Travelling Tips

SOME ADVICE FROM OUR EXPERIENCE WHEN MAKING HOTEL BOOKINGS


Over the years we have made our hotel bookings through an on-line company, Booking.com Generally they are excellent and have great offers but, unfortunately, governments are getting more and more particular about issuing of visas without ALL information about your travel plans. How refugees and other persons without valid travel documents get in and stay in countries all over the world is an unknown to me. Yes, we hear that they get there on boats and hidden in trucks etc but it seems so unfair when people like our selves got through all the required procedures and pay the fees!


Back to hotel bookings. When using Booking.com one can usually make a booking at a special price and may cancel even on the due day of arrival. For our 2014 trip to Eastern Europe I made all of our hotel bookings on this site but hit a serious problem when it came to applying for our Schengen Visa. A Schengen Visa is issued by the country where one spends the most nights. I made bookings as follows:


1 night in each of Zagreb, Budapest, Prague & Dresden, 2 nights in Frankfurt and 3 nights in Berlin


I had planned to cancel the night in Zagreb and the 3rd one in Berlin once we had received our visas but got tripped up when asking for the letters of confirmation of reservation. The idea was to add a night to each of Budapest and Prague. Zagreb would only do so if the full amount was paid in advance and Berlin wanted payment for 1 night in advance. The Zagreb booking was paid for and then it was planned to cancel the Dresden one after the visa was issued. It is not Booking.com who had made any errors or given misleading information, but it is the stringent requirements for a visa application. The required letter cannot be an e-mail but must be faxed on the hotel letterhead and so hotels are now asking for upfront payment if they produce a letter stating that you will be there on certain dates.


When the visa was received, cancellation in Berlin was requested first and was denied by the hotel even though we were told that we could cancel up until 6pm on the expected day of arrival. With this response we decided to leave the bookings as they were not realising that we would have only a few hours in each of Budapest and Prague. In the end, we were extremely glad to have 3 nights in Berlin.

In addition, when selecting the location of your hotel eg. close to the main station, use Google Earth. I did not do this in 2014 but did in 2015/16 and it made a huge difference getting to our hotels.


Given this story of our experience, you are urged to be very clear when making bookings as to what can and cannot be done even though the site has said cancellation on the day is OK. Also, find out the visa requirements before making bookings as it can result in unplanned costs.

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After much consideration I have decided to tell you of our trip to Eastern Europe in 2014. It was after this trip that I was convinced that a travel site, with particular advice for Senior Citizens, would be helpful. There are many things that specifically pertain to us, such as medical insurance, but we are also more likely to miss some of the intricacies of travelling to different countries, especially as the world has and continues to change.

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Today I will write about the next leg of our journey, leaving the Scandinavian states after a wonderful 2 weeks. All the places we visited were clean and well organised. Whenever we needed to make various changes to our travel and hotel facilities, this was always done with courtesy and good service. Their train services are not nearly as frequent or extensive as those of Europe but they were clean and comfortable.

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 Yippee!! We have received the tour details and bookings for the Nordic Aurora Safari Tour. This means that the final countdown has begun. 70 days until we leave. We fly from Durban on 19 December to Abu Dabi for a 2 hour stopover and then on to Oslo where arrive at midday on 20 December. From Durban's heat and humidity to sub-zero temperatures. Thank you to our daughter & son-in-law who have ensured that we have the right clothing.

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At the end of my last blog I mentioned that we have already decided on our next trip which starts with travelling to the northern tip of Norway to the town of Tromsø to witness the incredible natural phenomenon known as the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights. This has been something that we have wanted to see for many years. Definitely a bucket list item! I thought that I would do a an update on our preparations for this trip as my Day 25 blog for the 30-day Challenge.

We took the first step in making plans for this trip in March of this year and during the year I have written blogs on how I prepare and how things have been going. The more preparation we do the more exciting it becomes. We have learnt to begin preparations early and read any fine print very carefully.

After an 8 day tour in Norway we take a train through Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France and Spain, spending a week in S. Spain before returning home after a month.

As South Africans we have to obtain a Schengen Visa, making an application through the country in which we shall spend the most number of days. A Schengen Visa is issued by those countries which are members of the European Union (EU) and once issued is used to travel freely between all EU countries as well as some which are not members but agree to recognise this. Norway, Denmark and Sweden are all in this category.

I also mentioned that we visited E. Europe last year. We entered via Sarajevo, Bosnia which also accepts a Schengen for a stay of up to 7 days. What I did miss in the fine print was that we had to enter from an EU country. We had flown on Turkish Airlines and come to Sarajevo from Istanbul. Turkey is NOT an EU country. We were refused entry which is very embarrassing. Everyone in the airport arrivals area watches as you are directed away from the passport queue. Once again, I believe that God was caring for us, as the Bosnian police were very helpful and allowed us to hop on a short flight to Zagreb, Croatia and catch the next plane back to Sarajevo. While waiting for the flight to Zagreb we were able to sit in the Business Lounge and help ourselves to eats and drinks. Not bad for illegal persons.

This time we are being very careful in each step we take. We have now booked and paid for everything except our visas for which we will apply in November. Thank goodness we pay for those in ZARands and not Euros as the exchange rate is currently mind boggling. When we paid our initial deposit in March the rate was R14.03 to the Euro and now it is R15.60!

Gradually I am putting together all the documentation that we require for our visas and this is quite a lot of papers. It includes passports, air tickets, confirmation of sufficient medical insurance, proof that we have roots here and will be returning, bank statements for the past 3 months (and because I do not have a regular income into my account Trevor has to sign a form that he will support me!), a detailed itinerary and proof of accommodation. Having applied for Schengen Visas 3 times before we are getting pretty good at what we need but each country has something different to keep us on our toes.

In the meantime we sit back and think about the cold weather we shall experience in the northern hemisphere. I just love to travel, anywhere and everywhere.th3IEQGJ2C

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Time to keep my promise of 2 days ago and tell you of a mishap with the train in Geneva.

Our few days in Geneva had come to an end and we were now on our way to Interlaken, between lakes, for 2 days before heading further north in Switzerland to visit friends. We checked out of the hotel and made our way across the tram lines and into the station once more.

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I thought that I would discuss forms of transport in the countries one is visiting. We ourselves have now used almost every form of transport in our travels and found advantages and disadvantages in each of them. These also change as one ages and your physical abilities change. I shall give some detail on the various forms of transport we have used and some of our experiences and then create a separate table of what we believe to be the advantages and disadvantages.

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As I have mentioned in a few of my articles, planning and preparation are so vital for when one has to travel, especially as we get older and I have been keeping you up to date with how we are planning for our trip to see the Northern Lights and other parts of Europe in December. This is now step 9 and once again there has been a flurry of activity in the past couple of weeks after a long period of quiet. The highlight of these was to get our Rail Pass to travel by train through Europe after our Norway Safari.

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Time is going too slowly but also very quickly. Suddenly it is just 4+ months to departure date and there is plenty to do and plenty to pay! We sat down earleir this week and worked out our finances and commitments for the next 4 months. It was a bit scary but also very comforting as we now have a clear path to follow to be sure that we can achieve what we are looking forward to.

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About Me

I was born into the early part of the Baby Boomer generation, the 3rd of what came to be a family of 6 daughters. Although both our parents, who are now deceased, had been raised in rural Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) and the 2 eldest daughters were born in a country town, the other 4 of us were all born at home in Durban. Read More

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