The Gregory: Belfast Accommodations

IMG_0705The Gregory Bed and Breakfast, Belfast Northern Ireland

30 Eglantine Avenue, Belfast, BT9 6DX, United Kingdom ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ £ £ £ Moderate

One of the best, most comfortable accommodations I had on this last trip was The Gregory in Belfast. I had a quick 48 hour stay and needed a safe place to stay and be able to walk or bus from where I was. I found a place in a great neighborhood by the university, and plenty of local entertainment, including The Cuckoo club around the corner, owned by a GOT alum (Nairn). IMG_0706

I was going on a great tour for one of my days on the trip, a Game of Thrones Tour that would encompass one whole day. I needed a safe, quiet space to rest from travel and get plenty of sleep the night before. This was just the place. Large, spacious room, good flooring and carpet. The decor was not too loud, fairly neutral. The bathroom was very good, plenty of room to turn around in. The heaters were great, yeah summer in Northern Ireland. The bed was very comfortable, one of the few I didn’t have to use the duvet as padding for. The meals in the restaurant were okay for breakfast, accommodating for early departures if you order the breakfast.

IMG_0707.jpgThe shower was well kept and the at the source heater worked well with a good flow. My room faced the back, with a side window that looked on a nice red brick next to the hotel with a good garden space. The restaurant was very accommodating in the am for early departure on tour.

Local food was very good, being by Queen’s University there were plenty of restaurants to choose from and since school was out for the summer, seating was quick. Remember student restaurants equals great foodie fun and portions. Not all are equal so check the local apps and Yelp.com for reviews. I ate at Molly’s Yard with a huge curry chips I could never finish.IMG_0708

Great price for the comfort, private and crashable after a day long tour. Would definitely stay again.

If you have more time, take the Art Walk Tours of the political murals and community murals in Belfast. Great insight to the wonderful city and it’s history.

Links

https://irishtourtickets.com/game-of-thrones-tour-from-belfast/

Belfast Blast: 48 Hours in Belfast, Northern Ireland

IMG_0707.jpg

Glasgow City Apartments Service Apartment Review

IMG_0486

Glasgow City Apartments ♥  ££

401 North Woodside Road, Glasgow Scotland UK Ph. 0141 342 4060 city@mcquadehotels.com

It’s always a gamble when you try a new place to stay. I really wanted a fairly decent 3 star in the West End of Glasgow. This accommodation promised a good location and basic amenities.

I stayed in a single studio apartment that actually ended up having two beds. This is sometimes a good thing if one bed is sub par, the other may be slightly better. Not the case.

Location is the main selling point of this establishment. It is in the Kelvin Bridge area, directly across from the subway station. There is access to the river Kelvin which paths feeds into the astounding Kelvingrove park and is close to the University of Glasgow. The neighbourhood is fairly safe and has a lot of cuisine to choose from, and not too far from Ashton Lane area with cinema.

The basics are represented in this apartment. There is a small kitchenette with a small array of dishes, pans, cutlery, microwave and refrigerator. There is a ironing board.

First impressions did not change over the four day stay. Upon entering I was hit with wall of bleach smell, and the sheets left me a bit itchy. The decor is typical for this kind of a set up, but of course the worst part was the beds. I don’t know why hotel and service apartment owners will not invest in a decent bed. They one thing any traveler really needs is a good bed. This will always get them a bad review, and the bed is cheaper than some other improvements. The carpeting had stretched out and was creating huge wrinkles that you needed to watch.

Clean. Quiet for the most part. The bathroom had recently been remodelled. However I am not a big fan of the at the source heaters that control the water pressure and temp as a whole unit. You really should have taps for that. The shower pressure was never really right. The door to the new stall kept opening during showers. I will be letting the establishment know. The rest of the facilities were in good order.

The kitchenette was very functional and clean when I arrived, the fridge and microwave worked well for me. I did not cook any full meals there, just used the fridge and hot pot for coffee making. It comes with a small stove.

Remember to clean and vacuum before you go or you will be charged a fee.

IMG_0481

IMG_0482

IMG_0484

IMG_0485

When Your Travel Budget Takes a Hit, Retrench

32971264962_5e28b5d662_o

Glasgow Street Art – Free things to do

You have been planning for 11 months a travel that will make up for what little you were able to explore the last time you went to the most spectacular country experience you could have imagined. When you attempted to master the travel experience of that country, you came back with the realization that you barely scratched the surface of its locals and people. You vowed to make it back and explore more than before, and take on an adjacent country to boot. And you were going to go for longer on the same budget because you learned a few travel budget things the last time. Speed forward a few months and you are prepping for the new trip becoming a reality. Tickets and bookings happened for great budgetary prices during the holidays. You have been setting aside a bit per month to buy currency. Then the shocker hits you. A disaster happens, like taxes. You have already invested so much, if you back out now you are at a loss. Can you still go on this amazing trip?

Such a wall of shock hit me this week. I spent 24 hours on one of the most stressful decisions all year: Call it a loss and stay in the US, miserable, or cut the daily travel budget in half and still have a wee bit of debt, but a wealth of experience. On day 2 I decided to go ahead and challenge my already challenged tight budget.

Retrench
It’s an old term from the UK, meaning to get back into the battle. Recover from a loss. My brain had to wrap around how to get a daily budget for food and maybe the occasional fun thing to do paid for after taking a hit to an otherwise already tight travel budget.

Fundraising on funding sites won’t attract sympathy from anyone unless you’re traveling to do a scientific study, so how do you do it. It’s spring, it’s time for a garage sale. You need to clear it out anyway, look for items you can sell in a garage sale and or on eBay. You may be able to get a few days of meals out of it.

Accommodations
Hopefully you were smart and shopped at AirBNB or other sites and found the best rated spaces for your very limited budget to begin with. Think if you can about the type of place you are staying in. Part of a vacation is that you want to spoil yourself a bit if you can. Well, if you plan really well and read reviews, real time, real people reviews, you may find some great bangs for your travel buck. One thing to consider, if you are in a location for more than one night, find one with service or kitchen facilities in the room. Even a small fridge will do. You can pick up a few items of food or a bottle of wine, mix up a picnic lunch and save some money. If you save a bit, and some days you have a bit left over, you have money for a little splurge later. If you are lucky enough to travel and have patience with travel partners, room and other costs can be combined, and you can stretch your more. Just plan for some “me” time on your trip so you don’t get into a horn lock with your travel mates.

Food
Decide how you can save daily expenses in a city. Cities are very expensive to live in, but if you have been a university student in a large metropolitan city like where you are visiting (Dublin), you can find the best places to eat for a tight budget. Think like a starving student. Chose where you stay to help with your budget. Is the place you are staying only accessible to high-end restaurants, and can you walk or bus it to where you can get groceries if you have a refrigerator at your disposal. Granted, one of the great things about travel is fantastic food. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive restaurant in town that has the best. Again, think like a student. Amend look for pop up restaurants, great variety and smaller overhead can help your budget.

Travel
In the city, try to walk as much as you can. It’s the best way to experience it after all. I have been in training for the last two years with travel in mind, I sometimes walk 12 miles or more a day when I am visiting a city. Walking is free, but make sure you invest in good shoes before you leave. Cabs are very expensive, plus there’s the tip you should give. I usually only do them coming from an airport and getting to one if the bus is too difficult. Bus systems in most cities may seem an alien experience to you, but can save you loads of money and you can talk to locals. By keeping your transit to walking and buses, you can save money for a splurge on a tour maybe. Start by booking any train travel about a month out. Many trips can be purchased in advance and be really cheap with your fees being prepaid. If you wait too long, the prices double and treble. Most rain travel is accessible by internet booking now and you can set up an account with the train line that you can access later. Make sure you know where you can pick up your tickets, as not all railway stations have machines.

Entertainment
This year I am going for the festival experience. This means a plethora of overwhelming amounts of theatre and arts venues, and way too many choices. Shop ahead online before you go if you have a particular artist you want to see, or surprise yourself and load one of the festival apps with GPS. Venues with tickets still available will show, and if you are lucky, some days of the festival like Monday or Tuesday are cheap seats days. There are many free performances and street performers are pay as you like.

Set Your Daily Budget
The reality is if you only have so much money to take with you, budget the cash divided by days. Logical right. There are articles and books on doing cities and places on x $ per day. Many things can and will add up to an expensive day. Taxi rides to and from to the airport if public transit is a no go. Food. Food doesn’t have to be extreme. There are plenty of great priced places and great articles out there on top food choices on a budget. Don’t forget farmers markets, many towns have them and you are supporting locals v. Corporate farms. If you can get the breakfast at the inn deal, sometimes they are a bit tasteless.  Then you only have to worry about dinner. If you are very conservative and keep your big splurges down, you can save from your budget for a great treat at the end. Remember, really experiencing a place is all in the wandering. I keep a list of free things to do in each city on my phone. And warning, going to the pub is much more costly in Europe than in the US or Canada. So if you can get that kitchenette, it’s cheaper to buy bottles and stay in.

So, the budget vacation doesn’t have to be boring. True travel adventures don’t need to be costly if you plan ahead and think about real value. Avoiding high costs like car hires unless you have 4 people minimum will help keep your budget under wraps. Public transit and walking everywhere save money for food and the occasional theatre ticket. It can be done, besides, it’s what the locals do.


© 2017 photo by Alison McEwan

Avoiding Accomodation Disasters: Finding Online Travel Reviews That Count

5541122704_8fb7a801c1_o

So many factors weigh in when you are planning a trip. After you have acquired your plane or train travel plans, you have to chose where to stay, unless you are visiting relations. And maybe because you are visiting relations. There are so many online booking platforms for reservations, and granted there are massive amounts of hotels to choose from it’s very overwhelming. But how do you get the best bargain since most of us are not jet setter millionaires? How can you find accommodations that really meet your needs?

First you really need to know what is really important to you in your stay. Clean and safe are my priorities, especially since I end up traveling alone most of the time. Most hotel booking sites have reviews of their offerings for you to peruse. These are often skewed to the benefit of the establishment. And if you have not been to a location before, you will not know what the place is really like and if you really want to stay there. So how can you be better informed to make the decision that you hope won’t ruin your vacation, the place you set your head down for the night needs to not be a disaster. In other articles, I have written about checking out neighborhoods around where you stay, and this is always a good thing to do. But about the establishments themselves, it gets really complicated.

Really read some of the reviews for a hotel or service apartment service. The reviews on the booking platforms will be more favorable to the hotels and there is no guarantee that they have not picked which reviews to show you. So, if you are looking at a particular place to stay, open another browser window and search on reviews for the establishment. To me it’s the bed and the bath that have to be right.

What to look for in the sea of information that may or may not appear? Look for travel blogs like this one. Many bloggers review in depth a place they stay at. Check out Yelp for the city that you are going to. Search for a directory of reviews for Bed and Breakfast or vacation sublets.

Safety is a big feature for me. You want to save money but that can mean staying in dicey areas. If you are not used to a city, you know there will always be crime areas. Usually you think you can spot what a bad area is, but not always. Research articles before you travel for the cities you plan to visit, safest neighborhoods to live in. Then use the maps features to see what accommodations may be there. Of course if you know you are going to a region that is very rustic, you will have to get what accommodations you can or rent camper vans and camp. That can be it’s own set of issues.

Know what you want or really need in the place you want to stay. If you are there for more than two days, you may want to go the service apartment route. This allows you to actually live in the place and some even come with laundry facilities. Everyone hates to lose time on the vacay with menial tasks like laundry, but it has to be done. If you don’t have laundry facilities, you will have to hunt them down.

While larger booking sites will seem in favor of the hotels, some booking sites do seem to give real reviews, if you can get the feature to work. The system for reviewing is one where hotels solicit a review from guests after their stay, and should be verified that the guest actually stayed there. Some of these can be done in a bribing fashion, promised discounts and such. Smaller booking sites may have more real reviews. And if they all look alike, it’s because they are all working off of the same database for the properties. And then there is Yelp or other review apps for cities.

HotelGuides.Com
This site claims to take a different approach for you the consumer. They only take the most recent reviews and from people who have been verified as staying in the hotel/accommodation. They also group reviews for an area so you can check a part of a city for several reviews at one time. The top recent reviews are displayed. I checked one of the places I am staying in Glasgow, and most of it is very favorable. Full real report from me later.
http://hotelguides.com/hotel-reviews.html

Oyster.Com
Purports to be the be all at ferreting out the truth of hotel accommodations. Real people actually go in and inspect hotels is what they say. Give them a read, see if it seems legit to you. Plus: Really breaks down each hotel room and get better pictures and descriptions of the accommodation than in most other sites. Detailed photos of the rooms. Tried it on one of the hotels I will be in 3 times on trip and fairly good reviews.
https://www.oyster.com

So, overall I expect my stay on the Isle of Skye to not be as good as I had hoped. I had booked months back, but in finding that the reviews are not so good for the guest house I will be at tried for other booking. Sadly it is all taken up so I will have to eat it on this overpriced booking. So look forward to that review when I get there. Sigh.

More Review Sites
http://www.bookdirectrooms.com

Articles

http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/travel/2012/options-time-hotel-review-websites/
http://www.nomadicmatt.com/travel-blogs/find-cheap-hotel-room/
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3647262/Commuters-avoid-crime-hotspots-Waze-app-route-drivers-high-risk-areas.html

Accommodations Review Edinburgh Braid Hills Hotel

434516432_d06a14ad58_o

Braid Hills is an area in the south of Edinburgh that is typical of a sleepy suburb in Scotland. Rows of grey stone houses and rolling hills with a great little park or two. I stayed 3 days in a hotel in the heart of it. If you like to have a quieter stay in a big city in Scotland, this is the kind of area to stay in. However, you will have to travel a while with public transit if you need to get into town. It depends on the types of views you like and if you just like quiet, not the bustle of city life. The neighborhood is mostly upper middle-class and has fairly safe streets to walk on. The hotel caters to weddings and people staying for the golf course.

Best Western South Braid Hills Hotel $$$$ ♥♥♥
134 Braid Road, Edinburgh, Lothian Scotland
After a long train ride and a cab hop from the station, I came into this well situated hotel at the top of the hill. I had a very small room in the middle of the hotel off the landing. The bed took up most of the space, but the bathroom was really nice and modernized. Have I mentioned that in Scotland the toilets are rather immaculate in most accommodations? I found that most of the places I stayed and public toilets I used were very clean and functioning, putting some American equivalents to shame.

The room had a lot of cupboard storage spaces and deep casement windows that I found I could climb up in and sit with my tea and look at the very green hills. It was also convenient while observing the scottish wedding that took place while I was there. Many larger hotels are packed every weekend with weddings and anniversary occasions in the UK. It makes for a wait time for hotel staff as they are very busy. But you do get a nice view of men in dress kilts, which can make up for it.

Pluses:
Clean rooms, great bath. Great view. Plenty of light. Bed was pretty good. Hot pot and the other tea making utensils were available. Flat screen was in order. Great little park for morning exercise called Braidburn Park. Staff was very attentive even during the extreme wedding hours, and the dining and bar area was fairly good. I ate most of my meals off site. There is an attached restaurant.

Minuses:
Long ways into Edinburgh proper, cab fares can be steep as is the hill. There is a bus stop but it is quite literally a staircase drop that is very narrow off the parking lot and would not work for someone elderly. Depending on room placement, small single rooms tend to be right on main hall and foot traffic can be a bit much. Plop a pillow at the crack.

For my next foray into Edinburgh this August, I will be staying closer in off one of the cresents to experience the Fringe Festival. Stay tuned for more reviews.

Fraser Suites and St. Enoch Apartment Service Apartments Glasgow

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.