City break: Beautiful Bruges in Belgium

The ever-popular city of Bruges is one of the top attractions in the West Flanders region of Belgium. Its prime location, its ease of access, and not to mention its long and rich history, have all helped to establish Bruges as one of the most visited destinations in the whole of Northern Europe.

Heritage
It is often said, but Bruges really is a city like no other: its picture postcard scenery and architecture will instantly transport visitors back to a bygone age of cobblestone streets, imposing monasteries, and horse-drawn coaches. Indeed: the city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site, with many of its most iconic buildings dating back to the early middle ages. For this reason, many people who holiday in Bruges for a short break will find enough to occupy themselves simply by taking in these fairytale surroundings: from the imposing Belfry of Bruges tower above the Markt market square, to the ring of labyrinthine canals, which thread between the historic buildings.

History
Much of Bruges’ appeal is its affinity with the past. For centuries it was a centre for commerce and trade and today, many of its historic industries are preserved, allowing tourists a chance to experience first-hand the master-crafted produce that built the city’s wealth: from hand-sewn lace, to the numerous chocolatiers and breweries. Since the 1960s, the city has repositioned itself as a tourist destination, and the number of restaurants and beer halls exemplify this. With all of these factors combined, a trip to Bruges is not always easy on the waistline!

Things to do
With all of this, it may seem as though Bruges is a living museum more than a contemporary city break destination. In many ways, this is true: an off-season visit can provide a very quiet holiday indeed. But any stay in Bruges will soon reveal a second city too: one that embraces, music, the arts, and modernity from within its centuries-old stone walls. Bruges is renowned for being a cultural hub, attracting performances and exhibits in great number throughout the year. The Blues in Bruges festival arrives in April, bringing live performances from the 10th – 14th, whilst the Budapest Festival Orchestra will be performing works by Dvorák from the 22nd – 24th of May.

For those who like their cultural experiences to include something a little different, the MOOOV Film Festival arrives on April 23rd, and will be exhibiting the weird and wonderful world of cinema until May 4th.

Now is a good time to visit
Spring is a great time to take in Bruges: the clement weather provides the optimum conditions for exploring the city by foot or by boat at a leisurely pace, and it is only just beginning to bustle with the excitement of visitors, before the hectic summer months.

The Canary Islands: which one will you choose?

If you’re planning a trip to the Canary Islands this spring, you’ll find plenty to see and do. Most people know about Tenerife, and we’ve written about it in a previous issue of the newsletter, so in this short guide we’ll be focusing on the other islands: Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro.

The average highest temperatures are 22C (71F) in April and May, so it’s a good place for some early sun without the long flight needed to go beyond Europe.

Gran Canaria

Best known for its beaches, especially on the southern side of the island, Gran Canaria has more to offer than sand and surf. Wild animal shows at Palmitos Park include exotic birds of prey as well as dolphins. The island is also the perfect destination for mountain bikers, with trails for every level of ability.

Fuerteventura

Strong winds and warm water make Fuerteventura a popular destination for windsurfers and surfers; thousands arrive on the island each year, and there is a large, dedicated community of enthusiasts who live on the island year-round.

Lanzarote

Lanzarote’s striking volcanic landscape is well worth a look. A huge eruption in the 18th century covered around a quarter of the island with lava. Today, this lava field is Timanfaya National Park, which contains a free visitors’ centre as well as other attractions including a restaurant which uses the volcanic heat to roast meat.

La Gomera

La Gomera is the second smallest island, larger only than El Hierro. The historic capital of San Sebastian de la Gomera is the port Christopher Columbus sailed from in 1492; its historic buildings are close to fine black sand beaches. The forests of Garajonay National Park are stunning, although they sustained heavy damage from wildfires in 2012.

La Palma

La Palma’s main attraction is its scenic countryside, with numerous walking and hiking trails. The Ruta de los Volcanos features spectacular views from the volcanic craters, but is recommended for experienced hikers. The centre of the island is home to the Caldera de Taburiente, one of the world’s largest erosion craters. The capital, Santa Cruz, features beautiful old buildings and narrow cobblestone streets.

El Hierro

Smallest of the Canaries, El Hierro was considered the westernmost spot in the known world until the discovery of the Americas. Today, the island is primarily a nature reserve, with both land and sea species protected. This makes El Hierro the perfect spot for nature walking, horse riding or scuba diving.

Save money on your next holiday – useful tips

Get the cheapest deal on flights
According to research from Which?, on average flying on a Tuesday works out 35% cheaper than flying on a Friday. Flying back on a Sunday also tends to cost more – up to 45% more!
So when booking flights, it’s worth playing around with the days a bit.

Look at booking two or three months in advance with budget airlines to catch the best price – and don’t be scared to mix and match outbound and inbound flights to different airlines. There’s no reason you can’t fly out with Virgin and come back with easyJet, for example.

Check out Skyscanner to easily compare all flights going to your destination – it’s usually the quickest way to find the cheapest flight.

Avoid changing your travel money at the airport
Rates are always pretty bad at the airport as they know you can’t go elsewhere and get a better rate. You could find yourself paying £50 or more extra at the airport bureau de change than if you’d got your money in advance!

Find the best time to book
Looking to book a holiday but don’t know when’s best? There’s no hard and fast rule but according to travel agent Trailfinders, 11 months before you travel is a good time to book up. At that point flights have just been released and the cheap seats are still available. But for last minute bargains, it’s best to book eight weeks in advance.

Beware tourist scams
Beware scams when you’re abroad. It’s all too common to be overcharged by unlicensed taxi drivers (especially at airports) – so make sure you get an official metered taxi (proper taxis will have their official ID/cab number prominently displayed).

In general it’s a good idea to be cautious when booking events and days out when you’re out there. Make sure you’re not being overcharged by shopping around, and stick to licensed ticket vendors.

For more information, take a look at these common scams.

Don’t be afraid to haggle
One of the most important travel tips for getting cheap family holidays is to haggle. Many travel agents are struggling to compete with online firms, so use this to your advantage.

Once you’ve found a family holiday you like the look of, try to get at least three quotes for the same package. Speak to both travel agents and online providers, and try to get each to beat the others’ prices.

We know holiday companies are having a hard time at the moment – but when it comes to your cheap family holidays, there’s no room for mercy! If you cannot haggle personally then at least have a good look at Laterooms.com and Lastminute.com for some great offers.

More information
http://www.myfamilyclub.co.uk/travel/travel-tips/how-to-have-a-cheap-family-holiday-14951

How to get a better deal on your travel money

With a bit of preparation, you can make big savings when you buy your Euros or other foreign currency for your trip. We decided to look a bit closer…

Price comparison sites make it easy to find the best deal on your travel money. We had a look around, and found that http://www.compareholidaymoney.com has a particularly simple and easy to use website.

As an example, at the time of writing, the prices quoted for how many Euros you can buy for £500 ranged from 579 down to a measly 559, just by choosing one currency supplier over another. That 20 Euros extra could go towards a nice meal (or in Helsinki maybe half a pint of beer!).

According to a recent study by Compare Holiday Money, 38% of British travellers already buy their currency online. They say that not getting the best deal can mean you are spending up to 10% more on your holiday money than you need to, and with the average spend on holiday money being between £500 and £1,000 per family, this can considerably increase the total cost of your holiday.

The exchange rates on this particular website update every seven minutes, and it’s possible to get your currency delivered next day by Royal Mail Special Delivery. Some suppliers will also let you sell back your unused currency, although be careful of the exchange rate they offer you to buy it back: it could be worth hanging onto any unwanted currency ready for your next trip!

Off the beaten track: Delft, Netherlands

A historic city from the Dutch Golden Age
The picturesque city of Delft lies in South Holland, in the Netherlands, approximately midway between the bustling port of Rotterdam and the regal city of The Hague. Step into parts of the city and you enter an historic town unchanged in many ways from its time during the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. During this time Delft was one of the richest cities in the Netherlands, largely due to its trading connections with the Dutch East India Company, and an important centre for both art and science.

Cultural visits
This well-preserved city has miles of bicycle paths, walkways and canals. It is an ideal town for exploring by bicycle or foot, and its small scale makes it easy to navigate. Sights not to miss include the Royal Delftware Factory, where visitors can take guided tours, buy gifts and even participate in pottery workshops. Shops in the Market Square also sell pottery, but these vary in quality. Other sights include the gothic Old Church, with its leaning tower, the New Church, containing the mausoleum of William of Orange, and the Prisenhof Municipal Museum, with its superb collection of Dutch artwork. The Vermeer trail takes visitors on a tour of the celebrated Dutch painter’s life, from his baptism to his View of Delft cityscape and the Voldersgracht canal, one of the oldest in the city and the presumed site of his painting The Little Street.

Events in May and June
Delft hosts a number of exciting events throughout the year, and the late spring to summer period is one of the best times to visit the city. From 20th to 26th May 2013 there is a week long celebration of culinary delights, where visitors can enjoy a four course meal over four superb restaurants, with a leisurely sightseeing stroll between courses. Other events include the Delft Fringe, with pop-up theatre performances throughout the city from 16th to 19th May, and the street festival of Mooi Weer Spelen from 1st to 2nd June. City tours, canal tours and guided walks take place on a regular basis throughout spring and summer.

Weather
Weather wise, this time of year is ideal. From May onwards, milder springtime temperatures evolve into comfortable summery days. Average highs in May reach 20 degrees C (68F), while June and July reach average highs of around 22 degrees C (72F).

Food and accommodation
Delft has a fantastic array of food shops and cafes, offering treats such as molasses bread, homemade jams, Dutch cheeses and sweet and savoury pancakes. Accommodation in the town ranges from canal-side bed and breakfasts and friendly family run establishments to stylish boutique and luxury hotels. Bed and breakfasts start at around £45 per night, while luxury hotels in the centre can be booked from around £100 per night.

Classic holiday: Nice, South of France

Pleasantly Warm
With the summer on the horizon, everyone’s looking for another new and exciting hotspot to visit. The South of France never fails to attract a lot of attention, and during May, June and July, holidaymakers can expect temperatures to reach between 20 and 27 degrees C (69 – 81 F). With France’s famed cuisine, a beautiful pebbled shore, and the chance to enjoy both beach and city life, Nice is the ideal place to visit.

Located in the French Riviera (also known as the Côte d’Azur), Nice may be France’s fifth largest city but it still manages to retain a quaint charm about itself. Built on a steep incline, the city rises from the shoreline towards the mountains, offering stunning views and plenty of photo opportunities. Taking a scenic bus tour is a good idea if you don’t want to hike up some of the steeper parts of the city, whilst visiting Mont Boron will give you a beautiful view across the region.
See where Matisse lived
Whilst there is plenty of sun in Nice that will attract many people to long lazy days on the pebbled coast, there are a lot of sights to see. The ancient Roman ruins of Cemenelum are a great place to visit for archaeologists, whilst the city also has many museums including Musee Chagall and Mussee Matisse. If you’re a Matisse fan, then there’s an extra special treat too, as you can try to find the old house that the artist lived in during the 1920s: “1 place Charles Félix” is not distinguished with a plaque, but is a tall and old townhouse painted in yellow that’s easily spotted.
Things to do
One of the joys of Nice is the ability to explore the city’s flower and produce markets, stopping off at traditional French cafés now and then for a well deserved cup of coffee. Restaurants in this city vary from Michelin-starred extravaganzas to small family-run eateries offering the finest in French cuisine.
Another popular pastime in Nice is swimming, and though you might not be keen to sunbathe upon the pebbles, the warm water is extremely alluring. The beach drops away quickly, allowing a swimming depth to be found only metres offshore. If you’ve ever been frustrated with Mediterranean beaches where you have to wander quite a long way out before you can swim, Nice’s shore is ideal.

It won’t have escaped the attention of motor-racing fans that Nice is just half an hour from Monaco, where this year’s Formula 1 Monaco Grand Prix will be held on 26th May 2013.

Nice is a popular spot in Southern France for many reasons, including the wonderful cuisine, the warm temperatures, the variety of attractions on offer and the opportunity to enjoy a beach and city holiday at the same time. Meanwhile, with Cannes, Villefranche-sur-Mer and Antibes all within easy distances, having a day trip and a brief respite from the bustling city life is simple to do.

 

Australia Travel Tips

Note that EHICPlus does NOT offer insurance cover for trips to Australia, but our sister policy ANZPlus can give you a great travel insurance quote for Australia.

Ride in style

  • On your departure day call the airport or check on the internet to make sure your flight is on time.
  • Try to drink plenty of water, whether you’re driving or flying, so you don’t become dehydrated from the air-conditioning.
  • Reduce the pain of popping ears on the plane by sucking a lolly, chewing gum or gently blowing your nose.
  • Make regular stops when driving, and walk around on the plane to kick-start your circulation.
  • When travelling wear comfortable, loose shoes that you can slip on and off easily and that will allow for your feet to swell.

Customs: What You Can Bring Into Australia
The duty-free allowance in Australia is A$900 (US$720) or, for those under 18, A$450 (US$360). Anyone over 18 can bring in up to 250 cigarettes or 250 grams of cigars or other tobacco products, 2.25 litres (41 fluid oz.) of alcohol, and “dutiable goods” to the value of A$900 (US$720), or A$450 (US$360) if you are under 18.
You need not declare cash in any currency, and other currency instruments, such as traveller’s checks, under a value of A$10,000.

Because Australia is an island, it is free of many agricultural and livestock diseases. To keep it that way, strict quarantine applies to importing plants, animals, and their products, including food. “Sniffer” dogs at Australian airports detect these products (as well as drugs). Some items may be held for treatment and returned to you; others may be confiscated; and others may be held over for you to take with you when you leave the country. Amnesty trash bins are available before you reach the immigration counters in airport arrivals halls for items such as fruit.

Know the Aussie climate

  • Regularly apply repellents and only sleep with the window open if you have flyscreens to avoid insect bites.
  • Apply sunscreen regularly. If you are snorkelling or swimming, make sure your back and all other exposed areas are well covered. Four days lying on your tummy in agony does not spell fun!
  • Only swim in the safe area at the beach, between the red and yellow flags.
  • If walking for long periods of time, make sure you take a bottle of water or better yet, a sports drink, to replenish fluids quickly.

Stay safe and sound

  • Keep your shoes on when outside and wash your hands before eating.
  • Jetlag isn’t pretty, but fight the temptation to dive into the hotel bed at 2pm and go for a walk instead. Sticking to regular sleeping patterns will help you bounce back quicker. Also try essential oils such as eucalyptus, geranium, grapefruit, lavender, lemongrass or peppermint dabbed on your forehead or on the balls of your feet for an extra boost.
  • Going on a boat or a long car trip? Combat travel sickness by taking ginger tablets one hour before leaving. Peppermint, spearmint and lavender will also help.
  • If you’re trekking at high altitudes make sure you give your body time to adjust to the thinning air and carry adequate supplies.

Get around town

  • If you’re new to a city, the best way to get your bearings is to take a tour so you don’t spend hours with your nose in a guidebook.
  • If hiring a car carefully check it for dents and scratches and insist the rental company makes a written note to confirm them, so you’re not landed with a repair bill.
  • Collect local bus, train tram and monorail timetables so you can catch as much public transport as possible — it’s cheaper and often quicker than taking taxis.

Quick, super smart tips

  • To safeguard your holiday pics, whether on film or a digital memory card, take a photograph of your address on the first frame, then if they go missing you’ll have the best chance of getting them back.
  • Avoid making long distance calls from your hotel room, it’s expensive! Use reduced rate phone cards.
  • Divide your money into cash, traveller’s cheques and credit cards and keep each in different spots in case you lose your wallet.
  • Don’t use laundry services at hotels; instead go to a local Laundromat or take some clothes soap and wash underwear in the bathroom basin. It’s much cheaper.
  • Keep a travel journal, blog or Twitter account, so you have something to look back on when you get home.
  • Always check under the bed and in the cupboards before checking out of a room. You’d be amazed what people leave behind!
  • Late night shopping is different in most states in Australia – ask locals for the insider info.

Telephone and Communications
In an emergency dial 000 (not 999). This will link you to the ambulance, fire and police services.
Need an interpreter? The telecommunications provider Telstra offers a 24 hour translation and interpreter service. Dial 13 14 50. The local white pages telephone book will provide more information.

Healthcare for visitors to Australia
The Australian Government has signed Reciprocal Health Care Agreements (RHCA) with the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Slovenia, Malta and Italy. These agreements entitle you to some subsidised health services for essential medical treatment while visiting Australia.

Access to medical cover
Reciprocal Health Care Agreements cover treatment that is medically essential: this means any ill health or injury which occurs while you are in Australia and
requires treatment before you return home.

Your entitlements
As a resident of one of these countries, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Norway, Slovenia, Malta and Italy, you are entitled to the following health or injury treatments while you are in Australia:

  • free treatment as a public in-patient or out-patient in a public hospital
  • subsidised medicine under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS)
  • Medicare benefits for out-of-hospital treatment provided by a doctor.

Further information on Australian travel healthcare is here.

Christmas in Australia: what to expect

Note that EHICPlus does NOT offer insurance cover for trips to Australia, but our sister policy ANZPlus can give you a great travel insurance quote for Australia.

Here is what to expect from a traditional Christmas spent ‘Down Under’:

Climate: staying warm at Christmas!
Christmas in Australia is often very hot. While the northern hemisphere is in the middle of winter, Australians are baking in summer heat. It is not unusual to have Christmas Day well into the mid 30 degrees Celsius, or near 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Christmas shopping therefore is often done in shorts and T-shirts!

Christmas food
Most families try to be home together for Christmas and the main meal is eaten at lunch time. A traditional meal might include a barbecue with seafood such as prawns and lobsters along with the ‘traditional English’ food. The turkey and ham is often eaten cold with a selection of salads. A flaming Christmas plum pudding is added for dessert, or a Pavlova with lots of seasonal fruit. In the Australian gold rushes, Christmas puddings often contained a gold nugget. Today a small favor is baked inside. Whoever finds this knows s/he will enjoy good luck. Another treat is mince pies. On Christmas Eve, fish markets are often full of people queuing to buy their fresh seafood for Christmas day.

Beaches
Some Australians and particularly tourists often have their Christmas dinner at midday on a local beach; Bondi Beach in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs attracts thousands of people on Christmas Day. Other families enjoy their day by having a picnic. If they are at home, the day is punctuated by swimming in a pool, playing cricket out the backyard, and other outdoor activities.

Santa Claus
Santa Claus arrives in Australia… by surfboard! ‘Santa surfing’ is now popular down under as hundreds of people take to the warm oceans and ride the waves dressed as Santa. Many surfing clubs now hold Christmas charity events where participants done the famous red costume for charity.

Talking of Santa, in the hot Australian outback what better animal to pull Santa’s sleigh along than six white boomers? A boomer is a special kangaroo that Santa uses to pull his sleigh along the rough terrain of the outback. The boomers were made famous in the song by Rolf Harris and John Brown back in 1960. The boomers’ names are Jackaroo, Bluey, Two-up, Desert-head, Curly and Snow.

Traditions
Our traditional Christmas decorations in Australia are holly, ivy and mistletoe, dating back to Pagan times. The Australians however like to decorate their homes with Christmas Bush, a native plant that has small, red flowered leaves.

The warm weather allows Australians to enjoy a tradition which began in 1937: ‘Carols by Candlelight’ is held every year on Christmas Eve, where tens of thousands of people gather in the city of Melbourne to sing their favourite Christmas songs. The evening is lit by as many candles as there are people singing under a clean cut night sky. The sky with its Southern Cross stars is like a mirror. Sydney and the other capital cities also enjoy carols in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

Christmas Sport
Australia has some sporting Boxing Day traditions. A cricket test match is held on Boxing Day every year in the Melbourne Cricket Ground that can attract up to 90,000 spectators. And in Sydney, Boxing Day heralds the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race, a 630 nautical mile race that can last several days.

For Christmas with a difference, visit Australia!

Traditional Christmas Markets in Germany

As winter draws in and the holidays approach, towns and cities all over Europe begin to light up with traditional Christmas markets. The Christmas market tradition is strongest in northern Europe, with Munich having one of the largest and most famous. From late November to the end of December, market stalls spring up all over the city’s historic squares, selling traditional Bavarian Christmas crafts as well as food and drink.

A wide variety of wonderful markets
The Munich Christmas market is actually several markets. The largest Christkindlmarkt, or Christmas market, is found in Marienplatz and the surrounding streets, in front of the city hall or Rathaus. Sparkling with lights and ringing with the sounds of Christmas music, this traditional market sells a wide range of traditional gifts, from beeswax candles and wood carvings to sweets, gingerbread and beautiful traditional Bavarian glassware.

In addition to the large Christkindlmarket, a smaller specialist market, the Kripperlmarkt, sells mangers and figures for nativity scenes. This market has existed in Munich since 1757, and today sells figurines ranging from traditional hand-carved wooden models to modern synthetics. The Tollwood Christmas Market is an international market, featuring crafts, food and performers from all around the world. These are only the most prominent markets; there are 20 other Christmas markets scattered around the historic city, ranging from a medieval market to a market at the airport.

Keeping warm
December in Munich can be chilly, with temperatures dipping below zero in the evenings. On cold winter nights, shoppers in the markets can warm up with mulled wine, gingerbread, baked apples and traditional Bavarian cakes and pastries.

Other Christmas attractions in Munich
The markets themselves aren’t the only attraction in Munich during the Christmas season. The town hall hosts daily concerts of traditional music on its outdoor balconies, and many of the markets have their own music and entertainment. Inside the town hall itself, a “Heavenly Workshop” for children provides arts and crafts with staff from the city’s Children’s Museum. Children can bake Christmas cookies and dress up in sparkling Christmas costumes. Ice skating is another popular pastime, with several ice rinks including one at the airport market.

Opening times
Munich’s Christmas markets officially open on 30th November; the main market closes on Christmas Eve, while the Tollwood market continues until New Year’s Eve. The market opens at 10 am (9 am on Saturdays) and stays open until 8.30 pm, except on Sundays when it closes at 7.30 pm.

 

Need inspiration? Inspire Me can help you out!

Looking for inspiration for your next trip? EasyJet has launched a useful new feature on its website called Inspire Me that lets you search for flights by the price you wish to pay, the type of trip you are looking for, and when you want to go. For example you might want to fly within the next 30 days from Gatwick for a weekend break with flights costing no more than £95.

Each destination appears on a map with a photograph, a summary of what the destination has to offer, the price and times of the flights, and a link through to a more detailed travel guide. You can then book your flights directly with easyJet, which will often give you the best deal on flights anyway.

We think it’s a really quick and fun way to find your next European holiday, and remember, wherever you travel in Europe you’ll always get great value travel insurance with EHICPlus.