Sunday, 20 January 2019

The Dark Side of Travel - Tourist Traps and more...

Iconic cities like Paris and Rome may be among the top places to visit for any tourist, however it has a darker side to it which makes travellers re think and make them not want to come back to such cities heavily dominated by tourists. I am talking about the daunting scams and traps which one can face as a foreigner in another country. Back in Paris one evening I was stopped by the police as I were getting off the metro station at Hotel de Ville. They said it was a routine check and they were just checking for those travelling without tickets. I had purchased a 3 day transport card earlier from the train ticket counter at the Charles De Gaulle Airport for 28 Euro. I showed them my card to which they said that I were to pay a fine of 35 Euro for not sticking my photograph on the card. It was surprising as when I was sold the ticket the person at the counter just made the transaction and sold me the pass, and said I was good to go for all of my stay in Paris. I do not know how true is this rule of being fined for not having your photograph on a transport pass especially such a huge fine. I still do not know if the police took advantage of me not knowing French and gave me a receipt of 35 Euro. Being well traveled in Paris, Rome and other part of Italy and also having been kind of trapped as a tourist I have written some my experiences which might have been traps that foreigners face and should be well aware of before setting foot on these countries and other such iconic countries.

People trying a bracelet on your wrist   
This takes place as you walk on your way to an attraction, often at known landmarks and museums or sites. As you pass by the crowd, a seemingly random stranger suddenly offers you a “genuine” bracelet or other form of jewellery while quickly tying it into your arm, if you are not quick enough to parry him or her. Even if he offers it for free, never believe it for a moment. Just walk away and say “non merci” or "no grazie", just as many others do. A simple rebuke may anger them, but be firm and never fall for their next moves, whether to curse you or beg for another chance.

People asking ‘Do you speak English?
The question may be simple but it’s also a bait you can easily fall — English speakers are more likely foreigners than locals. Assuming the role of a tourist, a scammer may ask you if you know the universal language, so he can strike a conversation. The next sentences could be the well-rehearsed lines aimed at asking you for money for whatever reason (he lost his passport, he was robbed, and so on). This tactic is often employed on popular tourist attractions, notably big train stations like Termini station in Rome and Gard De Nord in Paris.

Don’t have an espresso by the leaning tower of Pisa
It is a huge tourist trap, really. Having a drink or food around a famous attraction means you will be paying 3–5 above normal prices. Instead, take a walk and have a drink or food anywhere else on another street. Another great tip is that if there is an English menu in a non-English speaking country, the prices will be much higher as well. 

Pickpockets inside the train.
Just like on any place frequented by crowd, pickpockets can thrive on Paris and Rome metros/buses filled with people. Making matters worse is how travellers become vulnerable. They wear back packs that can easily be opened without their knowledge, or get too busy checking out their guidebooks and folding maps while inside the train. Beyond the metro stations and trains, be on the lookout elsewhere, as Louvre Museum staff are even fed up they staged a protest due to rampant pickpocket incidents inside the museum.

Don’t pay museums, visit them on free days.
It is really not necessary to pay for the entrance of the museums when you have many to-do options in a city. Almost all museums in Europe has a couple of specific days for free entrance. Before you plan your trip, don’t forget to check the free entrance days to museums online. The Mona Lisa is TINY, and you'll need to elbow your way through massive crowds to get a closer look. The Louvre is filled with gems — check out literally any other piece of art there.
Not carrying much of cash, keeping their important documents such as passport close to them by having a pouch tied around their waist, not flashing the city map and walking on the crowded road and trying not to draw attention are some of the things you must be aware of as a foreigner. Being aware of these possibilities help tourists see the tell-tale signs and be more prepared to stay away from trouble. Paris and Rome scams, just like in any other major tourist city, can be avoided if travellers are more sensible of their surroundings and practice common sense taking care of themselves. On my experiences my biggest tip for having a great time on your holiday at any of these countries would be as follows. These are a couple of reasons why I have a great time on my travels.

 "Do as the Locals Do"
Sure, you can consult a tour guide or concierge about where to spend your time in the city, but you’re better off getting closer to the source. Chat up locals on the street or in neighbourhood pubs. They’ll direct you to the best places to eat, shop, and find smashing deals. Although it wouldn’t hurt if you offered to buy their next pint for them.

Get Lost
One of the biggest perks of being in a new city is the fact that you have no clue where you are! Ditch the map and use this to your advantage by spending time at leisure wandering around the cobblestone streets on your own. You sure will stumble upon cool attractions you wouldn't have seen otherwise, and it comes with a bonus which is you get to forego the commotion that comes with crowds and typical tourist traps. 

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

When in Rome!- Part II Exploring Rome City

A complete guide of the Eternal
Part II - Exploring Rome City 

What to do in Rome
As said earlier this eternal city is a walking museum. No matter how hard you try, it would be impossible to see all of Rome in a short period of time like 3days. After all as they say 'Rome was not made in a single day'. However, in my time in this beautiful city I explored the famous places and here is something about the iconic attractions of  Rome.

Day 1
Start your day early and head to the Trevi fountain, toss a coin over your right shoulder and make a wish. It is believed that if you toss a coin into this fountain you will at some point of time make it back to the eternal city. Visiting this place in the morning will be a better option as the crowds will be less. Grab a croissant and cappuccino at a standing bar (one of the most important things to do in Italy, it only costs a few Euro and the experience is surely worth it)  on your way out in one of the alley ways and head straight to the most iconic monument in Rome and one of the natural wonders of the world, The Colosseum. I am sure this monument will on everybody's itinerary in Rome. You are sure to get teleported back in time and enter the world of Gladiators and Kings. Of course, you must sign up for a guided tour if your not to good with History. Guided tours not only give you a good insight about the city they also privilege you with skipping the massive entry line to this monument. Yes, guided tours are expensive and if you are a budget traveller like me the top most hack would be to get your hands on the Roma Pass which give you skip the line access to the Colosseum, but obviously without any history lessons about the place. Entering the colosseum also means you are able to enter the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill. This one of the most ancient parts of  Rome, which consists of beautiful gardens, temple ruins, baths of the various popular people from the Roman empire and of course palaces of the various Roman emperors. After enjoying the views of the eternal city from the Palatine hill you can get some lunch around that side of the City. When in Italy the routine here is very laid back so do not expect any cafe or pizzeria to open early. Lunch is generally available a tad late from the regular time and dinners are served in restaurants only after 8 PM. Italians fancy a snoozy in the afternoons so many and I saw many restaurants shutting between 3:30PM-4:30PM. Plan your time accordingly and if anything doesn't go as per plan Pizza, Pasta and Gelato are on everybody's menu here and you can fill your stomach with some delicious Italian cuisine and head to the Piazza Venezia for sunset. Sunset is pretty early in Europe during the month of November and hiking up to  The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, also known as the Vittoriano, Il Vittoriano, or Altare della Patria is one of the gorgeous places to witness panoramic views of the city and witness one of the dreamiest colours of Rome as the sunsets. This monument was built in honour of Victor Emanuele the first King of unified Italy. This building resembles a wedding cake and you cannot miss the enormous monument at Piazza Venezia. Hiking up to the top most level will cost you 10 Euro, and it is totally worth it.

Day 2
Visit the Vatican City. A city by itself one of the smallest cities in the world is surely got to be on your itinerary in Rome. I started early got some coffee and croissants at a bakery near the hostel and took a bus to the Vatican. Buses are easily available and you can take a bus from Termini station to get to the Vatican and start your walking tour here. A pre booked tour is definitely worth the money here and again it saves you the time by giving you the privilege of skipping the long line. A complete tour here includes - the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and St. Peters Basilica. A minimum of 5 hours is required to finish this tour and it can get time consuming on weekends. This tour should cost you anywhere between 60 Euro and 90 Euro with a guide giving you some incredible insight of the place. When it comes to guided tours I would recommend 'The Roman Guy'. This group provides one of the finest tours of several monuments in the City. Yes, they are priced higher than average but they are definitely worth it. After the tour of the Vatican, a good lunch was on the itinerary after which I head to the coolest neighbourhood in Rome, Trastevere. Trastevere is a funky neighbourhood located on the other side of the Tiber river. It is colourful , funky and is known for traditional trattorias and artisan shops. Simple BnB's or multi community apartments are located all around this bohemian neighbourhood. An evening in Trastevere is my top recommendation. I had signed up for a free guided walking tour on Couchsurfing and I totally enjoyed walking through the graffiti walls and to the various Piazzas. Here, several cafes and pizzerias sell 'Suppli', a typical Roman cuisine and it is super delicious! Ended my day at the Bar San Castilo. This is easily the place to rub shoulders with locals and enjoy some ice cream, drinks or coffee. It is super cheap and it buzzes till night. Cafes, bars and restaurants are open in Trastevere till 2am it is definitely the place to have a night out at. On my way back to the hostel me and a few friends visited the Trevi fountain again at 4am, it was truly an epic moment. Me an Indian who met an American, South African, Swedish and a guy from Faroe Islands on the trip, sharing our experiences and walking on the cobblestone roads of Rome leading up to tossing a coin at the Trevi where we bumped into a British couple who was early on at the same bar as we were at was an epic memory I have from my trip. Easily one of my #wheninrome moments. Anyway, Trastevere is the place to be in the evenings! It's an unforgettable experience.

Day 3
Start your day by visiting Circus Maximus. The Circus Maximus is an ancient Roman chariot racing arena. Another ground of entertainment for the people of Rome. You can head to The Pantheon which is the former Roman temple. It is one of the most preserved and influential buildings in Rome. It is one if the monuments in Rome which is still intact. Get some delicious lunch at one of the eateries at Piazza Novona, another significant place of Roman history where people would gather to witness prizes and awards being distributed. Today this square is home to many restaurants, bars and cafes serving some finest cuisines. A good place to pick up a post card or souvenir. End the day by watching an epic sunset over the Spanish Steps. A staircase of 135 steps lively with loads of people hoarding around. Fountains around this populated place and the Trinità dei Monti church at the top are some of the places not to miss in this locality.     

Link to Part I 

When in Rome! - Part I

A complete guide of the Eternal City
Part I - Introduction, Getting around the city and where to stay.

Easily one of Europe's most travelled and iconic city. I have always been a world History lover and have grown up to finding fondness with the Roman History, watching movies and documentaries such as 'Gladiator' and a HBO series called 'Rome'. Rome is an incredible walking museum and of course walking on the cobblestone roads around this city is one of the best ways of exploring it. Of course, I just did that! The most epic moment or my #wheninrome moment was getting lost in the streets of this eternal city with people from different countries and cultures who I had met a few hours ago and become friends with them as the days were flowing. Rome, is exactly that, a city with a long history, mixture of cultures from around the globe, some of the most delicious food and some of the finest art and architecture in the form of monuments and ruins across the city with a bonus of experiencing one of the natural wonders of the world. A big advise when it comes to Rome or Italy generally is that life here is laidback and slow so please do not be in a hurry to do many things. Just forget the pace of the city where you have come from and let the Italian way of doing things make you dissolve into it. Putting everything together here is my ultimate action packed three day adventure when in Rome!  

Rome is a big city, it has a huge transportation system and places are well connected via metro and bus services across. English is widely spoken here and it is super easy to manoeuvre from places but I will recommend you to learn a couple of basic Italian words and sentences it makes life more simpler. After all Italian is the language of love and romance. Euro is the currency that is used here and all most all shops accept cash and card payments of the same currency. Small museums and souvenir shops might only accept cash so it is always advisable to carry a few Euro in the form of cash. As for Forex, I always recommend to covert currency at your home country or the country where you have a bank account. Currency converting means you pay a commission while buying a foreign currency, it means you lose money while making the transaction. Hence, always better to make one transaction at your home country and pay a commission than by paying a commission every time you convert as and when you require currency. Rome, is located off the Mediterranean Sea and it enjoys warm temperatures most of the time. Expect rainfall during winter days here. A good time to visit this city would be during Spring(April to June) or Fall(September to October) as the tourist crowds and school groups are  not found. August is the month to avoid here with maximum tourists.

Getting around Rome
A bigillion airline fly to and from the Fiumicino Airport in Rome. Another option would be to wheel into Rome, the Termini Station is the centrally located station in Rome and is well connected to major metropolitan cities in Italy. When it comes to manoeuvring within the eternal city there are several options, such as taxis, self driving or public transport. Taxis are super expensive and the least recommended mode of wandering in the city. Self driving is also less advisable in Rome within the city as the Italian drivers are insane. However, if you may wish to do that or rent a Vespa it is easily available in the city. Indian Driving Licence holders will require to hold an international driving permit. An IDP can be obtained from the RTO. However, in my recommendation the ideal, best, romantic and budget friendly mode is walking around by foot and discovering hidden corners and alleyways, again for larger distances where you cannot walk you can always use the buses, metros or trams. The best deal for a three day Rome experience would be to get the Roma Pass. It costs 38.50 Euro for 72 hours and 28 Euro for 48 hours. The 72 hour pass comes with skip the line entry for 2 museums and the 48 hour pass comes with skip the line entry for 1 museum. Highly recommend this for all genres of travel. It came of maximum use to me personally when I was privileged to skip the line and enter the Colosseum which is super crowded all throughout the year.

Where to Stay ?

There are various option in the eternal city. Budget friendly hostels are ideal for bag packers are in plenty near the termini station. These hostels can be an ideal option for group of friends as well and advantageous as they are cheap and are at a prime location. I was a solo traveller and stayed at the hostel called 'The Yellow'. This is one incredible hostel with all basic facilities very well maintained flawlessly. It gets lively in the evening with its vibrant social life which guarantees epic experiences while staying in Rome. I paid 56 Euro for 2 nights/3 days here. It is a top recommendation as if you are travelling solo or with a group of friends. It will surely make your experiences in Rome worth it. The other top option apart from hostels are Airbnb's which are scattered all around the eternal city. Airbnb's are a good option in Trastevere, the coolest neighbourhood in Rome. Its graffiti painted walls and bohemian streets make it everybody's top choice. Here you have got to book your accommodation well in advance and its always packed with tourists. Trastevere, also has hostel accommodations available. The third option, you can also have the option of staying in hotels right in the heart of the city, near the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Trevi fountain, Trastevere or even the Vatican; which is its own city depends on your budget, there are plenty of options to stay.

Link to Part II

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

A Terrefic Day - a complete guide for a day trip to Cinque Terre. (Cinque Terre – Pronounced Chinkway Terray)

Cinque Terre (meaning five villages in Italian) is a beautiful place which is a culmination of five fishing villages on the Italian Riveria and a UNSECO world heritage site located in Liguria Italy. The five villages comprise of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The vibrant colours, breathtaking views of the costal and mountain trails draw many visitors annually. Locals in Cinque Terre have built terraces, wine yards, orchards and plantations all around the mountainous regions of this landscape. Obviously I learnt about this place via Instagram and without second thoughts made it my top bucket list place in 2018. Planned my travels to Italy during fall and again without thinking twice included this gorgeous place in my itinerary; it was another perfect place for a solo traveler. However, I am sure this place attracts all genres of travel- group travelers or couple travelers and I was told that it is a top place for destination weddings. I was able to accommodate a day trip here and it was fun filled with loads of adventures with scenic landscapes, preserved architecture and insanely delicious Pizza! Based on my experiences I have put down a complete guide to visiting this place and in my opinion this has got to be on every travel enthusiasts list.

Best time to visit Cinque Terre
The best time to visit Cinque Terre is without a doubt the summer months. It is the high season here is July and August and brings many people to this awesome place. If you want to avoid the crowds May and early June are good months with warm temperatures and less people. September is also a good time to visit with the high season coming to an end. If you want to take the risk of October and November which is off season there are chances that you get stuck with rain and you remain indoors all day or you might be able to explore the villages superficially with the suspension of the ferries and hiking paths due to weather conditions. Off seasons brings negligible number of people to this place and streets are quite.

How long should one stay at Cinque Terre?
Cinque Terre can be explored in many ways from day trips to overnight stays to hiking across the mountain trails over many days at leisure. If you are really tight on time Cinque Terre can easily be done in a day. Day trips can cost anywhere between 55 Euro to 90 Euro. I Paid around 60 Euro (INR 4800) for my day trip. Why did I opt for a day trip? Reason being the hiking path was closed due to heavy rainfall caused landslides here a few days ago. Hiking was my number one agenda here but I was told that November is not a suitable time to hike here and the best season to enjoy the mountain trail is the summer season. Many tour agents operate from Florence and other major Cities providing day excursions to this lovely place. I had opted for one of the day trips from the hostel I was staying at in Florence and I can only recommend this if it’s your last resort and you are short on time. Tour groups are a fun way of socializing and making friends however I think my day tour could not do justice to the place and I would have liked to spend more time in the various villages, or maybe I can say that Cinque Terre can best be explored in at least 2 – 3 days. Overnight accommodations and budget stays can easily be available. Best places to stay here are Monterosso, Riomaggiore or Manarola. It gives you a better insight into the atmosphere here and gives you time to soak into the culture of Italy and visit each village in depth. If you have more time you can always add Portovenere, Levanto to La Spezia to your itinerary.

Getting to Cinque Terre
La Spezia is the closest city to begin your Cinque Terre travels from. You can take a train from Florence, Rome or Pisa depending where you are based at. Pisa is the closest Airport to La Spezia and a train journey is just 1 and half hours away. During summers you can also take ferries from La Spezia which connects all villages (except Corniglia which doesn’t have a harbour). Neighbouring ports of Portovenere and Levanto also have ferry services to the various villages around the Italian Riveria. The views of these villages from the water are surely worth it.  Day tickets if you want to ferry arcoss or take a train across Cinque Terre are available at the office at La Spezia train station. La Spezia is also the place where the hiking trail of the Cinque Terre National Park begins. My tour began with a bus from Florence to Cinque Terre super early in the morning (duration is a little more than 2 hours approximately).

Getting around Cinque Terre
To hike across the coastal path from Monterosso al Mare to Corniglia you need to buy a Cinque Terre card which cost 8 Euro. This can be bought on the path itself. However, if you walk from Corniglia to Riomaggiore there is no need to buy a card. This card includes free toilets and access to Wi-Fi. If you do not want to walk there is also a train version which cost 16 Euro for one day .The easiest and most common way of getting to and around the five villages is by train. Tickets cost around 4 Euro for a single journey in case you do not want to buy the pass and explore each village leisurely. Trains run between 5:30 AM to 11 PM. A print out of the time table is available at the various train stations. During the summer months one can opt for the ferry service and ferry around the five villages for a different experience. Ferry tickets for the day cost 35 Euro and they include unlimited ferry rides.

Things to do in Cinque Terre
Cinque Terre is home to a number of adrenaline pumping activities such as hiking, kayaking, snorkeling, paragliding and the list goes on. Ideally many tourists visit this UNESCO world heritage site to hike along the coastal trails and witness some spectacular views and landscapes of the ocean and the mountains. Hikes begin at La Spezia and finish at Monterosso al Mare. Alternatively you can also take a train from La Spezia to Monterosso and begin your hike there going backwards and finish at Riomaggiore. Unfortunately I could not hike this path as the weather was not favourable but I was told by people who have visited this place before that the hikes are not tough. From Riomaggiore, you can go sailing or swimming or if you’ve begun your hike from La Spezia you will finish at Monterosso and swim at the beach there. Monterosso is the only village in Cinque Terre with a real beach! There are many kayaking trips that can be arranged from Riomaggiore. Apart from physical activities Cinque Terre is home to a few monuments and churches that can be visited. Also you may visit a wine yard for some wine tasting if you wish. Well if you want to push yourself and make that bucket list interesting cliff jumping is a great thing to do at Manarola.

What should you carry?
Nothing much, travelling easy with less baggage is always the best! A good pair of walking shoes is a must as there is a lot of walking around in the many villages. If you are opting for the hike then obviously again a good pair of sports shoes is a must. I would also recommend packing a water bottle as there are many free water taps where you can refill to keep yourself hydrated no matter the season. Swimmers and sun block is a must again if you are keen on taking on the beach after a sweaty day of walking. English is widely spoken across Cinque Terre so you can easily find your way if you get lost. You can also carry your camera to document your experiences with raw nature.