Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Self Planned Three Weeks Trip to Europe - Packing for 24 days (My Take)

Travelling to Europe for 24 days gives a feeling that my luggage would be of such dimension that it utilises full 23 Kg checked baggage limit. allowed by Airlines. After all, 24 days is a long time, Europe is still not warm, it is still cold (not the freezing one) and weather can be uncertain.

It would have been true in the normal traveler. The case with me is different, I am a minimalist  person who likes to carry bare minimum stuff. Most of my life in the Indian Navy, I have done many tours (what we call them is "Ty Duty" or Temporary Duty) and I have always traveled  minimum luggage. The beauty is, from the minimum luggage that I carried, one odd item of dressing came back unused.

In any case, Europe trip is self planned. Unlike in a trip with travel company where the bus and luggage van waits for the travelers at the airport or bus station, we are on our ow, finding our way to B & B or Hotel using Public transport, etc. It is a reason enough to carry least amount (in terms of items in general and weight in particular) of luggage as it is us who have to lug it every where.

My traveler (small suitcase) that I have packed weighs less than 15 kg (actually it weighs less today, but I anticipate addition of some more weight to reach that weight). Shocked or Dismayed that this man will have to shop in Europe and spend Euros? Disbelief? Come out of it.

With the packing list that I am giving as under, I would not only travel but travel with comfort and complete my trip successfully (a fact that can be confirmed only after I return from the trip). Well, that means, washing some of the cloths (particularly T's) as and when required.

Here is the List:-

Cloths

T Shirts / Shirts - 7 (6 packed, one to be worn)
Trousers - 4 (including two jeans, 3 packed)
Under Garments - 6 sets
Towel 1 (soft and thin and ultra light weight, Pure cotton one, called Rajapuri Pancha in Maharashtra, very similar to A big long Gamcha used in North India)
Socks - 4 pairs including one to be worn
Hand Kerchief - 4
Half Sweater - 1
Full Sweater - 1
Jacket -1

Accessories

Shaving Kit
Deo
Tooth Paste and Tooth Brush
One Cloth Drying String (rubber one with end hooks)
One Swiss Knife set
One small Water Heater (just four inch long)
Teabags 100 (Hindustani Chai ke bina Kaise Jiyega?)
Essential Medication
One small Torch
Water Bottle
Playing Cards (Never Played but no harm trying)
Sun Glasses

Most of the clothing items are packed in Packing Cubes. It is the first time we are using Packing cubes and hope we find them useful.

Documents

Print Outs of B & B / Hotel Booking, tickets for travel and visit.
Passport
Copies of Passport with visa page
Travel Insurance Paper

Forex 

Forex Card
Forex cash


Electronic Items (mostly in Hand Baggage)

Canon EOS DSLR
DSLR Tripod ( I am not carrying it as I am getting one at Paris from Our son but it is recommended to carry it)
Battery pack
Mobile Charger(s)
Headphone(s)
Samsung Tab
Transfer Cable (for transferring photos from Memory card to Tab)
Card Reader

 I think that makes all that I have packed. Will this be good enough for the trip? Wait for my feedback. Did I miss anything? Not Sure.

Happy Packing in future to all those who read this blog


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Self Planned Three Weeks Trip to Europe - Bookings - Intercity Transport

So far, I have posted three parts of the whole planning process. The links for all these part are as follows:-

Part 1 - http://harshad-datar.blogspot.in/2018/03/self-planned-three-weeks-trip-to-europe.html

Part 2 - http://harshad-datar.blogspot.in/2018/03/self-planned-three-weeks-trip-to-europe_21.html

Part 3 - http://harshad-datar.blogspot.in/2018/04/self-planned-three-weeks-trip-to-europe.html

In these parts, planning, Air Ticket booking and booking of accommodation have been covered. In this current blog I would discuss the booking of Intercity transport between cities being visited. Most of our intercity travel is going to be using the public transport. However, twice or three times, we are going to drive taking car on hire.

All cities in Europe are well connected through all three mediums, Air, Rail and Road. It may so happen,  in very few cases, where there is no rail connection (we encountered such situation while looking for options between Prague and Budapest) but that is an exception.

There are large number of websites  in the cyber space who provide booking services. Some are specialist for a particular mode but generally most of them provide information about all available options and help one book any of the mode.

And the choice is nearly unlimited, particularly between major destinations. It will be possible to chose the mode  and time of your choice. Needless to say, Air travel is generally the costliest. Interestingly, we found that sometimes between some destinations, bus travel was cheaper and faster than train (because of one or two changes during train trips).

It would be a thrill to travel on high speed DB (German railway trains), ICE, TGV or similar trains. There are other independent services which run intercity in Germany (one such service is Loco more)
Buses are also aplenty and multiple companies offer services. I am told their bus services are also very comfortable.

Here is the screen shot of one such service


 This task of booking for travel between cities in Europe is a easy one. One can pick up mode as per his / her liking, departure requirements and also cost. See below to realize that we did this whole booking ourselves very easily.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Intercity Depart Number
From AT To At
Paris (Bercy Seine) 1600     Ghent, Dampoort 2005  Connection 803
BUS

Ghent, Dampoort 0555 Amsterdam Sloterdijk 0930 Connection N814
BUS
Amsterdam Centraal 1632    Köln Hbf 2022       ICE 159
Train
Road Trip Cologne  Koblanz Car Hire
Road Trip Koblanz Frankfurt Car Hire
Frankfurt (Main) Süd station Train 0829 Berlin Ostbahnhof (train) 1316  Connection LOC  1818/K213
(train) Loco More
Road Trip Berlin  Dresden
Dresden Hbf 1122 Praha hl.n. 1335  EC173
Train
Praha, ÚAN Florenc 0700 Budapest, Népliget aut.áll 1430 ELB8801
Euroline
Bus
Budapest, Hungary - TERMINAL 2A 0620 Mumbai 0005/12 May Air France Flight
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

With this blog post, the series on Self Planned travel to Europe is complete. We are making a longish trip. One can make a shorter trip. Go ahead, pack and travel. The Education travel gives is priceless.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Self Planned Three Weeks Trip to Europe - Bookings - Accommodation

Link to Two previous Parts

Part I - http://harshad-datar.blogspot.in/2018/03/self-planned-three-weeks-trip-to-europe.html

Part II - http://harshad-datar.blogspot.in/2018/03/self-planned-three-weeks-trip-to-europe_21.html

Part III

Booking Accommodation.

We have planned the trip. We also booked Air Ticket. Now is the time to look at where to stay.

Looking for Accommodation at travel destination is a Herculean task. Where to stay, in the city center or away, in B & B or Hotel or should we stay in hostel (and there are plenty of them around). City center saves time of travel but may cost more money while staying away may save cost but travel time (every day one has to travel) increases greatly.

Finally it has to be a compromise between cost and time. Being in city center also means being in the midst of the life and also the night life (don’t be surprised if a young person like me talks of Night life, why not, life is to be enjoyed to the fullest irrespective of the age). One can devote more time even till late into the night without hassle of worrying about subway timings, safety during travel etc.

See the rates of Accor Hotels at Berlin. Though distance is not the only criteria, type of hotel and Star rating also matters. However comparison below is for similar class of hotels of same group.

HOTELS MATCH YOUR SEARCH
LAST CONSULTED HOTEL
Ibis Styles Berlin Alexanderplatz3
 0.9 km from centre
1276 Reviews
4/5  Breakfast included Members' rate: -5%
From 5538  5261Price for 1 person for 1 night
Select
 Rate calendar
Novotel Berlin Mitte
  0.8 km from centre 3026 Reviews 4/5  Members' rate: -5%
From 6903   6558 Price for 1 person for 1 night
Select
 Rate calendar
Similarly, most other online booking sites may show distance from city center in their listings. The hotel accommodations are for two or three people per room. In case of B & Bs, depending on its size, it could accommodate 2 people to about 8 people (going abroad in larger group must be fun, We could not find any like minded couples hence we decided to go with the best company, we two for each other).

Many B & Bs, particularly the city center ones in almost all the countries are in old historic buildings and generally on higher floors. Some people may say, so what, there is always a lift in multi story buildings. True but not True! In these historic buildings, there are only staircases and no lift (and the description of the B & B would always say so upfront). The staircases may have tall stairs or in some places they have narrow winding cast iron staircases like in old period films.

This could be a limitation for some people who cannot climb stairs. In turn one may have to let go of some of the fabulous B & Bs because they don’t have a Lift. Most City Center  B & Bs and even some hotels in the city centers have parking problem. Public parking may be available near by but city center parking cost a lot (applicable to those who undertake the self-driven car trips and there are many of us who do it).

Another thing worth indicating is, many a b & Bs having multiple rooms in an old house have shared bathrooms and toilets (may be a bathroom and a toilet). For that matter, most hostels, otherwise a very cost effective and happening accommodation option also have common toilets and baths unless one books a room with attached toilet in these hostels. Some of the hostels, bang in to city center may not have such rooms or they may be occupied on the day of your travel.

Hotels do not have both these problems and some hotels are also bang in the center of the towns but then hotel is a hotel with all the standard comfort but it does not give you opportunity to interact with locals (you B & B hosts). Then there are issues of costs also.

The accommodation booking is therefore a task of perseverance. Keep searching accommodation on various internet sites, whichever ones are liked are to be shortlisted. Finally the shortlist will narrow down to one or two per city based on various requirements an individual has and facilities they offer. Finally a accommodation per city gets selected and then the booking has to be done.  Most sites accept payment in INR.

While we are in the process of shortlisting, sometimes the accommodation you have liked becomes not available  for the dates of your travel. Then what to do? Nothing just move over and book your second choice.

Our search for accommodation took us through all these steps and we also had some disappointments where short listed accommodation either did not have lift or it became not-available on our selected days.

As for payment, Some websites need immediate payment to be done, some offer booking without payment and payment is made either closer rt arrival date or at the reception. Some have liberal cancellation and some are strict in cancellation.

Finally, we completed our bookings. In all we have booked B & Bs at six places, hostel in one place and hotels in three places.

In my next blog post, I will talk about internal transport selection and booking.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

JUGAD - How to Save and Print Important Pages of Passport on Single Sheet



I had posted two posts about the self planned trip to Europe. There was a requirement for me to submit passport in soft copy to meet some need.

It is easy to create soft copy of any document including passport  by scanning it. Passport can be scanned page by page (at least first and last page and visa page if needed). New and modern printer and scanner also permits to save these pages into single PDF documents. The document, however, run into number of pages based on how many pages were scanned.

I felt, if one has to scan multiple pages of a passport  (or two sides of aaadhar card or something similar small size multi side or multi page docment) and upload it or print it, the organisation getting the upload document has to go through that many pages. If one has to print such a document, even if double sided (back to back), pages get wasted.

To get over this problem I did some Goggling and found an answer which worked fine. Here is the trick to scan multiple pages of a small size document and get them to save on a single sheet (which may take up to 4 such pages with minor size adjustment ).

When such a document is scanned, scan each page individually and save each page as an image with suitable name that maintains the sequence of pages. Once the scan is over, open a MS word new  document. Take each picture of the scanned page and paste it in correct sequence into this new document page. Once all pages are pasted one may realisen that the document has become two pages  but two pages are better than multiple pages.

Nothing to worry about since all these pasted pages are images mostly in .jpeg format. Just resize each image in such a way that three or four images fit a page (one under the other or two images in one row, side by side and next two below then). Only one caution. The readability of the page must be maintained while resizing even if we have to be contend  only 3 images per page and not four. Do not resize images so much that nothing can be read from them.

Hope this helps many like me who were hassled by the thought of getting multiple scans or multi page pdf of a such small document. Doing this also helps carry single page document while travelling abroab. A copy (or copies) of your travel documents carried on your person as a safety measures against loss of travel document is highly recommended.


Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Self Planned Three Weeks Trip to Europe - Bookings - Air Tickets



Initial Programme (Not being used)


We had initially made a programme which looked like this:-

Day
From
To
At
Mode/ Action
1
India Location
Budapest

Fly
2


Budapest

3


Budapest

4


Budapest


Budapest
Vienna

Rail
5


Vienna

6


Vienna

7


Vienna

8


Vienna

9
Vienna
Salzburg
Via Hallstatt
Road
10


Salzburg

11


Salzburg

12
Salzburg
Prague
Via Cesky Krumlov
Road
13


Prague

14


Prague

15


Prague


Prague
Amsterdam

Air (Or Prague to India)
16


Amsterdam

17


Amsterdam

18
Amsterdam
Paris
Paris
TGV (high speed train)
19
Thursday

Paris

20
Friday

Paris

21

Paris
Mumbai
Air

(Note – the Yellow shaded portion was our requirement. The central Europe circuit as we perceived gets over at Prague and one can return to India from Prague)


We have kept it in abeyance at the moment but I reproduced it for two reasons. Reason no I, it is an easily doable programme for anyone interested to go through that circuit.
Secondly, it is a ready-made itinerary on which we have devoted considerable time. We are not using it at the moment but if some one gets motivated to look at it and follow it, let it be useful to them.

Final Programme

Our distilled itinerary which was finalised after due analysis and for which we had to start bookings looked something like this:-

Day
From
To
Mode
Activity
0
Mumbai
Paris
 Air

1

Paris


2

Paris


3
Paris
Ghent
Bus

4

Ghent


5
Ghent
Amsterdam
Bus

6

Amsterdam

Tulips & Windmills
7

Amsterdam


8
Amsterdam
Cologne
DB Train

9

Cologne


10
Cologne
Koblenz
Car
Rhine Valley Trip
11
drive
Frankfurt

Rhine Valley Trip
12
Frankfurt
Berlin
Loco more Train

13

Berlin


14

Berlin


15
Berlin
Dresden
Car / Bus

16

Dresden


17
Dresden
Prague
DB Train

18

Prague


19

Prague


20
 Prague
Budapest
Bus

21

Budapest


22

Budapest


23
Budapest
Mumbai
Air


Air Travel Booking

Making of itinerary took time but tougher then that was bookings. Myriad options and lot of confusion. For flights as well as local stay and intercity transfer, what to choose, based on what criteria, etc became all confusing. Economy, the number 1 Indian reason for any selection (Remember, Indians always ask when they look at the best of the Car, “Kitana (mileage)  Deti Hai”) finally emerged as the main selection criteria though comfort, convenience, etc also were other criteria.

To search for our flight, we took initial help from Kayak.com, a booking website for all travel needs. There are many more such portal giving out similar information but it was selected for giving comprehensive information of the flights. Once few options were shortlisted and studies, we realised that those options are the best options. Once options are shortlisted, we do the booking through Airlines website.

Initial plan was to use Turkish Airline. What tilted the balance in favour of this airline? That is very interesting. If one flies Turkish and has a layover of 6 or more hours (upto 24 hrs) at Istanbul, which is hub of Turkish Airlines operation, that person (s) can do a city tour of Istanbul, an ancient and beautiful city complimentary, including suitable meal (whatever falls in the tour time, BF or Lunch). This tour is conducted by Touristanbul (istanbulinhours.com). The temptation of visiting Istanbul as a by-product of the trip was irresistible.

We decided to let go of this temptation for the simple reason that we were not sure how much energy we would be left with after a long tour of 6 nations and 10 destinations to go for Istanbul tour. We felt that we would do a blatant injustice to Istanbul, a city which deserves due respect, if we take the tour half-heartedly. This plan has been kept in reserve for future trip (s). I mentioned trip(s) in the last sentence because I am a rank optimist.

Once we got over the temptation of flying via Turkey, realism took charge of us and we zeroed down on Air France option to fly into Paris and fly out of Budapest to Mumbai via Paris. Why Air France? Because that was the best option available among the shortlisted options.

What emerged from all this research is, options are many. Some of the options may be even more cost effective (like Aeroflot or other airline). The point that must be taken into consideration is, the selected airline will always take you to its hub (say, St Peters burg or Moscow in Russia if one flies Aeroflot) and to your destination.

A fine balance between economy and time invested on the travel needs to be made. Traditionally, all airline generally operate in classical Hub and Spoke style (unless some airline specifically has a direct flight, generally very costly). They get all in-bound flights from take-off city to their operations hub and then send out out-bound flights to the their destination.

After all the Permutations, we booked our most optimum flight for the journey.