Travel apps review: Monument Tracker and TripLingo

Monument Tracker 

This app will guide you to all the important monuments in the city you are visiting, and will provide you with useful information about them.

Sounds boring and like all the other similar apps you’ve seen out there? You’re wrong.

Monument Tracker lists different monuments based on your location, putting the closest ones on top of the list. By clicking on a monument, the app gives you the exact location of it and how to get there, as well as information on its history and cultural significance.

The maps you choose are downloaded to your phone, so they are available to you when you don’t have an internet connection, which can save you money on data roaming fees.

You can add different monuments on your “must-see” list, and some of them even have the option for a guided tour or a 360º view.

An interesting feature of this app is that you can walk around the city and explore it at your own pace, and the app will notify you if you are near a significant monument, so you don’t miss anything.

Besides important sights, this app offers info about different activities and events in the city which you can participate in.

What’s addictive about Monument Tracker is that you can gain points by visiting different sights, reading about them, taking photos, recommending places, etc., and move from “beginner” level where you started to a more advanced level. You can also share your profile with your friends to show them where you visited, what you liked the most, and what you would recommend.

There are additional, fun options, such as quizzes to test your knowledge about the city after all that exciting sight-seeing.

Monument Tracker is free, and it’s available for Android and iOS.
Download Monument Tracker for iOS
Download Monument Tracker for Android

TripLingo 

One of the most challenging things in a foreign city is communicating with locals if they don’t speak English. Triplingo makes this more comfortable and headache-free.

The app provides you with a wide range of useful phrases and expressions for everyday communication at your travel destination.

Besides phrases and expressions, the app has a built-in offline dictionary with more than 10,000 words per language. Additionally, it has audio lessons, so you can prepare yourself before your trip.

It also includes one very helpful feature that makes communication smoother and faster, especially if you’re listening to someone speaking in another language: voice translator. It instantly translates your, or someone else’s voice into another language.

Another useful feature is the image translator: it lets you take a picture, for example, a sign or a menu, and translates it instantly. Never get a wrong dish in a restaurant because of the language barrier again!

If that is not enough, the app also has so many other helpful features, such as tip calculator, safety tips (emergency numbers, medical terminology, etc.) and lots of other info about the country you are visiting.

Overall, TripLingo is an impressive app that makes sure you’re fully prepared for your trip.

TripLingo is free, and it’s available for Android and iOS.
Download TripLingo for iOS
Download TripLingo for Android

Tips to smoothly navigate the airport

The airport: a long strip of asphalt connected to a huge metal shed full of armed police officers, screaming children, and overzealous security staff! A place where nobody will bat an eyelid if you have a pint with your breakfast fry up!

It’s the place where your holiday begins, so why not make the most of it?

Airport parking
Book your airport car parking as early in advance as you can. Like flights, it tends to get more expensive as it gets closer to your departure date.

If you are being dropped off, many airports now charge extortionate amounts to be dropped off directly outside the terminal building. However, many airports give half an hour, or an hour, of free parking in the official medium stay or long stay car park, then you can get a free bus to the terminal.

Pack well
A happy airport experience begins at home. There are plenty of online tutorials for how to pack a suitcase, but some forward planning at this stage will make your airport experience that much smoother.

Tuck your ticket into the photo page your passport (to act as a bookmark) and don’t pack them in your main luggage! You will be showing your boarding pass and passport several times before you board the plane, so keep them to hand in a trouser pocket, coat pocket, or a side pocket of your carry-on bag.

If you have a mobile boarding pass on your phone, then it’s still worth taking a printed boarding pass too, as a back-up, in case your phone runs out of battery or your boarding pass app crashes!

The queue for security can sometimes be long, or you might be pulled aside for a more detailed check, so go through security as soon as you can. Don’t hang about drinking in the bars: go through security first, and then you can have a drink and relax.

Stock up on food – avoid the coffee
Food can be expensive onboard the plane, so if you haven’t brought anything from home, stock up on a few snacks for the flight while you’re at the airport. A flapjack from somewhere like Pret a Manger is good, because it fills you up for a long time.

Coffee might be something to avoid at the airport. It acts as a diuretic, making you want to go to the toilet, which can be impractical. It can also sometimes upset the stomach, which isn’t what you want either! Finally, coffee can dehydrate you, and the air inside a plane cabin is dry enough already.

Walking distances 
As demand grows for flights, UK airports are constantly getting bigger, and adding more gates to park the planes. This means that there can often be a considerable distance to walk to get to your plane, sometimes taking 15 or 20 minutes (especially if you are on a low-cost airline).

Most airports in the UK have maps available online with distances marked between entrance points, security checkpoint and departure gates. Use this to both map out your route and to leave enough time to get around without rushing.

If you’re flying with easyJet, their mobile app can sometimes give you the walking distance to the gate, depending on which airport you are flying from. Other airlines are also starting to introduce this service.

Leave enough time! 
Aim to arrive at the airport 2 hours before take off for European flights, and 3 hours before long-haul.

This will give you ample time to drop off luggage and pass through security, so that you can be relaxing with your drink when your gate is announced, not frantically rushing to put your shoes and belt back on in the security area!

A day or two before your flight, check for pre-planned roadworks or railway engineering, and check the weather reports in case there is anything that could delay your journey.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Airport and airline staff are there to help you: from our own experience, we know that airline and airport staff go above and beyond every single day.

If you need help to get through the airport, just ask. Most airports and airlines will ask that you request assistance at least 48 hours in advance if possible. They can help transport baggage (or even you!) across terminals and through security. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or worried about, it’s a practical service to help you, the customer, to have a smooth transit through the airport.

Have some perspective 
Finally, and something many of us could bear in mind, just remember where you’re going. This is the miracle of flight! You are going to be sitting in a pressurized, metal tube flying at 35,000 feet above the earth’s surface and travelling at 550mph – and it’s all as normal as getting on a train.

Winter Wonderland: Christmas markets in Bruges

Bruges is a beautiful city at any time of year. Walking its quaint cobbled streets and admiring its medieval architecture, you can’t help but be reminded of childhood fairy tales.

The winter months bring even more sparkle and shine. At this time of year you’ll find gingerbread-style houses touched with frost, and Christmas lights twinkling in the canal.

The magical centre of this winter wonderland is the Bruges Christmas markets.

The markets
The 2017 Bruges Christmas markets open from 24th November to 1st January. They’re based in the city’s central Market Square, which is overlooked by the lofty medieval bell tower. More stalls can be found on Simon Stevinplein where you can also lace up your skates and head out onto the city’s winter ice rink.

Wandering the markets, you’ll find delicious Belgian chocolates, elegant glassware, handmade Christmas decorations, and lots of traditional handicrafts like knitwear and Belgium’s juniper-flavoured Jenever liquor. Food stalls also feature, with typical Belgian and international fare on offer.

Things to do 
While the Christmas markets are a highlight of a winter escape to Bruges, venturing beyond them offers even more delights. The 83m high belfry is a great place to start. A 366-step climb to the top of the tower gives you spectacular views of the city rooves and spires below.

Other beautiful architecture includes the façade of the Stadhuis, built in 1420, and the adjoining Heilig-Bloedbasiliek, which houses a vial thought to contain drops of Christ’s blood.

For a little culture, head to Groeningemuseum, Bruges’ best art gallery and home to Flemish and Renaissance works. Or for a more down to earth experience of Bruges life, past and present, make a stop at ‘t Brugs Beertje. It’s an old drinking hole and one of Belgium’s most famous brown cafés (so-called because the walls and ceilings have been stained brown by many years of tobacco smoke).

Back outside, take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the old town centre, or wrap up warm and explore the canals instead, taking a boat tour where you’ll learn all about the long and intriguing history of Bruges.

Food and drink
No trip to Belgium would be complete without sampling the local cuisine.

Chocolate is a must. Our favourite chocolate shops are Dumon and Pralinette, the latter selling a hard-to-find massive slab of pure Belgian chocolate that can be chopped roughly with a knife and savoured.

Save space for warm, freshly made waffles, bratwurst, glühwein, some good Belgian beer, and a big bowl of frites, delicacies you can find all across the city.

Places to stay
There’s a great selection of accommodation throughout Bruges. The five-star hotel, Dukes’ Palace, sits right in the middle of the action and also provides spa facilities within its palatial interior.

For a more boutique experience, there’s Inn us Hus, a modern and stylish B&B. It’s located on a quiet street but still just a stone’s throw from the town centre.

For something a little different, try Jacquemine Luxury Guesthouse. It offers beautiful rooms, delicious breakfast, and its own gardens and art gallery. There are plenty of apartments and Airbnb options to choose from too.

Useful information
Direct flights to Bruges from the UK are, unfortunately, few and far between. By far the most straightforward way to travel is by Eurostar from London St. Pancras. Alternatively, you can fly to Brussels and then hop on the train (it takes around an hour) or the shuttle bus (which takes a little longer) to Bruges.
Winter weather in Bruges is chilly, just like in the UK. You can expect average temperatures of around 4C (39F) from December to February, so take warm layers and be prepared to make many a glühwein pitstop!

Bruges is a great destination for a winter getaway, a cultural city break, and a little Christmas shopping too. The city is a winter wonderland that will infuse even the most dedicated scrooge with its festive cheer. For a short winter break over the winter months, medieval Bruges is picture-perfect and inescapably Christmassy.