majority of cases, your fellow diners; but for a passing glance or comment about someone eating alone, do not give two hoots about you.  They are probably too consumed with the menu, the prospect of their own delicious meal arriving in front of them and their fellow diner's spinach-filled teeth to care about you.

Of course, it is great to eat with company, but eating alone allows you to take in more of your surroundings and gives you the opportunity to be alone with your thoughts.  I prefer not to, but I know people who get round this by reading a book.  I sometimes write in my travel notebook/Moleskine (something I referred to in my previous 'Your First Time') all the things I have been doing or plan to do on my trip or plan to do when I get home.  Remember, your meals are a small part of your day and need not consume you with angst.  So, here are my top tips to make dining alone that little bit easier:

1. Choose your eatery carefully...
- Though you should not give a stuff, you probably don't want to be eating surrounded by several doe-eyed couples sharing their spaghetti (a la Disney's 'Lady and the Tramp').  A friendly local venue is likely to be filled with a mixture of couples, families and, probably, the odd singleton just like you!
2. Eat at lunch...
- Eating your larger meal at a quieter time of the service will take the pressure off feeling that you need to be dining with another person for the day's main meal in the evening.  You can then free yourself up to take in some street food or local fast food options in the evening as you wander round and explore your destination.  The Khao San Road in Bangkok is a great example of where you can munch on satay, spring rolls, pad Thai and finish with some pineapple all for a few pounds as well as soak up an atmosphere you certainly would not find in the confines of a restaurant in the city.
3. Play on the WiFi...
- Only last night, in Split, the waiter took pity on me and came up to me with a till receipt with the restaurant WiFi password written on it.  His kindness was unwarranted, but not unwelcome and I was happy to spend 10 minutes or so, until the food came, sending a message here and there and catching up on the news back home. 
4. Buddy up...
- On a number of occasions I have dined with fellow travellers I have met in hostels, bars on tours that same day.  It is a great way to meet someone and can offer you the chance to get to know people really well as you 'break bread'.

Overall, though...I would suggest that you be bold in these situations.  You have every right to sit at a restaurant by yourself.  You are a paying customer.  Who cares what anyone else thinks!  Go ahead and chow down!