HOW TO EUROPE
The Complete Travelers Handbook
By John Bermont. Internet edition.
A page from
with photographer and author
Finding a convenient, clean, and cozy place to dream every night is a challenge.
YOU WON'T FIND IT HERE
A lot of what is written in magazines and travel guide books on hotels is nauseous
nonsense. Descriptions of charming owners, settings, furniture, cheap prices, and/or (in)famous
clientele are not what you need. Much of this is fanciful gross fiction. It's meant to sell perfume as
advertised in adjoining pages, or to get repeated free rooms for the writer. Have you ever read
one of these reviews with the least bit of criticism?
The Real World
What follows here is the beautiful nuts-and-bolts of what it's really like in Europe. You
can sleep better for less no matter what your budget if you don't sleep through this chapter. I'm
talking half price, clean rooms, firm beds, good plumbing, and no noise. If you do not appreciate
that, you have not been to Europe.
There are no hotel lists in this book. Go back to chapter 2,
On Budget in Europe, to learn how to get excellent
current hotel lists, and how to avoid getting bummers. Some of the best hotel lists are free. Some
of the others are in the 2" thick travel guidebooks. See chapter 10,
Europe Guide Books and Maps.
Ratings by the Stars
There is a greater variety of hotel quality in Europe than in America. In the large cities,
major chains operate first class hotels on a par with their hotels in America, though at double the
price. At the bottom end of hotel quality are decrepit, dirty hotels which could pass no fire or
health department inspection in America. I have stayed in places at both ends of the scale. My
comfort and budget dictate the mid-range "standard" European hotel which is described below.
Hotels are rated by some government bureaus and given "stars," one star being the lowest
and five stars followed by an "L" being the tops. This is reversed in Italy where a "category four"
is the lowest and a "category one de luxe" is the best. In some countries, it appears that these
ratings are not official, but are whatever the hotel wants to classify itself as. If there is an official
rating, as there is in some of the countries with high tourist traffic, it will be posted in the lobby or
in the room. In France there is a placard on the outside wall next to the front door showing the
official hotel category.
First class hotels, whether part of an American chain or of local luxury vintage, are known
by the lobbies they keep and the prices charged. However, a high price does not guarantee a
comfortable room. Look for a rating of 4 or 5 in the Michelin Red Book for an objective opinion.
Treat with suspicion any self-anointed stars that hotels sometimes like to give themselves.
The clientele of 4 and 5 star hotels are generally European, American, and Japanese
business executives, well-to-do tourists, and American Congressmen and Congresswomen and their staffs.
Those are our tax dollars at work. There is a certain loftiness, perhaps arrogance, in the
European employees in these places. If you arrive in worn Levi's with a backpack, be
prepared to be ignored. Most of these hotels accept the major credit cards. Watch out for extra charges
for "service." Check your bill every day.
The "standard" European hotel
is nearly as comfortable as any of the
above for sleeping, but lacks some
amenities which are common and
expected in America. In many of these
hotels, some of the single rooms have
no douche (shower) or W.C. (toilet). These facilities are located in separate little rooms down the
hall. If there is a bathroom it was probably added long after the hotel was built and is probably
no larger than three feet square. If you are a big person good luck turning around in there.
While the room without a shower or toilet is considerably cheaper than one with, some hotels
make a small charge to use the shower room. Standard hotels are generally old, relatively small,
and are operated by a family or individual with a few employees. The desk closes at midnight and
the front door is locked, but a ring of the night bell will rouse the keeper to let you in. The Michelin
rating for the standard hotel is 2 or 3. Most of the hotels in Europe fit this category. This is the
kind of hotel I seek out every night.
Not So Good
At the bottom of the barrel are the
substandard cheap hotels. You will probably be
able to sleep after turning off the lights so that
you can't see the grime, worn carpets, and
broken blinds. Rooms are tiny. Heat and hot water may be
nonexistent, though are usually available for
part of the day. Door locks may be a joke that any hair pin could open. The Michelin rating for
cheap hotels is one or none. Budget guidebooks frequently list and recommend them. This type of
hotel is plentiful in Europe.
HOW TO FIND A GOOD VALUE ROOM
It is very easy to pay a lot for a lousy room. It is a memorable occasion when you find a
good and cheap room.
On a comfort per price scale of 1 to 10, American basis, there are many hotels at negative
5 and very few equal to plus 5 in Europe. When you walk in the door the hotel clerk will notice that you are an
American before you get to the desk (about as difficult to do as pointing out a horse in a chicken
coop), and he or she will always quote you a price for the most expensive room available, though
probably not the most comfortable.
Rather than present a listing of supposedly cheap hotels with charming owners in a few
major cities (the popular guidebooks already pretend to do that), my intention here is to tell you
how to find a comfortable, inexpensive hotel room in about any city in Europe, on your own.
Note that the words "comfortable" and "inexpensive" are relative and subjective, and vary
significantly. Prices are higher in the larger cities and resorts, and in the northern part of western
Europe. This hotel shopping method doesn't work well during wine festivals, trade fairs, and
sports spectacles. There may be no rooms available at any price during these popular events.
First, lay your hands on a hotel list and city map. Both are
available at the city tourist office, either free or for a nominal charge.
Park your luggage in a train station locker or leave it in the trunk of your
car if you are driving. Select the section of the city in which you wish to
stay, based on your means of travel and objet de voyage. Start walking
around your chosen neighborhood examining the hotels. For train
travelers, this is easy since there is a high concentration of hotels within
a five minute walk of the station. Auto travelers might just as well drive
around and double park while making inquiries. For each hotel, check
the tourist office brochure for prices of singles or doubles, as your case
may be. If the hotel is not listed in the tourist office brochure, beware.
Before driving in any city auto travelers can find valuable information in chapter 18,
Driving in Europe:
Car, Van, or Motorcycle. Be especially wary of the Z.T.L. areas in
many Italian cities.
Target those hotels whose listed prices are above what you
want to pay. Note that some of the better hotels do not list their least
expensive rooms with the tourist office. And conversely, hotels listing very cheap rooms usually
are fresh out because the cheap rooms went to the early birds. One big advantage of
the cheapest room in a more expensive hotel is that a better breakfast is provided. This is
especially true in Holland, Germany, and Scandinavia where breakfast can almost get you through
to dinner. Help yourself again to that table full of eggs, cheese, meat, bread, milk, corn flakes,
juices, fruits, etc., etc., but don't abuse the system by packing a lunch from the table unless the
owner gives you the OK.
On entering the hotel to inquire for a room, let the
clerk know what you want — double or single, one night
or many, toilet and tub or not — in straight-away English.
If you know the local language, use it. If you are
communicating, good. If not, switch over to your Berlitz
Phrase Book or sign language. When he/she gives you a
price, pull out your pocket calculator and punch up some
keys to find out what it costs in dollars. Announce that the
price is too high (it's ALWAYS too high) and ask for a less
expensive room. Generally you will then be given a lower
price for another room with the apologetic explanation that
it has no W.C. and/or no douche, i.e. no bathroom. Here
you go through the calculator routine again. This offer will
probably be a good deal. If not, excuse yourself, tell them
that it is still beyond your budget, wish them a good day, and turn for the door, but don't be too
abrupt. Especially if you have been talking to the junior member of a two person staff, you may hear
some hurried words of the native tongue followed by an announcement that another room is
available at a still lower price. They blinked. You won. If the price is right, take it. If not, make a
If the hotel was only half full last night and it's not looking any better so far today, you
may be very pleasantly surprised. At all times, be clean and presentable, courteous and respectful.
Continue prowling the neighborhood practicing your pitch. Within an hour you'll know
what the traffic is expected to bear so go back to the hotel offering the best deal. Chances are that
the lowest cost room is still available.
If the hotel is full (complete in France, besetzt in Germany), inquire about a room for the
following night if you are planning to stay for a few days or more. On a late arrival your
bargaining position may be weak, or if you're in luck the owner has one room left and wants to go
to sleep so he'll strike a good deal right off.
Bargaining may seem more appropriate at a flea market, but it can be
fun and very profitable when shopping for a hotel room as well. I've received significant discounts
from the posted list prices of rooms. Smart owners figure that it's better to let a room go for a 30%
discount than to allow a vacancy for a night. I can almost guarantee that you'll save a minimum of
10% every night, but that will depend on your own negotiating skills. Since the nightly hotel room cost
is one of your major travel expenses, good negotiating can be a real budget stretcher. Remember that a
hotel room is more perishable than fresh fish on a hot day. The room is worth nothing in the morning if
it wasn't rented, but the rotten fish can always be used as fertilizer.
Bargaining is not just for the smaller inexpensive hotels. One New Year's Eve in
Amsterdam I was enjoying a drink at a major international luxury hotel with my girlfriend.
I stopped by the reception desk just to see what a room would cost. I was quoted a "rack rate"
for a princely sum and promptly told the clerk that it was too much. He immediately
lowered the price and I said still too much. Then came his third offer, approaching half price.
On one stay in Stockholm at an upper class hotel my bargaining produced a room without
a shower. I had to ride the elevator to take my shower on another floor. Other guests on the lift
were wearing their finery to a luncheon banquet, and there I was in bath robe and flip-flops. We
exchanged greetings. Why not? Europeans almost always grab any opportunity to
practice their English.
Using the Tourist Hotel Reservation Office
If the weather is bad, or if you don't want to take the time to shop for a hotel room, most
city tourist offices will locate a room and reserve it for a small fee and a deposit. Bargain with the
tourist office also. They often try to place you in an overpriced room that just happens to be
available because it is shunned by knowledgeable travelers. Carefully review the hotel price list
before agreeing to any reservation. Again, go for the cheapest room in a better quality hotel,
rather than the cheapest room in town. If you are not satisfied when you arrive at the hotel, go
back to the tourist office and start over. If you are not satisfied the next morning go back and
You have probably seen TV advertisements for Priceline, Expedia, Travelocity, and others touting
their bidding feature. I have never used these services. It is reported by many people that the bidding
system works well in major cities for high scale hotels, e.g. 4 or 5 star. I'm not in that league.
The price of breakfast is higher in these hotels than the cost of the hotel rooms I normally use. Also,
you are normally locked in to that hotel with a non-refundable deal charged immediately to your credit
card. It is best to know something about the city you are visiting so you can select a good location
because you can't pick and choose the hotel. The bidding agency does that for you.
Here follows a catalog of observations on the characteristics of "standard" European
hotels, plus some information on higher and lower category hotels.
Outside influences may very likely affect your comfort, no matter the classification of the
hotel. Within an individual hotel, there are good rooms and bad rooms. The good rooms are the
quiet rooms. The bad rooms are the ones overlooking a busy street (at less than ten stories), those
facing a bus depot or train station, those next to the elevator, those next to the toilet and shower rooms,
those with a church bell tower across the street, those over or near the kitchen, bar, or disco, and
all of them if there is no carpet in the hallway.
Avoid taking a room near a construction site, which can be identified by fences, tower
cranes, dumpsters, equipment, and supplies. Those guys get up early to start the air hammers. I
met a traveler in Valencia who couldn't sleep because the street crews were running a generator
and air compressor all night long, painting fresh stripes on the boulevard. I got a good quiet sleep
in the same hotel because I had a room facing the side street.
Thin walls were not born in America. There are the occasional noisy and/or weird
neighbors and even shouting, bucket-banging maids. Change rooms. Move to another hotel. Don't
put up with less than you are entitled to.
I complain and change rooms fairly often. Hotel keepers must figure that people like to sit
in the window and listen to the horn-blowing traffic echo between the stone buildings. If you find
yourself in a noisy room and it's not convenient to change rooms, look for French door type
shutters or a roll down shutter on the outside of your window. These are very effective at
blocking noise and keeping the sun out of your eyes in the morning. A "white noise" machine is also a
very effective way of covering up noise. Earplugs are my last resort to stop noise.
Inspecting the room before agreeing to it is a good idea, but a quick inspection can miss
some important points. When looking at the room, test the bed to see if it is firm enough, and
look out the window to see what nuisances might interfere with your comfort. Test the plumbing
to see if the toilet works, if there is hot water, and if there is heat. And look for the electrical
outlet if you will need one.
Years ago my Dad checked into a top hotel in Amsterdam and took the room key without
checking the room. He came back to the front desk a few minutes later to ask for clean linens
because the maid had not done the room. The desk clerk replied that "you Americans are always
If the desk clerk does not speak English and if you are not satisfied with something, go to
the city tourist office and complain. I have used tourist offices a couple of times to get
misunderstandings ironed out. Once in Milan, there was no heat or hot water in the morning.
Nobody downstairs could speak enough English to tell me what was wrong so I went to the
tourist office over in the train station. They called the hotel and found out for me that the boiler
had broken down. Then I asked for a discount on the room and the tourist office obtained a 20%
reduction in the room price. Not enough I thought, but I was in a hurry to catch a train so I
Local citizens may notice you in train stations or airports and ask you if you need a hotel.
They appear to want to help you get situated, but what they really want is a commission from the
hotel they are going to guide you to. Some new-found traveling companions and I were worn out
from a long slow train ride and let ourselves get nabbed by one of these operators in Athens. He
led us to one of the worst hotels I have ever had anywhere — no heat, broken toilet (I fixed it),
sink leaking on the floor, paint or gas smell in the halls, lukewarm water, and then attempts to rip
us off the next morning for an extra 50% because we did not check out by 11:30, and another 7%
for tax. I refused to pay either extra and found a better hotel on the next street for half the price.
Chances are that you'll never see a hotel with a 13th floor, even if if has a 14th and above.
This is due to the worldwide
epidemic of triskaidekaphobia. Triskaidekaphobia is fear of the number 13.
If advance payment is required, and it often is, give the room a complete inspection as
described above. You must stay in a good bargaining position, so never pay for more than one
night in advance. If you pay for several days in advance, the playing field tilts against you.
Problems will probably not be resolved
Breakfast is normally
served in a special breakfast
room, usually on the first floor above the ground floor. Breakfast can also be served in your
The price of breakfast is almost always optional. In some countries it is a good value, but
in many countries it is not. In France for example, only a cup of coffee, milk, some bread, butter,
and jam is usually served. You might find a better deal at a nearby café. Or if you want to
supplement the hotel breakfast with some protein, buy a ham and cheese sandwich in a café or
store the night before and save it until morning.
On the other hand, breakfast is a real stuffing in Germany, Holland, Britain, Ireland, and
Scandinavia. Bread, cheese, eggs, yogurt, meats, milk, cereal, and more is usually provided. A
smorgasbord breakfast in Scandinavia will also include several types of fish. I love herring for
breakfast. Eggs are usually soft boiled, still in the shell, and standing in a little egg cup. Knock the
top off with the knife and eat the egg from the shell with the miniature spoon provided.
Double rooms are more pleasant than single rooms. Single rooms are less likely to have a
shower or toilet. For less than twice the price of a single, double rooms usually come
fully-plumbed. In many hotels singles and doubles are the same price.
Some hotels are closed during part of the year. The owners go on vacation, quite often
when you are on vacation, and take holidays when everybody else takes holidays. Many hotels are
closed for extended Christmas holidays. The Michelin Red Books are very valuable in that they
indicate periods when hotels are closed. It can be rather startling. I was staying in a small hotel in
Blois, France for a few days and a public holiday came up. The owner and staff just disappeared
for a day and a half.
Normally I only make hotel reservations for business
travel or for my first nights in Europe. After that I find a room on the fly when I arrive in
a new city. I don't like to be tied down to a travel schedule by pre-booked reservations.
The internet has made it much easier to find hotels in the last ten years. You don't need
a guidebook or a travel agent. Use your favorite search engine (Google, Yahoo, AOL, Bing)
and key in the city and the words hotel, hostel, or B&B. You'll get thousands of results.
It's too much. You can also use specialized travel web sites like Trip Advisor. This one
includes reviews by other travelers to help you decide. Unlike the travel books and magazine articles,
the reviews on Trip Advisor can be brutal. They can also be self promotions written by the owners.
For leisure travel it is best not to arrive in a small town
late at night without a reservation. You may have to drive on
and on before you find a vacancy. It's better to stop and look
for a room late in the afternoon, say no later than 18:00 (6:00
pm). If you haven't found a vacancy after checking with three
or four hotels ask for a recommendation from a desk clerk.
They probably know which nearby hotel is likely to have
vacancies and will call them to make a reservation for you.
If you are going on your first trip, reserve a room for your first few nights in Europe.
Continuation of your travels with or without hotel reservations is a matter of personal choice.
Without reservations, you may be disappointed as I have been on occasion in Paris, especially in
the fall. While the autumn may be off-season for tourists, you will more easily find a hotel room in
Paris during August than in September or October. The reason for this is that when the summer is
over everybody gets back to work. There is a sudden surge in business trips to meetings,
exhibits, and trade fairs in the major cities.
On one trip, I was driving around Poland and scooted over to L'vov in The Ukraine
without a reservation. It was hard to find any hotel. I stopped to ask a cop and he asked for my
personal and car papers, holding me up for 20 minutes while probably trying to hold me up for
some cigarettes. Finally, after nearly knocking my teeth out driving on those cobblestones, I found
a hotel but it was full. The desk clerk phoned around and found a room for me at the Hotel
Sputnik on the outskirts of the city. The concierge jumped in his car and guided me out there or I
never would have found it, for which I tipped him a couple of dollars.
City hotels which have parking for guests always charge extra for a space. Typically this can cost
you €20 or more per day. Small hotels in the cities don't always have parking on the premises, and when they have it
there are normally not enough spaces for all the guests. Early arrivals have the advantage.
Roadside motels in the countryside typically have a large parking lot with free parking.
In resort areas in the eastern countries, select a hotel which has a guard in the parking lot.
These hotels will cost more, but the cost of rooms is much less than in western Europe, and there
is a good reason for having the guard. We used one of those steel bars which lock the steering
wheel to the brake pedal plus a fake dashboard alarm blinker on all our eastern travels. You can
buy these items in European department stores.
If you don't have a parking space on the hotel property, park under a street light on a busy
street. Do not hide your car in a back alley. That is where the smashers hang out. In Bratislava
I had parked on a street behind the hotel. As I was locking up two police officers strolled by and
advised me to park in the front. I did, and even asked another police officer out front if the space I
had chosen was OK. He said yes so I parked there. The next morning my car had a shiny new Denver boot
attached. The boot is called a clamp in Europe. The space I was in was right in front of the police
station and was the space reserved for the Chief of Police! I talked myself out of an expensive parking
ticket as two officers removed the clamp. It pays to know some German in the eastern countries.
No matter where you park, never leave any valuables in your car overnight.
For more information on parking and driving in Europe see chapter 18,
Driving in Europe:
Travel by Car, Van, or Motorcycle.
Checkout time is almost universally 11:00 in Europe. In hostels it can be 10:00 or earlier.
If it is not posted it would be a good idea to ask on the day
before your departure. It is also a good courtesy to confirm
your departure on the day before you are going to leave.
If you change plans and decide to stay an extra day or
so, check with the desk clerk to see if the room is available.
Hotels in Europe accept you for the period you said you would
stay and may have reserved your room for another guest
starting immediately after your departure. I have been asked to
change rooms on a number of occasions because my room had
been pre-booked. Do not assume that you can keep the room
for an extra day. Ask in advance.
Before leaving, check everything in the room to make sure you did not forget anything. I
lose a shirt or something about once a month. Riding a taxi to the harbor in Lisbon I suddenly
remembered that I had left my money in the hotel safe. Fortunately there was
time to go back and retrieve it all without missing the boat.
Carry your hotel receipt or a card from the hotel desk. You may forget where you are
staying, or need to phone the hotel while you are out. Good luck finding a phone book, and then
finding your hotel in it if you do.
Make sure you get a receipt. A couple years ago I stayed in a small hotel in Düsseldorf. It
occupied the 8th floor of an office building. On checking out I paid cash because they did not
accept credit cards. But, their "computer was down" and they said they couldn't print a receipt. I
nearly left with that explanation, but asked for a hand receipt which they wrote out for me. A few
months later I received a bill for the three days I stayed there. Mistake or attempted fraud I don't
know, but they have my money and I have the receipt.
Hotels charge tax. This is usually
the national sales tax, which can be over
20%. Tax is almost universally included in
the quoted price of the room.
Many hotels post prices of all their
rooms on a large board at the desk, or
sometimes on the front door or in a
window visible from the street. Prices are also normally posted in the room. If there are seasonal
rates, the high season rate is shown. Some cities and countries have rules regulating room prices,
and the rate card in the room might be an official government notice stating maximum room
As discussed above, prices are flexible. Tour groups and corporations always get
discounts, so why shouldn't you? Just ask. Rates for extended stays are particularly flexible.
Hallway lights usually have only an "on" switch. This switch turns on a timer which
automatically turns off the lights after a minute or so. If the lights are already on, move quickly to
your door or the stairway since the timer was probably switched on by another guest and could go
off at any moment.
If you can't find the light switch in the toilet, look outside in the hallway. Or sometimes it
is concealed in the door jamb. Lock the door and the light will come on. The door lock switch is
also used on some Paris café toilets.
Keys and Locks
European hotel keys are a pain. They are usually attached to a bob as big as a baseball and
are almost impossible to put in your pocket — which is the idea. When you are leaving the hotel
at any time the hotel keeper usually wants the key left at the front desk. It always bothers me that
someone can walk up to the desk, ask for my key, and burgle my room. But after having stayed at
hundreds of rooms all over Europe, this has never happened. Additional security measures have
recently been introduced at a couple of my favorite hotels, so I assume that there have been some
You must check your door lock at each hotel to see how it works. Some lock
automatically when you close the door, and others require you to push a button or turn the key. If
you have a balcony in Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece, Bulgaria, or Romania, make sure that the
window/door has an operating lock. If not, keep the shutters rolled down when you are out of the
The locks on doors of budget hotels often leave a lot to be desired. It seems that someone with a hair
pin could get in. But the burglars are probably trying to break into rooms at the Ritz where the good goodies are.
In either case you might want to pack a door stopper. See the GE item in the left column.
Most hotels maintain a safe for the use of
guests. Check in your money and jewels, and carry
your passport and camera. The safe is normally free,
but hotels in resort areas sometimes charge an extra
fee for their use. The fee can be for a week's use, so if
you are staying for only a night or two it seems rather
expensive. Get a receipt or a key to the box. There is
usually a deposit required for the key. Many room safes now have user selected codes for
operation. Follow the operating instructions on the box.
On check out, the desk clerk will not ask you if you have anything in
the hotel safe. You have to remember that for yourself.
TV: It is becoming more common to find a television in a standard hotel. A radio is less common.
If your room does have a TV, turn it on and see what's available. Most countries have two
government owned channels and often broadcast some pretty off-the-wall stuff, along with a few
of your American favorites.
Movies are broadcast in the original language with local subtitles in some countries. In
others the local language is dubbed in. Italy has a large number of private commercial TV stations,
though TV in other countries is not so well endowed.
You find CNN in the pricey hotels, though the bouffant anchor desk personalities have
problems reading their lines. CNN should print the news on screen. Better, tune in the more
professional BBC which is also available almost everywhere. They have better news and travel
features, and their British accents are not as bad as the London mumblers on CNBC, son or
daughter of NBC, the American network.
Phone: Except in the major hotels, you will seldom find a dial phone in the room. Most have a
handset connected only to the front desk. Before using the phone, get specifics about the cost,
and read part 1 of chapter 19,
Telephoning to, from, and within Europe. The telephone is a major profit center
for hotels and $100 phone bills are not uncommon. There are some easy tricks you can use to
keep this under control so make sure you read chapter 19. It can save you many times the cost of
Electrical Outlet: One or two very well concealed electrical outlets is the norm. These are
already occupied by a lamp and a TV. See chapter 11,
Electricity in Europe,
for information on how to get around this issue and how to use the high voltage European electricity
in your appliances and gizmos.
Wash Basin: All rooms have a wash basin with running water. Sometimes the hot and cold water
are reversed with the hot on the right. Look for the red handle for hot and the blue handle for
cold. Sometimes there is no hot water.
Bidet: Right next to the basin you often find a bidet. This piece of plumbing, looking somewhat
like a toilet, is for washing your private parts. I use the bidet for washing my clothes.
Beds: Beds are generally too short to be comfortable for my 6'1" body, except in Scandinavia
where I'm about average size. Beds in cheaper hotels are usually very soft and bad on your back. I
have slept on the floor occasionally to get a better sleep.
Hang Ups: Most rooms have a small stand-up wardrobe or hooks on the wall for your clothes.
Mini Fridge: Small refrigerators stocked with drinks and snacks are starting to be seen in the
tourist class hotels, in addition to the better hotels where they have been profit centers for years.
Take what you please and it will be added to your hotel bill. These usually operate on the honor
system, though some are automated. This is very convenient — and you pay dearly for the
convenience. I usually buy some beer and cheese at a market and store them in the mini-fridge. It's
not written that you can't put your own groceries in there.
Do not call it a bathroom in Europe. In America, the tub and the potty are in the same
room, called the bathroom. In Europe these facilities are often in separate rooms.
For the potty, asking for the toilet or W.C. is appropriate. Brits call it the water closet or
the loo. French might call it the cabinet.
When getting a room, specify whether or not you want a toilet in the room. Many rooms
in Europe do not have a toilet. If there is no toilet in the room, there will be one in the hallway or
on another floor.
Toilets in the hallways of many French hotels seem to have been installed in a broom
closet as an afterthought. They are never heated and always feature an open window. Toilet paper,
when available, has a texture somewhere between newsprint and crepe paper. Many travelers carry
their own TP which guarantees that they'll have a roll of good white stuff when the facilities don't.
Since toilets and tubs are often found in separate rooms in Europe, you must specify
whether you want a shower or bathtub when you book your room. Just because you have a toilet
does not mean that you have a shower or tub, and vice versa. Many rooms have neither.
There will always be a shower or bathing room on your floor, or someplace else in the
hotel. Smaller hotels sometimes charge extra to use the shower room.
Showers often have no shower curtain. In fact, the shower might be only a shower head
on the wall of the toilet room with a drain in the middle of the floor. This guarantees that the
whole room takes a bath.
Even if there is a shower in your room, there is no guarantee of hot water. In the eastern
countries, which grew up under the Bolshevik dictatorships, hot water can be shut off for
a month or more. The reason is that all of the hot water in many towns is supplied from a central
heating plant which burns brown coal, the fumes of which are readily and obnoxiously noticed in
the air. Once a year the hot water plant must be shut down for routine maintenance. During that
period there is no hot water. I stayed in a private home in Leipzig in former East Germany. To
make sure he had hot water, the owner had a coal fired hot water heater installed in his bathroom.
He had to load it with little bricks of charcoal and fire it up before I could jump in the tub.
Sometimes the hotel has it, and sometimes it does not. It is a good idea to carry a small
bar of soap in your bag just in case. Don't buy it though. Pick up a bar from one of the hotels
which leave extras in your bathroom. Bring your own soap to the eastern countries for sure. Their
soap reminds you of something we had in the USA about fifty years ago. In fact, many things in
the eastern countries are that way.
Elevators under assumed names and camouflage are generally found in all hotels which are
ranked above one star. A common name for elevator is "lift" because that is what the British call it
and British English is what most people on the Continent learned in school. Some elevators
remind you of bird cages, and others are ominously the size of coffins. If an elevator is present, it
usually works. If you have a lot of luggage it probably knew you were coming and decided to
take the week off.
Small hotel elevators normally have a heavy door that must be pulled open. These are
designed to be locked until the elevator arrives, but not always. There is sometimes a second door
which is part of the elevator cabin, and this is often a manual door also. Getting in and out with
bulky luggage can be an annoyance.
For your own safety, get into the habit of using the stairs when going down. If you always
descend by the stairs, you'll know where they are in case of fire. Chances are that if there is a fire
all of the electricity will be out. Some fool may have plugged in an American hair blower, popped the fuses,
and shorted out the wires. Keep your flashlight handy on the night stand.
Do not leave valuables laying around
visible in your room. Maids sometimes take a
break while the door is open. They usually do
their work in mid morning and few people are in
hotels at that time, but don't risk it. Small
valuables can find swift feet. Once your camera
or passport disappears there is little chance that
you'll ever see it again.
Don't be a criminal yourself. Leave the
towels. They are not included in the room price.
There are no bellhops in standard
European hotels. Carry your own luggage.
There are bellhops in the better quality hotels,
especially in the Mediterranean countries and
resort areas. Keep some tip money handy.
Do not leave your clothes or anything you intend on keeping in a bag on the floor of your
hotel room. Housekeeping hires from the bottom of the grade card from a third world country.
It is possible, even likely, that anything on the floor will be trashed when maid service
enters the room. Keep your dirty laundry in the closet or concealed somewhere in the room.
Hotels will normally phone ahead for you and reserve a room in your next city if you ask.
In Finland, a desk clerk once made several long distance calls for me before she could find a hotel
with an available room, and didn't charge me for the calls.
ALTERNATES TO HOTELS
What is a pension? First, it's not pronounced "pen shun," but "pen cee ohn." A pension is
usually a small rooming house owned and operated by a retired woman.
Three meals per day can be included in the basic rate, though one or two meal "demi
pensions" are usually offered. Don't expect to be in gourmet heaven. In small pensions it's just
your normal home cooked meal, depending on the country and the owner.
Pension owners prefer that you stay for a few days. The prices are significantly lower than
for hotels, partly because they don't have to change the sheets for a new customer every day and
they don't have a corporate bean counter telling them how to run their business.
In resort areas on the Mediterranean, pensions can be sprawling complexes of bungalows.
You'll find a lot of European families there on vacation.
Bed & Breakfast
The common acronym for this is B&B. You get a room to yourself and
breakfast in a private home which has been adapted for accommodating tourists.
It seems that most American B&Bs charge prices equivalent to a big city luxury hotel even though they
are located out in a cow pasture miles from anywhere. In Europe B&Bs are the economy way to go. I love them.
They are normally about half the price of the cheapest hotel in town.
B&Bs are found throughout Europe. They seem to have originated in Britain and/or Ireland.
Because they are in private homes you find various configurations. Normally the toilet and shower
room is located outside the room, and normally it is used by more than one guest. Rooms are
usually more spacious than hotel rooms, especially low cost hotel rooms. Owners are invariably
friendly and helpful. Several have helped me carry my luggage up the stairs. B&Bs do not have elevators
and the stairs in European homes can be quite steep.
Breakfast in B&Bs is normally served in a small room on the ground floor. You have the opportunity to meet
other travelers from around the world. As you enter greet those present with a "Good morning."
They will know you are a Yank right off. Breakfast includes toast,
eggs, ham or sausage, juice, fruit, yoghurt, cereals, coffee, and tea. In Britain and Ireland
it also includes fried (red) tomatoes. You will be well fed.
The Dutch have a variant of B&B called Zimmer Frei, identified by a sign in the window or
yard of private homes in ocean side resort areas. "Zimmer Frei" is German for "Room Available."
It is written in German
because most of the visitors are from Germany. Some signs also have English or French
translations, but when it says "Room Free," the literal translation of "Zimmer Frei," do not expect
to get gratis lodgings. Breakfast is normally not included unless the sign says "Zimmer und/mit
Frühstück" ("Room and/with Breakfast"). Zimmer Frei is normally very cozy and comfortable,
with warm welcomes for Americans from the Dutch owners. Similar establishments are to be
found in Scandinavia, Germany, and eastern Europe. On one of my visits to Prague I stayed in a
Zimmer Frei on the outskirts of the city. I had to hitchhike back to my room that night because
the buses had gone to bed before I finished my night on the town.
First, notice that hostel is not spelled the same as hotel. The French changed hostel to
hôtel some centuries ago. In time we just forgot about that little roof over the o. The French also
changed hospital to hôpital but we didn't go along with that change.
There are two general types of hostels. The organization Hosteling International is an association
of youth hostels throughout the world. In order to stay at an HI hostel you must be a member. I stayed at
the one in Dresden, Germany and was able to join on the spot. The American Youth Hostels (AYH) is the
American branch of HI. It is not necessary to be a youth to be a member, but preference is given to members under
30 when space in the hostel is tight.
Then there are thousands of other freelance hostels. Membership is not required.
Hostels provide bunk house type accommodations. Sometimes the toilet and shower are in the room and
sometimes there is a common facility. They are designed primarily for young travelers, though most have no age limit for
visitors. At many hostels, facilities are provided for guests to cook their own meals.
Breakfast is provided and included in the price at many hostels.
The AYH publishes directories of hostels in the United States and overseas. Locations
and recommendations are also given in the popular budget guidebooks. When using these books,
read the directions carefully. A hostel listed for a major city may be quite a distance from the center of
town. You may have to catch a bus and travel out to a nearby suburb to get
there. This won't be too pleasant if you arrive late at night and/or the clouds are dumping.
Because hostels offer only a communal area for sleeping with a dozen or so beds in a room,
security is something to keep in mind. Doors usually do not have locks. Some hostels have lockers
but you need to bring your own lock. Never leave valuables
in an unattended bag. A money belt should also be considered. Wire ties to anchor your
backpack to something would also be a good idea. See chapter 6,
Your Packing List for Europe.
Yup, hostels can be noisy. Young people on the road are prone to loud music and late night partying. The
managements try to control this. If you have a problem with a noisy roommate let the desk
attendant know. On the other hand there is little you can do about someone snoring.
For more information on hostels see my page
Hostels in Europe in the
TRAVELERS YELLOW PAGES.
When school is out some universities rent the dorm rooms to travelers. This is a cheap way to travel.
I've stayed in dorms in several cities, including Brugge and London. The London School of
Economics has a really good deal with private rooms and a full breakfast. There were travelers
there from all over the world, students, families, and geezers.
For longer term stays in one city an apartment or home rental can be economical. Not only is the
price favorable but the ability to cook your own meals instead of eating in restaurants all the time
adds to your economy. Staying in apartments is especially attractive to families. There are usually
two bedrooms or more so you don't need to rent an additional hotel room for the kids or the aunts and
Apartments are rented out by individual owners and by commercial brokers who have a group of apartments
available for short term stays, usually a week to several weeks. Use your favorite search engine
to find availabilities.
One problem with renting apartments is that the owners usually demand a deposit far in advance, and payment
in full when you arrive — in cash. Most do not accept credit cards. Checks are out of the question.
Getting the deposit sent over there can usually be done through your bank by international wire. You need the
owners bank account information to do this. Visit your bank or credit union to get details. Some owners
may be reluctant to give you their IBAN because they are "black market" and do not want to pay tax. That is
also why they want cash. Unless you have read excellent reviews, e.g. through Trip Advisor or the Fodor's Forum,
you are buying a cat in a sack if you pay up front without seeing the place. Caveat emptor.
Camping is popular with Europeans. It is not especially amenable to very many international travelers.
Camp grounds are in the countryside, far from the artifacts and action of the major cities. If you are planning
a hiking expedition camping may be just the thing. I haven't camped since I was a cub scout
in Missouri and I've never camped in Europe so I can offer no advice. I am a city boy.
It is sometimes possible to obtain a room in a private home. City tourist offices in
Germanic language countries can make the arrangements for you, especially during very busy
periods when all of the hotels are full. Rooms in private homes are much less expensive than
comparable comfort in a hotel. Most homeowners prefer that you pay in advance. The
homeowner gives you a key and then seems to disappear. Usually no breakfast is provided, and
kitchen privileges are not granted. But I have been handsomely fed in private homes and treated
very well on every occasion. The owners make a little extra money during the travel season, and
you have a chance to see the kinds of homes and apartments they live in over there.
I showed up for Oktoberfest in München one fine September afternoon and couldn't find a
room for less than twice my budget. After partaking of a ritual meal at the Hofbrauhaus and a few
more Massen (huge mugs of beer) at the Oktoberfest fair grounds, I boarded an overnight train. I
had several hours of sleep in my seat and got off somewhere at about 5 in the morning. I caught a
return train (Eurailpass is great!) and slept on that until arriving back in Munich at about 10 AM.
Then the tourist office landed me a great cheap room in a private home. I enjoyed a week of
Oktoberfest — wunderbar!
Holland is a particularly hospitable place. One night in Amsterdam, instead of locating a
hotel room, I went out to my favorite cafe, the Hoppe at Het Spui. This is one of the famous
centuries-old "brown bars" of Amsterdam. I met an interesting girl there and enjoyed some
drinks and chat. Then she introduced me to her husband talking at another table, and they invited
me home to sleep on their couch. They made coffee for me in the morning. It doesn't
get any better than that. I took leave, giving them my best Tot ziens! (See you later!).
Holland, what a country!
NOTE TO READERS
I welcome questions and comments. If you have any concerns about your trip to
Europe that have not been covered well enough in this chapter do not hesitate to write and ask.
My email address is
When you write please include as much detail as possible. There are about 50 countries in Europe.
It will help me answer if you mention the countries and/or cities you plan to visit.
I will reply in a day or two.
Don't forget to scroll through the Table of Contents below. The other 29 chapters of
HOW TO EUROPE:
The Complete Travelers Handbook
are also available, free to read on line. In addition, the Google search box below can locate specific subjects
in any chapter or page on site.
For a check-off punchlist of everything go to The Finale,
Packing List and Last Call:
For Travel in Europe.
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Have a good trip in life,
Note: Italicized notations by the author.
Two excellent maps to help you plan and execute your journey.
Rail Map Europe
Thomas Cook Rail Map
Rail Map of Britain and Ireland
Thomas Cook Rail Map
Europe by Rail:
The Definitive Guide for Independent Travellers (Thomas Cook Rail Guides)
Europe by Eurail 2012: Touring Europe by Train
, , , , , , , ,
It rains. Be prepared.
Totes Titanium Auto-Open/Close Umbrella
Weather protection is important. This is a great lightweight water repellent windbreaker.
Turfer Women's Featherweight Jacket
Look sharp and be comfortable.
Hot Chillys Women's Peach Skins Solid T-Neck Shirt
London Fog Women's Double Breasted Trench Coat
Clarks Women's Wave.Run Slip-On
Tilley Endurables TH9 Women's Hemp Hat
Wear a scarf for comfort and style. Nobody will ever suspect that you are an American.
Very soft houndstooth neck scarf, Kanye West style, different colors available
I wore one similar to this on my early spring trip to London and Dublin.
Leather Bomber Jacket
My "standard" shirt for off-season travel in Europe.
Kingsize Big & Tall Turtleneck Long-Sleeve Cotton Shirt
My favorite T-shirt/undershirt has a pocket for securely carrying passport, cash, and credit cards.
Turfer Tagless ComfortSoft T-Shirt with Pocket
New Casual Grey Herringbone Wool Cap
Walk on cork for all day comfort.
Birkenstock Bali Sandal
Birkenstock Arizona Sandal
Just as comfortable as tennies but look great. I've gone through several pairs over the years.
For leg comfort on the plane.
Arriva Travel-Tec Travel Legwear with Smart Compression Technology
Rolling luggage sure beats lugging a pack on your back.
Delsey Luggage Helium Fusion Light 21 Inches Expandable Carryon
Day luggage for your walkabout.
Travelpro Luggage WalkAbout LITE 4 Deluxe Tote
Here is a handy day bag for your water bottle, maps, guide book, etc. Do not put your
passport or money in this. Keep those valuables on your body under your clothes.
Baggallini Bon Voyage Bagg
Here is a convenient travel purse.
Rothco Venturer Travel Portfolio Bag
Keep your stuff organized.
Luggage Packing Cubes
eBags 3pc Set
eBags Small Packing Cubes - 3pc Set
This carry-on liquids kit meets TSA airline rules.
Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Custom Travel Bottle Set
A bungee cord is very handy for tying your shoulder bag to your roller bag frame.
Crawford-Lehigh 6102 Bungee Stretch Cords Assortment
Wear a money belt under your shirt to protect your passport and valuables, especially if you are staying in hostels or dorms.
Lewis N. Clark RFID Blocking Waist Stash
An RFID blocking wallet protects your passport and credit cards from identity theft in public places.
Travelon RFID Blocking Passport Case
This portable combo door stopper and alarm will give you additional security in your hotel room.
GE 50246 Smart Home
Door Stop Alarm
Make sure that your electrical appliances are 110-220 dual voltage so they will work in Europe.
These appliances require a plug adapter(s), NOT a converter, for the countries you are visiting.
Vagabond Compact Styler
Conair's Dual-Voltage Ionic Hair Dryer
Conair Flat Iron 2" Ceramic Straightener
Travel Hair Setter
SteamFast SF-717 Home-and-Away Mini Steam Iron (dual voltage)
Braun Series 1 150 Men's Shaver with Automatic Worldwide Voltage Adjustment
For light sleepers here is an international "white noise" machine. Includes a Continental
Marsona TSCi-330 White Noise Travel Sound Conditioner For both USA and International Use
For coffee or tea in your room, without waiting or paying for room service.
Lewis N. Clark Immersion Heater 120/240V
Starbucks makes the best instant coffee I have found, and these little packets cost only 58¢ each
in the 50 unit sack. That's a bargain in the USA and an absolute steal anyplace in Europe.
Starbucks VIA Ready Brew Coffee, available in House Blend, Colombia, Italian, and Italian Decaf roasts.
Be on time. Trains and planes don't wait.
Casio Men's G-Shock Ana-Digi Chronograph Sport Watch
Casio Women's BLX100-1 Baby-G Multi-Function Digital Black Resin Sport Watch
You will need one or more of these plug adapters for your appliances and chargers.
For details on electricity in Europe see chapter 11,
Electricity in Europe: Travel Voltage Fundamentals
Plug Adapter (doubler)
Universal to Continental Europe "Europlug."
4.0 mm prongs
SIMRAN PLUG ADAPTER
Adapts grounded USA plugs to European "Shucko" plug.
4.8 mm prongs
This series of "3-Pack" Ceptics brand grounded universal plug adapters is handy if you are carrying multiple
gizmos or if you have travel companions who also need a charge.
Britain and Ireland
This 110-250 volt power surge strip has three universal outlets and an American grounded plug
so it needs a plug adapter for the countries you are visiting.
Make sure your gizmos are rated for 110-240 volts.
SM-60 Universal 3 Outlet Power Strip Surge Protector for Worldwide Travel. 110V-250V with Overload Protection.
For charging up to six gizmos at a time use this 250 volt universal
power strip. It comes with a grounded Continental plug.
6 Universal Outlets
220/240 Volt 50/60Hz
Bausch and Lomb 2X Folding Lighted Magnifier
Absolutely the best battery for digital cameras which use AA batteries.
AA Lithium Batteries
Rechargeable batteries are expensive but pay for themselves over and over.
This charger is good for worldwide voltage and comes with 4 pre-charged batteries.
It requires a plug adapter for the countries you are visiting.
Sanyo SEC-MQN064 Eneloop 4 Pack AA NiMH Pre-Charged Rechargable Batteries
with Worldwide 110-240 volt charger
This kit includes a pair of rechargeable batteries with a USB powered charger.
SANYO NEW 1500 eneloop 2-AA Ni-MH Pre-Charged Rechargeable Batteries
w/ USB Charger
If your gizmos charge through a USB port this can keep you going. European cars have the same
12 volt system as American cars.
Scosche Dual USB
Wash in your room basin and save time, trouble, and money.
Woolite Laundry Soap
20 packs, ¼ oz. each
Inflatable clothes hangars help with drip dry clothes washed in your room.
Inflatable Travel & Laundry Hangers Set Of 4 by Whitney Design
The two gallon size is excellent for packing your clothes, but it is hard to find in Europe.
2 gal. clear plastic bags
ZipLoc by SC Johnson
Much stronger than duct tape, and doesn't leave a messy residue. Fixes luggage, serves as
a clothesline, wraps your international mail packages, etc., etc.
1" x 60 yards
3M Company #8957-1
This will come in very handy very often.
Bring home the memories.
Olympus FE360 8MP Digital Camera with 3x Optical Dual Zoom (Silver)
This is the camera that I use,
Nikon D60 10.2MP Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)
with this amazing lens,
Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 G ED-IF AF-S VR [Vibration Reduction] DX Lens
and this filter.
HOYA 72mm Circularizing Polarizing Filter
Who wrote this?
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