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rec.travel.europe FAQ


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Archive-Name: travel/europe/faq
Posting-Frequency: Monthly
Last-Modified: 2005-11-30
URL: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/travel/europe/faq

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Rec.travel.europe FAQ
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This FAQ was written by Yves Bellefeuille <yan@storm.ca>, with help
from Martin Rich <M.G.Rich@city.ac.uk>. Thanks also to "Darren", who
prepared an earlier version of the rec.travel.europe FAQ. Please send
any comments to me at <yan@storm.ca>.

None of the "URLs" or "links" mentioned in this FAQ should require
=46lash, Java or JavaScript. If they do, please let me know. You might
also want to write to the address "webmaster" at the domain involved to
ask them to provide web pages that don't require Java or JavaScript;
for example, to complain about a web page at aol.com, write to
<webmaster@aol.com>.


Table of Contents
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I.    General Usenet Guidelines

II.   Other FAQs

III.  Frequently Asked Questions

  About the newsgroup itself

  1.  What countries does the newsgroup cover?
  2.  Where should I post about rooms or services wanted or offered?
  3.  What other newsgroups deal with travelling or with Europe?
  4.  What is "Google"?
  5.  How can I complain about "spam"?

  Travel planning and preparations

  6.  I'm going to Europe for the first time. Where should I go?
  7.  Should I go on my own or with a tour?
  8.  What guidebooks are available?
  9.  Do I need a visa to visit <some country>?
  10. What's the European Union (EU)?
  11. What's a "Schengen visa"?
  12. What should I pack?
  13. What should I see during my trip?
  14. What should I bring my European friends as gifts?

  Money and financial matters

  15. What currency should I use?
  16. What's the "Interbank" exchange rate?
  17. Will my bank machine card or credit card work in Europe?
  18. Should I use traveller's cheques?
  19. Should I change money before I go or when I get there?
  20. How do I change money at a bank or _bureau de change_?
  21. What does "VAT" mean?
  22. Can I get a VAT refund?
  23. Can I buy "duty-free"?

  Transportation

  24. Where can I get the best airfare?
  25. Is my driver's licence valid in Europe?
  26. Can I drive as fast as I want in Germany?
  27. How can I get from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport to Paris?
  28. Where can I get information on trains?
  29. Should I buy a rail pass?
  30. Where should I buy train tickets?

  Miscellaneous

  31. I speak language <X> and I'm going to country <Y>. How widely is
      my language spoken in this country?
  32. What do NTSC, PAL and SECAM mean?
  33. Can I drink the tap water in Europe?
  34. Should I be worried about crime in Europe?
  35. What's the time difference?
  36. What's the weather like over there?
  37. How can I phone to Europe?

IV.   Selected Links

  * Airlines
  * Trains
  * Buses (coaches)
  * Other Useful Links

V.    To Do: Possible Additions


I. General Usenet Guidelines
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=46or general information on Usenet, see the "news.newusers.questions
Official Home Page" at
http://web.presby.edu/~nnqadmin/nnq/

=46or information on standard Usenet etiquette, see the "NNQ" home page
mentioned above and Usenet group news.announce.newusers. If you're new
to Usenet, *please* read at least the following guidelines:

* Welcome to Usenet!
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/welcome/part1/

* Rules for posting to Usenet
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/posting-rules/part1/

* Hints on writing style for Usenet
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/writing-style/part1/

* A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/primer/part1/

* Emily Postnews Answers Your Questions on Netiquette
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/emily-postnews/part1/

* Advertising on Usenet: How To Do It, How Not To Do It
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/usenet/advertising/how-to/part1/


II. Other FAQs
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Readers of rec.travel.europe might also want to consult the following
specialized FAQs:

* Euro Currency Changeover FAQ, by Arwel Parry
http://www.cartref.demon.co.uk/eurofaq.htm

* Travel in the UK, by Martin Rich
http://www.jackdaw.u-net.com/ukfaq/

The following FAQs from Usenet group rec.travel.air may also be
helpful:

* Airline information on-line on the Internet FAQ, by John R. Levine
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/travel/air/online-info/

* Airline Ticket Consolidators and Bucket Shops FAQ, by Edward
  Hasbrouck
http://hasbrouck.org/faq/


III. Frequently Asked Questions
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About the newsgroup itself
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1. What countries does the newsgroup cover?

According to its charter, rec.travel.europe covers "all aspects of
travel in Europe", including "Iceland, Russia, Turkey, Armenia,
Georgia, Azerbaijan, Malta, and Cyprus". The charter is at:
ftp://ftp.isc.org/usenet/news.announce.newgroups/rec/

Israel and the "Middle East" are outside the group's mandate; please
use rec.travel.asia instead.


2. Where should I post about rooms or services wanted or offered?

If you have a room for rent or are looking for one, or if you're
offering services to tourists, please post in rec.travel.marketplace,
not in rec.travel.europe. See below for a list of Usenet groups related
to travel.

In general, any post that proposes a payment or an exchange should be
posted in rec.travel.marketplace rather than rec.travel.europe.


3. What other newsgroups deal with travelling or with Europe?

misc.transport.rail.europe  Railroads & railways in all of Europe
rec.gambling.misc           All other gambling topics including travel
rec.outdoors.rv-travel      Discussions related to recreational vehicles
rec.photo.technique.nature  Wildlife, landscapes, travel tips etc.
rec.scuba.locations         Scuba travel, location questions
rec.skiing.resorts.europe   Skiing in Europe
rec.travel.africa           Travel on the African continent
rec.travel.air              Airline travel around the world
rec.travel.asia             Travel in Asia
rec.travel.australia+nz     Travel Information for Australia and NZ
rec.travel.bed+breakfast    A forum for bed and breakfast guests
rec.travel.budget.backpack  Backpack travel discussion group
rec.travel.caribbean        Travel to the islands of the Caribbean
rec.travel.cruises          Travel by cruise ship
rec.travel.latin-america    Travel in Central and South America
rec.travel.marketplace      Tickets and accomodations wanted/for sale
rec.travel.misc             Everything and anything about travel
rec.travel.resorts.all-inclusive  All-inclusive resorts
rec.travel.usa-canada       Travel in the United States and Canada
soc.culture.europe          All aspects of all-European society
talk.politics.european-union  The EU and political integration in Europe

The group misc.transport.rail.europe tends to focus on technical
aspects of railways and railway technology. Non-technical questions
about travelling by train in Europe should be posted in
rec.travel.europe rather than misc.transport.rail.europe.

In addition, many groups in soc.culture.* deal with specific countries
or cultures (soc.culture.albanian, soc.culture.austria,
soc.culture.baltics, and so on). Please check the language policies of
these groups before posting in them.

All these groups are in the so-called "Big Eight" hierarchies and
should therefore be carried by all Internet Service Providers (ISPs).


4. What is "Google"?

Google, http://groups.google.com/ , lets you search almost all Usenet
posts since 1980. It can be an invaluable reference. Google is the
successor to a similar service called "Deja News", and later called
"Deja".

To search posts that have appeared in rec.travel.europe, choose
"Advanced Groups Search". Fill in one of the four options under "Find
message" and enter "rec.travel.europe" under "Group"; you can also
choose other options, such as "Message Dates", if you wish. Press
"Google Search" to complete your request.

To search all groups in the rec.travel.* hierarchy, enter
"rec.travel.*" as the Group. To search all groups with "europe" in
their name (including misc.transport.rail.europe,
rec.arts.comics.european, rec.sport.basketball.europe, and so on),
enter "*europe*" as the Newsgroup -- note the asterisks both before and
after the word "europe".


5. How can I complain about "spam"?

Send a copy of the message to the address "postmaster" at the poster's
Internet Service Provider (ISP). For example, to complain about spam
from a user at aol.com, write to <postmaster@aol.com>. Be sure to
include all the "headers". With most programs, you can simply type "h"
to see the headers; with Outlook Express, try Ctrl-F3.


Travel planning and preparations
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6. I'm going to Europe for the first time. Where should I go?

A common mistake is to try to see too much on a short trip. "Major"
cities such as Paris, Rome and London are easily worth an entire week,
even on a first trip. Even "minor" cities are worth an overnight stay.
You'll typically see more if you choose to explore one or two cities
thoroughly rather than if you try to see the whole of Europe
superficially.

As a rough rule of thumb, don't try to visit more than one country for
every week of your trip.


7. Should I go on my own or with a tour?

Most of Europe is very easy for an independent traveller to visit. The
newsgroup is full of experienced travellers who will be happy to offer
guidance if you need it. For most experienced travellers, part of the
enjoyment is planning and deciding where to go, finding places to stay
and eat, being able to change their plans whenever they want to do so,
and often travelling without knowing for certain what to expect next.

A tour will relieve you of the responsibility of arranging your own
accommodation, of deciding how much time to spend in one place, and up
to a point will insulate you from language difficulties. But it will
also insulate you from the pleasure of mixing with local people, and
will make it difficult for you to make a spontaneous change of plans
when you've just been really attracted by something you've seen.

A tour might also be worth considering if you have a particular
cultural, historical or sporting interest and want to base your trip
around that.


8. What guidebooks are available?

(Thanks to Jeri Dansky <danskyj@earthlink.net> for helping with this
section.)

There isn't a single best guidebook: different books address different
needs. Some are designed for budget travellers while some focus on the
more affluent. Some provide lots of practical information, while others
focus on the attractions. Some try to combine different types of
information; some are more focused.

Books within the same series may vary in quality, as they are often
written by different people. However, here are some comments on the
main guidebook series.

Access
http://www.harpercollins.com/
Good guides for major cities. Helpful for self-guided walking tours.
Organized by street and block, so you know what restaurants and stores
are near the tourist sights. Good details on major sights and museums.
Accommodations and restaurants are not intended for budget travellers.

Baedeker's
Good for sights, including finding little known points of interest. No
information on hotels or restaurants.

Blue Guides
Good for those who want detailed information on museums and on
historical and archaeological sights. Sometimes considered dry reading.

Bradt
http://www.bradt-travelguides.com/
Not often mentioned; has been recommended for Estonia, Latvia, and
Lithuania.

Cadogan
http://www.cadoganguides.com/
Very good for historical and cultural perspectives. Well written and
opinionated.

Dorling Kindersley (DK) Eyewitness
http://www.dk.com/
Beautiful books. Good for figuring out what sights to see and also
useful as a souvenir, but has rather little actual information.
Includes neighbourhood maps and museum floor plans. Not the book for
hotel recommendations. Heavy to travel with.

=46odor's
http://www.fodors.com/
General purpose, mainstream guidebook with information on sights,
restaurants and hotels. Too upscale for some; certainly not for budget
travellers. Some strong praise for the restaurant recommendations. The
feature "If you have one day...", "If you have three days...", etc., is
useful for travel planning. Not strong on historical background.

=46rommer's=20
http://www.frommers.com/
All-around guidebook with information on major sights, restaurants,
hotels. Some have been quite pleased with the hotel and restaurant
recommendations. Not strong on historical background.

Gault Millau
Covers hotels and restaurants in France. Less reliable than Michelin
Red Guide -- some say it's much less reliable -- but nicely written,
and can be useful as a check to confirm restaurant recommendations
listed in Michelin.

Greats Eats/Great Sleeps
(formerly called Cheap Eats/Cheap Sleeps)
Not always cheap (by some people's standards), but good values, which
explains the name change. Detailed and accurate.

Guide du routard
http://www.routard.com/
=46or the back-pack and budget traveller; has a fresh and somewhat
opinionated writing style. Very useful for budget lodgings.

Insight Guides
http://www.insightguides.com/
Good for getting the flavour of a place.

Karen Brown
http://www.karenbrown.com/
=46or those willing to spend more money. Some say they've found memorable
lodgings through these books; others say they've found the descriptions
misleading.

Knopf
Similar to DK Eyewitness (and apparently the inspiration for that
series) in that both are beautiful, very visually focused books. Knopf
has somewhat better background information. For reasonably affluent
travellers.

Knopf Citymap Guides
Lists restaurants, caf=E9s, shopping and sights, with some hotel
suggestions and other miscellaneous information useful for tourists.

Let's Go
http://www.letsgo.com/
Student written guides for budget travellers. Considerable information
on budget accommodation, restaurants, and public transport -- as well
as things like laundromats. Good background information on history and
culture, although not extensive.

Lonely Planet
Notable for amount of information crammed into one book. Strong on the
practical stuff: accommodation, restaurants, public transport,
laundromats, bookstores with English language books. Lots of maps, but
some find them too sketchy. Lacking in historical information. The
colourful writing that marked this series is a thing of the past.
Covers a range of prices; used to be focused on the budget traveller,
but have moved somewhat upscale over time.

Michelin Green=20
Detailed information on sites, with a star rating system (3 stars:
worth a journey; 2 stars: worth a detour; 1 star: interesting) that
many find useful in planning a trip.

Michelin Red=20
Hotel and restaurant recommendations. Some find them too upscale.
Others point to the non-starred but "good food at moderate prices"
listings as a way of balancing price and quality.

Rick Steves
http://www.ricksteves.com/
People are very passionate about Rick Steves: they tend to really like
him or really dislike him. These are not comprehensive guidebooks for
the countries covered, but focus on Rick's perception of the
highlights. Very opinionated. Seem largely intended to help
inexperienced travellers, beyond their student years, who would like to
try independent travel. Some object to the pace he recommends. Some
have noted that hotels he recommends tend to be full -- with other
people using his guidebooks.

Rough Guides
These guides usually get good marks for general background and
historical and cultural perspective. A number of people note that they
use them to decide where to go, but don't use them for hotel or
restaurant recommendations. There have been vehement complaints about
inaccuracies. A number of people find the books to have a condescending
attitude which was quite annoying.

Time Out
http://www.timeout.com/
Well-regarded guides to specific cities, with useful information on
restaurants, cafes, and other "hang-outs".

Touring Club Italiano
http://www.touringclub.it/
The hardcover regional red guides ("Guide rosse") cover the visual arts
and architecture nearly exhaustively, and provide historical
introductions with separate sections on the history of arts and crafts.
Notable features of local cuisine are sometimes covered in some detail,
but no recommendations for hotels or restaurants are given. There are
also cheaper red guides ("Guide rosse economiche") and still cheaper
green guides ("Guide verdi"). As the price goes down, the amount of
detail decreases. The "Guida rapide" does have hotel and restaurant
recommendations, but has little information on attractions.


9. Do I need a visa to visit <some country>?

Whether you need a visa or not depends on your nationality. The only
reliable source of visa information is a consulate of the country
you're planning to visit. You'll find a list of foreign consulate
offices in the USA at:
http://www.state.gov/s/cpr/rls/fco/

In other countries, your ministry of external affairs or foreign
relations will be able to tell you the locations of consulate offices.

There's a list of visa requirements for US citizens at:
http://travel.state.gov/foreignentryreqs.html

Please note that this list is for US citizens only. It's still a good
idea to check with the consulate of the country you're visiting: these
lists are sometimes out of date.


10. What's the European Union (EU)?

The European Union, formerly known as the European Common Market or the
European Economic Community (EEC), started as a "free trade" or "common
market" agreement. Although trade and economic policy are still its
major focus, it now also deals with social policy, external affairs,
and other matters.

The countries in the European Union are: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus,
Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece,
Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the
Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and
the United Kingdom.

=46or travellers, the main effect of the EU is that border controls at
airports and elsewhere often have two queues, one for citizens of EU
countries and one for citizens of other countries. Choose the queue
that's appropriate for you.

=46or more information on the EU, see http://europa.eu.int/ .


11. What's a "Schengen visa"?

Some countries in the EU have agreed to participate in the "Schengen
agreement" and to unify their entry and visa requirements. In general,
this means that once you're admitted to one of these countries, you can
go to any other, and a visa granted by one of these countries (known as
a "Schengen visa") allows you to enter any other country.

The countries participating in this agreement are: Austria, Belgium,
Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the
Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden. Iceland, Norway and
Switzerland also participate, even though they're not in the EU.

There are no border controls between the Schengen countries, so you
won't have to show your passport or visa when going from one country to
another. However, some countries require that you carry your passport
or identity card with you at all times and show it to a police officer
on request; these requirements remain in force.

A consequence of this is that if you're allowed to remain in a Schengen
country as a tourist for 90 days (for example), you can go to any other
Schengen country during that period, but you can't be in *any* Schengen
country once the period expires. You are also usually required to wait
for a certain period of time (often 90 days) before re-entering the
Schengen area. Please consult the consulate of the countries you're
planning to visit to know the requirements that apply to you.

If you're planning to visit more than one Schengen country and require
a visa, you should apply to the country where you're planning to spend
the most time.


12. What should I pack?

The standard advice is to bring half as many clothes as you think
you'll need, and twice as much money. If you think that you couldn't
comfortably carry your suitcase or backpack for a few hundred metres or
yards, you've almost certainly packed too much.

The "Travelite FAQ", http://www.travelite.org/ , gives suggestions on
"travelling light", although it sometimes seems rather extreme. For
example, although men might want to "trim their underarm hairs to about
a half-inch in length", as the FAQ used to suggest, it's doubtful that
this will result in a significant difference in the weight of the
anti-perspirant you'll have to bring with you!

In addition to what you'd usually bring on any trip, here are some
things you might want to bring when travelling to a foreign country:

 - plug converter if bringing an electric appliance
 - passport, and photocopy kept separately
 - plane and train tickets, and photocopy kept separately
 - train and hotel reservations
 - health insurance policy
 - vaccination certificate
 - international driver's licence, as well as your national licence
 - foreign cash
 - credit card, debit card, bank machine card
 - travellers' cheques
 - numbers to call if credit card or travellers' cheques are stolen
 - telephone company calling card

There's also a "Universal Packing List" at
http://www.henricson.se/mats/upl/ .


13. What should I see during my trip?

If you want to ask for advice about attractions, please say something
about your interests. Are you looking for architecture, fine food,
discos, night life, museums, landscapes? The more we know about your
preferences, the more we can help you.


14. What should I bring my European friends as gifts?

You might want to use Google to see what suggestions have been made in
the past. A local specialty or delicacy might be appropriate. Anything
widely available in your country is almost certainly widely available
in Europe.

The Canadian maintainer of this FAQ often brings maple syrup and other
maple products as gifts. They can be hard to find in Europe and are
rather expensive. Other users have suggested a good local wine or a
local photo book.


Money and financial matters
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15. What currency should I use?

Always use the currency of the country you're visiting. Even if US
dollars or another currency is accepted, you'll get a terrible exchange
rate.

Some merchants will offer to bill credit card payments in your own
currency. This is sometimes called "dynamic currency conversion". This
can also happen when getting cash with a bank machine card. The
exchange rate will be much less favourable that if you're billed in the
local currency. Therefore, you should always insist on being billed in
the local currency.

As of 1 January 2002, a new currency, the euro, is used in the
following countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany,
Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, and
Spain. For more information, see the Euro Currency Changeover FAQ by
Arwel Parry, http://www.cartref.demon.co.uk/eurofaq.htm .

In some countries that don't use the euro, the exchange rate between
the local currency and the euro is fixed. This is the case in
Bosnia-Herzegovina and Lithuania. In these countries, it makes no
difference whether you use euros or the local currency.


16. What's the "Interbank" exchange rate?

The "Interbank" rate is the rate banks charge each other when trading
large amounts. The rate you see listed in the newspapers is usually the
Interbank rate.

Unless you're changing very large amounts, the rate you'll get won't be
as favourable as the Interbank rate, but you can still use it to
determine whether the rate you're offered is reasonable. For
"electronic" transactions involving a bank machine card or credit card,
expect to pay about 1 % more than the Interbank rate. When changing
traveller's cheques or cash, you'll usually have to pay 2 % to 3 % over
the Interbank rate. Try to avoid paying any other fee or commission.

Many newspapers list foreign exchange or "Forex" rates. You can also
find them at http://www.oanda.com/ and
http://www.economist.com/markets/currency/extable.cfm .


17. Will my bank machine card or credit card work in Europe?

It is necessary to distinguish several different kinds of bank cards.
Keep in mind that different countries have different banking cultures,
and that different terms may be used in different countries. A card can
fulfil more than one of the following functions:

* Bank machine card (ATM card): With a bank machine card, you can go to
a bank machine (ATM) and get cash. Examples: Plus, Cirrus, Interac,
Maestro, Carte bleue, EC-Card.

* Credit card: With a credit card, you can pay for purchases and you
receive an invoice later. Examples: Visa, MasterCard/EuroCard, American
Express, Discover.

* Debit card: With a debit card, you can pay for purchases and the
amount is immediately withdrawn from your account. Please note that
these cards are used to pay for purchases, not to obtain cash from a
machine. Examples: Maestro, Carte bleue, EC-Card, Electron, Delta,
Switch, Solo. Debit cards are often *not* accepted in a foreign
country.

A card can fulfil more than one of these functions. The following
networks are related and a card may accept more than one of them:

 - MasterCard/EuroCard, Cirrus, Maestro;
 - Visa, Plus, Electron.

However, it's still important to note the differences between these
functions. For more information, see:
http://international.visa.com/ps/products/credit/
http://international.visa.com/ps/products/debit/
http://www.mastercard.com/aboutourcards/

Any of these cards will generally get the best exchange rate. Many
banks charge 1 % over the "Interbank" rate; ask your bank for details.
Some banks also charge an additional flat fee each time you use your
card; try to find a bank that doesn't charge such fees.

In "Eastern European" countries, cards are usually accepted in major
tourist destinations (Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, and so on), but may not
be accepted in smaller cities or in countries with less tourism.

Here are some specific comments about these three kinds of cards.

* Bank machine cards: Plus, Cirrus and Maestro cards are widely
accepted in Europe. Bank machines will offer you a choice of languages,
including English.

MasterCard/EuroCard/Cirrus/Maestro recommends that you use a 4-digit
identification (PIN) code when travelling abroad; if your code is
longer than this, you should change it to something shorter before
leaving. Visa/Plus recommends that you use a 4-digit to 6-digit code.
Also, European bank machines don't have letters on the numeric keypad;
if you use the letters to remember your code, you'll have to learn the
numbers instead.

Some banks now add a surcharge to foreign transactions; check with your
bank before leaving. In addition, the bank that owns the bank machine
may also add a surcharge.

If you get money using a bank machine card and are charged a fee by the
machine's owner without a notice appearing on the machine itself,
please write to me at <yan@storm.ca> so that I may prepare a list of
bank machines to avoid. However, please make sure that the fee really
was charged by the owner of the machine, not by your own bank.

As noted above, always make sure that you're billed in the local
currency, not in your own currency.

* Credit cards: Both Visa and MasterCard/EuroCard are widely accepted
in Europe for purchases. American Express is much less useful, and
Discover is not usually accepted in Europe.

You can also get a cash advance using your credit card; in this case,
your own bank will charge you interest starting on the day you received
the funds and may also add a surcharge for foreign transactions. The
bank giving you the money shouldn't ask for any additional commission
or fee; if it does, go elsewhere, and again please write to me at
<yan@storm.ca> so that I may prepare a list of banks to avoid.

Some credit card companies become suspicious if the card suddenly
starts being used in a different country or continent. Therefore, some
users suggest letting your credit card company know that you'll be
going abroad.

As noted above, always make sure that you're billed in the local
currency, not in your own currency.

* Debit cards: As stated previously, these cards often aren't accepted
in foreign countries. For example, foreign debit cards aren't accepted
in Germany and Denmark. [Is this still true? Are there any other
countries where foreign debit cards are not accepted?] However, a debit
card might also be a bank machine card or credit card and can be used
as such abroad.

It's recommended that you bring both a bank machine card and a credit
card (two different cards) and, if you wish, a debit card. Use the bank
machine card to get money from bank machines and use the credit card or
debit card to pay for purchases. If you're stuck, you can also use the
credit card to get a cash advance, but you'll then have to pay
interest. If you wish to be prudent, you can bring more than one card
of each kind in case a card isn't accepted for some reason or you run
into any problems. Of course, you should store the cards separately in
case they're lost or stolen.

(Usage varies considerably by country; I've tried hard to make this
explanation as clear as possible both in Europe and elsewhere. If the
text isn't clear to you or if you have any suggestions, please write to
me.)


18. Should I use traveller's cheques?

You'll usually get a worse exchange rate if you use traveller's cheques
rather than any of the cards mentioned above. Still, some travellers
like to have them as a backup in case they can't use their bank machine
card or credit card. If you carry traveller's cheques, ask the issuing
company for the addresses of its offices or of affiliated companies
which will cash the cheques without charge.

Some users of the newsgroup have expressed dissatisfaction with the way
Thomas Cook handled reports of lost or stolen traveller's cheques and
have recommended getting cheques from American Express or another
company instead.

You should get traveller's cheques in your own currency, to avoid
having to pay for the exchange of any cheques left over.


19. Should I change money before I go or when I get there?

It can be useful to obtain a small amount of the local currency
(perhaps $ 20 to $ 50 per traveller) before you leave. Most airports
now have cash machines, and it's doubtful whether any major airport
doesn't have one, so you can withdraw more money once you arrive.

However, if you have to make a large initial cash payment -- to pay for
accommodation, for example -- check what's the maximum daily
withdrawal. It could be a few hundred euros, which may be too little
for some purposes.


20. How do I change money at a bank or _bureau de change_?

=46oreign exchange establishments list a "buy" rate and a "sell" rate for
various currencies. The rates are shown from the establishment's point
of view: if you want to obtain the local currency, look at the "buy"
rate for your own currency, since the establishment is "buying" your
currency and giving you the local currency in exchange. The difference
between the two rates reflects the establishment's profit.

Before changing any money, make sure you know the exchange rate and any
commission or charges.


21. What does "VAT" mean?

"VAT" means "Value Added Tax"; it's a form of sales tax. The prices you
see quoted usually already include the VAT.


22. Can I get a VAT refund?

You can sometimes get a VAT refund for goods purchased in another
country. Please note that a refund is only available for goods: it's
not available for services such as transportation, hotel rooms,
restaurant meals, and so on. It's also not available for goods used in
the country itself, such as food or gasoline (petrol); you must bring
the goods back home.

The requirements to get a VAT refund vary by country. Usually, you must
purchase the goods in a store participating in the tax refund program;
these stores are often identified by signs saying "Tax Free Shopping"
or the like. You must usually make a minimum purchase; sometimes the
minimum is quite high. You must make the minimum purchase in the store
itself; you can't combine purchases made in more than one store.

If you meet these requirements, ask the store to give you the
documentation you need to get a VAT refund. You may have to show your
passport. You might be able to get the refund at the airport as you
leave, or you may have to send the documentation by mail. Ask for
details. If you have any doubts about the rules, contact the customs
office when leaving the country, and before checking your luggage, if
travelling by air.

In the European Union (EU), VAT refunds are only available to
travellers from outside the EU.


23. Can I buy "duty-free"?

Buying "duty-free" is somewhat similar to getting a VAT refund. In a
duty-free store, some or all of the taxes that would normally apply to
the purchase are omitted. You can usually shop in duty-free stores only
immediately before you leave a country (including your own country);
when travelling by air, you're usually asked to show your boarding pass
as proof that you're about to take a flight out of the country.

In the European Union (EU), you can only buy duty-free when you're
about to leave the EU. However, unlike VAT refunds, travellers from the
EU are also eligible to buy duty-free when leaving the EU.

Duty-free only refers to the taxes levied by the country where you're
buying. You may have to pay custom duties on the goods when entering
another country even if they were duty-free where you bought them.

Buying duty-free is worthwhile only for goods that are usually heavily
taxed; tobacco and alcohol are common examples. If duty-free goods seem
quite inexpensive to you, this means that the goods are heavily taxed
in your own country. Don't assume that something is a bargain just
because it's duty-free; compare the price to what you'd normally have
to pay.


Transportation
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D

24. Where can I get the best airfare?

The group rec.travel.europe doesn't specialize in air travel; see
rec.travel.air instead. In particular, see the Airline Ticket
Consolidators and Bucket Shops FAQ, by Edward Hasbrouck, at
http://hasbrouck.org/faq/ , for information on why on-line sources are
rarely useful to find discounted international fares.

In October 2000, the US magazine _Consumer Reports Travel Letter_
checked the prices offered by Cheaptickets, Expedia, Lowestfare and
Travelocity for several intra-US routes. It concluded that "none of the
four web sites consistently offered complete and fair listings of all
viable flights", and that it was often possible to get a better fare
from a travel agent.

Within Europe, you will also find that some low-cost airlines, such as
EasyJet, http://www.easyjet.com/ , and Ryanair,=20
http://www.ryanair.com/ , don't use agents. If you want to travel on
one of these airlines, book directly using their web site.


25. Is my driver's licence valid in Europe?

If you don't have a driver's licence from a European Union (EU)
country, it's strongly recommended that you get an International
Driver's Licence (IDL), whether or not it's strictly required legally.
In the USA, contact the AAA, even if you're not a member. The cost is
$ 10 and you'll need a passport-size photo. In Canada, contact the CAA.
You must carry both the IDL and the licence from your own country.

Ignore posts from other firms claiming to offer IDLs. These are not
legitimate and aren't legally valid. In particular, you can only obtain
an IDL if you have a valid licence in your own country.


26. Can I drive as fast as I want in Germany?

In Germany, on the "Autobahn", there's no fixed speed limit; however,
it's recommended that you drive no faster than 130 km/h (about 80 miles
per hour). If you're driving faster than this and have an accident, the
onus is on you to prove that you weren't at fault. Note that very
frequently there are "local" speed limits even on the Autobahn.


27. How can I get from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport to Paris?

The Paris Transport FAQ by Delphine Kensit,
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/travel/europe/Paris-Transport/ , is no longer
maintained, but still explains the main choices.

There's a map of the public transport access routes to the Paris
airports at
http://www.ratp.info/orienter/f_plan.php?nompdf=3Droisorly&loc=3Dreseaux&fm=
=3Dpdf
(PDF format). The Web site for the Paris public transport authority
(RATP) is at http://www.ratp.fr/ .


28. Where can I get information on trains?

The German Deutsche Bahn has an excellent WWW server in German and
English with information on many trains, including trains in other
European countries: http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/ . See below for links
to other rail companies.

When using on-line resources, write the name of cities using the local
language. For example, use "Roma" instead of Rome, "Wien" instead of
Vienna, and "Praha" instead of Prague.

Many users recommend the "Thomas Cook European Timetable". Your library
may have a copy, or you can buy it from
http://www.thomascooktimetables.com/ .


29. Should I buy a rail pass?

In general, a rail pass may save you money if you plan on travelling
relatively long distances in a fairly short period of time. Otherwise,
you'll probably be better off buying "point to point" tickets.

Non-Europeans may buy a "Eurail pass". This pass can be bought before
leaving or in Europe itself, but a surcharge of 10 % must be paid if
bought in Europe. Europeans may buy an "Interrail pass". Passes are
also available for specific countries and regions: consult the WWW
pages of the train companies of the countries you're planning to visit
or see http://www.railpass.com/ .


30. Where should I buy train tickets?

Except for the Eurail pass and other passes, buy train tickets in
Europe rather than before leaving, since this is cheaper. An exception
is if you can get a discount because of an early purchase. If you must
buy tickets in advance, try the appropriate train company or Deutsche
Bahn: see the links below. In particular, be wary of the Rail Europe
WWW site, because of its high fees.

Ask about rebates, which are often available, especially for students
and youth, for groups travelling together (sometimes rebates are
available for groups as small as two persons), for travel in the
evening or during the weekend, or for same-day return trips (round
trips).

Some companies don't sell tickets on-line to non-Europeans and ask you
to contact Rail Europe; however, you can usually still purchase these
tickets on-line from the Deutsche Bahn site at
http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/ .


Miscellaneous
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D

31. I speak language <X> and I'm going to country <Y>. How widely is
    my language spoken in this country?

The following table shows how widely English, French, German and
Russian are spoken in some of the major tourist destinations, using the
following scale:

1: The language is widely spoken (in the case of EU countries: spoken
   by 50 % or more as a second language, according to Eurobarometer
   63.4, September 2005).

2: The language is spoken to some extent (spoken by 10 % or more as a
   second language).

3. The language is uncommon (spoken by less than 10 % or unlisted).

                   English   French    German    Russian   Other common
                                                           languages
                                                           (10% or more)

Austria            1         2         1         3
Benelux            1         2*        1         3 =20
  (Belgium,
  The Netherlands,
  Luxembourg)
Czech Republic     2         3         2         2
=46rance             2         1         3         3         Spanish
Germany            1         2         1         3*
Hungary            2         3         2         3
Italy              2         2         3*        3
Nordic Countries   1         3         2         3         Swedish
Poland             2         3         2         2
Portugal           2         2         3         3         Spanish
Russia             2         3         3         1
Spain              2         3         3*        3
Turkey             2         3         3         3
United Kingdom     1         2         3         3

* Widely spoken in some areas, but not in the entire country.


32. What do NTSC, PAL and SECAM mean?

These acronyms refer to the systems used by television broadcasts and
videocassette players (VCR).

The USA, Canada and Japan use the NTSC system. France, Greece and most
"Eastern European" countries use SECAM. The rest of Europe uses PAL.

A television set will only work with a specific system. For example, a
television bought in a country that uses NTSC won't work in a country
where the broadcasts use the PAL system. Keep this in mind if you're
planning to bring a portable television set with you; TVs bought in
North America or Japan won't work in Europe.

Similarly, a videotape will only work in a videocassette player (VCR)
that uses the same system; thus, if you're from the USA and want to buy
a videotape in Europe to watch it later at home, make sure it's in NTSC
formal. It's possible to have a videotape converted from one format to
another, but it's rather expensive and the results are often poor.

=46or more information, see http://www.faqs.org/faqs/de-film/formate/ .
This document is in German, but the list of formats used in various
countries in section 1.3 should be easy enough to understand.


33. Can I drink the tap water in Europe?

Tap water is safe to drink everywhere in Europe except Turkey.
(However, concerns have been expressed in the group about tap water in
Russia, especially in St. Petersburg, and in the Canary Islands.) In
some cases, the water may be "harder" (contain more minerals) than
you're used to or it may have an unusual taste, but it's still safe to
drink.

Don't be misled if you see people carrying mineral water bottles: it's
quite common to fill these bottles with tap water, for convenience.


34. Should I be worried about crime in Europe?

Violent crime is much less a problem in Europe than in the USA. You
shouldn't be overly worried about being robbed or mugged. However,
pickpockets seem to be more common in Europe than in some other
countries. In general, no special precautions are necessary when
travelling in Europe; just use normal prudence.

European cities usually don't have "dangerous" neighbourhoods or areas
in the way that some US cities do.

Weapons are regulated much more strictly in Europe than in the USA,
especially firearms. Don't carry any weapons, including mace, pepper
spray, and so on, unless you've checked with the police or consulate of
the country concerned to ensure that they are legal.


35. What's the time difference?

Time is calculated relative to "Universal Time" (UT) or "Greenwich Mean
Time" (GMT). (In practice, UT and GMT mean the same thing.) If you're
in North or South America, you're earlier than (behind) Universal Time.
If you're in most of Europe or in Africa, Asia, or Oceania, you're
later than (ahead of) Universal Time.

Here are the time zones for European countries, relative to Universal
Time.

Universal Time -3/-2/-1:
  Greenland

UT:
  Canaries (Spain)
  Iceland
  Ireland
  Portugal
  United Kingdom

UT +1:
  Albania
  Andorra
  Austria
  Belgium
  Bosnia-Herzegovina
  Croatia
  Czech Republic
  Denmark
  France
  Germany
  Hungary
  Italy
  Luxembourg
  Macedonia (FYROM)
  Malta
  Netherlands
  Norway
  Poland
  Serbia and Montenegro
  Slovakia
  Slovenia
  Spain (except Canaries)
  Sweden
  Switzerland

UT +2:
  Byelorussia
  Bulgaria
  Cyprus
  Estonia
  Finland
  Greece
  Latvia
  Lithuania
  Moldova
  Rumania
  Turkey
  Ukraine

UT +3:
  Azerbaijan
  Russia: Moscow, St. Petersburg (see below)

UT +4:
  Armenia
  Georgia

Russia has several time zones, varying from UT +2 to UT +12. Moscow and
St. Petersburg are in the UT +3 zone.

=46or information on time zones in other countries, see
http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/tzones.html .

Examples:

New York City and Toronto are at Universal Time minus 5 hours. If it's
noon (12:00) in New York and Toronto, it's 17:00 in London and 20:00 in
Moscow.

Los Angeles and Vancouver are at Universal Time minus 8 hours. If it's
noon in Los Angeles and Vancouver, it's 20:00 in London and 23:00 in
Moscow.

Japan is at Universal Time plus 14 hours. If it's noon in Japan, it's
1:00 in Moscow, and 22:00 of the previous day in London.

During "Summer Time" or "Daylight Saving Time", add one hour to the
normal time. Please note that summer time is in effect at different
times in different countries; however, all countries of the European
Union change on the same date.


36. What's the weather like over there?

Weather forecasts for major European cities are available at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/worldweather/europe/index.shtml
http://weather.yahoo.com/regional/EUROPEX.html

=46or historical weather data such as average temperature and
precipitation, see:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/weather/historical/historical.htm
http://www.weatherbase.com/
http://www.worldclimate.com/


37. How can I phone to Europe?

To phone abroad, you need to dial four components: (i) the code to "dial
out" of the country you're in; (ii) the code to "dial into" the country
you're phoning; (iii) the area code of the city you want to phone;
(iv) the phone number you want to phone.

(i) Code to "dial out": For the USA and Canada, the code to "dial out"
is usually 011. For Australia, use 0011, and for Japan, use 001. If this
doesn't work, see the phone book or ask the operator.

(ii) Code to "dial into": A list of codes to "dial into" many European
countries follows. If the country you want to phone isn't listed,
see the phone book or ask the operator.

(iii) Area code: It's often necessary to modify the area code when
dialling from another country. Usually you have to omit the initial "0",
if any. See the list below for more information.

(iv) Phone number: Simply dial the subscriber's phone number.

Example: You're in the USA and want to dial to Germany, in Berlin, the
number (030) 12 34 56 78.

The code to dial out of the USA is 011. The code to dial into Germany is
49. The area code for Berlin is 030, but you have to omit the initial
"0". Therefore, you should dial: 011-49-30-12 34 56 78.

The usual method to write a number for someone who'll be phoning from
another country is as follows: "+49 30 12 34 56 78". This means: dial
the code to phone out of the country you're in, and then dial what's
indicated.

Note that, in this case, the initial "0" in the area code has been
omitted, since you don't dial it if you're phoning internationally. If
you're phoning from Germany itself, remember to put it back in, if
appropriate.

Country            To "dial out"   To "dial into"  Area code

Albania            00              355             Omit initial "0"
Andorra            0               376             Does not exist
Austria            00              43              Omit initial "0"
Belgium            00              32              Omit initial "0"
Bosnia-Herzegovina 00              387             Omit initial "0"
Bulgaria           00              359             Omit initial "0"
Croatia            00              385             Omit initial "0"
Czech Republic     00              420             Does not exist
Denmark            00              45
Estonia            00              372            =20
=46inland            00              358             Omit initial "0"
=46rance             00              33              Omit initial "0"
Germany            00              49              Omit initial "0"
Greece             00              30              Dial entire code
Hungary            00              36
Iceland            00              354		   Omit initial "0"
Ireland            00              353             Omit initial "0"
                   048 to dial to Northern Ireland
Italy              00              39             =20
Latvia             00              371             Omit initial "8"
Lithuania          810             370             Omit initial "8"
Luxembourg         00              352             Does not exist
Macedonia (FYROM)  99              389             Omit initial "0"
Malta              00              356            =20
Netherlands        00              31              Omit initial "0"
Norway             00              47              Dial entire code
Poland             0 <tone> 0      48          Omit initial "0", if any.
                                               Ignore the word "prefix",
                                               if indicated.
Portugal           00              351            =20
Rumania            00              40              Omit initial "0"
Russia             8 <tone> 10     7               Omit initial "8"
Serbia-Montenegro  99              381             Omit initial "0"
Slovakia           00              421             Omit initial "0"
Slovenia           00              386             Omit initial "0"
Spain              00              34              Dial entire code
Sweden             00              46              Omit initial "0"
Switzerland        00              41              Omit initial "0"
Turkey             00              90              Omit initial "0"
Ukraine            8 <tone> 10     380            =20
United Kingdom     00              44              Omit initial "0"


IV. Selected Links
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D

* Airlines:

Airline information on-line on the Internet FAQ, by John R. Levine -
  http://www.faqs.org/faqs/travel/air/online-info/

=46AQs from Usenet group rec.travel.air -
  http://www.faqs.org/faqs/by-newsgroup/rec/rec.travel.air.html

Quick Aid - http://www.quickaid.com/
  (links to many airports in the USA and in other countries)

* Trains:

Deutsche Bahn (Germany) International Timetable -
  http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/
  The best general on-line timetable, for Germany and other countries.

Eurail and other passes - http://www.railpass.com/
Interrail passes -
 =20
http://www.bahn.de/p/view/international/englisch/travelservice/backpackers.=
shtml
  (at the Deutsche Bahn site)

Austria - http://www.oebb.at/
Belgium - http://www.b-rail.be/
Bulgaria - http://razpisanie.bdz.bg/
Czech Republic - http://www.cdrail.cz/
Denmark - http://www.dsb.dk/
Estonia - http://www.evr.ee/
=46inland - http://www.vr.fi/
=46rance - http://www.sncf.com/
Germany - http://www.bahn.de/
  timetable at http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/
Hungary - http://www.mav.hu/
Ireland - http://www.irishrail.ie/
Italy - http://www.trenitalia.it/
Latvia - http://www.ldz.lv/
Luxembourg - http://www.cfl.lu/
Netherlands - http://www.ns.nl/
Norway - http://www.nsb.no/
Poland - http://www.pkp.com.pl/
Rumania - http://www.cfr.ro/
Russia - http://www.css-mps.ru/
Spain - http://www.renfe.es/
Switzerland - http://www.sbb.ch/
Turkey - http://www.tcdd.gov.tr/
Ukraine - http://sapphire.donetsk.ua/uz/uz.html
United Kingdom - http://www.nationalrail.co.uk/
  Northern Ireland Railways - http://www.nirailways.co.uk/
  Train Line - http://www.thetrainline.com/

=46or more links, see http://www.railfaneurope.net/

* Buses (coaches):

Eurolines - http://www.eurolines.com/
  Less comfortable than trains, but also cheaper. Worth considering if
  you're on a very tight budget.

* Other Useful Links:

Government Travel Advice:

Australia - http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Index
Canada - http://voyage.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/
=46rance -=20
http://www.diplomatie.fr/fcv/etrangers/avis/conseils/default2.asp
UK - http://www.fco.gov.uk/travel
USA - http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/tips_1232.html
        ("Tips for Travelling Abroad")
      http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/
        ("Background Notes" on many countries)
      http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/tw/tw_1764.html
        ("Travel Warnings". These warnings are often considered somewhat
        paranoid by experienced travellers.)

Hostelling International - International Youth Hostel Federation
  http://www.iyhf.org/

Steve Kropla - http://kropla.com/
  Information on using modems, telephones, electric appliances, etc.,
  in many countries.

Rec.travel Library - http://www.travel-library.com/

USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Travel Information -
  http://www.cdc.gov/travel/


V. To Do: Possible Additions
=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=
=3D=3D=3D

* Best ways to phone from Europe: calling card from telephone company
in one's own country, prepaid card from company in one's own country,
telephone card from country being visited, call-back service, etc.
Cheapest choice probably varies considerably by country. There's a list
for the UK at http://www.ourfavouritecompanies.com/Peak/ .

User Contributions:

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