Olympics traffic

Since the start of the Olympics on July 27th businesses have allowed staff to work from home and the Government has warned people not to travel unnecessarily to London unless absolutely needed, this has worked too well as people have heeded advice and not bothered at all. Roads are empty and London hasn’t ever looked so deserted but as a result of this businesses are suffering.

Taxi drivers, rickshaw drivers, mimes, restaurant owners and hoteliers are just some who have noticed a huge reduction in customers. Central London is usually heaving with people but Soho, Regents Street, Oxford Street and Westminster are practically empty, no cars or people. Underground stations are also desserted.

The Olympics were supposed to attract 300,000 tourists to the capital but barely 100,000 have come, the money that the country has put into the Olympics is a huge loss as the money was supposed to be recovered through tourism it now seems highly unlikely.  As you may well know the stadium was sold last year for nearly £500m but it cost over £1bn to build so already £500m has been lost.

You must have also heard about the Games Traffic Lane that has caused worldwide controversy, before the games there was so much confusion in which of the many lanes were in operation that it caused huge traffic delays and congestion. Now that they are in operation people have decided to avoid these roads leaving them completely empty and traffic free. Westfield shopping centre in Stratford is also usually very busy but that too has been abandoned. People are choosing to holiday in Wales, Scotland or Cornwall to get away from all the hype of the shambolic Olympics.

Just weeks ago high street retailers were slashing the prices of stock because of the washout summer people had turned to the internet to avoid venturing outdoors. Although it didn’t really entice customers they just used the internet to their advantage and shopped from home. Some small shop owners are really suffering as they are not getting as much clients as they used to, a rickshaw driver usually rakes in £150 a day but is barely scraping together £40 for a days work. Restaurants are empty and market stall owners are hardly making any money to cover a days wages.

So don’t believe all you read in the papers there is no Olympics traffic or congestion just empty streets and ghost towns, enjoy while it lasts and spend a nice day out without the hoards of people that are usually present.

St Albans City campus parking

I have recently started an evening course at Oaklands College, St Albans City campus. Although all students get free bus travel to and from college it is a little inconvenient for me as they do not run often. As I am already a car driver I find it easier to just drive but then I need to find parking. I recently did a test run to St Albans City campus so I know where I’m going as I’ve never been before. I also made sure I knew of a few places to park.

Parking St Albans City campus
Well as my course starts at 7pm it shouldn’t be too much of a problem so I called up the college and they said that I could use the pay and display car park on site if there was room, they said they didn’t know about the off road parking nearby. Well you can park for free after 6.30pm on Bricket Road and the nearby roads, the campus car park costs £1.20 for 4 hours and whilst I understand that it is a bargain I don’t like having to pay for a service that I won’t need for the duration, I only need parking for 2 hours.

Well St Peters Road is the road that the college is situated on; the day that I went for my test run I stupidly forgot to check if I could park there. Well the first day that my course started I found that it was fine to park there are 6pm every evening. So lucky for me I do not need to pay £1.20 when the road opposite is perfectly fine.

So I’m glad I didn’t listen to the people at Oaklands when they said to use the car park because over the duration of my course Oaklands would pocket nearly £50 in parking alone! I would like to point out that many people do park on the campus car park and it does get full up pretty quick, strange I know. Saying this St Peter’s Road also gets full but there are many other roads that are fine to park on after 6-6.30 pm.

So for all you evening students out there that need to park near St Albans City campus, save yourself some money and time by parking close by without having to spend a penny!

Mauritius underwater activities

There are plenty of Mauritius excursions that will interest and for the sea lover, it can be a challenge to choose from the many things that are available. Here’s a list of what you can do:

Undersea walk
Indeed, this is a reality in Mauritius. Being one of the few places in the world that offers such an activity, a number of excursion operators can be contacted to enjoy a walk under the Indian Ocean. The walk is suitable for people as from 7years old and the ability to swim is not even necessary. To walk on the seafloor, a clear helmet, called an Aqua+ helmet, is placed on the shoulders covering only the head thus allowing visits of the underwater marine world of bright fishes and coral reefs; you may even get the chance to hand feed the fishes making this an opportunity not to miss when planning your holidays to Mauritius.

This brightly colored machine looks like the kind of gadget that James Bond would flaunt around in Mauritius. The subscooter, a hybrid of scooter and submarine, takes you 3 meters down for 30 minutes and allows you to pay a visit to ocean life. This excursion is chaperoned by expert guides and is suitable for non swimmers too. While you ride on the machine with your head covered with a plastic bubble, marine life is divulged to you.

Blue safari submarine
If you want to explore the underwater world around Mauritius but do not want to get all wet, the blue safari submarine trip is ideal for you. Sit back in a comfortable air conditioned room for an hour and enjoy the beauties of marine life all around you. The submarine takes you around up to depths of 30 meters where you can catch a glimpse of the wreck of the Star Hope and amazing coral reefs. This kind of excursion is proposed only in ten countries in the world, so if you are coming to Mauritius, take the time to check it out.

Given the rich marine life of brightly colored fishes and coral reefs around Mauritius, snorkeling is a very rewarding experience with most hotels loaning out snorkeling equipments. The best side of Mauritius for snorkeling is without a doubt in the south east in the blue bay marine park. Though Mauritius has a number of shallow lagoons that are easily accessible, they do not provide such interesting marine life.

Getting scuba certified is very easy as most of the luxury hotels in Mauritius propose scuba lessons. The north of the island is a very common place for scuba diving and it is used a lot by diving centers and hotels as practice area. More advanced divers can go for more adventurous dives around coral reefs, ship wrecks, pinnacle, Whale Rock or the submerged crater at Ile Ronde.

Mauritius thus proposes a wide range of underwater activities for all tastes but if it does happen that you get bored of the marine life, the island proposes a number of interesting land activities as well.

Expat Explore Europe Tour review

For a while my husband and I have been wanting to travel around Europe, we have seen the Caribbean, Turkey, Egypt, Spain and Cyprus but felt like we were not making the most of seeing the places closer to us in the UK. I had been searching for good deals where we can see a few countries and cities at the same time but found them to be very expensive. Two days in Amsterdam followed by two days in Belgium was costing at least £600 each and that was without food and other expenses. Just when I had given up hope I found a guided European tour package that covered 7 countries in 12 days.

It’s worth reading the small print and FAQ’s as you may find that a few things are questionable such as accommodation arrangements and so forth. For 12 days the fully guided tour cost us only £600 each a bargain to say the least. The places that you would visit are: Paris, Chateau Versailles, Burgundy, Geneva, Switzerland, Pisa, Florence, Venice, Italian Dolomites, Austria, Munich, Rhine Valley, Volendam, Zaanse Schans, Amsterdam and Bruges. It seems like good value for money and if you don’t mind slumming it then go ahead.

Before I booked I made sure that all accommodation would be double rooms as sometimes they give you rooms where you need to share with others, this is the case when it comes to Switzerland as accommodation can be very expensive. We were told it was not guaranteed as they use shared rooms where up to four people can sleep in, it would’ve cost us £240 extra to make sure we had double room with private facilities. Also in Switzerland some rooms do not have toilets or a shower you need to use communal ones on the second floor.

Despite all this we still decided to go as it was so cheap and it would be silly to let the opportunity pass us by. The tour is by coach with reclining seats, DVD, coffee/tea facilities and a toilet on board. The coach makes frequent stops every two hours or so for a toilet break so if you want to stretch your legs and also stock up on snacks there’s plenty of opportunities to do so.

The accommodation is most places were very bad, as we travelled in winter we found some places to be very cold whereas Switzerland had the best accommodation even though it was well below freezing. The meals that were included were also very poor, not much choice and very bland, I would’ve rather bought most of my meals outside. The coach was very much full, around 40 or so passengers but you get on with most of them. I did find some people to be rude and not very friendly but I think this was mostly down to the tour guide not allowing everyone to introduce themselves earlier; she did it when the tour nearly finished.

The tour is also very fast paced and found that we had to tell Sammie the guide to slow down, it was very cold so I understand her being rushed but we were told that it was suitable for all ages but I find that it was mostly for younger people.

You do not get too see much of each place you visit as time is limited, most places only require a short stop whereas others have more history and good photo opportunities which we didn’t get. We are used to 4-5 star holidays and this was by far the worst, also Sammie needs to learn to pronounce the places properly as she regularly misinformed us, I also found we were mislead in what excursions we could do as some you do as a group and others you go off on your own.

If you are tight on money such as a student or someone who finds that this is a once in a lifetime holiday then go for it but for me it was a waste. I would’ve rather paid more for better standards of accommodation and food then slum it for two weeks. More interaction should be encouraged for the tour group as a whole as I found Sammie to favourite her native Aussie travellers to the rest of us. I would also like to point out that people have travelled all over the world to go on an Expat tour as far as New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia and I found most to be people who were not residents of the UK. My husband and I were the only British people on the coach and probably the best mannered, the rest were from Colombia, India, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and China. If you don’t interact well with others from different countries then this is not the tour for you.

Gondola ride in Venice

At the end of January I was in Venice for a few days as part of a European tour that I and hubby booked. I have always been put off by going to Venice as many people have said it’s far too expensive but as we didn’t have to pay any extra to visit we were more than happy to explore this city.

Of course there is no way you can go to Venice without taking a ride in a Gondola and we were advised prior to going that the price was around €60 per Gondola. When we got there the price had doubled to a ridiculous €120 for a Gondola ride but luckily our tour guide managed to find someone else who was willing to do it for the more reasonable price of €60. It’s still a little pricey but thought we might as well do it otherwise we’ll regret it.

The Gondola experience in Venice
We were advised that it was best to go early so we did; we (our tour group of over 40 people) were the first ones there. We decided to share a Gondola with 4 other people and split the cost so we only paid €10 per person, if we wanted the Gondola for ourselves then it would be the full price of €60. The ride is supposed to be for 45 minutes and it takes you round the canals where you can see the old buildings etc. All the Gondolas are very luxurious with upholstered seating and classic fabrics, I read that Gondoliers wore traditional clothing like the straw hat and clothes but I didn’t see many who wore this attire.

I found the experience to be terrible, we paid for the Gondola and got a 15 minute ride! It was hardly worth it, the Gondolier also didn’t talk to us or smile so needless to say he didn’t get a tip! You can see much of Venice on foot so there is no need for a Gondola, if you don’t mind the money then do it but don’t be surprised if you end up coughing up a ridiculous amount of money for a short ‘boat’ ride.

In a way I’m glad I did it but I do feel sad for the 15 minutes we queued up for a 15 minute ride that cost €60 I have heard other people being charged €80 plus. I am not put off going to Venice again but I will surely never go on a Gondola ride, Gondoliers like to rip off tourists like their made out of money. For some people it is a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit a country as beautiful as Italy, some tourists will never get the chance to visit again.

HSBC fraud protection

In January I had a European tour booked where I would be travelling from place to place for two weeks. As I was unsure how much money to change beforehand I thought it would be best if I made sure that my account had sufficient funds and I would withdraw money as I needed it. I noticed when I was using internet banking with HSBC that I could enter my itinerary online so that they would know where I was and my card wouldn’t be ‘frozen’ should I need to take money out abroad.

Notifying HSBC of my travel plans
I thought I would do it myself through internet banking but it was too long, I had to put day to day where I would be and as I was going to be away for two weeks it would’ve taken me a long time. I didn’t stay in one place for more than two days so I decided to call HSBC and talk to a customer service advisor. I informed them of my plans to travel and told them where I would be going, I also asked them what the likelihood of my card be ‘frozen’ would be and they said that unless I was spending by the thousands then I would be fine. Also because I notified them of my plans to travel they were aware that my card would be used abroad and the chances of my card be blocked were non-existent.

Luckily for me my husband thought it would be best to change some money before travelling so I didn’t really need to withdraw any Euros. A week into my holiday I needed to top up my mobile phone so I could wish my mother a Happy Birthday as I was not there to do it in person. My card is linked to my mobile so I called up on my mobile and topped up my mobile phone with £15 using my debit card.

The next day I got a call from HSBC fraud protection from a lady I couldn’t understand, it sounded like and Indian call centre staff member, she said I had to call them back urgently in regards to my debit card. Because I had only spent £15 I didn’t bother to call back as the call charges are really high for international calls. I left it at that and said I would chance it.

When I got back 14 days later I didn’t get a letter it email from HSBC so assumed it was drama for nothing. I went online to make a few purchases totalling £400 in one day, it was now a month since I had been on holiday, I got a phone call from a lady in India telling me she was calling from the fraud protection services and my card has been flagged and would now be cancelled. I was a little shocked but couldn’t really understand her so couldn’t ask what the problem was.

I found it a little strange that my card would get cancelled like that after spending a mere £15 abroad but spending hundreds in the UK meant that my card had to be cancelled. Luckily I got a new one 2 days later but I’m still baffled as to why it had to be cancelled. I told them I was going away, spent a meagre £15 topping up my mobile abroad and still my debit card was cancelled. I have since found that this has happened to many people using their HSBC cards abroad, I’m glad that HSBC are so vigilant but I think they have taken things to the extreme. Also why can’t they employ staff we can actually understand and ask questions to, Indian call centre staff talk to quickly and have a very heavy accent that makes a lot of people put off to calling in the first place?

Golden Circle tour Iceland review

I recently visited Iceland for a short break and wanted to experience as much as possible in those few short days. Iceland is a very expensive place in the first place but with so many different things to do and experience it’s well worth saving up a little first and do everything the first time round instead of having to go back again. I found a really good package that included a few tours, flights and accommodation so decided to go for it. One of the included tours is the Golden Circle.

The Golden Circle tour starts around 9am in the morning with pick up 30 minutes prior to this, I chose to do it as a Super Jeep tour rather than a coach or bus tour, the Super Jeep can seat up to 6 people but on mine there was me and my partner and another couple so plenty of room. The Jeep is huge and very high so depending on your size you may have trouble getting in and out, I was 5 months pregnant and struggled a little.

The Golden Circle tour takes you to Thingvellir which is a national park and where you can see the tectonic plates shift. Then you go to Geysir and Gullfoss where lunch is also taken after the tour. You stop at Stokkur geyser to see the most popular tourist attraction, a spout of boiling water 25-30m high, it erupts every 10 minutes or so. There are other smaller hot springs in the Geysir area. After that you go to Gullfoss the most famous waterfall in Iceland then lunch. On the way back the driver may also stop at a volcano or crater depending on the weather and driving conditions.

Thingvellir – is very cold so wrap up warm, you can see the tectonic plates but it’s not very exciting, looks like a crack in the ground not much to see. Then a short walk down a path where you will see green pastures and frozen river (in winter) the jeep waits for you on the other end. This was a waste of time, Thingvellir is supposed to be a national park but there is nothing to see also there is no sun at that time of day so it’s very dull.

Stokkur geyser – this was fascinating to experience a natural hot spring and the photo opportunity is fantastic if you have a good camera as it spouts water very quick! Other than that the other smaller springs are not that interesting.

Gullfoss waterfall – is the worst of the three on the tour, it was extremely cold and bitter, you couldn’t enjoy the waterfall, and yes it’s big but not beautiful in any way! You can walk down to where the waterfall starts but like I said not much to see here.

After the waterfall there is a restaurant at the top of the viewing platform where most tours stop for lunch, the food was terrible and there isn’t much choice. It’s also very expensive so if you can bring your own packed lunch to save money and to keep hunger at bay!

If you were to book this as an independent package it would cost around £177 each so £354! You also drive to the top of a glacier on a mountain where you can have a one hours snowmobile ride. Although it looked fun I was 5 months pregnant and I was far too cold so my partner and I stayed in whilst the other couple went. The driver drove us around and we got some nice pictures. The snowmobile ride costs around £105 each for one hour! It was ridiculous, you spend half an hour learning how to use and control the snowmobile then drive round in a circle for the remainder of the time!

Altogether the Golden Circle costs £564 if you include the snowmobile ride which is just not worth it; you also need a little more money for food and souvenirs on the day. As I booked it as part of a package it didn’t really cost us that much so if you really want to go get it as part of a package don’t book independently. The Golden Circle tour is a waste of money as there isn’t much to see, it would be better value for money if you rented a car and did it yourself as the roads are very quiet and easily accessible.

Hotel Schutzen Switzerland review

As part of a Europe tour I stayed at Hotel Schutzen, Switzerland for two nights. It was organised as part of a group tour package but prices are typically £120 per person per night. We had been advised that accommodation in Switzerland was very expensive and we might have to share a room with up to 5 other people. Hotel Schutzen has many rooms where you can book as part of a group booking to save money. Many of the rooms in the hotel do not have en-suite facilities but there are toilets on every floor and the communal showers are found on the second floor. I was lucky enough to have my own private room with en suite facilities.

I stayed on the third floor with a lovely view of the mountains from my window. Although the temperature was below freezing outside the hotel and the rooms were very warm and toasty, you could even turn up the temperature as all the rooms were individually controlled. There was a sink in the room with a small room in the corner that housed the toilet and shower. The bedding and mattress were very comfortable to sleep on.

Dinner at the hotel restaurant is too expensive so I wouldn’t recommend it, we ate there once and wasn’t really impressed, it looked good but wasn’t anything extraordinary. There are many other places to eat in the area that is cheaper and there is even a supermarket that sells sandwiches and salads for a few Swiss francs if you want to save money.

The area around the hotel is excellent, lovely views, shops and even a Laundromat. The train network can be reached by a short 10 minute walk; it connects you to all the ski slopes and tourist attractions such as Jungfrau – The top of Europe.

The owner of the hotel was very rude but reception staff was friendly and accommodating. The front door closes at 9pm when reception staff go home so if you need to enter you need to use the hotel restaurant door. After 11pm when the restaurant door closes you need to use a side entrance where the code is given at reception. Wi fi access is free, the code is available from reception and connection wasn’t a problem.

After finding that it costs £120 per person per night to stay there I find it overpriced as it was very basic accommodation.

Hotel Venezia Venice review

During my recent short break to Venice I checked into Hotel Venezia for two nights. Hotel Venezia is just 15 minutes from Venice with a bus service nearby; there is an abundance of shops in the vicinity for those that want to stock up on leather goods or good quality Italian clothing.

The hotel is not hard to spot as it has a large illuminated plaque showing its location; it is found just before the entrance of a shopping centre so is not hard to miss if you get lost. The reception area and lobby is very spacious and clean. If you like classic hotels then this is the one for you as all the furnishings are very antique but many may be put off with the room decor as it is pink and gold!

The rooms are nice though seem very old, the room has temperature control but the minimum temperature was 25⁰C and the maximum 30⁰C, even when switched off the room was too hot and I had to open the window to sleep otherwise I would’ve suffocated. The pillows are terrible so it’s advisable to get better ones from reception. It can get noisy during the evening so it was hard to get a good night’s sleep.

The bathroom is incredibly small with an oversized sink and toilet squashed into a corner, be prepared for flooding as most showers are wet rooms so the entire floor gets wet! We got an unexpected wakeup call at 7am even though we didn’t ask for one! Very annoying if you are a light sleeper and cannot get back to sleep afterwards. Breakfast was basic tea, coffee, bread, cereal, fruit and yoghurt.

One interesting point I would like to make is the wi fi access at the hotel, when you talk to reception staff you are asked to pay a ridiculous amount of €5 for an hour or so but the actual fact is wi fi is free! All you need to do is key in your room number as the password for you to have free internet access. So don’t feel obliged to pay for something that is offered free in practically all hotels in Europe! Another scam was that they have bus tickets on sale at reception but they add a little extra so they make a profit. If you don’t want to give them the pleasure of doing so purchase your bus tickets elsewhere!

Forest Hill Hotel Paris Review

Two weeks ago as part of a tour of Europe I stayed at Forest Hill Hotel, 15 minutes away from the centre of Paris. After checking in and leaving my belongings in my room I went out to explore Paris in the evening. Upon my return a few hours later to my horror another person had also checked in their stuff into my room! Reception had made an error and assigned me a room that was not meant to be mine but because I was there first I got to keep it! There was not safe in the room and feel extremely lucky that none of my possessions were stolen.

The hotel itself looks nice but us very old! The bed is squeaky and extremely uncomfortable! I had to ask for another pillow as mine was far too flat and deflated to get a good night’s sleep on. Reception staff do not know much and can be very rude, when asked about wi fi the reception staff said it was free but as they do not have a pin anyone from around the area can access it so the connection is very slow or in some cases nonexistent! For people that need an internet connection for business purposes it was very poor.

Breakfast was laughable, the queues sometimes were so long it was outside the entrance, people on business and groups use this hotel a lot so breakfast time was always busy. There was the standard, bread, cereal, fruit and yoghurt and that was really it.

The location is ok as there is a supermarket just opposite for those who want to save money on snacks and a few restaurants but we found that these were too expensive for the location. The metro is just a short walk from hotel around 5 minutes but not very safe if alone or even as a couple are there are many unsavoury characters lurking. There are many people who gather in the area with their enormous dogs as warning to beware when going out at night.

The hotel has a restaurant and bar on sight but staff speak very little English and the prices are too expensive. The Hippopotamus restaurant has too much hype surrounding it; you would be better off heading into Paris. The lobby is sometimes dirty and the chairs not very comfortable, I didn’t like this hotel at all and would not recommend it. It has an official 3 star rating but should be more like one star!