Netherlands train hack: 7 euros day return to anywhere

It’s important when traveling in Western countries to look out for¬†the cheapest way to travel. If you don’t, you’ll be watching your funds dwindle so rapidly, you’ll be in your overdraft before you can spell waffle. Travel in Europe isn’t always that expensive if you know where to look. Ryan air makes it the cheapest continent to fly around and Megabus is a handy way to get around the UK (used to be all of western Europe, shed a tear). The most expensive way to travel in Europe is definitely by train. Here in the Netherlands, however, there is a beaming ray of hope. Group tickets.

There are group tickets in a lot of countries, I’m sure of it, but I wouldn’t know where to find them and how to buy them, but being with a resident of the Netherlands, I’ve been introduced to the secret world of group tickets. This is how you go about getting them.

First of all you need a few things.

Facebook account
Passport
Bank account that can send transfers (one without charges in the Netherlands would be best)
access to a printer
Exact date you want to travel
Location of where you’re going from or going to (the bigger the city, the easier to find tickets)

If you have all of those things and you’re up for spending a bit of a time to save some money, you can try the next step.

Add this group NS group tickets – Rotterdam. There are also groups in Amsterdam, Groningen and all the other big cities. In the groups, you will find posts with dates and locations like this…

screen-shot-2016-12-26-at-9-25-42-pm

Once you find the date you wish to travel, you join the group where you can exchange bank details and email accounts. How it works is that the main buyer will pay for all the tickets, but only once they have collected enough money to pay for 10 tickets. 10 is the maximum number of tickets and for 10 tickets it will cost them 70 euros, meaning you pay 7 euros per ticket for the return journey. You can get as many tickets as you like, as long as it adds up and if you’re traveling in a group of 10, you can just buy the group ticket yourself. However, this is highly unlikely, so the groups should do you well.

Once the buyer has received enough to buy 10 tickets, they will send you a message to let you know and then you will receive your ticket in an e-mail. Open the ticket and you will have to put in some personal details such as name, location of where you’re going, and date of birth. Then, straight to the printer and voila.

You need your passport or at least some form of photo ID to travel on this ticket and if you want to hack it even further, you can get off the train at a city that is on the way to where you’re going, but make sure the train you get on afterwards came from the same destination that you came from.

Enjoy this little hack and if you want to understand the kind of money you’ll save, a ticket from Rotterdam to Amsterdam is usually about 24 euros.

 

 

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My Megabus journey from hell: part one

If you’ve read a few of my posts, you will know how much I rave on about the Megabus and it super deals. Yeah, sometimes you do have to question how a company can afford to take people across Western Europe for a pound a journey, but still provide a good service. Well, that good service completely vanished yesterday when my usual Megabus trip from Brussels (I make this journey a lot) took me 12 hours than I expected.

Bear in mind, the journey is usually 7 or 8 hours, so to turn into a 20 hour trip, some serious fuck-ups must have went down – and they did.

Whilst waiting in Brussels, we decided to call megabus to enquire about its 14:00 service. The service had an oil leak in Germany and needed to be replaced by another German company. Normal procedure so far. That bus turned up 2 hours late to Brussels and we headed on our journey.

It was in Calais, France that things went ‘tits up’. The coach driver pulled up at the ferry dock and announced that another bus was on its way and he has no more information. A few minutes later, the bus driver is informed that the coach will take 45 minutes. Now, Megabus has had 4 hours to come up with this replacement, how can it not be here waiting for us already?

We wait for over an hour and a half before the replacement turns up. That means by the time we arrived in London, considering ferry times and border controls, we were 6 hours late.

Being 6 hours late to a 7 hour journey can piss you off, but when you arrive at 2 in the morning, things get worse. First, your bus has definitely gone without you, but even worse, there are actually no services left in the whole station until the next morning. In other words, Megabus dropped me off in London, homeless. I called them to ask what they are going to do and they couldn’t decide on an answer. One of them suggested sleeping in the station. If I’d prepared it wouldn’t be so bad, but I had no extra food (I was starving by this point) and no extra money for my onward journey.

Now, this is where part 2 comes in or what I hope can be redemption for megabus. I had to book into a hostel in London ( a city where I never wanted to stay) and book a bus the next morning to go home ( on top of the money I’d spent on the oringinal journey). Now, I’ve sent megabus an e-mail asking for a reimbursement and it’s up to them, but so far the service has been shambolic and unapolagetic. Come on, megabus. I spend over 200 pound a year on your services. Don’t let me down.

 

Lee

Part 2 coming soon ūüôā

The best beer town on earth?

Forget Dublin, move over Amsterdam, and why would anyone pay Ibiza prices. If you’re a real drinker, and you appreciate beer – try Leuven, Belgium aka Mecca for beer lovers.

Here are some things you need to know about Leuven.
1) It is the home of Stella Artois, one of the most popular beers on earth.
2) It is home to Oude Markt aka the world’s biggest bar.
3) It is home to Belgium’s top ranked univeristy and over 50% of its residents are students.
4) It is also stunningly beautiful and holds some of Europe’s finest architecture. But if you’re here to drink, you may not notice.

I’m hardly qualified to write a blog on beer, as for the past 2 or 3 years, I’ve really cut back on drinking. However, there is one place that I have to crack open a beer whenever I visit (which is a lot because my girlfriend lives here) and that place is Leuven.

Beer here is cheap. The weaker beers like Stella, Maes and Jupiler are usually around one euro, but can also be 50 cents in student faculty bars. That’s cheaper than drinking canned fosters in England by the way! Some of the rarer beers could set you back 7 euros or so, but with so much choice, you can literally have any type of beer.

Speaking of choice, one bar in Leuven has the largest choice of beers in the world, and supposedly has dwarves working in the cellar. In fact, whatever bar you wander into will have a selection of beer that you couldn’t drink your way through in a week, so start early… the locals do, it’s common to have a ‘morning beer’ at 11 o clock in the square.

The nights are pretty wild and this is where you’ll see the city transform from the quiet, idyllic, Europe town into a heaving bazaar or beer and debauchery. Yes, no beer town could be free of vomit, which is usually covered in sand promptly enough. A town that has a strategy for dealing with vomit… are you getting the picture yet?

The real difference between Leuven and other places I’ve been is that bars are often seen as a nuisance which attract noisy patrons, broken glass, street-pissing and pointless brawls. Leuven sees its bars as an integral city investment. In fact, when the bars aren’t doing so well, the government organizes events to attract people from the outskirts or even from nearby cities like Brussels, Liege and Ghent. They even bring in international acts like UB40 to play free shows just to bring in those moneys. That’s a long way to go to support your bars, and could only be thought up by the best beer town on earth.

Now, slow down. Don’t get Leuven confused with a place like Ibiza or Magaluf, where people just get mindlessly fucked and roll in vomit under beautiful sunsets. This a town for people who understand beer. Appreciate beer. Love beer. You will not find loose women, hen night parties and cheap brothels in this town. Only beer. So if you are ‘that guy’… don’t change your stag nights plans too quick. But I’ll end on this note.

At any hour of any day there is some way of getting beer of varying quality. It’s quite a sight to see the ‘clean young mess-heads’ from the night before stumbling to their dormitory while the well-to-do pensioners sit down for their morning Stella. Beer runs this town, and that is why it is the best beer town on earth.

Need more evidence?

http://www.leuven.be/en/tourism/beer-and-gastronomy/index.jsp

http://belgium.beertourism.com/cities/leuven

http://www.tripbase.com/blog/top-10-beer-capitals-of-europe/

 

The Ultimate Megabus Guide Part Two: Boarding

(photo from meetup.com)

Boarding a megabus is easy and you don’t need an ultimate guide to do that. However, I’m going to tell you how to choose your seats and how to make sure you have the most comfortable journey possible. It’s something that has taken me a few trips to get right, but my last 10 journeys or so have been flawless by megabus standards.

Finding your megabus

This can be tricky as Megabus saves on renting costs by stopping at normal bus stops, coach rest stops and other rent free parts of a city. Check on a map first and make sure you know exactly where to go. You can usually see people queuing up with suitcases, but if you’re early you might need to ask a local shop owner or anyone else who works in the city. Megabus is not usually sign posted and the stops have been known to change, so always check the updates on the Megabus website.

How to board (like a pro)

First of all, your ticket can be printed or if you want to save paper, just show them the conformation e-mail (except in France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium where you need to have a paper ticket) on your phone. If you have booked a lot of tickets at the same time, they will all appear on the same e-mail, so it might be worth printing it out, so you don’t have to rely on your phone all the time.
Megabus usually board at the front door and not the back. If you have luggage that needs to be stowed away, wait near the back of the bus. Sometimes, you are left to put your own luggage away, but sometimes the driver will help you out before anyone boards the bus. I would recommend getting as a close as you can to the front of the queue in order to find the best seats. When you board the coach, don’t go up the stairs at the front, walk downstairs towards the back and take the stairs at the back. The reason for this is that you cover the seats with the best leg room and have a chance to overtake people who went up the front stairs, but only if there is no one blocking the aisle downstairs.

Which seats are the best?

I have sat in every area of the megabus and have my personal favourite seats, but let me break down the layout and what to expect. The best seats, essentially, are those with the longest legroom, furthest away from the toilet and safest from harm if something goes wrong. I’ve looked under every web-rock to find a picture of the layout, but to no avail, so you’re going to have to trust me.

Seat Layout
Downstairs: the first seats you’ll encounter are 4 seats surrounding a table, there are 2 tables, one on each side. Choose this only if you are a group of 4 people. Leg room is not the best, but you get to look at your friend the whole time. Just after the table on the right are the 2 seats with the largest legroom on the whole bus. The only downer being that you’re pretty much next to the toilet and there may be a lot of ‘toilet traffic’. All the other seats downstairs have little legroom and should be avoided.
Upstairs: The seats right at the front have slightly more legroom, but are the most dangerous as you’re next to a huge sheet of glass that probably weighs over 100kg. The seats looking over the front steps have extra legroom too, but right above is a skylight that can be blinding around midday. Most of the other seats have smaller legroom, until you reach the back on the right. There are 4 seats at the back on the right with extra legroom, these are the best seats. The back row can be useful if the entire row is empty because you can lie down, but it’s usually not worth the risk.

Lee

The Ultimate MEGABUS guide part one: Booking

This guide will show you everything that you will need to know including my pro tips as someone who has taking around 50 long distance buses already this year. I will guide you through the online process of buying tickets, choosing the best place to sit and how to find those elusive 1‚ā¨ tickets ( ¬£1 in the UK). I will literally take your hand and walk you through the whole process and make it as pleasurable as possible.

Booking tickets

First, you need to go to www.megabus.com and choose your language*. It should automatically do this, but sometimes it takes you to the main page and gives you multiple options. Once you have selected your language, it should automatically change the currency too. Now you can start booking. Before you can choose anything, you have to choose the amount of passengers you are booking for. There are three options 1- Number of passengers 2- Number of concessions 3-Number of NUS cardholders. Let me elaborate what that means if you are not familiar.

Number of Passengers: You are a passenger with no discount card or valid NUS student card

Number of concessions: Copied from the official Megabus site. b) Holders of a Scottish National Entitlement Card (Concession Card) can travel for free on most coach services wholly within Scotland (i.e. trip must begin, be wholly contained and end in Scotland.) There are exclusions and these are detailed by the relevant Conditions of Carriage. Use of the card is subject to the terms set out by Transport Scotland. There are no other concession cards.

Number of NUS cardholders: If you are a full-time student in the UK, you are entitled to a discount card (10% off megabus journeys in UK) known as NUS. If you are not a UK student. You will have to select passenger. I still use my NUS to book journeys abroad too just incase I get a discount.

***If you are a concession holder make sure you don’t select passenger and concession holder. You will buy two tickets. ***

Next it says select a country. If you select ‘all’ you can view all the European services. If you select a single country such as ‘Ireland’ it will remove all international coaches and show only coaches in Ireland. People do this a lot and get confused.

Then you select when you are going and a return journey if you need to. If you have a promotion code, put it in, but I don’t know where to get them from and you won’t need them if you book way in advance.

At this point, you have already missed some of my pro tips…

Pro tips for booking
* If you are travelling in the UK, try looking in another language such as French or German or whatever you find easier. The tickets in Euros are usually cheaper than in pounds, but not always!
Book way in advance to get the cheaper tickets.
Book trips together to avoid paying the 50p booking fee every time.
Book overnight buses if you want to save money on accomodation for that night
Book day buses over the channel tunnel (UK to Europe or vice versa) to save time as the ferries and trains are more frequent and waiting time is a lot less.

How to find the ‚ā¨1 euro tickets (¬£1 in UK)

Despite what you think, they do exist, but to find them you need to be looking at the website a lot, which I do already. They are usually released in bulk at the start of the month, but only apply to buses way in advance. For example, on September 1st 2015 they released one euro tickets for all November services. How many? I don’t know and nobody does. So look out at the last buses that are available to book and if there are no cheap options, wait until the next bulk is released. It can be any day, but as I mentioned, usually around the start of the month. Also look out for new routes that megabus introduces or when megabus opens operations in a new Country. I capitalized when Megabus ventured into Italy and got 16 tickets for 16 euros. Be quick though because they get snapped up super fast. Good luck.

Guide two is coming soon..

Multicultural vs homogenous societies: Where would you rather live?

I’ve grown up in a relatively multicultural part of Britain. It’s all I had known for 22 years until I was thrown into one the most homogenous places on earth, China. Homogenous, in this context means those that are the most similar ethnically and culturally. The most accurate way of measuring this may be the Fearon list, which puts South Korea as the most homogenous and papua new guinea as the most diverse, culturally. There are many that argue for both sides and in some cases, like China’s, it’s not intentional homogeny, but more geographical. I’m not for one second saying that China isn’t vast and diverse, it still has 56 ethnic groups and thousands of languages and dialects, but when I think of multiculturalism I think of Countries that have a population that spans a larger area.

Why am I raising this question? well, I didn’t think of it that much until I went to Poland for the first time. Poland is one of my favourite countries in Europe and by coincidence it is also Europe’s most homogenous. I met many Polish people who welcomed me into their homes and lives and treated me well, but they had an ideology which I’d never encountered. They were very much against immigration into Poland from non-white citizens. In fact, their governments agrees and has denied to take in refugees from Syria in order to keep their heavily catholic roots. 92% of the population consider themselves Catholic and even those that aren’t may still be proud to throw that number around like a title. Their arguments to keep Poland the way it is may divide a room with anyone in it, but given their history of persecution and adversity, it’s hard to disagree. Here are some of the points they raised.

  • In a country where most people are of the same faith and very similar upbringings, there aren’t many challenges or cultural differences that have to be overcome.
  • Listening to people speak one language connects and unifies you with that person
  • People are less likely to commit a crime or act of unkindness to someone they may know or relate to.
  • Crime is lower due to consensual understanding and agreement on many things.

You can see the angle that many of them came from, so using the Fearon list and checking homicide rates should show a pattern if they right. So if I take the top 10 homogenous and top 10 multicultural countries, I should see a clear pattern, right? Not so fast. Many other variables could mess with statistics such as population differences, conflicts, government’s attitude towards firearms and so on. However, there do seem to be some patterns. Japan, South Korea, Denmark, Norway, Finland a few others fit the homogenous and low crime profile. So now I’ll search for a multicultural …. it’s a waste of time and I’ll tell you why. The fearon list is based on a few things, the main being the humber of languages spoken in that country and not how history affected the country genetically. So while Japan is a great argument for homogeny, it seems it’s just a great country all around and a role model for something much bigger.

Japan has done something which no other country has done on the same scale. Preserved its culture and history and modernized simultaneously. Surely, this is where the argument all began? Countries that fear invasion usually fear adapting to a new way and embracing things that challenging their identity. If every country could learn from Japan’s modernization, homogenous and multicultural societies wouldn’t have to worry and I believe there are countries going through that process now, but on the next level.

France and UK are the top 2 multicultural mixing pots in Europe and although they share higher crime rates than other countries in the region, they are going through a new wave of mixed culture. Let me show you why. Dubstep invented in UK fusion of Caribbean musical styles and electronic music, Tikka masala a fusion of Indian and British cuisine invented by Indian’s in Glasgow, Balti – the same but Birmingham instead of Glasgow, British Carbonara – Italian and British fusion, there are more examples springing up all the time. Foreigners have been in Britain for long enough to contribute more than most countries (other than America) and actually continue to do multiculturalism proud. It’s often stated by some that London would collapse if just the Polish workers alone didn’t show up for one day. ¬†London being the 2nd richest city in the world and all, I think that makes quite a bold statement.

Is there a conclusion to all of this? Not really. Some people have already made up their mind. I had a coworker that moved back to London from Singapore and claimed it was safer to live with just white and yellow people ( blunt, but that’s how he said it) than live in multicultural London. I also had friends who lived in Countries that had only limited types of food and they really missed being around people from different backgrounds with different perspectives. Whether you want the country to be gated off or international borders to be opened, there is big change coming and adapting first is key.

Lee

What I’ve learnt one year after returning from China

After spending 4 years in China, I decided that it was time to call it quits and head back to my homeland, Britain. It’s been around a year now and the learning curve that I thought would stop has just got steeper. My perception of everything that was once normal has become warped and I’ve inherited a new ability to criticize everything I’ve ever known. So what have I learned after a year with a new vision?

Europeans are very wasteful, but love to recycle

I’ve travelled to over 10 countries since I’ve been back and I’ve noticed the same problem, we waste way too much. Take our food for example – we eat a very small portion of the animals we actually kill. In Asia, dishes are more likely to have areas of an animal that you’ve never even heard of. Intestines, stomach, lung, heart, they’re all on the menu. Water is wasted too – look at Italy with its fountain laden capital and free running water in virtually every town. I even stayed at a house where the students don’t wash their pots and pans, they just throw them straight in the bin. Fruits and vegetables are selected due to their appearance because apparently we don’t like ugly vegetables???

China is way more optimistic about its future

Don’t let the recent crash put you off, China is still the place for opportunity. There is an energy that can be felt by most of the people (usually the wealthier ones) that I’ve seen nowhere else in the world. They are experience unprecedented growth in the world and change that is happening nowhere else on the same scale. They are embracing technology in a similar fashion to the original tiger economies. A few years ago, you would never see a Chinese product on the shelves (yeah, they are made there, but not Chinese owned at least), but now you have Huawei, Lenovo, Xiaomi, and services like alibaba and WeChat taking over. Europe, Japan and America are still at the top of the tech industry, but China is a real contender.

I actually prefer the Chinese web to the British.

I look through my Facebook feed and very little inspires me. It’s mainly full of memes of how to live your life to the max, from someone who had a kid at 17 and lives a socially deprived, unambitious, monotonous excuse of a life. I’m not saying all people who have kids live that life, but the people with the ‘life advice’ tend to have the least envious lifestyle. I much prefer posting to my friends on WeChat. There are always people traveling, eating out at nice places, putting on shows or doing something constructive. The restrictions placed by the Chinese government probably don’t affect me, so it’s happy sailing.

Being polite actually does get you to higher places

When I left China, I had a very cynical view of everything. Just getting on a bus is like a wrestling match and there is never any compassion shown between strangers in the street. This is one aspect of China that I really didn’t enjoy and returning home, I had to learn how to be polite again. British shop owners are very chatty and friendly and when I returned, I was often stumped by supermarket clerks asking me questions like, “how are you, today?”. ¬†The world doesn’t need to be dog eat dog and everyman for himself, it would be a lot nicer if we all realized we’re in the same mess and helped each other out.

China is still viewed negatively by world media

China is always in the headlines and rarely for good things. Explosions, corruption scandals, natural disasters, sinkholes, Tsunamis, hacking conspiracies, stock market crashes, they all make the news, but rarely do you see the development of China, statistics on poverty relief, development in Africa by Chinese businesses, festivals, and all the good things that are happening. China is often criticized for its corrupt press and journalists being jailed, and that does happen, but when has Britain been condemned for gagging newspapers over any royal incident, what about the 10,000 people protesting that according to most media, never happened? Press freedom is an issue all over, but China and the middle east is heavily criticized to divert attention from our own far right bullshit makers.

Chinese embrace their own products, but struggle to adapt to other cultures

When I rocked up in China in 2010, I knew that it was my duty to learn as much as I can about China and Chinese people. It was an insatiable desire with learning that led me there, and it only got stronger as I made progress in the language. Most the food I ate was local, most the people I met were local, some days I would speak no English at all, and in hindsight I really learnt a lot from that. My girlfriend is Chinese and she lives in Belgium as a student. She is trying to embrace the culture and lifestyle here, but as previously mentioned, it’s tough to be able to afford to live in Belgium. When she meets her classmates, all they want to eat is Chinese food, I here many complaints of how expensive Europe is and how they miss Chinese food. I never really got into Chinese food when I was there, I got tired of it pretty quick, but now that I don’t have the opportunity to eat it, I mis certain dishes. I think the key to combatting culture shock, is to think of the local way as the right way until proven wrong. If you always look at a new place and ask, “why on earth do they do it like that?”, you’re not going to last. Everything will bother you. In China, I learnt to embrace things that denied every fabric of my being, such as asking for higher salaries and lower prices constantly, pushing my way to the front and just being rude and standoffish to get what I wanted. Europe is a lot more relaxed than that, but I still find Chinese (maybe other foreigners do?) complaining a lot about how Europeans live. Embrace it.

I’ve learnt more, but I don’t feel it that necessary to share with you on this post. If you’re thinking of living abroad, I recommend it, but be warned, it will change everything in your life.

Lee