Tuesday, 30 July 2013

5 Free Apps that you should have when travelling

Everyone and anyone is jumping on the smartphone bandwagon these days, the Travel and Hospitality industry included. You can find literally thousands of apps from many different companies. Although many are just repetitive, there are some really useful ones. Here I have compiled a list of 5 smartphone apps which I believe everyone going travelling should have.

1. Airline App

Almost every airline these days has their own app which passengers can download. These apps allow you to keep track of your booking, review the flight status and download your boarding pass. Highly convenient as you don't have to continually check emails or worry about which sheet of paper is the right one.

2. TripIt Travel Organiser.

The "TripIt" app is a handy one to keep your entire itinerary in one place. Here you can store your flight information, hotel, car rental etc. Which is very useful if, like me, you have a habit of forgetting those vital bits of information such as hotel names, reference numbers and such.

3. TripAdvisor

The TripAdvisor app is fantastic for checking out what to do wherever you are. Whether you want to see how good a certain restaurant is, what attractions are nearby or which street has the nicest architecture or shopping malls, TripAdvisor gives it all to you at the touch of a button. 

4. Hotel Tonight

You never know what can go wrong on holiday, you may have a delayed/cancelled flight or as happened me, you may miss a flight (See here). This is where the "Hotel Tonight" app comes in. It shows you hotel rooms available on last minute deals, saving you both time and money.


One of the top travel apps on the apple app store at the moment. HailO finds your current location and can call a taxi right to you. Very useful if you find yourself lost in a foreign city without a number for a taxi or a notion on how to use the public transport system (trust me it happens).

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

One thing not to do on Holiday

We had a relatively simple plan for our holiday this past July.

A flight from Cork to Amsterdam, two days there before getting a train to Brussels where we would spend one night and then fly on to Slovakia for 10 days with Dominikas family. But where I'm involved, the simple things rarely work out as they should!

Things started fantastically well, we immediately fell in love with Amsterdam (as you may have guessed from my previous post). The two days spent there were just perfect, we visited (among others) the Heineken Experience which was amazing and the Anne Frank house, which is a tragically moving experience and a must-see if you are in the city. We could not have wished for a better start to our holiday, but when you begin on a high, the only way from there must be down I guess?

Following a short stop in Antwerp, our train pulled into Brussels. We disembarked full of enthusiasm to be in the European Capital, home of the EU Parliament and so many other EU departments. This surely must be a wonderful city? It will be clean and inviting and the people will be so friendly, yes? Well...about that...
Again you may have read in my previous post about Brussels, that I was less than impressed with the city. Despite some amazing classical architecture and a great night out (mostly thanks to This band). The capital of the EU was a major let-down and I was so looking forward to leaving the next day and flying on to Bratislava.

So with that in mind, we spent the next morning salvaging what we could from that particular leg of the journey. The guy at reception in our hotel told us that the airport was only 15 minutes by train, so we had some time to kill. We went to visit the EU parliamentarium, to be honest it seemed very bland and boring, we should have visited the mini-europe instead.

Shortly after this, we made our way to the train station and boarded the train to Brussels airport. In a few hours at least, we would be in a familiar city drinking a cool, tall glass of Kofola (if you have never tried it, you don't know what you're missing!). We got off the train, made our way to departures and looked for our flight number on the departure screen. For some reason we couldn't see it. No matter, it was probably hard to spot in the middle of all those flights, so we asked an airport official what gate the flight to Bratislava is leaving from... His response made the pit of my stomach drop right to my ankles, "There are none". When he asked what airline we are flying with, and I told him Ryanair, what he said made the very ground beneath my feet evaporate "Ryanair fly from Charleroi, this is Brussels national airport".

As you can imagine, we were quite surprised to say the least. Of course when the guy in the hotel said the airport was 15 minutes away, and as we were flying with ryanair, we should have suspected something. Ryanair would never fly to such a convenient airport!

We ran straight outside to a taxi, we had 45 minutes before the gate closed, and the airport was 80km away. There was a chance we could make it (according to the taxi driver at least). So off we went, the taxi metre rising to a terrifying number (€195 at the end of the trip!). We gave up looking at the time, we were really pushing it, any time we hit traffic our hearts and breathing stopped, the taxi driver, to his credit, was driving like he was an extra in the next Die Hard movie.

We pulled into the car park in Charleroi, jumped from the taxi. The driver had our bags out in second, wished us luck and we ran, hell for leather, into departures to see in big red writing on the screen above us. The gate for Bratislava was...closed. No matter how much we begged and pleaded with the check-in lady, we were not being left on to that flight.

So after that panic was over us we decided we better go about looking for the next possible flight to the Bratislava area, the closest we could get was a flight to Vienna, which cost more than we could possibly afford. So as a last resort we priced a flight back to Ireland...also more than we could afford.

So there we were, trapped in Brussels, with no way on to Slovakia, and no way back to Ireland. We couldn't possibly be more freaked out. It was getting late and we were too afraid to pay for a place to stay, or even a meal as we had to keep the money we had for any possible travelling. We went to both the Irish embassy and Slovak embassy (Dominika is from Slovakia), neither of which would help us in any way.

We were camped out in the main train station when we realised we hadn't tried pricing a train to Bratislava. A ray of hope after hours of despair! It would cost almost every penny we had between us, but at that stage we couldn't care less. We got the tickets for a combined €500, and used what little cash we had left to pay for a quick meal and a crappy hotel room for what remained of the night.

So at 5:40 the following morning we boarded our train bound for Vienna. The journey would take us across Germany, stopping at Frankfurt and Wurzburg and take about 10 hours, but we were damn glad of it. I must say, going by rail is so much more relaxing than trying to squeeze myself onto a Ryanair flight, no worries about oversized cabin baggage or feeling cramped by the lack of legroom. In fact, the 10 hours on the train afforded us some fantastic views and seemed to pass very quickly compared to a flight over the same distance. But still, I will make sure to double check which airport I am going to next time.

Canadian tourists show best of Ireland

Two Canadian tourists have put Tourism Irelands advertising campaigns to shame with a video of their stay in Ireland. The video, taken over a fortnight (plus a half) shows the best bits of Ireland from Belfast, to Dublin, The Cliffs of Moher and even includes our very own Rossbeigh Beach.

Check out the full 20 minute video here.

Taken from Joe.ie

Monday, 22 July 2013

Brussels could be Better

For the second leg of our trip at the beginning of July, we got a train from Amsterdam to the "European Capital" of Brussels. I had high hopes for the city, home of the European Parliament, it should be welcoming, clean and modern.
I am sorry to say however, that we experienced exactly the opposite during our 2 days in the city. Now it may be, and for the sake of the city I certainly hope it is, that our experience is not the usual. On first arriving in Brussels, we decided to go to a restaurant for lunch before checking into the hotel. When we sat down, we saw a number of waiters and waitresses standing chatting at the bar, which is fair enough, but it took them 20 minutes to even bring us the menus, the waitress who did serve us looked as if she would rather be anywhere else.
Following this we made our way through the city to The Theatre Hotel (a lovely hotel if ever you are staying in the city). It has to be said that the buildings in Brussels are very impressive and it is nice to see them converted for modern use. We passed many buildings with classical architecture which had been converted to restaurants, bars, banks and many other buildings. In the quieter parts near our hotel, however, we witnessed prostitutes offering their services to passing men, I would expect some of this after dark in a large city, but the scale on which it is occurring in Brussels, and in broad daylight, is very off-putting. Considering we were in the the home of the EU, which should be a pillar of human rights, to see women (many of them clearly working against their will) offering themselves like this right in the back-yard of the EU speaks volumes!
Finally, we witnessed yet another example of terrible public services at the central train station. Trying to buy our tickets to Vienna, we had to wait 10-15 minutes while the person at the ticket desk finished his chat with some other employees.

Now it must be said, when we went out in Brussels to the Celtica Bar, we had a fantastic time and met some lovely people, namely Tanguy Van Dooren and his band from Antwerp, a group of extremely talented lads!

They were kind enough to humour us with a cover of The Scientist by Coldplay at the request of Dominika. A video of which I will upload shortly.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Amazing Amsterdam

 It is most certainly not one of the “undiscovered” cities of the world. It is not even new on the tourist scene. Amsterdam has been attracting visitors for years now. It is seen by many as a destination for stag parties and the like, with its reputation for leniency towards drug use (the many infamous coffee shops scattered around the city don’t even draw a second glance from passing locals) and of course the Red Light District where women from all over the world come to sell their “services” to those who wish to pay for it.
            One would be forgiven, then, for assuming that Amsterdam is a dirty, drug filled, sex obsessed den of inequity. This, however, could not be further from the truth. Amsterdam is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever had the pleasure to visit. The people are so friendly and welcoming and make a person feel right at home. The architecture in the city is majestic with so many old buildings converted to modern use and kept in such a clean state.
            There is so much to do and see, such as the van gogh museum, canal cruises etc. The Heineken Experience is not to be missed, aside from educating visitors on the science behind the lager and showing you how it is brewed, the Heineken experience is entertaining and fun, even if you are not a beer drinker.
The Anne-Frank house is also a must-see, there is quite a line to get into the house but it is well worth the wait. It is a truly moving experience to see how the tragic family lived in hiding from the Anti-Jewish regime during the second world war.
 If  you just want to sit in one of the major squares in the city and take in the atmosphere you will see talented buskers performing original songs and covers, exciting Capoeira demonstrations, daring stunts, escape artists and street magicians. The evening atmosphere in the city is vibrant and exciting, there is entertainment around every corner and people from all walks of life, different cultures, nationalities and ethnicities perform together and take in the entertainment side by side.
            Of course the reputation of Amsterdam as a party city is not unwarranted. From nightclubs and ice-bars, to cocktail cruises and Irish pubs, Amsterdam has something to suit you, whatever your taste in night-life. When I visited the city at the beginning of July, my girlfriend and I stumbled across a Czech and Slovak bar and decided  to stop for a drink, the barman was so welcoming and gave me a few free shots as it was my birthday. The other people in the bar warmed to us immediately and we felt as if we had been in our local bar at home.

            It would be difficult for anybody to not feel at home in Amsterdam, its friendly atmosphere, welcoming residents and relentless entertainment make it an ideal choice for a city-break.