Tour Packages: Are They Worth The Costs?

glasgow-cathedral-and-infirmaryIt’s a month out from your trip and you are contemplating your very tight budget. Some of the considerations are that you really want to see a bunch of castles near where you are staying, but can’t do a hire car because of the cost. That will leave you with a tour option. However there are so many tours, how can you find one that fits your needs and well, isn’t too touristy?

Hint: For larger cities like London, you will always find a tour. But really good ones can fill up in advance. If a tour has really good ratings, also check for complaints against in a search. You may want to book a few weeks out, especially in high summer, August.

I don’t know about you, but I really am not a fan of traditional tours. Tourists can be so distracting and well, in some cases, behave poorly when on a trip. When I am traveling, I usually avoid the traditional tourist traps if I can, or try to see them at off times, and visit spaces like someone who may live there might. However, if you really want to see a land feature or castle and it’s out of city limits, you may have to resort to a tour.

Commercial Tours €£€£

If you really have limited time and want to pack in as much as you can, the commercial tour companies that depart from most city squares are your bet. You will pay between £30-50 for these tours on brightly colored buses from most metropolitan squares. Then you have to deal with densely packed buses. You can get to a great many sites in one day. I find if I do use these services, I will plan one day to be used up, and of course get back into town and head for a neighborhood I like, just to get some sense of people and community. They are noisy, smelly affairs.

Avoiding Commercial Tours: Compromise €£€£€

There are smaller, more intimate tours for the areas you may be visiting. These are usually smaller vans and smaller bus affairs. They will, however, cost more than the massive tour bus companies. You are paying for a smaller comfort and more intimate and personal tour. Sometimes these are run by smaller family businesses, groups of friends. You can even get specific tours that may follow a theme. Keep in mind that these can cost over €75-200 per person, but may be over several days. Also, check Twitter. Some smaller companies have accounts and you can check out their feed and see what tours are going on and what people are saying.

Walking Tours €0-10

Finding walking tours in cites whether guided or self guided means doing some research. If you check out a tour guide like Trip Advisor, you can get a good selection of these tours along with paying tours listed. There are tours operated by independents that may involve a small group that hires themselves out. These can be really entertaining as many of the guides are locals and you can contribute what you like and tip them. You may find that it is easier to meet groups of other travelers and then have a meal afterwards. Check for local online and hard copy community newspapers and magazines. They will have a good listing of these tours. Also, research alternative tours of the area.

Public Transport Tours – Self Guided £5-10

If you have a few days in an area, using public transit and getting around on your own tour can be done. Most local cities and towns even have maps and bus route information on their city websites with tourists in mind. There are also many touring apps that have city walking tours and tours that venture out. Now, these are free for the most part, and may not be up to date. There may also be roadworks and improvements going on that may delay you, you will need to check local information. I did quite a bit around Inverness last year via this route. You do not get as much packed in as an organized commercial tour, but it can be much easier on the budget.

There are many guided tours apps created by enterprising individuals or tourist boards. If you visit the App Store, you can find many of these. Also check online for local What’s On publications for the city. There may be an app they have created. And don’t forget local book stores. They carry these things called maps that fold out.

Booking

Trip Advisor/Viator are the same company, just different formats. One is the classic Trip Advisor green and the other is a bit more supped up and takes more bookings.

https://www.viator.com

Tour Radar

http://www.tourradar.com/d/europe

City Specific

London

Manchester

Cardiff Wales

Glasgow Tours

Edinburgh Tours

Dublin Tours

Belfast Tours

London Pass

Articles and Resources

https://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-tips/choosing-the-right-tour-company/

http://www.scotlandmadeeasy.co.uk/

http://www.irelandmadeeasy.eu/

https://www.vacationsbyrail.com/

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/scotland/articles/12-of-the-best-self-guided-tours-of-scotland/

https://www.myirelandtour.com/travelguide/solo-travel.php

http://www.independent.co.uk/travel/news-and-advice/the-50-best-travel-websites-8646338.html

 

 

Accommodations Glasgow: Fraser Suites and St. Enoch’s Apartment

Fraser Suites Glasgow

Ratings ♥ to ♥♥♥♥

My last 2 stays in Glasgow were two different types of accommodations. One was a standard small boutique affair, Fraser’s Suites, and the other was a service apartment off the Clyde in St. Enoch’s shopping area. Both were in the heart of the city. If you like to be in the thick of it, downtown is the place to be.

Central

Fraser Suites Glasgow $$$ ♥♥♥
Albion at Trongate, Glasgow, Scotland 44+ 141 553 4288

The pictures are quite charming, a rambling set of rooms in the Trongate area. Well, what I stayed in was not a suite. I came off the plane and dropped my cases. The very small and cramped room was as far away as i could get from the very busy pub down below, and next to a car park. No need for an alarm, because you have seagulls waking you at 05:00 am. It was basically a place to get over jet lag and get a footing in Scotland before I continued with my journey. For the most part it was clean, and there was a small gym where no one seemed to bother me at the weird hours I went in. I said jet lag, right?

This is where I first experienced Glasgow’s expansive nightlife. The noise of it can be going till the wee hours of 03:00 easy. Massive groups of people clamped on for dear life and the love of their city. So, just remember to try to get the rooms a floor more above the busy restaurant.

The apartment was a serviced apartment in a one room style with kitchenette. The room was small, and a bit tired. I could see this was set up to be a more business staying affair with desk and small living area. The lecky plugs monitored very heavily. The bed was hard. For the most part it was clean, which a clean place and monitored hotel is sometimes what you need when you just get to a country. You are not your best on jet lag. There was a hotel safe which was convenient. I did not use the breakfast services, what I could see was very limited. The staff though was very friendly and as helpful as they could be.

Plus: Location for first time in Glasgow with transit and access to George Square where many of the tour buses depart from. You are walking distance from the train stations and the Clockwork Orange (tube). The prices are manageable and there is a full staff and it’s accessible most hours. The kitchens are fairly well equipped.

Minus: Bed is hard, the rooms a bit warn. There were recent remodels but still a bit sterile. Great to just crash, and the room was actually larger than some I stayed in in Glasgow previously.

Clyde Side

St. Enoch’s Apartments $$$$ ♥♥♥♥
101 Maxwell Street, Central Glasgow , Scotland
Sweeney Service Apartments 00 44 (0) 141 423 2001

This is where I fell in love with the rented apartment concept. The serviced apartments I had stayed at before had been very sterile, this had more of a home feeling about it. I thought as my last splurge on the way out of my trip, I would have a furnished apartment by the Clyde. I live by two rivers and enjoy them, walking the bank side parks are always a great treat. So I booked 3 days in a service apartment and lived among Glaswegians in the St. Enoch’s area.

St. Enoch’s is by the Clyde river, north side across from Laurieston. It’s in the heart of the shopping district and plenty of music and pub venues are in the area for your entertainment. Access to parks are a plus, and public transport hubs make it easy to get around if you are not walking. Noise is a bit of an issue, music venue around the corner, but the apartment was an interior one and buffered a bit. Also the view was narrow, you could see the Clyde, but a bit squished. The apartment had two rooms and could sleep up to 4 comfortably. Facilities were working, but the at the source water heater was a bit tricky, with the fuse switch chain having to be a bit of a twiddle.

Plus: Location was great for the second time in Glasgow. My first had been very close to George Square that was even more busy. If you like vibrant and somewhat busy, this is a good place. You have a tranquil side facing the Clyde that allows for a good morning jog or hike. The kitchen was well equipped. You are close to some of the downtown marts like Tesco which means you can get by, get things in a pinch. But if you want whole foods you will need to travel into the West End or outskirts to a super. Visit a wine merchant.

Minus: Price. The apartment was really too large for me, but when booking was the best I could find for the dates price wise. You are stuck with downtown restaurants. The heart of good food in Glasgow is usually in the West End and Northern parts, around the with some East End food areas getting to be rather tasty. But one of the pluses is to use the kitchen and supplement your eating. Inner city markets are very pricey and limited. Noise level is high on Friday and Saturdays. Check for weekend events as this is a transit hub area.

My first few visits to Glasgow were amazing, and I am heading back. However I will be staying in the West End this season as I found I was spending a great deal of time there each day and found that area around the university more to my type of neighborhood feel. I had one service apartment cancel on me due to building sale, so we will see how this trip goes in the West End as I check out other lodgings.

 

What’s On Glasgow’s Hubs and Clubs

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Glasgow rocks, and it’s apparent. Countless bands have their start here from eighties rockers Simple Minds and Jesus and Mary Chain, to Supernaturals, Texas, Belle & Sebastian and Frightened Rabbit. The music venues of fame include King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut and The Barrowland Ballroom are familiar to all. But what about all the other venues and what’s on this spring of note? What do you do if you are a traveler and haven’t a clue where to go. Well, you are in for a rest regardless, there is so much musical going on here.

Like any city you may visit, look at the local clubs and independent papers for where you are traveling to. You may want to do this several months before you arrive as some of the more popular bands may sell out quite early. If you are lucky and have friends and family in the place you plan to visit, you can have them get live tickets for you, but many places use services like eventbrite.com and other online ticket sellers and you can store on your phone. You may not be able to purchase unless you are in the UK as some apps and ticket selling sites are set up for UK addresses only at checkout, even if it’s an online ticket.

Local Papers and Music Resources

I always find and love to look through the local indie rags for any city like Glasgow. All port towns have a great independent news and cultural paper or two, usually online but occasionally you can still pick up a hard copy which is great as you can get that old textile feel for the paper. Music and theatre are a steady, vibrant beat in this town. Another great way to find out who is playing is of course to pick up flyers and promo cards from independent music stores. Some of the local stores are Record Fayre and Rubadub. Check the registers and windows for bank promos, and don’t forget your local cafe and coffee houses. Don’t forget to listen to the Buskers in Buchanan or other mall streets, many of them have CDs or will also tell you about the local music scene and who’s playing.

Some of the music venues are:
Òran Mór
Bar Bloc
O2 ABC
Old Fruitmarket

Like big music events? Spring marks the beginning of the festival season, so along with small music venues, you will find weekend festival events filling the air with sound. Check and see if there is one during your stay. These venues are filled with bands all day and into the night. Festivals coming up in Glasgow are the new May West Festival May 27, 28 TRNSMT 2017 Festival July 7 through 9 and they are hosting the BBC6 Festival this year.

Is This Music ? is a great, Northern UK publication online with music reviews and listings for where bands are playing. Glasgow Music has reviews and information specific to the city and outlying area. Reviews and venue information. And best of all, never forget that the universities in most cities have a student run radio station. The University of Glasgow’s student run station is Subcity Radio. Check out their reviews and music offerings.

Links
Top Music Venues Glasgow
https://theculturetrip.com/europe/united-kingdom/scotland/articles/the-10-best-music-venues-in-glasgow/

Is This Music?
http://www.isthismusic.com

Glasgow Music
http://www.glasgowmusic.co.uk/GMHome

Local Independent Music Stores
http://www.scotlandnow.dailyrecord.co.uk/lifestyle/record-store-day-2016-glasgows-7755773

Independent Culture
http://www.theskinny.co.uk

Subcity Radio Glasgow University
https://www.subcity.org

May West Festival 2017
http://www.may-west.com

TRNSMT Festival 2017
http://trnsmtfest.com


Photo by Craig Monaghan

Saturday Travel Musings: Glasgow

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It’s another rainy April day here in Portland, and the petals are flying from the trees. A young hipster is wearing a Ramones tee, and I fondly remember my first tee back in the Uni Days. I am drinking coffee in the Hawthorne and planning my escape. Thinking about my travels in 2 months and reading a local digital paper for Glasgow, Scotland since I will be going back in July. I highly recommend you read the local rags online for what cities you will visit. It helps get you ready to plan on what you can do while there and it’s highly intertaining to see that your town is not the only weirdville around. Not to mention that things sell out like theatre and music shows, so visiting the local indie papers for What’s On is a good deal. get a feel for your adventure in urban exploration.

Planning out the visit, I had been thinking about where to eat. Being foodie is crucial on vacation as it is for the rest of the year. Glasgow has definitely got the eats. As in my previous article on socially conscious eating, I had mentioned finding cafes and restaurants that give back to the community. In reading Glasgowlive.com the last few months, I had been tracking a feature on a cat cafe opening to benefit cat rehoming schemes, The Purrple Cat will be at 2 Trongate this July. I’m there, love a good cat cafe. But not to leave out the dogs in this dog loving town, because I know I met quite a few last summer there. If you want to visit with dugs while visiting this town or others in Scotland, check out the dugswelcome.com page to find food, drink, and dug friendly spots. Even if you can’t bring Fido on your travels, you can meet other dug friends in these places. An hey, most of them still have their tails.

http://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/whats-on/food-drink-news/location-finally-revealed-glasgows-new-12923091

Glasgow Science Centre

I also see that Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of The Moon album will be celebrated at the Glasgow Science Centre tonight, with tickets having sold out some time before. I remember my first planetarium experience with a light show and Floyd back in the early Uni days in California. I can tell you the technology has advanced greatly since then and this show looks really amazing. So popular that they had to extend showings until May and June. So if you are traveling to their city you may want to hook up at the tickets page if you can before they sell out. Sorry to go on, but this iconic album is always made spectacular by added show, so enjoy if you can. Here’s hoping they can add on July.

What city are you traveling to this month and what’s on there?


Photos by Lonni and Alastair McMillan

Best of the Online Travel Guides: So Many Choices

33550586520_efb665b672An update and furthering of reviews online booking platforms as you gear up for the spring and summer travel seasons.

There are so many travel guides online it’s overwhelming. There are so many places to book your stay, and they may all list at several booking sites. Many of these sites come with travel guides included, but they may be very limited. Tourism is a huge industry and everyone wants their piece. How do you claw through it all and find one that really works for you? You have to glance through a few and check out the features. Then you have to decide if the choices you are being given are relevant. It’s travel in the digital age, we rely too heavily on the apps and web resources. Did you get your hard copy map yet? I must confess that I use my cell phone a great deal, take along a battery pack as the data usage will suck it up.

I have booked my itinerary with Booking.Com this year because I can access it with the app and change things. Last year I used Expedia and well, wasn’t too happy with some of the results. You get better with practice. I have found that since I had made so many plans and had to readjust my booked places due to one property being sold (that was a fun alert I can tell you). So far any of the features such as contacting the property owners has been pretty useful. There are several sites like this, last year I used TripAdvisor.com mainly, but found some things a bit chunky, and well the reviews are skewed to the hotels viewpoint. If you want to get real with the location you are going to, you need to find more real travel sites. You can start with local tourism sites and dig for information on the neighborhoods.

The Basic Travel Bonanza Sites

Domestic Sites to US and Canada, but covers world travel. I did a lot of comparisons with these in the fall of 2016 while planning 2017 travels. Not lot to offer, you can have them all up and search for the same flight or bookings and get a gamut all over the map pricing thing that will drive you nuts. Be patient, open a few browser windows and compare. Not all sites offer flights, some are accommodation and tours only.

Kayak.com

Expedia.com

Orbitz.com

Trivago.com

Travelocity.com

Hipmunk.com

lonelyplanet.com

European

Oyster.com

Gogobot.com

Skyscanner.com Used this one to get cheap flights between Ireland and UK to continent flights. Pretty good information.

Coolcamping.com

Rometorio.com

Thehotelguru.com

Thefestivalcalendar.co.uk

i-escape.com

Alternative Tours and Guides

Atlas Obscura

http://www.atlasobscura.com/

This site is filled with fun alternative travel destinations and weird facts. I love it. It’s a great place to get information on places like the Mummies of Dublin, which are really bog bodies at the National Museum of Ireland. Great articles and musings on fun and obscure things in many countries with an interface that is not to overpowering.

Indie Guides

http://indie-guides.com/en/

For the alternative traveller, this site has great views on going abroad or even next door. If you have traveled a city that is not among their guides, hit them up to help create a section of your idea of the best for alternative tourism in the city you love.

The Alternative Travel Guide

https://www.thealternativetravelguide.com/

Fun blog with travels abroad and in out of the way places. Very eclectic travel articles.

Extreme Tourism

I would like to travel the path less known, but I am not a huge adventurer. I would need to do even more physical training than I am already doing to get ready for this next trip. Next year, I hope to do more hiking and climbing training so I could climb a mountain. I have begun to prep towards that, and I have already given myself an injury. Great work. Of course, I mean I got tendonitis on the last trip, you’d think I would learn. If you are thinking about doing some serious tourism like ecotourism or grabbing a Munro ( a Mountain of more than 3000 Feet in Scotland) trail, you should start training well ahead of time. But these kinds of tours exist and there are sites dedicated to them.

Nerve Rush

http://www.nerverush.com/extreme-tourism/

This site is not for the faint of heart traveller. It’s a community of extreme travel junkies. Join their list for postings and articles that may become very addictive to you, and way you go.

Sites by Cities

Cities I will be going to (again) and testing these sites out:

Belfast

http://www.belfastlive.co.uk/whats-on/whats-on-news/seven-quirky-things-around-belfast-9168147

http://wanderluce.com/11-alternative-things-to-do-in-belfast/

http://secretbelfast.co.uk/

Dublin

https://dublinunderground.net/an-alternative-guide-to-dublin/

http://gottakeepmovin.com/alternative-dublin-city-guide/

http://almostginger.com/2016/04/08/alternative-guide-48-hours-dublin/

http://www.eattravelraverepeat.com/travel/alternative-guide-dublin

Galway

https://galwayundergroundguide.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/local-alternative-underground/

http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-guides/ireland/galway/

Glasgow

https://www.skiddle.com/gigs/Glasgow/ Because it’s about the music here

https://www.thecrazytourist.com/top-25-things-to-do-in-glasgow/

Edinburgh

http://www.lovefromscotland.co.uk/Weird-things-to-do-edinburgh

http://www.grumpycamel.com/12-things-to-do-in-edinburgh

London

http://curious-london.co.uk/bucketlist/

http://www.eatinglondontours.co.uk/blog/unique-things-to-do-in-london/

Like the old time hard copy guide books, read these reviews in the Guardian.

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2013/aug/09/best-quirky-guidebooks-world-print

Glasgow: Finding a Good Japanese Restaurant Off the Atlantic Ocean?

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Sushi and other fish dishes rely on getting very fresh fish from the Pacific Ocean. We here on the Pacific Rim are quite spoiled. Japanese restaurants are quite fantastic here. So what do you do when traveling in the UK and Ireland and your fav cuisine is a bit elusive? Keep trying. Most Japanese restaurants have adapted to working off the Atlantic Ocean, using fish found there for the sushi and traditional fish stews, after all, dashi is usually shaved bonito which is freeze dried and easy to transport.  But you won’t see Yellowtail (Hamachi) or other fish from the Pacific. Or if you do, it’s not fresh, it’s frozen and you can taste that difference. So when you are in the UK, you may just have to settle for chicken or beef dishes.

My second day in Glasgow and I wanted Japanese. I looked up a restaurant on Yelp and hoped for the best. The sushi Nigiri list had much to be desired, so I tried a traditional dinner instead, more comfort food, Nanakusa was pretty good overall. But then I was on a quest. Well, what happens when you get an unsatisfactory taste sensation? You seek out better choices. The next Japanese I tried was off the Buchanan Mall area and up some stairs, Ichiban. Out of the way a bit, but their Japanese curry was good. I lamented with the Japanese wait staff over finding good Nigiri in Scotland. I then chatted with them about getting a menu to catered to the Atlantic v. Pacific fish market. There was a degree of sadness felt, a commiseration. But if you look you can still find some good Japanese if not great fusion, if you are willing to seek it out.

Top Glasgow Sushi and Japanese

In Edinburgh I tried out a Japanese that was a fusion restaurant. Eh, it left a bit to be desired and well, I had to really get attention to get attention. Oh, when ordering Sake, make sure you tell them hot. Don’t assume they will know. Restaurants in the UK tend to default to room temp or cold. Also, their flasks aren’t as large as in the US. Just a tip.

Top Edinburgh Sushi

Dublin Japanese

Belfast Japanese

Art Walks: Amazing Spring Entertainment and Culture in the Isles

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Mural on the Clutha Pub, Bridgegate Street, Glasgow Scotland Summer 2016 J. Canning

I have always enjoyed a good street art walk. Murals and sidewalk art have become extensive, massive canvases to showcase local artists and get up close and personal with art. This summer I will be hitting more mural walks. I was reading one of the people I follow on Twitter, Travels With a Kilt Blog, and a recent article caught my eye. It’s a great art walk in Glasgow and I will be following it this summer and adding some of my own discoveries.

Got one of those super saver early flight arrivals like I always get? It’s one of the best things to do when you just get to a city, especially if you are walking off the jet lag. Get a taste for the city you are exploring, grab coffee or tea on the way, walk a few hours, then have a meal. Great way to meet people.

Since I won’t be going until summer this year, I thought I would link you up with this article so if you happen to be going to Glasgow this spring, you should read this:

Glasgow’s Street Art Article

Planning on going to a city or two this spring summer that may have street art? Seek it out and take your own shots of this amazing public art form. Share them on Instagram or try a street art app that you can share with the world.

Just a tip: You will find many official street art tours. They cost money. You can find maps for free online and also some walking tours with local historians, a bit less money. If you have a budget, small tours with locals can be a blast as you can meet with others traveling and have great convo. But sometimes creating your own tour is great on the budget, look for Street Art Tour Maps online. There are apps online and phone apps for tours as well. Remember this will eat up your power and many places are charging money now in cafes to recharge your phone.

Links

Apps for Street Art Worldwide Directory http://geostreetart.com/

For great walks and place in Scotland to take your snaps, check out http://www.photowalkscotland.com/

More at these cities:

Edinburgh 

http://www.walkingheads.net/pride-of-place-street-art-in-leith/

Glasgow 

https://peoplemakeglasgow.com/things-to-do/visitor-itineraries/city-centre-mural-trail

http://www.travelandleisure.com/attractions/glasgow-mural-trail

Ireland

Belfast 

http://free-belfast-tours.com/tours/the-free-original-belfast-alternative-tour/

http://www.seedheadarts.com/street-art-walking-tour/

http://www.belfastartmap.com/places/belfast/public-art/street-art-north-street/

Dublin 

https://www.joe.ie/life-style/spend-a-day-taking-in-some-brilliant-dublin-street-art-377646

http://www.dailyedge.ie/best-irish-street-art-1627974-Aug2014/

Galway

https://www.facebook.com/galwaystreetart/

https://oddballtours.com/tours/

UK

http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/london-tours/walking-tours/london-graffiti-and-street-art-tour/

https://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/the-street-art-walk

Coming to the PNW, Portland PDX?

http://www.pdxstreetart.org/