Europe: Train or Plane?

if you are visiting multiple countries in Europe, you have a few options as far as mode of travel is concerned, however we will focus on the 2 most common ways to travel; by train, or by airplane.

Let’s say you are visiting France, and Spain and you want to

Plane

You have the option of flying between the two countries.  Just like the USA, Europe has discount airliners that make short trips and offer little to no frills.  EasyJet and Vueling Airlines are a couple of choices from Paris to most cities in Spain.  The cost of flying these airlines is similar to what you would pay on Southwest Airlines here in the USA and the cost is slightly higher than taking the train to Spain and the flight is only a couple of hours.

Advantages:

  • shorter travel time
  • get to experience very good airline customer service (yes, like it used to be in the USA) from friendly stewards and stewardesses

Disadvantages:

  • costs more than taking the train
  • You will miss out seeing the French and Spanish countrysides, which is a huge missed opportunity
  • You have to show up at the airport 2 hours before your flight and go through TSA-like security before getting on the airplane
  • You have to pay to check your luggage on most discount airliners
  • You have to wait until the seatbelt sign is off before you get up from your seat

Train

You also have the option of taking the train between the two countries.  Most of the trains now are bullet trains that travel between 140 to 200 miles per hour.  Renfe-SNCF is a common train company that provides high-speed rail transportation in France and Spain.  The prices are slightly less than an airplane ticket on a discount airliner a the duration of the trainride is 5 to 8 hours depending on which cities you are traveling between.

Advantages:

  • Cheaper than flying
  • You get to see ride through multiple cities and the countryside of France and Spain, and believe me, it’s worth it
  • You only need to show up about 45 minutes before your trip, security is minimal (at least it is in France and Spain)
  • No need to check luggage, there’s a luggage storage section or two on each car of the train
  • You can get up from your seat at anytime

Disadvantages:

  • You will get tired of being on a train for multiple hours and may be sore
  • Train staff are not very friendly all the time

As you can see, the train is the more advantageous way to travel across Europe.  Really, it’s an experience you can’t beat.  Traveling through the countryside of each country and seeing their cities, towns, fields, hills, and coastline, is totally worth it!  But, if you don’t care about any of this and want to get to your destination as quickly as possible or if you just love airplanes, then you should fly.  I prefer taking the train, seeing sights out the window that I may never see again is something time or money cannot buy in my opinion.


London UK: Odd Eats

In my opinion, one of the best parts of traveling far is sampling far-out foods and dishes.  Now, England is not usually known for its unusual food, which we will refer to as Odd Eats here on the Persistent Traveler Blog, however I did get to eat 2 unusual dishes while visiting London and I would like to share my experience with you.

If you were to ask anyone what first comes to mind when they hear the term “British Cuisine,” I guarantee you that most would blurt out “Fish and Chips.”  While Fish and Chips is definitely common in England, there are many more dishes that are also fit into British Cuisine.  While most of these dishes are not too unusual, a few of them are quite different.  Today I will focus on 2 Odd Eats that I had the pleasure of devouring while visiting London.

First, there is Blood Cake, also known Black Pudding, which is a mixture of pork fat, pork blood and oatmeal or barley, all put together in a circular cake.

Blood Cake:

It is commonly eating with a fried egg on top or it can be eaten by itself alongside other British breakfast food.  Blood Cake has a strong bloody, irony, and minerally flavor.  Its texture is somewhat dry, which is probably why eating it with egg is popular.  You take the mildness and moisture of the egg with the dryness and strong flavor of the blood cake, and they offset each other into a very satisfying and delicious dish that you cannot get enough of.

Second, there is Mushy Peas, also known as Pea Mash, which is commonly eaten with……………..you guessed it, Fish and Chips.  Mushy peas can be on the side, or directly under the fried fish.  It’s taste is not all too different than traditional American pea soup, it’s texture much more of a mush than a soup.  It has a similar texture to hummus or refried beans.  Basically mushy peas are to peas as hummus is to garbanzo beans.  Different flavors and tastes can be added to mushy peas such as mint and the dish varies per region throughout the United Kingdom.

Mushy peas under the fish:

In my opinion, mushy peas taste good eaten together with the fish and chips, but it tastes even better on its own.  Will you like this dish?  If you don’t like pea soup, you will probably not like mushy peas.  That’s the best answer I can give.

If you get an opportunity to visit England, or any other country, don’t miss out on the opportunity to sample Odd Eats.  Don’t be one of those Americans who eats at the local McDonalds or Subway while visiting abroad.  There is no better way to get to know a culture than to eat their unusual dishes.  The first time is hard, I’ve been there, but it gets easier the more you do it and it opens your curiosity to try even more unusual dishes, such as deep-fried honeybees in Thailand.


London UK: Shakespeare’s Globe and a Lost Opportunity

One sight that tourists love to visit is Shakespeare’s Globe in London, it also goes by the name of The Globe Theatre.  The Globe Theatre is a popular attraction, especially among modern day thespians, and why not?  There is a lot of history behind the Globe Theatre as it was commonly used in Shakespeare’s days to perform his plays.

The Globe Theatre as we know it today is NOT the original Globe Theatre from Shakespeare’s day, but it’s modeled after it.  The original Globe was built in 1599, rebuilt in 1614 after burning down  due to an accident during a performance of Henry VIII, then it was permanently closed in 1642 due to a city ordinance.  Fast forward more than 350 years later, a modern version of the Globe Theatre was built and completed in 1997 and has been opened since.

Today you can tour the modern Globe Theatre for a fairly small cost, and learn the history of the Globe and about William Shakespeare himself.  This is where there was a missed opportunity for myself.  While my wife and kids visited the London Zoo, I decided to pay a visit to the Globe in hopes of being able to tour it.  Unfortunately I did not do my research and I showed up during a performance and they would not let me in.  While there are shows going on, tours are only available early in the morning, and it was our last day visiting London.  So, a missed opportunity for sure, but I will remember this for next time.  I did get an opportunity to visit the Globe Museum next door and it’s nice, but it’s not the same.

So, you can learn from my mistake!  When you visit the Globe, visit their website prior and check the schedules before you visit.  That’s the only advise I can give.


London UK: Westminster Abbey

One of the greatest things to do while visiting Europe is to be able to visit very old cathedrals.  In London there is the Westminster Abbey.  The Westminster Abbey was built in the 11th Century AD and still stands today.  On top of being a church, the building was used for Coronation Ceremonies for many monarchs such as King Harold and William the Conqueror.  Inside the church today there are saints buried in tombs and you can walk by their tombs on your tour.

Even if you are not religious or into the whole Monarchy thing, the Westminster Abbey is still an exciting place to visit.  If you live outside of Europe, it’s not very often you get to visit Gothic-style buildings, so if you happen to be touring London, be sure to book a visit into this cathedral.

Some things to be aware of when you visit the Westminster Abbey

  • taking pictures is not allowed
  • tours close at 3:30pm and closed all day on Sundays
  • crowds are significantly down during the morning hours compared to the midday and afternoon
  • be prepared to stand in long lines to get in, especially if you go during busier times


London UK: Thames River Cruise. Is worth it?

I was skeptical about taking the Thames River Cruise for a couple of reasons.  Number one, I get motion sickness very easily on most boats.  Number two, it seemed like a waste of time because there are so many sights to see off the river.  Despite my skepticism, I agreed to join my wife and kids and take the 30 minute cruise from the Tower Bridge to Big Ben.  Fortunately my skepticism was in vain, it was a very nice cruise.

As far as the motion sickness, I did not get sick.  The cruise is one of the smoothest boat rides I have ever taken as there was no swaying back and forth almost as if the boat was on a track under the water.  As far as the potential of losing time that could be spent visiting other sights?  The cruise actually allows you to see more sights in just 30 minutes, yes it’s from the water, but you will see sights that you probably wouldn’t see if you chose not to ride the boat.  You will float by famous landmarks such as the London Bridge, Shakespear’s Globe, the London Eye, Big Ben, and Parliament and much more.  You will also have a local tour guide speaking to you over the loud speaker.  This tour guide is not one of those annoying tour guides that you will want to throw overboard after 10 minutes, the tour guide is actually very informative and quite comical.

A few words of advice before you purchase your tickets to the Thames River Cruise:

  • be sure to bring some cash, it’s polite to tip the tour guide a few pounds
  • try to get a seat on the top deck, it’s outdoors and you will see more.
  • show up about 20 to 30 minutes early as the line builds up fast
  • for no additional cost you can travel one way (Tower Bridge to Big Ben) or you can travel round trip
  • take a camera and take good pictures
  • be ready to add sights to your list of places you want to visit

On your next visit to London, if you decide to take the Thames River Cruise, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did.  Below are some pictures from our cruise.

 


London UK: Tower of London

There are a lot of sights to see in London, probably more than you can possibly visit in a single 1 or 2 week vacation, so you will have to prioritize, pick, and choose.  Be sure to pay a visit to The Tower of London.  If you’ve never visited London before, you may think the Tower of London is some single Tower in the middle of the city, it’s not.  Instead, it’s a castle, and a few other buildings within a walled off space.  it served as a prison, a place where coins were minted, and it even served as Royal Residence.  Today it is a museum depicting these things and more.  On top of seeing where Royalty lived and seeing the prisons and mints, you can also see displays of Knight’s clothing from back in the day, you can see the dishes and eating utensils that were used, and you can see many of the weapons that were used.

It’s a fun and fairly inexpensive way to learn some history about London back to as early as the 11th century.  Even if you’re not into History, you can agree that seeing and exploring really old buildings in itself is fun and interesting, and you will experience all of that at the Tower of London.