Posted in Budget, Nature, Travel, Tucked away

How to do Iceland on a budget

Iceland is one of the cheapest destinations to get to but one of the most expensive locations for tourists to visit.  You can easily find air tickets for $99 from Boston or Baltimore to Iceland one way (plus tax and luggage fees) with low cost airlines.

Before I get started you need to understand that the tourist season is relatively short on Iceland, visitors concentrate in Reykjavik from spring to fall, only the brave ones venture out in the winter.  The hotels get sold out very quickly and are very expensive.  Reykjavik is a very small city comparing to other capitals in the world, downtown only consists of one street running from Hallgrimskrikja Church to Old Harbor and pretty much that is it.  Parking is very limited and you can’t access certain sections of downtown with a car; it is going to be hard to find free parking around there.  If there is no event, try parking at the church and walk your way down to the port.

If you are not into pub crawling and hate crowded and overpriced hotels like I do, then book an apartment in the suburbs and park for free.  Suburb in Iceland only means a 10-15 minute drive to downtown Reykjavik so it wasnt a big deal for me knowing how much money we saved.  Whether you are traveling alone or with family members or other couples, you may want to consider booking an apartment on Airbnb which is what I did.

We went to Iceland in the month of June, which is considered to be peak season, hotel rooms were starting from $240/night with no breakfast and paid parking. My two-bedroom apartment cost $52 a night (for the 4 of us) with utilities and cleaning fee included.  The building itself was nothing to write about, the apartment had no panoramic views but was completely renovated and furnished with typical nordic furniture; the host left us a lot of fresh food in the fridge and cabinets.  We had a grill on the balcony and a private parking so we never had to fight for space or feed the meter.

Restaurants are very expensive as well, a plate of food with meat or fish ranges from $42 to $80 and portions are small. I have been to over 4o countries but never seen anything like it before.  Cafeterias were a bit cheaper but come on!  A family of 4 could break the bank in a week so we did grocery shopping and cooked for ourselves.   We only sat in coffee houses twice and treated ourselves with a slice of dessert (got free water) and I paid $60 each time for a family of 4.

The cheapest grocery store is called Bonus, you may want to remember that because there is a price difference between them.  Take a walk and look around well, don’t grab the first item that comes in your sight because they tend to display special items in the middle of the shelves and isles. I grabbed a whole leg of lamb but found the same meat under a different brand just 2 fridges away for half the price.

Most of the produce and crops are imported since nothing grows on Iceland for two reasons: First, the climate does not allow it; since summer is short and relatively cold, the vegetables only have 3 months to grow from the day they plant it till harvest. Second, there is no good soil for cultivation, the land is nothing but rocks and ashes from the lava.  There are 21 active volcanos and hundreds of geysers, hot springs and waterfalls. Imagine the country like Marsh with only moss and green grass surrounded by an ocean. Very spectacular actually but no agriculture. I heard on a cooking class that wheat survives on certain parts of Iceland.

Tap water is completely safe to drink, Icelandic water is one of the cleanest and purest on earth however it does have a little smell and taste which is due to its high mineral content.  The shower water smells the same way. If it does not bother go for it, you save money on bottled water, if it does, get a case of water.

Organized tours cost an arm and a leg.  Initially I thought they are taking advantage of tourists then we realized that they have to make enough money from spring to fall to survive winter with no (or minimal) income.  If you must pay for a tour, there are no local coupons to find anywhere online (trust me,  I tried). You can do two things: pay the tour operators directly and skip the retailers or book your tour on an American webpage that allows you to use a coupon. I used Viator and saved 10%.

Your must book your ticket to the Blue Lagoon at least a 3-4 days in advance. There are no discounts and the price is not fixed.  During busy hours and based on demand they increase the entrance fee; however, if you choose to go in the morning or evening hours, you are paying the lowest price which is 50 Euro in the summer and 40 Euro in the winter which includes a locker and a silica musk.  If you take a towel, slippers and a bathrope with you, you save some bucks on rental fees.  There are cheaper hot springs but in all honesty, Blue Lagoon is the most unique and biggest on Iceland, one of the world’s Seven Wonders.

Your best bet is to rent a car and drive around.  Rental cars are pricy, economy cars with limited miles start from $80 plus insurance.  If you drive less than 100 km a day you are fine but if you exceed it, you will pay per kilometer.  Note: The Keflavik International airport is already around 50 km from Reykjavik and distances between the main attractions are pretty big  as well so map your road trip and calculate the distances. Since I book everything way in advance and do a good research online, I managed to find a local provider for about $50 a day with unlimited miles, it is called Hasso Rent a Car.  Gasoline is around $2 a liter which equals to about $8 a gallon. (You are still better off driving comparing to paying for organized tours for multiple people).  There is no toll on the south side of Iceland. It is safe to drive around, most roads are paved and in great condition, just watch out for narrow bridges and give way to incoming traffic; pull over if you have to.   Watch out for cattle and herds crossing roads, the speed limit is slower than anywhere else. Keep an eye on the weather because it can change rapidly and unexpectedly, flash floods are pretty common over there.  You are not allowed to drive on unpaved surfaces and through rivers (or running water) with an economy car, the fine is huge!






Posted in Nature, Spa, Travel, Tucked away

Medicinal water of Egerszalok, Hungary



Egerszalók’s real attraction, on the southern side of the village, is the thermal spring erupting from deep in the earth and limestone hill created by water runoff, which over the years has come to be known as “salt hill.” The 65-68 C medicinal water rich in mineral content continually builds jagged, white formations, offering an imposing spectacle.  The hot spring is surrounded by pine trees all around and a bit tucked away.

The first well was drilled in 1961 in search of oil and natural gas, with the drilling of a second well taking place in 1987.  While consecrating the wells in the autumn of 2010, they received the names of Mary and Wendelin. The icon of Mary the Miracle Worker can be found in the Egerszalók Catholic Church, while Saint Wendelin is the patron saint of springs and wells.

In 1992, the Ministry of Health qualified the thermal waters of Egerszalók as “medicinal.” Based on the composition of the water, it can be classified as calcium magnesium hydrogen carbonate mineral water, for which the sulphur content is also significant.

The medicinal water of calcium magnesium hydrogen carbonate also contains sodium and a significant amount of metasilicic acid, and has been ranked as one of the best in the sulphuric medicinal waters category. Over the years, the limestone hill has become a symbol and trademark of the surrounding area. It’s a sight unique to Europe, with similar natural formations found only in two other places in the world, at Pamukkale in the Asian part of Turkey and in Yellowstone National Park in the United States.

Calcium has an anti-inflammatory effect, and sulphur is an important component of cartilage in the joints.


  • degenerative musculoskeletal disorders: arthrisis, back and lower back pain
  • non-acute stages of inflammatory musculoskeletal disorders
  • rehabilitation after orthopedic and spinal surgery
  • inflammatory gynecological diseases
  • psoriasis, eczema


  • severe cardiovascular diseases
  • fever and infectious diseases
  • skin lesions
  • malignant tumours
  • general poor health condition
  • incontinence

The components of this famous medicine water are:

Total dissolved mineral content: 1602 mg/l

Component Measured value
Metaboric acid HBO2 11,1
Metasilicic acid H2SiO3 50
Free carbon dioxide CO2 328
Bound CO2 227
Potassium K+ 11,1
Sodium Na+ 64,0
Ammonium NH4+ 0,41
Calcium Ca2+ 154
Magnesium Mg2+ 22,6
Iron Fe2+ 0,08
Manganese Mn2+ 0
Lithium Li+ 0,21
Nitrát NO3- <1
Nitrate NO2- 0
Chloride C1 29
Bromide Br- 0,18
Iodide J- 0,03
Fluoride F- 1,61
Sulphate SO4- 71
Hydrogen carbonate HCO3- 628
Sulphide S2- 3,5
Phosphate (total) PO4+ 0

Source: Saliris Resort Spa & Conference Center

Examination conducted by Vízkutató Kémia Ltd., serving as an accredited laboratory on October 30, 2007

Images: Spa.relaxos, Panoramio,, Pinterest

Posted in Car Rental, Travel

Road trippers: How to avoid being scammed abroad by car rental companies. Stay away from FireFly Rent a Car!!!


Please find above attached documents: original car rental reservation showing $226.18 booked via Expedia and Firefly Rent a Car charge at the Costa Rica airport showing $699.61, nearly a $500 overcharge! 

As a road tripper, this is my biggest nightmare because an American customer has no rights to complain abroad, nowhere to run, you are at the mercy of these foreign companies in the travel industry.  Nothing can prepare you for what can happen to you abroad so I am going to share my wisdom and own experience to prepare you the best I can for your next car rental overseas.

You fly many hours overnight, cross oceans and time zones and arrive with a lot of excitement to discover a new country. You have your hotels booked and activities lined up for the next few days or weeks, got your maps and GPS ready.  You pick up your luggages, pass customs and immigration then take a shuttle to pick up your rental car.  You line up at the counter and are informed that they can’t honor your original rental quote and the rate has now tripled!

These people know you came from the USA (or western countries), the word “TOURIST” is written all over your forehead, they know you came with credit cards and US dollars. You just became a victim of a scam. There you are, tired and jet lagged, frustrated trying to solve your transportation problem and re-think your entire road trip.

  1. Taxi is too expensive for a 10 day road trip and most likely you won’t find any cabs in remote locations near volcanoes, jungles, waterfalls, national parks, etc.  You need transportation multiple times a day because you not only need to get from one city to another but also need to go out for either grocery shopping or to dine out.  So taxi is out.
  2. Buses and trains only travel between certain cities and please keep in mind that traveling on buses can take double, if not triple the amount of time versus driving a car on a shorter route with higher speed and fewer breaks; buses stop everywhere and take detours to pick up passengers from many remote locations.  You may have to transfer buses and trains and wait for connections. When you arrive at a bus stop you will still need to take a cab to your hotel and then you still have to get to a national park somehow or wherever you go next from your accommodation. You will greatly depend on bus or train schedules and routes, given they even go to the cities you are heading next.  If you do decide to take this option then you seriously have to reconsider your road trip and perhaps eliminate a few cities and activities, in that case you have to re-plan your entire trip based on train/bus routes and schedules.  If you have already paid for hotels and activities then you might have a loss if you need to cancel those.
  3. You look for other car rental companies in the hope of finding lower or the same prices. Chances are slim that you will find reasonable rates at that time (without prior booking) especially during peak travel seasons or holidays or on certain remote islands, like Sardinia, Corsica or Iceland where they only have limited availability due to destination.

So, what can you do to prevent getting into this situation?

  1. Always book your rental car to be picked up at an airport, big or small but make sure it is an airport.  It doesn’t mean you will never get scammed at an airport but chances are smaller that they will rip you off there.
  2. Choose a big name, preferably American or European chain. Again, it does not mean that you will never get scammed at brand name car rental office but the chances are smaller.  Please note that car rental offices can be sold and they can become privately owned and operated businesses, meaning no franchise rules will apply.
  3. Use an American website for the car rental reservation, either book directly with an American car rental company (Hertz, Avis, Sixt, Thrifty, etc.) or a registered American travel agency. You just have more rights there as a damaged US customer abroad.  I am a faithful and loyal customer of Expedia so I am only booking with them; I can recommend them to any traveler.
  4. Pick an option where you can prepay for the car. Again, it does not mean that the car rental agency will never increase the original booking rate and asks you for a difference due to higher prices but the chances are smaller.  Besides, if all goes well, prepaying for a rental car normally gives you an even better deal (5-10% discount).
  5. Stay away from Firefly Rent a Car in Costa Rica and pretty much anywhere else.  That was the company I rented from overcharging me $500 but looking at their Italian branches, they have a lot of negative feedback in Europe as well. They simply do not respond to inquiries, ignore all emails and phone calls and you certainly can’t argue with them onsite. They won’t give you the rental car until you pay the increased rate so it is their way or the high way!
  6. Use your American credit card for payment. Now, if you do agree to pay the increased amount for the rental car (simply because you don’t have any other option) and sign the contract, furthermore you initial it on multiple places, your bank  cannot reverse the charge, they are bound by that contract even if it is on a foreign language and nobody understands it, the numbers (currency amount) speak for themself.  It will not be considered as fraud either because nobody stole your credit card number in this case and you actually used the car.  Most likely you will end up with the charge but at least your bank will investigate the case and they may give a few dollars back as a goodwill if your account is in good standing.
  7. You can report the incident to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and file a claim by submitting your documents at That only helps you if the rental car company abroad is an American franchise.
  8. You can also report the incident to the foreign consumer protection agency if you find out who they are. You may not recover your money but at least you can help future travelers and have your voice heard.


Posted in Beach, Outdoors, Travel, Turkey

A gem of the Aegean Sea in Turkey – Fethiye Beach, Oludeniz


Turkey is one of the destinations where you can do it all on a budget.  The weather is nice all year around, winter is mild on the south; food is great but it tastes even better with life music 😉  The closest airport to Ölüdeniz  is Dalaman but if you are looking for an international airport, pick Istanbul and rent a car because you are looking at 808 kilometers, which takes about 9 hours and 15 minutes (without stops).  For your information Ankara is about 7 and 1/ 2 hours away. I drove to  Ölüdeniz via Troja, Izmir and Denizli spending a night on each location but it was more scenic that way.

Ölüdeniz means Dead Sea due to its calm waters even during storms; the official translation is Blue Lagoon, is a small village and beach resort in the Fethiye district of Muğla Province, on the Turquoise Coast of southwestern Turkey, at the conjunction point of the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas. It is located 14 km (9 mi) to the south of Fethiye, near Mount Babadağ.

Ölüdeniz remains one of the most photographed beaches on the MediterraneanIt has a secluded sandy bay at the mouth of Ölüdeniz, on a blue lagoon.The beach itself is a pebble beach. The lagoon is a national nature reserve and construction is strictly prohibited. The seawater of Ölüdeniz is famous for its shades of turquoise and aquamarine, while its beach is an official Blue Flag beach, frequently rated among the top 5 beaches in the world by travelers and tourism journals alike.

Other known beach areas are Kusadasi and Bodrum.

Ölüdeniz is also famous for its paragliding opportunities. It is regarded as one of the best places in the world to paraglide due to its unique panoramic views, and Mount Babadağ’s exceptional height. Breathtaking panorama and stable weather conditions make launch site at Babadag Mountain the best in Europe.

I can’t describe with words how magnificent  Ölüdeniz  is so let me just post a video I found on Facebook by The World but I also took photographs last November.

Sources: The World, Wikipedia

Images: clickstay, Pinterest


Posted in History, Hungarian history, Travel

Pena Castle – The highlight of Portugal with Hungarian history


What a small world, the King of Portugal had Hungarian roots!

Little did I know when I planned this Portuguese trip including a few castles in Sintra. To the best of my knowledge history books don’t mention anything about a Hungarian princess, Maria Antonia Gabriella Kohary who was the mother of Ferdinando II, the king of Portugal, who built this famous castle.

This is what the sign said located at the Castillo de Pena:

“King Fernando II of Portugal was born in 1816 in Vienna, the son of Duke Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and of Maria Antonia Gabriella Kohary. His father had converted to Catholicism in order to marry this Hungarian princess, thereby founding the Catholic branch of the family, which is also known as Saxe-Coburg-Kohary. In 1836 Fernando married Maria II, Queen of Portugal and from this union were born 11 children, amongst whom two future Kings, Pedro V and Luis I.”

I did some research on Maria Antonia and according to Wikipedia, she was born in Buda on July 2, 1797 as a second daughter of Ferenc Jozsef  Koháry de Csábrág, known as Franz Josef, Count Koháry and his wife, Countess Maria Antoinetta Josefa von Waldstein-Wartenburg. She was a Hungarian noblewoman and the ancestress of several European monarchs. She was the heiress of the Koháry family and one of the three largest landowners in Hungary.  To make Maria a suitable bride for a prince, the emperor had raised her father (whose ancestors had been created counts in the Hungarian nobility in July 1685 and barons in February 1616) to Prince Koháry of Csábrág and Szitnya in Austria’s nobility on 15 November 1815, two weeks before the wedding, thereby allowing her to come to her bridesgroom already a princess.

The history of Pena Castle: The palace itself is composed of two wings: the former Manueline monastery of the Order of St. Jerome and the wing built in the 19th century by King Ferdinand II. These wings are ringed by a third architectural structure that is a fantasised version of an imaginary castle, whose walls one can walk around and which comprises battlements, watchtowers, an entrance tunnel and even a drawbridge.

In 1838, King Ferdinand II acquired the former Hieronymite monastery of Our Lady of Pena, which had been built by King Manuel I in 1511 on the top of the hill above Sintra and had been left unoccupied since 1834 when the religious orders were suppressed in Portugal. The monastery consisted of the cloister and its outbuildings, the chapel, the sacristy and the bell tower, which today form the northern section of the Palace of Pena, or the Old Palace as it is known.

King Ferdinand began by making repairs to the former monastery, which, according to the historical sources of that time, was in very bad condition. He refurbished the whole of the upper floor, replacing the fourteen cells used by the monks with larger-sized rooms and covering them with the vaulted ceilings that can still be seen today. In roughly 1843, the king decided to enlarge the palace by building a new wing (the New Palace) with even larger rooms (the Great Hall is a good example of this), ending in a circular tower next to the new kitchens. The building work was directed by the Baron of Eschwege.

The 1994 repair works restored the original colors of the Palace’s exterior: pink for the former monastery and ochre for the New Palace.

In transforming a former monastery into a castle-like residence, King Ferdinand showed that he was heavily influenced by German romanticism, and that he probably found his inspiration in the Stolzenfels and Rheinstein castles on the banks of the Rhine, as well as Babelsberg Palace in Potsdam. These building works at the Palace of Pena ended in the mid-1860s, although further work was also undertaken at later dates for the decoration of the interiors.

King Ferdinand also ordered the Park of Pena to be planted in the Palace’s surrounding areas in the style of the romantic gardens of that time, with winding paths, pavilions and stone benches placed at different points along its routes, as well as trees and other plants originating from the four corners of the earth. In this way, the king took advantage of the mild and damp climate of the Sintra hills to create an entirely new and exotic park with over five hundred different species of trees.

Sources: Parques de Sintra and Wikipedia

Image: traveltoeat




Posted in Cheap Airline, Europe, Travel

Understanding combination air tickets and luggage allowance on small air crafts

A friend of mine contacted me from Hungary asking me for help on a combination ticket. Her son and husband are flying from Budapest to Barcelona for a soccer tournament taking Wizzair but returning with Ryanair.

In cases like hers, a trip involving multiple airlines within the EU she must check with both airlines to know the exact baggage allowance because airlines have different limitations.  Don’t be surprised if one airline allows smaller cabin bags and lighter checked bags than the rest so when you have a combination ticket you must go with the stricter one (given you travel with the same bag both ways).

Short flight planes are fairly small so the overhead luggage compartments and the space under the seats are very small, which means that they have to limit the size of the carry-on items.  Due to cabin space limitations they may only fit 70-90 cabin bags but any remaining bags will be checked free of charge at the door of the air craft. If you carry fragile items in your cabin bag and there is no room for yours just insist that they check other bags instead of yours otherwise you can say goodbye to your china.

Before you start packing your personal belongings please check your airline’s baggage size and weight allowance (if you are flying with multiple carriers then check  with all of them) because if your bag is off by an inch and it does not fit inside the cabin, you will be asked to check it and there is a fee for that. Keep in mind that checking a bag at the airport costs up to 40% more than checking it online so choose your luggage wisely.  Now, if your bag does not fit because there is no room for it (the overhead compartment is full) than they will check it for you free of charge SO THERE IS A BIG DIFFERENCE!!!!  Measure your luggage (with wheels and handle) instead of relying on your best guess.  If you have a bag that you used in the past on another flight do not assume that all airlines will accept it (under free allowance), for the record Lufthansa and British Airways tend to accept larger cabin bags.

The same rule goes for checked bags, as they call it in Europe “hold bags”.  Size is important so that your bag can fit through the cargo door and weight matters because you will have to pay for it; some airlines have set fees while others will charge per kilogram over a certain weight, like Ryanair does it over 15 kg or Easyjet over 20 kg; the heavier the bag the higher the cost is. Don’t stop there, Wizzair charges different baggage fees during low season and peak season travel, not to mention an additional airport surcharge if you purchased a ticket within 3 hours of your flight departure.

There is no way to memorize these baggage fees for every airline which keep on increasing every year besides the allowances are different for each carrier, so don’t bother. Pack light and try to fit your personal items in your carry-on and second bags; if you must check a bag just follow the guidelines for the cheapest option. First class and business class passengers have more free allowances so I suggest you to check the baggage allowance for your flight every time you travel.

Image: santoantaovacation



Posted in Portugal, Travel

Portugal’s hidden treasure: Bussaco Palace Hotel







After touring Spain I was really excited to discover Portugal, planned my trip around medieval villages, castles, forts and ports but Bussaco Palace was not only a castle also our hotel for a night.  As you all know castles and forts were built on hilltops so I thought I would spot this from a distance but it wasn’t visible at all.  After leaving Lisbon we visited several castles, stopped for sightseeing in Coimbra and arrived to Mealhada at night.  The road to Bussaco Palace left me wondering if we were going to end up in somebody’s driveway when all of a sudden there she was with her glorious beauty, a tucked away shining star.  Our jaw dropped when we first spotted this illuminated castle while the smell of pine trees combined with the sweet fragrance of magnolia, jasmine and roses tickled our noses.  We normally check-in hotels quickly and settle down but this time we took forever to make our way from the parking lot to the reception. My family took off in different directions leaving the luggages to me, nobody cared about our room numbers yet.   They slowly appeared one by one holding not one but two cameras and told me that they wanted to get up early the next day and see this in daylight.  What a way to end our day, after seeing castles all day long we were actually spending a night in one!

The Palace Hotel of Bussaco is located in the heart of the National Forest Bussaco, right in the middle of Portugal, in the known Bairrada region. The Bussaco forrest is many centuries old, planted and cultivated by the Barefoot Carmelite Monks who lived in cloistered confinement and contemplation for more than 200 years, from 1630 to 1834. This magnificent natural alter was blessed and protected by a papal bull issued by Pope Urban VIII in 1634.

The walls that protect the forest are more than 5,000 kilometers long and have several gate entrances.  The “Portas de Coimbra” , the gate that served as the entrance to the Monastery, still incorporate the Papal Bulls, which at the time prohibited the cutting down of the trees and banned women from entering the forest – and consists of two imposing gates with the walls covered in the pebble inlay work, so characteristic of the Carmelites area. Adjacent to the “Portas de Sula” is the monument commemorating the Battle of Bussaco, which took place nearby on September 27, 1810 between the Anglo-Portuguese forces led by the Duke of Wellington and Napoleonic troops under General Massena.


Images: bestourism, tripadvisor, versailletovictoria, hotels, luxurydreamhotels


Posted in Car Rental, Toll in Europe, Travel

Advising on toll systems in Portugal

Dear Reader and Future Traveler:

If you found incorrect or incomplete information on Portugese toll systems as I did, look no further, this is the blog you need!

In all honesty, I have never seen so many toll gates on one single road and so many different toll systems in a single country, as here.  It does not matter where you enter Portugal, you can’t avoid paying tolls, which already starts at the borders.  Upon entering Portugal you can’t miss these large signs asking foreign vehicles to register for EasyToll. This is a very simple and quick process; you approach the EasyToll machine (make sure your car stands fairly close to the gate), slide your credit card (and leave it inside the machine for processing unlike in the USA where you quickly swipe it), the camera takes a picture of your license plate and associates it with your credit card.  The sign up has a cost of 0.60 Euro+VAT and each journey has an administrative cost of 0.26 Euro+VAT, which will be charged to your credit card.



-These machines do not accept credit cards with a chip so you better have the right credit card with you because you can’t turn around here!!!! 

-If you change rental cars during your trip, you can update your registration online but you can’t switch credit cards so make sure your credit card has funds. 

You are going to get a receipt as proof of registration, showing your license plate, identifier number and the last four digits of your credit card number.  The registration is valid for 30 days and with EasyToll registration you can drive on regular toll and EasyToll roads. Every time you cross a toll gate the camera will read your license plate and automatically charge the toll to your registered credit card without stopping. The amount of toll for each car category is posted on a big sign just before the gate. YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO USE THE VV (VIA VERDE) LINES with this type of registration unless your car is also equipped with a transponder. When you leave Portugal don’t forget to cancel this service to make sure nobody drives the same rental car with your registered credit card!!!

The toll gates cost nickel and dime but they surely add up because the gates are only a few kilometers apart.  There are secondary roads if you want to avoid paying toll but they barely qualify for roads; you basically have to share a single lane with incoming traffic, which could easily mean anything from crossing goats to tractors.  Somewhat scenic but there are no facilities between the villages unless peeing in the bushes satisfies you, not to mention you can’t drive faster than 25 KPH. We did not last long driving on secondary roads, immediately set our GPS to allow toll roads from that moment on and saved an hour on a 2 hour drive! People, gasoline in Portugal is 1.48 Euro a liter so do the math, it is more economical to take the toll roads, trust me on that, so worth it!

Another toll option is a 3 day sticker which entitles you to unlimited use on regular toll roads (driving light vehicles only) but not good for EasyToll roads.  It costs 20€ with a service cost of 0.60€+VAT and an administrative cost of 0.26€+VAT per journey. There is also an option of a pre-paid ticket with previously defined date and journey:

Journey from Spain – Porto Airport, via A28 or A41 (round trip)

Journey from Spain – Faro Airport via A22 (round trip)

On a side note: I heard this sticker does not come off easily and rental car companies don’t like it. 

The third option is a transponder, so-called Via Verde device.  This device allows you to use the VV (Via Verde) line which is the express line in Portugal while the toll gates debit the amount from your device.  You can rent a transponder and return it or just buy one if you don’t like the hassle. Cost of rental: 6 Euro in the first week and 1.50 Euro for each week after that. Initial deposit is 27.50 Euro (value refunded upon return of the device) and the consumption is depending on the use.  You can purchase this product in Via Verde stores or in service areas, IN CASH.  For permanent stays, the driver may purchase a Via Verde device with direct debit online, Via Verde stores or at the Caixa Geral Bank in Spain. Validity period of 90 days, extendable for an equal period whenever a new minimum preload is made before the expiration of that period.

The  fourth option is the TollCard which is activated through an SMS, with a fixed amount to be consumed depending on circulation. This solution allows payment in cash or with bankcard, is valid for one year and your balance can be found on the Internet. It is aimed at tourists and immigrants.  The driver can buy a pre-loaded card with 5, 10, 20 or 40 € (with an added service cost of 0.60€+VAT for each purchased card).

After purchasing the card the driver shall proceed to its activation by sending an SMS by mobile phone with the code printed on the card and the license plate of the vehicle (instructions on the card), so that it is associated with the license plate of the vehicle. You can activate more than one card, with the accumulation of balances.

The driver can check the card balance online at and when the card balance runs out, the customer will receive an alert SMS. The activated balances will be consumed depending on the use of highways with electronic toll collection only and for each journey it´s applied an administrative cost of 0.26€+VAT.  Each card is valid for one year after its activation.

A tollcard that is not activated or damaged can be returned in any CTT office and its purchasing cost will be refunded. The remaining credit can also be refunded if a credit card was used for the payment (as long this was ordered during the sign up), in a 6 month maximum period. Buy it at CTT post-offices, at Portuguese highway´s service areas or at

Lastly, the fifth kind of toll, which is not mentioned on any website, are the manned toll booths on certain sections so you have to pick up a ticket the old fashion way and pay the toll when you exit or whenever you get to next pay gate on your road.  They accept cash and credit cards as well.




Image: engenhariacivil, autotraveler


Posted in Travel

Dinner in the Sky



Dinner in the Sky, has met the challenge by providing a unique occasion to discover Brussels’ high cuisine in the most extraordinary manner possible: 22 guests and 1 “starred” chef will share an unforgettable gastronomic experience in the skies over the capital, enjoying an unparalleled view of Brussels and its surroundings while delighting in rare dishes and fine wines.

In 2006 Brussels welcomed a world first with a surreal concept: Dinner in the Sky. Ten years later, this magical table brightens the sky in no less than 40 countries. So it’s only natural that in 2016 they celebrate their 10th anniversary in an exceptional manner, in the city where it all began: Brussels. They wanted to make a wild dream come true by having 10 chefs cook simultaneously for 10 tables that are lifted by 10 cranes at the same time, high in the sky in front of the Atomium at a 50 meter altitude.

Thanks to the support of DS Automobiles, for five days (from June 1 until June 5, 2016) gastronomy will reign supreme in Brussels.  Each day the 10 chefs will treat 220 guests to a delicious lunch (12:30 pm) and 2 dinners (7:30 & 9:30 pm) high in the Brussels’ sky.

So far they have over 40 operational countries: Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, Finland, Lituania, Latvia, Estonia, Denmark, Sweden, Ukraine, Russia, England, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Turkey, Morocco, Lebanon, United Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, South-Africa, India, Japan, China, Brazil, Colombia, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Florida and Las Vegas.

MEXICO / TEOTIHUACAN /  23-24.01.2016
MEXICO / TEOTIHUACAN / 13-14.02.2016
GREECE / ATHENS / 05.05 – 05.10.2016
SLOVENIA / LJUBLJANA / 13.05 – 17.05.2016
BELGIUM / BRUSSELS / 01.06 – 05.06.2016
AUSTRIA / VIENNA / 10.06 – 12.06.2016
AUSTRIA / VIENNA / 17.06 – 19.09.2016
AUSTRIA / VIENNA / 24.06 – 26.06.2016
AUSTRIA / VIENNA / 01.07 – 03.07.2016
AUSTRIA / VIENNA / 26.08 – 28.08.2016
AUSTRIA / VIENNA / 02.09 – 04.09.2016
ITALY / ROME / 15.09 – 30.09.2016





Posted in Travel

Customer service and tipping in Europe versus the United States

Generally speaking Europeans are welcoming, polite and kind people speaking multiple languages; however some might argue that the French are rude or the Italians are cocky or the Germans are cold. English is widely spoken even in non-English speaking countries but they may expect you to speak their language; after all you go to their countries.

When it comes to customer service you need to remember one thing: In Europe people have a fixed salary in every industry so they may not make the extra mile for you; it doesn’t really matter if you are satisfied and happy with their services, whether you return or not, because they will still get paid. Don’t expect them to customize services for you, especially in the last minute, they are not that flexible. Keep in mind that Southern Europeans close down during siesta so you won’t get anything done. It is just a differently lifestyle, laid back and a little more family friendly than the USA since people go home for lunch.

In the United States people earn commissions on sales and tips in bars and restaurants.  Americans are highly motivated to serve you well because that is how they make a living and they need your continued business.  Europeans find it bothersome when a waiter checks on them 3-4 times during dinner because if they needed anything they would let you know with a hand move. Tipping in Europe is always welcome but not expected; tipping in Europe means leaving a coin or two (Euro) on the table or 10% in upscale restaurants.