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.

 

 

Pokemon GO just revolutionized travel

If you haven’t been herding reindeer in Greenland for the last 6 weeks, you probably know about Pokemon GO. If not, imagine pokemon cards from the 90’s, but trade the cards for digital pokemon, change the currency from buying packs of cards to physically walking around, and change the battles from reading card stats to an online battle where you tap to use your attacks and you’re there. It’s a game that has united everyone in some way, whether someone walked in front of you in the street to catch an Eevie or you have joined in the hype, it’s bringing most of us together in a weird, digital way. It’s helped many people get outside, but admittedly, some people have been a bit stupid and found themselves in mine fields, military bases, caught in a tidal trap and run over. It’s also revolutionized travel in a weird way.

The whole concept of the game is that the more you walk around, the more pokemon you are likely to find. The streets around you become the map for the game and the local landmarks become pokestops to collect items or gyms where you can battle other players. There were apps that told you exactly where they spawned, but those apps have been shutdown, leaving players wandering around aimlessly looking for their desired critters. This means that for the first time in a long time, people are appreciating the outdoors, and by people, I mean, people that didn’t want to go outside in the first place. People who liked being outside in the first place are still there too, just in smaller numbers.

I’m no developer but I have a rough idea how the whole thing works and it’s all down to open-data and information that previously exists on the internet which is then used in some kind of algorithm to decide which places become hot spots for pokestops, gyms or areas where pokemon are spawned. It’s genius, and it means people like me are finding cool things out about places right under our nose. For example, when I went to Glasgow last week, I spent a few minutes wandering around Buchanan street looking for Pokemon, and instead, I found hidden murals, galleries, buildings and all sorts. You could even use the map to find tourist attractions or find your way round if you wanted to. This is the first time in history that this has happened.

On top of that, people have started talking to each other. Making new friends, collecting groups of people to go searching for things, congregating, drinking, chatting, together. People from different areas, cultures, races, age groups, political ideologies, are united over some made up creatures created over 20 years ago. Autistic children who have struggled with anxiety are now in the park. Families are taking their children and comparing what they caught in the park. Teenagers are teaching their grandparents. For a second, we can forget all the shit in the world and in our lives, throw a ball at a fictional creature next to a bunch of strangers, and there’s something great about that. Of course there are haters, but this is the start of something amazing. Did it take a Japanese cartoon to tell us the future is actually not all doom and gloom? Yes, it did.

 

How to avoid violent crime

I’m writing this blog partly because of an event that happened recently and also because of the past few weeks. I’ve been working a lot recently and my job as a carer for autistic children requires me to do a lot of walking around with them, often in some of the roughest and most deprived areas of the city. I’m not saying there is a link between deprivation and autism, it’s just coincidental that one of of my clients lives in a particularly bad part of town. I grew up in an area of relatively high crime and at the time I was growing up, crime was at its highest in the area. I saw things that I wish no one would have to see, groups of men beating people unconscious, people holding a knife to people’s throats etc so I’ve become somewhat a master of avoiding such incidents.

Today, I was walking down the street when I saw some boisterous young men and I can usually tell what kind of people are going to cause trouble or social friction up to a minute before it happens. I’ll teach you how I do it in a minute, but more importantly it’s what I did or what I do, that has kept me safe for all these years. As the group (2 guys and a woman) approached me, one of the guys put his hand up to gesture a high five. He had a cheeky smile and I knew he was going to do something silly so I just looked beyond him and as he walked past his mate shoved him into me, but luckily missed. And that was it, other than me calling them “dicks” as I walked past. These small incidents are the same ones that escalate into bigger problems. I know this because I am one of the only people who would go out virtually every week and NEVER got into a fight in a bar, kebab shop, anywhere. I remember after weeks of going out, my friends went out without me and got into a huge brawl in which some people got very hurt, and it wasn’t the only time.

I am a pacifist, a diffuser. That is the most important part of this whole blog. It’s important to not get worked up over small things and every now and again, let someone undermine you and get away with it. What’s also important is recognizing when things are going south and when/how to get the hell out of there. Here are some of my tips.

Always look ahead and prejudge a group of people

Things you should look for a) do they look drunk? b) are they shouting / play fighting / messing around / looking for trouble? c) how much do they outnumber you by? d) are they physically a lot stronger than you e) have they noticed you?

If none of those signs exist. You can probably just walk past them, but if 2 or more of those signs occur. Find a way to avoid them such as crossing the road or turning on to another street.

Avoid areas of drunk people

Most violent crimes are alcohol related. When your judgement is distorted and your testosterone boosted from being around the lads, you can find yourself doing stupid things. I know the nicest people that just flip when they have had a drink. Another good point is to not hang around with such people, not because they might attack you, but you will become involved in the trouble they have started.

Know what area you are in

Some violence is territory related, usually in bigger cities that have area rivalries. Thankfully, you don’t get shot for wearing certain colors in the areas that I’ve been, but it’s important to know if there is a history of gang violence, so you can avoid groups at all cost and certain streets, neighborhoods etc.

Blend in

If you do find yourself in a rough area, try not to stand out and don’t look lost. This happens a bit when traveling, and google maps will take you through some of the dingiest parts of a city by accident. Don’t approach younger people in areas like this for directions. If you are traveling and staying in a rough neighborhood, try and ditch the backpack asap and don’t dress in shorts in fucking winter.

Don’t react

What will often happen before an attack is a kind of reaction test. These come in many forms but most commonly a verbal insult or maybe something thrown or kicked at you. Psychologically what they are doing, is letting you know that they are the alpha and are not to be fucked with. The easiest thing you can do is just walk on as if nothing happened. Some people would instantly react and try and show their bravado, but I have found it gets you in more trouble. My friends were shouted at in Dublin by some pikey (Irish travelers) kids and decided to throw insults back. The kids then went and got a big group of blokes and my friends had to leave through the back entrance of the pub. If they would have ignored them, it would have been the end of it. Younger people cause a lot of violent crimes over here and overreacting usually leads to them getting their older brothers or something similar. Just brush it off and get on with your day.

Gift of the gab

If you find yourself in a sticky situation. Try your best to talk your way out of it first. Come across in a friendly way, but also firm, you don’t want to look too weak. Go for the “it’s a huge misunderstanding” approach, but sometimes they don’t buy it. It’s up to you then to weigh up the odds and maybe throw a punch, eye poke and then push them away to make your exit. There is no cowardice running from trouble, but don’t leave people behind to clean up your mess.

These have got me through a lot of sticky situations and after all my years of pubbing and clubbing, I never got into a scrap in some of Britain’s most violent bar streets. There are other things that I do that help such as

-take quieter side roads rather than busy streets at night.
-stand tall when I walk (I’m 6’3, so it’s not worth finding out if I’m tough)
-Put my hood up if I’m walking at night (you’re less likely to be attacked if they don’t know what you look like)
-cross over the road from gangs of teens on corners
– learn how to throw a good punch or know how to hurt someone quick (side kicking the side is pretty useful)

Lee

Why is Megabus so cheap?

I’ve spent a lot of my time bigging up the Megabus and the service it offers, but that is all about to change. As a customer who spends about £200 a year on bus travel of which most is Megabus, I’ve discovered the harsh reality of megabus.

So, why is Megabus so cheap?

  1. Well, firstly, it isn’t in most cases anyway. After the £1 tickets are all gone, the price climbs at a rate that no other bus company would get away with. Companies like Flix bus in Germany and National Express in UK are not that much more expensive and the quality of the service is a lot better.
  2. They are late pretty much for every service. I take them quite a lot and trust me when I say that it is getting worse.
  3. Their drivers are generally not as experienced as other coach companies. Some drivers don’t even know the route they are taking. Last month on a journey to Portsmouth we spent 45 minutes searching for Birmingham airport and we ended up at our original location. The airport is signposted pretty clearly too which was frustrating.
  4. There is no compensation and making a complaint is impossible. If you’ve paid £1 for a ticket that’s fair enough, but I was left in London 2 weeks ago, 7 hours late with no option to transfer and I has to book into a hostel and stay the night. Megabus have yet to reply to my reimbursement other than to say claims take 14 days to process (even though it’s been 28 days).
  5. They don’t have designated stops. Meaning you could be waiting in the cold, rain wind with little or no shelter. Sometimes they pull into bus stations like London Victoria, but mostly, you’ll be waiting on the street and usually for ages

I have no vendetta towards Megabus. They have been good in the past and the service in Italy, Germany and France has been good, but the UK services are becoming less competitive and more frustrating.

 

 

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 🙂

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