Travel: How to get the best VALUE

My company is Pilkington Travels, LLC, and I would be honored to help you plan any trip, large or small, so that you get the best value and have the best experience. Feel free to contact me using form below, visit my website, find me on Facebook, and follow me on Instagram.

We all want a great deal, and I understand that! I am very thrifty in many aspects of my life so that I can afford to travel. I don’t really like the expression, “you get what you pay for.” Sometimes you pay for a little and get a lot, or sometimes you pay for a lot and get little. It isn’t necessarily black & white, especially with travel.

Here are a few ways I think you can guarantee the best value for your time and budget!

  1. Use a travel advisor! Travel is PERSONAL, and our job is to help you get the best value and be sure you have an itinerary that is customized just for you. A good travel advisor has partnerships around the world to ensure that you are getting what you want. We also have access to special pricing and special amenities that add extra value to your vacation. As a Virtuoso advisor, I have access to highly vetted partners to ensure that you get exactly what you pay for. You also have an advocate from start to finish to help things go smoothly, make wise choices, and help if anything doesn’t go smoothly. If you haven’t used a travel advisor, or if you are afraid of paying more for your travels, I really suggest you give it a try!
  2. Try an ocean cruise! Before I went on my first cruise, I was very skeptical and had no idea whether I would love or hate the 7 days on board. By day 7, I wanted to LIVE on a ship. It was the most carefree, fun vacation I had ever had. Since meals, accommodations, and transportation are part of the trip, there are no worries. You wake up when you like, eat when you like, etc, and you get to explore several interesting, new ports. Cruises have a bit of a reputation for nickel & diming you, but with the assistance of a travel advisor who knows how that works, you will be sure to enjoy the value of a cruise! By the way, most of my experience is with Norwegian Cruise Lines, and I love them. I can help you find the best fit for you!
  3. Try a river cruise! Enough with the cruise talk! No, never! I have to separate the ocean cruising from river cruising because they are a totally different ballgame. River cruises are a bit more expensive, but probably not as much as you might think. Of course, you still have the meals, accommodations, and transportation that are part of the cruise, but other things are included as well. River cruises usually include 1 free shore excursion per port, and they include wine & beer at meals. Although you have to fly to Europe, they also often offer free or discounted flights. They are also a smaller and more intimate experience. I am particularly a fan of AmaWaterways, but Viking, Uniworld, and Avalon Waterways, among others, are wonderful. Booking through a Virtuoso agent gets you even greater value!
  4. Try a tour. I’m sure this makes some people cringe and gives you visions of being on a charter bus with 60 people. Ick! This isn’t necessarily true. There are a number of providers that offer small group tours and groups various sizes, even private tours. Your travel advisor knows the reputable companies! If you are traveling solo (solo but not alone), or if you like to meet people when you travel, this can be a great way to go. Also, the added value of a tour is that you probably have a guide, all of the planning is built in, and the cost is probably reasonable since it has been negotiated by the tour operator.
  5. Choose your destination wisely. This may seem obvious, but some places are more expensive than others. Norway is amazingly beautiful, but it is quite expensive. Locations even vary in price. For example, the Dominican Republic is a great value right now because of the bad press. If you’re afraid of dying, you really should fearing that. This article, along with others, discusses how the deaths were unrelated, as well as how the media created too much hype about them. Also, Mexico is a relatively inexpensive place to visit, but it’s no less wonderful! Again, your travel advisor can help you find the location that gives you the best value!

P.S. I forgot to mention all-inclusive resorts, but they can also be a great value. In this post, I compare all-inclusive with cruises.

I would love to hear from you!

Day 12: Just look at the pretty pictures

This is the time late in my trip that I don’t feel like writing about every detail, and you might not feel like reading them either. 🙂 I’m going to post a bunch of photos and make comments when needed. It was a good, full day of squeezing in as much as possible in a sort period of time. The main thing is that I absolutely love this city and the people here, and I definitely need to return to explore more of the city and the rest of the country!

The morning. A stroll through Vondelpark and The Van Gogh Museum:


The Heineken Experience. Like Guinness in Ireland, Heineken is very important to Amsterdam. They did a lot to build the city and make it what it is today.


Lunch at a place recommended by someone at my hotel. It is a place where locals go to hang out. They don’t even have English on their menu, and I didn’t hear anyone speaking English. I loved it!!

I read that the Dutch love this thing called “gezellig.” It is sort of just hanging out in a cozy, warm place, and I think this place is very typical of that.

Friends waiting to surprise someone for a baby shower
My table
Salad with quinoa, beets, and feta. It was delicious!!

A few other things from the walk before or after lunch:

Really interesting architecture!
People boarding a river cruise. #goals

I had free admission to The Eye Film Museum. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they happened to have a huge Martin Scorsese exhibit. Kind of odd to see that in Amsterdam, but it was very interesting. Scorsese was definitely involved in putting this together, since many of the things are just his personal belongings:

The museum is the oddly shaped building on the left
The family’s dining room table from Little Italy
Dress from The Aviator
Boxing Shorts & Gloves from “Raging Bull”
Some of Scorsese’s record collection
On the ferry from The Eye, going back to Centraal
Really famous ice cream place. It was time for a snack. Only 1 Euro for a small cone!
It was described as “unbelievably good vanilla ice cream.” It was good, but I thought it was sort of like Chic-fil-A’s Ice Dream or Dairy Queen Ice Cream.
Last stop before nap time
There are hooks at the tops of gables for hoisting things up to the top floors!
Pigeons near my hotel

I was overdue for a nap, so I returned to the hotel. I wasn’t sure where to go for dinner, but I remembered that Amsterdam has a pretty new Food Hall. Just like I am a sucker for a rooftop, I am a sucker for a food hall (Ponce City Market & Krog St Market!). My hotel friend confirmed that it would be a good place to go, so that’s what I did! After that, I decided to take a canal cruise, which was for free with my iamsterdam card. Finally, before going home for the night, I got some fries. Fries with mayo are a big thing here, so I needed to have some. I actually walked about a mile to find a place that was supposed to be the best, but they had closed at 5:00 (I was there at 10:00). Oh well…

A few more pictures from my evening:

The house boats were amazing!

Day 9: Hamburg & Elbphilharmonie Ticket!

The view directly off my balcony.

When the sun rises around 5 am, it’s hard for me to sleep much longer. When it sets around 10 pm, it’s hard to go to bed around that time. I guess if I lived here, I would have really good blackout curtains! I went up to the buffet to get some of the muesli and fruit for breakfast again and took it to my room to eat leisurely and enjoy the room as long as possible. I did a short run on the treadmill  in the gym also, and got myself ready to meet Otto on deck 7 for priority disembarkation. When I was there around 9:15, he was there directing a small group of people to the exit. The priority part of this was the fact that we had a shorter distance to walk, and he shook our hands as he said goodbye to us. It was a nice touch, and it might be hard to go back to being a normal second class citizen on my next cruise!

There was a very short line for stamping passports, and then I was in Hamburg! Our port was by a fish market, which also had a number of shops and restaurants. Fortunately, although nothing was open, I was able to go in the market area and get some wifi to update my map and get directions to my Airbnb. It was about 2.5 mi away, and I had 2 hours to kill until I could get into the apartment where I was staying in the Hafen-City part of town. This walk basically took me from one end of town to the other, along the Elb River. Here are a few of the sights along the way:

My first view of the Elbphilharmonie
Alexa, play that song with the words “boy come back soon”
Fancy hotel up on a hill
The Finnish Church
The Norwegian Church, next door to the Finnish one…

HafenCity, where I was staying is sort of the place to be right now. I’d say it’s like living along the Beltline in Atlanta. It is a redevelopment of an old industrial part of town. http://www.hafencity.com/en/overview/the-hafencity-project.html

As I approached HafenCity, it looked like I expected. Since it is a revitalization of old warehouses on the water, it’s kind of like a newer version of Venice. The buildings are right on the water and connected by a bunch of bridges. When I got very close to the Airbnb, I still had about 30 minutes to kill, so I wandered into a grocery store. I always love a grocery store in another country! I just needed a liter of water, but here are some other fun things I saw:

I just translated this, and “Katzenzungen” means cat tongues?!?!

Yvi, my Airbnb host, left very detailed instructions for how to let the key to her apartment. She left a lockbox on her Volkswagen, which was parked right outside her building. I got it very easily and made my way inside, and I believe I passed the previous guests as they were exiting the building. Perfect timing! As I rested a bit and posted one of my blog posts, it got very dark outside and began to pour. Fortunately, I noticed that Yvi had left an umbrella with a note saying that you’re welcome to use it, and if you want to keep it, you can leave 10 Euros. The rain seemed to be a passing thunderstorm, so I took the umbrella and went out for lunch. When in Deutschland, you go to a Biergarten, right? There was one nearby with good ratings, so I walked in that direction.

Walking with the umbrella
 

When I arrived at around 12:15, I was the only person in there, but a very nice lady helped me it out. It was good that I was the first customer, because what to do was a bit confusing. First, she offered me either kleines oder grosses bierchen, and I chose kleines (small). I then looked at the menu, and she explained that I needed to go to the counter with her to choose what I wanted. Certain items would be weighed (meat), and others were served by the serving size (vegetables). I was really trying to have a light lunch, and I think I did the best I could in this location. The things I didn’t have include, meatloaf, pork belly, and roast pork. 

This really is small…probably about 6 oz
Sausage with curry sauce
Sauerkraut, which had to be ordered from the kitchen. It’s warm

By the time I left, quite a few more people were there, and the poor server was the only person working. She was pretty stressed trying to fill orders and take care of new people who were coming in. To add to the stress, they didn’t accept credit cards under a certain amount, and my lunch was way under that amount (around 9 Euros). Since I didn’t have any cash yet, she took my card.

I then decided to venture into the historic part of town and possibly do a walk that was suggested by the Google Trips app. Like TripAdvisor, you can download the information for a city ahead of time and then use it without internet connection.The walk suggested starting at the Hamburger Kunsthalle (art museum), so I walked through town to get there. Along the way, I stopped in a church and at the Rathaus (city hall, I think), which is a beautiful building and sort of sits on the main town square.

Inside the Rathaus.

I eventually made it to the Kunsthalle, which was an enormous building, but I forgot to take a picture of it. I did take a picture of some beautiful roses growing on it, though. I also took a picture of the main train station (Hauptbanhof). 

Here are a few things inside the museum:

The pipe is attached to a gutter, so rain water slowly drips to form a stalagmite. They plan to have this installation for exactly 500 years–from 1996-2496!

It was about 4:00, and I wanted to go back to the apartment since it was now my actual check-in time. I walked back by that church and took a picture of the door, a model of the church, and a painting that I loved in an art gallery:

I took a quick nap and did some research on what to do for dinner. I seriously wanted a light dinner and didn’t want to spend much. money. I had noticed a placed called Dean & David Fresh To Eat, so that is where I decided to go. It’s a place that I assume is a chain but serves salads, soups, sandwiches, etc. I ordered a shrimp & mango salad and sat in the window to eat it. As I was sitting there, it began to pour again. Fortunately, I found some wifi, and I. looked up what concerts were happening at the Elbphilharmonie. I noticed that they were doing something called “Konzerte für Hamburg” at 7:30 and 8:30. I decided that I would try and get a ticket for the second concert. The rain stopped, and I figured ou that I could get to the hall in about 18 minutes by public transportation. I had to figure out a new system, in another language, quickly, but I did it. First, I went to the wrong platform and missed one train, but I corrected that easily and got on the right train. It was very clean, and the ride was very smooth. As we approached the hall, I could tell that other people on the train were also going there. There was a steady stream of people coming from the hall, so I made my way upstream to the hall. I found the box office and saw a short line. Although no one was speaking English, I figured out that it was a line for people hoping to get tickets for (all concerts are sold out for a long time). We were told that we had to wait about 20 minutes, and right at 8:00 the agent started selling tickets to lucky customers. When she sold a ticket to the person just before me, she said “es tut mir leid…” meaning that she was sorry but that was the last ticket. At that exact moment, a young guy in a suit showed up with a ticket in his hand and said that he was giving away a ticket. This had happened once before, and I missed that opportunity since I didn’t immediately understand the German. This time, I didn’t waste any time, and I took it!! I couldn’t believe it! He gave me the ticket for free. These concerts were not very expensive to begin with, as the highest price was 18 Euros, but it was still like being given the golden ticket!

Everyone scans their tickets to go through a turnstile and access the escalator. The escalator itself was an experience. Not only was it beautiful, but it was a very long ride, and it didn’t go straight up. I don’t know how to describe it, but there was a curve in it, as if it was going over a hill. This might be the best selfie/photobomb ever:

Once at the top, you had to show your ticket again and were directed to the correct entrance. I was asked whether I wanted to take stairs or elevator, and I said I would take the stairs. There were about a million of them, which I didn’t realize. Oh well, I needed to walk off those potatoes! I finally got to my seat, which was the most comfortable concert seat I had ever sat in, by the way. The hall is so large but so intimate. I felt like I had the best seat in the house, and I could really feel that the architecture had a very comforting affect. Although I had been a bit stressed about getting a ticket, then excited about getting one, then rushed up a million stairs to my seat, I was quickly relaxed. 


The orchestra came out, tuned, and the concert began. The first piece was a trumpet concerto by Bernd Alois Zimmermann (new to me). The title was “Nobody knows de trouble I see..” I must admit that I am rarely excited about orchestral music, but this piece was amazing. It engaged me from the beginning. It had elements of jazz and had moments that were very dissonant and disjunct. The soloist was fantastic too. The piece was about 15 minutes long, then the conductor came back out and made a brief explanation of “PIctures at an Exhibition,” which was the other piece to be played. Again, wasn’t too excited about hearing it. I’ve heard it before. I like the music but never found it to be all that satisfying. Well….in this hall, with this orchestra, conductor, and audience, it was a different experience. Other than the fact that every orchestra member was clearly engaged fully, and the conductor was conducting beautifully, giving and taking control (never too showy), one thing that really stood out to me was the dynamics. The soft moments were so soft and beautiful, and the loud moments were very rich and full but never overpowering. The end of “The Great Gate of Kiev,” the final movement, was so powerful. It gave me big chills, which rarely happens anymore. I was not alone. The entire audience loved it. There was not a cheap standing ovation like we see at home, but there was very enthusiastic applause for a long time, and it kept going until it was clear that there would be an encore. I think the conductor said that it had to be short so that we could get out of the hall, but they were going to play something from “Lohengrin.” It was also fantastic, and then it was over. To make it even better, this programming was fantastic. There was a familiar crowd-pleaser with “Pictures at an Exhibition” and something unfamiliar and a bit more challenging with the trumpet concerto. Also it was only an hour long, which is my type of concert. Leave the people wanting more–not wishing it would end!

There were many people taking photos and even discreetly taking video, so I made a short video of the end of “Great Gate of Kiev.”​

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​Here are a few more photos as I was leaving. The sunset was AMAZING!!


My plan was to find an ice cream and call it a night. However, there was a restaurant and brewery in the hall. I decided to look in, and I noticed that people were having flights of beer, so I thought I would try one. The server was pretty slow coming, so I asked the people next to me (communal table) how it worked. They then helped get the attention of the server, and I ordered my tasting. Every one was really quite nice. I also had a very nice conversation with the man next to me as well as his daughter’s boyfriend, who was visiting from Munich. A nice lady also sat next to me, along with her husband and another friend. We also had a nice conversation, but they left pretty soon. After we had all paid, the guys next to me asked if I’d like to walk around the building again. Mark, the older man, gave me his card and said that I should get in touch so that the next time in German we can meet again. My impression is that Germans are very friendly but keep their distance, so I feel that it is an honor to have made friends with these people. My apartment was a pretty short walk from where we parted ways, and when I got home, I had a nice conversation with Yvi, who I learned had just done a big road trip from Washington, DC to Miami, including Savannah & Charleston. She said that her favorite place was Siesta Key in Florida, which I have never heard of. Another place to add to the the list! I finally went to bed at around 12:30!