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Friday, October 02, 2015

Helsingborg must visit-Tropikariet Private Zoo, Sweden

I have written about the Madagascar Lemurs at Tropikariet Private Zoo in this earlier post. This post shares some more posts.
Tropikariet has about 3 floors- one dedicated to rainforest, one dedicated to animals from Africa and so on. Fishes and aquatic life takes one floor- we can dip our hand in water and let the fishes clean our hand- it is a nice experience. We can also touch a few under water species

There are lot of birds. They are not caged but indoor area feels very limited for these birds to fly around.

World's smallest monkey... These were difficult to photograph as they are randomly on the move, fast.

Tropikariet entry fee as per their website was 100 SKK (about 1000 INR), but when I went in, I was told the fee is 120 SKK. Now the website shows 110 SKK.

Also you can club visit to Tropikariet with visit to Fredriksdal- Open air museum and botanical garden. Bus No.1 or 7 and few other buses can take you near Fredriksdal (get down at stop Olympia).  Tropikariet is about a 1km away from bus stop, not 50 meters as stated on their website. You can't buy bus tickets in the bus in Sweden- you should buy at various counters. Tropikariet ticket counter won't sell bus tickets- but you can buy it from the ticket counter of Fredriksdal, which is about 200 meters from Tropikariet.

You can spend 1-2 hours at Tropikariet. If you love animals, this is a must visit in Helsingborg. But you can't touch them or pet them, so it is limiting to some extent. Check their opening hours before visit. There is also a cafe and souvenir shop in ground level. Tropikariet being privately owned and operated, they seem to be constrained by space. If they can get some open campus I am sure they can make the zoo much more interactive.

Read more posts from Sweden here

Thursday, October 01, 2015

How your local prepaid SIM can help you abroad

I have a prepaid SIM and a postpaid SIM from same carrier in India. Ideally you would expect more support from your post-paid SIM when abroad, because you are paying more there. For making calls you can use a local SIM or use internet based calls (whatsapp/FB etc)   but having India number active is very critical- not because of calls, but for any credit card transaction OTP is sent to this number or for any account login (like gmail or various public WiFi) you will need a mobile to verify your identity.  When I checked with a representative of my mobile operator in India before leaving for Europe, I was told that I need to specifically ‘Activate’ international pack on both SIMs to be able to use it abroad. But then international roaming and packages are prohibitively expensive. I had noticed that prepaid SIM seem to be working fine when I was in Singapore. So based on my gut feeling, I proceeded to Europe without bothering to activate any international packs on both my SIM Cards.

From experience and analysis I knew that Matrix like cards are not worth. So didn't buy them. I bought a local SIM in Denmark- Lebara, but in other countries I went to for weekend trips, I could manage without having to buy a local SIM Card. Finding a spot to buy a SIM card early morning/late evening was a tough task and just for 2 days I didn’t want to spend a lot on SIM, top-up and data packs.  I wasn’t planning to call anyone in those 2 days and there were many free public WiFis so I do not really need data pack. Little inconvenient as you will not have net when and where you need it, but still it is manageable as it helps save a few euros.

Once in Europe, the postpaid SIM didn’t work. But the prepaid SIM worked brilliantly. During my various weekend trips, without costing me a single penny, the prepaid SIM helped in following way.
1.    In each country it would offer free incoming SMS- that meant I can make credit card transactions/receive OTPs or receive msg from India
2.    SIM sets the phone to local time, so I don’t have to worry about time conversions
3.    On Google maps, SIM works to know where I am at present, without any data pack. Of course I can’t navigate, but by checking the direction of my movement, I can figure out if I am moving towards my destination or away from it. I can change my direction and reach where I wanted to (at each city airport, connect to Wifi and load maps, this will download required high res city level maps into Google maps app. No Data card or Data pack is necessary.

Note that above suited my needs well, but if you need to constantly use data or call someone, you will need a local sim.

Best Credit Cards for Frequent Travelers

When it comes to credit cards, there’re dime a dozen. With 1000s of options and never ending bombardment of telemarketing calls, selecting the best credit card is a daunting task. Each card claims to be the best and has some advantages boldly listed, but also comes with various unfavorable terms declared in tiny print. So what makes a card better than others? What to look for while applying for a credit card?
In this post, let us check out Citibank’s PremierMiles credit card, designed targeting frequent travelers. PremierMiles card has some benefits other cards do not offer- thanks to its extensive list of partners, the amount you’d have anyway spent on tickets and hotels will now earn you extra miles and these miles can be redeemed for a flight tickets over 100 airlines. Some

Key advantages:
- No blackout dates to redeem flight tickets (Many other card users may face restrictions to  redeem points with airlines during popular season like Dec 25-Jan 1st etc – Citibank PremierMiles has no such restriction)
- Miles Accumulated do not expire ever. So there’s no pressure to redeem it under a hurry (Note: your card must remain active & valid)
- Faster miles- 10 miles for Rs 100 spent with partners, 4 for non-partners. Almost every well know brand in travel industry- makemytrip, cleartrip,, goibibo, expedia and dozens of others are part of this premierMiles card program and spending money there will automatically entitle you more points.
- Swap your card miles for airline miles- that way you can qualify for next higher level of airline’s frequent flyer program faster and or access free lounges or upgrades
- Tempting joining bonus (10000 miles) and renewal bonus

But then note that Citibank PremierMiles card is not free for life. There will be an annual fee of Rs 3000. I believe the craze of issuing free for life card is long over- it was the way of business a decade ago. Now almost all banks charge an annual fee- they want only financially affordable people to have cards, not issue a card to every individual and then risk defaults. 100 premiermiles is worth Rs 45. After factoring 3000 renewal bonus, if you’re spending about 40000 an year on this card at designated partners, then you break even with the annual fee you’ve paid with reward points. Most of us will definitely be spending 5k+ on the card every month, so this is usually not a point to worry about.

Besides Premier miles specific advantages, you will also be getting a host of other benefits Citibank customers enjoy complementary lounge access at leading airports in India, great offers at leading airlines and hotels. Just be sure to identify yourself with your Citibank card at the counter. Compare above benefits with what you’re getting from your current card. I am sure you will see a difference in benefits. But like any cards, be careful with your spending habits and repayment timelines, to avoid up to 42% per year interest rates.

Other than Premier Miles Citibank and other large banks have many other cards to choose from. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Madagascar Lemurs at Tropikariet, Helsingborg

While I wait for my connecting flight at Amsterdam Schipol airport, let me tell you about a unique private zoo I visited some 7 weeks earlier- in Helsingborg, Sweden.

Tropikariet as it is known, is a small indoor zoo. It is privately owned and maintained and houses some rare animals from different parts of the world. What is unique about this Tropikariet Zoo is the way visitors get to experience animals. Unlike other zoos the animals in Tropikariet are not caged. They roam around freely (but within the floor/building. Tropikariet is NOT an open air zoo) and visitors pass through the floor in a pre-defined path, with animals moving around freely.

World's smallest monkey from South America, Lemurs from Madagascar, Meerkats of Africa are few of the popular animals at Tropikariet.

In this post, I am sharing some pictures of the Lemurs. About other animals and attractions at the zoo will write a separate post.

Unfortunately visitors are not allowed to touch the animals or feed them. This kind of limits the experience, but I guess the rule is critical to ensure that both animals and visitors are not harmed. Feeding wrong stuff or mishandling them could cause injuries.
Selfie with Lemur- they are fearless and go about their business of jumping around without bothering the visitors.

Madagascar section in ground level is the best part of Tropikariet. Standby for more.

Also read: Queen's garden at Sofiero, Helsingborg * Europeade 2015 at Helsingborg * Radhuset- City townhall *

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hostel booking in Europe: Useful 7 point checklist & tips

Hostels are cheapest way of spending a night in Europe, particularly when you are on a budget and all you need is a place to sleep for the night. Compared to hotels that offer exclusive rooms, hostels consist dormitories with multiple beds, with each bed rented to a guest on per night basis, at fraction of what it costs to rent a full hotel room. While this shared accommodation is cheap, it also has some drawbacks/challenges as you don't own the entire room and need to live with other guests respecting common rules.

During my weekend trips ex-Copenhagen, I stayed in 6 different hostels across Europe- in Brussels, Amsterdam, Bergen (Norway), Interlaken, Helsinki and Kaunas (Lithuania). Each hostel stay was different experience. Their layout, rules, rate structure etc had variations. I have already written detailed review of Monk’s Bunk Kaunas, Louise Hostel Brussels here and few more detailed reviews coming up.

In this post, I am sharing a list of my observations and things to look for, while booking hostels in Europe. These aspects if considered carefully can help you save some time, money and make your stay more convenient. Hope this helps

Checkpoint 1: Distance from city centre: Closer to city centre the better. Farther the hostel is from city centre, more will be your traveling time and cost. If not closer to city centre then ensure that hostel has a metro station or good public transportation (Use maps-if hostel is close to central station or if you see icons representing tram/bus/train adjacent to hostel then go for it). If not, a few euros you save on rent will be consumed in transport to and from the hostel.

Checkpoint 2: Locker options- Since you will be sharing the bed in a dorm, a safe place to keep your valuables while you’re away becomes important. Different hostels have different type of lockers with different fee structure.
  • Piano hostel in Bergen has a money operated locker, which costs 10 NOK (About INR 80 or 1 Euro) per opening. Each time you want to lock it, you need to put a new coin. Also this locker was very small and not big enough to take a backpack.
  • Monk’s bunk in Kaunas had a large size locker inside the room, free of cost (10 Euro deposit required)
  • A&O Zuidoost in Amsterdam had a free to use luggage room near reception and a small sized locker for extremely valuable stuff (like passport, wallet etc)- no locker in room
  • Stadion Hostel in Helsinki had two types of lockers- one big one, for which you need to have your own lock (or buy a lock at reception) and a smaller locker free for use (deposit required)
There is no clear way of knowing what kind of lockers are there in a hostel- you can either try reading the reviews of that hostel or if you are very particular about this (like you have some big bag or valuable you plan to leave in the room when you go out) then check with hostel via email or phone before booking.
Checkpoint 3: No of beds and open space: If you plan to spend lot of time in the room, Number of beds could be a factor. Some hostels stuff 10-15 beds in a room (like Piano hostel, Bergen) which can get congested and noisy when fully occupied. Check pictures of the hostel online, gives you an idea of how congested/spacious it is. Some hostels have private rooms for slightly extra money, which might be worth considering if you are in a group or if you are keen on privacy.

Checkpoint 4: Check-in Check-out timings: Some hostels have very inconvenient/restrictive check-in/check-out hours. For example, A&O Amsterdam Zuidoost hostel in Amsterdam- 3PM check in and 10 AM check out. Some hostels have a cut off time in the night beyond which there won’t be any staff. If your schedule doesn’t suit these timings then you may have to book an extra night or spend some time outside etc facing extra inconvenience. If you are arriving/leaving at odd hours, look for hostels with 24 hour reception, or ensure that they can accommodate you at odd hours.

Checkpoint 5: What is included/not included- Some hostels do not offer towel. You need to carry your own. Almost all hostels will have a small kitchen that you can use to cook some basic stuff-but be sure to carry ingredients.

Checkpoint 6: Shared rooms/shared bathrooms-
while some hostels will have separate dorms for men and women, few have mixed dorms. If you are not comfortable having someone from the other gender around you then be sure to select a dorm that is exclusive to your gender. Similarly few hostels will have a bathroom inside the dorm, but most will have common bathrooms outside. This means you need to leave your stuff around the bed and go out for a both- some times you may have to wait in queue if you try to use it in peak hour. While most hostels I stayed had exclusive bathroom, the Stadion hostel in Helsinki had a shower room which had 3 showers in one room (separate showers for men and women, but in one shower room expect 2-3 other guests (of same gender) to be bathing alongside. Again this information is not declared outright, but you can find out by reading reviews or mailing hostel staff, if you are very particular about privacy.

Checkpoint 7: Refund rules- Most hostels allow free cancellation/modifications up to a day or two prior to check in date. But few hostels will have cheaper rates but no cancellation allowed. Some charge yuour card in advance. These aspects matter if you are not 100% sure of your travel

Almost all hostels offer free WiFi, but in Stadion hostel, it was in reception area only. In general, if the hostel is closer to city centre you can easily find some cheap place to eat food, else you will have to spend more on food.

Similar: Stayzilla review *