Happy Australia Day!

101 Inspirational quotes to kickstart your week!

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  1. Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve. –Napoleon Hill
  2. Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value. –Albert Einstein
  3. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.  –Robert FrostImage
  4. I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took any excuse. –Florence Nightingale
  5. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. –Wayne Gretzky
  6. I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. –Michael Jordan
  7. The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. –Emelia Earhart
  8. Every strike brings me closer to the next home run. –Babe Ruth
  9. Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement. –W. Clement Stone
  10. The past is a ghost, the future a dream. All we ever have is now. –Bill Cosby
  11. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. –John Lennon
  12. We become what we think about. –Earl NightingaleImage
  13. Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore, Dream, Discover. –Mark Twain
  14. Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. –Charles Swindoll
  15. The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. –Alice Walker
  16. The mind is everything. What you think you become.  –Buddha
  17. The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. –Chinese Proverb Image
  18. An unexamined life is not worth living. –Socrates
  19. Eighty percent of success is showing up. –Woody Allen
  20. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. –Steve Jobs
  21. Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is. –Vince Lombardi
  22. I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions. –Stephen Covey
  23. Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. –Pablo Picasso
  24. You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore. –Christopher Columbus
  25. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. –Maya Angelou
  26. Either you run the day, or the day runs you. –Jim Rohn
  27. Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right. –Henry Ford
  28. The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. –Mark Twain
  29. Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  30. The best revenge is massive success. –Frank Sinatra
  31. People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing.  That’s why we recommend it daily. –Zig ZiglarImage
  32. Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage. –Anais Nin
  33. If you hear a voice within you say “you cannot paint,” then by all means paint and that voice will be silenced. –Vincent Van Gogh
  34. There is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing. –Aristotle
  35. Ask and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. –Jesus
  36. The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be. –Ralph Waldo Emerson
  37. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.  Live the life you have imagined. –Henry David Thoreau
  38. When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, I used everything you gave me. –Erma Bombeck
  39. Few things can help an individual more than to place responsibility on him, and to let him know that you trust him.  –Booker T. Washington
  40. Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture the heart. – Ancient Indian Proverb
  41. Believe you can and you’re halfway there. –Theodore Roosevelt
  42. Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear. –George Addair
  43. We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. –Plato
  44. Teach thy tongue to say, “I do not know,” and thous shalt progress. –Maimonides
  45. Start where you are. Use what you have.  Do what you can. –Arthur Ashe
  46. When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life.  When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I wrote down ‘happy’.  They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life. –John Lennon
  47. Fall seven times and stand up eight. –Japanese Proverb
  48. When one door of happiness closes, another opens, but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one that has been opened for us. –Helen Keller
  49. Everything has beauty, but not everyone can see. –Confucius
  50. How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. –Anne Frank
  51. When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. –Lao Tzu
  52. Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away. –Maya Angelou
  53. Happiness is not something readymade.  It comes from your own actions. –Dalai Lama
  54. If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on. –Sheryl SandbergImage
  55. First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end. –Aristotle
  56. If the wind will not serve, take to the oars. –Latin Proverb
  57. You can’t fall if you don’t climb.  But there’s no joy in living your whole life on the ground. –Unknown
  58. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained. –Marie Curie
  59. Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears. –Les Brown
  60. Challenges are what make life interesting and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful. –Joshua J. Marine
  61. If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else. –Booker T. Washington
  62. I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do. –Leonardo da Vinci
  63. Limitations live only in our minds.  But if we use our imaginations, our possibilities become limitless. –Jamie Paolinetti
  64. You take your life in your own hands, and what happens? A terrible thing, no one to blame. –Erica Jong
  65. What’s money? A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and goes to bed at night and in between does what he wants to do. –Bob Dylan
  66. I didn’t fail the test. I just found 100 ways to do it wrong. –Benjamin Franklin
  67. In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure. –Bill Cosby
  68. A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new. – Albert Einstein
  69. The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person who is doing it. –Chinese Proverb
  70. There are no traffic jams along the extra mile. –Roger Staubach
  71. It is never too late to be what you might have been. –George Eliot
  72. You become what you believe. –Oprah Winfrey
  73. I would rather die of passion than of boredom. –Vincent van Gogh
  74. A truly rich man is one whose children run into his arms when his hands are empty. –UnknownImage
  75. It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.  –Ann Landers
  76. If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money. –Abigail Van Buren
  77. Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs. –Farrah Gray
  78. The battles that count aren’t the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself–the invisible battles inside all of us–that’s where it’s at. –Jesse Owens
  79. Education costs money.  But then so does ignorance. –Sir Claus Moser
  80. I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear. –Rosa Parks
  81. It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop. –Confucius
  82. If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more. If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough. –Oprah Winfrey
  83. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. –Dalai Lama
  84. You can’t use up creativity.  The more you use, the more you have. –Maya Angelou
  85. Dream big and dare to fail. –Norman Vaughan
  86. Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. –Martin Luther King Jr.
  87. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have. –Teddy Roosevelt
  88. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten. –Tony Robbins
  89. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning. –Gloria Steinem
  90. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live. –Mae Jemison
  91. You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try. –Beverly Sills
  92. Remember no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. –Eleanor Roosevelt
  93. Life is what we make it, always has been, always will be. –Grandma Moses
  94. The question isn’t who is going to let me; it’s who is going to stop me. –Ayn Rand
  95. When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. –Henry Ford
  96. It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years. –Abraham Lincoln
  97. Change your thoughts and you change your world. –Norman Vincent PealeImage
  98. Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing. –Benjamin Franklin
  99. Nothing is impossible, the word itself says, “I’m possible!” –Audrey Hepburn
  100. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. –Steve Jobs
  101. If you can dream it, you can achieve it. –Zig Ziglar

SHARD-alicious!

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Stayokay and Swiss Youth Hostels expand property folio on HostelBookers

Prominent Dutch hostel chain Stayokay have followed suit with the Swiss Youth Hostels and added the majority of their property folio to HostelBookers.com

While both chains have worked with HostelBookers to some capacity, it was generally the more prominent cities and properties that the chains were advertising with the OTA.

stayokay

swissyouth

Both chains are working with the channel manager GrowingStones, who have assisted in overseeing the combined addition of roughly 50 properties in the Netherlands and Switzerland.

Andrea Hafner, Application Support for SYH,  says, “For Swiss Youth Hostels, HostelBookers is a great additional way to promote our offer to all the corners of the world. I’m excited to see what it can do for our latest project in Saas-Fee, where we will – for the first time – include a spa in one of our hostels.”

Anke Rijntjes, Manager of Revenue & Channels for Stayokay, says ‘Stayokay is proud to be active on HostelBookers thanks to our channel manager Growing Stones. Stayokay is a hostel chain with 27 hostels in the Netherlands situated in the most beautiful places’.

GrowingStones

HostelBookers has officially integrated with twenty channel managers to its API, allowing many properties to enjoy an additional revenue stream and new online exposure with the OTA through the easy integration of their preferred software provider.

Equity Point London – photos

In the heart of London - Paddington

In the heart of London – Paddington

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Which Channel Managers does HostelBookers work with?

channelmanagerlogos

Since the start of 2013, HostelBookers.com has had an API to support properties using channel managers.

More and more properties are using a channel manager software – mostly to assist in updating rates and inventory across the multiple OTA sites they work with.

While large hotel and hostel chains have worked this way for years, all types and sizes of accommodation providers are now finding the benefits of having this additional online support. With more channel manager choice than ever, it is easy to source and partner with whoever will compliment your business and wallet the best!

Following is a list of the twenty channel managers that HostelBookers.com recognises and works with today. They are based on official and approved 2 way XML integrations (not screen-scrape).

Listed in alphabetical order:

  1. ASSD
  2. Availpro
  3. BBLiverate
  4. Charts (Online Systems)
  5. EZ Site Controller (Global Network)
  6. FNSrooms
  7. Gestione Albergo
  8. GrowingStones
  9. HostelSystem
  10. Hotel-Spider (Tourisoft)
  11. Maxi Mojo Mantras
  12. Mini Hotel PMS
  13. Myallocator
  14. Omnibees
  15. Parity Rate
  16. Rate Tiger (eRevMax)
  17. Seekom (iBex)
  18. Siteminder
  19. STAAH
  20. Yield Planet

Many more integrations are scheduled this year with well-known channel manager providers, so be sure to check in with them if not featured above. Happy hunting!

GENERATOR confirm ROME hostel to open in 2014

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The Generator accommodation brand continues to flourish with the new announcement of a Rome opening in 2014! Over 80 rooms (beds tbc) on seven floors, right in the heart of the Esquilino area – a stone’s throw from Vittorio Emanuele and a quick and easy walk to the wondrous Colosseum.

Josh Wyatt, Director of Hospitality and Leisure at Patron Capital (the London-based private-equity firm that owns Generator), stated ‘The unique history of Rome, coupled with the local character in the immediate neighbourhood of the new Generator, will inspire our design and restaurant ethos to deliver a truly special new concept to Rome.’

Genflyer

Earlier in the year, Generator announced that they had purchased a building in Paris to renovate and open as a 1,000 bed hostel / hotel in 2014. That property is close to Gare du Nord Station, just as this new Rome property is within walking distance to Termini Station. Location is key, as are targeting up and coming areas in the midst of a mini-renaissance. Additional business and employment opportunities to the local areas are widely embraced as Generator brings its unique style to their streets.

This will bring its European total offering to ten properties, making it a truly recognisable, award winning and dominant chain in the niche hostel sector and wider travel industry. Taking the Generator brand into the US market now seems imminent!

Five Elements Hostel Frankfurt – photos

Frankfurt's finest hostel - clean, safe and fun

Frankfurt’s finest hostel – clean, safe and fun

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HostelBookers begin process of removing CUBA from site

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HostelBookers have today notified all properties listed in CUBA that with regret, they must cease to work with them as of this Friday, 9th August.

This is due to the approved merger of HostelBookers and Hostelworld (WRI) who are owned by the American private equity investment firm ‘Hellman & Friedman‘.

As required by US law (embargo) and by the final day of the approved merge, HostelBookers will have additional legal compliance obligations to not do any business with Cuba.

This affects roughly 300 properties, majority of which are ‘homestays’ – a typical type of budget accommodation travellers use while holidaying throughout the country.

While HostelBookers will cease to list or promote Cuba this week, any future bookings already secured by the properties / customers wont be affected.

Other destinations to cease trade with HostelBookers due to the acquisition (if not already) include Iran, Syria, Sudan, Myanmar (Burma) and North Korea.

HostelBookers Summer Sale EXTENDED!

Extend

HostelBookers Summer Sale has been extended for another month! The campaign has been a huge success so far – the biggest that HostelBookers has ever done, with almost 750 properties on sale in 300 destinations! Currently, over 12,000 unique sale bookings have been generated to happy customers!

The HostelBookers Product Team is hard at it, securing more properties with discounts daily. The destinations with the most discounted property stays on offer are:

Budapest, Barcelona, London, Rome, Krakow, Prague, Athens, Florence, Marrakech, Bangkok, Hanoi, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Kuala Lumpur, Lisbon, Mendoza, Singapore, Vienna.

Notable properties that are participating and selling discounted beds daily include:

Generator Barcelona, St Christopher’s Paris (Gare du Nord), Wake Up Sydney, Danhostel Copenhagen City, Vienna City Hostel, Generator Berlin Mitte, Chillout Hostel Zagreb and FIT Hotel New York.

The extended sale (booking period) will now run until the end of August, with a travel period up until the end of September! With so many quality destinations and properties on offer, it’s easy to grab a bargain break with HostelBookers.com

OFT approve HostelBookers and Hostelworld merger

The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) in London, UK, have approved the merger of HostelBookers and Hostelworld – the number one and two most used hostel booking sites worldwide.

HostelBookers will now become part of the Web Reservations International (WRI) portfolio, much to the delight of Hellman & Friedman – known for a focus of ‘investing in management buyouts in media, telecommunications, financial services, technology and marketing’.

HostelBookers and Hostelworld now have five working days to complete the merge. Under the WRI folio will be Hostelworld.com, HostelBookers.com, Hostels.com, BedandBreakfastworld.com and Backpackonline.com.

ACATUR tackles illegal hostels in Barcelona

Barcelona is booming. Tourism levels are at an all-time high… and everyone wants a piece of the Catalan pie! Unfortunately, it’s only natural with so many properties on offer to tourists that some are going to be ‘illegal’…. Times are tough in Spain – people want to make money… but at what cost? At who’s detriment?

As Product Manager of HostelBookers, I have learned that especially over the past few years there has been an alarming influx of these ‘illegal’ properties trying to infiltrate the market. This may mean that they:

A. operate without a business license altogether OR

B. operate without a valid business license IE – not a true representation of the type of license they should hold, in comparison to what they are

While a lot of these licenses are legible in the various languages they are submitted in, it is also quite common that they are written in a regional language other than a standard Spanish understood by many OTA  employees. In Spain, there are seventeen different regions, each region usually with their own laws and language. In Barcelona, Catalan is common for legal documents – very difficult for many Spanish staff to interpret every line as meant. While OTA’s have multiple dedicated departments, they are not dedicated legal specialists who are able to decipher every contract in every region, for every language… the amount of time needed to achieve this is largely unattainable.

So what happens when these ‘illegal’ hostels and properties are operational and ‘stealing’ bookings… what can the legal properties and organisations like ACATUR do? They report them to local authorities, who visit the property to view the license and premise. In turn, they fine them and grant them a period of time to obtain the correct license. The property is not immediately shut down… and therefore will sometimes stay on the books of OTA’s… this happens again the next month… and the next. Another small fine in comparison to what the property earns, with further extensions granted.

ACATUR logo

ACATUR logo

Frustration ensues from the ‘legal hostels’ of the lack of action of local authorities to follow through their job professionally. They feel they are not supported. Who can they go to who will listen – who will assist? OTA’s are limited in the actions they can take. It really does greatly start and finish with the local laws and authorities – the people that govern and oversee this part of the industry in Barcelona.

ACATUR have obviously presented their case on T.V (see link to program in Catalan) and at various conferences held by OTA’s. Their concerns are not just for their businesses, but also the customer. Fire & safety issues are raised, especially if there are not adequate escape routes on premise for a business operating on incorrect licenses. This is detrimental to the customers, the holidaymakers who unassumingly and potentially are putting their lives at risk.

READ ACATUR presentation: http://www.slideshare.net/chrisGomio/update-on-the-hostel-scene-in-barcelona-carles-gras-from-equity-point-hostels

Mats Diedrichsen, Director of Ecommerce at HostelBookers, flew to Barcelona recently to discuss the concerns of ACATUR. While sympathetic to their cause and happy to explore what HostelBookers can do to help their situation, he admits that there are limitations… and agrees that the local authorities must do more to lead – not just assist. Asked on his impression of ACATUR, he states ‘ They are a very well organised hostel organisation…by far the best that I am aware of. The PR coverage in local press in Barcelona is very impressive. Other destinations that have similar issues should really take a look and follow their lead.’

Many new properties that have entered the Barcelona market recently are not just legal – but huge. St Christopher’s already opened last year and made a big splash – winning ‘Best Newcomer’ in HostelBookers ‘Awards For Excellence’. In the lead up to Summer 2013, over a thousand new dorm beds are estimated to be on the way. Generator is set to open a hostel and a hotel imminently…. and multiple applications are made from new Barcelona properties weekly to advertise on OTA sites. No wonder why other hostels who have had it so good for so long are sweating. Their businesses are being hit from all angles… and they have little control of this.

Having monitored and being well informed of the illegal property situation, Miguel Moreno, Product Team Leader at HostelBookers states ‘Generator, St. Christopher’s – this is the type of competition that ACATUR and legal hostels and properties don’t mind, as it is fair competition. These are the types of properties that give our industry a good name… they don’t ruin the good reputation of the legal hostels like Urbany, Equity Point and Be Hostels. It is the illegal hostels, the ones that don’t have a proper reception, that do not have to pay for things like licenses, insurance, pay tax for employees…. these are properties that introduce an uneven playing field… they pay nothing, but poach business and earn the money that should be distributed to valid businesses. If they wish to play, they should do so on an equal basis. They need to pay for proper licenses or face being closed down by local authorities’.

Carles Gras – Director of  ‘Equity Point’ and President of ACATUR, was kind enough to comment on the situation that ACATUR and Barcelona find itself in today. When asked about their next steps, he states ‘Next steps for ACATUR are to reinforce contacts with local authorities so we are their contact for whatever happens related to the hostel industry. We also participate in the new law for hostels in Catalonia. At the same time, we have started contact with all portals selling hostels beds’.

I ask, ‘Have there been any property closures recently, based on the work you have done?’ Carles replies ‘Yes, there has been one property closure, and a second one is very close according to our information.’

The growing strength behind ACATUR has led to an influx of interest on membership and benefits. Carles clarifies this area with, ‘To be a member of ACATUR you just need to download the form from internet, www.acatur.cat and send it to us with your licences from the local authorities (all of them). Only fully licenced hostels that have passed all controls can be a part of ACATUR. The association has a low cost for members and there is no commercial work to be paid. We do all our work by ourselves using our time without any paid salary from ACATUR’.

So what are the benefits? Carles says, ‘The benefits should be visible the following years if we can regulate the sector. We want the following – that being a part of ACATUR represents for our members a signal of quality in the market’

So – ACATUR have definitely made progress. People are waking up…people are listening and understanding the problems that Barcelona’s legal hostel and hotel industry currently face. OTA’s are making the effort to fly to Barcelona, to explore ways that ACATUR and the industry can be supported. The hostel industry is still far away from being regulated, but at least there is a start – a foundation for others to build off. Like New York’s problems before it, Barcelona will not be the last city to experience illegal operators who destroy the industry’s good name and consumer’s perception. However, new organisations like ACATUR can be formed in other cities… to stand up and make a difference.

“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

Famous Quote from Edward Everett Hale

25 Cool Hostel chains worth staying in

…… in no particular order

1. Generator – founded in London, soon to open its tenth EU hostel – a juggernaut! Check them out

2. St.Christopher’s – teamed up with the ‘Beds & Bars’ group, funky, chilled, food and drink, good EU locations

3. Oasis – Lisbon, Malaga, Seville, Granada…. all very cool

4. Base – Australian & Kiwi hospitality at its best

5. Sant Jordi – an incredible 6 locations in Barcelona

6. Equity Point – great quality properties in Spain, Portugal, Morocco and USA

7. Flying Pig – Amsterdam, Uptown & Downtown… and by the beach in Noordwijk

8. Home – two central in Valencia, one in Barcelona… chilled

9. Dizzy Daisy – cool, four Polish locations and one Prague

10. Nest – funky Spanish, a favourite for travellers in Granada, Valencia, Barcelona, San Sebastian

11. Hatters – UK: Liverpool, Birmingham & Manchester

12. Smart – UK: multiple, central London locations

13. Journey’s – UK – three London, one Brighton… extending to Asia

14. Bohemian – cool hostels in Prague, well known group – look them up!

15. A&O – founded in 2000, largely German…. expanding through EU – considered the biggest chain

16. Meininger – well known German, plus London, Vienna, Brussels… set for big expansion

17.USA hostels –  California anyone?! Backpacker hostels in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego

18. Wombats – Austrian & German, recent opening in Budapest… next stop, Milan?!

19. PLUS – great hostels, plus camping…. Italy, Czech, German….. Berlin is amazing

20. Baxpax – funky German styling, three Berlin locations

21.Hip Hop Hostels – about a dozen in Paris – a collective

22. Palmers – posh UK, London times two…. and an opening in Zagreb, Croatia

23. Nomads – a brand affiliated with properties all over…. bigger in OZ & NZ… looking for world domination!

24. YHA – a brand affiliated with properties all over… big in UK, Scotland but some key Australia properties are best!

25. HI – a brand affiliated with properties all over… big in USA and Canada

There are so many great hostel chains and independent hostels out there… I have been so lucky to have visited a lot! Are there any not on this list that you think should be included?

Happy travels ))

Most European destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

Restup London Hostel – photos

One of the newest and biggest hostels to have opened in London 2012.... Zone 1

One of the newest and biggest hostels to have opened in London 2012…. Zone 1

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http://restup.co.uk/

HostelBooker’s Product Department – spotlight on!

Managing the Product Department at HostelBookers, I have the privilege of working with some great people both within and out of the workplace. I have five years expereince with the company and have seen numerous changes and realignments of strategies. Even my Department (once the contracting department) evolved into the Product Department about one and a half years ago, in order to manage the relationships more efficiently with properties and provide day to day account management.

Working in Product has the team oversee a number of projects and tasks, from gaining great rates and extra availability for customers, handling awards and merchandise for properties, contracting new properties to increase our product offering and attending business trips and conferences to broaden our own product and industry knowledge.

I thought it would be fun to introduce some of the team, what it means to them to work at HostelBookers and what some of their favourite and recomended properties they deal with are. All the team have regional accountability, so let’s start with one of the Team Leaders, Alida Zecca, who looks after the Italian market! Alida has worked in various departments so has a good understanding of how we call all work together well to achieve common goals.

Product Team Leader

HostelBookers Product Team Leader – Alida Zecca

Time at HostelBookers and best memory

“It’s almost 4 years! My best memory has to do with meeting amazing people that I am proud to call my best friends,  Anna R. and Marina! Even though they have left recently, they made my life in London and in HostelBookers much easier…. And of course, they were also part of a nice excuse to fly to Mexico and spend a couple of weeks with”

As Product Specialist, what are the favourite cities in your region… and why?

“Has to be Venice and Florence!

Venice – simply because it’s the most romantic city in the world. The city is a dream land, all the beautiful buildings, the crazy small alleys and the amazing canals. They make sure every step you’ll take…will take your breath away!

Florence – it’s also extremely beautiful and romantic, especially after the sunset! A strength of Florence is also the great food and wine they have there… If you like you steak rare and your wine red, then Florence has no equals in the world!”

Which properties would you personally stay in and would happily  recommend to other travellers?

“Hmmmmm….. I think ‘Ostello Bello’  in Milan – super fun , super quirky, amazing location and Aperitivo!

‘Palazzo Guardi’ in Venice – incredible boutique hotel, amazingly posh and elegant… ideal for a romantic break or just to make you feel a little special.

‘Aramis Guest House’ in Florence – Beautiful and extremely well-kept B&B in the heart of Florence, minutes from everything with all comforts included!

‘Seven Hostel’ in Sorrento – a piece of paradise.”

Senior Product Specialist

HostelBookers Senior Product Specialist – Lilia Taguiam

On of my Seniors and longest-serving members, Lilia Taguim, looks after the largest and most diverse region at HostelBookers – Australasia! Lots of challenges with different time zones and language barriers, however this does not deter the cheeky, angelic warrior tackling a huge amount of work and requests on a daily basis.

Time at HostelBookers and best memory

“I have been with HostelBookers for over 5 years and as I have grown older, I have developed and nurtured good relationships with my team mates so they are my friends. I have also been given the chance to grow within the company and be the best that I can be as a professional.”

As Product Specialist, what are the favourite cities in your region… and why?

“Melbourne, Australia – Huge city with just so much attractions to offer and visit, easy access to everywhere. City and beach… love the trams, food, shopping etc.

Hong Kong – Good for families because of theme parks like Disneyland, Ocean Park…great value shopping, food, Wi-Fi everywhere”

Which properties would you personally stay in and would happily  recommend to other travellers?

“In Hong Kong: Bishop Lei International House – a rooftop pool where guests can unwind and sunbathe, lovely staff.

In Melbourne: Space Hotel – Great location, very clean and well maintained property, big kitchen, lovely rooftop, movie room, good staff. Everything was clean, spotless & perfect

In Sydney: Bounce – Amazing Rooftop! It has a cover that is remote-controlled, so when it rains they can close it so the rooftop furniture doesn’t get wet. They also have big and spacious common areas and a restaurant next door. It’s walking distance to Central Station. Again, great staff, very clean and well maintained.

In Singapore: Bunc Hostel – after all my property visits, I could say this was the best hostel there is in Singapore. It’s located in Little India where you can find the only 24 hours shopping centre “Mustafa”. There is a ladies room, rooftop deck, kitchen…. And if you don’t want to cook, then restaurants in the area offer exotic food such as “cereal prawns, salted egg crabs, Chili Or Black Pepper Crab, BBQ Stingray etc”

Product Specialist

HostelBookers Product Specialist – Khalid Ichaoui

Khalid Ichaoui started off as an apprentice with me at HostelBookers and is one of the success stories of what a lot of hard work, diligence and great work ethic can lead to. Now a fully fledged Product Specialist, the youngest member of the team primarily looks after the very important and growing North American market… and has recently taken on a few extra countries for good measure, including Argentina and Cuba.

Time at HostelBookers and best memory

“Three and a half years, working my way up! My best memory…. Hmm…. does this have to be work related? Right now I’m thinking how I scored a goal at Upton Park – and was the first Moroccan to do so!”

As Product Specialist, what are the favourite cities in your region… and why?

“Los Angeles – best weather in the US with a yearly average of 18°C! The “City of Angels” has so much to offer, from star spotting on Rodeo Drive, the Griffith Observatory… to museum hopping between the Getty and LACMA!”

Which properties would you personally stay in and would happily  recommend to other travellers?

“Well – ‘Chicago Getaway Hostel’ – awesome facilities, very clean, fun staff and great value for money! Our customers think so too, as the hostel was voted our #1 property in North America!

Freehand Miami –  Ever wondered what it’s like to stay at a boutique hostel? The Freehand Miami offers an experience not be missed. You will enjoy a unique design with hand crafted interiors, local food and drinks at the hostel bar (The Broken Shaker), all in a sociable environment with other like-minded travellers. Oh… the hostel is situated between Miami Beach and South Beach!

USA Hostels Hollywood: The USA Hostels Hollywood offers fun, clean, value-driven accommodation for travellers who want the most for their money. The hostel is situated in the centre of Hollywood surrounded by theatres, the world-famous walk of fame and LA’s hottest bars!

USA Hostels San Francisco: Another winner at the HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013. The hostel won an award for best staff two years in a row! In addition to the fun driven environment, the hostel is an ideal location for exploring San Francisco. You are minutes away from Union Square, Chinatown, Japantown, the historic cable cars and some of San Francisco’s best shopping!”

Overall, we have ten Product Specialists who are happy to give you their tips and recommendations…. just drop me a line and let me know where you are going – and we will be in touch!

Most European destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

Abraham Hostel Jerusalem – photos

abrahampintDSC_0074abrahampartyIMG_8555

Night getting started!

Night getting started!

abraham-hostel-jerusalem

Dead Sea Tour

Daniel and Jacqueline from Gomio, Ryan from HostelBookers, Dave from Clink78

Fun times - great award winning hostel!

Fun times – great award winning hostel!

http://www.abraham-hostel-jerusalem.com/

Best new Hostels to visit in 2013

Best new Hostels, based on customer reviews and according to HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 are:

Western Europe

one80

Eastern Europe

circus

Oceania

14

Asia

Hatang

North America

HI

South & Central America

ukelele

Africa & the Middle East

nari

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Most destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

Big hostel brands set for European expansion in 2013

Hostel chains expanding in 2013: News keeps on breaking of big, well-known, award-winning chains expanding to all parts of the globe.  This is especially true in Europe – where student, family and budget travel for business and independent travellers shows no signs of slowing down.  A demand for trusted and cool budget accommodation is literally hitting new highs!

This is possibly fueled by the global financial crisis that we still find ourselves in…. ironically, somewhat complimenting our budget accommodation industry who are left asking ‘What GFC?!’ People still travel and it seems that what was not an option for some previously, now is… the rise of the hostel, or the concept of what a hostel should be and offer, keeps on adapting in these hard times and is reaping the benefits. People from hotel backgrounds are cashing in on the hostel product, bringing their expertise to the market.

For most the prominent chains, bookings and revenue are strong – making new openings possible. However, the news of the chains or ‘big boys’ coming to town has left a lot of smaller, independent properties quaking while they wait to see just what kind of impact the introduction of extra beds from brand expansions will have on their business. A great example is Barcelona, who this year alone are set to be inundated with a few thousand extra dorm beds.

logos

As Product Manager at HostelBookers, if I look at the three brands that have recently won the ‘Best Chain’ category for our Awards for Excellence, I can see that 2013 is going to be a big year for expansion for them in particular. Recently while in Berlin for ITB, I managed to catch up with some of these brands…. and more.

So – the first three from our recent Awards:

GENERATOR – Berlin & Barcelona.

I went to a cool party they put on the night before ITB started. They billed the party as ‘ for one night only, rising from the foundations’ of the new property about to open in Berlin Mitte… and what a property it is set to be! It’s on the same strip as Meininger and well placed in a backpackers hub of town. However, this is just one city set to benefit from a Generator opening….. Barcelona will have two, a hostel and a hotel (same building, two entrances and receptions)…and other cities with strong, rumored interest include Rome, Milan and Amsterdam… no sign of slowing! Their new logo and re-branding is epic….. forget what you once knew…. Generator has jumped a few levels!

http://generatorhostels.com/en/destinations/barcelona/

http://generatorhostels.com/en/destinations/berlin-mitte/

EQUITY POINT – Prague.

They have secured a prime location and building and renovation work and just about finished, with their newest property set to open just after Easter. A great location, just over Charles Bridge in the Mala Strana district….. an area screaming out for a classy hostel and boost of youth to its historic area under Prague Castle.

http://www.equity-point.com/en/hostels-prague/equity-point-prague/hostels-prague.html

PLUS – tbc…

Currently riding high off the huge success of what is PLUS Berlin, which really upped the ante of their overall product and brand offering two years ago….. the PLUS crew are scouting for new locations and are set to make announcements soon…. speaking to some of the managers, it is clear that they are after steady growth, with the plan to open up a new property every few years… so I guess that time has come! Keep an eye on their website for their latest, exciting news http://www.plushostels.com

Now, other big brands about to expand that you probably know of if you travel / work in the industry:

ST CHRISTOPHER’S – Paris.

A second hostel for them in this beautiful city set to open soon, around the corner from Gare du Nord station….. how central can you get?! The recent opening of their Barcelona property has seen them rise to the top of Barcelona bookings and ratings quickly. They even won ‘Best Newcomer’ for the Barcelona property in HostelBookers Awards for Excellence… as well as ‘Most Popular’ for the Prague Mosaic House – so expectations ride high for what they can achieve in 2013…. expect more openings other than the immediate Paris open this Spring! http://www.st-christophers.co.uk/paris-hostels/gare-du-nord

MEININGER – Brussels & Barcelona.

They won ‘Best Value Hotel’ in HostelBookers recent ‘Awards for Excellence’. Interestingly, there has been a very recent shift in the ownership and management of this company – with Eric Van Dijk (previously overseeing the Generator expansion) being hired as part of the new Meininger line up. Meeting with a rep recently at ITB, I can confirm that there is strong focus on acquiring openings in London (more) and Amsterdam (new). Their Brussels property was the latest to open… an excellent budget choice hotel / hostel for the numerous business travellers the city attracts.

http://www.meininger-hotels.com/en/expansion/

WOMBATS – Milan…. This is most likely set to open early in 2014…. as stated on the bottom of their email signatures. Their newer Budapest property has been a big success…..also picking up an Award for Excellence for Cleanliness. But don’t expect them to stop at Milan in 2013/14 either… great properties, giving travellers exactly what they want! http://www.wombats-hostels.com/about-us/investor-relations/

A&O Hostels – Vienna & Graz. By far the biggest ‘hostel’ chain…. Vienna opens this month and is massive at almost one thousand beds! Just look at their run sheet of locations they are scouting….if you were ever thinking of  getting into the business, now is the best time

http://www.aohostels.com/en/about-aampo/new-openings/

Most destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

Top hostels in Oceania

As Product Manager for HostelBookers, I am pleased to announce the top hostels and properties in Oceania for 2013 – as  brought to you by HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’. All awards are based primarily on customer reviews. While I have the joy of selecting the winners, it is you – the customer, who has spoken!

The winners in Oceania include the following:

Most Popular

Wake Up!

Wake Up! Sydney

Top 3 Accommodations

Adventure Queenstown Hostel

Best Atmosphere

Noosa Flashpackers

Noosa Flashpackers

Best Staff

Ponsonby - Auckland

Ponsonby – Auckland

Award for Cleanliness

YHA Brisbane rooftop

YHA Brisbane rooftop

Best for solo travellers

Best for families

Best for couples

Best new hostel

Best value hotel

Congratulations to all properties and their owners and staff – and happy travelling to the reader!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Top hostels in Eastern Europe

As Product Manager for HostelBookers, I am pleased to announce the top hostels and properties in Eastern Europe for 2013 – as  brought to you by HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’. All awards are based primarily on customer reviews. While I have the joy of selecting the winners, it is you – the customer, who has spoken!

Russia explodes with boutique hostels - this one in St.Petersburg!

Russia explodes with boutique hostels – this one in St.Petersburg!

The winners in Eastern Europe include the following:

Most Popular

Czech Inn

Czech Inn

Top 3 Accommodations

Mad House Prague

Mad House Prague

Best Atmosphere

Krumlov House Hostel

Krumlov House Hostel

Best Staff

Hostel Blues

Hostel Blues

Award for Cleanliness

Wombats - Budapest

Wombats – Budapest

Best for solo travellers

Best for families

Best for couples

Best new hostel

Best value hotel

Congratulations to all properties and their owners and staff – and happy travelling to the reader!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Most destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

Top hostels in Asia

As Product Manager for HostelBookers, I am pleased to announce the top hostels and properties in Asia for 2013 – as  brought to you by HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’. All awards are based primarily on customer reviews. While I have the joy of selecting the winners, it is you – the customer, who has spoken!

Reggae Mansion Kuala Lumpur

Reggae Mansion Kuala Lumpur

The winners in Asia include the following:

Most Popular

Top 3 Accommodations

Best Atmosphere

Best Staff

Award for Cleanliness

Best for solo travellers

Best for families

Best for couples

Best new hostel

Best value hotel

Congratulations to all properties and their owners and staff – and happy travelling to the reader!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Top hostels in North America

As Product Manager for HostelBookers, I am pleased to announce the top hostels and properties in North America for 2013 – as  brought to you by HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’. All awards are based primarily on customer reviews. While I have the joy of selecting the winners, it is you – the customer, who has spoken!

The winners for North America include the following:

Most Popular

Top 3 Accommodations

Premier budget accommodation in the USA

Chicago Getaway – Premier budget accommodation in the USA

Best Atmosphere

Best Staff

Award for Cleanliness

Best for solo travellers

Best for families

Best for couples

Best new hostel

Best value hotel

Congratulations to all properties and their owners and staff – and happy travelling to the reader!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Top Hostels in Western Europe

As Product Manager for HostelBookers, I am pleased to announce the top hostels and properties in Western Europe for 2013 – as  brought to you by HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’. All awards are based primarily on customer reviews. While I have the joy of selecting the winners, it is you – the customer, who has spoken!

Amazing, huge hostel in an old textiles university

PLUS Berlin – Amazing, huge hostel in an old textiles university

The winners in Western Europe include the following:

Most Popular

Top 3 Accommodations

Best Atmosphere

Best Staff

Award for Cleanliness

Best for solo travellers

Best for families

Best for couples

Best new hostel

Best value hotel

Congratulations to all properties and their owners and staff – and happy travelling to the reader!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Most destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

Top hostels in South and Central America

As Product Manager for HostelBookers, I am pleased to announce the top hostels and properties in South & Central America for 2013 – as  brought to you by HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’. All awards are based primarily on customer reviews. While I have the joy of selecting the winners, it is you – the customer, who has spoken!

Funky and famous Argentine hostel

Art Factory – Funky and famous Argentine hostel

The winners in South & Central America include the following:

Most Popular

Top 3 Accommodations

Best Atmosphere

Best Staff

Award for Cleanliness

Best for solo travellers

Best for families

Best for couples

Best new hostel

Best value hotel

Congratulations to all properties and their owners and staff – and happy travelling to the reader!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Top hostels in Africa & the Middle East

As Product Manager for HostelBookers, I am pleased to announce the top hostels and properties in Africa & the Middle East for 2013 – as  brought to you by HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’. All awards are based primarily on customer reviews. While I have the joy of selecting the winners, it is you – the customer, who has spoken!

Relax in this beautiful hostel / riad in Morocco

Relax in this beautiful hostel / riad in Morocco – Equity Point – best chain

The winners in Africa & the Middle East include the following:

Most Popular

abraham-hostel-jerusalem

Top 3 Accommodations

Riad Verus

Best Atmosphere

atlanticpoint

Best Staff

Award for Cleanliness

Best for solo travellers

Best for families

Best for couples

Best new hostel

Best value hotel

Congratulations to all properties and their owners and staff – and happy travelling to the reader!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

One80° Hostel Berlin win ‘Best Newcomer’

one80

One80° Hostel have picked up yet another award – this time from Hostelbookers in their recent Awards for Excellence. I met up with some of their managers at ITB today to congratulate them of their win. Stella Lindemann, Guest Relations Manager for the property says of the win, ‘Wow, we did not expect to win anything, being new and not established….but now it feels like we made it! All the work, the blood and sweat, it all makes sense!’

Asked about the brand philosophy of One80°, she continues, ‘We are all a team. We all live and breathe One80°…it is love, positivity, kindness. It is a love for Berlin that comes from the staff, the knowledge….being informative and helpful.’

Walking into One80°, one could easily expect to be in a hotel. High spec finishes, high quality materials, vast communal spaces and am amazing basement nightclub and band room. Part of the Azure hotel group, they are quick to add, ‘we are definetly a hostel! This is part of the philosophy. We are a hostel, but from a hotel background. We bring a different perspective – a high customer focus but easy atmosphere’. Stella should know, her title says it all… Its not something that a typical hostel provides, but something found in four and five star hotels.

Asked about the biggest challenge faced when opening, Stella says, ‘It was to get people to see and recognise something new. For OTA’s to see us as a serious player. That, and the size – over seven hundred beds is big..we were so surprised at how many beds we sold…. A huge amount…even before we had opened. It was a high anxious energy when we opened. The first few days, all of a sudden it was all hands on deck….there was chaos, but in a beautiful way, where everyone worked together and it just became normal…it gelled.’

Already under an investor group of hotels, I ask if the One80° ‘hostel’ concept will be pushed further. I’m happy to know that their investors are already scouting for other locations. Where this will be is anyone’s guess, although Prague and London seem to denote a positive response. Wherever it is, the location must be central to attract a young and funky crowd – something which lent to the success of the current stand alone property in the heart of the city, Alexanderplatz. You know you are in Berlin when the looming view is the iconic TV tower ‘Fernsehturm!’

‘What about the name – there must be something in that?’, I ask. Of course there is a story which encompasses the response already given. Stella states, ‘Yes – One80° was thought of by the investors…. As they worked in hotels and wanted to open a boutique conceptual hostel, it was a one eighty degree turn on what they did, on what they thought a modern hostel should now offer…a hotel approach in a hostel environment…so, the brand is born!’

Brand?! Yes, confirming the brand again is exciting – a brand that is set to grow quickly off the back of the current success of one of the best new hostels opened in recent years. Not just in Europe, but worldwide. A feat that all Berliners should be proud of – party and highly desirable travel capital of Germany.

Get your photo taken in their photobooth after partying in their nightclub!

Get your photo taken in their photobooth after partying in their nightclub!

So what next for the current product? What has been missed that could be introduced? What other strategy is there for 2013? Both girls giggle and talk of how cool it would be to have a rooftop terrace, an infinity pool or rooftop lap pool, but these are most likely ideas for the next hostels. For now, the concept is perfect. The strategy revolves more around pushing the club facilities and promoting bands and dj’s, who they are happy to give a few free nights stay to in exchange for service and talent.

Julia Schroeder, Sales Manager adds, ‘All of us, the owners and investors, are really happy with the awards we receive. To see everything come together, from the design, to the customers, to the atmosphere created in our communal spaces where people are working, socialising, having fun….its amazing! We just didn’t realise the affect it would have.’

Chatting with the girls, I can see the passion and enthusiasm they have for the business. Julia has excellent experience in hospitality management, which she studied and worked in places such as the London Ritz Carlton and the Holiday Inn Berlin, before being snapped up by the Azure group. On the other hand, Stella comes from a teacher background, bringing the nurturing and caring side into the customer relations mix. They are a dynamic duo, riding a high wave of celebrated success.

So, who knows what is next? It seems like anything is possible for the One80° concept. Philosophy and strategy aligned, the Azure group’s next projects sound set to be touched and turned to gold…this could be the new brand to take on the likes of current ‘best chain’ winners Generator, PLUS and Equity Point in future years! Congrats!

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Grand Hostel Berlin win ‘Best Staff’ award

Grand Berlin - logo

Hostelbookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ has awarded Grand Hostel Berlin a ‘Best Staff’ award within Western Europe. The property has won numerous awards from a variety of OTAs since opening, making it one of the more wider known and respected hostels in Berlin’s saturated market. As I am here for ITB, I managed to visit the property for a tour and a catch up with the owners and managers.

Of the win, hostel manager Clara Rueter states ‘Wow! This means we are doing it right! Our staff are all very individual, all very natural with people. We are roughly 17 people, all speaking different languages from all over the world. While all different, we are all in harmony – and the guests pick up on that’.

The reception staff are all well trained and have excellent experience in hospitality management. The trend in the industry is that a lot of staff that work in hostels actually come from four and five star hotel backgrounds. This is also the case with Grand Hostel Berlin.

Adding to reasons for their win for Best Staff, Clara goes on to say ‘We have very entertaining staff. Every day we offer something, a different nightly event. We are a medium size property, so the customers really get to know the staff…. and we, the customers. We fulfil the needs of our guests. We are not a party hostel. We are more boutique. Our product is comfort, relaxation and a good nights sleep. We bring customers together…we are their home when they stay with us’.

Nina Geserick, a new manager to Grand, says ‘I noticed straight away the difference here. You can see the customers are not just a number. I have worked at larger hostels where this easily happens… Here, everyone knows each other on first name basis. The property size is manageable with just over one hundred beds. It is a friendly, medium size… Not a crazy party. We leave that to the others!’

Nina should know, she has a wealth of experience in the industry, having worked in Berlin hostels such as the Generator and One80 – both properties also having won awards in this years Hostelbookers Awards for Excellence. Generator for ‘Best Chain’, One80 ‘Best Newcomer’.

Award winning boutique Berlin hostel

Award winning boutique Berlin hostel

Jorg, part owner, talks about the introduction of their restaurant ‘Grand ma’s’. ‘We had so many customers asking where they could go for proper German food, there was no where great close by. We want them to stay with us, or have even more reason to come back to us after a long day out….so we created our restaurant with more traditional and affordable German dishes. Customers love it. The local businesses even come to us for lunch. Our strategy is to really get the evening service established, looking after our customers needs even more’.

Whatever Grand is doing, it is getting it right! The place is immaculate, the staff attentive, friendly and well spoken. They range from countries such as Australia, South Africa and Kazakhstan….some speak up to seven languages fluently. This worldly combination obviously suits the industry and product – it really is true and I hear it time and time  again, that great staff are invaluable – they either make or break the business. In Grand’s case, business is well and truly booming! Congrats

For a full list of HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013 winners – view here

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Best Hostel Chains 2013

HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ have announced their ‘Best Chains’ for 2013 and the winners are:

Generator, PLUS and Equity Point!

All are juggernauts in the industry and set for expansion in 2013.

Generator Berlin Mitte is due to open towards the end of April, along with their two Barcelona properties (Hotel & Hostel – same building, separate receptions). The growth that Generator has experienced in the last two years has been phenomenal. Long gone are the days of having a stand-alone property in London – they now hold fort in Hamburg, Venice, Dublin, Copenhagen and Berlin East. They have recently re-branded with a new bright pink logo and have modernised their look, moving away from the rave hey day of the nineties.

Generator Logo

I was at ITB last week and attended a great party by Generator – billed as “rising from the ashes for one night only!” in the Mitte property. Great location for the hot ‘industrial Berlin’ party that ensued, with VJs, DJs spinning proper vinyl, fire performers and classy mixologists creating deadly cocktails for the night.

Equity Point is considered the most worldly of the three chains, with properties in the USA, UK, Spain, Portugal and Morocco. Equity Point also opens in Prague within the next few weeks. It’s location can’t be beat, in close proximity to Charles Bridge in the ‘Old Town’, where you find the famous Prague Astronomical Clock.  Equity has always fared well in regards to recognitions and industry awards, with a lot of other hostels trying to follow in their footsteps.

Equity Point

PLUS has really grown due to its Berlin opening a few years back, making it the third country it has foundations in. Infamous already for providing fun and varied accommodations in Italy, the chain also has a base in Prague…. and is rumoured to be eyeing off their next country  to conquer! Their camping grounds and facilities really set the brand apart from the other winning chains…. if you want a real ‘Roman holiday‘ than this chain is definitely for you!

PLUS logo

Congrats to all three on the amazing achievement and for forging their niche products in what has become an extremely cut-throat, competitive market

Check out all the Awards for Excellence winners here:  http://www.hostelbookers.com/2013-top-accommodation/

Most destinations mentioned are cheaply reached by budget airlines

I prefer to use Ryanair or Easyjet

AKG Mini Headphones

I recently picked up a pair of these bad boys…. love them! They complement my recent purchase of the Google Nexus tablet too… making listening to music or watching a film an amazing experience. I really hate in-ear headphones, so the over-ear was the only option… so many choices, colours and brands to choose from… but the AKG’s are all class!

I researched the market and found that these were the most attractive purchase… it did help that they had just gone on sale and could be snapped up half price from ‘Richer Sounds’. For under £70, nothing else really compared.

The model I chose was the AKGK451 Mini Headphones….. they came with a case for storage / travel, extra jack, cable and collapse style earphones, which also makes it easy to cart in your pocket when you don’t want them around your neck. They are super comfy and padded and this particular model, unlike the model before it, also has a built-in microphone with volume control. Great when I need to take a call on my mobile in a busy or noisy environment. While technically they are not noise cancelling headphones, it has not caused any issues as the clarity is bang on.

Speaking of clarity, I tried a few other competitor models and found that the AKG’s actually had the best sounding bass and provided the most powerful sound overall. Also – they weigh nothing, feel great on and look great on… not overly bulky or tacky, just unassuming perfection!

If you do have long work commutes or tend to travel a lot for work or pleasure like me, then you would definitely appreciate these headphones. Being able to literally ‘tune out’ while on planes or on the road is proving to be bliss!

Checkout some of the reviews and specs here: http://www.richersounds.com/product/headphones/akg/k451/akg-k451

NOTE – these continue to come down in price and you can get them for as little as £50 – a bargain! Get in!

Google Nexus 7 inch 3G Tablet wt Wi-Fi

WOW! My new favourite toy by far…. loving my Google Nexus. I debated for a while what the point in having a tablet was….especially as I already have a smart phone. But, as I researched the craze of tablets and what the best were on the market, I totally found myself with Nexus envy!

I ended up holding out for the release of the 3G version of the 7 inch Wi-Fi…and a big 32GB! It was only a little more expensive and probably of better use in the long run. Since I’m still waiting to connect to 3G, I have been hanging out in coffee shops and bars, downloading all sorts of apps and a plethora of music while catching up on all the goss with friends and new acquaintances!

The music – OMG – the music is the best. definitely recommend the Bit Torrent app mixed with the KAT (Kick ass torrent) site for awesome and fast file sharing…. my music collection has jumped by almost 200 albums in 2 weeks! Great for long train and plane trips and the odd house party! Essential Mixes anyone?! But anyway, seriously, ditch the PC or laptop and grab a tablet! I love the fact it is small enough for a few jacket and jeans pockets, but plenty big enough to work off.

The resolution, pixels and colour is great, the sound good (I plug in high def headphones or speakers instead so my ears dance) and it weighs nothing! For the avid traveller, blogger and lover of beautiful and useful gadgets, this is the ultimate. Nothing in the same range really compares for me….. keep the ipad mini…. the Nexus doesn’t even have to be a ‘mini’ – it just IS! Oh, and keep the Kindle Fire HD….. I like Amazon, just don’t want to be married to it! Android software really is killing it in every way…. I suppose I get the best of both worlds… my smart phone is an iphone 4s….. between the 2 devices, i am set…. so I’m happy!

It really is crazy to think about how the world of travel and the technology we have has changed the way we connect with the with people, ourselves and the world itself. I’m totally happy and embracing the ‘new age’, as it were…

https://play.google.com/store/devices/details?id=nexus_7_32gb_hspa

HostelBookers ‘Awards for Excellence’ 2013

Well – that time of year is upon us again, where we get to award all the best properties from around the world who work with us at HostelBookers! For the second year, I have had the honour of selecting the winners – a mind boggling task. So many excellent properties working hard to achieve their personal objectives of creating great brands and customer experiences.

The selection process took roughly 3 days and involved analysing a lot of data based largely on customer reviews. This year’s categories include Best Hostel Chains, the first time we have done this in the four years history of our Awards for Excellence! Other categories include the following:

Most Popular ; Best Overall ; Best Atmosphere ; Best Staff ; Award for Cleanliness ; Best new accommodation ; Best for solo travellers ; Best for families ; Best for couples ; Best value hotels ; Group recognition

So many awards – 200 to be exact! This is such a small percentage of the 22,000 properties that we have on our books at HostelBookers… so it is rather exclusive.

The Awards for Excellence launch at the start of March, so keep your eyes open for this year’s winners…. this is definitely the strongest list put together ever. You will see all your favourite brands and some great independent properties…. small (6 beds) to large (800 beds)… hostels, hotels, B&B’s, apartments and even campsites!

I should stop there, as I don’t wish to give too much away… needless to say, we are all super excited for the launch…. check out last year’s winners here:

http://www.hostelbookers.com/2012-top-accommodation/Image

San Diego in September

Recently I flew into San Diego for a travel conference – WYSTC. I had not been to the USA for over 10 years, so naturally was thrilled to be back in sunny California to blend business with pleasure.

WYSTC is held once a year and attracts all sorts of companies and people connected to the wider travel industry. A few intensive days of meetings, seminars, networking and partying with clients ensued… this was my intro to San Diego!

While all the events of each conference day unfolded at the Sheraton Marina Harbour Hotel, the nights were pre-organised and included events at Fiesta De Reyes in the Old Town, Hard Rock Cafe in the Gaslamp District and the Wave House in Mission Beach. Overall a great few days, which set me off to a good start for the rest of my trip!

After WYSTC finished, I had the weekend to enjoy the rest of the sights before heading to San Fransisco (see other post). The guys at Hi Hostel San Diego looked after me for private accommodation. Great location, right in the heart of the action of downtown and all its bars, restaurants and clubs. The best restaurant i ate at was actually out of downtown though – the very cool Starlite up in Mission Hills…. funky staff, tasty dishes and great cocktails… the Mosow Mules went down a treat!

I was blessed with sunny weather on my weekend of free time in San Diego, so naturally took in as many of the sights as possible… in hindsight, i wish i had of just laid on one of the beautiful beaches for a day and worked on my tan! I do miss the ocean…. its not to say there are not great sights to see in San Diego though. Balboa Park was my first stop, where i soaked up the relax vibe and all the musical buskers.

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There is a plethora of museums up in this area and you can easily spend a whole day up there. I opted to keep outdoors though and headed to San Diego Zoo for a few hours. If you don’t like zoos, there is also the Safari Park in another part of San Diego, which comes highly recommended – or SeaWorld!

San Diego is a huge navy town – there is a base there. So naturally, I had to visit the USS Midway Museum. This was actually a pretty cool attraction and im suprised at how much time i did spend there.  Very Top Gun – great models of fighter jets and choppers all on the upper landing deck of the aircraft carrier.

You get pretty much full access to the carrier and can walk around on a self guided audio tour. There is a lot of history and it really puts into perspective what its like to work on these ships while defending  your country. This history is really woven into its locals.

While i did eventualy get to the beach, it wasnt until much later in the afternoon when the sun was almost about to settle for the day. The best option of beach for me was Coranato – a quick ferry ride over the bay, with the ferry leaving close to the USS Midway. The ferry ride allowed for an excellent perspective of the city landscape from the water. Once docked in Coranado, its about a 20 minute walk through middle class patriotic American suburban streets to the beautiful stretch of beach. It has even been voted as one of the best and cleanest beaches  in California. To top it off, one of the major micro-breweries is located here also (Coronado Brewing Company). The perfect place for a great dinner and some brilliant brews… a great end to the day and start of the night with new friends!

On recommendation, we caught the ferry back over and headed on to Double Deuce in the Gaslamp / downtown area. They have dancing rodeo girls and bucking mechanical bulls – pretty funny to watch drunk guys losing out every time and being tackled to the floor (by the bull – not the girls!)…. this bar is promoted a lot by the hostels in the area, so its a good place to generally meet other travellers and the younger locals.

There is acually enough to do in San Diego to keep you busy – and the lifestyle itself does seem pretty chilled. My favourite stretch of beach was about 40mins away and is easy to get to by bus. If here for a few days, be sure to check out La Jolla – maybe after spending time at Seaworld, as they are close by. Good start to the American visit – next stop San Fran!

What’s HOT in London theatre right now

Visiting rainy London in the next few months?  

Head indoors and catch a show (not a cold!)

SEXY & FUN

CABARET – A very limited run (15 weeks) at the Savoy to shake off the winter blues. Starring none other than Will Young, this latest adaptation is fun, sexy and camp…. guaranteed to titillate with innuendo and gratuitous nudity…. what else would you expect – Life is a cabaret old chum!

SPECTACULAR & SERIOUS

WAR HORSE – Even the Queen has seen his! Steven Spielberg recently made it into a film…don’t let that stop you from seeing this truly spectacular masterpiece of puppetry and storytelling…. a fine achievement and must see – book ahead!

FAMILY FAVOURITE

SINGING IN THE RAIN – A dominant theatre position in the West End, if you are a tourist you will find this with ease! A classy production with old school romance and charm – perfect family fun and a great intro to London musical theatre

MONSTER MUSICAL

WICKED – the runaway smash hit continues to pull in the crowds. Clever, witty and well staged account of life before Dorothy & the Wizard of Oz.  A multi award winning production and firm crowd favourite with an infectious spirit!

HIGH BROW

TWELFTH NIGHT or RICHARD III – what better city to see Shakespeare in than London?! For proper culture vultures, these two productions in particular feature the amazing Mark Rylance. The Apollo Theatre is hosting these two Shakespeare’s Globe productions – beg, borrow or steal tickets if you must, you’re in for a treat

Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget

Tanneries Morocco e1330608829318 Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget

Here are a few tips from HostelBookers’ Ryan Bennett on how you can save money while travelling through beautiful Morocco…

Tours

From Marrakech you can organise tours and trips out into the Sahara desert, which is a must – you can sleep under the stars in a Berber tent, ride camels across the desert at sunset, watch the sun rise over the dunes, and drive through the Atlas Mountains. All tours on this route stay in the same places, so there is a chance to meet heaps of people, and food, petrol, and accommodation are usually included in the price.

Look out for tours where you sleep in Berber tents in the Sahara Desert.  The ‘staff’ here cook for you and host a big musical jam session, playing their drums around the fire and getting you involved in a Berber sing along!

Food

tagine Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget It’s really easy to eat cheaply and well in Morocco – the average meal will be around €5 for a simple Moroccan curry and flatbread, or roast chicken and rice in a restaurant. Even cheaper are street stalls and fast food shops. You can get steamed broad beans, roasted nuts and barbecued corn on the cob on the street, and hot roasted chicken or huge sandwiches stuffed with french fries and mayonnaise from Rotisserie shops. Another cheap meal is Harira – a soup of lentils, chick peas, tomatoes and vegetables, served with bread.

Make sure you try a tagine, a spicy stew of meat and vegetables served with heaps of couscous, or Pastilla, thin pieces of flaky dough layered with sweet and spiced meat, almond paste, and dusted with icing sugar. Typical Berber dishes include Kaliya, a dish of lamb, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions.

Drinking

Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, and so dry. Alcohol is usually only available in restaurants, bars, supermarkets, hotels and discos. As a rule, alcohol is easier to find in backpacker-friendly places like Essaouira, or in supermarkets out of town.

If you don’t want alcohol, you can drink amazing freshly squeezed orange juice or fresh mint tea for only a few cents.

As a rule, do not drink the tap water in Morocco, because you might get an upset stomach. Bottled water is widely available.

Any traveller will be offered mint tea, or as locals like to call it ‘Moroccan whiskey’. Often this is a chance to lure you into a shop, but it is polite to accept. Before drinking look the host in the eye and say ‘bi saha raha’ – which means ‘enjoy and relax’.

Transport

A popular way of getting to Morocco is from Tarifa, on the southern tip of Spain. A one-way high-speed Ferry service is roughly €25 and takes 35 mins. Entry point is the port town of Tangier. Tarifa is great for windsurfing and attracts a large crowd.Algeciras is also an exit point if you don’t wish to travel to the southern tip.

Tarifa ferry e1330609811386 Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget It’s quite common, and surprisingly cheap to get cabs between cities – e.g. Tangier to Chef, or Marrakesh to Essaouira – if you split the cost. Otherwise, it’s quite easy to get around by bus. Supertours and CTM, the main bus companies charge for luggage, depending on what you have, but the service is quick. If you are in a hurry, try to take a Supertours bus as they take make fewer stops.

Trains are fine to catch, and you’ll sit in cabins. If you have food and drink be sure to offer it around to everyone, especially if they are Moroccan, as it is the custom.

Money

The local currency is the Moroccan dirham (Dh or MAD), which is divided into 100 centimes. Only local currency is officially accepted in Morocco, so it’s virtually impossible to obtain local currency outside the country. Luckily exchange rates are the same at all banks and official exchanges, as required by law. To exchange your money, find a bank, dedicated exchange office, or major post office. Cash machine/ATMs are usually in the modern ‘ville nouvelle’ shopping districts of big cities – but make sure it accepts foreign cards before you put your card in!

Ramadan

The biggest religious event on the Moroccan calendar is the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during the daytime and feast at night. The dates are July 21 – August 19 for 2012.

This shouldn’t affect travellers too much, as the restrictions don’t apply to non-Muslims. But it is respectful to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public during this time. Most restaurants are closed for lunch and things generally slow down. At the end of the month is the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when practically everything closes for about a week and the roads are packed as everybody heads back to their home village.

Advice for Women

Traveling to Morocco alone or in a group of girls? Then check out Lauren Smith’s top tips for girls heading to Morocco.

souk 350x233 custom Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget It’s unusual for women to be seen travelling alone in Morocco, so some single women may find themselves being stared at or asked questions by locals. On public transport, single girls may find Moroccan women try to look after you – just remember these actions are all out of a motherly instinct or concern rather than anything threatening.

As a Muslim country, women should respect the culture and dress accordingly – wear long trousers, skirts and long sleeved shirts. A shawl around your shoulders or over your head will also prevent you from getting harassed in the more manic cities. Blonde girls especially will find they get a lot of attention at the souks!

Note that a women travelling alone may feel more comfortable in a pastry shop or restaurant rather than a cafe, as these are traditionally reserved for men.

Both women and men should check before entering a Mosque in Morocco – some do not allow foreigners or non-Muslims of any sex inside.

Hammam etiquette

If you want a bit of pampering on the road, a Hammam (a type of steam bath) is an authentic and dirt cheap alternative to a hotel spa. Stripping off in a public bath can seem a little daunting, but going to a Hammam is a fun and relaxing experience, although it does have its own rules of etiquette. Just remember these rules:

  1. Bring dark underwear with you, and a dry pair to change into afterwards.
  2. Bring your normal bath stuff with you – soap, shampoo, scrubbing mitt and towel.
  3. Once inside, you collect hot and cold water in buckets. Mix the buckets for temperature and pour them on yourself as you wash.
  4. Once you have paid your entrance fee, remember to tip the person who looks after your belongings with a couple of dirhams.
  5. This is not one for couples – men and women take their Hammam seperately!

Bilbao, San Sebastian, Biarrtiz & Bordeaux

Backpacking from Bilbao to Bordeaux!

Thinking of backpacking across Europe? Then follow our blogger Ryan Bennett, who travelled from the Spanish city of Bilbao to Bordeaux in France. With itineraries, tips on food, sights and getting around, it’s the essential guide for travelling on a budget…

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The route between Bilbao and Bordeaux is a notorious ‘foodie’ route, and you can do it in 10 days. With amazing food, great sites and scenery along the way, it’s also affordable too: Here’s my budget for a 10 day trip:

Easy Jet flies into Bilbao and out of Bordeaux
2 x one way Flights (inc. taxes, baggage & online check in) – £75

Travel expenses between cities (inc. buses & trains) – £70

Main Travel Expenses between 5 cities (3 countries) – £145

BILBAO

There is no doubt that the main attraction here is The Guggenheim, a spectacularly modern piece of architecture that houses some interesting  artworks, exhibitions and installations. It is very easy to just fly into Bilbao, visit the Guggenheim (allow 3 hrs minimum) and catch the bus for an hour to San Sebastian. However, an overnight stay in this city is definitely recommended to get to the heart of  Basque country and discover what makes it tick.

Getting There:

PB010026 393x295 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxFrom the airport, a Shuttle bus will quickly take you into town for €1.20. There are 3 stops. The 1st stop is just over the main bridge into town, where you will get a glimpse of the Guggenheim. Get off here if you’re staying in the ‘Old Town’. The 2nd stop is a few minutes around the corner on a main road of the city with lots of other accommodation options, whilst the 3rd stop is actually at the main Bus Terminal, great if you wish to bypass Bilbao and move straight onto San Sebastian.

Stay: The Petite Palace Arana (Bidebarrieta, 2, in front Teatro Arriaga).

Situated ‘front centre’ of the Old Town, this is a fantastic base with all points of interest within easy walking distance. The hotel is very secure & modern, and provides an excellent buffet breakfast and internet in all rooms.

Culture, shopping and nightlife are all on your doorstep. The Old Town offers some of the best restaurants and bars in Bilbao, some steeped in family tradition for generations.  A jaunt along the river will take you straight to the Guggenheim. There is also central tram line (green) out front of the hotel which will run you directly to the Bus Terminal to keep you journeying onto San Sebastian. The stop for the Terminal is ‘San Mames’.

Eat: ‘Rio Oja’ (C Perro, Txakur Kalea 6).

A favorite with locals, this is a winner if you want to sample regional dishes. Comprised of a casual front room wrapped around a central bar, and a back room for more discreet dining, the restaurant serves big portions and has a relaxed atmosphere with fast service.  The bill for 2 came to €40, including 5 shared dishes (2 entrees, 3 main), bottle of wine and digestives. Highly recommended is the Squid in Black Sauce, the Cod and the Tuna & Anchovie salsa salad.

Drink:

PB0403141 302x403 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxThe alleyways and backstreets of the Old Town, behind the Cathedral are chock full of bars servicing the young and funky, similar to the Barrio Alto district in Lisbon.  Follow the echoing voices and laughter, grab your beer/cider and bar hop all night. The city has stapled itself over the last decade as a University city and the students sure like to party, but the bars are most vibrant on a Friday and Saturday night.

Visit: The Guggenheim (Avenida Abandoibarra, 2).

What Bilbao has become famous for. A piece of art itself which attracts roughly one million visitors a year, you can take advantage of the excellent photo opportunities from the outside.  Comprised over 3 Levels, there are works from artists such as Kandinsky, Chillida and Warhol, and a selection of  changing exhibitions and installations.

Entry is €11 and includes Audio Guide. Closed on Mondays (except in July & August)

If you have time, a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts is also worthwhile. You can get a combined ticket for both galleries for just €16 (without audio guides).

Leaving:

Buses to San Sebastian generally leave on the hour from the ‘Terminbus’ (Gurtubay, 1). The cost of a ticket is roughly €10 one way. The bus company is ‘PESA’ and tickets can be purchased from the terminal.

SAN SEBASTIAN

PB040320 389x292 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxWhat’s not to like about this city? Set on a picturesque coastline within the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastian is a fun, vibrant and unique playground within the Basque region. Surrounded by hills, there’s a tidal river running through its center and two separate bays to enjoy.  San Sebastian offers the traveler a great place to chill out and explore while spoiling yourself with cuisine typical of the area. Enjoy great surf, tasty ‘pintxos’ (tapas) and cider, friendly locals, siestas and shopping.

Stay: Pension Goiko, (Calle Puerto 6).

A small Pension with 6 private bedrooms and shared bathrooms, this accommodation is clean, cheap and central. Found on a great little street within the Old Quarter with an old ‘Churros and chocolate’ diner (Santa Lucia) underneath, which also does a hearty breakfast for a fiver. It’s the perfect hangover cure and you literally just have to roll out of bed to get there!

The main reception is at the Urban House Hostel, which is found on the corner of the ‘Boulevard’ as you enter this district. Convenient if you luck out on a room at Goiko, as the friendly and knowledgeable staff will look after you here. The owners of the Hostel and Pension have joined forces and will soon be opening a 3rd property with a Moroccan vibe!

Eat: Bar Borda Berri (Fermin Calbeton, 12).

Do not pass on this experience, the food is simply superb, and different to the run of the mill pinxos bars in the city. You won’t find plates of food displayed on the bar there for the taking. Instead, all dishes are made to order. Be warned though, you will not be able to stop at 1 dish. Most dishes are either €2.50 or €3 and dishes may change as ingredients are largely sourced locally. On the day we had seared scallops, blood sausage cannelloni, squid, cow cheek and pork off the rib, all washed down with a bottle of House Rioja. Excellent quality and value, all coming in at under €30!

Drink: Petritegi Sargadoa, (Petritegi bidea 20115).

This is about 15 minutes by cab out of central San Sebastian and is a great place to go with a group of people. A proper Cider House and dining experience that offers all you can drink cider, straight out of the barrels! Really popular with locals in the know. Urban House Hostel is looking at doing a regular run up there, so if staying with them be sure to ask. If going by cab, allow about €30 for a return trip.

PB040477 3 302x403 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxOnce there, grab a glass and head toward the barrels and vats of cider. Twist the taps and the cider shoots out, with everyone standing around catching the streams in their glass (or mouth!).  Food wise,  for about €20 a head you get dishes of sausages cooked in cider, salads, meats, fish, omelets, bread, cheeses and of course, all the cider you can stomach!

Visit: La Concha, Ondarreta and La Zurriola.

You won’t be able to stay away from these beautiful beaches. Whether it’s surfing, kayaking, boarding or just working the tan, this is what it’s all about! Even if the weather is below average, you can still walk along the stretch of coast or up to the old fort, Castillo de la Santa Cruz de la Mota. This is the ‘Jesus statue’ on top of the hill, where you will be met with sweeping views of the surrounding environment. In the area below you will find the Aquarium and the harbor with its fleet of boats.

Leaving:

There are 2 Train stations so make sure you got to the EuskoTren. From here, you need to catch a train to Hendaye, which is right on the border of France. It costs €1.50 and  takes just over 30mins. Once you get to the final stop of Hendaye, go directly to the ticket booth and purchase your ticket for Biarritz. It is timed so there is usually a connecting train waiting. Cost of ticket to Biarritz is €7 and again it takes roughly 30mins.

BIARRITZ

The city may also lie on the Bay of Biscay and offer some great surf, but that’s where the similarity to San Sebastian finishes. Distinctly different in style and cuisine, Biarritz is more of a ‘resort town’ with some great sporting facilities. If you want to learn to surf, the beaches here are perfect and there are almost a dozen surf schools to choose from in the area. You will find yourself purely in holiday mode here and if travelling off season, you can snap up some excellent accommodation deals.

Getting There:

From the train station on the hour, there is a local bus service into town. Not the most attractive name, the STAB service will take you into and around Biarritz. Single journey is €1.20. Otherwise, a taxi into town is roughly €13.

Stay: Hotel Argi Eder, (13 Rue Peyroloubilh).

An excellent choice right in the heart of Biarritz, this hotel comes highly recommended from Lonely Planet, so try and book in advance. However, as stated, Biarritz is a resort town so you can grab come absolute bargains off season. Try the 4 star ‘Residence Biarritz Ocean’ , where you can grab a 1 Bedroom Apartment (sleeps up to 4) with a kitchen and balcony, for just €70 per night!

Eat: Ahizpak (13, Avenue de Vaerdum).

This restaurant in the heart of town is a real gem. Prices are about the same compared to most other restaurants of this town, around €7 for entrée and about €15 for main. Difference here is the quality of the food is fantastic and the portions are substantial. The establishment is actually run by 3 sisters – one chef and two front of house. There is a relaxed and elegant ambience and a good wine selection. Dessert of the day with a coffee is only €3. Overall, an excellent choice if you want a nice night out enjoying locally produced dishes typical to this southern region of France.

Drink: Newquay, (20 Place Georges Cleamenceau).

Whilst not an elegant drinking hole or club, this bar is smack bang in the middle of all the action. It gets a mention as there are also two internet terminals for those who need to connect. It also caters for everyone, with a good dose of sports and live music being served up alongside its pints of Guinness and typical seaside bar menu. Friendly staff and generally a good crowd from all over so a very social hub.

Visit: Musee Asiatica, (1 Rue Guy Petite).

PB060689 365x274 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxThis is actually one of the more fascinating places in Biarritz and is well worth a visit. It is touted as the 5th most important private collection of Asian art in Europe. There are antiquities from India, China, Tibet and Nepal which cover over 5,000 years of history. Entry is just €5.

If this isn’t to your taste, then maybe chocolate is! The ‘Planete Musee du Chocolat’ may be small but is a heralded attraction of Biarritz and its tradition of chocolate making. Entry is €6 and includes a few complimentary chocolates and a hot chocolate on departure.

The ‘Musee de la Mar’, or the Aquarium, is also worth a visit.  Biarritz was an old whaling town, so it seems fit to drop in and view the collection. There are seal and shark enclosures, with the seals being fed as part of a show twice daily (10.30am and 5pm). Entry is €7.

Lastly, check out the lighthouse. From the hill top there are amazing views straight down all the surf beaches. A nice place to soak it all in and relax away from the crowds.

Leaving:

From Biarritz Train Station there’s a train every couple of hours to Bordeaux, taking approximately 2 hours. The one way journey is €16 and you will arrive at Bordeaux St. Jean (TGV Atlantique).

BORDEAUX

PB0809471 272x363 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxA nice city which is easy to navigate on foot.  The region is, of course, known for its excellent wines. The city itself is UNESCO listed and built alongside the river, with some beautiful buildings and great examples of Roman architecture. Bordeaux is fairly refined and offers some great dining and shopping experiences, most of which are centered around the main pedestrian street of ‘Saint Katherine’. Day trips are essential to understand what this city is all about – the wine!

Stay: Teneo Suites (4 cours Barbey).

Just a five minute walk from St Jean Station, Teneo Suites offers an excellent standard of budget accommodation. There is a self check-in system next to the main entry. Great value and close to the main market place of Bordeaux, this hotel has easy access to main areas of the city.

Eat: Le Marche des Capucins, (Courts de la Marne).

How could you pass up the freshest produce in Bordeaux? Under the roof of this market you will find delectable local cheese, meat, seafood and fruit and veg. This is the best place to sample food in bulk at a minimal cost, such as fat grilled sandwiches stuffed with goat’s cheese and salmon with side portions of wedges (€6 ). Seafood plates (more like platters) can be found for €18 at ‘Bistro a Huitres’, and outside the market is a small restaurant named ‘Le Cochon Volant’, a favorite for locals which dishes up very typical food of the region.

Drink: Clos La Madeleine (Saint Emilion).

PB091091 277x369 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxOkay, so it’s not in Bordeaux city. But as mentioned, you must get out of the city to understand what Bordeaux is all about. If you don’t like the thought of a full day tour,  then the region of Saint Emilion is for you! Just 40 minutes out of Bordeaux from St Jean station,  a trip costs just €16 return and you are rewarded with excellent wine and  beautiful scenery.

‘Clos La Madeline’ comes recommended from the Tourist office in town. You must have an appointment to visit the wineries/chateaus, but the tourist office will organize this for you at minimal cost and provide excellent reading material.

The town of Saint Emilion is quaint and scenic and provides insight into the process of wine making. It is also one of the most expensive regions of the wine world, even outstripping the ‘Champagne’ vineyards. In Saint Emilion, each hectare sells for anything between 2 – 4 million Euros!

Visit: Bordeaux city center.

Bordeaux has UNESCO status for its many beautiful buildings, and is relatively easy to get around on foot. If you do visit the market, continue up the main road until you come to the open square with the twisted obelisk (Place de la Victoire). At the base of this you will find a city mascot, the turtles munching a bunch of grapes! From here, it is a direct walk down to Saint Katherine, the center of town.

Places of interest include the Palais Rohan (Town Hall), the Grand Theatre, the Porte Cailhau, Saint Michel Bell Tower, the Palais Gallien, the Saint Seurin Paleo-Christian site and the Petit Hotel Labottiere.

Leaving:

Take the airport bus from Gare St Jean. This whole area out the front of the station is being re-developed. About 20 meters in front of the taxi ramp you will find the stop for the Airport Bus. Cost is $7. Journey time is 45 minutes and there are actually 2 other pick-up points in town, so it’s worth looking into if you are staying far away from the train station.

5 things to do in Zadar

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Zadar, Croatia isn’t a particularly large city; A few nights of easy enchantment along the waterfront Riva, glowing sunsets which light up the polished white flagstone and you get in to the swing of things pretty quickly. But what makes Zadar special is the fact it is a springboard, a base for exploring the national parks, the archipelago and the hip summer festivals in the vicinity.

Guest blogger Ryan Bennett shares 5 things to do in Zadar…

1. Zadar Old Town

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This is the nicest part of Zadar. Great food and nice bars, which are starting to become trendier as the nightlife improves. There are also some good sights to get snap happy over. A tourist info spot in town provides maps to help mark your way around the old sites/churches. However, it is the newer sites that will most likely catch your eye… and ears!

The old town, although connected to the mainland, is also accessible by the Trogirski bridge which gives the illusion that this area is an island. Here you will find the now famous Zadar Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation. The organs are built into the steps and rely on the waves and wind to create their music. Relying on the sun, the Salutation is a huge solar panelled dial which creates a light show at night. Interestingly, they are both designed by the same architect and provide a unique addition to Zadar’s seafront boulevard. From here, soak up the sunset. Alfred Hitchcock even referred to Zadar as having one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.

Hostels in Zadar

Our top-rated hostel in Zadar is Hostel Elena. Wonderfully located just 30m from the Riva in the Zadar Old Town. It is also near the university so there are plenty of studenty bars and cafes around. They have air-conditioning in the 4 or 6-bed dorms where you have access to your own personal locker. Find other hostels in Zadar.

2. Zadar Festival Circuit

Time your visit to coincide with one of the many summer festivals held in the seaside village of Petrčane, about 20 minutes from Zadar. It all kicks off with The Garden Festival in July, quickly followed by multi-day festivals Soundwave, Electric Elephant and Stop Making Sense. The festival site is located within the grounds of a hotel. It features a Tiki Bar and beach terrace with views of the sea, Barbarella’s Discotheque (a famous 1960s club), a main stage and plenty of chill-out zones made up of sofas dotted among the surrounding pine forest. Book yourself in to one of the infamous boat parties that whisk you and your mates out for daytime sessions with onboard DJs. Far more relaxed than Ibiza and, being out of the Euro zone, it’s cheaper too!

Petrčane Croatia 5 things to do in Zadar e1306848858144 5 things to do in Zadar

3. Plitvice Lakes

A UNESCO World Natural Heritage listed site, it is the oldest national park in Southeast Europe and the largest national park in Croatia. You can visit the Plitvice Lakes from Zadar from the main bus terminal, or you can organise a day tour. Once there, expect breathtaking scenery all year round. The park is filled with natural lakes of almost Technicolour turquoise, lush meadows, meandering paths and waterfalls. Ferries transport you across the lakes and there are many different tracks to walk. You will need a whole day here. Peak summer day tickets cost €15 and include transport on the bus service and the electric boat ferry.

4. Kornati Island National Park

Kornati Island National Park Croatia 5 things to do in Zadar e1306849114937 5 things to do in Zadar

You survived a festival boat party and now want to unwind beat free! The archipelago around Zadar offers some of the most beautiful sailing stretches and you should not miss the chance to get out on the water. Sit back and chill, get a tan, let the crew rustle you up a lunch and soak up the sights while sailing the stunning Dalmatian coast. “On the last day of the Creation God desired to crown his work, and thus created the Kornati Islands out of tears, stars and breath” – testament to the beauty of some of the now uninhabited 147 islands, although the establishment of vineyards, olive groves and grazing land means a few visitors. Truly a sailor’s paradise. Boat tours depart from Zadar marina daily.

5. Krka Waterfalls

If you are tight on time you might have to choose between the Krka Waterfalls and the Plitvice Lakes. Krka has two main upsides: it is closer to Zadar and you can swim in this national park. There is a larger section roped off that you can enjoy, protecting you from the heavy cascading falls. It’s easy to walk around and it is also a breeding ground for over 40 varieties of butterfly – an amazing sight if you come at the right time of year.

Krka Waterfalls Croatia 5 things to do in Zadar e1306849310380 5 things to do in Zadar

There are seven waterfalls; Skradinski buk has an average flow of 55 cubic metres of water a second. Home to 222 species of bird, Krka is also one of the most important ornithological areas in Europe and at the hawk training centre, you can catch demonstrations with the magnificent birds. One of the best ways to get to the park is to drive to Sibenik. Here you catch a boat up through the Saint Joseph channel and arrive about an hour and a half later. Alternatively, get to Skradin where boats run every hour to the national park. Take your swimming costume and some good walking shoes. Summer peak tickets cost about €10.

Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia

woman fire e1301561101677 Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011

Guest blogger Ryan Bennett from HostelBookers’ contracting team has just got back from the loud, proud and crazy Las Fallas Festival in Valencia. He reports from the front line about what there is to see…

I’ve heard about this epic fire festival for years and I’m wrapped to have finally seen it. Las Fallas runs for a few weeks in March, but the last few days are the main event and not to be missed.

inc 225x300 Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011According to the roughly 300-year-old tradition, the festivities begin on the first Sunday of March at 5am. Brass bands parade through the streets with a wake up call (La Desperta), and continue every day until the final burning.

This year the main event ran between 15-19 March, with the final night including ‘La Crema’ – the burning of all the ninots (Valencian for puppets).

We got a cheap flight into Valencia on the main day (Saturday morning) ready to party the weekend away.

The night of the burning is what I really wanted to see, but there is so much more on offer.

Things to see

As the festival centres around tradition, expect to see beautiful Valencians parading in costume, floral offerings from the ‘city virgins’, fire processions, children running amok with firecrackers and delicious churros and chocolate on every corner.

crazy fallas 225x300 Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011There are little children’s ninots everywhere and the corresponding giant falla (big figures) are protected by barricades.

The falla at Plaza Na Jordana is always spectacular – they’ve won the major artistic merit prize for creativity and originality a dozen times. This year did not disappoint – a giant skeleton/reaper with sheath sitting on a tomb. The theme was hell and it was designed to burn slow.

The main falla I saw was a majorly quick burn – the heat that came off it was searing.

If you’re going to view it first hand you may as well get in early and take front centre. As you can see, these giant paper mache figures are stuffed with fireworks, blown up and burned. There is so much art, love, life and light everywhere.

Check out my awesome vid

Pyromania at Las Fallas 2011!

Safety

Being in the front row we were warned to get back, but the crowd was huge and we had nowhere to go. Luckily for the more dangerous burns they have a fire truck nearby to douse the flames quickly should it get out of hand.

The cost and prize

man 150x150 Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011Some of these giants, depicting comical figures, take almost a year to complete only to be sacrificed in a blazing inferno. Competition is fierce for the winning figure – and expensive.

Neighbourhoods can spend over €200,000 on their 20m, spectacular creations and use many a great artist to design these feted monuments.

The City Council does give grants, as the festival attracts huge crowds and is great for business. However, raising

fire 150x150 Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011the rest of the money is usually from sponsors and donations.

While there is a monetary prize, it is definitely not what drives the festival which is awash with passion, fun and mild danger for all us pyromaniacs!

Gunpowder, rockets, bonfires, parades, tapas, sangria and mischief is in abundance, yet there doesn’t seem to be any serious trouble at all.

Why?

While the Valencians come out in force to celebrate the passing of winter, the festival is mostly in aid of their Patron Saint of Carpenters, St Joseph.

There is much folklore surrounding where, how and why the celebrations began. But the best part is that it does still revolve around tradition – taken to the highest extreme and turned into one of the best pyrotechnic displays in the world.

Simply awesome!

Bolivia – Pampas tour from Rurrenabaque

Piranha, dolphins, toucans, anacondas, sloths, cayman and monkeys are just some of the animals you will get to see if you do this tour! It was easy to organise from La Paz through Kanoo Tours. They have a few agencies and are hugely popular for independent travelers.

We booked through the agency not far from the Witches Market, but there is one in Loki Hostel too. Kanoo affiliates themselves with the best agencies for all their tours, so they really do get you in with the better companies and guides.

As we were in La Paz, we needed to get to Rurrenebaque to get the Pampas tour underway. So, a 45 minute flight south across the Amazon Jungle was required in an 18 seater Cessna – fun!

This was all part of the package we booked, which is why we opted to get it all organised through Kanoo. You can, of course, organise flights yourself to Rurrenabaque (through Amaszonas) and then just choose an agency for a Pampas Tour from there. There are heaps to choose from, so you can pretty much go the next day if it’s not high season. We got booked in with Dolphins Tours, a reputable and Eco-friendly agency.

            

It is recommended that you stay a night in Rurrenabaque either side of the tour – even more if you have the time and want to chill a while. There are loads of backpackers in this town year round, so you will definitely meet and mingle with ease. We stayed in the cheap and cheerful Los Tucanes, a favorite for people on a budget. There are cool but basic bars, cafe’s and restaurants in this small town BUT limited ATM service, so take enough cash with you.

 

The tour we chose was a 3 day version in April. I am so happy we came at this time of year (wet season), as you see the Pampas for what it is renowned for. Basically, you have the dry and wet seasons. Dry means you have a jungle to walk through, wet means it is flooded a few meters high and you get around on powered canoes across the unique river system that is the Pampas!

As the season was coming to an end, we were blessed mostly with sunny weather too – so win-win all round. To cap it off, this is THE season and perfect time of year to see the native Pink River Dolphins, who come in to breed / birth. They were everywhere and provided a truly remarkable experience. Being able to swim with them safely and see them up so close was amazing.

To get an idea of what this tour is like – it’s no frills, but you are safe and get looked after at the lodgings. We had a cook, who fed us well… she even cooked the piranha we caught!

Food is basic, you get simple pastas, rice and veggie dishes… but there is ample. It probably helped that our tour group was very small – one of the nights there was just the 2 of us there with the workers, pretty amazing to have a whole communal lodge (on stilts) to yourself  in the middle of a flooded jungle!

You can hear howler monkeys, bats and frogs…. and mosquitos… but don’t worry, there are nets provided and you bring your own repellant. We didn’t really get attacked by mozzies too bad… just the odd playful bite from the dolphins – yes, dolphins! They are curious and like to swim right next to you and let you know they are there.

The tour and structure is pretty relaxed, you do everything the itinerary says day by day and get to see cool birds, animals and nature. Being out in the open, powering down temporary rivers on the look out for photo ops and adventure is really exciting and a trip you won’t forget in a hurry!

Copacabana on Lake Titicaca – Bolivia

I can see the appeal of Copacabana to the backpacker – a cruisy little chill out town by the water, somewhere to unwind for a few days with minimal hassle. I was there recently while in Bolivia and it really helped to break up the trip before crossing the border to Peru.

There is not really heaps to do there, but that’s part of the appeal. The town is starting to cater more for tourists with some cool bars and cafes with live music on offer. It’s a definite draw card for local tourism and there is a famous Easter pilgrimage to the town, meaning it can be hard to get accommodation when Bolivians want to get their holiday fix.  On recommendation we stayed at La Perla del Lago

There are regular connections to Copacabana from La Paz – we went with an agency based at the main tourist bus station, stand 32b… they left twice a day and were cheap and safe…. most the morning buses fill up quickly and this was the only company we found that had an afternoon alternative.  The drive is roughly 4 hours and scenic in areas, especially once you get to Lake Titicaca. As the town is relying more on tourism, your souvenirs and jewellery etc can be a little more pricey than in the cities, but it’s still relatively cheap so well worth stocking up after a big of haggling!

The best place (and cheapest!) to eat would have to be beside the lakefront. Go into any of the little stalls to get your fix of fresh fish – highly recommend the garlic trout, just delicious. A popular walk is up the side of the town near one of the cathedrals – it takes you to the highest point for beautiful sunset views! It’s a short and steep hike up a paved hill that can be done in 30 minutes, but take it slow if you are still adjusting to the high altitudes. The panoramic views from here (Cerro Calvario) are great, very scenic and some would even say spiritual…..

There are day trips to be done – the most popular is to visit Isla del Sol (Island of the Sun)… you can stay there too, which I would definitely had done if I had more time, but a day trip and walk across the island for an adventure is beautiful – and good preparation for my trek up Machu Picchu a week later!

If you do want to go and see the famous floating reed islands (Uros) be sure to see them in Puno, over the border in Peru. We went to some makeshift ‘tourist’ reed islands about a 30 minute boat trip away from the port of Copacabana, but it was not the real deal…an okay way to kill a few hours on a nice day though. We were even treated to a local band filming their video clip… as well as a local wedding, so not bad for a day of random fun!

Local band filming clip on reed island

Funnily enough, this little town is seemingly loved or simply seen as being over-rated. But for a quick stop-over and an unwind between tours and travels, I highly recommend it…. i could think of worse places to be stuck in while visiting the tranquil Lake Titicaca.

10 Travel quotes to inspire you…

There are so many inspirational quotes out there are so many reasons to travel…

have love…

…will travel!

  • It is better to travel well than to arrive.

BUDDHA

  • A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.

LAO TZU

  • One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

HENRY MILLER

  • Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are.
  • I travel a lot; I hate having my life disrupted by routine.

CASKIE STINNETT

  • We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.

HILAIRE BELLOC

  • A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

MOSLIH EDDIN SAADI

  • I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move.

ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

  • Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.

SENECA

  • All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.

MARTIN BUBER

The 5 most interesting Travel Magazines

For magazines dedicated to travel, adventure and inspiration…. here are my top 5!

1. Wanderlust

For dreams: WANDERLUST, the UK’s leading magazine for people with a passion for travel. Still proudly independent, the multi-award winning Wanderlust is the leading magazine for cool and authentic travel.

2. Lonely Planet

For adventure: LONELY PLANET TRAVELLER is the award-winning intelligent, beautiful travel magazine for those who are curious about the world. The magazine is just one facet of a huge and popular brand, considered as a travellers bible for travellers!

3. Real Travel

For practical: REAL TRAVEL – Their objective is to inspire curious readers to seek out new experiences by intelligently exploring the world. The magazine is run by a co-operative of leading travel writers and photographers.

4. National Geographic Traveller

For geek: NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC – For Over 120 years , National Geographic supports exploration and discovery, groundbreaking scientific fieldwork and inspires people to care about the planet – a true institution

5. Conde Nast Traveller

For sheek: CONDE NAST – Feeling posh or want a bit of luxury? Want to see where the celebrities spend their time…. this higher end publication will inspire the fashionista withinn

Cheap worldwide travel accommodation – SUMMER SALES!

Destinations in all corners of the globe! This HostelBookers SALE lasts until the end of July 2012…. get in there!  I already booked accommodation in a few cities and am wrapped with my savings ))

Lisbon, Tallinn or Paris?!

Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget

Tanneries Morocco e1330608829318 Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget

Here are a few tips from HostelBookers’ Ryan Bennett on how you can save money while travelling through beautiful Morocco…

Tours

From Marrakech you can organise tours and trips out into the Sahara desert, which is a must – you can sleep under the stars in a Berber tent, ride camels across the desert at sunset, watch the sun rise over the dunes, and drive through the Atlas Mountains. All tours on this route stay in the same places, so there is a chance to meet heaps of people, and food, petrol, and accommodation are usually included in the price.

Look out for tours where you sleep in Berber tents in the Sahara Desert.  The ‘staff’ here cook for you and host a big musical jam session, playing their drums around the fire and getting you involved in a Berber sing along!

Food

tagine Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget It’s really easy to eat cheaply and well in Morocco – the average meal will be around €5 for a simple Moroccan curry and flatbread, or roast chicken and rice in a restaurant. Even cheaper are street stalls and fast food shops. You can get steamed broad beans, roasted nuts and barbecued corn on the cob on the street, and hot roasted chicken or huge sandwiches stuffed with french fries and mayonnaise from Rotisserie shops. Another cheap meal is Harira – a soup of lentils, chick peas, tomatoes and vegetables, served with bread.

Make sure you try a tagine, a spicy stew of meat and vegetables served with heaps of couscous, or Pastilla, thin pieces of flaky dough layered with sweet and spiced meat, almond paste, and dusted with icing sugar. Typical Berber dishes include Kaliya, a dish of lamb, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions.

Drinking

Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country, and so dry. Alcohol is usually only available in restaurants, bars, supermarkets, hotels and discos. As a rule, alcohol is easier to find in backpacker-friendly places like Essaouira, or in supermarkets out of town.

If you don’t want alcohol, you can drink amazing freshly squeezed orange juice or fresh mint tea for only a few cents.

As a rule, do not drink the tap water in Morocco, because you might get an upset stomach. Bottled water is widely available.

Any traveller will be offered mint tea, or as locals like to call it ‘Moroccan whiskey’. Often this is a chance to lure you into a shop, but it is polite to accept. Before drinking look the host in the eye and say ‘bi saha raha’ – which means ‘enjoy and relax’.

Transport

A popular way of getting to Morocco is from Tarifa, on the southern tip of Spain. A one-way high-speed Ferry service is roughly €25 and takes 35 mins. Entry point is the port town of Tangier. Tarifa is great for windsurfing and attracts a large crowd.Algeciras is also an exit point if you don’t wish to travel to the southern tip.

Tarifa ferry e1330609811386 Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget It’s quite common, and surprisingly cheap to get cabs between cities – e.g. Tangier to Chef, or Marrakesh to Essaouira – if you split the cost. Otherwise, it’s quite easy to get around by bus. Supertours and CTM, the main bus companies charge for luggage, depending on what you have, but the service is quick. If you are in a hurry, try to take a Supertours bus as they take make fewer stops.

Trains are fine to catch, and you’ll sit in cabins. If you have food and drink be sure to offer it around to everyone, especially if they are Moroccan, as it is the custom.

Money

The local currency is the Moroccan dirham (Dh or MAD), which is divided into 100 centimes. Only local currency is officially accepted in Morocco, so it’s virtually impossible to obtain local currency outside the country. Luckily exchange rates are the same at all banks and official exchanges, as required by law. To exchange your money, find a bank, dedicated exchange office, or major post office. Cash machine/ATMs are usually in the modern ‘ville nouvelle’ shopping districts of big cities – but make sure it accepts foreign cards before you put your card in!

Ramadan

The biggest religious event on the Moroccan calendar is the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast during the daytime and feast at night. The dates are July 21 – August 19 for 2012.

This shouldn’t affect travellers too much, as the restrictions don’t apply to non-Muslims. But it is respectful to refrain from eating, drinking or smoking in public during this time. Most restaurants are closed for lunch and things generally slow down. At the end of the month is the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, when practically everything closes for about a week and the roads are packed as everybody heads back to their home village.

Advice for Women

Traveling to Morocco alone or in a group of girls? Then check out Lauren Smith’s top tips for girls heading to Morocco.

souk 350x233 custom Backpacking in Morocco: Tips To Enjoy Morocco on a Budget It’s unusual for women to be seen travelling alone in Morocco, so some single women may find themselves being stared at or asked questions by locals. On public transport, single girls may find Moroccan women try to look after you – just remember these actions are all out of a motherly instinct or concern rather than anything threatening.

As a Muslim country, women should respect the culture and dress accordingly – wear long trousers, skirts and long sleeved shirts. A shawl around your shoulders or over your head will also prevent you from getting harassed in the more manic cities. Blonde girls especially will find they get a lot of attention at the souks!

Note that a women travelling alone may feel more comfortable in a pastry shop or restaurant rather than a cafe, as these are traditionally reserved for men.

Both women and men should check before entering a Mosque in Morocco – some do not allow foreigners or non-Muslims of any sex inside.

Hammam etiquette

If you want a bit of pampering on the road, a Hammam (a type of steam bath) is an authentic and dirt cheap alternative to a hotel spa. Stripping off in a public bath can seem a little daunting, but going to a Hammam is a fun and relaxing experience, although it does have its own rules of etiquette. Just remember these rules:

  1. Bring dark underwear with you, and a dry pair to change into afterwards.
  2. Bring your normal bath stuff with you – soap, shampoo, scrubbing mitt and towel.
  3. Once inside, you collect hot and cold water in buckets. Mix the buckets for temperature and pour them on yourself as you wash.
  4. Once you have paid your entrance fee, remember to tip the person who looks after your belongings with a couple of dirhams.
  5. This is not one for couples – men and women take their Hammam seperately!

Bilbao, San Sebastian, Biarrtiz & Bordeaux

Backpacking from Bilbao to Bordeaux!

Thinking of backpacking across Europe? Then follow our blogger Ryan Bennett, who travelled from the Spanish city of Bilbao to Bordeaux in France. With itineraries, tips on food, sights and getting around, it’s the essential guide for travelling on a budget…

PB020071 461x346 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to Bordeaux

The route between Bilbao and Bordeaux is a notorious ‘foodie’ route, and you can do it in 10 days. With amazing food, great sites and scenery along the way, it’s also affordable too: Here’s my budget for a 10 day trip:

Easy Jet flies into Bilbao and out of Bordeaux
2 x one way Flights (inc. taxes, baggage & online check in) – £75

Travel expenses between cities (inc. buses & trains) – £70

Main Travel Expenses between 5 cities (3 countries) – £145

BILBAO

There is no doubt that the main attraction here is The Guggenheim, a spectacularly modern piece of architecture that houses some interesting  artworks, exhibitions and installations. It is very easy to just fly into Bilbao, visit the Guggenheim (allow 3 hrs minimum) and catch the bus for an hour to San Sebastian. However, an overnight stay in this city is definitely recommended to get to the heart of  Basque country and discover what makes it tick.

Getting There:

PB010026 393x295 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxFrom the airport, a Shuttle bus will quickly take you into town for €1.20. There are 3 stops. The 1st stop is just over the main bridge into town, where you will get a glimpse of the Guggenheim. Get off here if you’re staying in the ‘Old Town’. The 2nd stop is a few minutes around the corner on a main road of the city with lots of other accommodation options, whilst the 3rd stop is actually at the main Bus Terminal, great if you wish to bypass Bilbao and move straight onto San Sebastian.

Stay: The Petite Palace Arana (Bidebarrieta, 2, in front Teatro Arriaga). 

Situated ‘front centre’ of the Old Town, this is a fantastic base with all points of interest within easy walking distance. The hotel is very secure & modern, and provides an excellent buffet breakfast and internet in all rooms.

Culture, shopping and nightlife are all on your doorstep. The Old Town offers some of the best restaurants and bars in Bilbao, some steeped in family tradition for generations.  A jaunt along the river will take you straight to the Guggenheim. There is also central tram line (green) out front of the hotel which will run you directly to the Bus Terminal to keep you journeying onto San Sebastian. The stop for the Terminal is ‘San Mames’.

Eat: ‘Rio Oja’ (C Perro, Txakur Kalea 6).

A favorite with locals, this is a winner if you want to sample regional dishes. Comprised of a casual front room wrapped around a central bar, and a back room for more discreet dining, the restaurant serves big portions and has a relaxed atmosphere with fast service.  The bill for 2 came to €40, including 5 shared dishes (2 entrees, 3 main), bottle of wine and digestives. Highly recommended is the Squid in Black Sauce, the Cod and the Tuna & Anchovie salsa salad.

Drink:

PB0403141 302x403 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxThe alleyways and backstreets of the Old Town, behind the Cathedral are chock full of bars servicing the young and funky, similar to the Barrio Alto district in Lisbon.  Follow the echoing voices and laughter, grab your beer/cider and bar hop all night. The city has stapled itself over the last decade as a University city and the students sure like to party, but the bars are most vibrant on a Friday and Saturday night.

Visit: The Guggenheim (Avenida Abandoibarra, 2).

What Bilbao has become famous for. A piece of art itself which attracts roughly one million visitors a year, you can take advantage of the excellent photo opportunities from the outside.  Comprised over 3 Levels, there are works from artists such as Kandinsky, Chillida and Warhol, and a selection of  changing exhibitions and installations.

Entry is €11 and includes Audio Guide. Closed on Mondays (except in July & August)

If you have time, a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts is also worthwhile. You can get a combined ticket for both galleries for just €16 (without audio guides).

Leaving:

Buses to San Sebastian generally leave on the hour from the ‘Terminbus’ (Gurtubay, 1). The cost of a ticket is roughly €10 one way. The bus company is ‘PESA’ and tickets can be purchased from the terminal.

SAN SEBASTIAN

PB040320 389x292 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxWhat’s not to like about this city? Set on a picturesque coastline within the Bay of Biscay, San Sebastian is a fun, vibrant and unique playground within the Basque region. Surrounded by hills, there’s a tidal river running through its center and two separate bays to enjoy.  San Sebastian offers the traveler a great place to chill out and explore while spoiling yourself with cuisine typical of the area. Enjoy great surf, tasty ‘pintxos’ (tapas) and cider, friendly locals, siestas and shopping.

Stay: Pension Goiko, (Calle Puerto 6).

A small Pension with 6 private bedrooms and shared bathrooms, this accommodation is clean, cheap and central. Found on a great little street within the Old Quarter with an old ‘Churros and chocolate’ diner (Santa Lucia) underneath, which also does a hearty breakfast for a fiver. It’s the perfect hangover cure and you literally just have to roll out of bed to get there!

The main reception is at the Urban House Hostel, which is found on the corner of the ‘Boulevard’ as you enter this district. Convenient if you luck out on a room at Goiko, as the friendly and knowledgeable staff will look after you here. The owners of the Hostel and Pension have joined forces and will soon be opening a 3rd property with a Moroccan vibe!

Eat: Bar Borda Berri (Fermin Calbeton, 12).

Do not pass on this experience, the food is simply superb, and different to the run of the mill pinxos bars in the city. You won’t find plates of food displayed on the bar there for the taking. Instead, all dishes are made to order. Be warned though, you will not be able to stop at 1 dish. Most dishes are either €2.50 or €3 and dishes may change as ingredients are largely sourced locally. On the day we had seared scallops, blood sausage cannelloni, squid, cow cheek and pork off the rib, all washed down with a bottle of House Rioja. Excellent quality and value, all coming in at under €30!

Drink: Petritegi Sargadoa, (Petritegi bidea 20115).

This is about 15 minutes by cab out of central San Sebastian and is a great place to go with a group of people. A proper Cider House and dining experience that offers all you can drink cider, straight out of the barrels! Really popular with locals in the know. Urban House Hostel is looking at doing a regular run up there, so if staying with them be sure to ask. If going by cab, allow about €30 for a return trip.

PB040477 3 302x403 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxOnce there, grab a glass and head toward the barrels and vats of cider. Twist the taps and the cider shoots out, with everyone standing around catching the streams in their glass (or mouth!).  Food wise,  for about €20 a head you get dishes of sausages cooked in cider, salads, meats, fish, omelets, bread, cheeses and of course, all the cider you can stomach!

Visit: La Concha, Ondarreta and La Zurriola.

You won’t be able to stay away from these beautiful beaches. Whether it’s surfing, kayaking, boarding or just working the tan, this is what it’s all about! Even if the weather is below average, you can still walk along the stretch of coast or up to the old fort, Castillo de la Santa Cruz de la Mota. This is the ‘Jesus statue’ on top of the hill, where you will be met with sweeping views of the surrounding environment. In the area below you will find the Aquarium and the harbor with its fleet of boats.

Leaving:

There are 2 Train stations so make sure you got to the EuskoTren. From here, you need to catch a train to Hendaye, which is right on the border of France. It costs €1.50 and  takes just over 30mins. Once you get to the final stop of Hendaye, go directly to the ticket booth and purchase your ticket for Biarritz. It is timed so there is usually a connecting train waiting. Cost of ticket to Biarritz is €7 and again it takes roughly 30mins.

BIARRITZ

The city may also lie on the Bay of Biscay and offer some great surf, but that’s where the similarity to San Sebastian finishes. Distinctly different in style and cuisine, Biarritz is more of a ‘resort town’ with some great sporting facilities. If you want to learn to surf, the beaches here are perfect and there are almost a dozen surf schools to choose from in the area. You will find yourself purely in holiday mode here and if travelling off season, you can snap up some excellent accommodation deals.

Getting There:

From the train station on the hour, there is a local bus service into town. Not the most attractive name, the STAB service will take you into and around Biarritz. Single journey is €1.20. Otherwise, a taxi into town is roughly €13.

Stay: Hotel Argi Eder, (13 Rue Peyroloubilh).

An excellent choice right in the heart of Biarritz, this hotel comes highly recommended from Lonely Planet, so try and book in advance. However, as stated, Biarritz is a resort town so you can grab come absolute bargains off season. Try the 4 star ‘Residence Biarritz Ocean’ , where you can grab a 1 Bedroom Apartment (sleeps up to 4) with a kitchen and balcony, for just €70 per night!

Eat: Ahizpak (13, Avenue de Vaerdum).

This restaurant in the heart of town is a real gem. Prices are about the same compared to most other restaurants of this town, around €7 for entrée and about €15 for main. Difference here is the quality of the food is fantastic and the portions are substantial. The establishment is actually run by 3 sisters – one chef and two front of house. There is a relaxed and elegant ambience and a good wine selection. Dessert of the day with a coffee is only €3. Overall, an excellent choice if you want a nice night out enjoying locally produced dishes typical to this southern region of France.

Drink: Newquay, (20 Place Georges Cleamenceau).

Whilst not an elegant drinking hole or club, this bar is smack bang in the middle of all the action. It gets a mention as there are also two internet terminals for those who need to connect. It also caters for everyone, with a good dose of sports and live music being served up alongside its pints of Guinness and typical seaside bar menu. Friendly staff and generally a good crowd from all over so a very social hub.

Visit: Musee Asiatica, (1 Rue Guy Petite).

PB060689 365x274 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxThis is actually one of the more fascinating places in Biarritz and is well worth a visit. It is touted as the 5th most important private collection of Asian art in Europe. There are antiquities from India, China, Tibet and Nepal which cover over 5,000 years of history. Entry is just €5.

If this isn’t to your taste, then maybe chocolate is! The ‘Planete Musee du Chocolat’ may be small but is a heralded attraction of Biarritz and its tradition of chocolate making. Entry is €6 and includes a few complimentary chocolates and a hot chocolate on departure.

The ‘Musee de la Mar’, or the Aquarium, is also worth a visit.  Biarritz was an old whaling town, so it seems fit to drop in and view the collection. There are seal and shark enclosures, with the seals being fed as part of a show twice daily (10.30am and 5pm). Entry is €7.

Lastly, check out the lighthouse. From the hill top there are amazing views straight down all the surf beaches. A nice place to soak it all in and relax away from the crowds.

Leaving:

From Biarritz Train Station there’s a train every couple of hours to Bordeaux, taking approximately 2 hours. The one way journey is €16 and you will arrive at Bordeaux St. Jean (TGV Atlantique).

BORDEAUX

PB0809471 272x363 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxA nice city which is easy to navigate on foot.  The region is, of course, known for its excellent wines. The city itself is UNESCO listed and built alongside the river, with some beautiful buildings and great examples of Roman architecture. Bordeaux is fairly refined and offers some great dining and shopping experiences, most of which are centered around the main pedestrian street of ‘Saint Katherine’. Day trips are essential to understand what this city is all about – the wine!

Stay: Teneo Suites (4 cours Barbey).

Just a five minute walk from St Jean Station, Teneo Suites offers an excellent standard of budget accommodation. There is a self check-in system next to the main entry. Great value and close to the main market place of Bordeaux, this hotel has easy access to main areas of the city.

Eat: Le Marche des Capucins, (Courts de la Marne).

How could you pass up the freshest produce in Bordeaux? Under the roof of this market you will find delectable local cheese, meat, seafood and fruit and veg. This is the best place to sample food in bulk at a minimal cost, such as fat grilled sandwiches stuffed with goat’s cheese and salmon with side portions of wedges (€6 ). Seafood plates (more like platters) can be found for €18 at ‘Bistro a Huitres’, and outside the market is a small restaurant named ‘Le Cochon Volant’, a favorite for locals which dishes up very typical food of the region.

Drink: Clos La Madeleine (Saint Emilion).

PB091091 277x369 custom Backpacking from Bilbao to BordeauxOkay, so it’s not in Bordeaux city. But as mentioned, you must get out of the city to understand what Bordeaux is all about. If you don’t like the thought of a full day tour,  then the region of Saint Emilion is for you! Just 40 minutes out of Bordeaux from St Jean station,  a trip costs just €16 return and you are rewarded with excellent wine and  beautiful scenery.

‘Clos La Madeline’ comes recommended from the Tourist office in town. You must have an appointment to visit the wineries/chateaus, but the tourist office will organize this for you at minimal cost and provide excellent reading material.

The town of Saint Emilion is quaint and scenic and provides insight into the process of wine making. It is also one of the most expensive regions of the wine world, even outstripping the ‘Champagne’ vineyards. In Saint Emilion, each hectare sells for anything between 2 – 4 million Euros!

Visit: Bordeaux city center.

Bordeaux has UNESCO status for its many beautiful buildings, and is relatively easy to get around on foot. If you do visit the market, continue up the main road until you come to the open square with the twisted obelisk (Place de la Victoire). At the base of this you will find a city mascot, the turtles munching a bunch of grapes! From here, it is a direct walk down to Saint Katherine, the center of town.

Places of interest include the Palais Rohan (Town Hall), the Grand Theatre, the Porte Cailhau, Saint Michel Bell Tower, the Palais Gallien, the Saint Seurin Paleo-Christian site and the Petit Hotel Labottiere.

Leaving:

Take the airport bus from Gare St Jean. This whole area out the front of the station is being re-developed. About 20 meters in front of the taxi ramp you will find the stop for the Airport Bus. Cost is $7. Journey time is 45 minutes and there are actually 2 other pick-up points in town, so it’s worth looking into if you are staying far away from the train station.

Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011

woman fire e1301561101677 Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011

Guest blogger Ryan Bennett from HostelBookers’ contracting team has just got back from the loud, proud and crazy Las Fallas Festival in Valencia. He reports from the front line about what there is to see…

I’ve heard about this epic fire festival for years and I’m wrapped to have finally seen it. Las Fallas runs for a few weeks in March, but the last few days are the main event and not to be missed.

inc 225x300 Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011According to the roughly 300-year-old tradition, the festivities begin on the first Sunday of March at 5am. Brass bands parade through the streets with a wake up call (La Desperta), and continue every day until the final burning.

This year the main event ran between 15-19 March, with the final night including ‘La Crema’ – the burning of all the ninots (Valencian for puppets).

We got a cheap flight into Valencia on the main day (Saturday morning) ready to party the weekend away.

The night of the burning is what I really wanted to see, but there is so much more on offer.

Things to see

As the festival centres around tradition, expect to see beautiful Valencians parading in costume, floral offerings from the ‘city virgins’, fire processions, children running amok with firecrackers and delicious churros and chocolate on every corner.

crazy fallas 225x300 Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011There are little children’s ninots everywhere and the corresponding giant falla (big figures) are protected by barricades.

The falla at Plaza Na Jordana is always spectacular – they’ve won the major artistic merit prize for creativity and originality a dozen times. This year did not disappoint – a giant skeleton/reaper with sheath sitting on a tomb. The theme was hell and it was designed to burn slow.

The main falla I saw was a majorly quick burn – the heat that came off it was searing.

If you’re going to view it first hand you may as well get in early and take front centre. As you can see, these giant paper mache figures are stuffed with fireworks, blown up and burned. There is so much art, love, life and light everywhere.

Check out my awesome vid

Pyromania at Las Fallas 2011!

Safety

Being in the front row we were warned to get back, but the crowd was huge and we had nowhere to go. Luckily for the more dangerous burns they have a fire truck nearby to douse the flames quickly should it get out of hand.

The cost and prize

man 150x150 Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011Some of these giants, depicting comical figures, take almost a year to complete only to be sacrificed in a blazing inferno. Competition is fierce for the winning figure – and expensive.

Neighbourhoods can spend over €200,000 on their 20m, spectacular creations and use many a great artist to design these feted monuments.

The City Council does give grants, as the festival attracts huge crowds and is great for business. However, raising

fire 150x150 Tales from Las Fallas Festival, Valencia, 2011the rest of the money is usually from sponsors and donations.

While there is a monetary prize, it is definitely not what drives the festival which is awash with passion, fun and mild danger for all us pyromaniacs!

Gunpowder, rockets, bonfires, parades, tapas, sangria and mischief is in abundance, yet there doesn’t seem to be any serious trouble at all.

Why?

While the Valencians come out in force to celebrate the passing of winter, the festival is mostly in aid of their Patron Saint of Carpenters, St Joseph.

There is much folklore surrounding where, how and why the celebrations began. But the best part is that it does still revolve around tradition – taken to the highest extreme and turned into one of the best pyrotechnic displays in the world.

Simply awesome!

5 things to do in Zadar

Plitvice Lakes National Park Croatia 5 things to do in Zadar e1306849489872 5 things to do in Zadar

Zadar, Croatia isn’t a particularly large city; A few nights of easy enchantment along the waterfront Riva, glowing sunsets which light up the polished white flagstone and you get in to the swing of things pretty quickly. But what makes Zadar special is the fact it is a springboard, a base for exploring the national parks, the archipelago and the hip summer festivals in the vicinity.

Guest blogger Ryan Bennett shares 5 things to do in Zadar…

1. Zadar Old Town

Old Town Zadar Croatia 5 things to do in Zadar e1306850647943 5 things to do in Zadar

This is the nicest part of Zadar. Great food and nice bars, which are starting to become trendier as the nightlife improves. There are also some good sights to get snap happy over. A tourist info spot in town provides maps to help mark your way around the old sites/churches. However, it is the newer sites that will most likely catch your eye… and ears!

The old town, although connected to the mainland, is also accessible by the Trogirski bridge which gives the illusion that this area is an island. Here you will find the now famous Zadar Sea Organ and the Sun Salutation. The organs are built into the steps and rely on the waves and wind to create their music. Relying on the sun, the Salutation is a huge solar panelled dial which creates a light show at night. Interestingly, they are both designed by the same architect and provide a unique addition to Zadar’s seafront boulevard. From here, soak up the sunset. Alfred Hitchcock even referred to Zadar as having one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.

Hostels in Zadar

Our top-rated hostel in Zadar is Hostel Elena. Wonderfully located just 30m from the Riva in the Zadar Old Town. It is also near the university so there are plenty of studenty bars and cafes around. They have air-conditioning in the 4 or 6-bed dorms where you have access to your own personal locker. Find other hostels in Zadar.

2. Zadar Festival Circuit

Time your visit to coincide with one of the many summer festivals held in the seaside village of Petrčane, about 20 minutes from Zadar. It all kicks off with The Garden Festival in July, quickly followed by multi-day festivals Soundwave, Electric Elephant and Stop Making Sense. The festival site is located within the grounds of a hotel. It features a Tiki Bar and beach terrace with views of the sea, Barbarella’s Discotheque (a famous 1960s club), a main stage and plenty of chill-out zones made up of sofas dotted among the surrounding pine forest. Book yourself in to one of the infamous boat parties that whisk you and your mates out for daytime sessions with onboard DJs. Far more relaxed than Ibiza and, being out of the Euro zone, it’s cheaper too!

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3. Plitvice Lakes

A UNESCO World Natural Heritage listed site, it is the oldest national park in Southeast Europe and the largest national park in Croatia. You can visit the Plitvice Lakes from Zadar from the main bus terminal, or you can organise a day tour. Once there, expect breathtaking scenery all year round. The park is filled with natural lakes of almost Technicolour turquoise, lush meadows, meandering paths and waterfalls. Ferries transport you across the lakes and there are many different tracks to walk. You will need a whole day here. Peak summer day tickets cost €15 and include transport on the bus service and the electric boat ferry.

4. Kornati Island National Park

Kornati Island National Park Croatia 5 things to do in Zadar e1306849114937 5 things to do in Zadar

You survived a festival boat party and now want to unwind beat free! The archipelago around Zadar offers some of the most beautiful sailing stretches and you should not miss the chance to get out on the water. Sit back and chill, get a tan, let the crew rustle you up a lunch and soak up the sights while sailing the stunning Dalmatian coast. “On the last day of the Creation God desired to crown his work, and thus created the Kornati Islands out of tears, stars and breath” – testament to the beauty of some of the now uninhabited 147 islands, although the establishment of vineyards, olive groves and grazing land means a few visitors. Truly a sailor’s paradise. Boat tours depart from Zadar marina daily.

5. Krka Waterfalls

If you are tight on time you might have to choose between the Krka Waterfalls and the Plitvice Lakes. Krka has two main upsides: it is closer to Zadar and you can swim in this national park. There is a larger section roped off that you can enjoy, protecting you from the heavy cascading falls. It’s easy to walk around and it is also a breeding ground for over 40 varieties of butterfly – an amazing sight if you come at the right time of year.

Krka Waterfalls Croatia 5 things to do in Zadar e1306849310380 5 things to do in Zadar

There are seven waterfalls; Skradinski buk has an average flow of 55 cubic metres of water a second. Home to 222 species of bird, Krka is also one of the most important ornithological areas in Europe and at the hawk training centre, you can catch demonstrations with the magnificent birds. One of the best ways to get to the park is to drive to Sibenik. Here you catch a boat up through the Saint Joseph channel and arrive about an hour and a half later. Alternatively, get to Skradin where boats run every hour to the national park. Take your swimming costume and some good walking shoes. Summer peak tickets cost about €10.

Bossa In Rio Hostel – photos

Cute and clean hostel in the most charming part of Rio!

Cute and clean hostel in the most charming part of Rio!

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Cute and clean hostel in the most charming part of Rio!

Cute and clean hostel in the most charming part of Rio!