Spill your secrets about Rome
It's our Question of the Week!
Travel is one of those things where if you did it all the time you'd get really good at it. Unfortunately, few people get to do it all the time—including the staff of Budget Travel. So we thought it would be smart to pool our knowledge. We ask you a question, you share your advice, and then we spotlight the most helpful tips in a future magazine issue. This week's question comes from me, the senior editor of BudgetTravel.com:
"I'm going to Rome on vacation in mid-November. A tip on a good walking tour or wine bar would be appreciated!"
DEALS: New Italy packages from $599.
RELATED: 14 top questions about Italy, answered.
Eid al-Fitr is the Festival of Fast-Breaking that followers of Islam are celebrating right now. Rick Steves has just blogged a post from Turkey about how this is a great time to be traveling. Here's one of his key points: Ramadan is, in balance, a great time to travel. You don't realize it, but most people are not eating or even drinking all day. I offered my waiter a suck of my hookah water pipe. He put his hand to his heart and explained he'd love to but he was fasting for Ramadan. If you sleep lightly, you'll wake to the sound of a prayer and meal just before dawn. Sun rises and the day-long fast begins. Then, at about 7p.m. the food comes out, and the festival begins. Mohammad broke his fast with dried date or olive—so that's usually the fast breaker to this day. Saying, "Allah Kabul etsin" (may God accept...your fast today)," the staff at a restaurant where I was just having a drink welcomed me to photo them and then offered to share. Every time I witness the breaking of the fast, people offered to share their food. At the restaurant I said no, but they set me up anyway—figs, lentil soup, bread, Coke, and baklava. I thought the Coke was a bit odd...but my guide said it's not considered American any more. It's truly global. This Real Deal offers a sweeping two-week tour highlighting the varied aspects of Turkish history and culture, from Istanbul to otherworldly Cappadocia to sun-kissed coastal towns like Kusadasi, from $1,649 per person—plus taxes of about $116. It's a great deal because as a BudgetTravel.com reader, you get access to the $150 special discount. (But, alas, Rick Steves is not associated in any way with this tour.) Today Gadling has a roundup of Eid celebrations. The L.A. Times recently ran an excellent story on how the workers at Egyptian resorts feel about Western tourists when they have to serve them, especially during the fasting period of Ramadan. Despite being five years old, a World Hum essay by Rolf Potts is one of the best travel pieces to have been written about how American travelers view Islam. (Note, his essay begins with a story about Eid al-Adha, a different festival.) Link, here. Photo of the Mosque domes in Istanbul, Turkey, by Andrew Ward/Life File/Photodisc .
In Bali, With Elizabeth Gilbert's 'Eat, Pray, Love'
I stopped in the neat bookstore Iconoclast while in Ketchum, Idaho, this summer and picked up two paperbacks for the plane ride home: Travels with Herodotus by the late Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski and Eat, Pray, Love, the best-selling memoir by Elizabeth Gilbert. A scruffy employee stocking shelves assured me Eat, Pray, Love was chick lit in the finest sense of the term—and it is! I still have to tackle Kapuscinski, but I sped through Gilbert's self-deprecating, thoughtful, and, at times, laugh-out-loud-funny account of a year spent recouping from her divorce. She spends the first third indulging in Rome's dolce vita (and pinpointing the finest pizzeria in Naples), then takes an austere, soul-searching turn at an ashram in India, before winding up in Ubud, the artsy center of Bali. After learning I'd be traveling to Bali this fall, I couldn't wait to check out some of the places she vividly describes—and people like medicine man Ketut Liyer… Luckily for fans like me, Gilbert has made it easy to follow in her footsteps: She set up a FAQ on EPL section of her website, elizabethgilbert.com/faq. She reveals where to find Liyer as well as the location of her friend Wayan's traditional Balinese healing shop, the best spot for roast suckling pig, and how to contact an expert teacher offering yoga tours of the island. I jotted the details down, but hadn't contended with the all-encompassing nature of an Indian wedding, my reason for being in Bali in the first place. Like the hundreds of other guests, I stayed in Nusa Dua, a sandy hotel strip about an hour and a half from Ubud, which is set further inland amid hills and rice patties. There were just too many traditional ceremonies, buffet dinners, and dance parties to make it that far. One afternoon I did slip out to explore Kuta, the laid-back beach town where ex-pats and surfers have been hanging out since the '60s. (A memorial commemorates the terrorist bombing of a nightclub in 2002; guards with dogs now inspect cars at major hotels and other checkpoints around the island). If I return to Bali someday, I know where I'm heading first: Ubud. If you're mulling over a trip, our story Secret Hotels of Bali can point you towards affordable, friendly places to stay in Ubud and beyond. You'll also want to keep an eye on our Real Deals section, which currently touts an air/hotel/tour package for Bali starting at $1,299. Wherever you're traveling next, there's likely to be a writer who's tried to put his or her own inspired stamp on the place. The website Literary Traveler posts essays devoted to the association between such writers and their places, among them Ian Fleming's London, George Sand's Majorca, and Hunter S. Thompson's Puerto Rico. Photo shot by Kate Appleton in Kuta, Bali. RELATED: Herodotus Wrecked? and Good Friends, Great Times: Chick Lit Authors Share Memories.
London: Cheap Sights, Eats, & Sleeps
Sean McLachlan, author of Moon Handbooks London, recently answered your questions about London in one of BudgetTravel.com's weekly live chats. Here are hot tips for travel within the next few months. You'll find advice on lodging, transportation, top spots for a date, cheap theater tickets, and more. In November and December, what's the weather like? Usually in the 40s or 50s Fahrenheit. Rain, but rarely snow. Not coincidentally, most of London's best attractions are inside, so don't despair. What's the most overrated attraction? The most "miss-able" is the Changing of the Guard. While it's famous and makes for a nice spectacle, I think it's overrated and it's always crowded, making it hard to get a good spot unless you come quite early. What's the best place and value-for-the-money for a panoramic view? While the London Eye, a giant Ferris Wheel on the South Bank of the Thames, is a popular attraction and actually gets you higher, I prefer to climb the 530 steps to the Golden Gallery to the top of the dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. Why? For less money, you get to see both the cathedral and a fine view. Since St. Paul's is right in the historic center of London, I think the view is actually better than atop the London Eye. Advice for buying theater/theatre tickets? The Leicester Square TKTS booth is your best option because that is the only one run by the Society of London Theatre, the industry's marketing organization. It's better to avoid the many other "half price" ticket booths in town because they can be a bit deceptive in what they offer. You can end up paying more than you think for bad seats. I'm not saying they're all dishonest, but it's impossible to tell the good from the bad. Stick to Leicester Square. The TKTS booth can generally get you good seats, but it's based on availability, of course. I suggest going on your very first day so you can book as far in advance as possible. That way you'll have more options. The website officiallondontheatre.co.uk has information on what's on and you can buy (full price) tickets online. If you don't mind standing, you can see a play at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre for only $10. Travelex sponsors $20 Mondays at the Royal Opera House if you book weeks in advance at the Travelex website. A girlfriend and I are planning on doing a girl's week in London. What neighborhood is a good central location to see the sights, is safe, and also fun? We are in our fifties. Here's a breakdown of the nicer central neighborhoods and the general cost of hotels. ›Westminster and Victoria: Close to the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, St. James's Park, Buckingham Palace, and the travel hub of Victoria Station. Tends to be pricey. ›Mayfair: Good shopping district. Pricey. ›Covent Garden/West End/Soho: Great for nightlife, theater, and dining. A whole range of prices. ›Bloomsbury: Close to the British Museum. Quiet neighborhood after dark. Wide range of prices. ›Chelsea/Kensington/Knightsbridge: Great shopping and good dining. Pricey. ›Notting Hill: Great shopping and dining. Pricey. ›The City: the oldest neighborhood in London with lots to see. Quiet and safe at night. Pricey. ›I would avoid Southwark and Piccadilly. They are the least safe neighborhoods, although they are safer than most American cities! Question from two backpacking newlyweds: Can you recommend a hostel that has the best mix of location/price/quality? My favorite youth hostels are the YHA Holland House in Holland Park, and the Astor Museum Inn right next to the British Museum at 27 Montague St. Remember, though, that in most London hostels you won't get a big room and all the amenities you're used to in a decently priced American motel. Think small. Think basic. It's OK, you probably won't be spending much time in your room anyway. We are a family of four, with young girls. Do you have any recommendations? Any central neighborhood is reasonably safe. Make sure you stay near public transport to avoid long walks and whining. The one really central neighborhood I'd avoid is Piccadilly (too crowded and noisy). Southwark gets seedier the further you get from the river, so you want to avoid that too. London is far safer than most American cities, but can get pretty rowdy on Friday and Saturday night. If you're out late (which you probably won't be considering the age of your kids) you'll see lots of public drunkenness, people peeing on the street, and the occasional fight. Not something you want your kids to see, although it might give them some lessons on the problems alcohol can lead to. :-) Most British hotels only sleep a maximum of 3 per room. If you don't mind staying at a youth hostel, many have four-person rooms you can hire out. That way you'll have your own room, although in most cases you'll have to share a bathroom. Your kids may love the raucous, mostly twenty-something atmosphere, or they might hate it. Some youth hostels don't allow young children, however, so it's best to check ahead. You could also try the Merlyn Court Hotel, actually a bed and breakfast, which has quads. It's near Earl's Court Tube station, which is convenient for getting around, and there are lots of shops and restaurants nearby. Kensington Gardens is close too. They offer basic but decent accommodation. And how should we entertain the tykes? Kids really like the London Eye, basically a giant Ferris Wheel that had "pods" instead of seats. You can stand and move around quite comfortably as the ride takes you high above the Thames for a great view of London. The lines are horrible, so reserve ahead of time at londoneye.com. A cruise on the Thames may be fun for her, and you can get package deals through their website. She might also like the London Zoo. It's not terribly different than other zoos, but it's still a good one and there's a petting zoo. The Regent's Park nearby can be used to burn off some of her energy. The famous Harrods department store, has a good toy section as well as lots of other interesting sections and a big Food Court, and Hamleys, is a huge toy store. Tips on saving money on transportation? For London's subway, called the Tube, what you want is the Oyster Card, a refillable smart card. Check it out at oystercard.com. Try to figure out how much travel you will do beforehand and only put that amount on. You can order an Oyster Card beforehand with your credit card from the website. Be sure to read all the information, too much to repeat here, before ordering. Oyster Cards are convenient, the balance never expires, and they can be used on all public transport. Fares are cheaper with an Oyster Card so most Londoners have one. I highly suggest anybody staying for long periods of time get one. You can also get unlimited 7-day and 3-day passes, but generally the Oyster Card is cheaper. You have to use the multi-day passes a lot to actually save money. If you buy one, get it for Zones 1 and 2. You probably won't go further out from the center than that. Trains across England can be quite expensive, but the price goes down considerably the earlier you book. Do NOT wait until the last minute to book a train, or you will blow your budget! Check out nationalrail.co.uk for booking and some travel tips and destination guides. Advice on cabs? Make sure only to take licensed black cabs. They are the only cabs allowed to prowl the streets for fares. You can hire other cab companies by calling them, but NEVER take an unlicensed cab you find on the street. They will often rip you off or worse. The Black Cabs (which aren't always black, by the way, although they all have the same Fifties design) carry five or six people with room for luggage. The cab license is white and should show clearly on the back of the car. What's a non-cliché spot for a date? The Absolut Ice Bar and Below Zero Lounge, at 31-33 Heddon St., belowzerolondon.com. Everything is sculpted out of ice, including your glass. Thermal caps are handed out on entry. Another tip: Indian restaurant Chor Bizarre is elaborately decorated with maharaja-worthy spices you'd be hard-pressed to find in the States. What's the best music store in London? In SoHo at 7 Broadwick St., in a nicer section away from the porn shops, is Sounds of the Universe, offers the best selection of roots, reggae, house, break beat, hip-hop, Latin, postpunk, African, funk, northern soul, and smatterings of just about everything else. It's mostly CDs but there's lots of vinyl if you're into DJing. What meal offers the best value-for-the-money? I heartily recommend a full English breakfast, complete with eggs, beans on toast, bacon, hash browns, and mushrooms. You can easily skip lunch. These breakfasts are available cheap in many cafes and sandwich shops, and are often sold throughout the day. Good value for money. Find more tips in Sean McLachlan's Moon Handbooks London (recently $14 at Amazon.) ELSEWHEREFor more London tips, turn to this Brave New Traveler article.
Reasons Why You Love New York
Everyone who has ever visited New York City has a different opinion about what is essential about the place. So let's hear it! What do you think captures New York's character or appeal? The best stories we receive will be printed in an upcoming issue of the magazine. To get your juices flowing, here are a half-dozen of the many good NYC responses we've gotten from other readers so far. They're good because they focus on one place in the city and they give us details. (They've been slightly shortened for space.) The Peanut Butter Co. serves different combinations of the delicious peanut butter sandwich. Nowhere else has it, and I go there every time I'm in NYC. It's in Greenwich Village, 240 Sullivan Street. I'd go there every day if I lived there.—Ange, Canada The Hotel Roger Williams The staff make you think you're in a small town. They remember your name and are genuinely concerned about your having the best possible NY experience If you are fortunate enough to get a view of the Empire State Building then you can just look out your window to remind yourself that you are NOT in Kansas any more.—Lisa Mastin, Smyrna, TN Panna II, an Indian restaurant in the East Village, offered me my most uniquely NYC experience. I was immediately attracted by thousands of Christmas lights dangling from the ceiling in this tiny, cozy, yet dynamic locale. Upon walking down First Avenue, we were greeted by a man standing atop a staircase, pleading and shouting for passersby to come in and eat. Due to the high volume of the restaurant, we shared a table with an artist couple from Brooklyn (with whom we were sharing food and funny stories ten minutes later). Since Panna II doesn't have a liquor license, we ran to a Spanish wine shop two doors down, and our waiter whisked the bottle off our table and poured the wine into glasses without us having to ask. The food was outstanding, and in what other city in the U.S. could you dine in a place whose claim to fame is Where chili pepper lights meet Christmas lights ? Needless to say, my boyfriend and I have made numerous trips back for the food and atmosphere at Panna II. Only in New York.—Eileen Burrowes, Blue Point, NY H&H; Bagels are hands down the best bagels in the entire world. Some people say it's the NYC water that makes these bagels so good. Nobody really knows why but when I bite into an H&H; Bagel, my whole face feels like it's smiling. They're so good you can even eat them plain. On our most recent trip to NYC, we brought back 3 dozen. They're in our freezer and we try to ration out 2 every day. Plain, sesame, onion, garlic. Whenever I am sitting in my kitchen in Florida and eating an H&H; bagel, I close my eyes. For a brief moment, I am transported back to my post-college days in the city. I imagine that my friends and I are sitting at one H&H;'s little tables dishing about last night's activities at the local hot spot.—Melissa Vanefsky, Deerfield Beach, FL Rudy's Bar is the reason that I love New York. Located on 9th Avenue in Hell's Kitchen, it's close enough to Broadway to be centrally located but just far enough to retain some classic New York style grittiness. Duct tape hold the red vinyl seats together, the beer is cheap, the smell of hot dogs drifts through the air, and if that's not enough, there is a gigantic pig perched outside the front door. A mixture of young professionals, international travelers, and a few regulars fill the small bar to capacity in the evenings. It is a world away from the posh New York City bars shown in movies and television shows but it somehow manages to feel like the most authentic. You step into the New York City of the 80's and it is a wonderful feeling.—Kristin Templin, Auckland, New Zealand The Strand Bookstore. It's 16 miles of books and my idea of heaven. When I lived in NYC 20 years ago, I made weekly trips to rummage through the bins. It's much more organized now (and even has air-conditioning and computer check-out), but still a biblioholic's dream— Nancy Mackler, Saxtons River, Vt. We want to know what you love about the city and why. The more specific, the better: What's the restaurant, shop, attraction, or characteristic that makes New York so uniquely New York? Click here to make your case. Photo by 416style on Flickr via Creative Commons