A taste of Northern Culture: A city break in Gothenburg, Sweden

A city break provides the perfect antidote to the usual summer perils of sunburn and sand in your picnic hamper. Not only will you avoid the bustle of crowded resort towns, a city break can also give you a genuine insight into the culture of the country you are visiting.

A fashionable destination
For the traveller set on selecting something a little bit different this summer, a journey north to Scandinavia can be an inviting prospect. Always a popular destination, Scandinavia is especially fashionable at the moment thanks to its cultural exports in television and literature. And where better to sample this cultural smorgasbord of the north than in Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg?

No culture shock
Exploring the city may remind Brits of home. Crossing the Gothia river, leaving a traditional pub on your way to visiting the fashionable clothing shops along cobblestone streets, you may understand why the locals refer to their city as “Little London”. Gothenburg is like Britain’s capital in many ways. Indeed, the big surprise for many visitors is the almost complete lack of any culture shock that will greet you. Along with the comfortingly familiar blend of historic and stylishly modern buildings that characterise the city’s landscape, you will probably find that most of the people you meet will speak perfect English – and most are more than happy to practice their second language with visitors!

Gothenburg Culture Festival in August
Gothenburg makes for an exciting destination throughout the summer, as the city transforms itself into one big venue for the extensive programme of events that make up the Gothenburg Culture festival. The 2015 festival runs between the 11th and 16th of August, and includes everything from street performances and concerts to exhibitions of renowned artists and environmental sciences. It is a truly mixed bag of entertainment.

Climate
Gothenburg temperatures are generally a little fresher than most of the British Isles in the summer, and 20C (68F) is viewed as a good seasonal average. Take a day trip out to the coast, though – to stunning Saltholmen, or to the quiet coastal town of Marstrand – and you will enjoy a summer’s day every bit as bright, peaceful and picturesque as anything Europe can offer.

Dining
Whether you find yourself dining by the coast, or perhaps in the city’s feskekörka (literally “fish church”), fresh seafood is the dining experience of the city. Meatballs may be the national dish, but fish is Gothenburg’s main passion. Drinking and dining can be costly hobbies in all parts of Sweden, but you will usually find that the quality of service makes up for the higher prices. Equally, accommodation is a little pricier than you might expect in the UK. And, while every price point is catered for, you may find that you are getting a little less for your money than you would expect back home if you always choose the budget option.

Travel Information
The good news is that not everything about your trip is expensive. Gothenburg has great connections to the outside world, with train links to Norway, Denmark, and to the Swedish capital Stockholm. The city has a ferry port and two airports, both offering direct flights to and from the UK. Flights out of Heathrow run twice a day and prices can be very competitive, with a return trip easily coming in below £150 per person if you are flexible with your travel arrangements. Similarly, the exchange rate has become increasingly attractive to Britons in the past year, so cash in your sterling, buy a few thousand kroner, and make this summer the perfect time to live out your dreams of a Nordic adventure!

Holiday Inspiration: Combine history and beautiful beaches in Zadar, Croatia

While Dubrovnik is the best-known of Croatia’s Adriatic cities, Zadar, located further to the north, has typically been overlooked by British travellers. This is a shame, because Zadar has a similar blend of medieval and Renaissance history with stunning natural beauty while still remaining relatively uncrowded, especially early in the season.

Beaches
The Zadar region is home to a mix of both sandy and pebbly beaches running all along the coastline. Kolovare beach is the traditional destination for locals, while tourists often gravitate to beach camps outside the city itself which offer a wide variety of activities, including boating, surfing and more.

Some of the region’s best beaches are on the island of Pasman, where our photograph at the top of this newsletter was taken; a boat trip to Uglijan island also gives access to neighbouring Pasman, far enough from the tourists of Zadar to be pleasantly peaceful, but close enough to be perfect for an afternoon journey.

Climate
Zadar’s Adriatic climate is hot in summer, but not scorchingly so; average highs in June hover around 26C (79F), while in July, the hottest month, they can approach 30C (86F). Sea temperatures are mild, and cool evenings are a popular time for strolls along the promenade or through the old town. Bars, restaurants and cafes typically stay open late.

The old town and more modern attractions
The heart of Zadar is the old town, a compact medieval city with narrow, cobbled streets. Highlights include the many historic churches, the oldest of which is St Simeon’s. This church houses the resplendent 14th-century silver reliquary of Saint Simeon, the city’s patron saint. Other historic sites include the church of St Donat, now a museum, and the Roman forum.

More modern attractions include the Sea Organ, built in 2005 along the waterfront promenade. This intricate network of underwater pipes turns the action of the waves into haunting music.

Medieval Festival in July
The community is proud of its medieval history: in July, Zadar plays host to a medieval festival, complete with parades and tournaments. Look out for displays of marksmanship with the crossbow, a traditional weapon still held in high regard here.

Kornati Islands National Park
Just south of Zadar lies the Kornati archipelago, a group of over 100 small islands. Many of these are part of Kornati Islands National park, a protected area of stunning beauty. Cruises through the mostly-uninhabited islands offer a chance to see a wide range of natural environments in a small area, as well as an opportunity to sunbathe or swim in isolated (though still popular) spots like the sandy Lojena beach.

An update on car hire following the DVLA changes

New rules
The following information is a summary of the DVLA advice site. This information does not apply to people living in Northern Ireland.

Since 8 June 2015, the paper counterpart to the photocard driving licence isn’t valid and is no longer issued by DVLA. The paper counterpart was introduced to display driving licence details that could not be included on the photocard.

A new computer system has now taken over from the paper counterpart, which includes some vehicle categories you are entitled to drive and any endorsement/penalty points.

Since 8 June 2015, new penalty points (endorsements) are only recorded electronically, and won’t be printed or written on either photocard licences or paper driving licences.

If you are hiring a car on holiday, the hire car company will need to see your driving licence. Some companies will also want information on any endorsements/penalty points too.

You should check with the hire company what they need to see when you hire a vehicle. If you’re asked for evidence of what vehicles you can drive or confirmation of any penalty points, you can request a unique code from the government’s website which allows you to share your driving licence details, or you can download a summary of your driving licence record. The code lasts for up to 72 hours and will allow the hire companies to make any necessary checks.

If you cannot generate a code online then you can call 0300 083 0013 and DVLA will provide you with a code.

Alternatively, you can call DVLA on 0300 790 6801 and leave permission for your driving record to be checked verbally by a nominated hire company. This also applies if you have a paper licence that was issued before 1998.

Not all vehicle hire companies will ask for this information and we advise that you check with your hire company.

Useful links
For full details, see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/driving-licence-changes
To generate your code, go to: https://www.gov.uk/view-driving-licence

Our conclusion and simple advice:
The BBC has reported that some people have had problems using the new system.

Our advice is simple:

1. If you’re hiring a car, then just before you set off on your holiday, generate a code just to be on the safe side in case your car hire firm asks for it. You’ll need your driving licence number, your National Insurance number, and the postcode associated with your driving licence. BE CAREFUL! The code only lasts for 72 hours, so do this as close to when you leave your house as you can.

2. There are lots of pitfalls for the unwary when hiring a car abroad. You can find out more on this below, and at our sister site CHEW Insurance.

Special offer: 10% discount on Car Hire Excess Waiver Insurance
Most car rental companies charge an excess if you have an accident. This means that you will be responsible for the first part of the claim.

The part you are responsible for is called the “excess” and it varies from one car hire company to another. However, it’s usually between £500 and £2,000 depending on the vehicle type you rent – but it can be substantially more on high-value cars.

You can protect yourself against these charges by purchasing an excess waiver, sometimes known as a Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW). Some companies will try to sell you a waiver when you book the hire car, often with hard-sell tactics, but it can cost over £20 a day! It’s better to buy your policy in the UK before you travel: you’ll save money and get more comprehensive cover too.

So if you’re hiring a car when you travel, go to CHEW Insurance and use discount codeJUL15 for a 10% discount.

UK Driving Licence changes on 8th June could affect your holiday car hire

The abolition of the paper counterpart to the UK driving licence is threatening to cause travel headaches for holidaymakers planning on hiring a car abroad during their holidays – but there are solutions to hand.

From 8th June 2015, only the photocard licence will be valid in the DVLA’s shake-up of driving licences, which will mean all points and endorsements will now be recorded centrally on a computer database. Police, insurance companies and car rental agencies in the UK will be able to access driver data via an online service, by telephone or by post.

However, concerns exist that vehicle rental companies in foreign locations such as airports and hotels, which are extremely popular with British holidaymakers, are unaware of the changes and will still require customers to produce their paper counterparts before releasing hire cars.

Important steps to take before leaving the UK

If you plan on renting a hire car during your holiday abroad, there are some important steps you should take before departing for the airport:

• Log onto the DVLA website (www.dvla.gov.uk) with your driving licence number to obtain a code which you should give to the car rental agency when you arrive to collect your vehicle. However, this code is only valid for 72 hours, which is fine if you are scheduled to collect your hire car on your arrival at the airport or hotel.

• If you aren’t collecting your car until later in your holiday, you’ll need to log onto the DVLA website while abroad to obtain your code. Watch out for roaming charges: use an internet café, if available, or check with your mobile phone provider if a bundle can be added to your account so that you can browse the internet at a competitive rate.

• Retain your paper counterpart and take it with you on holiday, even though it has no validity in the UK. If the car rental agency insists on seeing it, you can produce it, irrespective of whether it is needed at home.

• Log onto the DVLA website and access your driving licence record, which will summarise any convictions, points or endorsements held against you. Print it out and take it with you abroad, so that you have more evidence of your right to drive if needed.

By taking these simple steps, you can depart for your holiday reassured that you have all the necessary paperwork to be able to rent a car, without worrying whether news of the driving licence changes has filtered through to your destination country.

You might also want to consider Car Hire Excess Waiver Insurance. Get a quote at our sister site CHEW Insurance and get great value cover today.

Tuscany: Beaches, wineries, and unmissable cities

The natural beauty of Tuscany, a region in central Italy, is every bit as mesmerising and varied as the picture postcards suggest, from the cypress-lined olive groves, to the wineries, to the long, untainted golden sands and beaches along the coast. This is a land where a gentle drive or peaceful saunter through the undulating countryside is an absolute joy, as you look down on an isolated farmhouse sitting amid swathes of lush green fields or over a sea of golden sunflowers beneath the rich blue sky. Yet a visit to Tuscany is far from complete without exploring some of the region’s magnificent cities, where you can witness the birth of Renaissance art or the splendour of Italian architecture – and every city is as individual and unique as the last.

Volterra

Sitting dramatically on a hilltop, the ancient city of Volterra is arguably one of the most impressive day trip destinations in the world. Hidden behind a cinnamon-brown wall of sienna stone, Volterra is – in literature at least – a city of vampires, a reputation you’ll appreciate as you wander with your partner through the eerily silent streets, bathed in the dark shadows of traditional Italian houses. From the grand Piazza dei Priori, encircled by medieval buildings, to the breath-taking Roman amphitheatre, Volterra reflects two thousand years of history yet is so small that it can be easily navigated on foot in a day. In truth, though, no guidebook can do this city justice or enable the tourist to soak up the remarkable atmosphere; a personal visit is absolutely essential.

Pisa

Famous for Torre pendente di Pisa, Pisa is an eternally popular university city. Arrive early and you can appreciate Earth’s most famous leaning tower without the hordes and take a more leisurely climb to the top for a view over the Piazza dei Miracoli and the surrounding buildings. Beyond the Square of Miracles, you’ll adore exploring the narrow streets with their smattering of traditional craft shops or the Piazza dei Cavaleiri, once the headquarters of the Knights of St Stephen. The city museums – the Opera del Duomo and Museo delle Sinopie – are also well worth a visit.

Florence

It was here that the Renaissance was born, but Florence is not a city only for die-hard art enthusiasts. With a fine collection of museums, churches and palaces housing some of the world’s most prized artistic works, art and architecture blend seamlessly. Among the must-see sites are the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, whose white-edged terracotta dome dominates the skyline, the library of San Lorenzo, with its exhibition of Michelangelo’s works, and the Ponte Vecchio which spans the River Arno. An afternoon appreciating the Giardini di Boboli is a great outdoor activity, with its statue of Andromeda and other fine sculptures.

So… when do you want to go?
These are only three of Tuscany’s finest cities and with others – Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca and Arezzo – to explore, you’ll be spoilt for choice on your visit to Italy’s most beautiful region.

The average high temperature in June is a pleasant 27C (81F), rising to 30C (86F) in July and August. However, July and August are peak times, so visit either in June if you can, or September, when the temperature high is still 27C (81F) and the queues are a little shorter.

Vienna: The city of music, cake, and so much more!

A couple of members of our team have just come back from a wonderful few days in Vienna. Here, they tell us all about it, and share the best places to go.

Without doubt, Vienna, the capital of Austria, is one of the most charming cities in Europe, if not the world.

Often described as the “City of Music”, it unsurprisingly has a wealth of entertainment for music lovers, and has been synonymous with classical music for centuries. MozartBeethoven and Strauss all lived here and in fact, the former homes of both Mozart and Beethoven are open to the public – both are highly recommend places to visit whilst in the city (although maybe not so much if you have trouble with stairs, because Beethoven’s apartment is a somewhat challenging climb up four flights of a spiral stone staircase!). However, your reward is to see one of Beethoven’s own pianos, complete with five pedals!

There are also several venues where you can watch a live classical music concert. If you are familiar with the world famous New Year’s Day concert from Vienna, it takes place at the Musikverein in central Vienna. The “Golden Hall” of the Musikverein is absolutely spectacular, with its ornate chandeliers and architecture, and many don’t consider a visit to Vienna complete without watching a concert performed here. The “Mozart in Historical Costumes” concert is especially good and even includes some light-hearted opera! Vienna also has a beautiful opera house where tickets to performances are readily available on most days, and in the evenings you can watch a live video feed from the opera house, free of charge, on a big screen outside.

Of course, Vienna has much more to offer than just music.

Lovers of paintings will appreciate the Museum of Art History, where you can see the works of famous artists such as Raphael and Rubens, or you can head on over the road to the Albertina to see original paintings by Monet and Picasso.

Architecturally, Vienna is stunning, reflecting its imperial past, and almost every road in the city centre has beautiful buildings for you to admire. The Ringstrasse, which is the main road encircling the city centre, is lined with numerous awe-inspiring palaces, and many of the city’s biggest hotels are also converted palaces! There are lots of beautiful parks too, and the old town doesn’t get too crowded, making this a relaxed city break. The temperature is pleasant to walk around, without being too hot: the average high through the summer is around 27C (81F).

At the centre of the city is Stephansdom, the beautiful St. Stephen’s Cathedral, from which you can grab a stunning view of the city from its steeple. This is a particularly good landmark to use as a reference point when searching for potential places to stay: because it is at the heart of Vienna, any hotel within the vicinity is in an ideal location – particularly if you wish to discover Vienna by foot (which is widely considered to be the best way, despite there being an excellent transportation system, including an easily accessible tram).

Foodies will be in their element in Vienna because the cuisine is exceptional. First, there’s the famous Weiner Schnitzel (head to Figlmüller if you want to experience the real deal – a massive schnitzel that overhangs the plate – but you’ll have to book ahead, because it understandably gets very busy). Then there’s the delicious and world-famous Sachertorte, a chocolate cake with apricot jam created in 1832 for Prince Wenzel von Metternich; if you want to experience the truly authentic version, then the Hotel Sacher is the only place to go!

If cake is something you like – and let’s face it who doesn’t! – then you will be in heaven once you see the selection of freshly prepared cakes on offer in the cafes all over the city.  There are so many to choose from, but if you like history then you can visit Café Centralwhere Sigmund Freud, Trotsky, Lenin used to visit, or Café Mozart which serves not only the most delicious cakes, but also a wonderful breakfast. The hot chocolate there is probably the best in the world, and the delicious brioche croissant will set you up nicely for the day.

The cafes in Vienna are coffee houses above all else though, so make sure you know what you want to drink before you enter one, as these specialist coffee connoisseurs will stare at you blankly if you simply order a coffee! The true traditional way to drink coffee in Vienna, and still the most popular way today, is the “Melange” (oddly pronounced in a French way). It is milky, and similar to a cappuccino. At the best coffee houses it is served in a quaint cup and saucer, usually with a small chocolate or nougat on the side and always with a glass of water as well, so you definitely won’t leave the café thirsty…unless you eat too much cake that is!

Car Hire Excess Waiver Insurance

Most car rental companies charge an excess if you have an accident. This means that you will be responsible for the first part of the claim.

The part you are responsible for is called the “excess” and it varies from one car hire company to another. However, it’s usually between £500 and £2,000 depending on the vehicle type you rent – but it can be substantially more on high-value cars.

You can protect yourself against these charges by purchasing an excess waiver, sometimes known as a Super Collision Damage Waiver (SCDW). Some companies will try to sell you a waiver when you book the hire car, often with hard-sell tactics, but it can cost over £20 a day! It’s better to buy your policy in the UK before you travel: you’ll save money and get more comprehensive cover too.

So if you’re hiring a car when you travel, go to CHEW Insurance and get great value cover today.

Six Tips to Stop Mosquitos Bothering You

With winter now firmly behind us, spring signals the start of the eagerly awaited holiday season. However, the warmer weather also brings with it a less desirable prospect – pesky mosquitos!

If you’ve ever been plagued by these annoying blood-sucking pests on holiday, you’ll know just how annoying the itching that follows a bite is, and how the ghastly blotchy lumps they leave all over newly sun-kissed arms and legs can really ruin the look of a beautiful suntan.

If you’re holidaying within Europe it’s very unlikely that the most dangerous consequence of mosquito bites, malaria, will affect you (although it’s not completely unheard of, it is extremely rare, and as such is dubbed “Airport Malaria” because the mosquitoes carrying it must have hitched a ride onboard an aircraft that was previously in an affected country). However, even if you are visiting a Malaria-free country, mosquito bites will still be something that you want to avoid.

With this in mind, below are some tips that may help keep them at bay and allow you to enjoy your holiday in peace:

1. Insect repellant spray
This is the most obvious and popular way to avoid getting bitten, probably because it is also considered to be the most effective. There are many good insect repellents available, some stronger than others and so not all are suitable for children, but what most have in common is that they contain DEET. Some people prefer not to use these strong repellents because they are concerned about the potential for skin irritation and also possible health risks associated with their use. No such risks have been conclusively proven, but some people prefer to err on the side of caution anyway and so for these people, there are now plenty of insect repellents marketed as “DEET free” available in High Street stores, meaning that there is a repellent for everyone. How effective a repellant is does tend to depend on how strong the active ingredient is though and how often it is applied, so if you are using a DEET free repellant, you may wish to take some other precautions as well.

2. Citronella
The essential oil citronella is widely regarded as an effective natural repellant of mosquitoes. It also has a very pleasant citrus scent, so is much more appealing to use than some commercial insect repellant which can have quite an unpleasant smell. You can buy citronella-based insect repellant sprays branded as “Natural Insect Repellent” and frequently sold wherever DEET repellants are sold. You can also purchase pure essential citronella oil from a health shop and make your own repellants. You’ll find various “recipes” online for this. Be careful though: don’t put undiluted oil onto your skin, don’t put anything on broken skin or irritated skin, and discontinue use if any sensitivity occurs. Another very effective way of applying citronella oil for lasting protection is by mixing a small amount with your usual body cream or after sun lotion. Citronella candles are also available and are excellent for lighting and placing on your table if you are eating or drinking outside in the evenings.

3. Long-sleeved tops and long bottoms
It may sound obvious, but if you choose clothing which ensures your arms and legs are covered when you are out in the evening, you will significantly reduce the amount of bites you receive. This does not eliminate mosquito bites altogether of course, because they have been known to bite through thin clothing and even bite areas of the body which you cannot cover, such as eyelids! However, the more flesh you can cover in the evening, the fewer bites you find yourself with, so it is definitely worth bearing this in mind when deciding what to pack for your evening wear.

Avoiding bites when you are out in the evening is one thing, but many bites occur when you are in your hotel room. So, in order to reduce the number of bites you fall victim to whilst sleeping, the following tips may help:

4. Keep the bathroom door closed
Mosquitoes absolutely love humid conditions and are therefore find bathrooms extremely attractive. Keeping the bathroom window closed will help a great deal, but is not always practical if there is a lot of steam. You can however still avoid the mosquitoes that flock to your bathroom from biting you while you sleep by always remembering to close the bathroom door behind you and thus confining them to the bathroom only.

5. Air-conditioning
In some rooms, especially apartments and studios and a lot of budget hotels, air-conditioning is only available at extra cost. Some people do not like to pay a supplement for it and so think that they’ll just sleep with their balcony door open instead. Not only is this an inefficient way of keeping cool in hot climates, not to mention a security risk if you are on a lower floor, but it is also a recipe for disaster if mosquitoes are about as they will flock to you like a moth to a flame! Pay the extra for air-conditioning: you’ll not only be more comfortable because you’ll be cool at night, but it will also allow you to keep the door closed and so keep the mosquitoes out – a supplement worth paying for this reason alone!

6. Fans
Air-conditioning is obviously the best way to keep cool, but not all hotels/apartments have it and so a fan is not only a useful appliance to help keep you cool at night, but it is also excellent for keeping mosquitoes off of you while you sleep. They truly hate fans as they are literally blown away by them, thus making it impossible for them to land on you! Some hotels have fans available for hire, but if not and you are particularly prone to mosquito bites, you can either buy a cheap one while abroad, or pack a small one and take it with you if space permits. Plug it in next to the bed before going to sleep and as long as you can handle the noise, it will stop mosquitoes from getting anywhere near you.

Use one or more of these tips and have a great mosquito-free holiday!

Inspiration: Take a holiday in the sun in Zante

You may never have been to Zante, also known as Zakynthos, but if you’ve ever flicked through a European holiday brochure you have almost certainly seen a photograph of this island, the most southerly of the Greek Ionian islands.

Smugglers Cove is what the island of Zante is most famous for, and it’s perhaps not difficult to understand why. Its beautiful azure blue water against its pale sand makes this beautiful cove picturesque enough, but it has an added and very unique feature in the form of a shipwreck!

Back in 1980, a ship smuggling cigarettes was being pursued by the Greek Navy when it hit rocks in bad weather, and the remains of the resulting shipwreck are still on the beach it washed up on several decades later.

Only accessible by boat, Smugglers Cove is a must-see sight when visiting Zante and so organised trips are widely available. There are no shops or facilities in this small cove though, so visitors must remember to bring (and take back with them!) anything which they may need while there, such as drinks and parasols for shelter from the strong Greek sunshine.

Temperatures can be quite warm and sunny, reaching 27-30C (80–86F) between June and September, so you’ll definitely need your sunscreen!

Something else which Zante is famous for is its Loggerhead turtles, of the species “Caretta Caretta”. These endangered turtles choose the beaches of Zante as their nesting ground year after year and so some beaches around the bay of Lagana are often guarded between the months of June until October and access may be either totally prohibited or subject to restrictions such as where you can sunbathe.

There is still plenty of accessible beach for sun-worshippers though, so these localised restrictions are a small price to pay for the on-going preservation of these amazing animals and the possibility of seeing one if you are lucky, when out on a “Turtle Spotting” boat trip, or even when relatively close to the shore on your own pedalo!

These two unique and fascinating attractions aside, the glorious beaches of Zante, its clear waters, fabulous Greek cuisine and varied nightlife (which ranges from quiet tavernas to bustling nightclubs for the younger generation) make it an ideal summer holiday destination.

The only downside is the airport! Extremely small and under-developed it does not make for the most relaxing start or end to a holiday, but if you can tolerate that then you really will be rewarded with a fantastic holiday!