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rec.travel.europe FAQ

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Old March 18th, 2004, 09:16 AM
Yves Bellefeuille
external usenet poster
Posts: n/a
Default rec.travel.europe FAQ

Archive-Name: travel/europe/faq
Posting-Frequency: Monthly
Last-Modified: 2003-12-07
URL: http://www.faqs.org/faqs/travel/europe/faq

Rec.travel.europe FAQ

This FAQ was written by Yves Bellefeuille , with help from
Martin Rich . Thanks also to "Darren", who prepared
an earlier version of the rec.travel.europe FAQ. Please send any
comments to me at .

None of the "URLs" or "links" mentioned in this FAQ should require Java
or JavaScript. If they do, please let me know. You might also want to
write to the address "webmaster" at the domain involved to ask them to
provide web pages that don't require Java or JavaScript; for example, to
complain about a web page at aol.com, write to .

Table of Contents

I. General Usenet Guidelines

II. Other FAQs

III. Frequently Asked Questions

About the newsgroup itself

1. What countries does the newsgroup cover?
2. Where should I post about rooms or services wanted or offered?
3. What other newsgroups deal with travelling or with Europe?
4. What is "Google"?
5. How can I complain about "spam"?

Travel planning and preparations

6. I'm going to Europe for the first time. Where should I go?
7. Should I go on my own or with a tour?
8. What guidebooks are available?
9. Do I need a visa to visit some country?
10. What's the European Union (EU)?
11. What's a "Schengen visa"?
12. What should I pack?
13. What should I see during my trip?
14. What should I bring my European friends as gifts?

Money and financial matters

15. What currency should I use?
16. What's the "Interbank" exchange rate?
17. Will my bank machine card or credit card work in Europe?
18. Should I use traveller's cheques?
19. Should I change money before I go or when I get there?
20. How do I change money at a bank or _bureau de change_?
21. What does "VAT" mean?
22. Can I get a VAT refund?
23. Can I buy "duty-free"?


24. Where can I get the best airfare?
25. Is my driver's licence valid in Europe?
26. Can I drive as fast as I want in Germany?
27. How can I get from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport to Paris?
28. Where can I get information on trains?
29. Should I buy a rail pass?
30. Where should I buy train tickets?


31. I speak language X and I'm going to country Y. How widely is
my language spoken in this country?
32. What do NTSC, PAL and SECAM mean?
33. Can I drink the tap water in Europe?
34. Should I be worried about crime in Europe?
35. What's the time difference?
36. What's the weather like over there?
37. How can I phone to Europe?

IV. Selected Links

V. To Do: Possible Additions

I. General Usenet Guidelines

For general information on Usenet, see the "news.newusers.questions
Official Home Page" at

For information on standard Usenet etiquette, see the "NNQ" home page
mentioned above and Usenet group news.announce.newusers. If you're new
to Usenet, *please* read at least the following guidelines:

* Welcome to Usenet!

* Rules for posting to Usenet

* Hints on writing style for Usenet

* A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community

* Emily Postnews Answers Your Questions on Netiquette

* Advertising on Usenet: How To Do It, How Not To Do It

II. Other FAQs

Readers of rec.travel.europe might also want to consult the following
specialized FAQs:

* Paris Transport FAQ, by Delphine Kensit

* Euro Currency Changeover FAQ, by Arwel Parry

* Travel in the UK, by Martin Rich

The following FAQs from Usenet group rec.travel.air may also be helpful:

* Air Traveler's Handbook, by Mark Kantrowitz

* Airline information on-line on the Internet FAQ, by John R. Levine

* Airline Ticket Consolidators and Bucket Shops FAQ, by Edward Hasbrouck

III. Frequently Asked Questions

About the newsgroup itself

1. What countries does the newsgroup cover?

According to its charter, rec.travel.europe covers "all aspects of
travel in Europe", including "Iceland, Russia, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia,
Azerbaijan, Malta, and Cyprus". The charter is at:


Israel and the "Middle East" are outside the group's mandate; please use
rec.travel.asia instead.

2. Where should I post about rooms or services wanted or offered?

If you have a room for rent or are looking for one, or if you're
offering services to tourists, please post in rec.travel.marketplace,
not in rec.travel.europe. See below for a list of Usenet groups related
to travel.

In general, any post that proposes a payment or an exchange should be
posted in rec.travel.marketplace rather than rec.travel.europe.

3. What other newsgroups deal with travelling or with Europe?

misc.transport.rail.europe Railroads & railways in all of Europe
rec.gambling.misc All other gambling topics including travel
rec.outdoors.rv-travel Discussions related to recreational vehicles
rec.photo.technique.nature Wildlife, landscapes, travel tips etc.
rec.scuba.locations Scuba travel, location questions
rec.skiing.resorts.europe Skiing in Europe
rec.travel.africa Travel on the African continent
rec.travel.air Airline travel around the world
rec.travel.asia Travel in Asia
rec.travel.australia+nz Travel Information for Australia and NZ
rec.travel.bed+breakfast A forum for bed and breakfast guests
rec.travel.budget.backpack Backpack travel discussion group
rec.travel.caribbean Travel to the islands of the Caribbean
rec.travel.cruises Travel by cruise ship
rec.travel.latin-america Travel in Central and South America
rec.travel.marketplace Tickets and accomodations wanted/for sale
rec.travel.misc Everything and anything about travel
rec.travel.resorts.all-inclusive All-inclusive resorts
rec.travel.usa-canada Travel in the United States and Canada
soc.culture.europe All aspects of all-European society
talk.politics.european-union The EU and political integration in Europe

The group misc.transport.rail.europe tends to focus on technical aspects
of railways and railway technology. Non-technical questions about
travelling by train in Europe should be posted in rec.travel.europe
rather than misc.transport.rail.europe.

In addition, many groups in soc.culture.* deal with specific countries
or cultures (soc.culture.albanian, soc.culture.austria,
soc.culture.baltics, and so on). Please check the language policies of
these groups before posting in them.

All these groups are in the so-called "Big Eight" hierarchies and should
therefore be carried by all Internet Service Providers (ISPs).

4. What is "Google"?

Google, http://groups.google.com/, lets you search almost all Usenet
posts since 1980. It can be an invaluable reference. Google is the
successor to a similar service called "Deja News", and later called

To search posts that have appeared in rec.travel.europe, choose
"Advanced Groups Search". Fill in one of the four options under "Find
message" and enter "rec.travel.europe" under "Newsgroup"; you can also
choose other options, such as "Message Dates", if you wish. Press
"Google Search" to complete your request.

To search all groups in the rec.travel.* hierarchy, enter "rec.travel.*"
as the Newsgroup. To search all groups with "europe" in their name
(including misc.transport.rail.europe, rec.arts.comics.european,
rec.sport.basketball.europe, and so on), enter "*europe*" as the
Newsgroup -- note the asterisks both before and after the word "europe".

5. How can I complain about "spam"?

Send a copy of the message to the address "postmaster" at the poster's
Internet Service Provider (ISP). For example, to complain about spam
from a user at aol.com, write to . Be sure to
include all the "headers". With most programs, you can simply type "h"
to see the headers; with Outlook Express, try Ctrl-F3.

For more information, see:

Fight Spam on the Internet - http://spam.abuse.net/spam/
The Net Abuse FAQ - http://www.cybernothing.org/faqs/net-abuse-faq.html
Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) -

Travel planning and preparations

6. I'm going to Europe for the first time. Where should I go?

A common mistake is to try to see too much on a short trip. "Major"
cities such as Paris, Rome and London are easily worth an entire week,
even on a first trip. Even "minor" cities are worth an overnight stay.
You'll typically see more if you choose to explore one or two cities
thoroughly rather than if you try to see the whole of Europe

As a rough rule of thumb, don't try to visit more than one country for
every week of your trip.

7. Should I go on my own or with a tour?

Most of Europe is very easy for an independent traveller to visit. The
newsgroup is full of experienced travellers who will be happy to offer
guidance if you need it. For most experienced travellers, part of the
enjoyment is planning and deciding where to go, finding places to stay
and eat, being able to change their plans whenever they want to do so,
and often travelling without knowing for certain what to expect next.

A tour will relieve you of the responsibility of arranging your own
accommodation, of deciding how much time to spend in one place, and up
to a point will insulate you from language difficulties. But it will
also insulate you from the pleasure of mixing with local people, and
will make it difficult for you to make a spontaneous change of plans
when you've just been really attracted by something you've seen.

A tour might also be worth considering if you have a particular
cultural, historical or sporting interest and want to base your trip
around that.

8. What guidebooks are available?

(Thanks to Jeri Dansky for helping with this

There isn't a single best guidebook: different books address different
needs. Some are designed for budget travellers while some focus on the
more affluent. Some provide lots of practical information, while others
focus on the attractions. Some try to combine different types of
information; some are more focused.

Books within the same series may vary in quality, as they are often
written by different people. However, here are some comments on the main
guidebook series.

Good guides for major cities. Helpful for self-guided walking tours.
Organized by street and block, so you know what restaurants and
stores are near the tourist sights. Good details on major sights and
museums. Accommodations and restaurants are not intended for budget

Good for sights, including finding little known points of interest. No
information on hotels or restaurants.

Blue Guides
Good for those who want detailed information on museums and on
historical and archaeological sights. Sometimes considered dry reading.

Not often mentioned; has been recommended for Estonia, Latvia, and

Very good for historical and cultural perspectives. Well written and

Greats Eats/Great Sleeps
(formerly called Cheap Eats/Cheap Sleeps)
Not always cheap (by some people's standards), but good values, which
explains the name change. Detailed and accurate.

Dorling Kindersley (DK) Eyewitness
Beautiful books. Good for figuring out what sights to see and also
useful as a souvenir, but has rather little actual information.
Includes neighbourhood maps and museum floor plans. Not the book for
hotel recommendations. Heavy to travel with.

General purpose, mainstream guidebook with information on sights,
restaurants and hotels. Too upscale for some; certainly not for budget
travellers. Some strong praise for the restaurant recommendations. The
feature "If you have one day...", "If you have three days...", etc., is
useful for travel planning. Not strong on historical background.

All-around guidebook with information on major sights, restaurants,
hotels. Some have been quite pleased with the hotel and restaurant
recommendations. Not strong on historical background.

Gault Millau
Covers hotels and restaurants in France. Less reliable than Michelin Red
Guide -- some say it's much less reliable -- but nicely written, and can
be useful as a check to confirm restaurant recommendations listed in

Guide du routard
For the back-pack and budget traveller; has a fresh and somewhat
opinionated writing style. Very useful for budget lodgings.

Insight Guides
Good for getting the flavour of a place.

Karen Brown
For those willing to spend more money. Some say they've found memorable
lodgings through these books; others say they've found the descriptions

Similar to DK Eyewitness (and apparently the inspiration for that
series) in that both are beautiful, very visually focused books. Knopf
has somewhat better background information. For reasonably affluent

Knopf Citymap Guides
Lists restaurants, cafes, shopping and sights, with some hotel
suggestions and other miscellaneous information useful for tourists.

Let's Go
Student written guides for budget travellers. Considerable information
on budget accommodation, restaurants, and public transport -- as well as
things like laundromats. Good background information on history and
culture, although not extensive.

Lonely Planet
Notable for amount of information crammed into one book. Strong on the
practical stuff: accommodation, restaurants, public transport,
laundromats, bookstores with English language books. Lots of maps, but
some find them too sketchy. Lacking in historical information. The
colourful writing that marked this series is a thing of the past. Covers
a range of prices; used to be focused on the budget traveller, but have
moved somewhat upscale over time.

Michelin Green
Detailed information on sites, with a star rating system (3 stars: worth
a journey; 2 stars: worth a detour; 1 star: interesting) that many find
useful in planning a trip.

Michelin Red
Hotel and restaurant recommendations. Some find them too upscale. Others
point to the non-starred but "good food at moderate prices" listings as
a way of balancing price and quality.

Rick Steves
People are very passionate about Rick Steves: they tend to really like
him or really dislike him. These are not comprehensive guidebooks for
the countries covered, but focus on Rick's perception of the highlights.
Very opinionated. Seem largely intended to help inexperienced
travellers, beyond their student years, who would like to try
independent travel. Some object to the pace he recommends. Some have
noted that hotels he recommends tend to be full -- with other people
using his guidebooks.

Rough Guides
These guides usually get good marks for general background and
historical and cultural perspective. A number of people note that they
use them to decide where to go, but don't use them for hotel or
restaurant recommendations. There have been vehement complaints about
inaccuracies. A number of people find the books to have a condescending
attitude which was quite annoying.

Time Out
Well-regarded guides to specific cities, with useful information on
restaurants, cafes, and other "hang-outs".

Touring Club Italiano
The hardcover regional red guides ("Guide rosse") cover the visual arts
and architecture nearly exhaustively, and provide historical
introductions with separate sections on the history of arts and crafts.
Notable features of local cuisine are sometimes covered in some detail,
but no recommendations for hotels or restaurants are given. There are
also cheaper red guides ("Guide rosse economiche") and still cheaper
green guides ("Guide verdi"). As the price goes down, the amount of
detail decreases. The "Guida rapide" does have hotel and restaurant
recommendations, but has little information on attractions.

9. Do I need a visa to visit some country?

Whether you need a visa or not depends on your nationality. The only
reliable source of visa information is a consulate of the country you're
planning to visit. You'll find a list of foreign consulate offices in
the USA at:


In other countries, your ministry of external affairs or foreign
relations will be able to tell you the locations of consulate offices.

There's a list of visa requirements for US citizens at:


Please note that this list is for US citizens only. It's still a good
idea to check with the consulate of the country you're visiting: these
lists are sometimes out of date.

10. What's the European Union (EU)?

The European Union, formerly known as the European Common Market or the
European Economic Community (EEC), started as a "free trade" or "common
market" agreement. Although trade and economic policy are still its
major focus, it now also deals with social policy, external affairs, and
other matters.

The countries in the European Union a Austria, Belgium, Denmark,
Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the
Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The
following countries are expected to join in 2004: Cyprus, Czech
Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia,
and Slovenia.

For travellers, the main effect of the EU is that border controls at
airports and elsewhere often have two queues, one for citizens of EU
countries and one for citizens of other countries. Choose the queue
that's appropriate for you.

For more information on the EU, see http://europa.eu.int/.

11. What's a "Schengen visa"?

Some countries in the EU have agreed to unify their entry and visa
requirements. In general, this means that once you're admitted to one of
these countries, you can go to any other, and a visa granted by one of
these countries (known as a "Schengen visa") allows you to enter any
other country.

The countries participating in this agreement a Austria, Belgium,
Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the
Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden; Iceland and Norway also
participate even though they're not in the EU. The following EU
countries do not participate: Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the
countries expected to join the EU in 2004 (see previous section).

There are no border controls between the Schengen countries, so you
won't have to show your passport or visa when going from one country to
another. However, some countries require that you carry your passport or
identity card with you at all times and show it to a police officer on
request; these requirements remain in force.

A consequence of this is that if you're allowed to remain in a Schengen
country as a tourist for 90 days (for example), you can go to any other
Schengen country during that period, but you can't be in *any* Schengen
country once the period expires. You are also usually required to wait
for a certain period of time (often 90 days) before re-entering the
Schengen area. Please consult the consulate of the countries you're
planning to visit to know the requirements that apply to you.

If you're planning to visit more than one Schengen country and require a
visa, you should apply to the country where you're planning to spend the
most time.

12. What should I pack?

The standard advice is to bring half as much clothes as you think you'll
need, and twice as much money. If you think that you couldn't
comfortably carry your suitcase or backpack for a few hundred metres or
yards, you've almost certainly packed too much.

The "Travelite FAQ", http://www.travelite.org/, gives suggestions on
"travelling light", although it sometimes seems rather extreme. For
example, although men might want to "trim their underarm hairs to about
a half-inch in length", as the FAQ used to suggest, it's doubtful that
this will result in a significant difference in the weight of the
anti-perspirant you'll have to bring with you!

In addition to what you'd usually bring on any trip, here are some
things you might want to bring when travelling to a foreign country:

- plug converter if bringing electric appliance
- passport, and photocopy kept separately
- plane and train tickets, and photocopy kept separately
- train and hotel reservations
- health insurance policy
- vaccination certificate
- international driver's licence, as well as your national licence
- foreign cash
- credit card, debit card, bank machine card
- travellers' cheques
- numbers to call if credit card or travellers' cheques are stolen
- telephone company calling card

There's also a "Universal Packing List" at

13. What should I see during my trip?

If you want to ask for advice about attractions, please say something
about your interests. Are you looking for architecture, fine food,
discos, night life, museums, landscapes? The more we know about your
preferences, the more we can help you.

14. What should I bring my European friends as gifts?

You might want to use Google to see what suggestions have been made in
the past. A local specialty or delicacy might be appropriate. Anything
widely available in your country is almost certainly widely available in

The Canadian maintainer of this FAQ often brings maple syrup and other
maple products as gifts. They can be hard to find in Europe and are
rather expensive. Other users have suggested a good local wine or a
local photo book.

Money and financial matters

15. What currency should I use?

Except for Turkey, always use the currency of the country you're
visiting. Even if US dollars or another currency is accepted, you'll get
a terrible exchange rate.

In Turkey, US dollars are very widely accepted, especially for large
purchases. Also, you'll get a much better rate of exchange if you obtain
Turkish liras (whether by changing money or from a cash machine) in
Turkey itself rather than in another country.

As of 1 January 2002, a new currency, the euro, is used in the following
countries: Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland,
Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. For more
information, see the Euro Currency Changeover FAQ by Arwel Parry,

16. What's the "Interbank" exchange rate?

The "Interbank" rate is the rate banks charge each other when trading
large amounts. The rate you see listed in the newspapers is usually the
Interbank rate.

Unless you're changing very large amounts, the rate you'll get won't be
as favourable as the Interbank rate, but you can still use it to
determine whether the rate you're offered is reasonable. For
"electronic" transactions involving a bank machine card or credit card,
expect to pay about 1 % more than the Interbank rate. When changing
traveller's cheques or cash, you'll usually have to pay 2 % to 3 % over
the Interbank rate. Try to avoid paying any other fee or commission.

Many newspapers list foreign exchange or "Forex" rates. You can also
find them at http://www.oanda.com/ and

17. Will my bank machine card or credit card work in Europe?

It is necessary to distinguish several different kinds of bank cards.
Keep in mind that different countries have different banking cultures,
and that different terms may be used in different countries. A card can
fulfil more than one of the following functions:

* Bank machine card (ATM card): With a bank machine card, you can go to
a bank machine (ATM) and obtain cash. Examples: Plus, Cirrus, Interac,
Maestro, Carte bleue, EC-Card.

* Credit card: With a credit card, you can pay for purchases and you
receive an invoice later. Examples: Visa, MasterCard/EuroCard, American
Express, Discover.

* Debit card: With a debit card, you can pay for purchases and the
amount is immediately withdrawn from your account. Please note that
these cards are used to pay for purchases, not to obtain cash from a
machine. Examples: Maestro, Carte bleue, EC-Card, Electron, Delta,
Switch, Solo. Debit cards are often *not* accepted in a foreign

A card can fulfil more than one of these functions. The following
networks are related and a card may accept more than one of them:

- MasterCard/EuroCard, Cirrus, Maestro;
- Visa, Plus, Electron.

However, it's still important to note the differences between these
functions. For more information, see


Any of these cards will generally get the best exchange rate. Many banks
charge 1 % over the "Interbank" rate; ask your bank for details. Some
banks also charge an additional flat fee each time you use your card;
try to find a bank that doesn't charge such fees.

In "Eastern European" countries, cards are usually accepted in major
tourist destinations (Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, and so on), but may not
be accepted in smaller cities or in countries with less tourism.

Here are some specific comments about these three kinds of cards.

* Bank machine cards: Plus, Cirrus and Maestro cards are widely accepted
in Europe. Bank machines will offer you a choice of languages, including

MasterCard/EuroCard/Cirrus/Maestro recommends that you use a 4-digit
identification (PIN) code when travelling abroad; if your code is longer
than this, you should change it to something shorter before leaving.
Visa/Plus recommends that you use a 4-digit to 6-digit code. Also,
European bank machines don't have letters on the numeric keypad; if you
use the letters to remember your code, you'll have to learn the numbers

Some banks now add a surcharge to foreign transactions; check with your
bank before leaving. In addition, the bank that owns the bank machine
may also add a surcharge. Apparently, there must be a notice on the bank
machine itself in Germany, but no notice is required in Hungary.

If you get money using a bank machine card and are charged a fee by the
machine's owner without a notice appearing on the machine itself, please
write to me at so that I may prepare a list of bank
machines to avoid. However, please make sure that the fee really was
charged by the owner of the machine, not by your own bank.

* Credit cards: Both Visa and MasterCard/EuroCard are widely accepted in
Europe for purchases. American Express is much less useful, and Discover
is not usually accepted in Europe. You can also get a cash advance using
your credit card; in this case, your own bank will charge you interest
starting on the day you received the funds and may also add a surcharge
for foreign transactions. The bank giving you the money shouldn't ask
for any additional commission or fee; if it does, go elsewhere, and
again please write to me at so that I may prepare a list
of banks to avoid.

Some credit card companies become suspicious if the card suddenly starts
being used in a different country or continent. Therefore, some users
suggest letting your credit card company know that you'll be going

* Debit cards: As stated previously, these cards often aren't accepted
in foreign countries. For example, foreign debit cards aren't accepted
in Germany and Denmark. However, a debit card might also be a bank
machine card or credit card and can be used as such abroad.

It's recommended that you bring both a bank machine card and a credit
card (two different cards) and, if you wish, a debit card. Use the bank
machine card to get money from bank machines and use the credit card or
debit card to pay for purchases. If you're stuck, you can also use the
credit card to get a cash advance, but you'll then have to pay interest.
If you wish to be prudent, you can bring more than one card of each kind
in case a card isn't accepted for some reason or you run into any
problems. Of course, you should store the cards separately in case
they're lost or stolen.

(Usage varies considerably by country; I've tried hard to make this
explanation as clear as possible both in Europe and elsewhere. If the
text isn't clear to you or if you have any suggestions, please write to

18. Should I use traveller's cheques?

You'll usually get a worse exchange rate if you use traveller's cheques
rather than any of the cards mentioned above. Still, some travellers
like to have them as a backup in case they can't use their bank machine
card or credit card. If you carry traveller's cheques, ask the issuing
company for the addresses of its offices or of affiliated companies
which will cash the cheques without charge.

Some users of the newsgroup have expressed dissatisfaction with the way
Thomas Cook handled reports of lost or stolen traveller's cheques and
have recommended getting cheques from American Express or another
company instead.

You should get traveller's cheques in your own currency, to avoid having
to pay for the exchange of any cheques left over.

19. Should I change money before I go or when I get there?

It can be useful to obtain a small amount of the local currency (perhaps
$ 20 to $ 50 per traveller) before you leave. Most airports now have
cash machines, and it's doubtful whether any major airport doesn't have
one, so you can withdraw more money once you arrive.

The exception is Turkey, as mentioned above: you should try to change
money in Turkey itself.

20. How do I change money at a bank or _bureau de change_?

Foreign exchange establishments list a "buy" rate and a "sell" rate for
various currencies. The rates are shown from the establishment's point
of view: if you want to obtain the local currency, look at the "buy"
rate for your own currency, since the establishment is "buying" your
currency and giving you the local currency in exchange. The difference
between the two rates reflects the establishment's profit.

Before changing any money, make sure you know the exchange rate and any
commission or charges.

21. What does "VAT" mean?

"VAT" means "Value Added Tax"; it's a form of sales tax. The prices you
see quoted usually already include the VAT.

22. Can I get a VAT refund?

You can sometimes get a VAT refund for goods purchased in another
country. Please note that a refund is only available for goods: it's not
available for services such as transportation, hotel rooms, restaurant
meals, and so on. It's also not available for goods used in the country
itself, such as food or gasoline (petrol); you must bring the goods back

The requirements to get a VAT refund vary by country. Usually, you must
purchase the goods in a store participating in the tax refund program;
these stores are often identified by signs saying "Tax Free Shopping" or
the like. You must usually make a minimum purchase; sometimes the
minimum is quite high. You must make the minimum purchase in the store
itself; you can't combine purchases made in more than one store.

If you meet these requirements, ask the store to give you the
documentation you need to get a VAT refund. You may have to show your
passport. You might be able to get the refund at the airport as you
leave, or you may have to send the documentation by mail. Ask for
details. If you have any doubts about the rules, contact the customs
office when leaving the country, and before checking your luggage, if
travelling by air.

In the European Union (EU), VAT refunds are only available to travellers
from outside the EU.

23. Can I buy "duty-free"?

Buying "duty-free" is somewhat similar to getting a VAT refund. In a
duty-free store, some or all of the taxes that would normally apply to
the purchase are omitted. You can usually shop in duty-free stores only
immediately before you leave a country (including your own country);
when travelling by air, you're usually asked to show your boarding pass
as proof that you're about to take a flight out of the country.

In the European Union (EU), you can only buy duty-free when you're about
to leave the EU. However, unlike VAT refunds, travellers from the EU are
also eligible to buy duty-free when leaving the EU.

Duty-free only refers to the taxes levied by the country where you're
buying. You may have to pay custom duties on the goods when entering
another country even if they were duty-free where you bought them.

Buying duty-free is worthwhile only for goods that are usually heavily
taxed; tobacco and alcohol are common examples. If duty-free goods seem
quite inexpensive to you, this means that the goods are heavily taxed in
your own country. Don't assume that something is a bargain just because
it's duty-free; compare the price to what you'd normally have to pay.


24. Where can I get the best airfare?

The group rec.travel.europe doesn't specialize in air travel; see
rec.travel.air instead. In particular, see the Airline Ticket
Consolidators and Bucket Shops FAQ, by Edward Hasbrouck, at
http://hasbrouck.org/faq/, for information on why on-line sources are
rarely useful to find discounted international fares.

In October 2000, the US magazine _Consumer Reports Travel Letter_
checked the prices offered by Cheaptickets, Expedia, Lowestfare and
Travelocity for several intra-US routes. It concluded that "none of the
four web sites consistently offered complete and fair listings of all
viable flights", and that it was often possible to get a better fare
from a travel agent.

Some users have recommended the Association of Special Fare Agents,
http://www.asfa.net/. This FAQ can't make any specific recommendations,
but feel free to write if you're satisfied or dissatisfied with this
service or any other.

Within Europe, you will also find that some low-cost airlines, such as
EasyJet, http://www.easyjet.com/, and Ryanair, http://www.ryanair.com/,
don't use agents. If you want to travel on one of these airlines, book
directly using their web site.

25. Is my driver's licence valid in Europe?

If you don't have a driver's licence from a European Union (EU) country,
it's strongly recommended that you get an International Driver's Licence
(IDL), whether or not it's strictly required legally. In the USA,
contact the AAA, even if you're not a member. The cost is $ 10 and
you'll need a passport-size photo. In Canada, contact the CAA. You must
carry both the IDL and the licence from your own country.

Ignore posts from other firms claiming to offer IDLs. These are not
legitimate and aren't legally valid. In particular, you can only obtain
an IDL if you have a valid licence in your own country.

26. Can I drive as fast as I want in Germany?

In Germany, on the "Autobahn", there's no fixed speed limit; however,
it's recommended that you drive no faster than 130 km/h (about 80 miles
per hour). If you're driving faster than this and have an accident, the
onus is on you to prove that you weren't at fault. Note that there
frequently are "local" speed limits even on the Autobahn.

27. How can I get from Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport to Paris?

Please see the Paris Transport FAQ by Delphine Kensit,
http://www.faqs.org/faqs/travel/europe/Paris-Transport/, mentioned

There's a map of the Paris metro (including RER lines in the central
area) at http://www.citefutee.com/orienter/plan_metro_gif.php, and of
the RER (commuter train) network at

28. Where can I get information on trains?

The German Deutsche Bahn has an excellent WWW server in German and
English with information on many trains, including trains in other
European countries: http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/. See below for links
to other rail companies.

When using on-line resources, write the name of cities using the local
language. For example, use "Roma" instead of Rome, "Wien" instead of
Vienna, and "Praha" instead of Prague.

Many users recommend the "Thomas Cook European Timetable". Your library
may have a copy, or you can buy it from
http://www.forsyth.com/products/thomas_cook.html (USD 33, including

29. Should I buy a rail pass?

As a very rough rule of thumb, a rail pass may save you money if you
plan on travelling relatively long distances in a fairly short period of
time. Otherwise, you'll probably be better off buying "point to point"

Non-Europeans may buy a "Eurail pass". This pass can be bought before
leaving or in Europe itself, but a surcharge of 10 % must be paid if
bought in Europe. Europeans may buy an "Interrail pass". Passes are also
available for specific countries and regions: consult the WWW pages of
the train companies of the countries you're planning to visit or see

30. Where should I buy train tickets?

Except for the Eurail pass and other passes, buy train tickets in Europe
rather than before leaving, since this is cheaper. An exception is if
you can get an discount because of an early purchase. If you must buy
tickets in advance, try the appropriate train company or Deutsche Bahn:
see the links below. In particular, be wary of the Rail Europe WWW site,
because of its high fees.

Ask about rebates, which are often available, especially for students
and youth, for groups travelling together (sometimes rebates are
available for groups as small as two persons), for travel in the evening
or during the weekend, or for same-day return trips (round trips).

Some companies don't sell tickets on-line to non-Europeans and ask you
to contact Rail Europe. However, you can usually still purchase these
tickets on-line from the Deutsche Bahn site at


31. I speak language X and I'm going to country Y. How widely is
my language spoken in this country?

The following table shows how widely English, French, German and Russian
are spoken in some of the major tourist destinations, using the
following scale:

1: The language is widely spoken; you're unlikely to have problems.
2: The language is spoken to some extent; expect some problems.
3. The language is uncommon; expect many problems.

English French German Russian

Austria 2 3 1 3
Czech Republic 2 3 2 2
France 2 1 3 3
Germany 2 3 1 2*
Great Britain 1 2 3 3
Greece 2 3 2 3
Hungary 2 3 2 2
Italy 2 2 3* 3
Nordic Countries 2 3 2 3
Poland 2 3 3 2
Russia 2 3 3 1
Spain 2 2 3* 3

* Widely spoken in some areas, but not in the entire country.

These numbers are somewhat approximate, of course; comments are

32. What do NTSC, PAL and SECAM mean?

These acronyms refer to the systems used by television broadcasts and
videocassette players (VCR).

The USA, Canada and Japan use the NTSC system. France, Greece and most
"Eastern European" countries use SECAM. The rest of Europe uses PAL.

A television set will only work with a specific system. For example, a
television bought in a country that uses NTSC won't work in a country
where the broadcasts use the PAL system. Keep this in mind if you're
planning to bring a portable television set with you; TVs bought in
North America or Japan won't work in Europe.

Similarly, a videotape will only work in a videocassette player (VCR)
that uses the same system; thus, if you're from the USA and want to buy
a videotape in Europe to watch it later at home, make sure it's in NTSC
formal. It's possible to have a videotape converted from one format to
another, but it's rather expensive and the results are often poor.

For more information, see http://www.faqs.org/faqs/de-film/formate/.
This document is in German, but the list of formats used in various
countries in section 1.3 should be easy enough to understand.

33. Can I drink the tap water in Europe?

Tap water is safe to drink everywhere in Europe except Turkey. (However,
concerns have been expressed in the group about tap water in Russia,
especially St. Petersburg, and in the Canary Islands). In some cases,
the water may be "harder" (contain more minerals) than you're used to or
it may have an unusual taste, but it's still safe to drink.

Don't be misled if you see people carrying mineral water bottles: it's
quite common to fill these bottles with tap water, for convenience.

34. Should I be worried about crime in Europe?

Violent crime is much less a problem in Europe than in the USA. You
shouldn't be overly worried about being robbed or mugged. However,
pickpockets seem to be more common in Europe than in some other
countries. In general, no special precautions are necessary when
travelling in Europe; just use normal prudence.

European cities usually don't have "dangerous" neighbourhoods or areas
in the way that some US cities do.

Weapons are regulated much more strictly in Europe than in the USA,
especially firearms. Don't carry any weapons, including mace, pepper
spray, and so on, unless you've checked with the police or consulate of
the country concerned to ensure that they are legal.

35. What's the time difference?

Time is calculated relative to "Universal Time" (UT) or "Greenwich Mean
Time" (GMT). If you're in North or South America, you're earlier than
(behind) Universal Time. If you're in most of Europe, Africa, Asia, or
Oceania, you're later than (ahead of) Universal Time.

Here are the time zones for European countries, relative to Universal

Universal Time -3/-2/-1:

Canaries (Spain)
United Kingdom

UT +1:
Czech Republic
Macedonia (FYROM)
Spain (except Canaries)

UT +2:

UT +3:
Russia: Moscow, St. Petersburg (see below)

UT +4:

Russia has several time zones, varying from UT +2 to UT +12. Moscow and
St. Petersburg are in the UT +3 zone.

For information on time zones in other countries, see


New York City and Toronto are at Universal Time minus 5 hours. If it's
noon (12:00) in New York and Toronto, it's 17:00 in London and 20:00 in

Los Angeles and Vancouver are at Universal Time minus 8 hours. If it's
noon in Los Angeles and Vancouver, it's 20:00 in London and 23:00 in

Japan is at Universal Time plus 14 hours. If it's noon in Japan, it's
1:00 in Moscow, and 22:00 of the previous day in London.

During "Summer Time" or "Daylight Saving Time", add one hour to the
normal time. Please note that summer time is in effect at different
times in different countries; however, all the countries of the
European Union change on the same date.

36. What's the weather like over there?

Weather forecasts for major European cities are available at:


For historical weather data such as average temperature and
precipitation, see:


37. How can I phone to Europe?

To phone abroad, you need to dial four components: (i) the code to "dial
out" of the country you're in; (ii) the code to "dial into" the country
you're phoning; (iii) the area code of the city you want to phone;
(iv) the phone number you want to phone.

(i) Code to "dial out": For the USA and Canada, the code to "dial out"
is usually 011. For Australia, use 0011, and for Japan, use 001. If this
doesn't work, see the phone book or ask the operator.

(ii) Code to "dial into": A list of codes to "dial into" many European
countries follows. If the country you want to phone isn't listed,
see the phone book or ask the operator.

(iii) Area code: It's often necessary to modify the area code when
dialling from another country. Usually you have to omit the initial "0",
if any. See the list below for more information.

(iv) Phone number: Simply dial the subscriber's phone number.

Example: You're in the USA and want to dial to Germany, in Berlin, the
number (030) 12 34 56 78.

The code to dial out of the USA is 011. The code to dial into Germany is
49. The area code for Berlin is 030, but you have to omit the initial
"0". Therefore, you should dial: 011-49-30-12 34 56 78.

The usual method to write a number for someone who'll be phoning from
another country is as follows: "+49 30 12 34 56 78". This means: dial
the code to phone out of the country you're in, and then dial what's

Note that, in this case, the initial "0" in the area code has been
omitted, since you don't dial it if you're phoning internationally. If
you're phoning from Germany itself, remember to put it back in, if

Country To "dial out" To "dial into" Area code

Albania 00 355
Andorra 0 33628 Does not exist
Austria 00 43 Omit initial "0"
Belgium 00 32 Omit initial "0"
Bosnia-Herzegovina 00 387
Bulgaria 00 359 Omit initial "0"
Croatia 00 385 Omit initial "0"
Czech Republic 00 420 Omit initial "0"
Denmark 00 45
Estonia 00 372 Dial entire code
Finland 00 358 Omit initial "0"
France 00 33 Omit initial "0"
Germany 00 49 Omit initial "0"
Greece 00 30 Dial entire code
Hungary 00 36
Iceland 00 354
Ireland 00 353 Omit initial "0"
Italy 00 39 Dial entire code
Latvia 00 371
Lithuania 810 370 Omit initial "0"
Luxembourg 00 352 Does not exist
Macedonia (FYROM) 99 389
Malta 00 356 Does not exist
Netherlands 00 31 Omit initial "0"
Norway 00 47 Dial entire code
Poland 0 tone 0 48 Omit initial "0", if any.
Ignore the word "prefix",
if indicated.
Portugal 00 351
Rumania 00 40 Omit initial "0"
Russia 8 tone 10 7 Dial entire code
Slovakia 00 421 Omit initial "0"
Slovenia 00 386 Omit initial "0"
Spain 00 34 Dial entire code
Sweden 00 46 Omit initial "0"
Switzerland 00 41 Omit initial "0"
Turkey 00 90 Omit initial "0"
Ukraine 810 38 (or 380?) Dial entire code
United Kingdom 00 44 Omit initial "0"
Yugoslavia 99 381 Omit initial "0"

IV. Selected Links

* Airlines:

Airline information on-line on the Internet FAQ, by John R. Levine -

FAQs from Usenet group rec.travel.air -

Quick Aid - http://www.quickaid.com/
(links to many airports in the USA and in other countries)

* Trains:

Deutsche Bahn (Germany) International Timetable -
The best general on-line timetable, for Germany and other countries.
The schedule is available on CD-ROM for EUR 10,15:

Eurail and other passes - http://www.railpass.com/
Interrail passes -
(at the Deutsche Bahn site)

Austria - http://www.oebb.at/
Belgium - http://www.b-rail.be/
Bulgaria - http://www.bg400.bg/bdz/
Czech Republic - http://www.cdrail.cz/
Denmark - http://www.dsb.dk/
Estonia - http://www.evr.ee/
Finland - http://www.vr.fi/
France - http://www.sncf.com/
Germany - http://www.bahn.de/
timetable at http://reiseauskunft.bahn.de/
Hungary - http://www.mav.hu/
Ireland - http://www.irishrail.ie/
Latvia - http://www.ldz.lv/
Luxembourg - http://www.cfl.lu/
Netherlands - http://www.ns.nl/
Norway - http://www.nsb.no/
Poland - http://www.pkp.com.pl/
Portugal - http://www.cp.pt/
Rumania - http://www.cfr.ro/
Russia - http://www.css-mps.ru/
Spain - http://www.renfe.es/
Catalonia - http://fgc.catalunya.net/
Valencia - http://www.cop.gva.es/fgv/
Sweden - http://www.sj.se/
Switzerland - http://www.sbb.ch/
Ukraine - http://sapphire.donetsk.ua/uz/uz.html
United Kingdom - http://www.railtrack.co.uk/
Northern Ireland Railways - http://www.nirailways.co.uk/
Train Line - http://www.thetrainline.com/
BritRail - http://www.britrail.com/
(BritRail train passes only, not train information)

For more links, see Marco van Uden's WWW page at

* Buses (coaches):

Eurolines - http://www.eurolines.com/
Less comfortable than trains, but also cheaper. Worth considering if
you're on a very tight budget.

* Other Useful Links:

Government Travel Advice:

Australia - http://www.dfat.gov.au/consular/advice/
Canada - http://voyage.dfait-maeci.gc.ca/destinations/menu_e.htm
France - http://www.dfae.diplomatie.fr/voyageurs/etrangers/
UK - http://www.fco.gov.uk/travel
USA - http://travel.state.gov/yourtripabroad.html
("Your Trip Abroad": general travel advice)
("Background Notes" on many countries)
("Travel Warnings". These warnings are often considered somewhat
paranoid by experienced travellers.)

Hostelling International - International Youth Hostel Federation

Steve Kropla - http://kropla.com/
Information on using modems, telephones, electric appliances, etc.,
in many countries.

Rec.travel Library - http://www.travel-library.com/

USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Travel Information -

V. To Do: Possible Additions

* Best ways to phone from Europe: calling card from telephone company
in one's own country, prepaid card from company in one's own country,
telephone card from country being visited, call-back service, etc.
Cheapest choice probably varies considerably by country.

Old March 18th, 2004, 09:08 PM
H.T. Ohlsen
external usenet poster
Posts: n/a
Default rec.travel.europe FAQ

On 18 Mar 2004 09:16:27 GMT, Yves Bellefeuille wrote:

5. How can I complain about "spam"?

Send a copy of the message to the address "postmaster" at the poster's
Internet Service Provider (ISP). For example, to complain about spam
from a user at aol.com, write to . Be sure to
include all the "headers". With most programs, you can simply type "h"
to see the headers; with Outlook Express, try Ctrl-F3.

Is this section relevant? Every worm nowadays sends emails with from:
addresses it has found on the infected pc?



Old March 18th, 2004, 09:39 PM
Padraig Breathnach
external usenet poster
Posts: n/a
Default rec.travel.europe FAQ

H.T. Ohlsen wrote:

On 18 Mar 2004 09:16:27 GMT, Yves Bellefeuille wrote:

5. How can I complain about "spam"?

Send a copy of the message to the address "postmaster" at the poster's
Internet Service Provider (ISP). For example, to complain about spam
from a user at aol.com, write to . Be sure to
include all the "headers". With most programs, you can simply type "h"
to see the headers; with Outlook Express, try Ctrl-F3.

Is this section relevant? Every worm nowadays sends emails with from:
addresses it has found on the infected pc?

Maybe you are right to question the relevance, but I think that Yve's
advice was related to inappropriate or excessive commercial posts in
newsgroups, and not to worm or virus propagation.

The return address has been MUNGED

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