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Subject: rec.travel.europe FAQ

This article was archived around: 06 Sep 2007 04:22:38 GMT

All FAQs in Directory: travel/europe
All FAQs posted in: rec.travel.europe, rec.travel.misc
Source: Usenet Version


Archive-Name: travel/europe/faq Posting-Frequency: Monthly Last-Modified: 2005-11-30 URL: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/travel/europe/faq
Rec.travel.europe FAQ =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D 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 =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D 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 =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 =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 =3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D=3D 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 =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=3D=3D=3D About the newsgroup itself =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 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/rec.travel-reorg 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 =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=3D=3D=3D=3D 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 =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 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/ .