Tagarchief: Europe

Five reasons why traveling with a motorhome across Europe is the best holiday

If you hate it to pack and unpack every single day when traveling, a holiday with a motorhome might be just the ideal holiday for you. In May this year, we traveled for the very first time with a camper van all the way through Ireland and here are a few reasons – besides the unpacking – why we think it’s the best type of traveling.

Freedom! Freeeedom!

I think you get it by now what our primary reason is to travel with a motorhome or campervan. A motorhome journey gives you the possibility of going wherever and whenever you want. If you happen to love the place, just stay there for a while.  And if you don’t, get behind the wheel and look for a better place. Not only does traveling with a motorhome give you a lot more freedom, but it is quite more relaxing if you know you have your bed and kitchen with you!

Italië, Tuscany, De Weg, Roadtrip, Landschap

Save money on accommodation

A standard hotel room will cost you easily between 50 and 100 euros. And when traveling with children it gets even more expensive. If your destination is Norway, Sweden or Switzerland, prices  tend to be even higher. Traveling with your own motorhome would save you a lot of money since you would spend most nights on a cheap campsite, aires or free campingspots.

Spend your evenings on the most awesome places

Sleeping in a motorhome instead of a bed in a hotel has even more advantages. In most European countries you can park your motorhome right up on the beach to spend the night. Not only will it be an evening to remember, but you’ll get the best start by waking up with beach front views.

Travel with your bed

Talking about sleeping. What I really love about traveling with my campervan is that I bring my bed everywhere I go. Who doesn’t share the same problem of not being able to sleep in a different bed than your own? Pretty anoying if you’re sleeping in a different bed every single night during your journey. Fortunately, a motorhome rental has the advantage of having your own home to sleep in instead of those random hostel beds that might even give you bed bugs.

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Save money on food

Restaurant visits are a drain on your travel budget, but you gotta eat right? A motorhome or caravan has its own kitchen inside it which makes it possible to do some cooking on your own. Not only are you pretty sure that the meals will be terrific, but you will save tens of euros every day just by going shopping in a supermarket instead of visiting a expensive restaurant. Having dinner with a great view might be an even better experience as well. In Europe, Lidl and Aldi are affordable places to go shopping.

Do you have your mind set on traveling with a motorhome in Europe? Check out Polarus for custom made journeys and rentals.  

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Pyramiden: a fallen Soviet Utopia

Imagine a community where everyone lives in harmony, where everyone has a job and lives a happy life. Today, we would describe this place as an Utopia, but life in the Russian mining village Pyramiden used to be like this. This little piece of paradise, however, wasn’t situated within the borders of Russia, but in a remote corner on the Norwegian archipelago Spitsbergen. Today, the utopia has disappeared and its population has been replaced by a colony of black-legged kittiwakes. Only a handful of Russians still live in the city, trying to keep the dream alive, but in reality Pyramiden is no more than a ghost town, a collection of bygone memories and a paradise… for urban explorers.

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Central Square of Pyramiden

The fall of Pyramiden

Pyramiden once was the realisation of the Soviet dream. A place where everyone is happy, a community not based on money and where no one falls short. But what happened to this thriving community where 1000 people used to live, you wonder? From one day to the next, they had to leave and return to Russia. It wasn’t a voluntary act but they simply were obliged to leave the coal town and their lives behind. In the early 90s, Russian economy started to collapse and the decision to keep financing a community far away from the mainland while the mining industry wasn’t making money, wasn’t justified anymore. When, in 1996, a charterflight arriving from Moscow bringing back mine workers from Pyramiden and Barentsbrug, crashed in Longyearbyen, the Russians were fed up. Pyramiden was closed down and the last people left the village in 1998.

Urban exploring

Nowadays, If you visit Pyramiden, all you will see are vestiges of the past… and a newly renovated hotel, which is owned by – just like the rest of the mining town – Arktikugol. A last attempt to make money out of it. Not with coal, no they gave up on that idea, but with tourism. A small number of Russian guides take the daily shipment of tourists from Longyearbyen on a tour around the most preserved buildings of the coal town. But as you can guess, this was not what we were setting our eyes on. We chose to arrive in Pyramiden at 8pm, after having kayaked to the nearby glacier. This way, we would fight shy of the herds of tourists, find a real deserted town, and truly experience the atmosphere of a ghost town.

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Urban exploring with a rifle: a different experience

‘Don’t forget to lock up the safety of your rifle.’, I tell Linsay, while I check where I’ve put the flares. During my sailing expedition two weeks ago, I already visited Pyramiden, so it seemed interesting to show Linsay the best places on our own. The rifle, that is a safety measure for luring polar bears. They love snoozing in the dark corners of the abandoned buildings. At the same time, it is obligatory to be armed when leaving the inhabited settlements. And Pyramiden simply doesn’t count as a inhabited settlement. Our ambitions were a bit bigger than when I wandered here around two weeks ago. Then, I only got to see the buildings on the outside. This time, we were hoping to be able to enter some of them and do some urban exploring. Exploring old, abandoned buildings and taking photos as we go, without causing any damage. When we walk along the shores and enter the harbor, Linsay is already impressed. A collapsed bridge leading to the water requires us to do our first scrambling. Many pictures later – I have to admit that the glacier in the background of the harbor was a great setting – we continued our walk. A gravel road leads to the center of the mining settlement, but instead we chose to use the wooden platforms flanked by tilting street lights to enter the town. We keep an eye on which planks are still reliable to carry our weight, while our hopes were set on catching a glimpse of the former coaling mine, somewhere on top of the nearby mountain, but unfortunately clouds hanging quite low obstruct the sight. To be honest, weather is too foul to be making good shots, but the abandoned and desolate atmosphere that accompanies it gives it a special touch. Linsay can hardly hide her enthusiasm. Photographing on one of world’s most inaccessible places, it has a certain charm. The wooden platform ends near a yellow building that seems to be invaded by a colony of seagulls. We could hear their incessantly screaming from a distance, and the rusty children’s playground in the foreground made the whole view look like a Hitchcock’s The Birds scene.

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Looks like a scene from Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’

The Olympic pool

I double check the rifle I’ve taken over from Linsay, before entering the swimming pool building at the end of the center. Even though it hasn’t been so long since I’ve wandered here around, some things seem to have changed. Two weeks ago, we had found it impossible to enter the building, while this time it only took us about five minutes to find an unlocked door. I switch on the flashing light app on my smartphone and lighten the dark corridors of the building. ‘You go first.’, Linsay says, fearing a polar bear might be hiding itself in a dark corner. The building seems to be bigger than we thought, but after about ten minutes of exploring we discovered the swimming pool on the second floor. Lane lines divide the pool in three as if they served for their use just yesterday and a metal stair led to the bottom. Only the water was missing. As if someone had pulled the plug.

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Olympic pool

Once outside in daylight, Linsay takes pictures of the most northerly statue of Lenin, located a bit further. ‘Do you mind if I take some more pictures of the square before we explore further?’, she asks, while her finger slowly touches the shutter button to capture another photo. Again we see the Nordenskioldglacier in the background, while the decayed buildings around the square emit a grim atmosphere. Nineteen times three quarters of a year of freezing temperatures alternated by three months of thaw clearly has left its traces.

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We succeed in entering some more bathing facilities, even though most buildings don’t seem accessible. ‘Maybe the building over there?’, Linsay points. We have no clue what the purpose of the building was, but it didn’t took long before we could find an open door here as well. Some dark corridors led us to a big room where sunlight beamed in. A giant mosaic of snowcapped mountain peaks, polar bears and ice caps dominated the room. A display of empty food trays gave away this used to be the canteen, the place where every resident of Pyramiden ate collectively.

Both of us were surprised when we checked the time. Midnight had passed a long time ago. It’s amazing how fast you forget about time when exploring in Pyramiden. But on the other hand, it’s amazing how time has forgotten about the town as well.

Tips for interrailing in Europe

US citizens, Asians or even South American travelers tend to travel through Europe in one big trip. To do this, interrailing might be one of the best ways to discover the more than 30 countries, hundreds of cities and even more villages. Here are some tips for travelers seeking the ultimate European adventure. 

Maybe you are planning on traveling through Europe on a budget this summer. In that case, chances are big that you’re exploring the continent by railway. You can combine the sunny French Mediterranean coast with culturally rich cities in Eastern Europe or remote wilderness places in Scandinavia. Or what about alpine villages in the Swiss Alps?

DON’T TAKE TOO MUCH LUGGAGE WITH YOU

When traveling with railways it’s better to keep your luggage to a minimum. In fact a simple backpack should do the trick. It’s easiest to carry while traveling across a continent. Just take some clothes, money, your passport  and a tootbrush with you and that’s all you need.

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Paris, easy to reach by railway
CONSIDER YOUR BUDGET DRASTICALLY

Europe is expensive. In fact, it might be one of the most expensive continents in the world. Eventhough there is a difference between traveling in Eastern Europe (cheap) and Northern Europe (expensive). But still.. pretty expensive. The main part of your budget will go to food, transport and accommodation. A tip to find cheap accommodation is using Airbnb. You can find rooms at decent prices AND you’re staying with local folks.

Register via the link above and earn 30$ travel credit.

LEARN A FEW BASIC WORDS OF EVERY LANGUAGE

Europe has a lot of countries and unlike continents such as North America and South America, there are a lot of different languages. It might be wise to learn some of the basic words of every one of them. Just to make sure you’re able to say ‘Hello’ or ‘Thank you’ in their native language.

TAKE THE SCENIC ROUTE

When planning a route the website will most often show you the quickest way to get from point A to point B. But sometimes there’s another route that might take a bit longer, but the view out of the window makes it well worth the extra travel time. Europe has a lot of scenic train journeys to choose from. The Flåm Railway between Oslo and Bergen, the West Highland Line, Fort William to Mallaig or Bernina Express between Chur and Tirano. You can read more in our post about ‘Scenic railway journeys in Europe‘.

PLAN YOUR ROUTE…but keep room for adventure
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Get a view at the Matterhorn while traveling with the train

It would be real adventurous to go on an interrail journey without planning anything. It would be expensive too. The internet is a great source to compare cheap accommodation, train fares in promotion, etc…

USE INTERRAIL PASSES

Another reason why you should plan your route at least a little bit in advance is to make use of interrail passes. These let you travel through Europe or some countries with one single (more beneficial) ticket. But it would be stupid to buy a pass for the whole of Europe if you’re only going to end up visiting a few countries.

If you’re a European resident, then go straight for the InterRail Pass – you can choose between a ‘Global Pass’, a single ticket valid in 30 different countries, or a ‘country pass’, allowing unlimited travel in your specified country. However, if you are a non-EU citizen, you’ll need to look out for a Eurail Pass.

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Jacobite scenic train journey, Scotland
DON’T TRY TO SEE TOO MUCH

The huge network of train lines and relatively small distances make it easy to whizz between cities and countries.If you’re in Milaan you could be in Venice, Geneva, Turin or Paris in a matter of hours. It’s tempting to see all these cities. Although it’s a rail trip, you do probably want to see more than the inside of a carriage!

DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE SMALLER PLACES

Paris, London, Barcelona, Geneva, Stockholm, Berlin… and so on. There are plenty of cities in Europe worth a visit. Cityhopping from one main city to another will make you miss alot of beautiful places. Think about places like Chamonix, Bruges or tiny Scottish villages alongside the West Highland Way.

Do you still have some tips for travelers who are planning an interrail trip through Europe? 

 

 

 

 

 

Scenic railway journeys in Europe

Taking the train is one of the fastest ways to travel. Nonetheless not everyone is keen on sitting in a carriage for hours. We do, however, have some arguments to change their minds. Here are some of the most scenic iron highways in Europe, alongside icy fjords, meandering rivers and snow-peaked mountains.

1. Bergen Line with Flåm Railway between Oslo and Bergen (Norway)

Along mountain landscapes you travel straight up on the world’s steepest railway line. This awe-inspiring train journey will show you some of Norway’s very best sceneries.

Distance: 550km

Time: 9 hours

2. West Highland Line (Scotland)

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The Jacobite

Originally this railway takes you from Glasgow to Mallaig. The first part from Glasgow to Fort William takes you on the same route as the West Highland Way, giving you splendid views on Loch Lomond and the surrounding Highlands. Once in Fort William you can catch a glimpse of Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak. However it’s the second part of the journey that is most famous. In Fort William you step on the Jacobite, a steam train better known as Hogwart’s Express in the Harry Potter movies, through rugged Highlands, finally ending in Mallaig.

Distance: 264km

Time: 6 hours

3. Bernina Express between Chur and Tirano (Switzerland and Italy)

This is only one of the many scenic railway journeys Swizerland has to offer. This train has panoramic windows to explore the alpine views. Do we really need to convince you that this is one of the best train journeys you can make?

Distance: 123km

Time: 4 hours

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Bernina Express

4. Glacier Express (Switzerland)

Connecting Zermatt and St Moritz, two of Switzerland’s most reputable ski resorts, you will witnes some of the very finest peaks in the Swiss Alps. Zermatt is most famous for its views on the Matterhorn, world’s most iconic mountain. Price for a ticket is quite expensive though.

Distance: 291km

Time: 7 hours

5. Semmering Line (Austria)

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Glacier Express

Over 100 curved stone bridges, the 4,700ft-long Vertex Tunnel and 16 viaducts are only a few of the highlights to soak in during your journey starting at Gloggnitz and leads over the Semmering to Mürzzuschlag.

Distance: 41km

Time: 1 hour

 

6. Inlandsbanan (Sweden)

This journey takes you across the Arctic Circle in Sweden. It traverses some of the wildest terrain in Scandinavia. Be sure to look out for bears and moose.

Distance: 1300km

Time: 14 hours