Friday, December 27, 2013

Existential Quest for WiFi Coming to a Close for Travelers? Warning to Hostels...

The desire to have WiFi as much as possible when I travel has largely defined my travel experience for the last six to eight years. Some people don't understand this, and I've even been ridiculed for it in print (“If he has to have WiFi, then why doesn't he just stay home?”). It seems pretty simple to me: if you can have three dimensions, then why settle for two? If you can have four, then why settle for three?

WiFi definitely adds another dimension to travel, the ability to interact and make multiple adjustments while traveling. Traveling is no longer a matter of dead reckoning: setting your itinerary, then proceeding by the plan. There's a word for that—touring. Traveling is different. Traveling is better than all that. Traveling is more than the sipping of Mai Tai's on the beach or the veranda. Traveling is interaction with your environment, and for that you need Internet (or a local squeeze). WiFi works with either smart-phones or laptops, of course. I'm not sure what a local squeeze works with.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Destination: Athens, Greece

ATHENS is where Western civilization began, with accomplishments in philosophy, politics, art, and literature that are unsurpassed to this day. Athens is also one of the world’s oldest cities, documented from 1400 BC, when it played a role in the preclassical Mycenaean culture; today it’s the largest city and capital of Greece. After centuries of neglect as a part of the Ottoman Empire, Athens today has returned to much of its previous vitality and importance. It has also overcome much of its horrendous smog problem of a few decades ago, and today is fairly pleasant, especially in the tourist areas under the Parthenon.

Piraeus is the major port and is only a short train ride away. It resembles nothing so much as a modern airport with ferries coming and going constantly. The main tourist sights center on the ancient Acropolis and its crown jewel Parthenon. Then there is the National Archeological Museum. Those expecting an eastern Rome-like “museum city” full of medieval art and architecture will be disappointed, though. During the long civil war Athens was mostly depopulated and destroyed.

Only the Plaka below the Acropolis maintains some of that original ambience, with streets devoted to certain crafts and other vestiges of that era. Still the Acropolis is not the only classical site of interest. There is also the Roman-built Odeum theatre built in 161 AD and now used in the summer festival of music and drama, and the Theatre of Dionysius to which it is attached. Others are found in the Agora, including the Theseum, a 5th Century BC temple. Then there are the 42-foot-high Horologium water clock and the Byzantine church Aylos Eleftherios.

There are also hostels in Athens, ten of them written up with full specs and contact details in the latest installment of "Backpackers & Flashpackers" series: '1100 Hostels: Spain, Alps & South Europe Hyper-Guide', available now online.  One of our partner hostels there is Athens Backpackers, with a prime location, bar, cafe, and beds starting at less than thirty bucks.  Check 'em out.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Hostels of the Future: Beyond Bunk Beds

There are several reasons why it took me so long to get hip to hostels. Firstly, Europe was the fourth continent for me to explore, not the first, and Europe is their homeland. Secondly, by the time I got there I wasn't so young anymore, and not long ago they were known almost exclusively as 'youth hostels', often with age limits... and memberships... and curfews. Thirdly, as an adult, the idea of sleeping in a dorm was not always my first choice. And lastly, even in a dorm, I really don't care for bunk beds.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Good Place to Chill: Hafnarfjörður, Reykjavík, Iceland

Iceland is one of the coolest places in the world, and I'm not just overworking a metaphor.  The main source of energy is geothermal and the island is full of volcanoes and geysers. The northern tip of the island kisses the Arctic Circle. There is a road that rings the island, which I figure would make an excellent two-three day tour under the summer’s midnight sun. Icelandic Air has some of the cheapest flights between Europe and the East Coast of the US. They’ll usually let you stopover at no extra charge for three days.  There is more than natural beauty, though: the pop music is some of the best in the world—Bjork, Sigur Ros, and all the rest.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Hostels are for Youth, Backpackers, Partiers, and... Surfers

Hostels have come a long way from their origins as the barracks-like haunt of teenagers on field trips, with knapsacks on their backs, and the smell of dirty socks wafting windward. Sure, some of those places still exist, but diversification is the order of the day. They've long been a staple for backpackers—in Europe at least—and increasingly the haunt of partiers, particularly small-town boys looking for a lark in the big city. Those can get pretty rowdy sometimes, so require some caution, especially if you're hoping to sleep. 

Increasingly, though, the diversification gets even more interesting. For example, it is not uncommon to find boutique hostels, art-oriented hostels, music-oriented hostels, and one that is all the rage in Europe these days—surfers' hostels. Surfers' hostels... in Europe? HUH?

Sunday, December 1, 2013

NOW AVILABLE ONLINE: 1100 Hostels- Spain, Alps, & South Europe Hyper-Guide

North Europe may be the birthplace and historic heartland of hostelling, but South Europe has greater numbers nowadays, and the quality is as good, if not better. South Europe may just have the greatest number of hostels in the world, in fact, but the distribution of them might surprise you. For, while France may be the Number One tourist destination in the world, it’s not at the top of the hostel list. No, the greatest number of hostels in the world is in the Iberian Peninsula, in modern-day Spain and Portugal. The quality in Spain and Portugal is very good, too, in fact, exactly the paradigm of what a modern ‘flashpacker’ hostel should be. There are almost 500 of them here in this book, complete with specs and details.

But that’s not all.  Italy and the expensive Alpine countries of Austria and Switzerland are here, too, now affordable with the sudden wide spread of hostels. And Greece is here, of course, with its fabulous sun-soaked islands, timeless culture, and… self-contained party compounds. The smart money is on East Europe, though, with (almost) everything you can find in the West, and all at half the price. The Cold War is but a memory, too, with borders little more than formalities, if even that. In none of the countries listed in this book is a visa required of a Westerner. You can simply hop on the plane, or train, or bus, and go. C U in Barcelona, Lisbon, Rome, or Belgrade.