By Denis Bright
With the good currency conversions to the Euro and the British pound, some Australians will be looking forward to extended travel in Europe this year. Despite the inroads made into industrial awards, Australian wage-earners in permanent employment can still enjoy long service leave and retirement benefits to the fullest.
Fully escorted land and sea cruises are readily available in Europe. Use of such soft options is far beyond the limits of many budgets as shown by the sample of APT Tours for 2017 (refer main photo).
So much money can be saved with independent travel using affordable public transport by plane and train.
Others would detest these options and seek the use of hire cars and rental vans. There are uncertainties with overseas travel. The smarter move might even be to enjoy the travel in Australia and its immediate environs during our winter months.
Qualifications aside, let me pass on some options for economical travel to Europe.
The long flight to Europe can be made a little softer with an overnight stopover en route. Extra airport taxes must be expected with every stopover. These costs are offset by a reduction in the jet lag from long flights.
With Emirates Airline, the stopover in Dubai on the outward journey from Australia is quite close to all the European destinations. There are reservation facilities for overnight stays in Dubai at the International Airport. First visitors to Dubai may prefer hotels in the town centre but more modest accommodation places near the Airport are quite comfortable and affordable.
Colombo in Sri Lanka can be a half-way stop on the return flight to Australia. Other stops in South East Asia are certainly closer to home. The cost of the return ticket will become really expensive if multiple stops are required. Some airlines regard tickets with multiple stops as a series of single journeys.
Emirates and Etihad have opened up varied European arrival points. Getting to arrival points like Lisbon, Nice or Athens once required time consuming transfers from major European air hubs.
Here are some samples of the thousands of options available to independent travellers.
First Night in Majorca
After arriving without jet-lag in Madrid from Dubai on an economy ticket from Australia, a pre-booked online ticket can take you onto the Balearic Island of Majorca for a cost of less than $A150 with Iberian Airlines or another local carrier. Some seasonal fares can be much lower in price.
Majorca is large enough to combine the usual tourist escapism with walks through historic precincts as well as visits to farming villages, the mountainous interior and rugged coastlines.
Palma de Mallorca is the hub of two lines of light rail services which both extend for almost 30 kilometres.
Palma’s Cathedral rises magnificently above an older residential district and has largely been rebuilt after an earthquake in 1851.
The Cathedral towers above a historic residential district. A free escorted walking tour for small groups is available from the tourist office near the Cathedral.
Local knowledge will fill you in on the best locations outside Palma de Mallorca on a large island which extends for up to 100 kilometres from west to east.
Ferry services are available to the Spanish mainland at Valencia. From here, the whole of Spain and Portugal beckon.
The Spanish railway system (RENFE) offers an innovative web site that supports this quest for adventure.
Spain and Portugal online
Spanish Railcards can be purchased online in Australia using forms in English from the RENFE site. The timetables and costs of RENFE tickets are easily checked out. A sample tariff from Valencia to Zaragoza is provided.
The cost of this journey from Valencia to Zaragoza is reduced from $A50 to $30 in Turista Class for holders of a senior’s card known as a Tarjeta Dorada in Spain. On a Youth Card (RENFE Joven), the cost is $36.50. The RENFE Joven is available to visitors between 14 and 26 years of age.
These concessional cards can be purchased at a nominal cost in Spain or by prior registration from Australia. The concessions are also extended to travelling companions from a different age category (example 1, example 2).
Fronting up to a RENFE station with your Australian passport seems to be the easiest option if concessional fares are being requested. Even with prior arrangements from Australia, tickets will need to be issued locally. Major stations in Portugal also offer concessional fares on presentation of Australian passports for overseas seniors.
There are some pleasant diversions even on this 355 kilometre journey from Valencia to Zaragoza.
Halfway between Valencia and Zaragoza, an overnight stop can be made at the hillside city of Teruel with its impressive towers and cathedral.
Local buses will take visitors from Teruel to nearby hillside towns.
Located by the Ebro River, Zaragoza is another architectural gem in a surprisingly large city of about one million inhabitants.
Consult the free online guide to the city which can be downloaded from Zaragoza Turismo.
Travel options do not end at Zaragoza.
The opening of the Trans Pyrenean Railway in 1928 brought Zaragoza onto a new main trunk railway route from Paris to Madrid through the Samport Tunnel at Canfranc. Canfranc Station became a major international rail terminal at the break of gauge between the French and Spanish rail systems.
Following a fatality-free rail freight accident in 1970, a major bridge installation on the French-side of Canfranc was damaged beyond repair. The famed Trans Pyrenean route ceased to exist. The remnants are now used for local passenger traffic with the exception of a missing link of 33 kilometres between Bedous and Canfranc.
Regular international buses now follow the international road route from Canfranc to Bedous for visitors who want to make a nostalgic Trans-Pyrenean Journey.
From the recently reopened line to Bedous, it is just 64 kilometres to Pau on the main trunk line across Southern France.
Detailed timetable connections across Europe can be checked on the Deutsche Bahn (DB) online timetable as well as the local national online rail site. DB is more geared up to cross-Europe travel destinations.
French Rail Cards are also available at a cost of $70-105. A discount is offered on all tickets purchased. The fee for the purchase of the card varies for the different age categories. Even with the high purchasing costs, the French Rail Cards are more economical and more convenient than one country Eurail Passes.
Long Plane Hauls to Greece
High reservation fees on some long distance rail services, justify the use of air travel particularly on long hauls to Greece. Holiday time is limited and it is sometimes better to compress a week’s travel time into a few hours.
There are some great deals on travel within Europe especially with the safe but more economical airlines like Olympic, Aegean, Meridiana, Air Malta and Iberia. Olympic and Aegean are particularly good airlines because of the range of connections in Southern Europe. Numerous budget airlines like EasyJet ply these tourist routes and may offer lower fares.
Travel around Greece can be completed on local ferries from the island hubs to avoid costly overnight sea crossings from Piraeus.
Emirate’s connections back to Dubai and Australia are available from both Athens and Larnaca in Greek Cyprus. Larnaca is served by some domestic Greek air services. Travel in Greek Cyprus is made easier by the excellent motorways which use left-hand drive because of the long history of British settlement.
A range of online guides are available for travel in Greece and coverage of the options is hardly necessary when specialist advice is so readily available.
So make the most of this coming summer in Europe if it is your time to travel. There is no pressure to go. Winter holiday destinations abound in Australia and its environs are equally appealing. The choice is yours.
About the author: Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion about progressive pragmatic public policies compatible with the more qualified commitments to contemporary globalization by President Trump.
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