jump to navigation

The Book Depository: Cheap Books, Free Worldwide Shipping! September 19, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Websites.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
26 comments

I was at a wedding a few weeks ago and an old colleague told me about The Book Depository, a UK-based website that provides cheap books and free worldwide shipping.

“Get there quick before they go bust,” this friend tells me, because he doesn’t think this business model is going to last.

I was sceptical at first and decided to check it out.  And you know what?  It was exactly as advertised.  I can’t believe I had never heard of the website before.

Even though I already had about 10 books waiting in line to be read, I couldn’t help myself.  I started trawling through the very well organised website and I was amazed by the prices of the books.  Except for the latest releases, everything was dirt cheap.  Actually, even the new releases were significantly cheaper than what you would find in stores.

For instance, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was just AU$9.46.  The same book at Borders?  AU$22.99.  Nam Le’s The Boat was just AU$11.35.  The cheapest version of the book at Dymocks?  $20.95.  Paullina Simons’ The Bronze Horseman (I keep hearing rave reviews about this book) was AU$12.77.  The cheapest copy at Angus and Robertson?  $AU$22.95.  You catch my drift.

And on top of all of that, I got a 10% discount because my wife joined and recommended me.  I ended up purchasing 9 books for $90.39 (including the 10% discount).  That’s it.  No delivery fees.  The cheapest book was Homeland by RA Salvatore ($7.28), and the most expensive book was The Bronze Horseman ($12.77).  Not bad.

I paid via credit card and waited patiently for the packages to arrive.  They were dispatched the next day.  Australia is in the ‘other’ category and is supposed to take the longest, 7-14 business days according to this page.  I started receiving the books, packaged individually, in less than 2 weeks.  I thought this was a bit strange, sending them separately as opposed to in bulk, but it didn’t bother me as long as they all arrived (and they did, over 3 days).

Some people may prefer to browse real book stores so they can look around and have a flick through.  I say you can still do that, but just purchase them from this place.

Anyone else know any similar websites out there?

PS: right now you can also get up to 11,000 free e-books under the ‘Offers’ tab.  Mostly classics but I’m not complaining.

Ultimate European Adventure Round-Up! July 10, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
7 comments
Sensational Palatine Hill in Rome

Sensational Palatine Hill in Rome

One of the main reasons I decided to come to the UK to study (rather than say the US) was so I could get to visit and travel around Europe (something I had not done before but had been a life-long dream).

I have done a couple of round-up posts before after long trips (see ‘My European Adventure Round-Up’ and ‘My Big Fat Greek Adventure Round-Up’), but since I have left Europe now, I thought it would be good to consolidate all the places I’ve visited over the last 9 months and deliver my final judgment.

Here are the places I visited:

(a) England – London, Cambridge, Oxford, Bath, Salisbury, Avebury
(b) Italy – Rome, Venice, Florence, Pisa
(c) Vatican City (technically a country and a city)
(d) Greece – Athens, Santorini, Delphi, Arachova, Hydra, Poros, Aegina, Milos, Corinth, Mycenae, Nafplio
(e) Ireland – Dublin
(f) France – Paris
(g) Belgium – Brussels, Bruges
(h) Netherlands – Amsterdam
(i) Spain – Barcelona
(j) Germany – Munich, Berlin, Fussen (Neuschwanstein), Freiburg (Black Forest)
(k) Switzerland – Basel, Lucerne
(l) Sweden – Stockholm
(m) Denmark – Copenhagen
(n) Austria – Vienna
(o) Czech Republic – Prague

[Note: I didn’t count Frankfurt in Germany as I only stopped there for transit (twice) but did exit the airport]

108

In Bruges

Favourite places:

In terms of countries I would vote: (1) Greece; (2) Italy; (3) Germany.

Greece is simply incredible with its plethora of well-preserved archaeological sites and mythology, but is also one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited with its marvelous islands and beaches. Italy is similar in some respects, and gets extra marks for the number of attractions it has on offer (and its proximity to the Vatican). Germany, on the other hand, is very underrated, with wonderful, historically rich cities such as Munich and Berlin as well as terrific attractions such as the Black Forest, Neuschwanstein Castle and Dachau Concentration Camp.

Individual places are too hard to vote on as each location has its own flavour and strengths. Further, some places are big while others are small, and the differing lengths of time I stayed in each place may play a decisive role. It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges sometimes.

However, if someone held a gun to my head I would probably pick: (1) Santorini; (2) Rome; (3) Athens; (4) Paris; (5) Amsterdam; (6) Venice; (7) Munich; (8) Stockholm – though the order might not always be the same.

Santorini

Santorini was my favourite

Least favourite places

No prizes for guessing that Prague was my least favourite city (see my rant here) but at least I can say that I may have just had some bad luck with my experiences and that I didn’t spend enough time there. Now London, on the other hand, has no excuses.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with London because I visited the place at least a dozen times during my 9 month stay. There are lots of things to do and see there, and the British Museum is a must-visit, but the exorbitant prices, poor service (they just don’t care) and the absolute filth and over-crowdedness just about everywhere (and especially in the Tube) would drive me insane if I lived there!

Prague Castle From Afar

Prague Castle from afar


Most/Least Expensive

Just about all of Europe is expensive compared to where I come from. It got to a point where if I tried to convert the currency I would probably just start sobbing uncontrollably.

But in any case, the ones that stood out for me were obviously London, Switzerland (as a whole), and in particular the Scandinavian cities of Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Cheapest was definitely Prague, but I think Italy was not too unreasonable. In Greece it depended on where you went (the islands, for example, were relatively more expensive compared to Athens).
Best/Worst Food

Another tough one because I probably didn’t get to sample the best/worst food each place had to offer. Hence I’ll just try to recall the best foods I can remember.

Number 1 has to be the calzones we had in Barcelona. Damn they were bloody good (Can Conesa at Jaume I). Number 2, the hotdogs (from portable street vendors) and ice cream we had in Copenhagen (see more at this post). Number 3, the some of the pizzas we had in Italy.

Copenhagen Marble Church

Copenhagen's Marble Church

As for the worst, this is probably a little unfair because I ate there quite a bit, but London has some extraordinarily bad food (though to be fair, as well as good food), but you just don’t expect something so bad for the prices that you pay.

Most Romantic

Easy top 3: (1) Venice; (2) Santorini; (3) Paris. Three very different places with different charms, but all great for a romantic weekend or getaway.

Venice

Most Romantic: Venice

Top 15 Attractions

This is probably the toughest of them all. My list started with 5, then 10, then 15, then got to 20 (and could have gone to 25) before I cut it back to 15.

In the end, I decided just to go with gut instinct on this one. Note that while Santorini is, as a whole, one of the best places I visited, it’s not really an ‘attraction’ per se. Also important to note is that I love archaeological sites, museums and memorials, so keep that in mind when you read on.

Counting down:

15. Dachau Concentration Camp (in Dachau, near Munich) – a highly depressing place to visit but also one of the most important and informative. It wasn’t exactly enjoyable but it’s one of those places you’d be glad to have experienced.

Dachau

Depressing but worthwhile: Dachau

14. Rosenborg Castle (in Copenhagen) – one of those unexpected gems with a neat little castle, beautiful gardens and a well-managed sea of flowers. A great place to have a picnic or just to chill out for a couple of hours.

13. La Sagrada Familia (Barcelona) – this freakish, still-under-construction piece of art created by Gaudi is either loved or hated. But either way, it’s hard to keep your eyes off it.

12. Roman Baths Museum (Bath, UK) – the site of the ancient Roman Baths, where much of it is still wonderfully preserved. I went there twice and I can tell you that it has been newly renovated and has improved on its already exceptional audio guide.

11. Nea Kameni (Santorini, Greece) – Fira and Oia are beautiful, and the Red and Black beaches are spectacular, but if I had to pick an ‘attraction’ from Santorini, the volcanic island of Nea Kameni is it! Take a 90 minute walk up to the top and back – even in the heat it is well worth the experience of seeing the destructive power of the volcano up close.

Santorini Volcano 2

Nea Kameni in Santorini

10. Tivoli (Copenhagen) – the famous theme park has a splendid carnival atmosphere. The entrance fee does not cover the rides, but you don’t need to go on a single one to enjoy the place, especially when it gets dark and the coloured lights illuminate the fairground. Magical!

9. The British Museum (London) – if nothing, London has tremendous free attractions, and they don’t get much better than the enormous British Museum. If you race through it you can probably see it all in half a day, but to truly appreciate how much priceless stuff the Brits stole from just about every other culture in the world, you’ll need at least a full day, if not 2 or 3.

8. Anne Frank House (Amsterdam) – Amsterdam may be best known for its weed and girls, but the highlight for me was the Anne Frank House, in which you can get to see where the legendary Anne Frank and her family once hid from the Nazis. Yes it can be depressing at times, but it is also quite uplifting too to read Anne’s touching words and see just what a magnificent and insightful writer she was. One can only imagine how many great writers must have perished in the Holocaust.

7. Vasa Museum (Stockholm) – the Vasa sank on its maiden voyage and was not salvaged until 333 years later. Today it forms the centerpiece of the exquisite Vasa Museum, one of the most unusual museums I’ve ever been too. I loved how you could get a different view of the Vasa at each level of the museum, from the bottom all the way to the top.

6. Neuschwanstein Castle(Fussen, Germany) – no wonder this is the number 1 attraction in Germany and has been for so long. It’s the type of place you can go a couple of times during different seasons, because I hear it’s a different feel with and without the snow (I went with a bit of snow during early Spring). The walk up to the castle itself is just magical, and the inside is worth a look too.

Neuschwanstein 009

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

5. The Acropolis (Athens) – I would have never thought that I’d rank a single monument so high, but the Acropolis has captivated my imagination ever since I was a child, and seeing it up close in person at last fulfilled a life-long dream. Even with the scaffolding along the sides and back it still takes the breath away. Now with the Acropolis Museum opened it will be even better.

4. The Louvre (Paris) – the best art museum, one of those humongous places that can take days to full appreciate. With limited time, I only got to see the main masterpieces (the most high-profile ones, at least – and there were many), so I look forward to going back there someday and seeing the rest.

3. Vatican City (Vatican City) – (I’m calling it an ‘attraction’ because it is small enough) regardless of your religion, Vatican City is one of those places that you just need to see, even if it’s just for the amazing artworks painted on almost every empty space on the inside. St Peter’s Square and St Peter’s Basilica are also some of the amazing places within the world’s smallest country that left my jaw ajar many times.

2. Palatine Hill (Rome) – the archaeological site next to the Colosseum is one of the most fantastic I’ve ever seen. Just use a bit of imagination and thousands of years of history will unfold before your eyes! Make sure you head up to the top around the outside wall to get a full view of the site.

1. Archaeological Site of Delphi (Delphi, Greece) – the centre of the world, up in the mountains, where the oracle once sat – the enormous, well-preserved archaeological site of Delphi is a remarkable place that is well worth the journey from Athens (if that is where you’re staying). There’s a lot to see and absorb and enjoy, so take your time and really use your mind to envisage what it was like 3,500 years ago in Ancient Greece.

Delphi 1

Delphi Archaeological Site is No. 1

Well, that’s it. I’ll probably disagree with a lot of what I just wrote the next time I look at it, but right now, these are my thoughts.

Thoughts on TripAdvisor’s Best and Worst of Europe May 6, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
6 comments

The results of TripAdvisor’s annual European travel survey are out!  The full list of results can be found by clicking here.

Having been to most of these places on this list by now, I’m going to share some of my thoughts on these results.  Bear in mind, these are based on personal experiences, so I can only speak for myself.

Cheapest/Most Expensive

London was many lists, both good and bad

London was on many lists, both good and bad

The ‘best bargain‘ cities were Prague, Amsterdam and Istanbul.  Having only been to the first two, I must say Prague was very cheap indeed, certainly cheaper than any of the other European cities I have been to.  However, it depends on what you eat.  If you eat at vendors on the side of the street, you can get away with barely spending anything all day, but if you go to touristy restaurants on the main streets, you won’t necessarily be saving all that much, especially if you’re not careful and get ripped off by sneaky waiters who add extra charges!  The local transport is also relatively inexpensive, though you have to buy half-tickets for your luggage, pram etc.  I didn’t notice Amsterdam being particularly cheap, but perhaps those surveyed were talking about weed or prostitute prices!  I did think Rome prices weren’t unreasonable.

The most expensive was London, followed by Paris, then Venice.  When I first arrived in the UK, I was stunned by just how expensive everything was.  You feel like you’re overpaying for everything, largely because the quality does not correspond with what you pay (transport, food etc).  But once I stopped converting, it wasn’t too bad.  With the value of the Pound the way it is now, I don’t think the survey results are totally accurate.  Didn’t find Paris or Venice to be extraordinarily pricey – the one that stood out for me as especially expensive were the cities in Switzerland!  Everything there is ridiculously expensive.  Like 12 Swiss Francs for a medium McDonald’s meal!

Overrated/Underrated

bruges

Bruges was said to be underrated but I thought it was overrated!

The top 3 overrated were Paris, London and Dublin.  I’ve been to all three and I didn’t find them overrated at all!  There are so many things to do in Paris and London (how can you overrate a place with the Louvre or the British Museum?).  I guess it depends on your interests and your expectations.  I had high expectations for Paris and London, and I wasn’t disappointed.  Dublin is much smaller and there’s a lot less things to go, so I can sort of understand where people are coming from, but if you are a lover of writing, you won’t be disappointed.  Dublin’s Writers Museum was a highlight (see my post on it!) when I went, and there’s plenty of other ones I didn’t get to visit.  In my personal opinion, I thought Prague was hugely overrated.  I even devoted an entire post to it.  The other place that disappointed me a bit was Bruges.  People rave about how it is a Medieval city, and while it is pretty, it’s been largely reconstructed and you can see similar architecture in a lot of other places throughout Europe.

The top 3 underrated cites were Krakow, Bruges and Edinburgh.  Having only been to Bruges (which I thought was overrated), I can’t speak for the others.  In my view, the most underrated place I’ve been to is Munich, which was really sensational.  Surprisingly, Berlin was also very good.

Friendly/Least Friendly

This wasn’t a surprise.  The least friendly cities were Paris, London and Moscow.  I haven’t been to Moscow, and I speak English, so I rarely need help in London, but I didn’t find Parisians rude at all.  When we were there, every person we spoke to was extremely friendly and willing to help.  Many even offered help to us voluntarily.  If you’re polite I think you’ll be surprised how friendly French people are.  The only city where I encountered unpleasant behaviour was Prague.  Unfortunate but true.  My Prague post discusses this in some detail.

The friendliest cities were Dublin, Amsterdam and Edinburgh.  The people in Dublin and Amsterdam were quite friendly, but didn’t really stand out for me to be honest.  I thought people in Vienna were quite willing to help.

Dirtiest/Cleanest

Brussels is a dirty place! (and apparently boring too)

Brussels is a dirty place! (and apparently boring too)

London, Paris and Athens were the top 3 dirtiest cities in Europe.  London I can definitely understand.  Whenever I come back from London and blow my nose, it’s guaranteed to be all black.  Same as when I wipe my face with a tissue.  It’s disgusting.  I think it’s the soot in the Tube stations or something.  Paris felt a lot better for me, not sure why it was so high up on the list.  Athens I will be visiting in a month or so (after exams!).  From memory, Brussels could be quite dirty in some parts of the city, and yes, Prague also had that dirty feel to it (seems like I’m picking on Prague, but it’s just the truth!).

The 3 cleanest cities were Copenhagen, Zurich and Stockholm. Haven’t been to any of these yet, but I am heading to Copenhagen and Stockholm after my graduation!

Best Food/Worst Food

Being the pig I am, I was very interested in the results of this one.  The 3 best were Paris, London and Rome, whereas the 3 worst were London, Moscow and Warsaw.  I think this simply shows that it depends where you go to eat.  I’m sure you can find awful food and great food in all of these places, but not everyone knows which places to go.  The only suggestion is to do your research beforehand and find out which restaurants are popular or have good reputations.

Most Romantic

Venice, Paris and Rome rounded out the top 3 of the most romantic city.  I totally agree with the first 2 at least.  I know Paris is supposed to be the most romantic place on Earth, but I was surprised when I visited Venice by how romantic it truly was.  Must be the water in the canals or the narrow pathways or the warm-coloured buildings or something.  Rome just felt like a lot of fun to me, didn’t really see it as a particularly romantic place.

Best Free Attractions

sagrada

La Sagrada Familia is one of the many Gaudi-inspired attractions in Barcelona - free from the outside but have to pay to get in

Another one I agree with.  The top 3 were London, Rome and Barcelona.  Of course, all of these places also have a lot of great attractions you have to pay for, but in general I agree with the top 3.  Most of London’s wonderful museums are free, and in Rome, there are heaps of attractions (churches, monuments, artworks etc) you can just wander up to and take a look at without paying any money.  Barcelona has a lot of weirdo Gaudi buildings there you can take a look at, but honestly I can’t remember there being lots of free attractions (as we had to pay for a lot of them!).

Most Boring

Brussels, Zurich, Dublin.  The top 3 in probably the worst thing to come tops in – boring.  To some extent I agree that Brussels doesn’t have a whole lot going for it in terms of attractions other than Mannequin Pis.  We stayed in the town centre around Christmas though and the streets were quite lively and there were light shows in the town square and so forth, so the couple of days we were there were actually quite pleasant.  But certainly spending more than 2 days there would have been excessive.  As for Dublin, see above.  I thought it was pretty good (because of my love for the great writers from Dublin).

Best and Worst Dressed

Why does anyone care about these categories?  Really, who notices these things.  Usually the worst dressed are the tourists anyway!

There’s a few more other ones, such as Tourist Traps, Night Life, Architecture and Public Parks.

%d bloggers like this: