London Gatwick Airport – London City Center

As a large metropolis and one of the great cities of the world, London can be an intimidating place to visit.  Boasting multiple airports, the uninitiated are forced to choose where they want to land – not just which airline they’d like to fly.

Disclaimer:  I’m not a London expert, but I recently used two forms of transport to get to and from Gatwick, so I’d like to share my experience.

EasyBus

This bus, run by the airline EasyJet, operates service to Waterloo Station, Victoria Station, and Earls Court.  I traveled to Earls Court, and the price was £10 one-way, purchased from the driver at the start of the trip.  It took roughly an hour, and it was a pleasant enough ride in a van that could hold about 10-15 people.  During peak times, buses come as often as every 15 minutes.

Purchasing tickets online in advance can significantly lower the price (starting from £2).

The only real downside was that I expected to be dropped off in front of an underground station, but I was on the opposite side of a massive exhibition center, so it took a little walking to find the station I wanted.  There was a closer tube stop, but I didn’t use it because my pre-written directions were written from the other one, and I was too lazy to recalculate.

Overall Recommendation:  I would this method if you plan ahead and don’t have too tight of a schedule.

Gatwick Express

On my way out of London, the rainy weather motivated me to take the more expensive train.  The Gatwick Express runs from Victoria station, and it has its own ticket window and platform (which makes it very easy to use).  They have multiple ticket options, and booking online gets a 10% discount.  Again, I didn’t plan ahead, and I paid at the ticket office.  Fortunately, my student ID earned me a 25% discount, so my one-way ticket was £15 pounds (from the normal rate of £20).

The train only takes about 30 minutes, and one departs every 15 minutes.

Overall Recommendation:  I would use this method if you don’t have as strict of a budget, or if you’re more pressed for time.

London Gatwick Airport – London City Center

As a large metropolis and one of the great cities of the world, London can be an intimidating place to visit.  Boasting multiple airports, the uninitiated are forced to choose where they want to land – not just which airline they’d like to fly.

Disclaimer:  I’m not a London expert, but I recently used two forms of transport to get to and from Gatwick, so I’d like to share my experience.

EasyBus (http://www.easybus.co.uk/london-gatwick)

This bus, run by the airline EasyJet, operates service to Waterloo Station, Victoria Station, and Earls Court.  I traveled to Earls Court, and the price was £10 one-way, purchased from the driver at the start of the trip.  It took roughly an hour, and it was a pleasant enough ride in a van that could hold about 10-15 people.  During peak times, buses come as often as every 15 minutes.

Purchasing tickets online in advance can significantly lower the price (starting from £2).

The only real downside was that I expected to be dropped off in front of an underground station, but I was on the opposite side of a massive exhibition center, so it took a little walking to find the station I wanted.  There was a closer tube stop, but I didn’t use it because my pre-written directions were written from the other one, and I was too lazy to recalculate.

Overall Recommendation:  I would this method if you plan ahead and don’t have too tight of a schedule.

Gatwick Express (http://www.easybus.co.uk/london-gatwick)

On my way out of London, the rainy weather motivated me to take the more expensive train.  The Gatwick Express runs from Victoria station, and it has its own ticket window and platform (which makes it very easy to use).  They have multiple ticket options, and booking online gets a 10% discount.  Again, I didn’t plan ahead, and I paid at the ticket office.  Fortunately, my student ID earned me a 25% discount, so my one-way ticket was £15 pounds (from the normal rate of £20).

The train only takes about 30 minutes, and one departs every 15 minutes.

Overall Recommendation:  I would use this method if you don’t have as strict of a budget, or if you’re more pressed for time.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport – Amsterdam Centraal Station (City Center) By Train

Schiphol is a major airport, and traveling through it is generally a very enjoyable experience.  This point is evidenced by the fact that the fourth busiest European airport was just named the fifth best in the world by Skytrax.  To make these facts more exciting for the average traveler, it’s possible to affordably get to the city center with ease.

There is even a plane on the roof of Schiphol!

Time

The short answer is that it takes about 15 minutes by train to reach Amsterdam Centraal Station.  Since there are at least four trains per hour, you shouldn’t have to wait too long, overall.

Although it serves many flights, the airport is very well designed and fast to get around.  It doesn’t require the use of buses or trains between terminals, and there is an international rail station in the bastment.

Price

A one way ticket currently runs 5 Euros.

There are multiple ticket machines in the airport lobby to speed up the buying.  Keep in mind that you can only pay with coins or a card, and the latter will charge you an additional fee of one euro.

Amsterdam Centraal (Central) Station.

Directions

After leaving the baggage claim, you’ll be in an area full of shops and restaurants.  From there, you will see plenty of signs that direct you to the trains.  The tracks are beneath a large entrance hall to the airport, and there are screens at the top of each escalator to show you which train will be there.

Ticket Activation

The Dutch rail system operates using prepaid cards with chips built inside of them.  Individual tickets (used by short term visitors) still contain these chips, so you need to scan them before getting on the escalator to the train.  It’s highly unlikely anyone will check if you do this, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Warsaw Rising Museum, Warsaw, Poland

The outside of the museum. It looks menacing, doesn't it? (click to see larger)Date of Visit:  April 5, 2012

Rating (1-bad to 10-good): 8

Review:

If you like history, or are just curious why Warsaw looks the way it does, then you should visit this museum.  It focuses on the events before, during, and after World War II.  It is very modern and updated, and well worth the entrance fee.

The museum starts out in the pre-war time period to explain what the situation was before the Nazi invasion.  Then, most of the museum focuses on how life was during the occupation.  Much of this addresses what happened to the Jewish population and the various resistance and military movements throughout the war.  It continues on to the nearly total destruction of the city, and the subsequent rule (occupation) by the Soviets.  Finally, it uses all of this to explain why Warsaw is what it is today.

You start to feel as if you're in the war. (Click to see larger)Not only does the museum have many photographs, movie screens showing video clips, and information sheets in each room, but it also has a lot of great physical items.  There are guns, tanks, uniforms, and even a full sized bomber plain.  Some of the rooms are made up to look like a different setting, and my favorite was probably a cobblestone street with ruined buildings.  There is a giant pillar in the center of the museum that has a beating heart to symbolize the Polish people living on.

I stand by the fact that the museum is worth the entry fee, but avoid paying the extra money for the 3-D movie that is supposed to show Warsaw in its most destroyed state.  It’s an interesting sight to see, but the 3-D barely works.  Also, it’s a very short film that doesn’t contain any dialogue or descriptions.

As with any good museum, it has a lot of history. (click to see larger)The biggest downside to the museum is that it’s depressing.  Unfortunately, the subject matter of the museum forces it to remain on the sad side.  However, they do a great job of trying to tell the truth while focusing on the positive aspects.  Even though it talks about how bad everything was, you leave with a feeling that the Polish people will fight and persevere, and the rebuilt city of Warsaw can attest to that.

Admission Price:  14 PLN Individual, 10 PLN Discounted (student, etc.), 7 PLN per person for a group with a guide

Website:  http://www.1944.pl/en/

Address:  ul. Grzybowska 79

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Colorado Springs, Colorado, U.S.A.

Date of Visit:  August 5, 2011 (the most recent, I've been there many times)

Rating (1-bad to 10-good):  8 - I try to make it back at least once a year, this must mean I like it!
 

Review:

My favorie animal, so they get to be the first picture. (click to see larger)This zoo is built on the side of Cheyenne Mountain overlooking the town of Colorado Springs.  Although it is a zoo, the critters aren't necessarily the best attraction.  It has many animals, great views, nice facilities, good food, and many other nice qualities.

The future home of the elephants and the view behind it. (click to see larger)I'll start with the animals.  They have many of the standard zoo creatures, the only thing they seem to be lacking in is fish and other water dwellers.  However, it's made up for by the largest and greatest giraffe herd I've ever seen.  They live in a very nice enclosure where you can buy crackers to feed them.  The long, grey tongues can seem a little scary at first, but it's an experience worth checking out (click here to go to a live webcam in the giraffe enclosure).

Speaking of the enclosures, it's a very natural feeling zoo.  Hardly any animals live in a traditional cage, and many of them have a pretty fancy home that is as close to their natural environment as the Colorado climate will allow.  They seem to add a new one at least once a year, so it's constantly changing.

The Mountaineer Sky Ride. (click to see larger)Some other attractions include an old carousel and a sky ride.  The sky ride is fairly new, and it's essentially a ski lift that climbs the mountain overtop of the animals (don't worry, it goes between the tigers and grizzly bear cages - not directly over them).  I've never been on it, but I found out you can ride out without admission to the zoo, and it's much cheaper if you just want a quick view of the animals and city.

The food has been revamped over the past few years, and it's quite fancy.  Not your typical hamburgers and hotdogs (but they are an option), you can have terriaki bowls or fresh sandwiches large enough to feed the elephants.  The meals run around $8 or $9, but the portions are large enough to make it worth it.

The Will Rogers Shrine. (click to see larger)Another place to check out is the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun.  It was built high on the mountain in the 1930's, and it's named in honor of a humorist of that era.  You have to drive up to it (a welcome bit of relaxation after trekking around the zoo all day), but admission is included with your zoo tickets.  You can enjoy the gardens around it and climb to the top for and even better view of the city.

The admission prices change depending on the season (see the website for details).  There are many ways to get discounts, and keep an eye open for coupons.

Overall, I would recommend visiting this zoo.  Even if animals aren't your thing, it's a great way to experience some incredible views and understand the true feelings of high altitude walking.

Website:  http://cmzoo.org/

 

 

Speed Burger, Békéscsaba, Hungary

Date of Visit:  Many times since moving to Békéscsaba in August

Rating (1-bad to 10-good):  7 for good prices, long hours, and vegetables served with the greasy food

Review:

This is a great little fast food joint.  There’s actually three parts to it:  “Speed Burger” that sells hamburgers and other grilled sandwich type meals, “Speed Pizza” which sells pizzas, and “Speed something else to do with ice cream” which never seems to be open.

The four buildings (one burger, two pizza – one with a bar, and one ice cream) are separated with a nice little courtyard containing a fountain in the middle.  In the warmer months, it’s great to grab your food and enjoy the fresh air.  The pizza building is the only one with inside seating, though, so that’s where you’ll have to pass your time in the winter.

Speed Christmas Tree - In late JanuaryTaking your food elsewhere seems to be the most popular option.  You can enjoy pizza until midnight 7 days a week, but the burgers are grilled up much later than that.  The burger stand is open until 2 AM Sunday through Thursday and 3 and 4 AM on Friday and Saturday respectively.

It’s all pretty reasonably priced.  Large pizzas average about 1000 Forints give-or-take a few hundred (about 3.67 Euros or 4.95 US Dollars).  The sandwiches and burgers cost about 700 Forints (2.57 Euro or 3.46 Dollars).

Living pretty close to this place, I go there quite often.  I’ve only had the pizza once (because I found another place I like, not because it was bad), but I’m well known at Speed Burger.  My favorite is the Speed Tortilla which is made, ironically, without a tortilla.  Far from being the Mexican food they advertise, it’s a sort of doughy bread that’s cooked on the grill and folded in half with the other ingredients inside.  It’s filled with hamburger, mushrooms, cheese, some sort of sliced meat, sour cream, and probably a few other items.

I can also recommend anything containing the local Csabai sausage.  It’s great for anyone who likes spicy, greasy goodness.

Overall, it’s exactly what you’d expect from the name.  It has the benefit of being right down the street from one of the biggest nightclubs in town, Club Babylon, so you can stop in late on a Saturday night if you want to see the local kids in action.

Website:  http://www.speedpizza.hu/