KOREA • NORWAY • ENGLAND • NETHERLANDS
(more to come)
— Get your bearings with a City Tour — We’ve found the best introduction to a city the size of Seoul is to take a city tour via a hop-on hop off bus. The Seoul City Tour buses go round and round a two-hour course, stopping at a dozen attractions so that folks can get off, stay a while, and catch a later bus to go to the next attraction. Twelve dollars buys rides from nine in the morning till six at night, which may be the best bargain in town. There are two daytime tours, each covering different attractions, and two slightly shorter ones that go at night.
— Above ground or below, that is the question — While taxis are reasonably priced, subways are a good option for those who can decipher maps with so many interconnections that they look like motherboards. Seoul has one of the longest subway systems in the world, so be prepared to walk a good distance if you need to transfer. The hike between connecting trains may be underground, but in many cases it will require both time and energy.
— Eating in Hapjeong — The lower level of Mercenatpolis Mall has a spur called Asian Alley, where a a dozen or more restaurants offer good food at a reasonable price. The only problem: few of the proprietors (or customers) speak English. If you have a special request, such as “mild sauce” or “chicken, not pork” it’s best to find someone who will write it down in Korean so you can show it to the waiter. Of course, you can always point to a picture in the window and take your chances as to the ingredients!
Another Mercenatpolis option: There’s a great market on the very lowest level. The prices are reasonable and the selection terrific. The only thing we couldn’t find, surprisingly enough, is bread — but there’s a long row of snacks and crackers that can serve as the base for sandwiches.Another option: buy gim (a seaweed wrap like Japanese nori) and use it as a base for a slice of cheese. Note: McDonald’s delivers. Outside the Mall, you’ll find a row of yellow mini-bikes that deliver hot bulgogi burgers to nearby homes and hotels.
— Beating the Weather — Except for a few months in the spring and the fall, Seoul weather is, by most people’s standards, either too hot or too cold. Yet the majority of its attractions are outdoors. Visitors and locals alike spend inclement days shopping, wandering and eating in one of the city’s vast underground malls. Try Coex in the Gangham district. It’s one of the largest underground malls in Asia.
—Namdaemon Market — It’s jammed with people and crammed with products, many of which are handmade. There are also reasonably priced, and comparatively quiet, restaurants.
— Rent a hanbok — Not only will you look beautiful, but the $20 fee will get you admittance to one of the royal palaces.
— Spend time at the airport — No, this is not a joke. The Seoul Incheon Airport has a casino, seven gardens, a museum, an area for “cultural experiences” that occasionally includes a cooking lesson and, I kid you not, a golf course.
• AROUND THE COUNTRY
— Visit the DMZ — The Korean Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea is about 35 miles from Seoul. It’s most easily accessible by either a half-day or whole day-tour.
• AN OVERALL VIEW
— Saving Money — Norway has a reputation for being high priced, and in many ways, it is. Food is outrageous, taxis are expensive, and the designer goods for which Scandinavia is famous are stratospheric — but then, designer goods are also pricey in New York. Ordinary souvenirs, from mugs to magnets, aren’t much more expensive than they are in the U.S.
— Eat well by eating early — Most hotels routinely include breakfast in the price of a room; if not, upgrade to a package that does. Norwegian breakfast buffets are laden with fish such as salmon (both smoked and fresh) and herring, cold cuts, eggs (scrambled, hard-boiled and in a casserole), rolls and hard-crust bread, fruit… the list goes on. It will fill you for the day; no lunch needed.
— Grocery shop for local foods — Save money by avoiding restaurants and picking up food at a grocery store. We found market prices not much more than those in the States. On some things, such as Norwegian specialties like smoked salmon and cheese, they were actually lower. Note: small convenience stores are easier to find than larger grocery stores, but more expensive. But beware, some of the larger stores are closed on Sunday.
— Take out instead of dining in — Taking food out is approximately ten percent less than eating in. Not bad for carrying a salad back to your hotel room or, weather permitting, finding a comfortable bench in a nearby park. Note: A Burger King salad is roughly twice the price and half the size of a similar BK salad in the States.
— Avoid taxi pick-up fees — Taxi drivers add an extra fee if you call to arrange a pick up. We could have saved $12 had we hailed a taxi on the street rather than calling from the hotel.
— Beat the 2 p.m. fee increase when using a taxi — Rates, as well as fees, rise in the late afternoon rush hour, which seems to start at the not-particularly-busy time of 2 p.m.
— Use the airport express — Riding the express train from downtown Oslo city to the airport was roughly $25 for two of us. The price quoted by a taxi (one we hailed rather than calling to pick us up!) was $100. Note: The ticket machines at the train station don’t accept cash, meaning that if the Help Desk is closed, you’ll have to use a credit card.
— Watch the calendar and the clock — When scheduling your trip, take the calendar into account. The weather may be fine in early May, but many of the attractions don’t open until mid-May and close in early October. In addition, we found that many attractions were closed on Sunday.
— A town made for walking — While Bergen has fine bus transportation, it’s an easy city for walking. Our hotel, the Scandic Ornen, which was built in 2014, is in the new area of town, which is filled with modern, crisply angled buildings. No problem. The new part of town is less than a 10-minute walk from the often pricier old part of town.
— Food with a view — For one of the best views in town, go to the Roast Restaurant and Bar, which is on 13th floor of the Scandic Ornen hotel. We can’t speak for the food as the restaurant was closed on Sunday, but we were allowed to sneak a peak Monday morning, and the view was glorious.
— Room with a view — If you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to book Room 1223 at the Scandic Ornen Hotel. The windows are slightly smaller than those in the 13th floor restaurant, but the view is a 24-hour delight.
— Recommended tour — You can hike 418 steps to see an overview of the Art Nouveau City that’s built on seven islands or you can take the double decker City Bus to reach the viewpoint. Either way it’s a terrific view, but the bus will get you there faster, thus leaving you more walk-around time afterwards.
— Choose your cabin carefully — When booking a cabin, ask what is meant by “partially obstructed view.” A room may not have a window that’s partially hidden by a post, but it may be on the walking deck. This means that unless you want early-morning joggers to peer into your cabin as they run their rounds, you’ll have to close your shade, which is, to our mind, a definite obstruction.
— Bring shampoo — The ship provides plenty of towels and body soap, but if you prefer shampoo and conditioner for your hair, you’d best bring your own.
— Last minute excursions — It’s always a choice: Do you sign up for tours in advance, thus guaranteeing a spot for even the most popular activities? Or do you wait until the last minute, thus ensuring that you won’t be stuck having to pay for taking a hike during an unexpected snow storm? We opted to wait. No guarantees here, but during our cruise not a single tour was sold out in advance of the scheduled date.
— Find Anne Frank’s childhood haunts
• To get to the Riviernbuurt neighborhood: Tram #4 from Amsterdam’s Central Station to Waalstraat Street.
• The Franks’ apartment building is at Merwedeplein 37.
• The statue of Anne is located in the park near her apartment building.
• The bookshop where Otto Frank bought the autograph book that became Anne’s diary is at Rooseveltlaan 62.
• Anne attended the Montessori school at Niersstraat 41-43.
— Long lines at the Secret Annex — Allow plenty of waiting time if want to see where the Franks hid for two long years. The lines often go around the block. It’s one of the most visited attractions in the Netherlands.
— Meet Anne’s childhood friend — Go to Youtube to see videos of Anne Frank’s closest childhood friend, Holocaust survivor Hannah Pik Goslar.