My Spotify Playlists

John with long hair
John with long hair

The appreciation of music is a very personal thing.
Lots of people say they like my playlists so here there are.

I like reggae, female vocals, strong basslines, slightly trippy, jazzy.

Playlists made by John

You probably have to be logged into Spotify to see these playlists.
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AUGUST 2017
Quite a lot of African music which reflects the heat and laidback feel of summer.

 

SEPTEMBER 2017
The Almond harvest and Grape picking require some groovy tunes.

OLIVE HARVEST

CHRISTMAS
I supposedly hate Christmas but it is good to have a playlist to accompany a meal in late December.

WINTER 2017 / 2018
I discovered that French girls singing is heavenly.  Check out Stacy Kent, Sant Privat et al

SPRING 2018
I kept playing  I’m not Sorry by Morrissey ad infinitum.

Summer 2018
There is a lot of good Latin  stuff in this one.

September  2018

December  2018

Driving 4
An mp3 CD that I left in the top house that people like a lot.

Spring 2019

July 2019

Summer 2019

September 2019

Olive Harvest 2019

 

 

 

 

 

Travelling solo in Europe – A year abroad.

Hannah in Sevilla at the Plaza de España.

I’m an 18-year-old Australian, just finishing a year abroad in Europe between high school and university. I have backpacked alone and these are some of my tips and tricks for a first-time backpacker, geared towards travelling in Europe.

1. If you want to go travelling you should.

I found this year was the perfect year for travelling as I’d saved up, had money to go wherever I wanted and see things I’d only studied. I had just finished all my years of school and didn’t want to go straight into university. My year abroad has made me grow up and learn to live independently, use money well and helped me gain more understanding into what I want to do in my further studies; I even completely changed the course I wanted to study and realised that I wanted to learn another language!

2. Travelling can be daunting

particularly when you are young and travelling alone, but there are many ways to begin your trip so you don’t get overwhelmed. The first month of my trip was an organised program, so I was with the same group of people and staying in the same place which really eased me into my trip. Other ideas are beginning your trip with friends to get your bearings or if you have family overseas, start by seeing them and then going off on your own.

3. There are ups and downs of travelling alone.

I found that travelling on my own worked for me because I had complete control over what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. I met so many people, travellers and locals that I wouldn’t have met if I was with a group of friends and it took me out of my comfort zone, I learnt to cook and I learnt to manage independently. There were no arguments or different viewpoints so I felt very free. The biggest downside was probably loneliness. I had times where I felt that even though I was always meeting people, I never really got to know anyone or have more than that “first” conversation. Thankfully many solo travellers were very understanding as they felt the same way sometimes.

4. It’s a good idea to look into doing a variety of different things

especially when going on a long trip. Everyone is different: I met someone who had just been backpacking for a year and she was loving it but I was completely burnt out after two months. That’s one reason I incorporated Workaway into my trip. Workaway is a website for volunteers that has so many amazing aspects. You can do a variety of different things such as working at hostels, on farms, with animals, nannying, etc. in a country that interests you. It is an incredible cultural exchange and you will learn about a different way of life, work skills or perhaps something you want to pursue in the future. You stay grounded for a few weeks up to a few months, and the people you work with become your friends (combatting one of the downsides I mentioned earlier) and teach you new skills. I have done two this year: one month in Croatia in the summer on a self-sustainable farm and an olive harvest in Spain. Without Workaway I don’t think I would have been able to travel for the length I did.

5. Dont rush.

This is something I wish I had read before I left. I was so excited in my first few months of Europe that I went from place to place every two or three days. It was completely exhausting and expensive. I would leave the hostel at 7am and not return until 10pm, trying to pack so much into my day that I ended up too tired to be amazed and astounded at what I was seeing. Rather than two or three nights in each place consider four or more nights, especially in bigger cities. This means that not only do you have more time to see anything at a slower pace, you also have time to relax, sometimes have a late night and be able to sleep all morning and connect with people properly.

6. Try not to overplan.

It is difficult to believe before you leave that it’s actually really easy to travel as you go and not book far in advance (depending on the season – in the middle of summer you need to book a little further in advance whereas off-peak seasons you can book a day or two in advance). I remember going through “Europe on a shoestring,” a fantastic Lonely Planet travel guide, freaking out because everything looked so beautiful and I didn’t know where I wanted to go or how to get from place to place or what to book. My parents told me to calm down and I would quickly figure it out while travelling, and I didn’t believe it at the time but it became very easy very quickly. I knew I wanted to do an anticlockwise loop around Europe (Western and Central) and that I was flying into Madrid and that was pretty much all. When I arrived in Madrid, I did some Internet searching, talked to other travellers about what they liked close by, found a 7-hour bus to Lisbon and that became my next stop and it went from there.

6. Hostelworld and GoEuro are your best friends.

Hostelworld is a really fantastic and easy to use app that you can use to book your hostels. You can read other people’s reviews, compare prices and see how close the hostels are to the center of town. Definitely read reviews and pay attention to the reviewers’ ages. In Europe I didn’t have much trouble but in Ireland I accidentally booked “homeless” hostels because I just booked the cheapest place rather than backpacker-friendly places. It is ALWAYS better to spend more money to be somewhere you feel safe and comfortable as if you don’t feel safe at your hostel, it really affects how you feel about the city or town you’re in. It’s also good to pay attention to different things the hostel offers: it could be a free breakfast, kitchen, a bar, right in the center or even a pool. Also treat yourself occasionally: go for a private room in a hostel or Airbnb (in Bosnia a private room and ensuite in a hostel was 18 euros) as sometimes you need some alone time and a good sleep after sharing a hostel room with 6 or more people for a month to get your spark back. GoEuro is a fantastic site to compare bus/train/flights to your next place. I generally used buses to get from place to place as it’s far cheaper, more comfortable and safer (I’ve heard some stories of things getting stolen on trains), also lots of buses have Internet, including Flixbus which was my favourite way to travel and has many connections and very, very cheap fares. SkyScanner is great for cheap flights (Ryanair is fantastic for budget flights, it cost me 20 euros to get from England to Ireland!).

7. Busabout and Interrailing

I looked into both of these before I went and decided they weren’t right for me. Interrail seems good for groups and smaller trips but it’s very expensive and both restrict your trip to certain destinations and I found it was just as easy to book buses as I went and I didn’t miss smaller towns that other travellers told me about along the way that I might not have been able to see otherwise. Busabout has many perks: they take you to lots of destinations and right to the front of hostels, good for solo and first-time travellers because you meet lots of people on the bus (mostly Australians apparently!) but it seems cheaper and in many ways easier to just travel as you go. I can’t say much more than that because I didn’t use either but I think it definitely depends on the individual person and it’s good to look into it.

8. Budgeting

I think I must have searched through so many sites about this and again it’s very much up to the individual. I can tell you that my budget was 50 euros a day and that was plenty. I mostly spent less unless I had a big night or a flight but it mostly evened out in the end to 50 euros. My budget meant I could stay in good hostels, go out for a meal once every couple of days, see all of the tourist attractions that cost money that I wanted to see and treat myself to delicious gelatos in Italy or a pint (or five) in a pub. At the start of my trip I was very tight with money but relaxed as I went. It’s always a good idea to find the places you want to go to in advance as most museums and galleries have certain times when they are free or reduced (IE the Prado in Madrid is generally free between 6-8pm) and many tourist attractions are reduced if you are a student and have a student ID or something showing you are a student (I had an email saying I had been accepted by my university). Time versus money is also something to bear in mind. I walked everywhere at the beginning of my trip which is a great way to see more of a city but also means you might run out of time to see all the things you really want to see! Public transport is generally very easy and super cheap, and if you search on Google maps from your current location to where you want to go, it will tell you the best route to use.

9. Food. Go out as much as your budget allows!

The food from each country is as much a part of your travelling as the attractions or people. Talk to other travellers and ask hostel staff to recommend their favourite restaurants. Do a quick Google search to see what the food specialities are in the city, country or region where you are. Go out of your comfort zone: try spiders in Cambodia and snails in Portugal – you might be surprised! It’s very easy to spend a minimal amount on food when you’re not eating out so you can treat yourself, and if you avoid tourist hotspots you can find cheap restaurants with delicious, authentic meals. When eating in, I found going on a big supermarket shop when I arrived in a new place the best way to go. Make sure you buy a variety of foods to keep you healthy and energised. I generally bought a cheap tub of yogurt and muesli for breakfast (if the hostel didn’t provide one), a baguette with some ham or cheese and veg for a packed lunch before I went out and then had simple meals to cook in the evening such as baked beans and potatoes, easy Mexican wraps, ingredients for pasta sauce, lentils. As long as you get some proteins, carbs, fruit and veg you’ll be alright (if you just live off pasta and rice, you’ll very quickly become tired and grumpy) and making something to go with them is really easy. Definitely try and find hostels with kitchens. Also I always forgot about sugar! It sounds weird but a gelato (delicious and only 1-2 euros) or something similar can really boost your body when you’re feeling a bit tired and sore.

10. Finally, packing.

The smaller the better. My backpack was approximately 10kg. I could take it on the plane with me and I haven’t even worn all the things in it. I also had a smaller day bag for a book, journal, water bottle (really important! go for a light, metal bottle that is at least 500ml so you stay hydrated especially in the heat – there are lots of places to fill up water and you sometimes have to pay for water in restaurants in Europe), wallet, phone, charger and a packed lunch. I’ve seen people with all sorts of unnecessary things, huge amounts of makeup, hairdryers and straighteners, big wheely bags which seemed to make travelling a lot more difficult (they’re fine for small trips but after a few months you will wish you hadn’t packed everything, especially as they might break or get stolen). A backpack/rucksack is the most efficient thing to have as it’s easy to carry around (remember those cobbled streets!) and easy to access and put in lockers in hostels. I also found dry bags or storing cubes are lifesavers so you can easily find different items of clothing without taking all your clothes out. A lock is really important as most hostels provide a locker but only some have locks and if you don’t want to carry your passport and valuables around with you then you can keep them safe at the hostel. Pack multiple bank cards and store them in different places (and some emergency money) so if one gets stolen you have access to money. Always know where your things are and keep your eyes on them (even when you go to the toilet!) because people do steal other people’s things and many people I’ve talked to have had things stolen from them. There are You can pack certain things which will Various things can You can pack certain things to help you save space: LUSH sells shampoo/conditioner bars which wash your hair well and are very compact and small and not liquid, a travel towel is very compact, plastic or dry bags for dirty clothes. Try not to pack special clothes/items because it’s very easy to leave them behind but pack lots of knickers and socks. A good way to save money on washing clothes is to wash knickers and socks in the sink with soap when they get dirty and just do a big wash when all of your clothes need it (check prices as some hostels are a ripoff for clothes washing compared to a laundromat).

I’m sure I could keep going on about different things to help you travel but you will find most of them out along the way and that’s one of the best things about travelling! You learn so much and do so many things from seeing Picasso’s Guernica in Spain to hiking the High Tatras Mountains in Slovakia. You will meet amazing and like-minded people and experience different cultures and traditions. Things will definitely go wrong: I had all my valuables stolen in Cambodia, missed buses, had the weirdest of people in my hostel rooms, gotten bedbugs, been lost in a city with no phone and nowhere to sleep, you name it but you will learn from them and try not to freak out because you will be able to figure it out and from it you will learn how to deal with similar situations in the future. My parents call it “character building”. I promise you’ll laugh about it when it’s all over. My year of travelling has been the most incredible experience of my life and I definitely now have the travel bug. Seeing the world is one of the best things you can do and I would recommend it to anyone of any age.

This article was written by Hannah Robinson from Melbourne Australia when a snowstorm stopped the olive harvest in the south of Spain on the 11th December just before the end of the trip which will end with a family reunion in Australia.

Interesting facts about Australia

A koala bear
A koala bear

The largest property in Australia is bigger than Belgium. The biggest cattle farm (located in SA) is larger than Isreal. There have been 16 shark attacks in Australia in 2017. Australia is the smallest inhabited continent with 23.14 million people.  Australia is 32 times the size of the UK but the United Kingdom has 65 million people (3 times the population of Aus). Two thirds of Australia is made up of desert, also known as the outback. There is also rainforest and mountains. In the desert, tempuratures can rise to 50 degrees celcius during the day and drop below 0 at night. More than 85% of Australians live around the coast.

The only place monotremes (egg laying mammals) can be found is in Australia. Platypuses are monotremes, they hunt in the water, with a long beak and webbed feet like a duck, waterproof fur like an otter, and a tail like a beaver. There is snow in the Australia, and the area covered by snow in winter is bigger than the size of Switzerland. 10 of the 15 most posinous snakes in the world are found in Australia, as well as the most poisonous jellyfish (the Box Jellyfish) which kills you within minutes. Indegenous people are thought to be the oldest culture in the world, living in Australia for over 50,000 years. In the 21st century there are approximately 150 different Indegenous languages, which has dropped from 250 since European settlement. Over 25% of people that live in Australia were born overseas. “Australia” is derived from “terra australis terra” which means unknown southern island. Ausralia´s capital city, Canberra, was created because Melbourne and Sydney couldnt decide which one should be the capital city.

The great barier reef is the largest coral reef in the world and is home to over 1´500 species of fish and 300 species of coral. Emu´s and Kangaroo´s can only move forwards and not backwards. Contrary to what the rest of the world believe, Australians don’t really drink Fosters and you generally can’t find it in bars or bottle shops. Indegenous people are now only 2% of the population of Australia. Australia was the second country in the world after New Zealand to have women´s right to vote but only in late 2017 have legalised gay marriage. Kangaroos can jump up to three times their own height. A male kangaroo is called a boomer and a female a flyer, a baby is a joey. Australia voted the Magpie as the bird of the year in 2017 even though someone loses an eye from a magpie attack approximately every year.

The largest producer of gold in the world is in Australia, in a small town in WA called Kargoolie. A platypus has enough venom to kill a small dog. Bob Hawkes, a former Prime Minister of Australia holds the world record for drinking 2.5 pints of beer in 11 seconds. The longest straight road in the world is in Australia and is 146km long. In 2011, there were approximately 34,000,000 kangaroos and they can only be found in Austrlalia. The first ever policemen in Australia were well behaved convicts. Australia has over 10,000 beaches.

Facts about Granada Spain

Alhambra Sierra Nevada
The Alhambra with the Sierra Nevada in the background

The average height of the city of Granada is  738 m. The population is about 240 000.  Granada was originally called Gárnata which could mean  “hill of strangers” in Arabic.  Granada is about 65km from the Mediteranean sea.  One of the nearest beaches is  at Salobreña which would take 55 minutes by car.  There is a ski station 35km from Granada in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  The Alpine World Ski Championships were held there in 1996.  There are 105 kms of alpine skiing runs.  It takes about 45 minutes to get from the centre of Granada to the ski station. The ski season normally lasts from the beginning of December until the end of April.  Andalusia has a very high proportion of sunny days even in the winter and usually there are beautiful blue skies and warm temperatures. It is possible to ski in the morning and sunbathe at the beach in the afternoon on the same day.

sierra_nevada
The Sierra Nevada Mountains. The hook at the top is veleta. The highest point is Mulhacen at 3,479 metres.

The most famous monument in Granada is the Alhambra and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Spain with about 3.2 million visitors per year. The Alhambra is a hilltop palace and fortress complex which combines fortifications,  gardens,  churches and several palaces. The name Alhambra comes from “red castle” in Arabic.  Construction started in the 9th century with a small fortress and then went on for many centuries. The first palaces were built in  1238   and  were home to many leaders such as caliphs, emirs, sultans, kings and their entourages .

The Moors invaded Spain in 711 AD and they ruled  for over  700  years,  at one time they ruled as far north as France.   The principal cities of Moorish culture were Toledo, Granada, and Seville.  Eventually the Christian rulers in Northern Spain recaptured Spain. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile recaptured Toledo. Cordoba fell in 1236, and one by one the Moorish strongholds surrendered. The last Moorish city, Granada, was captured by Ferdinand V and Isabella I in 1492. The last moorish ruler of Granada was Boabdil. The Alhambra was handed over to the Spanish monarchs on  2nd January 1492 without bloodshed and  Boabdil was allowed to leave peacfully. His family were given some land in the Alpujarra area of the Sierra Nevada. As he was leaving he sighed and looked  back in longing for his Granada palaces, his mother said to him “Weep like a woman over what you could not defend as a man.”

Sacromonte Alhambra
Photo taken from the Alhambra. On the left you can see the Albayzin and the Sacromonte.

At the time of the reconquest of Granada Christopher Columbus was looking for sponsors to fund exploration to discover the “New World”. The Spanish monarchs agreed and he went on to discover America.  There is a statue of Christopher Columbus kneeling before Queen Isabella at the end of the Gran Via de Colón in Granada. (his name in Spanish is Cristobal Colón).

Granada has hot dry summer and cool winters. In July and August the temperature is often over 40C. In 2017 several all time temperature records were broken.  On July 12 the temperature reached 45.7C.  Granada has a fairly low humidity so high temperatures are not as uncomfortable as they could be. In the winter frosts are not uncommon but if it is sunny the temperature can be warm enough to sit out in a “T” shirt, it cools down rapidly as soon as there is cloud.  November and December are the wettest months however the amount of rain can vary significantly from year to year and droughts are frequent.

The most interesting barrios (neighborhoods) in Granada are the Albayzin, the Sacromonte, Realejos and the central area around the cathedral.

Look at some fun facts about Granada

 

Travelling by volunteering. Workaway and Helpx

Travelling by volunteering.

How to Travel with little or no money?

It is not universally known that it is possible to travel for long periods of time with very little money by volunteering. Until about 2005 the main way of voluntering (except for working on a Kibutz in Israel) was called WOOFing or Working on Organic Farms. WOOFing existed pre-internet. Each country had a list of organic farms and both hosts and volunteers could find each other by subscribing to the newsletter or list of hosts. The information provided by the hosts was very basic and contained just a short description and contact details. Here is a link to the modern woofing site
The original idea was to get free board and lodging in return for a few hours work on the farm.

The volunteers Making Pizzas on a Farm
The volunteers Making Pizzas on a Farm

Around the year 2002 two new sites appeared which offered a much more modern user friendly system of putting volunteers and hosts together. They still exist and here are links. http://workway.info and http://helpx.net

The emphasis was no longer just on farm work, a host could offer any kind of work including childcare, hostal and hotel work, construction, house sitting, office work etc. Workaway suggests that there should be around 5 hours of work per day, five days per week in return to board and lodging. This is very flexible and the host can offer any combination of requirements.

Girls digging a pond.
Girls working hard.

By the way. Another thing to take into account is that volunteering could be an excellent way of learning a language. If you spend two months on a farm in France where there are no English speakers your French is going to improve a lot more than if you had spent a lot of money on a French course.

I have spoken to lots of people who have done this type of volunteer work all around the world. These sites offer a really good way of having interesting experiences without spending much or any money but it is not for everyone.

There are a very wide range of possibilities. On the one hand some places are commercial companies using volunteers as cheap labour in a cynical exploitation where they really ought to be paying people to the other extreme where the volunteers are pampered, given gourmet food and treated like welcome guests. Don’t get me wrong, I am not dividing them up into goodies and baddies. I have spoken to people have had a wonderful time being cynically exploited, for example, working in a backpacker’s hostal in a city centre or working in a large group on a farm where there is a good social life.

The moment people hear about workaway they immediately realise that they can get work done for free. This can atract the wrong people. The worst form of exploitation I have heard about is probably childcare, the minimum form of renumeration for childcare is aupairing where the childcarer is guaranteed at least a separate bedroom from the child and some time off. There are plenty of workaway hosts looking for gullible suckers to look after their children for free where it is necesary to share a bedroom with the child.

Collecting Goat manure
Collecting Goat manure

One thing to be aware of is that if you are doing volunteer work you have to take responibility for your own safety. Make sure that all ladders are in good condition, you wear safety glasses and don’t take any risks with machinery. Many people don’t know that concrete is very corrosive and if any gets into you boots it can cause serious burns.

A volunteering experience should be about a symbiosis between the host and the volunteer with both sides beleiving that they are getting a good deal. Many of the volunteer hosts are involved in some sort  of alternative lifestyle and you will often hear words such as permaculture, gardening, yoga, vegetarian, alternative building methods, spiritual, house renovation, solar power etc. There are also a lot of places offering accommodation such as bed and breakfasts who need help with the chores.

All of the websites showing host information show feedback left by previous workers so bad places will quickly be rooted out. If you are thinking of doing volunteer work this is the advice I would give. Read the information very thoroughly. Make sure that if you are a facebook junkie that the host has a good internet connection. If you don’t like being in the middle of nowhere choose a place near a town. Be very honest when you write your profile. Make sure you understand exactly how many hours per day and how many days per week you are expected to work and if you don’t agree don’t go there. Ask what you need to bring. If you are lazy and hate working don’t volunteer as a worker.

The rest of this post may contain advertising:

There is another site which I have found the other day.  It is for people looking for house sitters, some of them  have pets. Also homeowners can advertise their houses. It is worth a look. Click here for more information about house sitting.

If you like the idea and have a go at volunteering . Good Luck

Interesting Facts about Wine

Wine press
Sam And Heather pressing wine

The earliest known traces of wine are from China (c. 7000 BC). Mead, also called honey wine, is created by fermenting honey with water. The French are the biggest wine drinkers in the world. They drink 53 litres per person per year.  (this fact is disputed because it is said that the Vatican drinks 73 litres per capita)  People who are scared of wine have “oenophobia”.

Alcoholic beverages, including wine, are forbidden under most interpretations of Islamic law.  Within ten years of the death of  Mohammed in A.D. 632, wine was largely banned from muslim countries. Top sommeliers think that smell is by far the most important sense when it comes to drinking wine.

The custom of raising a glass to one another and saying “cheers” before drinking originated with the Romans and the Greeks, who used to offer wine to their gods before celebrations. The world’s oldest bottle of wine is over 1600 years old and can be found at a museum in Germany. It was buried nearby in 350 CE and was found again in 1867.

There is scientific evidence that moderate, regular wine drinking can reduce the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and gum disease. Heir to the British  throne, Prince Charles,  drives an Aston Martin DB5 that’s powered almost entirely by wine derived bioethanol. It is a convertible and the wine powered car  averages 300 miles per year.

It takes about 4 or 5 years for a newly planted grape vine to get to full production. A single celled organism called yeast converts the sugar in grapes into alcohol and carbon dioxide, and also release heat in the process.  70% of the alcohol is produced in the first 7 days of fermentation. This is called primary fermentation.  At the start the wine can ferment so fast that it appears to be boiling.  If the yeast converts all the sugar into alcohol it is a dry wine.  Wine ferments fastest at 21C.  Yeast will die at 37C.

Pomace
The pomace left over after pressing wine.

Pomace is the solid remains of grapes, olives, or other fruit after pressing for juice or oil. It contains the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems of the fruit. Wine fermenting at high temperatures creates more acetaldehyde which is a chemical which can produce hangovers so it is best if the wine does not ferment too fast.  The  largest wine producers in the world are France, Italy, and Spain.  Michael Jackson used to order his wine served in diet coke cans during flights, due to being a ‘private drinker’ and not wanting his kids to see him drinking alcohol.

In a blind tasting it is very difficult for most people to differentiate between red wine and white wine (try this at home if you don’t believe it) .  The Romans added lead to wine in order to give it a sweet taste and pleasant texture.  Some people believe that the decline of the Roman empire was due to lead poisoning. For purists wine glasses should always be held by the stem and not the bowl because the heat of the hand will raise the temperature of the wine.

Enologists are wine chemists who analyze samples of wine and advise winemakers. In the late 19th century most of the vinyards in Europe were destroyed by the  phylloxera epidemic because some infected vine cuttings were intoduced from America.  Phylloxera is a type of aphid which sucks the sap of the vine. American vines have adapted  a defence mechanism against phylloxera.  Nowadays, most vines in Europe have American roots and the top of the vines are grafted onto the rootstock.

Vineyards buy ready grafted dormant plants and plant them in the ground in winter. It takes at least 4 years before many grapes can be picked.  The color for red wine comes from the skins.  Hardly any varietys of grapes have red flesh.  Grapes contain all the necesary ingredients to make wine, the yeast is found on the skin  and all the sugar and nutrients are found in the grape.  A high concentration of alcohol will kill the yeast so the maximum  strength of normal wine is  generally around 15% alcohol by volume, but the exact amount will depend on the type of yeast.

Here are 3 videos of very small scale wine production in Spain showing the process of pressing the wine.

 

 

Is the booking.com afilliate program any good?

Review of the booking.com Affiliate Partner Program

Booking.com affilate review

 

When internet first because widely used, which was around the year 2000, most hotels did not have their own website and for most people the only way to book a hotel was to go to a travel agent. The travel agents would look up the hotel information on special databases such as “sabre” and another one which a I can’t remember and make the booking for you in their office.  I remember going to Thomas Cook travel agent in the 80s and this was the modus operandi. After spending 20 minutes with a “nice man” you would leave the Thomas Cook office clutching your “Traveller’s Cheques” and details of your hotel bookings along with your tickets for a “Charter Flight” which was supposedly a cheap option, this would cost about 10 times what it would cost today (2017).  Here I must admit to lying, until 1991 I never stayed in a hotel, I would sleep in fields or under motorway bridges if I was  hitch-hiking.    Booking.com started in 1996 but it took them until about 2005 to become a massive worldwide company. They now have over  1 million properties worldwide and they are now a household name synonymous with hotel bookings. The same as Facebook or  their predecessor Friends United are associated with social media.

Ways of advertising a hotel pre-internet

Since 1998 I have been the webmaster of some reasonably well visited travel websites. To try to monetize these sites I signed up to the booking.com affiliate program, this was in 2007.

In order to get commission from a booking.com link it is necessary for the web surfer (us) to click on a link and then  go  immediately to book a hotel or in other words the web surfer has to book a hotel in the same session.  The cookie expires as soon as the user closes the browser.

The next paragraph is boring unless you have a travel website. It basically says that all newspapers or travel websites would have to close down if they relied for their income on the booking.com affiliate system.

Since 2007 I have sent booking.com 3039 clicks. This has resulted in 73 bookings which has earned 668 euros.  That is 21 euro cents per click. Nowadays 21 cents per click is not too bad. The  click-through rate is about 1 click per 500 impressions. So that means that the earning per 1000 impressions is about 10 cents.  That would mean that a page with 1 million views per day could earn  around 100 euros per day. My average google Adsense earnings are around 160 cents per 1000 views so the booking.com is 16 times less effective than Adsense. It may well be better to just put google Adsense ads on relevant content rather than using the booking.com affiliate system.  On the Wikipedia page is says that booking dot-com spent around $40 million on adwords in 2011. (Who gave Wikimedia that statistic?)  By the way anyone who uses adwords is not allowed to publicly discuss this?

On the affiliate site it makes it look like the percentage comission is 25%. It is actually 2.2%. I just booked a hotel for a family for 1 night. The cost of the one night was 180 euros.  Booking.com themselves charge hotels 15%.

I recently tried their new responsive search box widget. The results are disappointing. I gave the search box 11646 impressions which resulted in 22 clicks, zero bookings and zero income.  I eventually deleted search box widget after 32 000 impressions with zero income. the See image below.

Conclusion
It would be much more lucrative to come to arrangements directly with  hotels to get a commission directly. Booking.com charge the hotels 15%, they give you 25% of that which is actually 3.75% comision.  However, if you don’t want the hassle of dealing directly with hotels it may earn you a very small residual income. If the income was better I would give them more prominence.

Hotels themselves have let themselves be ruled by booking.com. In one way you can consider this a good thing. Beforehand most hotels had a chaotic booking system  based on school exercise books with pencil ruled lines which contained all the booking information of their bookings and availability.  Booking.com offered a free system to coordinate all the bookings, prices and availability and in some ways provided a more level playing field. This has also been very attractive to the consumer. The advent of feedback pioneered by “Trip Advisor” has resulted in a system which favours the “guest”.

However, in my opinion the story is not yet over. Hotels etc do not really need a third-party such as booking.com to control them.

Someone will eventually offer a centralised source of information, prices and availability about hotels which hotels can buy into. The rate of commission will be much less than 15%.  Maybe there will be a small cut for travel websites which is better than  10 cents per 1000 views but until that moment the booking.com partner affiliate system is a “get rich very slowly scheme.

Booking.com Partner Program
Booking.com Partner Program

 

 

UPDATE: It has always surprised me how little I make on booking.com.  Ten days ago (oct 2017)  I  clicked on my own affiliate link and booked a hotel for myself and I stayed there. I am not sure if this is allowed according to the rules so before making the booking I deleted all cookies and used a VPN to give me an ip address in the UK.  Gues what? There was no mention of a booking on the affiliate statistics page.  I doubt if booking.com are intentionally not giving comissions but I have proved to myself  that their tracking system does not work as it should.  I wonder how many other bookings were not tracked correctly.

 

Fun Facts about Dogs

Shep the dog
Shep our dog.

Dogs evolved from an extinct wolf-like creature in Eurasia 40,000 years ago. Male dogs are called dogs, female dogs are called bitches and young dogs are called puppys. Some studies believe that dogs started to be domesticated 33,000 years ago. Dogs belong to a biological family called the Canidae, a member of this family is called a canid. This is the origin of the adjective “canine” which means “of or like a dog, relating to or characteristic of dogs”.

Dogs have a very good sense of smell. The part of a dogs brain that analyses smell is 40 times larger than a human’s and they can smell 1,000 to 10,000 times better than us. About one-third of a dog’s brain is dedicated to smell. The breed of dog with the best sense of smell is the bloodhound. A dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar if you added it to an Olympic-sized swimming pool full of water. Dogs can be trained to detect cancer in humans. Some dogs can tell if a human is about to have an epileptic fit. About 12 percent of the air that a dog breathes goes into a special area in the back of the nose that is dedicated to smelling. A dog can both sniff and breathe at the same time. Dogs know from which nostril a smell has entered. Dogs can use their sense of smell to gauge our emotions, they can smell fear, anxiety, even sadness this is due to the fact that they can smell hormones such as adrenaline. Police dogs can smell human bodies even when they are buried up to 3 metres in the ground.

Watercolors of Dogs
These watercolors  of dogs were painted by Helen. She is a talented artist and will paint dogs if you send her a photo.  see her website here

Dogs see in colors of various shades of blue and yellow. If you want a dog to see things in a green background the best colour is blue. Humans generally see better than dogs but dogs see much better when there is low-light. Dogs cannot distinguish between red and green and these colours would appear as shades of grey to a dog.

Dogs like to chew bones but cooked bones and bones that can splinter such as cooked chicken bones should not be given to dogs. When dogs were evolving , bone marrow could sometimes form an important part of their diet. Dogs often bury bones so that they can dig them up at some moment in the future when they are hungry.

Chocolate is poisonous to dogs because it contains theobromine. A Labrador (around 30kg bodyweight) would probably die if it consumed more than ½kg of dark chocolate.

Dogs have a ligament in the neck which allows them to conserve energy while running long distances following scent trails with their nose to the ground. Many other species have a similar ligament and it is called a Paddywhack.

Although dogs have some sweat glands in their feet, their principal way of losing heat when they are too hot is by panting. When dogs have been doing a lot of exercise, they pant, it is not because they are out of breath like a human would be. Dogs have developed the method of losing heat by panting because sweating would not be very efficient due to all the fur. The normal body temperature of a dog is 38.3 to 39.2 degrees Celsius whereas human normal body temperature 37 degrees Celsius.

Female dogs can get pregnant when their bodies undergo changes which make them receptive to male dogs. This is called being on heat or in estrus. Male dogs know the female is on heat due to a smell emitted from the female dog. If the female is receptive, she will stand still and hold her tail to the side, a stance referred to as “flagging”. Most dogs go on heat every 6 months and estrus lasts between 7 and 18 days. When dogs copulate it is very normal for them to get stuck together and it may last for up to 45 minutes. Most vets recommend that bitches don’t get pregnant until the third estrus. Pregnancy can be prevented by spaying the female dog, this involves removing both the ovaries and the uterus. Dogs don’t go into the menopause and will continue to go on heat indefinitely unless they are spayed. Small and medium-sized dogs mostly have a gestation period of fifty to sixty days while larger breeds average sixty to sixty-five days. Dogs normally have between one to sixteen or even more puppies. It is not possible to know how many puppies a bitch will have just by looking at the pregnant bitch, the appearance can be very deceptive. Puppies are born deaf and cannot hear until they are about 21 days old. The young are born small, blind and helpless and require a long period of parental care.

 

Most dogs have 42 teeth. Corgi is Welsh for “dwarf dog.” Greyhounds can reach a speed of up to 45 miles per hour. Male dogs have a bone in their penis. The most popular bree of domestic dog in the US and the UK is the Labrador Retriever. The border collie or sheep dog is often considered to be the most intelligent breed of dog some of them have been trained to recognise the words for up to 1,000 objects and retrieved them by verbal command. Dogs can discriminate the emotional expressions of human faces.The largest breed of dog is the Irish Wolfhound. Dogs do not have an appendix. Dogs are all direct descendants of wolves. Wolves and dogs can mate to produce fertile offspring. A dog’s heart beats up to 120 times per minute, or 50% faster than the average human heartbeat of 80 times per minute.

If you ever go on holiday and you have a dog it may be necesary to put the dog in kennels.  An alternative to this is to get a dogsitter who will like in your house and look after the dog while you are away.  Click here for a website which can find you a dogsitter.  You can also apply to be a dogsitter and get free accommodation.  Click here for more info.

 

Five Things to Do in Valencia

Valencia
Valencia

Valencia is one of the largest cities in Spain, but to me, it was a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of tourist season in Barcelona. Valencia is just a 5 hour bus ride from Barcelona. My bus ticket cost approximately 30 euros, but only because I bought the ticket at the bus station in Barcelona. Note: The Alsa website only accepts Spanish credit cards. However, I was informed after the fact, that they do accept PayPal.

Five Things to Do in Valencia:

Bike through the Jardines de Turia to the Beach

The Jardines de Turia are 9 kilometers of old river bed that were transformed into a beautiful, public park. The park runs through the center of Valencia and its designated bicycle lanes make for a smooth, scenic ride through the city. The end of the park is only a short distance to the sandy, sprawling beaches of Valencia.

Bicycles are by far the best mode of transportation in Valencia and can be rented for as little as 9 euros per day. Hostels usually have deals for bike rentals as well, I rented a bike for 10 euros for two days through Feetup Hostels The Red Nest and Passion Bikes.

Visit La Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias

La Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias is must-see cultural center for art and science lovers. La Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias is home to Europe’s largest aquarium, L’Oceanografic, Palau de les Arts, L’Hemisferic and the Museu de Les Ciencies Principe Felipe. The center is conveniently located at the southeastern end of the Jardines de Turia and is easily accessed by bike or public transport. I visited the Museu de les Ciencies during Pixar’s 25th anniversary exhibit. It cost 8 euros for a ticket to the exhibit, which included entry to the museum.

Get wild in Bioparc Valencia

The Bioparc, unlike most zoos, has no fences separating the animals from visitors. Instead the zoo utilizes natural barriers, such as boulders and foliage to give visitors the illusion of being in the animal’s environment. This is the one thing I regret not doing in Valencia, as many people told me it was an amazing experience.

Eat Paella Valenciana

Valencia is where the Spanish rice dish, paella, originated. Traditional Paella Valenciana recipes contain rabbit and chicken. Most restaurants throughout Valencia serve paella, however I was told by a local that the dish is generally only served at lunchtime. Click here for more info about Paella

Visit the Torres de Serranos

Built at the end of the 14th century, the Torres de Serranos is one of the 12 gates found along the old medieval city wall of Valencia. Originally built as a defense mechanism, the tower later housed prisoners. The Torres de Serranos is one of the largest Gothic city gates in Europe. On Sundays entry to the Torres de Serranos is free.

Links:
Wikipedia entry on Valencia

Survival Spanish for travellers

Learn Spanish in Valencia

Basic facts about the Schengen.

Map of Europe

So you’re planning an extended trip to Europe, great! You most likely have already mapped out the cities you’d like to visit, sought out friends for advice and possibly went ahead and downloaded the best apps for travel… but have you thought about a visa?

It is always a good idea to research a country’s specific entry requirements before planning a trip abroad. For non-EU citizens planning to backpack or travel throughout Europe for more than 3 months, in addition to having a valid passport, you will need to familiarize yourself with the Schengen Area Agreement.

What is the Schengen Area Agreement? It is a border agreement between 26 European countries to allow EU citizens to travel and settle freely within the area. Non-EU citizens, with the proper documentation, are also permitted to travel freely within the Schengen area, but are limited to 90 days out of an 180 day period.

Schengen countries include: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Liechtenstein.

 

You may be asking yourself, but what if I want to travel throughout Europe for longer than 90 days?

Traveling for more than 90 days throughout Europe is possible, if you plan accordingly. You can split up time between the Schengen area and non-Schengen countries. Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom are all part of the EU, but are non-Schengen countries.

For example, you can spend 45 days in the Schengen area, then fly to say, the United Kingdom, and spend however many days the UK tourist visa will allow, then re-enter the Schengen area for your remaining 45 days.

Again, it is best to research country specific entry requirements before considering travel to the United Kingdom, or another non-Schengen country, as you may be asked for additional documentation.

For more information about the Schengen area visit:

The European Commission’s Migration and Home Affairs website.

SchengenVisaInfo.com