Context Travel: The company has walking tours in 21 European cities, plus a robust collection of 50 itineraries in Rome. Outings are led by master’s- and Ph.D.-level scholars in such disciplines as archaeology and urban planning. From $75.
Marriott International and a subsidiary of the Swedish home furnishings giant Ikea announced yesterday that they're teaming up to launch a new budget hotel brand, called Moxy, with outposts across Europe. The plans, which have been in the works for at least a year, call for the first Moxy to open in Milan in 2014, with 150 to follow in the next decade.
Though the new hotels will surely channel Ikea's cheap and chic contemporary design sensibility and Marriott's legendary hotel management savvy, details about the brand are scarce. (We are somewhat disappointed to learn that they will not be kitted out in Ikea furniture, though happy to hear that free in-room wifi and floor-to-ceiling wall art are on the menu.) The announcement got us thinking, though, about our vision for the ultimate Ikea-style hotel:
° In-room dining menu features meatballs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your mid-afternoon snack: Swedish fish.
° Guests who assemble their own Birkeland nightstands upon arrival receive a 15 percent discount on their room.
° Taking the pillow menu to new heights, Moxy allows guests to select their own bedding from a vast basement warehouse.
° No need to surreptitiously smuggle bathrobes, slippers, and bathroom amenities away in your suitcases. For your convenience, the hotel provides guests with a bright blue plastic bag.
° Finding your room involves wending your way through vast, crazy-making hallways until finally, with great relief, you arrive at your door.
Wellington Society of Madrid: Join one of the dozen walks offered by Stephen Drake-Jones, a history professor and longtime resident. You’ll get his lively perspective on topics including Hemingway’s Madrid (past clients include the writer’s niece, Hilary), the Hapsburgs, the Prado and Modern Arts museums, and the curiosities and anecdotes of old Madrid, with stops at historic taverns. From $76.
Here’s the official rule: you and your luggage must be checked in at least an hour before departure, and you’ve got to be at the gate 30 to 45 minutes early. (There are a handful of exceptions; check with your carrier.) If you check in online and only have a carry-on, you’re free to play it closer—just don’t forget about the security lines.
Cruise lines negotiate set fares based on volume, so their flights are often more affordable than what you’ll find on your own—especially for business-class tickets. Perhaps more important, cruise fares protect you if you literally miss the boat because of flight delays; you’ll be flown to the next port of call without any change fees, says Dwain Wall, senior vice president of CruiseOne & Cruises, a network of 1,400 cruise agents.
Still, while you’ve got that cruise airfare on hold (you often have a full 10 days to cancel without penalty), you’ll want to shop around. Sale fares and tickets on low-cost carriers are sometimes a better deal than the cruise rates, which are restricted to specific airlines. And because the number of cruise-fare seats is limited on each flight, your itinerary might include an inconvenient overnight stay. If you do book on your own, be sure to purchase travel insurance in case your flight is delayed.
Coming attractions on the arts calendar: reinvigorated classics and celebrated traditions. Here, some of the highlights.
New York City: The two-month-long Season of Cambodia festival is a collaboration between the Phnom Penh–based nonprofit Cambodian Living Arts (a T+L Global Vision Award winner) and dozens of cultural institutions citywide. Dancers, sculptors, puppeteers, and others will showcase Khmer heritage, both traditional (Royal Ballet of Cambodia) and contemporary (rock band Dengue Fever). April 9–May 25.
Amsterdam: It’s an artistic double Dutch: both theRijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum reopen this spring after major makeovers. The former, closed for 10 years, has added an Asian pavilion; Rembrandt’s Night Watch now takes pride of place among Vermeer’s pensive maidens and Yves Saint Laurent’s Mondrian dress. At the latter, van Gogh’s sunflowers and self-portraits come home again to Gerrit Rietveld’s Modernist building.
Q: Is there such a thing as an affordable European flight this summer? If so, how can I find one? —Catherine Mills, Westport, Conn.
A: Remember when flying to Europe was, at most, a $600 commitment? These days, that’s often just the baseline cost of a transatlantic ticket. According to Rick Seaney, cofounder and CEO of Farecompare, the average airfare to Europe includes about $450 in surcharges (including fuel) and $160 in taxes and fees. Tack on what the carrier itself charges, and it’s no wonder you can find yourself paying more than $1,000 for an economy-class ticket. But you can still fly for less. You just need to know the tricks.
Pay attention to shoulder seasons. Summer flights, hands down, are the most expensive. But if you look around the edges of summer—early June; the last week of August—you’ll find better fares. They’re even more affordable in early May and mid-October. Of course, winter fares are still lowest, and they stay that way from mid-November until mid-March (excluding the winter holidays).
Major domestic carriers have put premiums on an increasing number of main-cabin aisle and window seats, making them available only to high-ranking frequent fliers or people willing to add $20 to $60 per trip leg. Though these seats sometimes open up to regular travelers as the flight date approaches, this policy in effect forces families to pay up or risk sitting apart. New York Senator Charles Schumer and others have decried the practice, but their efforts will have little impact in the short term. If you can’t (or won’t) pay the premium, your best bet is to log on to your airline’s website 24 hours before your flight—when carriers begin releasing premium seats to the public.