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The travel blog for the backpackers guide to the world

The new Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) may or may not open in 2013

Posted by: Evil Kristos | September 3, 2012 | 1 Comment

In case you missed it, Berlin was supposed to get a brand new airport in 2011. Despite everything you may or may not have heard about German efficiency; it didn’t happen. They didn’t even come close to be honest. The opening was postponed to June 3rd 2012 and you can guess already that this one didn’t happen either. Even worse; they could not make the date but didn’t tell anyone until the very last minute. That made it not only very annoying for all parties involved but also very expensive.

Airlines had filled up storage tanks in the new location southeast of Berlin but suddenly they needed the kerosene in Tegel Airport which is pretty much North West Berlin. They had to hire trucks and drive the fuel across the entire city. And that’s only one half the story.

A lot of businesses had prepared to open in the new location. They hired people, stocked up and were ready to go. Since the airport didn’t open, what’s the point of opening the shops? They weren’t particularly happy about it as you can imagine. And now A) Guess who is suing the operating company in charge of the new airport for Millions? The correct answer is: All of the above. And B) Who is footing the bill? On this one I’ll give you a hint: It’s ME, the taxpayer.

The airport was contracted by the city of Berlin (who runs a 3 billion annual deficit already) and the federal government. Unfortunately the building project is also managed by politicians which probably explains why it’s such a disaster.

Currently a few minions are being blamed but they are scapegoats. The political liability is with the local government. They are either useless or careless and ignorant. Which one is worse?

All we know is that we don’t have a new airport but already spent 2.5 billion Euros. As it looks the tax payer will have to come up with another 1.7 billion Euros. The delay alone costs 20 million Euro a month! And the proposed opening date in spring 2013 was already called “ambitious”. That sounds to me like “it ain’t happening”.

The latest idea is a “Soft Opening”. Instead of moving Tegel airport (TXL) and Schönefeld (SXF) the same date, they now want to do it in stages. This way they can test the new airport at half the capacity and see how things will go. Funny, initially they wanted to do it in one go because it is cheaper. I guess that ship has sailed.

So if you already booked a ticket for next year to Berlin you can safely assume you will be landing in Berlin Tegel. As for the new Willy Brandt Airport (BER) … place your bets now. I say it will not open in spring 2013. I doubt it will open at all in 2013. There is another figure I doubt.

Initially the airport was estimated to cost 2.5 billion Euros. We are now looking at 4.2 billion Euros and – quite frankly- I’d be very surprised if it will cost any less than 5 billion at the end.

To put this in perspective; the new terminal in Dublin airport, capable of handling 15 million passengers a year cost 395 million Euros to build. It was perceived as ridiculously expensive despite the fact that Dublin Ireland is considered one of the most expensive places in the entire Euro zone. And the Irish are not generally being praised for their precision and efficiency.

And now we take the German capital in comparison: Berlin Brandenburg Airport (BER) is projected for handling 27 million passengers a year. Even if you consider that they had to build new runways I honestly believe that there is something wrong. The airport in Berlin costs ten times more and can handle only twice as many passengers. And it is broken. German efficiency my ar…

The Giant Panda Bao Bao is dead

Posted by: Evil Kristos | August 22, 2012 | No Comments

The famous Giant Panda Bao Bao, long term resident and famous icon of Berlins zoological garden, is dead. He died today most likely of natural causes.

Bao Bao arrived in Berlin in 1980. He came as as a present of the Chinese government. He quickly turned in to a darling of the public. Pandas are extremely rare and considered a conservation reliant endangered species.

It is very unlikely that he will be replaced. The Chinese charge one million a year for the cession of a Panda. There are only about 1600 specimen left in the mountainous Chinese rain forests. Very few zoos have Pandas on display. Among them are Vienna and Edinburgh.

Giant Pandas in captivity can become up to 35 years old. They are lone wolfs and do very little besides eating. The females estrous cycle only lasts for a few days a year. Especially in captivity pandas are know to lose all interest in mating. Artificial insemination seems to be the most promising solution but failed in the case of Bao Bao and his female companions.

The first one – Tjen Tjen – died in 1984, the second one – Yan Yan – in 2007. They never produced any offspring.

Bao Bao will be sadly missed.

S-Bahn train derailed in Berlin

Posted by: Evil Kristos | August 21, 2012 | No Comments

An S-Bahn train in Berlin derailed on Tuesday near Tegel. Six people were injured but thankfully there weren’t any casualties.

The accident was most likely caused by a defective switch but the reason is yet unknown. On Monday the railway control center nearby was hit by lightning. If there is a connection between the events is not known. The track bed suffered severe damage. The S-Bahn line S25 was closed until further notice.

The accident delivers another blow to the already poor reputation the local train system suffers with the Berliners. In the past few years negligence of maintenance and repairs, technical problems and a management that is best described as imbecile led to a decline in reliability and punctuality. The once model company now operates at the limit pretty much constantly with foreseeable results. Anything unexpected leads to a standstill. For example; who could guess that there is snow in winter? Not the S-Bahn operators. This much commuters learned last winter where passengers were left in the cold for 30 and more minutes.

The really sad part about it is that people love the S-Bahn. It is quick, used to be reliable and you get a nice view. If given a choice most people would use the train over subway or any other mean of transport in Berlin.

The 330 km long rail network covers not only Berlin but the surrounding areas as well making commuting quick and easy. There are an impressive 160 train stations and a pretty frequent service. Why they had to run it into the ground remains a mystery.

S-Bahn is run by of the German railway giant Deutsche Bahn.

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New EVs on the road in 2012

Posted by: charlottec | April 30, 2012 | No Comments

If you like to travel but don’t like the restrictions of sticking to public transport timetables and schedules, the best option is to drive yourself. But of course, this has its repercussions on the environment.

Good news then that there are more EVs coming out – with an ever improved range achievable on one charge of the battery pack that powers the electric motor, and with increased locations coming available where you can plug in your EV or plug-in hybrid to charge when away from home.

Until now though, EVs have also been too expensive for most people to contemplate buying – no matter how high their environmental ideals are. The new car offers for EVs vary, but you automatically get a financial credit from the government in both the UK and the States for buying an EV over a conventional car.

This year, though, sees the arrival of two new EVs in the UK – the family sized Renault Fluence and the supermini Renault Zoe. Both these cars will be available at significantly lower prices than other EV equivalents, due to the fact that Renault has changed the ownership model. People will buy the car, but lease the battery that powers the electric motor.

The battery pack for the Zoe should be about £70 a month to lease, and for the Fluence about £85 a month. You’ll be able to take depleted batteries and exchange them at no extra cost, so there’s reduced loss of value for second hand prices in the future too. The battery pack is one of the most expensive components in an EV, so taking that out of the value equation is good for the first owner and all future owners. It wouldn’t be surprising if other manufacturers follow suit.

This year also sees the arrival of the Toyota Prius plug-in in Europe and the US, and the launch of the Honda 2013 Accord plug-in sedan in the States. All plug-in hybrids will be capable of doing short journeys (around 15 miles) on electric power only – during which times they will emit no tailpipe emissions, thus helping reduce air pollution.

Don’t go camping without….

Posted by: charlottec | April 2, 2012 | No Comments

Thousands of families around the country will be packing up the boot of their car this summer and heading off on a camping trip with the kids.

Camping is a great way to spend a family holiday. As well as being economical compared to staying in a hotel or guest house, there’s a certain sense of freedom attached to camping. Usually the locations are beautiful and you have easy access to the beach, the mountains or the forest in the surrounding area.

It’s also a great way for parent s to share some quality time with their children. In the busy stuff of life, with work and school dominating the weekly schedule, it’s pretty normal for most families not to get see much of each other. Spending a week together on holiday, where there are fewer distractions, can allow for time to get to know what everyone’s up to and to get a little closer again.

What to take

When you’ve decided where you are headed for your camping holiday, you’ll need to get your kit ready. If you haven’t camped before, it’ll be a bit costly the first time round, but each subsequent trip will be cheaper as you’ll have all the stuff you need already.

There are many high street stores and internet sites with tents for sale, as well as all the other camping accessories you’ll need like sleeping bags, cooking stove, unbreakable cutlery and crockery. Don’t forget practical items like a washing up bowl, brush and cloth and tea-towels.  You’ll also need a couple of saucepans, a sharp knife and a peeler. It’s also a good idea to take enough food supplies for the first couple of days, in case it’s not so easy to get to a shop locally. Think about how you will prepare meals before you go, so you don’t take anything unsuitable – like a ready-made pizza that you can’t heat up!

You’ll need clothing that is made of modern materials (that dry out quickly in case of rain) and don’t forget that you’ll need warmer clothes for the evenings and early mornings. There’s a great selection of childrens, womens and mens fleece jackets and waterproofs for all the family at all of the major outdoor clothing stores.

Europe in my old Honda

Posted by: charlottec | April 2, 2012 | No Comments

It’s now almost exactly a year since I left the shores of the UK for an immense six month tour of Europe with my girlfriend in my 1998 Honda CR-V – armed with little more than our small tent.

Overall, this was a magical trip. It was something we’d always wanted to do and we were both at something of a junction in life that allowed us to do it – so we did!

First off – choice of vehicle;. I’ve had this car for six years and it’s worth nothing as a used car these days, given its mileage. But I also know from experience just how reliable it is – and this was proven in a ‘What Car?’ survey from last year that found that Hondas are the most reliable cars in the UK for six years running.

Whenever it’s needed a little work, I’ve always used Honda Spare Parts so I was very confident it wouldn’t let me down – and I really didn’t want to pay for European roadside assistance.

In fact, there was only one minor issue when I needed a new set of brake pads in Italy (I think it was the heat!) – and the new ones used weren’t genuine Honda Spares – but everything else is.

We spent the spring and early summer entirely in France – touring different regions in a country that is a camper’s paradise – before crossing the Rhine to Germany, then moving on to Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Croatia, Greece, over on the ferry to Bari in Italy, and gradually back up to dear old Blighty during September.

To say this was a trip to remember would be an understatement. We managed to take in Paris, Munich, Geneva, Venice, Zagreb, Rome and Nice – before heading back to dreary Dover in a light rain – and back to reality.

The only advice I can give you if you’re thinking of a similar trip is: 1. Go for it whenever you get the chance and, 2. Get a reliable vehicle to do it in.

Estate cars ideal for outdoors enthusiasts

Posted by: charlottec | February 9, 2012 | No Comments

If you enjoy travel and you love outdoor pursuits do yourself a favour and make your next car an estate car.

Estate cars are ideal for the obvious reason that you can store a load of stuff in them – but it goes a lot further than that.

They’re great for going on extended travel either on your own or with a group of friends.

If you’re on your own, you can even sleep in the right kind of estate car quite comfortably should the need arise. I know this because I’ve done it many times – even keeping some material and Velcro in the back for a little privacy when I’ve needed it when “car camping” for a night. And if you get the right kind of storage solutions to take around with you – you can take everything you need without advertising the contents to thieves.

But perhaps estates really come into their own if there are a bunch of you travelling around. They’re so easy to sling four big rucksacks, tents and sleeping bags in the back of whenever the mood takes you – without messing around with roof racks or trailers. And the performance is more or less the same as the estate version, so if you really want to get where you’re going over big distances around mainland Europe, for example, there’s really no problem.

The estates may not be as trendy as an old-fashioned camper van of some sort, but they’re much faster, far more practical, a lot cheaper to buy in the first place – and easier to repair should the need arise.

They really are great options for travellers – and you can pick good quality second hand models as cheap as chips; something to think about perhaps?

There aren’t many used estates around which are low emission cars, but if you’re transporting four or more people at once – they can still qualify as being environmentally friendly.



Hybrid technology is the future

Posted by: charlottec | January 27, 2012 | No Comments

Hybrid technology, or something like it, is becoming the new standard for cars. Pretty much every new car offers better mileage stats than its predecessors, and this is because of increased demand from drivers for better fuel efficiency – both to combat the ever increasing rises in fuel prices and as it limits the damage to the environment.

As hybrids are powered by both an internal combustion engine and an electric motor, the engine does less work and therefore burns less fuel. The electric motor is powered by its own battery – increasingly made of lithium-ion rather than metal-nickel-hydride as it is lighter and smaller.  The battery is recharged as the car moves along through a process called regenerative braking. Excess kinetic energy from braking is captured and stored in the motor’s battery for later use.

More hybrid cars are now being produced as plug-in hybrids, which reduces even further the role of the engine, and increases the amount of power that comes from the electric motor. The development of plug-in hybrids means that they have a greater range of electric only range and of course can be charged by plugging into a mains electricity supply like an all-electric vehicle.

Even cars that aren’t hybrid also have similar technology. For instance, many new cars today come with stop-start technology. This is where the engine cuts off automatically when the car is in traffic and the driver applies the brake. The engine restarts itself when the driver releases the brake and is ready to move off. The cutting out and restart of the engine is almost imperceptible to the driver and their passengers, but of course this saves wasting fuel during idling times.

It’s likely that this trend will continue – with more and more emphasis on the electric power input and less demand being placed on a petrol or diesel engine to propel the car.

Ski-ing on your travels

Posted by: charlottec | January 24, 2012 | No Comments

Many backpackers go off round the world seeking sun and the sea, but there are plenty of winter sports you can do along the way as well.

Take ski-ing for example. You can do it in countries as diverse as Brazil, China, Japan and New Zealand, not to mention the many countries in Europe where ski-ing is a weekend pastime during the winter months for many people.

Including some ski-ing in a bigger trip is often a cheaper way of doing it, too. Ski holidays pure and simple are expensive, but a day here or there while you’re passing through can work out to be quite low cost. The only thing you lose out on is the cheaper hire of equipment over a longer period – hiring skis costs the same for a week as for two days.

On the other hand, while you’re going around on your travels if you find that you get a taste for ski-ing, there’s nothing to stop you spending longer on the slopes, whereas if you have booked a ski holiday you’ll always have a return date that might be difficult or expensive to change.

So, if you’re about to set off for a trip think about any stuff you might want to take with you. You won’t want to lug skis or ski boots around with you and you can buy or hire salopettes when you hire the skis and boots, but you might want to throw the accessories into your pack.

Some things will serve a number of purposes, of course. Thermal gloves are just as good for hiking and winter sightseeing as well as skiing – as long as you get ones that have a waterproof shell. In the same way, a decent pair of sunglasses can be just as useful on the ski slopes as on the beach, so you can make some savings by buying kit that will work for both summer and winter activities.

Outdoor pursuits in winter

Posted by: charlottec | January 23, 2012 | No Comments

Winter is a time when you can feel like leaving any outdoor pursuits alone for a while. It can be hard to motivate yourself to go and get some exercise when the weather is really cold.  However, as long as it’s not raining, winter needn’t be a barrier to outdoor life. All you really need to do is be prepared with some decent kit to keep you warm.

A quick to any Regatta outlet and you’ll be kitted out in no time. The whole store is geared towards outdoor life – whether that be a particular sport like climbing or an activity like camping or hiking.

The best kind of clothing for outdoors activity in winter is layering – no matter what you’ve got planned. By wearing layers, you add cushioning layers of air between each layer of clothing – keeping your body warmth in, so that you don’t waste energy trying to conserve it.

Baselayers are those that fit close to the body, yet allow you freedom of movement. Thermal underwear is perfect for a base layer, and the fabric allows moisture to escape from your skin – preventing you from getting chilled by sweat settling on your skin.

You can even get the kids involved, as long as you get the same gear for them, as they’ll be even more susceptible to the cold than you. Outdoor stores stock a range for every age and there are so many bright colours to choose from that you’re bound to find something that every child likes. And if they’re not into bright colours, black or blue is always an option.

Don’t forget to get some accessories for your extremities – thermal hat, gloves and socks will all add to your overall comfort.

Once you’ve got yourself and your family kitted out, all you need to decide where you’re going and what you’re going to do, while everyone else you know is languishing on their sofa!

Go green and hire

Posted by: charlottec | January 16, 2012 | No Comments

One of the strange things modern backpackers are finding is that hiring a car can actually be one of the most environmentally-friendly ways to get around remote corners of the world these days.

The romantic image of the backpacker walking many miles over deserts, through rainforest, half-frozen tundra or hacking through dense undergrowth just doesn’t really apply in practice.

Yes, it’s a nice image and you almost always do end up doing a lot of walking and hiking when you’re traveling around the world.

But the truth is that – more than anything else – you also do a lot of hanging around in places and a lot of moving from this place to that place.

And as the corners of the world without transport infrastructure become fewer and fewer so it becomes harder to travel in the traditional backpacking style. Also – there are many places where you just can’t get a train very easily whilst the bus rides are a little sporadic and, shall we say, “hair-raising” to say the least. And if you get a taxi over a long distance; well, you may as well have hired a car.

And if there are a number of people traveling together – hiring cars can actually be an environmentally friendly option – particularly in those parts of the world where you’re able to rent eco cars.

So don’t write this off as an option, and please don’t pigeonhole other travellers who choose hire car as an option. The fact is that many “green” cars like the Honda Insight, have now been around for quite some time; the environmentally-friendly technology from these hybrid vehicles is nothing new. But what is is their availability to hire. And it’s so often the greenest of all options.

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