6 top tour tips for travel in Europe and beyond

6 top tour tips for travel in Europe and beyond

Why do we love tours? For the travel, education and the friends!

Tour Tips Expat Explore

Something we have begun to invest in recently is tours. This may on first thought seem to be the expensive option, or less adventurous; but more often than not, when on the ground in a big city like London, for example, you can find reasonably-priced touring options, and it is worth comparing the cost of these verses independent travel alternatives.

When time is an issue (and for most of us it is), we’ve come to recognise that a decent tour can potentially teach more about a place than might be learned in a short space on your own, especially if you’ve only got a day or so to spare in a new destination. Perhaps a tour is worth your consideration too, because by the time car hire or transport, accommodation, plus language barriers are factored in, tours are sometimes the cost-effective answer (eg. Expat Explore Europe, day tours such as Dublin Bus, Haggis Adventures in Scotland, City Sightseeing (big red hop-on-hop-off bus etc.); and even walking tours that are offered in many places.

Expat Explore August 2011 Europe tour

Ultimate 6 top tour tips

1. Utilise the supermarket! If we had our time over in Europe we would take a spare case (and even a cooler bag or esky) to enable us to ‘stock up’ when there is access to a supermarket. It is by far cheaper to keep food and alcohol on hand – you will inevitably eat and drink on tour, and it’s better to have paid the equivalent of less than $2 per meal or beverage than over $5 or even $10 per unit.

2.Keep emergency numbers, passport, credit card(s) and phone with you at ALL times. Anything can happen in the time between when you step off the tour coach and when you’re supposed to meet back. Be prepared in the event of an emergency, in case you get lost or you need to make your way elsewhere on your own. It’s a last resort but can happen.

3.Multivitamins – to combat sickness, lethargy and exhaustion. It’s easy to pick up germs when travelling with a group in a confined space so being at optimum health is advantageous.

4.Walk away from the centre of town and main attractions – without exception food, coffee, souvenirs – everything in fact, is significantly cheaper.

5.Sun cream (especially a once-a-day application version like Ultrasun which can be applied in the morning before you head out to conveniently protect throughout the day), and insect repellent are essential (particularly for summer adventures).

6. Make the most out of your time by talking to others – introduce yourself, ask questions, learn about your co-travellers. Even if this isn’t your usual ‘thing’, it pays in the long run and helps forge bonds. If others join a group at varying points in time, remember to also include them into the fold. The life-long friends you’ll make are worth a little effort and personality. Plus, think how it feels when someone bothers to include you – nice, ain’t it?


Our Expat Explore stopovers in one word:

  • Netherlands – colourful
  • Germany – clean
  • Prague – enchanting
  • Vienna – breathtaking
  • Venice – picturesque
  • Rome – intriguing
  • Florence – pretty
  • French Riviera – luxurious
  • Barcelona – contemporary, cool
  • Avignon – medieval
  • Switzerland – beautiful
  • Paris – romantic


Read more:
For the Travel and the Friends, The Australian Times London, September 2011.

Spend a weekend in York, England

Spend a weekend in York, England

Vikings, Romans, breweries, a wonderful cathedral – it’s all on the table for a weekend in York adventure.

Want more things to do in York England?

Think churches, chocolate factories, innovative old schools, mansions, museums, trains, rivers, castle ruins, history, and haunted hotels in York!

Spend a weekend in York, England

York is one of those extraordinary cities in England. York is romantic, like Bath. And full of history, like Hastings.

Anyone who has been to York in England knows there’s plenty of cool things to do here. It’s a charming northern English city, and I’m definitely glad to have stopped by, even if just for a weekend.

York England, is a perfect weekend trip from London

We wanted an adventure outside of London. York is feasible being that trains take only a couple of hours between the cities.

The journey ends as it did from around 1841, at the beautiful York transit centre. Incidentally, also revealed to us as the largest Roman burial area in York.

While just two hours between London and York today, back in the 1800s the train journey took 14 hours! I wonder how long it was originally between some of our other favourite destinations accessible by train, like Northampton or Kent?

Things to do in York: getting around

We’d recommend booking tickets for the big red bus ‘hop on hop off’ tour.

Just £10 each (at time of writing), with a stop right outside the train station, this proved to be an effective and informative orientation to the city for a pair of wanderers short on time.

Exploring all the things there are to do in York over a weekend

For just £7 more we also enjoyed an hour-long river expedition, worthwhile given the city’s former prominence as a major port of trade.

Weekend in York: what you’ll learn

Throughout the day we learned about the old Tudor building, The King’s Manor, where many a monarch has stayed. Legend has it that Anne Boleyn walks through the courtyard in the evenings, head in her arms.

Old Roman and medieval walls and ruins surround the small city, standing testament to centuries of intriguing history, dating back beyond even 2000 years ago when York held as a Roman fortress.

Explore Tudor York during your weekend away

Coming into contemporary times (by comparison), several closed-in windows were pointed out to us, still remaining barred from when the land owners refused to pay a new tax on sunlight in the eighteenth century. It’s where the term ‘daylight robbery’ comes from.

The famous Gothic York Minster Cathedral – one of the biggest of its kind in northern Europe – is of course beautiful, and stands as the tallest building in these parts.

York is traditionally a very religious city, evidenced by many churches.

We were told of a local saying that dates back hundreds of years:

“You can go to a different church every week and different pub every night”

…because both types of establishments are plentiful within the small space.

York walls - travellivelearn.com

Haunted hotels in York

Appropriately, we dined for lunch at The Red Lion pub, allegedly the oldest and most haunted pub in the area! 👻

There are – by many accounts – lots of haunted hotels in York.

The Red Lion’s owner Becci Turner turned out to be a lovely young Aussie (we are everywhere!).

She verified “strange happenings” for the first few months after she took up lodging upstairs at the pub. But, she said it has all settled. They’ve “come to an understanding”.

Shopping and exploring

We discovered many carvery shops and even old cobblestone lanes that used to be filled with butchers stores (mostly now tourist shops); meat was big business around here.

Even more amusing were the delectable (to non-Vegans of course) looking meat stores on the old Viking Street of ‘The coopers/wood and barrel workers’ – how appropriate, Cooper does love his meat!

There was another pub called Cooper’s Place – evidently  ‘coopers’ (barrel and tub makers) were very important to the Vikings and also residents throughout medieval times.

Ruins in York - there's plenty of things to see and find on your weekend away

Can’t go past a bit of history in amongst beer and a bite to eat.

Aside from churches and pubs there are many amazing Viking exhibitions and museums, Roman wall walks and all sorts of cool events on year-round in York. Set yourself up with a schedule before visiting.

It’s quite extraordinary, being from Australia, and wandering the streets of cities that exist amongst fascinating historical ruins and relics. I do somewhat envy those locals who probably take it all for granted.

Alight Here (series): Richmond

Alight Here (series): Richmond

It’s been sunny and warm lately – almost, dare I say it, Aussie-like! We’re gearing up for the big Europe trip and taking advantage of our last few days in London, and so today finally ventured to the ‘other end’ of the Overground line to Richmond. What a beautiful part of the world this is! I’d urge visitors in London to take a ride to this region on the river. Elegant homes, cute pubs by the water, quaint shops, the gorgeous Kew Gardens (stop prior to Richmond) and a short bus ride to the delightful Hampton Court Palace, one of Henry VIII’s favourite haunts… well it was back in the day, but perhaps he’s still ‘haunting’ there, who knows? ;-) I must say, I was looking forward to my visit to this palace, and it didn’t disappoint. Unlike The Tower of London which can be a bit creepy (although I love that too), this place is bright, magical and maintains a regal air about it. It’s easy to imagine Queens wandering around the lavish rooms, up and down the staircases, through the famous outdoor maze…

Travel tip: When we first moved to London I invested in a Royal Palaces membership card which not only provides some funds towards the upkeep of London’s lovely old properties, but allows unlimited entry into the likes of Kensington Palace, Kew Palace, The Tower of London and Hampton Court. Brilliant value for money, and offers many options for nice days out.

Hampton Court Palace

palace pics.

Alight Here (series): Waterloo & WiFi

Alight Here (series): Waterloo & WiFi

Monday morning and I am in need of inspiration (and motivation) so decided yet again to embark on a quest to find the ‘perfect’ external workplace. The bonus of freelance life means that I can set up anywhere I choose. In London, the prerequisites include:

1. Coffee

2. Free internet (WiFi), and preferably a power outlet to keep my laptop charged

3. A nice atmosphere (water view ideally, although not quite discovered yet) and/or decent soundtrack

4. Coffee.

Southbank_Centre_-_The_OvertureI realise from a simple web search that there are many other freelancers and students out there in the same boat as I, and it was with their help that I found today’s spot overlooking The Thames, Golden Jubilee Bridges and Embankment Pier across the river – The Southbank Centre.

Presently I sip on a much-needed and rather delicious latte, pondering the energetic surrounds (and stalking two girls who are utilising the power supply… their table is mine when they eventually depart…). The day outside is grey although the sun is doing its best to poke through the clouds. It’s easy to find The Southbank Centre from busy Waterloo Station – just follow signs outside towards The London Eye, Festival Pier, Royal Festival Hall or Southbank then walk with the crowds towards the Eye and water. Even I can’t get lost, and the Southbank area itself is lovely – alive with visitors, playgrounds, entertainment, restaurants, art, music, and shops overlooking the water.

The Southbank Centre is the ideal place to base because ‘Level 2’ (where I’m sitting in the cafeteria) boasts a quintessentially ‘London city’ view. Although it is a little noisy, it is comforting sound – people chatting, working and being productive with their day.


I’ve found London to be very accommodating when it comes to free WiFi. Many pubs and cafes offer the service – just check for signs or with staff.

McDonalds and Starbucks are pretty good options for reliable internet of course; and this morning I found a handy ‘free London WiFi’ locations map via The Londonist.

I’ve got my eye on a couple of other places to try this week too. Apparently there is a gorgeous spot called ‘5th View’ which is above Waterstones book store between Piccadilly and Green Park, and another closer to home, Cafe Brera on the water at Canary Wharf.

Waterloo, originally a location of interest to Cooper and I for a very important reason – the opening scenes of The Bourne Ultimatum were filmed here – but now as we follow in Matt Damon’s footsteps (thankfully not being chased by the CIA… that I know of…) we enjoy the area for so many reasons. It’s a perfect spot to begin a day of exploring in London because from Waterloo (and Southbank precinct) you can not only link to many key bus or train routes, but you can explore much of the city by foot, indulging in breathtaking, historical 360-degree London scenes, passing by destinations like Tate Modern and the new Shakespeare’s Globe.

The area where I’m working this morning has been developed to its present state since around 1951, when the Festival of Britain was held here to celebrate recovery from World War II. It seems to me that – as the girl with a strong Spanish accent practices English beside me, recent graduates wearing black and fuchsia academic gowns have their photos taken by the river outside, other artists tap away on their computers, locals and tourists alike line up for lunch, and the gaggle of Japanese teens wearing insanely high heels for this time of day stroll past me – the precinct maintains that same free, happy, vibrant energy today. A perfect WiFi spot to work, watch, wander.

On my way into town today it occurred to me that I can hardly believe I know my way around a city like this. Usually one to be timid with directions, and ever nervous about losing my way in unfamiliar territories, I can navigate the city with ease and comfort now, and it’s dawned on me that I have unexpectedly fallen in love with this place. Our time in Bayswater wasn’t pleasurable, and the energy was unwelcoming. However, nearly a year on and we’ve well and truly settled, having discovered the true homely beauty of England. I gaze around lovingly at all the old buildings, and I listen with an amused smile at the various accents passing me by, ‘innit‘.

While I was travelling around the area today by foot and on the bus, I noticed a couple of views that I’ve never really taken in before (possibly I was on the underground and simply had not been by the vantage points previously) – stop on Waterloo Bridge and Westminster Bridge – these sit on either side of The Southbank Centre, with the aforementioned Jubilee Bridge in between. The city views from these angles are just divine, and a wide angle lens might even squeeze sites like The London Eye, Big Ben, and a number of other famous landmarks into one photo! Now I understand that Wordsworth wasn’t being overly dramatic in his poetry, but was merely pondering and honestly describing this beautiful city as he saw it one morning in 1802.

Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

(Composed Upon Westminster Bridge by William Wordsworth).

Feature image by Steve Harris, Flickr creative commons
Alight Here (series): About London Bridge

Alight Here (series): About London Bridge

I’ve always been drawn to water – it is peaceful and therapeutic – so unsurprisingly, when I have a ‘free’ day I attempt to find activities by my nearest body of agua. In this case, I’m quite fortunate to be close to the beautiful old Thames, so taking advantage of a ray of summer sun today, I jumped on a bus headed for London Bridge. Usually I would simply take the overground to Canada Water and then the Tube two stops to London Bridge, but if I have time I like to take the bus here because it allows me to enjoy all the streets and views of the city that the Underground journey does not.

London Bridge

London Bridge is a delightful place to alight because while it is hectic with contemporary traffic of all kinds (people, cars, buses, trains, bikes etc.) it still maintains a feeling of the old world, like Dickens’ London you read about as a child, and I love that the precinct offers paths to old pubs, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, The London Dungeon and many other ‘creepy old sites’, as I like to refer to them. My day from London Bridge station then really consisted of me following tourists around!

I briefly took respite from the London Bridge noise by stepping inside peaceful Southwark Cathedral (the oldest cathedral church building in London), lit a candle and wished for a nice future. Back out into the bustling busy world of Borough Market, I followed the helpful signs towards the river. Obligatory frappacino in hand, I walked along the Thames between London Bridge station and Tower Bridge (pictured below), wandering by the HMS Belfast docked in the river, and then happened across an interesting international photo exhibition on display as part of The City of London Festival.


Today I also incidentally entered into a 1-minute game of soccer (football, in these parts) which was progressing in my path (it would be rude to not kick the ball being that it was passed to me!), walked to the top of Tower Bridge to check out the terrific ‘London in Black and Whiteexhibition (on until September 30 2011, for those interested), snapped a couple’s picture by the river, and waited 15-minutes before I could get my own clear shot of the Tower (minus city cruise boats in the foreground).

I stopped for a while to watch the peaceful body of water ebb and flow, and I attempted to record the scene in my mind. I recall children shrieking, dolled-up tourist photographing themselves in front of The Tower of London, and the hum of construction in the distance across the river as ever more buildings are erected. It was a nice day to play a lone explorer, being reminded of all the cool sites on my doorstep at home in London.