Western Europe FAQ thread
Replies: 141 - Last Post: Feb 1, 2013 2:32 AM Last Post By: arizona
Jun 6, 2003 12:22 PM
Western Europe FAQ threadThis branch covers: Western Europe.
I've made a start with a load of links. Please add to this if you've got some useful information that'll answer questions that come up again and again and again.
Here are some simple tips about looking for information:
1. Research before asking a question. It will help you get better, more detailed and useful answers from the community if you've already done some homework. It's also polite. The community is here to help, but we're not your personal search engine. Invest some preliminary time and we'll help you fill in the gaps.
2. Explore Lonely Planet's Destinations online, which has a wealth of key info and tips.
3. Have a good look around the Thorn Tree before asking your question - quite often your question (or one very similar to it) will have been asked and answered many times already.
4. When you're ready to ask a question, choose the relevant country from the drop down menu to ensure the most relevant and accurate responses. Be specific with your needs and requirements (eg. price range, interests, experience, etc.).
Choosing a Country to Post to:
The Western Europe branch consists of a general branch for 'Western Europe', and country specific branches within it for each country.
When you make a post and choose a country from the drop down menu, your post will be added to that country, but will also display in the general 'Western Europe' branch. If your post covers more than one country, please only add it to the country it is mostly about, not to all the countries - it won't increase the number of replies you get and will mean your post will appear multiple times in the 'Western Europe' branch.
Here's some links to get things started:
You can find train timetables, information, prices, from each of the country's train company websites:
Germany - has timetables for most of Europe as well as Germany
If you want to buy an Eurail or Interrail pass to get you around Europe by train, these are the websites you need:
Eurail - for non-European residents
Interrail - for residents of a European country (a resident means living in a European country for 6 months
And last but not least, The Man in Seat 61 - practical information travelling by train and ship.
Eurolines - European bus network.
There are some bus networks designed for backpackers, they may not run as often as e.g. Eurolines
Busabout - bus network & accommodation for backpackers
Stray Travel - another bus network.
There's no walk-on walk-off service in Europe for airlines as there is in North America. If you want a last-minute flight, be prepared to pay and have an address where the ticket can be delivered to. So-called budget airlines don't deliver a ticket, they give you a code instead, but for last-minute flights might be not be any less expensive (often more expensive) than national flag carriers.
Fly Budget - list of budget airlines around Europe
Hostels - International
LAJ and VJH
Athens International Hostel, 16 Victor Hugo Street, 10438 Athens, +30 (21) 5232049
Pousadas Juventude and CartÃ£o Jovem
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 6, 2003 12:29 PM
1General information about Spain
Spain.info - official Spanish tourism website.
RENFE - national train network.
Movelia - bus timetables
Alsa - bus company for North/East Spain
Continental Auto - bus company for Southern Spain
Aena - Spanish airport authority, arrivals/departures at all airports, etc...
Going between the mainland and the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, or Morocco...
In Barcelona, the ferry terminal is by the side of the World Trade Centre (bottom of Las Ramblas to the statue of Columbus, turn right down the main road, then turn left at the roundabout).
On the Barcelona-Balearics route, you can take a 3 hour catamaran (turbocat) which is like sitting on a rocket or an 8 hour day/night trip.
BCN - Barcelona city council, has an accommodation directory under (English >) Tourism > Accommodation and a street map which you can put addresses in under Tourism > Barcelona Guide.
CIAJ - shared accommodation noticeboard, at C/ Ferran, 32.
FGC - Regional Catalan trains AKA 'ferrocats' not covered by RENFE.
Habitatge Jove - flat rents, at C/ Calàbria, 147.
TMB - Barcelona metropolitan transport - bus, metro, trains, etc...
Turisme de Barcelona - Barcelona tourist office, under Plaça Catalunya.
Easiest way around Barcelona is to buy a T-10 AKA 'una de diez' - a ten journey ticket that works on everything.
National bus stations are at Sants (connection with trains) and Arc de Triumf.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 9, 2003 7:35 AM
2For information on German railways:
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 9, 2003 6:28 PM
3I need general information about Paris/France:
Getting to/from the airports and Paris : check Aéroports de Paris to know everything about transports available and their fares. If you take the RER (suburban train), note that your ticket allow you to stop at any station inside Paris, and then to take the subway or a bus.
Subway and buses: If you stay more than a week, it can be interesting to get a Carte Orange (in french), either weekly (from monday to sunday) or monthly (a full calendar month); do the math taking into account the zones you will be going to using this. If you are refused a Carte Orange, just go and try in another station and pretend you are living in Paris. Links to other cities public transports (most of these sites are in french): Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg.
Trains: to check schedules and book your tickets online, visit the SNCF website (links to other languages on the left). There are a lot of different discount fares, the sooner you book the lower the price. If you book online, you will collect your ticket in any train station when you are in France (be sure to have the reservation number and the credit card you used).
Site seeing: The <a target=new class=ftalternatingbarlinklarge href="a target=new class=ftalternatingbarlinklarge href="http://www.museums-of-paris.com/">museum pass gives you access to many museums in and outside Paris, including the Louvre, and you can jump the long lines... The museum pass is sold in the subway stations. Note that the Louvre museum is free every first sunday of the month.
Maps and itineraries: The Pages Jaunes service provides a map to the address you are
looking for anywhere in France. For road itineraries, a site like Michelin can give you the exact directions and highway tolls.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 9, 2003 10:48 PM
4All countries - money
All countries use the euro except Liechtenstein and Switzerland (these two use the Swiss franc) and Malta (Maltese lira). To find out how much these currencies are worth in your own country's currency you can use e.g. Yahoo's currency converter. Here's a link to another excellent currency converter. (added by aviad).
Prices in euro countries are written following the convention for the countries' previous currency before the euro was introduced, e.g.
1,50 € in Spain, France, Germany (updated by wilmaaa)
€2,- in other countries.
Cash machines (ATMs)
Most cards are accepted. If you've got a card with the Visa, MasterCard, Plus, or Cirrus logos then you shouldn't have any problems as you will usually find a cash machine with one of those logos on it. However you should have a back-up, especially if you're using cash machine cards (cards that immediately debit your bank account when you withdraw money) as there's more chance of foreign cash machine cards being rejected in some countries (e.g. Germany and Denmark).
When you withdraw money you should only be charged commission by your own bank, not the foreign bank whose cash machine you're using, unless a notice is displayed. Your bank will charge a commission on top of the Interbank currency conversion rate. If you withdrew money with a credit card you will also be charged the usual cash advance fee and you may be charged interest on the cash withdrawal from the first day (not 14 days after the next statement date or whenever the usual time comes to pay, check the small print). If you withdraw money on a debit card you may be charged a foreign transaction fee.
If you've got a choice between credit and debit cards, it's probably best to use the debit card as it should have less commission.
When a foreign card is inserted into a cash machine it'll display options for English, German, French, and Italian at the very least.
PINs in Europe are four digits long. If you have a six digit PIN you should talk to your bank to make sure that your card will work in Europe (either by changing it to a four digit PIN or entering only the first four digits). European cash machines don't have letters on the keys, so if you use letters to remember your PIN you'll have to remember the numbers instead.
Paying for goods
Visa, Mastercard, Visa Delta, Visa Cash, Visa Electron, and Cirrus can usually be used to pay for goods, the logos will be displayed in the shop window or at the till. Some shops may need a minimum spend of at least €5 or 10 before they will accept cards because the commission the card companies charge shops makes the transaction worthless otherwise. Some may only accept debit cards for the same reason.
If you've got a choice between credit and debit cards, it's probably best to use the credit card as you will have card insurance for purchases and your bank may be jointly liable if anything you buy goes wrong (check the small print).
French cards have a chip in them, and occasionally the cashier will get confused when they can't find one. Don't worry French card readers accept the card anyway, you may just have to explain (or signal) how to swipe it.
Your card may not be accepted unless you can show some photo ID as tourists' credit cards are a target for thieves. Some people write 'Please see ID' on the back of a card where their signature should be, if you've done this it this means your card may not be accepted as this convention is not followed in Europe.
Many metro and train stations have ticket machines which accept cards and display a variety of languages. This may be convenient but the commission your bank charges you to use your card abroad could be very high in comparison to the cost of the ticket.
Charge cards like American Express and Diner's Club are less well accepted than Visa and MasterCard - the commission that shops are charged on these is higher than the other card companies so they don't bother accepting them.
These don't have as good an exchange rate as plastic and you need to find somewhere which will cash them. American Express and Thomas Cook usually have offices in most towns and cities, cash cheques commission-free, and will be quickly replace them if they are stolen, as long as you keep the original receipt and cheque numbers. They are useful as a back up in case your cards are stolen.
Western Union and Moneygram are the quickest (inside of half-an-hour) but their commission is the highest. You can also arrange a bank transfer, however this could take up to a week and the bank may not offer the service to non-account holders. Finally you can also have money sent between American Express offices.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 10, 2003 6:11 AM
5I want to go sightseeing in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Liechtenstein:
Great site for Germany Germany - Tourism (general information on all sorts german, currency, sights, off the beaten track, scenic routes....)
For Austria, Switzerland and Liechtenstein TISCOVER (holiday-information summer / winter, skifields, accommodation)
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 10, 2003 9:25 AM
6All countries - saving money
The further south you are, the cheaper it gets.
Unless you plan on moving around a lot in Southern Europe, it's generally cheaper to pay for the bus and train as you go instead of using an Interrail or Eurail card.
Some countries or cities have special cheap or free days. E.g. cinemas are cheaper in Spain on Monday and there is free museum entry on the first Sunday of the month in France.
If you can show an international student travel card or international youth travel card (see here) or then you may be able to and get discounts on transport, accommodation, museums, galleries, theatres, cinemas, etc...
Restaurants/cafés show the menu outside. They should mention if VAT (like sales tax) is included in the price or not. In Southern Europe you may pay extra for sitting outside, on the other hand the usual rate for tips is a few spare coins (around €0.30ish). As you go further north the rate goes up to 10 or maybe 15% and the receipt may 'suggest' a service charge but you don't have to pay it. If you're paying with plastic and want to make sure the tip goes to who it should then it's better to tip seperately with coins.
If you want to make your own food then in the south markets, bakers, grocers, etc... are the cheapest. In the north supermarkets may be cheaper.
The cheapest way of calling home is to use a payphone with an international calling card (available from tabacconists, newsagents, newspaper kiosks) or an international call centre. Next up is a payphone with a standard calling card (or coins) or a call centre at a post office. Hotel, bar, and restaruant phones are more expensive and finally if you want to play Russian Roulette you can call the number on the stickers stuck on payphones in tourist areas and put your credit card number in.
You can also make calls using e.g. Net2Phone from an Internet café, however you'll be paying two costs (the cost of Net2Phone and the cost of the connection) so it may not be any cheaper than using payphones unless you've paid for unlimited access at the café.
Opening a webmail account is a cheap way of keeping in touch, however Hotmail can be very slow or may not even work. An alternative is Yahoo.
If you've got a GSM mobile phone that works on the 900 or 1800 bands then you can receive text messages for free and send them quite cheaply while roaming in Europe (not really an option for North Americans though as their text messaging is unreliable).
An aerogram (if available) is cheaper than a postcard and letters are the most expensive.
Jun 10, 2003 3:31 PM
7Bus/train/ferry travel in Europe, I need more information:
1.ALL known buslinks/companies (so don't bother to much with all the separate listings) are on:
www.busstation.net, divided up per country or per part of country
2. INTERnational Train fares: NO there is No website that gives those, but most websites allow you to look up the fares for purely domestic journeys (often by pretending to book). Raileurope does give a few main afres, but many people think of these to be too high, however these fares Do differ on point of sale!
3. NL; the website www.92920v.nl gives details for ANY domestic bus/train/ferry trip possible, also works for postal codes and adresses.
For both CZ and SK www.vlak-bus.cz does about the same
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 11, 2003 12:51 AM
8I want to know about a specific city in Germany:
Information on almost all German cities can be found under www.meinestadt.de (but I think it is in German).
I haven't read the whole thread, so it might have been mentioned before. For the normally-very-expensive Bundesbahn a weekend ticket exists (Schoenes Wochenend Ticket). For this 5 people can take certain trains (not the fast ones) in whole of Germany for 25 EUR,-. It is valid either Sat or Sun and a very good option for middle distances..
An English tourist sight I know is www.destinationgermany.com. I haven't ever used it but it seems to offer info on Germany's major cities.
Jun 16, 2003 6:13 AM
9Can't decide whether to buy a rail pass or point-to-point tickets?
This site will compare prices to let you know what is best for your travels.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 16, 2003 7:16 AM
As noted before, schedules and advance bookings are available from the SNCF site. The site has an English version. Note that the site does not ask the country you live in, but the country in which you want to pick the tickets, or to which you want the tickets sent. It is not possible at present to get tickets sent to the US, for instance, but it is possible to leave the default choice (France) and ask for tickets to be picked up at a train stations. You can then pick up the tickets at any train station or SNCF office in France. Depending on how much you book in advance and how much time in advance you wish to pick up the tickets, you may be requested to pay your tickets at booking time (the site accepts Visa and Mastercard).
Local transportation in Paris
Paris has: busses, the Metro (subway), tramways (trolley lines), RER (suburban metro), suburban trains.
Buses within Paris proper are run by RATP; in the suburbs, RATP runs many lines as well. The Metro is run by RATP. RER lines A and B are run parly by RATP, partly by SNCF, RER lines C, D, E and suburba,n trains are run by SNCF. This is of interest when there are strikes, since RATP and SNCF may strike differently.
"Metro" tickets are actually "combined tickets". Those for the "urban section" (section urbaine) are valid for unlimited transfers on the Metro, as well as on the RER within the boundaries of Paris proper. RER tickets for the suburbs vary in price with the distances. Airport accesses are overcharged. All RER tickets going to Paris contain the "urban section" and are thus valid for unlimited transfers on the Metro, as well as RER lines within Paris.
To get to Paris from CDG airport, take RER B (7.70 EUR - all trains go to Paris, the nearest station within Paris is Gare du Nord), RoissyBus (8 EUR - goes directly to Paris-Opera), RATP busses lines 350 or 351, or the Air France coaches. Taxis are an expensive alternative but may be convenient for 2 or 3 people with lots of luggage.
To go to Versailles castle, take the RER C train to Versailles-Rive Gauche. Beware! You may go to Versailles on either direction on this line, but the other way is much longer (and lands you at Versailles-Chantiers, which is further from the castle).
Money and currency issues
Since the advent of the Euro, exchange booths have become rarer in the Euro countries. They are likely to be difficult to find outside of the large cities and touristic areas. In the Euro countries, few shops and hotels accept foreign currencies such as the US dollar and the British Pound; those that do tend to cater specifically to foreign travellers and will probably be on the expensive side; they may apply bad exchange rates or charge a commission.
Many American travellers mistakenly believe that US dollars are accepted throughout the world. This may be true in some third world countries, but it is certainly not true in Western Europe. I have seen American ladies trying to pay in dollars in a supermarket on a sunday in a residential area, and asking fellow clients about exchange offices. Be smart: don't take huge wads of US cash, it's plain unwieldy.
The easiest way is probably to use a debit (Visa, Mastercard, Visa Electron, Maestro, Plus, Cirrus) or credit card (Visa, Mastercard; American Express acceptance is rarer). Acceptance varies from country to country. In France, all ATMs take Visa and Mastercard, and most if not all will take Visa Electron, Maestro, Plus and Cirrus. Some ATMs will require a 4-digit PIN, and most will not let you choose which account (checking or savings) to use, defaulting on checking - so ask for a 4-digit PIN in numeric form and move your money to the checking account beforehands.
Fees for international withdrawals and credit card payments vary between banks, you may have to shop around. Generally, banks and credit card companies charge a fixed amount (higher for withdrawals than for payments) plus a small percentage. The exchange rate is the interbanking exchange rate (you can't get any better).
It is useless to go on the Thorn Tree and ask questions about the fees charged by banks (you should ask your bank) or about Europe and credit cards in general: you have to be specific about the country and the brand of credit card.
Language issues: English etc...
English is natively spoken only in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In all other countries, English is spoken only as a foreign language. As such, you cannot expect people to speak English, outside of the tourism and high-tech industries. If they do so, it's only as a courtesy to you. Most people have not used English since their highschool days and speaking English requires much effort of them.
Some tourists adress locals directly in English without a word of greeting or excuse. This is, in many countries, very impolite. As a consequence, they may be ignored or the answer may be unhelpful. Generally, a word of excuse or greeting, especially in the local language, works wonders.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 17, 2003 11:29 AM
11Taxes and Tipping
In European countries, VAT (value-added tax - a kind of sales tax) is applied on most items or services sold. The rate varies from country to country and from class of product to class of product.
In France, prices are always given "all taxes included" ("toutes taxes comprises" - "TTC") except in business-to-business deals, where they are often given "without taxes" ("hors taxes" - "HT"). This includes the TVA (value-added tax), as well as the other applicable taxes on such products as gasoline and liquor. Unless the price listed says explicitely "HT" or "hors taxes" (which should only happen in business-to-business deals), you should never be charged any tax above the posted price.
In France, service is always included in restaurant and bar prices. You are therefore not supposed to tip the waiter. However, people often leave some change, but it is by no mean impolite not to do so. Menus and beverage prices are always shown outside of restaurants and cafes (though I'm not sure this is a legal requirement).
If you buy an item, you should only pay the posted price, or lower, unless there happens to be some obvious error (like an expensive item priced well below its price). If multiple prices are displayed, you should pay the least. It is illegal to charge any other price.
In Italy, restaurants often charge for "pane e coperto" (a fixed fee for setting up the table and service) or "servizio". How much this is priced should be shown on the menu.
The legislation on liquor varies greatly from country to country.
Northern Europe has restrictive legislation, to deter alcoholism. In Sweden, wines and strong liquor may only be purchased from the state run monopoly, or consumed at bars and restaurants; in any case, hefty taxes are applied.
France does not actively restrict the sales of liquor to minors (there exist some restrictions though). However, driving while inebriated is severely punished: driving with more than 0.80g/l of alcohol in the blood or 0.40mg/l in exhaled air is a felony punishable by a maximum of two years in prison and/or a 4500 EUR fine.
In many European countries, touristic places attract pickpockets. These often target foreign travellers (easier preys - don't know the surroundings, jet-lagged etc...). Don't be a target: carry your important stuff (credit cards, money, passport) in tight front pockets in your trousers or in a money belt, not in a purse or a back pocket.
In some places, it is commonplace for thieves to ransack obviously non-local cars (foreign cars or cars appearing to be from other places in the country). Avoid rental cars carrying logos from the rental company.
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 23, 2003 3:51 AM
12Maybe an alternative to the normal car/ train/ bus travel in Germany:
Haven't ever used it, but a friend of mine recently told me about this... and I think it would be kind of fun to actually do it some time....
This is a site where pilotes offer to take you on some route between smaller airports within Germany or close-by countries. You can even arrange flights on any route you wish and you just have to take over the cost (fuel, airport fees) - do not know how much this is though...
This site works because in Germany pilotes have to fly a certain amount of hours every year and so they do not mind if someone shares the cost with them...
Edited by: Irene_Adler
Jun 28, 2003 10:48 AM
Jun 29, 2003 10:27 AM
(3 star Hotel)
From US$176.92 per night
(0 star Hotel)
From US$24.54 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$97.95 per night